8FOLD: Daylights # 3, "Monsters in the Dark"

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Tue Jan 15 21:19:38 PST 2019

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-185] [PW-33]


------- MISSION: LEMURIA ------------------

Melody Mapp, DARKHORSE, age 20.
Speedster and full-time superhero.

Kumari Starshell, CASCADE, age 29.
Aquamancer. Half-human soon-to-be Queen of Lemuria.

Super-strong monster. Ex-villain serving time in prison, on work release.

------- MISSION: PROLIX --------------------

Dorothy "Dot" Jones, MICRODOT, age 28.
Shrinking superheroine and film journalist.

Cal Morgan, THE MIGHTY INCH, age 17.
Permanently miniaturized. High school dropout.

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

Derek Mason, BLUE BOXER, age 25.
Founder of the Daylighters, retired from active duty, focusing on
big-picture solutions and delegation.

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

Claire Belden, RAINSHADE, age 30.
Metamancer. A double agent concealing the existence of The Company.
Romantically involved with Blue Boxer.

Pam Bierce, LOOP, age 30.
Chronomancer. Has reemerged after having been presumed dead for six years.


The short version (hardy-har-har) is that the world's smallest and
angriest and newest costumed adventurer is going into
outer-flipping-space to punch some honest-to-gosh space beetles that
have nested in the walls of the Prolix Defense Station.
   The slightly taller version (I see what you did there) is that
about a week ago Cal Morgan was shrunk down to one inch, and she's
stuck at that height for the rest of her life. She could have spent
the last seven days moping about how much she has lost and how she'll
never have a chance to be normal, or she could spend it being as rad
as hell. Cal opted for door number two, moving in with shrinking
superheroine Microdot from whom she'll learn her craft. It wasn't
really hard to leave home; she loves Kate and Simon, but never really
felt like she belonged there anyway. In a way, she's always been
isolated, always felt like she'd never be normal. [1]
   But enough of that! It's time to punch some space beetles!
   "Pow!" exclaims Cal. "Right in the scutellum!" One of the perks of
being a one-inch punching machine is that said punches pack the same
whammy as if she were a five foot two punching machine, because
science. The beetle's exoskeleton breaks with a satisfying crunch, and
Cal leaps from its back to her next target...
   ... and falls on her three millimeter butt. Her intended victim is
quick to take advantage, bearing in on her with his ravenous
mouthparts (ugh, "mouthparts").
   "You can't freeze," Dot says as she grabs the beetle by its
antennae, ripping them out. The beast staggers back, dazed and
disoriented, and that gives Dot enough time to collapse its face with
her elbow.
   Dot bends down, offering her hand. "Come with me if you want to live."
   Cal rolls her eyes - if there's one thing about Dot that irritates
the heck out of her, it's the constant barrage of movie quotes, though
at least this time it's one she recognizes. (Their first outing, Dot's
fighting banter was largely drawn from Last Year at Marienbad.)
   The last of the space beetles stares at the carnage with its
compound eyes, antennae twitching, and immediately scurries off down
the metal tubing that houses the wires for the space station. Our
heroines give chase, but if they lingered a moment longer, they would
hear the scratching and buzzing coming from within the corpses.

Melody waits two more minutes for Cascade to return. The way a
speedster perceives time, two minutes stretches on toward eternity. It
feels even longer, which is unsurprising given the circumstances.
There's no light here at all - she can't even see her hands in front
of her face, though the sting of her burned palms tells her that
they're still there. The near-freezing temperature at the bottom of
the ocean seems to have dropped a few degrees. On top of that, there's
the fact that she can't safely phase underwater - if she tries to
phase back, the water will be stuck inside her organs and bones, a
messy way to go - which means that she's also extremely vulnerable.
That's new for Melody, and she doesn't much care for it.
   "Ninety minutes," says Medusa delicately. Halfway through the
maximum duration of the presto-chango nonsense that's allow her to
breathe underwater and withstand the pressure. To be safe, she's
supposed to be heading back to the safety of Cascade's Lemurian
undership at the two hour mark. But she can't leave without Cascade or
   Neither can she wait any longer for them to arrive on their own
accord. But where to start? She's not even sure anymore which
direction Cascade went, and Lobsterman's been missing for a good
half-hour. The chances of her finding either of them by swimming
blindly in one direction or the other are nil. She explains as much to
Medusa, then concludes: "Kinda stumped here."
   Medusa sucks her teeth nervously. Medusa doesn't actually have
teeth; she mimics these sorts of human sounds to try and put humans
more at ease.
   Melody doesn't need the artifice, and doesn't have much patience
for it. "What is it, Medusa?"
   "There's an obvious solution, but it's dangerous. Only an
eighty-two percent chance of survival." That's another bit of artifice
that Medusa relies on - fabricating odds and percentages to make
herself sound more like a computer, more like a thing. Through her
various interactions with the Daylighters, Medusa discovered early on
that many of them were more comfortable with the voice in their ear
through a subtle mixture of humanization and dehumanization.
   Melody doesn't need or like that, either, but now isn't the time
for that conversation. "My kind of odds."
   "By spinning at super-speed, you can create a whirlpool. Make it
powerful enough and anything that's not nailed down - including
Cascade and Lobsterman if they're nearby - will be sucked in."
   "I thought of that," says Melody. "The problem is that if there's
something else out there, and it gets sucked in before they do, I
wouldn't be able to see it. I wouldn't know what hit me. Odds of not
getting impaled, crushed, or digested seem like they'd be a lot worse
than eighty-two percent."
   "You can't see with your eyes," says Medusa, "but you still have
your vibrational aura." On the surface, it gives Melody almost total
awareness of her surroundings; if someone tried to shoot her, she
could feel the bullet rippling through the air, and immediately be
able to determine its point of origin.
   "It's different underwater," says Melody. "The pressure's so heavy
that everything feels muffled unless it's almost right up against me.
Maybe, if I concentrate, I'd detect something a split-second before it
smashes into me."
   "A split-second, for you? That's plenty of time." Melody can almost
hear Medusa's smile, and it almost feels genuine. "I didn't say it'd
be easy. There's definitely a risk. But I wouldn't suggest it if I
didn't think you could pull it off."
   It's slow at first; her body doesn't move with quite the same grace
and speed underwater as it does on the surface. The water pushes
against her, resists her. But with each perfect pirouette, she picks
up speed, and the ocean grows less stubborn, eventually bending to her
will. Her vortex is born, spinning forty, sixty, a hundred times per
second, all the water in this vast, unmappable cavern spinning with
her, spinning for her.
   She can feel it all around her, all moving toward her, and then, at
the edge of her perception, she feels something big bearing in behind
her, a large tangled knot of pressure in her vibrational aura. With
the mace she borrowed from Cascade, Melody gives it a good whack as
she spins around to face it. She can feel the knot drifting away
within her vortex, spinning around her like a moon around a planet,
like a planet around a star.
   And speaking of stars, Melody sees a little pin-prick of light,
shimmering in the darkness and the deep, pulled irresistibly toward
her own gravity, growing larger and larger. When the glow-orb is large
enough that Melody can see Cascade in its light, she starts spinning
in the opposite direction. It takes a full eight seconds to dissolve
the vortex, though the water about her still moves, a silent echo of
her maelstrom.
   "Thank the blue lady!" exclaims Cascade. "I tried to find my way
back, but the magic here is subtle and treacherous. I only seemed to
drift further into the darkness."
   "Any sign of Lobsterman?" says Melody.
   Cascade points behind the speedster. Melody turns; Lobsterman is
floating about them. She realizes with a sudden blush of embarrassment
that he was the big mysterious thing that she whacked with Cascade's
   "Lobsterman okay," he says, a little wearily. "Lobsterman not know
what hit him."
   Sheepishly, Melody returns the mace to Cascade. "What happened to
your glow-orb, Lobsterman?"
   "Light run away from Lobsterman."
   "More magic?" Melody asks Cascade.
   "I doubt it," says Cascade. "The orbs are purely a thing of
technology, and the magic of this place is ancient and deep, unlikely
to be concerned with such things. Though the first law of magic always
   "And what's that?"
   "That there are no laws of magic," says Cascade. "Anything is
possible, even things that aren't."
   "And people wonder why I don't like magic," says Melody. "Okay. So,
we think it's a technological explanation. These orbs were synched up
with our personal biometrics. Unless there's another Lobsterman
running around..."
   "Lobsterman only Lobsterman."
   "You do you, buddy. Then someone who knows Lemurian technology has
reprogrammed the orb. And that means that we're not alone."

"So, what's the deal with this place, anyway?"
   "Prolix?" says Dot. "It's an orbital military base. Last line of
defense against the Pulse. Lasers and everything. A lot of this tech
we borrowed from our friends on Kyklokos." [2]
   "Awfully empty for a military base," says Cal.
   "Skeleton crew," says Dot. "Still under construction. Same with
Alpen Defense Station, thirty miles that-a-way."
   "So, how'd this one get infested with space beetles?"
   "Beats me," says Dot. "Speaking of which, I think that's our runaway."
   The beetle had been chewing on one of the wires: the most boring
part of this whole thing is playing electrical engineer in-between
episodes of what Dot insists on calling "a bit of the old
ultra-violence". But now the beetle is staggering around, wobbling in
slow motion.
   "I've got a bad feeling about this," says Dot.
   The beetle suddenly collapses. Cal thinks it's dead, but it's hard
to tell; it's not like the light goes out of its eyes. There wasn't
anything there to begin with. (In a way, it makes it easier to treat
them as things to be destroyed.)
   The beetle stirs - sort of. Its body arches up momentarily, its
legs still motionless, then it collapses again. Up again, a little
faster, a little more insistently, then another collapse. Third time's
a charm, as the shell cracks and something starts to crawl out from
the body. The something sure looks an awful lot like a wasp. From
outer space. A space wasp.
   Cal says something unprintable.
   "I think we're going to need a bigger butt," says Dot. She doubles
and then triples her size, until she's as tall as the tube housing the
wires, and almost as wide. There's hardly any room for her to move,
but that means the wasp can't fly past her.
   "Stay behind me," says Dot. "At your size, if this thing stings
you, it could be fatal."
   "What about you?" says Cal.
   "The idea is not to let it sting me," says Dot. She throws a punch.
The wasp darts backward, buzzing angrily.
   It brandishes its stinger, sharp and black, the point dripping
white with venom. Dot knows that its next move will be to strike. Dot
doesn't flinch; she needs to wait for it, needs the wasp to commit to
   The wasp charges forth, stabbing the air where Dot used to be.
Dot's shrunk down, smaller than Cal, which would be amusing to the
Mighty Inch if it wasn't for the wasp.
   But as soon as the stinger passes over them, Dot sizes back up
again, bigger than before, bigger than the tube can hold. The wasp is
wetly squished between Dot and the wall of the tube.
   Dot shrinks back down to slightly taller than Cal-sized (Dot always
needs to be taller), brushing the goo off her arm. There's a rip in
her costume just below her shoulder.
   "You're bleeding," says Cal.
   "It must've nicked me," says Dot. "I'll have to get it checked out
when we get home. Doesn't help to worry about it now. We've got bigger
   "Oh?" says Cal. "I thought that was the last one."
   "It was," says Dot. "But it might not be the only one to have a
wasp inside it."
   "Oh geez," says Cal.
   "On the bright side, we weren't exactly gentle with the beetles,"
says Dot. "We may have killed or damaged the parasites in the

That turns out to be the case, much to Cal's relief. The wasps that
did manage to survive are weak, pathetic looking things, struggling to
drag crushed limbs and to lift smashed stingers.
   "I feel a little sorry for them," Cal admits as she brings her heel down.
   "That's good," says Dot.
   "Good?" says Cal, wiping the bug-juice from her boot.
   "Never stop feeling sorry for them," says Dot. "This job's all
about hard choices. You can't make them if they always sit well with
   "I guess, if you're Melody or Bethany. Or even Kate. They do all
these big impossible things. I punch bugs. I mean, I legitimately
think I've murdered more bugs in the last week than I have in the rest
of my life put together."
   "We have a very particular set of skills," says Dot. One last wasp
comes crawling toward them, and Dot puts it out of its misery. "This
house is clean."

With a mixture of magic that Melody can't understand, and science that
she only pretends to, Cascade and Medusa manage to chart a course.
Soon, they see a dot of light in the darkness. Operating under the
assumption that if they can see the stolen orb, then the thieves can
see theirs, Cascade turns hers off.
   "Radio silence until we get eyes on them," whispers Melody. "That
means you, Lobsterman."
   "Lobsterman quiet like mouse," says Lobsterman. (Melody's pretty
sure that she hears Cascade ask her Medusa what a mouse is.)
   As they swim closer, the dot gets larger. The first thing Melody
can see is a sort of nook or alcove that overlooks the larger room
they're swimming through. Closer still, and she can perceive vaguely
human shapes moving in the darkness.
   "Two hours," whispers Medusa in her ear. "It's going to take
twenty-six minutes to find your way back to the ship, and that's if
you don't run into any trouble."
   "Noted," Melody whispers back.
   The shapes solidify, becoming definitely human. Three of them, in
bulky kinda-sorta diving suits. Melody has no idea how those suits are
working down here. Probably magic of their own? Two of them are
drilling at the walls, while the third (the boss?) stands and points.
One of the wall-drillers stops, turns to the boss for a moment, then
gives a thumbs up before turning back to the wall.
   Which tells Melody that they must be communicating. "Probably a
close-range radio network, like ours. If we get close enough, can you
hack into it?"
   "Lobsterman not hacker. Lobsterman not nerd."
   "I wasn't talking to you, Lobsterman. I was talking to Medusa. And
shush. Radio. Silence."
   "Lobsterman not the chatty Cathy."
   "Darkhorse the chatty Cathy."
   "Yes, I should be able to," says Medusa. "Let's try eight feet closer?"
   Melody inches forward, being careful to minimize the noise. The
others follow her lead. As she gets closer to the alcove, a sudden
knot of pain materializes behind her right eye. She figures the
migraine is caused by the pressure of the ocean. Might be a sign that
Cascade's spell is starting to wear off. (She had asked if Cascade
could just do a "re-up", but apparently "magic doesn't work that way",
because of course it doesn't.) Just another reason to hurry things up.
   "Close enough?" says Melody.
   "Let me see," says Medusa.
   The answer is apparently yes, because a moment later she can hear
the boss talking to his underlings. Apparently he's anxious to get the
job done - "maybe you jerks want to ring in the new year underwater,
but I don't". One of the drillers asks about when they'll be paid -
"it's my first time working for FEVER" - and that's enough to confirm
that these are bad guys.
   "On my signal," says Melody. "We hit them hard and fast. Let's try
to take them without compromising their suits - pressure will kill
them otherwise - and we want to take them alive if we can. Everyone
copy? This is the part where you say that you copy. Guys?"
   "Oh, they can't hear you," says the boss, waving at her. "They
can't even hear themselves think. The second your Medusas tapped into
our network, it sprung my little trap. You're a bit better off than
they are, on account of your brain working at super-speed."
   In the faint light of the orb, Melody can see Lobsterman and
Cascade, floating beside her in a stupor. "Medusa, can you shut it
   "She can't hear you either," the man continues. "She's in for the
fight of her artificial life right now. Which just leaves me. And
   "Do I know you?"
   "This might jog your memory."
   Everything blurs around her. The light becomes too hot, the
darkness too fuzzy, the water too heavy. Her entire body suddenly
feels violently ill. Vertigo. In her vibrational field.
   "The assassin," she mumbles. [3]
   "Call me Flintlock," he says, himself at once amused and irritated.
"You know, yours was the first contract I didn't complete. Stung my
pride a bit. I had half a mind to come at you again soon as I escaped
custody. But while your Lemurian friends had me in prison, I heard
that you were scheduled to die come Christmas, and figured I'd let
nature take its course.
   "Only Christmas came and went, and here you are. My employer tells
me that you got better. That you have a long life ahead of you unless
I have something to say to the contrary. And I do.
   "My employer told me other things, too. Some of it was obvious. For
example, that if Lemuria was involved in something 'feverish', and the
Daylighters had cause to investigate, that they'd assign you to the
case given your history here. And y'all fell for that bait.
   "Some of that knowledge is more esoteric, though, Melody Mapp, who
lives at twenty-two twenty-four Peach Street, Atlanta, Georgia, and
who has a date tonight with a Mr. Simon Morgan, brother of Kate
Morgan, who is apparently going by Shimmer these days."
   Melody kicks herself forward, expecting a burst of speed to carry
her through. But she immediately lurches sideways, spinning,
everything is spinning.
   "Yes, that good old vibrational vertigo is working quite nicely
this time," says Flintlock. "I bet you want to pull the same trick you
did the last time we met. You grab hold of that vibrational field and
you put the whammy on me, too. But we both know why you can't."
   It's because she's underwater. It's because she'll have to phase to
do that, and the distortion field will snap her back to solid in the
process - with the water inside her.
   "Maybe you want to distract yourself from the fact that you're
going to die here," says Flintlock. "That's only human, girl. You want
distraction? Ruminate on this: how on earth did I know all that about
you? How on earth did FEVER know all that? The Daylighters are
compromised. Have been for a long time. You're going to miss the
fireworks, sweetheart, but know that they're coming, and it's gonna be
a helluva show when they go off."
   She's having trouble breathing now. Her whole body feels
compressed. The spell is wearing off. It's too soon. Too soon.
   She must have said that out loud, because the assassin has an
answer. "You're used to seeing everything in slow motion," he says.
"Right now, it's the reverse. We've been chatting for the better part
of an hour now. Don't worry. Won't be much longer."
   An hour? That doesn't seem possible. Over the course of an hour,
she definitely would have come up with a plan by now. Several dozen
plans, in fact. Wait.
   She's tapping something with her fingers, tapping into the palm of
her hand. Morse code. Even with the vibrational vertigo and the neural
whammy, her subconscious was still working at super-speed. It's a
trajectory. It's a plan.
   It's a straight line from her to the ship, to safety, a straight
line that passes through solid rock and ocean. A straight line that
vibrates through. But that will kill her.
   No. It will only kill her if she snaps back. Under normal
circumstances, she'd only snap back if she got startled. But if she
has a trajectory, if she has the math and she can trust it (and she
hopes that she can), then she can do it with her eyes shut. She won't
snap back, especially if she's not staying here and trying to vibrate
against the disrupters.
   But what about Cascade and Lobsterman? If she can get the Medusa
pieces out of their ears, that might shut off the neural disrupters,
might wake them up, maybe give them a fighting chance. She could maybe
pull that off en route, passing her hands through their heads just so.
Screw it up, of course, and they've got permanent brain damage or
   It's a risk she'll have to take. She stops tapping and starts
vibrating. Her molecules phase out of synch with her world; she
becomes weightless, and capable of infinite speed. She doesn't need to
go quite that fast, but she certainly needs to move, move now, move
before her body gets snapped back like a rubber band.
   She runs on nothing, non-existent footfalls propelling her forward,
as she reaches through her teammate's brains and plucks out the
Medusas. She hopes they'll be okay. She promises herself that she'll
get help for them.
   She closes her eyes and increases her speed exponentially, and
already she can feel her head beginning to clear.
   She feels the water passing through her, cold and gentle and merciless.
   She feels the rock passing through her, and her heart skips a beat.
   And then she feels something cold and hard that tastes like blood,
that tastes like metal. The ship.
   She goes solid, immediately collapsing on the floor. There's no
more water in her body than what's there normally. She hasn't drowned.
Her insides haven't exploded. She hasn't been crushed to death by the
pressure. "I'm alive," she says before losing consciousness.

She wakes almost an hour later - that's an unusually long nap for a
speedster. Cascade and Lobsterman are standing over her.
   "You're okay," says Melody.
   "Indeed," says Cascade. "Once you freed us, we sprung into battle!
Unfortunately, one of them escaped."
   "I got a feeling I know which one. You captured the other two?
Where are they?"
   "Ah. Well. Surface people are exceptionally flimsy things."
   "I'm sorry I ran," says Melody.
   "Lobsterman no run," admonishes Lobsterman.
   "I'm glad you ran," says Cascade. "If you had just stayed there and
died, we would have died with you."
   "So, this whole thing was a trap," says Melody. "To get at me. I'm
sorry the two of you got involved."
   "Cascade does not need your apologies, friend Darkhorse."
   "Lobsterman does."
   Cascade whomps him on the shoulder. "There's still the question of
how FEVER got hold of the ancient language. And what they mean to do
with it. There is power in that alphabet."
   Of course there is. God, she hates magic. "That's not the only
question that needs answering," says Melody. "How does FEVER know all
this about us?"

It doesn't take long for Pam to get settled in her old bedroom, and
after a few minutes, Claire is satisfied that she's fast asleep.
   "I'm going to lie down a bit myself," she says to Derek.
   "Do you need some, uh, company?" says Derek, barely hiding his smirk.
   "No," says Claire pointedly. Then: "I'll pencil you in for tomorrow?"
   "Just say the word," says Derek, beaming like a moron.
   Once she's alone in their own room, Claire locks the door and
approaches the mirror. She taps it three times.
   In the reflection, Caracalla smiles at her, ravenous. "Always a
pleasure to look in the mirror and see your pretty face, Claire."
   "Moving on," says Claire, not bothering to hide her disgust. "The
team in Lemuria escaped as planned. Incidentally, that escape was
rather narrow."
   "Had to make it realistic," counters Caracalla.
   "I agree, to a point," says Claire. "But if they were to have died,
it would have defeated the purpose of feeding them intel about the
Daylighters having a mole, since they wouldn't be able to tell anyone
about it. And I'm not happy that one of my operatives was in the
firing line."
   "You can always get another aquamancer."
   "That's not how Mr. C feels about it." [4]
   Caracalla recoils. Mr. C and the rest of upper management are the
only things that frightens him, and therefore one of the things that
gives Claire the greatest joy.
   "I'd rather not use the assassin again," says Claire.
   "We need to get rid of Darkhorse somehow," says Caracalla. "But
speedsters are hard to kill. We can't risk it being traced back to
you, while Flintlock is practically begging me for the opportunity."
   "I'll leave that to your discretion," says Claire. "In the
meantime, now that folks are worried about leaks, I'll use their
natural distrust of Medusa to raise doubts about its trustworthiness.
I'll also encourage Derek to lean on Cradle Tech to help boost
Medusa's security, which will give us the back door we've been working

"They must be in the mess hall," says a full-sized Dot after they've
wandered around a few corridors.
   "Good," says Cal, peeping out of Dot's breast pocket. "I'm
starving. All that bug-punching worked up an appetite. How about you?"
   "Nothing for me. My stomach's in pretty rough shape. Besides, I
don't think the space food is going to be all that delicious."
   Cal shrugs, sinking back into the pocket. "Ever since I got shrunk
down, I can't really taste anything anyway."
   "That's normal at that height," says Dot. "Sorry, kiddo."
   "It's not like I was a foodie or anything before," says Cal. "I
wouldn't be caught dead using the word mouthfeel. But, you know, I
used to like eating, sure. What's the point of complaining about
vegetables when they don't taste any different than cake? Darn it. I
used to like cake. Sorry."
   "Why are you sorry?"
   "For grousing. I get to go into outer space and punch bugs in the
face, so I shouldn't complain."
   "But you can, though," says Dot. "Listen, Cal, I'm only an inch
tall when I want to be. I only get the good parts. You get the good
and the bad, and some of the bad stuff really sucks. You've been
living with me for a few days now and while we've talked about the rad
stuff we haven't really talked about the rest of it. And I want you to
know that it's okay. We can talk about this stuff, whenever you want
   "Thanks," says Cal. "Yeah, I think I'd like that. Maybe when we get back?"
   "You got it," says Dot. "Here's the mess hall. Let's find the crew,
give them the all clear, then we'll head off to the teleporter."
   Dot opens the door. "Oh my God."
   "What is it?" says Cal. She starts to pull herself out of Dot's
pocket. Before she gets too far, Dot jerks forward, doubled over and
vomiting. Cal falls out. Luckily she's so light that what feels like a
ten story drop doesn't faze her.
   But Dot's still vomiting. Cal scrambles to get out of the way. Once
she's clear, she has a chance to look around the room. She wishes she
   There are six bodies (the crew members?) heaped together in the
center of the room. All of them are split open from groin to neck. No,
not split. More like they've burst open, like they've exploded
outward. Their insides are spilling out, but don't look like organs;
they've congealed into an orange-white mass.
   "This isn't real," says Cal. "This can't be real."
   "It is," says Dot, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. She touches her
wounded shoulder with one hand, then her belly with the other. "Oh,"
she says quietly. "That explains that."
   "What explains what?" says Cal.
   Medusa breaks in. "There's movement in the halls."
   Dot nods glumly. "Cal, I need you to hide."
   "I don't understand," says Cal.
   "Just do it," says Dot. "We don't have a lot of time."
   There's a table with built-in benches. Cal flattens herself against
one of the legs.
   "Medusa," says Dot, "I need you to send a distress signal."
   "There's no way to do it safely. It can be intercepted, and tracked."
   "I know," says Dot. "Send it anyway, and don't mention Cal."
   "Don't mention me?" says Cal.
   "Stay safe," says Dot.
   "They're outside the door," says Medusa.
   "Keep sending," says Dot. "Cal's Medusa, I need you to go dark."
   "Understood," says the voice in Cal's ear. It's followed by two beeps.
   "Hello?" says Cal. "Medusa? Dot? Hello?"
   The door opens. Cal peers around the corner of the leg. Before she
sees them, though, she knows what they are; the buzzing and clicking
gives them away. Wasps. Eight feet long from antenna to stinger. Five
of them. "This isn't real," Cal whispers to herself.
   "Hello, little one." Its voice is shrill and high-pitched, all
shrieking violins.
   At first, Cal thinks that the wasp is talking to her. That somehow
it's seen her. That it's going to kill her.
   But Dot answers. "This must be the final reel, huh?"
   "More like the first," says the wasp. With one of its legs, it
reaches out and touches Dot's face. She doesn't flinch. "That's why
we're here, my sweet. To see our sister reborn." With another leg, it
pokes at Dot's belly.
   "Is it alone?" says one of the others. It only has one glob of
compound eyes, on the left side of its face.
   "I'm alone," says Dot.
   "I didn't ask you, egg-sack," says the one-eye.
   "Patience," urges the first wasp. "Kindness. Respect for the flesh
that will give sustenance to our little sister." It pulls Dot close,
licking her face with its long, black tongue. Why isn't she fighting?
What are they talking about?
   (She knows what they're talking about. Cal isn't stupid. She can
put two and two together. But she doesn't want to think about it. She
doesn't want to admit that any of this is really happening.)
   One of the other wasps speaks up. "The computer isn't showing any
other human bio-signals," it says. "Her distress signal only mentioned
her own worthless life."
   "But soon we will give it value, yes?" says the first wasp. "This
is one of the earth heroes. She will be very useful to us. Our little
sister will possess her secrets, just like our hosts gave us theirs."
   "That's what I needed to know," says Dot. She brandishes a knife.
   "It won't be strong enough to penetrate my shell," says the first
wasp. Nonetheless, it backs away. The others follow suit, giving Dot a
wide berth.
   "My shell's not so tough," says Dot. She slams the knife into her
belly. She opens her mouth to scream, but all that comes out is an
airless gasp.
   The wasps are shrieking, and suddenly - too suddenly - they descend
on Dot. It goes on forever, and yet it's over in an instant,
everything goes on forever and at the same time is happening too fast.
And in the same way that someone gradually becomes aware that they're
awake, Cal realizes that Dot is on the floor, and that the wasps are
talking about something else now.
   "Never mind that," one of them is saying. "Let's get that cannon
turned around, and point it at their miserable ball of mud and gas."
   The wasps file out of the mess hall.
   "Dot?" says Cal.
   Dot's head slumps over. She looks at Cal, or maybe past her;
there's something wrong in her eyes. Dot smiles broadly, genuinely.
"Isn't life disappointing?"
   And then Cal is alone.


Medusa created by Drew Perron and Tom Russell.

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