8FOLD: Mighty Medley # 16, April 2015, "The Last Story" (1/2)

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Sat Apr 4 11:53:50 PDT 2015

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-------------- ISSUE # 16  APRIL 2015 --------------
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-------------------The Last Story-------------------
-------------------SAXON BRENTON--------------------
-------------------ANDREW PERRON--------------------
--------------------MARY RUSSELL--------------------
--------------------TOM RUSSELL---------------------
-----------------DAVE VAN DOMELEN-------------------
--------------- Editor, Tom Russell ----------------

"There is a theory in multi-dimensional four-colour studies called
'the last story'. Simply put, it observes that 'existential threats'--
such as alien invasions and reality-altering cataclysms-- have become
steadily more dangerous and frequent. It postulates that this will
continue, building to a kind of climax: a perfect storm of
simultaneous existential threats so vast, dangerous, and unfathomable
that we cannot help but be overwhelmed."
   -- Nonfiction # 3


     PART ONE.

[01] Coma Splice
     by Tom Russell

[02] The Blue Witch
     by Tom Russell

[03] Angry Young Man
     by Tom Russell

[04] Staff Meeting
     by Tom Russell

[05] Concerning the Character of Edvark, Called the Blackfin
     by Tom Russell

[06] Houston, We Have a Kaiju
     by Dave Van Domelen

[07] Big Stupid Fight
     by Tom Russell

[08] Transit of Venus
     by Saxon Brenton

[09] Darkhorse Three
     by Tom Russell

[10] The Lady of Light
     by Saxon Brenton

[11] Why We Fight
     by Tom Russell

[12] Off to the Side
     by Andrew Perron

     PART TWO.

[13] The Army of Last Resort
     by Tom Russell

[14] The Heavy Hitters
     by Tom Russell

[15] Project Magnum
     by Saxon Brenton

[16] Uneasy is the Head
     by Tom Russell

[17] Lightning War
     by Tom Russell

[18] Darkhorse Two
     by Tom Russell

[19] The Word is... Life!
     by Andrew Perron

[20] The World Holds Its Breath
     by Tom Russell

[21] Monster Madness Starring Docrates,
      the Mighty Supragato
     by Mary Russell

[22] The Last Darkhorse
     by Tom Russell

[23] Two Words
     by Tom Russell

[24] The Moons of Venus
     by Tom Russell

[25] Splash Damage
     by Saxon Brenton

with epilogues
     by Tom Russell

Also published separately in conjunction with this Mightiest of
Medleys is a Dramatis Personae, comprising a list of old friends who
reappear in the pages that follow.

--------------------COMA SPLICE---------------------
------------Copyright 2015 Tom Russell--------------

Just took Simon to see GOTG. Lots of fun, as expected, but that score
the score is something very special. Gives the film a lot of its
resonance and surprising emotional power. I can't wait to see it
again, I have to bash my son's head in with a pipe.
  -- Last status update for Arnold Bright, 08/21/14

[Dr. Dreyfuss] was fine one minute, and then... He was talking about
pointillism as a, as a literary technique? It wasn't any harder to
follow than usual. Then he said, something like, "I think Chaucer is
the best example, I hate my teeth." Like it was the most natural thing
in the world. And then right in front of us, he started clawing at his
teeth with his hands, trying to pull them out. And then he bashed his
own mouth against the podium, again and again, and he kept doing it
until his face was bloody, and his hands were shaking, and he was
pulling out all the little pieces of his teeth. When they were all
gone, all his teeth, he went to sleep.
  -- Testimony from Virginia Simms, 08/21/14

OPERATOR: She's unconscious?
OPERATOR: And the baby?
CALLER: The baby's dead. My baby's dead. Oh god. I don't understand.
Ginny loved her brother.
  -- Helen Grace-Simms, 08/22/14

All subjects appear to be in a comatose state [and] suffering from
hyperpyrexia. All subjects exhibit an unusually high level of
brain-wave activity. We have isolated an unknown pathogen in the blood
  -- Medical report, 08/23/14

The infection appears to be airborne. Six hundred known cases.
Gestation time: unknown. Index case: unknown.
  -- CDC Report to DHS, 08/24/14

This isn't something that started in Africa, and came over on a plane.
We can't point to something and say, this is where it came from. It's
in Texas. It's in China. It's in Europe. Normal people just flip out,
they kill someone, injure someone, themselves, whatever, then they go
into a coma. It's spreading, but it's like it sprang up everywhere at
once. Maybe there is no patient zero. Or maybe there's a hundred of
them. Two thousand cases in three days, and counting...
  -- Talking head, 08/24/14

Sources in Atlanta confirm that [David] Rossi [the "Living Virus"] and
[ex-villain Jerome] Saylor [the "Chemist"] have been called in to
  -- AP newswire, 08/24/14

Your boys found a name embedded in the virus. Hidden, like a code. Or
a signature. There's no easy way to say this... the name is Caracalla.
  -- Rebecca Glass to Derek Mason, 08/25/14

-------------------THE BLUE WITCH-------------------
------------Copyright 2015 Tom Russell--------------

The spell calls for three drops of the mancer's blood, but as Rachel's
never had blood, she hopes three drops of water will do in a pinch.
She squeezes three fat drops from the tip of one blue finger, and they
spill with a splash inside the circle in the snow. The drops sizzle on
impact, and burn, and glow, and steam, and cool, and as the vapors
drift away, the stardust drifts together, forming one magnificent
white stag, many-tined.
   The beast stamps its feet and roars, and then, recognizing her, it
fixes upon her a cold and distant gaze.
   "Yes, it's me," she says quietly, speaking the ancient tongue of
the wind. "I'm sorry I did this. But you didn't come when I asked.
You've never come when I asked, only when you wanted to, but now I
need you, more than ever before, my old friend. You didn't give me a
   "Or are you more surprised that I could cast a proper spell?" She
crosses her arms against the cold. "I'm a thing of the old magic, too,
just as you are. Not as old as you, perhaps, but old enough. And wise
enough to understand when the old spells are breaking. Or, to be more
accurate, when someone is breaking them."
   She wants to reach out and stroke him upon the muzzle, as she did
when she was a child. But something tells her it's safer to keep him
in the circle and herself out of it. "Can you hear the lullabies? I
can't. For a long time now, they've been getting fainter with every
heartbeat. I thought at first that I was becoming mortal," and here
she laughs at herself, "but my powers have only grown stronger as the
spells have grown weaker. Without the lullabies, They won't slumber
much longer. I can feel Them stirring, tossing, like ripples in the
water. After ten thousand years, Venus is waking."
   The stag seems unmoved; unmovable.
   "You know what I want," says Rachel. "What I need. He stopped them
once before. You know he can stop them again. Please. Restore my
father to what he once was. Forgive an old man his grief. She was my
mother, more than my mother, she was a part of myself, and I felt the
same grief, and keenly.
   "Please. If not for him, if not for the love you may still bear me,
then do this thing for the sake of all the precious things on this
precious Earth that They will turn to ash and madness."
   The stag leaps out of the circle, knocking her over as it brushes
brusquely past her, and then bounds into the air. Rachel watches him
scatter back into ash and stars and light and dust, and then brushes
the snow from her cloak. "Should've used blood, I knew it."
   She sighs, then drags her foot in the snow to make another circle.
"Time to call in my favors, then." She holds her fingers over the
narrow trench, and lets them weep into the snow.

------------------ANGRY YOUNG MAN-------------------
------------Copyright 2015 Tom Russell--------------

The big story on the news is still the epidemic. When it started a few
days ago, you said I NEVER GET SICK, and so it doesn't really concern
you. It's kinda irritating that they're still going on about it,
really, and especially the way they're doing it, the way they're all
doing it: the same clips, the same "experts" speculating and
extrapolating wildly from the flimsiest scraps of information, the
same scare tactics, the same reactionaries. Is this the end?, is this
The Last Story? It makes you sick. It makes you angry. You should
change the channel. You know you should change it, but it's not your
fault, is it? They're the ones with the stupid name and the equally
stupid logo, they're the ones raking in the advertising dollars by
scaring people, by preying on ignorance and prejudice and xenophobia,
close our borders, stay away from Others.
   They're the ones, in short, that brought this on themselves. YOU'RE
   And because you said it out loud, it happens. The newscasters, the
experts, they all suddenly contract the disease and begin a frenzy of
violence. It's a lovely thing at first, watching them try to strangle
each other with their ties and stab out their eyes with their pens,
babbling mad and bloody, channel after channel. But after the first
few seconds, you start to get dizzy. You turn away from the
television, sitting on the floor with your back against the bed,
staring at the radiator in your dingy hotel room. The volume's still
going (screams and laughter), and you don't feel like getting up and
looking at the television long enough to click it off. THE SPEAKER
GOES OUT, and it does.
   It was a stupid thing to do. You knew that before you even did it,
but you did it anyway, and that's you all over, isn't it? Look at the
earthquake, look at the kidnapping. Or, hey, look at your comeback.
Think about it, man: that was the perfect chance to start over. You
basically came back from the dead. You could have had a new identity,
started acting like a decent human being, or at least a smart one.
Instead, what's the first thing you do? You said, I WANT EVERYONE IN
THE WORLD TO KNOW I'M BACK, and because you said it, they did, they
all heard your words in their heads, in their own language. GREGORY
   Seriously? You go all supervillain, and you're surprised they've
been hounding you ever since? Why did you have to say that? Why did
you have to say anything at all? You were FREE, you moron.
   You didn't mean it that way? You were angry, and you spoke out of
anger? You had just brought yourself back to life, and so you were a
little scared and freaking out, and then you remembered that they
wanted to put you to death for something which was A FREAKING ACCIDENT
anyway, can't they cut you a little slack? You could do REAL DAMAGE
with these powers if you wanted to, but you don't want to, so they
should be grateful.
   Real damage like what? Like what's happening on the television?
(You catch a glimpse of it in the corner of your cornea, red and
nasty. PICTURE'S GONE, TOO, and it is.)
   Yeah, they should be grateful you don't want to hurt anyone; lucky
for them you're such a stellar guy.

-------------------STAFF MEETING--------------------
------------Copyright 2015 Tom Russell--------------

"Okay, gang," says Blue Boxer over Skype. "Here's the deal. Fay has
picked up an anomaly in space-time consistent with the Dingham Effect
that appears to originate from Detroit. Since he hails from those
parts, it's likely that it is indeed Mr. Dingham. Our job is to bring
him in to answer for his crimes, and to prevent him from committing
any others. With me so far?
   "Gregory Dingham says things, and they happen; he alters reality
itself. There appear to be some kind of limits on what he can do, but
as we're not quite sure what they are, we're not going to take any
chances. Metronome, you tangled with him before. You're up."
   Kate nods. "I was with Phil Whaley and Pachyderm at the Goodman.
Dingham took us down like that." She snaps her fingers. "He took away
Whaley's powers and put Pack in the hospital. After three years,
Pack's family took him off of life support. That's on Dingham. As is
the Midwest Earthquake of 2005."
   Inspector Three-Nine emits two beeps. "Casualties were impossibly
low for seismic activity of that magnitude in a major population
   "That was Dingham," breaks in Blue Boxer. "According to his ex, he
discovered his powers when he told his mother to die. He built in a
fail-safe at that time to prevent his powers from directly killing
anyone again."
   "So why the earthquake?" says Rainshade.
   "He was scared and out of options," says Kate. "Him and his buddy,
some alter cocker that died in the quake, they never had a plan.
Everything was anger and easy, violent answers."
   "We could use that," suggests Rainshade. "Give him more problems
than he can handle. Like in the Last Story."
   "No," says Blue Boxer. "We do that, we get another earthquake, or
worse. We're not going to get into a big stupid fight. We're the
Daylighters; we don't do big and stupid." (Kate stares at Rainshade
and mutters something Blue Boxer pretends he doesn't hear.) "Dingham
is a nuke. You don't fight a nuke, and you don't reason with it. You
disarm it."
   "Cut the red wire," says Kate. "You want me to vibrate his vocal chords."
   "Until they're fried," says Blue Boxer. "But we need to get you
close enough. David, that's where you come in."
   "I'm to give him a nasty cough," surmises the Living Virus. "He
can't talk if he's puking. But with respect, Boxer, shouldn't I keep
working with the CDC on FEVER? I understand Metronome has a score to
settle, but couldn't you use Darkhorse on this? She can vibrate just
as well, and she can get in there before he knows what's happening."
   "We need Darkhorse for rapid deployment once the CDC finds the
cure, like she did last year with the Tribots. Dingham already took
down one speedster. We can't risk him taking Melody out of the
picture, because then we're screwed on both counts. Same reason we
can't put any of our magic-users or psionics on this one, much as
they'd be of use; they need to focus on this lullaby thing."
   "Whereas I'm expendable," says the Living Virus, bemused.
   "Let's just say she is less expendable," says Blue Boxer. "But
we're also going to need some... cannon fodder is such an unfortunate
term. Someone for Dingham to focus his aggression on in case something
goes wrong, keep his attention off of Metronome. You all know what
happened to Whaley, to Pack. You know the risks. So I'm not going to
assign anyone to this, but I'm hoping someone volunteers, because I
sure as hell don't want to end up doing it."
   "Our fearless leader," says the Living Virus.
   "My super-power is delegation," shrugs Blue Boxer.
   Three-Nine beeps. "I backed up my memory core this morning. The
Gelding did the same. As we could be reconstructed, we would be the
best choices."
   "Gelding's likely to agree," says Blue Boxer. "Thanks, Three-Nine.
You leave in ten minutes. Kid E will keep you all patched in to the
comm-network. Kick some butt, guys. And come back alive."

---------------CALLED THE BLACKFIN------------------
------------Copyright 2015 Tom Russell--------------

On the day of his execution, the Blackfin seemed singularly pleased
with himself. As my readers might not be fully acquainted with the
gentleman-- and since he is a rather disreputable sort, it would not
surprise me that you are not!-- I should explain that it was not a
state he tended toward, or that suited him, or that any of his
acquaintances and accomplices had ever seen him in before. Indeed, his
countenance had almost always been displeased, as the poor fellow had
never really been satisfied with his station in life, but rather
consumed with envy and rage: envy, because his half-brother Terak
would rule all of Lemuria upon the queen's death, leaving the Blackfin
only a few scraps of seaweed to call his domain, said scraps having
been forfeited upon his first attempt to kill his brother and thus
"jump the queue" (queue-jumping being just as frowned upon under the
ocean as above it); rage, because Terak refused to die despite
repeated attempts on the Blackfin's part to remedy the situation.
Having been defeated, finally and decisively, by his brother's
surface-dwelling paramour, and having been taken into custody, tried,
and sentenced to execution by his step-mother, it seems that being
pleased with himself would be the last thing he would tend toward,
especially given his natural aversion to it throughout his short and
devious life. But no, he was all smiles and grace and apologies, and
continued smiling (and, it seemed to some observers, apologizing) even
after his head left his shoulders, and it was immediately said of him,
as the Bard wrote of Cawdor, and as was often said of Saint Charles
the Martyr, that nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.
   This opinion was quickly revised-- if a gentleman is to have
opinions of another gentleman (and I cannot say that gentlemen, even
Lemurian gentlemen, ought to do such a thing), he must be ready and
willing to revise that opinion when new evidence is presented-- when
it was determined precisely why it was that the Blackfin had been so
pleased with himself. And the reason is that, timed perfectly with his
death, he had made arrangements with certain parties sympathetic to
his claim for the great sea serpent Leviathan to be awoke and
unfettered. Then, Ziz would descend to confront Leviathan, and
Behemoth to oppose them both, and Humbaba to tame the Behemoth, and so
on, until all Thirteen of the Great Beasts awoke and fought and, as
long-prophesied, destroyed the unjust world that saw fit to deny
Edvark his crown.
   This was, of course, most indecorous but sadly and perfectly in
keeping with the gentlemen's nature.

-------------HOUSTON, WE HAVE A KAIJU---------------
----------Copyright 2015 Dave Van Domelen-----------

[25 Aug 2014 - Amarillo, TX]

   Kayla pulled off I-40 and narrowly missed sideswiping some jerk in
Family Utility Vehicle on the access road at Coulter, then took a hard right,
   "Careful, Kay, it'd be too damn ironic if you got killed by traffic
before we could go get killed by that giant monster in Houston," Jason's
voice came from the iPhone clipped to her dashboard.
   "I just can't believe old man Marsh wasn't crazy after all," Rolando
marveled, the third in on the call.
   "Oh, he was still crazy," Kayla powered onto Amarillo Avenue.  "He just
happens to have been right.  I hope the rig he hired us to pilot is up to the
job," she added uncertainly as she took the final turn and saw the
four-pointed Helium Monument ahead.  Stanley Marsh had died two months ago,
and while his estate continued to fund the project, the three pilots had only
ever worked on simulators.  They knew the control interfaces would be exactly
like the sims, but Marsh had kept things so compartmentalized that they had
no idea what the actual vehicle would look like.  All they knew was that it
was intended for fighting giant monsters.
   And Houston had a giant monster problem.
   Well, it had a giant monster, which was intrinsically a problem, right?
And it seemed to be on a classic B-movie rampage.
   Kayla screeched into a parking spot...well, into four adjacent parking
spots, there wasn't time to be too careful, and sprinted over to the
monument, where Jason and Rolo were already waiting.  She took her place at
the unoccupied leg of the monument, which was built from four long helium
tanks fused at their tips into a sort of caltrop.  She stifled a grin at the
thought of just throwing the monument in front of the kaiju and letting it
step on the thing.
   "Ready?" Jason asked, his palm on an invisibly-altered segment of the
monument.  Rolando and Kayle nodded, placing their palms on identical
locations.  All three patches glowed redly for a moment, scanning their
   "Identities confirmed.  Welcome, Earth Defense League," Stan Marsh's
synthesized voice greeted them.  The brass plate under the center of the
monument slid aside, and the three dropped into the pneumatic tube that was
revealed, one after the other.
   After a harrowing and MUCH more dramatic than absolutely necessary ride,
they found themselves in the control chamber.  The real one, not the mockup
out in a "decommissioned" section of the Pantex nuclear assembly/disassembly
plant outside of town.  On the other side of the ominous blast doors lay the
special vehicles, atomic-powered and hopefully enough to deal with the
   "Greetings, Earth Defense League!" the synthesized voice said with
manufactured enthusiasm.  "Your uniforms are in the vehicles, I'll be
briefing you on their specific capabilities while you're on the road."
   The three looked at each other, then at the monitor bank they all
decided was the locus for the computer.  "Road?" Rolo asked.
   "While Mr. Marsh was generous with funding, there are limits to what can
be done even with his fortune, and flying craft were not possible," the
computer sounded almost apologetic.
   "But...Ospreys...right over there..." Jason waved his arm in the general
direction of where he thought the Bell helicopter plant was.
   "At least with the current crisis, it's unlikely the police will bother
pulling you over for speeding," the computer continued, and the hangar doors
slid smoothly open to reveal a trio of armored vehicles bristling with
clearly advanced weaponry.  "ETA approximately six hours.  Despite the heavy
armor, you should be able to reach about 100 miles per hour."
   Kayle smacked her forehead.  "Or zero miles per hour in NORMAL Houston
traffic once we get there, much less whatever's going on now...."
   "You are not going to space today," Rolo sighed.

-----------------BIG STUPID FIGHT-------------------
------------Copyright 2015 Tom Russell--------------

As they near Dingham's location, Kate touches her earpiece to keep
Blue Boxer in the loop, but. "Huh. I'm not getting a signal. David?"
   The Living Virus touches his own earpiece. "Maybe the towers are down?"
   "I am afraid not," reports Three-Nine. "My entire body is also a
telecommunications tower. I appear to be operational, but the network
itself is not. No phone, no internet; no way to keep Blue Boxer
   "Great," says David, sour but not sarcastic. Fat clumsy little runt
admits he never lasts ten seconds in a fight, but he's the one that
tells them who to punch and when. Easy to do when it's not your fat in
the fryer. "This plan of Blue Boxer's is bollocks enough, don't need
him micromanaging it. We should have Melody on this. No offense,
   "Uh-huh. Three-Nine, you're still picking up the Dingham Effect?"
   "Affirmative, and he's getting closer. I suggest you secret yourself."
   She nods and her molecules shake violently apart. Usually Kate's
powers leave a fuzzy sort of Kate-shaped thing visible, but in this
case her form becomes so inchoate as to render her practically
invisible. She rarely uses this trick, and from their time together on
the Nostalgics, David knows the reason why. Because when no one can
see her, neither can she see them. She calls it "going blind".
   David wishes he could do the same, but contents himself with
ducking behind the corner of a building. He feels exposed and
ridiculous wearing his union suit on this kind of mission, but it's
not like Three-Nine and the gelding are particularly inconspicuous.
   Dingham steps onto Cass Corridor and into view. David doesn't take
any chances. Immediately, he points his wiggling fingers down the
block at his target, willing the sentient virus with which he shares a
symbiotic, psionic link straight into Dingham's respiratory system.
Hit him hard, hit him fast-- hard enough and fast enough where he
won't get a single whisper out. Choking, vomiting up a little bit of
blood-- nothing too heavy, that should do the trick.
   Only now David is choking, David is throwing up, tasting blood,
pitching forward, and now he's on the ground, he's in view. His body
is shaking violently; he can feel the virus digging into his muscles,
his veins, killing off his antibodies. Something that's never happened
before. Something that's impossible. And Dingham... Dingham hasn't
even said a word.
   Three-Nine is saying something. David can't tell what.
   "I didn't do anything," says Dingham. "I didn't even do anything!"
   "I will use deadly force if necessary. Surrender, Mr. Dingham."
   Three-Nine goes limp, and his red eyes go black. The gelding nudges
at him, whinnying pitifully in his high falsetto.
   Kate turns visible, and rushes her fingers immaterially toward
Dingham's throat. "GO AWAY," he says. She screams as her atoms pull
apart again. The scream lingers after she's gone. David opens his
mouth to curse him, but only blood sprays out.
   "I know you," Dingham is saying now to the gelding.
   "Pardon me, please," says the gelding. "Have we met before, sir?"
   "You were in the museum," sneers Dingham. "An antique. Out of
fashion even when you were in fashion. YOU BELONG IN THE OLD WEST OR
   A blue light wraps around the gelding, and in a flash he and
Three-Nine are gone.
   David struggles to lift up his head. How long has this been? Ten
seconds? Eight? Dammit, it should have been Melody...
   "SLEEP," says Dingham, and David's eyes roll back.

-----------------TRANSIT OF VENUS-------------------
-----------Copyright 2015 Saxon Brenton-------------

The two telepaths mind-leapt out into the astral plane. An elf-maid
and a knight. Galadriel and Light Eagle.
   For this mission their destination was Venus, so appropriately
enough astral space looked a lot like outer space. In the realm of
perception form followed function - unless you have reason to adjust
your psenses. Neither had reason to make such an adjustment.
   Galadriel glanced around, searching for and easily locating Venus.
She also noticed her companion's appearance. =( Your psychic armour
doesn't have spiky bits on it anymore, )= she observed
conversationally. Indeed, it was more of a stylised suit than she had
seen him in before, somewhere in style between Art Deco and outright
   =( Yeah.  I redesigned it a while back to look less Nineties, )=
replied Light Eagle.  =( I made some really bad fashion choices when I
was younger, and I didn't think the spiky stuff was the type of thing
to wear while teaching class. )=
   They were both teachers at Burlington College, a school for young
superhumans. Galadriel only seemed to be a tall, blond, and ethereally
beautiful elf-woman dressed in vaguely Celtic robes. It was a facade
that had served Muriel Muunoki - English and psionics teacher - well
ever since she had started adventuring as a four-colour decades ago.
Light Eagle was John Danisee - school counsellor and occasional
fill-in psionics teacher.
   Galadriel gave a warm laugh. =( You know, it's been so long since
we've been adventuring together, I honestly hadn't realised. )=  Then
her mood grew more serious.  =( Anyway.  There's Venus, )= she said,
pointing the way for Light Eagle. Her abilities were more powerful
than his - she was among the top three known psis on Earth - and that
included an interplanetary range that made her ideal for this task.  A
sortie against the awakening threat of the Elder Gods of Venus.
   Light Eagle piggybacked his own perceptions through her direct
scans of the planet. =( The Blue Witch couldn't tell us much about
them, apart from the bit about monsters being bound in sleep for a few
thousand years. Did you ever find anything when you went exploring? )=
   When she had been younger Galadriel had mentally visited a number
of planets of the solar system. =( Not really, but I only visited
Venus twice, and that was more to say that I had. Crossing it off the
bucket list, so to speak. The ruins on Mars were more interesting, to
be honest. )=
   Together they examined the target area from afar. While the Blue
Witch hadn't been able to tell them much about their opponents, she
had at least been able to give them the scent of the magic that would
lead them to the Elder Gods. After all, the mystics of Earth might not
know much about the abominations, but for thousands of years they had
been casting and recasting magical wards to keep the Elder Gods
quiescent. Collectively that magic was known as the Lullaby. And now
that Galadriel and Light Eagle had been clued in to it, they intended
to use it as handy sign post to the location of the Elder Gods.
   =( Are you ready to go? )= asked Galadriel. If they were to travel
beyond Earth then she would be carrying Light Eagle. He nodded his
affirmation - but just as they were about to leave a message arrived
from the blue-green planet below.
   =( They're activating Plan Magnum? )= went Galadriel in surprise.
If it wasn't one emergency it was another. She glanced back at Venus
with a frown.  =( I guess the Elder Gods will have to wait. )= she
   Light Eagle looked thoughtful, then shook his head. =( No. The
timeframe the Blue Witch gave us, that won't wait. )= He thought some
more. =( You can handle the Elder Gods on your own? )= Really, that
was more a statement than a question.
   =( Probably, )= she admitted. =( But Project Magnum will need all
hands on deck, )= she pointed out.
   =( Earth has quite a few telepaths, even if not all of them have a
particularly long range. But you're the only one available right now
with both the power and the range to deal with the Venus problem. )=
Light Eagle said.  =( Unless they send Docrates to physically tear the
planet to shreds. )= he added. He was exaggerating of course - but
only a little bit.
   =( Okay then. )= She kissed him. =( I'll see you when I get back.
)=  And then Galadriel launched herself across the mental gulf that
approximated the interplanetary distances involved. Light Eagle
dropped himself back into his physical body in his office at school.

------------------DARKHORSE THREE-------------------
------------Copyright 2015 Tom Russell--------------

One of the perks of being a speedster is that it makes you very, very
good at multitasking. For example, right this very minute, Melody Mapp
is doing six things:
   1. rescuing peeps from the fiendish foliage of King Kudzu,
   2. using its rate of growth to calculate what its mass will be in
four seconds,
   3. simultaneously using Hooke's spring constant to jerry-rig an
equation she can plug that mass into so as to calculate its resonant
   4. checking her Daylighters inbox in case there's an update from the CDC,
   5. fine-tuning an appropriate quip for when she has neutralized the
villainous vine, and
   6. rocking out to Supertramp, shut up they're awesome seriously
shut up you know I'm right.
   Four point seven seconds later: "You might be the weed that ate the
South, but honey, the South bites back," which she isn't entirely
happy with, but, you know, short notice. /Well, can you put your hands
in your head, oh
   The music stops, and when she refreshes her inbox, it comes up blank.

Daylighters HQ.
   "It's not just Atlanta," says Blue Boxer. "Everything's down
everywhere, all three internets, phones, communications networks. Just
before it happened, we got a bunch of distress calls from military
bases around the world. The Gorgon."
   "The Gorgon," echoes Melody. "And with everything else going on, we
need a way to keep in touch with everybody."
   "I know," he says, a touch annoyed. "We're trying Project Magnum."
   "But aren't they all needed on the astral plane for this magic thingy?"
   "It's just temporary," says Blue Boxer. "Until we get the Gorgon
taken care of."
   "Then why am I standing here?" says Melody. "Point me in the right
direction, let me do my thing."
   "No. I need you on hand when the CDC has their breakthrough."
   "You also need someone to take out the Gorgon, yesterday," says
Melody. "Darkhorse versus Gorgon, it's kind of a recurring thing."
   "But you've never actually fought the Gorgon yourself."
   "I'm still a speedster, so his powers won't affect me."
   "We don't know that," he says pointedly. "You get your powers from
your watch. From a computer. Gorgon gets in there, he then has a
speedster to do his bidding." (Don't go there, don't go there...)
"And, you know, that kind of thing has happened to you once before, in
twenty-ten." (He went there.)
   It makes her angry, and when she's angry, she speaks too fast for
the human ear to comprehend. She takes a deep breath and slows it
down. "You won't let me go after Dingham, even though I'm a safer
choice than Kate," she says. "You won't let me go after the Gorgon.
And this isn't the first time you've done this. Stop trying to protect
me, Derek. I don't have a long life ahead of me. I have a hundred and
twenty-two days left. Let me use them."
   (I made a promise to your aunt, Melody.) "...I need you for the CDC."
   "Well, who are you sending after the Gorgon?"
   He smiles. "You're not our only speedster."
   Zip! "Talked to every psi I could find. Magnum is a go. Hey, Melody."
   Brian Clipper. The second Darkhorse. "But you were in prison..."
   "A feint," comes a voice from outside the door. "To convince the
Gorgon Brian's out of circulation. To bring him back into the open, so
we can end him once and for all." Phil Whaley. The original,
now-powerless Darkhorse. (He still owes Melody a fancy dinner.) "The
Gorgon's ready for you, Melody. He's planned for you. Which means he's
not prepared for us."

------------------THE LADY OF LIGHT-----------------
-----------Copyright 2015 Saxon Brenton-------------

Galadriel arrived without fuss at the astral space coterminous with
Venus.  She began to scout around for the Elder Gods, following the
magic that had been created to keep them bound in sleep. She hoped
that they hadn't already begun to wake and move about. That would
complicate her task.
   Now that she was aware of them, she could see those traceries of
magic gently netted across the planet. Were there Elder Gods at the
end of each line? She picked out one at random and followed.
   As Galadriel approached the first destination she carefully reached
out with her mind. Ever so carefully. She had no idea as to what their
natures were - but the name 'Elder Gods' was evocative, and decades of
pop culture offered up all sorts of nasty possibilities. 'Merely'
powerful and hostile extraterrestrials surviving from the previous
Venusian civilisation would be the least worst. They could be
negotiated with... possibly. But things like demon gods worshipped by
the Venusians, biologically engineered doomsday weapons, or creatures
from the Id brought into being when the Venusians cast out the evil
side of their own psyches... Those would be a problem. Their intrinsic
natures would be to hate, corrupt and destroy.
   What the four-colour sensed was a crushing weight, a baking heat, a
taste of acid. Just like the environment of Venus itself - but many,
many times more intense. It made her wonder if perhaps her targets
were some sort of elemental presences.
   Such dry academic speculation was interrupted as she came close
enough for visual contact. Galadriel's first, brief impression was of
a mass of lashing, clawed tentacles and raw, half-formed faces, all
fleshless and bloody and screaming.
   Her next moment of awareness was that she was floating in the cool
of space, hyperventilating despite a lack of physical body. Her astral
form was safely above the clouds of Venus' upper atmosphere, and only
after a moment of disorientation did she realise that she had fled the
terrible presence in a blind panic. She could almost feel her heart
palpitating all the way back on Earth, and she vaguely wondered how
she had kept herself from running all the way back home.
   Galadriel glanced down at the sulfuric clouds, and for a moment was
gripped by anxiety that perhaps the Elder Gods was following her,
stalking up through choking atmosphere under the cover of being 'radar
invisible' - of registering on any sort of distance psenses as nothing
more than then normal Venus environment.
   She closed her eyes and willed away the sense of panic. That... had
been dreadful. In the most literal sense of the word.
   Then she turned her gaze back towards the Earth. The planet was at
full phase, and even at this distance her psenses saw it glowing
blue-green in reflected sunlight. Venus was in conjunction with Earth
this month, in a straight line between it and the sun, and at its
closest point to the other world.
   It occurred to Galadriel that if the Elder Gods had even the most
basic ways of travelling through interplanetary space, now would be
the perfect time to launch themselves across that gulf at Earth. And
at a time when global telecommunications had been taken down,
necessitating the use of the as-yet-untried emergency protocols of
Project Magnum. More so than ever, Earth would be vulnerable.
   Her eyes narrowed. Well, not if she had anything to say about it.
   Galadriel looked around the sky in all directions, thinking through
options, considering possibilities. She found one line of assault,
considered it carefully and almost dismissed it because of its lack of
subtly, but then finally concluded that she was too pressed for time
to be picky. She set her shoulders and went to do what had to be done.

--------------------WHY WE FIGHT--------------------
------------Copyright 2015 Tom Russell--------------

In a glass bowl floats a face with the barest stretching hint of
fingers, thin and translucent as paper, veins sprawling like ink
underneath, eyes black and bulbous: both admiral and psionic engine
for a Neithean fleet a hundred spaceships strong, hiding in the
shadows of Venus.
   Rurik regards the Neithean with instinctual disgust. Their species
were blood-enemies for a hundred generations, the hatred hard-wired in
the DNA; they are uneasy allies at best. But the Pulse was always
built on uneasy alliances. "You had something to tell me?"
   =( On the astral plane. A fearsome psionic. From Earth. )=
   Rurik rubs a claw thoughtfully against his mouthparts. "Are we discovered?"
   =( She's not as fearsome as I, )= gulps the Neithean soundlessly.
=( To see us, she would have to be looking for us, and she is focused
on waking Venus. )= It shudders, but Rurik can't tell if it is from
fright or pleasure. =( Shall I kill her to be sure? It would be quite
easy. )=
   "No," says Rurik. "She's no threat to our mission. I'm more worried
about the grazer." Sensors picked up a small meteor heading their way.
   =( The meteor will only come twelve million miles near the planet.
That's why it's called a grazer, Rurik. )=
   "I suppose." He opens his spiracles, holds the oxygen, lets it out.
"Venus awake. What is wrong with Earth that they would do such a
   =( What indeed? )=

Through the Neithean psionic network, Rurik addresses the Eighth Hive.
"We are not come here as soldiers, queen-sons. We are not come as
conquerors, or as butchers. We have come here on this day as heroes.
As saviors. For we shall this day save the universe from the
primordial god-flood.
   "This danger is so great, so real, so vast, that the sacrifice of
one planet is just and right. The death of an innocent planet would be
just and right; and this planet Earth is not a world of innocents.
   "For it is they who brought the Dyzen'thari forth, and cracked the
forever dam. It is they that let the god-flood back into our universe.
It was a man of Earth who destroyed Rowdar. And today, it is men of
Earth who dare to wake sleeping, terrible Venus. It is a madness, a
cancer upon the universe-- and the Pulse has asked us to cut it out.
How can we refuse?
   "But I know some of you still have your doubts. Are all people of
Earth so malignant? No. For every man who lusts for death and
destruction, there is another that seeks to put it 'right'. Earth is
not wholly one thing, nor the other. They are indeed a hundred things,
and a hundred more; they speak a hundred tongues, and a hundred more;
they worship a hundred gods, and a hundred more. Indeed, they revel in
it, and refuse to become one thing.
   "We were like them once, queen-sons. Once, we too were a hundred
things, and a hundred more, and we scratched imaginary lines across
our world, and fought over them. And then the Pulse..." (Say it. You
know you have to say it.) "...The Pulse taught us a harsh lesson. And
we learnt, and we became one thing. And today that thing we become is
   "Take your converter-pellets," says Rurik, crunching one between
his mandibles. "Neitheans, prepare ready to power our jump-belts.
Tonight, we shall fell the mightiest nation on Earth. Its most
important, most prosperous nation, the one to which all others look
for aid. When it is removed, their economy will fail. Their morale
will fail. And Earth shall learn the cost of their madness. Now,
   "Now, wing-brothers!
   "Now! Now! Now!" Twelve Legions activate their belts, and the
invasion begins.

------------------OFF TO THE SIDE-------------------
-----------Copyright 2015 Andrew Perron-------------

This morning, the little storage room had been a tiny refuge from the
work day, the perfect place to sit and text without my supervisor
catching on.
  Tonight, too, it was a refuge. Nine people sat, huddled, in the
cramped little space as I leaned against the door, listening,
  The first thing I noticed was my phone losing reception. Then I
heard a rumbling down the street. That explained it - despite the
forest of towers in Shijingshan, whenever the rail went by, service
dropped out.
  But the rumbling got louder, and louder, and it wasn't from the
tracks, it was from the street outside. The mumbling of the customers
grew, and then the shape appeared, huge and dark, rumbling by without
concern or humanity.
  Before the screaming could start, I shouted "In here!" and slammed
the door open to get their attention. Most of them ran in immediately,
and I managed to get the man freaking out under the crispy snacks on
his feet and through the door just before the air ripped open.
  I'm not sure how long it took to close the door. Not enough time to
look away from the silhouette, a smooth segmented centaur with six
legs and four arms, a dark spot in the bright stream of time that was
pouring past me. It was going to see me, and then my grandfather and
my granddaughter had their hands on the knob and pulled it shut before
disappearing in a ripple.
  The silence buzzed menacingly. The people in the room turned to me,
and I put my finger to my lips. I leaned against the door, and
  Clack. Clack. The thing's footsteps. Clack. Clack. Moving around.
Clack. Clack. Towards us? Sideways. Clack. Clack. Searching. Had it
seen me? Clack. Clack. No. Clack. Clack. Moving away. Fading. Clack...
clack... clack...
  I slumped against the door in relief.
  The wait began. In the next two hours, four more great vehicles
rumbled by. Once, we heard a scream, cut off by a sizzling noise
before I could tell which direction it came from. No footsteps. So
  I looked around at the ex-customers. I didn't know what was
happening in their heads, the private worlds inside the huddled,
staring forms.
  But there was one lady - I knew her, she bought a gallon of water
and a packet of cigarettes every week - was clicking at her phone over
and over, trying futilely to get news. "...no... no... nnnnh. It's not
WORKING!" She tossed the piece of plastic and electronics across the
room and stood up. "Move. I've got to see what's going on out there."
  Everyone looked up, and tension flooded the room like gas. I rose,
planting my feet wide, bracing myself against the door, and spoke
quiet and clear. "If you go out there, you're going to either die,
give us away, or both."
  "It doesn't matter! We're doomed anyway!" Her eyes were glazed, half
unseeing. "Everything's worse and worse and this is the end! The last
  "Then we'll reboot the franchise!" I stepped forward, eyes on hers.
"I'm not giving up on the girl who steadied me, or the memory of that
man! Humanity is going to survive this, and the most heroic thing you
can do right now, the best thing to ensure it, is sit down, shut up,
and live for another day!"
  Her eyes squeezed shut, and a breath came out her nose. Tears
squeezed out the corners. "Yes. I'm sorry to bring you so much
  I smiled. "Forgiven." I looked around at everyone. "Let's be quiet,
but..." I stood on my toes and pulled a box off the shelf. "Would
anyone like chips?"
 There were exhalations of relief. Quietly, we ate; quietly, we survived.


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