title, the tamelin light

short stories

What do you do when super heroes and their arch foes battle it out in your home town?

First, alert your local MediaTron office as required by law, and then give us a call here at The Agency. Our crack squads are standing by to impersonate your mothers, your grandmothers and their little dogs, too. Let those costumed superfreaks smash our Agency's cars to pieces and burn down our buildings - we've got more! So call us now - we're ready to take your beating! Operators are standing by.

*Ring*

“Mediatron. State your name.”

“Wha-? Mary! Mary Pickman! Please help me!”

“State the location and nature of the disturbance.”

“I’m in Baja Java, downtown. Two of them out there, one just ripped the roof off and threw it at another one!”

“We have you at the intersection of Howard and Philips. Is this correct?”

“Yes! Oh my God!”

“Mrs. Pickman? Mrs. Pickman?”

“I’m here. Everyone else got away but I can’t move: the street is molten lava! I’m in the walk-in cooler. I need help now!”

“Please remain calm, we will send aid. This call is being recorded for quality assurance and also to create a legally binding contract. Ms. Mary Celine Pickman, do you by making and participating in this call and/or responding to our text messages and/or to any Internet, intranet or Mindnet transmission by us consent to transfer all publishing rights for any and all interviews, multimedia presentations, television or netcasts, streaming radio, transmission radio, animation and other common forms of mediatainment as laid out in SR3345-900-2018A, presented or preserved – ma’am, please stop screaming, I am nearly finished – preserved in digital or analog form for the duration of our involvement in the relocation of either or all of the entities currently assaulting or causing public nuisance to your person, property or relations?”

“YES! Please help! They’re destroying everything! Wait, where did-. What happened to the lights?? Oh no, the glass is alive. The glass! Oh God!”

*click*

“Mrs. Pickman?” The operator scans her board. “Communication terminated by caller after verbal contract established. Hard copy receipt of request for assistance and verbal assent sent via email, text and netcatcher to addresses of caller. Presuming she is still alive, standard 24 hour burn time implemented. Activation of IB units commencing. Reporters dispatched for standard type B featurette, 5:PM same day news cycle expected. Estimated 11% profit to loss.”

You will meet the IBs, agents sent to deal with the super threat using the potent resources of mass media. In particular, you will get to know Charlie Decker and his team as they investigate why the supers' behavior has recently changed and why, too, they seem to be disappearing . . .

Here is an excerpt that has Charlie discussing the gear he wears when he prepares for an encounter.

We’ve got two suits: Encounter and Hero, or ‘the suit’ and ‘the armor’. The first is for riding out collapsing buildings, tornadoes and of course maintaining the disguise. They’re pretty cool, on my Like list. But the Hero suits are, if you're wondering what the pinnacle of human technology and a near-infinite budget can muster, weak.

Meant to approximate superpowers and provide rudimentary defenses for normals, they are bulky, under-powered, slow, too heavy, and smell like a frightened android's underwear. Still, they did one thing right: each is modular so you can mix and match their supposed abilities.

Before you climb into the armor, you have to take the drugs: poisonous elixirs that burn away years of your life. My paycheck ain’t large because of my good looks or the falling buildings I’m still inside of or even my working relationship as pin to Brand E. bowling balls. It’s because of the drugs. You’re an IB, you’re in it for the whole ride: you get paid yer money, you takes yer fragastan, phenol ultramenophine, and of course yer cyclosoporastaferimone – that is, yer reds, yer blues and yer glowing spheres – when directed.

It’s a good idea to be pretty drunk first.

When I'm finished retching, our quartermaster always gets the same order from me: “Gimme the Rom, LGM, Squidie, and OP 5.”

Most suits have the Rom pack – short for Romulans, you know, cloaking – built into it. Eats the juice but worth it. The heavy weapon mods make it impossible to use, but I never take any of the big guns — they’re all designed for 'suicide by super' as far as I’m concerned. The LGM, or Little Green Men because of what the thing makes you look like, is an advanced sensor array that sees or hears pretty goddamn near anything and at good range. The Squidie is a weird gun that fires these tentacled things that stick and then expand. Gives me an opportunity to hear the B.E.s' ongoing cultural study of normals' filthiest language and that makes me happy. OP 5 is one of the nine option packs: Swiss Army knives of gadgets, some serious, some little more than gags from your local magic shop. The idea is to tack a few seconds on to the presumed end of your short life should you ever actually piss off a super in an enclosed space.

Everyone also gets a stunner that would drop a charging hippo — this is barely adequate — a few environmental defenses, a basic comm pack, computer and some detectors.

We suit up, ready for action. Shaman's got BFG again. I make a note to compose something suitable to his widow. BFG is the biggest gun we have, about even with anything the supers are shooting from their eyeballs or fingertips or whatever other energized orifice they light up. It only comes on OP9, the armor pack. You get three shots, four if you aren't interested in moving anywhere afterward, and then it's an hour of recharge just to turn the fog lamps back on.

IB4, an engineer named Mark (as in 'marking your target' – he's told us this so many times that I feel like we should be calling him by his full name: YesIgotit Canyoushutup Aboutitnow?) is all stealth and sensors like me, but his weapon of choice is a grenade launcher that he's modified to fire programmable exploding sticky rounds. I never know what's going to come out of that thing. Few are lethal (on supers, almost none of them can be without splitting atoms). It sends a grenade which sticks and then out comes gas or a stun field or reflective aluminum dust or webs or nets, once even a swarm of miniature flying pigs. He was an accountant before joining the agency. A goddamned accountant. Just goes to show what a change in surroundings will do for a guy.

IBπ, that is, IB314, has Asperger's, I think. Interesting lunch room . . . well I was going to say 'chats' but they're not. They're monologues. Cassie loves the supers. She’d worked with them a long time ago when they were called Empowered Deviations, or EmDevs, and now spends all her off-work time collecting their action figures, magazines, buttons, fan crap, movies, interviews on special-edition PicPods and cereal boxes for every single one of them (goddamn, but I would like to eat a bowl of any kind of crispies without Smoldering Dahlia or The Cleanerator sending me a carefully tailored marketing message with my milk every morning). IBπ knows more about the supers than the Agency does, though some of that information is not tactically valuable, like what brand of brass polish Phreaking Ephreat prefers on his lamps and that Mother Gaia uses only organic, locally-produced lightning bolts. Anyway, she is always OP1: packs of tranquilizers, some spy gear, and some charisma enhancers for the whack-job stalker on the go.

A government DMF (Defensive Medicine Facility) is sent an exceptionally gifted Recently Empowered Deviation. She is Regina McIntyre, a young girl rating the highest threat potential seen in any REMDev seen so far. She is brought sedated into the Activations lab where "Jeeves" works: DMF agent Cassandra Demain.

ALFREDs is the story of the beginning times, twenty years prior to the events of "Innocent Bystanders," when REMDev abilities were just becoming known, the government thought it had everything under control, and Cassandra Demain was yet fifteen years away from assuming her new identity at an untried agency as Innocent Bystander 3.1418 a.k.a. IBπ.

And Regina would later go on to be called Meaningless Destiny, the most dangerous being on the face of the Earth.

In retrospect, it was logical. Adults should have seen it coming, it was so predictably, catastrophically, biological.

It wasn’t our generation’s fault. We grew up in a society that had not so much lied to us as primed our griddles of expectation with stories instead of truth. Our minds were washed in Oil of Awry. Graphic novels, movies, comic books, even old radio programs from my mother’s mother’s decade splashed their fictions enthusiastically but egregiously askew, leaving out an important detail throughout their crude imaginings: reality. So when it all came to pass, no one thought it would be like this because our frame of reference had been set to Channel Wrong since flappers were shimmying in the speakeasies.

I know all this because I am employed by a Federal agency dedicated to protecting the ignorance of the public. I am neither a Special Agent nor a CIA operative. I am not employed as a Federal inspector of this or that; I am only peripherally connected to the CDC. No, in my work – administrator, biologist, counselor, pharmacist and lab tech – I am a specialized generalist, a beaker-of-all-trades. But that isn’t why they pay me. My comfortable living is direct deposited because, for certain individuals, I ruin lives at $64K a year plus benefits.

That is a bit of hyperbole: their lives are already over before they are brought in to me. I just get to tell them. My official job title is Activations Liaison For Recently Empowered Deviations.

I'm an ALFRED. I work with super heroes.

ALREDs should be completed by August of this year. Interested publishers can summon my unicorn, Gabriel, who will escort you to my waiting team of agents, lawyers and accountants to discuss the details of what will be for both of us an immensely lucrative decade of movie spin-offs and pay-for Facebook content once the initial publication of the story sees the light of day. "Innocent Bystanders" is already the number-one-selling short story in Maerengartia where it has been translated into all twenty-two dialects of that nation's oral clicking language. As soon as they develop something written, sales are expected to be brisk.

Book Three of the Tamelin Light trilogy, wherein Talitha's search for Annelli takes her to Antarctica, to Gnoph Ka, and the Family's origins. Philip Orange's family comes forth, and Celine meets a Tamelin for tea.

 

A short story prequel to the Tamelin Light trilogy.

I had been warned.

When Annelli was born, whole, beautiful, alive, I was amazed. I had not expected it. She was supposed to be deformed or dead or, at the very least, be the very least. The Cattle. But she never cried. She merely blinked at me, her wondering otherworldly blue eyes seeking out my own. For the second time I suffered that chemical weakness that marked me as defective in the cool gaze of the Family.

But there was a third one yet in my path, an act as unheard of as even having a figurative heart to give out.

I had been warned again, and again, and again through what seemed like daily transgressions against Tradition, Duty, and of course, Obedience. I faced each act of defiance with knowledge of endless death - the sort that the inventive Watcher over our House pursued with efficiency - ever described to me in increasing animated detail. And when the day came to give birth that unholy second time, my little one did die there on the operating table, as did I.

For forty seconds, they tell me, we were in biological decay, organic matter prepared to return to the dirt. I do not know what she experienced, what she felt, but it was not forty seconds for me, and my death on that table brought nothing like oblivion. Technology returned us, and I knew I would spend the remainder of my days catching glimpses of that desolate place unburdened with morality or mercy.

I awoke to poor Philip who looked so much like he had aged that I thought to ask what year it was. All was well, though. All was well.

Her name was to be Kathryn like the kitten she would later kill. She would have gone by Kate, of course, possibly even Betsy or Wilbur, so long as it was in defiance of me. But on that day, her birthday and our time of resurrection, I changed her name to Talitha.