October 17, 1973 – But before you go, baby just show me what I gotta do

When my most recent kidnapper dismissed me from the hallowed halls of her cramped office above a fully operational whorehouse, she had one of her goons on hand to drive me wherever I wanted.  I gave some serious consideration to refusing that offer and trying to find my own way “home” since I figured there was an eighty-nine percent chance that I would be driven into the clutches of another crimelord where I would be forced to perform “Come Home Baby” at gunpoint over a tank of voracious tiger sharks.  And that song isn’t in my natural register!  It would still sound great, don’t get me wrong, it just wouldn’t be a true reflection of my abilities.  Which would be a shame.  Because I am a fantastic singer.  You don’t smash your way into the top 40 hits without the goods.  

In the end though, I decided to get into the back of that Toyota Corona Mark II T70 coupé utility on account of I was sleepy and didn’t feel like walking.  Also I had no idea where I was.  I need to get a map of Madripoor or something.  Besides which, in terms of kidnapping, while the first one didn’t end up great, the second one was a draw I’d say, and this last one wasn’t so bad – with a record of 1-1-1, I’m getting the hang of being kidnapped I think.  I feel confident that my fourth kidnapping will turn out okay whenever it occurs – tiger sharks notwithstanding.  

I was literally starving to death so I had the driver swing by a fish market where he stood by with thinly veiled disgust as I ate (drank?) a gallon of shark fin soup and a quart of grilled octopus with a kind of spicy sausage and peppers.  I had him pick me up a carton of smokes too.  The cigarettes around here are weak and unsatisfying but any port in a storm you know?  I’ll say one thing about the United States, whatever you think of their politics and problems, they know how to make a smooth, rich, and fulfilling cigarette.  When I smoke the local brands, I feel like I’m smoking a chicken bone.  I’m sure madam crime lady won’t mind that I charged all this stuff to her.  

When I got to Kruszarka 495 (I essentially live in a bar right now, that’s how well things are going) Blue and Martialla weren’t there, but I assumed that was because they were out hitting the streets and cracking skulls looking for me.  The guy who seems to be the only employee wasn’t there either, so I drank a half a bottle of vodka and then took a little nap behind the bar.  I dreamed of banana splits and mountains of juicy duck and ding-dongs and pizza and thick sizzling steaks and pecan pie with seventeen scoops of ice cream.  Don’t think me unworldly, but I miss the good old fat and sugar-based cuisine of Northern America.  I don’t think they even have Crisco here.  Or mayonnaise. 

I was rudely awakened by the sounds of heavy things (heavy to normal people, I’m super strong you know) being banged onto tables and loud speaking in French accompanied by raucous laughter.  I smiled to myself and listened for a moment, expecting to hear Blue and Martialla discussing how worried they were about me being missing and imagining how relived they would be when I popped out behind the bar like a jack in the box.  But they were talking so fast in their stupid Canadian dialect that I couldn’t exactly tell what they were talking about.  It didn’t seem to be about me though. Which was troubling.

I stood up with a flourish “Ta-da!”

Blue and Martialla were standing by a table loaded with guns and ammo.  Blue glanced over at me and then nodded. “You’re alive, good, you can help.”

I frowned “That’s it?  You’ve been out looking for me all night and you can’t show a little more enthusiasm that I saved myself yet again?  It was quite a sticky situation but I managed to fight my way free.  You see what happened . . .”

Blue picked up a rifle or a shotgun or something and examined it “We weren’t looking for you, we assumed you were dead.”

Martialla hadn’t even bothered to look over, she seemed to be sorting loose bullets “He thought you were dead, I assumed that you were distracted by a disco ball and spent the night dancing.” She awkwardly mimed a little dance move and they both laughed.  I’ve scarcely been more outraged in all my life.  

“First of all, no one does the Hustle anymore.  Second of all, when did you two become such good friends?  And third of all, you weren’t even looking for me?  What kind of bullbird is that?  I go out on a mission for the team and you don’t even try to save me when I don’t come back?  Whatever happened to leave no man behind?”

Martialla grinned with her gross fish-lips “That’s what you staties do, in Canada we leave people behind all the time.  We’re known for it.  They tell you in basic ‘don’t dawdle or you’ll be left behind’.”

Blue laughed and then flicked his tongue sideways in what I’ve come to understand is a lizard shrug “Once you were dead, we had to make a move.  If you were alive, we knew you’d find your way back and you did.  Look, there you are.  Roaming the streets of Madripoor looking for you wouldn’t have done any good.”

Martialla said something to him that I didn’t catch and they both laughed again.  I was furious.  I’m the leader and they just moved on without me?  They should have been tearing this city apart looking for me.  They should have been burning this place to the ground until they got answers.  It’s hard to stay furious when the people you’re mad at don’t even seem to notice though.  To mollify myself, I started chewing on some of these local berries they have that are like coffee beans.  The barman keeps a bag of them behind the counter but I’ve never seen him eat one.

“How’d you get all the guns?”

Blue opened his freaky lizard mouth slightly in what I think is a lizard head shake “This place is crazy, you can buy anything here.  We just got all this stuff on the street.” He looked at Martialla “What I’d really like is a Lee–Enfield.”

She scowled.  I think, her face is scowly all the time “Are you nuts, you can’t be robbing a bank with a service rifle.  What I wanted was an Inglis Hi-Power.”

Blue flicked his tongue out “A nine-millimeter?  That’s a lady gun.”

Martialla put her hands on the table angrily “I meant the forty caliber not the nine, besides which the Inglis Hi-Power is not a lady gun, the stopping power . . .”

I threw a hand up “Whoa, whoa, whoa what are you talking about?  Robbing a bank?  What bank?  What’s happening?”

Martialla grinned “We’re gonna rob a bank.” Blue nodded and gave me a thumbs up.

I was so shocked I let a berry drop out of my mouth, which is very unladylike “What?!”

October 17, 1973 – Kidnap me five or less times shame on you, kidnap me six or more times shame on me

Remember when I was going on and on like an idiot about how there are good people in the world and not everyone is an unrelenting asshole and there is a reason to be happy and hopeful about the future?  Forget all that.  Put it out of your mind.  Pretend I never said that.  People are monsters through and through and nothing will ever change.  People are dumb, selfish, dangerous beasts and the only thing keeping them from cracking each other’s skulls open and feasting upon the goo that flows forth like mantids is the military power of authoritarian governments and the threat of worse violence to come.  

Why the change of heart?  Turns out that the guy driving Meylupa and her friends around, Kỳ, is Elvis’s cousin.  Or something, I didn’t quite follow the thread of what he was saying about that even though he speaks English just fine.  It may be that his grandfather and Elvis’s grandfather were “spiritual” brothers in some religious sense and Kỳ and Elvis aren’t blood related.  Or maybe they are.  There’s a lot of culture going on here you know?  Don’t judge me.

This guy maybe being related to Elvis isn’t what reminded me that everyone is horrible.  What did that is when Kỳ and Meylupa sold me down the god damn river.  There we were, bar-hopping and drinking and maybe doing a little coke (it was some kind of powder anyway) having a gay old time and I mentioned that it was getting late (or early technically) and Blue and Martialla were waiting for me so I should probably get back to Kruszarka 495 (that’s the bar in Touristville that is totally not a front for money laundering) before they came looking for me.  So we pile in the Checker Marathon and Meylupa says that there’s one more spot we need to hit before we call it a night (morning).  And I’m game because everyone knows that Ela is no wet blanket.

We drive to a place and then we go down some stairs and there’s a secret knock and a whole thing and it seems like we’re going into an underground casino – in both senses of the term.  There are gambling halls all over the place in Madripoor but that doesn’t stop people from setting up their own operations to avoid paying protection money to the various criminal syndicates that seem to control everything outside of the financial district.  Or maybe because they are part of those syndicates.  I don’t know why they’re there but they’re there.  

Next thing I know, Meylupa and Kỳ are gone and men pointing guns at me.  

Let me diverge from my prepared remarks for a moment.  My goal is revenge on Duke Eaglevane for blowing me up.  But I’m starting to think that I need to get revenge on whoever scienced me up into a super person as well.  Because what the fuck?  Why aren’t I bulletproof?  Is this what they were going for?  Why would they do that?  Super strength without invulnerability?  What’s the point?  I have to assume these were some military assholes because they’re the only ones who make super-people, so what were they doing?  A bullet-resistant soldier?  Wonderful!  Make me a million of those, says the general.  A super-strong soldier?  Who gives a shit?  This isn’t the fifteenth century.  No one is swinging a battle axe now.  Why bother?  

Super speed, now that would be something.  Super vision?  Sure, that could help spot the enemy and so forth.  Any kind of super power that would make you shoot better would be good.  Perhaps some kind of danger sense, you know like spiders have.  Flying would obviously be helpful.  Even Martialla’s breathing underwater bullshit is practical at least, what with your amphibious landings and underwater demolitions and shark-soldiers and all.  Invisibility, internal radar, some kind of electricity control thing, weevil-agility, laser shooting nipples, all fine.  But super-strength?  Why?  For what?  For what?

Divergence over.

Thankfully it was after midnight, so I wasn’t kidnapped twice in the same day.  That happened to me once before and people still give me shit about it.  I was herded through a tunnel and up some different stairs and through what looked like a cheap brothel into an office where a woman was waiting for me.  Aside from the fact that she was wearing a veil, she looked pretty normal.  The woman standing by her side was wearing a cheongsam even though she was just a boring white lady like me.  The woman in the veil was speaking Japanese I think, and her pal was translating with a French accent.  I tell you this about Madripoor, it’s multi-cultural as fuck.  

“You must have many questions.”

“Yeah, I do, how do my powers work?  How can I be super strong without being super tough too?  I can lift a ton of weight, ergo I have the force of a ton acting on my body and that’s fine.  But I hurt my shoulder jumping over a fence.  There’s no way I hit the ground with two thousand pounds of force.  That doesn’t make any sense.  If my bones are normal, shouldn’t they snap in half when I lift a compact car over my head?  And if they aren’t, why are my bones not unbreakable all the time?  None of this adds up.  How does the physics support what’s happening here?”

She raised a meticulously curated eyebrow “Do you really want me to translate that?”

“I guess not.  Does she wear that veil to look mysterious or is her face messed up?”

“Her face is messed up.”

“Oh.  Sorry I asked.”

“Me too.”

At this point, the woman in the veil angrily said something that I assume was “You’re supposed to be translating, moron!”  Getting down to brass tacks (what does that mean? Something to do with laying carpet maybe?) she told me (via translator but we already covered that) that her name was Kinuyo Yoshizumi and she’s the leader of yet another organized crime bullshit club.  Her husband was a Yazuka martial arts guy who was massacred by Mr. X.  She went to his Yakuza pals for revenge help and they said “gross you’re a girl get away”.  So she did what any woman would do, she built her own criminal empire (using proxies because of the girl thing) to get revenge herself.  

Problem is, after the first few assassins she hired to take out Mr. X turned up on her step with their arms and legs hacked off at the elbow and knee respectively, people stopped taking her calls.  Somehow within hours of my skirmish with Mr. X and his S&M bondage murder posse, she found out about it and then also communicated her desire to speak to me out to her agents.  Which is some pretty impressive logistical operation.  People (you know the ones I mean) like to paint women as bad leaders, but when it comes to organization and planning, I think they have some real skills that could be valuable in group situations.  Give women a chance will you?

When she asked me how I penetrated Mr. X’s defenses (unintentional rhyme?), I told her I was just walking around and his goons scooped me up much like her own goons just did.  She didn’t find this answer very pleasing.  But I explained to her that she was thinking about it all wrong.  Getting to him is not the issue – I’m sure he’s going to be coming after me.  All she has to do is wait around for him to show up to kill me.  The trick is finding someone who can take him out. 

I suggested that a sniper rifle at two hundred yards is pretty hard for anyone to defend against no matter how cool you are with a katana.  She said that the reason people get into arm and leg hacking range with the guy is because he’s a psychic and he knows beforehand if the sniping is coming.  He knows when people are coming into hacking range too, but he likes that so he doesn’t avoid it.  I said that he didn’t seem very psychic to me when I bifurcated his nose with his own sword but the Frenchwoman didn’t translate that.  

I told her I was up for acting as bait in whatever kind of trap she wanted to set up (within reason) as long as she had someone capable of doing the deed.  In return, she would get me the hell out of Madripoor.  She said that she had just the person in mind.  But the way the translator said it sounded like she wasn’t really sure.  But was that actually her or just the translator? 

I got kicked out of model UN for this – The Coalition States of America

After the Rebellion of 1768 successfully prevented the transfer of the French Louisiana Territory to Spain, New France was fragmented between the settlers of the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes Acadians who wanted stronger support from France to resist the British colonies, and the rebels to the south who had lost faith in the continental government.  

When the Treaty of Versailles in 1781 gave all former British claims in New France below the Great Lakes to the newly formed United States, the Upper Louisiana/Illinois Country contingent of New France was pushed into alignment with the southern rebels.   In 1783, the bulk of New France south of the Great Lakes declared their independence from France and formed a new nation called Illinois.  When British forces captured Louisbourg, allowing them to blockade the entrance to the St. Lawrence River, the remainder of the colony of New France threw in their lot with the nascent government of Illinois. 

Facing increasing pressure from Britain in the north and the specter of France capturing New Orleans in the south, the government of Illinois collapsed within two years.  It was replaced by two even shorter-lived governments.  The Native American confederacies that made up more than half of the population of the new nation were the only thing keeping it even slightly viable, but also presented the largest hurdle to coordinated action.  The area was effectively ungoverned until 1791 when the Coalition States were formed at the Saint Louis Convention. 

The Coalition States were strengthened by waves of new settlers in the following years, including many veterans of the US War of Independence who were upset by the events of the Whiskey Rebellion, feeling betrayed by the country that they had fought to create and seeking a new start farther west.  The Coalition States tried to assert authority over the Saint Lawrence and Mississippi Rivers but were largely ineffective, losing New Orleans back to France while Britain maintained control of the river way to the Great Lakes.  The discovery of gold in the Dakotas was the only thing keeping the Coalition States from total collapse throughout the early 1800s.   

The fortunes of the CS turned around with the formation of the Arkansas Republic in 1815.  The United States focused on bringing their “wayward son” back into the fold, and New Orleans (at this time a free city) asked to be annexed into the CS in 1824 after the easternmost chiefdom of the Arkansas Republic destroyed the homes of the Creole leadership and smashed the Louisiana militia.  The Texas Revolution in 1836 provided the CS with a trading partner and protection from Spanish conquest from the south. 

With control over the mouth of the Mississippi and the two Republics as buffers against more powerful nations, the Coalition States were able to take their first significant action as a regional power, defeating British Canadian forces in several engagements to claim possession of the Great Lakes in the 1830s.  The CS was able to establish peaceful relations with Britain and the US, but tensions remained high with the Arkansas Republic throughout the latter half of the 1800s.  New Orleans would be lost to the Republic during fighting in the 1860s and the bulk of CS territory below the Arkansas River would be ceded to the Arkansas Republic in 1872, at which point hostilities were largely over. 

After dedicating significant resources to building up railroad infrastructure, the CS experienced significant growth at the turn of the century, becoming a trading hub for the North American nations.  In the early 1900s while the US indulged itself in military adventurism, the CS took pride (too much many would say) in building “strength through peace”.   

The CS, long considered internationally to be a minor power existing at the indulgence of the US, is starting to move out of the shadow of their more flamboyant neighbor.  While the US is experiencing economic crisis, civil unrest, and violence, the CS is enjoying an economic, scientific, and cultural boom time as they take their first steps towards being a true world power. 

Ten states make up the Coalition.   

Beauharnois 

Illinois 

Ishpeming 

Kanadario 

Louisiana 

Manistique  

Michilimackinac 

Minnesota 

Missouri 

Saint Pierre 

President: Joseph Edelman 

Total area: 233,089 sq mi (603,700 sq km) 

Population (1964 est.): 44,291,413 (growth rate: –0.6%); birth rate: 9.41/1000; infant mortality rate: 8.1/1000; life expectancy: 69.14; density per sq mi: 191 

Capital (1964 est.): Chicago 3,275,000 (metro. area), 2,847,000 (city proper) 

Other large cities: Toronto 2,703,018; Saint Louis, 1,441,622; Detroit, 1,001,962; Saint Paul, 962,024; 

Monetary unit: Coalition States Dollar  

National name: The Coalition States of America 

Official Languages: None at the national level  

Literacy rate: 99.7% (1964 est.) 

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (1964 est.): $333.7 billion; per capita $7,400. Real growth rate: 0.4%. Inflation: 0.7%. Unemployment: 8% officially registered; large number of unregistered or underemployed workers; International Labor Organization est.: 7%. Arable land: 53.85%. Agriculture:  wheat, corn, other grains, fruits, vegetables, beef, pork, poultry, dairy products; Labor force: 22.17 million (1964 est.); industry 18.5%, agriculture 15%, services 65.7% (1961). Industries: coal, electric power, ferrous and nonferrous metals, machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, food processing. Natural resources: iron ore, coal, manganese, oil, natural gas, salt, sulfur, graphite, titanium, magnesium, kaolin, nickel, mercury, timber, arable land. Exports: $71.14 billion (1964 est.): ferrous and nonferrous metals, fuel and petroleum products, chemicals, machinery and transport equipment, food products. Imports: $87.21 billion (1964 est.): energy, machinery and equipment, chemicals. Major trading partners: United States, Canada, Arkansas Republic, Pecos Republic, Mexico, Great Britain, Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping (1970). 

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 12.182 million (1970); Radio broadcast stations: AM 134, FM 289, shortwave 4 (1967). Radios: 45.05 million (1967). Television broadcast stations: at least 33 (plus 21 repeater stations that relay broadcasts from the US) (1967). Televisions: 18.05 million (1967).  

Transportation: Railways: total: 13,433 miles (21,619 km). Highways: 105,442 miles (169,694 km) Waterways: 1038 miles (1,672 km).  

October 16, 1973 – Burning down the house

It’s easy to get a little blue when you’ve been blown up, left for dead, turned into a science project gone horribly right, kidnapped, threatened, starved, kidnapped again, almost murdered, stuck in a place where you can’t watch the Tropics games and seventy percent of the people around don’t speak a language you know, you haven’t had a solid bowel movement in a month, you’ve got split ends like a bastard, and your most comfortable pair of shoes are ninety-four hundred miles away.

But as my grandma said, it can’t rain every day.  Which I think isn’t true if you live in a rain forest but the point is well made.  If you don’t look at the bright side, you create your own demons. The bad news is now this Mr. X character and his deadly assassination squad are probably after me in addition to the Shadow Lords and probably some pirates.  But the good news is that I’ve discovered a new power that probably makes me a really great bowler. 

I dashed into the kitchen while Betty and Veronica were tending to their fallen psychopathic beau.  The big guy came after me, but he was so big he had to slow down to come through the door sideways.  That has to be really annoying.  While he was doing that, I hurled a 1963 Cavalier Coca-Cola machine at his melon.  I believe it was the CS-55-E model which was the first push button multi-select Coke machine.  We had one at the diner I worked at when I was in HS.  I’ve seen that from time to time, I guess they’re kind of cool, but why would you want a vending machine in your house?  It makes no sense to me.  You want Coke around, keep it in the fridge.  I dated a guy in Memphis for a while that was crazy into Coca-Cola memorabilia.  He got into a big fight with his parents because he sold a Christmas gift they gave him so he could buy more Coke shit.

The big man was knocked out cold by the machine, as cold as the delicious soda inside of it.  Irony?  No.  I flipped on a couple burners and tossed some towels onto the flames, figuring that a good house fire would help cover my escape.  I dated a guy back in Chi-Town who turned out to be a big time flamer.  We were at dinner one night and these dudes in trench coats came in and dragged him away.  He was terrified because he thought they were mobsters, but it was the FBI.  I think he ratted out a bunch of people and ended up somewhere in Taiping under an assumed name.  He was way too enthusiastic in bed.  Calm down dude, act like you been there before.

I turned left three times and right once, finding myself in what I assume is the bedroom of one of Mr. X’s private security force/murderous gang.  I slipped on some way too big around the waist pants (good thing I have long legs or I would have been tripping too) an obligatory “I’m a faceless goon” black t-shirt and some extra shoes (good thing I have big feet or they would have been slipping off).  A belt would have been nice but the place was starting to fill with smoke – and not the good kind that comes from cigarettes, the bad kind that kills you – so I ran in a crouch holding a fistful of pants-wad to keep them from sliding down my ass.

I was coughing pretty soundly when I found myself in a room with a window.  I annihilated said window by throwing a hideous couch through it (one handed, not to brag).  It must have been a custom job because the ends (What is the end of a couch called?  Must have a name) looked like sexy cat ladies.  I mean they were supposed to look sexy.  They didn’t.  I knocked out the rest of the glass with an ugly yellow vase and hopped through to freedom.  And by freedom I mean two dudes wearing armor vests pointing assault rifles at me.  Despite the fact that I may have been wearing one of these guy’s spare clothes, I admit that I had kind of forgotten about all the armed men I had seen standing around outside when I was brought here.  But as my grandma said, when the plane is going down, you jump and worry about a parachute later.

I gestured wildly (and pulled up my stolen pants) “People are killing your boss, what the fuck are you doing out here?!”

Neither one of them moved.  It’s hard to find good goons these days isn’t it?  Although the plume of ugly black smoke coming out of the window may have been a factor as well.  I shoved one of the men towards the window admonishing him to go do his job and protect his boss, and he very tentatively crawled inside.  Where most likely he was immediately overwhelmed with smoke.  His friend was still giving me the evil eye though and when I made to get out of there, he jabbed his gun at me.  I don’t know why he did that.  The bullets come out buddy, you don’t need the barrel right against my ribs to shoot me if that’s what you’re going to do. 

My intention was to snatch the rifle away from him like Kwai Chang Caine grabbing a pebble but I hadn’t counted on the strap.  When I yanked the rifle in a downward motion, his head came with it.  I’m not sure exactly what happened but he passed out instantly.  Is that what whiplash does?  I kind of thought that whiplash was just something people said to get more money out of a personal injury lawsuit.  Is it really that easy to smack your brain around?  Seems like it should be better protected.  Although on the other hand, I am as strong as twenty very strong men. 

I probably should have grabbed the rifle, to sell if nothing else, but I just boogied on out of there.  At one point, I jumped over a low wall and tried to roll like they do in the movies.  I tell you this much – it’s a bunch of bullshit.  I hit the ground like a drunk duck.  I think I messed up my shoulder bad.  If only I was as tough as twenty very tough men.  I didn’t cry though.  Anyone who says they saw me crying is a damn dirty liar. 

I had a horrifying vision of skulking around the rich part of Madripoor for days trying to find a way out but serendipitously I saw Say’s friend Meylupa coming out of a nearby mansion where she works as a maid.  I’m surprised she remembered me since we only met once, but I suppose I am pretty memorable around these parts.  Using a pidgin of French, English, and what little Malay I’ve picked up (pantomime helped too, some gestures are universal), I told her I had been making sweet, sweet love to a rich man nearby when his wife came home and I had to make a run for it.  Hence my makeshift clothing and my disheveled appearance. 

I’m pretty sure she said something about me being a whore but she said that I could hide in the laundry room until she was done with her work.  I told her that if she found me some clothing, I could help her out and she’d be done that much faster.  It’s a funny old world you know?  One moment you’re fighting a lunatic and his motley crew of killers in a battle to the death, and then an hour later you’re pulling a wad of hair out of a shower drain.  There’s probably a lesson there. 

Once we were done at mansion number one, Meylupa and I walked over to another mansion and helped out her friend working there, and then the three of us headed to another mansion to repeat the process.  At the end of the day, this left us with an hour to stand around and gab (well they gabbed, I missed 90% of the conversation) until a fellow came to pick them up in a 1961 Checker Marathon that had been repaired so thoroughly I wonder how much original car was in there.  Seeing that car made me understand the “grandfather’s axe” thing one of my teachers droned on about. 

You see, this is what I’m talking about.  Even in a place like Madripoor that seems like a total indictment of the human race as a whole, you find good people.  Some folks like to say that people are only as good as the world lets them be, but that’s hogwash.  Plenty of people get the shaft and they don’t get bitter about it.  We’ve only got one life to live and we’re all here together, don’t be an asshole.  Whatever mistakes you’ve made or compromises turned you away from your original path, that’s fine – just turn back.  It’s not so complicated. 

I started out the day with a kidnapping and I ended up at a bar on the beach getting drunk (well, they were getting drunk, I think I’d need several gallons of high proof booze to do anything to me these days) with new friends.  You never know how things are going to turn out. 

October 16, 1973 – Superfight 2! Papatayin natin silang lahat! (nude variant cover)

I’m tall and I like basketball.  This means that people (well, people back home) often ask me if I played basketball.  Technically the answer is yes, but what they mean to ask is was I good at basketball, which I was not.  Put me on Soul Train and I’ll knock you on your knickers with my moves, but for whatever reason, that specific kind of coordination needed for sports escaped me.  One of the reasons I started playing the guitar was because I thought it might help with my clumsy hands on the court.  It did not.  But I am a damn fine guitar player so there’s that.

Maybe if I’d stuck with basketball, I could have been a mediocre player but I wasn’t enamored with all the running.  My god the running.  Not just during the game, which was bad enough, but they wanted you to run all the time in practice too!  For what?  For what?  I hate running.  I never even run for the bus. There will be another bus.  And if there isn’t another bus then I didn’t need to go there anyway.  

My point is that given my history of poor eye-hand coordination, having something – such as a knife – thrown at my head isn’t the sort of thing I should react to quickly.  Physiologically speaking I mean, not emotionally.  I don’t know what all the geeks in lab coats did to me, but it’s been a while now since they did it and I’ve seen no evidence of increased reflexes or agility or reaction time or anything like that.  I’m as strong as twenty strong men and I can run all day without getting tired.  I wouldn’t, because I hate running, but I could.  

Apparently I have at least one other ability.   When Whitey Ford hurled the knife at me, it was like time slowed down and those little dotted lines from the physics textbook appeared.  I knew where it was going, I knew how fast it was going, I knew the angle, the acceleration, the force, everything.  It was an instinctive thing, like I had some kind of knife-radar in my head.  I’ll need to explore that more because I’ve had no such reaction to anything else.  What kind of stupid power would it be if it only worked on knives specifically?

Also, to forestall the whining of any knife nuts out there, no, it was not a throwing knife.  It was a six and three quarter inch M5 bayonet.  And yes, I know that a bayonet is not designed to be thrown.  But if you’re out there saying “well, given that it was never meant to be thrown, it was easy to avoid, you were never in any real danger,” send me your address and I’ll come and throw a bayonet at your head and we’ll see how that works out.  Jerk.  

The table was a twelve foot long mahogany and glass number, Italian I think, and estimating conservatively I would say that it weighed about 12 million tons.  As the knife seemingly hung in midair thanks to my wonderful and not at all inconsequential or obscure new superpower, I flipped the aforementioned table up into its path like I was an angry child overturning a Candyland board.  I was hoping to crush my hosts as well, but while the table performed admirably as a knife-knocker, it didn’t do nearly as well in the field of host-crushing. 

Whitey and his bimbos Betty and Veronica dodged out of the way like hippies dodging the draft while the Great Humungous just stood there and let the table shatter on him like my hit song shattered the top 40 charts.  It was cool looking, I can’t argue that, nor would I even if I could. But even if you’re a giant strong non-baseline human person, you can still get glass in your eye, right?  I doubt his eyeballs are super tough.  If you’re going to let a glass table smash over your face, you should at least cover your eyes with your arm or something.  Safety first, guys.

Remember that time Big Blue tried to kill me before we became best friends?  He smashed through the wall of the restaurant like the Kool-Aid Man.  That was pretty cool too, and I bet he protected his eyes while he did it.  Figuring it was time to get the hell out of there (before dessert!), I tried to do the same move, smashing through the wall of Whitey’s trophy/dining room.  There would be a few more walls to smash through on the way to freedom, but the shortest distance between two points right?  

Here’s what I learned.  Smashing through a wall like the Kool-Aid Man is a function of both mass and strength.  Such as, I could easily hold a car and keep it from moving even at maximum power, but if that same car hit me going at full speed, I would be crushed like a green snake in a sugar cane field.  I’m MUCH stronger than Blue (and he’s very strong!) but he also weighs as much as a Ford Highboy, so when he hurls himself at a wall, there’s what physicists call “a shitload of energy” that allows him to tear through like a donkey attacking a waffle.  I, on the other hand, who was svelte and feminine to begin with, and am now wasting away to nothing thanks to hypermetabolic induced voracity, just bounced off the wall due to a lack of mass.

I bet I could have easily kicked through the wall or torn open a hole given time, but sadly the Kool-Aid man method is not going to work for me.  With my moment of surprise wasted on wall bouncing, Veronica came at me with a whip she grabbed off the wall.  A fucking whip!  What kind of bullshit is that?  Is she a dominatrix now?  Are we doing a scene?  How are women ever supposed to be taken seriously making choices like this?  Grab a spear, or even the dumb thing that looks like a pear with spikes on it, or something else, anything else!  The walls were covered with weapons and you go for a lion tamer prop?  Betty was attending to Whitey, who seemed annoyed by her fussing, while Giganto extracted himself from the table he was wearing like a bib.

Veronica flicked her whip (if you know what I mean) at my face and I raised my arm to protect my eyes, getting slashed across the forearm.  Whereupon I was heard to remark; 

“Ow, fuck!  What is wrong with you!?” 

In retaliation, I grabbed a flamethrower off the wall.  Now that’s some good feminism, throwing fire on someone.  I wasn’t fooling around.

“How about a little fire, scarecrow!”

Nice.  Unfortunately, when I pulled the trigger nothing happened.  I guess flamethrowers have backpacks where all the flame juice is that they need to work, and not even this white-suited asshole is crazy enough to hang a tank of volatile chemicals on the wall.  Veronica tried to whip the flamethrower out of my hands which is stupid on two counts – one, it didn’t work anyway so why did she bother, and two, she just saw me flip over the table.  How did she think she was going to out-muscle me?  Instead, I ripped the whip away from her.  I was going to tear it apart like a Joray Fruit Roll as a feat of strength, you know to intimidate my foes, but I was interrupted when Betty karate-kicked me in the chest.  It felt like getting hit with a wrecking ball.  As I slumped to the ground I believe a made a noise like; 

“hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”

Betty and Veronica came to pull me up to my feet while Whitey took a sword down off the wall.  This was a poor decision on their part.  While I’m sure it would have been aesthetically pleasing to be holding my arms out in the Jesus pose while their boss decapitated me, these people don’t seem to be catching on to how strong I am.  I whipped my arms forward like I was doing a dramatic interpretive dance about the commercialization of Christmas and they flew towards their boss, limbs akimbo like two Qiana and spandex clad whirligigs.

Whitey casually side-stepped through a door out of their way (and out of the room) and his two gal pals slammed into the wall behind him.  And I mean hard.  Betty actually flew through the wall.  Explain that.  She can’t weigh significantly more than me.  Leverage?  Can you throw something with more force than you can hurl your own body?  Where are the super-scientists when I need them?    

Huge-or charged at me like a runaway semi.  My plan was to duck under him and let him smash a hole in the wall for me, much like I had done with Blue, but he merely stopped short and picked me up off the floor.  Or tried to anyway.  He grabbed the front of the dress I was wearing and the thing ripped off me like the pants off a male stripper.  It was a fucking Halston, not a pair of mechanic’s overalls, why did he think he would be able to pick me up like that?  The fabric is weak, it can’t take that kind of rough treatment!  These people have no idea what they’re doing.    

And look, I’m not normally one of these sorts who run around without any underwear but what was I going to do?  I was in the bath and it was a whole thing.  I wasn’t going to root around in a stranger’s house looking for borrowed underwear.  In response, I tried to punch Goliath in the dick but he blocked it with his forearm.  I heard bones crack.  It was like punching a hot wad of Silly Putty with a toothpick in the middle.  I don’t know how many bones there are in your forearm but I’m confident I broke them all.  He barely even grunted.  I on the other hand said something like;   

“Ow, shit my hand!”

Whitey ducked back into the room at this point.  I tell you this much, it’s very strange to see a man holding a sword while wearing a Pierre Cardin suit.  He looked at me curiously.

“You don’t have any fighting skills at all, do you?” 

I grabbed a rifle off the wall (a Mosin–Nagant 1891 according to the placard) and hurled it at his stupid face.  Turns out whatever “they” did to me has made me really good at throwing things, even things that shouldn’t be thrown – like rifles.  He blocked the rifle with his sword but here’s the thing bubba, the sword is still right in front of your face!  The rifle, which I assume was going somewhere near Mach 73, hit the sword, the force is transferred from the rifle to the sword, and then the sword hits the face, transferring the force to the face.  Not all of it, but a lot.  Don’t these people know anything about physics?  I got a C in physics, I admit, but think about what you’re doing! Whitey went down like he had just taken a Steve Carlton fastball to the mush.

“Bullseye.”

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 – Let me KNIFE you a question! Wait, that only works with an ax

I haven’t explored much of Madripoor yet, I’ve been mostly close to the shore in the border area between the tourist zone and the sprawling expanse of . . . it doesn’t seem right to call them slums, but slums I guess.  The less developed part of the city, let’s say.  My new friends in the Eldorado took me north and east, skirting the mega high-rise district and taking me to a part of the city I hadn’t seen before – the playground of the rich.   

It was the only part of Madripoor (that I’ve seen) that wasn’t stacked with three or four buildings where there should have been one.  Driving into that open area with large lawns and swaying trees (eucalyptus maybe, what am I, a botanist?) I felt like I let out a breath that I had been unconsciously holding.  Even the big cities I’ve spent time in back home don’t feel half as cramped as Madripoor.  Sometimes it feels like people are standing right on top of you several deep, it’s so congested.  Just being able to see more than a few yards in any direction made me feel relief to an anxiety that I didn’t know was there.   

The compound they took me to was a sprawling affair that looked like it was made out of some kind of crumbly white stone, I feel like I saw an old church in the Caribbean States that looked like it was made out of that same material.  The complex didn’t look much like a church though, it looked a lot like a building that I saw on 60 Minutes where an old news dude was interviewing a drug kingpin (allegedly) that was somehow involved with the CS military in Eastern Africa (allegedly).  It was fancy but fortish, leaning more towards the fort than the fancy.  Say 60/40 fort.  You know, the kind of place you’d build if you were a drug kingpin with shady military shit going on. 

You know how in the spy movies, the barely-there female lead/eye candy will be kidnapped to serve as bait for the kind of rapey super spy guy and after the vaguely ethnic goons grab her, they put her in some big extravagant room and they’re like “make yourself pretty for Mister Evil Bad Guy”?  And you’re sitting there in the theater eating your popcorn and drinking your soda and going “come on, that would never happen”.  That’s exactly what happened.  The room was done up all white as well, this guy really likes white.  It was like being in a mental institution.  Not that I would know what that was like. 

I took a nice long bath.  I never knew how good it could feel to be clean.  There’s a kind of grit in the air here that turns into grease on your skin and even worse on your hair.  It feels like you haven’t showered for a week even when you have.  And between you, me, and the lamppost, I haven’t been showering much since I got here.  You know, on account of how I was kidnapped and dumped here against my will.   I can’t remember the last time I had a nice relaxing soak.  It’s curious how sitting in a vat of your own watery scum can be a journey to unique and scented self-discovery.  Some things just can’t be explained. 

Must have been too long of a bath, because eventually some of the Uzi crew came in to tell me that it wasn’t wise to keep my host waiting.  I put a washcloth over my face and told them to bring me a pack of 100s and a Piña colada.  About twenty minutes later, a woman came into the bathroom dressed for a night of disco and cocaine, wearing heart-shaped red shades with her bleach blonde hair in pigtails.  Her voice dripped with the honey-molasses of the south. 

“Time for your day of beauty to come to an end sweetie.” 

I peeked at her from under the washcloth “Nice to hear a voice from the states, even if it is the wrong states.  I don’t mean to be a bear, but I’m still waiting on that Piña colada, they’re great in the heat.  Be a dear and run and fetch that for me would you sweetie?” 

She had a quarter of a smile “You think you’re clever don’t you?”

“Well I did get a fourteen hundred on my SATs, but there’s always questions about the efficacy of standardized tests, aren’t there?  There’s well known racial biases on those things.” 

“I hate to break this to you sweetie, but you’re white.” 

“Sure, I’m just not white like you sweetie.” 

“It’s time for you to get out and get dressed.” 

“You said that already.” 

She put her hands on her hips “Do you want me to drag you out of there?  Are you that childish?” 

“What can I say, being abducted makes me crabby, I’m funny like that.  People always tell me that ‘Ela you’re so funny, you get really upset when people hold you captive’.  I don’t want you to drag me out of here, but if you do you should probably call your boss to come watch right?  The two of us all soapy and wresting around?  That would really be something to see.  We’re grabbing at each other and our hands are everywhere and then maybe we start kissing, right?  That’s just a good wholesome watching experience for everyone.” 

She was quiet for a moment “I don’t know how to respond to that.” 

“Makes yourself useful and fetch me a towel sweetie.” 

One difference from the movies is that the clothes they had there for me to put on didn’t fit very well.  You never see that in the movies.   I’m quite a bit taller than my peers back home, and here in southeast Asia that effect is exacerbated.  The white dress (of course) didn’t fall quite right on my frame.  I still looked fabulous of course, but I could have looked better is the point.   

The Uzi squad herded me into a dining room of sorts, actually no, it was a trophy room that had a table in it, not a dining room.  The walls had photos of dead people and news articles and weapons and shit like that.  One of the guns used in the Valentine’s Day Massacre, a knife that supposedly was used by Jack the Ripper, a musket from the Crimean war, other garbage like that.  One item I did pause to look at was some manner of machine pistol that was said to have been hand crafted by Duke Eaglevane.  My host’s voice wasn’t harsh but somehow it was ugly.  His accent was eastern European, I think.  If nothing else, I’m getting a lot of exposure to different dialects in Madripoor. 

“You must have a good eye for firearms, that’s a rare piece.” 

“I’ve never been much or one for guns myself, but the Duke is someone whose acquaintance I’d like to make.  Can you introduce me?” 

“Sadly I haven’t had the pleasure.” 

I took my seat and took the full measure of the man himself.  He was wearing a white suit (of course) which included gloves and very thick sunglasses – like they were meant to block out all light.  He might have looked okay if not for those ridiculous accessories.  He was certainly a well-proportioned individual, but he had his hair slicked back like a character from West Side Story which was not flattering at all.  The Disco southern Belle was at his side and on the other was a dark-haired local woman dressed similarly.  Looming behind him was a man large enough that he has to be some kind of super-person.  He was wearing a nice suit (where do you get something like that made for a man the size of an industrial refrigerator?) and what skin he had showing was covered with tattoos, Maori maybe?  I think I saw something like it in National Geographic.   

The entire scene was screaming “Look at me I’m evil” so hard it would have been funny if not for the very real chance that I was going to die. 

I helped myself to some eggs benedict “That’s quite the menagerie you have, did you bring me here because you need a brunette?  I know a redhead back home that would fit in well if you need a referral to complete the set.” 

“You consider yourself to be quite the wit, don’t you?” 

I nodded at blondie “Your maid said something similar, you should coordinate your menacing dialog better so you don’t trip over each other.”  I gestured at the walls and cases around the table. “Are you really into all this crap or is it just for show?” 

He smiled “I’m a connoisseur of deadly things.” 

I couldn’t help but laugh “Jesus Christ, did I wander onto the set of Cult of the Cobra here?  Did you actually just say that?  Is the red light on?  Are we shooting?  If you need me to get naked to boost international sales I’m willing to do that, but it has to be artistic you know?  It has to be saying something about reality, the nude scene can’t just be about body parts.  It has to be in character and the scenes need to be about something for me to feel comfortable doing a hot scene.  I’m not talking about me being in the shower just as an excuse, what I’m saying is . . .” 

He made a curt gesture “Shut up.” 

“Rude.” 

He stared at me for a while (I think, hard to say with those stupid glasses) as I devoured the food before me.  Strawberry crepes, fry bread, grillades and grits topped with scallions, rondón, roti, pan de sal, nasi goreng, mandoca, kokosbrood, all kinds of food.  I wonder if he normally has this much food for lunch and then throws most of it away, or if it was just for my benefit.  When he took his glasses off, I expected his eyes to be white as well but they were just normal. 

“Tell me, do you suffer from headaches?” 

I barked a bitter laugh “Does a bear shit in the pope’s hat?  Ever since I got here I feel like someone drove a railroad spike in through both temples, both eyes, both ears, and pretty much every other part of my head.  Also the railroad spikes are electrified and on fire.” 

He nodded “That must be why I can’t read you.” He smiled as he rolled up his sleeves. “No matter, I can always find out the old fashioned way.” 

“Find out what?” I said around a mouthful of mofongo. 

He took a knife off the wall and threw it at me. 

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?”

Martialla returns – 70s style

Kirill Chernyshevsky was a black hundredist who fought against Bolshevik forces in the Russian Civil war in the 1920s and continued operating with militarized associations of anti-communist insurrectionists in Siberia through the early 1930s.  Operating mainly in Primorsky Krai, Kirill had close ties with a smuggling group associated with anti-Japanese Dongnipgun rebels.  It was through these contacts that he was smuggled into Yunshan in 1937 and from there made his way to Calgary. 

In Calgary, Kirill married Eugénie Caouette in 1939, the daughter of a prominent figure in the local criminal scene.  Kirill and Eugénie had two daughters, Martialla and Irena Chernyshevsky, before their murder in 1957, which remains unsolved.

Martialla, the elder sister, was able to get judicial dispensation for active military duty at the age of 16, joining the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service.  This allowed her to become the legal guardian of her sister Irena.  Martialla worked at the naval training center in Galt, Ontario until 1963 when Irena completed secondary school.

Leaving the service, Martiallia worked for transnational shipping company Horizon Lines while Irena attended Carleton University.  Martialla was on board the Horizon Spin in 1966 when it was attacked and captured by a splinter group of Alamo 400K terrorists who suspected that the ship was secretly illegally carrying liberated foreign fighters from a POW camp in South America.  She was held hostage for 7 months before being rescued in a joint Canadian-Pecos military operation.

Martialla worked various janitorial and service jobs in Ottawa until her sister graduated university in 1967.  Irena moved to the Coalition States and Martialla rejoined the Canadian Navy.  In 1972, she volunteered for a an experimental weapons program run by Department K, most likely because of the substantial cash incentive being offered for volunteers which she gave to her newly married sister for the purchase a house in Saint Louis.  During her service, Martialla had been tested several times for the necessary gene for creating “super-soldiers” by the Omega method, which had always been negative.

The Department K experiment was designed to see if people without the “super” gene could be enhanced by a chemical method.  The only segment of the tests that had any success was that attached to the combat diver program, of which Martialla was taking part.  Although it would be revealed to be a qualified success at best, 12 candidates were successfully granted the ability to breathe underwater and swim at speeds well outside of human norms.  However, over the next six months, 11 of these subjects developed “significant psychiatric symptoms including aggression and violence, mania, psychosis and suicide”, severe enough that all 11 were confined to a mental facility or killed during escape attempts or other clashes.

The only test subject that did not develop serious side effects was Martialla.  In addition to remaining free of mental health difficulties, Martialla’s granted abilities exceeded those of the other volunteers, exhibiting NBH physical capabilities in all physical areas on the Briggs-Hollymere scale, albeit only while submerged in water.  Department K and the Navy subjected her to intense testing as they attempted to understand and replicate this aberration.

Due to this confinement, isolation, and constant examination, Martialla became increasingly reclusive and bitter towards the Navy and the Canadian government.  Being treated as a test subject and an “asset” resulted in Martialla feeling that she had become a freak and she started directing anger and frustration at her handlers in Department K. 

When Irena got word to Martialla that her niece had been kidnapped, she escaped during a training exercise and is AWOL with no intention of returning.  She is suspected of damaging several vessels and is known to have attacked and sunk at least one whaling ship operating out of Vladivostok.  Over the past several months, hundreds of people have reporting seeing a real life “mermaid”, including a family that claim she towed their damaged and leaking boat over 20 miles to shore during a storm. 

October 15, 1973 – Enter Martialla the super-mermaid!

It was the perfect plan.  I need food and I need money.  The answer?  Sharks!  Of course, the answer is usually sharks.  Did you know the largest order of sharks is called ground sharks?  I didn’t.  How does that make sense?  They don’t live on the ground at all!  Quite the opposite in fact.  There’s also an order of sharks called carpet sharks which sounds like a type of VD.  “Sorry sweetie I know it’s your birthday but my carpet sharks are flaring up.  Maybe next week.” 

The plan was simple.  Step one, I wade out into the ocean.  Sharks, being the voracious killing machines that they are would immediately come to attack me.  Ah-ha but the stupid fish wouldn’t be counting on me having the strength of twenty men – twenty men that were also very strong, not twenty normal sissy men.  Step two, the shark charges at me, eyes rolling wildly full of murderous rage, and I flip it onto the shore as easily as some square flipping pancakes at a church breakfast.  The shark is helpless on the shore and Blue bashes its head in with a mighty lizard-fist.  And Robert’s your father’s brother. 

Step three, we drag the carcass of the deadly monster triumphantly through the streets while people cheer our mighty triumph over nature’s perfect assassin to my favorite grilled fish place where they buy half from me for a boatload of crazy purple and pink money and they cook up the other half for me to devour on the spot.  What delicious irony!  The shark thought it was going to eat me and instead I eat it!  What a country!

The plan was flawless.  But the issue with the execution of that flawless plan was that no sharks came to eat me.  The nature shows try to say that sharks are shy and no threat to people as long as we leave them alone but that’s bullshit.  I read Jaws, I know the deal.  All the sharks must have been busy eating people somewhere else.  Probably what happened is a bus full of school children fell off a bridge and the sharks were all over eating them.  And the children they didn’t eat they held for ransom in their sea-caves.  Which is a real dick move because sharks don’t even understand the concept of money!  They were just doing it to torment the parents.  Sharks are like that.

I was just about to give up on this flawless plan when not a shark or even a shark woman but just a normal (sort of) woman popped out of the water wearing a wetsuit but no SCUBA gear.  I guess surfers wear those suits sometimes but she had no surfboard either.  Oh, also her eyes were all white and her fingers were webbed.  She looked kind of like Jenny Kemp, except for the monster eyes and freak hands.  Her French was funky like Blue’s, so she must be Quebecois or some other kind of fake French person.  Someday I want to meet someone here who speaks proper French.  Not French like they speak in France, but proper French like we speak in Arkansas. 

She looked at me curiously (I think, hard to know for sure with those eyes you know) “What are you doing out here?”

I gestured “Fishing for sharks, isn’t that obvious?  What are you doing?”

She looked around with her crazy pale eyes “Is this Madripoor?  I’m looking for my niece.”

I nodded “It sure is.  Are you saying that you just swam here?  Like from a boat?”

“No, from Vladivostok.” When she saw the look of shock on my face she shrugged “I’m a pretty good swimmer.”

“Are you looking for your niece like she’s lost or you mean looking for her like you’re going to stay with her for the weekend and you don’t know where her apartment is?”

“She was kidnapped.  I’m here to take her home to my sister.  And to kill the men that took her.”

“Right on, right on.” I clapped her on the shoulder “Well good luck with that, I got sharks to catch and you have men to kill so I’ll let you get to it.”

“Where is the ship called Empire?’

I turned back to her “Well now, that is an interesting development, a clear cut situation with a promise of advancing the plot you might say!  It just so happens that I was kidnapped and brought here on a ship called the Empire.  We have much to discuss.  But first, can you use your powers to talk to fish?  Tell them to come up here so I can eat them.  Well, kill them and have someone cook them first and then eat them, but you know.”

She cocked her head “Talk to fish?  I can’t do that.  Why would you think I could?”

“What about whales?’ She shook her head “You can’t even communicate with marine life?  All you can do is swim?  So you’re even worse than Aquaman?”

“I don’t know what that is.”

I smiled “What’s your name?”

“Martialla Chernyshevsky”

I put an arm around her and headed for the shore where Blue was watching with interest. “Martialla Chernyshevsky, I have a feeling we’re going to be good friends.  There’s just something I like about you. And I don’t like many people. Let me introduce you to my other friend, the giant blue lizard monster.” I laughed in joy “Now things are really starting to snowball.  We’ll be a league of justice in no time!”