November 27, 1973 – The Old Man and the Sea Creature

Even in the not so nice parts of Madripoor there are some good beachside cafes.  I didn’t catch the name of the place we were at but they were bringing me buckets of chili crab and Golden Cadillacs on an endless loop so I was in heaven.  Human heaven not hog heaven.  I never understood that expression.  Wouldn’t hog heaven just be mud?  And, even better, for once I was not the one looking shabby and blood-spattered.   My clothing was a little worse for wear but I was freshly showered and free of any dust or dirt.  What they don’t tell you about crashing through walls and wrecking buildings with super-strength is how much white powder it throws into the air.  And not the good kind.  I swear, you throw one person through one wall and you look like you fell into a giant bag of flour. 

US Patriot Commando Eagleman on the other hand looked like he had been run over by a truck.  Which he may have been.  There was a lot of commotion inside that warehouse, even beside the gunshots – which were plentiful – there was all manner of loud noise that I could hear from across the street.  Sounded like he got himself into quite a fracas in there.  Good thing he’s a highly trained deliverer of cruel justice.  Even so, one side of his head looked like it was a giant prune it was so bruised, and he was limping pretty badly when we walked over here as well.  The staff was polite enough not to mention that, nor the fact that his bloody nunchakus were ruining the tablecloth.  With blood. 

After polishing off another whole crab I sighed contentedly and sat back to survey “You know, it had a rocky start but I have a feeling this is going to turn out to be a great day.  Do you have that feeling?  I have that feeling.” 

He was agog as another crab was delivered before me “You weren’t kidding were you.  I need to eat a lot more than I did before I was enhanced, I get that, they cranked up my metabolism, but you?” He shook his head “This is like some kind of circus freak act here.” 

“Rude.  You shouldn’t comment on what a lady is eating.” 

He yanked off his boot to examine his bloody foot “So far I have yet to see you display any behavior that would make me think you’re a lady.” 

“Says the man waving around his bloody stump at the lunch table.  Get with the times man, I’m not going to hold my parasol and sashay my pretty little self around the town square like in your day.” 

He grunted sourly as he pulled his sock off “How old do you think I am?” 

“I don’t know, somewhere between forty and a hundred.” 

“When they did the surgery on me I aged rapidly in an instant, but since then I’ve stayed exactly the same.  When I volunteered for the experiment I was in my twenties, when I woke up and looked in a mirror I saw that the geeks in lab coats made me look older than my dad, but I haven’t aged a day since.  I may look like this forever.” 

“So I’m going to look young and beautiful forever?  Nice.” 

“I wouldn’t count on it, I don’t think we got exactly the same treatment.” 

It was nice to talk to someone who had been through what I was going through, or at least something similar.  Blue and Martialla are both freaks, but they’re not freaks like me.  Even though the science should have advanced by twenty years in the meantime it sounds like the people that worked on me weren’t the A team that he got.  I’m not sure they we even the B team.  I’m much stronger than he is, but otherwise he got a better deal – he’s tougher, faster, more agile, and he only needs to eat three or four times as much as normal rather than fifty.  One thing that’s the same is the brutally violent never-goes-away headaches.  It’s pretty clear that’s why he drinks himself stupid all the time.  Although it’s interesting that he can even get drunk, I thought the reason I can’t is part of the super endurance, maybe I have a separate thing.   

“Do you have the throwing thing?” 

He was rubbing his foot and not really paying attention “What’s that?” I flipped a piece of crab shell into a waste bin across the cafe without looking “Oh yeah, I have that.  I used to carry around throwing knives for a while but it got annoying having to go pull them out of corpses all the time.” 

“Cool, we should play horse sometime.  If there’s anywhere there’s a court around here.” 

He said something but I was distracted be seeing Martialla walking out of the water onto the beach.  She was holding her side and seemed to be in pain.  I waved her over and she laboriously climbed up the beach, pulling up a chair and joining us.  She was soaking wet of course, but moreover it seemed like she was wetter than someone should be even after getting out of the ocean– like the water was sticking to her somehow.  She slumped down like she was bone tired and drained a glass of water. 

“What happened to you?” 

“Tiger Shark.” 

“You got bit by a shark?!” 

She looked at me like I was stupid “No, I got into a fight with a guy called Tiger Shark.  I’d be dead if a shark bit me.” 

I raised an eyebrow “There’s other water mutants out there?” 

“I’m not a mutant.  But yeah a couple.” 

“How are you not a mutant?” 

She lifted her chin “Who’s this old guy?” 

I gestured “This is my friend . . . uh . . . uh . . .” 

He frowned “Frank.” 

I nodded “Yes, my good friend Frank.” 

“We made love and you don’t even remember my name?” 

I chortled “Made love?  Get over yourself chief.” I turned back to Martialla “If there’s other water people in the bay we should get them on our side.  Are there any that are good on the land or are they useless like you where their powers only work underwater?” 

I’m the useless one?  You don’t do anything but eat all the food and smoke.  Ela, why do you have this notion in your head that people with superpowers are going to form teams and work together?  They’re just people, and people are assholes.  Just because someone has laser vision or a robot-arm doesn’t

mean they want to help the world.” 

“Not with that attitude they won’t.  You and Blue and I are a team aren’t we?  And now we have Fred here too.” 

Frank’s eyes widened “Frank, and I never said . . .” 

“What were you doing in the water fighting with a shark guy anyway?” Martialla ignored me while she ordered supreme flounder from the waiter “Why do you need to order anything?  Don’t you suck algae off rocks or something?” 

“Why was I in the water?  I go in the water all the time Ela.  You’d have noticed that if you weren’t a self-absorbed narcissist.  I like being in the water.” She shielded her freak white eyes “It’s too bright up here for me now.  And it’s too hot.  After whatever they did to me I’m a little agoraphobic too, having the sky above me feels uncanny.  It just goes up forever.  I like having an end above me.” 

“The surface of the water isn’t the end.” 

“Seems like it when you’re down there.  When this is all over I’m going to have to live on the coast, I think if I stayed on land for a long time I’d get really sick.” 

“Speaking of, I took care of Gwai so . . .” 

Frank made a weird cough/bark noise “You took care of it?” 

“I told you to do it, so yes, it’s the chain of command.  As a military man you should understand how it works.  The point is Gwai has been sorted, so we can move on to phase two and find your niece.  Where’s Blue? 

“Talking to the Nightwitch about just that.” 

“Excellent, things are really moving now, after the rescue then we can move on to phase three – killing Duke Eaglevane.” 

Frank looked dubious “You’re going to try and kill Duke Eaglevane?” 

I dropped him a sassy wink “Killing him will be the easy part, we need to find him first.  That’s the tricky bit.” 

“Not really, I know where he is.” 

Procedurally generated duo part 2

Type – Magic, Magic Object  

Appearance – Medium, athletic 

Disposition – Laconic, fatalistic 

Age – 40s 

Origin – Europe, non-English speaking, countryside 

Background – Military 

Powers manifested – Early adulthood 

Other – World traveler

Abilities – Animal abilities (insect) 

Doc already did the work on this for me, thanks Doc!  The randomness lines up pretty well.  I’ll call this guy Amerigo Vespucci.  Do they still name people Amerigo in Italy?  I don’t know, but they do in my pretend world. 

At a young age, Amerigo decided that the country life was not for him and ran away from home, stowing away on a ship bound for Italian Libya.  With no marketable skills and a hostile populace, Amerigo was facing a grim and short life on the streets when he was swept up as labor by one of the many Italian government-funded excavations of Roman cities – which were used as propaganda to justify their claim to the area. 

Barely literate and with no education to speak of, Amerigo nevertheless was fascinated by archaeology.  Ignorant to the political nature of their missions, he looked up to the “scientists” leading these expeditions as brilliant men of knowledge.   At night, he would lie in his tent and marvel over the artifacts he had pilfered and dream of what the world had once been.

Amerigo resolved to become an archaeologist himself, but with no money and no real interest in “book learning” this was a pipe dream.  Amerigo did discover two talents on these trips though – an ear for languages, within a few years he could speak passably in several native tongues and enough to get by in several others.  His other talent was for getting into and out of places very quietly, especially places people didn’t want him.

One of those places was a temple with a bird motif in the deep desert.  Exploring the temple, Amerigo found a jewel-scarab of malachite and garnet – which he felt the overwhelming urge to swallow.  Upon doing so, he was mystically granted beetle-strength and beetle-agility!  Some old god with a beetle-head showed up to tell him something about it, but Amerigo ditched him and ran away from the temple.  He couldn’t understand what the old codger was saying anyhow.

Amerigo figured the best way to cash in on his abilities was to travel south to join the fighting in Italian East Africa.  It wasn’t.  Being beetle-fast and beetle-strong is fine and all, but in a conflict with personnel armed with machine-guns and flamethrowers, not to mention copious amounts of airstrikes and heavy weaponry, it doesn’t mean much.

Amerigo lost his stomach for the conflict quickly, but found that he was able to make money as a scout – leave the killing the dying to others.  Beetle-agility is a lot more useful for avoiding a fight, Amerigo found. 

Once the fighting was over, Amerigo discovered there was even more money to be made as a mercenary.  There seemed to be all manner of conflicts up and down the east coast of Africa and plenty of demand for someone who knew the terrain and could speak the language. 

Amerigo could have made a lot more money if he wanted, but typically after a paying job, he would spend months traveling and exploring alone, only returning to “civilization” when he ran out of resources.  Eventually, this resulted in Amerigo getting a reputation as being “unreliable” even though he always did what he was paid to do. 

Amerigo and Dino ended up being a perfect match – no one would hire Amerigo anymore and no one wanted to work for a crazy old man looking for “magic”.   Amerigo never mentioned to Dino that he knew magic was real because he had already found it, but he did take the old man’s money and lead him all across Africa with forays into the Middle East and even India looking for some true magic. 

Once the old man’s money ran out, Amerigo wondered where he was going to find his next meal ticket. But shortly thereafter, Dino returned, looking 60 years younger and ready to cause some trouble.

November 27, 1973 – First we eat, then we do everything else

I’m honestly starting to believe I might be dying.  I think about food all the time.  I dream about it.  No matter what else is going on, part of my mind is wondering where I can get some food.  How do you know if you’re starving to death?  One of the signs is lethargy and lack of energy.  But what does that mean when you have super endurance?  I never feel fatigue.  Does that mean I’m not starving to death?  Probably not, right?  Mentally I feel exhausted, it’s like there’s a disconnect between my mind and body.  In my conscious thought, I feel like I can’t take a single step but I know that I could do push-ups all day and it wouldn’t bother me. 

Another sign of starvation is irritability and trouble concentrating.  But I have that anyway because of the god damn chronic headaches I have ALL THE TIME.  Even when I eat enough to feel full (which has happened maybe twice) my head is still pounding, which makes me angry all the time.  I swear I’m usually a very pleasant person but I admit that I’ve been a monster lately.  Immedicable throbbing will do that to a person is what I’ve found.   

Bottom line is that the same thing that’s making me need to eat so much is also making it so I don’t know if I’m slowly dying.  Which is a pretty shitty design if you ask me.  If I ever meet the people that did this to me, I’ll have a cross word with them.  Another symptom is supposed to be feeling cold all the time, which I don’t, but that could be because it’s two hundred degrees with one thousand percent humidity here all the god damn time.  I can tell you that my hair and nails are brittle and shitty.  And my skin is taking on a weird pallor.  Is that a sign that you’re not getting enough to eat?  It’s not good whatever it is. 

We don’t talk about it because it’s not the kind of thing you talk about, but Martialla and Blue spend time most days just trying to find me (sort of) enough food.  Totally honest, I eat garbage a lot of the time.  Usually we can get it before they literally throw it out, but not always.  There are a lot of other people after it.  Because this is a very impoverished place.  And they’re not going to get it over me or Blue or Martialla.  It’s probably set off a chain reaction in the world of people who depend on urban scavenging for food.  I don’t like to think about it.  You might assume that this experience would make me feel more sympathy for people in “food insecurity” (what a fucking cop out term that is) but mostly it just makes me feel ashamed of myself.  It’s hard to feel self-possessed when you’re eating noodles out of the trash because you’re so hungry you can’t even wait to take them somewhere else. 

The last thing I would’ve thought when I woke up chained in the hull of a ship nine thousand miles from home was “I better get a job soon” but here we are.  I need some way to make sure I get enough to eat.  I spent the morning going around to restaurants to beg them for work.  I even went to the place where Elvis used to wash dishes because I knew they had an opening since he’s fucking dead.  I felt like a ghoul and a monster.  But I did it anyway.  None of the local places want me because I’m a white girl who can’t speak the language and none of the tourist places want me because I look like crap.  I’ve had one bath in like six weeks and I have one set of clothes that are ripped and bloody.  Surprisingly, that doesn’t make a good impression in a job interview.

The only place that gave me any consideration was a German ex-pat dive bar that gave me some seriously bad vibes.  So clearly what I need to do is rob the place instead of work there.  I don’t know what’s going on with those crazy Krauts, but it’s something shady so they have it coming right?  After my weird interview with the sleazy manager, I sat down at the bar to case the joint.  I don’t really know how to do that, but I was looking around, what else is there to it? 

My casing efforts were hampered by one of the only other patrons at that hour, a loud-mouth statie who was clearly drunk and had a lot to say about the US president even though no one was listening.  He looked like one of those guys you’d see in a steelworkers guildhall in Pennsylvania – his face looked fifty but his body looked hard as concrete.  He didn’t look big, just heavy, you know – he was a stack.  I knew that anything I said would provoke him but I couldn’t help myself, I was having a bad time. 

“Would you take it down like fifty decibels there, partner?  I’ve got a headache working over here and your kibitzing isn’t helping anything.  Who are you even talking to?” 

He looked around for a moment and then back to me, incredulous. “Are you talking to me, little girl?” 

“I don’t see anyone else here so I must be talking to you.  Also, little?  I’m like three inches taller than you, tiger.” 

I saw that he was gathering himself to come over and try to intimidate me, so I beat him to the punch by standing up and kicking his stool out from underneath him.  He fell on his ass with the most surprised look I have ever seen on a human (or lizard or fish) face.  I think he would have been less shocked if I grew a second head. 

He started to get up, huffing and puffing to blow my house down, and while he was doing so, I slapped him across the face.  Hard.  Not as hard as I can, but too hard.  I knew that immediately.  A pretty hard slap from me is going to kill most people, or at least seriously mess them up.  Remember, I’m as strong as twenty strong men.  I gasped involuntarily because I thought I had just murdered a guy. 

But he was fine.  Not fine-fine, but his neck wasn’t broken nor his face caved in.  He was like a boxer who just got bopped on the nose.  He needed a standing eight count but his manager didn’t need to throw in the towel.  He wobbled to his feet, turned his stool back over, and sat back down – giving me side eye.

“You’re lucky I don’t have my nunchakus, I’d beat your ass.”

I sat back down as well “Ooh, kinky.  Also, nunchakus?  What are you, twelve?”

He looked me up and down several times and then hocked something up “This is what the world’s coming to huh?  This is what a super-solider looks like now?  I wish they had never discovered that damn gene.  Now you have all types in the military.” He shook his head “All types.”

“Sorry buddy, I’m no super-soldier, I’m just a normal girl from the heartland – we’re tough out there, not like your weedy US women.”

He laughed mirthlessly “Ah, the Coalition, I should have known from the bong stink.”

I laughed in return “And you must be the reason why no one ever talks about the US super-soldier program, if you’re what it turns out.”

He grunted “No one talks about us because we’re out doing the real work while those two (DELETED) wonks of yours glad-hand and sell insurance.  The Warmasters.  Give me a fucking break.  They don’t know shit about war.”

“They are pretty annoying.  The blonde one is like that kid who wore his boy scout uniform to school, and the one with the scar?  That guy looks like a damn psycho.  He looks like the kid who drilled a hole in the wall to the girl’s locker room.”

He started at me for a minute and then laughed legitimately “Still, I have to give it to your Angel, she was the real deal, even if she was Coalition.  I would have been proud to have served with her.  God rest her soul.”

“God rest her soul.  So, do you want to have sex?”

He did an actual spit take, I thought that was just in movies, and looked over at me suspiciously “What?”

“It’s pretty simple, do you want to have sex with me or do you not want to have sex with me?”

“Uh . . . yes, I do.”

“Do you have a place?  And is it not a roach-infested shithole?  Are you the super anal spit and polish kind of military guy or the other kind who just throws their garbage in the corner?”

“Umm . . . I have a place.  It’s clean . . . ish.” His face took on an expression like a rabbit caught in a trap “Why is this happening?”

I finished the crappy German beer I was drinking “You’re ugly, you’re unpleasant in demeanor, I dislike you, and I bet you’re a lousy lay.  But I’ve had like sixty bad days in a row so I want to do something stupid.  I want to feel the embarrassment, self-loathing, and regret that will come afterwards.  You’re from the US, you like baseball right?  Think of yourself as a slumpbuster.”

I could see the wheels turning in his head “That’s . . . . hurtful.”

“Yeah, but you’re going to take me home anyway, aren’t you?”

Tremble before my procedurally generated terror!

I don’t really have anything for background this week so I’ll roll some random tables for a new character and build them.  That should be interesting?

Type – Magic, Mystically Bestowed 

Appearance – Tall, overweight 

Disposition – Self-reliant, tough 

Age – Elderly 

Origin – Europe, non-English speaking, large city 

Background – Wealthy 

Powers manifested – Recently 

Other – Physical limitations 

Abilities – Spellcasting 

In this context, mystically bestowed is a power source like Shazam, you speak the magic word or drink your magic tea and you’re transformed from whatever, in this case an old man with physical ailments, to a young strong alternate self.  Who in this case also knows magic.  Which is a little weird, seems like if you knew magic, you’d just know it no matter what. 

I’ll say this guy is from Italy.  The only big city that I know of in Italy is Rome, but that seems too on the nose.  Internet says Milan is the second biggest city in Italy, so we’ll go with that.  So we have a wealthy old man in Milan.   

What was going on in Italy in this alternate timeline?  The Great War (aka WW1) was pretty much the same.  If this guy is old in 1973, he was probably the right age to be in the mix in 1914.  As a rich man who fancies himself a tough guy, he was likely an officer in the Italian army.  I don’t know a ton about WW1, but I think Italy fought a bunch of battles against Austria and lots of people died and it was all kind of pointless.  Which is more or less WW1 in a nutshell.   

I should probably give this guy a name, I’ll go with Dino Fossella, which I think is the name of one of the kidnappers in Man on Fire.  The novel. The movie was in Mexico instead of Italy.  Sidenote – I love that movie and I don’t care what anyone says about it.   

Dino was embittered by his experience in the war, he expected to come home and be a big hero and get a parade but instead, no really cared because they didn’t get all the sweet Austrian booty they were after. (note to self, register domain name sweetAustrianbooty) But old Dino wasn’t going to be denied his fame so easily.  Let’s say he was a big-time piano man and after the war, his goal was to become a celebrated concert pianist. 

He was good, but he wasn’t that good.  But, as a pretty good pianist with a boatload of cash, he managed to get his name out there at the expense of other, better pianists.  So he spends a good decade being a man about town and having concerts that are really just parties for his rich pals.   

I’ve established that there was no WW2 as we know it, just “another war in Europe”.  Without an expansionist Germany and a more laid-back USSR, what was going on?  I’m no historian, so I don’t know the roots of Italian fascism – but let’s say the march on Rome in ‘22 still happened.  So we have France and Britain fighting the Empire of Japan in the east while Germany and Russia are playing it cool.  That probably leaves Italy free to attack the Balkans like they always wanted. 

So we have Italy at war again.  Dino once again wants to be an officer but they say he’s too old – go back to your piano, old man.  Dino doesn’t like that.  He likes it even less when his villa is bombed by Greek and Yugoslavian operatives.  Dino survives but his legs and hands are damaged, no more piano for him, also now he can’t get around so well.   

If you thought Dino was embittered before, oh man, watch out now.  But what sparks Dino’s interest in the occult?  Perhaps one of the operatives was mystically inclined.  One of the bombers supernaturally clouded the minds of Dino’s men and walked right in with the bomb.  Dino saw his guards standing there like statues while a dude just rolls up and plants a bomb.  He becomes obsessed with finding out more about it. 

He spends the next thirty years or so frittering away all his money on raiding Egyptian tombs and whatnot looking for magic.  I don’t know much about Italian folklore, but google told me there’s a tale of a 7-headed dragon that was causing a ruckus in Bergamo province and a big army went to fight it.  The battle was a draw and the dragon retreated into the river.  Folklorists say there was a “maga” – a sorceress – involved somehow but that part of the story is lost.  Here’s the deal, the sorceress was the dragon, transformation style. 

And check this shit out, Milan is in Bergamo!  So old lady 7-heads is injured and she goes into the river to sleep it off for a couple centuries and when she wakes up and looks around she’s like “da fuck? Where’s all the old timey shit I know?”  She goes to the first place she sees, the now empty villa of Dino, where he sits alone and broke being old and bitter.  Probably it would be hard for them to communicate, the Italian language surely changed some in a thousand years, but she’s magic so she figures it out. 

She asks Dino what’s up.  He says give me the magic power and I’ll tell you.  She’s all like “sure” and he wigs out because he’s been after magic forever and now it just falls into his lap.  Dino speaks the word of magic power she bestows upon him, “Drago” and suddenly he’s a young strong able-bodied man that has a little magic of his own. 

But why can he only do magic when transformed?  Let’s say that this form of magic is physically taxing and in his old broken body he can’t manage it.  Dino says “thanks, old time Italian sorceress! Now I shall have the fame and coolness I deserve, by being a supervillain!”  And she’s like, whatever floats your boat man.    

I like duos (of people, not the gum, although the gum is okay) so he’ll probably have a partner but this post is already long so maybe I’ll do that next week.   

November 26, 1973 – A war on some drugs

Since we didn’t have a great way of scouting out the location of Camila’s rival drug gang, I floated the idea of stiffing her to Martialla and Blue, but they weren’t into it.  “Don’t you have enough enemies already?” was the gist of their argument.  I suppose, to be fair, Camila didn’t do anything to me really, she doesn’t deserve to be ripped off.  Although I didn’t deserve to be blown up and turned into a remorseless eating machine either and no one is apologizing to me about that. 

Blowing up notwithstanding, I caved in to their demands, as I always do, because I’m a people pleaser at heart.  I’m the leader, but I’m what’s known as a servant leader – I’m here for my people, not myself.  Empathy, listening, conceptualizing, I’m great at all that bullshit.  Martialla and Blue are probably taking advantage of my easy-going nature somewhat, but what can you do you know? 

When she was telling us who to attack, Camila spent a lot of time explaining to me about how the drugs she and her boys grow are natural and organic from plants and therefore are superior to the garbage that her rival, Gwai the Butcher, mixes up in his labs.  She’s awfully morally superior for a drug dealer.  Sorry, I mean drug manufacturer.  I guess she was trying to get me on her side beyond the part where I’m indebted to her.  I don’t understand why people think natural things are good.  Arsenic is natural.  So is getting eaten by a python.  And on the other hand, lots of unnatural things are great.  Cheese.  Music.  Condoms.  Vodka.

I turned to News Dan as a source of information but he was offended by the very notion.  He said that he was a reporter, not an informant.  He was also very high and mighty about not getting involved in my “criminal dealings”.  This from a man who claims that alien reptile psi-vampires control the United Nations.  The good news is his assistant Yiyang blabbed the whole thing after a couple of beers, or some kind of alcohol in a can anyway, it’s hard to know sometimes around here.  It may have been paint thinner.  Hmm, is there paint thickener?  I’ll have to check on that.   

Y tattled to me about the warehouse where (heh warehouse where) Gwai stashes his fishgut drugs and I told Martialla and Blue.  They began planning the assault with Canadian military precision.  It’s too bad our broom closet isn’t big enough for maps and little miniature tanks – military people love that stuff.  I interrupted their warmongering with a practical concern.   

“And then what?”  They both looked at me with their dull inhuman eyeballs “After you commando murder all these guys guarding the place, what do we do then?  How do we destroy all the drugs?” 

Blue glanced at Martialla “How about a fire?” 

“Sounds like a good way to burn the entire city down.  Somehow I have a feeling that the Madripoor fire department isn’t a crack squad.  If there even is one.  In the poor part of town anyway, the rich areas would probably be fine.” 

Martialla shrugged her weird skinny fish-shoulders “We can just toss the drugs in the bay.” 

“How are we going to do that?  We don’t even have a car.  Aren’t we talking about a warehouse full of drugs?  How can we carry all that down to the shore?” 

She fish-snorted “You’re always bragging about how strong you are, can’t you lift it all?”

“How would I do that?  Are you going to wrap it all up like a Christmas present with a bow?” 

Martialla looked confused and Blue piped up “She means Boxing Day.” 

“What?  No I don’t.  Boxing Day is the day after Christmas, if you know what Boxing Day is, how can you not know what Christmas is?” 

Martialla’s gross fish-lips frowned further “I thought that Boxing Day was when the Boxer Rebellion happened.  I think you meant to say Saint Swithin’s Day.” 

“I don’t even know what Saint Swilling’s Day is!” 

Blue flicked his tongue pedantically (I’ve been around him long enough to know) “Swith-IN.” 

“Shut up you.” 

They suggested that we could blow the place up, but we can’t because we don’t have any explosives or the money to buy them.  Which is an important component in blowing things up.  They proposed in the alternative that we could steal some money.  The whole thing unraveled quickly.  Why does being a superhero always end up with robbing something to get money for bombs to blow up drugs?  It’s uncanny how often you need to commit seven or eight crimes to stop one.  Is there a lesson in there somewhere about something?  No.

Since we were going nowhere with that line of questioning, I asked them if they had any leads on the kind of people that I thought might have grabbed Martialla’s niece.  All they could find out is that if you want a gene splicer, you head to the Shipyard (which remember, is not a shipyard, but a soccer stadium turned into criminal bazaar – uhg, I hate this place) because that’s where you can find anything.  So that’s where we’re going.  After we have some kind of deadly confrontation with a drug gang.  You know how it is.

The best writers use pictures instead of words

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

IMAGE MAY BE SUBJECT TO COPYRIGHT!!!!

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

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

November 24, 1973 – Pillow talk, sorry, I mean closet talk

Blue and Martialla have managed to find the worst apartment in Madripoor.  It’s literally just an empty cleaning supply closet.  It’s the kind of thing you’d see in a movie and roll your eyes.  Because people don’t live in empty cleaning supply closets.  But here we are.  So.  I guess I’m Margaret Dumont now.  Except Margaret Dumont married a sugar baron and inherited a fortune when he died of the Spanish flu, and I live in a closet. 

I’d like to really give them the business about this living arrangement but two things hold me back.  One, this is a nicer place to stay than a good number of people in Madripoor have.  Which is depressing.  And B, even though this place sucks, they managed to get it with zero money – which is the amount of money we have.  Which is impressive.  And depressing.  Getting something that should be cheap for nothing is actually harder than getting something expensive for cheap.  Trust me, I know.  I don’t know why, but it’s easier to get someone to give you something worth three hundred dollars for a hundred than it is for get them to give you something worth a hundred for free.  People are odd ducks.   

I know why I’m broke, and Martialla probably thinks shells are money or something stupid like that, but why doesn’t Blue have any money?  Before I kicked his ass and we became best friends, he was hired muscle.  HIRED muscle.  That implies payment of some kind.  What happened to all his money?  Shouldn’t he have a wicked cool criminal enforcer penthouse or something?  Maybe he has a gambling problem that he’s keeping secret.  I should keep an eye on him.  I mean, I’ll take his money if that’s what he’s into.

On the plus side, at least I have somewhere to keep my smokes now.  They keep getting ruined in my pockets on account of all the superheroing I do all the time.  It’s really annoying when your cigarettes get smashed or drenched in blood.  I sat in my corner while Blue sat in the other three with Martialla perched on his back like a dirty seagull.  Turning to the matter at hand, Martialla and Blue said they would scout the location where Camila wanted us to make our move but I told them no – they stick out too much. 

“Send LBK, he can blend in better than any of us.”

Martialla shook her head “I don’t think he’s going to be interested.  He was pretty shaken up by what happened on Callisto.”

Blue looked mournful, which isn’t easy for a lizard “Yes, that battle extracted a heavy toll on us all.  You see Ela, there was an alien with us that used the highly advanced technologies, found in our headquarters, powered by immense energies from the ferocious alien storm outside to . . .”

“Jesus Christ, I knew it, I knew you were going to bring up this moon stuff all the damn time!”

Blue’s tongue flicked out low and to the right – hurt feelings “You asked!”

“I asked about LBK not to hear the dumb story of your supposed space adventure again.  What really happened?  Did someone bomp Martialla over the head and try and sell her at the fish market for two dollars a pound?”

Martialla sneered with her fish-lips “Aren’t you the one who usually sells herself?”

I shook my head “Really Martialla?  You’re going to go there?  What about the international cause of woman’s rights?  Words have power Martialla.  We need to build each other up, not cut each other down.”

“But you’re the one who . . .”

I waved my hand “Shush, the point is no more moon talk alright?  No one wants to hear it.  Before I forget, when I was laid up in the very expensive fake hospital because you two abandoned me to die, a thought occurred to me about your niece.  Why would someone travel all the way to the CS to kidnap a kid?  Your sister’s not rich right?  And even the most particular pedo surely has access to someone closer.  The only reason I can think that she was grabbed was because she’s related to you.”

“I can’t pay a ransom either.”

“No, but you do have the super-soldier gene.”

“Actually I don’t, I was tested many times.” She gestured to her revolting body “This experiment they did on me was something else.”

“Regardless it worked.  Either they don’t know you’re a negative or they do and they want to know what’s up with your genes so they can try and replicate it.  Nothing else makes sense to me.”

Martialla considered for a moment “If that was true, why wouldn’t they grab my sister?”

I shrugged “I don’t know, but I think this is a better lead than anything else we have.  Instead of tipping off the drug guy you should ask around, I have to believe that Madripoor has some kind of local Dr. Moreau mad geneticist freak-maker, probably several, and they seem like the most likely culprit to me.”

Blue piped in “Speaking of intel gathering, you need to be careful out on the street, the Crimson Cardinal and Patron Patriot are both looking for you.”

I snorted “They can get in line.  Since I broke all their technology, what threat could they be really?  That reminds me though, the USA guy’s stuff was all alieny with the symbols like you draw sometimes, Lucien.  Maybe we should grab him and see what he knows about it.”

Blue was too stunned to respond but Martialla jumped in “Or we could just talk to him.”

“Yeah maybe, but he didn’t seem like the helpful sort to me, you know how staties are.  Do you have to perch up there like a gargoyle?  You’re making me nervous.” 

Martialla held out her webbed hands “Where else do you want me to go?  We’re packed in here like . . . ” I grinned “. . . don’t you say it Ela, don’t you dare.”

One of these days Alice, bang, zoom, straight to the moon!

A brief summary of the history of space exploration.

In 1863 Project Epicus, an effort by Baltimore based industrialists and munitions manufacturers, succeeded in firing a projectile that impacted on the surface of the moon.  In 1865 a second mission was attempted with a capsule-projectile containing three passengers.  Although the projectile successfully circumnavigated the moon and return to splash down on earth, upon retrieval it was discovered that the first “space travelers” had been killed instantly by the force of the acceleration required to escape earth’s atmosphere.   

Despite various proposals to protect potential spacefarers, the fragility of the human body was considered an insurmountable obstacle to travel by means of space cannon.  This was proven incorrect (depending on your feelings about non-baseline humans, evolution, and genetics) in 1909 when Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, known as the indestructible man, was launched into space – although no one would know this until 21 years later. 

Able to withstand the incredible force involved due to his superhuman durability, Gaspard survived the launch, the 5-day trip around the moon, and was headed back towards earth when an encounter with space debris caused his module to deviate from its course.  Although the capsule was equipped with rudimentary maneuvering rockets, Gaspard was unable to course correct to achieve re-entry, and his craft ended up in orbit around the Earth and the moon which scientists predicted would last more than a century before decaying.   

Attempts were made to launch equipment into orbit that could be used to help Gaspard reach earth, but because there was no way to communicate with Gaspard, and due to the limitation of what equipment could be sent because of the large g-force experienced by a ballistic projectile, these efforts were failures.  Gaspard was given up for dead, his silver bullet circling earth a grim reminder of his presumed fate. 

Gaspard proved as good as his name however, his body entering a state of suspended animation after running out of oxygen.  Gaspard’s inert body was examined by an extraterrestrial scout ship that mistakenly took the projectile for an artificial satellite (which technically it was).  Incorrectly surmising that earth had achieved space flight (which technically it had) and therefore was primed for first contact, the alien ship instead found a dormant, yet still technically alive, Frenchman. 

The aliens returned the capsule to Earth in 1930 and a few weeks later, Gaspard revived to tell his astonishing tale.  Gaspard was ready for another trip, he hoped to visit Mars. But in his absence, space cannons had largely been abandoned in favor of rocketry research. 

Gaspard’s return reinvigorated interest in space exploration.  1933 saw the birth of Project Archimedes, which many consider the most progressive scientific undertaking in human history.  Project Archimedes was a top-level scientific exchange involving nearly every major industrial power in the world (the Empire of Japan being a notable exception) with the goal of space exploration and eventually, colonization.   

In order to facilitate this novel project, the city of Artesia on Merritt Island was carved off as a separate legal entity of the United States, like the District of Colombia, where laws could be crafted specifically to serve the needs of the exchange of sensitive scientific information between world powers and to allow for the project’s many unusual requirements.   This project was opposed by many in the US government but ultimately was pushed forward (possibly due to bribery, blackmail, and assassination depending on who you ask). 

Artesia became the site of a massive scientific center, home to more than 15,000 researchers and scientists as well as a residential and office complex for more than 50,000 support staff.  Buoyed by a surge of enthusiasm for space exploration, Project Archimedes was an unbridled success (and a massive financial windfall to the US).  Several of the project milestones are as follows: 

  •  1946 first artificial satellite is launched into orbit 
  •  1948 first pictures taken of the dark side of the moon 
  •  1950 first application satellite launched 
  •  1952 first data retrieved on another planet (Venus) 
  •  1955 first spacewalk
  •  1955 first pictures of Mars
  •  1956 first baseline humans walk on the moon

In 1957 with the aid of several NBH’s capable of orbital flight and surviving in space, a joint CSA, USA, and Canadian project began constructing space station Daedalus, largely using the once abandoned space cannon technology, which proved efficient for transporting freight, fuel, and ruggedized equipment into earth orbit.  This station would work in conjunction with Project Archimedes as part of an overarching plan to construct a base on the moon designed for launching craft to Mars.   

In 1960 as the station was nearing completion, Project Archimedes was derailed in a manner that no one anticipated.  An alien being appeared before Congress and accused many of the top scientists involved in the program of being alien imposters and moreover, galactic criminal fugitives.  The initial reaction of the governments involved in Archimedes was hostile to say the least, but a few months later one of the project leaders, Dr. Kyle David Pennington, came forward and confessed.  He and a dozen other critical members of the project really were criminal extraterrestrials posing as humans. 

The alien law officer declared her intention to arrest Dr. Pennington and his cohorts and remove them from the planet.   Since earth was benefiting from the actions of these criminals, many people were in favor of ignoring whatever extraterrestrial laws or covenants had been broken by Dr. Pennington.  Grant he and his fellow exiles asylum and make them citizens of earth nations – some claimed that the work of Project Archimedes would lead to a golden age, ending world hunger and war, and expanding human lifespans by a hundred years.   

The alien official declared that any such act would be considered unlawful and met with force, a small legion of additional aliens was called in as reinforcements to back up this threat.  The only card the technologically inferior earth governments had to match this force of “alien invaders” was to martial their NBH assets.  The world prepared for a war unlike any had seen before.  Spacefaring aliens against the supermen of earth. 

The conflict did not come to pass.  The governments involved in the project eventually offered their full cooperation with the alien authorities in the hopes that this would build goodwill towards earth’s early entry into The Alliance of Free Stars.  The alien forces took Dr. Pennington and his friends into custody as planned.  However, what was not expected was that hundreds of humans were taken into custody as well, their knowledge considered “fruit of the poisonous tree”.  The aliens stated they could not be allowed to continue teaching and using what they had learned from Dr. Pennington.  This was followed by the further outrage of the disassembly and destruction of all technology created by the project. 

Considering this a betrayal of their good faith agreement, several governments reversed course and once again prepared their NBH assets for an armed response.  However, public opinion had shifted.  Factions that had opposed the project spoke the loudest – earth is for earthlings, take away corrupt alien technology, we don’t need their help.  Rivals and political opponents whipped up anti-alien sentiment into a frenzy.  Many industrial business interests saw opportunity in the collapse of Archimedes and threw fuel on the fire.   

In the end, the project governments backed away from the edge of conflict.  In one of the more shameful moments in history, hundreds of citizens of various nations were allowed to be taken from their homes to spend the rest of their lives incarcerated on alien worlds for the crime of trying to make the world a better place for everyone.   

Many consider the spectacular collapse of Project Archimedes to be the death of space exploration as a human endeavor.  While enthusiasm for space research is certainly at a nadir, there are many who have already started to pick up the pieces and begin anew.  Government funding for space programs has been wildly curtailed, but it persists in one form or another.  As Konstantin Tsiolkovsky said “The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever.”  The dream of space travel can be delayed only, never denied.

October 31, 1973 – We must go upward, not downward. And always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.

You know what’s interesting about the ground?  Nothing really.  But when you’re dangling upside down clinging to the side of a hotel, you realize that the ground has no handholds.  It’s almost as if whoever designed this planet didn’t consider that someone would need to climb on the ground under the influence of an alien anti-gravity belt around her long shapely leg.  No one ever looks at the big picture.  It’s sad.   

I could have ripped the belt off then but I figured that Suzy Swordswoman would be after me in short order, and trying to escape on one good leg seemed like a poor idea.  I briefly considered trying to claw my way over to Betty’s motorcycle (remember when I dropped an armoire on her stupid head?  That was pretty cool, I bet she ain’t pretty no more – although to be clear, she wasn’t prettier than me to begin with) to make my escape but since I had never ridden a motorcycle before, trying to do so upside down hanging up from the handlebars seemed like a pretty bad idea too. 

I pulled myself down as close to the ground as I could along the façade of the hotel and then used my one good leg to kick myself towards the building across the street.  Terrifyingly, I immediately started “falling” upwards, although not nearly as fast as you fall downwards when physics is working the way it’s supposed to.  If I had flown up that fast, I would have missed my target and drifted up into the atmosphere to freeze or suffocate or have my brain melt – whatever happens when you leave the earth.  As it was, my trajectory allowed me to desperately grab onto the building by smashing my fingers into the brick – which hurt the hand on my non-broken arm quite a bit.   

I’ve learned today that cursing a lot helps when you’re in pain.  By my estimate, it took seven hundred hours for me to crawl down the side of the building, maybe ten feet or so, and into an open window where an old couple was watching – probably alerted by all my swearing.  They were fairly nonplussed as I pulled myself into the window of their apartment, although they had a bird that was freaking out.  Maybe it was jealous that I was flying around and it was trapped in a cage.  Once I was mostly in the window, I ripped the belt in half and fell (on my head of course) the rest of the way in.   

The alien belt made a sad electronic noise, barfed up a small amount of what I assume was highly toxic silver goop, and then started flashing those triangle symbols on the “buckle”.   

I looked up at the old couple “Puis-je avoir un verre d’eau?” 

They didn’t speak French or English.  I didn’t try Spanish.  Why couldn’t I have been abducted by a crime ring in Mexico?  I indicated to them that I was hurt by a variety of pantomime methods.  They stared at me.  I suppose in a place like Madripoor where occasionally a super-person is going to fall through your window, that is the best response – just stare at them until they go away or kill you.  I mean what else are you going to do?  I dragged myself to a sitting position by the window and lit a cigarette.  Everything seems better when you’re smoking.   

I gestured with my non-broken arm that had smashed fingers “Sorry to drop in unannounced like this, quite rude of me.  Do you have any food?  I am starving.  I’ll trade you a broken alien belt for whatever food you have around here.  Even broken, it has to be worth a lot right?  I mean it’s from space.  Someone can reverse engineer it or something.” 

They broke their silence finally, speaking to each other briefly and then leaving.  I thought maybe they were going to get me some food, or maybe they were giving up and I owned the apartment then, or most likely, they were going to rat me out to whatever crimeboss shakes this place down for money. 

Probably some kind of cyborg with hammers for hands that shoots fragmentation missiles out of his crotch.   

Maybe half an hour later, a different couple came into the apartment.  Although I could tell right away they weren’t a couple couple, just a couple of people, I have a sense about these things.  He had kind of an odd skin color for a local fellow, seemed kind of flushed or reddish.  His companion was wearing body armor after some fashion but it was just over normal clothes, which is a little weird.  More interestingly, she had one of the most bizarre hairstyles I’ve ever seen.  She had her hair in a dozen tight ringlets that were sticking out straight from her scalp.  It was wild.  It was like a space probe with a bunch of antenna jutting off of it. 

“Who did that to your head?” 

After the traditional language fumbling (she speaks French, he doesn’t) they claimed not to be assassins but to be reporters.  I could tell they were both uncomfortable with her having to translate between me and her boss – clearly that’s not their usual dynamic.   

“Do you work for Rolling Stone?  Are you here to talk about my new single?” 

They weren’t.  They wanted to know about my confrontation with Mr. X.  I told them I would give them all the information they wanted if they took me to a hospital.  They said that a hospital wasn’t a good idea with the enemies I had.  They said they could take me somewhere else though. 

“How good looking is the doctor?  Because if it’s the place where the doctor is really attractive, I think it’s closed for renovation right now.  There’s a little scoop for you right there.” 

A while back, Blue carried me for a little ways and I didn’t like it at all.  But at least he’s huge and strong and could do it easily – with these two jokers, it was like a Three Stooges routine trying to get me down the stairs.  I should have been wearing a helmet.  Spikey-head kept making comments about how ridiculously tall I am, which was not the issue – the issue was that they didn’t know what they were doing.  It’s like they never carried a woman down three flights of very narrow stairs before.  More than once around a corner they tried to bend me backwards.  I’m flexible (if you know what I mean) but I don’t bend that way.  They’re lucky with all the pain they were causing me that I didn’t involuntary (or intentionally) squeeze them to death.   

When we got down to the street, their car was even more strange than Spike’s haircut.  It was built like an armored car you’d see at a bank but it was long and flat, it kind of looked kind of like.  It was pretty dang weird, I tell you that.  As they loaded me into the back with all the care of a toddler dragging around a stuffed rabbit, I asked them what the hell it was.  They said it was a news van – as if I was the weird one for asking.   

The truth is out there

Pictured above “news van”

As one would anticipate from an international trading hub, Madripoor has newspapers from all over the world reprinted in many different languages, as well as a multiplicity of local newspapers.  The competition between these news outlets is often fierce, and like almost everything in Madripoor, sometimes crosses the line into criminal violence.  They range from the publications celebrated and respected across the world to glorified scandal sheets, half of each issue consisting of very poorly printed pornography.  Below all of them in terms of respect is the sporadic and confusing newsletter put out by Dan Hui sang.

Dan Hui sang aka News Dan of the News Dan News Van aka the Dan Man with the Dan Plan roams the city in his armored “news van” seemingly endlessly, day and night, like a shark always in motion – a shark that eats news.  Dan Hui promises to deliver news without “government propaganda or corporate spin” but largely presents news that no one would pay money for, which is why his newsletter is distributed for free out of the back of his van – and stuffed into doors of annoyed households at random when he has extras.   Which is always.

Dan Hui likes to focus on the NBH and “super” community for his news, which he feels is an area underreported by traditional news sources.  He weaves increasingly elaborate conspiracy theories about the underlying meaning of any action taken by superpowered individuals and their connections to what he sees as global shadow government controlled by corporate interests.  He reports on stories that he claims are “news that can’t be found anywhere else!”

If anyone bothered to check or pay attention, they would discover that once in a while, Dan Hui actually does scoop official sources, particularly when it comes to being first on the scene at some kind of super-powered incident.   Dan Hui has no fear when it comes to hurtling into dangerous situations to provide a first-hand account.  The two main reasons he has survived this reckless behavior (so far) are his tank-like armored vehicle and his intern/driver/bodyguard Xu Yiyang. 

Yiyang is able to elevate her adrenaline levels to give her superhuman strength, stamina, and agility for short periods of time.  This comes at the cost of exhausting herself and the probable eventuality of suffering total catastrophic organ failure.  The origin of these power and why someone with this ability would be serving as the assistant to a man who has significantly less credibility than The National Enquirer are both unknown.  

Despite his reputation and flamboyance, Dan Hui truly is a skilled reporter and works hard to pry the truth out from wherever it might be hiding.  He employs a network of informants to gather information for him that is staggering in its scope. He is fanatically devoted to what he does, believing that governments and corporations are all corrupt and represented by propaganda masters that fill the news with lies. His passion is exposing the truth, and he will go to great lengths to get it out there.

He is, predictably, quite paranoid. He believes that he “knows too much” and that the “secret masters” will take him out as soon as they get the chance, so as to stop him from exposing the truth.  In his more lucid and retrospective moments, Dan Hui wonders which truth would be worse – that there is a massive worldwide secret conspiracy trying to kill him, or that no one knows or cares what he’s doing.