December 9, 1973 – Even more boring than the Andromeda Strain

This morning I saw two guys fight because they both called themselves Glacier.  There was a big blocky white dude with a blonde crew cut and a scrawny local dude.  They both had cold/ice/whatever powers but Blondie didn’t seem to be immune to cold himself, unlike his competitor.  Ergo it wasn’t much of a fight.  Seeing a man frozen solid in the middle of the street is a great way to start your day.  Bloody frozen chunks of human flesh look a lot like some of the fish dishes they serve around here.  Even that couldn’t make me lose my appetite.  

I have to assume this kind of bullshit happens all the time.  I don’t really understand why some people feel like they need to have a codename and a stupid stretchy suit once they have superpowers, but they do.  And many of those people probably chose the same name unless their power is super-creativity.  I bet these two aren’t the only Glaciers out there.  Anyone who ends up with cold powers is probably going to call themselves Mr. Freeze or Snowman or something like that.  People aren’t that imaginative, I bet fifty percent of the time people think of a name that’s already in use.  I bet there’s at least a dozen Captain Fantastics and Major Victory’s and Guardians and Defenders out there.  Maybe Mr. X should change his stupid tournament to people fighting over naming rights.

I figured the best way to find Maggie was to go straight to the source.  And by source, I mean her husband.  Asking around with my charming charm, I found out that Mr. Maggie has been flying into and out of Madripoor frantically since she disappeared.  By all accounts, he’s looking pretty haggard.  Seemed to me like he was worth a conversation.  Since his movements were erratic and didn’t seem to be part of a schedule (at least not one I could divine), I staked out the airport for a couple days.  

That alternated between being boring and awful.  Boring because airports aren’t all that interesting.  Awful because on a shockingly regular basis, women who were clearly not happy with what was happening were taken off and put on airplanes.  Would I have done something if heavily-armed gangsters hadn’t been eyeballing me the entire time?  Should I have done something anyway?  I think Blue is a good person but routinely ignores horrible things going on around here.  I guess that’s just what happens when you’re in a place like this.  If you want to stay alive, you learn to keep your head down and pick your battles.  I’ve heard that New York is the same way.  

Eventually Mr. Maggie showed up without any luggage, I wouldn’t say that he looked haggard but certainly worried and harried both.  He all but ran through the airport to a waiting ugly yellow Lincoln Continental.  I got in the backseat right after he got in the passenger side, just like they do in the movies.  It was pretty cool.  The driver, who I swear looked like Oddjob from Goldfinger even though that probably sounds racist, pulled out a gun but Mr. Maggie put a restraining hand on him and looked back at me.

“I’m working on it, I just need more time.”

I shook my head with a slight smile “Wrong side.”  

He frowned “What?”

“Wrong side.  I’m not one their side, I’m on your side.  Tell me who has Maggie and I’ll run and fetch her.  Well not literally, I hate running, it’s like an expression.  You know what I mean.”

We went to an oddly constructed hotel that seemed to be styled after the Tower of Pisa.  If I was building a hotel I wouldn’t choose to model it on something that’s renowned for being about to fall over, but what do I know about architecture?  Mr. Maggie told me that Maggie had been taken by the Thousand Thunders who were holding her hostage to extort him into handing over “The Formula”.  Some employee of his boring company had been turned into a super-person accidentally during the production of something or other and they wanted the secret recipe.  

I asked him how an industrial cooling or piping or whatever company could accidentally make a superbeing, I made a pretty good joke about “Pipe-man”, a guy with pipes for arms but he didn’t laugh.  Probably because he’s worried about his wife being chained to a radiator and getting cornholed regularly by her captors.  Otherwise he would have been laughing his ass off.  Trust me on that.  

He proceeded to lay out to me the most boring conspiracy that could ever possibly exist.  As we all know, the nations of the world (except the ones that are jerks) have all agreed to murder any aliens they find and destroy their technology.  It’s a balance of power thing.  Well it turns out they’re pretty faithful about the first part and more philandrist when it comes to the second part – everyone is trying to get their hands on alien tech so they can reverse engineer it and leap ahead scientifically and not have a balance of power.

This sounds interesting, doesn’t it?  It’s not.  The CEO of boring industries spent what seemed like forever telling me about some compound the government alien murder teams gave his company that allowed them to make some alloy that makes their evaporative, forced draft open-loop cooling towers reject heat from the condenser water loops of industrial chiller units 30% more efficiently.  When you think alien tech you think about flying belts and rayguns, not this bullshit.  

Anyway, one of their chemical engineers was messing with the alien goo and it blew up in her face and now she’s super and the Thousand Thunders want to know how to do it.  Which is a problem because the woman who got a faceful of super goo (phrasing) has disappeared and took all her notes with her – they think, there may not even be any notes since the whole thing was an accident.  So Mr. Maggie has been bankrupting the company trying to find his runaway scientist and alternately flying back here to beg for more time from the kidnappers.  

He told me all this without much prodding.  I guess that shows how desperate he is.  He threw back the last of his fourth highball (to calm his nerves) and looked at me desperately.  

“You can help me find her?”

I nodded “Well we know who has her so just tell them you have the formula and you’re ready to make the trade, then we just take her.”

His eyes darted around desperately “What?  No, we need to find . . .”

I waved off his concerns “No. Forget about your scientist, that’s a no-go, your problem was that you didn’t have the muscle to force the issue with these assholes, now you do.  Tell them to bring Maggie wherever to make the trade and then we just take her.  Simple as peach pie.”

He looked at me dubiously “You’re the muscle?”

I flexed my arm and kissed my bicep “I sure am.  You want me to arm wrestle Oddjob to prove it?  Or throw the bed out the window?  Plus it’s not just me, I have some friends that will be helping as well.  One guy is like eight feet tall and has blue scales, it’s really something.”

“Why are you doing this?’

“Because we’re good people.  Although, since you mention it, a monetary reward of some kind wouldn’t be off the table, would it?  Nobody tells you that superheroing has shit pay.”

Critical update please read immediately

I just realized that I accidentally named two characters Maggie. Good thing I caught it before the fiction police came after me.

Maggie McGraw will now be rechristened Maeve McGraw, which ruins the joke that only one person in the world got, but these are the sacrifices that have to be made in the name of art.

As all real writers know, no two characters in a work of fiction should share the same first name. They can’t even have similar-sounding names. If there’s a Laura in your story, there sure as hell better NOT be a Lyra. If there’s an Ed, you’d be a damn fool to include a Ted . Of course this is all opposite when it comes to twins – twins MUST have similar sounding names.

The good news is that this rule can help you determine if you’re real or not. If you realize that you don’t know any two people with the same first name and that your phone number begins with 555, you can safely assume you live in a fictional world. Depending on what fictional world you live in, you may want to escape to the real world. Things aren’t all roses here, but if you’re a character in the Road or some other horrible depressing novel you probably want out.

If you send me 200 dollars I’ll tell you the secret word that will let you jump into the real world.

“But Jeremy, if you’re real and I’m fictional how am I even reading this? And how can I get you the money?”

The internet is a confluence of the real world and the world of make believe, it’s funny how many people don’t seem to realize that. It’s pretty obvious folks. And I know how to cross over.

“But how do I know that you’re real?”

Because I’m not even in the number one roster slot of Jeremys amongst my peers. I’m Jeremy #2. I was Jeremy #3 for a long time but I managed to move up a place.

The reason for the one name limit is that when you’re writing, you’re supposed to imagine that your audience is stupid. People like it when you treat them like they’re six years old. Obviously they would be confused by multiple characters with the same name: “Wait, was it good-guy Steve or bad-guy Steve who launched the missile at France?” Clearly there’s NO way to figure it out from context.

That’s why the Two Jakes was just a horrible flop.

Along the same lines, good writing is having your characters say things they would never say for the benefit of the audience. “I’m a lawyer and I’m talking to you, a fellow lawyer, but I will now explain what a pre-trial hearing is for the sake of the audience because they’re morons.”

I don’t remember what I watched the other day but it was pretty good and then at the end, the main character literally just explained the whole plot of the show. That’s what made it go from good to great. Now that’s writing!