Just before Mayor Infantino applied her oversized ribbon-cutting scissors to the task of officially opening the centennial celebrations, the aliens invaded.
“This is Grace Cartilage of Ace News bringing you live footage of the gigantic intruders as they literally rain on Colossus City’s parade. Do we have some chemical analysis on the stuff they’re spraying from their dorsal spikes? Some kind of paralytic toxin? Respirators on and keep filming, team. This is the scoop of the century!”
Mother Sun and Sister Moon arced overhead, flung toward the great hovering monstrosities by their ally Cannonfire. They landed with Olympian grace on the gleaming head of an alligator-shaped alien the size of an office block. A sunburst flare eclipsed the alien as Mother Sun melted through the armour. Their intervention provoked an instant response. The two heroes vanished in a red haze as the four other gargantuan aliens turned crimson beams on them.
“Well once more this prompts the big question we’ve been asking on Colossal Gossip for months now, Trina. What possessed city founder Joshua Barraclough to spend his entire personal fortune to establish Colossus City on an isolated, practically uninhabitable coastal delta exactly one hundred years ago to this day? Does the keystone plaque of the Wrightson-Wolfman Centre hold a clue with its reference to “Five shadows over five fingers?” As the drama unfolds in the sky overhead, why don’t you recap some of the key points from our nine-part series from last year, Trina? Er, Trina. Hello? Did the connection drop out again?”
Tremolo quivered in and out of equilibrium with standard space-time as she strained with the effort of scanning the aliens with vibrational pulse-waves. “I can’t get a clear reading on them,” she gasped, staggering to her knees before Sympath could catch her. “All I can see for sure is that they’re achronistic. They originated in another time. The future, I think.”
“Unless you’ve suddenly discovered a way to vibrate us both into orbit, Trembles, we have no way of getting up there to help,” said Sympath. She was preoccupied with psychically suppressing a city-wide panic, enhancing senses of personal safety while quelling potentially dangerous curiosity. While she was at it, she decided to surgically excise her personal dread of losing another partner and bolster her optimism. “But don’t worry. I’ve got a feeling something will turn up.”
“Er, hello? Sorry to interrupt, but I couldn’t help overhear your conversation. I think I can fly the three of us up close to the aliens, if that would help.” To Tremolo and Sympath, who were both still in their early twenties, the newcomer in sparkling silver looked alarmingly young. “I’m…uh, until I think of something better, you can call me Ms Glitter. Give me your hands and I’ll get you where you need to go.”
An army of Colossus City’s heroes converged from all directions. With telepathic assistance from the newly-reformed Carmilla Superior, Diamondstrike coordinated the assault on the enormous aliens. The super-soldiers of Bastion Command parachuted from the Cloister, their low-orbit monitoring satellite. Spirit of ’89, the Battle Gurus’ armoured airship, disgorged brightly-coloured martial artists to scramble over the giants’ backs. The Society of Vigilance launched disruptor rockets from their hover-platforms and leapt into the fray. And Team Infinity appeared from nowhere, stepping out of a timewave like pro surfers ditching off the crest of a breaker.
Colossus City is built across a delta plain at the convergence of five rivers, along which spread the five city districts colloquially known as The Fingers – Thumb Valley, The Points, Midfinger, Ringborne and Pink Pines. The City was founded in the aftermath of the Great War by eccentric millionaire war hero Joshua Barraclough, whose declaration at the lavish ground-breaking ceremony is recorded on a plaque at City Hall. It reads in part: “Let this place stand watch, like a new colossus, against that which would disrupt an orderly future, from this day for one hundred years.”
– Excerpt from Hand of the Guardian: The Colossus City Story.
“These aren’t gator-aliens at all,” wailed Tyrannosaur as a tonsil-shaped mass extruded from the wall and walloped him like a back-swinging punching bag. “They’re biological starships!”
“The ships are self-repairing,” reported DupliKates 13 and 18 in unison. “They regenerate faster than we can damage them.”
“This technology is more advanced than any known alien society,” mused Romulus Brink, the Contemplator. “Observed anomalies verge on the irreconcilable.”
“Yeah, yeah, Rom, don’t strain yourself,” laughed Dingo Watkins. “We don’t get it either.”
“Speak for yourselves!” With a massive grin, Captain Silver criss-crossed the alien’s head, shoulders and back at lightning speed, until she found what she was looking for. “Team Infinity to all heroes! Be on the lookout for standard airlock hatches concealed under orange-red scales. Converge on alien command and control, presumably in the head.”
Having shepherded the foundling Colossus City through the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression not only intact but flourishing, and just eight days after the emergence of Paragon Man, the first of the so-called “scientific phenomena”, Joshua Barraclough disappeared. He missed a city budget meeting for the new Englehart Bridge on 3 April 1935, and was never seen again. He left no statements, personal effects or will. Colossus City’s growing prosperity and its distinction of having the world’s greatest concentration of super-powered individuals remain his only legacy.
– Excerpt from Hand of the Guardian: The Colossus City Story.
Inside the lead alien vessel, while various heroes peeled off to cause as much distracting chaos as possible, a strike team crashed through robotic sentinels and the ship’s murderously animated furnishings. Ms Glitter smashed aside aggressive wall fixtures; Sympath hurled robots at other robots; Tremolo vibrated sealed bulkheads until they shattered.
The strike team barged through one last barricaded portal into the alien control room, where they froze in astonishment. Standing between Mother Sun and Sister Moon was the last man anyone expected to see.
“Good afternoon, good afternoon. Ladies, please, come on in. At the risk of making an ass of myself, I declare myself tickled pink as a prize pig to see so many formidable warriors of the fairer sex here today!”
Ms Glitter’s face was concealed beneath her helmet, but her incredulity was unmistakeable. “Are – are you Joshua Barraclough?”
The man dressed in the old-fashioned suit, complete with cocked straw boater on his head and a silver watch chained to his breast pocket, beamed in delight. “Well, I reckon I am, after a fashion. It’s downright flattering to know I ain’t been forgotten.” Barraclough looked straight at Sympath. “I ain’t been forgotten, I hope?”
“Not for one second, partner,” she replied with a slow smile. Tremolo and Ms Glitter turned quizzically toward her, but before they could ask the obvious question, a figure emerged from a shadowed corner of the alien bridge.
“Welcome back, Tock Tock,” said Night Shrike. “Where have you been?”
Barraclough’s face blurred, momentarily revealing a frog-eyed metal face before reverting to Barraclough’s freckled, red-headed features. “Oh, I’ve been here and there,” he said airily. “I’ve been now and then. I’ve been him, her and them.”
“You never used to like riddles,” said Sympath, who had been Tock Tock’s crime-fighting partner for five years. “What happened to you?”
“Well, now, it’s a long story,” said Barraclough, “but the Reader’s Digest version is I didn’t really want a personal rerun of the 60’s, so I detached myself from linear time to give Doc Ontological the slip. Spent a little time with some time archaeologists in the 33rd century. Learned a few startling home truths.”
“Well, did you know that Joshua Barraclough was a time traveller? Everyone in the 33rd knows it, only not a one knew his true identity. At least, not until I showed up and transformed into the portrait of carrot-headed magnificence you see before you.”
“Wait a minute,” said Tremolo. “You went back in time and founded Colossus City? Why?”
Mother Sun put her hand on Tock Tock-Barraclough’s shoulder. “He did it so that we would all be here in the hour of greatest need.”
Ms Glitter groaned. “Wait, I’m having trouble following the continuity here. Why would you set up the city in 1919 so there’d be a city to invade in 2019?”
Sister Moon put her hand on Tock Tock-Barraclough’s other shoulder. “This isn’t the invasion. These ships haven’t attacked us.”
Tremolo looked unimpressed. “Have you already forgotten the paralysing spray?”
Tock Tock-Barraclough looked sheepish. “Just a mild sedative. Figured it would get the right kind of attention and keep civilians from getting too jumpy.”
The famously impatient Night Shrike folded her arms. “If this is Colossus City’s hour of greatest need, but these ships aren’t an invasion fleet, what are they?”
“They’re our ride,” said Sympath. “I’m right, aren’t I? Where are we going, Tock Tock?”
Tock Tock-Barraclough spread his arms in welcome.
“There’s a problem in the 33rd century that could use a hundred heroes. Can I get any takers?”
Wow, did I really just finish my weekly Friday flash fiction project with a story about hope for the future at the expense of the present? A theme which didn’t occur to me for one moment during the writing process but is now, just a few hours later, crushingly obvious and on the nose? This is me giving my subconscious an ironic slow clap.
So yes, this is the 100th weekly Friday flash fiction story, and the last for a while. I’m not abandoning flash stories at all, but it’s time to take a break and work on some longer pieces for a while. I have settled on a new schedule yet, but Friday flash stories will certainly continue to show up from time to time. In the meantime I do have a novel I should be working a little harder on.
Thanks to all the regular Friday flash readers and commenters, here and on Facebook. Every time someone’s told me they liked a character, or a joke, or a ludicrously self-indulgent turn of phrase, it has given this project another week or two of life. I would never have expected to keep up the pace for a hundred straight weeks, but having an audience makes all the difference. It probably sounds shallow to say it out loud, but the clapplause helps.
For any new readers – um, your timing is not terrific, but there’s a back catalogue to check out. ‘Centennial’ is a Colossus City story, and you can see the previous entries in that superheroic canon by clicking on this link (go back a page and start with ‘Mister Extra‘, if you want to make sense of this extraordinarily continuity-heavy story. Most of the Colossus stories can be read alone, just not this week’s). You can find those and the rest of the 100 Friday flash stories to date at this index right here. Dive in anywhere, the water’s (mostly) fine.