8FOLD/TEB: Darkhorse: Mighty Melodies TEB
joltcity at gmail.com
Sun Apr 17 19:02:18 PDT 2016
Melody Mapp's wristwatch gives her super-speed. It's also keeping her
alive. She doesn't have much time left, but she's going to spend every
second on the run as the third, final-- and greatest--
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MIGHTY MELODIES ~ BY TOM RUSSELL
~ CONTENTS ~
0. "Praying Angry" (Mighty Medley # 23)
1. Plot Synopsis: Journey Into # 15
2. "Thorns of a Dilemma" (Mighty Medley # 2)
3. "Terror of the Tribots!" (Mighty Medley # 1)
4. "Four Minutes" (Mighty Medley # 4)
5. "Last January" (Mighty Medley # 13)
6. "The Bergeron Run" (Mighty Medley # 5)
7. "Breathing Underwater" (Mighty Medley # 6)
8. "Wetwork" (Mighty Medley #9-10)
9. "The Last Story" [selections] (Mighty Medley # 16)
Marsha starts praying, soft and humble, but as it always does, it
turns angry. She doesn't mean it to. She knows it's not going to help
her change God's mind if she starts to threaten and curse. But she
can't help herself. She's been praying a hundred times a day for the
last year. Soft and humble has worn her out.
"You never gave me patience, Lord," she says, easing back into
contrition. "You gave me a lot of things, but patience was never one
of them." Whatever patience she did have had been worn down over this
last year to a raw red little nub. So now the first place she goes to
is anger and rage.
"My baby girl," she says, over and over again, "my baby girl," as
if those three words were a sort of prayer in miniature. Those three
words were all that mattered any more, all that ever mattered, really.
"Lord, Lord, Lord: my baby girl, please, my baby girl..."
"How old is she?"
Marsha turns her head toward the voice. It belongs to a tall white
man dressed in a sort of black suit. His skin is so white it hurts her
eyes, and his suit is so black she can't tell if there are any pockets
or buttons. She is about to say, who the hell are you?, but then she
sees that he has no eyes or mouth. "What the hell are you?"
"I am not from around here," he says, lifting his eyeless face upwards.
"A little farther off than that," he says.
Marsha feels dizzy for a moment, and when she shakes the haziness
from her head, the hospital is gone. "Where...?"
"Just stepping outside for a moment," he says. "So that we can
talk. How old is your daughter?"
He waves his white hand over the air. "She doesn't have long. Two
or three..." He pauses for a moment, searching for the word.
"I can offer you something that will extend her life," he says.
"But it has a cost. It's not fair, and it's not right, but it is an
This is what she gets for praying angry. God didn't hear her
prayers; the devil did, and he's here for her soul. "What is it?"
"It's in your hand."
She opens her hand and looks at it. "Is this a...?"
"It's not a timepiece," says the devil. "It's a time... borrower.
It takes the time from one person, and gives it to another. Potential
"You ain't a devil or an angel," says Marsha. "You're an alien."
"If you like," he shrugs.
"How much time can I give her?"
He touches her forehead with his palm, cold as iron. "Six years."
"The grief," he says gently.
She nods. "I wish I had more to give her."
"It's all you have," he says. "I think that's enough, don't you?"
"She deserves more."
"Of course she does," he says. "That's why I came. Your daughter..."
"You don't need to tell me that she's special, space-man. Or that
she's worth it. I've known that. Known it since the day she was born.
I've just been waiting for the rest of the universe to catch up. I
guess today's that day."
"I guess so," says his voice, and only his voice: he's gone now,
and she's back in the hospital. She doesn't need to ask him what to
do, or how it works; somehow, she knows how it works; somehow, she's
She slides the watch over Melody's wrist, and kisses her on the cheek.
Plot Synopsis : Journey Into # 15
The first story to feature Melody Mapp, the third Darkhorse, was
"Journey Into # 15", set in 2010. Melody's watch was infected with a
sentient video game demo, which had control over her body (and powers)
as a result. The original Darkhorse, Phil Whaley, saved her but
smashed her ankle in the process. She said that he had to buy her a
fancy dinner to make it even, a demand the notoriously prickly Whaley
THORNS OF A DILEMMA
Valentine's Day, 2013.
Welp!, Aunt Dani was right (Darkhorse decides): holiday-themed
villains are the worst. Dani's old flame had told her that, and she
had told her niece, and today she was starting to see the wisdom of
it. She had run into a few of them before, of course. Christmas
especially seems to bring out the crazies, and that's not even
touching on the group that gallivanted about Atlanta actually really
literally calling themselves the Christmas Crazies. But they were
mostly fun-psychotic, not psychotic-psychotic.
This one, calls herself Heartbreaker? She's psychotic-psychotic.
Probably Darkhorse shouldn't have actually said that to her, though.
"If you hadn't made me angry, maybe you wouldn't be tied to a bed by
poisoned rose thorns, suspended over a vat of ever-nearer molten
"To be honest?" says Darkhorse. "Nearly half of my adventures I end
up suspended over a vat of ever-nearer molten something. At least it's
chocolate this time. And, hey, you got me flowers. I appreciate that."
Heartbreaker ignores the quip, as if Darkhorse hadn't spoken at
all. (One of those. Ugh.) "Soon, they'll all know that hell has no
fury like that of a woman scorned!"
"Hath," corrects Darkhorse gently.
She heard her this time; in retaliation she yanks down the lever.
The bed is picking up speed. In one minute, Darkhorse will be dead.
Also delicious. But mostly dead, and that's the part that worries her.
Usually she'd just vibrate herself out of the mess-- vibrating her
atoms out of synch with reality being a marvelous way to get out of
all sorts of pickles, and also to speed up whisking. But, as
Heartbreaker was kind enough to explain shortly after Darkhorse gained
consciousness, the faster she goes, the faster the poison will do its
work. As soon as she starts up her superspeed, her heart will stop.
Then she'll be dead, though not delicious.
But neither is she helpless. Even without her overt super-speed
powers, each heartbeat has, to borrow a phrase, a little of eternity
in it. She has one minute? A minute's an hour to a speedster, and
that's plenty time to figure a way out of this, let's see:
She could start to rock the bed back-and-forth. Swing it just
right, the bed will get stopped at the side of the vat. But there's
still the matter of getting down; Heartbreaker could easily reverse
the pulley and then dip her back down again. Not to mention the thorns
would dig in deeper.
If she yanks really hard with her right, she might snap the thorns.
That's one hand free. She could do a lot with one free hand-- free her
other limbs, shimmy up the chain, jump clear. She wastes two seconds
If she was better at this, she could vibrate her molecules at a
separate frequency from the poison in her bloodstream. She thinks her
predecessor did that once. Neat trick if you know what you're doing,
but she doesn't, least not this time. She has to find another way out
of here, send a distress signal on her wristwatch, and then find
somewhere to wait for the CDC.
She could seduce her...? ...Probably? Then knock her out cold
during (or after, depending on how it was going). Heck, she has the
bed and the roses, and Heartbreaker's easy on the eyes, for a
psychotic-psychotic. "If your poison's gonna kill me anyway... well,
it is Valentine's Day..."
Before help arrives, she has just enough time, working in the
slow-motion the rest of us call the speed of life, to dress herself
and Heartbreaker. Probably going to bed with a romantically obsessed
villain was not the best idea, long-term. But it worked. And
Heartbreaker wasn't half-bad.
TERROR OF THE TRIBOTS
The Atlantic, 2013.
She hates running on water. It's not just speed that keeps you
topside, but also grace, and she can be clumsy; one wrong step, you're
barreling under at seventy miles per second. Terry was there to pull
her out last time. But, hey, she's the hero, this is her story, she
doesn't want to be rescued, thank you very much.
The Leclercs made short work of the tribots. She wishes she had
some of that backing her up in Atlanta. But they were needed in
Washington and New York. Darkhorse drops off the antiserum and is on
She gives the doctors their share of the antiserum, then heads back
to the autobahn where four Tribots are wreaking havoc. She learned in
Atlanta that these things are clumsier than she is. Laser turret and
CPU up-top, supported by three spindly impossibly long legs. Darkhorse
spins around, forming a miniature cyclone, sucking dust and debris
into her orbit. Then she's running at the tribots, darting around
them, the rubble whipping behind her like the tail of a comet. The
legs crumble and turrets tumble. Then she plunges her vibrating hand
knifely into each hull, frying the circuits.
Russia's been hit the hardest by the alien invaders and their plague,
and needs the antiserum the most. She has to keep reminding herself of
that as she races across the freezing wastes of Siberia. Is there
anything she hates running on more than snow and ice?
Oh, right, water. She drops off the antiserum in Japan (purely
preventative; the invaders kept clear of that kaiju hot-zone) and
Australia (stopping long enough to help Interceptor clobber a couple
Tribots) and is making a bee-line straight towards South America when
the waves ahead become turbulent. A submarine surfaces, chameleon
metal taking on the color of the sky and the sea. The top opens; a
young man appears. Chalk-white skin, black eyes, all pupils, no
irises. "Prince Terak of Lemuria bids you welcome!"
She leaps up to the submarine, thankful for something solid beneath
her tired feet. "Hiya, Terry. Here's the antiserum."
"You have my thanks. Though we dispatched the aqua-tribots with
ease, their disease has proved harder to banish from the divine blood
of my kin." He then asks her (not for the first time) to become his
She rolls her eyes. "Maybe some other time. I got ten more places
to hit. Take it easy, Gills," she teases.
"Be swift as the current, black pearl of the surface."
The CDC releases a statement thanking her for the record time in
which the cure for the alien disease has been distributed. Everyone's
been following her itinerary, and it looks like she'll have to deal
with all that unwanted attention the next couple days. For now, she
has the unwanted attention of Aunt Dani, who teases her about the
rendezvous with her "Lemurian lover".
"We're just friends," Melody says as she lowers herself into a hot
bath. "Fish eyes don't do it for me," she continues, probably lying.
She takes a deep breath and slips beneath the waves.
"You think you've beaten me? Four bombs, four minutes! Every minute, a
bomb goes off. Find it in time, you get the clue for the next. Miss a
single one, the clue goes up in the explosion, and Atlanta is burning
all over again!"
She turns him into the police and disarms the first bomb with only
nine seconds left. Beside it is a program: OEDIPUS REX.
Matinee performance of the play.
Moving at nearly imperceptible speeds so as not to disturb the
performance, she searches in vain for the bomb. Maybe she misread the
clue? That's the problem with riddles. ...Of course!
Atlanta Civic Center, the set for the quiz show Riddle of the Sphinx.
She finds the second bomb beneath the host's podium and disarms it
with only seconds to spare. Quickly she shuffles through the host's
neatly-typed riddle cards, until she finds a card without an answer:
RIDDLES IN THE DARK.
Centennial Olympic Park.
She finds the third bomb near the Fountain of the Rings. For once,
the seconds remaining are in double digits. Now to decipher the clue.
The bomb has a name and a date engraved on it. Google comes up empty.
Not a literary reference. But why engrave it? The other clues weren't
on the actual bomb.
Neither is this one! She pulls up the brick locator on the park's
website and types in the engraving. Bingo, it's from one of the pavers
used to pay for the park back in ninety-six. She goes to the brick,
only to find it replaced with a new brick, with a new engraving:
Across the street from the park: the Georgia Aquarium.
Darkhorse is terrified that she's made another boner. Snappers,
rays, groupers, a palometa, a dozen varieties of jack, and two flavors
of wobbegong, but nothing that looks remotely like a bomb. But maybe
that's the problem, she's looking.
She's disarmed three of them already, and they all had the same
queer vibrational frequency. Probably this one has the same. She
twitches her fingers to create a counter-frequency, and zeroes in on
the bomb, in the shark pool. Great. No, wait, it gets better-- the
bomb is in the shark. And, what, twenty seconds to go? That's the
She can't vibrate herself a hundred percent intangible, because (1)
she has this nasty habit of snapping back when she's startled, (2)
sharks, on average, can be more than a little startling, and (3) if
she snaps back under water, the water molecules that her molecules are
dancing with will become trapped in her lungs, drowning her. So the
safest way to do this is to take a deep breath and dive into the shark
tank. (Just keeps getting better.)
The shark is agitated. (You'd be too if a crazed supervillain made
you swallow a bomb.) So, to start with, she has to calm him (or her)
down (somehow). Or, ooh, maybe knock the shark out? Last time she was
in Lemuria, Terry taught her a subsonic anesthetic his veterinarians
used on pet sharks. She wiggles her fingers at super-speed to
replicate the frequency. She must be slightly off, because instead of
putting the shark asleep, it makes it queasy. It convulses, thrashing
wildly, and then vomits fish guts and bomb.
Melody disarms the bomb, and spins around, creating a miniature
hurricane to propel her out of the pool. Soaking wet, her skintight
union is a little skintighter than usual. Well, that's going to be all
over the internets.
At midnight, Melody presses her lips against Ben's, and she thinks,
yes, this is how I want twenty-fourteen to start. It's not Ben. She
doesn't even like Ben. Doesn't not like him, either. Just met him,
really. It's just that she wanted to be kissed at midnight, and he did
One of the many advantages of being a speedster is that every kiss
happens in slow motion, and if you're nineteen and you want a single
moment to last something close to forever, it does. Yes, yes; this is
how I want twenty-fourteen to start.
Twenty-thirteen was pretty grotty, all told. Oh, there was some
neat stuff in it, to be sure. She did her run-around-the-world thing
when the Tribots invaded, which was pretty boss, and since then there
hadn't been a week where she hadn't had a request for an interview, a
team-up, or her hand in marriage (mostly from Terry, but hey, a girl
likes to feel appreciated). She turned down all of the matrimonies and
most of the interviews, and for the same reason-- she doesn't have the
time to waste.
But she never turned down a team-up. (Well, almost never; Blue
Boxer got a little pervy, though Bethany said he's a lot better than
he used to be.) Every team-up, someone good got saved and someone bad
got put away. Bethany, Jules, Brian, Kate, even Docrates-- she had
learned from every one of them, every time. Each team-up made her
better at the work, and it's the work that matters. In
twenty-thirteen, she was the best she'd ever been.
But twenty-thirteen was also the year when Melody, who always knew
her days were numbered, at last discovered what that number was. On
December 27th of twenty-fourteen, her watch would stop, then her
heart, then her brain. It won't take more than three minutes for her
to die. She will still have super-speed when she dies, and in fact it
will become more pronounced, and so her last three minutes will
stretch out to something akin to a year.
"Geez, that must be depressing," Bethany had said in June.
"Nah," said Melody with a shrug. "It's a good life if you don't
weaken, and I'm gonna finish strong. Going to be a good year. I'm
going to make it good. I'm not worried about the twenty-seventh. Brian
and Dani will be there with me."
Those words sting a bit now. Because the back end of
twenty-thirteen was when Brian went to prison for a crime he didn't
commit and the cancer took her Aunt Dani. Because of twenty-thirteen,
Melody is going to die alone, and she can never forgive it for that.
And just to cement its place as the annus excrementis, she spent
the last hour of twenty-thirteen chasing after a bunch of stupid thugs
who gained electrical powers at a New Year's rave. She could have been
fighting FEVER or a space-god or who-knows-what, but instead her last
December 31st is wasted on a bunch of dumb penny-ante bulb-heads. At
11:59:59:99, as she dodged one bolt of electricity and redirected
another using her speed as a "static magnet" (shut up, it's totally a
thing), Melody decides that twenty-fourteen is going to be better, and
that it's going to start with a kiss. She scoops up a bystander in her
arms and speeds him outside. She decides that he's cute enough to do
in a pinch, and that his name should be Ben.
His lips are cracked and dry and thin, and hers are full and wet
and plump. His lips stick to hers for an eternal half-second, then
peel reluctantly away like a shell from a boiled egg. He smiles at
her, still cradled in her surprisingly powerful arms, blinking and
bewildered, and also more than a little pleased with himself. She
smiles back, raising her eyebrows over wide green eyes as if to say,
yep, that just happened. Then she sets him down and runs back inside.
Back to work.
THE BERGERON RUN
Just before he went to prison, Brian Clipper once told her that a
speedster's most important power wasn't running faster than the speed
of sound or up the sides of buildings, nor creating miniature
tornados, nor even vibrating your molecules out of synch with reality,
"though vibrating is very, very useful. No, best arrow in our quiver
is our popularity. Speedsters have always been loved, and we can do
more with that than all the rest."
Melody didn't really grok it until she found a hundred thousand
international sponsors for Atlanta's Breast Cancer Marathon. Like most
things in Melody's life, she pushed hard for the first few steps, then
it picked up speed. Coverage lead to more coverage, donors to more
Not everyone is supportive. Some grouse that Darkhorse is doing it
for attention, just another celebrity pretending desperately that she
cares. The foundation doesn't pay them any mind; money is money, and
sponsors for the event are up across the board, not just for Team
Aunt Dani wouldn't have paid attention to them, either.
She would've been proud.
Even if it's for a cause, a race is a race is a race, and at least
some of the grousing concerns how fair it will be with a speedster in
the running. A solemn promise not to use her powers doesn't appease
them, so Darkhorse agrees to have her watch electronically hobbled. As
even popular heroes have a lot of enemies (more enemies, probably), a
temporarily powerless speedster is a juicy target. Blue Boxer and his
Daylighters offer to provide security, and DFCA Secretary Trimmer
makes it happen. As for the actual hobbling, Fay Tarif is called in to
"Well, I can do it, kiddo. I can do anything, I'm awesome like that."
Fay hesitates. "But... it's going to steal some of your time."
The watch can only keep her alive for one-hundred eighty-six more
days. "How much?"
"You'll lose two days. Maybe two and a half."
One-eighty-four, eighty-three. It's not much time, but really, it's
never been much time. From the start, she's dedicated herself to
making that time count. Towards making it matter. That doesn't change
now that she's approaching the home stretch. The money she's going to
raise, the good it might do? If it helps get us one second closer to
the day where no one has to die the way Aunt Dani died?
It's worth her two days.
Lemuria, June 2014.
"It has been too long since my eyes have beheld your radiance."
"Terry," Melody says, withdrawing her hand before he can kiss it,
"I only came down here because you said there was a crisis, and
because you promised not to flirt."
"Propose," corrects Terak, Prince of Lemuria. "I promised not to
propose. And these are dark times, o black pearl of the sea."
"Again, just call me Melody; black pearl of the sea is a little racist."
"But you're okay with Darkhorse."
"It's an idiom. Now, what's the trouble, Gills?"
CRAKATHOOM! The magnificent domed city is rocked by an explosion.
ZIP! Melody is there. The dome's Lemurian glass, thin as paper but
a thousand times denser than steel, is pristine. The discotheque,
however, is broiling in flame and smoke.
There's a map in the lobby. She spends one second committing it to
memory; it takes two seconds between her wristwatch and a
half-remembered semester of combinatorics to find the optimal route.
She runs it in two leisurely-paced twelve-second laps, and thus all
one-hundred forty-six people who were still inside now find themselves
Smoke's getting thick. She coughs and hacks, and over that noise
she can barely hear Terry rattling on over her comm-link, "whispers of
a coup... half-brother... Apelantian raids..."
She speeds out into the open dome, takes a huge heaving breath of
comparatively fresh air, then rushes back into the disco. Melody uses
the old reverse-tornado trick, yes that old chestnut, sucking all of
the air and smoke into the eye of her storm, starving the fire of the
oxygen it needs to burn. Now quite blue in the face but still holding,
she vibrates the molecules of the smoke, turning it into a thin and
wispy (if not necessarily breathable) vapor. Then it's a matter of
putting out what little fire that remains, snuffed out like candles at
She's dizzy by the time she heads back out to the dome. "I've been
mean to you, lungs," she says between huge gulps of air. "Sorry about
that!" She's bent over, panting, hands on her knees to stop herself
from pitching forward.
FFIPP! Someone fires a harpoon at her. Right, Apelantian raiders.
"Can't even let a girl catch her breath, huh?" She grabs the harpoon
by its handle, then tosses it with a resounding KLANG to the ground.
FFIPP! "Seriously." KLANG.
FFIPP! "Just give me a..." KLANG.
FFIPP! "... minute!" FFIPP! KLANG. KLANG.
"Okay, fellas, now that's enough." FFIPP!
KLANG. The nerve! She's half a mind to point the muzzle right back
at them a split-second after they pull the trigger. Instead, she blurs
by them, taking their guns away, that old chestnut. ZIP! KLUNK, KLUNK,
"Hardly creative," sneers an Apelantian.
Melody brings her hands together in a supersonic thunderclap,
THACK!, the force of which causes the Apelantians to shake. And--
since while disarming them earlier she also gave each of them a
high-friction super-speed body massage-- all their hair falls off,
WHOOSH. Thus embarrassed (an Apelantian's body hair is like a
samurai's topknot, the loss of which brings grave dishonor and shame)
they quickly surrender to the prince's guards.
"Now maybe I can catch my breath," wheezes Melody.
The ancient Lemurian ceremony is being sung in Ancient Lemurian, so
the afternoon Melody spent mastering their modern tongue is pretty
much useless. But she's pretty sure the fish-ninja bursting through
the stained glass windows aren't part of the act.
"Death to the pretender! Life to the Blackfin!"
(Yep, not part of the ceremony. This dweeb is here to kill Terry on
behalf of his power-hungry brother.)
"Death to the... where is the pretender? He was here a second ago!"
"That'd be because of me," offers Darkhorse cheerfully. She stashed
him away about ten miles as the stingray swims.
The fish-ninja reaches into his belt for his fishurikens. Which
are not there. "Wha--?"
"Also me," says Darkhorse, using them like cards to do a
self-satisfied accordion flush. "Afraid I was a little clumsy, though.
Sliced your bag of knockout dust."
The fish-ninja holds up the bag to investigate it. "No you didn't!"
"Knew I forgot something. Easily remedied." The fishuriken rips
through the bag; a cloud of knockout dust billows forth; the
The secret base, just outside Lemuria, of Edvark the Blackfin. "We are
disappointed in you, Fenrick. And your ninja. Your task was to restore
to us our stolen crown. Yet my hated half-brother Terak still lives."
"He is protected by the human female. If we but wait until she left..."
"And while we wait, they continue to hound us, and will surely find
us. We must achieve our aim before they achieve theirs. If the woman
is an obstacle, then naturally you must remove her first. Then Terak
will be child's play..."
His terms are simple: ten million you-ess-dee, up-front, no refunds.
Fenrick can barely hide his shock. "Ten million is a lot of your
money, surface-man. Even for a man of your reputation."
"Murder is an expensive business. Especially for a speedster. But I
think you'll find my prices more than fair." The assassin holds a
bullet between a pair of tweezers. He points it at Fenrick, who
reaches to touch the tip with his finger. His finger passes through
it. "Ghost-shot. Harmless to solid matter; only thing that can tag a
speedster when they're vibrating. One million dollars. Each. Four
He pulls out a device that looks like a bullhorn. "Less expensive,
just as vital. Vibrational vertigo. A speedster always knows when a
bullet's coming because he can feel it from the second it's shot.
Quarter-mill a piece. I'll need eight. Brings us up to six million
altogether, running total.
"Then there's the main event." He holds up a small vial, smaller
than his thumb, containing a clear black liquid. The fact that the
liquid is both black and clear isn't the strangest thing about it.
"I'm fast, but not near as fast as she is. Fifteen milliliters of
Hermys will give me her powers for forty seconds. Also shave about two
years off of my life. Three million.
"Leaving one million dollars, labor. To kill a speedster and die
two years younger? Yeah, for that? A million's cheap. Practically
doing it for free."
Two days later in Lemuria-- two days where no one tried to kill Prince Terak.
"Maybe your brother's given up?" says Melody, half-seriously.
"Were that was the efjkgjeix," says Terry.
"What?" says Melody.
"Bivensk fjdksjfe, togdqjl?" He looks concerned, or rather they do,
because now there's three of him.
Something is distorting her vibrational field, and she's pretty
sure it's not that angler fish she ate this morning. (Still shouldn't
have had it, note to self: angler fish tastes worse than it looks.)
"Run, you idiot!"
Terry trusts her, trusts her with his life, and so he doesn't do
that annoying thing where he asks questions or tries to help. He
listens to her immediately, especially when she calls him an idiot.
(Might make good husband material after all, if she was going to live
If someone's intentionally disabled her vibrational field, it's
probably to stop her from telling which direction a bullet's coming
from. That's not cheap, either, which means it wouldn't be meant for
Terry; Blackfin always has two or three assassination plans ready, in
case one fails, and it wouldn't be his style to shell out that many
clams on yet another potentially failed fratricide. No, they want
Darkhorse out of the picture.
So, she can't sense the bullet. She scans the area for likely
sniper nests (which isn't easy with the vibrational vertigo). To her
dismay, the place is lousy with them. It could come from anywhere.
Best bet is to play defense. Put her molecules out of synch with
reality so any bullets just pass through her. Only, wouldn't they be
expecting that, counting on it? She snaps back to physical existence
just in time to feel a bullet tickling harmlessly through and past her
skull. Ghost shot: bullets that only hit a vibrating speedster. But
the next bullet might be real enough. People could get hurt (including
her!), so running away is not an option. She takes a moment to study
the ghost bullet, determine its trajectory, plus-minus three degrees
to account for the vertigo effect.
She gets to the nest, but there's no sniper. Out of the corner of
her eye, she sees a flash of light from the building across the
street. Another bullet? Real or ghost? She needs some kind of test
that doesn't involve her skull exploding. She quickly closes the
window. The bullet passes through the glass like light: ghost. She
remains solid and lets it pass through her, as well. She zips across
the street; sniper's gone. She looks across the street for the next
bullet. This one breaks the window. So he is changing it up. Good. By
which she doesn't mean good, but the opposite of good.
She doesn't waste time going to the nest. Instead, she determines
from which building one would have a clear shot on that one, and she
goes there. But that building's empty. It's then she realizes that he
didn't change nests; he was expecting her to catch on to his game!
He's already fired two bullets: one real, one ghost. One of them tags
her in the shoulder.
Now he'll be gone from the nest. He's fast, as fast as her. But if
it's another speedster, how can he function with the vertigo? Unless
he isn't really a speedster. (Which would mean, what? Hermys-- liquid
speed? Man, they want her dead but good.) But Melody can use that.
Because really, everyone's part of the field; most people just don't
notice it. She vibrates the air around her, boosting the signal to
give everyone in ten miles the same lovely about-to-puke experience,
including the ersatz speedster.
In fact, and this is the best part, his stolen speed is going to
make it even worse. And like all speedsters the first time they notice
the field, his body's going to react by trying to cancel out the field
with a counter-vibrational frequency. Or, to put it another way, a
Exactly one right hook later, the assassin is unconscious and in
Lemurian custody. The vertigo effect is disabled, and Melody angrily
wastes one of her remaining 176 days alive recuperating from it.
THE LAST STORY [selections]
"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
"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
"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
for the FEVER pathogen, 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
"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
"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."
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
SOMETHING. GO THERE."
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.
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
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.
"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."
"So, the Gorgon's working for the Pulse?" says Brian.
It takes a little less than two milliseconds to get it out. Phil
Whaley can still hear and understand it. Dingham robbed him of the
ability to act at super-speed, but not the ability to perceive and
think like a speedster. The incongruity drove him insane for a few
months. He put himself back together, and he's been put-together for a
long time, but he has zero patience for other people and the way even
a simple greeting takes them an eternity.
Talking to Brian is a different story, and their friendship-- born,
begrudgingly, from a winking rivalry when they were both active
speedsters-- has become deeper and warmer since both men retired from
"More like working with," says Whaley. "Gorgon doesn't hate all
life, just humans."
"De-- Boxer thinks it's that way across the board?"
"FEVER, Blackfin, Venusmancers," says Whaley. "Nihilists." That is,
any of them are insane and venal enough to want to end the human race.
He doesn't need to get into all of that; Brian's fluent in Whaley's
particular brand of shorthand.
"Here we are," says Brian. It's a U.S. military base, and not the
first one they've visited. "Sixteenth time's a charm?"
Whaley sighs, briefly. "Sweet sixteen."
Like all the others, all the personnel stand stiff and wide-eyed
like statues. It's what happens when a human being is infected by the
Gorgon, and resists its hypnotic instructions. They'll stay like that
until either the Gorgon is defeated-- ending the spell-- or until the
Gorgon breaks them, forcing them to take their own lives. For the
sixteenth time today, Brian starts by disarming and restraining all
the victims for their own safety.
And then, for the sixteenth time, Whaley connects his computer to a
Gorgon-infected console. As a speedster-- even one who moves at a
snail's pace like the rest of us-- Whaley is immune to the Gorgon's
hypnotic effect, making him the only living computer genius capable of
taking the Gorgon on.
"Could be you," says Whaley pointedly, and not for the first time.
One of the recurring arguments between the two of them had to do with
Brian's wasted potential. A speedster can master any discipline,
cramming years of research and practice into days. Whaley did it. Even
the new girl does it. But Brian never could spend two minutes on
anything he didn't want to do. Whaley had tried and failed to teach
him the particulars when the plan was hatched; the last thing he
wanted was to be in the field again himself. He misses the speed, but
he doesn't miss... "Shakespeare-quoting robots, Brian."
And for the sixteenth time, they are attacked by two dozen
iterations of Hotspur, the Gorgon's slightly more insane
partner-in-genocide. "Hard to concentrate, Brian," says Whaley.
"They're getting better," says Brian. "Smarter." Like the Gorgon,
the Hotspurs have learned to self-evolve. And like the Gorgons,
they're in constant communication with their brethren through the
alien psi network. These Hotspurs have learned from the other fifteen
Out of the corner of his eye, Whaley sees a metal claw reaching for
his face. Like everything, it moves in slow motion. Brian's on the
other side of the room tangling with other Hotspurs. It will take him
four seconds to extradite himself from that mess and rescue Whaley. It
will, by Whaley's calculations, be a tenth of a second too late.
Neither does he have enough time to throw himself out of its way. In
less than four seconds, the claw will be plunging into his skull. Time
being above all things relative, it will feel more like six minutes.
Suddenly, the claw shakes, its atoms scattering apart, along with
the rest of the robot. But Brian's still on the other side of the
room. Whaley sees a shape standing behind the robot, or rather several
shapes, shimmering and bouncing against each other into another shape
that's vaguely human, and vaguely familiar. It disappears in a blink
of an eye, like it had never been there. But it was, at it saved his
life, and it looked like... "...Kate...?"
Brian finishes the last of the robots by the time Whaley announces
that the computer's ready. The Gorgon isn't really one being, or even
a hive-mind. It's a virus that evolves every time it replicates
itself, creating a hundred different variations every time. Inferior
variations are deleted; superior variations update the older ones.
Whaley has, for the sixteenth time, isolated a susceptible version of
the Gorgon, cutting it off from the others before they can update or
delete it. If it evolves in isolation, wonderful things might happen.
"Sweet sixteen," says Whaley. He presses the button, and sends the
artificial intelligence called Kid Enthusiastic once more unto the
"Alien psi network." Blue Boxer says the words to the empty air, and
wonders what they mean. The Pulse, of course; Danisee had the right of
that. Ever since things started going wobbly these last two days,
Derek's been waiting for them to pile on, holding his breath.
"Alien psi network," he says again, speaking to no one at all. He's
been alone ever since Melody left. That was six hours ago, when
Project Magnum finally got up and running. The first thing they did
was check in on the group Derek had sent after Dingham. They got the
story from David's mind in violent fits and starts, incoherent flashes
of pain and anger through the gauzy fog of medications keeping him
alive. Through it all, David blamed whatever happened on Derek. So did
Melody. (So did Derek.)
They had an argument, Melody and him, if you could call it that;
the problem with speedsters is that it's impossible to interrupt them,
and when they do pause for you to respond, they're so impatient that
they start right in at you again. Didn't help matters, of course, that
she was right. He should have sent her in the first place. He knows
that. It's obvious.
Everything's obvious in retrospect, though. Probably if he had sent
her in alone, she would've gotten herself killed, and then it would be
obvious he should have sent Kate.
"I'm sorry, Kate," he says now, softly and to nobody. Then: "Alien
The alien psi network has to be vast, numbering in the thousands. But
how can so many aliens hide on Earth? Once the restoration of
traditional communications frees them up to do some digging, Project
Magnum discovers that the alien consciousnesses are being transmitted
into thousands of comatose human bodies: victims of the FEVER
pathogen. The disease makes the brains compatible for this purpose.
But they're being met half-way; the aliens are being "translated" into
something that the modified human brains can use.
Meanwhile, reports from China of the teleporting alien bug army are
soon accompanied by hard data on the peculiar energy signatures left
by the teleportation. It's a slight warping of reality, and that leads
Doctor Fay to compare it side-by-side with the Dingham Effect. It's a
perfect match. Project Magnum already knows that the alien psi network
is powering the teleportation. From there, it's a hop-and-a-skip to
the realization that Gregory Dingham is the transmitter. Take him out,
and the whole network shuts down. (That's the theory, anyway.)
Really though-- really, honestly, and for true? Melody doesn't care
about any of that. Because what it comes down to is that Kate was her
Once telecommunications come back up, word quickly spreads of Dingham
sightings throughout Metro-Detroit. Melody spots him wandering about
Greektown, bodies scattered in the streets. Sleeping, she realizes
after checking a few of them. All sleeping. (Remember, he can't use
his powers to kill, not directly.) (But then what happened to Kate,
Play it safe, girl. Sneak up on him. Move slow enough so that you
don't generate too much noise and alert him to your presence. Say,
only about twenty miles an hour.
But that proves to be both too fast, and not fast enough. Too fast,
in that it does create enough noise, causing him to turn around; too
slow, in that he has enough time to say, "SLEEP."
But she doesn't stay down for long. Her sleep cycle is modulated to
the second by her watch, and after the prescribed twenty seconds,
she's back on her feet.
"I know you," sneers Dingham from a distance. "The new Darkhorse.
You know what happened to the last one, don't you?"
"I want to know what happened to Metronome," says Melody. "And
before I take you down, you're going to tell me."
Melody becomes a passenger in her own body, and before she realizes
what's happened, she's hoofed it to the Glass City, covering
eighty-some miles in three minutes. It only takes her two to get back
Everything goes white, blinding white, and Melody crumples
erratically to the ground. Her bones and muscles ache as her flailing
limbs collide with the pavement. Stop.
Stop. Please stop.
She hasn't had a shaking fit since before the watch. It's the whole
point of the watch, really; keeping her alive, keeping the disease at
bay. She wasn't supposed to ever go through this again.
"THAT'S ENOUGH," says Dingham, and the shaking stops. Melody tries
to lift herself up, but that just makes her oxygen-starved brain swim.
Need to catch your breath. Catch your breath, then we'll get this guy.
"You think I'm being nice, that I'm having mercy on you," says
Dingham. "Sorry, hood rat. Ain't that kind of guy. I just stopped to
tell you, YOUR POWERS ARE GONE."
He gives her a kick in the stomach-- or he would, if his foot
wasn't passing through harmlessly through her. "I said, YOUR POWERS
"Nope." She starts to pull herself to her feet. He back-pedals on the double.
As if in response, she picks up speed.
Two minutes there; one minute to return. She can see the panic
etched on his face. That's good and it's bad. Good, because if he's
panicked, he can't think long enough or straight enough to really use
his power. (Keep him panicked, keep him flailing, keep him repeating
himself.) Bad, because when he panics, he overreacts, defaults to the
most destructive option. (That's what happened ten years ago in
She had been expecting that; she had set her sleep cycle to two seconds.
"You-- you-- OOPS, YOU TRIPPED!"
She expected that, too, or something like it; she doubles her speed
just before she falls forward, rolling into a ball that bounces toward
"SLOW DOWN, SLOW DOWN!" he shrieks. "WHY WON'T YOU SLOW DOWN! I
TOOK YOUR P--"
He stops talking; her fingers are in his throat, vibrating. "You
didn't take anything from me," she says. "Your powers don't let you do
anything that's going to kill somebody directly. Without my speed, I'd
die." Which means Kate's still alive. She has to be. "I don't kill
either. Difference is I don't need powers to stop me."
When she pulls her hand back, she has, cupped in her palm, two
flaps of muscle: the vocal folds.
"So that we're clear?" says Melody after the steaks have arrived.
"This doesn't absolve you from having to buy me a dinner."
"I don't believe I do," says Whaley. "Firstly, I never agreed to anything."
"You busted my ankle. It's kinda implied."
"Secondly, I believe your condition-- which, again, I never agreed
to-- was that I have dinner with you. Which I now am."
"My treat," says Melody. She lays the bitterness on a little thick,
making a joke of it. Whaley seems to be responding in kind, so she's
pretty sure that he's not really Whaley, but some kind of parallel
"You said there was something you had to ask me about," he says
stiffly. There he is, there's the old so-and-so who broke her ankle
and won't buy her dinner.
"It's about your... powers."
This is a sore subject; she can tell by the way he draws his knife
across his steak. She waits for him to say something, and when he
doesn't, she presses on.
"You still perceive everything in slow motion, like I do."
"Some things are slower and more tedious than others."
"You have photographic memory?" Most speedsters do.
"Eidetic memory," corrects Whaley soberly.
"And you saw Kate."
"I saw... something. For two seconds."
"But it was Kate."
Whaley closes his eyes, breathes; opens his eyes, breathes; nods.
"She's still alive," says Melody. "Somewhere."
"Then I need your help," says Melody. "I need you to remember
everything you can about those two seconds, and I need you to remember
everything you don't. Because if she's still alive, then I'm going to
find her, and I'm going to bring her back.
"Even if it's the last thing I do."
TO BE CONTINUED IN...
...DARKHORSE # 1!
COPYRIGHT (C) 2014, 2015, 2016 TOM RUSSELL
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