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=============== Editor, Tom Russell ================


"Four Minutes", by Tom Russell
A curious challenge that only Darkhorse could meet, including a scenic if necessarily abbreviated tour of her hometown. Riddles: clues and answers are provided, but we leave it to the reader to get from one to the other.

"Beyond the Fields" Part 4, by Saxon Brenton
In which a story (within a story) begins. The terror that came to Edmonstown. Concerning a strain of neo-Nazism that is quite atypical but perhaps more dangerous and insidious. With helpful hints directed to the Host regarding the infiltration and investigation of humans, racists or otherwise.

"Seven 'Gainst Thebes" Part 3, by Tom Russell
The game of euchre, its adherents, and Silke's indifference to it. A barmaid who gets prettier, but also more dangerous. A stranger, the death of his brother, and the avenging thereof. In the West, people are seldom as they appear.

"Wide Awakening", by Andrew Perron
A story of mad science, illustrating both the iterative nature of the endeavor, and the financial perils involved. On the thin and fuzzy line that separates one thing from another. Pressure gives way to desperation.

"Reign of the Cyborgs", by Tom Russell
A maniacal mechanical menace terrorizes Tokyo. The twin sisters Sweet, the most dangerous eye, the curious properties of dinonium, and a million-to-one shot. Also, a ghost.

================== "Four Minutes" =================
=========== copyright 2014 Tom Russell ============

Melody Mapp's wristwatch gives her super-speed. It's also keeping her alive. She doesn't have much time left, but she's going to spend every second on the run as the third, final— and greatest— DARKHORSE.

   "You think you've beaten me? Four bombs, four minutes! Every minute, a bomb goes off. Find it in time, you get the clue for the next. Miss a single one, the clue goes up in the explosion, and Atlanta is burning all over again!"

   She turns him into the police and disarms the first bomb with only nine seconds left. Beside it is a program: OEDIPUS REX.

Matinee performance of the play.
   Moving at nearly imperceptible speeds so as not to disturb the performance, she searches in vain for the bomb. Maybe she misread the clue? That's the problem with riddles. ...Of course!

Atlanta Civic Center, the set for the quiz show Riddle of the Sphinx.
   She finds the second bomb beneath the host's podium and disarms it with only seconds to spare. Quickly she shuffles through the host's neatly-typed riddle cards, until she finds a card without an answer: RIDDLES IN THE DARK.

Centennial Olympic Park.
   She finds the third bomb near the Fountain of the Rings. For once, the seconds remaining are in double digits. Now to decipher the clue. The bomb has a name and a date engraved on it. Google comes up empty. Not a literary reference. But why engrave it? The other clues weren't on the actual bomb.

   Neither is this one! She pulls up the brick locator on the park's website and types in the engraving. Bingo, it's from one of the pavers used to pay for the park back in ninety-six. She goes to the brick, only to find it replaced with a new brick, with a new engraving: NEAREST SWORDFISH.

Across the street from the park: the Georgia Aquarium.
   Darkhorse is terrified that she's made another boner. Snappers, rays, groupers, a palometa, a dozen varieties of jack, and two flavors of wobbegong, but nothing that looks remotely like a bomb. But maybe that's the problem, she's looking.

   She's disarmed three of them already, and they all had the same queer vibrational frequency. Probably this one has the same. She twitches her fingers to create a counter-frequency, and zeroes in on the bomb, in the shark pool. Great. No, wait, it gets better-- the bomb is in the shark. And, what, twenty seconds to go? That's the best.

   She can't vibrate herself a hundred percent intangible, because (1) she has this nasty habit of snapping back when she's startled, (2) sharks, on average, can be more than a little startling, and (3) if she snaps back under water, the water molecules that her molecules are dancing with will become trapped in her lungs, drowning her. So the safest way to do this is to take a deep breath and dive into the shark tank. (Just keeps getting better.)

   The shark is agitated. (You'd be too if a crazed supervillain made you swallow a bomb.) So, to start with, she has to calm him (or her) down (somehow). Or, ooh, maybe knock the shark out? Last time she was in Lemuria, Terry taught her a subsonic anesthetic his veterinarians used on pet sharks. She wiggles her fingers at super-speed to replicate the frequency. She must be slightly off, because instead of putting the shark asleep, it makes it queasy. It convulses, thrashing wildly, and then vomits fish guts and bomb.

   Melody disarms the bomb, and spins around, creating a miniature hurricane to propel her out of the pool. Soaking wet, her skintight union is a little skintighter than usual. Well, that's going to be all over the internets.

============ "Beyond the Fields" Part 4 ===========
========== copyright 2014 Saxon Brenton ===========

   Deidre gathered her thoughts, then started telling her story:

   "I discovered the painting by occult means. It was in a second hand shop in a town called Edmonstown, which is slightly south-west of Boulder, Colorado, and as I've said it was affecting people and making them act strangely. Specifically, it was causing a rise in neo-Nazi sentiments.

   "Now, I admit that normally this sort of thing wouldn't attract my attention, because frankly supremacist groups of any stripe annoy me. In particular random Nazis don't pique my professional interest as an occult detective, since more often than not they're posturing idiots trying to shock people by dressing up in the regalia of a defunct political cause, and the ones that actually are dangerous usually turn out to be mundane thugs. Contrary to the impression you might get from pop culture, there aren't actually that many Nazi occultists about. So I was a bit surprised when all the problems caused by that thing," and here Deidre nodded slightly at the painting secreted away in Joan's handbag, "seemed to relate to that source."

   "So what attracted your attention to them?" Joan asked.

   "I was randomly flipping through some regional newspapers, using synchronicity to see if anything would jump out as significant," Deidre explained. "It's one way I use of investigating weirdness when I'm not taking actual paid commissions. There was a small news article that didn't make national syndication that was screaming for attention, and I took the hint.

   "So I did some preliminary investigation, mostly with everyday detective skills. Edmonstown hasn't historically been a focus of white supremacist activity, let alone neo-Nazism, and there doesn't seem to be any current reason for it either. I mean, no particularly large number of business failures or home mortgage defaults from the financial crisis compared to anywhere else in the country that might explain people reacting from stress, or anything like that.

   "The local neo-Nazi branch was quite new, formed within the last few weeks, and when I checked out their leaders I was surprised by the *lack* of connection that they had with other extremist groups. Their president is a guy called Jack Warburton whose ties were more to conspiracy theory groups than hard right politics. Much the same was true for the vice president and the other office holders. I was able to identify a few rank-and-file members who'd been involved in racist politics before, but they were more skinhead foot soldiers who'd joined after the fact than organisers. One thing that did kind of disturb me was one guy, Beau Nellan, who'd previously been a supporter and regular contributor to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

   "Then I went to Edmonstown for an up close investigation. On the surface the place looks normal. For the most part there didn't seem to be any need for the neo-Nazis to strut around agitating to promote their ideas, because people were just quietly adopting them of their own accord. In fact," she said rather grimly, "their ideology occasionally came up in everyday conversation, but I noticed it was more like people were using neo-Nazism as a common cultural reference point, rather than trying to evangelise for it. It was as though within a few weeks it had become normalised."

========== "Seven 'Gainst Thebes" Part 3 ==========
=========== copyright 2014 Tom Russell ============

Adams popped back to his hotel room to better facilitate the removal of his whiskers. Silke waited for him in the lobby. He ordered a stiff drink from the pretty barmaid. He drank it slow, and so she kept getting prettier.

   At the table beside him were four men playing euchre. Now Silke, he wasn't much one for cards and games in general, and he surely wasn't much one for euchre in particular. Seems every time he played it, he had to learn it all over again. So under normal circumstances he wouldn't have spectated. But Silke felt that throb in him, same throb what brought him to Adams and Gulliver, only now it was pointed at one of the four micks at the next table.

   The man in question was a stranger to the other three, though he proved passably acquainted with the art of euchre, and so his partner, at least, was glad of him.

   "I am lately new to these parts," said the stranger in answer to another. "I had a homestead some hundred miles North."

   "Past-tense, stranger?" said one of his opponents, the dealer.

   "Indeed, sir; for it was attacked by injuns. Redder than my hair, the savage bastards. Drove me off my land, and killed my dear brother."

   The three men put hats over hearts, than back on their heads.

   "It does yet bring me grief, so I beg you gentlemen that we speak no more of it."

   Presently Adams joined Silke at his table. "Watching the game, Mr. Silke?"

   "One of the players," said Silke.

   Adams knew which one. "The ginger. Yes, he is peculiar, Mr. Silke."

   "You know the man."

   "That's the peculiar thing, sir. Not only do I know the man, but I killed him not more than a fortnight ago. Man had insulted Marse Robert."

   "Ain't a ghost," said Silke; the throb was human. "You're sure?"

   "You know my reputation. When I kill a man, he surely dies from it."

   His card partner has decided that the stranger is much more than passably acquainted with the game, and asks how he came to possess such skill. "From my brother," answered the stranger. "Before his murder at the hands of the damned injun Ashes In the Wind."

   Silke interrupted. "I beg your pardon, sir, and am sorrowful for your loss, but Ashes In the Wind is well-known to me, and not the killing kind."

   The dealer took umbrage. "Beg your pardon, sir! If this man says that injun did it, then it was done by that injun."

   "Meaning no harm," said Silke. He tipped his hat and sat back down.

   The stranger was deep in thought. "Maybe it wasn't Ashes In the Wind. You can never be too sure a person is who they appear."

   "No," said his partner, "it surely was Ashes In the Wind. He's an injun, and all injuns are by birth tragically deprived of civilization and the brotherhood of Christ. Instead, their hearts are filled with murder and with rapine. And though it will not fill the void left by the departure of your kin, know sir that as surely as your brother is standing beside Saint Michael, that injun is dancing in Hades with he what Michael cast out. And I tell you this sir as me and my two boys here sent him there a week ago."

   The stranger stood bolt-upright and fired his pistol direct into the man's head. Swinging 'round, he shot the dealer. The dealer's partner raised his gun, then dropped it, as there was presently a knife in his skull. The pretty barmaid then wiggled her hips from bar to table to retrieve her dagger.

   The stranger tipped his hat to the lady, and then grabbed a lock of his own red hair. He pulled at it, and everything— hair, skin, clothes— did peel away. A leather-faced Indian stepped out of the mess like a pair of pants. "I am Skin of Snake," he said to Silke.

   "Brother to Ashes In the Wind. He spoke of you."

   "Not always fondly, I fear. But perhaps now that his spirit can rest, he can also forgive."

================ "Wide Awakening" =================
========== copyright 2014 Andrew Perron ===========

   The first time we tried it, the giant robot kidnapped my assistant.

   We activated the emergency shutdown and went back to the beginning. A robot designed to detect and capture nonhumans – mutants, mutates, near-humans – must have a very good understanding of what is and is not human.

   We went back to the genome. We carefully narrowed the search parameters, adding more genetic diversity – human diversity – to the exclusion list. It would not do to have it picking up humans with slight, everyday mutations, or even strong variations like albinism.

   There could be no mistakes on the line between human and not.

   We booted up the robot and sent it on a test mission. For three hours, it searched, finding no nonhuman specimens. In the radius searched, that should have been almost impossible. But finally, the radar hit a ping – life form within the search parameters detected.

   Anxiously we waited and watched through the viewscreen. The robot plunged down through the air into – a sunny, open-air prison? It broke open the bars and apprehended some sort of being. It certainly didn't look human – were our dreams succeeding? Could we protect the true humans?

   Soon, it would return to base. We readied the capture cage. The robot touched down and unloaded its cargo... Ah. A chimpanzee.

   We activated the emergency shutdown and switched the robot to manual, flying our accidental kidnapee back to the zoo. Then we went back to the genome. The distance between human and animal was, after all, its own line – and our job was to catch those between the two.

   We tightened up the differentials. Our core human genomes had been selected from over 500 individuals, indexed and assigned to alleles. We decreased the permissible variation and added in exceptions for known simian genes.

   The robot was booted up, sent on its mission. Three hours passed. Six hours. Twelve. We slept in shifts, waiting, waiting, waiting.

   Three days later, we activated the emergency return and brought the robot in. We were over-budget, emails from anonymous investors unread, personal funds dwindling. We needed results and we needed them now.

   It would have to be the last-ditch backup plan. Load the few nonhuman gene complexes that had been sequenced, then switch from "capture" to "destroy". It was not likely that it would be able to destroy these famous 'heroes', but a great battle against known nonhumans would satisfy our investors.

   We booted up the robot. It scanned for nonhumans... scanning... scanning...

   One found. I was scooped up in one hand before I knew what was going on.

   My assistant activated the emergency shutdown... and nothing happened. A snapped circuit? A bent transmitter? A bit of miscoding our latest changes? It seemed I would not get the chance to find out.

   As I gazed into the mouth of the beam cannon, I realized the main flaw in the robot. Its creator.

   A robot designed to detect and capture nonhumans must have a very good understanding of what is and is not human. And therefore, to program such an understanding, its creators' understanding must be similarly good.

   And if they were supposed to be the human? Would it not behoove them to have an understanding of themselves?


============= "Reign of the Cyborgs!" =============
=========== copyright 2014 Tom Russell ============

A machine armed with an ancient Martian beam pistol, he has been programmed to investigate and punish all robo-crimes! He is... DETECTIVE 999!

A vicious new motorcycle gang menaces the streets of Tokyo! This gang, the Cyborgs, are humans with robotic body parts! Some are mostly robot, and some are mostly human, but if so much as a fingernail is mechanical, it puts their rampage under the purview of Detective Three-Nine!
   "Three-Nine!" exhorts the Captain. "You need to stop these Cyborgs!"

Another murder! Three-Nine examines the ghastly remains while his new partner, the gorgeous detective and part-time gravure idol Lemon Sweet, interviews the witnesses!
   "The Cyborgs rode in pairs, with each pair having a chain held taut between them!" relates Lemon. "Each chain cut the man clean through!"
   "I need to stop these Cyborgs!" says Three-Nine.
   Lemon's watch alarm beeps! "Oh no, I'm late for my bikini photoshoot!" She tears off her blouse and pants and hops onto her motorized scooter!
   "I will take your laundry to the laundromat!" says Three-Nine solemnly.

The leader of the Cyborgs is mostly robot except for one human eye and one human brain! They call him Steropes! And though his robot eye fires lasers, it is his human eye that one should fear! For it is with this eye that he spots his prey!
   "Look! A girl in a bikini riding a motorized scooter! Let's murder her!" He laughs, and his gang laughs with him! Then they kill her!

Three-Nine finds her body! He does not cry, for a robot feels no pain! But he raises his beam pistol to the sky and swears to avenge her! "I need to stop these Cyborgs!"

Two desperate days pass! Then!
   "Calling Three-Nine! Calling Detective Three-Nine! This is Officer Tiger Sweet!" (Lemon's all-business twin sister!) "The Cyborgs have been spotted!"
   "I will travel there by the most efficient algorithm possible!"

There is a shoot-out! By the time Three-Nine arrives, many of the Cyborgs are dead, but some still live, including the most dangerous of them! Including Steropes!
   "Our bullets only work against the human parts!" explains Tiger.
   "I know!" says Three-Nine. "That is why I have been tasked to punish all robo-crimes! Only my beam pistol can harm them!" He fires at Steropes! It bounces off!
   Steropes just laughs, a twinkle in his human eye! "I was expecting you, Detective Three-Nine! My robot body is coated in pure dinonium!"
   "Dinonium!" exclaims Tiger Sweet. "That's completely impervious to your beams! My sister's spirit will never rest!"
   Steropes just laughs, a twinkle in his human eye! "You cannot stop me! I will rebuild a new gang of Cyborgs, and then I will kill everybody!"
   "No!" says Three-Nine. "Because I will kill you instead!" He fires his beam pistol!
   Steropes just laughs, a laser beam ripping through his human eye! It ricochets inside his brain, bouncing off the dinonium! He screams!
   "A million-to-one shot!" says Tiger. "You killed him!"
   Lemon's ghost appears! "Now my spirit can rest! Thank you, Detective Three-Nine!"

=============== See you next month! ===============

All characters and stories are the copyright of their respective authors.

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