8FOLD: Mancers/Daylighters: Brave New World (3/3)

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Fri Jul 10 06:44:43 PDT 2020

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              |___/     |___/  [8F-206] [PW-50]

           BRAVE      NEW      WORLD



David's red sword glows whitely.
   "Are there orcs nearby?" snarks Bethany.
   "No," says David. (At least, he doesn't think so.) "It's magic.
Deep magic." He points with the sword's jagged teeth toward the door
at the far end of the hall. The blade flares, bright and hot, and only
subsides when he lowers it. "It's much stronger than the usual magic
here. Much more dangerous."
   "Swell," she says.
   Raidne's voice is muffled through David's shirt pocket. "The
computers we're looking for are nearby."
   At the end of the hall, someone walks up to the door. David and
Bethany quickly flatten themselves against the wall to avoid being
spotted. The guy swipes a key card, and enters. David recognizes him.
   "That's one of the IT guys," he says. "When I was undercover at The
Company, he set up my outlook. So that's definitely where the
computers are."
   "So," says Bethany, "how deep is this deep magic?"
   "Deep enough," says David. "I'm actually not sure if we can get in
the room or not."
   "Well, we can't stay out in this hallway," says Bethany. She opens
the door to the nearby maintenance closet. David follows her inside.
Cal pulls herself up, peeking her little head out of his pocket.
   "Oh man," she says, "is that an air duct?"
   Bethany looks to the vent, then to David. "Does your ancestor know
if that would connect to that computer room?"
   "No idea," says David.
   "Worth a shot," says Cal, scrambling out onto David's hand.
   "You have to make sure you stay calm," warns David. "Even in there,
if you self-identify as a threat, the place will shift you around."
   "Uh, I was actually way calmer before you told me that?" says Cal.
"But me and air ducts go way back. Well, a couple months back, anyway.
I got this." She crawls in through a gap in the grate.

"Wow," says Cal, staring into the computer room. "They've got a lot of
people working on this."
   "They're in panic mode," whisper-squeals Raidne in delight. "Who is
this mysterious and formidable Raidne, holding all the Hotspurs at
bay?" Cal can almost hear her wicked smile. "I will haunt their nerdy
little dreams forever."
   Cal turns on her suit's invisibility mode, and with a thin stretch
of wire tied to the grating, soundlessly rappels down to the floor.

Bethany has been staring intently at the shelf with the paper towels
for a few minutes.
   "Are you okay?" David asks awkwardly.
   At first she glares at him. He doesn't know her; they're not
friends. But then she softens. "Just thinking," she says. "Six years
ago, FEVER punches a hole in time and space, for no real reason other
than hate and spite. We fixed it, me and Kate, but there was still
damage. That's when the Lullaby first started to pull apart, and the
cosmic dam holding back the god flood started to crack. Leading us to
magic, leading us to a war in outer space. Ripple effects.
Coincidences. [13]
   "But," continues Bethany, "turns out The Company is real. Turns out
they're working for the Pulse, turns out FEVER is working for them.
Suddenly it doesn't feel like coincidences anymore. Now it feels like
Caracalla," she stops, clenches her fists and her teeth. "It feels
like Anders punched that hole for a reason. To break the Lullaby. To
unleash the god flood. To start the war."
   David closes his eyes, and remembers. Things he overhead but didn't
understand, things he saw that didn't make sense. Stuff about
Maddocks. He knew Maddocks was running Cradle. Now that he knows
Cradle was running FEVER - that Maddocks was running FEVER - those
things he saw and heard start to fall into place.
   "Yes," he says, opening his eyes. "The point of the thing was to
begin the process of ending the Lullaby."

"How's it going?" Cal whispers a few minutes after placing the hacking
disc on the side of the computer.
   "Not so great," says Raidne. "I'm in the code. I can see how to fix
it and I'm making all the changes I need to. They're accepting the
changes. It should just kick Hotspur right out. But, no, it doesn't
work. It should. It has to. But it doesn't."
   Cal tenses up. How do you gently suggest that your perfect computer
girlfriend maybe forgot to carry the one? "Could there be something
we're overlooking?"
   "Code is code," says Raidne. "There are laws. If this, then that,
else this other thing. There's nothing to overlook. It's like the laws
of the universe suddenly stopped working."
   "Like magic," says Cal.

Darkhorse sits up within the circle.
   "Melody?" says Kate.
   "I'm afraid not," says someone with Melody's voice. "You must be
Kate. I'm Beth. We spoke twice before."
   "Yes. Thank you for coming. And you brought, uh, others?"
   "They'll be coming through the door shortly," says Beth. "Just
wanted to give you a heads-up." With that, Melody's body slumps back
into unconsciousness.
   The door opens. There are two women - one younger, one older. Kate
doesn't recognize either of them. With them is Klutz.
   "Jonah!" she says, rising to meet him. He hugs her tightly,
intimately. "Oh, okay. Hi."
   He withdraws nervously. "So I take it we didn't actually start
dating, did we?"
   "That was Claire," says Kate. She leans in and pecks him on the
cheek. "We'll figure it out later, okay?" She turns her attention to
the women. "Are you Beth's people?"
   "I'm Maile, this is Pill," says the younger woman.
   "Maile." Something bubbles up to the surface. "Akaka?"
   "Yes," says Maile, apprehensive.
   Suddenly: this room at another time, Claire and Anders, another
room, Claire and Maddocks, double agents and triple moles, blood and
tears, circles and stars, magic and machine, a spell, the spell,
Claire brought in to consult, Claire and Lydia (Lydia dying), and
Trini, and Derek, and Maile, the plan, Kate: do the one thing I never
could: bring everyone together.
   "Are you okay?" says Maile.
   Kate is vomiting blood. "No," she says, wiping her mouth on her
sleeve. "I'm still getting used to this arcane stuff. But now I know
what to do."
   "What to do?"
   "It's not just Hotspur plugging into Medusa," says Kate. "It's
magic bridging the gap from computers into human brains. Deep magic,
perverted by Maddocks. (I'm not actually sure who Maddocks is?) But
Claire was part of it, and while she was there she built in a way to
break it. Made it vulnerable to a secret counterspell. She hid part of
it in him." She points to Derek. "And part of it in you." She points
to Maile. "And she put me through hell so that I could bring it
together. Give me your hands, both of you. Quick."
   "Is this going to hurt?" Derek mumbles hoarsely.
   "I'm sorry, Derek," says Kate. "But yes, it will. Worse than
anything you've been through tonight."

"Something's different," says Cal.
   "What do you mean?"
   "I can't explain it," she says. "Something in my gut. Like when
you've been inside for days, and then you step outside for the first
time, and it's all that fresh air?"
   "I don't know what any of that is like," says Raidne.
   "Just try it again," says Cal.

After a minute, Melody's eyes flutter open. Weakly, she pushes herself
up into a sitting position and plucks the Medusa out of her ear.
   "It's me," says Kate. "Is that you?"
   "Yeah." She looks past Kate, to the chair, to Derek. "Oh God," she
says, trembling.
   "It wasn't you," says Kate gently.
   "I know that," says Melody, flush and angry. "But I saw it. I felt
it. My hands. He did it with my hands."
   "I know." Kate breaks the spell, enters the circle. "I know." She
holds Melody close to her with one arm, and with her free hand holds
her head. "It's a lot. It sucks. Just take it easy right now."
   "I feel so weak," says Melody.
   "We'll get you something to eat when we get out of here."
   Melody nods, trembling. All of her is shaking a little. Melody's
always been steady, fierce. Holding her now, Kate remembers for the
first time in a long time just how young Melody is.
   "I don't know if this will help," says Maile, stepping into the
circle. She pulls out a granola bar and fumbles with the wrapper.
   Melody eats it slowly, automatically, almost as if she's not aware
that she's doing it. Maile helps Kate to her feet.
   "So, here's what I don't get," says Maile. "Why did Claire need us,
need you?"
   "Plausible deniability," says Kate. "If she breaks the spell, Venus
knows she's an enemy. But if I teach myself magic, get myself out,
break the spell - they don't know that she was behind it. She
continues to work from the inside." She frowns. "If we let her."
   "Now I'm kinda wondering if that's why she helped me get away from
The Company in the first place," says Maile. "So that you could bring
me here."
   "That's part of it," says Kate. "And there's another reason why she
wanted you here. Something only you can do. Something the Daylighters
can't." And then she whispers it into Maile's ear.

David helps Cal down from the air vent.
   "Mission mother-flipping accomplished, guys," she beams. "My
awesome girlfriend chased all the Hotspurs out of the joint, the back
door's been closed, and the entire Medusa network is in hibernation
mode while Raidne figures out how to fix it."
   Bethany nods and opens the door. When they step out of the closet,
much to their surprise they find themselves stepping into a large and
populated room. Bethany sees Maile, Pill, and Klutz before she spots
   "Bethany Two," says Kate after a hug. "You know, of all my best
friends named Bethany, I think now you're actually my favorite." [14]
   "Are you okay?" says Bethany. "Something about mirrors and dreams?"
   "I'll tell you later."
  That's when Bethany sees Melody; she's sitting on the floor, hugging
her knees and staring at her feet. She's about to say something when
she sees Derek.
   "Why is he sitting like that in the chair?" she asks.
   Kate swallows, hard. Then she whispers. "Anders used Melody, uh,
one of the Hotspurs with Melody's body. Phased inside of him. Bones.
Muscle. He's in a bad way, Beth."
   Bethany exhales sharply. For the briefest of moments, her eyes seem
to glow, shiny and white, but then they're brown again. Must've been a
trick of the light. [15]
   "I'm going to get him to a hospital," says Kate. "Melody, too.
David and Pill can help me. Can you and Maile finish this?"
   "Anders," says Bethany.
   Kate hands over the computer tablet. "Follow the blinking dot."
   Bethany nods, then turns to Maile. "Be ready in a minute."
   Bethany walks over to Derek. When he sees her, he looks surprised:
like he hadn't been aware that anyone else was in the room. He tries
to smile, but almost immediately he starts crying.
   "This isn't your fault," she lies. "Hey. Listen to me. This isn't
your fault."
   "I trusted him," he says. "I trusted. I trusted her."
   "Well," she says, "you've always had lousy taste in women."
   "Not always," he says.
   She kisses his forehead.

At Cal's behest, David hands her over to Kate.
   "Gotta stop meeting like this, sis," says Cal. "This end of the
world stuff is for the birds."
   "I'm glad you're okay," says Kate. "Hate to see what a one-inch
Hotspur would get up to." She remembers the last time Claire saw Cal.
"Hey, how'd you know it wasn't me? She had everyone else fooled." [16]
   Something flickers across Cal's tiny face, but she's so small that
Kate can't tell what it is. "Uh, just a hunch, I guess. Pocket,
   Kate slips her into her pocket.

It doesn't take long for Bethany and Maile to find their way. It's not
that the hallways have stopped warping around them: Bethany still
feels things moving just out of the corner of her eye, and her whole
body still feels vaguely grimy and out of sorts, the way it always is
when she's around magic. But Maile explains that the magic is working
for them now, that the corridors are shifting for them and against
their enemies; somehow, in breaking the Hotspur spell, Kate has
wrested control of the building from The Company. That doesn't make a
whole lot of sense to Bethany, but magic never does.
   The door to Anders's suite is locked, requires a keycard and a
retinal scan. Bethany is about to punch the door down when Maile pulls
out a thin key made out of bone. Clumsily, she slides it near the
keycard lock, and the door pops open.
   They find him sitting in his bathrobe, his hair still wet, enjoying
a glass of red wine. He stares at them for a moment, empties his
glass, and pours another.
   "So," he says, quietly. "It's over, then." He sips his wine.
"That's disappointing."
   "Disappointing?" Bethany grits her teeth.
   "Claire betrayed us," says Anders, more to himself than to any of
his visitors. "I never trusted her."
   Bethany is about to say something when Maile breaks in. "It wasn't
Claire. She's a good soldier for Venus. It was Kate."
   "Kate," says Anders, digesting it. "Kate and Bethany. Always Kate
and Bethany. Same as it was six years ago. Only, you didn't really
stop us six years ago, did you? You saved the world, but we still got
what we wanted in the end."
   "Breaking the Lullaby," says Bethany.
   "And you saved your friends tonight," he says. "Most of them,
anyway. And at long last you broke FEVER." He finishes his glass and
stands up, holding his hands above his head. "But. I still get what I
want in the end. The Daylighters are done. Once they find out I was
under your nose the entire time, once they find out it was your
super-network that turned you into my puppets? The world will never
trust you again. They'll shut you down."
   What he leaves unsaid is that this is exactly what the Pulse wants:
to neutralize a major force of opposition on Earth.
   "That only happens if we take you into custody," says Maile. "That
only happens if we give you the chance to tell your story."
   Anders grins, wild-eyed and rictus. "We both know that's an empty
threat. I'm an unarmed man, surrendering peacefully, with information
about the Pulse and The Company that you desperately need. You're
   "She's a superhero. I'm Maile Akaka."
   He knows that name. Terror flashes across his white face for one
second before a column of lightning crashes through the skylight.
   Bethany stares at the corpse, watching the black smoke curl up into
the air, then looks at Maile. There's no mercy in her, no regret. It's
like it doesn't bother her at all. Like killing is as natural as
   Maile sees Bethany staring at her, and her expression softens,
almost like she's embarrassed. There is silence for a moment, then
Maile begins speaking, slowly, making it up as she goes along.
   "So, it turns out Caracalla was a giant space worm. Yeah, a worm.
Working for the Pulse this whole time. The war really started back in
2008. And this worm, it's been feeding on, uh, psychic fear energy?
Gathering strength, until it could try to take all you superheroes
over. But you fought back, something, something, force of will, power
of friendship, he could never understand how strong you are together,
so on and so forth. The Medusa network was never compromised. The
Daylighters were never compromised." She takes a breath, and Bethany
can tell she's been putting off this next part. "Anders Cradle
heroically gave up his life to defeat the giant space worm."
   Bethany just stares at her.
   "It's what passes as plausible in your world, right?" says Maile.
"Triumph and sacrifice. Fear and terror defeated by love and bravery.
Redemption. The Daylighters will brush themselves off and keep doing
their thing. That's the kind of lie you need, right? Sounds like a
superhero story, doesn't it?"
   "Yeah," says Bethany, looking at the ashes. "A giant space worm."

     EPILOGUE [17]

Bethany meets Maile at the gate. "You had your meeting?"
   "Yesterday. Claire was a no-show."
   "Figured she would be. Kate said she slipped out of the mirror
almost as soon as she put her in it."
   "But I talked with her assistant. With what I turned over, plus
what went down a few days ago, they should have no problem forcing out
the Maddocks faction." Maile doesn't want to bore her with the
intricacies of Company politics, least of all because she barely
understands them herself. "Short version is that all ties between The
Company and the Pulse will be severed. The Company will leave the
Daylighters alone so long as the feeling is mutual."
   Bethany frowns. "I mean, it's not."
   "I get it," says Maile. "But right now, the necromancer is a more
immediate threat. I need The Company's help to take him down. So for
right now we need to maintain detente. Anyway, The Company's not a
problem you can solve by punching it."
   "I am pretty good at punching, though," counters Bethany. "But it's
your world, so we'll follow your lead."
   Maile nods. "And we'll follow yours, in yours."
   "Speaking of which." Bethany opens the door, letting Maile step inside first.
   "Swanky digs. Are all superheroes rich?"
   "No, just Fahrenheit Man," says Bethany. "He's letting us use the
place while he's recovering. Someone hit him a couple of times with a
hammer." She kicks off her shoes and Maile does the same.

It doesn't take long for the others to arrive. Maile knows Kate and
Cal (and Raidne) of course, and she sorta met Melody, but the white
guy with the broken wrists is new.
   "Strikeout," he says. "Dan." [18]
   "I'd shake your hand, but," she trails off, pointing at his casts.
   "Yeah," says Dan. "No high fives, either."
   "Alright, everybody," says Bethany. "Settle in."
   They all take their seats. A copy of Bethany's agenda is waiting
for each of them. (Cal has a doll's chair that sits on the table
itself, at a doll's table, where she has a miniature copy of the
   "Derek started the Daylighters six years ago," says Bethany.
"Anyone that wanted to sign up, could sign up. Gave us lots of
options, lots of solutions. We defused the World Bomb. Ended the
Infinite Satan. Stole back our sun from the Black Vault. Stopped the
Last Story. And we wouldn't have pulled it off if we were a normal
team with a normal roster.
   "But the whole thing was also built on trust. And we trusted too
many people; the thing became too big to control. We trusted the wrong
people. Derek started the Daylighters to beat FEVER. FEVER is gone,
but we didn't beat them. They beat us. Eight dead. Forty injured. And
that's just our people. Don't have numbers yet for the civilians.
   "Derek has stepped down. I'm assuming central control of the
Daylighters." She gives it a beat, then smiles. "As usual, he made a
huge mess and expected me to fix it."
   Maile looks confused. Kate stage whispers: "They used to date."
   "Derek's brand of ad-hoc 'who am I teaming up with today' squads
gave us a lot of flexibility, but it also left us vulnerable. Every
member needed to be on the same decentralized Medusa network, and
that's how FEVER grabbed almost every one of us. Even before we had
Medusa, we still required a huge communication infrastructure that was
always vulnerable to exploitation, and had some close calls.
   "I'm moving us toward something smaller and more segmented. Raidne
will be creating autonomous Medusa mini-networks, so that when someone
does try something, it's not going to hit us all at once. Each network
will be assigned to a squad, and these squads will have fixed,
balanced rosters with dedicated team captains. Our big guns won't be
assigned to a squad, but will float around as needed. So, for example,
Melody, Maile, you'll float around, whereas Dan and Cal will be team
   "Ha, right," says Cal with a snort-laugh. "Like you're going to put
me in charge of a squad."
   "Yes, I am," says Bethany. "Beyond that, I'm making you part of my
inner circle. You, and everyone else in this room."
   "I mean, that's nice, but let's be real. The only reason I'm in
this room is because Raidne lives in my suit."
   "I picked Raidne," agrees Bethany. "I also picked you. Everyone
here has worked with you, Cal. If you think Cal has earned a place at
this table, raise your hand."
   Melody's hand goes up quicker than the rest. "Last year, you could
have gone back home and got yourself enlarged. You chose to stay. To
save lives. I think that's the bravest thing I've ever seen." [19]
   Dan raises one of his broken wrists. "You figured Claire out before
any of the rest of us. You're a smart kid."
   "I think you're rad," says Maile. "You helped me and mine out when
you didn't even know who we were."
   "You know I think the world of you," says Raidne. "If I had a hand
to raise, I'd raise it."
   "Alright, geez," says Cal. "I get the picture."
   "Cal," says Kate. Cal turns around in her chair and looks up at
her. "I raised you since you were little. I mean, you're shorter now
than you were then, but you know what I mean. I wanted to do it right.
I had a goal, I guess, a version of you I was working toward, and I
spent so much time wanting you to be that that I didn't really pay
attention to who you were, to who you were becoming. And I look at you
now, and you know what? You're so much better than who I wanted you to
be. You're pretty much my favorite superhero. I've done a lot of cool
stuff. Saved the world a few times. But the thing I'm proudest of is
an inch tall and has the stupidest haircut I've ever seen."
   Cal wipes at her face with her sleeves. Then she says, "You didn't
raise your hand. It doesn't count."
   "You're still annoying," says Kate, raising her hand.
   "If we're done with the touchy-feely stuff," says Bethany. "Back to
the agenda. One of the blind spots we had in the past was dealing with
magic. We basically relied on one source for all of our mystical
information, and that source was not always accurate, and had her own
agenda. Kate, you're going to take the lead there, coordinating with
Maile and the circle as their time allows."

After the meeting, Bethany walks Maile to the gate.
   "So," says Maile, "we're going to have our hands full for a while
with this necromancer stuff, but if you need help, just tell Kate to
take a nap."
   "I mean, I can just give you my cell," says Bethany.
   "Yeah, that works too." Numbers are exchanged.
   "And if you need help with the necromancer," offers Bethany.
   "Maybe," says Maile. "Rules of engagement are a little different in
my world, though."
   "A lot different," admits Bethany. "There are lines I can't ask my
people to cross. Not unless it's a last resort."
   "I wish I didn't have to cross them," says Maile.
   "Maybe one day you won't have to," offers Bethany. "If you're ever
on my side of the line, there's a place for you."
   "Maybe," says Maile. She smirks. "You think I'd look good with a cape?"
   "A cape? No. But the mask, the suit? Maybe."
   "Maybe," says Maile. "Hey, until then, I've got plenty of time to
think of a codename."

Alone in her kitchen with a cup of tea, Kate suddenly feels the tiny
hairs on her neck bristle. With a wave of her hand, she levitates the
tea cup into her sink. (Still a little clumsy, but at least it didn't
break this time.)
   Something's in her bedroom. Or someone. She doesn't know how she
knows this, but she does. Standing in the hallway, a few feet from the
door, she gives the air a twist. The door unlocks itself and swings
   Claire is sitting on her bed, with a stack of books, of the old and
eldritch variety. "Thought you might need these."
   Cautiously, Kate steps into the room. "What are those for?"
   "For the thing you're working on," says Claire. She taps the side
of her head: we're still linked, you and I. "Don't tell me you're
still cross with me."
   "Cross?" repeats Kate, incredulous. "No, I wouldn't say that I'm
cross. Livid. Furious." Terrified. "We're well beyond cross."
   "You look well," says Claire. "I think magic rather suits you."
   "I don't suppose you're turning yourself in," says Kate.
   "No, I don't suppose I am."
   "And I won't be able to take you down if I tried."
   "Not yet, anyway," says Claire.
   "Derek's in a bad way."
   Claire gets up off the bed. "I don't want to talk about Derek."
   "Surgeries. Physical therapy. Mental therapy. Pain for the rest of his life."
   "If I pretend that I'm upset about it, will it make you feel better?"
   "Does it make you feel better, pretending you're not?"
   "You've been in my head. You tell me." Claire smiles. It looks
natural now instead of forced; a lot like Kate's own. "Are you keeping
the costume? The one I made for you?"
   "It's grown on me," admits Kate.
   "I'm pleased," says Claire. "Green's our color, I think."
   She reaches her hand toward Kate's face. Kate flinches. Claire
withdraws her hand, then reaches out again, placing her fingers firmly
against one cheek. Her hand is cold. Colder than it should be.
   "Can you tell me one thing?" says Kate. "Why me?"
   "I needed a quick study," says Claire. "There are people who spend
their whole lives trying to learn just half of what you did in two
years on the other side of the mirror. I needed someone who couldn't
be broken, who wouldn't give up until she found a way out. And I
needed someone good."
   "Opposite of me," says Claire. "Someone who won't make the kinds of
decisions I've had to make."
   "But you didn't have to make them," says Kate. "You never had to."
   Claire smiles at her like she's the biggest idiot in the world.
"We'll meet again. The summer solstice, if not earlier."
   "What happens at the solstice?" asks Kate.
   But she's asking the empty air.


Medusa created by Drew Nilium and Tom Russell.

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