8FOLD: Darkhorse # 1, "Young Hearts, Be Free Tonight"

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Sun May 8 10:22:25 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 six days left.

    ____             __   __
   / __ \____ ______/ /__/ /_  ____  _____________
  / / / / __ `/ ___/ //_/ __ \/ __ \/ ___/ ___/ _ \
 / /_/ / /_/ / /  / ,< / / / / /_/ / /  (__  )  __/
/_____/\__,_/_/  /_/|_/_/ /_/\____/_/  /____/\___/
  ~ NUMBER ONE : Young Hearts, Be Free Tonight ~
        [8F-159] by Tom Russell [PW-14]

   Kate Morgan (Dr. Metronome II) has been missing for four months.
There have been scattered and brief sightings across the globe, but
she disappears as soon as she's seen. Melody has resolved to find her
and bring her back for good.
   It hasn't been going well.

Ugh, thinks Melody.
   Ugh, and ugh again.
   There might be worse ways to spend the Saturday before Christmas
than working her way through the cybernetic defenses clandestinely
installed in the intestines of the U.N. Secretary General, but she
can't think of one. Usually this kind of literal crap-job would fall
under the purview of Microdot, but that shrinking superheroine can
barely move. "After that cat stepped on me, my back just has never
been the same," Dorothy complains over Melody's headset.
   Shrinking powers one-oh-one: shrink-rays are ninety-nine point
ninety-nine percent instantaneously fatal, because the atoms almost
always end up occupying the same space simultaneously, resulting in an
implosion. (In fact, Tina Wazowie and her punk rock band have started
shrink-ploding inanimate objects on purpose as part of their road
show.) "Almost always" because people like Microdot have an extremely
rare gene that allows their bodies to exist on various planes of
reality, leaving an infinite amount of room for an infinite number of
atoms. Since speedsters are able to vibrate their molecules so as to
co-exist with solid matter, they're the only ones without that gene
that can survive miniaturization.
   Which means: Ugh City, Population: Melody. On the bright side, when
the job is done all she needs to do is vibrate her way out of the
Secretary General, instead of the more conventional exit for visitors
to the intestines.

Shrinking powers one-oh-two: shrinking down isn't as hard as growing
back up again. If it happens too fast, you can get something roughly
analogous to the bends at a sub-atomic level. Microdot neglected to
explain this until after the crisis had passed, and Melody asked to be
   "The body adapts to it eventually," says Microdot as the process
begins. "After a few dozen shrinks, you can do it just like that," she
snaps her fingers, "but the first time, you're looking at six hours,
   "Six hours!"
   "Yep," says Microdot apologetically. "And you can't nap,
unfortunately. If you dream while your brain is being enlarged, it can
cause permanent brain damage. Pinpoint found that out the hard way."
   "And I can't wash off all the intestinal gunk until then?"
   "Nope," says Microdot. "If we try to hose you down when you're too
small, you're likely to drown. Or your insides would be pulverized.
Neither is ideal."
   "No offense, but shrinking is a pretty dumb power."
   "No argument from me," says Microdot. "I guess you can say that I
kinda drew the short straw. Ha!" (She snorts when she laughs.)
   "Six hours, lying on a table, staring at a white ceiling."
   "I can keep you company, if you like."
   Melody's met her only twice before. The only thing that sticks out
about her, besides the terrible jokes and snort-laughing, is that
Microdot's a huge film nerd: obsessively, narrowly so. She seems
incapable of talking about much else. In the middle of a fight,
Microdot is always trying to sell her fellow four-colors, and even
black capes, on languid three-hour French movies about librarians who
eat magic time-travel candy so they can solve a murder mystery. Melody
doesn't really watch movies or television; she can't sit still that
long. As far as leisure time goes, books are more her speed: they go
as fast as she wants them to go. She averages about three novels a
day. And music: there isn't a waking moment that doesn't have a
feel-good pop soundtrack.
   Listening to an inveterate movie-goer go on for six hours is not
something she really wants to do at any time. Maybe a year ago she
would have tolerated it, grimaced through it, for the sake of just
being polite. But six of her hours, when she only has a hundred and
some change left to her? And she still hasn't found Kate? It's just
going to make her angry, and angry's not who she is. "I appreciate the
offer," she says with extra sweetness, "but I actually have some work
to do. Could you patch my head-set into Medusa?"
   "Sure, sure," says Microdot. She sounds hurt; Melody might not have
sounded as sweet and kind as she intended. That seems to be happening
a lot, lately, rubbing people the wrong way, coming across on edge.
That bothers Melody: that's not who she is.
   Six hours...!

But six hours talking to Medusa isn't so bad. The self-teaching,
self-evolving benevolent AI is one of the few "living" things that can
converse with Melody at super-speed.
   "I find our conversations to be refreshing, Melody. It is tiring
sometimes to slow down my thought processes so that I do not get too
far ahead of my vocal output."
   Medusa's synthesized voice is low and flat, a monotone, rich with
vocal fry. A deliberate choice to appear more human, or at least
that's what Melody had thought when they were first introduced. Once
she had gotten to know her, however, Melody realized it was less about
Medusa trying to pass as "human" and more about Medusa trying to
making humans feel more comfortable. Less about herself, more about
the rest of them. That went a long way toward earning Melody's trust,
especially given the fact that Medusa is an off-shoot of a computer
virus dedicated to the eradication of all human life.
   "I know what you mean," says Melody. "It's the same with me; when
I'm talking to someone else, by the time I get half-way through my
sentence, I'm already at the end of the next one in my head, and I
usually end up answering my own question. Though not in this case."
She frowns.
   Medusa picks up on it. "I have likewise failed to arrive at a
solution to Dr. Metronome's disappearance. I had hoped that with the
recent quintupling of my processing power that I would find the
answer, but it seems this isn't a problem that we can solve by
throwing more stuff at it."
   "Well, actually, it's increased by a factor of 5.563. I received an
upgrade courtesy of CTS." (Blue Boxer knew Anders Cradle from way back
in Jolt City. After the Pulse attack in August, Cradle and his
company, rebranded Cradle Tech Solutions, started donating free
technology to the Daylighters, a huge boon in their fight against
   "Great, you might be able to keep up with me, then," grinned Melody.
   "Ha! I hope so. Melody, we have six hours. Let's go over everything
we know about Kate's disappearance, all vestigial sightings over the
last four months, and all the predictive algorithms we've tried and
failed with."
   "And what will we do with the other five hours?" says Melody.

Her optimism, even joking, was unwarranted. They go over everything
twice. Even the Daylighters' other resident AI, Kid Enthusiastic,
joins in. They end up empty-handed. "Thanks anyway, guys," says
Melody. "I'd appreciate it if you could keep going over it in the
   "Melody?" says Medusa, after Kid Enthusiastic has left the
conversation. "May I speak frankly with you?"
   "If it's going to be about how we're not going to find her, I don't
want to hear it," says Melody. "I've zero patience for defeatism."
   "No," says Medusa. "On the contrary, I am almost certain that Dr.
Metronome will be found. And I believe the work we've done together
will be instrumental in bringing her back to our physical reality.
That your time, effort, and dedication in particular will bring about
this result."
   "There's a 'but' in there somewhere."
   "I am less certain however that it will happen between now and next
   "I don't want to hear this, either," says Melody.
   "You have such little time left," Medusa presses on gently. "You do
not need to spend it running into this wall over and over again.
You've done all that could be expected of you, and more."
   "Look, I get it. You're worried, all y'all are worried, that if I
can't bring Kate back before I die, I'm going to feel miserable and
depressed and feel like I was a failure my whole life or something.
But I'm not going to feel like that."
   "I am glad to hear it, Melody."
   "And the reason I'm not going to feel like that is that I'm going
to bring her back."
   "Of course," says Medusa.
   Melody turns off her comm and heads for the exit.
   "Weren't you going to get washed?" says Microdot. She's holding her nose.
   "Right, the smell," says Melody. "I think I just got used to it.
I'll take care of it when I get home. Thanks anyway."

Alpharetta, Georgia. Melody's apartment.
   She throws her costume in the laundry and treats herself to a
luxurious fourteen-second shower. She takes five more seconds to towel
off, including drying off the alien tech around her wrist that's
keeping her alive for the next six days.
   She checks her email. She's got one from Simon Morgan-- Kate's
younger brother. Kate had basically raised both Simon and her little
sister Calliope since their mother died about ten years back. Simon,
always a serious and strange little boy, has retained those qualities
now that he's an adult, and has been taking Kate's disappearance with
remarkable maturity. Calliope, always prone to throwing fits and
making awful decisions, and the latter usually on purpose and out of
spite, has likewise been acting true to form. (Almost as if to
illustrate the point, Simon knows about his big sister's costumed
adventures, while Calliope couldn't be trusted with that information.)
Kate was always able, if only barely, to keep her in line, and to
insulate Calliope from the consequences of her actions. Without her
there, however, she's really falling apart in a bad way.
   Simon doesn't explicitly mention anything about Calliope in his
email, but Melody can feel his palpable worry lingering behind every
sentence. He wants to know if there's anything he can do to help in
the search for Kate. He also expresses his confidence in Melody's
eventual success (he doesn't know she's dying).
   "The other night I felt like Kate was with me. Not just in my heart
or my memory, but THERE, with me, just this side of tangible. She's
out there and you'll find her. I know you will."

She's been most of the day without any food, which of course is no
good for a speedster's ultra-high metabolism. While she was crossing
from Virginia to South Carolina, she had called the pizza place around
the corner from her apartment complex, and they're at the door by the
time she's changed to her civvies. It takes her four minutes and some
change to eat both pies.
   Probably she shouldn't eat pizza as often as she does, but it's not
like she's going to put on any weight, and it's not like she needs to
worry about her cholesterol ten or twenty years down the road. She
certainly doesn't have enough time to wait for something to cook.
   That made her think of Aunt Dani in the kitchen. Aunt Dani always
had something hot and ready for her when she got home. (Whether or not
it was edible was another question.) But that's all gone now; Aunt
Dani's been gone for almost a year now. Melody couldn't bear to keep
living in that house in Atlanta after that; it was too dark and silent
and empty. Not that this apartment makes her feel any less alone. She
doesn't want to die alone. She doesn't want to die at all.
   "Enough of that," she says, wiping at the corners of her eyes with
her fingertips. "Enough. I don't have time for this. Neither does
   There's a knock on her door. She looks through the peephole, then
opens it. "Terry?"
   Prince Terak, heir to the undersea kingdom of Lemuria. "Good
evening, oh black pearl of the sea."
   "I kinda told you to stop calling me that," she says, feigning
irritation. (Really, after awhile, it has a nice ring to it.) "You've
never come this far inland before. Something must be up."
   "I only wish to come in to your home, and to speak with you," he
says earnestly.
   "Are you going to ask me to marry you again?"
   He opens his mouth, but doesn't answer. He closes his mouth,
expelling a sigh through his gills.
   "Then, I'm sorry, but I'm not going to let you in."
   He reaches out and cradles her cheek in the palm of his ice-cold
hand. The cold feels nice against her hot skin. It feels right. He
kisses her. That feels right, too.
   "Okay," she says. "You can come in."

Twenty minutes pass as Terry counts time. For Melody, every kiss,
every brush of a fingertip, every giggle and every half-muffled sigh
stretches out in languid, lovely, lazy slow-motion.
   After they've finished, Terry suddenly sits up and grins, beaming.
   "No," she says. "Don't you dare. I told you. I told you that you
couldn't come in if you were going to ask me again."
   "You still let me in," says Terry. "I never actually said I wouldn't ask."
   "Aw, Terry," she grumps.
   "I'm good to you, Melody."
   "You're not bad," she teases. "And I'm flattered, really; not every
girl has a handsome, if annoying, prince chasing after her."
   Terry's face turns dark, serious. "I am no longer a prince, Melody.
My mother now whispers in the coral."
   She sits up. "I'm so sorry."
   "A King needs must have a Queen. If she thinks me worthy of her
hand." He bows in deference.
   "Oh, get up, Terry. You're worthy. Of course you're worthy. You're
wonderful, mostly. But I'm dying, dummy. You know I'm dying."
   "I know," he says, staring at his fingers in his lap.
   "I can't have your children. I can't grow old with you."
   "I know," he says. "I'm not asking you to be my Queen. I'm asking
that you let me be your husband, if only for six days. Let me give you
my kingdom, Melody. Swim in my gardens, and name the flowers. Hear the
whale-song that has been sung, unbroken, for a thousand generations.
Share my table, my bed, and my throne. Let me give you a kingdom,
Melody. Let me love you, as you deserve to be loved, if only for six
   Melody whistles. "Not a bad plan for the home stretch, I gotta say."
   "But it's just not for me," she says. "Honestly, Terry? Even if I
wasn't dying. Even if I had my whole life ahead of me. Even if we
could grow old together. Even though you love me and, yeah, I love you
too. Even with all that. It wouldn't be for me. It's just not who I
am. Just not who I want to be. This, this..." She waves her hand
around in frantic circles. "All this stuff that I do, running around.
People think the only reason why I'm doing it is because I got sick,
because I'm running out of time, so I'm making it count, whatever.
That because of it I don't let myself live my life.
   "But Terry, this is me living my life. This is what me living my
life looks like. Because this is what I want my life to be. And if I
had more time-- and God, Terry!, I want more time!-- then I think I'd
still be doing exactly what I'm doing."
   He's silent for a moment. Then: "I will miss you sorrowfully, oh
black pearl of the sea."
   "I ain't dead yet, Romeo." She throws him on the bed.

It's almost midnight when the King of Lemuria takes his leave with
what Melody supposes will be their final kiss. "Find yourself a nice
Lemurian girl," she says. She curtsies. "Your majesty."
   He squeezes her hand, and is gone.

   Young hearts, be free tonight
   Time is on your side
   Don't let them put you down
   Don't let 'em push you around
   Don't let 'em ever change your point of view
     - "Young Turks", Rod Stewart


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

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