The Lords in Shadow

The Shadow Lords have their origin in the 1937 invasion of China by the Empire of Japan.  The Japanese Imperial Army brought coastal China under their control and they were followed by the yakuza as closely as lightening after a storm.  All the local criminal groups either fled or were killed.   

One of the survivors of this purge was a member of the Green Gang called Fat Yuan.  Rumors say that he was half Japanese, the son of a powerful oyabun and his Chinese mistress.   As the story goes, he was able to survive and escape the extermination of the Green Gang due to his superhuman abilities and inside information about the activities of those that sought his death.   

Fat Yuan fled south before the oncoming Imperial tide and began studying at the monastery of Four Winds outside of Vientiane.  When Fat Yuan and his followers stole the mystical shadowknives protected by the masters of the Four Winds, it instigated bloody infighting that saw the destruction of the Four Winds sect and the deaths of the teachers Howling Over Thunder and Crimson Mask.   

Lacking the resources to challenge the Yakuza directly, Fat Yuan and his followers traveled the Indonesian Archipelago, Polynesia, and Australia each recruiting their own followers – creating many small gangs that would eventually coalesce into the Shadow Lords.  Their ranks were swelled by other Chinese gangsters who had survived the purge, but included a diverse cross section of criminals from across the region.  This loose collection of criminal enterprises began to establish their own small spheres of influence in the Madripoor underworld. 

The Shadow Lords are essentially cults of personality formed around a specific individual.  As such, they usually disintegrate if that leader is killed or removed from power.  Experienced members will break off from their parent gangs to establish their own independent outfits with the approval of their former leader.  The Shadow Lords are not overseen by a central authority like the Mafia or similar groups.

Despite this lack of top down leadership, conflict between Shadow Lords is rare, unlike the mob wars between Yakuza clans, Mafia families, or Triads. 

In contrast to those other organized crime syndicates, the Shadow Lords are small, consisting of fewer than thirty sworn members.  Those members control front gangs, larger networks of criminal associations on the street. Due to the necessity of protecting themselves from larger rivals, the members never inform the operatives on the street that they are actually in the employment of the Shadow Lords.  

When a group becomes too big and attracts the attention of their enemies, it fragments into two or three smaller groups.  By splitting up and recruiting, they evolve and change their face and shape, keeping a low profile.   

In essence, the Shadow Lords are a confederacy of criminal outfits that share the same goals.  Each leader has their own culture, their own separate hierarchy, and what motivates them may be different, but they all help each other survive while they strike at the Yakuza.  Due to their single-minded obsession with hurting the Yakuza, the Shadow Lords have not grown as fast as they could. 

The Shadow Lords use every resource possible and are willing to take greater risks than rival syndicates.  Compared to the larger crime syndicates, the Shadow Lords are far more likely to cooperate with outsiders.  Besides their comfort with magical artifacts, this manifests by the Shadow Lords being one of the few organized crime groups that actively recruits “superhumans”, which are not welcome in more traditional enterprises.   

September 27, 1973 – Avengers Assemble!

Elvis and I ended up on a couple of rickety chairs on the roof of his grandma’s place.  Not like a roof roof you know, it was like a patio with a garden.  Sort of.  It’s a different building style out here so I don’t know how to explain it.  Check it out sometime and you’ll know what I mean.  The first time I saw Elvis, I thought he looked like he had been sleeping in a dirty alley.  Now I think that’s just what he looks like after a day of crawling under sinks and on roofs to fix things.  Also he may have been sleeping in a dirty alley.  He handed me a bottle of . . . something alcoholic.  It tasted sort of like candy.  Shitty candy.  The kind that the bad house gives away at Halloween. 

I took another drink and grimaced “I don’t mean to sound provincial but what you people need is some decent booze.” 

“Sorry, for some reason it’s hard to find good American Kentucky bourbon here.  Must be eight thousand years of having our own culture.  I’m sure your Imperial overlords will straighten us out soon enough.” 

“You keep acting like I’m from the US, and I keep telling you I’m from the Coalition, we save all our military atrocities for South America, not south Asia.” 

He nodded apologetically “My mistake.” 

I asked him to tell me about the Shadow Lords and he did.  Nothing terribly useful though.  In the 1800s someone starts cultivating drugs and selling them to a cartel in the Andes and that leads to one gang which leads to another and Triads from China get involved and then the yakuza during the war and a bunch of people get killed and one group takes over another and etc. etc.  Long story short they’re an organization of violent gangsters in a place where the authorities don’t really care as long as they don’t stop rich people from becoming richer.   

“So, Madripoor has more than its fair share of NBHs right?  What we need to do is gather them together to stand against the criminals.” 

“Stand against how?  You want to kill them?  Gang warfare?” 

“No of course not.  I mean just . . . stop them . . . somehow.  You know, with superpowers.  We could form a league of justice of some kind.  Or a justice league if you will.” 

“Hmm, I’m not sure how being able to jump really high or lift heavy boxes helps with the societal and economic conditions that lead to crime.  Plus anyone like that is more likely to be working for the Shadow Lords or another gang rather than against them.  I know they have two people like that at least in their crew.” 

“Like that guy who pulled that weird knife?” 

Elvis shook his head “No, that’s just a shadowknife.” 

I waved irritably “Sure just a shadowknife, we all know what that is.” 

“It’s a mystic weapon that cuts not just the flesh but also the soul, to enslave the spirits of the people killed by it.  You know how that goes.  Also it allows you to travel to the Plateau of Leng if you believe in that kind of thing.” Elvis raised his glass as if in a toast “The leaders of the Shadow Lords all have them, stolen from a monastery on the mainland, hence the name.” 

“Wonderful.  So I’m not hearing a ton of support for my league of justice idea coming from you.” 

“Well, there’s a guy I know a little who has bulletproof skin, he’s an asshole but he likes money.  He’ll help if you pay him.  There’s a guy around who can turn into a tiger that’s not affiliated with any gang in particular.  He might help if you want to kill these guys.  He likes killing people.” 

“I don’t want to kill anyone!  I just . . . want to do whatever Superman does.” 

“What does Superman do?” 

“I don’t know, send them to the Phantom Zone?  I’m not a dork that reads comics.  What if I made a deal with the Shadow Lords?  If I defeat their champion then they leave me alone.” 

“Why would they agree to that?  And why would you trust them even if they did?” 

“Uh, honor?” 

He ticked off on his fingers “Drug trafficking, sex trafficking, slavery, murder, what makes you think these people have honor?  This isn’t a kung fu movie, the bad guys don’t have a code you can exploit.  Besides which, and I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, you’d never win anyway.” 

“Why do you say that?  I could knock this whole house down.” 

“First, please don’t knock my grandma’s house down.  Second, strength is fine, but who would you bet on in a fight – Joe Frazier or Vasily Alekseyev?” 

“Who’s Vasily Alekseyev?” 

“A Russian power lifter.  The strongest man in the world.  The strongest normal man anyhow.” 

“I take your point but you said it yourself, they’re normal.  I’m stronger than him.  I’m superhuman.  That has to count for something.”

Elvis stood up “Try and hit me.” 

“I’ll kill you.” 

He shook his head “You wont hurt me.” 

After much prompting I eventually got up and stood in front of him.  I threw the lightest punch I could and he slapped it away like a fly.  I tried a little harder and he avoided it again.  He didn’t really dodge or block it, but kind of did both – sliding away and moving my hand a little at the same time.  After the third time, he not only slipped my strike but he smacked me back in the face. 

“Hey!  Don’t do that!” 

“Is that what you’re going to tell the man you want to fight?  Don’t hit me?  All your strength you’re so proud of, what good does it do you if it’s going the wrong way?  Try and hit me for real.  Don’t hold back.” 

I did hold back some, but even a half-strength punch would have killed him I’m sure.  Which made what I was doing rather stupid.  If you’re going to hold back it should be enough to make a difference, otherwise what’s the point in doing it at all?  I did almost catch him once and as he twisted away he threw a strike of his own, I think without even meaning to.  He barely touched me, but I dropped to the ground and started to bawl. 

“You hit me!” 

He came forward with his hands out “Oh shit, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to . . .” 

When he came to comfort me I grabbed him by the shirt and lifted him up off the ground and held him over the edge of the roof “I win.  Don’t tell me I can’t beat someone.  I just need different tactics.” 

He gulped and looked down at the street “No one in the Shadow Lords has any feelings for you to take advantage of.” 

I set him down “Sure they do, they’re just different feelings than you have.  I need to think about your advice, use my opponent’s strength against them.  I can’t win a fistfight or a gunfight, but there are other ways to fight.” 

September 27, 1973 – You deserve a break today

I’ve had some hard times in my life.  The music business isn’t a cakewalk.  Even when you have a top 40 hit.  Which I do.  There’ve been times in my life when I was just crashing on couches and not sure where my next meal would come from.  Hitching across the CS and the US and the Republics playing in whatever clubs you can find isn’t a life people would call secure, and I’ve done that too.   

But I’ve never felt like this before.  No money, no place to stay, no friends.  People bitch about the CS because that’s what people do, but it’s a place with a lot of safety nets.  You can fall pretty hard in the CS but they’re there.  Madripoor is different.  I could very easily starve to death here.  The other day I saw a woman walk into the ocean.  She had just had enough.  No one even spared her a second glance. 

If there’s any silver lining to my current predicament, it’s that working down at the docks was getting me nowhere anyway.  Hopefully I would have realized that on my own sooner rather than later, but regardless I don’t have to worry about that now.   

What’s my main problem?  The Shadow Lords.  So what can I do about it?  Back in the States I’d go to the police right?  I feel like they have to have police here but I’ve never seen one of them.  Given the general vibe of the place, I have a feeling that wouldn’t do me any good.  So what next?  If I’m going to do something about the Shadow Lords I need to know more about them.   

The only person I met who didn’t seem afraid of them, or maybe he was just willing to face them anyway, is Elvis.  I wandered a long time trying to find the street he said his grandma lives on.  A guy grabbed me at one point.  I don’t know if it was to rob me or what.  I pulled his arm off of me and I felt it snap like a candy cane in my fingers.  He made a weird sound and spun to the ground cradling his arm.   

Part of me thought I should pick him up and throw him into a brick wall.  That caught me off guard.  I’ve never been a violent person.  I don’t think I’ve ever hurt anyone before.  Well, that one time back home, but that was special circumstances.  The voice telling me to wreck this guy scared me more than him attacking me.   

I guess this is what they mean when they say that power corrupts.  It’s easy to say give peace a chance when you’re the one who’s likely to get victimized.  Once you have the power things look a little different.  I’ll have to keep an eye on that.  I’m not sure what I think of having this strength yet.  It doesn’t feel real.  How strong you are isn’t something that comes up in everyday life.  So it’s easy to forget.   

I didn’t have much of a plan, okay I didn’t have any plan, of what to do when I got to the street I was looking for.  I don’t know if Elvis even stays here, I just know that his grandma’s street is the only piece of information I have about him.  I guess I was just going to walk around and see if I saw him, but I didn’t even make it down the street once before an old woman was in a doorway waving me over.   

Her French was atrocious. She told me that Elvis wasn’t there and I should come in and help her while I waited for him.  Cooking has never been my thing but she set me to helping her anyway.  Did you know that you can make pasta out of rice?  I didn’t.  Until I came here I never saw pasta in soup either.  If nothing else, getting left for dead in Madripoor has enriched my culinary experience.   

Cooking may not seem like hard work, but it is.  Although part of that was that we seemed to be making enough food for an army.  A small army, but still an army.  Every so often a kid would show up on a bike and take away several pots of food.  I don’t get tired anymore because I’m enhanced, but how can you explain the same thing for a tiny million year old Asian woman?  Maybe all those right wingers in the US are right, maybe we are getting soft in the west.   

I asked her if this was her business and she gave me a funny look and didn’t say anything.  I don’t know if it was because she didn’t understand me or what.  When I tried again, I asked her who the food was for and she gave me another weird look and said “Tout le monde” – everybody.   

I missed at least three quarters of what she said because as I mentioned her French was awful, but in addition she often slipped (intentionally maybe) into a language I didn’t know.  But what I did pick up was mostly her grousing about how Elvis needed to find a nice girl and settle down, stop all this nonsense with getting in fights.  It took me a while to pick up on the subtext because of the language barrier, but eventually I figured out that her looks and comments were trying to communicate to me that Elvis needed a nice girl like him, not some crazy white foreigner who shamelessly flaunts herself with improper clothing.  I have long pants on, what more does she want from me?  Not that I’m interested anyway.  Point is grandmothers are grandmothers the world over.   

When we took a break for lunch, she told me about how she had an affair with a Frenchman back on the mainland.  This I gather resulted in Elvis’s mother, who granny had nothing good to say about.  She blamed herself for not keeping her away from the communists.  She cast a cold eye on me and asked me if I was a communist.  I assured her that I wasn’t.  So far she’s the only person I’ve eaten in front of who didn’t freak out over the amount of food I was packing away.  She just kept bringing me more.   

Elvis did show up in the afternoon and upon seeing me, his first comment was that I looked like a “soggy peacock” which I guess is the same as a drowned rat.   

“Give me a break, it’s like a steam room back in that kitchen.  You try spending twelve hours in there and see how you look.” 

How to talk to your kids about super-soldiers and death

The Coalition States of America “super-soldier” project is renowned to be the most successful in the world.  Many people would be surprised to learn that the project (secretly dubbed “Godlike”) has only produced three viable outcomes.  At the cost of dozens of non-operable results (“zeroes” as they are deemed by the research team) and hundreds of deaths.  Even more surprising is that, despite that fact, it is the most successful program of its kind.  

The common belief is that people with the gene that allows for chemical manipulation to exceed human baselines are one in a million.  The truth is that they’re even rarer than that.  The chances of someone having the necessary gene already being in the CSA military were exceedingly small.  When Private First Class Amy Albright tested positive, the results were initially kept under wraps due to the high number of project failures.  After she emerged from the program a complete success, she became a media darling.  

A wholesome blonde girl-next-door type who had volunteered to serve her country that could fly at supersonic speeds and rip apart a tank with her bare hands?  It was a public relations windfall beyond the wildest dreams of the military spin doctors.  Her smiling face on 60 Minutes and the evening news did much to mitigate the (true) accusations of forced conscriptions and deadly consequences of the program.  

She went from being the face of a public relations campaign to a true national hero following the release of the 1970 documentary “Angel” showing footage of her in action during the Argentine Conflict.  The opening scene of a brutal looking staff sergeant explaining in no uncertain terms to his men that Angel One is a soldier and not “some mark in a pick-up bar” and will be treated as such in his unit unless they want a boot up their ass has become as iconic as the live footage of her turning the tide at Cordoba and saving the lives of thousands of CSA soldiers.  

It is because of this movie that she is known mostly to the public by her callsign used during that conflict – “Angel” or “Angel One” rather than her focus group-chosen public persona “Iron Heart”.  Angel One was reported KIA on March 4th, 1973, the details of which have not yet been released to the public.  It is widely assumed that a new chemical weapon provided to Ñancahuazú Guerrilla fighters by German communists is responsible for her death.  A sound clip of a CSA officer reporting “Angel One is down”, voice cracking with emotion, has become iconic.

September 27, 1973 – Nothing to do with all your strength

I haven’t slept well lately.  I’ve been rattled since that incident with the ships colliding.  If you have super strength, aren’t you supposed to be able to rescue people?  Some boats did come out and pull people out of the water.  But not all of them.  Over the next few mornings, bodies would wash up on the shore with pieces missing.  Sharks, people said. 

Working on the docks has helped me know my new limits better.  I can lift a ton without exerting myself too much. I mean that literally.  I picked up a 900 kilo crate and raced against a forklift.  I can’t knock down buildings like Angel can, or could before she died anyway, but I’m pretty damn strong.  I tried to go to some bars to hustle people by lifting heavy stuff but there must be enough NBH’s around here that hardly anyone falls for that. 

I never get tired either.  Not physically tired I mean, I still need to sleep.  But I can work as hard as I want all day and feel fresh as a daisy.  If I didn’t hate running, I bet I could run at full speed forever.  This makes me one hell of a stevedore for whatever that’s worth.  Not much in terms of wages definitely.  Bad news is that I can now out-drink several frat houses combined all by myself.  The other day I drank a quart of Jack Daniels and I didn’t feel anything. 

More items on the downside, my GOD, I am hungry all the time.  I found a place that has grilled fish and fried chicken and I feel like I spend all the money I make there.  When they see me coming they look at me like a fisherman who’s hooked a tiger shark – both fear and excitement.  Is it unworldly of me that I was surprised they have fried chicken here?  Worse than the hunger though is that my head is constantly pounding.  If I drink enough coffee and smoke enough, I can get it down to the level of a moderate hang-over but it never goes away completely.  Never. 

There’s nothing like a continuous unrelenting headache to make you want to seek revenge.  I’m definitely going to find this Duke Eaglevane person and rip his guts out.  I don’t care if he’s the baddest man on the planet.  I’ll see how immortal he is. 

Working on the docks for fish money isn’t going to make that happen.  I’ve been here almost a month now and that’s a month too long.  The “good” news is that I’m out of a job anyway.  A couple days ago, I saw Omar and another guy arguing.  When I asked him what it was about, he wouldn’t say at first but I got it out of him.  The other man, Tuah I think he’s called, wanted Omar to translate for him to talk to me about some kind of pit fighting.  Omar didn’t like that. 

Two days after that, Omar didn’t show up for work.  When I went to his house, his wife at first refused to let me speak to him – she had come to my place once to scream at me because she thought we were having an affair – but I smooth talked my way past her.  Omar said that Tuah had told the Shadow Lords where I was and he didn’t want to get caught in the middle.  I was pissed that he didn’t give me a heads up, but I guess he has his own problems to worry about. 

Then this morning a woman showed up at my door before sunrise to warn me not to go to work.  She was a friend of Elvis’ and she said that I shouldn’t go back to work.  She looked like a local, I mean to the area, hardly anyone seems to be local to Madripoor, but she had a US accent and she said her name was Mary.  Madripoor is a crossroads and a lot of people here seem like they’re at a crossroads too.  I think that makes sense. 

She hovered in the doorway while I started making coffee “The Shadow Lords are onto me huh?”

She nodded “Yes.  You should probably move out of this place too.”

I gestured at the nothing I had acquired “And give up all this?  I’m getting real tired of these shadow men.”

“Shadow Lords, the shadowmen are something else.”

I laughed mirthlessly “Of course they are.  You seem like a smart girl, how do I get these guys off my back?”

“Do you have a lot of money or drugs to give them?” I shook my head “Then no, I can’t think of anything.”

I swung my empty coffee cup for emphasis “I’m super strong, can’t I beat them all up or something and then they’ll leave me alone?”

She thought about it for a moment “Does being strong protect you from bullets?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Then no, probably you can’t.”

September 20, 1973 – Revenge, and a shipwreck

So now what?  I’m in a foreign land (where they don’t seem to like my music) with no money, and as far as anyone back home knows I’m dead.  I tried to think of someone I could call for help, assuming I could figure out how to make an international call, but I came up empty.  My parents and I aren’t close, my friends are mostly pretty casual acquaintances or broke.  Most of them are both.  I have a manager I haven’t heard from in months, and that was before I was blown up and kidnapped and lost several months of my memory.  He wouldn’t be terribly interested in anything that would cost him money anyway.  My ex could probably afford to bring me back, but I don’t know if he would.  Or where he lives currently.  

I assume the easiest route back to the CS from here would be through Panama.  And then somehow convince the police or someone that I’m me.  Fingerprints?  I’ve been arrested so I would have fingerprints on file right?  But that was in the CS, not the US.  Do they share information?  Is getting home what I even want?  Eventually, yes.  But someone by the name of Duke Eaglevane tried to blow me up.  Did blow me up.  I’d be dead now if not for . . . whoever did . . . uh, whatever they did to me.  I never thought of myself as vindictive or vengeful, but that’s a much easier attitude to have before someone murders you.  

I asked where Duke Eaglevane was and Alcazar laughed.  He’s the most wanted man in the world.  Several countries are offering millions of dollars to anyone who can give information on where he might be.  Not even for his capture, just for information.  When he asked me why I wanted to know, I told him I was thinking about killing Duke Eaglevane.  He didn’t laugh at all.  He looked at me like I said that I was thinking about swallowing molten lava.  He was pretty harsh in expressing his view that a singer from the “softest” country in the world with no training, no resources, and no support should not attempt to hunt down the world’s most dangerous and notorious terrorist.  Correction, the world’s most dangerous and notorious terrorist who may possibly be immortal.  

I barely know the guy, where does he get off talking to me like he’s my father?  I couldn’t get too mad at him though because he loaned me some money to get a place to stay and got me a job down at the docks with a French shipping company unloading ships.  The manager, who was skinnier than me, didn’t bat an eye when I picked up a crate that had to weigh a couple hundred pounds.  I guess Madripoor does have its fair share of weirdos.  

I foolishly thought that since it was a French company, most of the other workers would speak French, but they didn’t, even though it seems like some of the locals do.  The one guy there who spoke Spanish told me they were Vietnamese, but don’t they speak French there too?  I should have paid more attention in model UN.  So I can’t understand whatever horrible things my co-workers are saying about me.  Which is probably for the best.  Out of the many paths I thought my life might take, I would not have put lugging boxes on that list in ten thousand years.

While I was working one day, I heard a horrendous noise and looked out in the harbor to see that two ships had collided.  Actually it looked like one ship had sliced another in half.  Everyone came to gawk as the one ship listed badly with a half-ship stuck in its side while the other half sank like a rock.  I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that what I was seeing in the water were people.  My Spanish speaking “friend” Omar happened to be nearby and I asked him what I should do.  He thought about it for a moment, looked around and then shrugged.   

(translated from Spanish) 

“I don’t see anything you can do.”

“I have super strength.  I must be able to do something.”

He squinted out at the water “Like what?”

“I don’t know, hold up the ship until everyone gets off?”

“How would you do that?  There would be nothing to support you.”

“Maybe I could rip the side open in case anyone is trapped inside.”

He looked at me appraisingly “Could you?”

“I could try.  I mean I have to do something don’t I?”  At that moment the bossman, not the skinny guy who hired me, a big bald bastard with a mess of tattoos on his arms, came over and bellowed something not in English, French or Spanish.  “What did he say?”

“Boss says back to work.”

I gestured “But what about the people in the water?”

Omar and the boss exchanged a few words, Omar gesturing at a small boat nearby, and then he turned back to me with another shrug “Boss says back to work.”

Bonus Post – It’s a map! Beeeaaaaaaaaah!

I really wanted to write bonus pope instead of bonus post. I wonder what a bonus pope would be. Just an extra pope I guess.

Talking about how great Dolly Parton is has become so trendy that I now hate Dolly Parton. And she didn’t even do anything. You did it.

Here’s North America in the alternate world of Elaverse #2. If you look very closely you can see there are some very subtle differences from the North America we know today.

Character – Duke Eaglevane (Elaverse version 2)

The terrorist known publicly as Duke Eaglevane is presumed by many in the intelligence community to be Duke Sigismund Adelsperger of Prussia, born in 1857.  However, there are some that claim he’s been active since at least 1185 as a member (or possibly founder) of a secret order of the Holy Roman Empire dedicated to using money and influence to manipulate covert global events. 

Although many acts of global terrorism are suspected to be the actions of Duke Eaglevane and his followers, due to the covert nature of the organization it’s difficult to assess their true activities with any degree of certainty.  The Duke almost always operates through proxies or under a false flag of extremist groups.  Despite this secrecy, it is agreed in the international community that the following incidents can reliably be attributed to Duke Eaglevane. 

  • Supplying arms and tactical support for rebels in the East Africa Protectorate
  • The assassination of Émile Loubet
  • The 1912 Olympic bombing
  • The discrediting of US Senator and presidential candidate Jacob Black
  • Sinking of the 8 Royal Navy Leander-class frigates in 1960

One of the Duke’s few open operations was the invasion of the Kachin.  This act was undertaken with the approval of the majority of the world governments based on Kachin’s corrupt regime that profited off the international drug trade.   It is believed that as part of this military action, the Duke stole Kachin’s gold reserves while the ultimate goal of the action was seizing control of one of the major drug sources not already in the Duke’s hands. 

Analysts believe that the Duke’s standard procedure is to destabilize developing nations with economic manipulation, and then fund domestic rebels that naturally arise from the unrest in depressed areas. The Duke hires out one of several mercenary outfits under his control to that country’s leadership and slowly usurps control, as well as forcing the subject nation to sell off its national assets to companies controlled by the Duke. 

Aside from unnatural longevity, the Duke’s metahuman capabilities, if any, are unknown.  His organization has access to a level of technology that exceeds many known global standards including cybernetics and a “computer network” that allows communication and electronic data sharing.  It is assumed, but unconfirmed, that the Duke is beyond a genius level intellect in the field of electrical engineering and is responsible for the development of these technologies personally. 

September 13th, 1973 – Duke Eaglevane

I stood looking out the window of Pinetree Exports, also known as Alcazar’s office, which despite its small size and generally messiness would have been a much nicer place to stay than his apartment.  I was watching the steady flow of pedestrian traffic down on the street as he looked for my file in his stacks of papers.

(translated from Spanish)

“What is the deal with this place?”

“You’ll have to be more specific, Madripoor has many ‘deals’ at any given time.”

I pointed down at the street “There’s a dude wearing like a space helmet.  And the other day I saw a woman riding a bike whose skin was yellow, like banana yellow.  I’m pretty sure I saw a guy jump into a second story window too.”

“That was probably Bayu, he jumps all over the city.  Usually into the windows of married ladies.” 

I turned and gave him a look “Hey can you do me a favor and be a little more nonchalant about impossible things people can do around here?”

He stared at me for a moment “Sorry, I guess I’ve gotten used to it.  The ‘deal’ is that Madripoor, for this reason or that, has more than its fair share of NBHs – that’s non baseline humans – like you.  And not for nothing, there may also be an alien or two in residence as well.  The military usually finds aliens and shoots them in the head as soon as they crash-land but a few slip through the net.” 

“Oh sure, aliens exist and are on earth and that’s normal.  How about you give me a little build up to these shocking revelations?  Are your CIA buddies the ones that kill the poor little green bastards as they stumble out of their wrecked saucers looking for their triple A cards?”

He snorted “If I was in the CIA it would have been much easier for me to get this.” 

He waved a stained folder at me that had budget written on the tab, then crossed out and written 1968 redeposit which was itself crossed out and replaced with something I couldn’t read.  I sat down across the desk from him, he handed me the folder and helped himself to a cup of coffee while I thumbed through the papers inside.

“So I’m dead huh?  That’s very dispiriting.”

He nodded with a grin “I know, it’s a real shame you were cut down in your prime like that.”

“Who’s Duke Eaglevane and why did he blow me up?”

He raised an eyebrow “Don’t you read the newspaper?”

“Just the box score of the Tropics game and my horoscope.”

“Duke Eaglevane is someone who a man that was actually in the CIA would call a ‘bad guy’.  He’s a super terrorist, or supervillain if you want to be theatrical.   He’s maybe hundreds of years old and when he’s not killing German communists, he spends his time running the largest criminal organization in the world.  An organization that does things like blow up pretty singers in the heart of the Coalition.” 

“Why would he blow me up, what did I ever do to him?”

“I would imagine that you are what people who blow buildings up call ‘collateral damage’, I wouldn’t take it personally.”

“Of course not, it’s just my life.” I shuffled through some more papers “So I was blown to bits and then the government scooped up the pieces and put them back together?  Like the Six Million Dollar man?  That was nice of them.  And then these Shadow Lords stole me?  I would have expected the Coalition Super Soldier Division to have better security.”

“If I was with the CIA I could answer that for you, but since I’m just a humble businessman, all I can give you is guesses.  I don’t think it was the Coalition, from what I gather a private organization did the Humpty Dumpty job on you.  Maybe they sold you to the Shadow Lords, maybe you were stolen, maybe they were funding the whole operation, I don’t know.  But it wasn’t the super soldier program, that medical report says you’re negative, this was something lower key.  Just saving your life and giving you some ‘minor’ super powers.  You’re stronger than you have any right to be but I’m pretty sure Angel would rip you apart, if she wasn’t dead.”

“Being dead does increase the degree of difficulty.” I flapped the folder at him “How did you gather all this, non-CIA man?”

“I have a lot of friends, I keep my ear to the ground. Information is critical in my line of work, other vague answers are available at request.”

I read from one of the pages ‘Due to the stimulation of neurological, chemical, and glandular activity, subject will suffer from chronic headaches and will need to consume fifteen to twenty thousand calories a day to avoid rapid weight loss and death.’ “Well that’s just great.  I thought my head hurt because I wasn’t smoking enough.”

“You may as well smoke up, on the next page they anticipate that with your increased metabolism and all the damage it’s doing to your systems, you’re going to die of organ failure in another five to seven years.  Live fast and die young, etcetera.”

I tossed the file on the desk “This day just keeps getting better and better.  So who did the Shadow Lords want me to fight so badly that they went through all this trouble?”

“Other gangs probably.  Or maybe they were going to rent you out as a mercenary, there’s always fighting on the mainland.  Or maybe they wanted you for the tournament.  Madripoor is the proud home of the only super powered death sport in the world.”

“That sounds pretty illegal.”

“Even though you’ve only been with us a couple of days, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that legality is a flexible concept around here, especially for people with money.  And the psycho that does the annual tournament has gobs of it.”

“Lovely.  This is all good information but how is the project of getting me home coming along?”

He leaned back and steepled his fingers for a moment “Not great.  Since you’re legally dead, that complicates things.  And being an NBH complicates things even more.  It means that you have to register with all kinds of groups with three letter names.  Smuggling you into the States would be super illegal.  People are going to be very interested in you, Ela.  It’s a good thing that I’m not with the CIA because if I was, you’d probably be knocking over some east African dictatorship right now.”

“I feel like you’re saying you’re not going to help me without saying it.”    

He held his hands out “I ship matchbooks and crummy electronics, what do you expect that I could do for you?  I don’t know anything about sneaking people through multiple countries illegally.  You’re too hot for me to handle.”

“That would be a good name for a song.”  

“I think Otis Redding already did that one.”

September 9th, 1973 – Secret Agent Man

Pinetree International Exports is closer towards the Vegas/New York City portion of Madripoor than the “lowlands” but still in what I am calling the border zone.  This is the part of the city that seems almost familiar to me, if there weren’t so many people on bikes zipping around, it wouldn’t be out of place back in the CS.  It was the same kind of little office-prison you’d expect some guy with a comb-over to be selling insurance out of in Tallahassee or Gary. 

Alcazar, the owner, chief operator, and proprietor of Pinetree International Exports is from the Caribbean states of the US I think.  He has a long beard, not like a hippy beard but more akin to what you’d see in an old photo of a soldier from the First American Revolution.  It doesn’t suit him well at all.  His teeth are a mess as well, it looks like someone hit him in the mouth with a hammer at some point.  If he shaved his beard and kept his mouth shut he would be a handsome man.  After Elvis introduced us, I looked around at his cluttered and shabby office.

“So what is this operation?  An Air America type thing?”

He laughed loudly, putting his mouthful of crooked teeth on display, jerking his thumb at Elvis “This guy been telling stories about the CIA again? Would I be in a place like this if I was with the CIA?”

“Spies are supposed to be inconspicuous so yeah, this seems about right.”

He looked like he had never considered that before “That’s a good point actually.  But the fact remains that I am merely a humble importer/exporter.”

I picked up a card off his desk and examined it “What does that mean?  I know it literally means that you buy stuff somewhere else and bring it here and vice versa, but that doesn’t sound like a full time gig to me.  How much time does it take to buy something and then have it shipped somewhere else?  What do you do all day?”

He picked up a wad of papers and shook them at me like a wagging finger of disapproval “Trust me sweetheart, I got plenty to do.  So why did my good friend Elvis drag you into my office?”

“I’m in need of exporting.”

“Exporting what?”

I gestured like a showroom model “You’re looking at it tiger.”

After I explained my situation, Alcazar was nice enough to let me stay with him for a couple days while he did some research.  I definitely don’t think he’s in the CIA anymore.  I think even a CIA agent working undercover would have more than a single room above a dance studio with a mattress on the floor.  Clearly the import/export business isn’t going so great.  

I think he likes having me around just to he has someone to speak Spanish with.  I asked him how the Tropics are doing but he said that he doesn’t follow sports back home.  I asked him how he ended up in Madripoor and he said (I’m paraphrasing here)

“Madripoor is the only free place left in the world, as free as it gets these days anyway.  If you want to make some money and you don’t mind getting down and dirty, Madripoor is the place to be.  Madripoor doesn’t dance to the tune of politics or corporate interests.”

He went on to say that Madripoor was “a modern day Port Royale”.  It was enough of a non-answer that despite this crappy apartment, it made me think a little that maybe he is CIA again.  On the other hand, being into lawless pseudo-anarchy doesn’t seem like what a CIA man would be into.  Or maybe it does?

Alcazar and Elvis both suggested that I stay put since the Shadow Lords might be looking for me, but I got bored so I went to work with Alcazar a couple days.  Being his secretary was slightly less boring than sitting in his crummy apartment staring at the walls.  Against their advice I got myself a gig at a local joint.  I did The Witch Queen of New Orleans, Never Been to Spain, and Day Dreaming to scattered polite applause.  Don’t these people know I had a top 40 hit in ’70?  Where’s the respect?