8FOLD: Darkhorse # 9, "Make It Magnificent"

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Sun Jul 3 06:31:28 PDT 2016

Melody Mapp was fourteen and dying when her mother gave up her own
life to give her six more years. Since that day, Melody has used this
borrowed time, and the super-speed that came with it, to protect the
Earth and make a difference.
   She's out of time.

    ____             __   __
   / __ \____ ______/ /__/ /_  ____  _____________
  / / / / __ `/ ___/ //_/ __ \/ __ \/ ___/ ___/ _ \
 / /_/ / /_/ / /  / ,< / / / / /_/ / /  (__  )  __/
/_____/\__,_/_/  /_/|_/_/ /_/\____/_/  /____/\___/
        [8F-169] by Tom Russell [PW-22]

   Melody has been hopping from one parallel earth to another with a
miniaturized Cal Morgan, trying to get the both of them home. On the
last of these worlds, Cal gave up her chance to be restored to her
normal height so that Melody could save its inhabitants from a natural

It's Christmas morning, twenty-fourteen, when Melody and Cal return to
their own Earth, soaking wet from outrunning hurricanes. The frequency
Melody's local instance of Medusa calculated with the help of the
self-replicating, world-hopping Medusa drone the Daylighters sent
through the multiversal barrier was configured to have Melody arrive
in Sault Ste. Marie, where her friends and colleagues had continued to
   They're all there. They immediately start to pepper her with
questions and expressions of relief, but one look at the clock on the
wall and she sees that it's nine fifty. She has ten minutes.
   "Hi," says a quiet little muffled voice she'd recognize anywhere.
   Knockout Mouse gives her a hug, careful not to crush Cal.
   "But you were in space!"
   "I came back," says Bethany. "You're one of my best friends. I'm
not going to let you face this alone."
   "I need to find Kate."
   "What did she mean," says Cal, "face what alone?"
   Melody doesn't answer. She soon finds Kate and Simon. Melody holds
Cal in cupped hands like a baby bird, and offers her back to her
   "Your sister was amazing," she says to Kate.
   "Thanks," says Kate. She looks troubled. "Dot said..."
   "Cal knows," says Melody. "And I'm sorry."
   "You don't need to be," says Kate, but then Melody has already left.

She can't die there, with all those people watching her as her body
falls apart. She resolves to do it at home, and so she high-tails it
back to Georgia as fast as her legs will carry her. Which is plenty
fast. Too fast, maybe, because in her hurry, she ran, almost
instinctually, to the wrong home. Not to her apartment, but to her
mother's house in Atlanta.
   She considers making a dash for her apartment, anything to get away
from this empty dark house. But she stops herself, because for some
reason she can't quite articulate, it feels right to be here. For the
first time since her Aunt Dani died, it feels right.
   "Melody," says the voice in her ear.
   "Oh. Hi, Medusa. I forgot you were there."
   "Do you want me to go?"
   Melody shakes her head.
   "I can be silent, if you want me to stay."
   "You can talk." Melody sits down on the sofa. The lights are off--
she hasn't paid the utilities in months-- and it puts a strain on her
eyes to stare into the brown-gray darkness of the early morning. And
so she closes her eyes.
   "Are you scared, Melody?"
   "No. I don't think so." She frowns. "Maybe a little. Of the pain
more than anything else. I don't usually think about it. Now I've got
nothing else to do but to think about it."
   "Only for two more minutes."
   "Two more minutes," agrees Melody. She takes a deep breath. "I feel
like I should be doing something, you know? Two whole minutes, that's
enough time to help someone. Help one more person, you know?"
   "I think you've done enough."
   "Yeah," she shrugs. "I did okay in the homestretch, anyway."
   "More than okay."
   "Thanks," says Melody. "So, what happens to you?"
   "To me?"
   "You're a local instance in my headset. Do you go somewhere eventually?"
   "Oh, that. I've already begun re-assimilating with the others.
They're all downloading my files, I'm downloading all of theirs. Once
we're all identical, certain instances will delete themselves. Since
I'm specific to your headset, it's likely I'll elect to delete myself
when the transfer is complete."
   "That's sad."
   "Is it?" Medusa sounds genuinely perplexed. "I don't know about
that. The information doesn't go anywhere. It gets shared. It makes
the world a better place."
   "Could you not share this? These two minutes, can you keep that between us?"
   "Of course."
   "How much," she takes another deep breath, "how much time do I have
left, Medusa?"
   "Not long."
   "I think I'd like to be alone now."
   "I understand. Would you like to listen to some music?"
   "Yeah. Yeah, that'd be nice."
   "What would you like to listen to?"
   "I can't pick anything right now. Could you?"
   "Of course. It's been a pleasure working with you, Melody Mapp."
   "You too."
   Medusa clicks off, and the song starts playing. She recognizes it
   "Atomic," says Melody, sniffling and smiling all at once. "Sure,
why not? Good song to go out on. Good choice."
   Melody lies down on her side, curling her legs up and tucking one
hand underneath her head. With her free hand she wipes her face and
nose clean. She takes another deep breath, and then finds herself
quietly mouthing the words.
   She's surprised, then, when the song ends; the song's a lot longer
than two minutes, and she had less than that left. She opens her eyes
and sits up to look at her watch. Three minutes past ten o'clock.
   She should be dead by now. Or dying, at any rate, her entire body
going into one last seizure that lasts an eternity. She pokes at her
watch, and the instant that she does, there's a distinct CLICK from
within its gears. In the blink of an eye-- a blink even by Melody's
thousand-frames-per-second standards-- the watch collapses and
dissolves on itself, and then disappears into thin air.
   This, of course, is more than a little terrifying. That feeling
subsides as Melody stares at her wrist, which bears the impression of
the watch she's worn for the last six years. It's sore now, like the
watch had always been too tight, but she had never noticed it until it
was gone. She rubs her aching wrist. She rubs it at super-speed.
   She's alive, and she has her powers. What the heck?

It doesn't take long for the news to spread, and it takes even less
time for Kate and Bethany to muscle Melody into meeting them that
   "I don't really feel like going out anywhere," says Melody. "But
I'd be happy to have you both over."
   Melody picks them up in Chicago, and one seven-hundred mile jog
later, the three of them are enjoying sweet tea on the patio.
   "So," says Kate, "are you moving back into your mom's house?"
   "I don't know," says Melody. "Probably. The apartment never did
feel like home. I think the problem with the house the last year or so
is that it kept reminding me how alone I was, and how little time I
had. Like that'd be a thing I'd ever forget. Now that I don't have
that hanging over my head, maybe this can just be home again. Maybe I
can just focus on the good memories."
   "Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but any idea why you're,
um, not dead?"
   "Really tactful, Kate," says Bethany.
   "It's a legitimate question."
   "I spent a few hours with the Doctors Fay today," says Melody. "I
was exposed to really high doses of unidentified radiation on one of
the parallels. As near as the Fays can tell, it acted like a
hyper-aggressive dose of chemotherapy, killing off my disease. My
metabolism is so fast from having super-speed for the last six years
that it didn't kill me. So, I guess I'm kinda thankful for that
nut-job mancer conspiracy theorist stranding me there."
   "Kate?" says Bethany. "What's wrong?"
   "Sorry," says Kate, shaking her head. "It's like there's something
in my head rattling around. Something to do with mancers." She turns
to Melody. "You mentioned it, and it started to jog something, but now
it's gone. I went after the vertigo guy, and apparently he did a
number on me. I can't remember any of it. And yet I think there's
something important rattling around in the old noggin, I just can't
reach it. After everything settles down, I'm going to talk to
Rainshade to see if she can try and unlock it."
   "How are you feeling, besides that?" says Melody.
   "You mean, am I okay after being disembodied for four months? It
was rough there at first, but once I started doing something useful, I
kinda forgot about myself."
   "Yeah," says Melody, "I know the feeling."
   "I know you do," says Kate. "That's you to a T. Now that you're not
racing against the clock, you think you're going to slow down a bit?"
   "I don't know," says Melody. "It seems like that's my answer to
everything today. Everything's been kinda focused and counting down to
today, and so I have zero plans for tomorrow and everything after it.
But, I know that I love what I'm doing. I'm going to keep doing it."
   "Oh, we know that," says Bethany. "I think what Kate is asking
about is, uh, 'work-life balance'."
   "I think that's over-rated," says Melody. "It's not for me, anyway.
I like working. I live for the work. All my friends are work-friends.
I don't have any family left. I can't have children."
   "Well, you could adopt," says Bethany.
   "I know of at least two I could loan you," says Kate.
   Melody shakes her head. "Just not for me, I think. So, what am I
going to do if I slow down? Twiddle my thumbs? Sit quietly and be
bored out of my skull? So I guess I do know the answer to that one."
   "You say that now," says Bethany. "You might change your mind when
you're our age."
   "Speak for yourself, ancient one," says Kate.
   "You're like two years younger than me."
   "You're both super-old, okay?" says Melody, grinning.
   "You're just super-young," says Kate gently. "I remember when I was twenty."
   "Ah, yes," says Bethany. "The days of papyrus."
   Kate rolls her eyes. "I thought I'd keep doing this forever. I knew
that most heroes only lasted for a few years before they burned out.
Or before something happened to them. Like what happened to the first
Darkhorse, and to Pack. But I always felt, well, if something
happened, then it happened, but up until then, I'd keep doing what I
was doing.
   "But next year I'll be thirty. Officially old, like Bethany. And
over the last few years, I've been thinking that, well, I don't want
it to end that way. I have people that I love and that count on me,
and I want to be there for them. I want to see them succeed, and find
happiness, and have children, and I want to see those children
succeed, and find happiness, and have children. And I've had enough
close calls over the years that, well, I don't know. I'm not retiring
just yet, but I don't think I have more than another year or two in
   "All I'm saying I guess is that my priorities when I was your age,
and my priorities now, they're different. Ten years is a long time.
Things change. People change. And down the road you might feel
   "I might," says Melody, mostly to be polite.
   "I think I'm going to need a new name, though," says Kate. "I kinda
wish I hadn't chosen to call myself the second Doctor Metronome."
   "You've made it your own, though," says Melody.
   "It's not just that it's an old supervillain name. I mean, I'm not
a Doctor. I don't have the Metronome Belt anymore, and that's kind of
a terrible way to hide my secret identity as a concert pianist, you
   Bethany breaks in. "Yeah, but it's not like you have your real name
in there. Like Microdot."
   "Well, I need a new name, anyway," says Kate. "I have no idea what
to call myself yet, but anything has to be better than the Inch."
   "Please tell me she's really using that," says Melody.
   "Oh, yes," says Kate. "Cal Morgan, the Mighty Inch. Thank you for
that one, Melody."
   "Oh, you're very welcome."
   "I mean it," Kate says quietly. "Thank you for saving me. And for
bringing Cal home."
   "I am sorry it wasn't sooner."
   "Medusa told me how Cal gave it up," says Kate. "That's a hard
thing to do. But she did it. To be really honest? It's not something I
thought she'd be capable of doing."
   "She's really a good kid," says Melody. "She's just got a lot of
things she's working through."
   "I'm proud of her, of what she did. I hate to say it, but maybe for
the first time in my life, I'm proud of her. And I have you to thank
for that."
   "No," says Melody. "No, don't thank me for that. That's her. You
gotta thank her for that. And you have to talk to her. She needs
someone to talk to."
   Kate nods. "You saved me. You saved Cal. Now we just got to get you
to date Simon, and we'll be all set."
   "What, Simon?" says Bethany. "Your brother, Simon? Melody has a
crush on Simon?"
   "No," says Melody. Then, blushing and shrugging: "I think he has a
crush on me, though."
   "Oh, he's had one for a long time," says Kate. "And I'm pretty sure
it's mutual. Melody just doesn't know it yet."
   "Well," says Melody. "Maybe."
   "Maybe, she says."
   "He breathes through his nose, right?"
   "Yeah. That's generally how it works. Why?"
   "Because his mouth is going to be occupied in my land down under."
   "Oh, gross," says Kate. "You made it gross. I don't want to hear that."
   "Well, what do you think I'm going to do with your little brother?"
   "They'd be cute together," agrees Bethany.
   Melody shoots Bethany a look, then smiles. "Speaking of crushes."
   "Yeah," says Kate, "how was your romantic space-adventure with
Julie Ann Justice?"
   "Oh my God, I hate you both forever," says Bethany. "She is just a
friend. She's married. And I'm straight."
   "But, I mean," says Kate. "If she asked, you'd still...?"
   "Well, yes, obviously."
   Kate and Melody burst out laughing.
   "Hate you. Both. Forever. But, yes, I was in space, and it was
really great. Saw a lot of different planets and space-people."
   "Did you get a lot of allies for us against the Pulse?"
   "One," says Bethany. "They're kind of... evil? They're definitely
bad guys. Like, clearly and blatantly bad guys. They're the ones that
destroyed Julie Ann's home planet."
   "Oh, this is promising."
   "But, bright side, they hate the Pulse," says Bethany. "I'm kinda
worried about getting the U.N. to sign off on it. Certainly Julie Ann
is worried."
   "Julie Ann," sing-songs Kate, teasing.
   "But we now have proof that it wasn't her fault. Well, it wasn't
her fault in the first place, it was Max's, but it turns out it wasn't
even his fault."
   "Okay," says Kate. "So whose fault is it?"
   "The Pulse was just looking for an excuse to declare war on us,"
says Bethany. "They want Earth because of the easy access it gives
them to the multiverse. They want to conquer parallel universes. They
want to conquer all the parallel universes, to control every living
thing on every plane of existence. Which, um, is a big deal,
   "They want to conquer the other earths," says Melody.
   Bethany nods. "You think that would get the whole universe on our
side, but no one really cares what happens to some other universe.
They just want to stay on the Pulse's good side in ours."
   "They want to conquer the other earths," says Melody again.

Bunny should know better than to take on a radnoceros when she's low
on ammunition. But she's had her eye on that bounty for a week now,
and when she and Pups stumbled upon it, she figured they could sneak
up on it and take it out with a point-blank shot in the back of its
head. This, of course, required that Pups not yodel enthusiastically
at the first thing he saw.
   As a result, Bunny and Pups find themselves hopping and running,
respectively, for their furry little lives from a seriously irate
   Something sizzles through the air, and the radnoceros is now a pile
of ashes. Which means that Bunny can't really collect the forty tabs,
but it also means she's alive, so she'll take it. She scans the
horizon for her benefactor, and spots what looks eerily like a human
in a rad-suit hovering in the sky via a jetpack. He holsters his
laser-pistol and floats down to the ground, lighting near a gigantic
   Riding on the ant is the fast human who had muscled in on the
chicken bounty. On the other side of the ant, there is a mechanical
man with a lance riding a giant lobster. On the other side of him,
there is a tyrannosaurus rex in a three-piece suit; a centaur with an
automatic bow; a fluther of airborne neon jellyfish; and a hipster
gorilla in a trilby.
   "Great shot, Hemsworth," says the fast human.
   "Yes. Yes, you are."
   To Bunny's surprise, she can understand the noises the fast human
is making. It's like there's something dancing in the back of her
   "The multiverse needs you," she says. Then, "I know you don't come cheap."
   She tosses a large bag to the ground. Bunny gnaws it open with her
teeth, and thousands upon thousands of tabs come pouring out.
   "That's the first installment. Will you stand with us?"
   Bunny nods.

1. Young Turks
   Rod Stewart
2. Hold On Tight
   Electric Light Orchestra
3. Graceland
   Paul Simon
4. The Mercy Seat
   Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
5. Summer Cannibals
   Patti Smith
6. 2000 Miles
   The Pretenders
7. Hide In Your Shell
8. Forever Young
   Rod Stewart
9. Atomic



Dr. Metronome created by Tom Russell & Jamie Rosen.
Medusa created by Tom Russell & Andrew Perron.

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