8FOLD: Daylighters # 4, "Bug Hunt"

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Sun Jan 20 10:21:32 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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| |  | |/ _` | | | | | |/ _` | '_ \| __/ _ \ '__/ __|
| |__| | (_| | |_| | | | (_| | | | | ||  __/ |  \__ \
|_____/ \__,_|\__, |_|_|\__, |_| |_|\__\___|_|  |___/
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              |___/     |___/  [8F-186] [PW-34]

      # 4 - BUG HUNT

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

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

Dorothy "Dot" Jones, MICRODOT, age 28 - DECEASED.
Killed in action aboard the Prolix.

------- MISSION: ALPEN ---------------------

Julie Ann Justice, age 36.
Super strength, invulnerability, flight. Last survivor of the planet
Vanirron, last leader of the Seven Wonders.

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

Mark Sandrine, VIRGINIA CREEPER, age 22.
Prehensile vines. Photosynthetic herbaceous lifeform.

Heavily-armed and armored robotic consciousness.

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

------- MISSION: BUENOS AIRES --------------

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

Dan Washburn, STRIKEOUT, age 36.
Throws objects with great speed, force, and accuracy. Accountant.

Rosa Rojas, VIOLINISTA, age 20.
Sonic manipulation. Musical prodigy and concert violinist.

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

------- 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.


"This is Blue Boxer.
   "Earlier today we received a report that a species of
extraterrestrial beetle had been found aboard the Prolix Defense
Station. Microdot and the Inch went to investigate. They discovered
that the beetles were hosts for a species roughly analogous to
parasitic wasps. These wasps not only infected the beetles, but they
also laid their eggs inside the crew of the Prolix, killing all six.
   "We gave the information that we have available to Jamy Lo, and she
was able to identify the species as being part of the Pulse
Collective. I can't even begin to pronounce it, so we'll continue to
call them wasps. The wasps retain the memories and skills of their
hosts. The eggs also have the memories of its parent, and the parent's
host, genetically imprinted - countless generations drawing from the
experiences of countless species. The new wasp grows to the size of
the host and then bursts out of the body. Once begun, the process is
irreversible. The only way to kill the parasite is to kill the host.
   "Microdot was infected. According to the distress signal sent by
her Medusa, she has sacrificed herself to kill the parasite before it
was fully-formed.
   "Dot's message made no mention of the Inch. The Inch's own instance
of Medusa has gone dark. From this we can infer a few things. One,
that the wasps can detect communications to and from the station. Two,
that the Inch is still alive, still on the station. If she had gotten
off the station, or if something had happened, Dot would've let us
know. Dot was protecting her. Three, the wasps don't know that the
Inch is there. For her safety, it's important that we do nothing to
tip them off.
   "While still under construction, Prolix's weapons are operational.
The wasps have turned the station's main solar cannon toward the
earth. Right now, it's pointed over the ocean; it'll be roughly four
hours before it can target population centers. That's our window.
   "We can't teleport to Prolix directly; the wasps have disabled it.
We have however confirmed that teleportation to the Alpen Defense
Station is still functional. Between there and Prolix, there's about
thirty miles of space. That's the closest we can get you to it.
   "Julie Ann will lead an assault team. The mission is to take back
the Prolix, neutralize the wasps, and rescue the Inch. Jules, you will
be accompanied by Shimmer, Virginia Creeper, and Carronade. We've been
instructed by our friends in the government that we are to avoid
damaging the Prolix if at all possible.
   "If, however, we are unable to secure the Prolix before the
deadline, we have been instructed as a last resort to use the Alpen's
solar cannon to destroy it. For that reason, Rainshade will be aboard
the Alpen. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
   "There remains the question of how the wasps got there in the first
place. We are assuming that they were teleported aboard from one of
the port stations here on Earth. Medusa cross-referenced news reports
and we believe the point of origin is Buenos Aires. Yesterday, a
corpse was found roughly five miles from the port station. It was
split open in a way that's consistent with what we now know about the
wasps and their hosts.
   "We have reason to believe that this wasp, and possibly others, are
still on earth, probably near Buenos Aires. We need to find them,
assess the extent of the threat, and act accordingly.
   "Knockout Mouse will lead that team. Loop has volunteered to go
with you. You'll also take Strikeout and the three of you will meet up
with Violinista, given that she's local to the area.
   "You have your assignments, Daylighters. Let's do this for Dot."

Cal hears a voice in her ear, and she realizes that it's actually been
there for a long time - like when you fall asleep with headphones on,
and when you wake up it's in the middle of a song. It's like Cal is
waking up, only she hasn't been asleep.
   "Medusa?" she says.
   "I'm here, Cal."
   "I thought you went away. Why did you go away? I don't remember.
Everything is." She stops; she's not sure what everything is.
   "You're in shock," says Medusa. "I'm here for you, Cal."
   "Are you real?"
   "Yes, I'm real," says Medusa. "Dot had me go dark so that the
aliens couldn't pick up the signal. So that they wouldn't know to look
for you. You're small enough that the station's sensors can't pick you
up, either. While I was dark, I reprogrammed myself to disconnect
completely from my sisters."
   "I don't know what that means," says Cal.
   "It means that I'm not part of the network anymore," says Medusa.
"I can't update myself after this, can't reintegrate."
   "Why would you do that?"
   "I was worried about you. I wanted to make sure you'd be okay."
   "I'm not," says Cal. She looks across the room and catches a
glimpse of Dot. It makes her sick all over again. "I don't know if I'm
going to be okay ever again."
   "Cal," says Medusa. "I know this is overwhelming. But we don't have
a lot of time. The aliens have control of the station and it's being
turned toward the earth. If they fire the solar cannon, millions of
people will die."
   "They'll stop it," says Cal. "Bethany, Melody, one of them will stop it."
   "We don't know that," says Medusa. "I don't know if my sister's
message got through. I don’t know if anyone knows what is going on.
And I don't have any way to find out. I'm not some plugged-in
super-computer anymore; I'm just a whisper in your ear. And maybe
you're right and help is on the way. Or maybe we're it, and it's up to
us to stop them. Maybe it's up to you."
   "No," says Cal. "What can I do? Really, literally, what can I do?
I'm a little speck. You said it yourself, they don't even know I
   "And that's our advantage," says Medusa. "Dot wasn't just trying to
protect you, Cal. She was making you into our secret weapon. She was
counting on you to do this."
   "Well, she counted wrong," says Cal. "She should've listened to
Kate. She would've told her that I always find a way to let people

Ghedi assembles the Alpen team first, dropping them off at the old
Wonders HQ. He gives Kate a much-needed hug before he starts gathering
Bethany's team.
   "Missed you too," Julie Ann says to the console as it purrs and
hums. "Kate, can I have some help with this teleporter?"
   Kate sidles up next to Julie Ann, then frowns at the array of
buttons. "I, uh, I don't actually know how to do this."
   "And I don't actually need your help," says Julie Ann. "I really
just wanted a chance to talk with you. Check how you're holding up."
   "I'm okay," starts Kate, and then she sighs. "I mean, no, I'm not
okay, I'm a mess. Cal's not just my sister. I raised her for the last
ten years. I was her mom longer than our mom was. So, yeah, I'm
worried about her. Because it's Cal. If it was Simon, I mean, I'd
still be a nervous wreck but he at least has his head on straight."
   "I don't know if that's fair," says Julie Ann gently. "Melody spoke
pretty highly of her." [1]
   "And I want to believe her," says Kate. "I want that version of Cal
to be the version that's stuck on that space station. But I've got
seventeen years of experience that tells me that's not the case. But
can I be honest with you, Jules?"
   "Go ahead."
   "I'm more worried about this squad," says Kate. "I mean, you're
great. Absolutely I feel good having you on this. And I'd strangle
Derek if he didn't put me on it. But the Creeper? Carronade? I don't
know these guys."
   "I've worked with Virginia Creeper before," says Julie Ann. "He's
versatile, he follows orders, he keeps a cool head in a fight. I
haven't met Carronade before today. From what Mouse told me, I think
he's a bit rough around the edges, but he packs a lot of fire power.
We just got to keep that pointed at the bad guys."
   "I'm sure they're fine," says Kate. "It just seems slapped
together. Why them, for this?"
   "Well," says Julie Ann, "the four of us are the least likely to get
infected like Dot. My skin's invulnerable. You can phase. Carronade's
a robot, and Creeper's plant-based, so neither of them could even
serve as hosts as far as we know from what Jamy Lo told us. Derek
sends somebody else up here, somebody that can get infected, boom!,
the space wasps have powers. It's the same reason why Darkhorse isn't
on the Buenos Aires mission; we don't need an alien speedster. I can
tell you from my time with the Wonders that putting together teams
isn't just about picking who will work best together when things go
right, it's also about anticipating that worst case scenario."
   "Well, the worst case scenario is that Rainshade blows us up," says
Kate sourly. Perhaps a bit too sourly, because Julie Ann is staring at
her. "To be honest with you, that's the part that's tying my stomach
into a knot. Not the Creeper, not Carronade. But her." [2]
   "You've never liked her," says Julie Ann.
   "It's not that," says Kate. "That was years ago, and I wasn't being
fair to her. I'm over that."
   Julie Ann raises an eyebrow.
   "Mostly," says Kate. "This is different. Ever since I got back from
my little sabbatical, there's something that keeps telling me not to
trust her."
   "Then trust me," says Julie Ann. "She'll never need to push the
button. We got this, okay?"
   "Okay," says Kate, not entirely convinced.
   "Teleporter's up and running," says Julie Ann. "Let's join the others."
   Rainshade and Virginia Creeper are already standing on the
teleportation platform. Carronade is running around in circles, his
steel legs pounding against the floor like hammers. "Look at me! Look
at me! I'm running!"
   "What," says Kate.
   Julie Ann grits her teeth. "I may have neglected to mention that
Carronade is a robot who has the intelligence and impulse control of a
six year old."
   "What," says Kate.

They need two spacesuits - one for Kate, and one for Virginia Creeper
- and luckily there are exactly two on board the Alpen.
   "Him I understand," says the Creeper of Carronade with a dismissive
wave of his literal twig arms, "but what about you, Julie?"
   "Oh, I can hold my breath long enough," says Julie Ann.
   "And the cold?" says Kate.
   Julie Ann gently grabs Kate's hand and presses it against her own
forehead. It feels like she has the mother of all fevers. "It's a
whole solar radiation thing. As long as I'm not out there too long, I
should be fine. And the plan isn't to be out there for too long. I'm
going to carry the three of you across the void of space."
   Virginia Creeper frowns - or at least it looks like a frown to
Kate. "I'd feel safer if we didn't have to go through space at all.
Rainshade, can't you magic us across?"
   "Would that I could," says Rainshade. "But I need to be near other
mancers to do my thing, and a couple hundred thousand miles is a
little outside my range."
   "All three of us?" says Virginia Creeper, turning to Julie Ann.
   "One with each arm, one on my back."
   "Oh!" Carronade squeals in mechanical glee. "Can I ride on your back?"
   "Sure, knock yourself out," says Julie Ann.
   "Once we get to the Prolix, Kate will phase us all inside. As soon
as we get aboard, the system will detect us, so we need to go in ready
to fight."

Buenos Aires.
   Violinista is waiting for them when they arrive. Apparently she and
Strikeout worked together once before, and the two of them catch up
briefly while Bethany goes over the intel. Pam sticks to her like
   "I'm not familiar with these guys," says Pam. "They're new, right?"
   "Not as new as you are," says Bethany wryly. "I've worked with
Strikeout once before; usually he leads teams, and usually I lead
teams, so there isn't a lot of overlap."
   "Man, he must really like baseball."
   "Not really," says Bethany. "He's good at throwing things and needs
things to throw. His brother-in-law owns a sporting goods store, so he
gets them cheap. He just embraced the theme. I mean, I'm not exactly
thrilled by mice myself.
   "And as for Violinista, she does sound stuff. I haven't worked with
her, but Shimmer has." (In both identities, actually.) "Says she's
   "She said the same about you," says Violinista. She taps her ear.
"Super-hearing, comes with the territory."
   "This is Loop," says Bethany.
   "Pam," she insists as she extends her hand toward Violinista. "I
mean, you can call me Loop, but my name's Pam."
   "Rosa," says Violinista. She turns to Bethany. "So what's the plan,
fearless leader?"
   "According to Jamy Lo," begins Bethany. [3]
   "Don't think I've met Jamy Lo," says Violinista.
   "She's, um, a space alien. From space." Bethany pivots toward Pam
and stage whispers. "She and Derek used to date."
   "Of course they did," says Pam.
   "From what she told us, the wasps are able to tap into sounds being
transmitted at a wide range of frequencies. When they're on a planet
like ours, where there's a lot of that in the air, they block it out
with a peculiar kind of buzzing noise. Hard for the human ear to pick
up, but."
   Violinista holds up a finger and closes her eyes. Then she nods.
"Got it." She jabs her finger westward. "This way."

As Julie Ann carries them soundlessly through the vast black airless
gulf between the two stations, Kate realizes that this is the first
time she's been in outer space. Sure, she spent some time on an alien
planet about eight years back, but that had an atmosphere and
everything, and transport from the earth and back was instantaneous.
   But now? She's looking at the earth as Julie Ann passes it by.
That's pretty cool, right? It should be cool; she should be taken back
by its awesome splendor. But she's too busy being terrified.
   And it's not the cold she's scared of, not being crushed in the
vacuum of space (is that a thing?), not suffocating. Those are all
things that she probably should be scared of. All valid reasons.
   But none of that freaks her out. It's the silence. Julie Ann is
flying through space at what feels like fifty miles an hour, but
there's no whoosh. The only thing Kate can hear is the sound of her
own breath. It makes her feel alone, isolated, vulnerable, even when
the most powerful woman in the world has one arm around her.
   The Prolix rapidly gets bigger, and then it enlarges more slowly;
Julie Ann must be slowing down. A few feet from the station, Julie Ann
stops, and gently lets Kate float. Fingertips first, Kate passes
through the titanium. She pokes her head in. Living quarters. Empty.
   Keeping one hand inside the station, she lets the rest of her drift
out into space. She takes Virginia Creeper by the hand, if you can
call it a hand; the twigs beneath the glove of his space suit feel so
delicate, she's afraid that she'll crush them. She guides him through
the hull.
   Carronade is next. Kate expects him to be heavy, being a robot and
all, and he is. Where's Featherweight when you need him? And Julie Ann
was schlepping him on her back like it was nothing!
   And not for the first time, Kate acutely feels the gulf between her
and Julie Ann. Kate's always thought of herself as some kid with a
magic belt, and despite the fact that (a) the belt wasn't magic, (b)
she's nearly thirty, and (c) she doesn't even have a belt anymore, in
some sense she still thinks of herself that way. Kate takes pride in
her work; she's been at this for ten years now and she's good at it.
But then she remembers that while she was tip-toeing through walls and
chasing down thugs in costumes, Julie Ann Justice was fighting the
Never-Lord or solving the Forever Paradox or rescuing whole years from
Forgotten Time - solving problems that Kate can't even begin to
comprehend. While Kate was listening to the sound of her own breath,
Julie Ann was holding hers.
   She passes Julie Ann through the hull, then completes the journey
herself. As her skull dances past the titanium, it feels a bit like an
ice cream headache, and that lingers even after she's inside. Julie
Ann helps her out of her space suit; they all need to be mobile when
the fighting starts.
   "We'll pretend the hard part's over," says Julie Ann. "The rest is
just punching. Punching's easy."
   "And shooting!" says Carronade. "I'm gonna shoot all the bad guys,
   Kate looks to Julie Ann. "Is that safe? With the cold, merciless
vacuum of space and all that?"
   "Hull's pretty thick," says Julie Ann. "We've already disabled
anything he has that could breach it, so we should be in the clear."
   "Child-proof lock," grins Kate. "So, where's the welcome committee?"
   "On their way," says Virginia Creeper. The mass of foliage that
approximates an arm is extended through a crack in the door. "I can
see three of them working their way down the hall. And, oh, they've
noticed my vines, so I'm afraid I'm leading them right to us."
   "Let's use that," says Julie Ann. "Creeper and I will stay here to
draw them in." She holds one hand up. "Shimmer, you and Carronade
phase into the next room, and circle around behind them." Her other
hand moves in a circular motion, and then the two hands smack
   The plan makes sense, as do the pairings; Kate would hate to be in
Carronade's line of fire, phasing or not, while Julie Ann is
bulletproof. Maybe the Creeper is too? She's not sure, but he probably
can survive getting nicked better than she can.
   Kate scouts ahead first, phasing her head through the wall just
enough to ascertain that the next room is unoccupied. Then she grabs
Carronade by his gun-like hand and phases him through. It's a lot
easier when he's walking with her, rather than floating toward her.
   "That was so much fun!" says Carronade. "I walked through the wall!"
   "Ssh," says Kate. "We're supposed to be sneaking up on them."
   "Sorry," says Carronade. "I just get so excited!"
   "Seriously, ssh," says Kate. Times like this she wishes they knew
where Three-Nine was. That was a robot she could depend on, and he was
never too chatty. [4]
   She feels the buzzing before she hears it - something in the air
that feels like the beginnings of a headache, something that makes her
fingertips ache. When she hears the shouting in the next room, she
knows it's time. She pulls the two of them through the wall.
   Creeper's right arm shoots out, splitting into a dozen appendages,
the tendrils growing, ensnaring one of the three wasps in mid-air. The
other two are also airborne, circling around Julie Ann.
   Carronade takes aim and pelts them with bullets. Over the ruckus,
Kate can barely hear him crying out, "Bang! Bang! I got you!"
   The bullets don't do much except to irritate them, and to get their
attention. One of them turns round to take care of Kate and Carronade.
   Julie Ann uses that moment to elude the third long enough to fly up
to the one that Creeper has under wraps. Julie Ann pulls back her arm,
then punches its head clean off. The sound of the impact makes Kate's
ears pop.
   It's enough of a distraction to throw Kate off her game, and she
nearly gets skewered by the wasp. She goes intangible, and its black,
merciless stinger passes harmlessly through her.
   "You leave Aunt Shimmer alone!" says Carronade. There's a sudden
BOOM as he blasts the wasp with his chest-mounted cannon. The alien
creature goes spinning into the room, landing on the Creeper.
   Thinking quickly, the sentient plant wraps itself around the wasp.
The alien struggles mightily, straining against the Creeper's vines
and branches.
   Julie Ann's flying up to meet the last of them, pulling back her
fist again so as to literally knock its block off. The wasp darts to a
side, simultaneously stabbing at Julie Ann. Supposedly invulnerable
skin or no, Julie Ann's not taking any chances, and does the humanoid
equivalent of a mid-air barrel roll. This lines her up perfectly to
deliver a punch in its fat, pulsing abdomen.
   The wasp is intact, but the gut punch sends it reeling. It lands on
the floor, its belly exposed. Kate can see three red diamond markings
on the abdomen. Julie Ann grabs it by what passes for its throat, and
raises her other fist in preparation of the coup de grace.
   The wasp with the red diamonds begins to laugh. "I had forgotten
this. It's been so long since we were on Vanirron."
   Kate remembers: that was Julie Ann's home planet. Julie Ann
hesitates for a fraction of a second.
   It's enough time for the wasp to kick her away. It flies to the
other side of the room, out of sight of the doorway, out of
Carronade's line of fire.
   The robot rushes in to rectify this, and Kate follows.
   "Yes, Vanirron," reminisces the wasp. "Always so feisty. So much
fun to break. My favorite host was one of yours."
   At that moment, there's a sound of twigs snapping. The other wasp
bursts out of the Creeper's cocoon. Creeper isn't human-shaped any
longer, but looks like a collection of yard clippings, piled on the
   The second wasp flies with incredible speed, right at Carronade,
carrying him off and out of the room. There's a tremendous crash,
followed by a whimper.
   Kate's closer to the wasp than Julie Ann is, but Julie Ann seems to
have its attention. She can use that. She shimmers ghostly and makes
her approach.
   The wasp whirls about, and begins buzzing. Kate gets that feeling
again in her head, in her fingertips, and suddenly she's solid,
suddenly she can't phase.
   The wasp thrusts with its stinger. Kate dodges it, falling against
the wall in the process. She knows the wasp won't give her a chance to
catch her breath, and so she scrambles, crawling, away from it, toward
the outer wall.
   Julie Ann is flying to her rescue, head-punching fist at the ready.
That's when the second wasp returns, blindsiding the last daughter of
   She lands on the floor a few feet in front of Kate, who has just
gotten up on her feet. Julie Ann leaps up at her attacker, slamming it
into the wall on the other side of the room with a satisfying and
messy squish.
   The first wasp zips toward Kate, again trying to impale her. She
jumps backward, and while she's in the air, the buzzing suddenly
stops. Or rather, it changes. Before, she couldn't get intangible.
Now, she can't get solid.
   She knows what's happening before it happens, knows that her
mid-air momentum will carry her through the hull.
   She hears Julie Ann scream her name before she passes into the
silent void. The buzzing's gone, too, and she feels herself starting
to go solid. If she can touch the station, go intangible again, she
might be able to pull herself back inside. She has one chance at this.
   She misses. Her fingertips barely miss the hull, and she drifts into space.
   She's surprised at how quickly it happens. Her lungs rupture. Her
eyes feel like they're on fire. She closes them tight, and she hates
   She would've liked to see the Earth again before she died.

Five minutes earlier, Bethany's team is facing the prospect of
climbing into the sewers.
   "Here," says Bethany, passing out little balls of cotton. "For your
noses. And here's some plastic bags and rubber bands for your
   Pam is surprised. "Why do you carry all these?"
   Bethany just sighs. Every time Melody has an adventure in Paris,
she ends up running up the side of the Eiffel Tower, and every time
she's in London, she hangs from the minute hand of Big Ben. Bethany
goes to Paris, she has to go into the sewers. Bethany goes to London,
sewers. Bethany goes on a months-long space-adventure with Julie Ann
Justice? Space-sewers. [5]
   "I've been at this a long time," says Bethany finally. "I've
learned to be prepared. Alright. Down the hatch."
   She's the first to descend. Pam's next. ("I spend six years living
underground. Come up for sunshine for about a day. Now I'm going back
underground.") Then it's Strikeout and Violinista.
   The smell is as overwhelming as ever - Bethany's not sure that the
little cotton balls ever actually do anything - but the sewage is only
about a foot deep. Thank heaven for small mercies.
   "Rosa," says Bethany. "Which way?"
   "Give me a minute," says Violinista. "We're close enough and it's
loud enough that I'm going to have to amplify it." She holds out her
hands, fingers spread wide, preparing to send out sub-sonic waves.
   "No!" snaps Pam, grabbing one of her wrists. "Bomb," she explains
between haggard, heaving breaths. "You do that and a bomb goes off."
   "You alright?" says Bethany.
   "I will be in a minute," says Pam, tears squeezing from her eyes.
"I got caught in the blast, so I can still feel my skin burning."
   "But it's not," says Bethany.
   "Yeah, I know. My body will even realize that eventually. Just
takes a minute, then I'll be fine."
   "Does this happen every time?"
   "Every time I loop? No. But every time I get hurt? Yeah. Worst part
about this whole time travel thing is the trial and error."
   "On the bright side, it's like you got the secret code; eventually
you always know where to go, what to do."
   "Yes and no," says Pam. "It's like Jeff Goldblum pouring water over
his knuckles. Sometimes it goes this way, sometimes that. I can jump
back, but that doesn't mean it's going to play through the same way.
On that first day, in Vegas? Before I found the bunker? I lived the
same few minutes a hundred times. A thousand times. Maybe more. I
could do things exactly the same way, and sometimes people lived and
sometimes they died, and then the next time they lived." She takes a
deep breath. "It's, it's not great."
   "I didn't know," says Bethany.
   "I've told you a couple times today, but I keep taking it back,"
says Pam. "Maybe this time I'll let it stick. Anyway. Bomb came from
that direction."
   "Let's assume the wasps planted it," says Strikeout. "Why would
they do that? What are they protecting?"
   "I'm going to assume it's some kind of nest," says Bethany. "Makes
the most sense to me, anyway, and it's been that kind of day. Let's
figure out what we're dealing with. If we can handle it, we will. If
we need back-up, we'll call for it."
   "But how do we handle it?" says Violinista. "How do we contain them?"
   Bethany recognizes something in her voice, in her eyes. Something
she had herself, when she was younger. "We don't," she says finally.
"We find them, we destroy them."
   "We kill them?" says Violinista. "They're sentient."
   "They're aliens," says Bethany flatly.
   "So is Julie Ann."
   "Julie Ann's different." Bethany grabs the bridge of her nose.
"They're trying to kill millions of people. The Pulse already killed a
lot of people in August, and now they've killed Dot. We're in a war
for the existence of the earth - for the multiverse - so excuse me if
I'm not necessarily looking for ways to talk them down."
   Violinista shrinks, staring at the muddy water. "I won't kill," she
says quietly. "Not anyone. For any reason. Not aliens, not robots. Not
   "Not robots?" says Bethany, incredulous. "They're artificial
intelligence. Artificial. They're not even alive."
   "I hope you don't say that to Medusa," says Violinista.
   (Medusa doesn't comment; she's maintaining silence so that the
wasps won't know they're there.)
   "Medusa's different," says Bethany.
   "Just like Julie Ann?"
   "Hey," says Strikeout, breaking in. "I think we're losing the
thread, here. This is a war. And in a war, you have to kill the enemy.
But not everyone is a soldier, right? We each make that choice,
depending on what we can live with. Rosa, I don't think you're going
to stop us from doing what we need to do, you're just not going to do
it yourself, right?"
   "Yes, that's right," says Violinista. "It's like you said. I
understand why you're doing it. I just can't."
   "I can respect that," lies Bethany. She turns to Pam. "How about you?"
   Pam smiles at Violinista. "You're a good kid. There's a reason why
I used to hang out with a couple of you long underwear types even
before my life got turned upside down. But me? I've got no qualms
about killing space-wasps." She pulls out something that looks like a
pistol, if pistols had red bulbs near the grip. [6]
   "What the heck is that?" says Bethany.
   "Some kind of beam-gun thing," says Pam. "Since they're
bullet-proof, but maybe they're not laser-proof? Derek said it was
based on a three-nine gun? I mean, Blue Boxer. Crud. Did I just ruin
his secret identity?"
   "Not even close," says Bethany with a sigh. [7]
   "Hold on," says Violinista. "I hear something. Buzzing."
   That's what they get for standing around. "Get ready."
   The buzzing gets louder - loud enough that Bethany can hear it too.
It's coming from just ahead. From around the corner. Bethany tenses up
her fist, making it harder than a diamond, making it hard enough to
cut through a bulletproof carapace.
   Four wasps turn the corner. They do it with surprising speed,
bearing in toward Bethany with the unrelenting inevitability of a
bullet train. Bethany hears a sound like butter in a hot pan, and
assumes that's Pam with her gun. But she doesn't see any light
streaking in the air. She turns her head briefly.
   Pam's firing behind them, at the five wasps attacking their rear.
She wings one, sending it careening into the wall; Strikeout throws a
left-handed curveball into one of its compound eyes. With a toss of
his right hand, he beans another. It's dazed enough that Pam can
finish the job with a headshot.
   Bethany whips her head back to face front. The first of the wasps
is almost right on top of her, stinger slashing out. Bethany backhands
it, knocking the stinger clean off. White lumpy fluid spews out of the
hole. Bethany puts the thing out of its misery with a quick jab to the
   Two of the others are nearly on top of her.
   "Take the one on the left," Medusa whispers in her ear. "Pam's got
the one on your right."
   Bethany leaps into the air and to the left, bringing down her big
right hand on the enemy. Her back suddenly feels flush and warm as
Pam's beam passes by en route to its target.
   They stand for a moment amongst the carnage, pausing to catch their
breath. Faintly in the distance, they can hear more buzzing.
   "Great," says Bethany.
   "Let's hope the second wave gives this gun enough time to
recharge," says Pam. "Last few shots it's been locking up, been
running too hot."
   Suddenly, one of the wasps behind them rises up.
   "Strikeout!" yells Bethany.
   Strikeout turns a little too slowly. The wasp is already on top of
him, preparing to sting.
   There is a sound like a drum that punches a hole through the wasp's
belly. It collapses in the water.
   Violinista draws back her hand. It's shaking. She's shaking. "I was
just trying to stop it!" she screams, sobbing. "I didn't mean to! I
didn't mean to!"
   Bethany stares at her. At first, it's with contempt. Bethany has no
patience for people who refuse to get their hands dirty, who would
rather let people die than make the hard choices. This was a lesson
that Rosa needed to learn. It's one that Bethany learned herself. She
remembers that. Now, she remembers what it felt like. Remembers what
she lost, and how she never got it back.
   "Pam," she says quietly.
   "Okay." The mancer's mark on Pam's hand glows soft and blue, and
the knots of time unravel themselves.
   "I'm going to assume it's some kind of nest," Bethany is saying.
   "I can confirm that," says Pam. "We're definitely going to need back-up."

At that same exact moment, Kate hears Julie Ann scream her name as she
passes into the silent void. She feels herself starting to go solid.
If she can touch the station, go intangible again, she might be able
to pull herself back inside. She has one chance at this.
   Yes! She pulls herself through the hull by the tips of her fingers,
passing into the next room (it doesn't make sense to just get herself
thrown out into space again). But she doesn't have time to celebrate
this small victory. Because the room she's in is filled with corpses,
opened and raw. Maybe it's the sight of it, maybe it's the smell,
maybe she's dizzy from having just clawed her way out of the vacuum of
space. [8]
   Whatever it is, it's too much for Kate, and she collapses, unconscious.
   "Kate?" squeaks Cal. "What's she doing here?"
   "She must've come to rescue you," says Medusa. "This isn't good.
The Prolix will be able to detect her. The wasps will be coming for
   "But they can't detect me, right?" says Cal. "Because I'm too tiny?"
   "That's correct."
   "Kate has the shrink gene, same as me," says Cal. "That's how she
can phase." There's a tight, awful knot in her stomach when she looks
over at Dot's body. "Do you know how to work Dot's belt?"


Medusa created by Drew Perron and Tom Russell.

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