November 29, 1973 – Mesoamerican jade turtles are a girl’s best friend (and also are forever)

Think of something you like.  Now imagine that someone said that you couldn’t have that thing.  They’re not going to prevent you from having it, they’re just telling you that you shouldn’t have it.  Now think of something you don’t just like, think of something you love.  Love with all your heart.  And the same thing happens. 

Someone says, don’t enjoy that thing you love anymore.  They’re not taking it away from you, it’s still going to be EVERYWHERE around you, you’re just supposed to refrain by choice.  They’re telling you to ignore the constant ads for the thing you love, and the boundless opportunities to get it, and the fact that everyone else is doing it all the time, and just not do it.   

Now imagine that this thing you love also makes you physically feel really good, and not having it makes you feel like shit.  As soon as we walked out of Snakey Sally’s office, I realized I left my smokes in there.  I had the pack in my hand when we walked in and I set them on the corner of her desk when I sat down to talk to her.  There were only two cigarettes left in there but there was no way I was leaving them behind.  You ever see in the movies when a character is upset and they try to light up and it doesn’t work right away and they get mad and throw the pack of cigarettes away?   

That is the most unrealistic thing in movies.  More unrealistic than a woman jogging with her hair down.  More unrealistic than a flimsy table stopping bullets.  More unrealistic than people ordering food in a restaurant and it showing up four seconds later.  More unrealistic than someone going through a giant glass window without a scratch.  More unrealistic than people finding parking spaces.  More unrealistic than women running full speed in heels.  More unrealistic than characters in clubs being able to hear each other talk.  Because you NEVER throw away a cigarette.  Never.  That would be like a woman drop-kicking her newborn baby off a cliff.  I can’t say that it’s literally impossible, but if it does happen it’s noteworthy.   

I went back in to grab the pack and I saw Serpent Tina sitting there in her stupid catsuit happy and healthy, lording over her sad little domain of criminal assholes and I felt something coming over me like someone tossing a blanket over their stupid pet bird’s cage – it’s not FAIR.  Childish, I know, but I still felt it.  Say it however you want, I believe Oscar Meyer stated it best “Life is never fair, and perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not”.  This woman is a criminal and she gets to have a fully belly and shampoo and clean clothes and deodorant and I never did anything wrong (I mean not REALLY) and I have nothing?  In that moment, it was just too much. 

While I picked up my smokes, I also picked up some stupid globe thing she had on her desk, a paperweight I guess, and I hurled it sidearm at her shotgun toting bodyguard on the left (my left).  It cracked him on the side of the head and he dropped to his knees and sat there – I think he was unconscious – up against the wall.  Bodyguard number two swung his shotgun down as I kicked the desk back at him – the corner hitting him right in the dick.  I’m not normally one to feel sympathy for that kind of thing, but it looked like it hurt.  His mouth flopped open like he was trying to yelp, but no sound came out – like all his air had been taken away.   

Serpent Tina meanwhile had executed some kind of gymnast cartwheel thingee over the desk while it was in motion and landed agilely in a kind of fighting crouch with her hands in some kind of dumb snake kung fu stance.   

“Okay now that was cool, I have to admit that.” 

“Why are you doing this, I thought we had a deal.” 

“Just tell me where Count Yorba is man, I’m tired of running errands for crimelords, just tell me will you?  Why do you have to get something out of it?  Why can’t you just tell me?” 

I will never know the answer to that because she came forward in a very dumb manner with like a shuffle-step sideways move like a fencer would do maybe.  Her hand darted at me in a chicken-shape, I think she was trying to snatch out my eye, but I managed to move enough that she hit me in the bridge of the nose.  I tell you this, you wouldn’t think a hand-chicken to the nose would hurt much, but you’d be wrong.  My vision went away for a split second and then I was seeing stars.  She followed up with a kick that hit me high on the ribs right under my armpit.  I’m not saying it didn’t hurt, but for a kick to the ribs it didn’t hurt that much.  I caught her around the calf and shoved her down – she hit the ground so hard the floor cracked and stuff came flying up.  I’m very strong you see.   

I rubbed at my watering eyes “Jesus, that stings.” I looked down to the floor where Tina was writhing like a snake having a seizure while making the noises of a skinny kid having an asthma attack. “You know, I think I saw Bruce Lee on TV once saying you should never try a kick above the knee.”  She managed to gasp out something about how she wasn’t going to tell me anything and I grabbed the back of her head – squeezing lightly “Are you sure about that?” 

With effort she managed to force out another whisper “You’re no killer.” 

I nodded “True, but why would I kill you?  You have the information I want, if I kill you then I don’t get it.  So killing you would make no sense, I’m just going to hurt you until you tell.” 

“You don’t have it in you.” 

“Six months ago, you would have been right about that.  But I’ve grown as a person.  Being in this horrible place, on top of my physiological issues, has really changed my mind about the nature of pain, and more salient here, my willingness to inflict it on others.  I think if I put my foot on your butt and push down slightly until your pelvis cracks, I would be just fine with that.” 

She was strong, much stronger than a ninety-pound Asian woman should be, but not nearly as strong as I am.  She struggled to get up and I held her down without much effort.  I grabbed the back of her stupid catsuit, intent on moving her, but the damn thing ripped like it was made out of tissue.  I wonder if Cathy Gale ever had that issue.  What kind of shoddy leather was it made out of?  The dead cow that spawned that pelt should feel ashamed of itself.  When I tore the suit up, I also accidentally snapped a jade necklace that she had on underneath.  It didn’t look like jewelry you’d wear, it looked like something that should be in a museum.   

All at once the strength went out of her.  I think she looked suddenly older too, it’s hard to say.  The look on her face was so terrified that I felt sorry for her, just for a second.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone look so scared in my life.  She grabbed the end of the necklace but I pulled it away from her without feeling any resistance.  The necklace itself didn’t break again though, which must mean it’s pretty robust, which probably means it was choking the hell out of her when I snapped it.  Examining it, I saw that the jade was carved into little turtles. 

“Huh.” 

November 29, 1973 – Crimelord book club is on Thursdays

“Serpent Tina, that’s such a stupid name.  Is she from Riverdale?  Did Archie give you this hot tip?  Do we need to watch out for Moose when we go see her?  Is Midge going to be there?  She still owes me five bucks from when I bought Jughead a hoagie.”

Blue flicked his tongue crossly “It’s not Serpent Tina, it’s Serpentina.”

“That’s what I said.”

“No you’re saying it weird, her name isn’t Tina with serpent in front of it, it’s Serpentina, like the female form of serpent.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, there is no female form of serpent, that’s like saying the female form of cow is cowina.”

Martialla felt the need to interject “Cow is the female form, a bull is the male.”

“The male what?  The male cow?”

She bit her weird fish-lip “Oh yeah, that really doesn’t make sense.”

“I guarantee you this broad is named Tina and she has a snake gimmick.”

Blue moved in front of us and turned around to stop us “Don’t piss her off, Ela.  Can you take something seriously for once?  Whatever you want to call this woman, we need her help, and moreover she’s dangerous.  If you give her your American sassmouth, she will try to kill you and then I’ll have to protect you and I don’t want to fight her because then she’ll kill me too.”

“Why does everyone say I’m American. I’m from the Coalition, America is . . .”

Blue took a knee, which still left him half a foot over my head “Please, Ela, I am begging you.  Be respectful.”

I took his giant lizard-claw and patted it “Of course I will.  I don’t know why you think I wouldn’t. 

Martialla gave me the side-eye with her weird giant fish-orbs “Yeah, why would anyone think you would make a flippant comment?”

“I’m just using humor as a defense mechanism during a very dark time in my life.”

“Then how come you never say anything funny?”

Blue shook his head “Oh my god, we’re going to die.”

The Shipyard looks like a wreck from the outside – there are beams or girders or whatever buildings are made out of sticking out of it at funny angles like they were going to put another stadium around it (remember the Shipyard is a soccer stadium not a shipyard because this place is nuts) but construction was stopped right after they got started. 

The former field was jam-packed with vendors under a patchwork of canopies, it was like something I saw in an Allan Quatermain movie when he’s in far off Zanzibar.  There’s markets all over in Madripoor with all kinds of goods being sold, but this was definitely the place you would come to sell a robot suit that you took off an Australian bible-thumper – anything and everything under the sun was being offered for sale there. 

We made our way through that press, people seemed to know Blue and greeted him, and up the stadium stairs into the interior – which was a little more intense.  On the field it seemed to be every man for himself, inside there were competent looking guards with competent looking guns and barriers and such – it was a little more organized.  We made our way down a poorly lighted (lit?) hallway to an office.  I wonder what soccer stadiums need offices for.  What do soccer guys that don’t play soccer do? 

There was another lizard guy standing guard outside, but he was very different from Blue.  He had a big red thing on his head like a rooster and although he was big enough, he was hunched over so much he was shorter than me.  He had more of a crocodile/turtle vibe going on than Blue.  He hissed at Blue who shoved him to the ground like a kid would do to their younger brother.  I tensed up but the guys with guns escorting us just laughed.

Inside the office, one wall was jammed with pachinko machines and the other was stacked with miscellaneous wooden crates.  Sitting behind a desk between the piles was a woman in a leather catsuit complete with some kind of headpiece/helmet.  I wanted to comment on how ridiculous she looked but I remembered my promise to Blue and held my tongue.  Helping me so was the fact that she was flanked by two guys with shotguns. Guys who looked like they really wanted to shoot someone.  I could see some hair peeping out from under the head thing and even though she was a local, her hair was red.  Must be a dye job right?  That doesn’t happen in nature does it? 

No one was talking so I broke the ice “Hi.”

Blue shot me a look like I had made some terrible faux paus but she just looked up from the book she was reading, carefully laid a bookmark between the pages, and set it aside.  Her accent was interesting, like she had learned to speak English from someone in South Africa.

“Ways of Seeing, have you read it?”

I wanted to make a comment about how she was just sitting in her evil lair reading a book like a normal person but I didn’t “I have not.”

“I thought it was going to be a book about art but there’s a lot of feminist theory.  Do you feel repressed by traditional media representations of the female character?”

I shrugged “Maybe a little.”

“It’s thought-provoking, you should read it sometime.” She settled herself more fully in her chair “Lucien tells me that you’re interested in meeting with Baron Iorgu.”

I glanced over at Blue “Well, to be honest we think he might have kidnapped someone we’re looking for, so potentially it might be less cordial than a meeting in the traditional sense.  I want to be up front with you about our motivation to asking about him in case you have dealings with the Baron, I don’t want to cause you problems.”

She smiled slightly “Honesty?  In Madripoor?  How novel.  I don’t have business dealings with Baron Iorgu because the Baron is not a business man, he’s a lunatic.” She seemed to be musing to herself “You can’t do business with a crazy person because you never know how they’re going to act.” She returned her focus to me “I’m told you defeated Mr. X and the Challenger both, you must be quite a warrior.”

“You heard about that?”

“Word travels fast here.”

I shook my head “I’m no warrior, I’m a singer actually, I just got lucky.”

She smiled smugly and shook her head “Luck, such a western concept, nothing happens by accident.  Luck is a reward for boldness and prominence.  The victor makes the luck, not the other way around.” I wasn’t sure what to say to that so I said nothing “In any case you’re a woman that gets results.  I’m told that you took care of Gwai’s operation as well.  You aren’t making many friends here in Madripoor.”

“Madripoor isn’t a very friendly place, but I found Lucien and Martialla here so it’s not all bad.  They’re better friends than I ever thought I would have.”

She glanced at Martialla “Yes, Lucien I know well, but I’m glad I get to meet the infamous ‘super-mermaid’, some day you’ll have to tell me what really happened at the Imperial Navy base Saipan.  The rumors are quiet unbelievable.”

Martialla nodded demurely “I’d be happy to oblige any time.”

The woman looked up at Blue with a mirthless smile “Your friends are so polite Lucien, you had me expecting to be speaking with such brutes.”

A certain point of view? Day in the life of Martialla

Martialla hadn’t liked Nā-maka-o-Kahaʻi from day one.  Martialla is in favor of protecting the oceans as much as anyone (more than most actually) but she looks dimly on anyone who brags about being an “eco-warrior”.  Making things worse though was the fact that Nā-maka-o-Kahaʻi clearly had no idea what she was doing.  When they first met, she was bragging about sinking an oil tanker and when Martialla asked how she prevented the oil in the tanker from spilling into the ocean, Nā-maka-o-Kahaʻi just stared at her like she didn’t know what she meant.

So they didn’t get off on a good foot and things just went downhill the more Martialla learned about her – namely that her most frequent acts of “eco-warrioring” were attacking the crews of shipping vessels and drowning them.  Not being a fan of casual murder in general this was bad, but given that Martialla had also worked on such a vessel for years herself, you can imagine she didn’t love what Nā-maka-o-Kahaʻi was doing. 

Martialla was mostly convinced that Nā-maka-o-Kahaʻi was not just stupid, but also that she didn’t even truly care that much about the cause she professed to be doing it for – that she was just using environmentalism as an excuse for doing what she wanted to do anyway, wreck stuff and hurt people.  And if we’re being honest, and I think that we are, Martialla is just a little bit racist against pacific islanders.  She would tell you that it’s because of some bad experiences she had, but people always have an excuse for their ugly little prejudices don’t they?

So when Rusalka told Martialla that Nā-maka-o-Kahaʻi was causing some kind of trouble for the Shachi undersea mobile research facility, which was nearby at the time, she went to check it out not because she cares a whit about the Empire of Japan and their aquatic research projects, but because she wanted an excuse to take a strip off Nā-maka-o-Kahaʻi and be in the right doing so.

The Shachi mobile complex looked to Martialla’s eye vaguely like an aircraft carrier underwater, although more symmetrical and sleek than a real surface dwelling one.  It was resting on the ocean floor which she was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to be doing, and the bodies of several Japanese sailors were hanging in the water which was also a tip off that something was not going the way everyone expected.  One of them was being nibbled at by a trio of circling whitetip sharks. 

Funny story, when she was an able seaman (woman but you know) she wasn’t afraid of sharks.  She never really even thought about sharks.  Why would she?  It’s not something sailors think about.  But now that she’s an undersea super person, she hates sharks.  And she knows that it’s completely irrational because even if a shark did try and take a bite out of her (which it wouldn’t) she’s not only much faster than any shark in the sea (even the short fin mako!) and could get away, even if it did get close to her, when she’s underwater she’s fast and strong enough to catch it and tear it in half like a sadistic little boy with a minnow from the bait shop.

So she kept an eye on those harmless to her sharks as she approached the Shachi and entered through the submarine bay.  Some people call it a wet dock, but Martialla finds that term crass and suggestive.  There was no one at the C&C center as she came out of the water and no lights on, which wasn’t a problem for her fish eyeballs.  Looking around, she did notice a woman in diving gear laying on the floor in a supply area and trying not to be noticed.  After initial language fumbling, they were able to communicate in Russian. 

Im Geum-ja started off by begging Martialla not to eat her (offensive) but once they got over that, she explained what she knew.  Im Geum-ja had been outside the station doing routine maintenance when she saw several of her fellow navy people swimming around without any sort of gear.  That would have been strange enough, but then they planted explosives on a supply sub and blew it up. That really got her attention.  She fled back to the Shachi at best speed where she found her comrades beating the shit out of her commanding officer. 

She watched in horror as they held her commander up while a “green water devil” came into the bay and ate his head.  Literally just bit his head off, crunched it up and swallowed it.  They tossed the headless body into the water and sauntered off.  She had been laying there ever since paralyzed with fear. 

Martialla told her to get a fresh tank and head for the surface and Madripoor.  When Im protested that this was a secret facility, Martialla told her if she wanted to live, it was time to leave.  When Im asked her if it was safe outside, Martialla, not one to mince words, told her “probably not”. 

Martialla made her way through several maintenance bays and the head (where she found a dead sailor with his throat slashed) into the officer’s quarters where she found a man tied to a sink and badly beaten.  Im, who had been trailing her unobtrusively, called him Kurokodairu and immediately untied him – even as he seemed to be shouting abuse at her. 

Im stood downcast as he shouted at her until Martialla demanded to know what was going on.  A three-way translated conversation from Japanese to Russian ensued.  The Senior Chief Petty Officer was not happy that Im was there without a mark on her while mutineers ran free.  He made a big deal of showing off his wounds and said that the only reason he was still alive is because the “monsters” needed his knowledge of the ship. 

Martialla remembered idiots like him from her time in the military and her civilian jobs as well – guys who seem to really want to go down with the ship and take everyone else with them.  She had worked with a guy named Fitzroy that was a former close combat instructor and worked as an “anti-piracy specialist”.  Ass.  Hole.  Even though she couldn’t understand what he was saying, she knew this guy was a Fitzroy.  In a way it was comforting to know that as different as Canada and the Empire of Japan are, you still find the same kind of people.

Martialla was tempted to tie him back up, especially when he started talking about how Im needed to find a weapon so they could take back the ship, but she didn’t.  Instead she locked them both in the room and continued on her way.  She passed a few sailors that had undergone some kind of transformation – their skin having the blue pallor of a body that’s been left in the water for weeks or months.  They didn’t pay her any attention. 

On the bridge she found Nā-maka-o-Kahaʻi, Tiger Shark, the aforementioned “green water devil” who looked more like a lizard guy than a fish guy, and someone else she didn’t know that looked like a whale crossed with a catfish crossed with a guy.  Nā-maka-o-Kahaʻi rolled her eyes like you do when you’re trying to impress your friends with your new skates and your little sister runs over with her stupid pogo stick for stupid babies. 

Even though he looked like a lizard, the green guy called himself the Great White (are there any water guys that don’t name themselves sharks?) and he seemed to be the brains of the operation.  He started blathering on about created a new world where everyone lived under the water.  He said that he had released a gas that was turning the loyal crew here into mer-people and they were quashing all opposition.  

Over Nā-maka-o-Kahaʻi’s objections, he invited Martialla to join in his grand vision of a better world – a world under the sea.  Martialla shot him in the head.  Martialla chased after the Tiger Shark and shot him a couple times too, but he escaped into the water and she knows from experience that he’s a fast healer. 

When she got back to the bridge, Nā-maka-o-Kahaʻi and the catfish-whale guy were gone.  Martialla went back to let Im and Kurokodairu loose and explain to them that it was time to abandon ship.  Kurokodairu was a real pill about it at first but eventually was convinced there was no way to get things back on track.  Together the three of them gathered up a half dozen other loyalists and headed out to sea.  Some of the newly made mer-people tried to stop them, but the only power the gas gave them seemed to be the ability to breathe under water, they couldn’t even swim any faster – they were no match for Martialla. 

Martialla coming out of the water onto the beach has become a common enough sight that people don’t flip their lid about it anymore, but doing so with eight Japanese Navy divers raised a few eyebrows.  Once they were on land, Im revealed that she was less of a Japanese navy woman and more of a Korean unwilling conscript.  Martialla shrugged and told her she was in Madrpoor now, she could be whatever she wanted.

Twenty minutes later, Martialla met up with Ela and Lucien at a seaside café where Ela was doing what she’s always doing – stuffing her face with food she didn’t pay for and giving Martialla judgmental looks. 

“Why are you late?  What were you doing?!”

Martialla picked up a menu “Nothing.”