Ela’s bar tour #4 – No such experiment was ever conducted, the details of the story contradict well-established facts, and the alleged claims do not conform to known physical law

Madripoor has a ton of bars, no surprise there, but if we’re being honest (and I feel that we are) I think there are actually fewer bars per capita than you’d expect for a place of this size.  I wonder if there’s just less drinking here or if people are just less likely to drink at bars than they are to drink at home.  Or if most of the people can’t afford to drink.  Maybe I can get some grant money to study it.  

There’s a bar nestled up against the downtown area that is set up like a long hallway – the front is maybe ten feet wide but inside it seems like it goes back for half a mile.  I honestly think it was an alley between two buildings that got turned into a shanty and then evolved into this.  It’s not a tourist bar but it’s close enough to the tourist area that they bring in a lot of extra food for the weekend and then on Monday mornings have a lot of cheap deals on food they’re going to throw away.  There’s some bugs in it from time to time but I eat bugs now anyway.  Which is awful.  

I ate a butterfly the other day.  It was so beautiful.  But I was SO hungry.  I cried a little bit afterwards.  

Anyway, there’s usually not many other people in the long bar Monday morning other than myself, but today I was joined by a lanky guy with messy long grey hair despite looking like he was in his mid-thirties.  He was wearing a jumpsuit with Drumheller Institution emblazoned on the back and had no shoes on.  And this was a guy that needed shoes let me tell you.  Looked like he had athlete’s foot or something going on.  He was nursing a bottle of something and staring at it the way people do sometimes when they don’t know what else to look at.

I took a seat next to him with my bowl of mystery stew, but not right next to him on account of his fungus foot.  

“You from the CS?”

He held up his arm like it was supposed to mean something “Canada.”

“Close enough, you mind if I sit here?  I don’t get much chance to talk to people from back home, so I guess the real question is do you mind if I sit here and also do you want to talk?”

He glanced at me incuriously “Sure, go ahead.”

“What’s the Drumheller Institution?  Sounds like a drug rehab place or a medical testing facility or something but you’re dressed like a plumber or a maintenance man.”

“The Drumheller Institution is a medium-security prison so named because it’s in Drumheller, Alberta.”

“Okay, so you broke out of prison and wore that thing all the way to Madripoor?”

He took another drink and glance at me again “Yes, but not in the way that you mean.”

I raised an eyebrow “Are you going to elaborate on that or are you going to do the mysterious asshole act and make me drag it out of you in drips and drabs?”

He sighed heavily like I was asking a lot of him “I didn’t break out . . . really, I just leave sometimes.  I always go back, I’m not escaping . . . really.”

“Alright, so am I to infer from that you’re a super person in a normal prison and they don’t know about it?  And that lets you sneak out sometimes?  Why would you fly all the way to Madripoor just to have a beer?  And why do you go back?”

He sighed again, as if the entire world was on his shoulders “I don’t have powers . . . I just . . . I can . . . it’s hard to explain.”

“Jesus dude, can you fly or not?”

He shook his head “No.”

I snorted “Okay, so we’re going the I have to drag it out of you route.  Let’s start with why you’re in prison, or supposed to be in prison rather since you’re in a bar right now.”

“I worked at a research facility and I violated an agreement not to talk about the work there.”

“They send you to prison for that?!”

“Well . . . they were pretty mad.  I think they charged me with espionage because I told what I knew to a reporter and other countries could read it?  The whole thing was a mess.”

“So you were working in a lab and some chemicals blew up in your face and that’s how you got your powers?”

He shook his head stubbornly “I don’t have any powers.”

“Then how are you here instead of in Alberta?” I gasped “Are you a fucking teleporter?!  Can you take me anywhere I want to go?!  There’s a pizza place I would do just about anything to be at right now, I am serious, I’ll totally do sex stuff if you can get me to Pizza Palace.  Why the hell do you go back to prison if you can teleport?”

He looked uncomfortable “I don’t want to not serve my sentence . . . it’s just so boring there.”

I laughed “And you think popping out for an occasional beer is okay?”

He made a face “Well it sounds stupid when you say it like that.”

“Who cares?  Here’s the plan, teleport me back home first, after a shower and a change of clothes we get some pizza . . .”

“I can’t teleport.” He looked me in the eye for the first time “I’m sorry.”

He really did look sorry “Then how did you get here?”

He picked at the label on his bottle “Are you familiar with super tensile solids?”

I nodded sagely “Of course, I talk about them all the time with my coffee club.”

This actually elicited a small tired smile “Super tensile solids are materials that possess strength as to be unbreakable.  At least functionally.  I mean in a natural environment anyway.  There’s a lot of conditions to unbreakableness in this context.  That’s what we were trying to do, by using a technique that actually changes the physical structure of individual atoms, altering characteristics like energy states, spin, atomic weight, and the number of protons as though they were entries in a ledger.  It’s the modern equivalent of the ancient alchemist quest to turn lead into gold.” His eyes turned bright for a moment “Transmutation of elements, made possible by atomic manipulation.”

“Okay, and what went wrong?”

He thought about it for a moment “I don’t know.  I don’t think anyone knows what happened.  There was a lab here in Madripoor working on the same project, we shared information over a computer network, pretty cutting-edge stuff – that was my area – but then weird stuff started happening.  Things started showing up at one lab that were in the other the day before.  Sounds crazy when I say it now but that’s what happened.  Suddenly the government was all over us.  We were under surveillance, I think they bugged us – not just at the lab but at home too.  People followed us.  One day I saw a peach disappear off a table and my counterpart here told me that it just appeared.  And that’s when things really started getting strange.  Nightmares.  Hallucinations.  Voices.  I saw half a human body hanging in the air for a second once.  People started disappearing, maybe because the government was taking them away, maybe because they were actually disappearing into thin air.  The facility was shut down and next thing I know I’m on trial for talking about it.  And here we are.”

“You left out the best part, so because you were playing god you can teleport now?  How is that not a power?”

“Teleportation isn’t possible, not metaphysically I mean, that’s why it would be a superpower.  What is possible is changing the distance between places.  I don’t have a power, but I can come to Madripoor, I assume because of the facility that was here, and I can go back.  Because the distance makes them right next to each other.  Like folding a piece of paper.”

“Come again?”

“Did you ever read A Wrinkle In Time?”

“No.”

“Well anyway, it’s like that.  I don’t travel fast or teleport, these two places are just next to each other for me.  It non-linear.”

“I’ll take your word for it.  So you could take me with you but only back to a prison in Canada?”

“Technically yes, but I only tried that once.”

“And?”

“It didn’t go well” he drained his bottle and then disappeared.

December 17, 1973 – Always

Remember that time I threw a Coke machine at that big Maori guy?  I do.  I wish I would have grabbed myself a Coke before I did that.  Out of everything I miss about home, I think what I miss most is Coca-Cola.  Right now anyway.  Why don’t they have Coke in Madripoor?  Isn’t it a worldwide brand?  Maybe they do in the nicer parts of town but I don’t remember seeing it even in Touristville.  There’s just something about an ice cold Coke.  At this moment it’s the thing I want most in the world.  More than a cigarette even.  More than a stiff drink.  More than a big fat greasy bacon cheeseburger. 

If he didn’t speak English, he’d still be alive.  Isn’t that a kick in the head?  My main problems in Madripoor is that I can’t communicate with most people and the one time I run into someone that can speak English this is what happens.  He’d still be alive if the meeting was someplace normal instead of on a god damn roof.  I’m not trying to say this is anyone else’s fault but my own, but your mind keeps turning it over and over – this only happened because everything was exactly the way it was.  One little thing is different and none of this happens.  That’s not an excuse, I just can’t stop thinking about it.  I guess that’s natural when something goes haywire, you just keep thinking about how it could have been different.

For a very overweight man who was barely five and a half feet tall he didn’t look half bad, a lot of that was probably the suit though – which was killer.  He had a shaved head which normally I don’t like, but it looked good on him.  The only thing that was really gross about him was his skin – he was shiny like he was covered with olive oil.  He didn’t even have a flesh-crawling pimp-leer like I expected.  I thought he might be eyeballing me like a heifer at the county fair but he was just normal.  He was just a man conducting business.

I think that’s what did it.  I’m not even sure why I was there because no one was translating for me.  Dan and Kalenkor and a third guy who I didn’t know were doing all the talking.  That’s another way this could have not happened, if I wasn’t there.  There really wasn’t any reason for me to be there since I couldn’t understand what was being said. 

What I could understand was the tone of the conversation – it was just business.  Like a woman’s life being bought and sold was no big deal.  Like they were talking about splitting up a bill after dinner.  Did you have the soup?  Who ordered the breadsticks?  How many drinks did you have?  All I had was the ham salad so I’m not paying for this dessert!  Maybe the fact that I couldn’t understand it just made it worse?  Hard to say. 

All I know is that I was sitting at that table while three men bartered over a human life and I got madder and madder.  I was told afterwards that the deal had been done, that the details had been worked out already when I did what I did.  Maybe if I knew that it would have changed things.  Maybe not.  It was the casualness of the whole thing that I couldn’t let go.  It clearly meant nothing to Kalenkor or his partner, I’m not sure it even mattered much to Dan. 

I’m not sure if I believe in temporary insanity, but one minute I was sitting there picking at a crispy noodle dish and the next minute I just snapped.  I dragged the big man in his fancy suit with his bald head out of his chair and over to the side of the roof.  I guess the guy with him wasn’t the NBH bodyguard that I heard about because he didn’t try to do anything about it.  He just looked scared. 

Blue told me to stop.  He told me not to let him go.  And I wouldn’t have.  He brought me to my senses.  I wasn’t going to drop him.  But then he looked me in the eye and spoke in English.  His accent was so thick I didn’t catch most of it, but I understood “stupid bitch”.  I could tell that he wasn’t scared at all.  His voice was completely calm – it was saying “I know what you are, I know you can’t touch me”.  And so I let go. 

Blue lunged and caught him by the shoulder of his jacket but it ripped.  I wonder if he grabbed his tie if that would have held him.  How strong are ties?  Since he was hanging over the side of the building he probably “only” fell thirty-six feet or so.  I think I read somewhere that if you fall out of a fourth story window you have a fifty percent chance of dying.  So it seems like there would be a decent chance you could survive a thirty-six foot fall.  But thirty six feet was all it took to spell the end for the king of Madripoor’s middle range pimps.  He actually got up for a second after he fell and then dropped right back down and was stone dead. 

In retaliation, the Paper Boys killed Dan.  That pissed me off.  I’m the one that killed Kalenkor.  Why didn’t they come after me?   How does killing Dan make any damn sense?  Blue said that I should try and lay low for a while because Xu probably will try to kill me.  Since she was in love with Dan and I got him killed.

You know what really scares me though?  Killing him bothers me, but it doesn’t bother me that much.  Honestly what it feels like is when you break up with a guy and you end up being mean about it when you didn’t intend to.  You feel shitty about it, and you feel bad for the guy because you hurt him for no real reason, but it’s over and you don’t really care that much.  You know you did something wrong and you wish that you had handled it better but you’re not tearing yourself up about it. 

That’s what scares me.  I killed a man.  And even though he had it coming, by any rational measure it was still wrong.  And I don’t feel all that bad about it. 

I’ll go back to the CS someday.  Back to Saint Louis.  But I’m never going home.  I realize that now.  Home isn’t a place.  Not really.  It’s who you are.  And I’m something different now.  A killer.

December 16, 1973 – It’s let’s make a deal with your host Monty Haul!

Alcazar needs a couple days to get his ducks in a row, so the plan was to to take care of that other thing first.  But you know what they say about plans.  Cuo told me that her pimp weighs over four hundred pounds and has trouble getting around on his own.  Why is that important?  Because of his size, he has to have his suits custom made.  Why is that important?  There are a lot of places that custom tailor suits but there aren’t many that make them that big, in fact there’s only one – and it happens to be the place that Blue gets his clothes made.  Small world huh?  How can he afford custom suits, that’s my question.  I think he’s holding out on me.

Blue is very sensitive about his threads.  He doesn’t need them obviously, and they get ripped all to shit every time we get in a fight, but they’re important to him.  I think it helps him to feel like he’s still human.  He puts up a brave front, being a soldier and all, that’s kind of his thing, but I think what those alien fuckers did to him really made him depressed.  Sealed inside all that armor.  Not feeling anything, ever.  He has to feel so cut off from the world.  It must be terrible for him.  Especially since everyone looks at him and just sees a big dumb thug.  It’s a wonder he’s not a total psycho. 

A guy named Sayuri (which I was told is a girl’s name so maybe I heard it wrong) that used to make clothes for sumōtori has a little shop north of downtown where there’s a small Japanese community.  Which is surprising given the general feelings around here about the Empire of Japan.  We went to see him and he was only too happy to tell us where Kalenkor (that’s the pimp) lives.  So if you’re depending on tailor-client confidentially, you shouldn’t.  Maybe he gets a pass though, it was pretty clear that Sayuri thinks that Kalenkor is human garbage.  Doesn’t stop him from taking his money of course, but he probably overcharged him which is as good as most people can do to the bad people.

Why couldn’t Cuo tell us where he lives?  Because she doesn’t know, she only knows where he hangs out when he’s working the streets – at which times he’s accompanied by his bodyguard, who’s rumored to be a NBH (why would a super person be working for a street pimp?) and a retinue of other sycophantic lackeys.  The idea was that by attacking him in his home, he would actually be less well defended.  Not sure if that makes sense or not but it was the plan.

Our assault was derailed though, on our way we were intercepted by News Dan and his New Dan News Van.  That monstrosity roared up on us like a meteoric meteorite.  For a nine ton pile of scrap iron, it stops pretty well.  Seconds later I was being assaulted by Hunter asking me if I had rescued Maggie yet and Dan was talking at me so fast Xu didn’t have time to translate.  Eventually I was able to fend off Hunter, and Dan slowed down enough that we could talk (through Xu).  New Dan told us that we shouldn’t mess with Kalenkor because he’s under the protection of the Paper Boys.

“Are you kidding me?  What kind of gang is named the paper boys?  Do they ride around on bikes?

Blue flicked his tongue thoughtfully “It’s probably reference to paper as slang for money, they’re boys that get paper.”

Xu, not translating, replied “That’s halfway right, it’s referring to the paper money that is burned at funerals to give the departed currency for the afterlife – it’s their way of saying they’re killers.”

Martialla made a fishy gulping noise of surprise “Really?  I thought that was a Chinese custom, I didn’t know they did that at funerals here.”

Blue looked at her “How many funerals have you been to in Madripoor?”

I waved my hands annoyedly “Who cares?  Why is it Dan’s business which gang we cross today?  You can’t do anything around here without crossing some gang or other.”

Xu explained that the Paper Boys help Dan out by feeding him information, so he’s not keen on them getting into a fracas with us.  He said that he doesn’t want part of his “truth network” disrupted, but I bet they deliver his stupid papers just like real paper boys and that’s why they’re called that. 

I explained to Dan (via Xu) what we were trying to do and he acted like we were wasting our time.  I wish we had a common language so I could verbally abuse him directly, yelling at Xu as an intermediary doesn’t feel good. Plus it dilutes the message.  Dan said that he could call in some favors and negotiate on our behalf and get Cuo released from Kalenkor’s control if it meant that conflict could be avoided.

“What about all his other girls?”

Martialla shook her head “Jesus, Ela, this offer is the best case scenario – everything gets resolved without any risk to us, why can’t you just accept a rare piece of good luck?”

I gestured at Xu “You’re a woman, how do you feel about this?”

She thought about it for a while “It doesn’t feel great, but if you’re going to try and rescue every hooker in Madripoor, you should probably clear your calendar for the next several years.  And get your affairs in order, buy a tombstone and so forth.”

Martialla grabbed my arm angrily “You’ve been here for months now, how do you not get this?  This is Madripoor!  People who are good have their intentions taken advantage of and end up dead. People who are evil are killed to prevent them from becoming as dangerous as they could in a position of power.  If you’re dumb, you’re dead. Careless, you’re dead. If you want to survive, you’ll need to live in a comfortable moral gray.  That, and actually be smart!”

I ripped my arm out of her grasp “Don’t fucking touch me.  Shut up Martialla.  Just shut up.”

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.”