It was a cold December evening in Carbuncle City. A wet coat of snow glowed neon pink and green, reflecting the lights of Antioch Lane. A trio of figures moved down the street, oblivious to the fourth figure that stalked them like an eager predator.
Fresh from foiling another invasion by the hekacthonic thralls of Doctor Demodious, Figaro, Radiant Dame and Depression Dan were ready to get high, get wasted and party through Carbuncle City’s infamous club circuit.
Figaro lit his cigarette with one practiced flick of a matchstick. “What’s with the sad face Dan? Try to come up with something that fits the occasion.”
“Sorry.” Dan struggled to rearrange the landscape of his face to a less morose geography.
“Damn. I hate this winter weather,” Figaro exhaled, his breath a cloud of smoke adrift in the night as they walked deeper down Antioch Lane.
“Don’t let Dan get you down, luv. Here’s a hot spot waiting to take us in,” Dame said, taking Figaro by the hand. Small flashes of light ignited her smile, chasing the shadows from her face.
They paused under the intricate neon sign of the Dancing Demimonde. Figaro watched pink and purple shadows play on their faces. Radiant Dame looked at him from the corner of her eyes, studying him. He knew that she loved him. If a sentient holomorphic data stream could actually know love, that is. She and Dan had worked with him to protect Carbuncle from many threats over the years, and in all that time they would fight together and party after. Nothing serious. And that was the way it had always been. The way he always wanted it to be.
He did let her kiss him once. Her lips had tasted like the sky at dusk, struggling to keep the night at bay, reminding him of light and hope and the chance for happiness. But it changed nothing. Figaro couldn’t bring himself to get over the fact that she was a thing, a ray of sunlight that was nice enough to keep you warm, but not enough to fall in love with.
Just beyond the flashing lights of the Dancing Demimonde, Libertine watched and waited. Dressed in leather and lace, the upper half of his face concealed by a mask of ivory and gold, he could blend right in, mistaken for just another flamboyant reveler indulging in the delights of Antioch Lane.
A passing nubile number caught his eye, and in moments they were rutting like dogs in heat under the shadow of a dumpster. Even as he groaned with release, he kept his eyes on the three heroes entering the disco across the street.
Figaro led the way, with Radiant Dame and Depression Dan close behind. The music surged out of the club as they walked in, trampling them with techno. Figaro loved the crowd, the smiling faces, the flirting, all of it. It was shallow and pointless, but after facing down villainous threats from all over the universe, nothing could take the edge off better than a night on the town.
They spread out, taking positions as the bass beat hit a crescendo, sending dancers into ecstatic gyrations.
A petite blonde sporting neon purple streaks on her hair approached Figaro, smiling sweet and seductive. Her hips swayed, undulant as a lamprey, pulling him to the dance floor with her eyes. Their bodies ground against each other as one song flowed into another; then the blonde planted a kiss on his lips.
“Move it, miss purple highlights.” Radiant Dame wedged between the two dancing figures, edging the blonde out of the way. Their eyes locked, and the blonde blinked first.
A wave of dancers crashed on them and the blonde disappeared from sight.
Radiant Dame pulled Figaro closer. Her hair was tangled up in the electric green light shows and he couldn’t help but smile.
They were wrapped in a cocoon of sound. Hypno drumbeats and razor guitars drove the dancers into a stereophonic frenzy that drowned out the rest of the world.
Caught in the throes of the wanton vibe, Radiant Dame spun around Figaro and landed in his arms laughing. She had a disarming grin on her face that he couldn’t resist.
As the music suddenly slowed into a snowdrift fall, their eyes met, hers filled with emotion, his cold and empty. She leaned forward and whispered, “I want to kiss you again.”
“Don’t.” Figaro turned away.
“What’s wrong? You were already lip locking with the blonde,” she said, as they moved apart.
“It’s not going to work Dame, just let it go.” Figaro pushed his way through the crowd and bumped into Depression Dan who was draped over an Emo goth number with her tongue in his ear.
“Where are you going?”
“Out. It’s getting too hot in here. Don’t follow me.”
“Don’t be a drag, Fig. That’s my job,” Dan was always quick on the uptake, “Dame was just having some fun.”
Figaro’s reply was lost in the chaos as the DJ slapped another mix on the turntable.
Figaro stormed out of the Dancing Demimonde and into the frigid arms of the night. He stalked past doors bursting with music and didn’t slow down until he was well beyond the borders of Antioch Lane and alone in the stillness of Lazlo Park.
The long walk didn’t clear his head one bit. He didn’t know if he was angrier at Radiant Dame for being so insistent or at himself for being unable to handle their relationship.
Lost in a miasma of conflicted thought, he failed to see the figure that had followed him from the moment he left the club, the figure that moved toward him, poised to strike.
“Didn’t anyone ever warn you not to leave the party without your dance partners?”
Figaro didn’t even have time to turn before syncopated swathes of sound and brilliance erupted from behind and flattened him against the cold pavement. For a stunned moment, he thought one of the clubs had exploded back in Antioch Lane.
“A new dub, from an old friend.” Red leather boots crunched the cement inches from Figaro’s face.
Figaro licked his bloodied lips and looked up. “Libertine!”
“Right on the first try, Figster.” Libertine’s left boot connected with Figaro and sent him sprawling. “We’ve had this dance coming for a long time, wouldn’t you say?”
Figaro saw his death etched in the angry red scars that seemed to pulse eagerly across the bared chest of his nemesis. The very scars he left there during their last encounter. Figaro reached inside his mind, magnifying his Id-ealizer circuitry to shift the battle to more contemplative levels.
“Ah. Ah. Ah. None of your malodorous mental meddling this time,” Libertine smiled and spat.
The gob of nano-mechanic laden fluid hit Figaro squarely on the cheek. He gasped as lascivious thoughts began to override the Id-ealizer, leaving him horny and weak as a kitten. Then the orgasms began.
“Release your inhibitions.” Libertine’s face was inches away. “You were always one uptight asshole.”
An endless loop of muscle spasms kept him from doing anything but writhe on the ground like an eel on acid. Unable to act, his only hope was for Radiant Dame and Depression Dan to get to him quickly.
It was a slim hope, but it was all he had. An impulse-triggered alarm blazed silent electron trails into the night.
At The Dancing Demimonde, Figaro’s alarm zeroed in on Radiant Dame who was downing her fifth shot of Cuervo Gold and mourning her inability to get inebriated. Depression Dan watched her quietly, unable to find anything to say that wouldn’t put her in a deeper funk.
“Let’s go Dan,” she said, suddenly serious, “Figaro needs us.”
Sensing the sudden change, he followed her out the door and into a conveniently deserted alleyway across the street. Their clothes shimmered into full body suits as Radiant Dame shifted them into thoughtspace and led the way to the mental node that would lead them to Figaro.
They rushed through the axon-dendron thought-rail, sharing information as they moved. Radiant Dame knew how dangerous a maniac like Libertine could be, especially after some of the cuts Figaro left with him the last time they tangled.
“Damn, why can’t we ever catch a break, Dame?” Depression Dan was not happy. Not that he was ever that upbeat to begin with, but still even for him the current lows were really down there. The tongue-in-ear goth had left him her number and this was not what he wanted to do with the rest of his night. “With all the psychic static and pleasure overrides playing havoc with the thought-rail, it’ll take a miracle for us to get out in time.”
“Stow it, Dan. We don’t need that kind of thinking here.” Radiant Dame tried to remain calm even as her fingers played a concerto on the thought-rail controls perched on her wrist. Sweat began to stain the silk lining of her bodysuit, dark circles under her arms. She hated the loss of glamour but there were more important things to deal with right now than looking hot.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to-”
“I know. Just keep your thoughts clear and follow my lead. We’ll be out in a minute; I just have to clear the follicle node.” Radiant Dame’s eyes blazed as she took Depression Dan by the hand. With a burst of incandescence, she burned through the static and the follicle node opened before them. Without another word, they jumped.
Figaro was on fire. Every nerve screamed with sensual overload. The rough pavement felt like soft velvet against his skin. Libertine’s boot connected with his cheek and it felt like a burning caress that made him shudder with pain and pleasure.
He gasped for breath, struggling to pull his senses together, to shut out the maddening tactile assault. But he just couldn’t do it. His Id-ealizer was completely locked out. He gasped again as a fresh tide of arousal overtook him.
“You should be thankful that your ending is so memorable.” Libertine sneered, his lips curling into a grotesque parody of a smile. “I promise you that this is something I know I won’t soon forget.”
Libertine uncoiled the leather whip at his side just as he was flung back by an explosion of thought, a cascade of memories that burst from Figaro’s hair. When the cognitive static cleared, two figures stood over his fallen foe.
“Radiant Dame, beautiful as ever,” Libertine cracked his whip as he faced them. “Depression Dan, still the third wheel I see. The party’s complete but your invitation arrived too late.”
Radiant Dame saw Figaro convulsing on the pavement. Her holographic heart skipped in her chest as she formulated fifty different scenarios, all of them ending with death. “Take him down Dan, I’ll help Figaro.”
“Right.” Depression Dan pulled a small looped wire from his belt pouch and blew into it. A dozen bubbles of negative thought formed and drifted towards Libertine in quick, irregular arcs. Libertine spun away from the bubbles, his lithe frame moved with surprising speed and Dan barely evaded the massive fist aimed at his face.
“You fight like a poof, Libertine.” Depression Dan said, as he evaded another blow.
Libertine snarled, “You’re an annoying second stringer Dan. Shut up and defecate!” A ball of green gas formed on Libertine’s palm and he hurled it at Dan.
The globe sailed through the air, a noxious comet trailing wisps of fetid smoke. It barely missed Dan who jumped aside and rolled to the ground. The ball of gas sailed into a nearby club where it exploded with a loud thump. Fumes wafted out trailing loud shrieks as dancers and partygoers collapsed, helplessly emptying their bowels on the dance floor.
Dan ducked into the pavement. His leg swept upward in an arc and his foot struck Libertine in the chest. Libertine fell back, trying to regain his balance, but before he could recover he felt a slight tingling as a drifting bubble of negativity popped on his exposed back.
Sweat pooled around Figaro, the convulsions caused by Libertine’s attack threatened to burst his heart like an overfilled balloon. Radiant Dame knelt down and lifted him gently, laying his trembling head on her lap.
Their eyes met and he tried to smile but only managed a grimace. “I can feel everything-“
“Shh. It’s going to be all right.” She scanned his body, and saw the multitudes of micro machines that infested his brain. Radiant Dame knew that burning them away could damage his mind permanently. She felt his pulse racing, an insistent drumbeat building to a crescendo. There was only one solution, one option left to her.
“I love you,” she whispered, but Figaro’s eyes were already rolling back as the incessant stimulation consumed his body. Her hand began to glow, faintly at first, until it shimmered and dissolved into a lambent stream of data. A multitude of hues played across Radiant Dame’s face and she wondered if her hands would succeed where her words had failed her. If all the love she felt could be expressed with a single touch.
Streams of luminescence flowed from Figaro to Radiant Dame as she acted with all the concentration she could muster. “We’re all just bits of information luv; some more complex than others.”
She wreathed him in a nimbus of fierce light which burned away the virulent infestation. Nano-machines dissolved, until he finally stopped shivering. But there were still wounds that needed to be repaired if he was ever to recover.
Radiant Dame felt a sudden razor-sharp pain tear through her mind. She gasped, sacrificing fragments of herself, burning thought and emotion to heal Figaro’s damaged brain.
Libertine was weeping. A puppet of the maddening melancholia that drowned out every other thought in his mind. He wanted to lash out at Depression Dan, to crush his head on the sidewalk, but everything seemed so pointless. He was forced to confront the truth that his life was a wasteland of empty nights alone, filled with hollow pleasures and unfettered delights.
The waves of despair ate away at him until he mustered his reserves of libido, defying the depression by unleashing his wanton desire in the form of a pheromonic cloud that caught Dan by surprise.
“Stop being so Emo, Dan. You just need to get laid!”
Libertine lashed out with his whip, striking Depression Dan squarely in the face. The erotic shock that followed rendered him unconscious and he collapsed to the ground.
Figaro opened his eyes. Radiant Dame was on the ground beside him. Glimmering streams of information flowed from her, dispersing into the darkness.
He rolled to one side just in time to avoid the deadly gob of spittle that struck the floor. “Not this time, Libertine.”
Libertine snapped his whip, but Figaro was ready. He activated his Id-ealizer and blades of pure thought coalesced before him, slicing Libertine’s weapon in one stroke.
Libertine dodged the thought blades and pulled out a string of hollow spheres that he hurled at Figaro.
Figaro leaped into the air as his mental blades swatted the explosive spheres back at Libertine.
“No—” Libertine staggered as the detonation of his Ben-Wa balls knocked him senseless.
Figaro landed and spun, striking Libertine squarely in the face with an Id-ealizer enhanced punch that sent his mask flying.
Figaro rushed past his fallen foe to Radiant Dame.
She opened her eyes and looked up at him even as he took her cold hands into his.
“I’m sorry Dame, I should’ve been more careful.”
Radiant Dame’s face remained blank. “All is well, Figaro. I am better now.”
“I love you, Dame.” His voice was faint but clear.
“Love?” Radiant Dame rose to her feet and tilted her head, as if concentrating on a lost notion.
“Love is irrelevant,” she said at last.
“Don’t say that, not after what you’ve done for me.”
“I have healed you.” Radiant Dame moved to the unconscious form of Depression Dan and picked him up. “Our ally needs attention. I will take him to a medical center.”
Figaro held her shoulder. Their eyes met, his filled with emotion, hers cold and empty, seeing clearly for the first time. He leaned forward to kiss her, but she moved away.
Radiant Dame shimmered and soared into the brightening sky. “Radiant Dame exists to burn evil from the world. That is all that matters.”
Figaro watched until he could no longer see her, until she was a cold speck in the light of the morning sun, then he turned to walk down the wilderness of nightclubs and fast love.
Perhaps it was the chill from the falling snow, or the sudden stab of regret, which caused him to shiver as he considered the price he was willing to pay, just to see a smile on her face one more time.
Vincent Michael Simbulan enjoys exploring imaginary worlds through his fiction. He has won three Manila Critic’s Circle National Book Awards and received a citation in the international Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.
He edited “A Time for Dragons” for Anvil Fantasy, and co-edited Philippine Speculative Fiction volume 5 with Nikki Alfar. His fiction has appeared in the Philippines Free Press, the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories and Philippine Speculative Fiction.
The image of the whip is from here.