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Marble Madness | Copper Knights & Granite Men (Part 2)
A musician, a radioactive commando, and a 900 year old techno-wizard walk into a museum...
By Mike DiBaggio Posted in Copper Knights and Granite Men on November 2, 2019 11 min read
First Impressions | After Dark (Part 2) Previous Petrified. Literally. | Copper Knights & Granite Men (Part 1)  Next

Story: Michael DiBaggio | Illustrations: Shell Presto

We arrived at the Met too late for the fight and the chase, thank God. As we passed through the police cordon, I saw the whole crew of this oddball caper handcuffed and prostrate on the pavement. In particular I noticed the weirdo that Roundtable mentioned: a petite girl with long, braided, green hair and a big red hand print on her puffy face. Four men were carrying a battered crate containing an ostentatious suit of armor back into the museum.

“Beaten by the local help,” I murmured to the Promethean.

“Actually, no.” A sourpussed, gray-haired policeman walked over to us. He was accompanied by a lovely little thing in tight bicycle shorts, a seashell bikini, and a glittery half-mask. The cop was dressed like one of those monkeys that march in bands, with the gold braids and the little gold rope over his shoulder. I recalled seeing him before, but I had no idea about the strumpet in the mermaid roller derby outfit.

“Captain Reeves,” the Promethean greeted him, and they shook hands.

“The robbers were blindsided by a construction worker near the new addition. Never even got to the end of the block,” Reeves explained. “They had to run for it because their getaway van—wouldn’t you know it!—got T-boned by an inattentive driver and blah blah blah blah.”

He said something else, but I don’t remember what; I was busy admiring the cleavage on his masked companion. She had grace enough to pretend to blush, but then half-turned so I could get a better view of her profile. She smiled at me, her rouged lips wet and open.

Reeves finally introduced her. “This is the West Side Siren. The ‘local help.’”

They all had stupid names like that, these New York City talents. West Side Siren, the Harlem Hammer, the Bronx Bomber, Battering Bill the Bowery Brawler, ad nauseum. God only knows why.

“You three gentlemen need no introduction, of course,” she said, but I stared at her in horror, because what it sounded like was: “You tree gennelmen need no innaduckshun,’a course.

“Especially you, Amp. The Ace of Acoustics,” she continued in low, awe-struck tones. “I’ve seen you in concert twice, but never this close-up. It’s been a little dream of mine to meet you in person.”

“You flatter me,” I said, but of course I had already lost all interest in her on account of her hideous accent. I couldn’t bear the thought of that nasal voice moaning my name.

“Excuse me, Captain Reeves, but we were told that several bystanders had been turned to stone. Is that right?” Matt interjected. He always gets annoyed when someone fawns over me.

“By God, they have, and it’s the damndest thing I’ve ever seen! This is utterly out of my element. I was hoping you could give me some good news. They used some sort of aerosol. Do you know what it was? Is there an antidote?”

“I won’t know until I perform a thorough investigation. I trust they’ve not been touched?”

“Of course! I ordered the whole gallery sealed off. Please, follow me.”

“Amazing.” The Promethean’s jaw muscles fairly quivered with excitement beneath his sunken cheeks. He was squinting at one of these accidental sculptures through his aetheric goggles, the lenses continually refocusing and clicking on new filters as he examined a different body part.

Even without the benefit of his fancy spectacles, I had to agree with his assessment. The statues were extraordinarily lifelike, as if a human being of flesh and blood had in one moment been turned completely to white marble, which, as I said, is exactly what happened. There was something beautiful about them too, despite their often horror-stricken faces. The area around the heart gave off a wan, amber glow, and pale blue lines fluoresced throughout their limbs, rather like networks of blood vessels. I was at once appalled and enthralled.

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“What if we tried the Dexter Medusa?” I asked. Dexter Medusa was a precious fluid of the Promethean’s own invention that could revive the recently deceased, so named because of the alleged properties of blood from the right side of the mythical gorgon. A too-appropriate name considering the situation, I thought.

“These people are not dead. At least, I don’t think so.” the Promethean answered. “I don’t think it would do any good, and I don’t dare waste any.”

“How is this possible, turning someone to stone?” I asked. Irritation at this apparent disregard for rationality leaked into my voice.

“I’m not sure. Yet.” He went on with his examination.

The West Side Siren accompanied us, not that she had any insight to offer. She stuck close to me, attempting small talk and not-so-subtle flirtations while I made a concerted effort to brush her off. Unmercifully, she didn’t pick up on it. Matt tossed her a question.

“Siren, what do you know about this gang of robbers and that green-haired woman out there?”

“Nothing except that they called her Medusa. I’ve never heard of any of them before,” she replied.

“And the Prince’s Emblazoned?”

“I never heard of that before, either. She won’t say what she wanted with it.”

The Promethean hummed thoughtfully, tapping his thumb on the point of his chin. “I deem it unlikely that Medusa concocted this formula herself. Likewise, I doubt that she stole the suit of armor for her own interests.” Without elaborating further, he walked away to examine another of the human statues, leaving me alone with the West Side Siren.

“You know,” she whispered, close to my ear, “I own all your albums, every composition. I may just be your biggest fan.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose in frustration. “Of course you are, honey. No one’s ever told me that before. Listen, I’ll be happy to autograph your ass cheeks when we’re done here, but right now professionals are working!”

She jumped back, stricken with that expression common to every conceited woman who gets rebuffed. Her narrowed eyes said ‘How dare you, you worthless bastard?’ but her trembling lips asked ‘Why don’t you want me?’

I made a studied effort of looking away from her, and let out a contented sigh when I heard the click of her boots trailing away from the gallery.

“Now that she’s gone, how about a little background music?” I rubbed my fingers together as the soft strains of my Concerto for Strings filled the gallery.

“Silence! I need to concentrate!” barked the Promethean.

I ceased my psionic strumming. “Philistine.”

The Promethean continued his examination for another ten minutes in absolute silence. Eventually, he threw up his hands.

“Maybe it’s elemental transmutation,” the Atomic Ranger offered, always reliable to couch phenomena in terms of his own experience.

“Why bother stealing anything if you can do that, on this scale, that quickly?” I asked.

The Promethean nodded in agreement, and pushed up his aetheric goggles so that they rested on his salt-and-pepper hair. “Indeed, that would be unprecedented, far beyond any incidence of transmutation I’ve ever seen. Also,” he added in the manner of an afterthought, and in a tone I thought subtly sarcastic, “the released energy would have flattened half the city.”

Range and I looked at each other and around the room at the two dozen petrified people, many of them toppled over in comical positions. We felt pretty useless.

“Have you ever heard of Boris Yvain?” the Promethean asked suddenly.

“Can’t say I have,” the Atomic Ranger answered.

The Promethean turned to me. “Cameron, enlighten our uncultured friend.”

I coughed. “Uh… Boris… yeah.”

The old bastard whacked me in the shin with his ostentatious walking stick. As I hopped off cursing him, the Promethean told his tale.

“You call yourself an aesthete? Hrmph! Boris Yvain was a brilliant young sculptor, an avant-garde type just like you used to be, Cameron. In fact, he was a contemporary of one of your favorites, Erich Zann. I first met him during the Eastertide of 1909, more than a century ago, now. He was American by birth, but he moved to France, having inherited a house and money from his father’s brother, where he could practice his art in leisure. He created a sensation not long after the defeat of the Invaders with his sculpture of the Madonna, by which he is said to have used his young lover as a model—in a manner of speaking. Only a few months after that success, and still at the height of his popularity and powers, he committed suicide.”

“Is this just another one of your ‘by the way’ stories?” I asked. My swollen and tender shin made me impatient.

“Quiet, boy,” the Promethean rebuked me. “I am coming to the point.

“Boris was said to have developed something like the sculptor’s equivalent of photography, an incredibly fast-acting aqueous solution that fossilized organic tissue on contact. Supposedly, this formula and substance were lost after his death.”

“Good God! Are you saying he turned his own girlfriend into a statue and then killed himself in remorse? That is art!” I exclaimed, only half-facetiously.

“Some have said as much,” answered the Promethean.

“And you believe this?” The Atomic Ranger sounded strangely doubtful considering the battalion of flash-petrified New Yorkers that surrounded him.

“I am agnostic as to the reasons of his suicide. But do I think it is possible or even plausible, that Boris Yvain really invented this fossilization solution? Yes, I do,” said the Promethean. “I taught him alchemy.”

The old immortal had a dreamy, far-off look as he reminisced about Boris Yvain’s matriculation in the Weisserian school of techno-arcana. “He was quite moved by the devastation of Paris. ‘So much has been lost,’ I remember him saying. The curators had not the time to save many of the works of the great Renaissance masters from the Martians, nor priceless antiquities from Rome and Greece. The glorious architecture—Notre Dame, the monuments of the Champs-Elysees, the sculptured facades of the Louvre—all laid waste. ‘The soaring work of men’s souls senselessly destroyed! So much surpassing beauty and genius the like of which mankind will never see again!’ Yvain lamented, on the verge of tears. His sorrow made my own, which was not by any means subdued, much more acute.

“Yvain wondered if there might not be some means to quickly restore those losses, a way that those without the talent of Bernini or Michelangelo might nevertheless immortalize the beauty of nature in stone. I suggested that it might, indeed, be possible.”

“So you know how to turn people to stone, then. I don’t suppose it’s reversible,” said I.

Matt mumbled something.

“Come again?” I said.

“I said: No, I don’t know how to turn people to stone!”

I smiled at the thought of the great Promethean having been eclipsed by his protégé, a protégé who was a sentimental effete, no less.

“However,” he began, and then paused significantly. “However, there may be reason to believe that the fossilization process reverses naturally. If it is indeed true that Yvain petrified his lover Geneviève for his ‘sculpture’ of the Madonna, then it must be so, because she was seen alive and healthy again a year after his suicide, and lived into her sixties. The stories I have heard are all secondhand and, until this moment, I found the tale incredible. But now I wonder.”

“And what about the fellow that was only partially petrified? Maybe we can learn something from him,” the Atomic Ranger suggested.

“What?” I blurted, quite taken aback. I looked around at the lobby full of fossilized spectators in confusion. “Who was only partially petrified?”

The Promethean shot me an impatient look. “Weren’t you listening to Captain Reeves? The construction worker that stopped Medusa and her gang was sprayed with the gas, but for whatever reason, he wasn’t affected like the others. He was still being treated by the paramedics when we arrived, but perhaps he’s ready to speak to us now.”

And now you know what Reeves said while I was distracted by the West Side Siren’s barely restrained bosom.

“What are we waiting for?”

The story you’ve just read is an excerpt from Copper Knights & Granite Men, the first volume in the Challenger Confidential series. Buy the book online or learn about the other ways you can support us.

Amp Atomic Ranger Boris Yvain King in Yellow Promethean West Side Siren

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