November 29, 1973 – Crimelord book club is on Thursdays

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

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

“That’s what I said.”

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

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

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

“The male what?  The male cow?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then how come you never say anything funny?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ways of Seeing, have you read it?”

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

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

I shrugged “Maybe a little.”

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

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

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

“You heard about that?”

“Word travels fast here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martialla picked up a menu “Nothing.”

November 28, 1973 – The Challenging Challenge of the Challenger!

I try to spend as little time in our “apartment” as possible.  I never noticed it before because I wasn’t sleeping on top of him, but Blue has an unpleasant acrid scent to him.  And given that I’m sweating (sorry, girls don’t sweat, I mean glistening) through my clothes every three hours I probably don’t smell like roses myself.  Martialla surprisingly seems to have no odor at all, probably it matches her bland personality. 

And, smells aside, it’s pretty claustrophobic when we’re all in there, you know because it’s a utility closet.  As a result, we spend a lot of time walking around the city and sleeping in shifts when possible.  Blue and Martialla keep calling it “hot bunking” which is gross sounding and not accurate because we don’t even have a bunk.  Their insistence on using military jargon annoys me, Blue hasn’t been in the army for years and despite all her gung-ho commando bullshit, I’m pretty sure Martialla was like a secretary or something.  Anyway, we were strolling down a little strip between the part of town where all the vice places are by the docks called the Flats.

“So I don’t think we’re going to see Fred (editor’s note: she means Frank) anymore, he was pretty pissed that we stuck him with the bill.”

Martialla smirked, which is awful with her dumb fish-lips “Why was he upset, wasn’t it a standard food to sex deal?”

I scowled at her “Don’t be like that Martialla.”

She nodded “Ah, so you slept with him for free, you’re not a hooker, you’re just easy.”

“I thought Canadians were supposed to be nice, what’s your problem?”

“I grew up in Canada but I’m Russian.  Lucien is actually from Canada, that’s why he’s such a good natured doormat.”

“That explains it.”

We had to pause our perambulation because in the middle of the street there was a shirtless man in karate/pajama pants with a torso covered with tattoos of red and green dragons (not dragons like you think, here dragons are skinny snakes that have no wings and weird tentacle mustaches) attacking a breakdancer.  The one guy was breakdancing for his life while the shirtless dragon guy was trying to kick his head off.  In standard Madripoor fashion, most people were ignoring this and going around it, one enterprising fellow was taking bets.

“What’s this?

Blue pointed “The guy with the tattoos is called the Challenger.  He goes around the world attacking martial arts guys to prove he’s the best fighter in the world.”

“Isn’t that Mr. X’s deal exactly?  How many of these ever loving people are there traveling the world trying to fight everyone?”

“Enough that they have a tournament where they fight to the death every year and there’s still more of them the next year I guess.”

“Good point.  Why is he attacking a street dancer?  What does that prove?”

Blue flicked his tongue out in confusion “He’s not a dancer, he’s a capoeirista.”

“What?  He looks human to me.”

“Huh?”

“You said he was a capybara, isn’t that the giant rat-pig they have in South America?  The ones they tried to import into the swamps around New Orleans and now they’re everywhere?  Our tour bus hit one of those damn things back in seventy-one.  Nearly sent us off the road.  Of course the driver was also drunk so that may have been a factor as well.”

“What are you talking about?”

“What are YOU talking about?” We both looked at each other cluelessly for a moment before turning back to the fight “Should we do something?”

“Like what?  Do you want to fight a guy who goes around the world picking fights with the best fighters he can find?”

“No, but can’t you shoot him or something?”

Martialla snorted bitterly “With what?  We had to give all our guns to the doctor for Elvis, may he rest in peace.”

Blue crossed himself “May he rest in peace.  We’re just here with our dicks in our hands unless you want to go hand to hand with this guy.”

I looked at him curiously “Do you still have a dick?”

His eyes bulged, which I didn’t know could happen with his lizard-head “What?!”

I glanced at his pants crotch area “I mean to lizards even have dicks?  What’s going on down there?”

He turned away “This is not a productive area of discussion!”

I snapped my fingers “Is that why you’re so mad at those aliens?  When they turned you into a lizard you lost your penis?  That makes a lot of sense now that I think about it.”

Martialla slapped me on the arm “What if he’s a lizard but he still has his normal human penis?  That would be so freaky!”

“Eeeeew, is that what happened?!”

Blue stomped away in a huff and Martialla followed after him with a grin.  I stayed behind to watch the two men fighting, or really one man attacking and the other trying desperately to stay alive.  If two men (or women, although I think they’re generally too smart to do it) mutually and consensually decided they want to karate fight each other to the death I guess that’s fine, but it didn’t look like that to me, it looked like the breakdancing guy was just trying to live his life and the dragon guy attacked him. 

I picked up one of those three wheeled delivery bikes (I guess that’s a trike, but you know not the thing for kids) with the big cargo area and threw it at the dragon man.  There’s not enough heavy things laying around on the street for me to throw at people.  Maybe I should start carrying around a satchel of metals balls I can throw, made out of some really heavy metal.  What’s a heavy metal?  Tungsten?  Where do I get Tungsten? 

Unfortunately for me, and for the breakdancer, the dragon man – even though there’s no way he could have seen it coming – Fosbury flopped over the flying bicycle and it continued on its way to flatten the poor dancing guy.  It hit him so hard the frame bent around him like a hula hoop. 

“Oh!  Oh . . . shit, sorry man.”

Upon landing the Challenger spun to face me with an angry look, whipping his hand into an imperious point “You!  You have interfered in my affairs for the last time!”

“For the last time?  Have we met before?”

His response was to charge at me like they do in those Sunny Chiba movies.  The actor karate guy, not the dirty movie lady.  I threw a kiosk at him.  Not sure what it was, it looked like Lucy’s stand from Peanuts – honestly.  It was just a couple pieces of wood with a “marquee” above it advertising something not on English (or French or Spanish).  I heard someone exclaim what I assume translates to “My kiosk!”

Remember that time I threw a couch at that dumb lady with a sword?  I expected her to cut it in half but she didn’t.  This guy met expectations, he jumped in the air and karate-kicked the thing in half.  Well not literally in half but it broke is the point.  He didn’t fly through it though, he kind of bounced backwards and landed awkwardly.  Whereupon I threw one of those big stick things that I see people carrying two huge baskets on at him that I think broke both his legs.  He fell amongst the kiosk debris with a shout of pain.  I looked around for the breakdancing guy but he was gone.

“Well that’s not very gracious.”

The Challenger hauled himself up to his hands, looking up at me with fury “I’m going to kill you!”

“Yeah, once you learn to walk again I’ll be sure to watch out for that.”

Hot Ela on Ela action outside of time and space

She was stunning.  Statuesque I’d call her.  Or I would if I was the kind of person that would call someone that.  I’ve heard that term before, but never had I seen anyone I felt deserved the moniker until I saw her.  We were exactly eye to eye, but somehow she seemed a few inches taller than me.  She looked a lot like me.  A LOT like me.  It wasn’t exactly like looking in a mirror because there were differences.  Minor differences, but they were there.  Her skin was nearly flawless but I could see one tiny white line from the corner of her mouth, it was artfully hidden with make-up, I doubt anyone who wasn’t examining what was almost their own face would notice it.  Her eyes were really something.  They weren’t cold exactly, they certainly weren’t friendly, they were hard – like diamonds.  Never seen eyes like that.

Her clothing was odd to my eye, it was sort of what I think of from Robin Hood or movies like that with swords and stuff, but it wasn’t exactly that.  They weren’t fancy clothes but they were extremely well made, some material I’m not even familiar with.  It looked like what a queen would wear when she wasn’t dressed like a queen if that makes sense.  Like a queen going out for a ride maybe.  In particular she had longcoat of white and silver trimmed with black that was gorgeous.  I have no idea what I would do with something like that but I kind of wanted it.   

She had a cane or a walking stick made of a fine dark wood that was topped with an ivory cobra-head.  The detail was insane.  It looked like an actual cobra had been petrified and its head sliced off for the top of the cane.  She didn’t hold it like a person that needed a cane, she held it like a staff of office, or like a pharaoh with that little crook thing you see on Egypt stuff.  Or maybe she held it like a weapon.  Point is she didn’t have it because she had a limp, she certainly didn’t need a cane.

The snake tattoo on the back of my hand, a souvenir from a night of drinking with sailors on leave, was tingling in a strange way.  It was like pins and needles all across the back of my hand. The tattoo itself looked sharper and more realistic – like an actual snake might jump off my hand.  It seemed like it could start moving at any moment and it kind of freaked me out. 

She was examining me just as I was her and I got the sense that she wasn’t impressed, suddenly I felt self-conscious of my shabby clothing.  Her voice was rich and resonate, she’d make a wonderful singer if she was so inclined.  

She smiled almost imperceptivity “Blood stains?  I had the same problem in the beginning.  You need to get yourself a magically self-cleaning and self-repairing wardrobe, after I was able to do that it made my life much easier.” 

“Is magic a thing?” 

“Sometimes.”  Even though we were nowhere that I could tell, she looked around “Your world does seem very dull though, perhaps there is no magic for you.  That’s a pity my dear, magic is awful and common but I’ve found that it can do many helpful things.  If you can afford it.” 

I was at a loss of what to say “Nice coat.” 

She looked at her sleeve “Isn’t it just?  I took it off the body of one of those horrible Vulcari people.  It was already enchanted but I took it to a craftmage in Barrinton and had more magic imbued in it.  It’s saved my life several times, and it looks very fetching if I do say so myself.”  She looked at me curiously “Do you have Vulcar here?” 

“Uh, I don’t know what that is.  Did you say you killed someone?” 

Her smiled widened.  People talk about shark smiles.  It wasn’t that.  Not exactly.  It was something predatory, but nothing so obvious as a shark.  It was the smile that comes before poison is fed with a spoon.  It was the smile before the pillow goes over your face to smother you.  I could see how most people would love for that smile to be directed at them, it was radiant, men especially would turn to butter under it – but it made me shiver.  I’ve never seen a smile like that before and I hope I never do again.  It wasn’t cold, it was otherworldly. 

“Well aren’t you a peach?  Are you truly as innocent as all that?  Maybe you’re who I would have been if I stayed on the farm.” She laughed.  “Yes, I’ve killed people.  Many times.  Revenge is a dirty business, my dear.  You’re going to have to get your hands bloody if you want to get Duke Eaglevane.” 

“This is quite an odd dream.” 

Her smiled turned wry “You don’t know the half of it.  I was plagued by nightmares for months sent by a wicked creature from beyond the stars that laid a curse on me.  This is a walk in the park by comparison to what I went through on a nightly basis, I assure you.  Although, I suppose without that particular magical infection I wouldn’t be here now.  Koma played a part as well but without that seed . . . I wonder.” 

“Uh . . . what?” 

“Don’t worry your pretty little head about it dear.  I’d love to stay and chat with you about the well of many worlds or other more interesting topics, but unfortunately I don’t have much time here so it’s best we get to business.  I’ve come to warn you not to make the same mistake that I did.  When I woke up in that pigsty Graltontown, I thought that I would head straight for the Duke and destroy him.  But I kept getting distracted by this and that and every other little thing.  Two years I spent running here and there and getting into one jackpot after the other and I got no closer to my revenge.  Sure, it was mostly Martialla’s fault, but still . . .” 

“Wait, Martialla?  You know her?  What is this?” 

Her face barely changed but I could tell it turned cold, a shiver went up my spine “I’m trying to tell you, don’t interrupt me, it’s unspeakably rude.  Don’t follow in my path.  Whatever you’re doing right now that seems important, stop doing it, go wherever the Duke is and kill him.  Don’t worry about anything else.  Don’t go down the same path that I did.  You must succeed where I failed.” 

“I don’t understand.  This isn’t real right?” 

She smirked “Have you ever had a dream where you asked if the dream was a dream?  Don’t get tangled in the details, just take my advice.  No detours, no side treks, no distractions, just go straight for the Duke.  Unless you want to end up like me.” 

“And how did you end up?  You look pretty spiffy to me.” 

Her mouth tightened “Dead.  Dead is how I ended up.  If you jump into every situation that comes your way, eventually you run out of luck.  I was so stupid, I see that now.  I started with nothing and I got money and power, and I never made my move.  I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.” 

“I’ve never understood that expression.” 

“Well say you have some trees . . . actually no, forget about it, there’s no time for lessons.  Heed my warning, learn from my mistake.  Don’t get yourself killed in some random ditch like I did, grab a horse right now and head for the Duke.” 

“A horse?  Why would I grab a horse?” 

She rolled her eyes “Or whatever you have here, just get there as fast as you can is what I meant.” 

“O . . . kay.  So, uh, what’s the afterlife like?” 

“Where you are?  I have no idea.  Where I am?  Never-ending torment.  Well, mostly never-ending, I’m not being tormented right this second so it did end once at least.  Which is nice for me.”   

“Oh. You’re in Hell?  So you were pretty bad huh?” 

She smiled pleasantly “Sweetie, I was the absolute worst.” 

November 27, 1973 – A Duke by any other name something something revenge

I’m working on a new song.  I wish I could find a guitar so I could really get into the nitty-gritty of it, but I’ve got some good ideas in my head at least.  It’s a song about who we are on the inside.  About how, for a bunch of reasons, we’re perceived very differently from who we are.  Some people try really hard to make people think that, but even the people that don’t are thought to be something they’re not.  It’s not a new or revolutionary idea but that’s why music is the truest and greatest form of art.  

Want proof?  There are a million songs about getting your heart broken, and there needs to be a million songs about getting your heart broken because each one speaks to people in different ways.  With music, the same basic message in a different package really is something different because it hits people in a different way.  You can’t achieve that with any other medium.  

If you’re into mountain climbing, you may read a bunch of books about climbing Everest but one is all you need to get the message.  The other ones are just entertainment.  With literature, the same story is the same story.  Maybe one writer is better than the other or there’s one perspective that you identify with more, but you don’t need more books about the same thing like you do with songs.  

Paintings and sculptures and drawings and things like that can evoke feelings and ideas but it’s open to interpretation.  Maybe the artist intended those three red lines to signify the sunrise but you see what you see.  When I look at ‘The Poetess’ by Joan Miro, I have a strong reaction, but it’s one that I can’t really explain.  When I hear Etta James singing about how she’d rather go blind than see her man walking away from her, I know exactly what she’s talking about.  

The point is while that song speaks to me, maybe someone else really feels it when Janis Joplin is telling them about someone taking a piece of her heart.  And maybe another body feels it when Otis Rush is telling them.  They’re all singing about the same thing, getting hurt by love, but we need all those different ways to say it because everyone is different.  Music speaks to the soul in a way that other art doesn’t.  Sorry other kinds artist, but as a singer I’m better than you.   At least you’re still better than horrible non-creative types.

Fred (editor’s note, she means Frank) told me that Duke Eaglevane is in a prison in German East Africa.  When I suggested that the world’s most wanted man being captured and put in jail was something that would have been in the papers, he said that they don’t know that’s who they have.  According to Fred, a few months ago the Pecos military launched a missile attack at a guerilla camp in southern Mexico under the impression that in residence at the time was an international criminal by the name of Miro Viga, wanted in connection with several violent uprisings in South America.  Miro, who either wasn’t there or survived the attack, in retaliation, tried to enter the Pecos Republic intent on blowing up several government buildings.  There was a battle at the border in which six men were killed and thirty more wounded before Miro was taken into custody by one of the only PR NBH operatives, Justice Ranger – which is a terrible name.

Fred claims that Miro Viga is none other than Duke Eaglevane.  As Fred tells it, the good Duke has many different personas that have been constructed and maintained with such detail as to be practically different people – hence why the Pecos authorities don’t know who they really have.  He said that this is at least the third time the Duke has been captured without the authorities knowing who they really have.  Seems pretty far-fetched to me.  I asked Fred if this was so super-duper secret how did he know about it, and he said that he was part of an “op” that broke the Miro Viga identity back when he was still in the good graces of the US spymasters.  

“If this is true, why didn’t your government tell the Texans who they had?”

He half-shrugged “I don’t know, I’m not in the loop anymore.  Maybe they did and the Pecos authorities didn’t believe it.  Or maybe they like having one of the Dukes identities that no one else knows about.  There are a lot of angles they could be playing.”

I glanced at Martialla “So all we need to do is get to German Africa once we wrap up this other thing.”

Fred looked somber “Get there quickly is my advice. As I said, this has happened before – the Duke’s minions always break him out in a couple of months.  That’s the whole point of these supplementary personas, if they knew who they had, Duke Eaglevane would be in some black site where you’d never find him.  Actually, he’d never be taken into custody in the first place, if they had him in their sights they’d kill him.  But Miro is just an ordinary terrorist wanted by fifteen world governments, so he’s merely in a normal maximum security facility.   If you want to kill him, this is the best chance you’re going to get.”

“Do you know any of his other identities?”

“I did, but it doesn’t matter, the Duke knows those ones are burned.  Miro Viga is the only one that’s still active that I know about.”

While I was thinking, Martialla gave me a look “I think you’re overlooking an obvious course of action, Ela.  Half the world wants the Duke dead.  The safe bet is to give this information to someone who has the juice to make sure he goes down.”

I shook my head slowly “No.  It has to be me.  He has to know I’m the one that got him.”  

Martialla frowned “But he doesn’t even know who you are.”

“He will.  For a few seconds.”

November 27, 1973 – The Old Man and the Sea Creature

Even in the not so nice parts of Madripoor, there are some good beachside cafes.  I didn’t catch the name of the place we were at but they were bringing me buckets of chili crab and Golden Cadillacs on an endless loop so I was in heaven.  Human heaven not hog heaven.  I never understood that expression.  Wouldn’t hog heaven just be mud?  And, even better, for once I was not the one looking shabby and blood-spattered.   My clothing was a little worse for wear but I was freshly showered and free of any dust or dirt.  What they don’t tell you about crashing through walls and wrecking buildings with super-strength is how much white powder it throws into the air.  And not the good kind.  I swear, you throw one person through one wall and you look like you fell into a giant bag of flour. 

US Patriot Commando Eagleman, on the other hand, looked like he had been run over by a truck.  Which he may have been.  There was a lot of commotion inside that warehouse, even beside the gunshots – which were plentiful – there was all manner of loud noise that I could hear from across the street.  Sounded like he got himself into quite a fracas in there.  Good thing he’s a highly trained deliverer of cruel justice.  Even so, one side of his head looked like it was a giant prune it was so bruised, and he was limping pretty badly when we walked over here as well.  The staff was polite enough not to mention that, nor the fact that his bloody nunchakus were ruining the tablecloth.  With blood. 

After polishing off another whole crab, I sighed contentedly and sat back to survey “You know, it had a rocky start but I have a feeling this is going to turn out to be a great day.  Do you have that feeling?  I have that feeling.” 

He was agog as another crab was delivered before me “You weren’t kidding were you.  I need to eat a lot more than I did before I was enhanced, I get that, they cranked up my metabolism, but you?” He shook his head “This is like some kind of circus freak act here.” 

“Rude.  You shouldn’t comment on what a lady is eating.” 

He yanked off his boot to examine his bloody foot “So far I have yet to see you display any behavior that would make me think you’re a lady.” 

“Says the man waving around his bloody stump at the lunch table.  Get with the times man, I’m not going to hold my parasol and sashay my pretty little self around the town square like in your day.” 

He grunted sourly as he pulled his sock off “How old do you think I am?” 

“I don’t know, somewhere between forty and a hundred.” 

“When they did the surgery on me I aged rapidly in an instant, but since then I’ve stayed exactly the same.  When I volunteered for the experiment I was in my twenties, when I woke up and looked in a mirror I saw that the geeks in lab coats made me look older than my dad, but I haven’t aged a day since.  I may look like this forever.” 

“So I’m going to look young and beautiful forever?  Nice.” 

“I wouldn’t count on it, I don’t think we got exactly the same treatment.” 

It was nice to talk to someone who had been through what I was going through, or at least something similar.  Blue and Martialla are both freaks, but they’re not freaks like me.  Even though the science should have advanced by twenty years in the meantime, it sounds like the people that worked on me weren’t the A team that he got.  I’m not sure they were even the B team.  I’m much stronger than he is, but otherwise he got a better deal – he’s tougher, faster, more agile, and he only needs to eat three or four times as much as normal rather than fifty.  One thing that’s the same is the brutally violent never-goes-away headaches.  It’s pretty clear that’s why he drinks himself stupid all the time.  Although it’s interesting that he can even get drunk, I thought the reason I can’t is part of the super endurance, maybe I have a separate thing.   

“Do you have the throwing thing?” 

He was rubbing his foot and not really paying attention “What’s that?” I flipped a piece of crab shell into a waste bin across the cafe without looking “Oh yeah, I have that.  I used to carry around throwing knives for a while but it got annoying having to go pull them out of corpses all the time.” 

“Cool, we should play horse sometime.  If there’s anywhere there’s a court around here.” 

He said something but I was distracted by seeing Martialla walking out of the water onto the beach.  She was holding her side and seemed to be in pain.  I waved her over and she laboriously climbed up the beach, pulling up a chair and joining us.  She was soaking wet of course, but moreover it seemed like she was wetter than someone should be even after getting out of the ocean– like the water was sticking to her somehow.  She slumped down like she was bone tired and drained a glass of water. 

“What happened to you?” 

“Tiger Shark.” 

“You got bit by a shark?!” 

She looked at me like I was stupid “No, I got into a fight with a guy called Tiger Shark.  I’d be dead if a shark bit me.” 

I raised an eyebrow “There’s other water mutants out there?” 

“I’m not a mutant.  But yeah a couple.” 

“How are you not a mutant?” 

She lifted her chin “Who’s this old guy?” 

I gestured “This is my friend . . . uh . . . uh . . .” 

He frowned “Frank.” 

I nodded “Yes, my good friend Frank.” 

“We made love and you don’t even remember my name?” 

I chortled “Made love?  Get over yourself chief.” I turned back to Martialla “If there’s other water people in the bay, we should get them on our side.  Are there any that are good on the land or are they useless like you where their powers only work underwater?” 

I’m the useless one?  You don’t do anything but eat all the food and smoke.  Ela, why do you have this notion in your head that people with superpowers are going to form teams and work together?  They’re just people, and people are assholes.  Just because someone has laser vision or a robot-arm doesn’t mean they want to help the world.” 

“Not with that attitude they won’t.  You and Blue and I are a team, aren’t we?  And now we have Fred here too.” 

Frank’s eyes widened “Frank, and I never said . . .” 

“What were you doing in the water fighting with a shark guy anyway?” Martialla ignored me while she ordered supreme flounder from the waiter “Why do you need to order anything?  Don’t you suck algae off rocks or something?” 

“Why was I in the water?  I go in the water all the time, Ela.  You’d have noticed that if you weren’t a self-absorbed narcissist.  I like being in the water.” She shielded her freak white eyes “It’s too bright up here for me now.  And it’s too hot.  After whatever they did to me I’m a little agoraphobic too, having the sky above me feels uncanny.  It just goes up forever.  I like having an end above me.” 

“The surface of the water isn’t the end.” 

“Seems like it when you’re down there.  When this is all over I’m going to have to live on the coast, I think if I stayed on land for a long time I’d get really sick.” 

“Speaking of, I took care of Gwai so . . .” 

Frank made a weird cough/bark noise “You took care of it?” 

“I told you to do it, so yes, it’s the chain of command.  As a military man, you should understand how it works.  The point is Gwai has been sorted, so we can move on to phase two and find your niece.  Where’s Blue? 

“Talking to the Nightwitch about just that.” 

“Excellent, things are really moving now, after the rescue then we can move on to phase three – killing Duke Eaglevane.” 

Frank looked dubious “You’re going to try and kill Duke Eaglevane?” 

I dropped him a sassy wink “Killing him will be the easy part, we need to find him first.  That’s the tricky bit.” 

“Not really, I know where he is.” 

November 27, 1973 – Songbird and the Summer Soldier

I couldn’t remember exactly where Gwai’s drug warehouse was, so we wandered around for quite a while before I could find someone who spoke French to give me directions.  Old Man River didn’t seem to notice the delay, likely because he was too busy chaffering on about the various injustices the US government had done to him.  In my opinion, when you’re illegally inserted into Cambodia to assassinate someone and you get caught, you should expect the government to disavow you.   Isn’t that the entire point of black ops?  Deniability?  And if he was so sore about it after he escaped, why did he then spend six more years working for the CIA and another three with the United States official super team before he was cashiered for punching a senator on national TV?   

Eventually we found the warehouse on the west side of town.  I’ve never been over this way before. 

Looking back at the city from here, it actually looks nice.  You can’t see the downside homes of the poor and the garbage-infested waters of the docks, all you see are fancy buildings, bright lights, and lots of greenery.  I can see why rich people would want to hang out here.  I pointed out the building while my new friend was busy grousing about having to babysit for clueless lieutenants in Columduras in ‘67. 

“Can you drop the disgruntled vet act for a minute and look where I’m pointing?  That is the stash house of a Chinese drug lord called Gwai, and . . .” 

He shook his head “I think you have some bad intel.  Gwai is a slur for a white person in Cantonese, no one would call a Chinese person Gwai.” 

“Really?  I thought Camila said he was Chinese.  Anyway . . .” 

“Camila?!  What are you doing mixed up with that old viper?” 

“Don’t worry about it.  So maybe the guy isn’t Chinese, and if we’re being totally honest, and I feel like we are, I’m not super sure this is the right building.  But if you go up there and there’s guys with guns guarding the place, go ahead and kill them and smash up the joint.  Then we’ll steal a truck or something and drive the drugs into the ocean.” 

“This is Madripoor – every place has guys with guns outside of it!  Are you insane?” 

“Probably.  I’ve experienced a lot of trauma recently.  What do they call that?  Battle fatigue?” 

He scoffed “Battle fatigue.  Bleeding heart bullshit.  You can either hack it or you can’t.  You want to know about trauma, those (DELETED) Cambodians kept me chained in a cell for three years and . . .” 

I chopped my hand through the air “Enough about Cambodia, shut up about Cambodia!  So you got left for dead and tortured for three years, we all have problems, buddy. A few years ago, I had nodes on my vocal cords and you don’t hear me complaining about it.  I didn’t let that stop me, I went out and recorded an album that included a top forty hit!  What you need to do is . . . wait, did you say they kept you chained up?  Why didn’t you break the chains?” 

He scowled “Break the chains?  I’m not that strong!  I can’t break a chain.” 

“You can’t break a chain?  What kind of super-soldier are you?  I broke the biggest thicket chains in the world on my first day!  Anyway, forget the chains, just go over there and if anyone shoots you, we’ll know we’re in the right place.” 

“That’s a terrible plan.” 

“What kind of bitter drunken suicidal glory hound are you?  Get out there and fight a murderous drug gang.” 

“And what are you going to be doing?” 

“Providing moral support from afar.” 

“I never said anything about suicide.” 

“Come on, your whole vibe is pure The Man Who Came to Play, don’t kid yourself about that.  Just kiss your wrinkled black and white picture of your half-Cambodian twin daughters that you always keep in your pocket and go out there seeking the violent death you secretly feel should have happened twenty years ago when you were still a hero, before everything fell apart.” 

His jaw dropped “How did you know about the twins?” 

My jaw dropped “You actually have illegitimate twin daughters?  I was just winding you up.” 

He pulled something out of his waistband “I’m going over there now, but it’s just to get away from you.” 

“Are you kidding me?  Are those nunchakus with a red, white, and blue flag pattern?  Where do you even get something like that?  Where’s your helmet?  If getting hit by a bullet is like getting hit with a bat, don’t you need a helmet?” 

“That’s not how armor works, you don’t put something weaker over the thing you’re trying to protect.” 

“Baseball players wear helmets specifically!” 

“They’re not super soldiers.” 

“A baseball helmet is not stronger than a human skull. They’re made out of plastic!” 

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

“Are you trying to tell me that if a normal human was going to get hit in the head . . .” 

“Forget it, I don’t have a helmet anyway, who walks around with a helmet?  What do you want me to have next, a shield?  Made out of some magic super metal?  As if.  Can I go die now?” 

“That’s what I’ve been saying this whole time, you’re the one dragging your heels!” 

Procedurally generated duo part 2

Type – Magic, Magic Object  

Appearance – Medium, athletic 

Disposition – Laconic, fatalistic 

Age – 40s 

Origin – Europe, non-English speaking, countryside 

Background – Military 

Powers manifested – Early adulthood 

Other – World traveler

Abilities – Animal abilities (insect) 

Doc already did the work on this for me, thanks Doc!  The randomness lines up pretty well.  I’ll call this guy Amerigo Vespucci.  Do they still name people Amerigo in Italy?  I don’t know, but they do in my pretend world. 

At a young age, Amerigo decided that the country life was not for him and ran away from home, stowing away on a ship bound for Italian Libya.  With no marketable skills and a hostile populace, Amerigo was facing a grim and short life on the streets when he was swept up as labor by one of the many Italian government-funded excavations of Roman cities – which were used as propaganda to justify their claim to the area. 

Barely literate and with no education to speak of, Amerigo nevertheless was fascinated by archaeology.  Ignorant to the political nature of their missions, he looked up to the “scientists” leading these expeditions as brilliant men of knowledge.   At night, he would lie in his tent and marvel over the artifacts he had pilfered and dream of what the world had once been.

Amerigo resolved to become an archaeologist himself, but with no money and no real interest in “book learning” this was a pipe dream.  Amerigo did discover two talents on these trips though – an ear for languages, within a few years he could speak passably in several native tongues and enough to get by in several others.  His other talent was for getting into and out of places very quietly, especially places people didn’t want him.

One of those places was a temple with a bird motif in the deep desert.  Exploring the temple, Amerigo found a jewel-scarab of malachite and garnet – which he felt the overwhelming urge to swallow.  Upon doing so, he was mystically granted beetle-strength and beetle-agility!  Some old god with a beetle-head showed up to tell him something about it, but Amerigo ditched him and ran away from the temple.  He couldn’t understand what the old codger was saying anyhow.

Amerigo figured the best way to cash in on his abilities was to travel south to join the fighting in Italian East Africa.  It wasn’t.  Being beetle-fast and beetle-strong is fine and all, but in a conflict with personnel armed with machine-guns and flamethrowers, not to mention copious amounts of airstrikes and heavy weaponry, it doesn’t mean much.

Amerigo lost his stomach for the conflict quickly, but found that he was able to make money as a scout – leave the killing the dying to others.  Beetle-agility is a lot more useful for avoiding a fight, Amerigo found. 

Once the fighting was over, Amerigo discovered there was even more money to be made as a mercenary.  There seemed to be all manner of conflicts up and down the east coast of Africa and plenty of demand for someone who knew the terrain and could speak the language. 

Amerigo could have made a lot more money if he wanted, but typically after a paying job, he would spend months traveling and exploring alone, only returning to “civilization” when he ran out of resources.  Eventually, this resulted in Amerigo getting a reputation as being “unreliable” even though he always did what he was paid to do. 

Amerigo and Dino ended up being a perfect match – no one would hire Amerigo anymore and no one wanted to work for a crazy old man looking for “magic”.   Amerigo never mentioned to Dino that he knew magic was real because he had already found it, but he did take the old man’s money and lead him all across Africa with forays into the Middle East and even India looking for some true magic. 

Once the old man’s money ran out, Amerigo wondered where he was going to find his next meal ticket. But shortly thereafter, Dino returned, looking 60 years younger and ready to cause some trouble.

November 27, 1973 – Singing in the rain

I love singing.  And I’m very good at it.  As I was belting out Ride Captain Ride, I got to wondering why you sound better singing in the shower.  Part of it is probably the freedom that comes from singing naked.  Makes you feel powerful.  You can’t generally do that on stage.  Part of it is probably the shower itself.  It’s like a little sound booth.  I’m no sound engineer, but I feel like the walls of the shower absorb no sound at all, which gives you a good power and resonance.  I have a pretty good ear for these things and I feel like somehow it evens out the pitch as well.  Which is not an issue for me because I’m pitch perfect, but still. 

I feel like four pounds of gunk slithered off me while I was in there.  I think I saw the slime form a face and look up at me forlornly before getting sucked town the drain.  So long Slime Ela, see you in hell!  As I was getting dressed, I had to take a moment to lament the shabby condition of the clothes that Maggie had given me.  It was some high-end stuff.  I’m sure I saw Goldie Hawn in a magazine wearing this same shirt.  I suppose it’s my own fault, I should find some clothes more suited to my high-octane super brawling lifestyle.  But as they say, beggars can’t be choosers.  Well they can, but it’s annoying.   

When I came out of the bathroom, Grumpy Gus was still in bed looking confused and kind of afraid. 

“Your place is clean, I’ll give you that, but this looks like the room of a mental patient.  Put a painting on the wall or something, man.” 

He looked around slowly “Yeah . . . .” 

I snorted “Good talk.  It’s like I’m playing tennis against a wall here.” I headed for the door “Well, don’t be a stranger.” 

He held out a hand “Wait.” 

I looked back “What?”  He just stared at me “What man?  What do you need?  I got places to be.” 

He looked weirdly vulnerable sitting there with his white scratchy sheets in a pile around his waist and legs “So . . . . you’re just . . . . going?” 

“Was there something else?” I looked around eagerly “Do you have any food around here?  I tell you, I am STARVING.  I would love to pound a cheeseburger right now.  Or you know, twenty or thirty cheeseburgers.  Do you get that?  I have to eat like fifty times what I did before just to feel like I’m not going to pass out.” 

He seemed taken aback “I have to eat more than I did before but not that much.” 

“Of course, I don’t get super toughness and I have to eat a ton, women always get the shaft.  So to speak.  Anyway, it’s been something, see you out there okay?”  I turned to the door again and I saw a hurt expression on his face and turned back “What is with you?  I know you were born in nineteen hundred but you’re not that old fashioned, are you?  It’s the seventies man, get with it.  Did you think we were going steady now?  Do you have a letter jacket I’m supposed to wear?  Do you have a promise ring around here somewhere?” 

He frowned slightly “I just . . .” he sighed “Forget it.” 

“You got it skipper.” I turned to leave once more but then turned back once more as well “Hey, are you bulletproof?  I hit you pretty hard and you didn’t die.  And I’m so strong.” 

“Uh, not bulletproof, more like bullet resistant.” 

“Jesus Christ, do you ever start a sentence without saying ‘uh’ or ‘um’?  Why are you so nervous?  Have you never talked to a girl before?  Surely there must have been a USO dance or something back in ‘22.  Did Sergeant Rock make fun of you so you were too afraid to ask anyone to dance?  Did he show you a nude playing card of Marlena Dietrich that made you feel funny?” 

“You have a real sharp tongue in your mouth, you know that?” 

I smiled sweetly “It’s been said a time or two.  Point is, you can stand up to a hail of bullets right?” 

“I wouldn’t say that, I have enhanced musculature and mass that protect me from small arms fire, but it still feels like getting hit with a baseball bat.  A short burst from an assault rifle makes me feel like how Patterson felt after the first Johansson fight.” 

I laughed “Had to go back a while didn’t you, to find a white heavyweight that could punch?” 

His face fell “I didn’t . . . I wasn’t . . . I’m not . . .” 

“Good god man, the super soldier process sure didn’t give you super eloquence, did it?  Anyway, you’re a big tough USA macho man, so I’m sure a few bullets won’t bother you.  Good news, you get to spend some more time with me.  Get your pants on and grab your nunchakus, Methuselah, because we’re going to fight some crime.” 

He looked dumbfounded “We are?” 

“Well you are anyway, I’ll probably hide around the corner.  I don’t have elephant hide like you, I’m quite easily penetrated.”