8FOLD: Darkhorse # 7, "Your Pride In Danger"

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Sun Jun 19 10:48:03 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 two days left.

    ____             __   __
   / __ \____ ______/ /__/ /_  ____  _____________
  / / / / __ `/ ___/ //_/ __ \/ __ \/ ___/ ___/ _ \
 / /_/ / /_/ / /  / ,< / / / / /_/ / /  (__  )  __/
/_____/\__,_/_/  /_/|_/_/ /_/\____/_/  /____/\___/
        [8F-167] by Tom Russell [PW-20]

   Melody is hopping from one parallel Earth to another, trying to get
Cal Morgan enlarged before the miniaturization process becomes
irreversible. Cal's sister, Kate, is tracking down Gareth Roberts, a
mancer who may have the ability to track Melody.

Giant Ant Earth, "which should not even be a thing," says Melody,
"because spiracles!"
   "What?" says Cal.
   "Insect respiration," says Melody between big honking gulps of air,
"no lungs. Spiracles. Puts a limit on their body size. Giant ants
should not even be a thing."
   "Yeah, well, tell that to the giant ants."
   "Medusa," says Melody. "Do you have a lock on our next jump yet?"
   "Hang on," says Medusa. "Wait for it, wait for it..."
   "And... done. Sending the frequency to your watch now. Got it?"
   "Got it! Hang on, Cal. Here we go...!"

"Gah!" says Cal. "You were cutting it a little close with the ants, Mel."
   "First of all, no, 'Mel' is not going to be a thing."
   "Mel and Cal! Cal and Mel!"
   "Nope." Melody sits down beside the river. Weeping willows line the
way down the stream. A few miles down, there's some kind of
architecture-- thin, narrow spires mostly. "Secondly, I got us to the
next Earth, didn't I?"
   "Actually," says Medusa.
   "What is it?"
   "This isn't the same frequency that I sent you," says Medusa. "You
were slightly off."
   "Ugh," says Melody. "Is that going to affect your calculations?"
   ("What are you two talking about?" says Cal.)
   "Nothing I can't manage," says Medusa. "I'll need a few minutes."
   "Well, no giant ants here," says Melody.
   ("I know you can hear me.")
   "So, any idea what happened?" says Melody. "Did something pull me
to this Earth?"
   "Cal, I'll be with you in a minute," says Melody. "Medusa?"
   "Not that I can tell," answers Medusa. "But I can confirm that Cal is right."
   "I am definitely not telling her that."
   ("Tell me what?")
   "You should have been able to put more distance between you and the
ants," says Medusa. "The last few Earths, you have been incrementally
slower. You were also pretty sloppy on Murder Clown Earth and Tree
Person Earth, for example. If your speed is decreasing, it's going to
affect your ability to zero in on the frequencies with the necessary
   "And why would I be slowing down?"
   ("You're slowing down?")
   "(Oh my God, Cal.) Medusa, would this have anything to do with my thing?"
   "No," says Medusa. "It has nothing to do with your disease. From
interfacing with your watch, I think it is much simpler than that.
When was the last time you ate?"
   "Oh, right," says Melody. "Yeah, that's going to be a problem."
   ("What's going--?")
   "Okay, Cal. Here's what's going on."
   "Finally! Thank you, your highness!"
   "Part of my super-speed is that I have an incredibly high
metabolism, which means I have to consume twenty thousand calories
   "Jesus! So you just spend all day porking out? And you still get to
look like that?"
   "Anyway," says Melody, "I haven't eaten since before we left for
Michigan. In order to maintain my speed, and to make the jumps
correctly, I'm going to need to stop for a quick bite to eat."
   "I'm getting a little hangry myself."
   "Don't blame the food. You're angry all the time anyway."
   Cal clicks her teeth.
   "Unfortunately, you can't eat," says Melody. "The problem with
parallel Earths is that you don't know what's edible. Things that are
fine on our Earth might be toxic here. You take a bite, you might keel
right over and die."
   "But, what, your super-speed makes you immune?"
   "No," says Melody. "But my system will work through it faster than
it will kill me. Or it should, anyway." She peers at the river. "Water
actually looks super-clean. Probably lots of fish."
   It only takes about thirty seconds to fashion a scoop from a couple
of sturdy branches and some leaves. She dips it into the water, runs a
quarter-mile, and then returns with about thirty trout. Even she
doesn't need that many; she just needs enough to get her back on her
game. She returns all but five of them.
   With a whispered apology for each, she phases her fist into their
brains to kill them instantly and painlessly. A quick super-speed
shake removes the gills, innards, and the bones.
   It takes a few minutes to gather some wood and get a fire going.
Unfortunately, she can't make it burn any faster, so while it's
getting hotter and brighter, she sets about creating something to cook
the fish with. She breaks off a branch and runs her hand down its
length to clear away the bark. She rinses it in the river before
skewering the fish, and then gets to roasting them.
   "You've been uncharacteristically quiet, Cal."
   "Yeah, I should be shouting about something right about now, right?
Because I'm angry all the time."
   "I shouldn't have said that," says Melody. "I don't know why I did.
I'm sorry, Cal."
   "No, it's fine," says Cal. "You're not the first person to say it.
You won't be the last. I just thought, I don't know. Whatever. It
doesn't matter."
   "It wasn't fair to you," says Melody, turning the spit. "None of
this has been fair to you. You didn't ask to be teleported, or running
away from giant ants."
   "Or shrunk," says Cal pointedly.
   "I know what you mean," says Melody. "I spent Saturday fighting
robots in someone's intestines."
   "You don't get to say that," says Cal. "You don't know what it's
like. You get smaller, you're still you. Big You fights robots. Small
You fights robots. So you're still you. Small Me has to be carried
around and rescued. Small mM is helpless. Useless! This didn't just
make me smaller, it made me not me. It took away who I am."
   "Only if you let it," says Melody.
   "That's so damn trite," says Cal. "You just don't get it. None of
you do. None of you ever did. You, Simon, Kate. You all got everything
figured out. You've always been exactly who you are. You're happy
being who you are."
   "And you're not."
   "Not when I'm one-freaking-inch tall, no, not really."
   "And when you're five-three?"
   "Five-five," snips Cal. "And at least I wouldn't be some helpless
Goddamn damsel in distress. You know what my name was, what my parents
named me, what my, what my mother named me? When I was born?"
   "Kate told me," says Melody.
   "Princess," says Cal with disgust. "What the hell? It's like she
was telling me that's who I was supposed to be. Who I had to be. She
did the same thing with Simon."
   "Aw, come on. Look at him. He's a hundred percent a Simon. He's so
Simon it hurts."
   Melody smiles. "Yeah." She takes the fish off the spit and commences to eat.
   "So, you know, that worked out great for Simon. It's like,
everything in his life just fit, right from the start, his name,
everything. And Kate? Kate, she's definitely a Kate. It fits her.
Strong, dependable name. And everything she does, it just fits. I
mean, Jesus. Mom used to use her as an ashtray when she wasn't beating
her. And she still kept being Kate! I didn't go through anywhere near
as much as Kate did, but it's like I'm the one that's broken. Like
I've been broken from birth. Like I got the wrong body, the wrong
brain, the wrong family, the wrong life, the wrong name.
   "So I flail around trying to fix it. 'Oh, she changed her name
again, I wonder what it's going to be next week, isn't this so
hilarious?' And Kate and Simon, and you, everyone, you see me and you
don't understand there's something that needs to be fixed. Because you
didn't need to fix it yourself. Because you've always been who you
wanted to be. And, yeah, I still don't know who I am, but I know who
I'm not, you know? And right now, because oops, Cal got hit with a
shrink-ray, I have to be that thing. I have like zero agency. I don't
even get to decide if I can eat when I'm hungry. So, yeah. Yeah, I'm
pretty pissed about the whole thing."
   "Here," says Melody. She breaks off a flaky bite of fish and hands
it to Cal. "I think it's okay. But it's really your choice, and I
don't want to take it away from you."
   "You think I'm happy," says Melody. "But if I'm honest, I'm the one
that's angry all the time. Because there's stuff that's been put on
me. Stuff that wasn't fair. Stuff that defines who I am, that puts a
limit on what I can be, and how long I can be it. And I'm angry about
it. Angry every single day."
   "You don't give off that vibe."
   "That's because I use it," says Melody. "It's a weapon. It's a
tool. It makes me faster. Makes me better. I take it out on giant ants
and intestinal robots and extra-dimensional tentacles and sentient
kudzu and solving problems with super-science. Having anger isn't a
problem, not by a long shot. You just need somewhere to put it, and
anger will save your life."
   "Well, then I guess I need to find where I'm supposed to put it."
   "Not that it matters, but, I like the name Calliope, by the way.
It's strong. People tend to think of the muses as being some
airy-fairy delicate thing, but Calliope was the best of them all, and
she didn't take crap from anyone. I don't know who it is you want to
be, but you could do a lot worse than being the best and not taking
   "Thanks," says Cal. Then, quietly: "Calvin."
   "It's not short for Calliope anymore," she says. "It's short for
Calvin. I haven't, I haven't told anyone. So if you could not...?"
   "Of course. That's not a problem. Um, pronouns?"
   "I'm still figuring that out," says Cal. "Stick with 'she' until
further notice."
   "Can do. Cal, there's something else I need to tell you. I don't
want you to wig out or anything, but it's not right for me to keep it
from you. It's..."
   ZAP! Suddenly, Melody's body is convulsing, red bolts of
electricity pulsing through her body. She reels backwards,
unconscious. Before she hits the ground, the two men in the jet-packs
close in.
   One of them picks up Melody, slinging her over his shoulder, and
then takes off into the sky. The other stays long enough to put out
the fire, and to take a piss in the river.
   "Gross," whispers Cal, though no one can hear her. By the time the
rocket-man has done up his fly, she's crawled onto his boot and
secured herself behind his laces.

Gareth doesn't remember losing consciousness, so he's surprised when
he jerks awake. There's no clock in the tiny square room. No windows,
either. Only two chairs (one of which he's been strapped to) and a
steel door. The sparseness is supposed to inspire feelings of despair,
and to disorient the prisoner, so that he or she has no sense of how
much time has passed. But Gareth's innate connection to the pulse of
the universe-- even if that connection has been dulled by the
inhibitors The Company has injected into his skin-- lets him know that
he's been out for nearly an hour. Which means he knows that the sun
just came up.
   "Good morning," he says.
   The guard walks from the door to the chair and hits him with a heavy right.
   "Keep it coming, mate," says Gareth. "My eye swells up anymore, I
won't have to look at your ugly face."
   The guard sneers, then moseys on back across the room. He lets his
back rest against the door, points his gun in Gareth's general
direction, and smiles. "Give me a reason," he says cheerfully.
   It's at that moment that two hands materialize through the door.
The guard is as surprised as Gareth, but before he can do anything,
the hands have grabbed hold of his head and banged it, hard, against
the steel door. The guard slumps to the floor. A woman steps through
the door and the guard. One of the costumed crowd.
   "What the hell?"
   "I'm rescuing you. I think," she says. "You're Gareth Roberts?"
   Gareth hesitates.
   "Come on," says the woman. "We don't have much time. They have to
know I'm here by now. I've knocked out enough of them."
   "Yeah," he says. "Who are you? What is this about?"
   "Dr. Metronome. I'm a friend of Darkhorse. She's the only reason
anyone cares about your sorry ass."
   "Of course, you bloody lot."
   "You're supposed to know where she is."
   Gareth laughs. "Yeah, her and my sister both. Only I don't."
   "I lost 'em. Which has happened exactly never and scares me half to death."
   Kate swears under her breath. "Well, that's great, a dead end.
Let's get you out of here."
   "What, you're still going to help me?"
   "It's kinda our thing." She makes her fist intangible, then stops.
"You're not going to make me regret this?"
   "No," says Gareth. "Anything's better than this."
   She phases through the arm restraints, disarming them. She's about
to do the feet when there's a burst of light. Metronome whirls around.
   "Rainshade," she says. "How'd you find me?"
   "I have my ways." It's the umbrella-mancer from the bookstore.
   "Sorry, love," says Gareth. "About knocking you out."
   Rainshade grimaces.
   "Rainshade," says Metronome. "That whole evil corporation
conspiracy thing? It's real."
   "Of course it's bloody real, you morons."
   "I've seen it," continues Metronome. "There is awful stuff going on
here. We need to get this guy to safety, then get a team back here
   "First, we need to get the two of you out of this alive," says
Rainshade. "Metronome, someone's put a neuro-mystical bomb in your
head. You better let me disarm it, or we won't get very far."
   "Oh, okay, yes, let's do that." Rainshade places her fingertips on
Metronome's forehead. In an instant, she's slumped to the ground. Then
she waves her umbrella at Gareth dismissively: the restraints
re-fasten themselves.
   "Oh, this is bullocks."

Lydia is waiting for her upstairs. She points at Kate in derision.
"The hell is this, Claire?"
   "I dealt with it," says Rainshade. "I've erased the last two hours
from her memory. I'll handwave it as someone being unprepared for
contact with a powerful mancer, which is why they should leave these
kinds of things to me."
   "You're so smart. Mmm." Lydia's lip gloss tastes of raspberries;
her tongue, of mint.
   "The problem is that he tagged Darkhorse," says Rainshade. "I take
it since she fell off his radar that you were successful in helping
Eira reach her true potential?"
   "Yes," says Lydia. "She was able to teleport to a parallel Earth,
and we were able to control and trigger the teleport remotely. I don't
think she survived, however. )We lost the signal, anyway._ Darkhorse
was there, but it looks like she moved on."
   "She's world-hopping," says Rainshade. "Okay, I can work with that.
We'll say that we managed to get that out of Gareth before he escaped.
He has a tracking device under his skin, bee-tee-double-you."
   "Already taken care of," says Lydia. "Venus protect us."
   "Venus protect us," says Rainshade.

The two jet-packers float through a long open window that runs atop
one of the magnificent spires. The window closes behind them. The one
carrying Melody disappears down one corridor, while Cal's ride turns
to move in the other direction.
   Well, that's not going to do me any good, thinks Cal. She scrambles
her way out of his shoelaces, tumbling to the floor. The ceramic
tiling is cool against her skin. A quick scan around the room reveals
that there's at least a couple other jet-pack dudes. Before she's seen
(or worse, squished), Cal decides to make a beeline for a nearby
table. She catches her breath behind the polished wood leg. Okay.
   Okay. How do we do this?
   And what is "this", anyway? Is she rescuing Melody? What is she
rescuing Melody from? And how the heck is she going to do it?
   "Dang it. These are not the kind of questions I'm supposed to have
to answer." She thumps her fist against the table leg, momentarily
forgetting that Tiny Cal's strength is equal to that of Regular Cal.
The table moves a quarter-inch with a nearly-deafening squeak;
everything sounds louder when you're teeny-weeny.
   Unfortunately, the jet-packers heard it too. They're moving toward
the table, preparing to investigate.
   "Oh man, oh man, oh man...
   "Maybe, I don't know, throw the table at them? Yeah, I can probably
heave this here table up, flip it over. And then they, I don't know,
shoot me or whatever because now they know I'm here. Or hide. I could
just hide. Hiding's probably better?"
   She hugs her back against the table leg, holding her breath. In the
sunlit shine of the ceramic, she can see the reflection of one of the
third-rate rocketeers as it hunches down, peering underneath the
table. Seeing nothing, he shrugs and starts to stand up. (Whew.)
   ...But he forgot to pull his head back first, which means he smacks
his noggin right against the wood with an audible THWACK.
   His compatriot finds this to be hilarious, apparently, and head-guy
finds him finding it hilarious to be resolutely not hilarious, which
the second guy in turn finds to be even more hilarious. An argument
ensues in whatever language jet-pack people use, and Cal takes that
moment to make a run for the door.
   "Okay," she says. "I got this."

   Too frightening to listen to a stranger
   Too beautiful to put your pride in danger
   You're waiting for someone to understand you
   But you've got demons in your closet
   And you're screaming out to stop it
      "Hide In Your Shell", Roger Hodgson


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

More information about the racc mailing list