8FOLD: Daylighters # 11, "Airs From Heaven"
joltcity at gmail.com
Thu Jul 2 06:42:03 PDT 2020
As humanity prepares to join the war in space, alien agents work with
fifth columnists to weaken the earth's defenses. They are opposed by a
decentralized network of superheroes and specialists, the DAYLIGHTERS,
whose efforts are guided by the sophisticated AI network MEDUSA. But
Medusa, and the Daylighters, have been compromised...
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# 11 - AIRS FROM HEAVEN
------- FEATURING --------------------------
Kate Morgan, SHIMMER, age 29.
Phases through solid matter. Concert pianist. Presently trapped on the
other side of a mirror by Rainshade.
Cal Morgan, THE MIGHTY INCH, age 18.
Permanently miniaturized. High school dropout.
Cal's MEDUSA, age six months.
An instance of Medusa, cut off from the wider network, aware that her
sisters have been compromised.
Dan Washburn, STRIKEOUT, age 37.
Throws objects with great speed, force, and accuracy. Accountant.
Claire Belden, RAINSHADE, age 31.
Metamancer. A double agent concealing the existence of The Company,
responsible for FEVER's compromise of Medusa. Currently impersonating
Bethany Clayton, KNOCKOUT MOUSE, age 32.
Controls the density of her right hand. Geneticist.
Julie Ann Justice, age 37.
Super strength, invulnerability, flight. Last survivor of the planet
Vanirron, last leader of the Seven Wonders.
Kate has the most difficulty with the last sigil; by the time she gets
to it, her fingertip starts getting chintzy with the blood. A second
cut is needed to finish the final stroke. The moment that she does,
the symbols burst into flames. She sits back, sucking her finger, and
waits for them to burn themselves out, and then waits for the puffs of
smoke to evaporate.
The perfect obsidian of the mirror gives way to light as darkness
to the dawn, soft and glowing. On the other side of the glass Kate
sees a bedroom. Squinting, she can make out the shapes of two people
sleeping in the bed, a white man and a black woman. The woman suddenly
"Hello?" says the woman.
"Over here," says Kate.
The woman doesn't respond, but she climbs out of the bed,
completely nude. Kate notices a mancer's mark on the woman's left
The woman comes up to the mirror. "There you are," she says. "Do I know you?"
"No," says Kate. "But I think I need your help."
"I can't hear you, dear," says the woman. "Are you using someone
"That's the problem, then. The person who owns the mirror, they're
not a friend?"
Kate shakes her head.
"I see. And you need help getting away from them?"
Kate wants to explain, but figures that's close enough to the
situation, so she nods. "I'm going to get some pen and paper," she
says, miming writing on a pad.
"No!" says the woman. "If you break eye contact, it's lost. And if
you have to try a second time, they might catch you. Listen. My name
is Azabeth Collins. Remember my name. Go to sleep, and I will meet you
in your dreams."
"But I can't sleep," says Kate. "I'm on the other side of the mirror."
"Azabeth Collins," says the woman again.
"But I can't go to sleep! I've tried!"
But by then the spell is broken, and the glass is black and empty.
The room is black and empty. With a sigh of exasperation, she
conjures a small day moth made of soft and glowing light, letting it
flutter and bob about the room. It's enough light to read by; she
crooks her finger and the grimoire flings itself into her lap,
"Well, that was useless." She sucks a drop of blood from her
finger. "It's Rainshade's mirror that's keeping me cut off. So I just
need to find a way to take it from her." The pages flip themselves,
one at a time, slow and tentative, before stopping.
"Yes," says Kate. "Yes, that will do nicely."
There's a lot about being only an inch tall that is pretty grotty and
depressing, but one of the things that is squarely in the pro column
is that a standard issue no-frills costume costs like a buck
ninety-five. Which means she can spring for the fancy top-of-the-line
stuff that would give pause to even well-heeled super-types. Covering
a full-size super-suit head-to-toe in light-bending more-or-less
mostly-invisible stealth fabric is a non-starter - the stuff is rare
as a hen with dentures, and twice as expensive - but for a wee little
anger muffin like Cal, it's only like a couple thousand bucks. Which
is way more money than she has, but another advantage to being only an
inch tall is that it makes it easy for Simon to feel sorry for you and
dip into his savings to buy you that invisibility cloak you always
Included in her snazzy new duds are a bunch of circuitry to allow
Medusa to interface with the suit directly to turn the invisible stuff
off and on, monitor Cal's vitals, all that good stuff. (Cal maybe
kinda sorta forgot to tell them that the Medusa in question would be
her secret Medusa that no one knows about and she's not supposed to
It takes about an hour to calibrate, with the last test being the
tactile interface. Cal feels pressure pushing in on her big toe.
"That's you, right?"
"That's me," confirms Medusa. "Oh! We got an email. To the secret account."
"I still can't believe you called us Tiny Dancer," says Cal.
"Well, neither of us are large."
"Yeah, and neither of us can dance."
"Speak for yourself," says Medusa. Cal's suit gyrates for a couple
of beats. The pulses linger at her hips before pleasantly melting
"So, the email is from Bethany?"
"Yes. She says our tip was really useful. Integral to the success
of an operation."
"Oh, cool beans," says Cal. "Maybe that means they stopped whatever
FEVER was up to?"
"She doesn't say. She wants to have a meeting, though. Between us
and one of her representatives."
"A representative? Pfft. She's slept on our couch before." Cal
affects a snooty tone. "I will send one of my representatives."
"Or, it might be that she doesn't trust us entirely, and is
exercising caution. Which is what we want."
Medusa reserves a table under the name Eurydice.
"Why Eurydice?" says Cal, sitting on the table with her back toward
the salt shaker, cloaking activated.
"Just trying out another new name. I thought I might stick with a
Greek theme, and Euryale - one of the other gorgon sisters - seemed a
bit too on the nose."
"Yeah, but isn't Eurydice all helpless or some junk?"
"She steps on a viper, and is killed. Her husband travels to the
underworld to bring her back to life. He sings so beautifully that
Hades allows it, with the condition that until they have left the
underworld, Eurydice must travel behind her husband, and he cannot
look back at her."
"So, he looks back, right?"
"What a dingus," says Cal. "And that's the story you want to name
"Oh, I don't know. I'm still developing a personal sense of
aesthetic values, but I thought it was rather beautiful."
"Kinda lame if you ask me," says Cal. "Lady has like zero agency."
"Eh, it's a Greek myth. Not exactly a whole lot of strong female
protagonists unless you want to count Medea, and that one's a little
"Only Medea I know is the one in the movies."
"She falls in love with Jason, an enemy of her people, and betrays
them. She leaves everything behind to go with him; they are wed; they
have children. But Jason leaves his family to marry into the local
royal family. Medea kills that royal family, then her own children,
then she gets away."
"Yeah, okay, a little dark," says Cal. "Uh, hey. I wasn't trying to
dunk on the name Eurydice. If you like it, then a hundred percent do
that, okay? It's your name, not mine; I don't get a say in it."
"Well, you bring up some good points, though," says Medusa.
Ten minutes later a man in a long black coat is shown to the table.
Cal figures he's somewhere between the ages of twenty-five and fifty
(look, she's bad at ages, okay, get off her back). He doffs the coat,
slinging it over a spare chair as he scans the room, looking for his
contact. With a little frown, he sits down.
"Well," says Cal, "here goes nothing."
Medusa turns off the suit's stealth mode and turns on the audio
system that will allow the man to hear Cal's voice.
"Uh, hey, guy. Down here. Next to the salt."
"Oh!" he says when he sees her. "It's you. Tiny Dancer, huh?"
"Do I know you?" says Cal.
"We met a couple times," he says. "Strikeout."
"The baseball guy?" says Cal.
"The baseball guy," Strikeout confirms. He pulls out his cell phone
and starts talking into it. "Don't want people looking over and seeing
some crazy man talking to a salt shaker. So, who are you working
"What do you mean, who am I working with?"
"I mean, you managed to hack into the Cradle computers and look at
subconscious Medusa code."
"I can do that," says Cal. "I can hack. I can hack with the best of them."
"Kate told me once that she had to buy you a new computer because
you managed to wipe your hard drive when you were trying to delete
"That's not a thing," says Cal, taking umbrage. "She's
exaggerating. Okay, look, yes, I have someone helping with the
technical stuff but I'm not at liberty to divulge that information."
"It's your Medusa, isn't it? The one that was supposed to be deleted?"
"It makes sense," says Strikeout. "She's cut off from the rest, so
she can't have her code updated. Maybe before she downloads her
replacement and self-deletes, she gets curious and looks at the
subconscious code, sees something amiss? Something like that?"
"Go ahead," Medusa whispers in her ear. "I trust him."
"I guess that's good enough for me, then," Cal whispers back.
"Okay, yes, something exactly like that. But look. I can't let
anything happen to her, okay? She's my Medusa. She. She matters."
"Okay," says Strikeout, nodding slowly. "And that's why you didn't
go to someone directly. They'd think she was deranged or something,
and forcibly delete her."
"That's part of it," says Cal. For her, it's the biggest part,
maybe the only part really, but she doesn't say that. "But there's
something we left out when we gave Bethany the tip. The people at
Cradle who have access to the Medusa subconscious? They work for
"Oh boy," says Strikeout. "That's bad. That's really bad."
"I mean, yeah, it absolutely is," says Cal. "But, hey, silver
lining. They don't know that we're watching them. Me and my Medusa
have been gathering information for weeks. Maybe we get something big,
something we can use to finally win, you know? But if they find out
we're onto them, they're going to scamper. And then, poof, there goes
like the first real chance we've ever had to catch Caracalla."
"I understand," says Strikeout. "And that's smart. It's good you
didn't go up the chain with it. We think Rainshade might be
"Darn it," says Cal. "I liked her."
Strikeout looks surprised, but doesn't comment. "If she's a FEVER
operative - or worse, if she's Caracalla - this whole thing just got a
lot more complicated."
With Julie Ann and Bethany pitching in, it only takes about six hours
to sift through the rubble and find the survivors. The kaiju had just
started its rampage when the two pillbug monsters had lured it away.
Julie Ann supposed that the pillbugs might have done so on purpose.
Bethany doesn't buy it, but doesn't argue either; anyway, it kept the
casualties down, and made the grim, dirty work that followed in the
aftermath a little more bearable.
But it's still grim, dirty work, and so when Julie Ann suggests
they head over to her hover-apartment for showers (for the dirty) and
pie (for the grim), Bethany is happy to take her up on it. And so
Julie Ann wraps her arms around Bethany from behind and takes off into
the sky. As they depart, Bethany hears a bystander say, "I ship it",
and Bethany mutters to herself, "You and me both."
"What's that?" Julie Ann asks.
Ack! Forgot about her super-hearing. (At least that's what she
tells herself.) "Nothing," says Bethany, and the flight passes without
The apartment is made of glass and steel, floating on and in a
manufactured cloud. Julie Ann gives her a quick tour before pointing
her to one of the bathrooms where she can shower and change. "Stay as
long as you like after. I got a personal teleporter in the living room
and I'll set it for your place."
Over pie, they make small talk. Bethany compliments her on the
decor, which is a little classier than she expected. Julie Ann asks a
question with an eyebrow.
"Oh!" Bethany hurries her way through a mouthful of blueberry,
swallows, and apologizes. "Not that I thought you weren't classy. I
just didn't think this was quite Max's taste."
Julie Ann bursts out laughing. "Oh, it's not. But this is my place.
>From before we were married. I kept the apartment because, you know,
there's no way I'm going to be able to sell it for what I paid, not in
this market." She stabs at her plate with her fork, and though it is
impossible for anyone to eat pie elegantly, Julie Ann does so. "It
gives me a little space of my own for when I need a little break from
Max's, uh, antics."
"Can I ask you a question? I don't want to overstep, but, uh, why Max?"
"You are not the first to ask," says Julie Ann. "Heck, sometimes he asks."
"Is he, uh, talented?"
"He wasn't. Why do you think I gave him expanding super powers?"
"Oh my gosh."
"It's completely a cliche, but at first, he made me laugh. Really
and truly. Now, he ran out of material long before we got married, but
by that time it was too late; I was in love with the big dumb
goofball. So, your turn."
"Derek," says Julie Ann. "And don't tell me it's because he was
funny, because we both know that isn't true."
"Oh, that's easy," says Bethany. "He believed in me. He believed in
me so hard that the Catholic Church started a thousand year old secret
society dedicated to believing that I was going to save the universe.
(Which me and Kate did.) I still get Christmas cards from the pope,
and I'm a Baptist. Kinda hard not to fall for that."
"That's a lot to put on your shoulders, though."
"Yeah, well, that's one reason why it didn't last."
"So," says Julie Ann, "was he talented?"
Bethany answers the question with an eyebrow and a smile.
Strikeout would loop Bethany in, but she's on a relief mission with
Julie Ann. Calling her either via phone or the Medusa network is out
of the question; the risk that FEVER might be listening is too great.
They'll wait until she gets back to give her the information directly,
along with a report on some new changes to the Medusa subconscious
that Cal's Medusa is still trying to parse. In the meantime, they'll
loop in Bethany's other confidante. "She actually lives nearby,"
Strikeout says with a weird smile as Cal climbs into his pocket.
When he walks up to her porch, Cal knows why. "Kate?"
"Kate," confirms Strikeout. He knocks on the door.
"You met with the contact?"
"Yeah," says Strikeout. "So have you."
Cal pops her head out of his shirt pocket. "Hey."
"Oh, this will be interesting," says Kate, letting them in.
Strikeout puts Cal on the table, and the two of them give Kate the
"You've done a great job, Cal," says Kate after letting it all soak
in. "I'm really impressed."
"Thanks," says Cal quietly.
"You haven't let Bethany know yet?"
"No," says Strikeout. "But I will as soon as she gets back from her
mission. In person. Will be safer that way."
"Yeah, makes sense," says Kate. She turns her attention back to
Cal. "Your Medusa saw some other changes to the code? It might be
another FEVER plot. We'll need that data right away."
"Right," says Cal. "So, uh, I actually left the earpiece with my
Medusa in my miniature plane. Out in the garage. I'll go get it."
"I'll go with you," says Kate.
"Nah, I spent enough time being carried around today," says Cal.
"Kinda need to stretch my legs, you know? Be back in a jiff. You
people talk about whatever old people talk about."
"Thanks," says Kate with a smirk. "And Cal? I'm really proud of you."
Strikeout sets her down on the floor and Cal heads outside.
"Cal?" says her Medusa. "What's up?"
"That's not my sister."
"How can you tell?"
"Because she says she's proud of me," says Cal. She climbs into the
plane. "The real Kate would've found a way to dismiss it."
"Or maybe," begins Medusa gently.
"Look," says Cal. "I trust you. No questions asked. I need you to
do the same for me here. I know my sister, and I know that's not her."
"Okay," says Medusa. "I trust you. So what's our move?"
"Worst case nightmare scenario, that's Rainshade pretending to be
Kate," says Cal, starting the engine. "That's super out of my league.
So, strategic retreat until I figure out what the heck to do."
"What about Strikeout?"
"You got his digits? Send him a text. Tell him to get out of there."
Cal's plane buzzes past the kitchen window on its way into the sky.
"Huh," says Kate. "I wonder where she's going?"
"Don't know," says Dan. His phone bleeps at him. "Oh, it's a text
from Cal." He pushes on it with his thumb.
(This is Cal. That's not Kate. Get out. Delete this message. Send
back "double play" when safe.)
"What's it say?" says Kate.
"Uh, just, she's going to the store?" He deletes the message.
"To the store," repeats Kate.
"Yeah," says Dan, shrugging it off as he pockets his phone. "Didn't
say for what. Reminds me, I got to call my wife. Just be stepping out
for a moment."
He heads into the living room and pulls open the door. It slams itself shut.
Dan whirls around. Kate, still in the kitchen, flicks the air with
her finger. Something pushes him in the chest, flinging him into the
recliner. The impact is enough to pop up the footrest and lower the
It will take him a moment to get upright, and that's a moment he
doesn't have right now. But there's a TV remote within reach, and he
figures it he throws it at her at a hundred miles per hour that it
will buy him some time.
From out of the corner a green umbrella flies into the room,
intercepting the remote; it ricochets into the table lamp, breaking
She steps into the room, plucking the umbrella from the air with
her right hand. With her left, she points at Dan and draws a quick
tight little circle in the air, immediately breaking both of his
"This is pretty bad," says Dan.
"Yes," says Rainshade. "It is." She snaps her fingers, and Dan
falls into a deep sleep.
"Cal, we got a message back from Strikeout's phone," says Medusa.
"Says he got away, wants to meet back at the restaurant. No 'double
"So, he didn't send the message," says Cal. Something twists in the
pit of her stomach. "Do you think she killed him?"
"I don't know, Cal," says Medusa.
"Melody can probably take her, right? If anyone has a chance, it's Melody."
"I'll send her a text," says Medusa. "Uh-oh. I can't send it.
Subconscious code has been altered for all Medusas, and all
Medusa-linked cellular phones. I'm blocked completely. Anything I send
is just going to bounce."
"Darn it, she moves fast," says Cal.
"And it looks like they just found our tap on the Cradle computer
systems. I'm cut off entirely."
"This is so bad."
"It could be worse."
"I don't know, I'm just trying to be supportive."
"Okay," says Cal, taking a deep breath. "Okay, okay, okay. So. She
knows that we know. She's trying to isolate us but she's not going to
just sit on whatever they're up to, right? Probably instead they're
going to go for it. The other code they spliced in before. Did we ever
figure that out?"
"Not entirely," says Medusa. "It's functioning like a plug-in. For
"Like the little cat in the corner on my Firefox?"
"Yes, like the little cat," says Medusa. "It allows the
subconscious of the network to interact with something else. I just
don't know what that something else is. But."
"But it's pointing to an external IP address. I couldn't hack into
it at all. It's about as impenetrable as the Cradle system was. I did
manage to match it to a physical address though."
"So, if we can get there, just like with Cradle, we can put a tap
on it and see what's going on," says Cal. "Okay, that's the closest
thing we have to doing something, so let's do that."
The facility is on a private dirt road, and Cal lands her plane in the
woods just across that road. Probably no one will notice the little
one-inch person skittering across the dirt and gravel, but just in
case Medusa turns on the cloaking and turns off the speakers. About
half-way across the road, and out of nowhere, it starts to rain, and
this proves to be a problem for two reasons.
Reasono numero uno: every time a drop hits Cal it's like a whole
bucket of water being poured on her head, and every time a drop hits
the ground next to her, it's like being splashed by a flipping truck.
Reasono numero two-oh: torrential-type downpour plus dirt road
means mud up to her neck and then some, which is gross and exhausting
and also kinda sorta negates the entire stealth mode concept.
"Waste of two thousand dollars," mutters Cal in disgust as she
tries to shake the caked (and very visible) mud from her invisible
"Hey, at least it was Simon's money," offers Medusa.
"I like the way you think," says Cal. There's still some mud left
when she crawls under the door, but short of a trip to the laundromat,
it's gonna have to do. Cal flattens herself against the wall and scans
the area: big, open room, couple of dudes working at computers,
hallway branching off to who knows where. "What am I looking for?"
"Computer terminal," says Medusa. "Just stick the dot to the side
of the tower, I'll do the hard stuff."
"My kind of mission," says Cal. The desks are against the
windowless wall, so Cal figures her best bet is to sneak along that
way. A few minutes later her tiny legs have traversed the twenty feet
to one of the computer towers, hot and humming on the floor. She
removes the hacking dot from her moisture-proof belt compartment, and
sticks it against the tower. This essentially allows Medusa to view
the computer and its contents.
Or it would normally. "This is a different encryption than I'm used
to. Even different than the Cradle stuff. I'm actually not sure if I
can crack it."
The computer dude chooses this moment to slip off his right shoe,
and he is full-on not wearing any socks. His toe nails are yellowed,
and the skin between his toes - because of course he stretches them
out - is red and cracked. Cal has always firmly believed that feet are
kinda gross, and seeing one at this scale does not alter that
As she quietly barfs on the floor, she hears Medusa chirp in her
ear: "Great minds think alike."
"What do you mean?"
"Someone from outside, trying to hack in," says Medusa. "I think
they've got something that can decrypt it."
"Do you think it's one of ours?"
"Hard to say," says Medusa. "I think I'll be able to open up a way
for them to get in. Then when they decrypt the files, I'll be able to
"Okay," says Cal. "I say go for it."
"Oops," says Medusa.
"Oops? What oops?"
"I think they just tripped an alarm."
"Hey," says the shoeless computer guy. "I think someone's trying to get in!"
Shoeless guy's coworker tippy-taps at his console. "I've spotted
them, van parked on the other road. Deploy the deadbots."
"Deadbots, huh?" says Cal. "That doesn't sound great."
"No, it doesn't," says Medusa. "But a bunch of new things just
popped up on the network, so I assume those are it. Let me see what I
can do with that."
Suddenly, dozens of tiny screens appear inside Cal's goggles.
"Visual feeds from the 'deadbots'," explains Medusa.
"I feel like one of those hipsters with the Google Glass," says
Cal. "See if maybe you can narrow it down to a couple screens at a
A moment later, Cal only has a handful of them. A few of the
screens overlap, and in them she gets a decent look at the deadbots:
they look kinda like robots and kinda like zombies, which fits the
name. They're converging on a couple of hero-types who are shooting
them with beams and lightning.
"I don't know them," says Cal. "You?"
"No," says Medusa. "Maybe if they were in costume I could ID them."
Several of the screens blink out as the deadbots are
decommissioned, and Medusa brings up new ones.
"Some of them are circling around, avoiding lightning chick and
punk rock gadgeteer," says Cal. "I think they're heading for the van.
Anyway to warn them?"
"Yes," says Medusa. "Sending a warning now. And one better. I think
I can upgrade their computer to turn it into a sonic weapon. Raidne."
"One of the sirens. Greek myth. Cool name. Let me think about it."
"Yes," says Raidne, "I think I'll keep it."
After a few minutes, the cool plainclothes lesbian superheroes
("they're definitely into each other, Raidne, yes?", "of course they
are") fall back from the woods to rejoin their computer nerd and her
super-sonic robot head and also a cat for some reason. The van has
been demolished, and the deadbots are continuing to advance on them.
"Any other tricks up your sleeve?" says Cal.
"I think I can get them a car," says Raidne. "I can drive it
remotely to their position. I'll patch you through their robot head,
you can tell them help is on the way. You're on in three, two, one."
Great. Public speaking. Definitely her strong suit. "Excuse me,"
says Cal. "Hi, hello, you don't know me, and I don't know you, but you
seem like rad people? You need a ride, right?"
"Yeah," says lightning chick lesbian superhero.
"Cool, My friend is just stealing a car right now. Borrowing a car.
We're just borrowing a car now, without permission. Be there in like
Once the full-size super-people are on their way, Raidne has time to
actually look at the files. "Okay," she says, "so those deadbots were
not just any ordinary robot zombies."
"Sometimes, I still can't believe this is my life."
"It's Hotspur code."
"The Shakespeare robot?"
"Yes. They've found a way to interface it with organic tissue.
Essentially, the Hotspur code controls the body like it's a machine."
"But only dead bodies?" says Cal.
"That's the thing," says Raidne. "The plug-in for the Medusa
subconscious? It's to run Hotspur."
The Medusa implants - Julie Ann's, sitting on her table, and
Bethany's, left in the guest bathroom - beep three times: it's a red
alert, calling all members of the Daylighters. The last time it was
used was back in August, on the day the Pulse attacked.
"I'll find out what it is," says Julie Ann, placing the implant in
her ear. The moment she does, she freezes, getting a faraway look in
"Jules?" says Bethany. "Are you okay?"
Julie Ann smiles as if she is doing it for the first time, and not
quite getting it right. "Bring with thee airs from heaven, or blasts
I know that quote, thinks Bethany as Julie Ann flies toward her.
COPYRIGHT (C) 2020 TOM RUSSELL.
Medusa created by Drew Nilium and Tom Russell.
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