tagSci-Fi & FantasyA Pale Court in Beauty and Decay

A Pale Court in Beauty and Decay

byDragonCobolt©

Author's Note: Everyone is eighteen! This is a sequel to my story for the Summer contest - and thus, is for the Halloween contest! Enjoy!

I ducked underneath Songbird's vocalization. It struck the wall behind me, which exploded outwards in a haze of shattered stone and bits of newmatter insulation. When I stood up again, I shook my head. "So, I was saying-"

"Is now the time?" Webby asked, his body entangled with the ceiling fan. He had been caught by a blast from Dr. Dissonance's cellular scrambler, and he was currently trying to not move any more than he had to, lest he squish some important internal organ against the fan blade stuck through his chest and out of his back.

I blocked Songbird's kick to my head. The impact sent me skidding backwards. My brow furrowed. "You're not supposed to be super-strong!"

"I've been practicing on my core!" she snarled, then snapped out another kick. This one caught me in the chest and sent me flying backwards into the gun rack that dominated the far end of the Walmart. I smashed into laser rifles and sonic disruptors and hit the ground with a groan.

She appears to have surrounded her body with a shell of focused sonic energy, Princess Radi said, her voice echoing in my head. We're working on a counter sonic device. I ducked underneath a punch that smashed through the wall and came up with an upper cut that sent Songbird flying into the ceiling next to Webby. Webby exclaimed.

"Dude!"

"Sorry!" I said. "Radi! Get the council of medicine to make a medical strut!"

Already done, glorious Archi- Radi's voice was drowned out by Dr. Dissonance's cellular scrambler scything through the air, leaving behind a stream of glowing disassociated particles. I ran to the side as the beam turned wall and shelves into burbling slag. Once the scrambler shut down, I leaped over the shelf I had ducked behind. My palm slapped Webby's body and the nanites that made up my palm surged along his body, constructing a scaffolding around him to keep him from accidentally squishing something vital while wound around the ceiling fan. When I landed, I caught Songbird's fist as she punched at my face.

I skidded backwards. "Radi!"

Done!

I slapped my palm against Songbird's chest. She squeaked -- then clapped her hands to her ears as the white noise generator that Radi and her council of technical gizmos that saved my butt turned on. The shimmer surrounding the silver shod sinister singer sizzled into silence. And with her sonic field down, I slammed my forehead into her head. She hit the ground and I panted.

"Sorry," I said.

Dr. Dissonance, though, had stepped back to the fire exit of the Walmart.

"You have a choice, Archive!" he said. "Catch me, or catch them!"

He turned and fired a beam of searing white light. It punched through the window and I heard something explode outside. I glared at Dr. Dissonance -- but he just let loose with one of his trade marked screechy laughs before turning and fleeing outside. I sprinted out of the front door and saw that his blast had curved upwards and struck the underbelly of skybus full of school children. It whirred as it flew around and around and around, the pilot trying to avoid clipping into any of the skyscrapers.

I flew upwards, matching the spin of the bus, then grabbed home. I started to fire off gravitic thrust in the opposite direction -- my teeth gritted against the strain. It wasn't actually hard to lift the skybus. Hell, I could lift something on the order of several quintillion tons. I had pushed planets out of orbit. Small planets, I hasten to add. But the difficulty came when you wanted to stop momentum and movement while dealing with lightweight composites and areogel and a bunch of squishy grade students.

Stop the bus instantly, and the bus would prolly just spin into a billion pieces. Even if it survived, it would not impress Director Janus if I splattered a bunch of kids. So, when I finally did slow the bus down, I had given Dr. Dissonance a huge freaking head start. I flew down and set the bus on the ground gently. The driver -- a terrified looking Martian -- beamed at me, her antennas flicking up and glowing brightly. The kids all started cheering.

"Archive! Archive! Archive!"

Radi, do we have access to the city's security grid? I asked mentally as I waved at the kids, then started jogging backwards.

No, glorious Archive, she said, sounding apologetic. The council of ethics decided it was unethical.



"Since when!?" I exclaimed out louder.

There was a spirited debate about the overreach of surveillance, the importance of personal privacy, the intersection of safety and liberty and- Radi said, her voice cut off by Webby groaning and hanging his head backwards so he could look right at me.

"Dr. Dissonance got away," I said, reaching up and putting my palms on him. Actually fixing the cellular damage was going to take my allies a while. But since the job of the millions of digitized aliens who had chosen to turn my body into Archive was to do the hard stuff that I, Xander Logan, couldn't hope to do, I figured that giving them this hard job was just logical. Webby, though, grinned weakly at me.

"Nu-huh," he said, then shifted his wrist. A small, hidden pocket on his black and blue uniform dropped down a sleek black handheld, which I caught. My brow furrowed as I tapped it on.

It showed a map of Century City -- with a bright blipping red marker on it.

"You tagged him?" I asked.

"Us street level heroes have our uses," Webby said, then coughed. "Ow. Leave me for the medtechs. Get that goggle wearing dou...astardly villain." I looked back and saw a bunch of civilians had come to admire the area of the fight and a bunch of them were young kids from the bus. I waved at them.

###

"I'll get you for this, Archive!" Dr. Dissonance snarled as I dragged him through the corridors of the Anchorage Thunderdome Dimensional Prison. Songbird kicked at my ankle and tried to bite my wrist, but the placement of my hand on the back of her neck and the position of teeth on a human being -- even on a human being supernaturally blessed by the the Crawling Chaos to bring madness and death with the sound of her voice -- made that a losing prospect.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," I said, rolling my eyes as I walked to the two cells that had been earmarked for them. I tossed them in gently and then paused as I noticed one of the cells next to theirs. "Hey Jokestar."

The Jokestar glared at me over his muzzle of silvery fur. The dog harlequin prince of crime was tossing a bunch of cards from his Sirius style poker deck into a hat that he had placed in the center of his cell.

"I thought you were supposed to be the funny one," I said, shaking my head as I turned and headed for the exit. I paused for a few moments. The temptation to turn and head back towards the maximum security part of the Thunderdome was intense. I closed my eyes, breathed in, breathed out, then resumed walking. Once I arrived in main lobby of the Thunderdome, I saw the warden waiting for me. Anubis Rikon Martin the Third was his normal unsmiling self, his Project Aegis uniform as straight laced and spotless as ever. His hands clasped behind his back as he glanced me over with a cold pair of silver-grey eyes.

"What?" I asked.

"Your supervillain girlfriend tried to escape again," Warden Martin said. I got excited, then got disapointed when I noticed that word. Tried.

"For the last time!" I said. "She's not a supervillain!"

"She destroyed a small country," Warden Martin said, his voice droll. "With an orbiting death ray."

"Temporal displacement ray. No one died, come on!" I said, shaking my head. "And that was taken out of context-"

"She encoded a hypnotic signal into the country's news networks that has caused most of middle America to respond to her name by going into a suggestible hypnotic fugue."

We came to the front door. The doorway opened into the snow that flurried down from a flint gray sky. I coughed and rubbed my hands together, turning to face the Warden. The truth about Maddie -- aka Madeline Deinhardt, aka Ozymandias, aka the most intelligent woman on the planet, aka the youngest President in American history, aka the first female President in American history -- was complicated and fraught with moral gray areas and squishy facts that were hard to impress on other people. Partially because 'but she's just the best kisser ever' and 'she's actually really nice once you get to know her' aren't widely accepted by hard nosed people like Warden Martin.

So, instead, I said: "I need to report in to PAHQ."

"Of course, Archive," Warden Martin said.

I shot into the air, leaving behind a quiet roar as I broke the sound barrier once I was a safe distance away from the city. The clouds rippled below me and then faded into a broad sweep of emptiness.

I believe in Madeline! Princess Radi said, her voice chipper as ever. Though, um, she did also take control of you that one time using a magical spell. But you and her sexual compatibility is amazingly high! Why, you and her fit together like two well lubricated Snivgion Land Wo-



I closed my eyes. "Radi, please...stop..." I said just at the moment that vacuum surrounded me and I entered low Earth orbit. There, I hovered for a moment, my cape spreading out behind me like a bright red waterfall. I simply felt the cool emptiness of space and reveled in the view that made me glad that a random chunk of alien technology had smashed into my chest and turned me into Archive a year before. I was getting close to the mid point of my second year of being Archive -- and I hadn't gotten tired of this view. The Earth was a blue mass below me -- blue and gray and green. Hanging overhead was a large swath of moon rocks -- some were about five miles wide, others bigger. The smaller bits had been corralled to keep them from hitting the atmosphere and fused.

The biggest chunk was cresting the horizon -- several hundred miles wide and containing the massive base that was the headquarters of Project Aegis.

I focused and shot straight towards it.

This is an inefficient orbital route, Radi said. The council of orbital mechanics has already done the...well, here! Here!



I grinned, shook my head, and started to accelerate along a different route.

###

"Heyyyyyyy Xander, hows it hanging?" Connie Cosmic asked as I walked into the meeting room for the Cosmic heroes. She was lounging back on her cosmo rider and had her Cosmic Baton in one hand and spun it around and around in a lazy series of circles.

"You know," I said, grinning. "Low. Lazy." I paused. "So, um, what's this all about? Or is this one of this super obvious things I should have already learned by now?"

Connie bit her lip. She was about twenty years my veteran and one of the few heroes who had survived the Darkthornn Invasion. This made her several kinds of badass, and really good at a huge range of skills. She had fought armies, led armies, battled gods. And yet, somehow, she was still terrible at lying to her friends. I frowned and crossed my arms over my chest.

"Be honest," I said.

Someone walked into my back -- saving Connie from having to say anything. I staggered, then turned back and saw that Dr. Quantum had walked into me. His nose was in a book. I bit down the question that sprang to mind (specifically how could someone who could colocate and turn oxygen into gold with his mind could get absorbed by a book) and instead stepped aside. Connie grinned and started to count off on her fingers. She got to seven before Dr. Quantum stopped and turned.

"Connie!" he gasped, as if he hadn't expected her to come to the meeting that literally all of us were supposed to come to.

"Lancy!" she said, then shimmied up his tall, mostly blue form and started to make out with him. Very loudly. I gagged. It was like watching my parents make out.

They're so romantic! Princess Radi said.

"Don't encourage them," I muttered. Connie broke the kiss, grinning at me. Then, looking somewhat apologetic, she coughed.

"Sorry, Xander," she said.

"Hey, it's cool," I said, nodding and taking a seat. It may sound weird, but the room for Cosmic level heroes to meet in PAHQ was actually a state secret. You had to go through several dozen security procedures just to get close. The reason why was simple. There were so many Street heroes -- like my friend Webby -- that they had to meet at local chapter houses in centralized places for this kind of organizational meeting. City level heroes were rarer. They could meet in one of four several hundred person conference halls that were threaded through PAHQ. Planetary Heroes met in two large rooms that had those big conference tables that could hold about fifty people each.

There was a single circular table for Cosmics. Officially, there should have been three chairs for Dr. Quantum, Connie and me.

Instead, there were six.

"Think those two will show up?" I asked as I sat down on one of the seats, drumming my fingertips, looking at the two seats across from me that were almost perpetually empty.

Connie and Dr. Quantum looked at one another.

"You don't know?" Dr. Quantum asked. "Eric always comes to these meetings."

And, like the devil's name being spoken, Eric Stojanovic -- aka Plasmaster - walked in. He was escorted, but he wasn't in chains, because the last time I checked, Plasmaster was still at large. He was dressed in his crisp red uniform, with gold trim around the wrists. He went sans mask, because he didn't have a secret identity. He thought it was beneath him, I'm sure. The two men standing next to him were the burliest looking security guards the Project had, but they were basically there for everyone else's psychological comfort. Not to actually do anything in case Plasmaster decided to go Mordred on us.

"Stojanovic," I said, my voice flat as I crossed my arms over my chest.

"Eric," Dr. Quantum said, taking his hand. "Don't suppose you've reconsidered your metahuman supremacist viewpoint?"

"It's not exactly a viewpoint that can be debated, Lance," Eric said, his voice calm. "The superiority of metahumans is a verifiable scientific fact."

"Sure it can!" I said. "Viewpoints can always be debated. Plus, it's not like your opinion is that hawaain pizza is acceptable, which it's not. You're like, a...racist. Racism isn't an acceptable opinion!"

"Who is this?" Eric asked, looking at Lance.

"This is my good comrade in arms and fellow hero, Xander Logan, from the city of Sunnythree, California. Aka Archive," Dr. Quantum said. Then he blinked. "Oh, ah, um, that is-"

I put my hand over my face. "Dr. Quantum!"

"Don't worry, I don't go after the families of my ideological opponents," Eric said, walking past me. He sat down in the chair that had been set aside for him. "If I was that cruel, I wouldn't be here in the first place."

As he took his seat, I hurried to my chair to better glare at him. Dr. Quantum and Connie took theirs. A few moments later, the next Cosmic level hero we had been expecting arrived on rollerstakes. And unlike Eric, she was actually a hero and not a megalomaniac would be dictator whose followers were a constant thorn in our sides. I grinned and waved.

"Heya Disco!" I said.

"Sup X-diggty!" she said, skating backwards into the room, then spinning around. "I brought donuts!" She tossed down a package of cardboard and plastic. It hit the center of the table and flipped open of its own accord, revealing a series of black and orange donuts. I beamed.

"They're in theme!" I said. "Sweet!"

Eric spread his palms and levitated a donuts towards himself.

"Showoff," I muttered.

Eric chuckled. "I control a fundamental force of the cosmos, and you expect me to just reach for a donut?" he asked, arching a flint gray eyebrow.

"Dr. Quantum does!" I said, pointing as Disco took her seat and grabbed two donuts. Dr. Quantum, as a matter of fact, was dog earing his book, which had gotten him a dirty looking from Connie, who had started life as a school teacher before she had been chosen by the Cosmic Font to protect it from all evildoers. Once he had created a bookmark out of thin air, he reached out and grabbed a donut.

Eric shrugged one shoulder.

Disco jammed a donuts into her mouth and started chewing happily. At that moment, Director Janus walked into the room. The leader of Project Aegis had a very evil sounding name and looked like someone who, if he had been cast on a TV show, would have betrayed us by the end of season one. But since he had been leading the Project since 1989, I didn't think he was the betraying type. He had a tablet computer tucked under one arm and looked quite grim as he walked past the table to the end of the conference room. A screen lit up as the door shut behind him with a click.

"Aww, she's not coming?" I asked, looking at the empty seat next to Eric.

"No," Director Janus said. "CF-9081 is not coming."

Cosmic level heroism (or villainy...I'm thinking of you, Eric) required a level of power a category above 'Planetary' level heroes. Connie had the technically infinite power Cosmic. Dr. Quantum, ever since his accidental stay in a nucleosynthesis chamber, could manipulate matter on a subatomic level with his brain. Disco -- who most people thought was just a street level roller skater -- had the unique ability to spontaneously generate antimatter at will.

She was why we were on a Moon chunk base, not just a Moon base. Though the idea of there being a Moon was freaking weird. I didn't have any memory of a Moon in the sky. It was just something my parents talked about.

Eric was a born mutant with powers over electromagnetism. Which sounded like he should just manipulate metal. But, um, then Connie had pointed out to me that electromagnetism handled how atomic doobobbers did their thing, so he could actually do way more than just fling plasma around (which is what he usually did.) That was why he could levitate his donut over, despite donuts being famous for being nonferrous.

CF-9081 was even weirder.

She was lucky.

She was so lucky that we didn't even have a picture of her. The only time the Project had gotten a snapshot, that snapshot had been a blurry image of someone at the end of the corridor...and then the computers that had stored the file had failed due to a series of increasingly improbable circumstances including a bowling ball, a very excitable spider, a sleepy intern, and the accidental summoning of Mephistopheles. Needless to say, the Project had set aside a chair for her in case she showed up and just hoped that her luck power would keep Earth intact.

After all, if Earth exploded, she'd die.

Right?

"Since we're all here," Director Janus said. "Let us begin."

"Want a donut?" Disco asked, quickly.

"No," Janus said.

Disco grabbed two more donuts and munched on them as Janus turned on the screen. It showed a flat projection of Earth from pole to pole. He gestured to the screen.

"Halloween," he said. "Is three days away. Our auguries state that it's going to be an exceptionally bad one this year."

We all nodded. I mostly nodded to fit in. I was still not super sure what this meeting was for.

"The seal has been remade in all the six sacrificial locations -- the Elder Gods seem to continue to be satisfied by Thomas Merlots clones," he said, refraining from using the popular name of the self replicating porn star. "But that still leaves us with the Great Working of 1989. Anyone need a refresher?"

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