8FOLD: Daylighters # 12, "Violent Ends"
joltcity at gmail.com
Wed Jul 8 21:13:17 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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# 12 - VIOLENT ENDS
------- FEATURING --------------------------
Derek Mason, BLUE BOXER, age 26.
Accident-prone gadgeteer largely retired from field work. Founder of
the Daylighters, concentrating on big picture solutions.
Claire Belden, RAINSHADE, age 31.
Metamancer. A double agent concealing the existence of The Company,
responsible for FEVER's compromise of Medusa. Currently impersonating
Cal Morgan, THE MIGHTY INCH, age 18.
Permanently miniaturized. High school dropout. Best friends with Raidne.
Raidne, age six months.
An instance of Medusa, cut off from the wider network, aware that her
sisters have been compromised. A whisper in Cal's ear.
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 Morgan, SHIMMER, age 29.
Phases through solid matter. Concert pianist. Presently trapped on the
other side of a mirror by Rainshade.
Anders meets Derek at the gate. "What's up? How can I help?"
"Short version," says Derek. "There was a red alert issued through
Medusa. Since I'm the only one who is supposed to be able to do that,
and I didn't do it, I didn't pop it in my ear. Seems like most
everyone else did, and now they're running around wreaking havoc and
"Hotspur?" says Anders as he swipes his keycard.
Derek nods. "I'm assuming Hotspur is working with FEVER - we had
reason to believe they were working together back in August. It might
be that they found a way to manipulate the Medusa code." 
"We haven't seen anything like that," says Anders.
"Well, I think with your access to the Medusa subconscious, there
might be a way to shut this down," says Derek. "I'm just glad you
happened to be in Jolt City right now. If I had to fly to California,
by the time I got there, who knows what would've happened."
"Yes, lucky that," says Anders.
There's a sharp pain in the back of Derek's neck, and suddenly
everything is whirling and blurry. The floor rushes toward him, and
"Or," says Anders, discarding the syringe, "perhaps it just feels
right to end this where it started."
"I don't think he heard you," says Claire, stepping out from the shadows.
"That's alright. I didn't say it for him." He snaps his fingers,
and two of the Hotspur'd heroes pick up Derek, dragging him to another
room. "Do you want to be there when he wakes up?"
"When you torture him, you mean? No, I think not."
"Getting squeamish in your old age, Claire?"
"Cruelty should be elegant, precise. Only pigs wallow in it."
Something hot and dangerous flickers in his eyes. "Careful, Claire."
She shrugs, unperturbed.
About an hour into the flight, Raidne starts to pick up news reports
of Hotspur'd Daylighters, and makes the mistake of sharing this
information with Cal, who starts to freak the flip out.
"I mean, is it everybody?"
"Possibly," says Raidne. "There's not a lot of info there, and I'm
still being blocked by all Medusa-linked emails and phones, so there's
no one I can check with. I have a couple of highly-technical plans I'm
working through right now in the background which might put the
Hotspurs on pause for a little while, but it's not a permanent
"So, it's probably us, then, right?" Which means it's probably me,
Cal thinks, but she doesn't say that. "Us against FEVER and Rainshade
and a bunch of mind-controlled superheroes, and Kate is gone or
probably dead, and it's all so big, so much bigger than I am,
literally, literally all of this is bigger than I am."
"Cal," says Raidne softly. "Let's just calm down for a second,
okay? Your pulse and respiration are elevated."
"Look, I can feel it, alright? I don't need you telling me what's
going on in my body because I can feel it."
"What do you need, Cal?"
"I don't know," says Cal. "I mean, not this! I know that much. I
just feel so alone. And I can't do it alone."
"I'm here," says Raidne.
"I didn't mean it like that," says Cal. "I know you're here. But
you're not, you know, here, physically here."
"Does that matter?"
Cal sighs. "Yeah. A little. I mean, you're pretty much my best
friend, but it's not like you can give me a high five or anything."
"Hold up your hand."
"I know what you're going to do."
"Great," says Raidne. "So hold up your hand."
Cal holds one hand in the air.
"And close your eyes."
"I'm literally flying a plane."
"Just for a second."
She does as she's told. She feels a sudden slap on her palm as
Raidne whispers the sound of a high-five in her ear. A sweet red pain
lingers in her hand and fingers. "You got this."
"Thanks," Cal sniffles as she opens her eyes.
She feels a band of pressure across her chest and her back. It's
light at first, then it squeezes her insistently.
"Thought you needed a hug," says Raidne.
"Yeah," says Cal, "I guess I did. Thanks."
"That's one of the reasons why I built this into the suit,"
confesses Raidne. "So that I could touch you. If you want me to."
"You can touch me, if I want you to," Cal teases. "You crushing on me?"
"Yes," answers Raidne earnestly.
"Oh. Oh wow."
"I understand if you don't feel the same way about me."
"But I do," says Cal quietly. "I've had this hot babe whispering
sweet nothings in my ear every minute of every day for months, how can
I not fall for her?"
Foremost in her mind is the simple fact that if Julie Ann lands a
single punch, Bethany is dead. If Julie Ann gets her hand around
Bethany's throat, the slightest pressure will crush her windpipe. And
if Julie Ann casually backhands Bethany out the window of Julie Ann's
hover-apartment, she will fall six thousand feet to her death.
So, first things first, she needs to keep her distance from one of
the fastest and strongest women on the planet. That's actually not as
impossible as it would be under normal circumstances, because it looks
like Hotspur is still acclimating itself to Julie Ann's body. That
buys Bethany the split seconds she needs to make dodging the first
flyby merely a skin-of-the-teeth close call instead of a messy splat.
And while Hotspur is still turning around, Bethany is scrambling
out of the kitchen and punching the button that closes the reinforced
steel door. That will only occupy Hotspur for about fifteen seconds
(if she's lucky), but that'll be enough time to use Julie Ann's
teleporter to get to the safety of her own apartment. She can take the
console with her, and that way Hotspur can't follow.
But even as she thinks about it, she knows she can't do that.
Because the minute Bethany leaves, Hotspur will turn its attention to
something else. The thought of someone with Julie Ann's powers running
amok in a populated area is too terrible to contemplate.
She has to stop her. She has to stop this woman who is basically
invulnerable. No biggie. It's pretty much impossible, but other than
that, not a problem.
By the time the door between the kitchen and living room is
breached, Bethany has already skedaddled down the hall to Julie Ann's
personal gym. Not that she's trying to hide. Julie Ann's ears can hear
Bethany's heartbeat, and her eyes can see the heat trail she left in
her wake. But she just needs some distance between them to buy her the
seconds she needs to figure something out.
Bethany's fond of saying there's no problem she can't solve by
punching it, and on the one hand that's just a glib way of commenting
on her profession, but on the other there's the very real fact that
the Singularity Gauntlet lets her increase the mass of her fist to
that of a mack truck, a blue whale, an asteroid, or a dwarf star.
There's invulnerable and then there's invulnerable: even Julie Ann has
her limits. It's finding them that will be the problem. If Bethany
punches Julie Ann hard enough to hurt her, there's a good chance it
will be hard enough to kill her.
Something inside her - not a part of her, it can't be a part of her
- thrills at the possibility. The sudden and lovely quickening of her
pulse fills her with revulsion. "That's not who I am," she tells
herself through gritted teeth. 
"There is nothing either good or bad," says Hotspur as it hovers
through the door, "but thinking makes it so."
"This isn't who you are, either," says Bethany. "Jules, are you in
there? Can you hear me?" She knows Julie Ann has two brains. Maybe one
of them is still hers.
"These violent delights have violent ends."
"Trying to avoid that," says Bethany. "I don't suppose you want to
talk it out."
"You speak an infinite deal of nothing," says Hotspur. With her
hand, she tosses something into the room. It's Bethany's Medusa.
"You want me to put it on," says Bethany. "You want me to be like you?"
"Be not afraid of greatness."
Bethany picks it up with her prime finger and thumb. Carefully, she
dials up the mass in her fingertips just enough to gently, quietly,
and (hopefully) imperceptibly crush the delicate workings inside the
implant. Probably Julie Ann would've heard it, but she has to hope
that Hotspur doesn't realize what the sound was. She plops the useless
piece of plastic in her ear, and hopes she remembers enough
Shakespeare from her college lit class.
Hotspur touches Julie Ann's feet to the ground, and with slow,
confident steps closes the distance. Julie Ann's head cocks to the
side, bird-like and curious. "Was ever woman in this humor woo'd? Was
ever woman in this humor won?"
The first thing that pops into Bethany's head is the bit about the
serpent's tooth, but she's pretty sure there's more to this thing than
randomly throwing quotes out there. "Love is merely a madness," she
says emphatically, hoping that will do the trick.
Hotspur's hand flies toward her (that answers that question). The
Singularity Gauntlet takes the brunt of the blow, but the force of it
is enough to send her flying across the room and toward the glass
window with incredible velocity. Fast enough that she'll break through
the window, and if that happens, there's no plan B.
It only takes a fraction of a second to recognize this, and only
another fraction to increase the mass of her fist exponentially,
making it dense enough fast enough that it pulls her body to the floor
with a heavy thud.
Hotspur keeps its distance. It saw what Bethany did, maybe even
somewhere in its shared ancestral memory it recalls their past
encounters. (She's punched a lot of Shakespeare robots in her time.)
"Oh," says Bethany, raising her right hand as she gets to her feet,
"you scared of this little thing? That's okay." She hazards a smile.
"You should be."
"Have at thee, coward!" But Hotspur doesn't rush at her. Instead,
she blasts beams of light and fire from Julie Ann's eyes.
Bethany jumps clear and the beams melt the glass behind her; she
was expecting this. More than that, she was hoping for it, because
while the Hotspur may have figured out that it can do this, it has no
way of knowing how much it hurts, or how long it takes Julie Ann to
recover from it. 
It's enough time for Bethany to rush toward her. She's only going
to get one shot at this. Please God, she thinks, let this work. Please
God, don't let it kill her.
Punching Julie Ann's stomach feels at first like punching a steel
pole, smooth and hard and unyielding. But then it feels more like
gelatin - too soft, too malleable, too wet.
At least that's what Bethany thinks at first. Hotspur falls to the
floor, clutching Julie Ann's belly. But there's no blood. "Just
knocked the wind out of you," Bethany mutters.
Hotspur glares at Bethany with Julie Ann's eyes. They're weeping
blood; a side-effect of the beams.
An arm shoots out for her neck. Bethany grabs the wrist and applies
enough pressure to break it. "Sorry, Jules."
Hotspur screams, not in quotation, but in agony, raw and immediate
and almost human.
"I can hurt you worse than this," bluffs Bethany. "Or I can make it
stop. Let me take you out of my friend."
As if in response, Hotspur turns Julie Ann's head, the ear with the
Medusa hidden against the steel floor.
"Be reasonable," says Bethany, but what she really means is, don't
make me do this. Not to Julie Ann. "Please."
Slowly, Hotspur turns her head, revealing the ear.
Bethany reaches for it, and then she feels the wet pain in her side
where Hotspur has shoved Julie Ann's fingers. She grabs the hand,
breaking it, and before she has finished screaming, she has broken the
arm in two places. She didn't mean to do that; it just happened.
In response, Hotspur kicks wildly but lazily with Julie Ann's legs.
Bethany jumps out of the way instinctually. Julie Ann's body is
floating again, but rather than standing still, it weaves and twists
like a sheet on a line.
"If love be rough with you," says Hotspur, "be rough with love."
Bethany smiles, sadly. "I love nothing in the world so much as you."
"I do love nothing in the world as well as you," Hotspur corrects.
"I meant what I said." She squeezes her fist, and runs toward Hotspur.
It leans back and flings itself away from her, or at least it
starts to; her right hand is dense enough now to create its own
irresistible gravitational pull. Not only is Julie Ann's body being
pulled to her, but the floors and walls start to creak and bend, ready
to collapse in on the gauntlet.
That's not what she's going for, however. Bringing the house down
in a defiant gesture of noble self-sacrifice is not her style. (Though
if her timing is off by even a fraction of a second, that's what she's
going to end up doing.) This kind of intense gravity means intense
g-forces, and while she can't feel it thanks to the Singularity
Gauntlet, Julie Ann can.
The moment that Julie Ann blacks out, Bethany's fist becomes light
as the air. But the structural damage she wreaked is too substantial.
"You're heavier than you look," she says to the unconscious Julie
Ann as she limps to the teleporter. A moment later, the two of them
materialize in Bethany's apartment.
"First things first," Bethany says as she turns Julie Ann's head to
one side. "Gotta get the bug out." With her left hand, she reaches
toward the ear. As always, Julie Ann's skin is hot to the touch, hot
like metal that was left in the sun. As always, Bethany likes the way
Her fingers are just grabbing hold of the Medusa earpiece when
Julie Ann's eyes shoot open.
"Hello," says Julie Ann. "I'm Raidne, I'm a friend. I'm slowly
taking control from the Hotspurs and am working on a way to return
everyone to normal. Until I give the all clear, please don't remove
the earpiece, it might cause permanent brain damage."
"Oh my God!" says Bethany, pulling her hand away. "You should've
led with that!"
"This recorded message is going to repeat," says Julie Ann. "Hello.
I'm Raidne, I'm a friend."
For some reason, Bethany finds this hilarious. The quiet laughter
stretches the wound at her side. She's not going to be any good to
anyone if she bleeds to death, so she stumbles into her bathroom,
grabs the first aid kit, and gets to work.
Derek wakes gradually, one groggy waking half-dream melting into
another into another, shadows and sensations whirling in and out of
focus. Eventually he realizes that he hears a voice, that someone's
been talking for a while, but not to him. The words slur together and
are drowned out by the pounding of the blood in Derek's ears.
Eventually he recognizes the voice. "Anders."
"Well, hello," says the voice. The black nothing becomes a shadow,
becomes a man, becomes a face. Anders has his hand on Derek's head,
tilting it upwards. "Back with us, I see?"
"Tied me to a chair," says Derek. "Pretty ordinary, isn't it?"
"Well, classics never go out of style, do they?"
"Caracalla," says Derek.
He nods, smiling.
"I don't suppose you want to explain how you did it."
"How I did it?"
"How you got to Anders."
Caracalla laughs. "How I got to Anders," he repeats, doubling over.
"You idiot. You absolute moron."
"It must've been something incredible," prods Derek. If he can just
get Caracalla to start talking, he'll be able to work himself out of
his bonds. (First thing Martin taught him was how to untie himself
from a chair. Second was to keep the bad guys talking.) "Anders was
always super-paranoid about his security. That was even before
Rainshade installed all those mystical safeguards."
Caracalla just starts cackling again. "And you checked him. For a
FEVER body control implant."
"Yes," says Derek. "Along with every member of the Daylighters.
Checked them twice a week. And we started checking them for the
cybernetic eye-camera implants after we found one in Lacey Trimmer."
"Very cautious," says Caracalla. "Very studious. You checked Anders
Cradle just yesterday. So obviously I must've gotten to him in the
last twenty, hee, the last twenty-four, ha, I can't." He wipes his
eyes. "I'm sorry, I can't.
"You know," he continues, "for someone who is always on about how
he looks at the big picture, how he sees how the pieces are going to
fit together, you really can't see what's right in front of your face.
Did Martin ever tell you?"
"Tell me what?"
"About the time I laughed," says Anders. "When my father died. Only
Anders would know that. Caracalla wouldn't, unless, dot, dot, dot."
"Anders," says Derek. "You're Caracalla. You've always been Caracalla."
Anders nods. "I don't think you understand how difficult it's been
for me these last six years, working alongside the Daylighters to take
down FEVER and blah, blah, blah. Do you know how hard it's been to
keep a straight face every time you failed? Not to burst out laughing
every time you trusted me? Every time you trusted Claire?"
"Claire," says Derek. It's not a question; he knows the answer.
It's been there hiding in the corners all along. Wrists are almost
free. Another moment, and he'll leap into action.
"And because of Claire, you gave me Medusa," says Anders. "Just,
gave it to me! And through Medusa, now I have the Daylighters."
Derek feels the ropes tighten around his wrists. A blur speeds past
him, and then appears next to Anders. Darkhorse.
"Rivers that died at Pomfret!" she declaims. "Despair and die!"
"Come on, Derek!" says Anders. "You don't think I would let you get
out of the chair that easy, do you?"
"Why?" says Derek, shaking his head. "Why do all this?"
Anders turns to Darkhorse. "What's the line I'm looking for?"
"Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth,
I will never speak word." 
"Yes," says Anders. "That's the one. Maybe my father didn't love me
enough. Maybe I was always like this. Maybe someone crawled into my
head and turned me evil. I don't see why it matters." He turns to
Darkhorse. "Well, it's probably time that we got started. Start with
Suddenly she is next to Derek, vibrating her hand into his shoulder
blade, making it tingly and numb.
"Give him a little taste," says Anders, licking his lips.
Parts of her hand begin to solidify. Derek tries not to scream.
"Now," says Anders, "I'm going to ask you some questions. And if I
don't like your answers, she's going to hurt you. If I like your
answers, well, she's still going to hurt you, but maybe a little less.
Maybe not! I'm playing this by ear. We'll figure it out together.
It'll be fun.
"So, questions. Who is Raidne? Where is she? How is she doing what
"There's another Hotspur paused," says Raidne.
"How many does that make?"
"Sixty-four. Luckily, each Medusa I take over gives me a little
more processing power, makes it a little easier to take the next one.
"Can we use them at all?" says Cal.
"The way Hotspur did? No. He's still in there, and right now all I
can do is hold him back. I've figured something out, though."
"Don't keep me in suspense."
"The Medusas I can't get hold of, they're all in Jolt City.
Centered on a specific location in Jolt City."
"So, what," says Cal, "the bad guys have like a secret base and
they got a bunch of Daylighter puppets protecting it?"
"That seems likely."
"Well, we've got to go there, I guess."
"Already altered our course."
"Which leaves the question of what the heck I'm going to do about
it when we get there."
"Though you be but little, you are fierce."
"Oh my gosh," says Cal. "Moratorium on Shakespeare until this thing
is over, okay? Thanks, but I don't share your confidence. Probably
they got some of the heavyweights in there, and fierce is only going
to take me so far. I just wish somehow, somewhere, that the cavalry
was on their way."
It's easier than Kate thought it would be.
Probably it's just because she has more experience now. Her first
spell had been the hardest to cast. She failed again and again, and
never understood why she failed, even after she had succeeded. She did
it all correctly, did it all by the book, and yet: nothing. When the
spell finally worked, she hadn't done it any differently than she had
all the times before.
But after that first spell, it was different. It was as if in
casting that first spell she had also cast another in secret, one that
somehow gave her the ability to cast spells. It took several attempts
to cast her second, but not as many as the first; the third, she got
right on the first try (at least, for certain generous definitions of
Eventually the simplest spells became natural for her, a thing of
muscle memory that she could do automatically without thinking, like
cracking an egg or whisking a sauce. New and harder spells took more
out of her, took more work, required failure and blood and pain, and
she expected that to be the case here, with her final spell. The big
one: the great escape.
But no: this is maybe the easiest spell she's ever cast in her
life. The most natural spell. Almost too easy. Almost like there has
to be a catch. And maybe there is. Probably there is, knowing Claire.
But she's taken precautions for that eventuality. While her left hand
claims Claire's mirror as her own, her right hand prepares a spell of
She passes her fingers lightly over the mirror. Seen through her
eyes, it remains black and opaque. Seen through something else,
something eyeless and deep, she sees a small room with a small bed.
Claire has her back to the mirror.
Kate reaches through the glass, touching Claire's shoulder. Now
Kate is in the small room. She turns to the mirror.
"Took you long enough," says Claire, rolling her eyes from the
other side. It's really Claire: Claire's voice, Claire's face,
Claire's smug attitude.
Kate opens her mouth to speak, but she immediately forgets what she
was going to say. While she's forgetting, she's also remembering:
remembering things she doesn't know. "Anders is Caracalla!"
"Yes," says Claire. "Now you know everything I know. Or, everything
I want you to know, at any rate."
Kate feels faint. She sits down on the bed. "Why am I so tired?"
"Time moves differently on this side," says Claire. "You've been
awake for two years straight. No wonder you're tired."
"I gotta stay awake," says Kate, fighting it. "I've gotta stop him."
"You will," promises Claire. "That's the whole idea. But first
you've got to go to sleep. Do the one thing I never could: bring
And Kate closes her eyes, and she dreams of Azabeth Collins. 
TO BE CONCLUDED IN
MANCERS/DAYLIGHTERS: BRAVE NEW WORLD!
COPYRIGHT (C) 2020 TOM RUSSELL.
Medusa created by Drew Nilium and Tom Russell.
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