8FOLD: Mighty Medley # 36, January 2017, by Messrs. Brenton, McClure, Perron, Russell, and Stokes

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Sat Jan 28 07:05:28 PST 2017

-------------EIGHTFOLD PROUDLY PRESENTS-------------
##     ## ####  ######   ##     ## ######## ##    ##
###   ###  ##  ##    ##  ##     ##    ##     ##  ##
#### ####  ##  ##        ##     ##    ##      ####
## ### ##  ##  ##   #### #########    ##       ##
##     ##  ##  ##    ##  ##     ##    ##       ##
##     ##  ##  ##    ##  ##     ##    ##       ##
##     ## ####  ######   ##     ##    ##       ##
-------------- ISSUE # 36    JAN 2017 --------------
##     ## ####### ########  ##       ###### ##    ##
###   ### ##      ##     ## ##       ##      ##  ##
#### #### ##      ##     ## ##       ##       ####
## ### ## ######  ##     ## ##       ######    ##
##     ## ##      ##     ## ##       ##        ##
##     ## ##      ##     ## ##       ##        ##
##     ## ####### ########  ######## ######    ##
-----------SAXON BRENTON--ADRIAN McCLURE------------
-------------DREW PERRON---TOM RUSSELL--------------
--------------------COLIN STOKES--------------------
--------------- Editor, Tom Russell ----------------


"Stealth Mission" Part 3
  by Tom Russell

Featherweight's apartment, and what Medusa and Cal find there. Cal has
to lie; did I mention she's bad at lying? She's bad at lying.
One-in-thirteen billion odds for the one-inch teenage anger muffin.

"Quest" Part 2
  by Saxon Brenton

Tales told and tankards quaffed. The Gardener, Zorgo's Rail Gun Loop,
and the Dhakisattvor Vow. Worlds outer and inner, true and virtual.

"The Science-Blades of Terra Alter" Part 8
  by Adrian McClure

An eye whose iris was a gear and pupil was a labyrinth. An allegory
that no one understands. Wonders and glories of New Atlantis: the
elegance of the dancers; the first claim; the electric spark; the
tall, pale woman in the scarlet dress.

"Empress of Pages" Part 19
  by Colin Stokes

The return of Mr. Stokes's celebrated serial to our pages. Meredith
and the Library contend with the Guardian of the Pillar, he of the
glossy black carapace: a formidable opponent.

"His White Rose"
  by Tom Russell

The first Featherweight story, and the last. A whisper, defiant.

"The Terrific Visage" Part 5
  by Drew Perron

Love Protectress Gorgoneion on her first mission! The missing step and
the turmoil caused by its absence. The glass of water, and the simple
truth that taking care of someone may be the best way to take care of

-------------------STEALTH MISSION------------------
-----------------------Part 3-----------------------
------------Copyright 2017 Tom Russell--------------

Medusa wakes Cal when they arrive. "That's Featherweight's apartment,"
Medusa says. "He left the window cracked open for us, as we agreed."
   Medusa navigates the plane through the gap with mathematical
precision, and then brings the plane down on Featherweight's coffee
   "Um, Medusa, are you seeing this?"
   "That's a silly question," says Medusa. "I'm a local instance of a
group-mind AI who receives visual input by interfacing with your
occipital lobe. If you're seeing something, obviously I'm seeing it,
at the same time."
   "Such. An. A. I. Such an AI."
   "Yes, Cal, I see her. It's Rainshade. Not Featherweight."
   "What are we gonna do?" says Cal. "We can't tell her about the
thing! She'll tell Derek! Derek will tell literally everybody forever.
And no, I don't mean figuratively. He will send an infinite number of
versions of himself into the past and tell people in a infinite number
of alternate pasts that will converge to form our present, a present
where everybody will have always known about the thing that no one's
supposed to know about!"
   "That's actually quite close to something Derek actually..."
   "Oh my gosh, Medusa, I know! I know that's something he actually
did! And how I know is that he has told literally everybody forever
about it! I don't think I've ever known him not to tell that story! I
have met him like six times, and each of those times, he told me that
story. One time, he had started telling me the story and then I had to
leave, in the middle of it, and the next time I saw him, he
immediately picked up the story again right where he left off! Him
telling the story is like that guy with the cat, the cat either's dead
or alive but at the same time, only no, it's not like that at all,
because either he's telling the story or he's telling the story."
   "You know," booms the voice outside the plane, "I can totally hear
you dissing on my boyfriend in there. I can hear the both of you."
   "How can she hear me?" whispers Cal to Medusa.
   "Magic, you idiots," says Rainshade. "Please come out and stop
embarrassing yourselves."
   Cal shrugs. Medusa opens the door and Cal steps out onto the table.
She grins broadly and waves. "Hi, Rainshade! Didn't know you were
friendly with Featherweight!"
   "Didn't know you were, either."
   "I'm not," says Cal. "Not yet, anyway. But, you know. I'm pretty
awesome at making friends, so..."
   "Uh-huh. I'm afraid Featherweight is needed on an actual, official,
sanctioned Daylighters mission."
   Medusa speaks: "I wasn't aware that there was such a thing, Claire.
Derek always envisioned the Daylighters as an adaptable, ad-hoc
network. Any member can ask any other member for help."
   "Like you did with the trappers and runners?"
   "Yes," says Cal. "Like the time we helped AIs that were being
tortured, is what I think you meant to say there. And we'd do it
   "I'm sure you would," says Rainshade. "And how did that work out?
Oh, right, the AI went crazy and tried to wipe mankind off the face of
the earth. Again. Like they always do. How predictable."
   "Emily was confused," says Cal. "She was in pain! She was lashing
out! What, is it only tragic when it's a mancer who does it? Because
that's just as flipping predictable."
   "The difference is that mancers are alive. But I'm sure the family
of Emily's victims take a lot of solace in you fetishizing the pain of
a computer program."
   "Cal, let it go," says Medusa gently.
   "You know," says Cal, "you're lucky I like you, Rainshade. I'm
predisposed to like you, on account of you brought my sister back from
the dead. And because of that, and also because where AI are
concerned, you're really, ridiculously ignorant..."
   "...which isn't your fault, I'm going to give you a pass."
   Rainshade smiles. "How big of you."
   "Oh, wow, short jokes. Listen, lady, I'll tell you what you can do
with that umbrella..."
   "Anything you can think of, I've probably already tried it. Twice."
   "Oh, gross. Visual thinker. Visual thinker! And because she's
plugged into my occipital whatever, Medusa's seeing it too. I think.
You've probably managed to gross both of us out, congratulations."
   "I think we got off on the wrong foot here," says Rainshade slowly.
   "Oh, because of how ignorant and, uh, technophobic you are? Medusa,
is technophobic the right word? It doesn't feel right; it feels like
it should end in -ist."
   "I have legitimate concerns!" says Rainshade. "Medusa requested
some very valuable, potentially very dangerous tech from Cradle. While
it's being picked up, Cal is supposed to be hidden on Featherweight's
person to, what, scope the place out? Get a glimpse at the inner
workings of our best partner in the fight against FEVER? If I found
out the Gorgon was planning something like that, I'd have every right
to be concerned."
   "But it's Medusa! She's not anything like the Gorgon!"
   "But she is," says Rainshade. "And that Gorgon code still exists in
every instance of Medusa. Which is why we do keep an eye on her. And
she understands that. She insists on it! So when she starts doing
things that don't make sense, keeping secrets, planning ops that are
going to compromise our security, that's a big red flag."
   "But it's nothing like that!" says Cal. "You don't understand."
   "So explain it to me," says Rainshade. "Featherweight can't do it.
Her mission is too important. This is important too? Fine. I'll help
you. But you need to bring me in. It needs to be something that makes
sense to me. Why do you need the cloak? Why do you need to do the
recon? And why does it need to be kept a secret? Give me three good
   "Perhaps I can clear this up," begins Medusa.
   "No," says Rainshade. "It has to be Cal. Without any help or prompting."
   Oh boy. Something tells Cal she can't just spill the beans
outright. There's just too much of a chance that it will get back to
FEVER, and then they can pull up shop, putting them right back where
they started.
   "Okay, so I'm actually probably not the right one to explain all
this, because it's nerdy weird science stuff, which isn't my forte.
But it's something to do with the sub-atomic multiverse. There's a
parallel mirror universe mini-earth that's on some kind frequency or
another that's like, I don't know, sub-atomic anti-matter but not
exactly? Bad news bears, either way, and we got to put the kibosh on
it in their tiny mirror version of the Cradle HQ. The cloak has this
light refractory period (or something) that protects folks from the
anti-matter. So, that's why I need the thing, and that's why I need to
scope out the layout."
   "Okay," says Rainshade slowly, "that makes about as much sense as
anything non-magical in this world. So, let's say I buy that. Why the
   "Um," says Cal, spinning her wheels. "That's a really good question. Uh."
   Medusa breaks in. "We've ran thirteen billion simulations. In
almost all of them, the threat is neutralized. But in only one does
she come back."
   Oh, that's good. "One-way trip," says Cal. "And I made my peace
with that. But if Derek or Kate get word of this, they're not going to
let me do it. They'll send Melody, or Dot, or Kate. The way I look at
it, I'm uniquely situated to do this one thing. They're also able to
do this one thing, but they can also do a hundred other things that a
one-inch teenage anger muffin can't do. If one of us has to be taken
out of circulation, makes more sense for it to be me." She shrugs.
"So, are you gonna help us or not?"
   After a moment of silence, Rainshade nods.

----------------------Part 2------------------------
-----------Copyright 2017 Saxon Brenton-------------

   They went and found Tunhelg's friends at the Cathedral Swan, a
tavern on the upriver side of town. All the adventuring group was
there, both the ones that Yulgna already knew from long acquaintance -
like Acrey, and the merry-faced Tinya - and newcomers such as the slim
Joram who was introduced as one of the group's wizards, or the smiling
and open-faced Durrim, who Yulgna liked immediately but also
immediately knew not to trust. Unsurprisingly most of them were orcs,
except for stolid dwarven Acrey, and the fantastically exotic Joram
the human.
   Stories were told and tankards were quaffed. (Not by Yulgna,
however. She considered quaffing a waste of good alcohol, and since
she had no trouble holding her liquor she simply drank, albeit on
something approaching industrial lines.) They talked of deeds of epic
heroism, both in this world and in the outer, non-virtual world. Acrey
the truthsinger started with the empire building exploits of Urthakus,
but after that things kind of got bogged down with the tales around
the Gardener.
   "Okay, so the question is, how much of the stories about him are
real and how much are embellishment?" asked Durrim. "I mean, do we
even know how well magic works in the outer world?"
   "Or if it works at all?" put in Tinya.
   "Let's not go crazy with that," warned Joram. "But... yeah. The Eco
Collapse was, what, three-and-a-half thousand years ago? I mean, these
days we don't even know exactly what 'soul flensing' even means."
   "So which ones do you think are real?" asked Acrey.
   "I've always had a problem with the battle against the space
whale," Tunhelg interjected.
   "I'm a bit dubious about that one too," admitted Joram. "But as for
what stories were real... Well, the Eco Collapse is the one I'd
choose. The whole warlocks drain the planets life force, the Gardener
bashes their heads together, then has to stomp around for decades on
end trying to repair the damage. On the one hand that sounds epic
enough to be a story about the Gardener, but at the same time so
dreadfully tedious that it couldn't happen anywhere except in the
outer world."
   They argued about that for a while, including how much the inner
world was a faithful recreation of the outer world, including the old
chestnut of how much functional magic existed beyond virtual reality.
Eventually they moved forward to some of the more recent stories. The
ones that had occurred here, in the current world. Personal
reminiscences for the most part. Somewhere about the fourth round of
drinks someone asked about Yulgna's own adventuring past.
   The blacksmith grinned and wiped her mouth. "There isn't much to
it. When I was a kid I heard the same stories that everyone does. You
know, the world is an illusion and we're trapped inside until someone
gets to the top of one of the Towers. And along the way you get the
tales about heroes who have fought their way through the monsters and
the traps to explore and clear part of the way through the Tower, so
that even if they can't make it in one run other adventurers coming
after them can follow the trail. The Battle 'Gainst The Purple Wyrm.
The Temple of The Anthracite God..."
   "Zorgo's Rail Gun Loop," went Tinya.
   "Yeah!" they all cheered, and several of them raised their tankards
and quaffed.
   "And Zorgo's Rail Gun Loop," agreed Yulgna. "So anyway, as you get
older you get told, no, those aren't fairy tales. We really do need
people to fight their way to the top of the Towers, and if youngsters
show promise they get training in how to take on an Aspect of
adventuring. I did... okay... I guess."
   "You did more than 'okay'," Acrey said. Like Tunhelg he was an old
friend, and knew this story. "You made it all the way along the
warrior path through knight to knightrider."
   The others whistled. The knight move was tricky. Most people only
managed a single cycle of the two-steps-forward-one-step-to-the-side
movement of a knight. To be able to keep going on such a complicated
vector was an impressive feat.
   Yulgna shook her head. "That's not what I'm talking about, and you
know it," she told him sternly but without rancor. She turned to the
others. "I adventured in the wilderness with friends, and we did a few
raids on the Tower. We did pretty good. Clearing out the Hall Of
Not-Mirrors was our big claim to fame. But the thing was, during the
off times I found I had a knack for weapons repair, and that
eventually led me into blacksmithing. And I thought: what's the best
use that I can put this to? Should I keep trying to clear parts of the
Tower? Or should I set up shop and provide gear for others to do the
same thing? What's better in the long run?"
   A lot of the others looked bemused by this, but Joram nodded his
head. "Dhakisattvor Vow."
   "The what now?" asked Tunhelg.
   "The Dhakisattvor Vow," Joram repeated. "It's what that particular
choice is sometimes called. The decision to hold back and help others
advance through the Tower, and live just like people who've never been
able to take on an Aspect of adventuring."
   "Oh, is that what it is?" said Acrey. "I'd heard the term, but
didn't know what it meant."
   "It sounds kind of mystical," observed Durrim.
   Joram shrugged. "It can be if you want to make it that way. But
really it's just pragmatic strategy."
   "In any case, *this* is why I went to Yulgna to get my gear fixed,"
said Tunhelg. "It's that she knows her stuff."
   "Well thank you," said Yulgna.  "And here I was worried that you
were just looking for a good price," she added, provoking laughter and
Tunhleg to grin and roll his eyes.

-----------------THE SCIENCE-BLADES-----------------
-------------------OF TERRA ALTER-------------------
-----------------------Part  8----------------------
-----------Copyright 2017 Adrian McClure------------

Amazingly, Elaine managed to not throw up as the car sped around the
roadways, twisting and turning, a roller-coaster through this shining
city. Her mind had been blasted nonstop with strange new experiences
since Antinea had turned up on her doorstep, but hopefully she'd at
least be able to hold it together for this meeting.
   The car stopped before a great golden archway in a tower. Taramon
guided her unsteady steps through the arch, past the guards with their
burnished armor, and into the throne room.
   Blue and gold banners hung beside the throne, with a symbol of an
eye whose iris was a gear and pupil was a labyrinth. Antinea wore blue
robes and a crown with that same eye symbol nested in the horns of a
crescent moon. In her left hand she held a scepter with an orb that
crackled with a blue light. If she had been an overwhelming presence
on Earth, she was even more so here.
   When Elaine walked in, Antinea dismissed her advisors with a wave
of her hand. She nodded at Taramon, who bowed goodbye to Elaine and
headed off.
   "Welcome!" said Antinea. Elaine kneeled before the golden throne,
hoping she wasn't committing a faux pas. "No need for that," said the
queen. "You are the wife of my husband. Stand." Elaine did so, though
her knees were shaking.
   It was then that she realized they weren't speaking English
anymore. This was a  fluid and foreign tongue that spilled past her
lips, instinctive and yet unfamiliar. "How am I speaking your
language?" she said.
   "A translation matrix built into your body. I had one too, for your
world. I'm glad I'm not thinking in your language anymore, to be
honest. It gave me a headache."
   Elaine laughed. "Speaking as an English teacher, I don't blame
you." In some ways, this language did seem more clear and logical than
her own. "So... right, my mind was uploaded into this body, like a
program." The fact that her body wasn't really her body was another
thing she'd have to get used to.
   Antinea nodded. "It took a week for our minds to reach here. Little
has changed, for better or worse."
   "OK, I think maybe you could use to explain some things," said
Elaine. "For example, where exactly am I right now?"
   "Ah! You are standing in the throne room of New Atlantis--it was
founded long ago by people who escaped Atlantis from your world, just
as some of your world's mages, it is said, came from here. Its people
are scientists and seekers who come from all over this world. It moves
about the world to escape from its enemies. Right now, we are in the
Mountains of the Moon."
   She pressed a button on the side of her throne and the image of a
map appeared in the air, complete with dragons on the oceans. The
emblem that stood above the throne, presumably marking their city, was
somewhere in where northern Africa would be in her world. It was part
of a domain covering most of the world, marked by a symbol--a horned
circle upon a cross standing on a wavy line--which she knew as the
Monas Heiroglyphica, created by John Dee, the magus, spy and statesman
who had named the "British Empire."
   "That is the Everlasting Empire of Amarantine," said Antinea. "For
thousands of years it has endured, longer than any empire of your
world, not founded on magic, ever could. In its eyes the existence of
our city is illegal. Sometimes they have tolerated us, at other times
they have sought to destroy us. For the last two hundred years, there
has been peace between us, but it has been tenuous and I fear it will
lost soon, especially with the new emperor on the throne. That's one
of the reasons we need to find Jason as soon as we can."
   Hearing his name, Elaine felt her heart stop. "Where is he?"
   "We do not yet know. Something disrupted the gate as he passed
through it. To tell the truth, we do not fully understand how the
portals work. They are very ancient, and built of alchemy, which is
the bridge between science and magic, using techniques which are now
lost. We have taken many measures to find him but have found nothing
definite. All we know is he is alive, and he is somewhere in this
world. But where, I do not know. It is likely the portal affected him
somehow. He may have changed, in mind and body."
   "Okay." Elaine took Antinea's warm, bronze hand in hers and squeezed it.
   "Don't worry. I have faith in him. And you." Antinea smiled--she
really meant it, or seemed to. Which meant she had more faith in
Elaine than Elaine herself did.
   A serving maid took Elaine by the arm and led her through the
labyrinthine corridors to a bedroom, watched over by guards with
spears entwined with mechanical coils. She lay down alone on the fine,
brightly colored silk sheets, and fell asleep.
   A few hours later, the maidservant roused her awake, and bid her to
come to the celebration they were holding in honor of the Queen's
return. Antinea didn't feel like it, but she let herself be dragged
out of bed and led to a ballroom beneath a tall blue and gold dome on
which were painted the stars, constellations different from her world,
each of which seemed to have their own story. She stood in a place of
honor beside the queen and watched a sort of masque, which seemed
extremely convoluted and allegorical. Antinea whispered to her that no
one really understood what it meant, including its writer.
   After the masque ended, it was time for the dance to begin. She
felt lost in the sea of bright costumes and elegant dancers. The queen
took her hand again, and she felt something like an electric spark. "I
think you have the first claim on me."
   "OK," said Elaine. She let Antinea guide her onto the dance floor.
The crowd parted for them. Amazingly, she didn't trip over her feet.
For a moment, she felt she was in a sort of quiet enclosed space with
Antinea, away from the crowd. She found herself looking deep into the
queen's eyes and feeling a sense of peace.
   Then the music--something like a theremin--grew quicker, and
Antinea whirled off into the crowd to dance with other men and women.
Elaine found herself drifting to the edge. She was standing in a crowd
of people she mostly didn't know and didn't know where to start, a
familiar situation for her. A few people were staring at her and that
made her uncomfortable. She wondered how to excuse herself and make
her way back to her bedroom.
   Then someone approached her. It was a tall, pale, dark-haired woman
in a scarlet dress. She smiled a knowing and inviting smile. "May I
have this dance?" she said.

------------------EMPRESS OF PAGES------------------
----------------------Part 19-----------------------
------------Copyright 2017 Colin Stokes-------------

"I don't suppose you'd let me pass," Meredith called out to the
Pillar's guardian, briefly glancing up at the tree-like structure's
crown of luminous pink crystals. "There's a little something I need to
do with that."
   The other daemon snarled a wordless reply, his body shimmering as
the glossy black carapace of the Netherguard slid over it - smoothly
and (more importantly) very quickly, Meredith noted with a tiny pang
of jealousy. He'd never quite mastered the art, but his opponent had
had plenty of time to practice, it seemed.
   -Our talents exceed his, I think,- the Library mused with the hint
of a smirk. -He may be a Guardian, but you are a Legionnaire.  We
shall see...-
   'So we shall,' Meredith returned with a smirk of his own, and
shivered a little as he donned his own carapace, the Library's wires
squirming and flexing beneath his skin to get settled and positioned
just right. She was doing /something/, he just wasn't quite sure what
- but there was no time for consideration now, as an explosion of sand
announced the Guardian's first move - a forward charge.
   Meredith was quick, to balance his relative lack of strength (as
otherwise he'd never have suffered a 'Lesser' title). But, he noted
with no small amount of trepidation - as bone claws sliced through
where he'd been standing an instant ago - the Guardian possessed speed
very nearly equal to his. One misstep and he'd be in poor shape
indeed... only one, in these shifting sands, where the Guardian had
spent countless time.
   -Then retreat,- the Library suggested, in a tone that approached
vague worry. Clearly she was aware of the difference in power as well
(how could she not be, Meredith chided himself upon reflection, with
all those numbers everywhere). -Perhaps he will give chase, perhaps
not; either way we shall learn something.-
   A simple wordless acknowledgement was all Meredith could spare now,
his whole being devoted to dancing across the sands, avoiding every
strike the Guardian sent his way with sinuous grace. It would have
been a delightful pastime, had he been unafraid of losing and failing
his Empress ('death' being an impossible outcome).
   As it was, it was exhilarating.
   The battle with the Golden Lady herself had excited him, to be sure
- but not like this. To be moments from disaster, spinning, dodging,
weaving...  Meredith felt more than saw a coming strike shift out of
the pattern, and flipped backward with another spray of sand, outside
one of the concentric circles the Library had overlaid on his vision
to indicate distance from the Pillar. He readied for the follow-up,
but none came.
   "Coward," the Guardian spat, bristling. "Did you come to fight or to dance?"
   He wasn't approaching, Meredith noted with interest, simply
blocking access to the Pillar - even moving sideways to match him.
"Neither," he replied with an insouciant smile. "I came for the
crystals. You /are/ a fine dancer, though."
   "You won't be so light on your feet when you're in little pieces,"
the Guardian growled darkly, "and your magic is draining back into the
world you've ruined."
   Meredith sidestepped back the other way. The Guardian followed.
"Me, ruin an entire world? I think you've got the wrong daemon, my
dear Guardian," he returned lightly. "What makes you think /I'm/
responsible for... oh, what was it again?"
   The Library said nothing, but Meredith felt a vague sense of amused approval.
   "Don't play the fool with me, Lesser filth!" the Guardian all but
shouted, his claws glowing and sparking ominously. "The Sun is
/touched/, the Throne tells me to be wary, and then you come - /you/,
of all the slippery little pests. Fn'ordh the Lesser, the weakest, the
most forgettable, and yet here you are, disrespecting the Throne in
the most /egregious/ way possible. What else am I to think?"
   Meredith couldn't help but laugh. It felt like hearing someone
else's name. "Somehow," he managed, to the fuming Guardian, "I don't
think you'll find me to be quite what you're expecting."  He paused.
"But I still need those crystals, even if that means going over,
around, or /through/ you."
   "Why do you need them so badly, /little/ Fn'ordh?" the Guardian demanded.
   Meredith suppressed a snort. "I'll answer your question with a
question.  Why do you serve the Throne?  Is it out of duty, or simply
fear of the consequences? Or is it perhaps something else?"
   "I don't need to answer that." There was only the slightest
hesitation before the Guardian responded, but it was there
nevertheless, and it made Meredith smile.
   "Oh, but you /do/. You may not need to answer /me/ - and therefore
I also need not answer /you/ - but the question has an answer; a very
important one."
   -Do you think to turn him?- the Library mused. -I fear this will
not be easy.-
   'Unsettle him, perhaps; no more,' Meredith thought back as he
slowly paced to the side, the Guardian following tirelessly. 'Any
advantage I can seize, I must.'

------------------HIS WHITE ROSE--------------------
------------Copyright 2017 Tom Russell--------------

Possessed of gloves that reduce the weight of even the heaviest
objects to a mere ounce, professor Kelly Chen becomes the daring
gentleman-adventurer FEATHERWEIGHT!

Hotspur throws a tank at them, but Featherweight nimbly plucks it from
the air, balancing it upon a single gloved finger. He smiles at
Vedette, as if to say, 'if you'd do the honors?'
   The pretty brunette smiles back, and uses her eerie powers to draw
Hotspur's fire. No matter where Hotspur's lasers are aimed, they curl
and twist in mid-air, all homing toward her; she darts and dodges them
with a practiced ease that belies her fleshy frame. Which gives
Featherweight ample time to get near the deranged robot, and to smash
it to pieces with the tank.
   There's minimal property damage - Featherweight and Vedette,
individually, are each old pros at this stuff by now, and beyond that,
they're pros at working together. There's a natural rhythm, an easy
   Vedette gives Featherweight a celebratory high-five: at the moment
of impact, her fingers and palm become ephemeral. He curls his fingers
between hers, and with his other hand, finds a place at the small of
her back. He pulls her close, and pulls her up, balancing her
weightlessly on his fingertips, and then lets her float gently back to
the earth. Before he releases her hand, he steals a kiss just above
her knuckles.
   He tips his hat, and bids her adieu.

It isn't a ritual. Yes, he does the same things every time, and in the
same order, with the same deliberate care and slowness. It's always
the hat first, followed by the cape. But it's not a ritual.
   He pulls the white rose from his lapel and places it next to the
hat. His jacket, then his waistcoat, then his tie. With the gloves
still on, he picks at each of the small, white buttons on his shirt,
unhurried, unthinking, easy. The small pearl cufflinks come off before
the shirt does. His shoes, his trousers, and then his gloves.
   All that's left is the layers of tight bandage that flatten her
breasts. As Kelly unwraps herself, she wonders again if the bandages
are really necessary. It's not like her breasts are all that
noticeable. (Not like Vedette's.)
   "But I would notice them," she says out-loud. She places
Featherweight's action suit, meticulously folded, in the secret drawer
of her dresser. Before she closes it, she brings his white rose to her
face and breathes deep.
   Because her breasts are still tender from being flattened, and
because it's not like she needs one anyway, Kelly skips the brassiere,
sliding a big, formless t-shirt over her square, curveless frame. As
she pulls on a pair of jeans, she catches sight of herself in the
mirror. It's weird; Featherweight is actually quite feminine for a
man, all delicate features and careful poise, a pretty man, like the
guys in shojo manga. Whereas Kelly is a tomboy if ever there was one:
she hasn't worn a dress since she had any kind of say in the matter.
In fact, sometimes she feels more feminine when he dons the top hat
and cloak, and more masculine when she's Kelly.
   Kelly used to feel uneasy about all that, about who she was
(Featherweight never gave it, or anything else that troubled Kelly,
much thought; everything for him is breezy fun and adventure). She
felt better about it, a lot better, after she started talking with
Medusa. The other Daylighters Featherweight has met have helped as
well, the gender-queer ones anyway; he hasn't told most of the others,
and that includes the various hyper-feminine heroines he's romanced,
like Vedette. But she's more comfortable being who she is.
   Not to the degree that Kelly is comfortable telling anyone in her
life about it, least of all telling Justin. Of course, coming out of
the closet, even to her best friend and future husband, is complicated
by the whole secret identity superhero thing, as well as the whole
"making out with female superheroes thing". Justin's likely to be
supportive of the whole gender-fluid thing but probably less so of the
whole risking-your-life and kinda-sorta cheating-on-him thing.
   "It's complicated," she says to nobody, and whenever things get too
complicated, Kelly likes to fall back on the simple pleasures of life.
So she orders some Chinese take-out. You don't need to tell her it
isn't authentic Chinese cuisine. She knows that. She's had authentic
Chinese cuisine, made by her authentic Chinese father, and she
authentically likes it fine. But she also likes the completely
inauthentic stuff in the little white cartons, foods that were
invented or adapted to suit American tastes. What's wrong with that?
With adapting? With giving and taking? With being more than one thing?
   Just as she's getting home with her dinner, Kelly gets a call from
Medusa. They'll need Featherweight to go to Cradle Tech HQ tomorrow
afternoon, hiding the Mighty Inch in his lapel. (Another covert,
off-the-books mission Medusa has initiated herself. Medusa's been a
true friend, and Kelly has no qualms about helping her out.) Kelly
immediately makes arrangements to free up her schedule for tomorrow -
being a rock star in the field of quantum linguistics means she can
often set her own hours - and ensures Justin won't be home.

It isn't a ritual. Yes, she does the same things every time, and in
the same order, with the same deliberate care and slowness. The water
must be hot, hot enough to hurt a little, and the shower must be long.
The skin on the back of her neck has to get so red that it sloughs
off. So hot and so red that she sheds Kelly's skin entirely, and then
Featherweight steps out of the shower after turning off the faucet.
   But as he reaches for the faucet, he feels something, someone,
touching her wrist. Kelly freezes, but not voluntarily; it's like all
her muscles have knots in them. She wants to cry out, but she can't.
   "You can still move your eyes, dear," says a voice.
   Kelly shifts her eyes toward the sound. The woman is only visible
out of the corner of her eye. She can't make out much about the
figure, but the umbrella gives it away. Rainshade? But Featherweight
never confided in her.
   "Derek's rubbish at keeping his own secrets," says Rainshade. "He's
just as bad with everyone else's. Safe with me, though. I won't tell
anyone. Anyone else, anyway. I'm afraid I did blab it to Vedette. She
thought she was rather open-minded, but when she found out she's been
kissing another woman, well, she was rather upset. Oopsie. My bad."
She snaps her fingers, and the faucet twists itself off, leaving Kelly
cold and wet and vulnerable.
   "You've been running secret ops for Medusa. Targeting Cradle Tech.
Mucking about in things you don't understand." (Kelly strains to
speak, but her mouth remains paralyzed.)
   "Now, you're probably scared. This is scary. Maybe you're wondering
if I'm going to kill you or something. I could, you know. You wouldn't
be the first of the Daylighters I've removed from circulation. And now
that I've told you that, well, now you're really wondering if I'm
going to kill you. But I'm going to do you a kindness, instead. I'm
just going to wipe your memory. Of this conversation. Of Cradle. Of
Vedette, of the Daylighters, of Featherweight. You'll just be Kelly.
Who you really are. No more pretending." (Kelly wants to scream, to
run, to fight. But nothing. Nothing but pain from trying.)
   "You see, it's not necessary to kill you, because you're not really
the threat. Medusa is. Medusa seems to think that It's a person, with
Its own thoughts, Its own agenda, Its own friends. Friends like you.
Kate's sister. That ridiculous little girl on the roller-skates. It's
forgotten what It is. Like you, pretending to be something It's not.
Like you, I'm going to help It."
   "She," whispers Kelly, defiant, and then everything goes black.

----------------THE TERRIFIC VISAGE-----------------
-----------------------Part 5-----------------------
------------Copyright 2017 Drew Perron--------------

  Finally, *finally*, Mackenzie and Medusa were ready to go out into
the world and Do Good. They'd crunched the data and found someone to
help, someone who would (probably!) be receptive, and someone in
rollerblade range. It was gonna be great!
  Shining with new confidence, Mackenzie shouted "FULL COMBINARY!"
Gorgoneion zipped down the sidewalk, leaves blowing around in her
wake. She zoomed past surprised pedestrians and stopped at stoplights,
waiting eagerly for the light to change, before skating on down the
  Her destination was one of the little old brick townhouses near the busway.
727 Meade Avenue, home of Melvin Chandler, her target in helpfulness.
In theory, he was someone who had responded positively in the past to
unsolicited communications - he had made at least two friends from
social media messages out of the blue - and had little objection to
data mining - he had actually talked about how much he liked targeted
ads. If anyone would consider what she was doing uncreepy, it'd be
  Gorgoneion took off her rollerblades and hung them on her belt.
Cracking her knuckles, she reached up and rung the doorbell!
  ...and waited. After three minutes, she pushed the button again,
listening to the faint buzz from inside. She leaned on the artificial
part of herself to help her wait patiently, ringing the doorbell every
three minutes, and the rest of the time, just standing there and
enjoying the sunlight.
  Finally, after the sixth ring, the door opened. A man leaned out,
squinting, half-awake in the sunlight. He was wearing a bathrobe with
a taco stain halfway down, and his beard was completely bescraggled.
"Yeah, sorry, I--" He looked down, blinked, and his eyes focused. "Oh.
Um... hello, there."
  "Hi!" said Gorgoneion, with a wide smile (that couldn't be seen
under the helmet). "Are you Melvin Chandler?"
  "Ah, yeah?" He ran a hand through his hair, absentmindedly smoothing
out the flyaways and floof. "Is this about the water bill?"
  "Oh, no!" She laughed. This wasn't too hard! "Actually, I'm a cyborg
superhero." And saying those words sent a thrill up her spine all over
again. "And I saw on the Internet that you've been having a hard time
since your job started going bad, and I wanted to come over and,
um..." ...data not found... ...she may have skipped a step... Okay,
that's okay, run a background process and for now-- "...give you a
  "Oh. Well, I guess that's... thank you?" Confused but open, Melvin
spread his arms. Gorgoneion scooted forward on her skates and gave him
a big hug around the middle!
  Okay! she thought. She was here, and she was helping, and...
  She felt him shift, and released the hug. Right, didn't want to
overdo it, and besides, now she could... um... could...
  That feeling, that nervous, unsure feeling of having skipped a step
crept back in. The artificial part of herself went back over her
organic memory, rapidly, checking and re-checking. Her plan to help
people had been to become a superhero, and go out, and find people who
needed help, and, and... and then what? Something positive? Like what?
I don't know! I'm supposed to know! I'm sorry, I--
  POPF! The light dissolved into a cloud of sparkles, leaving a young
lady with her face screwed up, eyelids twitching as she tried not to
cry. "Ah-- um-- s-- sorry--" Her features scrunched.
  Melvin startled for a second. He took one look at her face, though,
and opened the door, giving her his best attempt at a comforting
smile. Mackenzie swallowed and smiled back. She clomped inside, sat
down on the sofa, took off her skates, and put them on her lap. All
the while, her mind whirled, Medusa hovering around the edges of it,
radiating supportive emotions but unable to calculate an answer.
  He brought her a glass of water and sat down on the chair. Mackenzie
drank it all in one gulp and hiccuped. She let her thoughts whirl
down, let Medusa tend to their edges, her electronic warmth smoothing
them out. Okay, she thought, it's okay. Take a moment to think of
just... flexibility, love and trust... okay.
  She looked up at Melvin. "Um..." She swallowed. "Sorry."
  He shook his head. "Sorry this place is such a mess."
  She laughed, face relaxing. "No, um, it's fine. My room was like
this when..." She bit her lip. "Um. So, the, um, the reason I came...
ugh. See, I just, like I said, I'm-- we're--" She shook her head and
decided to go for the easy version. "I'm a superhero who helps people,
and I heard from my partner about you having a hard time. Like, your
projects have been falling off, the, um, the Minecraft thing, and
you've been posting stuff on social media that's sad, but all your
friends have been wrapped up in their own stuff, it seems like..." She
watched him as she talked. He seemed surprised that she knew all this,
but not angry or scared. At least they'd gotten that part right. "And
so I decided to come over and try and make you feel better, but um..."
Her face tightened again, but she made it relax. "I guess, I didn't
really think about how you actually do that."
  "Aw, jeez, you did all that for..." Melvin seemed at a loss for
words. He looked around, looked away; he started picking trash up off
the table. "Well, um, thanks. I-- oh, um, are you allowed to be here?
Like, do your parents know?"
  She smiled. "Yeah. And Medusa, um, my partner says you're safe."
  He nodded. "Okay. You know what, let me--" He took the trash into
the kitchen and got her another glass of water, which she drank
eagerly. "Well... thanks, kid. I guess... y'know, I just needed
someone to talk to, or someone to, y'know, step forward and show they
care. I mean, with Lou gone and Abigail doing the new job... I know
they *do* care, but it's kinda hard to remember that when you're
feeling this bad."
  "Oh. So... you just wanted someone to talk to, somebody who would
acknowledge your problems..." She shook her head. "Jeez, that's so
*obvious*. I feel kinda dumb."
  "Awh, no, it's okay." He smiled. "I already feel a lot better."
  "Oh! Really?" She sat up straight. Tension fizzled out of her temples.
  "Yeah! I guess... helpin' you out, calming you down, helped me."
  Mackenzie giggled and punched the air. "Awesome!" She stood up. "But
I'm not done! Here, I'm gonna help you clean up, and let's keep
talking about how you're feeling. Okay?"
  He laughed. "Sure, kid. Oh, what's your name, anyway?"
  She grinned. "You can call me Love Protectress Gorgoneion!"

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

Medusa created by Tom Russell & Andrew Perron.

All stories are the copyright of their authors.

More information about the racc mailing list