The best writers use pictures instead of words

The other day my random Microsoft screensaver showed me this – Guatapé in Colombia. It looks like what I imagine the part of Madripoor where the rich people have their villas looks like. I share it because I am a terrible writer and can’t describe things. If you look closely you can see Mr. X waving!

IMAGE MAY BE SUBJECT TO COPYRIGHT!!!!

In other news, SPOILER ALERT, Madripoor was on the latest episode of Falcon & the Winter Soldier so now this entire blog is ruined because it seems like I was ripping off a TV show when I wasn’t at all, I was ripping off a comic book. Since Madripoor is already an expy of Singapore, I’ll have to re-write everything and make the place Ela is stuck in currently Thirteenapour.

BONUS MAILBAG – Since Ela is occasionally referencing Superman and other DC comic people, someone asked me if Marvel comics exist in this part of the Elaverse. They’re not supposed to. Since I already ripped off Madripoor, some very minor Marvel characters might turn up from time to time. Is that fair usage? I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer. Yet.

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.   

October 16, 1973 – It’s the Cadillac of kidnappings

Back home there was always a protest or petition or some kind of whoop-de-doo going on about this or that or the other thing.  People were forever getting riled up about an election or a law or something or other.  I’m not much of one for politics or rhetoric or community action, it’s all just so tiresome you know? Hmm, although it’s also much nicer back home.  Is there a connection of some kind there?  No, no, I should just keep on being selfish.

I think part of the problem though is that a lot of that action comes from the hippies.  I tell you true, I’m not a fan, I mean free love?  Nice try guys.  Granted, I haven’t shaved my legs since I was dumped in this hellhole but that’s a matter of circumstance, not choice. One thing they’re often very upset about is the military industrial complex.  I don’t know what that is exactly, but a lot of dudes with long hair really don’t think it’s a good idea.  Another thing that puts beans in their bindle is rich people.  

I wouldn’t mind being rich myself but I’m not that into it you know?  My grandmother used to say, as long as you’re pretty you don’t need money, which is true for the most part.  It helps if you’re charming too.  Which I am.  I am winsome as fuck.  Money corrupts, they like to say, but I’ve met plenty of poor assholes so money isn’t doing all the lifting for sure.  But here in Madripoor, I’m starting to understand what those long hairs were driving at.  There’s having money and then there’s being rich.  And then there’s having wealth.  

I decided to go and speak to the harbormaster alone, I didn’t want to try strong-arming the guy right off the bat – save that for later in case my winsome charm doesn’t work.  With that tactic in mind, showing up with a giant lizardman and a freaky fish lady at my flanks seemed like the wrong way to go.  I’ll need them for the rough stuff, but when it’s time to charm and disarm, that’s Ela time.  Ergo, I left Martialla and Blue at the bar and headed out myself.

Sidenote, those two don’t seem to be gelling.  I figured they’d be fast friends in no time.  They’re both bitter ex-military French Canadian abominations.  How can they not have anything to talk about?  What kind of bullshit is that?  The odds against two people like them even being here are astronomical and when they meet they’re both like “eh, I can do better”?  Me, I like talking to anyone I can find from the CS just because they understand my references. Even if they’re boorish, at least we’re on the same page.

Side-sidenote the other day some customers actually came into the bar, tourists you know, and upon seeing a giant blue lizard and a soggy broad with giant white eyes, they turned around and immediately walked back outside.  I have to admit seeing that was a trip.  

Anyway, I was heading down to the harbormasters office when a Cadillac Eldorado pulled up beside me.  In this part of Madripoor, it’s pretty rare to see cars at all, let alone a monster like that.  It’s one of those cars that you expect to have horns mounted on the front and a loudmouthed oilman inside.  The streets in this part of town aren’t even really built for cars, I feel like driving here they probably knocked the corners off a couple people’s houses. And off some people too.

There was no fat Pecos oil baron inside though, instead there were a couple men in dark suits with Uzis (or whatever, I don’t know guns).  There are a lot of things about Madripoor that are strange to me.  And there are things about Madripoor that frighten me.  Chief among the latter group is the way that some people just have guns on them walking around.  In the CS, you’d occasionally see someone with a hunting rifle or maybe a handgun here or there, but there is something mildly terrifying about seeing men with assault rifles in normal clothes just out and about being casual.

Two of the men got out of the back seat and said something to me in Malay (or Indonesian, or one the many other languages spoken here) while one of them held the door open.  I couldn’t understand them of course, but the request was clear – get in.  

You see, this is what I’m starting to understand.  When you have wealth, you do things like dispatching your goons in a luxury car to snatch a woman off the street like that’s a normal thing to do.  Rich people secretly fear that the poor will rise up and eat them someday, so they don’t go too crazy.  The wealthy have no such fears.  They’re insulated.  They’re immune.  Once you have a fleet of private planes and your own army of loyal goons and emergency bunkers on volcanic islands, what whim could you possibly not indulge?  

“Saya tidak bercakap bahasa melayu” I said while calculating if I could flip the car over and run before they riddled me bullets.  

The driver turned and repeated the command in French and while I was deciding if I wanted to pretend I didn’t understand that either, the passenger got out and leaned on his door like someone waiting at a gas station.  He was a little taller and more slender than the other goons.  He would have been a decent looking guy if he wasn’t trying to abduct me.  He spoke English with a British accent.

“We’re not Shadow Lords.”  

I nodded “Sure, you’re just men with guns grabbing me off the street, nothing that I should worry about at all.  Hold on a second while I let my guard down.”

He smiled and held his hands out like predators do when they want to seem harmless “Has anyone here grabbed you miss?  This is a polite invitation, my boss would like for you to join him at his compound for lunch.”

I laughed mirthlessly “Does he know how much I eat these days?  He might regret that.”

He nodded slightly “My patron is aware of your unfortunate . . . condition.  That’s why he wants to meet you, in fact.”

“Yes, I’ve become very popular since several million dollars was spent turning me into a biological miracle slash sideshow freak.  I get invited to all the best parties these days.  Does your patron have a name?”

He shook his head slightly “Not one that he cares to share.”

I snorted “Ooh, very mysterious, he sounds like a real peach.  I’m sure all the other girls just love this shadowy mystery man.”  I looked at my wrist as if I was wearing a watch “I’m actually on my way to an appointment though, prior commitment and all that, you know how it is, business never stops.  What happens if I decline your polite gunpoint invitation?”

He sighed theatrically “Has anyone pointed a gun at you?  If you decline the invitation then we are going to have to grab you.  My boss is a generous man but he’s also very stern.  Yes, very stern indeed.”

I smiled slightly “And how do you think that would go?”

He seemed curious “I don’t know.  The extent of your abilities is unknown.  I know that you defeated Genderuwo, which isn’t a feat that many can boast about, so I know that you must be immensely strong.  But I also know that you didn’t kill him, which makes me wonder if you’re not so fearsome in the final analysis.”

“He’s pretty hard to kill.”

He nodded “That he is madam, that he is.  However, unless I miss my mark I don’t think you gave that much sustained effort.  The choices before you are that you can either come with me for a nice little drive and then lunch, or we can slug it out and see what happens.  My boss is going to learn what he wants to know in either case I think.  So the question is, which will you have, love?”

September 9th, 1973 – Secret Agent Man

Pinetree International Exports is closer towards the Vegas/New York City portion of Madripoor than the “lowlands” but still in what I am calling the border zone.  This is the part of the city that seems almost familiar to me, if there weren’t so many people on bikes zipping around, it wouldn’t be out of place back in the CS.  It was the same kind of little office-prison you’d expect some guy with a comb-over to be selling insurance out of in Tallahassee or Gary. 

Alcazar, the owner, chief operator, and proprietor of Pinetree International Exports is from the Caribbean states of the US I think.  He has a long beard, not like a hippy beard but more akin to what you’d see in an old photo of a soldier from the First American Revolution.  It doesn’t suit him well at all.  His teeth are a mess as well, it looks like someone hit him in the mouth with a hammer at some point.  If he shaved his beard and kept his mouth shut he would be a handsome man.  After Elvis introduced us, I looked around at his cluttered and shabby office.

“So what is this operation?  An Air America type thing?”

He laughed loudly, putting his mouthful of crooked teeth on display, jerking his thumb at Elvis “This guy been telling stories about the CIA again? Would I be in a place like this if I was with the CIA?”

“Spies are supposed to be inconspicuous so yeah, this seems about right.”

He looked like he had never considered that before “That’s a good point actually.  But the fact remains that I am merely a humble importer/exporter.”

I picked up a card off his desk and examined it “What does that mean?  I know it literally means that you buy stuff somewhere else and bring it here and vice versa, but that doesn’t sound like a full time gig to me.  How much time does it take to buy something and then have it shipped somewhere else?  What do you do all day?”

He picked up a wad of papers and shook them at me like a wagging finger of disapproval “Trust me sweetheart, I got plenty to do.  So why did my good friend Elvis drag you into my office?”

“I’m in need of exporting.”

“Exporting what?”

I gestured like a showroom model “You’re looking at it tiger.”

After I explained my situation, Alcazar was nice enough to let me stay with him for a couple days while he did some research.  I definitely don’t think he’s in the CIA anymore.  I think even a CIA agent working undercover would have more than a single room above a dance studio with a mattress on the floor.  Clearly the import/export business isn’t going so great.  

I think he likes having me around just to he has someone to speak Spanish with.  I asked him how the Tropics are doing but he said that he doesn’t follow sports back home.  I asked him how he ended up in Madripoor and he said (I’m paraphrasing here)

“Madripoor is the only free place left in the world, as free as it gets these days anyway.  If you want to make some money and you don’t mind getting down and dirty, Madripoor is the place to be.  Madripoor doesn’t dance to the tune of politics or corporate interests.”

He went on to say that Madripoor was “a modern day Port Royale”.  It was enough of a non-answer that despite this crappy apartment, it made me think a little that maybe he is CIA again.  On the other hand, being into lawless pseudo-anarchy doesn’t seem like what a CIA man would be into.  Or maybe it does?

Alcazar and Elvis both suggested that I stay put since the Shadow Lords might be looking for me, but I got bored so I went to work with Alcazar a couple days.  Being his secretary was slightly less boring than sitting in his crummy apartment staring at the walls.  Against their advice I got myself a gig at a local joint.  I did The Witch Queen of New Orleans, Never Been to Spain, and Day Dreaming to scattered polite applause.  Don’t these people know I had a top 40 hit in ’70?  Where’s the respect?