8FOLD: Darkhorse # 5, "The Vicious Air"

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Sun Jun 5 11:33:44 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 has three days left.

    ____             __   __
   / __ \____ ______/ /__/ /_  ____  _____________
  / / / / __ `/ ___/ //_/ __ \/ __ \/ ___/ ___/ _ \
 / /_/ / /_/ / /  / ,< / / / / /_/ / /  (__  )  __/
/_____/\__,_/_/  /_/|_/_/ /_/\____/_/  /____/\___/
  ~ NUMBER FIVE : The Vicious Air ~
        [8F-164] by Tom Russell [PW-18]

   Melody and the Daylighters have succeeded in bringing Kate Morgan's
scattered atoms back together. Slightly before that, Kate's sister,
Cal, was hit with a shrink-ray, becoming tiny. Slightly after Kate
returned, three Welsh mancers intending to assassinate Melody attacked
the Daylighters. One got away, who killed the second, while the third
teleported away, with Melody in tow...

The sky becomes bleach-white, yet faintly and sickly brown, like
drywall yellowing from nicotine stains. The air has a bracing quality
that irritates Melody's nostrils. That, more than anything else,
compels her to let go of the blonde mancer.
   The blonde takes a couple of steps back, trembling. "What did you
do?" she demands. "What did you do to me?"
   "I was just along for the ride," says Melody. "That was all you, sweetheart."
   "I don't even know where we bleeding are," she says. "I was just
trying to drop you over the ocean and drown you."
   "When I go somewhere, I go there, yeah?" she says. "But I didn't,
did I? I don't even know where here is."
   "Parallel earth," says Melody. "It might be my velocity interfered
with your positioning. Heisenberg sort of thing."
   "What, like Breaking Bad? You ruined everything!" She reaches for
Melody. Melody can guess that she intends to make good on her previous
plan to drown her, and decides that, yeah, she's not really into that.
   Melody, of course, is too fast for the blonde, putting a good
half-mile between them in the space of a second. She knows better than
to stay in the mancer's line of sight, and uses a quick zigzag to kick
up enough dust to disguise her movement.
   This actually takes quite a lot out of her. Why does she feel so
light-headed and weak? Same reason it hurts to breath, she realizes.
Her watch confirms it: radiation levels are off the hook. Great. The
mancer isn't likely to survive it for long.
   There's a crack in the air, like a whip and a flame all at once.
Melody returns in a flash. The mancer is dead, an ugly little hole
burned through her skull. Something, somebody shot her.
   "Gross, gross, gross!" says a voice in her comm.
   "Down here! Your left."
   "Cal, what are you doing here?" says Melody, offering her palm.
   Cal climbs on. "You act like I'd know the answer to that question."
   "You must've got caught up in the teleport. Sorry about that. Did
you see what happened to her?"
   "I think someone shot her. There was this red, like, beam?"
   "What direction did it, never mind, they're shooting at us now."
   Zip! They disappear behind a rock.
   "Ugh," says Melody, doubling over. She sets Cal down on top of the
rock, and then ralphs at super-speed.
   "What the hell?"
   "Radiation," says Melody. "Don't worry, you're going to be immune
while you're bite-sized. Complicated, hard-to-explain side effect of
your atoms occupying the same space simultaneously on different
earths," she handwaves. "I have a higher tolerance than most
(complicated, hard-to-explain side effect of super-speed) or else I'd
be dead already. But I'm not going to last long out in the thick of
   "So, get us back home," demands Cal. "You can do the whole parallel
world thing, right?"
   "Yes, and no," says Melody. "It's..."
   Suddenly, there is a noise that sounds like an animal trying to yodel.
   "Oh, that's a good sign," says Cal.
   "It's a dog," says Melody, spotting the animal about a hundred
yards off into the wasteland. The dog has a backpack of sorts, which
looks to be loaded for bear.
   "So, we're on a parallel earth with yodeling dogs. Great."
   "No," says Melody. "It's a basenji. They yodel on our earth, too.
Though how it's survived this radiation..."
   The dog yodels again, and then there's a sound behind them that's
suspiciously similar to that of a laser weapon being primed for
discharge. Melody whirls around and sees the little fluffy bunny with
the thump-activated weapon mounted on its side.
   "Whoa, whoa, whoa," says Melody, putting her hands up. "Please
don't shoot us, surprisingly well-armed bunny."
   "I don't think it can understand you, genius."
   The bunny jerks its head and looks at Cal.
   "It heard me?!"
   "Rabbits have good hearing," says Melody. "Look at the huge honking
ears; does that surprise you?"
   The bunny now shifts her blood-red eyes to Melody.
   "What are you waiting for?" says Cal. (The bunny's eyes dart back
to Cal.) "You should grab its gun. This totally isn't me distracting
the bunny, by speaking a language it can't understand (I hope) so that
you can grab its gun."
   "I don't want to make it angry," says Melody.
   "It's a bunny!"
   "So was the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog."
   "God, you are such a nerd!"
   "I don't want to fight a bunny! I can't hurt a bunny!"
   "And I don't want to be killed by a bunny!"
   "They're herbivores!"
   "Tell that to her!"
   "To who? The bunny?"
   "To the blonde! I'm pointing at the blonde with the hole in her head!"
   "You realize I can't really tell if you're pointing at anything."
   The bunny, having lost interest, is now en route to the
teleporter's corpse. The dog follows, and together, they strip the
body of all its clothing and valuables.
   "Huh," says Melody.

The book store in Sault Ste. Marie: temporary base for the Daylighters.
   "Cyrus," says Derek to the man they call Database, "what's the head count?"
   "Darkhorse is still missing. So is the younger Morgan sister, and Microdot."
   "Let's hope Dot grabbed Cal and got them both out of trouble," says
Derek. He then turns to Caduceus. "How are your patients, Doc?"
   "Kate's sedated, and we're trying to get some nutrients in her.
She's in surprisingly good condition given the circumstances; it's
more the shock than anything else. I did some preliminary analysis on
her cells. You know when she came back, it was without the Metronome
belt." Derek nods. "Well, it looks like its properties were absorbed
into her cells. We'll need to run some tests, but I think she can
phase now, naturally."
   "I'm just glad she's okay," says Derek. "And Rainshade?"
   "I'm fine," she says, entering the room. "He just took me by
surprise. It won't happen again." That last part is almost like a
warning, as if it was somehow the universe's fault, and not hers. "His
friend wasn't so lucky, though." She looks at the body, which they've
left where it landed while waiting for the police to arrive. She
crouches down, supporting her weight with the balls of her feet and
her umbrella, and lightly touches the man's forehead with her
   "No, he wasn't," says Derek. "We're still trying to figure out who
he is. Pyromancer, from what we saw today and what Darkhorse saw
yesterday. Maybe if we figure that out, we can figure out where his
companion is."
   "I have an idea," says Rainshade.
   "I'm not going to like it, am I?"
   "No," says Rainshade. "You won't. That's why we just did it."
   "Wait, what?"
   She stands up. "I've just acted as a conduit for a mnemonomancer of
my acquaintance."
   She nods. "We've extracted the memories from the dead man's brain."
   "How is that even possible?" says Derek.
   "It's magic, sweetheart. It never has to make sense. This man's
name was Rhys Jones. The teleporter was his girlfriend, Eira Roberts.
The other fellow is Eira's brother, Gareth." She winces. "Oof. These
two never did get along." She relaxes her face. "Whole lot of them are
standard-issue mancer conspiracy nuts, ranting against this
non-existent Company. Gareth has some kind of vibrational field.
Here's the interesting thing. He can track people with it. And he was
tracking Melody."
   "So, he can tell us where she got bamfed to," says Derek. "Anything
on where he might be now?"
   "They have a flat in Cardiff," offers Rainshade with a shrug. "The
brain was too damaged for me to pull out the address or anything
   "Medusa?" says Derek.
   "I'll run the name to search for an address, but it's bound to be common."
   "His sister's likely to come pick him up. We'll send a plainclothes
team to the airport though, just in case Melody knocked her out."
   "I should be part of that team," insists Rainshade.
   "You're our magic expert, Claire," says Derek. He kisses her. "Go
get this guy."

The wasteland world.
   "So, when are we getting out of here?" says Cal, stretched out
indolently on Melody's palm and staring at the sickly sky.
   "Well, we got two problems," says Melody. "First, the radiation is
making it difficult for me to stay phased for more than a couple of
seconds." She demonstrates, wobbling her hand before it snaps back to
reality. "If that happens while we're moving between worlds, we're
going to be scattered in a thousand different, and bloody, pieces."
    "Great," says Cal. "Is there a scenario where you don't die of
radiation poisoning?"
    "Yes," says Melody. "We find a stretch of land that isn't quite so
radiated. That's why we're following those two." She points at the
bunny and the dog, who they are following from a safe-ish distance.
"They might have developed some degree of immunity, certainly higher
than my own, but my hunch is that they try to stay out of the worst
   "Okay," says Cal. "So, what's problem number two?"
   "Problem number two is that I don't know where we are, exactly."
   "But you've been to our Earth before," says Cal. "Isn't that how it
works, you lock onto the vibrational frequency and bam, we're home?"
   "Not exactly," says Melody. "It's not so much that each world has
its own frequency, but that it has its own frequency relative to every
other world."
   "It's not like each world has a fixed address. I can only figure
out how to get from A to B, but you can't just drop me in the middle
of nowhere and expect me to vibrate to either of them. At least, not
   "I'm still not following."
   (Ugh, why did I get stuck with the dumb Morgan?) "Okay, let's say
you move to a new house. You moved there because you have a new job.
Let's pretend, for a moment, that you have a job."
   "When I get full-sized, I'm going to punch you, lady."
   "So, you know how to get from your house to work, and from work to
your house. And there's a few other places that work the same way; you
know how to get from your house to the gym, from your house to the
library, and back again. And let's say you go to a restaurant
somewhere, somewhere way off and out of your way, never been there
before, completely unrecognizable part of town, and that you hitched a
ride. It's time to leave the restaurant, and you're walking home."
   "Why would I be walking? Walking is for pedestrians."
   "It's a metaphor. So, you don't know how to get home from the restaurant."
   "Um, that's why the good Lord gave us Mapquest."
   "Metaphor. But, you know how to get home from work, the library,
the gym, and so on. So, you wander around town until you see something
you do recognize, a landmark. Once you see the library, you know your
way home. So, that's where we are: we got dropped on some random
earth. We can wander around, jumping from one earth to another, but
until we get somewhere I've been before, I don't know how to get us
home, because each world only has a frequency relative to every other
   Cal clicks her teeth loudly over the comm-link. Melody can
practically hear her eyes rolling. "Is there really an infinite number
of earths? I read that somewhere."
   "I will get you home, Cal. Not to brag, but I tend to pull off the
impossible on a semi-regular basis."
   "Ugh. You can't say 'not to brag', and then say something like
that. It's like saying, 'not to punch you in the face', and then
punching someone in the face."
   "I love you too."
   "Oh my God, you are the worst. Wait, why are you putting me down?"
   "Trouble up ahead. You'll be safer here."
   "On the ground? In the middle of nowhere?"
   "Just stay safe." Melody uses short, staccato bursts of speed to
get her close to the bunny and the dog without puking what's left of
her guts out. Said bunny and said dog are presently being attacked by
a half-dozen angry six foot tall chickens with laser-breath, which,
okay, is probably not really a thing, but you tell that to chickens
who open their beaks and then lasers come out. The bunny's giving as
good as she gets and the dog is circling around to flank them, but the
fact remains that it's three-to-one odds (not even accounting for
size) and that while a single wrong move will reduce the bunny and her
canine companion to greasy smears, these mutant poultry are taking
multiple hits from the bunny's own lasers. They're not exactly
shrugging them off, but they're not exactly going down easy, either.
   Melody rotates her wrists hundreds of times per second, building up
a quick burst of vibrational energy that she redirects with a
two-fisted ground-pound. It ripples forward, sending one of the
chickens tumbling onto its back. Melody dashes past the bunny, the
dog, and the chickens, stopping in front of the chicken she knocked
over. With her finger, she draws a straight line in the sand from its
beak, hypnotizing it.
   The other chickens aren't paying attention to her, so she sneaks up
behind one of them, grabbing it by its neck and slamming it down on
its back. Another line in the sand, and it, too, is hypnotized. She
manages to do a third before the other three notice what's going on.
   Evidently considering Melody to be the real threat, they turn their
backs on the bunny and the dog. This, it turns out, was a bad idea, as
the bunny now has time to set up, and execute, three perfect
head-shots. "Thank God chickens are dumb," says Melody.
   The bunny hops over to the three paralyzed chickens, and finishes
her grisly business at point-blank range. Certainly not Melody's
solution, but it's not like there's a chicken-prison around here
   The bunny looks up at Melody, its tiny red eyes gleaming, and then
it gives a little snort. In response, the dog marches up to the rabbit
and lies on its side, allowing its diminutive companion to rummage in
the over-stuffed bag. A moment later, the bunny comes out of the bag
with three dull bits of metal in its mouth. She dumps it into the
sand. Soda can tabs. The bunny nudges the tabs toward Melody, and then
hops a safe distance away.
   Melody stares at the tabs, blinking.
   The bunny hops forward, again nudges the tabs toward Melody, and
again hops away.
   Melody picks up the three tabs and pockets them. The bunny nods in
approval, and then hops along into the sunset.
   The dog follows.
   "Are all parallel earths so weird?" says Cal after Melody has
picked her up again.
   "All the ones I've been to," says Melody.
   "I guess I was expecting something," says Cal. "Like, 'this is the
world where Germany didn't lose the war', not 'this is the world where
chicken hypnosis is a marketable skill'."
   "First of all, every world is a world where chicken hypnosis is a
marketable skill," says Melody. "But you're thinking of alternate
timelines. Those are specific to each earth. Parallel earths are
different; they usually don't have any kind of overlap with our
earth's history. Except Lincoln. Every earth has an Abraham Lincoln.
Not bad, as far as multiversal constants go."
   "I guess," says Cal.
   Melody vibrates the two of them, and holds it for a good five
seconds. "Okay," she says, "looks like the rads are low enough to try
our luck on the next earth. Ready?"
   "Whatever," says Cal.
   Then, they're on their way.

   I felt a rising in my throat
   And the girls a-saying grace
   And the air, the vicious air
   Pressed against my face
   And it all got too damn much for me
   Just got too damn rough
   And I pushed away my plate
   And said boys I've had enough
   And I laid upon the table
   Another piece of meat
   And I opened up my veins to them
   And said come on eat
     "Summer Cannibals", Patti Smith & Fred Smith


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

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