8FOLD: Daylighters # 5, "Dark Future"
joltcity at gmail.com
Sun Jan 27 19:19:55 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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# 5 - DARK FUTURE
------- 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.
Kate Morgan, SHIMMER, age 29.
Phases through solid matter. Concert pianist.
Julie Ann Justice, age 36.
Super strength, invulnerability, flight. Last survivor of the planet
Vanirron, last leader of the Seven Wonders.
Mark Sandrine, VIRGINIA CREEPER, age 22.
Prehensile vines. Photosynthetic herbaceous lifeform.
CARRONADE, age 6.
Heavily-armed and armored robotic consciousness.
------- MISSION: ALPEN ---------------------
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.
In the half-second it takes Julie Ann's eyes to flutter open, she has
three thoughts simultaneously. This isn't anything new or surprising;
one of the perks of being an alien with two brains is she has a lot
more processing power than a human with only one. (One of the
downsides? Double migraines.)
The first thought is the realization that since she is coming to,
she must've been unconscious. She doesn't remember getting knocked
The second thought is the realization that Kate is dead. The last
thing she saw was Kate passing through the hull into space.
The third is that she herself is still alive. And that terrifies
her, because if the wasps knocked her out, why didn't they just toss
her out the airlock? She can hold her breath out there, sure, but only
if she's conscious.
They've got her restrained, her arms and legs held into place by
clunky metal enclosures. More than that - there are little needles in
each of them, poking into her supposedly invulnerable skin. There's a
sick feeling deep in her stomach.
"Why am I still alive?" she asks the wasp that's leering over her.
"Only an accident of birth, I assure you," says the wasp. "If you
were one of the humans, we wouldn't suffer you to live. Not after the
way you killed my three sisters."
(So, there's just three left.) "Spare me," says Julie Ann. "Your
kind kills every time it's born."
"Another accident of birth," says the wasp, shrugging with two sets
of legs. "A weakness of our species that's soon to be corrected." It
reaches out with one of its legs, stroking its bristles against Julie
Ann's cheek. "Our strongest hosts have always been of Vanirron stock.
This was ages ago, of course. It stopped long before your planet was
smashed to atoms. Your people put something in your water. Harmless to
you, toxic to our young. Of course, you've never had so much as a sip
from the waters of Vanirron."
Julie Ann shudders.
"Don't worry," says the wasp, though its tone is hardly reassuring.
"You'll not become a host. That'd be a waste of such a precious
genetic resource. Your species lives a long time - it'll be longer
with our help. Over the next thousand years you'll spawn countless
generations of hosts. No more scavenging, no more hodge-podge mongrels
- each of us will have the pure blood of Vanirron in our veins.
"To think," it continues, beaming, "the Pulse sent us here just to
kill a few hundred million. A little shot across the earth's
broadsides. But when we return to deep space, we'll have the weapon
that will end the war!"
There's an organ behind Julie Ann's heart that detects cosmic
radiation, giving her an unerring sense of where and when she is in
the universe at all times. They're still orbiting the earth - still on
the Prolix, then - and as to the when, there's twenty minutes left
before the time when the Prolix's solar cannon will be directed at a
populated area. Nineteen minutes, give or take, before Rainshade
destroys the Prolix with the Alpen's own solar cannon.
Eighteen minutes, then, for Julie Ann to figure out a way out of
this mess. She can think of a half-dozen ways to dispose of the wasp
that's guarding her, but that still leaves her restraints, which she
can't seem to budge. There's also the question of what these sort of
restraints, seemingly designed to keep her specifically in check, are
doing aboard the Prolix in the first place. Her two brains set to
The first thing Kate sees when she wakes up is her sister's face. "Calliope?"
"Calvin," she reminds Kate. "Just call me Cal."
"Right. Sorry." She looks around, and sees that her body was
leaning against a ginormous table leg. "I'm short?"
Cal helps her up, then frowns. "Even when you're short, you're
still taller than me."
Kate feels Dot's belt about her waist. "This way they can't detect
me." It also means that she's stuck at this size until and if they get
back to earth; trying to enlarge herself before her body is used to it
will cause permanent damage to her organs. It's why Cal is stuck.
"Your Medusa think of this?"
"I thought of it," says Cal. "I am capable of thinking, you know."
"Oh, I know. I'm the one that told you. All through middle school.
All through high school."
"Alright, alright," says Cal. "Please tell me you didn't come alone."
"Julie, and two others," says Kate. "Virginia Creeper, he's a plant
guy. He might be dead or he might be, I don't know, dormant. There's a
robot kid, think he got banged up pretty bad. So there's me and
there's you and there's Julie. And Rainshade. Sort of."
"Rainshade sort of?"
"She's on the Alpen," says Kate. "If we don't give her the
all-clear, she has instructions to blow us up in," she checks her
watch, "eighteen minutes."
"Maybe we can send her a signal," says Cal. "She can use some kind
of magic to mumbo-jumbo over here."
"No dice," says Kate. "She said her magic doesn't work in space.
Hence the sort of. There were six wasps?"
"I saw two go down," says Kate. "So there might be four left. Will
you be safe?"
"What do you mean, will I be safe?"
"I mean, I'm going to go find Julie, and I'm going to do what I
can. Being you-sized, my options are limited. I need you to stay here,
stay out of sight."
"Nuh-uh," says Cal. "I'm coming with. You're new to the whole being
short thing. I've been doing it for like a whole week."
"And I've been fighting space aliens since you were afraid to go to
"You will not let me live that down."
"I don't have time to argue with you," says Kate. "We've got,"
checks her watch, "seventeen minutes to save the world before we get
blown up. Come on, and try to keep up."
She starts toward the door.
"Faster to go through the tubing in the walls," says Cal. "Won't be
Kate wants to say thank you, wants to compliment Cal on a smart
choice, but she knows that however she says it, Cal's just going to
take it the wrong way, twist it around. She doesn't have time for
that, so she just nods and they're on their way.
They're cutting it awfully close, Claire decides as she glances
nervously at the clock. Fifteen minutes left. Knowing her luck, she'll
get the all-clear message just as her finger is about to press the big
red button. Superheroes are like bad students - give them a deadline
and they'll always get it done in a rush just before the bell.
She considers, not for the first time, the possibility that she'll
actually have to push that big red button. They'll be expecting her to
feel sad about it, and Derek especially will want her to "open up" or
some-such. But she doesn't expect that she'll feel anything when she
finally takes care of the Lydia situation, and she's generally fond of
Lydia. "Generally," she says aloud as she gingerly touches her broken
So she can hardly be expected to feel anything about the people on
the Prolix. In a way, it'll be a bit of a relief; Kate seems awfully
wary of her since Christmas, which means either the mind-wipe didn't
take, or it took incompletely (unsurprising, given that it was hard to
draw on her brother's magic in his current state). So the possibility
exists that she might have to remove Kate from the equation, and she's
going to arouse less suspicion doing it now. 
Though she'd rather not have to kill Kate at all. Truth be told,
she rather likes Kate in a way. Resourceful, intelligent, keeps a
clear head. All admirable qualities. And once, seven years back, Kate
was kind to her. Genuinely kind, expecting nothing in return. It's
strange; Claire doesn't really understand kindness that isn't
transactional. It seems stupid. It is stupid. But for whatever reason,
in that one instance, with Kate, it was rather endearing.
"Come on, Kate," says Claire. "Don't make me push the button."
"They're not going to make it," says a voice, "but you also can't
push the button."
Claire turns toward the sound. There's a woman in something that
looks approximately like Claire's own costume, carrying an umbrella.
It's the same umbrella that Claire has on her own person - the same
"I'm you from the future," says the woman.
Claire frowns at the voluminous blonde hair. "I look frivolous. You
can't be from the future, because if you are, there's no way I would
allow this to happen to me."
"I don't have long," says the supposed other Claire. "I pushed the
button, and everything was ruined. We won the war, but after... things
get bad. So bad that we can't fix them. Our only hope is to stop it
from happening in the first place. And that starts by saving one life
on the Prolix."
She hands Claire her umbrella. Almost immediately she starts to
grow faint. Claire has to strain to hear her, and even so she misses
the first few words. "... and she's the only one who can stop the
The Paradox Heart was one of Julie Ann's cases from way back. She
must be talking about Julie Ann.
"How are there two Thirteens?" says Claire. "I'm going to be giving
mine to David. Do I get it back somehow?" 
The other Claire is just a shadow now. "It's from my broken earth.
As long as that dark future exists, so will the second Thirteen."
After climbing out of the sewers, Bethany calls for back-up. "We'll
hold down the fort," she tells Strikeout. "You go to the rendezvous to
meet the new squad."
Twenty minutes later, Strikeout returns with the reinforcements.
They stand back while he confers with Bethany.
"Oh no," she says. "Please tell me that's not the Headsman." 
Strikeout sighs. "I had to carry one of his extra heads for him. It
kept blinking at me."
"I'm so sorry. I recognize him and Lobsterman. Who are the other two?"
"Guy with the spear is the new Century Man. Apparently all that is
wicked burns at its touch and is made clean, whatever that means.
He'll tell you all about it. Lady with the sword and the mace is
Cascade. She's the warrior queen of Lemuria and does water magic. Also
likes to make speeches about glory and honor. Really, the only one of
them that doesn't sound like a crazy person is Lobsterman. And, you
know. He's Lobsterman. I kinda feel like I'm being punished."
"Probably," says Bethany. "Could you call Cascade over? I think I
have an idea."
Strikeout nods and jogs over. Soon he returns with Cascade. The
Lemurian is a good six inches taller than her. Oh man, thinks Bethany,
this one's gonna eat poor Terry alive. 
"You requested the counsel of Kumari Starshell, oh little mouse?"
says Cascade. "Wise that you have done so, for I am as skilled in
cunning stratagem as I am in decapitation."
"You and Headsman probably get along," says Bethany. "Look, the bad
guys are in the sewer. You have water magic. Could you, you know,
flood the sewer?"
"I am the last of the blood of Kandam!" declares Cascade. "The
heart of the ocean! The tides are my ladies-in-waiting, and when I bid
them to rise, the deluge comes!"
"I'm going to pretend you said yes," says Bethany. She turns to
Strikeout. "If we cover all the exits and flood the sewers, maybe we
can wipe most of them out without really trying, and then pick off
anyone who comes too close to the surface."
"Sounds like a home run to me," says Strikeout.
Bethany groans. "Let's hope this works."
Spoiler: it does.
Cal peers in on the command center. Two of the wasps are there,
buzzing at each other.
"They were speaking English before," frowns Cal.
"Does your Medusa have a translator?"
"You heard the lady, Medusa."
"That's a network function," says Medusa. "Me and my sisters all
working together in the background, cross-referencing with Jamy Lo's
database. Now that I'm cut off from the network, I don't have access
"What'd she say?"
"No dice," says Cal. "Needs to be plugged in with the others for that."
"Whatever they're talking about," says Kate, "doesn't change the
fact that in eleven minutes they're going to fire this thing at the
earth. If we got into the machinery, there's a chance we could disable
it from the inside."
"Maybe not a good chance," says Kate. "But what else do we got?"
"The way Dot explained it to me when we were doing our first sweep
of the tubes, there's no way for us to get from here to there, not in
the walls. None of it links up."
"But I can phase into the console," offers Kate. "I just need to
get across the room without being spotted."
"Or squashed," says Cal. She touches Kate's arm. "Maybe Julie's
okay. Maybe you don't need to do this."
"We don't know that." Kate pulls her arm away, phasing through
Cal's fingertips. "This isn't some game. This is real. This matters.
People are counting on us, and I just can't sit here and hope things
work out for the best because I'm too scared to do something about
"You think that's what this is?" says Cal. "You think I'm scared? I
mean, I am. I'm terrified. With Dot and, and everything, it's just so
much. It's overwhelming."
"Which is why you shouldn't be here," says Kate. "You can't handle it."
"Let me finish," snaps Cal. "I'm scared, but I'm doing it. The
thing I can't handle is losing you again. Not after we just got you
Kate stares at her. "That's the job, Cal. Dot understood that. And,
sweetie, I'm sorry, but I really don't know if you do. And we
literally do not have time for this. I have to go. I have to try."
Cal opens her arms for a hug. Kate obliges her. When the hug's
relinquished, Cal has Dot's belt in her hands.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm going to distract them," says Cal, fastening the belt about
her waist. "Dot has these, what do you call it, mini-grenades."
"You're going to throw explosives in an oxygen rich environment."
"They're more of a razzle-dazzle light show. Shouldn't damage the
station. Can't hurt 'em, but it'll draw their attention."
"And then they'll kill you."
"That's the job."
"You don't get to say that," snaps Kate. "You're being stupid, Cal.
You think you've got something to prove to me, but you don't."
"It's not about that," says Cal. "Because let's be honest, I'm
never going to change your mind about me. I know that."
"God, you're passive-aggressive."
"Tell me you won't have a better shot at this if I distract them."
"Alright," Kate relents. "Please be careful."
"I mean," says Cal, "that's not really my thing,
historically-speaking. But I'll at least pretend."
Kate watches Cal. Cal's too nervous, too jumpy. She's not really
looking at her surroundings, not really taking care to minimize her
own presence. The way she's skittering around, she might as well be
eight feet tall and glowing.
But it's not like Kate was super-sneaky herself when she started
out. More than once she made stupid mistakes. She got caught, stumbled
into traps. She'd like to think that she was different, that she
understood the risks in a way that Cal doesn't and can't, but she's
been doing it long enough now to know that that really wasn't the
The things she did in her salad days were such near-run things that
could've gotten her killed, should've gotten her killed - it's a
miracle she's still alive. If Kate as she is now was around back then,
and had seen the shenanigans that "Katie" got up to, she sure as heck
wouldn't have let her go around playing superhero. That's the
difference - Cal has someone in her life that ostensibly knows better.
Cal's throwing the grenades now. It's clumsy, and she's not really
throwing them far enough. (At least she has the sense to run after she
throws them to get herself out of the blast range.) It draws the
attention of both wasps - giving Kate her window. If she's going to
make it to the console without being spotted, she's going to need to
sprint across the room without taking the time to look back over her
So she takes one more look at Cal. Probably her last look. "You stupid kid."
Then she runs.
Julie Ann hears a sound like tiny firecrackers in the next room. The
wasp hears it too, glancing over at the sealed door. It buzzes to its
compatriots, and apparently gets an answer. Then it turns back to
"Looks like they found a tiny earther," says the wasp. "It won't last long."
Cal, realizes Julie Ann. Time for plan B. (She hates plan B.) She
averts the wasp's triumphant, terrible gaze, glancing at its
midsection. On either side of the hourglass pinch between one section
of its body and another, there is a closed green umbrella. Julie Ann
can't help but smile. No plan B after all.
The wasp glances down. The instant it does, the umbrellas scissor
through the joint. The top-half of the wasp falls to the floor,
splashing bug-juice liberally. Before its bottom half tumbles in the
other direction, Rainshade points one of the umbrellas at its head.
The head starts to melt.
"What are you doing here?" says Julie Ann.
"You're welcome," says Rainshade. She points one of the umbrellas
at the restraints. Julie Ann feels the pins in her arms and legs
starting to retract.
"Thank you," says Julie Ann. "But you're supposed to be on the
Alpen. That's the mission."
"Well, I decided I didn't want to push the button," says Rainshade.
"Because if I push the button, I end up becoming a blonde, and I don't
see what purpose that serves."
Julie Ann pulls one arm out of its restraints and uses it to brush
her own blonde hair away from her face. "I can't tell if you're trying
to be insulting or if it just comes naturally."
Rainshade ignores her, concentrating on the remaining restraints.
Julie Ann lurches forward into Rainshade's arms. "You can't use your
magic in space."
"That was before I had two umbrellas."
"Why do you have two umbrellas?"
"It's a long and terrifying story that ends with me being blonde,"
says Rainshade. "Looks like you need a minute to catch your breath."
"We don't have a minute," says Julie Ann. She struggles up to her
feet and heads toward the door. Behind her, she hears a wet, slick
sound, followed by a tremendous crack.
She whirls around. Rainshade is on the floor; she tripped on bug
guts. Serves her right for gallivanting about in heels. From a
distance, Julie Ann's telescopic vision lets her see Rainshade's
nostrils flaring, and the gentle rise and fall of her chest. She
adjusts her ears to the infrasonic range and picks up a steady
heartbeat (and, underneath it, the wet churning of intestines). This
also allows her to hear the activity in the next room, and to isolate
the sounds of the last two wasps. Since they're both there, one of
them isn't flying around elsewhere, and there's nothing that would
pose an immediate threat to Rainshade.
"You'll be alright," shrugs Julie Ann.
A minute earlier.
The first grenade Cal throws explodes much sooner, and much closer,
than she had expected. She stumble-jumps backwards, taking her clear
of the blast but landing on her tush. In the corners of her memory,
she hears Dot telling her, don't freeze, and she immediately scrambles
back to her feet.
The wasps have heard the blast, maybe they even saw the flash of
light, but for whatever reason they haven't spotted her. They're still
looking around. That's no good; for Kate to make it across the room,
Cal needs to have their undivided attention.
"Here we go," she whispers to herself. She throws the second
grenade, and immediately starts running in the opposite direction (no
way she's gonna get caught off-guard again). She throws another and
the third time's the charm; both wasps are looking at her with
"Come on, Katie," says Cal. Finally her sister appears and makes a
run for it. Cal throws another grenade.
"Did the Microdot survive?" hums one of the wasps.
"No, I don't think so," buzzes the other. "This is another one."
"You should have stayed in hiding, little earther. Now we're going
to squash you like a bug!"
"You are a bug, you big moron!" squeaks Cal at the top of her tiny lungs.
The wasp scurries over with all six legs on the floor, covering the
short distance between them with long strides. It raises one foot,
hovering over Cal, hissing.
"Do you trust me, Cal?" says Medusa.
"Yeah," says Cal.
"Then do what I tell you when I tell you. Run straight ahead."
Cal sprints forward.
"Oh, no you don't," chastises the wasp. Its leg darts out and down
ahead of Cal.
Right before it's about to squish her, Cal hears Medusa: "Sharp right."
Cal darts to the right, narrowly missing the foot. The wasp
immediately lifts it up again: "One-eighty," says Medusa, and Cal
reverses direction, running underneath the wasp.
The wasp doesn't take kindly to this, and starts running backwards.
"Jump on its leg, now."
"Oh man." But she does it, and the wasp doesn't seem to realize that she has.
"Where is it?" says the other wasp. "Where is the human?"
"Did I step on it?" says the first.
"Check the bottom of your feet," says the second.
Before the wasp can comply, the door opens. From her position on
the side of the wasp's second right leg, Cal can see the figure
standing in the doorway.
It's Julie Ann Justice. It takes Cal a moment to recognize her.
She's never seen her in person before, only in photographs and on
television. Usually she looks so perfect and composed, like she isn't
quite real, and here she looks almost human - disheveled, angry,
tired, her face red and flushed. Her arms and legs have tiny little
rivulets of blood running down them from what look to be little
pin-pricks, evenly spaced. At least, Cal thinks it's blood; it's
closer to orange than to red.
"Julie's not looking so good," whispers Cal to Medusa.
"I heard that," says Julie Ann. "Are you alright?"
"Heard what?" says Cal's unwitting ride.
"I'm fine," says Cal. "Kate's in the console, trying to shut off the cannon."
"Oh," sighs Julie Ann, "you don't know how happy I am to hear that."
"We don't want to harm you," says the other wasp.
"You mean that you don't want to damage your specimen," says Julie
Ann. "I guess that gives me an advantage. Because the only part of you
I need intact is your ugly head so I can stuff it and put it on my
("That's really gross," says Cal.)
"On second thought, we don't really need your arms or your legs,"
retorts the wasp. "And we'd be more than willing to facilitate their
removal. Alternatively, you can face reality. We've already extracted
over two pints of blood. You're barely able to stand."
Julie Ann shrugs, then floats three inches off the ground. "Better?"
"Start with the left arm," the wasp says to Cal's ride. "She can't
hurt us in this state."
"Stand back," says Julie Ann. "Or I'll use my eyebeams."
"You don't have eyebeams," says the other wasp.
Zzzzt! Cal's ride collapses, its head a smoldering mess. Cal jumps
and rolls to safety.
"I stand corrected," says the remaining wasp.
"Why didn't you do that before?" says Cal.
Julie Ann falls on her knees and vomits. She wipes her mouth on her
shoulder-length cape (so that's what that's for). When Julie Ann lifts
her head up, Cal can see that she is weeping blood - closer to red
than to orange this time.
"That's why," says Julie Ann. "Plan B."
"Geez, I'd make it plan Z."
"We got a problem," says Kate as she phases back into the room from
within the console.
"Oh my gosh," says Julie Ann. "You're tiny. Was that Cal's idea?"
"Yeah," says Kate.
"Good thinking," says Julie Ann.
Cal beams; she feels practically two inches tall.
"Problem," says Kate again. "I think they preprogrammed the cannon
to fire when they knew it would be in range. Which is, like, six
minutes from now. I thought I could shut it off or disrupt it with my
phasing, but the energy's already building up. If I muck with it, it
will just fire anyway - just with less of an impact. There's only so
much I can do at this size. I'm so sorry. Our only chance is if
Rainshade blows us up in time."
"She's out cold in the next room," says Julie Ann. "If I can't stop
this, it isn't on you. It's on her."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to point the cannon back at the ocean," says Julie Ann.
Claire wakes with a start. The back of her head is throbbing, and the
back of her leg is slick and slimy with bug-juice and insect innards.
Well, this is positively revolting. At least the enchantment hiding
her broken nose didn't wear off. Now to find Julie Ann.
The door to the command center is open. There are two dead wasps on
the ground. She sees two tiny figures (Cal and - is that Kate?)
looking out the window at the solar cannon. Looking at Julie Ann.
"What's she doing?" says Claire, her eyes wide. With a wave of her
hand, she amplifies the tiny voices so that she can hear them.
"She was trying to move it," says Cal quietly. "But she can't.
She's not strong enough."
"I think," begins Kate, "I think she's going to try to absorb the
blast. Should be firing in a couple minutes."
"It will kill her," says Claire. She grips her second umbrella. "We
have to stop her! We have to make her come back inside!"
"What is wrong with you?" says Kate. "Millions of people!
Millions," she stops, holds her head in both hands. "Millions of
people who wouldn't be in any danger if you had done your job and
pushed the button!"
"You don't understand!" says Claire. "I did push the button."
"I pushed the button, and she died. So did practically everybody
else. The future was broken beyond repair because she died. I went
back in time to stop myself. I can't even begin to comprehend how that
works without destroying space-time, or that I would even risk that,
but I did it. I did all that, and she still dies, everything still
falls apart? No. We can't let her do this. Her one life is more
important than all those millions. More important than any of us."
Kate is silent for a moment. Then, quietly: "Okay."
"I can save her," says Kate. "But there's a chance we won't
survive. Are you okay with that? Cal?"
"I'm not thrilled with it," says Cal. "But that's the job, right?"
"Right," says Claire. (If push comes to shove, there's probably
enough juice in the two umbrellas to get herself back to the Alpen.
She has a director of human resources to murder and a brother to
"Cal, I need the belt."
Cal hesitates, then hands it over.
"I don't have much time to explain," says Kate. "Short version: I'm
going to phase the whole station, and when I phase back I leave the
energy build-up behind, it dissipates into space. In order for us not
to die, I also need to take the oxygen with us and back. And I'm not
really sure if I can."
"Can you do it at this size?" says Claire.
"No," says Kate, fastening the belt about her waist. "That's why I
need to get bigger."
"Kate!" says Cal. "That will kill you!"
"Probably," says Kate. She touches Cal on the cheek. "I've always
been proud of you, Cal," she lies. "I'm sorry I didn't always show
Kate starts phasing before she starts growing. That's smart,
realizes Claire; if she's in a phased state, the tissue and organ
damage is less likely to be as catastrophic as quickly. It gives her
more time, more of a chance to pull this off. (She has to pull it off.
She will pull it off.)
Kate is screaming - even phased, the pain has to be excruciating.
She touches the console, and it starts to go fuzzy. The whole room
Claire herself goes fuzzy, her fingertips bleeding into each other,
her insides shimmering, and even though this has something to do with
particles and the frequency of reality and a high tech belt whose
properties have somehow been absorbed by a human body, it feels an
awful lot like magic, magic of the darkest kind.
Her eyeballs go fuzzy, the cones mixed up with the rods, and
everything goes dark and cold and silent. She is surrounded by
nothing, she is filled with nothing, made of nothing: she has no body
at all, and barely has a consciousness. The only thing that remains is
the reptilian part of her brain - subconscious, nonverbal, operating
on pure instinct.
Later, when she is whole again and struggling to remember this
experience, the thing it will most remind her of is being in the
presence of Venus.
Consciousness returns to her, like waking from a dream. Her body
comes together again, with the soft, doughy numbness of having her
mouth anesthetized at the dentist. Then there is light, and air, and
Kate is still screaming - even though until now Claire didn't have
ears to hear her with, she knew that Kate had never stopped. Kate is
the last to go solid, and when she does, she falls silent and
backwards, utterly exhausted.
"Kate! Kate!" her sister is squeaking.
The strain she was under must have been incredible. Even if she had
started at full-size, and hadn't had to contend with the tissue
damage, pulling off that trick in and of itself could have been enough
to kill her. But she's still alive now, and Claire admires that.
She won't last long, however. Claire considers letting nature take
its course. It certainly would prevent her from having to get her
hands dirty later, if and when Kate remembers the existence of The
Claire doesn't understand why, but she decides against it. She sits
on the floor next to Kate, legs crossed, holding an umbrella toward
her feet and the other toward her head. She closes her eyes and gets
A few minutes later, she becomes aware of Julie Ann's presence. The
alien was talking with Cal. Now she asks Claire what she's doing.
"I'm stabilizing her," says Claire. "Keeping her alive. I can't do
"Why are you bleeding?"
"Am I?" says Claire. Now she can taste it in her mouth, she can
feel it oozy and wet in her nostrils, dry and cracked between her
fingernails. "I am," she says. She hesitates, then: "This sort of
magic isn't in my wheelhouse. Can you get the teleporter back up? To
"I should be able to," says Julie Ann. "It won't be safe to
teleport her. The kind of damage she's taken, we need to get a whole
ER up here somehow."
"Just need one person," says Claire. "If you blink twice, you will
suddenly remember a phone number and a location. Do you have them?"
"Get a call into that number," says Claire. "Tell the person who
answers that Miss Belden wants her to go to that location. Have Ghedi
meet her there, and take her to your old HQ, port her up here. She can
"Who is it that I'm calling?"
"If I tell you who she is, either you'll have to arrest her or
you'll be an accomplice," says Claire. "I'd just as soon not put you
in that position."
Julie Ann is waiting by the teleporter when the woman materializes.
She's of Thai descent, in her early thirties. One of her hands is
bandaged. She looks terrified when she steps out of the booth, and
even more-so once she sees Julie Ann. 
"You're, you're Julie Ann Justice," she says, startled.
"Last I checked," says Julie Ann.
"I'm sorry," says the woman. "I've met superheroes before. It's
usually not a big deal. But you. I always looked up to you. You made
me think I could do anything. Just take on the world."
The woman's smile fades. "For a little while," she says. "Not long
enough. I better go see the patient now."
Julie Ann shows her the way. "First time in outer space?"
"First and last," hopes the woman.
They come into the room with the others - Cal and Rainshade, but
also Carronade (more than a little banged up) and Virginia Creeper
(took him a while to stitch himself back together).
Rainshade is still hunched over when they arrive. She looks even
worse than she did before. Her skin is clammy and drenched in sweat,
and blood has started to come out of her ears.
"Claire!" says the woman, and then she corrects herself: "Miss
Belden. You can't handle blood magic."
"Which is why we called a haematomancer. Can you save her?"
The woman places a hand on Kate's belly and closes her eyes. Then
she nods. "Yes. I should be able to reverse most of the damage. She'll
be off her feet for a while, though."
"I'll leave you to it," says Rainshade. She lurches backward, as if
something or someone was holding her up, and then let her go.
Julie Ann helps her to her feet and to a chair. "I think I've
misjudged you," she says quietly.
"You haven't," says Rainshade sharply. "I am exactly who you and
everyone else thinks I am."
Twenty-nineteen: the broken earth.
Claire takes off the blonde wig, dropping it with disdain on the
floor, and runs her fingers through her own long black hair.
"I kind of liked you as a blonde," Derek's mechanized voice pipes
in over the speaker.
"You always had terrible taste in women," says Claire. "It's only
gotten worse since I killed you. Well? Don't keep me in suspense. Did
"Probably," says Derek. "We succeeded in changing the past. The
Prolix did not get destroyed. But time itself is going to regard the
survivor as an anomaly, and is going to try to correct that, to ensure
we get from then to this particular now."
"But we got her through that day."
"We got her through that day," agrees the ghost in the machine.
"And if she can make it through all the rest of them, then the future
will be saved by Cal Morgan."
COPYRIGHT (C) 2019 TOM RUSSELL.
Medusa created by Andrew Perron and Tom Russell.
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