First Impressions | After Dark (Part 2)
Previous Petrified. Literally. | Copper Knights & Granite Men (Part 1)
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.
by the local help,” I murmured to the Promethean.
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
Reeves,” the Promethean greeted him, and they shook hands.
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.”
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.
finally introduced her. “This is the West Side Siren. The ‘local
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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?”
won’t know until I perform a thorough investigation. I trust
they’ve not been touched?”
course! I ordered the whole gallery sealed off. Please, follow me.”
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.
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
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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.
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
is this possible, turning someone to stone?” I asked. Irritation at
this apparent disregard for rationality leaked into my voice.
not sure. Yet.” He went on with his examination.
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.
what do you know about this gang of robbers and that green-haired
woman out there?”
except that they called her Medusa. I’ve never heard of any of them
before,” she replied.
the Prince’s Emblazoned?”
never heard of that before, either. She won’t say what she wanted
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
know,” she whispered, close to my ear, “I own all your albums,
every composition. I may just be your biggest fan.”
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!”
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
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
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.
I need to concentrate!” barked the Promethean.
ceased my psionic strumming. “Philistine.”
Promethean continued his examination for another ten minutes in
absolute silence. Eventually, he threw up his hands.
it’s elemental transmutation,” the Atomic Ranger offered, always
reliable to couch phenomena in terms of his own experience.
bother stealing anything if you can do that, on this scale, that
quickly?” I asked.
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.”
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.
you ever heard of Boris Yvain?” the Promethean asked suddenly.
say I have,” the Atomic Ranger answered.
Promethean turned to me. “Cameron, enlighten our uncultured
coughed. “Uh… Boris… yeah.”
old bastard whacked me in the shin with his ostentatious walking
stick. As I hopped off cursing him, the Promethean told his tale.
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.”
this just another one of your ‘by the way’ stories?” I asked.
My swollen and tender shin made me impatient.
boy,” the Promethean rebuked me. “I am coming to the point.
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.”
God! Are you saying he turned his own girlfriend into a statue and
then killed himself in remorse? That is art!” I exclaimed,
have said as much,” answered the Promethean.
you believe this?” The Atomic Ranger sounded strangely doubtful
considering the battalion of flash-petrified New Yorkers that
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.”
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.
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.”
you know how to turn people to stone, then. I don’t suppose it’s
reversible,” said I.
again?” I said.
said: No, I don’t know how to turn people to stone!”
smiled at the thought of the great Promethean having been eclipsed by
his protégé, a protégé who was a sentimental effete, no less.
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.”
what about the fellow that was only partially petrified? Maybe we can
learn something from him,” the Atomic Ranger suggested.
I blurted, quite taken aback. I looked around at the lobby full of
fossilized spectators in confusion. “Who was only partially
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 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.