Last year, I attempted to write a novel about Jason Waterfalls, whom I envisioned as sort of a spy character in a wacky world, attempting to track down Santa Claus. I didn’t get very far, and sadly did not complete the novel and win NaNoWriMo. This year, I’m going to try again, only this time instead of a spy, Jason Waterfalls is going to be a heroic knight in proverbial shining armor. This time it’ll work! I’m sure of it!
Now, one difference this year is that I am no longer in law school; now, I am gainfully employed. Thus, alas, I will not be able to keep up my current schedule of posting stories based on the prompts of Yeah Write, and Grammar Ghoul., and the Catrina Chronicles, while simultaneously working on NaNoWriMo. Three story arcs and a novel is a bit too much for me. Fortunately, I think I have left all my characters at good points. Oswald Stamper has just met up with Constance the Angel and Sarah May Raxenpaxerflirk, in their combined search for the Orb of the Whangdoodle. Gaseous Girl has just died and become a ghost, as she attempts to solve the mystery of the disappearance from the space-time continuum of the starlet Pamela Percy. Catrina has landed in Bethlehem just in time for Christmas, as she tries to stop Susan from shooting at the Swirling Void of Imaginary Time. So now everyone’s present and accounted for (except for Gaseous Girl, as she’s currently joined the choir invisible), I will return to their stories in December. Meanwhile, on with NaNoWriMo!
It wasn’t every day that a moon exploded. The various sentient beings of Verin Prime bustled out of their shops and houses to stare at the debris field littering the sky. Happily, the moon was small and dingy enough that hardly anyone lived on it. The government announced that there had been only one casualty, a missing person. The hologram reporter intoned her name solemnly: “Sarah May Raxenpaxerflirk, currently employed at the Lady Amber. Any information as to her whereabouts is appreciated.”
“Like heck,” Constance said, leaning against a tree. She and Sarah May had landed in a small forest in a lightly populated part of Verin Prime’s main continent. A nearby rest area had a functioning television screen. Constance had watched the news report with some interest.
“I didn’t think angels were supposed to say heck,” Sarah May ventured timidly, still shaking from the fright of the blast. It wasn’t every day that one’s tiny moon was destroyed.
“Eh, you get dispensations for using language at appropriate moments,” Constance replied. “Anyway, we’ll deal with that later. Right now, we’ve got an Orb to find.” Constance paused. She hadn’t been in the treasure-hunting business in years. She didn’t have a single clue as to the Orb’s location. All she had was a terrified squidling waitress. “What we need,” she mused, “is someone who’s already on the track. Someone who’s got Orb-hunting experience. And I know just the person. Right, then, let’s fly!”
“But…” Sarah May whispered, “I don’t want to find the Orb.” Constance never heard her.
Oswald Stamper had gone back to his shuttlecraft to review the data chip he had obtained from the Verin Prime library, hoping that the chip would contain the location of the mysterious Charlotte’s Moon. He also hoped that the said moon wasn’t the one that had just exploded. He had only just inserted the chip into an upload port on his shuttlecraft’s console when he heard a sudden bump behind him. He spun around in his chair. The shuttlecraft was empty. Mr. Stamper was not an otter to take fright at strange noises. Neither ghosties nor ghoulies nor long-legged beasties, nor even things that go bump in the night, ever troubled him. Still, though, he did slide a casual paw towards the blaster at his belt.
Suddenly the shuttlecraft cabin lit with a golden glow. Constance, the trembling Sarah May at her side, had just revealed herself. “Hi there!” Constance said, and then transitioned into traditional angelic formality. “Blessed are you among otters-“
Mr. Stamper, not being a terribly religious otter, reacted as anyone might to the sudden appearance of a glowing stranger in his shuttle: he swiftly drew his blaster and fired. The bolt scorched Constance’s left wing. “Ow!” she yelped angrily. “You can’t fire blasters at an angel! What’s wrong with you? Honestly, what the….” She paused, searching for an angel-appropriate expression that would express her feelings. “Oh, never mind. But seriously. Don’t do that.”
For previous stories in this arc, go here. Thanks for reading!
“When a superhero dies, whether in combat or rescue, the authorities are presented with a dilemma. Traditionally, the next of kin would be notified as soon as possible. This would seem all the more important in the social media age, when video of the death event could flash across Twitter or rack up YouTube views almost before the body grows cold. However, a specific and irreversible death event for superheroes is no longer assured. Extremely slow heartbeats, healing trances, mind-to-clone transfers, time reversals: all of these mean that a person could die one day and be perfectly healthy the next. Due to the potentially traumatic complications that could arise, it is recommended that a uniform death-notification policy be established to account for potential resurrection variables. Such a policy could include delayed notifications until it appears certain that no resurrection is imminent or possible.” -Excerpt from proposed amendment to Manual of Superhero Policy, Government Publication 947-A5.
Maria Smith didn’t see the notification people coming. She had just died herself. Bullet in the head, quick, relatively painless. Resurrection in seventeen seconds. She didn’t get much press, not being one of the big-leaguers, so the burglar who had shot her on the way out of the jewelry store was terrified out of his mind when he glanced back and saw his victim getting calmly to her feet. Frantically, he shot her again. Maria grabbed hold of a glass table to stop herself from hitting the floor this time. She blinked, died, and then seventeen seconds after, breathed again. “You wanna keep doing this?” she asked. “I’ve got all day.”
“You…” gasped the burglar. “You can’t…” He shot her for a third time, practically point-blank.
“Okay, now that is pushing it,” Maria said, seventeen seconds later, as the hole between her eyes stitched together. “When I said I’ve got all day, I really don’t. Drop the gun. Now.”
He dropped it, shaking in terror. Maria relieved him of the loot and smoothly cuffed him to a nearby lamp-post. “You just sit there and think on your sins, okay?” she lectured him. She turned, intending to return the stolen goods to the shop owner. Then she saw the grave faces of a military officer and a chaplain approaching her. “Look,” Maria said, “I appreciate the thought, but I’m not still dead. I’m sure someone probably saw me get shot and reported in, but honestly, it only lasts seventeen seconds. I am fine, really.”
“Ma’am,” said the officer quietly, “This is about your daughter, Madeleine.”
Maria went cold. “What about my daughter Madeleine?”
“I’m so sorry. She was killed two days ago.”
The words seemed void to Maria, so many meaningless syllables. She couldn’t comprehend them. She died twenty times a day. She had almost forgotten what death meant. Riley was so durable he was practically immortal anyway. They had gotten into the way of thinking their daughter would be immortal too. She was a flying brick, but now… it seemed that wasn’t quite enough.
“How?” Maria forced out.
“She went in against the Shrieking Tree Demon. Natalie James was on the way as backup, but your daughter attacked before Natalie arrived. The monster was too strong for her.”
“I see,” Maria said. “And… where is my daughter now?”
This was the hard part for the officer. “Ma’am, I….I’m afraid we couldn’t recover her. She was blasted right out into space. We tried to track her by satellite but… we lost her. She never came back to Earth.”
Maria looked at the sky. Her daughter was out there, floating in the stars. It wasn’t the comforting thought she hoped it might be.
Her phone chirped. She fumbled for it, her eyes suddenly burning with tears. “Riley?”
“Maria. You know?”
That was all they said for a long time. Their daughter wasn’t a telepath, or a regenerator. She wasn’t coming back. Ever.
Somewhere in the dark, Madeleine blinked. “Hm. I’m still alive. I wonder how-“
The sun blazed at her eyes. She raised her hand to block the light. Her hand was transparent. “Oh…crap,” said Madeleine. “I’m a ghost. I’m a stupid ghost.“
Last time, in the Catrina Chronicles, our heroine had traveled back to April 19th, 1775, just in time to witness the first battles of the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, her arch-nemesis Susan went with her, and wound up firing the shot heard round the world. Catrina, not wanting to be shot at by British soldiers, unleashed the full power of Mlrning (the Shovel of Thor!)….
Catrina didn’t know that she was interfering in a critical military engagement that would lead eventually to the creation of the United States of America. She had no idea that she was endangering important American historical contributions like the Declaration of Independence, the moon landing of 1969, the Gettysburg Address, or the World’s Largest Twine Ball Rolled by One Man. What she knew was that a bunch of men in red uniforms was shooting at her. She didn’t take kindly to that. Thus, she called down all the fearsome power of Mlrning that she could muster. A veritable snowstorm descended upon the green April field.
The British soldiers scattered in terror, dropping muskets and powder in their haste, some of them not stopping until they were safely within the fortifications of Boston. The Americans scattered too, since Catrina’s ice-blasts didn’t seem too particular about distinguishing between friend and foe. Within seconds, Catrina stood victorious on the field of battle.
She had forgotten Susan, however. Also, she had turned her back on Susan, which is a very dangerous thing to do to your future arch-nemesis, especially when said arch-nemesis has a pistol with bullets left in it. Susan had been disoriented by the smoke of the muskets and then the snownado unleashed by Catrina, not to mention the residual effects of tumbling through a time rift. Now, however, as if parted by Moses, the smoke and the snow cleared, and she found herself staring right at Catrina’s unprotected back. Susan raised the pistol of Gavrilo Princip and took careful aim.
Just then, a miniature version of herself flashed into existence over her shoulder, sporting a tiny golden halo. “Stop!” it squeaked at her. “Shooting Catrina would be wrong!”
“Why?” Susan demanded. “She’s responsible, isn’t she? It’s her fault! She started the space-time rift, she made me find out that I’m only a fictional character!”
“Good points,” said a new voice, more gravelly, coming from a tiny devil version of Susan that had just puffed into being on her other shoulder. “You should totally kill her. Right in the back. Bang. So much fun.”
“No!” cried Susan’s shoulder angel. “That’s not the way! If you’re absolutely going to kill her, you should call her attention to the fact, first! Challenge her in an honorable duel!”
“Dead’s still dead, honey,” snapped the shoulder devil. “Either way you’ve got Susan murdering Catrina, only my way means she’s definitely going to win. Your way, she’s got a good chance of getting killed herself.”
The shoulder angel realized it had made an error. It shouldn’t have conceded that Susan killing Catrina was an ethical possibility. Now they were arguing about circumstances and tactics, not absolute principles. The shoulder angel squeaked in horror, and then, its ethicality compromised, winked out of existence. The shoulder devil smirked. “Heh. I win.”
“Great!” Susan said. “So I can shoot her now?”
“Absolutely,” said the shoulder devil. “Now you can shoot her and you’ll still be alive afterwards. Life is good, yeah?” Then it paused. It, too, had just made an error. As the representative of evil, it had just admitted that being alive was a good thing, that survival was a virtue. “Ah, crap,” it said, before vanishing itself.
Now Susan wasn’t sure what to do. Catrina wasn’t going to stand there obligingly presenting a target forever. Should she still fire? Why? “Why not?” Susan shrugged, laughing a little crazily, and pulled the trigger.
It was at that precise moment that the space-time rift opened up once more between Susan and Catrina. The fourth bullet from Susan’s pistol hit it, and there was yet another blinding flash. “Oh, come on!” Susan shrieked. “This again?” Then she and Catrina disappeared into the Swirling Vortex of Imaginary Time.
Catrina hadn’t seen it coming. One minute she’d been standing victorious on the battlefield; the next she heard a bang, and then she was hurtling through a time vortex. All at once she found herself standing in snow. “Oh dear. Are we right back where we started?” She blinked, and looked around. She was on a field, just as before, only now she was on a hillside looking down over a small town. Sheep milled aimlessly about her. Above her, the night sky stretched resplendent with stars. “So it’s night,” she said. “And I’m watching sheep. I wonder….”
Then, above the town, a new star suddenly flared into light, brilliant and shining, its rays spreading over the little town. “A star!” Catrina cried, somewhat obviously. “A star, shining in the night…. ” All at once, she recognized the words she was saying. Her eyes lit with a joy she hadn’t felt since she was small. “It’s Christmas!”
The Orb is buried underneath the old tree, in the shadow of Charlotte’s Moon. That was the only clue Mr. Stamper had to the location of the Orb of the Whangdoodle, given him by a maddeningly non-specific gas cloud. It wasn’t much. The galaxy these days was thick with inhabited moons. So he did what anyone would do if they wanted to find the location of a small moon: he went to the library.
The Library of Verin Prime was the most brightly lit building on the entire planet. The designers had given due consideration to concerns like books, reading desks, and computer terminals, but their main idea had been to light the thing up like a Christmas tree. Everyone had heard stories about invisible monsters that lived in the shadows of libraries like air piranhas, and the librarians of Verin Prime were having none of that. There was not a single dark corner in the building. There were lamp-posts, glow-bulbs, skylights, roaring fireplaces: anything and everything that could possibly produce illumination had been provided. Sometimes you had difficulty doing any actual reading, with lights blazing everywhere, but at least you knew you wouldn’t be eaten by monsters hiding in the dark.
Blinking against the glare, Mr. Stamper approached the circulation desk. An alien that looked like a green elephant trumpeted a noise like “fithp” at him. “Charlotte’s Moon,” Mr. Stamper said.
“I need to know its location. I don’t have coordinates. Could you look it up, please? It’s quite important.”
“Fithp,” grumbled the alien elephant librarian as it fumbled at its computer terminal. It fired off a second syllable at him.
“I apologize, I don’t know the name of the primary planet. All I have is the name “Charlotte’s Moon.”
“Fithpifith!” exclaimed the librarian. It left its terminal and trundled off unhappily into the stacks. Some time passed, while Mr. Stamper waited at the circulation desk. He might have gone to look for it himself, but he didn’t think that was proper, now that the librarian was engaged in the search. Presently it returned with a plastic data chip. “Fithp,” it said, with pardonable satisfaction.
“Thanks,” said Mr. Stamper, and he left the library.
Moments later, a shadow fell across the circulation desk. “Fithp?” inquired the librarian, without looking up. When no response came, it did look up. “Fiithp!” it squeaked in terror.
“Charlotte’s Moon,” said a grim voice. “Now.”
The librarian scurried back to the stacks, resolving on the way that this job was really getting much too stressful. It returned with a second data chip, which it had copied. As it started to hand the chip over to the patron, a flash, brighter even than the shining library itself, lit the sky outside. The moon of Verin Prime had just exploded. The librarian dived for cover under its desk. When it emerged, the mysterious patron had gone. So had the chip. The librarian decided that it was definitely time to retire.
For previous stories in this arc, go here.
This is what it’s like to be Gaseous Girl, right now.
You’re a flying brick. You can also breath fire.
That should be impressive.
You survived a car thrown at your head. It was a tiny little green smartcar but it still counts. You walked away. The car? Scrap.
That should be impressive.
You can fly, so traffic jams mean nothing for you. You can wave at planes from the outside. You’re Peter Pan in a cape.
That should be impressive.
No one takes you seriously.
Everyone’s a comedian, and everyone’s riffing off the same thing. Gas jokes. Always.
The Walking Whoopie Cushion, they call you. Super Stinker. She Who Dealt It.
You explain that your power isn’t just limited to gastric emissions, that it means you could, if you wanted, manipulate one of the four fundamental states of matter. You’re a walking chemical weapon, you could explain.
They never get it.
What really harrows your soul is that the villains don’t respect you.
Not Thunderdomestic. Not the Malevolent Med-Student. Not Titanium Walrus. Not even Crudmuffin, and that hurts. The man makes exploding baked goods, but he doesn’t respect you. That. Hurts.
So you’ve got something to prove. You will make them take you seriously.
You take risks you shouldn’t, push yourself too far, because even too far isn’t quite enough yet.
And so, when you could go to a quiet cemetery to track down an elderly ghost who may know about the missing person case you’re on…you put that off.
Instead, you respond to an emergency call to attack the Shrieking Tree Demon.
It’s taken down better heroes then you. You’re a flying brick, but you’re not invulnerable. Some things still hurt.
Natalie is invulnerable, and she’s on the way. You could wait for her.
But really, you can’t.
Because Natalie gets respect. Gaseous Girl doesn’t.
So you throw yourself at the Shrieking Tree Demon, breathing fire. It smacks you away into the stratosphere like a Ping-Pong ball.
Still, you think, finally, as ice forms over your boots, as you pass out from lack of air, maybe they’ll respect you.
Sarah May Raxenpaxerflirk was deeply distressed. She had dealt with the occasional irate customer at the Lady Amber, and she had a vague idea that she might have to deal with upset people in her chosen career in medicine. But she had never anticipated robots with laser cannons. Her tentacles were still shaking.
“There, there,” Constance said absently, looking over the scorched metal remains of the robot. “You’ll be fine. Have some tea.”
“Fine?” Sarah May said. “FINE? I nearly got killed by a robot! In my living room!” She said this as if it would’ve been less distressing to be killed by a robot outside of her living room.
“First time, is it? You’ll live.”
“First… time….” Sarah May contemplated, horror-stricken, the prospect that this might happen again. “I think,” she said weakly, “I need to lie down.”
“Good idea,” Constance said briskly. She whisked into movement, bundling Sarah May off to her sleeping pod, and then whipping up some tea in the kitchen with angelic speed. Soon the squidling waitress had drifted off into happy unconsciousness, and Constance could think.
She had to give the robot points; it looked like a legitimate lunar constable. From its badge to the regulation color-coded marks on its metal arms, she could well understand why Sarah May had been deceived. But Constance knew it was wrong. The robot policemen, on this moon anyway, had never been issued with plasma arm cannons. Furthermore, each one had been installed with an Ethicator Circuit that prevented it from doing things like using excessive force, or violating warrant procedures. Constance checked quickly, behind the robot’s left optical sensor. The Ethicator Circuit wasn’t there. She couldn’t tell whether it had been removed, or never installed at all. “So…” she summarized to herself, “someone out there wants the Orb of the Whangdoodle so much that they sent a fake robot policeman after a random waitress, just because she overheard someone else talking about it. That’s not good.”
She didn’t realize what she had done. Constance didn’t give a fig for rules such as not saying the names of things evil or otherwise. She had gleefully named all sorts of unspeakable horrors, and then knocked them clean into last Wednesday with her exploding halo. So she didn’t think this would be any different. “Right,” she said, and her eyes lit with happiness. “There’s only one thing to do. Someone’s trying to find the Orb of the Whangdoodle? Okay. I’ve got to find it first!”
At that moment something kra-KOOMED in the distance. A siren howled a frantic warning. “Huh,” Constance said. “There must be an air raid. Funny, I didn’t think this moon was in a battle zone-“
A sheet of white flashed past the window, The floor shook violently beneath Constance’s boots. “Okay, closing time, last call!” She seized Sarah May by the tentacle, startling her awake, and then spread her wings. They escaped, but only just. As Constance soared skyward, Sarah May’s little moon disintegrated below.