December 20, 1973 – Women supporting women

“I’m starting to lose faith in the process.  I’ve seen at two different bull-men walking about the streets of Madripoor and all we’re getting it guys with motorcycle helmets and creepy weirdoes who torture the ghost of their dead twins.  Why aren’t we getting anyone good?”

Martialla shrugged  “Why are we getting anyone in here is the real question.  Where are these people coming from?  Also those bull men are called Minotaurs.”


“From the Greek myth?  The being that is part bull and part human is called the Minotaur.  The king of Minos was being a jerk to Poseidon so Poseidon made his wife fall in love with a bull and so she and the bull did it and her baby was the Minotaur.”

“What the hell are you talking about?  This isn’t a classic literature class, these are just morons who were stupid enough to let some egghead scientists shove bull hormones up their butts and turn them into mutants.”

Martialla crossed her arms angrily “I’m just telling you what they’re called.”

Blue moved to block my sightline to Martialla as he does sometimes when we bicker “I know who you’re talking about one of those guys is a ram not a bull.”

I was about to tell Blue to shut up when I noticed that our next applicant was there.  And by applicant I mean a woman in a black catsuit with a god damn whip.  She had heels on her god damn boots!  How the hell are you going to do anything with heels on your super-boots?  I’m not even going to mention her ridiculously pendulous breasts.  I stood up from behind Alcazar’s desk and pointed towards the door.

“No, no.  You get out of here with that shit!  We’re looking for superheroes, we’re not casting for a Russ Meyer movie!”

The small part of her face that I could see seemed puzzled “What?”

I gestured more emphatically “Get the hell out here!  You look like you belong in the window of a Time’s Square bondage store!”

Martialla peered around Blue to glower at me “Calm down Ela, just because you took a women’s study class in community college doesn’t mean you have to shout at everyone all the time.  Maybe she can help us.  At least give her a chance.”

“Sure, here’s your chance – give me one good reason why you’d dress like that other than appearing in a fetish magazine!”

I couldn’t see her eyes because her get-up had some kind of goggle type thing, but her voice was flinty “Chill out, you don’t like the way I’m dressed that’s fine but you don’t have to be a bitch about it.  This suit is what gives me my super powers.  I didn’t design it, I didn’t make it, I just wear it so I can do my job.  If I didn’t wear it just because of what it looks like that would be wrong.  You think any of the people I’ve saved care what I look like?”

“What about the whip? You cannot tell me that serves any purpose!”

“It does actually, I can’t fly, I can jump pretty far but I can’t fly – the whip helps extend my reach.  I jump, I get the whip around something and I swing up.”

“Bullshit, there’s no way that works.  You can’t swing around from building to building with a ten foot whip.”

“Look I’m not here to debate you on whip physics.  I was told that you needed help, if you don’t want my help just say so, there’s no need for personal attacks, I don’t need to take your abuse, we can both just go our separate ways.  But since you brought it up, if you think you’re the arbiter of how women are dressed you’re the one who’s the problem.  Restrictions on the way women can dress have been used as a way to control and restrict what we can and can’t do for centuries so don’t sit there on your high horse and judge me.  The way I dress is none of your damn business.  You or anyone else.”

“You cannot be that stupid, you have to know what you’re doing when you run around in a skintight sex bag.”

She snorted “You’re going to sit there and judge me?  What have you ever done?  I save lives, I don’t sit on the sidelines clucking my tongue about the bellbottom pants and how two young people’s hips might touch if they do the Bump.  Just because you’re dressed like a train hopping hobo don’t bark at me like a dog because I have some style.”

“The style of a Saigon whore maybe.”

She lifted her chin “Say that again.  Say that again and I’ll teach you some manners you prissy little flat-chested plain Jane.”

I laughed “Sure why not, violence, we come to it at last.  Somehow I knew we’d end up here.  I’m not going to fight you because I’m not a ten year old boy, I’m not going to meet you by the bike rack after sixth period because you said your dad was stronger than my dad.  Plus it wouldn’t be fair right, with your fat flabby tits waving around you have be outnumbered three to one.”

She laughed back at me “Figures, you’re all talk, like all big mouths.”

“I’m an adult.  I don’t get into fights like a dirty alley cat just because I disagree with someone.”

 She crossed her arms “Fifty grand.”


“I’ll give you fifty thousand dollars if you fight me.  Looks like you could use it.  Win or lose the fifty is yours, you just have to show up.  What excuse are you going to come up with now?”

Worldbuilding Wednesday – Alamo 400k

Setting the bar tour aside for a while because it’s basically the same thing as the job interview thread in the main story. I should have realized that a while ago. Oh well. Back to normal worldbuilding.

If you asked the average North American what Alamo 400k is most would say they’re terrorists (although some people would think ‘heroes’ in the head while they said it) but beyond that answers would vary.  Some would say they’re anti-globalists.  Some would say they’re anarchists.  Some would say they’re white nationalists.  Some would say they’re anti-NBHs.  Some would say they’re nothing more than a drug cartel.  The stated goal of the Alamo 400k group would surprise many –  

“To provide overt and covert aid to anti-communist guerrillas and resistance movements in an effort to counteract pro-communist movements in Africa, Asia, and South America.” 

The origins of the group would be even more confounding to the “man on the street”.  In the late 1860s a former Texas Ranger was discovered to be funding and organizing an extralegal secret police force designed to keep the Pecos Republic free of “undesirables” such as labor organizers, anti-capitalists, pacifists, anarchists and the like.  It took until 1870 for the for the legitimate Pecos authorities to uncover the full extent of this network and their operations.   

While a few ringleaders (or scapegoats depending on who you ask) were imprisoned, this organization was incorporated almost wholly into the Pecos government structure in 1871 with the founding of Branch 4, an ill-defined and shadowy organization that has at various times acted as investigative law enforcement, intelligence service, and expeditionary military force.  For the majority of the 19th century Branch 4 focused on infiltration and intelligence gathering of anarcho-communist organizations and other social anarchists.   

No later than 1920 (but possibly much earlier) Branch 4 began focusing the bulk of its assets on communist groups, most critical including those based outside the Pecos Republic.  Branch 4 was dissolved in 1943 after numerous incidents of unwarranted appropriation of government funds and military matériel, political corruption, and illegal activity on foreign soil.  The core of Branch 4 true believers continued to operate in secret using funds and equipment stashed away in hidden depots for just such an occurrence.   

The former operatives of Branch 4  became associated with the name Alamo 400k after the 1947 San Antonio bombing by South American extremists (retaliating for the Pecos-US air strike on Sao Paulo) which they claim killed 400,000 people (the official number of dead and missing from that attack is closer to 20,000).  It is also variously claimed that 400k refers to the number of members in the group, but no reasonable intelligence agency believes they have even a hundredth that size of organization.    

The decentralized and highly secretive nature of the organization makes it difficult to gather concrete information on.  The widely varied actions it undertakes are evidence of several key members with unaligned personal agendas.  Each of these key leaders seeks to increase their own authority and resources while weaken those of their ideological or personal enemies within the group.

Each claims to have the true vision of what Alamo 400k is and does their best to prove it by games of one-upsmanship and occasionally outright conflict.  Individual agents follow their leader’s example and often compete for power, profits, and prestige.  A successful, high-earning agent gains more influence within the organization than a weaker, less profitable one, and some try to improve their own track records by stealing from or hindering other agents, usually covertly but sometimes openly.

Alamo 400k’s own culture and rules exacerbate this behavior — the best way to find an opportunity for advancement is to create a vacancy yourself. 

December 20, 1973 – This is going on too long

The next guy standing before us was completely covered by red and black motorcycle leathers, and not the kind you might see a guy who’s super into motorcycles wear.  This was thick stuff that maybe off road bike people would wear.  Given the heat and humidity he must have been roasting like a Thanksgiving turkey in there.  He even had the helmet on.  He also had a pair of holsters which was the only concession to anything that might be non-motorcycle related.  There were a bunch of straps and buckles and pouches on the suit that I’m not sure if they were supposed to be there or if they were added to show what a badass he is.  For the record the only thing that I count as badass is a bandoleer of bullets like Pierce’s outriders had in War Wagon.  Although even that was kind of a cop-out because what you really need to be a badass is no shirt and then the bullet-bandolier.

Blue can’t whistle because he doesn’t have lips anymore but I could tell that he wanted to.  He also can’t raise his eyebrows because he doesn’t have those either, being turned into a lizard monster really curtails your ability to express yourself nonverbally.

Blue gestured “Are those custom forty-four Automags?  Where did you get those?”

Motorcycle man said something but it was muffled because of the helmet.  I think maybe he said something about “Mo Pow” is that anything?  Is there a gun manufacturer with a name like Mo Pow or something similar?

I cocked my head “What was that?  Can you take off that helmet?  It’s very hard to hear you with it on.”

He responded with something that sounded like “murffermurrfermurrfer secret identity.”

“You’re worried that if you take off the helmet we’ll know who you are?  But we don’t know who you are anyway?  Unless we went to the same high school or something how would we know who you are even if we saw your face?  And why would it matter?”  I turned over to Martialla after he maybe responded “Did you catch any of that?” She shook her head “Hey, we can’t hear you man, can you at least crack open the visor or something?

Blue leaned forward  and peered “Doesn’t look like it opens.”

Leatherboy made some kind of a hand gesture and then LOUDLY mumbled something that no one could understand. 

I stood up and gestured angrily “Get the hell out of here!” I sat back down as he clomped off with what I have to assume were combat boots that would be terrible for motorcycle riding.  I chuckled “The funny thing is I know who that is.”

Martialla snorted “How could you know who it was, he was all covered up!”

“I guess I don’t know for sure that it’s the same guy under there, but I can’t believe anyone else would walk around in that exact same stupid outfit.  He was a vigilante in Basin City back home.  I wonder what he’s doing here.”

“So you don’t know who he really is, just his . . . whatever, public persona.”

I grinned “No, I know that too.  It’s a long story.  Maybe I’ll tell you about it some time.  If you’re nice.”

Our next applicant was halfway dressed normally but he was also wearing motorcycle jacket and some kind of matching motorcyclish boots.  He had his hair long like a lot of the local troublemakers do and I wondered how that worked with a helmet.  Do you stuff it all under there or just let it hang out the back?  Seems like it would pull your hair.  I guess I don’t know how tight those things are.  But they’d have to be pretty tight to work right?  Or do you want them to be loose to absorb impact? 

“Jesus, what the hell is this motorcycle day?”

He frowned slightly “Pardon me?”

Blue made a conciliatory gesture “Don’t mind her.”

“Yeah, don’t mind me, I’m just the one asking all the questions.  You speak English, that’s a good start.”

He nodded slightly “Yeah, I’m from Hong Kong.”

“They speak English in Hong Kong?”

“Sometimes.  It was controlled by Britain until the war.”

“Who controls is now?”

He smiled mirthlessly “Depends who you ask.”

Martialla glared at me “Do we have time for a poly-sci discussion?”

I shook my head “Why do you have to suck the joy out of everything?  I like getting to know people.  Anyway, since we’re apparently in a big hurry do you have powers or what’s your story?”

“I can duplicate myself.”

“So there’s two of you?  How is that useful?  Couldn’t we just hire two guys?”

Blue held up a finger “But this way we only have to pay one.”

The applicant did smile a little at that “Yes, but more importantly I send my dupe to do something dangerous because I can just make another one.  I’ve been working as a stunt man but I’m looking to branch out into super capers.”

“Huh, so you like have your duplicate jump off a building for real and they film it?  Something like that?  Meanwhile you’re sitting in a director’s chair drinking a Pina colada?  Why do they call them director’s chair when other people sit in them too?”

“I don’t know, but yes, that’s basically it.  Saves money on special effects too.”

“Okay so you can summon like a suicide copy of yourself?  I suppose I can see how that could be helpful.  I’ve never heard of anything like this, how did you get this ability?”

“I don’t know how it happened, after my twin brother died I could just do it.”

“So you summon your dead twin brother into the world of the living to die over and over again?  Is that what we’re talking about?  I don’t like the sound of that at all.” 

Blue shuffled some papers “We’ll put you in the maybe pile.”

December 20, 1973 – It says here that you left your last job because your boss was sleeping with your wife?

I’ve never really been on a job interview before.  Because I’ve never had a job.  A job job you know.  I remember one of my friends going for a job interview for a job where you sold nails over the phone or something stupid like that.  He was reading an article about what do to or not do and it said that you should wait to light up until the person interviewing you did so first.  The advice for women was not to wear your fancy diamonds because then it would look like you didn’t need a job.  I assume the first question an interviewer ask a woman is “So are you gonna put out or are you a stick in the mud?” 

I don’t suppose that experience would be transferrable to putting together a super-team for a covert op anyway.  How many words a minute you type us unlikely to come up.  Maybe I should watch the Dirty Dozen again to get in the zone.  Or the Devil’s Brigade.  Of course I’d need a TV for that.  Or you know, access to electricity.  While I was intensively considering such things (or daydreaming about food and clean clothing) a couple applicants came and went without me noticing.  When I brought my attention back around the guy in front of us was in a black leotard thing and had big guns on his forearms with a kind of metal framework.

“Where did you get that costume?”

He gestured vaguely with his gum-forearm “There’s a guy that makes them.”

“Give me his address will you?”

“Sure, but it’s pretty expensive.”

“Thanks.  So . . .  it looks like you’re just a guy with guns?”

He gestured again with his gun limbs “Well as you can see I have an exoskeleton to support them but mostly yes I’m ‘just’ a guy with guns.  I do also have combat luck.”

Blue’s tongue flicked out in confusion “What’s combat luck?”

He replied deadpan “It means I’m lucky in combat.”

Martialla shook her head “Even if that was true, how would you know you had that power?”

“Hmm, I guess I wouldn’t.  Maybe I’m just lucky.”

I snapped my fingers “Hey, are you that guy that killed that bird man in Chi-Town?” He nodded “I knew you looked familiar!  I saw your picture in the paper.  What exactly is the point of having a mask on your costume anyway?  I know you’re the guy that did that.”

“But you don’t know my name.”

“I wouldn’t know your name anyway.”

We looked at each other for a while and then Blue broke the silence “Was that a hit or what was that all about?”

“He was a sleeping with my wife.”

I raised an eyebrow “So you shot him fifty times?”


“Isn’t that murder?”

“I mean, yeah.”

Martialla leaned forward slightly “Why did you kill the guy?  Isn’t your wife the one that betrayed you?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Why do you want to be on a crime fighting super-team if you’re a murderer?  Are you the reformed villain?  It’s always good to have one of them in the mix, people love that stuff.  Redemption arcs are big.  That would help with the press release.”

He frowned slightly “Crime fighting?  I was told this was for a heist.”

“Well yeah . . . it is, but we’re the good guys.”

“If you say so.”

The next guy up had a very similar looking leotard only it was red and blue instead of black and it had a big blue eagle on the chest with the wings stretching onto the shoulders.

I shook my head “No, no, sorry, I’ve had my fill of Statie super-soldier assholes.  Why are there so many of you here?  This is like a helter skelter amount of USA super patriot people in exile or on vacation or whatever.  Sorry but I just can’t do it.”

The only part of his face that was visible frowned “I’m from Kansas City, why would you think I’m from the states?”

“You’re wearing a red and blue suit with a giant eagle on it.”

He looked down at himself “It doesn’t really look like a flag though.  I have the eagle because I’m Eagle-Eye.”

“What about the red and blue?”

“It was the only suit they had.”

“Okay, so you have really good vision?  Is that it?”

“All my senses are enhanced.  Plus I have the extrasensory ability to perceive stress points, fracture planes, or weaknesses in people or objects – combined with my martial arts skills his makes me able to deliver devastating blows.”

“Aren’t everyone’s weak points pretty much the same?”

“Uh . . . no.”

I looked over at Blue who just shrugged “I lived in Kansas City when I was kid, what high school did you go to?”

“John Burroughs.”

“No shit, I went to Parkway Central, do you remember that time . . .”

Martialla glared over at me “What does this have to do anything?”

“I don’t hear you asking any questions!”  Martialla shook her head and crossed her skinny fish-arms “Okay how about this question, why are you in Madripoor?”

“I’m on the run from the mob.”

“Like the mafia in New York?  There’s no mob in the CS.”

“Yes, there is, the Kansas City mob, among others.”

“What?!  There’s no mob in Kansas City!”

“Actually there is.  The DiGiovanni brothers came to Kansas City in 1912 from Sicily and . . .”

Martialla threw up her slimy webbed hands “Jesus Christ!”

Ela’s bar tour #5 – Somewhere, beyond the sea

I wonder who first came up with the idea of a bar on the beach.  Probably someone who got busted for drinking on a public beach.  I don’t know why wearing a bikini makes rum taste better but it does.  It just does.  If you get drunk enough you don’t even care that there’s sand in your crack.  Which there is.  There just is. 

Beach bars come in three types in Madripoor as far as I’ve been able to gather so far.  You have your tourist joints on the west side by the bridge.  You have places that are similar but are for locals further down, and then you have your spots in lowtown that probably started out as normal bars and then erosion made them a bar on the beach.  Which gives me hope that this entire stinking island will wash away some day.  No offense.

The place I was at today was sort of in-between the first two.  It’s hard to say because there weren’t many people there.  Possibly because it was ten in the morning.  It was halfway decked out like a Hawaiian place but the bartender was Aussie.  I regaled him with tales of my encounters with his countryman in the red power armor suit but he didn’t think it was funny at all.  I thought Australians were supposed to be boisterous and fun-loving.  Alvin Purple lied to me.

Since the bartender wasn’t interested in my hilarious and well-told anecdotes, I turned my back on him and watched the ocean while I drank, a time honored tradition.  Watching the waves roll in can be calming if you don’t look at the dirty foam at the beach were all the garbage is washing up.  Crushing a dozen glasses of ranch water is pretty calming too.  They call it something different of course and it’s made with lemongrass instead of lime juice, but I know ranch water when I taste it.  It’s a light bubbly version of the classic margarita without being as sweet.  I’m sweet enough as is. 

I was mildly hypnotized by the rhythm of the water as I watched a floating lump and wondered what it was.  A dead walrus?  A crate of hot pants that fell off a freighter?  A bunch of dead bodies tied together by the testicles?  They do that here you know.  Another reason I’m glad I don’t have testicles.  I don’t even see how you could walk with those things clanging around. 

I was distracted enough thinking about testicle-walking that it didn’t really register right away when the mound grew a long neck out of it – I saw it but I didn’t see it you know?  When the little head at the end of the long neck turned towards me and I saw eyeballs is when I really took notice.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I jumped out of my chair and maybe screamed a little.  I grabbed one of the few other patrons.

“Holy shit, are you seeing this?!” He plucked his shirt out of my grasp finickyily.  Is that a word?  He did it with finickiness. “Do you see that man?  Can you understand me?  Do you speak French?!”

He squinted out at the water “Elasmosaurus.”

I grabbed at him again unconsciously “What?  What does that mean?”

He nodded at the water “That’s what that is, elasmosaurus, it’s a kind of plesiosaurus.”

I won’t lie, my jaw dropped “What?  Like dinosaurs?!”

“Uh, I think they’re aquatic reptiles rather than dinosaurs but I’ve never been clear on what the difference is.  Something about the hip bones?  I don’t know, I’m no dinosaur biologist.”

“You mean archeologist?”

He shook his head “No, that would be for fossils, that’s a living thing there.  So biologist I think is right. Yeah.”

I gestured so wildly I spilled some of my drink and had to slurp it off my hand “It’s the Loch Ness Monster!  Why are you not freaking out?!” I looked around at the few people there “Why is everyone not freaking out!?”

He flicked some droplets of tequila off his shirt “They’re rare, but you see them in his part of the bay sometimes.  They don’t come close to shore so it’s safe.” He smiled faintly “It is pretty cool when you think about it I suppose.”

I spun around looking for someone else who was going nuts “I don’t . . . I can’t . . . why . . .” I flung one arm towards the water “What the fuck?!  Dinosaurs went extinct billions of years ago right?  What is going on?”

“They still around in the Savage Lands.”

I finally managed to sit back down and watched the long-necked beast paddling around in the water “I’m going to assume you don’t mean the gay bar in downtown Chicago.”

“In Antarctica there’s a lost world with dinosaurs, they call it the Savage Lands.”

I gawked at him “How would you know that?”

He crossed his arms smugly “I went there once.  I worked on a ship that went to the Savage Lands.  A rich man in Sao Paulo hired us to go there and bring him back a deinonychus.  Try to bring him back a deinonychus anyhow.  The thing got sick and died on the way back.”

“So you’re telling me that you went to a secret dinosaur world in Antarctica and captured a dinosaur?”

He seemed irritated “I didn’t say that I captured it myself, I was just working on a ship that went there and I saw it.”

I slammed my hand down on the bar, although not very hard since I have the strength of twenty strong men and I didn’t want to smash it to bits “Bullshit!  I can accept a lot of crazy shit that goes on here but there is not a dinosaur land in the fucking South Pole!  It makes no sense!  If there was, everyone would know about it!  Everyone!”

He shrugged and turned back to the bar “You asked, I told you.”

December 20, 1973 – Would you be willing to relocate to the Midwest?

Alacazar was nice enough to let us use Pinetree International Exports (what about the imports?) to interview people to round out our squad for the upcoming secret agent thing he wants us to do.  I sat at his desk of course since I’m the leader.  Blue carried in the reception desk for he and Martialla to sit behind, which is kind of cute.  Like little kids emulating their parent at the office.

The process reminded me of the time that I auditioned for a movie.  Even if you can’t act, you have a decent chance of getting cast in a musical if you can sing and are pretty.  And I can sing like a mother and am pretty as balls.  I halfway expected the people coming in to hand us headshots.  Not many locals came to “try out”, I wonder if that’s because they didn’t want to deal with foreigners or if the word was out that we had enemies.  Probably both.

The woman before us didn’t have a costume or anything like some of them do, she was just a woman.  She was wearing short shorts that bordered on being hot pants.  I don’t love shorts.  Cover up your knees people.  Knees are gross.  All knobby and weird.  Keep that shit hid.  She had blonde hair down to her ass which I didn’t love either – I’m pro long hair but keep it within reason.

“So what’s your deal?”

“I can shift myself into two or four dimensions.  I could probably also do one dimension but I don’t think I’d be able to come back from that.”

“What about five dimensions?”

She shorted and tossed her mass of hair, I’m surprised she didn’t strain her neck “Don’t be ridiculous.”

I scowled “What does this power actually do?”

“Well when I’m two dimensional I don’t have any depth, or length if you prefer.”

“So you can do what?  Slide through a crack?”

“Sometimes.  I still have width so I could only fit through a crack if it’s wide enough.  I could slide under a door because a door is big enough for me to go through in three dimensions, but I couldn’t go through a keyhole or a small window because it wouldn’t be wide enough.”

“Could we fold you?”

“Only if you wanted to kill me.”

“Are you invisible from the side when you’re two dimensional?”

“Technically yes, if you’re totally perpendicular to me you won’t see me, but if the angle is off even a little you’ll know I’m there.  I can sort of hide up against a wall, behind a cabinet or the like”

“That doesn’t seem very helpful.”

“It isn’t really, but when I’m fourth dimensional I can travel anywhere in the world almost instantaneously.”

“Cool, how does that work?”

“Did you ever read Flatlands?”

“No, is that the girly magazine that Martialla was in?  Was it the special amphibian babes edition?” I laughed heartily at a well-crafted burn.

Martialla glared at me “I got turned into a fish, what’s your excuse?”

I smirked “Shut up Martialla, I’m stacked and everybody knows it.”

Long-hair seemed confused by this exchange “Flatlands is a commentary on Victorian social norms written as a mathematical essay in narrative form about a two-dimensional world.

“Jesus Christ, I think just hearing that sentence made me sterile.”

“Uh, it explains how to a two dimensional being, a three dimension being like a human would seem like they have super powers.  Among other things.  But really it’s just a matter of perspective.”

“So you can teleport us places?  That would be very useful.”

She shook her head “No, I can be at those places in an instant but just me.”

“So you could travel to Paris instantly, but I couldn’t come with you?”

“No you couldn’t come with me, because you’re a three dimensional being so you can only move in three dimensions, see I’m not actually going anywhere.  When I’m fourth dimensional I can interact with the three dimensional world at any point so to you and everyone else it seems like I’ve traveled a great distance but I didn’t move.  Relatively speaking.”

Blue held up his hand “I thought the fourth dimension was time.”

She ducked her head “The terminology is a little confusing.  Einstein’s theory of spacetime is different from Euclidean dimensions.  For instance, a square is a two dimensional cube viewed from one side, just like a cube is a three dimensional tesseract viewed from two sides.  When someone is talking about time being the fourth dimension they’re referring to time governing the properties of all known matter at any given point.  Knowing an object’s position in time is important when . . .”

I waved my arms “Okay enough, you’re out, I don’t want anyone on the team with powers I don’t understand.”

Martialla snickered “You don’t understand your own powers.”

I glared at her “I understand what they DO, that’s all I meant.” I turned back to long-hair “Wait, do you have an apartment or something?  Someplace I could take a shower?  I feel like I have some kind of fungus on my armpit.  If you can hook me up with a shower you’re on the team.”

“Not exactly, no.

I jumped up and gestured violent towards the door “Then get the hell out of here!”

December 18, 1973 – Time to get int-ro-spect-ive

When I was nine I was playing on the roof my grandma’s house.  She had told me not to go up there.  This may shock you, but as a kid I wasn’t always the best at minding what I was told.  I saw some kids playing on the roof across the street.  What was I going to do, let them outshine me?  I didn’t fall off the roof, but when I was climbing back down onto the back porch I lost my footing and hit the railing pretty good.  I had the wind knocked out of me for a minute but once that was over, I started crying.  And I mean hard. 

After a minute my grandma came out, lit up a cigarette and leaned there and smoked it while I bawled my eyes out.  When she was done smoking she went back inside without saying anything.  I swore then that I would never cry again.  I haven’t kept that promise, I doubt many people keep promises they make when they’re nine, but I’m not a big crier.  Not for real anyway, I’m a fantastic fake crier, it’s a great way to make people feel uncomfortable if you need to do that.  If there’s any good that comes from living under a tarp on the roof of a fireworks factory (and there isn’t) it’s that you can pull one flap down and have some privacy for a good cry.  I heard Blue shuffling around “outside”.

“What’s the protocol here?  Am I supposed to throw back the tarp-flap and try and comfort you or stay out here and pretend nothing is happening?”

I peeked out from under the tarp-flap “I wasn’t crying, I’m cutting onions for a lasagna.  Don’t come in yet because it’s a surprise.”

He sat down on the roof “A surprise lasagna?  What a delight.”

I threw the tarp-flap back into a vague tent shape “What did you feel after you killed someone for the first time?”

“I don’t remember.”

I scowled “You don’t remember how you felt the first time you killed someone?”

“I don’t remember the first time I killed someone.  Have you ever been to Borneo?  It’s all jungles and swamps and mangroves, even when you’re in the mountains.  We were shooting all the time without having any clue if we were hitting anyone.”

“You know what I mean.”

He nodded slowly “Yes, I know what you mean.   I remember the first time I know I killed someone.  I was on recon and I threw a phosphorus grenade into the back a halftrack.  I hope I never get so jaded that I forget burning four men to death.  Although what I remember much better than how I felt is my sergeant dressing me down because the grenade destroyed the communication equipment and codebooks that were in there.  I should have found a way to kill them and get the intelligence materials.  That’s what I remember most.”

“So how did you feel afterwards?”

“Didn’t bother me, that’s why I was there.”

“It didn’t bother you at all?”

“Maybe a little, but by then I had been in the field for almost two years.  I had seen so many people on my side get hit that I didn’t spare too much time feeling sorry for the people trying to kill us.  Plus I wasn’t even twenty, I wasn’t given to a lot of soul-searching at that time.”

“How about now that you’re not twenty?”

He flicked his tongue in what I’ve come to understand is a shrug “Still doesn’t concern me much.  War is what it is, people die, not much anyone can do about that.  Except stop having wars, which is a little bit above my pay grade.”

“Doesn’t that make you a sociopath?”

“I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t know it if I was, now would I?  Ideology and governments and countries and all that has nothing to do with it Ela, not really.  There’s a reason nations send young people to fight in wars, they don’t know anything.  I was trained to kill people and I was told to kill people and I was rewarded for killing people – how could I feel bad about that?  I killed six men one night and they gave me a medal for doing it.  People can say they’re defending what they believe in or they’re stopping bad people or whatever they want.  But it’s just training and conditioning.  They tell you to do it and you do it.  If you’re good at it you get rewarded.  It’s what the state does, sometimes there’s due process and a needle in the arm and sometimes you get shot in the head by a sniper.   Why do riot cops shoot demonstrators?  Someone gives and order and they follow it.”

“And that makes it okay?”

“What’s okay about anything that happens?  Ela what you’re going through here is the dilemma that warriors have been struggling with since the first time a caveman told the big caveman in the group to bash someone with a rock.  Why am I doing this and what does it all mean?  And thousands of years later we still don’t have any answers.”

“But you’re not in the army anymore, so why are you still doing this?”

“Because I can’t sing and I can’t dance.  I can’t shoot a basketball, but I’m pretty good at killing people.  I’ve been doing this for more than twenty years, it’s all I know, what else would I do?  Plus I have to find the people that turned me into a freak and make them pay.”

“Revenge?  Is that it?”

He huffed a lizard laugh “You’re chastising me for wanting revenge?  That’s your reason for everything you do.”

Ela’s bar tour #4 – No such experiment was ever conducted, the details of the story contradict well-established facts, and the alleged claims do not conform to known physical law

Madripoor has a ton of bars, no surprise there, but if we’re being honest (and I feel that we are) I think there are actually fewer bars per capita than you’d expect for a place of this size.  I wonder if there’s just less drinking here or if people are just less likely to drink at bars than they are to drink at home.  Or if most of the people can’t afford to drink.  Maybe I can get some grant money to study it.  

There’s a bar nestled up against the downtown area that is set up like a long hallway – the front is maybe ten feet wide but inside it seems like it goes back for half a mile.  I honestly think it was an alley between two buildings that got turned into a shanty and then evolved into this.  It’s not a tourist bar but it’s close enough to the tourist area that they bring in a lot of extra food for the weekend and then on Monday mornings have a lot of cheap deals on food they’re going to throw away.  There’s some bugs in it from time to time but I eat bugs now anyway.  Which is awful.  

I ate a butterfly the other day.  It was so beautiful.  But I was SO hungry.  I cried a little bit afterwards.  

Anyway, there’s usually not many other people in the long bar Monday morning other than myself, but today I was joined by a lanky guy with messy long grey hair despite looking like he was in his mid-thirties.  He was wearing a jumpsuit with Drumheller Institution emblazoned on the back and had no shoes on.  And this was a guy that needed shoes let me tell you.  Looked like he had athlete’s foot or something going on.  He was nursing a bottle of something and staring at it the way people do sometimes when they don’t know what else to look at.

I took a seat next to him with my bowl of mystery stew, but not right next to him on account of his fungus foot.  

“You from the CS?”

He held up his arm like it was supposed to mean something “Canada.”

“Close enough, you mind if I sit here?  I don’t get much chance to talk to people from back home, so I guess the real question is do you mind if I sit here and also do you want to talk?”

He glanced at me incuriously “Sure, go ahead.”

“What’s the Drumheller Institution?  Sounds like a drug rehab place or a medical testing facility or something but you’re dressed like a plumber or a maintenance man.”

“The Drumheller Institution is a medium-security prison so named because it’s in Drumheller, Alberta.”

“Okay, so you broke out of prison and wore that thing all the way to Madripoor?”

He took another drink and glance at me again “Yes, but not in the way that you mean.”

I raised an eyebrow “Are you going to elaborate on that or are you going to do the mysterious asshole act and make me drag it out of you in drips and drabs?”

He sighed heavily like I was asking a lot of him “I didn’t break out . . . really, I just leave sometimes.  I always go back, I’m not escaping . . . really.”

“Alright, so am I to infer from that you’re a super person in a normal prison and they don’t know about it?  And that lets you sneak out sometimes?  Why would you fly all the way to Madripoor just to have a beer?  And why do you go back?”

He sighed again, as if the entire world was on his shoulders “I don’t have powers . . . I just . . . I can . . . it’s hard to explain.”

“Jesus dude, can you fly or not?”

He shook his head “No.”

I snorted “Okay, so we’re going the I have to drag it out of you route.  Let’s start with why you’re in prison, or supposed to be in prison rather since you’re in a bar right now.”

“I worked at a research facility and I violated an agreement not to talk about the work there.”

“They send you to prison for that?!”

“Well . . . they were pretty mad.  I think they charged me with espionage because I told what I knew to a reporter and other countries could read it?  The whole thing was a mess.”

“So you were working in a lab and some chemicals blew up in your face and that’s how you got your powers?”

He shook his head stubbornly “I don’t have any powers.”

“Then how are you here instead of in Alberta?” I gasped “Are you a fucking teleporter?!  Can you take me anywhere I want to go?!  There’s a pizza place I would do just about anything to be at right now, I am serious, I’ll totally do sex stuff if you can get me to Pizza Palace.  Why the hell do you go back to prison if you can teleport?”

He looked uncomfortable “I don’t want to not serve my sentence . . . it’s just so boring there.”

I laughed “And you think popping out for an occasional beer is okay?”

He made a face “Well it sounds stupid when you say it like that.”

“Who cares?  Here’s the plan, teleport me back home first, after a shower and a change of clothes we get some pizza . . .”

“I can’t teleport.” He looked me in the eye for the first time “I’m sorry.”

He really did look sorry “Then how did you get here?”

He picked at the label on his bottle “Are you familiar with super tensile solids?”

I nodded sagely “Of course, I talk about them all the time with my coffee club.”

This actually elicited a small tired smile “Super tensile solids are materials that possess strength as to be unbreakable.  At least functionally.  I mean in a natural environment anyway.  There’s a lot of conditions to unbreakableness in this context.  That’s what we were trying to do, by using a technique that actually changes the physical structure of individual atoms, altering characteristics like energy states, spin, atomic weight, and the number of protons as though they were entries in a ledger.  It’s the modern equivalent of the ancient alchemist quest to turn lead into gold.” His eyes turned bright for a moment “Transmutation of elements, made possible by atomic manipulation.”

“Okay, and what went wrong?”

He thought about it for a moment “I don’t know.  I don’t think anyone knows what happened.  There was a lab here in Madripoor working on the same project, we shared information over a computer network, pretty cutting-edge stuff – that was my area – but then weird stuff started happening.  Things started showing up at one lab that were in the other the day before.  Sounds crazy when I say it now but that’s what happened.  Suddenly the government was all over us.  We were under surveillance, I think they bugged us – not just at the lab but at home too.  People followed us.  One day I saw a peach disappear off a table and my counterpart here told me that it just appeared.  And that’s when things really started getting strange.  Nightmares.  Hallucinations.  Voices.  I saw half a human body hanging in the air for a second once.  People started disappearing, maybe because the government was taking them away, maybe because they were actually disappearing into thin air.  The facility was shut down and next thing I know I’m on trial for talking about it.  And here we are.”

“You left out the best part, so because you were playing god you can teleport now?  How is that not a power?”

“Teleportation isn’t possible, not metaphysically I mean, that’s why it would be a superpower.  What is possible is changing the distance between places.  I don’t have a power, but I can come to Madripoor, I assume because of the facility that was here, and I can go back.  Because the distance makes them right next to each other.  Like folding a piece of paper.”

“Come again?”

“Did you ever read A Wrinkle In Time?”


“Well anyway, it’s like that.  I don’t travel fast or teleport, these two places are just next to each other for me.  It non-linear.”

“I’ll take your word for it.  So you could take me with you but only back to a prison in Canada?”

“Technically yes, but I only tried that once.”


“It didn’t go well” he drained his bottle and then disappeared.

December 17, 1973 – Always

Remember that time I threw a Coke machine at that big Maori guy?  I do.  I wish I would have grabbed myself a Coke before I did that.  Out of everything I miss about home, I think what I miss most is Coca-Cola.  Right now anyway.  Why don’t they have Coke in Madripoor?  Isn’t it a worldwide brand?  Maybe they do in the nicer parts of town but I don’t remember seeing it even in Touristville.  There’s just something about an ice cold Coke.  At this moment it’s the thing I want most in the world.  More than a cigarette even.  More than a stiff drink.  More than a big fat greasy bacon cheeseburger. 

If he didn’t speak English, he’d still be alive.  Isn’t that a kick in the head?  My main problems in Madripoor is that I can’t communicate with most people and the one time I run into someone that can speak English this is what happens.  He’d still be alive if the meeting was someplace normal instead of on a god damn roof.  I’m not trying to say this is anyone else’s fault but my own, but your mind keeps turning it over and over – this only happened because everything was exactly the way it was.  One little thing is different and none of this happens.  That’s not an excuse, I just can’t stop thinking about it.  I guess that’s natural when something goes haywire, you just keep thinking about how it could have been different.

For a very overweight man who was barely five and a half feet tall he didn’t look half bad, a lot of that was probably the suit though – which was killer.  He had a shaved head which normally I don’t like, but it looked good on him.  The only thing that was really gross about him was his skin – he was shiny like he was covered with olive oil.  He didn’t even have a flesh-crawling pimp-leer like I expected.  I thought he might be eyeballing me like a heifer at the county fair but he was just normal.  He was just a man conducting business.

I think that’s what did it.  I’m not even sure why I was there because no one was translating for me.  Dan and Kalenkor and a third guy who I didn’t know were doing all the talking.  That’s another way this could have not happened, if I wasn’t there.  There really wasn’t any reason for me to be there since I couldn’t understand what was being said. 

What I could understand was the tone of the conversation – it was just business.  Like a woman’s life being bought and sold was no big deal.  Like they were talking about splitting up a bill after dinner.  Did you have the soup?  Who ordered the breadsticks?  How many drinks did you have?  All I had was the ham salad so I’m not paying for this dessert!  Maybe the fact that I couldn’t understand it just made it worse?  Hard to say. 

All I know is that I was sitting at that table while three men bartered over a human life and I got madder and madder.  I was told afterwards that the deal had been done, that the details had been worked out already when I did what I did.  Maybe if I knew that it would have changed things.  Maybe not.  It was the casualness of the whole thing that I couldn’t let go.  It clearly meant nothing to Kalenkor or his partner, I’m not sure it even mattered much to Dan. 

I’m not sure if I believe in temporary insanity, but one minute I was sitting there picking at a crispy noodle dish and the next minute I just snapped.  I dragged the big man in his fancy suit with his bald head out of his chair and over to the side of the roof.  I guess the guy with him wasn’t the NBH bodyguard that I heard about because he didn’t try to do anything about it.  He just looked scared. 

Blue told me to stop.  He told me not to let him go.  And I wouldn’t have.  He brought me to my senses.  I wasn’t going to drop him.  But then he looked me in the eye and spoke in English.  His accent was so thick I didn’t catch most of it, but I understood “stupid bitch”.  I could tell that he wasn’t scared at all.  His voice was completely calm – it was saying “I know what you are, I know you can’t touch me”.  And so I let go. 

Blue lunged and caught him by the shoulder of his jacket but it ripped.  I wonder if he grabbed his tie if that would have held him.  How strong are ties?  Since he was hanging over the side of the building he probably “only” fell thirty-six feet or so.  I think I read somewhere that if you fall out of a fourth story window you have a fifty percent chance of dying.  So it seems like there would be a decent chance you could survive a thirty-six foot fall.  But thirty six feet was all it took to spell the end for the king of Madripoor’s middle range pimps.  He actually got up for a second after he fell and then dropped right back down and was stone dead. 

In retaliation, the Paper Boys killed Dan.  That pissed me off.  I’m the one that killed Kalenkor.  Why didn’t they come after me?   How does killing Dan make any damn sense?  Blue said that I should try and lay low for a while because Xu probably will try to kill me.  Since she was in love with Dan and I got him killed.

You know what really scares me though?  Killing him bothers me, but it doesn’t bother me that much.  Honestly what it feels like is when you break up with a guy and you end up being mean about it when you didn’t intend to.  You feel shitty about it, and you feel bad for the guy because you hurt him for no real reason, but it’s over and you don’t really care that much.  You know you did something wrong and you wish that you had handled it better but you’re not tearing yourself up about it. 

That’s what scares me.  I killed a man.  And even though he had it coming, by any rational measure it was still wrong.  And I don’t feel all that bad about it. 

I’ll go back to the CS someday.  Back to Saint Louis.  But I’m never going home.  I realize that now.  Home isn’t a place.  Not really.  It’s who you are.  And I’m something different now.  A killer.

December 16, 1973 – It’s let’s make a deal with your host Monty Haul!

Alcazar needs a couple days to get his ducks in a row, so the plan was to to take care of that other thing first.  But you know what they say about plans.  Cuo told me that her pimp weighs over four hundred pounds and has trouble getting around on his own.  Why is that important?  Because of his size, he has to have his suits custom made.  Why is that important?  There are a lot of places that custom tailor suits but there aren’t many that make them that big, in fact there’s only one – and it happens to be the place that Blue gets his clothes made.  Small world huh?  How can he afford custom suits, that’s my question.  I think he’s holding out on me.

Blue is very sensitive about his threads.  He doesn’t need them obviously, and they get ripped all to shit every time we get in a fight, but they’re important to him.  I think it helps him to feel like he’s still human.  He puts up a brave front, being a soldier and all, that’s kind of his thing, but I think what those alien fuckers did to him really made him depressed.  Sealed inside all that armor.  Not feeling anything, ever.  He has to feel so cut off from the world.  It must be terrible for him.  Especially since everyone looks at him and just sees a big dumb thug.  It’s a wonder he’s not a total psycho. 

A guy named Sayuri (which I was told is a girl’s name so maybe I heard it wrong) that used to make clothes for sumōtori has a little shop north of downtown where there’s a small Japanese community.  Which is surprising given the general feelings around here about the Empire of Japan.  We went to see him and he was only too happy to tell us where Kalenkor (that’s the pimp) lives.  So if you’re depending on tailor-client confidentially, you shouldn’t.  Maybe he gets a pass though, it was pretty clear that Sayuri thinks that Kalenkor is human garbage.  Doesn’t stop him from taking his money of course, but he probably overcharged him which is as good as most people can do to the bad people.

Why couldn’t Cuo tell us where he lives?  Because she doesn’t know, she only knows where he hangs out when he’s working the streets – at which times he’s accompanied by his bodyguard, who’s rumored to be a NBH (why would a super person be working for a street pimp?) and a retinue of other sycophantic lackeys.  The idea was that by attacking him in his home, he would actually be less well defended.  Not sure if that makes sense or not but it was the plan.

Our assault was derailed though, on our way we were intercepted by News Dan and his New Dan News Van.  That monstrosity roared up on us like a meteoric meteorite.  For a nine ton pile of scrap iron, it stops pretty well.  Seconds later I was being assaulted by Hunter asking me if I had rescued Maggie yet and Dan was talking at me so fast Xu didn’t have time to translate.  Eventually I was able to fend off Hunter, and Dan slowed down enough that we could talk (through Xu).  New Dan told us that we shouldn’t mess with Kalenkor because he’s under the protection of the Paper Boys.

“Are you kidding me?  What kind of gang is named the paper boys?  Do they ride around on bikes?

Blue flicked his tongue thoughtfully “It’s probably reference to paper as slang for money, they’re boys that get paper.”

Xu, not translating, replied “That’s halfway right, it’s referring to the paper money that is burned at funerals to give the departed currency for the afterlife – it’s their way of saying they’re killers.”

Martialla made a fishy gulping noise of surprise “Really?  I thought that was a Chinese custom, I didn’t know they did that at funerals here.”

Blue looked at her “How many funerals have you been to in Madripoor?”

I waved my hands annoyedly “Who cares?  Why is it Dan’s business which gang we cross today?  You can’t do anything around here without crossing some gang or other.”

Xu explained that the Paper Boys help Dan out by feeding him information, so he’s not keen on them getting into a fracas with us.  He said that he doesn’t want part of his “truth network” disrupted, but I bet they deliver his stupid papers just like real paper boys and that’s why they’re called that. 

I explained to Dan (via Xu) what we were trying to do and he acted like we were wasting our time.  I wish we had a common language so I could verbally abuse him directly, yelling at Xu as an intermediary doesn’t feel good. Plus it dilutes the message.  Dan said that he could call in some favors and negotiate on our behalf and get Cuo released from Kalenkor’s control if it meant that conflict could be avoided.

“What about all his other girls?”

Martialla shook her head “Jesus, Ela, this offer is the best case scenario – everything gets resolved without any risk to us, why can’t you just accept a rare piece of good luck?”

I gestured at Xu “You’re a woman, how do you feel about this?”

She thought about it for a while “It doesn’t feel great, but if you’re going to try and rescue every hooker in Madripoor, you should probably clear your calendar for the next several years.  And get your affairs in order, buy a tombstone and so forth.”

Martialla grabbed my arm angrily “You’ve been here for months now, how do you not get this?  This is Madripoor!  People who are good have their intentions taken advantage of and end up dead. People who are evil are killed to prevent them from becoming as dangerous as they could in a position of power.  If you’re dumb, you’re dead. Careless, you’re dead. If you want to survive, you’ll need to live in a comfortable moral gray.  That, and actually be smart!”

I ripped my arm out of her grasp “Don’t fucking touch me.  Shut up Martialla.  Just shut up.”