World explaining Wednesday – The Dominatrix Matrix

Remember in the Matrix when Neo sees the cat walk by twice and says “Deja vu?”  That makes no sense to me.  Seeing the same thing twice isn’t déjà vu, déjà vu is when you get into your car to go to work and a song comes on the radio and suddenly that moment seems exactly like one you’ve already lived.  If I saw two black cats I’d just assume there were two of them.  Which would still be weird enough to comment on but I wouldn’t say déjà vu.

Maybe they’ll explain that in Matrix 4. 

For a tenth of a second today I thought I saw my girlfriend’s cat in my house.  Brains and vision are wacky huh?  According to an episode of the X-files from 25 years ago “they” still don’t know how a two dimensional retinal image is translated into our 3 dimensional vision. 

According to the hugely popular podcast about this massively successful blog people were confused by the presence of the woman in the catsuit in the “job interview” posts.  Since I am bad at describing things (which is a great attribute to have both for writing and running RPGs, two of my favorite things) people thought that was the same woman from the fight in the “apartment” closet.  It was not.   

I thought about posting some pictures but ultimate didn’t.  10% because I don’t understand how giving people credit for things works.  90% because I assume tons of kids read this and they don’t need to see that.  “But Jeremy, you talk about this not appropriate for all audiences all the time”.  Sure, but reading is harmless.  Seeing things?  That has impact. 

Anyway here’s a character breakdown or whatever of those two separate and unique people.

Let’s start with the apartment lady.  I envision her looking like Catwoman from the 1992 movie Batman Returns only without the cat ears and more straps and buckles.  Kind of like that weird Edward Scissorhands leather suit maybe.  Hence in Ela’s eyes she looked like a dominatrix.  Would the average person in the 1970s know what a dominatrix was?  No clue.  Write what you know they say.  Nah, I say back.   

A rebellious girl from not the best home Susan Draper quickly learned the easiest path to excitement and the finer things in life was to attach herself to men who lived dangerous lifestyles, feeding off the thrills and money of those relationships.  She was the “main squeeze” of a gang leader in Basin City when she decided that it would be a real thrill to cheat on such a violent and dangerous man.  Which it was until he found out.   

Rather than kill her said boyfriend went the time-honored comic book route of selling her into the clutches of unscrupulous scientists for experimentation – in this case the much-maligned Pecos Republic super soldier program.  The Pecos facility at Lone Star is known far and wide for its dismal success rate at creating viable super soldiers and its great success rate at creating corpses unrecognizable as having once been human.   

Given this reputation Susan was grateful when she was turned loose without any visible effects as a “zero”.  A few months later she developed empathic powers, which is kind of lame, but a few months after that she developed the ability to manipulate the pain and pleasure centers of the brain as well – which is really something.  A few months later she developed enhanced agility which was nice.  A few months after that she developed the ability to inject people with ink from her fingers to create tattoos which is just silly.  If Ela hadn’t thrown her through a wall to her death who knows what additional powers she would have gained.  How long would have gone on?  New powers every few months?  That sounds like a great idea for a comic! 

Susan eventually grew bored of seducing and betraying various low-level villains and joined up with some fellow female crime people that came to Madripoor to recruit for some “big time” criminal undertakings.  It didn’t work out great for Suze.  But in Ela’s defense she threw the first kick. 

Now the job applicant.  Wealthy socialite Marina Elizabeth Sieber has no innate superpowers but she was bequeathed a magic panther skin suit by her uncle, you all know how that goes.  He told her that it came from “African witch doctors” but it’s actually a Mesoamerican artifact related to the necklace that Ela took off Serpentina.  It’s part of a panoply of enchanted items that if assembled completely would give you all kinds of powers!  No one knows that except for an evil archeologist in Britain by the name of Sutter Cane.  And you better believe he’s looking for them!  He’s just not very good at it.   

Point is, when Marina wears the skinsuit it grants her increased strength and speed (but doesn’t do anything to protect her legs obviously) which she uses to fight crime sometimes.  As a wealthy socialite saving lives and beating up supervillains is more of a hobby than an obsession like with some super people.  She is known to have captured the dastardly Ace of Spades, a serial killer dubbed the Subway Slayer, and one of the several dozen villains with the moniker of the Vulture.   

She has a vacation home in Madripoor that she maintains when she wants to get away from the tedium of being a wealthy socialite part time crime fighter with a magic panther suit.  She heard about a chance to do some freelance superheroing and thought why not?  And you know how that turned out.   

I envision her looking more like 1993 purple suit Catwoman from the comics.  You know the one I mean.  The one that captured small satellites in the gravity well of her chest.

See, 1992 movie Catwoman and 1993 comic book Catwoman, completely different.  I don’t know how you didn’t get that from my highly detailed and richly descriptive passages. 

December 29, 1973 – The Devil and the deep blue sea

If you had asked me before how I thought I would feel about being in a submarine, I would have told you it would have been fine, maybe a little cool even.  Like Run Silent, Run Deep.  Come to find out that I don’t like being in a submarine at all.  It makes you feel like you’re being smothered and not in the way you might think.  It’s not being smashed into the tiny machine (it looks big from the outside) with a giant lizard and a fish woman, I can handle that, it’s the thought of all that water all around.   

I’m a pretty good swimmer, and I look damn fine in a two piece (it’s really something, trust me) but even if you’re a great swimmer, how far down do you really go?  Maybe ten feet?  Maybe.  Mostly you just splash around on the surface.  Being under the water, I mean really under, it’s something else altogether.  We’re probably only a hundred feet deep, logically I feel like if I had to, I could swim up a hundred feet to the surface. But I feel like I heard Jacques Cousteau saying on the TV that a hundred feet is deep enough for the pressure to start messing you up.   

I was supposed to be helping Blue do something with some kind of energymotron, instead I was chain smoking and trying to keep from having a panic attack.  Martialla told me not to smoke in the sub, but I told her to shut up.  Since I was drugged and left for dead in Madripoor, something like eighteen people have tried to kill me, but being in a submarine bothered me more than any of those murder attempts.  I think because I was just sitting there.  Someone tries to murder you, you’re running around and ducking and hurling cars at people, you don’t really have time to be scared.  This was like the Sword of Damocles.  That’s a thing right?  You just sit there waiting for your doom.

Somehow a submarine seems even more unnatural than an airplane or even a helicopter.  I about had a heart attack when Martialla slipped out of the pilot station and went out the airlock, but Blue assured me it was all part of the plan. 

I lit up another cigarette “The plan, the plan is terrible!  What are we doing down here?  Humans don’t belong down here.” 

Blue flicked his tongue in a lizard-eye brow raise “Am I still human?  Are you?” 

I shook my head “Martialla is just loving this I bet, seeing me shaking like a leaf while she’s in her dumb element.” 

“Why are you always on Martialla’s case?  I like Martialla, I like her a lot.  The three of us make a great team.  Why are you always talking trash about her?” 

“Me?!  She started it.” 

“When?  I feel like you were busting her chops from the moment you saw her come out of the water.” 

Before I could explain to him how wrong he was about how things started with me and the super-mermaid, the hatch on the airlock (waterlock?) opened up and Martialla came self-righteously clomping back in.  It always kind of creeps me out the way that water clings to her like some kind of second skin whenever she comes back onto land.  I think I saw a show on PBS where a water louse or something did that. 

I think she had a grim look on her face, although it’s hard to say with a face like hers “I’m pretty sure we have a problem.”

I groaned “Oh my god, you’ve killed us!  Wait, I’m the only one who’s going to die here, you can both survive the pressure!  This was your plan all along, wasn’t it?  Wasn’t it!  Get me down here where you have the advantage!  Well you’re not going to get away with it, I’ll kill you right now!”

She looked at Blue like someone does at a person who’s holding the leash of a dog that’s barking its head off before turning back to me “I just meant that I think we’re in the wrong place.  There’s an island up there but I don’t think it’s the island we’re looking for.”

Blue put his hand on my shoulder reassuringly “What makes you say that?”

Martialla gestured like there was a window for us to look out “The topography is all wrong, and all the defenses that the Count is supposed to have in place are absent.  I saw a few buildings, but it doesn’t look like anyone has been here in years.”

“I thought you said you knew how to drive this thing!”

She eyed me coolly “I do, obviously, since we’re here.  The navigation must be a little . . . wonky.”

“Or maybe you don’t know what the hell you’re doing!”

She shrugged “It’s possible, I never claimed to be an expert submariner.  Er, not in a submarine anyway.” She chuckled “It’s ironic really because . . .”

My hand was a little shaky as I took out another cigarette “Shut up damn it!”

She grabbed the cigarette away from me “I told you not to fucking smoke in here.  Do you understand how the air works in here?”

I threw my hands up “No, I have no clue how any of this works!”

“Don’t you think that means maybe you should listen to the person that does?”

Blue used the tone he often does when he’s trying to play peacemaker, the one I’m really starting to hate “Look, let’s not get wound up here.  We’ll surface, go ashore, take a little break, see if we can find some high ground and get our bearings.  We’re probably just a little off course.  We’ll figure out where we are and then go from there.”

Martialla nodded “Sure, but we may have to turn back if we’re too far off course, we have a bit of a fuel situation.”

I groaned again “We’re out of fuel?  You’ve killed us again!”

She crossed her arms “We’re not OUT of fuel Ela, we just . . .”

Blue sighed “Look, let’s just go check it out.”

Turns out that Blue actually isn’t a great swimmer.  I suppose he’s too dense?  He can hold his breath for a long time but he’s slow as molasses.  In the end it was was faster for Martialla to haul us both to shore from the sub.  She may be spindly and weak on land but she’s something else in the water, I have to admit.  I asked her if the sub was going to float away with no one on it.  She look at me like I was a moron.  Maybe half an hour later we were standing on a rocky outcropping looking down in a dell. 

“So what am I looking at exactly?”

Blue was still shaking slightly like he was trying to get dry “Well, I think this is Malimgum island.  On account of the airstrip.  I think it was claimed by the Dutch until the war.  I’m not sure who it belongs to now.”

“Sure, sure, and the plane down there?”

“That’s a 737 I think.  Sistem Penerbangan Malaysia, Malaysian Airline System for sure.”

“Uh huh, uh huh, and what do we think it’s doing here?”

Martialla snorted “It was hijacked Ela, don’t you read the news?”

“There’s no newspapers in English here and I don’t read well in French.”

Martialla threw her weird slimy arms up “There’s tons of English newspapers in Madripoor!”

“Yeah but none of them have the box score of the Tropics games.”

December 28, 1973 – A few days of alcohol, buffets and chain-smoking later

“You have a submarine?!” 

“No, I have the use of a submarine for a little while.  A very little while.” 

I cocked an eyebrow “So you’re NOT in the CIA but somehow you have access to a submarine?” 

“It’s a mini-sub.” 

I laughed “Oh, well you didn’t say it was a mini-sub, who doesn’t have one of those?  So this is a water mission?” I gestured at Martialla, who was leaning against the window and looking down at the street “Good news then, we can just send fish sticks here.  She’s a water beast and she claims that underwater she’s super strong.  Mission accomplished!  Break out the Cubans and premium rum, it’s time to celebrate!” 

“All indications are that the container we need isn’t going to be underwater, so you’re going to have to go.” He looked up at Blue “Unless you’re strong enough to rip open what is essentially a bank vault” Blue shook his head “Well there you go then.” 

“If the containers are not underwater, what do we need a sub for?” 

“Mini-sub.” 

“Whatever, why can’t we just take a boat and then have Aqua Lass swim around as necessary once we get there?” 

“It would be best if you weren’t spotted.” 

“Spotted by who?  Sea otters?” 

Alcazar held his hands out with his fingers splayed wide “Well that’s the thing, we don’t know . . . exactly . . . what happened.  There’s no reason the ship should have been so close to shore at that point.  And surveillance doesn’t indicate any visible damage.  So we don’t know what we’re dealing with.  Exactly.” 

Martialla turned towards us, sitting on the windowsill “Mutated Japanese Navy sailors capable of breathing underwater disabled the ship with explosives under the sealine and then two NBHs calling themselves Great White and Tiger Shark pushed the ship onto the shelf.” 

Alcazar did a double take “How do you know that?” 

I glared at her “Shut up, Martialla!  We don’t have time for your nonsense.  Alcazar, please continue.” 

Alcazar looked at Martialla for a moment, who shrugged and turned back to the window “In any case . . . uh, regardless of what happened, the scene is technically in the Jurisdiction of the Madripoor police and we know that a private security team hired by the shipping company is in town from Europe so it’s best to keep a low profile.  Hence the mini-submarine.” 

“How mini is a mini-submarine?” 

Martialla answered without looking back this time “Thirty ton displacement usually.” 

I scowled “What the hell does that mean?” 

Alcazar continued “It means it’s tight quarters in there.  How many additional people did you recruit?” 

“None.” 

Alcazar raised an eyebrow “None?” 

“We didn’t have many candidates.” 

Martialla snorted “We had lots of candidates.” 

“I meant we didn’t have any suitable candidates!  They were all either weirdoes or murderers and I won’t have any weirdo murderers on my super team.” 

Alcazar looked at Martialla and Blue back and forth a couple times “Okay then.  Well I suppose that’s good because as I said, there’s not going to be a lot of room down there anyway.  One thing you’re going to have to be careful of is the kelp forest.  Your best bet is to stick close to the seabed and make sure you keep orientated.  The kelp can clog up the fans and ports on the mini-sub so you may need to perform maintenance as you go.” 

“You make it sound like we’re going to be driving this thing ourselves.” 

“Who else is going to pilot it?” 

“You’re not providing someone to drive the damn thing?!” I held my arms out “Do we look like people that know anything about operating a submarine?” 

Martialla turned to lean/sit in the windowsill facing us again “I can do it.” 

“Shut up Martialla, no you can’t.” 

“After the experiment they used to take me out for free water tests all the time in min-subs.  I can handle a short trip like this.  Ela this isn’t a big nuclear attack submarine, it’s barely more than a submersible canoe, I can handle it.” 

“Submersible canoe?  You made that up.” 

“Starting in the 1930s special operations divers working in areas too shallow for conventional midget submarines . . .” 

Worldbuilding Wednesday – Tour of the islands 2 of 17,000

Indonesia is made up of more than 17,000 islands, let’s look at one (that’s fake).    

In 1942 a FBDACOM (French British Dutch Australian Command) task force consisting of two light cruisers and three destroyers docked at Balikpapan with wild tales of the supposedly uninhabited island of Mantiuana.  They claimed to have encountered cannibal soldiers sworn to kill and die for Hirohito and savage tribes that worshiped Golyeong, a mighty gorilla the size of a blue whale with the savage cunning of a man (and a thing for blondes). 

Widely dismissed as sailor’s tales, there was one man who believed them, retired Colonel Reginald Braxoton-Smythe who (for the record) made his fortune conducting illegal salvage diving operations and not in industrial tire manufacturing as he claims.  Retired Colonel Reginald Braxoton-Smythe mounted expeditions to Mantiuana in 1957, 1959, and 1962, returning with a lurid narrative of a land inhabited by immortal outcast Topará demigods, the descendants of Austronesian explorers, and of course, dinosaurs possessed by Babylonian earthbound demons.   Retired Colonel Reginald Braxoton-Smythe claimed that he collected many artifacts from Mantiuana during his visits but they would fade out of existence when taken off the island.  This led him to conclude that the island actually inhabited “the Fourth Realm” and therefore could not exist on earth, which is the Third Realm in the Colonels’ bizarre cosmology.  As we all know.

Neither the FBDACOM sailors nor retired Colonel Reginald Braxoton-Smythe and his “adventurers” were lying, but none of them ever set foot on Mantiuana either.  This is because for many years, Mantiuana was the home of Diane Dream, the Mistress of Illusions, one of the “golden age” heroes of the 1930s.  Born Iwalani Haia, “Diane Dream” traveled extensively around the Pacific pitting her powers against the cult of the Dreaming Dark.  Her years of thwarting the Dreaming Dark took its toll.  Their dark sorcerers also made extensive use of illusions, and living in a world where nothing is what it seemed began to wear on her mentally.  In her middle age, she started having trouble with the nature of reality.  If someone believes in an illusion, does that make it real?  Even worse, she began experiencing episodes of memory loss and possibly memory manipulation.  After she found that she was no longer able to conclusively remember what she had actually done and what was illusion, she decided it was time to hang up her cloak and domino mask.   

She retired to the island of Mantiuana and used her abilities to keep away any trespassers or interlopers with fantastic mental manipulation.  As the years passed, several of her fellow crimefighters came to her seeking solace and retirement on her “invisible island”.  They wanted the peace she had found.  Her charity proved to be her undoing.  Among others, she was joined by her old companions Power Man and Jackknife, who unfortunately were sworn enemies of Baron Iorgu.  And the good Baron doesn’t forget his enemies.   

The Mistress of Illusion was skilled at keeping away sailors and retired Colonels, but Baron Iorgu was not dissuaded so easily.  He led a force of super powered mercenaries and Imperial Japan soldiers (it’s debated if this was an official action or someone’s pet project off the books) to attack the island in 1967.  The inhabitants of the island fought fiercely for their lives.  They may have been past their prime, but they were some of the most powerful heroes of their age.  Problem is, the world had caught up with them. 

An old woman with ice powers may be able to kill regular soldiers easily, but if they have insulated suits specifically designed to protect against her abilities, well, then it becomes a sixty-year-old lady with a useless power against a squad of heavily-armed, trained soldiers.  Some rare Superman-esque NBH like Angel (god rest her soul) can’t be cracked by copious amounts of airstrikes and heavy weaponry, but them being alive after a naval barrage is cold comfort to the rest that can.  Power Man and the majority of the “retirees” on the island were killed. The body of Diane Dream was never found and it’s generally assumed that she escaped and now hides herself behind so many illusions that she can’t be found even by well-meaning old friends.   

Once his enemies were dead, Baron Iorgu realized that Mantiuana would be a good place to conduct his maniacal and inhuman experiments in peace and started settling in.  No part of the island is shaped like a skull nor is there an active volcano, but hey, you can’t have everything you want in an evil island supervillain lair right?   

December 24, 1973 – Float like a Hot Rock & Alternative artist sting like an Adult Contemporary Artist

Blue looked down at me like a disapproving father, but you know, a lizard “So let’s recap what we accomplished.  We interviewed fifty people and what did we come away with?  Zero people to help us and you’re going to get your ass kicked in front of a big crowd of people?”

I mumbled defensively “It wasn’t fifty people, it wasn’t even half that many.”

Martialla finished taping up my hands and clapped me on the back “Don’t forget about the money.  Ela’s gotten beaten up for a lot less than fifty thousand dollars before!”

I looked around at the crowd “Where did all these people come from?  How did so many people hear about this?”

Martialla laughed “You’re kidding right?  Super-powered bloodsports are a third of Madripoor’s gross domestic product, and chick fights are super rare.  I’m sure someone was taking bets on this as soon as the words were out of your mouth that you were game.”

“Is anyone betting on me?”

Martialla laughed again “Ela, the odds against you are an unprecedented one thousand to zero, which means a bet of zero dollars on you pays out a thousand if you win, still very few takers.” She laughed a third time, uproariously “It’s just not a smart bet!”

Blue started rubbing my shoulders as Martialla walked away “Don’t listen to her, just remember what I told you, no strikes are allowed to the groin or joints of the legs, and no elbows to the head.  What you want to do is clinch but you need to stay active.”

“You didn’t tell me any of these things!

“I did tell you, last night, you don’t always listen Ela.”

“Shut up, I do too listen!  Jesus Christ, is that Mr. X over there in the audience?  What the hell is he doing here?  You think he’s going to try and kill me?!”

Blue looked over at the humorless psychic sociopath and then shook his head slowly “I don’t think so, interfering in a fight like this is one of the few true taboos in Madripoor, I don’t think even he would do that.  Still, might be a good idea to keep your head down.” He glanced around “Keep an eye out for snipers.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?!”

It was about three seconds into the fight when I realized that I was woefully overmatched.  Or outclassed.  Do those mean the same thing?  She may look like a sex toy turned into a human form through Pinocchio magic, but she was both trained and experienced at fighting – and as you may remember, I’m neither of those things. 

Here’s the thing.  She was a better fighter than me, fine, I’ll accept that.  I would have been willing to take a few lumps and that’s that.  Beating me up doesn’t make her right.  But just smacking me around wasn’t enough for her.  She had to humiliate me.  She was dancing around and toying with me.  And I could have even taken that with good grace.  I mean that’s why people love Muhammad Ali, he’s a great fighter and he knows it and he taunts his opponents like a real asshole.  People love that shit. 

I can handle that.  She wants to make a big show out of beating me up, fine.  That’s life.  One thing Martialla was right about is I’ve gotten hurt worse for a lot less.  But then she knocks me down and I’m a little out of it and when I realize what’s happening, she has her foot on the back of my neck and she’s waving and blowing kisses to the crowd.  Everyone was having a good laugh at her antics.  And then she spit on me.

No.

You’re not going to do that and get away with it.  There’s a bully inside everyone that just loves it when someone else is being embarrassed.  It’s a sick little part of the human soul.  I wasn’t going to be the object of everyone else’s good time.  I got a hold of her around the ankle and I flicked my wrist like I was throwing a Frisbee.  I had zero leverage, you know because of the position she put me in, but it didn’t matter.  I’m very strong. 

I heard some cracking.  I heard her halfway scream – it was like she started to scream but then passed out before she could let it loose.  Like she drew in all the air for a scream and then it just dribbled back out because she was unconscious.  When I stood up she was on the ground and her one leg was like a kinked up garden hose that you drag out of the shed after winter.  I didn’t know a human leg could look like that.  I bet if she hadn’t been wearing her magic hooker suit, I would have ripped her leg off.  I saw what I assume was bone poking into the side of the material. 

A moment before, the crowd was howling and screaming and having a good old time.  Now they were dead silent.  I feel like I could hear people’s hearts beating, it was so silent.  I got a cigarette out of my pocket and stuck it in my bloody lips.  I lit up, I took a long drag, and looked over at the referee. 

“So did I win?  Is this like a TKO?  Can I get an official ruling?”  I crouched a little and grabbed my aching ribs “I should have got the money up front.  I bet she’s going to weltch.  Welsh?  Do you weltch on a debt or welsh?”

December 20, 1973 – Women supporting women

“I’m starting to lose faith in the process.  I’ve seen at least two different bull-men walking about the streets of Madripoor and all we’re getting is guys with motorcycle helmets and creepy weirdos who torture the ghost of their dead twins.  Why aren’t we getting anyone good?”

Martialla shrugged  “Why are we getting anyone in here is the real question.  Where are these people coming from?  Also, those bull men are called Minotaurs.”

“What?”

“From the Greek myth?  The being that is part bull and part human is called the Minotaur.  The king of Minos was being a jerk to Poseidon so Poseidon made his wife fall in love with a bull and so she and the bull did it, and her baby was the Minotaur.”

“What the hell are you talking about?  This isn’t a classic literature class, these are just morons who were stupid enough to let some egghead scientists shove bull hormones up their butts and turn them into mutants.”

Martialla crossed her arms angrily “I’m just telling you what they’re called.”

Blue moved to block my sightline to Martialla as he does sometimes when we bicker “I know who you’re talking about. One of those guys is a ram, not a bull.”

I was about to tell Blue to shut up when I noticed that our next applicant was there.  And by applicant, I mean a woman in a black catsuit with a god damn whip.  She had heels on her god damn boots!  How the hell are you going to do anything with heels on your super-boots?  I’m not even going to mention her ridiculously pendulous breasts.  I stood up from behind Alcazar’s desk and pointed towards the door.

“No, no.  You get out of here with that shit!  We’re looking for superheroes, we’re not casting for a Russ Meyer movie!”

The small part of her face that I could see seemed puzzled “What?”

I gestured more emphatically “Get the hell out here!  You look like you belong in the window of a Times Square bondage store!”

Martialla peered around Blue to glower at me “Calm down Ela, just because you took a women’s studies class in community college doesn’t mean you have to shout at everyone all the time.  Maybe she can help us.  At least give her a chance.”

“Sure, here’s your chance – give me one good reason why you’d dress like that other than appearing in a fetish magazine!”

I couldn’t see her eyes because her get-up had some kind of goggle type thing, but her voice was flinty “Chill out, you don’t like the way I’m dressed that’s fine, but you don’t have to be a bitch about it.  This suit is what gives me my super powers.  I didn’t design it, I didn’t make it, I just wear it so I can do my job.  If I didn’t wear it just because of what it looks like, that would be wrong.  You think any of the people I’ve saved care what I look like?”

“What about the whip? You cannot tell me that serves any purpose!”

“It does actually. I can’t fly. I can jump pretty far, but I can’t fly – the whip helps extend my reach.  I jump, I get the whip around something, and I swing up.”

“Bullshit, there’s no way that works.  You can’t swing around from building to building with a ten foot whip.”

“Look I’m not here to debate you on whip physics.  I was told that you needed help, if you don’t want my help just say so, there’s no need for personal attacks. I don’t need to take your abuse, we can both just go our separate ways.  But since you brought it up, if you think you’re the arbiter of how women are dressed, you’re the one who’s the problem.  Restrictions on the way women can dress have been used as a way to control and restrict what we can and can’t do for centuries, so don’t sit there on your high horse and judge me.  The way I dress is none of your damn business.  You or anyone else.”

“You cannot be that stupid, you have to know what you’re doing when you run around in a skintight sex bag.”

She snorted “You’re going to sit there and judge me?  What have you ever done?  I save lives, I don’t sit on the sidelines clucking my tongue about the bellbottom pants and how two young people’s hips might touch if they do the Bump.  Just because you’re dressed like a train hopping hobo, don’t bark at me like a dog because I have some style.”

“The style of a Saigon whore maybe.”

She lifted her chin “Say that again.  Say that again and I’ll teach you some manners you prissy little flat-chested plain Jane.”

I laughed “Sure why not, violence, we come to it at last.  Somehow I knew we’d end up here.  I’m not going to fight you because I’m not a ten year old boy, I’m not going to meet you by the bike rack after sixth period because you said your dad was stronger than my dad.  Plus it wouldn’t be fair, with your fat flabby tits waving around, you have me outnumbered three to one.”

She laughed back at me “Figures, you’re all talk, like all big mouths.”

“I’m an adult.  I don’t get into fights like a dirty alley cat just because I disagree with someone.”

 She crossed her arms “Fifty grand.”

“What?”

“I’ll give you fifty thousand dollars if you fight me.  Looks like you could use it.  Win or lose the fifty is yours, you just have to show up.  What excuse are you going to come up with now?”

Worldbuilding Wednesday – Alamo 400k

Setting the bar tour aside for a while because it’s basically the same thing as the job interview thread in the main story. I should have realized that a while ago. Oh well. Back to normal worldbuilding.

If you asked the average North American what Alamo 400k is, most would say they’re terrorists (although some people would think ‘heroes’ in the head while they said it) but beyond that, answers would vary.  Some would say they’re anti-globalists.  Some would say they’re anarchists.  Some would say they’re white nationalists.  Some would say they’re anti-NBHs.  Some would say they’re nothing more than a drug cartel.  The stated goal of the Alamo 400k group would surprise many –  

“To provide overt and covert aid to anti-communist guerrillas and resistance movements in an effort to counteract pro-communist movements in Africa, Asia, and South America.” 

The origins of the group would be even more confounding to the “man on the street”.  In the late 1860s, a former Texas Ranger was discovered to be funding and organizing an extralegal secret police force designed to keep the Pecos Republic free of “undesirables” such as labor organizers, anti-capitalists, pacifists, anarchists and the like.  It took until 1870 for the for the legitimate Pecos authorities to uncover the full extent of this network and their operations.   

While a few ringleaders (or scapegoats depending on who you ask) were imprisoned, this organization was incorporated almost wholly into the Pecos government structure in 1871 with the founding of Branch 4, an ill-defined and shadowy organization that has at various times acted as investigative law enforcement, intelligence service, and expeditionary military force.  For the majority of the 19th century, Branch 4 focused on infiltration and intelligence gathering of anarcho-communist organizations and other social anarchists.   

No later than 1920 (but possibly much earlier) Branch 4 began focusing the bulk of its assets on communist groups, most critical including those based outside the Pecos Republic.  Branch 4 was dissolved in 1943 after numerous incidents of unwarranted appropriation of government funds and military matériel, political corruption, and illegal activity on foreign soil.  The core of Branch 4 true believers continued to operate in secret using funds and equipment stashed away in hidden depots for just such an occurrence.   

The former operatives of Branch 4 became associated with the name Alamo 400k after the 1947 San Antonio bombing by South American extremists (retaliating for the Pecos-US air strike on Sao Paulo) which they claim killed 400,000 people (the official number of dead and missing from that attack is closer to 20,000).  It is also variously claimed that 400k refers to the number of members in the group, but no reasonable intelligence agency believes they have even a hundredth that size of organization.    

The decentralized and highly secretive nature of the organization makes it difficult to gather concrete information on.  The widely varied actions it undertakes are evidence of several key members with unaligned personal agendas.  Each of these key leaders seeks to increase their own authority and resources while weakening those of their ideological or personal enemies within the group.

Each claims to have the true vision of what Alamo 400k is and does their best to prove it by games of one-upsmanship and occasionally outright conflict.  Individual agents follow their leader’s example and often compete for power, profits, and prestige.  A successful, high-earning agent gains more influence within the organization than a weaker, less profitable one, and some try to improve their own track records by stealing from or hindering other agents, usually covertly but sometimes openly.

Alamo 400k’s own culture and rules exacerbate this behavior — the best way to find an opportunity for advancement is to create a vacancy yourself. 

December 20, 1973 – This is going on too long

The next guy standing before us was completely covered by red and black motorcycle leathers, and not the kind you might see a guy who’s super into motorcycles wear.  This was thick stuff that maybe off road bike people would wear.  Given the heat and humidity, he must have been roasting like a Thanksgiving turkey in there.  He even had the helmet on.  He also had a pair of holsters which was the only concession to anything that might be non-motorcycle related.  There were a bunch of straps and buckles and pouches on the suit that I’m not sure were supposed to be there, or if they were added to show what a badass he is.  For the record, the only thing that I count as badass is a bandoleer of bullets like Pierce’s outriders had in War Wagon.  Although even that was kind of a cop-out, because what you really need to be a badass is no shirt and then the bullet-bandolier.

Blue can’t whistle because he doesn’t have lips anymore but I could tell that he wanted to.  He also can’t raise his eyebrows because he doesn’t have those either, being turned into a lizard monster really curtails your ability to express yourself nonverbally.

Blue gestured “Are those custom forty-four Automags?  Where did you get those?”

Motorcycle man said something but it was muffled because of the helmet.  I think maybe he said something about “Mo Pow” is that anything?  Is there a gun manufacturer with a name like Mo Pow or something similar?

I cocked my head “What was that?  Can you take off that helmet?  It’s very hard to hear you with it on.”

He responded with something that sounded like “murffermurrfermurrfer secret identity.”

“You’re worried that if you take off the helmet we’ll know who you are?  But we don’t know who you are anyway?  Unless we went to the same high school or something, how would we know who you are even if we saw your face?  And why would it matter?”  I turned over to Martialla after he maybe responded “Did you catch any of that?” She shook her head “Hey, we can’t hear you man, can you at least crack open the visor or something?

Blue leaned forward  and peered “Doesn’t look like it opens.”

Leatherboy made some kind of a hand gesture and then LOUDLY mumbled something that no one could understand. 

I stood up and gestured angrily “Get the hell out of here!” I sat back down as he clomped off with what I have to assume were combat boots that would be terrible for motorcycle riding.  I chuckled “The funny thing is, I know who that is.”

Martialla snorted “How could you know who it was, he was all covered up!”

“I guess I don’t know for sure that it’s the same guy under there, but I can’t believe anyone else would walk around in that exact same stupid outfit.  He was a vigilante in Basin City back home.  I wonder what he’s doing here.”

“So you don’t know who he really is, just his . . . whatever, public persona.”

I grinned “No, I know that too.  It’s a long story.  Maybe I’ll tell you about it some time.  If you’re nice.”

Our next applicant was halfway dressed normally but he was also wearing a motorcycle jacket and some kind of matching motorcyclish boots.  He had his hair long like a lot of the local troublemakers do and I wondered how that worked with a helmet.  Do you stuff it all under there or just let it hang out the back?  Seems like it would pull your hair.  I guess I don’t know how tight those things are.  But they’d have to be pretty tight to work right?  Or do you want them to be loose to absorb impact? 

“Jesus, what the hell is this, motorcycle day?”

He frowned slightly “Pardon me?”

Blue made a conciliatory gesture “Don’t mind her.”

“Yeah, don’t mind me, I’m just the one asking all the questions.  You speak English, that’s a good start.”

He nodded slightly “Yeah, I’m from Hong Kong.”

“They speak English in Hong Kong?”

“Sometimes.  It was controlled by Britain until the war.”

“Who controls it now?”

He smiled mirthlessly “Depends who you ask.”

Martialla glared at me “Do we have time for a poly-sci discussion?”

I shook my head “Why do you have to suck the joy out of everything?  I like getting to know people.  Anyway, since we’re apparently in a big hurry, do you have powers or what’s your story?”

“I can duplicate myself.”

“So there’s two of you?  How is that useful?  Couldn’t we just hire two guys?”

Blue held up a finger “But this way we only have to pay one.”

The applicant did smile a little at that “Yes, but more importantly, I send my dupe to do something dangerous because I can just make another one.  I’ve been working as a stunt man but I’m looking to branch out into super capers.”

“Huh, so you like have your duplicate jump off a building for real and they film it?  Something like that?  Meanwhile you’re sitting in a director’s chair drinking a Pina colada?  Why do they call them director’s chairs when other people sit in them too?”

“I don’t know, but yes, that’s basically it.  Saves money on special effects too.”

“Okay so you can summon like a suicide copy of yourself?  I suppose I can see how that could be helpful.  I’ve never heard of anything like this, how did you get this ability?”

“I don’t know how it happened, after my twin brother died, I could just do it.”

“So you summon your dead twin brother into the world of the living to die over and over again?  Is that what we’re talking about?  I don’t like the sound of that at all.” 

Blue shuffled some papers “We’ll put you in the maybe pile.”

December 20, 1973 – It says here that you left your last job because your boss was sleeping with your wife?

I’ve never really been on a job interview before.  Because I’ve never had a job.  A job job you know.  I remember one of my friends going for a job interview for a job where you sold nails over the phone or something stupid like that.  He was reading an article about what to do or not do, and it said that you should wait to light up until the person interviewing you did so first.  The advice for women was not to wear your fancy diamonds because then it would look like you didn’t need a job.  I assume the first question an interviewer asks a woman is “So are you gonna put out or are you a stick in the mud?” 

I don’t suppose that experience would be transferrable to putting together a super-team for a covert op anyway.  How many words a minute you type is unlikely to come up.  Maybe I should watch the Dirty Dozen again to get in the zone.  Or the Devil’s Brigade.  Of course I’d need a TV for that.  Or you know, access to electricity.  While I was intensively considering such things (or daydreaming about food and clean clothing) a couple applicants came and went without me noticing.  When I brought my attention back around, the guy in front of us was in a black leotard thing and had big guns on his forearms with a kind of metal framework.

“Where did you get that costume?”

He gestured vaguely with his gum-forearm “There’s a guy that makes them.”

“Give me his address, will you?”

“Sure, but it’s pretty expensive.”

“Thanks.  So . . .  it looks like you’re just a guy with guns?”

He gestured again with his gun limbs “Well as you can see, I have an exoskeleton to support them but mostly, yes, I’m ‘just’ a guy with guns.  I do also have combat luck.”

Blue’s tongue flicked out in confusion “What’s combat luck?”

He replied deadpan “It means I’m lucky in combat.”

Martialla shook her head “Even if that was true, how would you know you had that power?”

“Hmm, I guess I wouldn’t.  Maybe I’m just lucky.”

I snapped my fingers “Hey, are you that guy that killed that bird man in Chi-Town?” He nodded “I knew you looked familiar!  I saw your picture in the paper.  What exactly is the point of having a mask on your costume anyway?  I know you’re the guy that did that.”

“But you don’t know my name.”

“I wouldn’t know your name anyway.”

We looked at each other for a while and then Blue broke the silence “Was that a hit or what was that all about?”

“He was sleeping with my wife.”

I raised an eyebrow “So you shot him fifty times?”

“Yeah.”

“Isn’t that murder?”

“I mean, yeah.”

Martialla leaned forward slightly “Why did you kill the guy?  Isn’t your wife the one that betrayed you?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Why do you want to be on a crime fighting super-team if you’re a murderer?  Are you the reformed villain?  It’s always good to have one of them in the mix, people love that stuff.  Redemption arcs are big.  That would help with the press release.”

He frowned slightly “Crime fighting?  I was told this was for a heist.”

“Well yeah . . . it is, but we’re the good guys.”

“If you say so.”

The next guy up had a very similar looking leotard, only it was red and blue instead of black and it had a big blue eagle on the chest with the wings stretching onto the shoulders.

I shook my head “No, no, sorry, I’ve had my fill of Statie super-soldier assholes.  Why are there so many of you here?  This is like a helter skelter amount of USA super patriot people in exile or on vacation or whatever.  Sorry but I just can’t do it.”

The only part of his face that was visible frowned “I’m from Kansas City, why would you think I’m from the states?”

“You’re wearing a red and blue suit with a giant eagle on it.”

He looked down at himself “It doesn’t really look like a flag though.  I have the eagle because I’m Eagle-Eye.”

“What about the red and blue?”

“It was the only suit they had.”

“Okay, so you have really good vision?  Is that it?”

“All my senses are enhanced.  Plus I have the extrasensory ability to perceive stress points, fracture planes, or weaknesses in people or objects – combined with my martial arts skills, this makes me able to deliver devastating blows.”

“Aren’t everyone’s weak points pretty much the same?”

“Uh . . . no.”

I looked over at Blue who just shrugged “I lived in Kansas City when I was kid, what high school did you go to?”

“John Burroughs.”

“No shit, I went to Parkway Central, do you remember that time . . .”

Martialla glared over at me “What does this have to do anything?”

“I don’t hear you asking any questions!”  Martialla shook her head and crossed her skinny fish-arms “Okay how about this question, why are you in Madripoor?”

“I’m on the run from the mob.”

“Like the mafia in New York?  There’s no mob in the CS.”

“Yes, there is, the Kansas City mob, among others.”

“What?!  There’s no mob in Kansas City!”

“Actually there is.  The DiGiovanni brothers came to Kansas City in 1912 from Sicily and . . .”

Martialla threw up her slimy webbed hands “Jesus Christ!”

Ela’s bar tour #5 – Somewhere, beyond the sea

I wonder who first came up with the idea of a bar on the beach.  Probably someone who got busted for drinking on a public beach.  I don’t know why wearing a bikini makes rum taste better but it does.  It just does.  If you get drunk enough you don’t even care that there’s sand in your crack.  Which there is.  There just is. 

Beach bars come in three types in Madripoor as far as I’ve been able to gather so far.  You have your tourist joints on the west side by the bridge.  You have places that are similar but are for locals further down, and then you have your spots in lowtown that probably started out as normal bars and then erosion made them a bar on the beach.  Which gives me hope that this entire stinking island will wash away some day.  No offense.

The place I was at today was sort of in-between the first two.  It’s hard to say because there weren’t many people there.  Possibly because it was ten in the morning.  It was halfway decked out like a Hawaiian place but the bartender was Aussie.  I regaled him with tales of my encounters with his countryman in the red power armor suit but he didn’t think it was funny at all.  I thought Australians were supposed to be boisterous and fun-loving.  Alvin Purple lied to me.

Since the bartender wasn’t interested in my hilarious and well-told anecdotes, I turned my back on him and watched the ocean while I drank, a time honored tradition.  Watching the waves roll in can be calming if you don’t look at the dirty foam at the beach were all the garbage is washing up.  Crushing a dozen glasses of ranch water is pretty calming too.  They call it something different of course and it’s made with lemongrass instead of lime juice, but I know ranch water when I taste it.  It’s a light bubbly version of the classic margarita without being as sweet.  I’m sweet enough as is. 

I was mildly hypnotized by the rhythm of the water as I watched a floating lump and wondered what it was.  A dead walrus?  A crate of hot pants that fell off a freighter?  A bunch of dead bodies tied together by the testicles?  They do that here you know.  Another reason I’m glad I don’t have testicles.  I don’t even see how you could walk with those things clanging around. 

I was distracted enough thinking about testicle-walking that it didn’t really register right away when the mound grew a long neck out of it – I saw it but I didn’t see it you know?  When the little head at the end of the long neck turned towards me and I saw eyeballs is when I really took notice.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I jumped out of my chair and maybe screamed a little.  I grabbed one of the few other patrons.

“Holy shit, are you seeing this?!” He plucked his shirt out of my grasp finickyily.  Is that a word?  He did it with finickiness. “Do you see that man?  Can you understand me?  Do you speak French?!”

He squinted out at the water “Elasmosaurus.”

I grabbed at him again unconsciously “What?  What does that mean?”

He nodded at the water “That’s what that is, elasmosaurus, it’s a kind of plesiosaurus.”

I won’t lie, my jaw dropped “What?  Like dinosaurs?!”

“Uh, I think they’re aquatic reptiles rather than dinosaurs but I’ve never been clear on what the difference is.  Something about the hip bones?  I don’t know, I’m no dinosaur biologist.”

“You mean archeologist?”

He shook his head “No, that would be for fossils, that’s a living thing there.  So biologist I think is right. Yeah.”

I gestured so wildly I spilled some of my drink and had to slurp it off my hand “It’s the Loch Ness Monster!  Why are you not freaking out?!” I looked around at the few people there “Why is everyone not freaking out!?”

He flicked some droplets of tequila off his shirt “They’re rare, but you see them in his part of the bay sometimes.  They don’t come close to shore so it’s safe.” He smiled faintly “It is pretty cool when you think about it I suppose.”

I spun around looking for someone else who was going nuts “I don’t . . . I can’t . . . why . . .” I flung one arm towards the water “What the fuck?!  Dinosaurs went extinct billions of years ago right?  What is going on?”

“They still around in the Savage Lands.”

I finally managed to sit back down and watched the long-necked beast paddling around in the water “I’m going to assume you don’t mean the gay bar in downtown Chicago.”

“In Antarctica there’s a lost world with dinosaurs, they call it the Savage Lands.”

I gawked at him “How would you know that?”

He crossed his arms smugly “I went there once.  I worked on a ship that went to the Savage Lands.  A rich man in Sao Paulo hired us to go there and bring him back a deinonychus.  Try to bring him back a deinonychus anyhow.  The thing got sick and died on the way back.”

“So you’re telling me that you went to a secret dinosaur world in Antarctica and captured a dinosaur?”

He seemed irritated “I didn’t say that I captured it myself, I was just working on a ship that went there and I saw it.”

I slammed my hand down on the bar, although not very hard since I have the strength of twenty strong men and I didn’t want to smash it to bits “Bullshit!  I can accept a lot of crazy shit that goes on here but there is not a dinosaur land in the fucking South Pole!  It makes no sense!  If there was, everyone would know about it!  Everyone!”

He shrugged and turned back to the bar “You asked, I told you.”