8FOLD: Daylighters # 1, "Pursued By A Bear"

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Sat Nov 3 21:09:40 PDT 2018

Traditional superhero teams can't deal with the number and scope of
threats to life on the planet Earth. In their place has risen THE
DAYLIGHTERS, a loose and decentralized social network of costumed
adventurers and specialists.

 _____              _ _       _     _
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| |  | | __ _ _   _| |_  __ _| |__ | |_ ___ _ __ ___
| |  | |/ _` | | | | | |/ _` | '_ \| __/ _ \ '__/ __|
| |__| | (_| | |_| | | | (_| | | | | ||  __/ |  \__ \
|_____/ \__,_|\__, |_|_|\__, |_| |_|\__\___|_|  |___/
               __/ |     __/ |
              |___/     |___/  [8F-183] [PW-31]

      # 1 - PURSUED BY A BEAR

------- MISSION: LAS VEGAS -----------------

Bethany Clayton, KNOCKOUT MOUSE, age 31.
Controls the density of her right hand. Geneticist.

Kate Morgan, SHIMMER, age 29.
Phases through solid matter. Concert pianist.

Kelly Chen, FEATHERWEIGHT, age 28.
Makes objects weightless with a touch. Professor of quantum linguistics.

Jonah Jacobs, KLUTZ, age 25.
Catastrophic probability manipulation (bad luck). Sporadically employed.

------- ALSO STARRING ----------------------

MEDUSA, age four months.
Benevolent artificial intelligence network providing logistical
support and intel.

Ghedi Dirie, ZIP, age 15.
Long-range teleporter and travel blogger.


The last day of twenty-fourteen unfolds much like the three-hundred
and sixty-four that preceded it, at least as far as Jonah Jacobs is
concerned. His alarm clock doesn't go off (a certain short and furry
someone chewed through the wire). He has a back-up alarm on his cell
phone, only the battery is dead (despite having a full charge last
night). He is already two hours late for his shift when he stumbles
out of bed, and by the time he jogs into Antwerp, his boss is all too
happy to relieve him of his employment.
   Naturally this leaves him feeling more than a little sorry for
himself, and Jonah decides the best way to wallow in self-pity on a
Wednesday morning is with an espresso. He is the thirteenth in line
(naturally), but it's not like he has anywhere pressing to be. By the
time he gets to the front of the line, the espresso machine falls
apart - literally just falls off the table, separated into its
component parts - and so he settles for a simple coffee instead. He
finds an isolated table in the corner, and plugs his phone charger
into the wall socket. There are sparks, and then everything goes
black. This provokes the other patrons to leave the establishment,
which is probably for the better, because just as he finishes his
coffee, a car bursts through the window, sending glass and bricks
   Jonah ascertains that the driver is okay, then heads out the door.
The barista follows him out. "You! You're the one!"
   "I'm the one?"
   It turns out she used to work at that other coffee shop he visited
about a month back, the one that was swallowed by a sinkhole. And her
brother worked at the antique book store, where the sprinkler system
malfunctioned. And then her best friend ran into Jonah at the ice
rink. "With the bats."
   "Yes, I remember the bats," says Jonah, wincing. "Look, I'm not
doing this on purpose."
   "But it is your fault," says the barista. "You're the supervillain
with the bad luck powers."
   "Superhero," he says, wincing again.
   "Our machine is broken, our power is out, and there is a car
through the front of the building." Splert! "And a bird just pooped on
my head. If you were really some kind of hero, you wouldn't do this.
You would sit in your fortress or your underground lair, away from
   But he doesn't have a fortress or an underground lair. He has a
crummy apartment and is chronically behind on his rent. He reflects on
this, somewhat dourly, as he takes his leave of the barista and walks
back home. It would be a lot quicker if he took the bus, but he
stopped using all forms of public transportation long ago. There's
just too much that could go wrong, too many people that could be hurt.
Sure, wherever he goes, disaster follows, but he actually does take
steps to minimize the pain that his very existence inflicts on others.
Not that anyone can see that. Even when he saves the day, there ends
up being a ridiculously excessive amount of incidental property
damage. At worst, most Belgians regard him as a menace, and at best,
they're embarrassed by their country's only superhero. There's talk
about exiling him from the country, and really he's just waiting for
that particular shoe to drop.
   On the way up the stairs, the railing pulls away from the wall
(something else his landlord is going to be upset about). When he gets
to the top, he notices a woman in his door. Not in his doorway, but
his door; her slightly transparent head, complete with eye mask, is
sticking out of his intact, closed, locked door.
   "Klutz?" she says, extending an effervescent hand. With a little
effort, it becomes solid enough for him to shake it.
   "I'm Shimmer," she says. "From the Daylighters. We've been trying
to reach you, but Medusa couldn't get a signal and you weren't
answering your phone."
   "Phone died," he says. "And the Medusa earbud broke."
   "We can replace it," says Shimmer, stepping into the hall.
   "All of them broke," he says.
   "Huh," she says.
   "What can I do you for?" says Jonah.
   "Got a mission, if you're up to it," says Shimmer. "I'll explain on
the way, if you want to suit up and get going."
   "Oh, I don't have a costume anymore," says Jonah. "Every time it
gets torn to shreds and I end up naked. Happens half the time with my
normal clothes, too. But the union suits are awfully expensive. So I
just stopped bothering."
   "Okay then," says Shimmer. "Well, Zip is waiting for us downstairs."
   "I hope the two of you weren't waiting for me for too long," he
says once the introductions have been made.
   "Not at all," says Zip. "I can only 'go' to places I've been
before, so having to come find you makes it easier for next time."
   "Well, let's see how this one goes before we talk about next time,"
says Jonah. "Speaking of which, what's the deal this time?"
   "Hotspur has resurfaced," says Shimmer.
   "The Shakespeare robot?"
   "The Shakespeare robot," she confirms. "He disappeared after the
Gorgon was defeated. The two of them had been working together."
   "Hang on," says Zip, and the three of them fade away.

When they fade back in, they're somewhere in America. It's not even
dawn yet. A figure runs up to them in the darkness.
   "This is Klutz," says Shimmer with a wave. "Klutz, this is..."
   "Knockout Mouse," says Jonah. "Everyone knows who you are."
   She doesn't seem entirely pleased about that. "Thanks," she says
after a pause. "Shimmer, did you brief him?"
   "In progress," says Shimmer. "So, Hotspur can build new robot
bodies for himself at an exponential rate. He creates armies of
Shakespeare-quoting homicidal robots. But he's insane; he's
rudderless. That actually helped us when he was a solo act, because he
couldn't think anything through."
   "Hang on," says Zip, and the four of them fade away.

It's pitch dark now. At least this time Jonah has a landmark: he can
see the Golden Gate Bridge on the horizon, glowing warmly. Knockout
Mouse introduces Jonah to Featherweight. Featherweight wears a costume
that looks very much like a tuxedo, but with a splendid cape and top
hat. He's very slender, more an acrobat than a brawler.
   Shimmer continues. "When he teamed up with the Gorgon, he became a
much bigger threat, because the Gorgon could plan. So what we've been
afraid of is that now that the Gorgon's dead, Hotspur will seek out a
new partner, someone who knows how to use an exponentially-growing
army of robots." [1]
   "Hang on," says Zip, and the five of them fade away.

Somewhere in the desert.
   "Who are we meeting here?" says Jonah.
   "We're it," says Knockout Mouse. She stops for a moment, like she's
listening to something. Then: "Okay, our ride's en route."
   "Wish I could get you all closer," says Zip, "but this is the
closest I've been to Vegas. I was a kid when it got destroyed. Well,
I'm off; got to pick up Lobsterman for that mission in Japan." He
steps away from the group, and fades into the darkness.
   "Vegas, huh?" says Jonah. "They were rebuilding it, right?" [2]
   "Until some kaiju hit it last month," says Featherweight. "On the
plus side, we got all the construction workers out before they hit."
   "So," says Jonah, "Hotspur has a partner?"
   "Yep," says Shimmer. "One of my old baddies. Fortuna."
   "From the name, I'm assuming good luck powers, and you need my bad
luck powers to balance them out?"
   "Something like that," says Shimmer. "Disappointed?"
   "Nope," says Jonah. "I was wondering why you folks wanted me along,
and now I have an answer. So. What are the two of them doing in the
ruins of Vegas?"
   "They're holed up in an underground facility," says Featherweight.
"I stumbled across it during the kaiju evac, and we left an instance
of Medusa there to keep an eye on it. Hotspur and Fortuna popped up
this morning. We even know what they're up to; they're trying to bring
back the Gorgon."
   "Is that even possible?" says Jonah.
   "It shouldn't be," says Shimmer. "Odds are ten thousand to one
against it. But. Those are Fortuna's kind of odds."
   "So," says Knockout Mouse, "we go in, punch a bunch of robots, and
stop the resurrection of a sentient computer virus. Easy-peasy. And
here's our ride."
   A white van pulls up and comes to a stop. The door slides open of
its own accord. A soft but mechanical voice calls from the empty
driver's seat. "Come on, everyone," says Medusa. "Hop in!"
   Jonah grits his teeth. "I don't know if this is a great idea."

"Is everyone alright?" says Medusa after the crash.
   "Yes, we're all fine," says Knockout Mouse, staring at Jonah.
   "In my defense," begins Jonah, "I did say..."
   "I know," says Knockout Mouse, gripping the bridge of her nose.
"Let's not worry about it now. Medusa, how far as we?"
   "Three-quarters of a mile," says Medusa.
   "We can hoof it," says Knockout Mouse. She turns on a flashlight to
point the way forward. "Featherweight, can you carry the car?"
   "That depends. Do I get to throw it at some robots?"
   "I'd be terribly disappointed in you if you don't."
   Featherweight picks up the car with one hand, holding it aloft by the bumper.
   "That's a neat trick," says Jonah.
   "It's all in the wrist," smiles Featherweight.
   "High tech gloves," says Shimmer. "Anything he touches weighs less
than an ounce while he's holding it."
   "So what's your story?" says Shimmer to Jonah. "Boxer's file said
something about a Catastrophic Probability Matrix?"
   "Good ol' CPM," says Jonah. "So about two years ago I was in
Copenhagen, on vacation. CPM is in this lab and I happen to be
sight-seeing a block away. There's complicated science stuff I don't
understand, but the short version is that the CPM goes screwy and
destroys itself, and in the process, I become an organic version of
the CPM. Just my luck." He smiles, as if at a private joke. "Since
then, it's been one darn thing after another. You?"
   "Found a belt," says Shimmer. "Walked through some walls, went on
some adventures. Got my atoms scattered between dimensions, which was
about as much fun as it sounds. Came out of that - how long ago,
   "Week ago?" says Knockout Mouse.
   "A week ago," says Shimmer. "No belt, still have the powers. Go fig."
   "I still think you shouldn't be on a mission again so soon," says
Knockout Mouse.
   "And let you punch all the robots? Nah."
   "I like punching robots," says Knockout Mouse. "It's the closest
thing I have to a hobby."
   Jonah listens in silence while Shimmer and Knockout Mouse reminisce
about all the robots they've punched. Apparently the first time the
two of them met, it was a robot - Hotspur in fact. He gets the sense
that they're pretty close friends even out of costume. Featherweight
isn't as close to either of them, but he's still part of their little
circle, still speaks in the same private language of in-jokes and
shared experiences.
   It highlights for him how isolated he is. Even though he's part of
this "team", of this mission, of the greater community of costumed
adventurers, he's not. Unless there's a lot of luck-based threats in
the future, it's not like he's going to team up with them again.
Certainly he's not going to see them socially; who wants to hang out
with a literal jinx?
   "I'll let you punch most of the robots," concedes Shimmer. "Just
let me punch Fortuna. I know her better than any of you, and believe
me, she absolutely has it coming."

The beam of Knockout Mouse's flashlight falls onto the ruins, and the
chatter fades abruptly. Jonah had seen photos of the Vegas ruins back
in oh-nine, before the first attempt to rebuild was underway. These
look completely different; instead of finished buildings that were
destroyed, these are the remains of buildings that were still under
construction, skeletons.
   "You okay, Mouse?" says Featherweight. "You look shook."
   "Bad memories," says Knockout Mouse. "I wasn't here the first time.
Me and Met, uh, me and Shimmer, we were in Jolt City, doing our part
to repair the fabric of space-time. If I had figured it out a little
sooner, done more, maybe Vegas could have been saved."
   "Hey," says Shimmer. "We're not the ones that put space-time in
danger. FEVER did. If you want to blame someone for this, you blame
them. Bad people do bad things. Sometimes we stop them, sometimes we
don't. That's the job. But you can't hold yourself responsible for
what they did."
   Knockout Mouse doesn't respond. She slowly waves the beam of her
flashlight from left to right, then from right to left, as they begin
to walk into the city. There's a sound like the hiss of a griddle, and
suddenly all is darkness.
   "The bulb burned out," says Knockout Mouse. "New flashlight, too."
   "Sorry," says Jonah.
   Knockout Mouse tosses the flashlight casually onto a pile of rubble.
   There's a rumbling, scraping sound. Vaguely human shapes shine in
the darkness that stretches out before them. Three pairs of yellow
dots gleam, growing closer, larger, and brighter.
   "O for a muse of fire," comes three herky-jerky, emotionless voices.
   "Car!" cries Featherweight enthusiastically as he gently lobs the
white van at them. It crashes with a satisfying crunch.
   Before Jonah can heave a sigh of relief, the van starts to shift
and break apart. He would describe it as being like melting, only
there's nothing even vaguely liquid about it. Pieces of metal and
upholstery rip themselves apart, forming bodies with gleaming eyes.
Jonah counts eight of them.
   A larger one grabs hold of a smaller one, and speaks. "Indeed my
invention comes from my pate as birdlime does from frize; it plucks
out brains and all." The smaller robot is launched through the air.
   Featherweight has already grabbed Shimmer by the ankle, lifting her
up effortlessly, aiming her, and throwing her like a javelin. Shimmer
goes incorporeal and passes through the robot, vibrating, pulling his
molecules apart until only scrap remains.
   Knockout Mouse punches a hole into a robotic belly. Once inside his
metal midriff, she squeezes her fist, increasing its mass
exponentially, creating an irresistible gravitation pull that
collapses the eight foot robot in on itself. It forms a small ball the
size of a gumdrop.
   It's impossibly heavy, and she lets go of it immediately.
Featherweight scoops it up before it touches the ground and, with a
show-off pirouette, he flicks it high in the air.
   Shimmer grabs each of her comrades by one hand, and the three
become like ghosts. They don't budge an inch when the ball touches the
earth. The street immediately gives way, collapsing into a cone-shaped
hole that swallows up the robots.
   And Jonah watches from afar, frozen and useless, as the three of
them step back from the precipice. Awkwardly he approaches, and peers
down. It looks like a funnel, the hole tapering into a smaller,
blacker hole ten or more feet down.
   "Hell is empty," echoes a voice from below. "And all the devils are here!"
   From the hole springs forth one Hotspur, then another, and another.
Maybe there's twenty, maybe there's thirty; Jonah loses count almost
immediately. The four humans step back.
   Well, three of them do; Jonah slips, because of course he does,
pitching head-first into the chasm. Into the robots.
   He braces himself for impact, and for death.
   But it's nothing so melodramatic. Because instead of crashing into
the robots, he's crashing through them, moving through them. Shimmer.
   They barrel through concrete (tastes like dirt) and steel (tastes
like blood) and become solid again in a reasonably well-lit hallway.
   "Was expecting a sewer," says Jonah.
   "Must be the underground complex," says Shimmer.
   "Right, right. Thanks for jumping after me."
   She looks embarrassed. "Uh. I didn't. You kinda took me down with
you there, champ."
   "Sorry," he says.
   "Wouldn't have let them kill you, though," says Shimmer. "Speaking
of which, let's get back to the surface. Mouse and Featherweight
probably need our help."
   He's not sure what he has to contribute, but isn't going to argue.
   "Hoist me up," she says. "I need to grab hold of the ceiling to
phase through it, then I can pull us both up."
   Jonah hunches forward and cups his hands together, providing a
foothold. Shimmer puts her foot on it and starts counting to three.
She's between two and three when the hallway shakes around them. An
earthquake! Jonah falls on his side, and Shimmer pitches backwards,
clunking her head against the metal walls.
   The shaking stops after a minute. Jonah sits himself up. Shimmer is
on her knees, holding her head.
   "Are you alright?"
   "I'll be fine," she says through gritted teeth. "Eventually. Right
now, everything's spinny and throbbing. That makes it hard to
concentrate, hard to stay phased consistently. Maybe we can make it
all the way up. Or maybe half-way through we go solid."
   "That sounds messy," says Jonah.
   "Messy and deathy," says Shimmer. "And, uh, no offense, but with
your luck, I ain't taking any chances."
   "Understandable," says Jonah.
   Shimmer holds her ear for a moment, then nods. "Medusa's letting
the others know we're not coming back up."
   "Are they going to be alright?"
   "I certainly hope so." She stops and stares at him. "Don't blame yourself."
   "I mean, it is my fault," says Jonah. "Things keep going wrong and
now we're stuck down here while they're up there fighting an army of
   "You didn't put the army of robots there," says Shimmer. "I'm going
to tell you the same thing I told Mouse up-top."
   "I know, I know," says Jonah. "But this mission would be going a
whole lot smoother without me gumming everything up."
   "Without you, the mission wouldn't go at all," says Shimmer.
"They've got their hands full with Hotspur, but Fortuna is the real
threat. And, hey, I've been doing this superhero thing since I was a
teenager. Bad luck comes with the territory. Honestly, I'm much more
comfortable with your bad luck than I am with Fortuna's good luck.
Now, if you're done moping and feeling sorry for yourself, why don't
we press on?"

Bethany and Featherweight have ducked behind a pile of rubble when
they get Medusa's update about Kate. "Great," says Bethany. "Because I
really wanted this to be harder."
   Featherweight peeks over a girder. "Robots are fanning out, forming
search parties. Five, six in a group."
   "We can use that," says Bethany. "Draw 'em apart. Isolate each
group. We can take out six at a time, right? You and me?"
   "Yeah," he says. "Easy-peasy."
   "Easier-peasier if we had Kate," says Bethany. "But maybe with
Klutz out of the picture we won't be fighting with a damn albatross
around our neck."
   It's not like Bethany to get angry in the field. "Beth, you okay?"
   "I need to count on the people I'm working with. Only thing I can
count on him to do is to throw a spanner in the works. But it's more
than that. If I had his powers, you know what I'd do with them?"
   Featherweight shakes his head.
   "Nothing," says Bethany. "I wouldn't put myself in situations where
I'm going to risk hurting people. I wouldn't be around other people at
   "Not much of a life."
   "And he'd have my sympathy. But as it is? He's like Typhoid Mary.
More concerned with living his life than with what it does to the
people around him. And I got no time for that."
   "You know what you do have time for?"
   "Punching robots."
   And so they do.

"How's your head now?" whispers Jonah.
   "A little better," says Shimmer. "Hang on, Medusa's saying
something. Medusa, sweetie, you're breaking up a lot. Could you say
that again? Ah, okay. Great."
   She turns to Jonah. "Mouse and Featherweight have taken care of
things on the surface. They're moving toward the entrance. It's just a
matter of figuring out where we are in relation to that, and we can
   "Can Medusa get a bead on that?"
   "Normally, yes," says Shimmer. "But there's a lot of interference,
and she's cutting in and out. Can't quite stay synched with us. Here's
another locked door."
   She phases her hand into the electronic lock, then pushes the door open.
   "Canned food," she says.
   "Some of them are open," says Jonah, pointing to a pile. "A lot of
them are open. How long has Fortuna been living here?"
   "A day or two," says Shimmer. "This place was empty when we
stumbled across it a month ago."
   The door closes shut behind them, and they whirl around. A woman is
standing with her back flat against the wall.
   "Hide," she says in a whisper.
   They don't ask questions. Shimmer hugs the darkness in one corner
of the room. Jonah's about to do the same in an opposite corner when
the woman snaps her fingers. "Not there," she says. "Last time you
knocked over the shelf."
   (Last time?)
   The woman points to a spot, and that's where Jonah hides. He thinks
she's in her late twenties or early thirties. He's always been rubbish
at figuring out people's ages. She's wearing a blue jumpsuit that
doesn't appear to have been washed in quite a long time. Her bomber
jacket isn't in great shape, either. On the back of her right hand,
there's a tiny tattoo that glows softly blue against her deep brown
skin. She hides the glow with her other arm.
   "Shimmer," she whispers. "I need you to phase into the wall for
about ten seconds. Otherwise he's going to see you."
   Shimmer starts to protest.
   "Simon and Cal," says the woman. [3]
   Shimmer melts into the wall. The second after she does, the door
opens, and a Hotspur leans in.
   "Most tolerable," the robot mutters, "and not to be endured." He
leaves, closing the door behind him.
   Shimmer comes out of the wall, nearly collapsing on the floor as
she does so. Jonah is about to ask after her when the mystery woman's
hand clamps over his mouth. With her other hand (her glowing hand) she
holds up four fingers, then three, then two, then one. She releases
   "I'm fine," says Shimmer. "What's going on? Who are you?"
   "Call me Loop," she says. "Short-range backwards-only time travel."
   "That would make you, what, a chronomancer?"
   "That's a little nerdy for me. Let's stick with Loop."
   "No, I mean, that's a mancer's mark." She points to Loop's hand.
   "Is that what that's called?" Loop stares at it a moment. "Huh.
Well, I've been underground for, what year is it?"
   "Twenty-fourteen. Fourteen more hours and it's twenty-fifteen."
   "Six years." She whistles. "It's a long story."
   "Simon and Cal," says Shimmer hesitantly.
   "Like I said, short-range time travel," says Loop. "You didn't go
through the wall the last time and it got the both of you killed, so I
jumped back thirty seconds. Before I did, you told me to say those
names so that you'd trust me."
   "How many times have you gone through this?" says Shimmer.
   "Fifteen," says Loop. She points at Jonah. "This guy has a knack."
   "You've been down here all this time?" says Shimmer. "Why didn't
you leave this place? And why hasn't Medusa picked up on you?"
   "I don't know who Medusa is, but I'm good at hiding," says Loop.
"Helps that every time I get caught, I get a do-over. As for staying
down here. It's kinda personal and depressing and I don't do personal
and depressing, but you're going to insist - as you've probably
guessed, this isn't the first time we've talked about this - and since
I need you to trust me, I'm just going to say this:
   "I survived what happened six years ago. Maybe I'm the only one
that did, out of, I don't know how many people. Hundreds of thousands?
A million or more? That's hard to deal with, especially when you don't
have a shrink handy, so it was pretty easy for me to crawl deep into
this hole and never come out of it. Like I said, personal and
depressing, and I don't want to get into it. Now, you're going to ask
me if I know where the hatch is, so if that answer was good enough and
you'll both trust me, I'll show you where it is."
   "Okay," says Shimmer.
   "One more question," begins Jonah.
   "Three minutes is pretty much my upper limit," says Loop. "But the
more repeats I do, the shorter each one becomes."
   "That was my question," says Jonah.
   "I know," says Loop, rolling her eyes. "I literally jumped back in
time. Try to keep up, buddy."
   Loop cracks open the door, and from a holster concealed by her
jacket, pulls out a handgun.
   "You know how to use that thing?" says Shimmer.
   "Used to be a pretty good shot," says Loop. She grins. "But these
days, I never miss."

Medusa's not getting through at all anymore, but Kate's not as worried
now that they're making their way through the complex with a guide
from the future. More than once, Loop directs them to briefly detour
into this hallway or that one, this doorway or that, effortlessly
avoiding each patrol. Kate could get used to this. Certainly without
that stress, her headache is starting to dissipate, giving her more
control over her phasing.
   While they're waiting for two of the Hotspurs to pass ("I think the
boy hath grace in him, he blushes" says one; "I warrant you my Lord,
more grace than boy" says the other), Kate looks down at the floor,
and at Jonah's shoes.
   When the danger has passed: "Your shoes are untied."
   "But I haven't tripped," says Jonah, stooping down to remedy the
situation. "We must be close to Fortuna; she must be cancelling out my
   "Hopefully that means you're cancelling out hers."
   Loop stops, then turns around. "Fortuna and three Hotspurs are on
the other side of this door. The first time I shot her in the face and
you got upset for some reason and made me take it back."
   "Yeah, that sounds like me," says Kate.
   "Second time we had this conversation, then we tried to come up
with a plan, and we got captured by Hotspurs coming from the opposite
direction. We've got maybe fifteen seconds."
   "I think I can phase us through the floor," offers Kate. "Lets us
get into the room unseen."
   "Are you sure you're up to that?" says Jonah.
   "I'm running on fumes," says Loop. "I can't jump back more than a
few seconds."
   "Let's cross our fingers then," says Kate. "And hold your breath."
She takes each of them by the hand, and they phase into the floor. She
hears the Hotspurs passing through the hall behind them ("Rivers, that
died at Pomfret; despair, and die!") as she presses forward, the steel
door cold against and then through her forehead.
   So far, so good; gotta keep maintaining the phase state. She lets
the top of her head slip upwards just enough to get her bearings. It's
a laboratory, with some kind of big weird science-fiction-y machine in
the center on a raised platform. Below the platform, three Hotspurs
are pacing about. She spots Fortuna on the platform, and sinks below
the floor again.
   As she moves under the platform, she feels strange and prickly and
nauseous. (Yep, big weird science-fiction-y machine.) Kate muscles
through it, and finds her way to the back of the lab, behind some
conveniently placed barrels. She pushes each of her two companions up
first, then pulls herself up.
   When she becomes solid again, she's surprised to find that she's
not exhausted at all. Quite the opposite, actually; she feels
   "I don't know why it isn't working!" Fortuna is saying.
   "O base Gongarian wight!" screams one of the Hotspurs. "Wilt thou
the spigot wield?"
   "Don't take that tone with me," warns Fortuna. She heads down the
stairs, then tumbles, screaming.
   "Falling there to find his fellow forth," says one of the Hotspurs,
helping her up.
   "My heel broke," says Fortuna in disbelief.
   "The pleasing punishment that women bear," offers the Hotspur.
   "Watch it, buddy," says Fortuna.
   Suddenly the weird machine belches forth a jet of orange flame and
black smoke. Fortuna jumps back, breaking her other heel and splaying
out on the floor.
   Kate looks at Jonah. "Your powers aren't cancelling each other
out," she whispers. "They're reversed!"
   Jonah's perpetually irritated hang-dog expression disappears almost
immediately. His eyes go wide and bright, and he smiles, no, he grins,
big and open-mouthed and full of teeth and joy, a rictus,
uncontrollable, almost manic smile. And, without another moment's
hesitation, he leaps over the barrels.
   One of the Hotspurs spots him immediately and leaps toward the
platform. It misjudges the leap, smashing its head against the
platform. "I can no more," it warbles.
   The second Hotspur takes aim with its arm cannon. Before it can
fire, the machine spits out another spurt of flame, engulfing the
robot. "There rust, and let me die," says the Hotspur before it
   The exploded Hotspur's arm flies off in the explosion, and its hand
embeds itself into the third Hotspur's chest. It stares at it, gaping,
then murmurs: "If one good deed in all my life I did, I do repent it
from my very soul."
   It extends its own arm out in a grand, sweeping gesture, then
freezes. The lights in its eyes go out, and then it falls backwards
like a stone.
   Fortuna makes a run for it, but one of the Hotspurs is leaking oil.
One pratfall later, she's horizontal and unconscious.
   "Well," says Kate, "that was something."
   "Wasn't it?" says Jonah, surveying this grand, wonderful disaster
with supreme satisfaction.
   "Uh, guys?" says Loop. "What about the scary malfunctioning machine thing?"
   Jonah raps on it twice with his knuckles and, improbably, it turns
itself off.

His luck is depressingly back to normal by the time they bring Fortuna
to the surface. Medusa (who came back online) figures that it's
because in her unconscious state, Fortuna's powers are "off", and
since their two flavors of probability manipulation are no longer
interacting, it's all bad luck, all the time. Kate figures that
explanation is as good as any, but Jonah seems fairly disappointed.
She feels sorry for him.
   Bethany meets them by the hatch as the sun splashes down from over
the horizon. "Where's this Loop you were going on about?"
   "She's grabbing a few things," says Kate. "But she'll be up
shortly. Cool lady to have in our corner."
   "Is Featherweight okay?" says Jonah.
   "Yeah," says Bethany. "He and Medusa are uploading textual analysis
of Shakespeare's collaborative works to one of the Hotspurs to see if
the resultant existential crisis will make the program sane."
   Kate hears Medusa's voice in her ear. "Didn't work."
   "Ah well," says Bethany.
   "So, what's the plan after we hand off Fortuna?" says Kate. "You
wanna get breakfast?"
   "I could eat," says Bethany. "I'm sure Featherweight will be hungry too."
   "How about it, Jonah?" says Kate. "Coming with us?"
   "You, you want me to come with you guys?" he says.
   "I mean, yes," says Kate. "You were part of this whole thing. We're
celebrating. Why wouldn't we want you along?"
   "Not used to being invited, I guess," says Jonah. "And there's a
pretty good chance the restaurant will catch on fire."
   "He has a point," says Bethany.
   "We'll bring an extinguisher," says Kate. "I insist."
   "Well, alright," says Jonah.
   Kate hears Loop coming up the hatch. "We're going to get breakfast
in a bit. Do you eat?"
   "It has been six years since I ate something that didn't come in a
can," says Loop. "So, yes. I am enthusiastically in support of getting
   Kate helps her up.
   "Man, I've missed the sun," says Loop.
   "So, Loop, this is Knockout Mouse. Mouse, Loop."
   "Knockout Mouse?" says Loop. "I remember you. I mean, we never met.
But I had a friend who was sweet on you."
   "Oh," says Bethany.
   "Not like a stalker or anything," says Loop. "You teamed up with
him, went on adventures. Blue Boxer. Please tell me he's still
   "Yeah," says Bethany. "Yeah, he is."
   "Oh, that's a relief. Between you and me, the squirt was about as
clumsy as this one." She points at Jonah with her thumb, then extends
her other hand to shake Bethany's. "My name is Pam Bierce." [4]


Medusa created by Drew Perron and Tom Russell.

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