Ela’s bar tour #3 – The worst part is the little bits of fluke get stuck in your teeth

There’s a bar by the Shipyard (the soccer stadium turned grey market, not the actual shipyard) that serves the most disgusting alcohol I have ever encountered.  I think I heard that it’s made out of fermented whale oil or blubber or something.  It is absolutely wretched.  The only way I can choke it down is by cutting it with a drink they have around here that’s something like soda but is more like Kool-Aid without enough sugar in it – it has the advantage of being dirt cheap.  Possibly because there’s dirt in it.  

The advantage of this whale-puke drink is that it’s so strong that after five or six belts even with my mega constitution, I can get a little bit of a buzz going.  Not much, but these days I have to take what I can get.  I don’t know the name of this place, but it’s an open-air joint with a single old man as the proprietor.  I don’t know if he speaks French or English because I’ve never heard him say a word to anyone.  He just pours disgusting booze in little clay cups and collects seemingly random amounts of money in return.

I was at this fine establishment when I felt a strange rush of air around me.  I don’t know generally how super people fly, if it’s anti-gravity or what, but this one apparently did so by lifting and moving themselves along with a jet of air.  It wasn’t as obnoxious as being near a helicopter, but it was significantly annoying.  A nice person would land a few blocks away and walk the rest of the way so they don’t blow away everyone’s newspapers and muss up hair and scare dogs and the like, but she just landed a step away from the stool on my left.  Her outfit looked like a black minidress but it was made out of that weird material that super people with costumes have their stuff made out of – I wonder where they get it from.  She looked more like a runway model than super-whatever.  

I choked down the dregs of my stomach-churning brew and belched quietly “Wearing a skirt while flying seems like you’re asking for trouble.  Do you have some modesty shorts on under there or do you just let everyone see your business?”

She held out her hand “I’m Doctor Atlas.”

I held up my hand to refuse her handshake “Better not, I’m getting over a cold.  So Doctor Atlas?  Does that mean you’re strong enough to hold up the sky?  Why Doctor?  Why not Captain?  Or Lady Atlas?  I actually like the sound of Lady Atlas.”

“Atlas is my real last name.  I have a doctorate in chemistry.”

“Nice.  I assume you didn’t float over here in your skirt just to shoot the breeze, what can I do for you doc?  Hey, do you have any money in that get up?  Would you like to buy me some real booze?  And some food?”

“No, I’d like to talk to you about the future.”

“I met a guy from the future once, he seemed pretty depressed.  But he fixed all that, so I think we’re good futurewise.  I guess I shouldn’t tell you that though because if you find out that the future is good maybe then you won’t do the thing that makes the future good because you think you don’t need to.  Time travel is tricky I tell you what.”

“I want to talk to you because you’ve realized the same thing that I have, that people like us – non baselines as they call us – are becoming more common.  What you haven’t realized is what that means.  Right now the governments of the world are concentrating on creating and controlling us, but they’re starting to catch on that the proverbial cat is out of the bag.  And once they fully understand that, they’re going to change their goals to destroying us.”

“Seems like a bit of a reach.”

“After I was given my powers they studied me for a year and a half.  Why do you think they did that?  So they could figure out how to do it again, but also so they could figure out how to kill me and people like me.  When there was just Angel, god rest her soul, and a few others in the world, no one thought about what it really meant for people like just to exist.  But as more people like Angel and myself and you come around, things are changing.  And we need to do something about it before it’s too late.”

“Uh, they don’t need to do a lot of research do they?  A bullet to the head will take care of me and pretty much all the super-people I’ve met.  Angel, god rest her soul, was something altogether different.”

“And yet she still died, didn’t she?  How do you think that happened?”

“The dirty commies came up with some new bio-weapon.”

“That’s what the government wants you to believe.  How could a bunch of dirt poor revolutionaries develop and deploy such a weapon?  Even the cover story that they were aided by foreign groups doesn’t hold water.  Angel was assassinated by her own government as a test of a new weapon designed to neutralize the strongest of non-baselines.”

I snorted “Bullshit, the government would never destroy their own best asset.”

She grabbed my arm tightly “Of course they would!  They don’t have any other choice.  They lost control of the production of superbeings and they see what’s happening and where this is all heading.  Every day there’s more of us and that scares the hell out of them.  Before long, there’s going to be laws passed about what you and I can and cannot do and where we can and cannot live and that’s just the beginning!  If we don’t take a stand now, we’re looking at slavery at best and more likely extinction.”

“And what do you plan to do about it?  Build a giant laser and hold the world hostage?”

“The first step is organizing.  The only way we have a chance to stand against them is if we stand together.  I’d like for you to come to a meeting of myself and some like-minded people, and I want you to bring your friends.  We need all the hands we can get working together.”

“Is it like a mixer?  Will there be food?”

December 15, 1973 – Never going home

I loved my grandmother.  She taught me everything.  But I cannot deny that she was a hard woman.

Sitting on the promenade of a beachfront hotel, leaning back in a chair I stole from a nearby bistro, smoking just the worse cigarettes (every time I think that things can’t get worse I find some even cheaper crappier smokes) I thought about what my grandmother would say.  We never discussed murder in detail.  For some reason it didn’t come up. 

I’m pretty sure what she would say is that if you feel like you need to take the life of another human being, if you’re sure, that if you’re going to set those actions in motion that are going to take a person off the earth – that you should at least be there to see it.  If you’re not going to do it yourself, if you’re going to lay that burden on someone else, you have see the results.  I think that’s what she would have said.  You can’t pass responsibility to someone else, that’s a very dangerous precedent to set, makes things too easy.  As Shane said in the movie Shane, killing is a brand, even if it’s justified.  Something like that.    

Based on that, I was thinking that it wouldn’t be okay to send Blue and Martialla to kill this guy while I sat under our home/tarp and tried not to think about it.  But the idea of standing there and watching a man die makes me queasy.  We’re talking about cold-blooded murder.  I don’t even like thinking about the two guys that I might have killed fighting.  I soothe myself with the sweet lie that they could be okay, that maybe they pulled through and learned the error of their wicked ways.  But even if they didn’t, I was just defending myself.  It’s amazing what you can justify when you paint yourself as the victim.  They attacked me, so of course I hurt them. 

Since I couldn’t stomach the idea of murder, I thought “well that probably means you shouldn’t do it then eh?” but then I thought about that poor girl.  I don’t know if I “talked her down”, maybe she wasn’t going to jump anyway, but I feel for her.  How can I help her?  It’s backwards how having super powers makes you feel powerless.  Before, I would have been bothered by a situation like this of course, but I wouldn’t have thought I could do anything about it so I would have just gone about my day.  But now I’m a superwoman!  So I feel like I should be able to do something.   

It’s like a trick.  Or a trap.  Or a joke.  It’s something.  It’s like if every time Superman caught a woman falling out of a plane a guy popped up and told him “Hey while you were doing that an earthquake in Chile killed a thousand people, where were you?”  Whatever you can do, it’s not enough.  I was struggling with this issue, by which I mean I was turning the same thoughts over and over in my head and accomplishing nothing, when a fellow in a jaunty red and white helmet scooted up to me on a Solo Electra scooter.  It was none other than my old pal Alcazar. 

“Sweet ride.” 

He grinned “Isn’t it though?  I can get this baby up to thirty kilometers an hour.  You’re a difficult woman to find Miss Ela.” 

“Well I’m technically homeless so that’s probably true.  You should come over to the tarp some time for a fondue party.  I made a new very interesting friend since we last talked.  How long ago was that?  Three years?” 

“Like two months.  Seven weeks really.  I need your help.” 

I covered my face “Jesus was it really that recently, that feels so long ago.” 

He eyed my pile of cigarette ash next to my chair “Yes, you’re clearly working very hard here.” 

“Do you want to hire me to sing at your cousin’s wedding?  Fifty bucks and all the hot dogs I can eat and you got yourself a deal.  I won’t sing ‘At Last’ though, I love Etta James but that song has been sung at too many weddings, it’s lost all meaning it has!” 

He looked at me closely “Are you high right now?  Let me see your eyes.” 

“I wish.  What can I do for you, my Caribbean friend?” 

“Remember how I told you that I’m not in the CIA?  Well I’m really not in the CIA.  But I’m sometimes involved in things.  In that . . . in that area.  Intelligence I mean.  I’m working on an operation that requires a certain ability and my guy isn’t available.” 

“Why not?” 

“Because he’s dead.  It’s nothing to do with this though, he was killed for something else, the op is solid.  I need someone with enhanced strength and I saw from your file that you’re plenty strong enough to do the job.  You do this for me and I’ll get you out of here.” 

“I thought you said you couldn’t do that.” 

“No, what I said is that I wouldn’t do that because the Shadow Lords would kill me if I did.” 

 I raised an eyebrow “And now?” 

“And now I’m willing to risk it.  This is a matter of critical national importance.” 

“By way of payment, would you also be willing to take on a former sex worker as your assistant?” 

“Sure, as long as she doesn’t mind not getting paid.” 

I blew out a long plume of smoke “I should probably check with Blue on this, I’m starting to lose track of all the balls we’re juggling.  We have a pimp to kill, we need to raid Baron Illyana’s island, we need to kill Mr.X, I’ve got that thing with the Shadow Lords, there’s a lot going on.”

He squinted “You mean Baron Iorgu?  That’s actually where I need you to go.”

“What a fun coincidence.  In that case I’m in, now what’s the status on those hot dogs?” 

Once more with feeling – a day in the life of Lucien aka Big Blue

Lucien doesn’t need to lie in the sun to thermoregulate.  Despite appearances he’s not really a lizard, hot mammal blood pumps through his veins just like the rest of us.  Most of us anyway.  He doesn’t lie in the sun because he needs to, he does it because it feels good.  The feeling he gets is not a sensation he can describe to anyone.  Until he was turned into a lizard monster, he had no frame of reference.  It’s like a dog trying to explain what a patch of grass smells like – it wouldn’t make sense to anyone but another dog.  And there’s no one else like Lucien.

The sensation is especially cherished because Lucien doesn’t feel much anymore.  And not in some metaphorical emotional way, literally he can’t feel very much.  Because of his thick skin and altered nerve endings it takes a significant amount of force for him to feel anything.  It’s another thing that only makes sense in context.  People don’t realize how much they’re feeling things all the time.  Your brain edits it into background noise.  The air on your skin, someone brushing past you in a crowd, a handshake, the rustling of your clothing – unless something strange is going on, you don’t even notice how much you feel things.

Until it’s gone.  It’s not exactly like waking up blind but it’s not unlike that either.  Not being able to feel the ground under your feet, or the chair you’re sitting on, or someone tapping you on the shoulder.  Lucien doesn’t often even feel a strong blow from a normal person.  More than once, someone has attacked him in Madripoor and he didn’t notice.  So the time he spends lying in the sun, actually feeling something, is extra special.  Particularly because Madripoor is not a place where you feel special often.

As he was basking on the edge of the building, Lucien opened an eye to peer at Ela under their “home” – that is the tarp.  Ela dragged a wooden chair she stole from somewhere up there and was sprawled out on it dead asleep.  It didn’t look very comfortable to Lucien but Ela was always worried about bugs crawling on her so she would never lie on the ground.  Most people could never sleep in a chair like that but Ela was out cold, Lucien had never met someone who could sleep so well.  Ela is a world champion sleeper.  She had a pack of cigarettes grasped in both hands in her lap like a primate holding onto a baby asleep in a tree.

Watching her sleep, Lucien was reminded about a furry white and black cat they had back on the farm.  It slept like that too.  Sprawled out in the sun on the porch dead to the world.  That cat had unwittingly taught young Lucien a valuable lesson.  It seems like the laziest beast in the world but whenever a bird or critter came into its eye line, there was an instant change.  That furry little ball that sat on his chest and rumbled its purrs turned into a killer.

That lazy beast became totally focused, totally engaged – and when it made its move it was faster than you’d ever believe watching it laze around as a ball of fluff.  Sometimes the field mouse or ground squirrel would run into a hole or get away, but not often.  That soft fluffy sunseeker was merciless and quick.  And it didn’t even eat them, just killed and left them lay and went back to snoozing.  Death for no reason other than to do it.

Lucien didn’t smile because he can’t smile physically – you need lips for that – but he was smiling on the inside.  He never had a friend like Ela before.  Truth be told, he never had a friend before.  In the service he kept to himself because of the horrible secret that he didn’t like girls.  After that he was working with criminals he couldn’t stomach, no friends there.  And working as a mercenary?  Not a lot of comradery there either.  Not unless you’re a real piece of shit.

Ela is something else though.  She is completely self-absorbed and demanding, and she seems to have an addiction to mouthing off to the exact wrong people.  But she is also disarming and fun and at her core cares about people.  Cares about Lucien.  Which was something he isn’t used to.  It’s been a long time since anyone care about Lucien.  Maybe never. 

Just the other day someone asked Lucien “Who’s that you’re always hanging out with it?” and all he could think to say was “So that’s this woman, Ela, you see . . . . and uh . . . I think you’d like her.”

She’d hate it if she knew how much Lucien wanted to protect her.  She’s strong enough to push over a building but she seems so fragile – Lucien feels that if he put one finger on her she’d burst apart like a dandelion and the bits of her would float away.  Lucien sees her as a cannon made out of ice, dangerous for sure, but not able to withstand its own power.  And that’s just the physical part, she’s lived a soft life in the CSA, she isn’t ready for this kind of shit.  Martialla is wrong about her, Lucien thinks, she does complain a lot, but she’s adjusting well to her new reality given the givens and assuming the assumptions.  Most people like her wouldn’t have lasted a day kidnapped and dropped in Madripoor. 

Some of it she brings on herself, but Lucien would be the first to say that Ela seems to be a magnet for disasters and bad luck.  Sometimes it seems like she can’t walk down the street without being accosted by someone or something.  Maybe the Shaow Lords are the ones behind all her “bad luck”. 

Martialla was already gone when Lucien woke up.  She doesn’t seem to sleep much.  Two or three hours at most, and even when she’s asleep she seems kind of awake.  Lucien wishes she and Ela got along better.  Even though they came from different places and served in different ways and she speaks French with a terrible accent, he has so much in common with Martialla.  He loves talking to her, even more than Ela sometimes, Ela didn’t know anything about guns or vehicles of military history.  Plus Martialla has way more amusing stories about grenades and bloody ribcages. 

Lucien’s first stop of the day was breakfast with the Nightwitch.  They don’t do it every day, but they often check in with each other to trade news and gossip.  She’s much more plugged in of course, but Lucien fulfills the friend in really low places niche and usually has a few tidbits that she doesn’t know.  Lucien has found that his real talent lies in networking.  As “hired muscle” he can interact with pretty much anyone.  And because of his appearance people have a habit of thinking that he’s stupid and say things around him they shouldn’t.  Although in their defense, the only two other lizard guys Lucien has met were dumb as bricks.

After business was done, Lucien delicately apologize to the Nightwitch about how things went down with Serpentina.  The Nightwitch played it graciously, but Lucien knows that he owes her one now.  He’s racking up the favors owned and calling in what few markers he had trying to keep Ela alive.

Next was a meeting with a smuggler who might be willing to take them out to Baron Iorgu’s island.  After that, some light collection work for Devil-Tail Lucy.  Lucien has a lot more cash than he lets Ela know about, she’d spend it all in a day on something or other if she knew.  After that, Lucien made the rounds of all the restaurants and food carts that they hadn’t already burned to see what scraps he could beg borrow or steal.  One place gave him a giant bag full of day old buns, a good score that Ela would go through in one sitting and still be hungry.

Lucien wondered, if he and Ela were to turn themselves over to some eggheads to study them if they could come up with a scientific explanation why he was huge and barely needs to eat anything while Ela has to each as much as an entire platoon every day.  And still she looks like she’s losing weight.   And she didn’t have a lot to lose to begin with.  Sometimes Lucien is shocked when he notices how skinny she is now.  It reminds him of some PSA they used to run on channel 4 about anorexia.  Lucien hates the people that did that to her almost as much as the aliens that turned him into a monster.  Their day is coming, all of them.

After that, Lucien headed over to shoot the breeze with a crew working on a new hotel on the border to uptown but on the way he bumped into an old comrade from his days in Africa.  Lucien always liked Amerigo.  Amerigo had a reputation as being slippery and untrustworthy, which is an odd thing that happens when you’re a total pro but keep to yourself.  If you’re not into the jocular back-slappery of men, they feel like they can’t trust you even when you always do your job.  Lucien knows what that’s like.   Amerigo didn’t seem too happy with whatever he was doing there but then he never really seemed that happy.

After a few more stops to chat and arrange and network, Lucien was back on the roof to get a last little bit of sun before Ela woke up.  He wasn’t really asleep, he never would have felt her kick if he was, he was just pretending. 

“Wake up you lazy lizard!  It’s time to get to work.”

Ela’s bar tour #2 – Don’t touch meteorites PSA

Even though it’s in lowtown instead of Touristville, The Princess Bar is popular with Westerners and folks of that ilk.  I suppose the idea is that the people that go there like to pretend that they’re being more worldly and adventurous than the rubes that stick to the tourist areas.  I tend to avoid the Princess Bar myself, there’s just a weird vibe there.  I can’t explain exactly why but I never feel comfortable there.  I think a lot of the local non-local super people like to hang out there, maybe that’s why.  

I do go there on the third afternoon of each month though (barring assassination attempts or what have you) because from two to four PM they have a two for one drink special and the staff doesn’t seem to care that I eat several pounds of bar snacks.  It’s usually not too crowded because even in Madripoor there are not a lot of people getting basted off their ass at two in the afternoon, but there’s always a handful of people in there taking advantage of their generous promotion like I am doing.  

Last time I was there, I was surprised to see a face that I recognized – Madripoor is the crossroads of the world but it’s still a big world and I’m a long way from home.  I couldn’t remember where I knew him from but I was sure that I had seen his face on a poster.  He was a handsome first nation fellow with a weird kind of buzzcut, that’s what really stood out for me because it seems like long hair is more standard for first nation guys.  He was sitting in a booth nursing a 7 and 7 and staring at nothing.  I knew it was rude but I went over anyway, it’s so rare that I run into anyone from back home that I couldn’t help myself.

“Sorry to bother you, but are you an actor?  I swear I’ve seen you somewhere.”

For a moment it seemed like he was going to blow me off, but eventually he spoke “You sound like you’re from the CS.  You probably saw me on promotional material for Sector 8.”

I snapped my fingers “Oh shit, yeah, you were like a police sponsored super team right?  They were really going for a diversity thing right?  It was you, a black dude, a Hispanic dude, and a lady on all the posters?  And then there was one white guy in the back and you could only see half of his face?”

“Yeah, the marketing guys thought it was important.”

“What happened with all that?  I felt like there was a media blitz about it for months and then it just disappeared.”

“Los Alamos terrorists kidnapped some kids from Michigan, the college not the state, and they sent us in to rescue them.  They all died, as did everyone else on the team besides me.  Well, Scott lived, sort of.  So the project wasn’t a rousing success to put it mildly.”

 “Shit.”

“Yeah.”

“So, you’re like a globetrotting mercenary now?”

“After I got fired from Sector 8 I tried to be a solo hero.  My first night out, I stepped in front of a guy shooting up his ex-girlfriend’s house.  A bullet ricocheted off me and went into a house and hit an old lady in the foot.  After that I decided the hero thing wasn’t for me.  I went to Kachin so they could do tests on me to see if they could recreate my powers.  They couldn’t, so after a while they gave up and dumped me here in Madripoor.”

“Kachin?  Isn’t that where all the heroin comes from?  And you were trying to help them make more super people?”

He sighed “It seemed like a good idea at the time.  ALL the heroin doesn’t come from there.”

“So what do you do here?”

He held up his glass “You’re looking at it.”

“Fair enough.  I’ve been told that Duke Eaglevane is involved with Kachin somehow, do you know anything about him?  I’m trying to kill him you see, revenge and so forth, but I’m having trouble getting started.  Revenge isn’t as easy as they make it seem in the movies.”

He shook his head “I don’t know anything about Kachin or Duke Eaglevane or anything else.”

“There seems to be an abnormal number of bitter washed-up super soldiers from the US here, but you’re the first I’ve met from the CS.”

“A super-soldier?  Like Angel you mean?  God rest her soul.  No, I had nothing to do with the military.  I got my powers from touching a meteor.”

“Why did you touch a meteor?”

“I ask myself that all the time.”

“Well, uh, my friends and I are kind of a super team of sorts.  You want to do stuff with us?”

“No.”

“Okay, no problem.  Do you want to buy me a ton of food and booze and cigarettes?  And I mean a TON of food.”

“Not really no.”

“Alright well, good luck with fading away or drinking yourself to death or whatever you plan is.  If I had a phone I’d give you the number in case you change your mind, but I don’t so I guess if you need me just look around.  If a building is collapsing or people with motorcycles are ramping from roof to roof, I’m probably around that.  Do you ever talk to anyone back home?  Do you know how the Tropics are doing this season?”

December 14, 1973 – I love the Drifters but they’re full of shit about roofs

Remember when I was complaining about living in a broom closet?  I miss those days.  After someone, who was just doing her best, threw a super powered dominatrix through the wall of that broom closet and made a big hole in it, we had to bail before the landlord found out.  We were already on thin ice with him because we’re not supposed to have pets and Martialla is legally classified as a goldfish.  Our new home is a tarp on the roof of a fireworks factory.  And we all know how safe fireworks factories are.  Even by roof-tarp standards it’s pretty grim.  I was under said tarp smoking while Blue was stretched out nearby in the sun.  I could practically hear him baking in the heat but he was as happy as a lizard in the sun.  I told him about the jumper and he opened one eye to regard me. 

“Sure, I’ll kill whoever you want.” 

“You will?  I’m . . . surprised.” 

“Why?” 

I gestured vaguely “You know . . . you’re the nice one.” 

“The nice one what?  Are you forgetting how we met?” 

I chuckled “Our eyes locked across a crowded room?  No, I mean I know, you were like a mercenary, but not one of the bad ones.  You weren’t the guy flame throwing – throwering? — throwing villages, you were the one who beat up the guy that did that right?  You’re like the guy from the Long Goodbye.  Heart of gold, sucker for a hard luck case, all of that.  A moral and decent man cast adrift in a selfish, self-obsessed society where lives can be thrown away without a backward glance.”   

“Was that Peter Segal?” 

“What?” 

“In the movie.” 

“I’m talking about the book.” 

“Isn’t the moral of The Long Goodbye that loyalty and friendship are meaningless?” 

“Look, we’re getting off track here.” 

He lizard-grinned “Imagine that.” He sat up and turned my direction “Here’s the thing Ela, I can kill this guy if you want, but then what?  You want to help this girl, that’s admirable, but after he’s dead, what comes next?  I don’t think she can pop over to the steno pool and gab with the gals while she waits for Mr. Business to need her to take some notes.  I doubt her resume is up to date is what I’m saying.  A lot of bad breaks led to her being where she is now and one killing, as satisfying as it might be, what does it really change?  What’s the best-case scenario here?  She bounces around on the street for a while until she gets grabbed up by a less abusive pimp?” 

“Uh, in the comics the heroes always save people and then they become a network of informants for that hero.  How about something like that?” 

“In the comics, how does the network of informants pay their rent?” 

I bit my lip “I don’t know, they don’t go into detail about those sorts of things.  I think the heroes in comic strips are usually independently wealthy.” 

“That’s nice for them, I imagine that does make things easier.  Another thing you need to consider.  This guy is probably connected with some outfit or other, if we take him down, we’re most likely buying into a conflict with another group – and we already have a couple of those cooking as you may remember.” 

“So you’re saying that I shouldn’t do it?” 

“No, I’m just saying that it’s not as simple as ‘and the handsome magic blue lizard killed the pimp and she lived happily ever after.’ If we do this, it isn’t the end of the story, it’s the beginning.” 

“Maybe you don’t have to kill him, maybe you can just rough him up and scare him off.” 

“Oh for sure we could, but you’re missing the point.  We can get rid of him one way or the other, that part doesn’t really matter.  Once he’s gone by whatever method it happens, all those things I just said are still hanging over us.” 

I looked up at him glumly “Why is everything impossible?” 

He reached out and put his giant scaly hand on my foot “Some people would say that hardship makes you stronger.” 

“And what do you say?” 

“I say that in the end, life is horrific, and teaches us nothing.” 

“How very French of you.” 

“Yeah, but I don’t let it affect my sunny disposition, that’s what makes me French Canadian.” 

December 14, 1973 – Justice is a noncorrosive metal, but metals can be melted by the heat of revenge!

“Oh hey Blue, I was just thinking . . . oh shit!”

When he turned and snarled at me, I realized that it wasn’t Blue.  That was my mistake on several counts.  First of all, I was going to meet Blue and Martialla, so it would be strange to bump into him on the street.  Second of all, he wasn’t even blue, he was kind of greyish-brown with some pale yellow marks.  Once I got a good look at him I realized my mistake, but at the risk of being a lizard-racist, when you’re walking about and you see someone who’s got scales and is three feet taller than everyone else, your mind kind of fills in the blank.  It’s not like there’s SO many lizard guys around here that it’s unreasonable when you’re not paying attention right?  I mean there’s like four lizard guys tops.  Sidenote why aren’t there any lizard women?  Probably because lizards don’t have boobs.  Why would any male scientist turn a woman into something without boobs?

He roared something at me, his breath was simply AWFUL with the stench of rotting meat, and I was so distracted by that that I didn’t realize I actually understood (mostly) what he was saying until he referred to himself as “Bestia-lagarto cornuda devoradora.”  Beside the color he was much different from (than?) Blue, he did indeed have little (and big) horns jutting out from his dinosoury skull.  Although he didn’t really look like a dinosaur, maybe more like a dragon guy?  Really what it was was like one of those little thorny desert lizards, only you know, a huge monster-guy.  He said “Me cago en la leche. Déjame solo!” to me which is some kind of slang (or he’s insane) I didn’t understand in full, but I got the gist of it.

I was tempted to give him a good shove, but we were in a crowd and he probably would have plowed down fifty people.  He may weigh eight hundred pounds but I have the strength of twenty strong men.  And that’s only forty pounds per man, which is something a non-strong man should be able to handle.  Not wanting to crush a bunch of locals, I contented myself by telling him “estás bien pendejo” – but I totally could have knocked him on his ass.  For sure. 

No sooner had I walked away from that dust-up when I heard someone shouting (in English, well sort of, Australian) at me from the street.  I turned to see that a small gap had formed in the crowd where my old friend the Crimson Cardinal was holding one giant red robo-fist in the air – which seemed to be the only piece of his suit left.  For reasons unknown he wasn’t wearing a shirt, and he really should have been – not a lot of meat on those bones, you know what I mean?  There was a network of wires running down his dirty bare arm to some kind of glowing chest-piece strapped to him like a bullet-vest.  He was making such a spectacle that I didn’t notice at first that Captain Patriot USA was at his side furiously swooshing his finger around his glowing green alien pad.

“Stand and deliver, Jezebel!  Your time of judgement is at hand, for you face the Hammer of God!”  He threw his hand up dramatically and made a fist, which resonated with a thunderous clap.

“Is the hammer invisible?”

“What?”

“Are you holding an invisible hammer above your head?”

“No . . . I . . . the gauntlet is the hammer of God.”

“Why wouldn’t you say the fist of God then?  Or the hand of God?”

Patriot muttered “I told you it didn’t make sense.”

Red Fist all but spat at him “You’re the one that wanted to call us the Ela Revenge Squad.”

“Like the Superman Revenge Squad?  That would have been cool.  But there’s only two of you, that’s hardly a squad, that’s the problem.”

A local guy that I thought was just watching shouted something angrily and the Scarlet Fingerman gestured “Yes, Halimah is a member as well.  Three is enough for a squad.”

I peered at the man “Uh, what did I do to him?  He doesn’t look familiar.”

They spoke briefly “He says you wrecked his kiosk.”

I made a face “Oh yeah, I did do that.  Can you tell him I’m sorry?  There’s not enough big heavy things to throw around here, I don’t know what they want me to do.  Are there boulders around here?”

“Silence!  The time is nigh, you shall be punished for your insolence!”

“Why are you the one with the robot fist?  No offense, but you’re like the guy in those Charles Atlas ads before he does the program.” I pointed at the Blond Bomber “Isn’t that guy like a special forces army ranger marine commando?  Shouldn’t he be the one with the robo attack glove?”

The Aussie pulled his fist back and made some awkward looking punching motion and a wave of concussive force went in my general direction and knocked over a bunch of boxes. 

“No more questions!  I demand satisfaction!”

I pointed “The red light district is over there.” I laughed and laughed and laughed.  Because I am hilarious.  

Mr. America growled “Just kill her already!  You only have enough power for . . .”

The Aussie’s eyes went wide “Don’t tell her how much power we have!”

I walked towards them “Alright, look guys, we had some issues in the past but surely you’re not going to kill me just because I wrecked your suit, are you?  You didn’t even really own that suit, didn’t you steal it?  Plus, I was defending myself.  Are you really suggesting that you’re going to kill me for the crime of not letting you kill me?  That makes no sense.”

“I’m not going to kill you, I’m just going to defeat you.”

I shrugged “Okay, I’m defeated.”

He frowned “What do you mean?”

“What do YOU mean?” I raised my hands “Everyone, everyone, your attention please, I Ela hereby admit defeat.  I am officially defeated.” I went down to one knee “I submit to you good sir.  You are the better man.”

His head whipped around at the curious crowd “Get up!”

I looked up at him incredulously “What?  Do you want to hit me?  You’re going to punch a defenseless woman in the face with a cracking bionic fist?”

Blondie’s face was flushed with bloodlust “Yes, do it!”

The Aussie looked around desperately “No . . . I . . . just . . . what . . . I mean . . .”

I stood up and tapped the rig on his chest, which seemed to be burning his skin “Did you guys rig this all up yourselves?”

He shook his head slowly “No, we . . .”

Blondie spit-screamed at his back “Don’t tell her!”

“Yes, do tell her.  My crew needs a contact with a good tech guy.  There have to be some of them around here right?  Some guy who worked for a company and then flew off with one of their prototypes suits and came here to sell it and now he’s like an underground outlaw tech guy?  Something like that?  I feel like that happens all the time.  There would probably be a lot fewer criminals in supersuits if the superheroes quit forming companies to make supershit.  Can you hook me up with your guy?  I’m about to come into some money and I need an equipment source.”

He looked back uncertainly at the rest of his squad, Blondie was freaking out and Dr. Kiosk looked like he had no idea what was going on “Yeeeah.”

Ela’s bar tour #1 – The cybernetic ghost of Christmas past from the future

(When I first started “worldbuilding Wednesday” a term I totally invented, it was pretty easy. Lately I’ve been struggling with it. But I remain steadfast in my devotion to provide 80% less content than my last story. So here’s what I’m going to try now. On Wednesdays I’ll write something that is canon – I know you’re all tracking the Ela canon very closely – but it doesn’t matter when it happened because it’s just chit-chat and pit-pat. Mostly it’s just a way to wedge in characters that have nothing to do with the plot. “But Jeremy there is no plot as far as I can tell”. Good one, you burned me.)

As you might expect there’s a lot of bars in Madripoor.  Unfortunately most of the bars where they speak English or French are in Touristville and I stay away that area because the Shadow Lords have that place covered.  The good news is that you don’t really need to speak the language to get a drink at a bar.  The bad news is most of these other bars are under the umbrella of some other criminal jerkoffs.  That’s just the kind of place Madripoor is.  As long as I keep to myself and get in and out without lingering, usually things are okay.

Today I’m at a place called Theusiga, does that mean something in Bahasa or Malay or Javanese?  Is it just a guy’s name?  Hell if I know.  In the street outside of the place there’s a smashed car that also looks halfway melted.  Based on the bits that are left, I think it was an old Chevy Bel Air.  It made me think of when I bought a Chevy Nomad from Malibu Al when I was seventeen.  That dude had four kids and he was still always on the prowl, you know?  It’s a strange feeling when remembering a creepy assgrabber with a shitty beard makes you miss home.  

The bar had a bunch of weird glasses that looked like little bent vases but I wouldn’t be dealing with any of those.  I would be drinking cheap mainland beer that comes in a “can” that feels like it’s made out of wallpaper.  One thing I have learned to say is “berikan aku minuman termurahmu” – give me your cheapest booze.   I think that’s what it means anyway.  It works, whatever it is.

There wasn’t much of a crowd there, possibly because it was ten AM and possible because one of the other patrons had a huge shiny metal rifle across his back – it looked like it was made of chrome but I don’t think you make guns out of chrome.  It also looked like some kind of laser-beam firing thing rather than a normal gun.  The man wearing the gun backpack had on like a red half-poncho that looked like it would do just a terrible job of protecting you from the rain.  I suppose it was more of a style choice.  

The man himself was built like a linebacker, and I mean a linebacker for a good team like the Bucks, not some loser like a linebacker for the Bears.  His drinking arm (ah, that’s why he had a half-poncho!) was bare and was home to both shitty tattoos that were just lines and some pretty gnarly scars.  Looks like he stuck his arm in a grain auger like Arty McGill did back home in 9th grade.  He had one of those real grumpy faces like a long-haired cat that just got doused with rain.  He looked like a foreigner though so I figured we might share a common tongue.  

I gestured with my crummy beer “Nice gun.”

He glanced over at me “Thanks.”

I turned in my stool to lean against the bar “Where does someone get a fancy gun like that?”

“This is the twenty-nine model made by the Russo-American Mercantile Company, in sixty years they’re going to be available pretty much anywhere you can buy guns.  But they aren’t cheap and most of the places that sell don’t accept credits.”

“Huh.  So are you crazy or are you a future guy?”

He stopped to look at his mug for a second before drinking “One for sure.  Both probably.”

“So how are the Tropics doing in whatever year you come from?”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“The Flint Tropics?  The best basketball team in the world?  Do you not have basketball in the future?  Is it all just Rollerball and Death Races and teenagers hacking each other to bits with axes on TV?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You know – sports, competition, entertainment?  Or is this what people in the future do for entertainment?  Travel back in time and drink in bars?  Is this some form of sex tourism?  In the future, does everyone have VD so you all come back here to get laid?”

“No, I came back to kill a guy.”

“Whoa, so it’s like a most dangerous game thing?  Hunting humans for sport?  That’s pretty grim, my man.  Although in your time, the guy you killed was already dead right?  So what does that mean exactly?  Time travel brings up some tricky ethical issues.  If you kill someone who’s already dead, is that wrong?  I should have paid more attention in my philosophy class at Oberlin.  But in my defense, I was pretty high most of the time.”

“I didn’t do it for fun, I did it to prevent the future I came from coming to pass.”

I nodded as I signaled for another beer “Okay, I feel you there, that makes more sense with your whole vibe – grim soldier from the future coming back to prevent some kind of worldwide catastrophe.  How’s it coming along?”

“I did it.  I killed him.  And a couple other people just to make sure.” He seemed a little surprised “It wasn’t very hard.”

I slapped him on the back “Congratulations!  I knew you could do it, future man.  Good on ya!  So what are you still hanging around here for?  You gonna bet on some horse races before you head back?  Or just put some cash in the bank?  Sixty years of interest has to really add up.”

He shrugged slightly “Where else am I going to go?”

“Back to your time.”

“My time doesn’t exist anymore, that’s the whole point.”

“You know what I mean though, go back to whatever year you came from and enjoy the fruits of your murderous labors.”

“I fundamentally changed the history of the world, if I went back nothing would even be recognizable to me, no one I knew would even exist.  But it doesn’t matter because I can’t go back anyway.  As soon as I killed my target, I lost my signal to the future.  Most likely because in the new timeline that was created, time travel was never invented.  I’m stuck here.”

“Whoa, that’s a major bucket of bummer balls.  But if time travel was never invented, why are you here?  That’s like a paradox right?”

“No, I came here before time travel wasn’t invented.  You can’t undo things that already happened.”

“But that is literally what you did.”

“I mean relative to the time traveler.  If you travel back in time and kill your parents, you don’t cease to exist because you were already born in the now defunct timeline that you came from.  That change affects other people but not you because the things that already happened to you already happened.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

He shrugged “I’m not a scientist, I’m just a guy who shoots people.”

“So by coming back in time you made it so where you come from doesn’t exist, I assume because it sucked.  How is that any different from setting off all the nukes and killing everyone?  Non-existence is non-existence right?  Like if your car is broken, smashing it in a trash compactor doesn’t fix it, only fixing it fixes it.  You know?”

He sighed “I didn’t really think it all through honestly.  Things were bad and someone came to me and said that I could go back in time and fix it all.  I’m not sure anyone really expected it to work.  Or that they really knew what would happen if it did.  I definitely didn’t think about what I would be doing afterwards.  I’m not sure I really accomplished anything other than marooning myself in a stupid period of time without any technology.”

“We have technology.”

He gave me a look “Yeah?  You think so?  Can you imagine yourself living happily in 1910?”

“I suppose not.  Just because we don’t have flying cars and jetpacks doesn’t mean you can’t be happy here right?  This is the golden age of music.  Plus we have drugs and women, good looking ones.  Or men if that’s your thing.  Sell your futuregun to some high-tech company for millions and live the sweet life here in the greatest decade of all time.   Being a rich guy in nineteen seventy-three has to be better than whatever future you lived in that you came back in time to stop from happening, right?” His only response was a non-committal grunt “Hey, you know what would be fun?  Let’s go back in time a little more and stop Duke Eaglevane from blowing me up.”

He cast one eye at me for a moment “You look pretty good for someone that got blown up.”

“You’re damn right I do, but I have health issues as a result of my blowed upness, you help me out with that and I’ll show you how to live high on the hog in the seventies.”

“But then there would be two of you, what’s your plan for dealing with that?  Plus you would still have those health issues because you did get blown up, just the original version of you wouldn’t because she didn’t.”

“What?  I’m the original me!”

He smiled slightly “I can see you would handle it well.  But it doesn’t matter because I can’t go back either.  My device is just like a clip on a rope, the machine in my time was the rope, which is now gone, I can’t go anywhere.”

I raised my glass “Huh.  Well here’s to you future man, I guess you did . . . something?”

December 13, 1973 – High above

I didn’t see her up there.  It would be a better story if I climbed up there because I saw her but I didn’t.  I just wanted to a place to smoke in peace, away from the crowds, and I’ve dined and dashed at pretty much every café around so there aren’t a lot of choices left.  I never really climbed before, why would I?  But I figured since I’m super strong now climbing up a building would be easy.  And it was.  Mostly.

When I first saw her, Madripoor being Madripoor, I figured she was a sniper about to blow some guy’s face out the back of his skull.  Suddenly climbing up the side of a building seemed like a really bad idea.  You find yourself in somebody’s crosshairs and you’re on the side of a building what are you going to do?  Hope there’s a window nearby you can duck though I suppose. 

But it was just a girl.  My second thought was she was an NBH, Madripoor has way more than their fair share of those – must be a Little Italy kind of thing.  One NBH comes to Madripoor and then that makes a couple more come and so on and so on until there’s a whole community of them.  Plus no extradition, which is nice when you’re a would-be world conqueror or world ender or a guy that shrinks down to climb into women’s underwear drawers or whatever. 

But I don’t think she was.  I didn’t see her do anything “super” anyway.  She was just sitting on the ledge with her knees up and her head down.  I climbed up to the same ledge but I kept my distance.  It was a very pretty view of a very ugly city.  I took out a pack of these weird really long cigarettes from Manila that are so cheap even I can afford them.  They’re not bad actually.  I’ve smoked worse for sure.  I mean they’re not good, but what am I going to do?  Not smoke?  Hilarious. 

After a few minutes she looked over at me.  She wasn’t crying then but I could tell that she had been. 

“Parlez-vous français?”

She looked at me for a long time before answering, I’m not sure she thought I was real. “Un peu.”

“Thinking about getting off this ride huh?  I get that.  It’s tough out there.  I mean you probably came up here specifically so no one would talk to you right?  And yet here I am.  Life is a real honking bitch sometimes.  I mean what are the odds you pick the very building a super person is going to be climbing up.  It’s the kind of coincidence that really makes you wonder isn’t it?  You don’t mind if I smoke do you?”

She shook her head.

“Thanks.” I looked at the cigarette in my hand “I guess I’m killing myself too, just much more slowly.  I’m not from here, just in case you thought I was a very pale woman from East Timor, and one of the first days I was here I saw a woman drown herself.  It was pretty shocking.  I’m not sure I could have done anything about it, but I didn’t try to do anything about it.  I was in low place at the time – I figured she knew what she was doing.  I mean Madripoor, no offense intended, it’s pretty awful.  I imagine you’re up here because you know that all too well.

But I regret not trying to help her now.  And that’s probably going to stick with me.  Maybe I couldn’t have done anything, but I should have tried.  That’s all we can do is try.  Sometimes it seems like I can’t even save myself, that I can’t do anything, but if we don’t push back whenever we can that’s when things get really bad.  It may not seem like we can do much because maybe we can’t, put every little bit counts.  It’s like voting, I voted for the president of my home country, but so did twenty million other people.  And he didn’t win by one vote, so my vote didn’t matter right?  But if everyone thought that way then he would have lost.  It’s tricky, because it does matter even when it doesn’t. 

Do you guys vote here?  Maybe that story is culturally biased.  I’m rambling here but I guess the point is that I’m not going to tell you not to jump because I don’t know what your life is like.  It could be a nightmare all day every day.  But I am going to say this, you’re very young, which means if you want you could have a lot of years ahead of you.  I can’t promise that those will be better years, I can’t even promise you they won’t get worse, but they could get better.  There’s a chance.

I had this friend named Elvis, not the singer a different guy, and his grandma as far as I can tell is like a million years old.  She’s had more hard years than I’ve been alive.  But she’s had good times too.  She has stories that put my floor on the jaw.  She’s old as dirt and she gets up every day and takes on the world all over again because there are good things out there.  She knows she’s going to take some hits but she’s going to stand in there and take it on the chin anyway because it’s worth it. 

I don’t know if I’m making much sense here, but I guess what I’m trying to say is this.  If you know, and I mean really know inside where it counts, not in your head but in your soul, that you’re never going to have another good day – never ever – then you should do what you have to do.  But if there’s a chance, any chance at all, that you could have a happy day isn’t it worth it to find out?  See if you can string a couple of those days together.  One thing leads to another and you have a life going that’s worth fighting for. 

You take one step and that’s it.  Everything you have and everything you’re ever going to have is gone.  It’s the kind of thing you need to be really God damn sure about because there’s for sure no backsies.  I imagine that you’re out here because you feel like you don’t have any love in your life.  But I’m here talking to you now, which may not be much, but it’s something.  The rose that grew from concrete you know?”

I don’t know how long we sat up there, several hours at least.  I offered her a cigarette but she declined.  I wasn’t sure she even understood most of what I had said.  It was kind of nice watching the city from above.  When you don’t think about what goes on down there it almost looks beautiful from this far up.  It was helpful for me just to take some time and sit with my thoughts, and a lot of the time not to think at all – just be.  It was like meditation, with smoking.  I say this about Madripoor – they have some glorious sunsets out here.  Because of all the pollution you see.

She finally spoke as it was growing dark “You said you had a friend named Elvis.  What happened to him?”

I lit up another cigarette “He was murdered because he helped me.  He was a good person, he was always trying to help everyone.”

“That’s very sad.”

A sudden wave of sorrow snuck up on me and a few tears sneaked out before I could clamp it down “Yes, it is very sad.  I try not to think about it too much.”

“Do you want to kill my pimp?”

I shook my head “No. I’m not a killer.  I may have killed two people by accident but I don’t do that generally.” I look a long drag off my smoke “But I do have friends that are killers.  I think the same speech applies though, you need to be sure before you do something like that.”

“I missed a lot of you what you said, it’s windy up here and my French isn’t strong.”

“Too bad, I think it was a pretty good one.  For my first try anyway.”

December 11, 1973 – Drydock doesn’t sound great either when you think about it

“What is this place?”  

Blue continued with his “visual scans” which is what normal people call looking around “It’s a drydock.”

I pointed “But there’s water right there.”

“A drydock is where you take a ship out of the water to work on it, you still need a channel of water to get the ship to the place, how else are you going to move a ship?  A wetdock is where the ship is still in the water while you do maintenance.”  

“Wetdock, I hate that word.  Sounds gross.  Where is everyone?”

“It’s shut down right now because the workers are on strike.”

“Workers have rights in Madripoor?”

“No, that’s why they’re on strike.  Well that’s not exactly true, some of them do.  Or at least they try to have them.  I know for a fact that there’s a union of exotic entertainers.”

I shook my head “Of course there is.” I looked around for the fiftieth time “Why did you choose this place?”

“This way Martialla can be lurking in the water.  She’s our ace in the hole.”

“She’s an acehole alright.”

I tensed up when a man came walking into the place wearing a ridiculous duster and a cowboy hat – what year does he think this is – but Blue met him with a handshake and they exchanged words in some language I didn’t understand.  Mr. Longcoat looked at me with mild curiosity and then took up a position at me side across from Blue.  

“Who’s this guy?”  

“This is that bulletproof man I was telling you about.”

“I thought he only did stuff like this for money.”

“He does.”

“But we don’t have any money.”

Blue’s tongue flicked out guilty “We have a little money.”

I gave him a sidelong look “Why is he dressed like that?  Is he a cowboy?”

“He’s from down south, I guess they dress like that down there.”

I turned to out new friend “¿Dónde está tu caballo vaquero?”

He look at me uncomprehendingly and then said something to Blue again, who turned to me “He doesn’t speak Spanish.”  

“I thought you said . . .”

My train of thought was interrupted when three more fellows sauntered into the place – they weren’t dressed like cowboys but they walked like they were.  I didn’t notice it at first, but I’ve come to realize that there’s definitely a preference for long hair amongst the criminals of Madripoor – the local ones anyway.  I think it’s a status symbol some kind.  One guy had a double pistol holster rig thing set up inside his suitcoat, it’s rare to see a bad guy with a holster – they seem to like the gun in the pants method.  I guess this guy didn’t want to shoot his dick off.  One of his friends had a shotgun and the other guy had a god damned sword.  A sword!  Who does that?  What they didn’t have with them was Maggie.

I noticed that shotgun was smoking an Embassy Gold “Hey, can I have one of those?”

Holsters responded in English “He doesn’t speak French.”

“Would you mind asking him if I can bum a smoke?” He stared at me, stone-faced “Okay, straight to business then, I don’t see Maggie so is she around the corner in a van or something?  How is this going to work?” 

He sneered “How it works is you give us the formula and once we know it works we release our prisoner.”

Blue glared down at him “That wasn’t what we agreed on.”

I sighed and grabbed holsters by the front of his suit and tossed him into the water.  The cowboy stepped in front of me as shotgun tried to give me both barrels – and as promised the cowboy proved to  indeed be bulletproof.  The wandering swordsman came forward with a vicious slash that Blue caught on his forearm, drawing a tiny line of blood across his scales, and then hammered the attacker to the ground with a fist – which drew all kinds of blood.  I stepped around the cowboy and hurled the now discarded shotgun at the rapidly fleeing third man – clocking him in the back of the head and sending him hurtling ass over teakettle.  A moment later Martialla dragged the leader out of the water and across the floor by us.  It looked like something had taken a bite out of his face.

“What happened?”

She waved vaguely “Barnacle, they’re really sharp.”

“Ouch.” I knelt down by the sopping went man “Do we have to do the whole thing where we threaten you and then you say you’ll never talk and then we break your foot and you say if you tell us you’ll die and then we say if you don’t tell us you’re going to die or can we skip all that?”

A new voice responded “I think we can skip that.” 

I turned to see my old friend Mr. Smiles walking towards us.  Instead of a tan leisure suit he was wearing some kind of cornflower blue number that I think was a Kareeba suit, wasn’t quite like anything I had seen before.  

“Long time no see, you never call, you never write.  Makes a girl feel unappreciated.”

He smiled his punchable smile “We were always nearby, I’m sure you could feel us watching over you.”

“That must be why things always go so well for me.  So what?  These dorks were just your stalking horse and the Shadow Lords actually have Maggie?  Is that the game?”

He nodded “An oversimplification but correct for this negotiation.”

“What are we negotiating?  Haven’t you guys given up on me by now?  I can’t be worth all this trouble to you.”

“Indeed you are not.  It seems we were sold a bill of sale for goods that didn’t live up to what we were promised.  You’re very strong but there’s no chance if you winning the tournament.”

“Jesus, that’s what this has all been about?  That fucking tournament?  Why do you care so much about it?”

“That doesn’t concern you.  The fact is that we paid for a champion and you’re what we got.  You owe us someone capable of winning.  Give us someone who can do that and we shall return Margaret to you.”

“Why didn’t you give me that choice with Elvis?  Why did you have to kill him?”  

“He was warned.  He chose his fate.”