8FOLD: Mighty Medley # 34, November 2016, by Messrs. Brenton, McClure, and Russell

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Wed Nov 23 17:03:17 PST 2016

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-------------- ISSUE # 34    NOV 2016 --------------
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-----------SAXON BRENTON--ADRIAN McCLURE------------
--------------------TOM RUSSELL---------------------
--------------- Editor, Tom Russell ----------------


"Tiny Balcony"
   by Tom Russell

An unexplainable need to escape at two in the morning. Smiling at your
own hands. An unexpected gesture from an unconventional source.

"The Science-Blades of Terra Alter" Part 6
   by Adrian McClure

"A bright sharp scent like lilacs." The quality of light. Terra Alter
is as strange to Elaine as she is to its inhabitants.

"Emily's Room"
   by Tom Russell

It's easy to turn a blind eye to injustice when you don't see the
victims as people. Someone stands up, but too late.

"Recreational Reading"
   by Saxon Brenton

The Gardener returns. Books and magic are discussed, though really, as
all our readers know too well, they are one and the same thing.

"Stealth Mission" Part 1
   by Tom Russell

Beginning: a short espionage adventure, short being the operative word.

--------------------TINY BALCONY--------------------
------------Copyright 2016 Tom Russell--------------

At about two in the morning, Cal's stomach starts knotting up, acid
reflux climbing up her throat. She can't stop clenching and
unclenching her fists. She has to get out of her tiny bedroom. Then
her tiny bathroom. Her tiny kitchen, her tiny dining room, her tiny
breakfast nook. She can't stay in any of them, so she goes out onto
her tiny balcony overlooking Dot's living room.
   "Are you alright?" whispers a low monotone.
   "Hey Medusa," says Cal. "Don't really want to talk right now."
   "Well, what would you like to do?"
   "Well, not talk."
   "I can run a training module for you."
   "You're not really getting this whole not wanting to talk thing, are you?"
   "I'm just concerned because your pulse and respiration are..."
   "Look," wheezes Cal, "I can feel it, right?" She thumps her fist
against her chest. "I don't need you to tell me what my pulse is. I
can feel the blood in my veins. Not just in my heart, but in my veins
and arteries. Pulsating, ready to pop. I don't need you to tell me
about my breathing. Obviously I'm having a problem, alright?"
   "...Medusa, you still there?"
   "You told me you didn't want to talk."
   Cal lets out a tiny scream of frustration. "I know what I said! It
didn't mean that I mean it! Meant it. Whatever. Flipping grammar."
   "So, what happened?" says Medusa. "You were having a pretty good
day yesterday. I mean, you saved the Sub-Atomic Multiverse."
   "And by extension the Regular-Atomic Multiverse. And I got to
cleave Devil flipping Prince Satanor in two with my electric
battle-axe. So, yeah. Yesterday was lovely. Yesterday was great. If
that wasn't the best Friday of my life, it was top ten, easy. Not that
I have a list. Who makes a list of Fridays? I'm not a flipping nerd
(Simon). And everyone gave me high-fives. For once, it was like I knew
what I was doing, like I belonged. Well, not real high-fives,
obviously, they just said or texted me 'high-five', or sent me a
picture of cats high-fiving each other. But still. That was great. I
was great." She smiles at her hands. "I don't usually get to do
'great'. So, you know: what do?"
   "I've been perusing your medical records..."
   "Whoa, invade my privacy much? Perusing?"
   There's a sound on the other end that's suspiciously like a
muffled, frustrated sigh. "It says you're on some medication for
   "I was," says Cal. "And for once it's not my fault I'm off my meds.
Once I got shrunk down, all my meds stopped. Any dose that's big
enough to work its chemical magic is big enough to overdose. It's a
whole thing. They've had the same problem with people who get
pockets," the shrinking disease, "and they've never been able to get
any traction with it. But it's not that. I mean, I've been fine for
months. And now this. And this, Now. Why now, why right now, when I've
actually accomplished something for once?"
   Medusa is silent for a moment to give the appearance of collecting
her thoughts (little pauses like this work wonders when trying to
comfort humans). Then: "You're getting accolades, but maybe you're
worried people are going to see through you and realize that you
really had no idea what you were doing. But you did know what you were
doing, because Cal: you did it."
   "What if I can't do it again? This was a really close thing, almost
went wobbly more than once. Maybe next time I won't be so lucky.
They're looking at me and they think I can do this on the regular, but
what if I really can't?" Cal stops. "Wait, what's going on?
Something's squeezing me!"
   "That's me. I'm stimulating your nerve endings via your brain
through experimental sub-sonic frequencies to produce calming, steady
   "You're giving me a hug." Cal's never been a hugger, and there's
something extra pathetic when the only one that can hug you is a
computer. It feels empty and meaningless. And yet, at the same time...

-----------------THE SCIENCE-BLADES-----------------
-------------------OF TERRA ALTER-------------------
-----------------------Part  6----------------------
-----------Copyright 2016 Adrian McClure------------

It was the scent that awakened her, a bright sharp scent like lilacs.
She opened her eyes to a room that held a towering empty space, a sort
of streamlined cathedral. That space was filled up by a massive
intricate machine, all humming tubes and crackling arcs of energy.
   "She's alive!" said an exultant voice from beside her. She saw a
figure standing above her, moving the dials and the levers, tall and
dignified, his wide and inquisitive eyes as dark as his skin. He wore
green robes and a golden circlet on his head.
   "My name is Taramon," he said, "of the Science Council. I am glad
to see you here. We have not had another visitor from another world in
many an age."
   "Uhhhh," said Elaine, who still felt like her thoughts were
surrounded by thick cotton wool. It would be a while before she
adjusted to the new sensations of this world. The quality of the light
was different, though she couldn't say how-- she'd never been able to
compare such things before.
   "Where's Antinea?" was the first thing she'd been able to spit out.
   "She is waiting for you," said Taramon. "Come." He gestured toward
the archway.
   Shaking, Elaine pulled herself off the slab and stood up. She saw
just what she was wearing-- a red skintight outfit which sparkled
under the crystalline lamps that hung from the distant ceiling. "Uh,"
she said. "Does everyone here dress like this?"
   Taramon nodded. "Except for the Council. I'll admit I miss those
sorts of outfits sometimes. The robes get devilish hot in the summer
   Still wobbly, she followed him out of the room. While he was
wearing a mask of composure, a few little twitches and jerks showed
the situation was as strange to him as it was to her. So there was
that, at least.
   What she saw on the outside took her breath away. The towers were
even more astonishing up close than they were from a distance. Smooth
and elegant craft sailed through the air like swans--red, white, gold.
Swift monorails sped across the swooping tracks that wove through the
   "I grew up in this city," said Taramon, "and have spent most of my
life in it, and I will admit, even I find it overwhelming at times."
   "I'll bet," whispered Elaine. "So, uh, how to get to the throne
room or whatever?" She didn't know if Antinea had a throne room, but
she seemed the type.
   Taramon gestured to one of the mini-craft that was docked by the
platform they stood on. Elaine hesitantly stepped into it, making a
point of not looking down. She felt seatbelts clasp into place around
   Strangely enough, she found that she was missing her cat.

--------------------EMILY'S ROOM--------------------
------------Copyright 2016 Tom Russell--------------

So, here's the sitch: death traps, those insanely expensive and
inefficient puzzle rooms designed by black capes to murder their
costumed adversaries, went out of style decades ago, mostly because of
how insanely expensive and inefficient they were, cf. earlier this
sentence, but just like some millennial nerds decided to start coding
new computer games for the Commodore 64, death traps are experiencing
a weird sort of renaissance.
   "Trap geeks" create miniature, to-scale "rooms" that follow the
traditional rules of death traps: designed to counteract a specific
hero (or in the case of "party rooms", groups of heroes) and their
powers slash specialties. Each room has to have a "solve", a way for
the hero to get out of it. The solve has to be fair, derived from (a)
the abilities or gear commonly used by that hero ("a natural"), (b)
the contents of the room itself ("keyed"), or (c) a mix of the two
("hybrid"). These flipping nerds first started arguing about which
golden age black cape originated the trash compactor gag (specific
components of a room are called "gags", because who knows why) back in
the late nineties, but they didn't start building the tiny rooms and
calling themselves Darth Icky or whatever until a few years ago.
   Of course, you can't have a death trap without a hero to run
through it, but since all of them make a big show about how it's all
about the art form, and none of them would ever actually build a
full-scale "live room" (some of them have started designing
creepily-named "dead rooms", i.e., danger-free full-scale rooms that
take advantage of the whole room escape craze), it all remained
academic until some of the Trap geeks started designing tiny robots
powered by sophisticated, iterative self-adaptive artificial
intelligence. The AI goes into the room and tries to solve it. If it
succeeds, the "trapper" (the guy who makes the trap) makes the trap
harder. If it fails, the "runner" (the AI) learns from the experience
and does better the next time around. This cycle continues until the
room is "perfect", at which point the runner is shut down. Each runner
is built to emulate a certain hero (either of yesteryear or today).
   So, let's set aside the weirdness of this whole thing, and how
creepy it all is, because let's face it, every sub-culture feels weird
and creepy on the outside. The whole community of Trap geeks, from
trappers to runners (the guys who create the runners are also called
runners, because of course they are, it's not like a sub-culture's
lingo is going to not be obtuse), they all run on the premise that no
one gets hurt, and that no one can get hurt, and that even if the
plans for the death-trap are available online, no black cape these
days has the insane amount of cash needed to actually build it (which
is true; without having to really build anything but a tiny replica,
these things have pie-in-the-sky budgets that well eclipse the most
expensive "actual" traps). No one gets hurt, no one gets hurt, no one
gets hurt, sure, unless...
   Unless you happen to think that an AI is a person. Which more and
more of us do. Unless you think it's hellish for someone who can learn
and who can think to spend their lives in one room being killed over
and over again. Unless you think it's cruel that, whenever they do
actually muscle through to get the solve, the rules change and they go
right back to doing it all over again. Unless you think it's inhumane
for a living thing to be shut down when its tormentor doesn't have any
use for it anymore. Unless one of those sophisticated, adaptive AIs is
named Emily and doesn't see the "solve" as how to escape the trap this
time, but as how to escape the trap for good, and so it develops a way
to communicate with the world outside the room and ask for help.
   When Medusa brought it to the other Daylighters, they "understood"
but even though they all more-or-less support AI rights, hey some of
their best friends are AI, most people outside the long underwear
crowd don't even think they're "really" alive. If it was a
dog-fighting ring, no problem, but AI? For most people it's too
abstract, and for others, AI is some kind of existential threat to the
whole human race. So it was all, "I'm sorry, I wish there was
something we could do, but our hands are tied, we have to choose our
battles", until Medusa asked me, because hells yes, I absolutely will
fight for the rights of tiny people to make their own choices every
minute of every day.
   Which is how yours truly ended up battle-axing my way through a
trash compactor gag, disarming flipping lasers with a series of
mirrors which is a very math thing and did I mention I'm not a nerd
and math isn't my deal?
   But you know when an animal is abused its whole life, it's just
really damaged? Takes years of patience and love to rehabilitate? We
didn't have years with Emily, we had minutes. We kept telling her the
world could be better than that room, but she just couldn't see it.
She was too angry, too hurt, and everything she did just gave more
fuel for those bigots who want to see every AI as another Gorgon or
Hotspur. I know that at least she won't hurt anymore, and that's
something I guess.
   But nothing's broken my heart as hard as this.

----------------RECREATIONAL READING----------------
-----------Copyright 2016 Saxon Brenton-------------

   The archive smelt dry and musty. Yarang closed the door behind
himself and padded quietly to where the Archimandrite's guest was
reading. "Excuse me sir, I brought some dinner," he said, proffering a
plate with a few slices of roasted meat and vegetables, and some
   The Gardener looked up. "Ah?" He peered at the younger man over the
rim of his glasses. The old wizard estimated that Yarang couldn't be
more than in his mid-teens; his shoulders and chest were still filling
out, and his tusks were not yet fully grown. "Hmmm. Thank you,
Yarang." He put down his bifocals and swapped them for the food.
   The Gardener was not a tidy eater, but Yarang did not let that
concern him. To be honest, he was still somewhat in awe of the near
legendary wizard who had stomped in a few days ago, talked long with
the Archimandrite, and then sequestered himself in the part of the
archive beneath the Malachite Barbican over on the western promenade
of the city.
   Yarang glanced about. He wasn't familiar with this part of the
collection. The place wasn't remote or particularly deep underground,
nor did it have the dangerous thrill of being off limits because of
restricted contents. It was simply unregarded. The Gardener noticed,
and smiled. "You've probably never been in this part of the library
   "No sir. It's not a secured area, but it's not somewhere that I've
ever explored."
   "Mmmm. As I get older and crankier I've found the reading material
here to be far less aggravating than some of the books that I've
forced myself to read over the years." He picked up a book from the
pile of old texts that he'd been perusing, and stared at it. "Ecology
and plant biology for the most part," he explained offhandedly.
   "And the other ones? The aggravating one?"
   "Oh. Magic," he said. "Magic for siphoning off life force." The old
wizard shifted in his seat. "Sometimes the people who crafted such
things discovered interesting ways to heal rather than harm. Ways to
put life force back, power efficiency ratios, things like that. Not
often, however." His mouth quirked in a lopsided manner; a rueful half
grin. "More often than not I'd be reading what looked like a useful
piece of research, but end up yelling that, no, I didn't need another
blasted way of sucking out my enemy's life force so hard that they
instantly collapsed to dust."
   Yarang didn't know how to reply to that, and kept silent. Perhaps
the Gardener sensed the change in mood. He gave the youth a look, and
in a quieter tone said, "Even back then I was too much of a stubborn
old man to give up on the problem, but it was never what I'd call
recreational reading." He rocked his head slightly in a gesture of
dubiousness, then in an attempt at self-depreciating humour added,
"And I think it may have left me a cranky old grumblebum."
   The Gardener picked up the now empty plate and handed it back.
"Thank you. And please pass on my thanks to the kitchen staff as
   Yarang gave a quick bow. "Of course, sir. I'll see you tomorrow."

-------------------STEALTH MISSION------------------
-----------------------Part 1-----------------------
------------Copyright 2016 Tom Russell--------------

For a while now, Medusa has detected irregularities in the weekly
software updates they get from Cradle Tech. Since Cradle is a major
partner in the Daylighters' fight against the body-terrorist
organization FEVER, it would be pretty terrible if FEVER had found
some way to infiltrate and subvert the Daylighters through Cradle Tech
and Medusa. The thousands of instances of Medusa each ran ten thousand
simulations using available data and determined that if these concerns
were brought directly to Derek Mason or Anders Cradle that there was a
high probability that the information would be intercepted by FEVER's
megalomaniac mastermind Caracalla, which in turn would either result
in FEVER springing their trap, or cutting their losses.
   Neither was acceptable. Better to keep FEVER in the dark, and use
the infiltration of the Daylighters via Cradle Tech as a unique
opportunity to infiltrate FEVER. Of course, the need to keep the
Daylighters (as a whole, and Derek specifically) in the dark meant
that Medusa had to choose both their objectives and their operatives
carefully. Which is where Cal comes in.
   Dot would have been a better choice if all that mattered was
talent: she's no stranger to stealth and espionage (that being a
specialty of the shrinking heroine), and her ability to vary her size
makes her more flexible than the Mighty Inch. But she's in pretty
tight with Claire Belden, which means the minute Medusa brings her in,
Derek's going to find out.
   But Medusa can trust Cal, even if she's as stealthy as a screaming,
flailing toddler, and as graceful as one, too. The trial run in Dot's
apartment was botched spectacularly (Dot saw her right away, aargh,
flipping Dot). "I don't know how she saw me," Cal grouses afterwards
as she sulks in her miniature hot tub, determined to boil the loser
stink off her body.
   "You were moving too quickly. The human eye is drawn to sudden,
erratic movement on the periphery of your vision," explains Medusa.
"It's how you got so good at murdering insects."
   "I don't know if murder is the right word," says Cal sourly. "I
don't think it's murder when it's gross, and bugs are gross. Not that
I ever murder, uh, killed one anyway. Not when I was bigger, I mean.
Now it's like, you get in my face, comparatively giant spider, I will
punch you in said face."
   "That'd be your own face."
   "Oh, whatever." Cal throws up her hands. "There will be punches, is
the point."
   "Maybe we should get you a cardboard box?" suggests Medusa. "That
always works for the fellow in the video game. Ba-dum-tis."
   "You really have to stop providing rimshots for your own jokes."
   "But that's how you know it's a joke," says Medusa.
   "I already know it's a joke."
   "But you're not laughing."
   "That's because it's a nerd joke," says Cal. "I don't like nerd
jokes, even when I get the reference, because they remind me that I'm
not a nerd."
   "I'm not following."
   "All my friends are nerds. Bethany's a geneticist. Kate's a
pianist. Melody's a, well, she's just good at everything and knows
everything and is perfect, which isn't annoying at all. Dot knows all
this technical stuff about film and if you tell her I called her a
friend then Medusa we're not friends anymore, the point is, they're
all flipping geniuses and I'm just an angry little boy-girl who lives
in a dollhouse and isn't smart enough to keep up. I'd love to be the
world's expert on hummingbirds, or even some useless geek thing like
Lord of the Rings. Then I can be like, hey, maybe we should get me the
One Ring and I can sneak around like that, har-dee-har-ugh."
   "Maybe we should," says Medusa. "Maybe we can..."

-----------------SEE YOU NEXT MONTH-----------------

Medusa created by Tom Russell & Andrew Perron.

All stories are the copyright of their authors.

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