8FOLD: Darkhorse # 2, "That Cold Wind Calling"

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Sat May 14 21:33:04 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 five days left.

    ____             __   __
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  / / / / __ `/ ___/ //_/ __ \/ __ \/ ___/ ___/ _ \
 / /_/ / /_/ / /  / ,< / / / / /_/ / /  (__  )  __/
/_____/\__,_/_/  /_/|_/_/ /_/\____/_/  /____/\___/
  ~ NUMBER TWO : That Cold Wind Calling ~
        [8F-161] by Tom Russell [PW-15]

   Melody spent a sizable chunk of her last Saturday on Earth
pinch-hitting for shrinking superheroine Microdot, getting her no
closer to fulfilling her promise to rescue Kate Morgan (Dr. Metronome
II). Grr...

Melody wakes up shortly after two in the morning. She had been
dreaming. She can't remember what the dream was about, exactly, and it
gets fainter and farther-off with every second. But it was something
important. Something that had to do with Kate.
   She re-reads the email that Simon Morgan had sent her. "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."
   "Of course she was," says Melody softly to the thin air. "Of course
she's right there! Oh, I'm a dummy!" She picks up her phone and dials.
   "Hello Melody!"
   "Dr. Fay, are you awake?"
   "Well, I'm kinda talking to you, sweetheart, now aren't I? Ack!"
   "Not a good time," says Dr. Fay. "We may have accidentally opened a
peephole to a nether-region (wow, that sounds like a porno), and we're
having a teensy bit of trouble closing it."
   "Wow, you weren't kidding," says Melody as she blurs past the mass
of super-thin, flailing, microfilament whip-like tentacles pouring out
of an inch-wide rip in the fabric of space and time.
   "No, we weren't," says one of the Doctors Fay.
   "Near as we can tell," says the other-- there are two of them now,
there was a lab accident-- "they're not so much trying to get to our
side of things as they're trying to pull us over there. Which, svelte
as we are, is still a pretty darn narrow fit."
   "Environment over here is as toxic to them as theirs would be to
us," chimes in the first Doctor Fay.
   "Intelligent?" says Melody.
   "Instinct, mostly," guesses one of the Fays. "But they know well
enough not to stick more than their tentacles in."
   "I've got an idea," says Melody. "It's either going to be
completely awesome or completely terrible."
   "That's the best kind of idea!" they say in unison.
   "I'll need you both to step outside of the room, for your own safety."
   "Even better!"
   Once they've left the room, Melody positions herself at the end of
the room directly opposite the pinpoint, just out of reach of the
tentacles. Then, she runs to the nearest perpendicular wall, runs up
its side, back along the ceiling, down the other perpendicular wall,
back along the floor, like Fred Astaire in ROYAL WEDDING, doing a
thousand circuits a minute, creating a vortex that exerts itself upon
the tentacled denizens of the nether-region. A shriek comes from the
portal, and they withdraw from our world in an awful hurry, closing
the pinpoint behind them.
   "I'd classify that as completely awesome," says one of the Doctors.
   "I concur," says the other. "What can we do for you, Melody?"
   "You-- one of you, both of you, however it works. You worked with
Marita Costello on the Vibra-Jackets?"
   "A little bit. I came into it late. Mostly, I just worked to shut
it down once they got into the wrong hands."
   "The technology was modeled after speedster principles, right? But
Costello also looked at the Metronome belt?"
   "For a hot minute. But it never really got past the idea stage. The
tech was too unstable."
   "But Kate never had a problem with it."
   "Neither did the original. One-point-five, on the other hand..."
   "When the original bad guy Dr. Metronome was in jail in the
seventies for his metronome-related crimes, some schmuck got hold of
the belt. Technically the schmuck's Dr. Metronome mark two, and Kate's
a thirdy like yourself. Only no one remembers the in-between guy. He
was running from somebody or another, tried to phase through a wall."
   "Tried?" Melody winces.
   "His head atoms got all mixed up with the brick atoms. Never could
tell what went wrong. All Costello's attempts to replicate the
principles behind the tech had the same results. Puppies, not humans."
   "That isn't any better," says her twin.
   "No, it's not. Maybe it would have been different if Costello had
the belt, but she didn't. I think that's one reason why Chicagoland
was so hot to try to get Kate on a Fitzwalter charge. There's still a
lot of military types who want to have something like the Vibra-Jacket
in their arsenal without the trans-dimensional shenanigans that come
with basing it on how you and yours do it."
   Melody nods. "Thanks, guys. That's actually tremendously helpful."
   "Self high-five!" says the Fays, and then they do that.

Before she's out the door, Melody is already buzzing Medusa on her
comm. "I need someone to pull a couple of genealogy records. And I'll
need to have some DNA tests run. Would you be able to help me out?"
   "Of course."

The Morgan house. It's three a.m. by the time Melody arrives in her
civvies. The light's on in the living room-- she can see its faint
glow against the blinds-- and she can hear the soft tinkling of the
   She knocks. The playing stops. Simon cracks open the wooden door,
sees Melody, then smiles. "Come on in."
   Melody phases her way through the screen door. "You're up late."
   "Usually am," he says. "I work the noon shift, and the shelter's
only ten minutes away, so I don't need to wake up until quarter to. So
I can stay up late, work on my projects."
   "I didn't know you played." She gestures to the piano.
   He fumbles a smile. "If you heard me, then you'd know that I don't.
Kate's the genius. You're here about Kate?"
   "Is it bad news?"
   "No, no. Nothing like that. I'm working a new angle on it. I'm
hoping you can give me a DNA sample."
   "Sure, anything," says Simon. He tugs at a piece of his hair and
yanks it out with a wince.
   "Actually, there's some severe limitations as to what we can do
with DNA from hair. Blood would be better."
   "Now you tell me." He's wearing a long-sleeved pull-over, tight at
his wrists. He blushes shyly before yanking it off over his head, and
looks away before offering his arm. She holds his wrist gently while
taking the blood sample. He looks up at her, then looks away again,
smiling nervously.
   Melody smiles, stealing a glance at his bare arms and chest. He's
kinda yummy for a white boy.
   "Have you heard from Bethany?" he asks.
   "Not since she went into space," says Melody.
   "Well, next time you see her, tell her I said hello?"
   "You'll probably see her before I do."
   He looks confused.
   "Never mind," she says. "Private joke." She puts the bandage on
him. He pulls his shirt back on, shivering from the cold.
   "Anything else?" he says.
   "A sample from Calliope, just to be safe."
   "Oh, she'll be thrilled. 'Hey, Cal, let this woman you don't know
take your blood for some reason.' I can see it now."
   "She still doesn't know?"
   He shakes his head. "Too bad you can't use the hair. There's plenty
of it in the shower drain."
   "We leave it there until she cleans it up," he says. Then, softly,
"But with Kate gone, it just piles up until I get sick of it."
   "How is she doing? Calliope? Your email, you sounded worried."
   He frowns. "I mean, she's kind of a mess, but she's always been
kind of a mess. She's messier, I guess. Angrier. And now she's
bringing guys home all the time."
   Melody raises an eyebrow.
   "I mean, it's her life," Simon continues. "I'm not shaming her or
anything. Certainly I'd be doing the same thing if I could get anyone
to go for me. Uh, girls, I mean. And it wasn't like she wasn't active
before. She's been running around since she was fourteen. She just
wasn't bringing them home with her. Kate wouldn't stand for it." He
grimaces. "They drink my soda."
   "So she's not home tonight?"
   "No," says Simon, shrugging toward the piano. "I wouldn't have been
making that racket if she was. I wouldn't have dared. She's especially
volatile right now. It's... it's her lady-time."
   It takes Melody a moment to realize what Simon is talking about.
She got her first period shortly before she got sick, and they stopped
shortly after she got her powers. She kinda forgot that they existed.
"How do you know that?"
   "Because just like her hair, she leaves her tampons all over the bathroom."
   There's a blur, and then Melody is standing in the living room,
lowering a tampon into a baggie. (Simon looks a little squeamish.)
"Problem solved."

By noon, Melody's obtained all six samples, and Medusa has the results
of the test. Melody arranges to meet with Derek Mason (Blue Boxer) at
his place in Jolt City. She wears her civvies so as not to blow his
"carefully-guarded secret identity", har-har.
   She's never been to his place before. She's avoided doing so,
really. It's not just because she doesn't really get along with Derek.
It's because her Aunt Dani lived here before she moved down to
Georgia. In a weird way, she associates it with Dani, even though she
never saw Dani in this living room or in that kitchen, even though she
can't picture her here the way she can picture Dani in Atlanta. Maybe
this is even worse, because she feels like she's intruding.
(Rainshade's thong hanging over the sofa doesn't help that feeling.
Ick, what a becky.)
   Better not to dwell on it though. Luckily, she has something to
focus her attention on.
   "So, there are two problems we've been trying to solve," she says.
"Finding where Kate will appear next, which really means finding out
where she is when she's not appearing and how she's doing it, and then
finding a way to bring her back. We've put a lot of effort into the
first one, without much luck."
   Derek nods. "Best guess is that they're related. So if we find out
the first one, we'll have a better idea of the second. But I'm
thinking you got something on how to bring her back?"
   "Yes," says Melody. "So maybe we use it to figure out the next time
she's going to appear. Basically, it comes down to her powers. We know
that she phases through matter differently than I do. Speedsters
vibrate their molecules out of synch with our reality, so I can
simultaneously occupy parallel earths. Whereas Kate's belt jumbles
atoms around, so if she's walking through a wall, she and the wall are
kinda squeezing around each other."
   "It's why her powers worked back in 2008," says Derek. "Caracalla's
implants prevented any speedsters from vibrating by locking down all
traffic to parallel worlds."
   "So I got to thinking, what if Kate isn't on another earth, or
between realities? What if she's been here, on Earth, the whole time?"
   "Just... dispersed?" says Derek. "That's what I've been thinking as
well. I still haven't been able to figure out though what's bringing
her together when we get a sighting. But go on."
   (God, he loves to hear himself talk.) "I talked to Doctor Fay about
Marita Costello's research into phasing, and how she went with a
speedster model for the Vibra-Jackets instead of the Metronome tech.
They didn't get anywhere with it. It was too dangerous. They figured
it was because they didn't have the real belt to pick apart, that
there was something that was missing. But there was this guy, Kevin
Masters, in the seventies who had the same belt."
   Derek winces.
   "So you heard about him," says Melody. "So, here's the real
question: what could Rabinowitz and Kate have in common that Masters
didn't? Both of them used the belt for years and years without any
kind of incident. So it's something about them, something that would
allow their atoms to co-exist with other atoms in the same space
without killing them. Something like the shrink gene. Medusa, if you'd
be so kind?"
   Derek's local instance of Medusa projects six slides side-by-side
on Derek's living room wall.
   "If they have the shrink gene," continues Melody, "then they're
already subtly tuned into a phased state, which would explain why they
never had any accidents. The first sample is from Microdot; we know
she has the shrink gene, of course. The second is Rabinowitz's closest
living relative, since we don't have a sample for Rabinowitz himself.
It's a match.
   "The third is from a direct descendent of Kevin Masters. No match.
That's not conclusive, since the gene might not get passed down. But
file it under circumstantial evidence.
   "Next up we have Kate's DNA. She has the gene. Now, I know what
you're going to ask: what if using the Metronome tech over the last
ten years has mutated her DNA? What if she had phased recently before
her blood was drawn, and that distorted the sample?"
   "That's why you have the last two," says Derek. "Simon and Calliope?"
   "Right," says Melody. "Simon's not a match, but he's a carrier.
Calliope, she's a match. Which makes it likely, likely enough anyway,
that Kate definitely has the gene. And that's how we bring her back;
we shrink her."
   Derek stares at her for a moment. Slowly, the corners of his mouth
turn upward. He beams. "That's brilliant. You're brilliant."
   "I have my moments."
   "Hit her with a shrink ray the next time she appears," he says,
excited. "Whenever we spot her, her atoms are starting to come
together, but they're not quite all there. Let the shrink radiation
pull 'em closer together, pull her together, and she's no longer
scattered and invisible all over the place."
   "The question is," says Melody, "when and where is she going to
show up next? How do we figure that part out?"
   "Medusa?" says Derek. "Can you pull up my map?"
   "What do you say?" says Medusa.
   "That's better."
   Melody's slides are replaced with a map of the world. Sixteen
little red circles appear. "So, here's all the places we know Kate has
shown up," says Derek. "I've run down a list of fifty possible
factors, and identified three that show up every time she does.
Medusa, could you bring up my overlaps? Please?" Yellow, green, and
blue circles appear. All three colors overlap the red circles;
elsewhere on the map, yellows overlap with greens, greens with blues,
blues with yellows, and all three but not with red. He points to one
of the latter. "The problem is, there are times when all three things
occur, but Kate doesn't. So, there has to be a fourth factor,
something else I was missing. Until now. I think."
   He rushes to his laptop and starts typing. "Okay, Medusa, could you
please add this to the model?"
   White circles appear. There are spots where they occur alone, and
spots where they overlap yellows or greens or blues, but the only
spots where all four occur at once are the sixteen red circles.
   "So, what's the fourth factor?" says Melody.
   "Tina Wazowie concerts," says Derek.
   Melody nods. "She uses shrink rays to implode inanimate objects as
part of her show. Rampant, low-level shrink radiation could pull Kate
together, if only for a few seconds. She has a concert tonight,
doesn't she?"
   "But it doesn't co-exist with the other three factors," says Derek.
"But this means we can predict when and where the four of them are
going to overlap again... okay. I got it. It's going to be... the
second of January."
   Melody shakes her head. "No. That's not fair."
   "Hey, hey, Melody..."
   "That's not fair!"
   "Melody, look," says Derek. "Look at me, Melody. Please? Melody,
you did it, okay? You're the one that figured it out. You've saved
Kate. She just doesn't know it yet."
   "I promised I'd bring her back."
   "And you have," says Derek.
   "She's not back yet. Damn it! If I had figured it out sooner..."
   "It's not your responsibility," says Derek softly. "It's not your fault."
   "I know whose fault it is," she says, a little icily.
   He grimaces. "Yes," he says, staring at the floor. "Yes, I know
it's my fault. I should have sent you after Dingham in the first
place. I know that. It was a tough call, and it was the wrong call.
Listen, I want to bring her back just as much as you do..."
   "Excuse me, geniuses?" says Medusa.
   "That sounds suspiciously like sarcasm," says Derek warily.
   "What is it, Medusa?" says Melody.
   "I've just got off the phone with Tina Wazowie. She's agreed to do
an impromptu concert on Tuesday night, in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
It's the next time the other three factors will appear. You're
   "Thank you, Medusa," says Melody. "Derek, I'm sorry I..."
   He waves his hand. "Don't worry about it. That was great, Medusa."
   "I have my moments."

   When you see the shadows falling
   When you hear that cold wind calling
   Hold on tight to your dream.
     "Hold On Tight", Jeff Lynne


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

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