I live, I die, I live again

I like an action movie as much as the next person.  Actually that’s not true since the next person is Martialla and she likes action movies more than me.  I like action movies fine is my point.  But.  At a certain point you’ve seen it right?  How many times do you need to see Sly Stallone machine-gunning foreigners?  I don’t understand the people that watch tons of action movies any more than I understand the people that watch tons of rom-coms.  Even if you like the formula after a certain point it has to become rote doesn’t it?

What getting at is that I’m not sure if there’s any point to outlining the rest of our encounter on the high plains.  But Ela, what’s the point to any of this?  There’s no one even reading this.  A well measured argument.  I suppose to quote Del the Funky Homosapien “I brought all this so you can survive when law is lawless”. 

After a smashed the first enemy Mario Kart I got hung up chasing one of the other ones.  Their driver was a crafty one, whoever they were they knew a few maneuvers and I couldn’t get him.  I think military people in plane movies call that getting target fixating.  Is that what Kelly McGill was in Top Gun?  The problem is that when the only method of attack you have is ramming there’s not much you can do but dump and chase you know? 

While I was doing that the two other bogeys bracketed Lucien and Paul’s car and harpooned the Christ out of them.  Was that the plan?  Car one get killed, car two distract me and then car three and four go in for the kill on our other vehicle?  Since I’m the best driver should I have been driving the worse car?  Should Martialla have been in the slower car since she’s the best shot?  Should Paul have been with me since he’s useless anyway?  Should Lucien have been with me since he was injured?

It’s a classic question, do you give your best scene to your best actor and really knock people’s dicks off, or do you give that scene to the producer’s girlfriend who can’t act for shit and hope that the writing is good enough to stand on its own? 

Martialla likes to say that I have no friends other than her, which mostly true, but my friend Dobalina was one of those “I’m in this movie because I’m sleeping with someone” sorts.  We met on the set of Out of Luck Two – Honeybee’s Revenge.  I never did figure out if it was Billy Zane or the director she was banging to get the role.  Could have been both of them, you know?  To her credit she knew she couldn’t act worth a damn and often asked for her role to be reduced.  It’s not like she was getting paid by the word you know?

I wonder how she died in the apocalypse.  I hope she was just obliterated by an orbital missile or something like that.  Something quick.

Anyway, I chased car number two into an ephemeral river that popped up after the storm.  It really came out of nowhere.  I very nearly went over the side myself.  I would have if I didn’t suddenly see the car ahead of me dip down and then slam into the opposite bank.  Doing a hundred and ten on the coastal highways makes you forget how fast forty miles an hour is.  Seeing those bodies explode on the embankment and sclorch into the water below was a good reminder.

By the time I got back our other vehicle had been wrecked but everyone was still alive.  Lucien shot one of the drivers of the attacking vehicles and they bugged out after that.  I suppose they’ll be back.  Since we can’t cram everyone into J-Lo Two we were brought to a halt once again while they tried to get the other machine working.  It’s going to take us forever to get back to Junktown at this rate. 

That’s how sad things are, I’m annoyed that I can’t get back to a junkheap faster.

While the mechanic (who I swear to god said was named Skank) Martialla and Lucien were messing with the other buggy and Paul was off doing whatever he does I invited our other new friend to sit around doing nothing with me.  Her name apparently is Wool.  I asked her if she grew up on a sheep ranch but she didn’t know what a sheep or a ranch was.  That’s just her name. 

I asked her what she thought of all this, assuming she had never been out of Junktown before, and she said that it reminded her of when she first came across the plains on account of they had been attacked by the plainspeople all the time as well. 

I don’t know if she’s from the seaweed scum town that Martialla and I first encountered however many weeks ago that was or one that’s just like it, but the point is she’s originally from that valley.  On account of her great beauty (add quotes there) she was sent to Crow when she was of age where she worked until she was bought by a Road Hog gang boss who then swapped her to a merchant in New Frisco.  I didn’t know what to say that, what can you say?

“It wasn’t so bad, I was drugged most of the time” is what she said about it.

I was about to ask her how she ended up with the Church of the Lady Jesus when she threw a curveball at me. 

“I saw you die once in Murdertown.”

“That’s the entertainment place right?  They must have old movies there?  Which one did you see?  There aren’t many parts I had where my character dies, not ones where I have many lines anyway.  Was it Blood on the River Nile?  That’s not a bad flick, it got really screwed up in editing but if we had had a few more weeks to shoot and eight million more in the budget . . .”

She didn’t know what a movie was any more than she knew what a sheep was but I figured that she had seen one of my films without understanding what it was – you know the old gag where aliens see Gilligan’s Island or Murphy Brown and think it’s real because they don’t have entertainment.  But that isn’t what it was at all.  She claimed that she saw me actually get killed in really real life. 

I figured there was a tiny chance that it was someone who looked like me, tiny on account of everyone now is small and ugly and I am tall and stunning attractive, or more likely she was just insane in the membrane.  Who knows what those future drugs did to her brain?  Plus, maybe she has “religious visions” or something.   

“So how did I die?”

“Duke Eagle strangled you in the arena.  After you tried to kill him and were captured.”

I laughed politely, must be what passes for a joke these days “Oh yeah, and it doesn’t bother you that here I am alive now?”

She shook her head and gestured to my necklace “No, I’ve seen you die a couple times, you die and then you live again.”

I smile “I hope things work out better with the Duke this time eh?”

She nodded somberly “Me too.”

Therefore, the battle is already over

The thing that attacked Paul had come out of the ground like a rabid wombat.  It was real weird looking and I say that having seen many real weird animals lately.  It was flat and wide like a shell-less turtle but it was a mammal FOR SURE.  Its mouth/head/snout thing was shaped like a massive shovel, you know one of those shovel with shark teeth.  Martialla said that the teeth were like that of some stupid extinct marsupial.  She was really enamored with those teeth for some reason.  Like she knows anything about animal teeth.   

Whatever the thing was what it wasn’t was very tough, it died after Martialla only shot it once like a loser.  But it did manage to bite Paul’s kneecap off so I give it points there.  That’s what it looked like to me anyway, but Paul was still able to walk around so there must be some kneecap left in there.  I feel that genetic engineering had to have existed in the 2030s because there is something abnormal going on with Paul physiologically.  Nobody normal can take the punishment he does and walk it off.  Limp it off, but still.   

“Why didn’t you yell for help Paul?” I asked reasonably. 

He thought for a moment and then said that it didn’t occur to him.  I suppose that makes sense.  If you’ve been alone for most of your life you’d want to keep quite even when you’re being mauled to death.  If you scream out for help the only thing that’s going to happen is another critter hears you and shows up to attack your spleen.   

The creature didn’t get into or onto or around our stolen land whaler vehicle but it still managed to break down in all the excitement Kelly Petillo style.  Martialla and I kept watch for more turtle-badgers and whatnot while the Lady Jesuses tried to make repairs and Paul laid down on the roof like Snoopy on top of his doghouse.  Remember that Peanut’s comic where Snoopy has one of his legs mangled by a monster and he has to recuperate?  It was like that.  Woodstock brought him Flintstone chewable morphine for the pain.  I remember.

I decided the best way to keep watch was to lie down and close my eyes for a moment “So what happens if we miss the appointed rendezvous with Lucien?”

I could hear Martialla’s scrawny chicken neck creaking as she scanned the area “I told him that if didn’t show up that meant we were dead and he was to go back and get his men out of all this mess, head south like we were going to before you wanted to start a war and see if there’s any civilization left.  So probably he would come looking for us at great personal risk with little to no chance of success.”

I nodded absently “Dudley Do-Right stops to help.  You’d think the military would beat that out of people.

“He was in the Canadian military, vigilamus pro te.”

“And an in vino vertias to you.”  I opened one eye to peer at her “Did you ever kill anyone, you know, before?”

After a moment she looked down at me “Is that a serious question?” I nodded and she scoffed slightly “No, of course not, when would I have killed anyone in the old world Ela?  What kind of question is that?”

“You were in the military” I pointed our reasonably “Plus you murdered that union guy you were always beefing with.  And you were an assassin when you were overseas right?”

She sighed “Yes Ela, I was an assassin for the US government, just like in the movies.”

I closed my eye again “What did you do over there?  There’s no harm in telling me now is there?  You can’t really have been a secretary.  Were you a spy?”

It was a moment before she answered again “I guess you’re right, there’s no one left alive who cares.  No, I wasn’t a spy, I just got stuff for operatives, spies if you want.  They called me a procurement agent I think but I was more like a quartermaster, I didn’t make fake IDs or anything cool, I just kept track of guns and laptops and bought furniture for safe houses, stuff like that.”

I opened my eyes in surprise “You worked for the CIA?  You just got a lot cooler.”

She shook her head “No, it’s not like that.  The CIA is . . . different.  I worked for a guy who was told not to do things by his superiors, with the understanding that he was supposed to do them, but that if he gets caught doing them he would be charged with treason.”

My eyes widened a little more “So you were black ops?  That’s too cool for you.”

“I mean, technically yes, but as you say it wasn’t that cool.  I was like an officer manager only sometimes I ordered a case of stolen glocks instead of lamps.  Why are you asking me about this?”

I thought about saying something flippant for a moment “You seem to be okay, not okay okay, but mostly okay with . . . the however many people you’ve killed since we crawled out of those tubes.”

She pointed “You crawled out, I was pulled out.  By you.”

I waved her off “Whatever, I just assumed that since you were okay with it maybe you had killed people before.  That you knew the trick to being okay with it.  To not having nightmares and wondering . . . you know, if your life was really more valuable than theirs.  Or if there really is a hell even though it makes no sense and maybe you’re going to go there.  Just . . . wondering about that sort of stuff.” I cleared my throat, I wasn’t choking back tears at all “You know, generally.”

She shook her head slowly “No Ela, I never killed anyone in our old lives.”

I nodded back to her “Okay . . . . that’s what I figured . . . just uh, thought I’d ask.” I wiped at my eyes because of the grit in the air “I suppose you . . . don’t have any tricks then . . . not to be afraid all the time . . . you’re not trained, you’re just a woman, like me.”

She chuckled “Oh come on now Ela, there are no women like you, I wouldn’t dream of saying that.  That would be like trying to outshine the noon sun with a penlight!  You’re pretty, so very pretty, everyone says so.  You have the voice of an angel, the ass of a Greek goddess, one of the good ones not one of the weird animal ones, you can sing, you can dance, you can act, you have eyes that you can lose a whole afternoon in.  You’re the total package Ela, a perfect ten, and you want to know why you were saved when everyone else died?  Because what kind of a world would it be without you?!  Not one I want to live in I can assure you of that.  Plus, check this out, dealing with death has been the warrior’s dilemma since caveman times, but we’re girls Ela, we can’t be warriors.  Everyone knows that.  Our boobs get in the way and we have our periods all the time.  Also we’re too emotional, we go nuts at the drop of a hat.  The best we can be is schoolmarms and they don’t have to worry about death at all.  For once the double standard works to our benefit.”

I sniffed because of all the pollen in the air “That is good to know.”

She dropped me a sassy wink “And, don’t tell Lucien or Paul this, I don’t want them to know because they can’t handle it, none of this is real anyway.  This is all a simulation, we’re actually still in those tubes, we never woke up.”

“Like the Matrix?”

She shook her head “No, more like Total Recall.”

“I was supposed to be in that movie you know, Sharon Stone really screwed me on that one.”

She smiled “I never knew that, what happened?”

“Well, since you ask . . . .”

O sisters, let’s go down

I went to church with my parents as a kid.  Back home everyone went to church on Sunday.  It was just what you did.  I think I was raised some kind of Baptist because I remember getting dunked.  I think mainstream religions just sprinkle some water on your head.  Even as a kid I never really got into it.  Church was boring.  I almost said boring as hell but that would be silly in this context.  I sang in the choir because I like singing and I like attention.  That was about it for my interest in religion.  Once my parents stopped making me go, I never went again and never thought about it much. 

Turns out that I’m a huge hypocrite because I prayed over Martialla.  Maybe prayed isn’t the right word, begged is a better one.  I begged a god that I don’t believe in to make her not die.  I begged in a way that I didn’t think was possible for me to beg.  I felt like I was being torn in half right down the middle.  I don’t think I could beg like that again if I was begging for my own life.  I hate to say it, because it makes me sound like a sociopath, but what I was really begging for was not to be alone.  Saving Martialla would be great sure, but the main thing was for me not to be left alone.  That’s job one.  I don’t feel good about it, I don’t like that about myself, but that’s what it was.   

The idea of Martialla dying and me being alone here in this world frightened me in a way that I can’t comprehend.  If we’re being honest, and I feel that we are, I’m disgusted by myself for that fear.  I’ve never felt so helpless and hopeless and whatever other lesses you want to toss in there.  I guess I’m not as strong as I think I am.  I suppose none of us are in the end.   

I told her, I fucking told her, if she was going to go and fight with that stupid axe of hers like this was some period piece movie about knights and . . . whoever knights fight (Saxons?) that she had to stay where I could see her from the bus.  So I could cover her and help her.  I fucking told her.  And she agreed.  So what happens?  The instant, the very instant, that she and the quarrpeople all go running out of the truck-bus and start bashing Paradisians, she chases a guy around the corner where I can’t see her and leaves me cursing her oily hide.   

How did the battle go?  I shot some people.  They might have been enemies.  They might have been people there to trade.  I know I didn’t shoot Martialla or any of the quarry people, but other than that?  Shrug.  I can’t say that I accomplished much with the rifle on account of the fact that I never fired a rifle before in my life.  Fun fact, shockingly, it’s nothing like firing a pistol.  Who could have ever possibly guessed that?  Why the hell didn’t Martialla give me some lessons on that instead of judo throwing me to the ground like a drunken abusive husband?  What was the dirty bitch thinking?   

I did much better once I ran out of ammo (okay I still had rifle ammo, I just couldn’t figure out how to reload the damn thing) and switched to the handgun.  I for sure shot the hell out of some people with that.  One guy was running towards the bus-truck with a big can of gasoline over his head like a 2001 ape creature with a bone and I shot him all to pieces.  I’m pretty sure he was an enemy.  I also shot a guy with a big wrench, I’m less sure about that one.  Fifty-fifty on the guy with the shotgun-chainsaw-flamethrower but no matter whose side he was on, if anyone’s, I think taking him out before he started that thing up was a good idea for everyone involved.  

Once the bodybuilders started pulling Paradise people into a line and executing them, I figured the fighting was over.  After the battle is when the real killing starts I’ve learned.  Makes you wonder why anyone would surrender.  Desperation I suppose.  You know you’ll probably die but there’s a chance you won’t.  No one knew where Martialla was, or if they did know where she was I couldn’t understand them when they told me, so I went looking for her.  At that point it didn’t occur to me that she might be dead or injured, I assumed she was jacking around somewhere just to annoy me.   

I went into the “main” building of what used to be a Texaco that looked to be a gambling zone, there were a couple tables with some chips on them and a bloodstained cage where I would imagine a bloodsport of some kind took place.  There was a big dead man on the floor that looked a lot like Sloth from the Goonies (without the Superman shirt) with a stupid serrated blade in his hand.  There was so much blood that I can’t imagine it was all his.  How could that much blood be inside one person?   

There were doors in both far corners, one of which led to a storeroom filled with trade junk that was currently being looted by traders, and the other which led to an office-bedroom-security room-junkpile that had a single functioning TV screen thing for a single functioning camera.  The camera was currently pointed at a dead woman outside who looked like she had been flattened by a cement truck.  I probably would have stopped to marvel that there was a working piece of video technology if not for the other contents in the room.   

There was a lean hairy fellow with no visible ears dead on the ground.  This did not give me pause in the slightest.  What gave me pause is the foot.  A few weeks (and a hundred years) ago, a severed foot would have been enough to put me in check in and of itself.  Sadly those idyllic halcyon days are behind me now, a foot on the ground normally doesn’t bother me anymore.  The thing about it was that it was too clean.  That’s what made me take a second look.  There were a few flecks of ugly green nail polish on the toes.  You know what’s stupid?  My first thought was “what happened to her boots and socks?”   

My next thought, if you can call it that, was a feeling that I have to assume the dinosaurs had when they looked up and saw that meteor streaking across the sky – the world is about to end and there’s not a damn thing you can about it.  I don’t know why I picked it up.  But I did.  In that moment I was like a toddler picking up whatever is in front of them.  There was no thought to it.  I just did it.  It wasn’t nice and even like a fake foot the propmaster would make for a movie out of ballistics gel and corn starch and pork roast, it was all ragged like that time I watched a show about shark attacks with a warning about graphic content.  It looked like someone had tried to jam a brick of corned beef into a paper shredder.   

I found the blood soon enough.  And don’t worry, there was plenty of it.  The middle of the room was dominated by a pile of trash with some disgusting rags thrown on that I think was being used as a bed.  Earless deadman was on the near side, Martialla was on the far side.  She was sort of facedown halfway on her side with one arm outstretched and her legs kinked up underneath her like she was trying to roll into a ball.  Her shirt and jacket were mostly gone, the shirt reduced to a sopping bloody belt-strip around her waist and all that was left of the jacket was one shoulder and part of a sleeve melted into her flesh.   

As you probably figured out, her one leg ended not in a foot but in a stump that was red and black and brown that looked like a piece of string cheese that kid with only a couple teeth had been gnawing on all day.  I’m guessing the reason her shirt and jacket were mostly gone was because they burned off, this I base off the blackened flesh across her shoulder blade and mid-way down her back.  The burn was so bad that in several places it had cracked open and thick pinkish blood was seeping out sluggishly like it was molasses.   

She had a wound on her right flank that looked like someone had been digging at her with a trowel.  The skin around it was brittle and hard like a corn chip and flaked off between my fingers like ash falling off a campfire log.  What causes something like that?  Poison?  Acid?   

It was the most revolting and brutalizing sight I’ve ever had the misfortune to behold.    

I assumed she was dead at first glance.  Why wouldn’t I?  How could she be alive?  But then I saw her finger move.  Her one arm was outstretched but the other was clenched up against her body like she was sheltering a baby bird.  And on that hand I saw her finger twitch.  What came out of my body wasn’t even a proper gasp, it was like a wind passing through me.  It was like a full body dry-heave.  She was broken and mutilated beyond recognition but somehow, against all logic, she wasn’t fucking dead, and what the hell could I do for her? 

I’ve chased you to embrace you, like the sun chases the moon

In my old life, which was a few days ago and/or a hundred years ago, sometimes at night I’d have a bad dream.  I’d dream that I was being chased by a giant spider with my dad’s head or I’d be trapped underwater or I’d be alone in the frozen wilderness, snow falling with nothing around for thousands of miles.  But I’d wake up.  The dream would be over.  A wave of relief would wash over me.  I wasn’t being chased or drowning or freezing, I was in my warm soft bed with my Egyptian cotton sheets and my Frette linens.  Everything was fine.  No, everything wasn’t fine, everything was great!  I was rich (well maybe not rich rich but I was doing well). I was an excellent actress and a fantastic singer, I was world renowned (well maybe not world but I was doing well) and most importantly of all I was pretty, so very very pretty.  Everyone said so.

Now it happens the other way round.  In my dreams everything is okay and when I wake up it’s a nightmare.  The bad things are true and those other things are just in my head.  I smile in my sleep sometimes, I can feel it in my cheeks.  But then I wake up.  No matter how tightly I close my eyes and will myself back to the dream, I can’t make it happen.  Those nice things I dream about are gone.  The hard ground underneath me is here.  The ache in my legs and back and shoulders is here.  Why does walking make my shoulders hurt?  It makes no sense.  I wake up and it all comes back.  I wake up and everything is not great.  Everything is not fine.  I am nothing and no one.  

Martialla has been eating about half as much as I have.  She probably thinks I don’t notice.  She’s not as sly as she thinks.  I wish could speak up.  I wish I could tell her she needs her strength too, more than me probably.  I wish I had the lady balls to say “I’m only going to eat as much as you do”.  But I don’t.  I feel like I’m starving and what I really want to do is not sacrifice nobly and share, what I want to do is eat her food too.  A couple energy bars and a handful of mungloaf isn’t enough.  I want to want to be fair and stalwart about the distribution of food but what I really want is to grab the food out of Martialla’s hand and gorge myself like the Cookie Monster.

Martialla saw me eyeballing her as I groaned my way awake “Thinking about seizing all the food and devouring it like Jaws?”

I shook my head haughtily “No not like Jaws at all, I was just thinking about that guy I shot.”

She nodded “Yep, you shot the hell out of him for sure.  Took away all he’s got and all he’s ever going to have.  Took him away from everyone that loved him and put an end to any good he would ever do in the world.”

I bolted upright, which hurt my stiff muscles more than the time I cracked my pelvis playing volleyball in eleventh grade “Jesus Christ Martialla, are you saying he didn’t deserve it?”

She shrugged as if it didn’t matter “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bullet that only hit people who deserved it.  Living a good life isn’t an effective bulletproof vest, the best way to avoid bullets is to be the one pulling the trigger.”

I felt a shiver run through my guts “When did you get so grizzled?”

She gestured around at the broken landscape “Uh, I’m going to guess when you dragged me out of my popsicle tube and the world was all blowed up and my husband and my parents and everyone I ever knew besides you was long dead.  Also I was mostly just paraphrasing Unforgiven, plus a little bit of Copland.”

I nodded “That did sound kind of familiar.”

“This isn’t the movies though, this is apocalypse now . . . not the movie, I mean it’s the apocalypse and it’s now.  Sorry, that was confusing.  You know what I mean.  It’s all gone, it’s just you and me here on the raggedy edge.”

“What are your chances do you reckon?”

Martialla looked around again as if assessing “Not good, but all is not lost.  We’re smart and we’re resourceful, if we work together I think we can get through this.”

“And what does that mean?  What are we getting through to?  That’s what I’m having the hardest time with.  What’s the goal?  Staying alive?  To what end?  Doesn’t there have to be something to fight for?  You need something to be planning towards right?”

She shrugged “I’m not sure what else there is at this point.  Maybe finding something to live for is goal one.  Start with that.”

“Searching for meaning at the end of the world huh?  That’s some kind of philosophical thingamajig if ever there was one.  You remember Tim Kragt?”

She frowned “The stunt coordinator?  I’m the one who introduced you to him.”

I frowned back at her “So you remember him then.  We were training one time and I was feeling pretty saucy about myself and my ‘skills’ so I asked him what I should do if someone attacked me for real, you know, what move I should use.  And he said that if a man ever attacked me in earnest, what I should do is run.  I didn’t like that answer.  I goaded him into ‘sparring’ for real.  He didn’t even hit me really, it was more like a shove, and I flew back like I was nothing.  He told me that wasn’t even half his strength.  He told me if someone wanted to hurt me, I should run as fast as I could.  And if I couldn’t get away, then beg them not to hurt me.  It really stuck in my craw.”

“Why are you bringing up Tim Kragt now?”

“Last night I watched you hack a man to death with a tomahawk, and then stomp another man’s skull in.”

“And?”

“And that’s what it made me think of.  Tim Kragt telling me to beg for my life.”

She stared at me for a long time and then shook her head slowly “Jesus Christ Ela, this isn’t some feminist roundtable, this is survival.  It’s not some action movie either, this is real god damn life with real consequences and real death.  Running away is a great idea!  I wish I could have run away but I couldn’t leave you there asleep, now could I?”

My face got hot “So what, it’s my fault?  Is that what you’re saying?!”

“I’m not saying anything, you’re the one who brought up fucking Tim Kragt for no reason!”

Other stuff post – #1 With a Bullet

I remember turning on the TV and seeing my dad fighting King Bullet.  It’s probably stupid to start by saying that I remember the most influential moment of my life, but I’m not sure how to start this.

That was the first and only time I ever saw my dad on TV.  He wasn’t on the national news often like Omega or Bluebird, but in the Midwest he was on the news all the time.  My mom never let me watch it.  She always turned off the TV or changed the channel.  I knew my dad was a superhero but that was the first time I ever saw him in action.

The only reason I saw it then is because my mom was on the phone.  Back then a phone was a thing that you had on the wall of your kitchen.  It had a curly cord that was like a little slinky covered in plastic.  I used to spend time fixing the cord after my sisters got it all tangled up.  I liked straightening it out. 

Point is that she was in the kitchen when I turned on the TV.  I almost changed the channel right away because I wanted to watch GI Joe, but then I realized that was my dad flying around above a big bridge.  I had seen his white and gold super-suit in the house before but never saw him wearing it until then. 

I wish that I had felt proud or excited about seeing my dad doing superhero stuff but I was just confused.  I couldn’t reconcile seeing my dad like that.  He was just a guy who could never start the grill and always bought the wrong thing at the grocery.   I don’t think kids can handle seeing their parents out of context.  I wonder if kids with parents who are pro athletes or famous actors have the same thing at first.  It probably takes a while to get used to.

It wasn’t even thirty seconds after I turned it on that he fell out of the sky.  At that point I had no idea that he was dead.  I think most kids, even if they kinda understand death at that age, can’t imagine their parents being vulnerable to anything.  And then throw in your dad being a literal superman on top of that?  There’s no way you can really understand what’s happened. 

Despite that, I was worried about what I saw so I ran in and told my mom that dad was on TV.  I don’t think she really heard me at first.  She gave me the “don’t bother me while I’m on the phone” look but I said that that dad was on TV and he fell into the water.  The look on her face scared me more than I’ve ever been scared before or since in my life. 

Seeing my mom so scared made me feel like the entire world was going to end or something.  I tried to grab onto her leg but she kind of shoved me off and ran into the living room.  I used to tell people that she picked me up and ran in with me because when I said that she pushed me, people would look at me like my mom was a monster.  But that’s not the truth.

My mom is the kindest nicest person ever.  People have said that if she did that, she must have been abusive.  If you judge her for that one moment of panic and fear, you’re wrong.  You weren’t there.  You don’t know what it was like.  You can’t say that. 

When I came in, she was on her knees in front of the TV switching the channel back and forth.  This was before TVs had remote controls, you had to change the channel on the actual TV with a knob.  After a little while she started to cry.  Not sobbing or anything like that, but tears streaking down her face.  I know this is a weird thing to think/remember, but what really struck me is how ugly it made her look.  Up until then, she had been the prettiest women in the world.  In that moment, it was like she had turned into a witch or a monster.  That scared me pretty good too.

She told me to go to my room and when I did, she shut the door behind me, which she never did.  She always wanted to be able to see me, make sure I was okay.  I hunched over by the door and listened for a while but eventually I started reading some of my books.  I was still freaked out, but I went about my little kid business.  It’s hard to explain what it felt like.  Maybe because I didn’t understand what I was feeling at the time. 

I remember that my aunt (my dad’s sister) and a neighbor came over with their kids and we were playing in the backyard while they talked in the living room.  I knew that something was on, but I felt like it was grown up stuff.  One of my cousins asked me what was going on and I said that I thought maybe my dad was in trouble.  But that was the extent of it.

The strangest thing of all to me at that time is when my mom left and my aunt stayed over with me.  I had stayed at her house before, but it was very weird to me that she was there in my house without my mom or dad.  She took me to MacDonald’s for dinner which wasn’t right either.  I told her that we only had that after church on Sunday.  She said that it was okay, but that really upset me. 

The next day, my mom told me that I wouldn’t see dad anymore because he had died.  She really tried and I think she said all the right things, whatever that means, but I still didn’t really understand. For a long time after, I expected him to come home.  I think I was ten before I really got it.  And even then there was a part of me that still thought he was out there somewhere.

I talked to a couple different child therapists over those years, but it never helped.  I don’t blame them, I doubt there’s much anyone can do, but talking to these strangers about how my dad was never coming home just made me more confused. 

I was 12 when I did what any good red-blooded American kid would do, I swore that I would grow up and become a superhero myself and I’d get revenge on King Bullet for killing my dad.  When I told people that, some of them said that superheroes don’t kill people.  I asked them, what about Skull Malone?  Or Crosswire?  Or Red Skurge?  They killed bad guys all the time.

I become a connoisseur of those who killed the killers.  They didn’t get talked about on TV as much, but there were magazines all about the heroes that killed.  I knew I couldn’t have them in the house but I’d buy them at the drug store, read them, and then throw them away before I got home.  People said those men weren’t heroes, they were vigilantes.  Fine by me, I’d be a vigilante then.  And King Bullet would pay for what he did.

In my memory, I didn’t see my mom much after that.  I know that’s wrong, I know that she still spent a lot of time with me, but I can’t help but remember it the other way.  Even though I was only with my aunt or a neighbor a few nights a week, in my mind it was most of the time.  Memory is funny like that.  I felt abandoned so that’s what I remember even though it wasn’t strictly true.

In HS, I was writing a paper about my dad and I asked my mom who she was on the phone with that day and she got very upset.  I didn’t get it at the time, but she felt guilty for not protecting me.  Part of the reason it didn’t feel like she was always there when she was, is because she had her own problems.  And I was a real asshole to her.  I guess you can’t help that when you’re a kid.   

I know more than one summer, I went to live with my cousins in Idaho because she was in rehab.  The really sad thing is when she finally did get herself straight for real and tried to reconnect with me, I was an angry teenage douchebag and I pushed her away.  We barely had any kind of relationship for several years.  All my doing.

Most kids grow out of the revenge thing, or at least sublimate it into some other kind of self-destructive behavior, but I didn’t.  I didn’t have powers like my dad, but I figured that was okay because there are plenty of heroes without powers.  The Archer.  Wraith.  Ultraweapon and Nighthawk don’t have any powers and they’re founding members of the freaking Sentinels!

I actually did become pretty good with a bow, but where the hell do you get exploding arrows?  Let alone arrows that turn into a giant net or release sleeping gas.  Plus, as I found out, even a hunting bow isn’t durable enough to be running around getting into fights with.  That’s just not what they’re made for.  Go figure, right?

I tried bodybuilding and training in martial arts but it became clear pretty quickly I was never going to be able to forge myself into a living weapon.  It helped me realize that when a kid from my gym got beaten so badly trying to be a vigilante himself that he never walked without aid again.  There’s a reason there’s only a few people like Wraith out there. 

I read somewhere that being rich is the best superpower and I came to the bitter understanding that that’s true.  Whoever Nighthawk is in real life, he has to be rich as hell to afford to design and build all those gadgets.  And Ultraweapon runs a Fortune 500 company.  Unless I won the lottery, I wasn’t going to be a tech-hero either.

Someone asked me why I never just loaded up on guns and threw on a flak vest like Skull Malone or all those other killers I was once so eager to read about.  Honestly, it never occurred to me.  I think deep down in my soul, I knew that my dad wouldn’t approve of that, that they weren’t real heroes so I shouldn’t be like them.  Strange but true. 

Not that the path I did go down was any more heroic. 

After Ace and the Four Kings were brought down, other villains kept popping up who had some (usually less effective) version of the Megatron Serum that Ace had invented (or stolen depending on who you believe).  If anyone knows why a highly addictive super-steroid is named after the leader of the Deceptions, let me know.  I figured that was my path to super-powers.

After HS (I did graduate despite what Wikipedia says) I made it my mission to get my hands on some “meg”.  A 19 year-old kid from the suburbs looking for some illegal super drugs?  That went about as well as you can imagine. 

The first time I got a hold of what I was told was a version of meg “only better,” all it did was make me crap my pants and give me awful night terrors for three weeks.  Which is luckier than most kids like me.  A lot of people died trying to do exactly what I was doing. 

Much has been written and said about how searching for super-drugs led to my own issues with substance abuse, but that’s not right.  I was angry and depressed and looking for an escape.  The two things have nothing to do with each other.

I spent the next several years doing fuck-all other than getting high and mooching off everyone I knew.  I got a lot of mileage out of the “poor me, my dad died” act.  I got a lot of people to give me a lot of money.  I feel sick about it now.  Hell, I felt sick about it then, but I still did it. 

I still talked loudly and longly about how I was going to get my revenge on King Bullet to anyone who would listen, but it was all just talk.  I wasn’t going to do shit other than party and then feel bad about it.  The funny thing about it is when I sobered up, things actually got much worse. 

Getting clean gave me the motivation and clarity I needed to actually make progress.  If you want illegal stuff, you need to make contacts with criminals.  I knew plenty of dealers after all, and some of them I hadn’t ripped off.  I may not be Wraith or Nighthawk but I knew enough about the practical applications of violence to be useful.  More than anything, what you need is the willingness to do violence.  People would be surprised how many folks involved in the drug trade don’t have the stomach for that. 

In honesty though, I rarely had to actually mix it up with anyone.  Just standing there and looking tough is usually enough to prevent any issues, most criminals aren’t looking for a fight, they’re looking for an easy mark.  Just having some back-up makes a world of difference. 

The final irony of all of this is that I’m 90% sure I had a line on some legit meg when I heard that King Bullet was dead, killed in that mess in Cincinnati. 

It wasn’t like a weight being lifted off my shoulders.  It was more like an itch that you can’t help scratching suddenly being gone.   For a while you keep scratching that spot anyway because that’s what you’ve always done, but ultimately what’s the point?  The itch is gone.

I was very afraid that I would fall back into my old bad habits, but I was able to work around that.  I got a real job.  I talked to my mom and my sisters for the first time in years.  What really helped me is meeting my nieces.  It’s a total cliché but it made me feel hope for the future. 

It would be nice if you could just turn a corner and then everything would be fine after that, but it doesn’t happen.  Your problems and issues are still there, under the surface, and you have to figure out every day how to keep moving forward.  As someone said in group once, there’s no solution to life, every day is a new challenge.  It’s easy to roll your eyes at someone who says that they’re a work in progress, but we all are really.

Sometimes I feel like my life has passed me by, that I’ve wasted all my time and it’s too late for me to do anything.  But I’m not that old.  There’s still time.  It’s never too late to do some good in the world. 

November 23, 1973 – Total multiversal war!!!!!!

I haven’t met many Spanish speakers in Madripoor, but enough that it seemed a little odd.  Dan (that’s the news guy) explained (by way of pointy hair translator) that Madripoor is a place where communists like to hang out, so there’s a decent contingent of Germans and South Americans in the mix.  Although, with that having been said, my hostess is from the Caribbean states rather than south of the equator.   

Said hostess looks like she’s ancient but I swear she said something that made me think she’s “only” in her fifties.  If she is (in her fifties) she’s had one hell of a hard life to end up looking like that.  I guess raising four sons by yourself could do that to you, before you even get what seems to be a variable number of grandkids in the mix.  I swear as soon as I felt like I had them all identified, a couple more kids would run through the place.  Camila and her boys took over an old hotel from its previous drug dealer owners (by shooting them) and converted half the place into greenhouses for a variety of exotic intoxicants they grow and sell (they are manufacturers not dealers), a quarter into living spaces for them, and a quarter into “safehouses” for people like me.  People with broken limbs and enemies.   

A couple different doctors came to see me while I was laid up at Camila’s.  One was clearly drunk enough that he had trouble standing up.  One I’m pretty sure is more versed in the care and maintenance of sex workers than tending to fractures.  And one of them I’m convinced was a veterinarian.  Luckily (for me), a broken arm and a sprained ankle are pretty basic medical scenarios.  I don’t know how long those things should take to heal normally but I was basically fine after three weeks.  Which seems quick.  Not fast enough to be all that useful, but maybe a minor super power?  Hard to say.  My life before didn’t involve a lot of injuries so I can’t compare. 

A bomb went off outside the “safehouse” at one point, followed by gunfire, and I’m pretty sure a flying guy, but Camila assured me that it wasn’t someone trying to kill me, it was related to something else.  Which was not reassuring in the slightest, on account of bombs being notoriously indiscriminate about who they kill.  Camila was harping at me the entire time about the amount of food I was consuming.  What did she want from me?  You need proper nutrition to heal.  And my proper nutrition is a lot.

In return for my story about the fight (such as it was) with Mr. X, Dan and his spiny-haired gal Friday found Blue and Martialla for me.  While I was out front with the Red Rocket, those two knuckleheads claimed they were chasing after the Shadow Lord assassin and the next thing they know, they’re on Callisto, Jupiter’s moon, where an “alien with a big head” force them to fight against other “champions” from around the galaxy to determine the ultimate fate of good and evil in the universe.  They didn’t think it was very funny when I asked which side they were on.  The whole story is bullshit anyway.  I’m sure they just got lost or something.  Probably Martialla got her head trapped in a fisherman’s net and had to marry him by the laws of the sea.   

They claimed once they had saved the universe by defeating a variety of colorful aliens and super people (many others were killed, they claim) in a flash they were back where they had disappeared from and it was several days later.  They said they were “searching high and low” for me when Dan found them.  I’m sure they were just lazing about. 

I can tell this moon battle thing is going to be annoying.  I just know they’re going to keep bringing it up like a stupid inside joke.  So you traveled to outerspace and battled the omniversal forces of evil for the fate of all life that exists and ever will exist.  I charted three times and you don’t hear me winging on about it.  I tell you, those two get on my last nerve.

When I asked them about Elvis, they looked confused.  They said he was dead.  I told them when I went back into the clinic, nobody was there so I assumed he went with them.  They said that LBK was with them but Elvis had already been killed by the assassin, which is why they were chasing him.  Or her.  Or it.  They claimed the assassin was a shapeshifter.   

They didn’t know what could have happened to the body.  Up until that point, I hadn’t really considered that Elvis might be dead.  As soon as I found out, I had Blue help me hobble to his grandmother’s house to ask if she had seen him.  When she said that she hadn’t, I told her what happened.  She was pretty blasé about it.  She said that she was sure he was fine.  She said that Elvis was always getting into one scrape or another and he might disappear for a few days but he always turned up.  I tried to impress upon her that was unlikely to be the case this time, that he was most likely gone, but she said that without a body she wasn’t going to worry about it.  It was a little surreal. 

So we’re basically back to square zero, only now we don’t have a robot-suit to sell for millions.  Our lack of forward momentum is starting to put me off my feed (not really – I’m eating more than ever – it’s an expression you see).  On top of that, Camila presented me with a large bill for services rendered.  I thought it was more of a charity type thing.  It was not.  The “good” news is that she’s willing to let us work it off.   

Things are going great.   

I want to say that what’s happening to me is not fair, but my grandma told me that only children complain about fairness.  She said (about fairness) “Death is the only thing that’s fair. Everybody dies, and everybody stays dead the same amount of time, forever.”

The most creatively named villain since Paste Pot Pete – Mr. X!

The publically accepted history of “superbeings” dictates that the first non-baseline humans were the results of experiments conducted in the early 1900s.  The man codenamed Majestic, deployed in the Great War, is considered by many to be the first superhuman.  This is incorrect on two counts, first count being that Majestic is not human, and the second count being there is evidence of naturally born superbeings since at least the 1500s and there is no reason to believe that they have not existed since the dawn of humans. 

Exact estimates vary, but the distribution of the biologic profile that allows for the potential of NBH enhancement by scientific methods is believed to be approximately one person in every eight million.  The subject of natural NBHs has not been widely studied yet but it is unequivocal that they are far more rare, possibly in the range of one in a hundred million or more.   

Armend Lusha, the mysterious Mr. X of the infamous Madripoor fighting tournament, is one of these uncommon naturally occurring NBHs.  Born in Tirana in 1940 to a wealthy family, Armend’s parents were killed by Black Cross anarchists during the riots in 1948.  Armand was shuttled from Budapest to Vienna to Madrid where he gained international fame of a sort when he was featured in a Life magazine article as “the world’s richest refugee”. 

Shortly after this publicity, Armend was adopted and brought to the US where his new parents renamed him Drexler Walsh.  In doing so, the Walsh family took control of the remaining assets of the Lushas, most importantly tobacco, oil, and mining concerns — increasing their already substantial holdings in shipping and real estate.  This made the Walsh family a major player in European markets overnight.

Their interest in raising Armend was significantly overshadowed by their interest in acquiring the resources and contacts that made up his inheritance.   

When Armend began killing his pets, it’s questionable if his adopted parents even knew. If they were informed, they certainly couldn’t be bothered to care.  Armend’s telepathic abilities had awakened during the murder of his biological parents, connecting him to them at the moment of their death. Through his psychic connection, he experienced the sensation of dying.

By his own admission, Armend has been obsessed with death since that moment.  Finding animals to be a poor substitute for the “real thing,” Armend committed several murders in his youth, intent on recreating the exhilaration of telepathically connecting with another person at the instant of their death. He pushed a maid down the stairs.  He poisoned a nanny.  He caused a family friend to be run over by a car. 

Armend is an addict and his drug of choice is murder.  On his 18th birthday, he killed his adoptive parents and over the next several years, one by one murdered his adoptive brothers and sisters as well.  Taking control of his family’s considerable wealth, he turned his attentions to funding and participating in violent anti-anarchist groups and government actions against anarchists.  Whether he truly desired any manner of revenge for the death of his biological parents or if this was merely a smokescreen to indulge his dark desires is unknown.   

Armend was in Italy “hunting” with a group of anti-anarchist soldiers of fortune when they were ambushed by the quarry they had been seeking in the mountains.   In contrast to his previous murders, which he had executed with no physical risk to himself, Armend found himself in a life or death struggle with a knife wielding assailant.   Armend was the victor and ended his attacker by strangulation.

The thrill of killing an opponent in hand-to-hand combat provided Armend with a feeling of euphoria that eclipsed anything he had felt to date.  Abandoning his “childish” methods of murder free of personal danger, Armend used his fortune to travel the world and study with the best fighters he could hire.  After learning all he could from them, Armend would kill them.  Maintaining a public image of a philanthropic sportsman with an interest in cultural studies, Armend circled the globe fighting and killing martial artists and streetfighters and brawlers of all sorts.

He gathered an inner circle of followers that he calls his “new murder avant-garde” including at least one other NBH.  Armend’s goal is to be the greatest melee fighter the world has ever seen which, of course, means killing all of the world’s best fighters.  Finding the secrecy of his efforts annoying, Armend traveled to the only place that would indulge this blatant bloodlust, Madripoor, where if you have enough money, anything can be yours.  With the help and backing of several local businessmen and criminal groups, Armend held the first Madripoor bloodsport in 1968.  Although not exclusively for NBHs, the participants typically are, since a normal human usually is no match for the elite of the enhanced killer world.   

For those who know of it, the tournament is often misunderstood to be a mandatory fight to the death.  While deaths are common (Armend has killed everyone he’s faced in the first four tournaments, for instance) it isn’t strictly necessary to be the victor.   

How to talk to your kids about super-soldiers and death

The Coalition States of America “super-soldier” project is renowned to be the most successful in the world.  Many people would be surprised to learn that the project (secretly dubbed “Godlike”) has only produced three viable outcomes.  At the cost of dozens of non-operable results (“zeroes” as they are deemed by the research team) and hundreds of deaths.  Even more surprising is that, despite that fact, it is the most successful program of its kind.  

The common belief is that people with the gene that allows for chemical manipulation to exceed human baselines are one in a million.  The truth is that they’re even rarer than that.  The chances of someone having the necessary gene already being in the CSA military were exceedingly small.  When Private First Class Amy Albright tested positive, the results were initially kept under wraps due to the high number of project failures.  After she emerged from the program a complete success, she became a media darling.  

A wholesome blonde girl-next-door type who had volunteered to serve her country that could fly at supersonic speeds and rip apart a tank with her bare hands?  It was a public relations windfall beyond the wildest dreams of the military spin doctors.  Her smiling face on 60 Minutes and the evening news did much to mitigate the (true) accusations of forced conscriptions and deadly consequences of the program.  

She went from being the face of a public relations campaign to a true national hero following the release of the 1970 documentary “Angel” showing footage of her in action during the Argentine Conflict.  The opening scene of a brutal looking staff sergeant explaining in no uncertain terms to his men that Angel One is a soldier and not “some mark in a pick-up bar” and will be treated as such in his unit unless they want a boot up their ass has become as iconic as the live footage of her turning the tide at Cordoba and saving the lives of thousands of CSA soldiers.  

It is because of this movie that she is known mostly to the public by her callsign used during that conflict – “Angel” or “Angel One” rather than her focus group-chosen public persona “Iron Heart”.  Angel One was reported KIA on March 4th, 1973, the details of which have not yet been released to the public.  It is widely assumed that a new chemical weapon provided to Ñancahuazú Guerrilla fighters by German communists is responsible for her death.  A sound clip of a CSA officer reporting “Angel One is down”, voice cracking with emotion, has become iconic.

Montumazin 1 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) part 2

I’m going to admit something to you folks, despite living in Paladore for more than fifteen I don’t know what it is, I mean formally.  The Kingdom is made up of counties and those counties are administered by Counts and Countesses.  That’s pretty straightforward.  Cathars is the capital of Cymrile County and the Count lives there sometimes.  I know that Dukes are the next level above Counts but below the King.  What I don’t know is what they are actually in charge of.  You’d think that there would be duchies made up of counties and Dukes would be in charge of those, logically that makes sense.  But there are not enough counties for that.  Paladore is not the capital of a Duchy.  So what is Paladore then other than the place where Duke Eaglevane lives?  What is it the capital of?  Nothing?  

I think there are three Dukes that are in charge of all the counties and the other Dukes do stuff with trade or the military or something?  My education really gave me the short shrift on civics and political sciences but I know seventeen different ways to courtesy and so much about fashion and makeup.  Alsio it didn’t teach me what short shrift means.  What I do know that is back in olden times (not the Old Empire though, I don’t think, I got shafted on history too) Paladore was two separate cities that were in separate kingdoms right on the border.  When the THE Kingdom was formed they were forced together like reluctant lovers – not unlike the actual King and Queen at the time.  

It’s easy to tell that Paladore used to be two cities because on one side you have grand towering buildings, sprawling manor houses, bustling markets, and all manner of comforts and opulence.  The other side?  Not so much.  You ever see a turnip that looks fine on the top but the bottom part, which is scraggy and ugly even on a good turnip, is rotting away?  Paladore is a like that, right on the “border” there’s a big band of normal urban sprawl but it gives way to blight the farther you travel across that invisible boundary.  There’s no name for that boundary but everyone knows it’s there.  

I heap a lot of scorn on Graltontown, and justifiably so, but the truth of the matter is that the far west parts of Paladore are even worse.  Because of the scale if nothing else.  The only thing in this world that can make me think for a single moment that maybe city life isn’t the way to go is a glimpse of the crushing poverty and misery if those crumbling parts of west Paladore.  

“Ela what does this have to do with anything?”

I’m getting to it, hold your horses.  Living in the Duke’s palace I didn’t have many glimpses of that part of the city – even on the rare occasion he wanted to go “slumming” we went nowhere near the actual slums.  But when I was a child and was first brought there we passed through west Paladore and I saw something that I will never forget.  A woman, a girl really, was handing a shiv to what could have either been her younger sister or her daughter and saying this “If they see you run, if you can’t get away go for the eyes or the groin first, then the throat.”  That sums up west Paladore in a nutshell.  It’s good advice as well.  For me I changed it a little bit – first keep them talking, if that fails then run, and if that fails then you go for the groin stab.  

I’m fantastic at the talking part.  The running away part depends on where it is – in the country I’m not so good, in the city I’m great at that too.  When it comes to the stabbing I’m better than I ever thought (or wanted) to be but in the final analysis I’m just a mediocre stabber.  I’m good at catching people off-guard and getting the first strike, but if that first attack doesn’t end things or at least seriously debilitate whoever’s on the other end of the stabbing it often puts me in a spot of trouble.  

Keep them talking, avoid conflict, and if that doesn’t work run like the Hells.  And if that doesn’t work fight like the Hells – all thirteen of them.  I suppose I should add in a fourth step, one that has served me well on several occasions – if you can’t beat them beg for mercy.  Beg like you’ve never begged before.  Discard all shreds of dignity and grovel like the most pathetic harmless defeated worm that ever lived.  Offer bribes, flatter them, cry like a damn baby, do whatever you have to do to get them to be lenient.   This is all in service of the number one rule that necessitates all others – stay alive no matter the cost.  

I’ve broken a lot of rules, tons of them in fact, but that was one rule I hoped I would never be on the wrong side of.  Things started off promisingly enough, the undead wolf beast (that was clearly NOT an undead werewolf because that would be ridiculous) was willing to talk.  The problem was that it didn’t seem to have any wants or needs.  Nor did a rotting half-man half wolf waking corpse find me attractive or interesting or useful in any way that I could work with.  After an auspicious opening in a few minutes it was clear that the undead thing was losing interest in talking and gaining interest in attacking.  

I’ll give myself credit for having enough awareness to know that.  Cold comfort, but that’s all the comfort I’m likely to get from here on out.  Since we were in a small office running wasn’t really an option.  I could have backed through the door into the other smaller room and hoped there was a window I could dive out, but I was worried about the thing’s quickness – plus the stalhounds were out there, which I assumed were under the control of this thing.  So that didn’t seem like a good option.

The best bet maybe would have been to try and make it out the front door and onto Stranger.  The beast was between me and that door unfortunately.  What I should have done knowing what I know now is started maneuvering for the door when we first started talking and it was still being amiable, relatively speaking.  But I didn’t know then what I know now.  

So fighting it was.  When it became clear that it was time for violence I did manage to strike the first blow, sweeping it off its feet with this stick I found in Wolcott’s emergency stash.  It doesn’t look like much, but it must be lousy with magic because there’s no way I could have done that all on my own.  I would have liked to wallop a few folks with that, it’s too bad I didn’t get to have it for long.  Speaking of, I really miss that magic walking stick that I had made.  That thing was great.  I don’t usually get attached to things, especially magic things, but I really liked that walking stick.  It had so many things that it could do and it looked great.  It saved my bacon dozens of times.  Plus it was just fun.

But what really would have helped us those boots I used to have that let me run up walls like a squirrel up a tree.  Those were really useful.  If I could have gotten out the window and up the side to the roof now that’s an entirely different situation.  But as they say it’s a dead craftsman who blames their lack of tools.  I suppose I should have overcome my revulsion and learned to do some magic myself instead of relying on items.  I’m sure I could have done it based on the wizards I’ve met. They weren’t the brightest bunch so I bet I could have learned to be great at magic.  I just hate it so much.  I guess for all my talk I was as hamstrung by pride as anyone.  I don’t like magic so I didn’t want to learn magic.  So I didn’t.  I should be better than that, I did all kinds of things I didn’t want to do.  

So I got in the first hit, and maybe one more after that, but then it was all undead wolf-monster from thereon out.  I fought as hard as I could, I assure you of that, but it didn’t amount to much – I’m just not much of a fighter really.  As several people warned me would happen I ran into someone (something really) that was immune to my charms and tricks and was stronger and tougher than I could fight in my wildest dreams.  And as you folks well know I’ve had some wild dreams.  

Getting ripped apart by an undead wolfman was very painful, don’t think it wasn’t, but honestly I’ve had worse.  All the beatings and stabbings and acidings I’ve endured over the last two years were training for this moment I guess.  It wasn’t a painless death but any means, far from it, but it wasn’t so bad all things considered.  I’m sure many people would have wished worse upon me.

Remember that time that guy strangled me and I almost died, or maybe did die for a little while?  Sure you do, it was when I was ransacking the house of the people that the Juosts displaced.  During that strangling and almost death (or death)I had an out of body experience – I was floating outside of my body and I could see what was happening.  This time was nothing like that.  Everything just went black and that was it.  I couldn’t see anything, there was nothing to see.  I don’t think I exist anymore so how could I see anything?  So maybe that’s how you know the difference between a near death experience and death.   

The same guy showed up as that time though.  Out of the darkness the tall, jet-black skeleton with a long, bony tail, and the massive black-feathered wings of a crow.  Over its odd bird-skull face was a bronze mask that appeared to be of the face of the creature inside.  It was very, very, very slowing coming my way.   

But he wasn’t alone.   Coming from another direction was the thoughtful looking bear-like “angel” that was the size of a small house.  And from yet another direction was my old friend Poor Annie, the massive black canine looking like a tiny lapdog in comparison to the huge bear-angel.  I get the feeling that time no longer means anything, yet it still seemed like it took forever for them to get to me – all arriving at the same time.

“So” I said without body or voice “What comes next?” 

Macendamandel 8 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

As rampant as crime is, and just ask anyone its very rampant, most communities don’t have a place to lock anyone up.  Makes sense, why go through the trouble and expense of building something that isn’t going to be used most of the time?  Why give dirty criminals free room and aboard?  Generally when a perpetrator is caught they just get their ass kicked and they’re turned loose or they’re hung and that’s the end of it.  When an area does have a “jail” it tends to come in two forms.  The first and far rarer is like the Tower of Woe/Midnight in Beresford –  a very expensive deal that’s intended to keep people who are too important to kill but can’t be allowed to run around free.  Princesses of foreign enemies and popular rebellious Earls and the families of political opponents and people like that.  Usually they aren’t even criminals, just victims of circumstance, and there aren’t many of them.  The second kind of place is when they take an abandoned flophouse or warehouse and slap some bars in it where you throw people in there to live in their own filth.  It’s very expensive to imprison a large number of people so it’s important to cut as many corners as you can.  The prison in Cathars I was briefly in is a real anomaly – someone put a lot of effort and resources into building a secure and humane place to lock people up there.

After my conversation with Farvin Mitzegarld (what the Hells kind of name is that anyway?) I was taken to a holding facility more towards but not fully below the squalid death prison side of the spectrum.  It looked like a store room of some kind that had been portioned out into closet-sized cells (I’ve actually seen many closest that were much larger) that were just free standing bars, no walls oy anything.  I don’t know if that was a deliberate thing to deny you your privacy/dignity or it was just easier to build.  Each one contained a pile of straw with cloth kind of in the shape of a mattress and a stool and that was pretty much it.  I would have loved to have fallen on that mattress lump, even vermin infested as I assume it is, desperately tired as I, was but thanks to the everwake in my veins I knew there would be no sleep forthcoming.  Instead I paced ceaseless around my cell like a jungle cat trapped in a pit.

Everwake was never intended to be used as a torture tool and as far as I know it never has been used that way, but I’m starting to realize how effective it could be in that capacity.  I’d do or say quite a lot at this point just to be given a chance to sleep.  Maybe that doesn’t work because there’s no counter-measure that turns it off.  Of course the fun part is when the serum wears off (and I can feel it starting to do just that finally) and I fall into a deep sleep I’ll probably be killed.  I can’t imagine that my dream visitor is very pleased about what I did and I have no idea if Timora has been able to come up with any counter-measures.  Maybe it’s just what happens when you’ve been forced awake by drugs for ninty-six hours straight but I was coming down with a real bad case of “I’m so fucked” syndrome.  Which is not helpful, but I couldn’t concentrate long enough to think about anything else other than how bad things were. 

At first I was alone in there, I know that, but at some point during the night they must have brought someone else in because in the early hours I saw a sleeping lump in one of the other cells.  It disturbed me that somehow I missed them bringing in another prisoner while I was doing my closet-waltz, sure it was dark in there, but that just means they had to have a light when they did it which makes me not noticing even more disturbing.  Once morning had broken and enough sunlight filtered in to see I resolved to study the lump-form of my new compatriot but before I could the guards brought in other prisoner.  He was wearing an odd red garment that almost looked like a dress (it wasn’t) with a leather jerkin over it and he had a lean wolfish face – not the mean kind though, the somewhat handsome kind.  He looked exactly like the kind of lumberman that you’d fine in a place like Three Rivers being tossed in jail for being drunk on the job, aside from the fact that his hands were smooth and his eyes were clear.  He said something to the jailors that I didn’t catch and they sneered at him.  Once they were gone our eyes locked across the non-crowded incarceration facility.

He raised an eyebrow “I’ve never seen a lady in a prison cell before.”

“And I have the distinct impression that you’ve had a lot of chances to see the inside of a prison cell.”

He smirked “I had a feeling I was going to like you.  What are you in for?”

“I assassinated the King a while back, I’m surprised you didn’t hear about it, it was all anyone could talk about for a while there.”

“I heard it was dyspepsia that got him.”

“Well of course that’s what they would say, they can’t have people knowing that a mere woman killed the divinely mandated leader of the only just and moral nation in the world.  That would be bad for morale.”

“It certainly would at all.  How did you kill him?”

“Simple really, I disguised myself as a game hen that was going to be served to him at a reception for the Swardish ambassador, when he went to take a bite I kicked the fork back at his mouth and bifurcated his uvula.  Which as you know is fatal of people of royal blood.  Something with the breeding you know, that’s their weak spot.”

“Of course.  Why did you do it?”

“Oh, you know, I was at the pub with the lads having some drinks and one of them told me I couldn’t assassinate the ruler of the world, the only part of world that matters anyway, and that got my hackles up.  I have one of them complexes where I just have to prove people wrong.”

“In that case I don’t think you can break me out of here.”

I looked around “It’s funny you should mention that because I’ve been wondering for a while now if I should escape or not.  I have powerful friends that may be working to get me out here, in which case it would be very embarrassing for them were I to escape in the meantime.  But I don’t want to wait until it’s too late in case they can’t come through.  Communication, that’s always the problem.   Who knows what and when do they know it?  It’s a real issue.”

 He nodded sagely “That’s why I work alone.”

“That and other reasons I wager.”

He put his hand to his chest “You wound me.  Aren’t you going to ask me what I’m in for?  You wouldn’t want to break out of prison with a murderer or worse, a tax cheat, would you?”

I snorted “I know what you’re in for, I can tell a conman when I see one and . . .” I pointed at him.

“I’ll have you know that I’m here for transporting a barrel of herring over the Visgoth with an improper bill of lading.”

“Sure, we’ve all been there.”

We were interrupted in our bantering by a visit from another one of the judges present at the Newberry trial – the ugly Halfling strode in smoking a huge human sized cigar that looked massive next to his tiny head.  I know that “the ugly Halfling” isn’t very descriptive but there isn’t much else to say, he was just an ugly Shireling.  When it comes to ranking the comeliness of the various races (don’t pretend you don’t do it) no one puts Halflings at the top but they’ve never at the bottom.  Overall they’re just a pleasantly unremarkable bland looking people.  So when you see one that’s ugly as a mule’s teat it’s startling.  He sauntered over in a cloud of smoke and tossed a hat that hit the bars and flopped to the ground sadly.  Whatever drama was meant to be conveyed by that gesture was completely lost on me.

“Good to see you again mistyer whatever your name is, I’m surprised to see you – I don’t remember you saying a word at the trial yet here you are to wish me well.”

His voice was shockingly deep “Yer friend’s dead.”

“I don’t have any friends.”

“My men killed her before she could get your message out, no one’s going to save you.”

I reached through the bars and picked up what looked like Martialla’s battered naval cap “The touch of blood on the brim here is a nice detail but even if she was dead, which I doubt, the lawyer was the one who was going to contact the Duke for me anyway.”

He grinned, showing yellow smoke-stained teeth “That swindler that came to visit you in prison?  Who do you think send him?  We followed him right to your girl and he kept her busy while we cut her fucking head off.  You wanna see it?  I can have it delivered.”

“That would be more convincing than a hat.”

He look at me for a moment, clearly disappointed, and then blew out a massive cloud of noxious cheap tobacco smoke “You don’t scare easy to you?”

“There’s not too much that hasn’t already been done to me, intimidation is like a bar of soap – the more you use it the less there is left to use the next time.”

“We’ll find something to make you squeal.”

“I would make a remark about how a close look at your face could do the trick but I won’t sink to that level of childishness.  But thanks for coming to tell me that my friend is dead.”

He stood there for a long moment, I’m pretty sure he was trying to think of a comeback, but eventually he clomped off in a cloud of smoke.  Once he was gone I examined the hat closely, if it’s not Martialla’s they did an obsessively good job of faking it.  It’s possible that they stole it just for this ruse, but it’s hard to see why they would bother to do that.  Even though I couldn’t sleep I still lay down in my cell and put my feet up on the bars, covering my face with what was probably Martialla’s hat to rest for a moment.  I heard the wolfy conman calling over to me.

“That sounded dire.”

“The Consortium and I go back a ways, there’s some bad blood there.  I’ve made a vow to destroy them and that hurt their feelings.”

“How’s that working out for you?”

I gestured at our surroundings “Everything’s going perfectly to plan.”

I heard another voice, a woman’s voice, coming from the direction of the only other occupied cell “Would you two shut up?  I’m trying to sleep over here.”

“You better be nice to me or I won’t set you free when I break out of this joint.”

“If you don’t take me with you I’ll scream for the guards.”

I heard Wolfy rejoin “She’s got you there.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,190,751

Inventory: Whiterock family signet ring (Ring of Binding)

Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane, Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis,  Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee,  Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company, maker of the manacles, Calvados Eure, Law Offices of Lampblack and Brimstone