Archive for February, 2012

Your Ideas Here…

Posted: February 17, 2012 in Announcements / General

So, here’s a chance for you to directly influence or inspire me here.

I have a list of half-formed (and sometimes less than that) ideas that have spawned many short stories here, as well as some specific scenes or recurring themes in the saga of “The Gathering Storm.” Many of these notes and ideas I’ve jotted down involve random thoughts about what would change in daily life if super-powered people had begun appearing noticeably in the population back in the 1970s and were increasing in number.

How might people approach life differently? What institutions might change their approach or what new institutions would emerge? How would entertainment change? How would heroes/villains do things we take for granted? And so on. Obviously, my ideas are more focused and specific than that, but those are general areas within which my ideas bounce. For example, the idea of the Caped Cuisiner restaurant and others like it came out of my thought: “Where would a costumed transhuman eat and be comfortable?” That led to other things, like the notion that villains might pay people to dress like them so that police wouldn’t be as quick to harass the real bad-guy and so they, too, could eat in peace.

I still add to that list as something occurs to me, and there are many ideas there I haven’t tapped yet, but here’s your chance to add to that list yourself.

If you have a burning question related to “how would superheroes and supervillains…” or anything else along similar lines, or if you have the nugget of a plot or theme for a story you’d like to see done here…well, post them in the comments area for this post. At my erotic fiction blogs, some of my best and longest running series (as well as some of my best one-off stories) have come from a one-paragraph plot snippet/idea submitted to me from someone else.

Nothing is too stupid to suggest. Or too crazy. Or even too extreme. Let’s see what you’ve got (if you’re willing to share).

[ – To view a list of all current chapters, click here – ]

After the tense visit by Janus’ men, a nearly half-hour-long flogging at Hush-a-Bye’s hands had been very therapeutic, and now—flushed and covered with a sheen of sweat all over his bare, bruised, welted and blood-streaked torso—GoodKnight stood near her.

“Ya did real well dealing with Janus, today, Hush-a-Bye,” he said.

“It isn’t your place to tell me when I’ve done well,” she noted imperiously.

“It is my place sometimes. You’ve come a long way, but yer still learning. I’m impressed but I’ve still got worries after all this time. Like ya don’t speak in the same style as the original Hush-a-Bye. Yer more formal and haughty. Especially tonight.”

“You hired me to fill the void she left so that you could continue to hide the fact that the sleep and silence powers actually are your own and have someone who presents the proper demeanor you require. You paid for extensive plastic surgery so that I could pass for her and no one would know the difference. I did not sign up to actually become her, however. I will carry the name and the duties and reap the rewards, but I am who I am. If anyone notices that Hush-a-Bye sounds more like landed gentry now, we can chalk it up to a change in demeanor due to the growth of our criminal enterprise and the rise of my power.”

Our enterprise? Your power?” he responded, an edge in his voice. But there was a tremor there of something other than simply irritation. Hush-a-Bye wasn’t sure if it was hope, longing or trepidation. Perhaps a mix of them?

This might be the moment of truth; it’s been a long time coming.

“Yes,” she said firmly. “I am our voice. I am the one who presents as the power behind this enterprise, while you make plans in secret and use your powers and let everyone think they’re my powers. I do that for you and for our mutual gain, but in the end, I am your mistress and you are my slave. That is the dynamic you seek, and that is what you hired me for. But long-term, I cannot simply be a hired domme with a submissive client. We must evolve to something more organic and permanent. You know that. Or are you not a true submissive? Do you simply plan to hire a series of dommes one after another and change their faces? Or do you want a stable relationship and a firm hand to ground you? To hold your leash and discipline you.”

GoodKnight gritted his teeth, but in frustration, not anger.

“Hush-a-Bye…”

Mistress,” she interrupted him.

He paused, took a deep breath, and lowered himself to his knees, bending his head to gaze at the ground as he spoke. “Mistress, this is an awkward situation. Hush-a-Bye’s death was early. Unexpected. I always knew she might die or might wanna retire from being in the thick of things. But it was too soon. The plan had always been to find someone before then for her to train up. Someone who’d dominate me but be under her. In a perfect world…”

“In an ideal world, I would have learned from the bottom up—the business of crime and the business of ruling over you. To submit before I dominated. Just like all the best mistresses I’ve ever known. But this isn’t an ideal world, worm,” she sneered. “I’ve bottomed before—long ago—and while I might have been willing to do it again for your first Hush-a-Bye, if she were still alive, I won’t do it for you. You are mine, not the other way around.”

He winced at that, feeling defensive and guilty all at once. “Mistress, I do obey you. I carry guns now, at your command, just like ya told me, even though it’s knives I really like and really trust. I take yer lashes with gratitude and grace. I…”

“Obey me in all things, big and small, not simply what you choose to obey,” she said firmly. “Give your whole self to me, not just a part.”

“Mistress, Hush-a-Bye and me…we were a team. A unit. We built our criminal activities together from the ground up. It wasn’t just a mistress-slave relationship. There was love there, too. I lost more than just a domme that night.”

“All the most rewarding mistress-slave relationships will have love in them. We can reach that point. Perhaps soon. But first you must let go of control and submit to me fully,” she said. She could see his shoulders slump just a tiny fraction; could almost feel a kind of psychic tension break.

She’d always been very good at being a bondage and S&M professional and, before she decided to trade in her old face and name for Hush-a-Bye’s, she’d made a good living at it. The level of obedience and loyalty she’d been able to command from clients had sometimes made her wonder if she had Psi or Primal transhuman powers or simply a commanding personality. But regardless, in all these long months, GoodKnight had been resistant—a fact that irked her on personal and professional levels. Now, she felt she had reached a tipping point, whether by force of personality or possible transhuman abilities of her own.

Have I finally put a crack in that resistance? Because if I don’t, there could be trouble for both of us going forward, she worried.

“You have the transhuman powers, GoodKnight; I’m the misdirection so that people don’t know that. You have the proven experience in conducting successful criminal activities and mobilizing criminal minions, so you are the brains for the scheming,” she said to him as she loomed above his kneeling, half naked body and admired the bruises and bloody stripes with which she had marked his back and shoulders. “However, I am the face. I am the voice. I stood up to Janus today without hesitation and proved I’m fully ready. I am the one who says what will be done and why. We are partners. But I make the final decision in all things, in every facet of your life. There was no Hush-a-Bye before; forget her. There was a good woman who paved the way for my arrival. There is only the Hush-a-Bye that is now. Leave the past behind and kneel to embrace the present and future, or forsake all hope of any pleasure and any peace of mind.”

“I…I want…”

“I command,” she said. “And you obey. Or you do not obey, and I leave you to your solitude and misery. There is no want. Not for you. That is my purview. For you, there is the ability and even necessity to advise me and guide me, but above all, in the end, to obey me and protect me.”

She was startled for a moment as he made a strange choking sound, and then smiled when she realized he was sobbing.

“I’m…I’m sorry…Mistress,” he said haltingly. “I’ve been…outta line. For too long. I’m nothing. I…beg forgiveness.”

One red-gloved hand stroked the black leather of the hood that covered almost his entire head, and she said, “Weep upon my boots, and lick up those tears. Wash my feet in your sorrow and your acceptance, and clean the salty residue from the leather with your kisses. That is your penance, and our true beginning.”

* * *

I’m a transhuman in costume, Zoe thought bitterly, but in a very unflattering one and not for a very heroic role.

She turned to one of her few good friends at the university, spread her arms wide, and said, “These graduation gowns are ugly as crap. They make me look and feel fat. The cap doesn’t help a bit, either, and I can barely get it to stay on my locs even with a billion bobby pins.”

“Suck it up and wear it with dignity, Zoe,” the classmate said. “Today we become real adult women, so that we can give our time and talents over to The Man in exchange for paychecks and healthcare benefits.”

Zoe chuckled at that, but she was still nervous about today. Underworld had told her Janus would let her have her graduation. Even if that was true—and this close to the event it seemed it was—that still meant that this was her last day of whatever passed for peace of mind and security since the day the recruitment and intimidation process had begun. But she wasn’t helpless, so she could still laugh. She wasn’t alone, even though she had no idea what Query was doing or whether it would help her.

Time to stand with my class, and hope for the best, she thought. At least if I end up in  Janus’ clutches, I should have my diploma when I do. Maybe I can negotiate a better cut of the criminal profits with that piece of paper, she joked with herself silently and bitterly.

* * *

Two more Guardian Corps patrols had been ambushed in the past week, and it was making Cole nervous. Not so much for himself but for the future of the Corps. Everyone seemed to be on edge, and their enemies in New Judah, especially the five toughest neighborhoods on which they concentrated their efforts, seemed to know where they were going to be much of the time now.

Making it worse was the fact that all of the recent ambushes had been against major operations. Against plans by the Corps to take down big targets. It was a wonder, Cole thought, that no one had been killed in the past two skirmishes, though a couple of the injured had come close to meeting their ends.

Cole was waiting outside Desperado’s office just as he had been told to do, and it was just a couple days after overhearing part of a strategy meeting and catching hell for supposed eavesdropping.

And the hell of it all was that I was only there to hear everything because I was doing something Desperado told me to do, he thought as a sense of déjà vu hit home.

That sensation and the memory of the previous dressing-down made made his gut twist even more when the office door opened and three people left, all of them high-ranking members of the Corps and among them one of the two lieutenants Desperado had been briefing that last time. The man gave Cole a curious look, and then over his shoulder called back to Desperado, “This little punk seems to hang around your office an awful lot.”

“Yeah, yeah he does, doesn’t he?” Desperado said, leaning against the doorway and fingering the hilt of one of his revolvers.

“But you…” Cole began.

Cutting him off, Desperado said, “Shut up, get the fuck in here and let’s address some shit, Cole.”

Calling me by my real name instead of my codename Quantum means he’s pissed, Cole realized. I’ve finally figured that out. Around here, that’s a bigger insult than slapping a name like “Puppy” onto a new recruit.

“Fuck,” Cole muttered under his breath, and shambled into the office to be dressed down yet again.

* * *

As Zoe was pulling her gown off over her head, she couldn’t see the startled looks on the faces of fellow students all around her who had been, like her, returning their gowns at one of the smaller tents that had been set up in the commons for the post-graduation activities. But she did hear the rapid popping sounds of bullets being fired nearby.

She sensed people scattering around her as she struggled out of the gown to free up her limbs and her vision—as she began the metabolic shift of her Morph powers.

Oh shit it’s happening, her panicked mind repeated several times as she finally threw off the gown. Underworld wasn’t fucking kidding about the deadline. Talk about a literal graduation day cut-off to my reprieve.

Something struck her, and then another something, and she felt stunning jolts throughout her body even as her skin began to toughen and her hair and nails become razor sharp potential weapons.

Too slow, though. Too late. As she stiffened, relaxed, and then tumbled over her own feet, she was out before she hit the ground, her last thoughts being: Fuck my life.

* * *

As disguises went, it wasn’t the best in the world, but by standing in the shadows and ducking his head a lot, the human-face mask over his black mask didn’t have to be all that detailed—just easy to yank off.

And a fake graduation gown hides a multitude of “fuck you up” toys, Query mused.

When the assault team rushed out of a nearby van toward Zoe as she was pulling off her gown, Query was ready. The presence of a van already had him alert; the scent of sweat, gun oil and more from inside when he passed by it earlier made him infinitely more so.

He didn’t like the idea of letting them actually reach Zoe, but it seemed the best course. The more they thought they had things in the bag, the better for him and for the element of surprise. Also, since he didn’t know whether Zoe would be a help or a hindrance in a fight, it made sense to have her down and more or less safely out of the way.

When the two tasers struck home and felled her as she finally yanked off her gown, Query pulled off his fake graduation cap, peeled off the black covering and revealed what really lay beneath—a metal disc with several nodules around the edge. He flung it into the van and covered his face for a moment as the series of mini flashbangs went off.

That takes care of the backup team members and the getaway driver.

That left four armed men in light body armor. Ripping off his faux graduation gown, and hoping he’d put the right amount of weights around the hem of it, he flung it like a net over the head of the nearest abductor and pressed a button on his belt as it draped the man’s entire upper torso. Query heard the hacking and gasping as the small gas bomb inside went off  and took him down, even as he rushed the next-nearest man and caught him in an armlock before he could bring his gun to bear. Query put a tree in between himself and one of the other two remaining men, and his mostly immobilized enemy in between himself and the other perpetrator.

To Query’s dismay, that man had enough sense, good reflexes and combat savvy not to fire his weapon.

So much for getting him to maim or kill my human shield, he thought, and pulled out a small cylinder from one of the inside pockets of his leather duster. He jammed one end of it into the lower back of his prisoner and as the needle shot forth and delivered the contents of the ampule inside, he dropped the man to the ground to let him quiver and shake, soon to pass out.

Or, if he’s allergic to what I gave him, to die of anaphylaxis, he considered. No great loss to society if so.

Coming around the other side of the tree, and having been more or less tracking one of the two remaining men by hearing—difficult but not impossible with the yells and screams of bystanders all around—Query had a Walther P99 out and ready.

His first 9mm bullet went a little high and barely grazed the man’s hip; the second hit him squarely in a kneecap. As the man stumbled and fell with a shout, Query shot him with a tranquilizer dart from a gun in his right hand, then tossed the now-useless weapon away since it could only hold one dart.

In other circumstances against armed men like this I’d be more inclined for the lethal approach since bullets are more plentiful and effective, but there are too many bystanders and I’m likely to have police involvement. No reason to make my life any more complicated by killing anyone—even the bad guys.

The fourth and final man shot Query right in the heart, and the costumed hero spun nearly 360 degrees to his right and around the back of another tree, less from the impact of the bullet than a desire to avoid getting shot again.

That hurt, asshole, but you made a bad decision in the heat of the moment. That’s the most heavily armored part of my costume.

Query wasn’t eager to find out how well the lighter armor in his mask would take a bullet—and this remaining man would likely be smart enough to go for a headshot this time—so when he came out from behind his cover, Query flung a pair of tanglers at his final opponent, one after the other. The first exploded against a shin, sending out an array of sticky tendrils, most of them attaching themselves to nearby trees and a few sticking to his other leg. As the man stumbled, the second tangler ended up hitting him in one shoulder instead of his head, but it was still enough to hinder his gun hand and ensure Query could restrain him easily and then attend to all of his friends.

Janus, you’re a bastard for not showing up yourself, Query thought as he finished up with the four men outside and moved on to handcuffing the stunned occupants of the van. But I knew that would be a long-shot.

Retrieving the tranquilizer gun he had tossed aside earlier, Query took stock of his surroundings. He didn’t see any casualties aside from the perpetrators he had subdued—except for the shots at Query, the gunfire from the abduction team had been intended to clear people out of the area.

Zoe was groaning, and the fact she was already getting up confirmed the suspicions he’d had when he saw her skin color and texture shift a bit, along with the texture of her hair—all of which had returned to normal once she had been stunned. In addition to being an Acro, she was a Morph, and likely the change she had initiated provided her some protection against the twin taser shots.

He stepped over to her, and held out his left arm, saying, “You all right, Miss Dawson?”

Blinking and realizing who was standing there, she took the proffered hand and he pulled her upright. As she got to her feet fully, she yelped “Ouch!” and yanked back her hand.

“What?” he asked. “Something wrong?”

“You just stabbed me in the wrist or something,” she complained, rubbing at a small wound there.

He took her wrist lightly and turned it back and forth to examine it. “Sorry about that. I’ve got plenty of sharp edges all over. Probably a bit of my light armor has a little bent edge after that melee. Just a small cut. You OK otherwise, though?”

“Yeah,” she said, taking stock of the trussed-up team. “Wow. You took out six people by yourself?”

“Seven if you count the driver. Helps that I wasn’t expected,” he said with a snort, hearing approaching sirens.

“Is it over?” she asked hopefully, craning her head to get a better look at some of the men who’d tried to abduct her. He suspected she was looking for signs that one of the perps might be Janus.

“Doubt it. But I’m on to some leads to track this back to the source and head things off next time,” Query lied. Then, because it always felt better to him to temper such lies with truth, he added, “But if anyone comes again, I plan to keep showing up. He won’t send as many people next time most likely. As it starts costing him too much, he’ll stop coming at you.”

“I wasn’t sure you were even doing anything all this time,” she admitted.

“I take my jobs seriously, Zoe, even the pro bono ones. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d rather leave before the police get here, but I’m sure you can tell them enough,” Query said. “As well as press charges, I assume,” he added with as jovial a lilt as he could muster.

“Bet on it,” she said with a smile as he brushed by her and headed away from the sirens.

Sorry to keep using you as bait, Zoe, but at least I can be pretty sure he won’t try to kill you, Query thought as he beat his hasty retreat, wishing he could have taken one or two of the abduction team with him for interrogation, though it was unlikely they knew Janus’ whereabouts. Let’s just hope I don’t slip up and let him take you where I can’t follow.

* * *

“Rare Query sighting in the daytime, sir,” Jeremiah said as he entered Fortunato’s office. “He seems to have foiled an armed attempt today to kidnap a graduating senior from UConn’s New Judah campus.”

“A bit more colorful and dramatic than his usual fare,” Fortunato said.

“And a strike team of seven that he took out, no less, with vests, riot helmets, automatic weapons and more,” Jeremiah added.

“My oh my. What is this student heir to, that someone should be so eager to abduct him and that Query should be on alert and waiting in the wings?”

“Actually, sir, a young woman of no particular means at all, except for being a skilled enough athlete to earn a full scholarship,” Jeremiah answered. “However, some of our inside sources in the police have passed along some information that your analysts found interesting, in that the team Query took down may be directly or loosely attached to the group Janus hired to kill him recently.”

“So, Janus still has an inexplicable animosity toward Query, and their antics have become more public. Well, Jeremiah, it’s looking like my decision to build a team is even more prescient than I thought—and maybe this recent twist will make it more likely we can convince Query to sign up.”

* * *

Nearly everyone was on edge on Janus’ floors and Underworld’s floor of the building. By all accounts, Janus was furious about the failure of the operation to kidnap Zoe, and even more so about Query’s involvement in thwarting the abduction.

She bought that story for about 15 minutes until she came to her senses. Everyone else could continue believing the rage was real, but probably the only part of it that was would be true was the irritation about Query’s presence. Janus wanted Query dead very badly, for reasons she still didn’t understand, so it was likely the hero popping up now would anger him.

But the rest rang hollow. The team Janus had sent against Zoe was a good one, to be sure—if it had been sent against a normal person. But Zoe was potentially valuable enough for Janus to have Underworld woo her, so he must suspect she had strong talents or knew of significant powers that he hadn’t revealed to anyone else. Also, he couldn’t have been fool enough to think Zoe might not have tried to secure some kind of transhuman aid since she knew she was being pursued by transhumans.

Both factors would have indicated that the team should include at least one person with a strong power set, if not two of them, and that the operation should never have been carried out so boldly in broad daylight.

Janus isn’t that stupid or sloppy, so why did he order an operation that had a decent chance of failing? Underworld pondered, fuming silently. And why is he keeping me in the dark?

On the way to his office, she spotted Crazy Jane coming around the corner at the other end of the hall, a bright smile on her tattooed face. Underworld’s steps faltered as she considered turning around, but then the compulsion to be near Jane kicked in, and she semi-reluctantly continued forward.

I need to confront the bastard anyway, and to get to him I’ve got to go past her.

“Hi, Undie,” Crazy Jane said. “It’s been a couple days since I’ve seen you. Miss ya! See ya soon,” she concluded as she glided by Underworld and skipped down the remainder of the hall.

Underworld felt a little flood of relief, not just because Crazy Jane hadn’t lingered but, she realized, because she’d given Underworld her much-needed fix.

I needed to see her and hear her voice, and now I have, and it makes me feel better; makes me want to call her up for coffee soon. Shit.

That reminded Underworld of her suspicions that Janus was probably behind Jane setting her hooks into her to begin with, and simply reinforced her commitment to confront him.

She burst into his office moments later without preamble; without knocking.

“Now is not the time!” Janus bellowed. “Come back—”

“Cut the bullshit, you douche-plug,” she responded curtly. “Drop the act.”

“Which act would that be?” he asked, voice suddenly calm and with a playful, teasing hint to his words.

“Take your pick,” she said. “But what the hell, how about I go ahead with lady’s choice? Let’s start with the botched attempt to nab a woman you’ve had me working so hard to bring into our fold. You didn’t consult me on the team, you didn’t tell me you were sending one, and you fucked it up—on purpose. Why?”

“Well, I didn’t actually want it to fail,” Janus said. “That would just be stupid. I don’t throw money and men away, and I do want lovely Zoe to join us. However, I felt there was a high probability things might go south, so I wanted to test the waters without risking any of our more valuable assets.”

“So, are we giving up on Zoe now, or are you going to let me pick a proper team this time with a plan that is actually designed with a win firmly in mind?”

Janus made a show of leaning back dramatically in his chair and putting his hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling for several moments before saying, “Oh…fine…you go ahead and show me how it’s done, Underworld.”

“Great. Only problem for you is that I don’t think you’ll be alive to congratulate me when I nab her.”

Janus sat up, and behind the half-comedy/half-drama theater mask he had chosen to wear today, his eyes regarded her more intently, a glint of intrigue in them. “Oh? And why are you stepping up any plans you might have to part me from my mortal coil?”

“Crazy Jane.”

“I know you’ve occasionally gone to your side of the gender line for sexual recreation, Underworld, but I didn’t realize you wanted to steal my girlfriend. So unlike you.”

“Don’t be a smart-ass,” she snapped. “You directed her to nail me with her addictive powers.”

“Why would I do that? We both know their effects aren’t as dramatic on transhumans, and I’d hardly want competition for her time and affections, especially with her pet projects she spends so much time on. I’m the jealous type.”

“Yeah. Jealous and greedy and grasping, which is why you wanted her to make biochemical friends with me because if we’re BFFs, I won’t jump ship from this operation you shanghaied me into joining,” Underworld said.

“Intriguing notion. It’s possible I might even have thought of such a thing,” Janus said. “However, I don’t see why this would make you want to kill me, even if it is true.”

“Because you’ve messed with me in a fundamental and really fucking disturbing way. I may not be able to take any of this out on Jane thanks to her little hold on my affections now, but I can take it out on the person who sicced her on me.”

“Oh, but if that were so, you wouldn’t dare,” Janus said smoothly.

“Why not?”

“Kill me openly and obviously, and Jane would be angry with you. I’m her main man. Her first love. Her true blue. And she cares enough to have a hold on me, too. Take me away, and she’d likely take her attentions away from you in retaliation. It wouldn’t devastate you like it would a normal person, but it already hurts to consider it, doesn’t it? Hurts your heart a bit—metaphorically, that is. You like her regard too much to risk losing it.”

“Bastard,” Underworld hissed.

“And, if you were to kill me clandestinely,” he continued, unfazed, “you’d still risk that she’d suspect you of avenging yourself on me. The more you consider it, the more unpleasant the consequences of taking me out are, aren’t they? In fact, you’ll probably have to consider the necessity of making extra-sure I stay alive, just in case any harm I might come to might look like it was orchestrated by you.”

“Shit!” Underworld spat, turning and storming toward the door. “This isn’t over!” she shouted without turning back.

“I know! Toodles! Go take your anger out on Query by snatching Zoe, please. Thanks oodles!”

Janus smiled and leaned back in his chair, sighing.

If not for Query still being alive, I’d say everything was going perfectly.

[ – To view the next chapter, click here – ]

Homage or Garbage?

Posted: February 15, 2012 in Ruminations

Sometimes the lines between homage, inspiration and copy-catting are thin. As I write these stories, I sometimes wonder if there really are any new ideas or memes in the superhero and supervillain world.

Now, that may sound maudlin, I know. But I’m not really stressing about it. Just ruminating.

(Plus, I’ll be posting another chapter of The Gathering Storm tomorrow and I like to have at least one post in between new chapters so people who come straight to the main page don’t get confused and think the new chapter is actually the previous installment. Also, I need to write an article for money, but I’m not motivated yet, so I’ll ramble here instead.)

I’ve already mentioned in various places on this blog that the world of the Whethermen is strongly influenced by Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” comics as well as by such titles as the various X-Men, Doom Patrol and Justice League titles over the years. So, I recognize that there are influences from which I draw.

But sometimes, I look at my characters and wonder if they are unique enough. Are they truly my own creations, or simply spins on someone else’s?

Let’s take Query, for example. The name alone is a revealing factor, especially with a mostly featureless mask that doesn’t even show the hero’s eyes, much like…The Question. And at the same time, there are many elements of Query that are like Batman and even some like Rorschach. He has a loose affiliation with a freelance female operative named Cheshire. Is she simply a spin on Catwoman, but platonic and with the Invisible Woman’s powers tossed in?

Then there is Fortunato, who seems at times to me to be simply a Latino version of Ozymandias from “The Watchmen” with perhaps a bit of Tony Stark’s charm thrown into the assholery…minus the towering genius of either.

Is Mad Dash just the Wally West version of Flash with some slight mental imbalances? Is his girlfriend Ladykiller just Wolverine with breasts, minus a healing factor and working through rape survival PTSD?

And on the villain side, is Janus just a mashup of The Joker and Two-Face, and Crazy Jane is simply his Harley Quinn?

There are others who aren’t so easy to peg, of course, and this gives me hope that I’m not completely falling into traps of homage-turned-lack-of-creativity. Zoe Dawson, for example, who will eventually become Loc-Down, doesn’t remind me of anyone in any comics I’ve read. Nor does Underworld or Tooth Fairy. Epitaph is another one who seems to be cut from whole cloth and not from remainders and scraps left behind by more talented writers than I.

What do you think? What do you say? Does familiarity of themes resonate, or do you see too much of the original inspirations in my own characters? Is that good or bad? Have you even noticed or thought about it? Where do the missing socks in the dryer go to?

I mean, you don’t have to chime in, but it would be nice if you have a few minutes. The comments section is a lonely place at this blog.

[ – To view a list of all current chapters, click here – ]

Through a mouthful of glazed doughnut, Carl Beacham mumbled, “Are we there yet?”

“Yeah, and we’ve been here a bit over an hour and we’ll be here several hours more at least. But you already knew that. I warned you stakeouts were boring,” Query said from the driver’s side of the SUV, peering out the window that, like the others, he had switched to tinted mode when they parked near Zoe’s dorm. “You should have brought some music and headphones; maybe a Raymond Chandler audio book to really get into our theme tonight. You know, I can’t believe you brought a dozen glazed doughnuts.”

“Too cliché?”

“No. I just don’t like glazed, unless it’s Krispy Kremes. We’ve had enough morning meetings for you to know I’m a maple long john or buttercrunch person.”

“You wouldn’t take your mask even halfway off to eat them anyway while I’m around, so I don’t feel all that guilty,” the lawyer retorted. “So, why am I on this stakeout with you again?”

“Because keeping an eye on Zoe is big, if I want to nail the man that almost got you and me shot to hell,” Query answered, glancing at the eight smart phones mounted to the dashboard—all of them the new Droid Nexusz that people had been scrambling for since the novelty had worn off the iPhone Sextet. Each was receiving a spy-camera feed from some exterior part of the dorm they couldn’t see from the vehicle. “Because of that,” Query continued, “I can use a second set of eyes tonight, since I don’t think Janus will wait much longer to nab her. Plus, like I said: Stakeouts are boring. I could use the company.”

“You overpay me a bit for something like this, but I suppose it’s good to be useful,” Carl said sourly. “Even if the only reason you probably pay me is for you to have someone to talk to besides yourself.”

“Jesus, Carl! What’s with the sudden moody tone? I don’t need you going all emo on me during an already agonizing chore.”

“It’s true, isn’t it? You don’t really need a lawyer. You could do all that yourself with your big, bad, super-intuitive damn brain. I’m paid to be around to be the cushion between you and the outside world and to be your friend.”

“What? You don’t like me? We’re not really friends?” Query asked. Carl couldn’t tell for certain through the mask if Query was being light or sarcastic, though his voice seemed to carry vaguely amused tones.

“Yeah, I like ya, but it’s hurting my professional pride, man. You pay me to be around; not because you need my skills.”

“Man goes into existential crisis; falls apart like cells in lysis,” Query mumbled—thinking he should jot that down for a future set of lyrics—then said, in normal tones, “You’ve got no fucking clue, Carl. Of course I need your skills. I don’t know the first thing about lawyering.”

“You could probably pick it up in a matter of weeks—or a few months at most—with your powers,” Carl grumbled. “Some of us have to work years at this shit.”

“Like I said, you have no clue. Is that really how you think my intuitive powers work? That I can do anything I want; learn anything I want?”

“When I asked about the clarinet in your office a few months ago—”

“Alto saxophone,” Query corrected him.

“OK, the sax in your office—you told me you’d never picked up a sax before your powers emerged. But when you started on it, you became a good player in a matter of weeks and a great player not that much longer after. Probably the same with your electronics skills and everything else.”

“Carl, half of why I do all that shit is to give me something to do every hour of the day so that I don’t go crazy. I don’t sleep!”

“Insomnia’s a bitch, to be sure,” Carl said through another mouthful of doughnut.

“No, Carl. I don’t sleep. Ever. I can’t sleep anymore. Not for several years now.”

“Huh?”

“A couple years of working this closely with me and you haven’t figured that out? That I’m up any time you need to call? That I send e-mails at all hours every day? That I’m reverse-engineering military drones, patrolling New Judah, tracking people down through physical, electronic and virtual surveillance and still have time to keep up with all the best new cable TV series and read three books a week? Carl, I have two fake secret identities just to keep myself busy and not completely bug out, in addition to who I really am.”

“Which is Donald Trump, of course, right? You forgot to mention the time you spend doing real estate deals, hosting stupid reality TV shows and trying to prove President Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen, right?” Carl paused and Query remained silent, looking at the lawyer briefly and then glancing at the phone displays again. Carl cleared his throat and began again, his voice more somber. “Seriously, though, you never sleep? I didn’t know you were being literal all those times you said ‘I don’t sleep.’ Thought you were just being all mysterious and brooding and bitchy.”

“Carl, I can’t even be properly sedated. Believe me, I used to try,” Query said. “I do tons of stuff and learn to do lots of things so I don’t go insane. My Regenerator powers probably help, too, or I’m sure my synapses would just fall apart anyway, but yeah. That’s me. That’s what I do.”

“But still, you could drop one of your other identities or some extra hobby you have to eat up time, and learn all the law-school stuff I spent years on, and probably have it down in weeks. Ergo, I’m still just hired to be company. You could learn law and hire an agent or PR person or someone trying to earn their private investigator license to do the go-between stuff for way less than I cost.”

“I had no idea the depths of your self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy, Carl. Do I need to give you a raise so you can afford some therapy?”

“I’d just spend it on some cool wines to stick in my cellar and tell you I was going to therapy,” Carl said. “I’ve got no interest in shrinks.”

“And I have no interest in law, Carl,” Query said. “I also call a plumber when my pipes back up and I let mechanics work on my cars when they go to shit. Sure, I need your law skills pretty often, even when you’re not my go-between with clients and authorities and crap—a task alone that makes you worth your salary already—but I don’t want to learn that crap.”

Query paused and stared at one of the camera views of Zoe’s dorm for several moments. “Is that…no…just a possum running past the front entrance,” he mumbled, then half-turned his head in the direction of Carl, who couldn’t understand how Query could have picked out such a small detail on such a small display even with enhanced senses. “Look, I play the sax like a pro. The guitar almost as well. I’m great at electrical and mechanical engineering. Master of disguise. Good with a gun. And more. But at a certain point, if I don’t give those skills plenty of exercise, all the intuitive, hyper-learning potential is useless. Practice makes perfect. I spread myself too thin…well, then I won’t be pro at anything. I’ll lose my edge in the things I need to know and the things I want to do well because I like them.”

Carl nibbled thoughtfully at the edge of his doughnut, pursed his lips and finally responded, “All right, I feel valued and valuable again.” Then he pointed the half-eaten doughnut toward Zoe’s dorm and added, “Think that guy over there should be hanging around here?”

“A guy in his 30s or 40s? At a women’s athletic dormitory? Nope,” Query answered. “Probably a pair of Janus’ eyes; either means we can expect a nabbing tonight, or more likely he’s just keeping tabs on her because things are about to come to a head. There’s also a guy on phone number five that shouldn’t be there.”

“Which hopefully means a kidnapping squad shows up here soon, so that you can take them down while I play Angrier Birds on my phone. Otherwise, I guess we’re taking turns sleeping and spending all night in this SUV to see what these guys do and try to figure out where they go.”

If I slept, of course. But yes, you’re a quick study. We’ll make a gumshoe out of you yet.”

“Good thing I’ve got 10 more doughnuts, then. Don’t have the faintest idea what you’re gonna eat though, Query.”

“I’ll dine on imponderable mysteries and deep thoughts. Unlike your diet tonight, I won’t need to wash it down with lukewarm coffee and pee into a bottle later.”

* * *

Serene.

That was the feeling Dr. Jack Hansen had when he worked very early or very late at the Genesis One facility. The subjects were typically asleep or sedated, and aside from a few screams, curses and incoherent cries on some days, he could simply be.

Be the director of one of the most secret places in the United States. Be alone with his thoughts. Be clear enough to rationalize his actions and push down his guilt. Be calm.

Staff was mostly scant or non-existent in the central operations area before 7:30 a.m., so that desire to be drew him here at 5:30 or 6:00. It was easy most days, given how often he slept in his office—his apartment was usually a memory as vague and inconsequential to him as musings of being a six-year-old or recollections of his first pet.

But serenity was a fragile flower, and the unexpected arrival of Gen. Keith B. Alexander—whose many titles included head of the National Security Agency—a few minutes after six made that peace of mind wilt away instantly.

“General, what an unexpected pleasure,” Jack said.

“I doubt it is, Doctor,” the general responded. “A pleasure or unexpected.”

“Wasn’t expecting your visit to happen quite so early in a workday.”

“I know your schedule; we need privacy.”

“Did the president give the green light?”

“He didn’t have much choice, but there is a decent chance he’ll pull the plug before his term ends,” the NSA director noted. “I hope not, because it would complicate my life a great deal. I don’t need this facility being any blacker a black project that it already is.”

“What can I do to keep us open?” Jack asked.

“Showing him results that involve induced transhumans who aren’t crazy as bedbugs would be a good start.”

“We have many of the usual speed bumps in that regard, but we’re managing all right. If you can put him off another few weeks, that would help.”

“With as much as he has to deal with right now with the Republicans in Congress, I can probably give you a month and a half. Just don’t give me any disasters.”

“There won’t be any more cases like Dr. Kelly’s,” Jack said firmly.

“Which bring me to my next point: Under no circumstances do you tell or allow any information that we are responsible for creating Doctor Holiday to get to the president. Are we clear?”

“I voted for Obama; I still like him more than Bush. Asking me to hide information from the president of the United States is a tall order, Keith. I’m also not pleased you told me some weeks back that he wanted results by Thanksgiving; you had me believing he was already on board.”

“You needed incentive. As for my original point, Obama has been staunchly repeating—himself and through cabinet members—that Doctor Holiday was not a government experiment. It was easy to keep that from President Bush—he was never in a position to know anything but the most vague hints of what we are. But now we’re at a point where the president has to know what we’re doing—but he doesn’t need to know that.”

“Because he’ll shut us down if he does?”

“Jack,” the general responded gravely. “We take away his plausible deniability about that particular thorn in society’s side and his opponents pin him to the wall and make it seem like he’s responsible in some way for Doctor Holiday’s continued freedom—and they will—and the president might find us both special accommodations at Guantanamo Bay that the CIA won’t even know we’re in.”

* * *

Going on patrol with Mad Dash tonight had seemed like a good idea to Ladykiller at the time, since they hadn’t been able to get together for a couple days. It seemed an especially good idea since she had suggested their target: an apparent kidnapping and forced prostitution ring that she had gotten wind of.

If I can’t do my normal Ladykiller routine and take out rapists and such, at least I can go after a similar kind of target—though I wouldn’t have tried something this big solo, she thought.

Sadly, the operation they had decided to take down tonight also seemed to do a small but brisk business in meth and skeez—something she hadn’t expected—and so there were several more heavily armed individuals than she would have expected, an observation punctuated as several rounds whizzed by and dug chips out of the brickwork facade of a nearby warehouse where she had taken cover behind a car.

There was a sudden thump and clatter above her as a body landed on the roof of the vehicle and then rolled on onto the pavement right next to her with a loud “Ouchie!”

“OK, managed not to get shot with that turbo-charged-double-espresso pass, but I don’t see any good way to get near them without ending up dead-dead-deadio,” Mad Dash said, rubbing one shoulder.

Ladykiller was in her Honey Badger identity tonight since Mad Dash might be spotted with her, so she had a pair of bulky clawed gauntlets instead of her usual single, sleek one. She had to pull off both of them as she sighed heavily and then reached behind her back. From a small fanny-pack beneath her faux tail, she pulled a 9mm pistol that was half pink and half gunmetal gray and flipped off the safety.

“Cute gun, hon,” Mad Dash said.

“Thanks. Gift from an admirer. But I’m not that great of a shot and I’ll be out of bullets really quick. You carrying?”

“Gun? Like that?” Nah,” he answered. “I really try to avoid them. Chainsaws, too, but mostly because they’re bulky and burn fossil fuels.” He eyed her gun and then her tail. “Got anything else back there?”

“My ass. If we live, I might let you see it nekkid before bedtime,” she answered, then cringed as another bullet struck the wall behind her, closer than the previous ones. “Any other weapons on you, since you don’t have guns or power tools?”

“I try to remember to bring a couple taser guns but I forgot ‘em again.”

“Not that they’d be much use at this range when we’re being shot at,” she said as she unzipped Mad Dash’s small backpack and looked inside. “Let’s see…no…no…uh…what the fuck!” She pulled out a dark cylindrical item. “What are these and why didn’t you tell me you had them?”

“Oh, my ‘Flashdance’ grenades? Cool! I always forget those are in the bottom. Always burying them under the snickety-snacks. Gift from Query a few months ago. Got 10 more at home.”

“Flashdance? You mean flashbang grenades? Jesus, Dash!”

“Hey, I like Jennifer Beals!”

“I’m not questioning your taste in movies; it’s your total disorganization when it comes to accessorizing that drives me nuts,” she responded, pulling out the other stun grenade. She pulled the pin on the first one, threw it over to where their opponents were, then ducked back down, smiling as the loud blast and blinding flash put a theoretically non-lethal and sudden stop to the gunfire. A few seconds later, she pulled the pin on the second grenade and tossed it over as well. “Never do anything half-way,” she said, then fixed a glare on Mad Dash that was, in truth, only half-irritated. “Let’s go truss them up and get to business. Seriously, Dash, do I have to start dressing you for these outings so that I’ll know you’re properly equipped?”

“Oooo, sounds like fun. OK!” he answered. “Can you also put me in my strawberry jams at night before bed?”

* * *

Solstice didn’t like that Query had dumped the whole Marty the Hun mess back into her lap instead of solving the problem for her. On the other hand, exercising her investigative skills was probably long overdue.

Also, taking down Marty was going to be really fun if the plan her stepsister and roommate, Isabella, had cooked up ended up working. Marty might have dodged the other charges for now, but he would have owner and operator of a drug-cooking lab on the list, too, and likely not slip that one. A few other bits of planted evidence, and he should at least do a decent stretch.

Killing him would have been easier, but killing even a scumbag when she wasn’t in imminent danger from said scumbag was a line she hoped not to cross. Certainly not this early in her crime-fighting career.

While Query wasn’t willing to let her off the hook for dealing with Marty herself, he turned out to be very amenable to assisting her with the frame-up of the man. He seemed very pleased with the plan she and Isabella had hatched, and pointed her in the direction of an operation he’d apparently wanted to take out but had been too busy to address.

Now all she had to do was take down the few people that were usually there, call up Query to have someone pick them up and drop them naked on the turf of their bitterest rivals, and then lure Marty and his goons to the empty drug lab so that she could take them down, plant some more evidence, call the cops and be done with all this shit—maybe still have time to go out dancing with the cute redhead she had run into at that art gallery last week.

* * *

Sleek, stately and elegant, Hush-a-Bye sat in an oversized, dark leather office chair, but with only a small, sleek stainless steel desk before her. Her back was ramrod-straight, hands crossed over her lap, and one leg crossed over the other. The black gown she wore, so close in shade to her long, straight hair, was tight enough to reveal her every curve to perfection, but modest enough to make her appear regal rather than slatternly. A pearl choker graced her pale throat, and diamond earrings hung from her ears. The dichotomy of the short, shiny, red patent-leather gloves and the similarly-colored thigh-high, chunk-heeled boots lent a certain primal edge to the formal demeanor she otherwise conveyed.

At her feet was a man curled up almost like a dog—though doing so more like a pit bull than a lapdog. That man, GoodKnight, wore at least a half-dozen knives and three pistols on his body, clad in heavy black leather from head to toe, except for his mouth and eyes.

“To what do I owe the honor of this visit, Janus?” the woman asked, the slightest sarcastic lilt on the word honor. “I was surprised enough when I heard you’d moved eastward and left a criminal void out west. Now you’re visiting Marksburgh? Paying respects to me? Offering some kind of tribute to me? Looking for me to take you under my wing?”

For a moment, Janus’ two-faced metal helmet regarded her silently, then a low laugh came forth. “Well, business and money are involved, but I was thinking that you might want to become a subsidiary of my operations.”

For a few seconds, Hush-a-Bye pursed her lips and placed one gloved fingertip to them as if in consideration, then put her hands back into her lap and shook her head slightly. “No, I think not. I rather like ruling the roost all by my lonesome, with my faithful vassal by my side.”

“Oh, but I insist. I don’t take ‘no’ very well,” Janus responded.

“Really, I thought you’d be more careful, Janus. Coming with just a pair of bodyguards into my lair. Into the dark heart of Marksburgh, where people watch documentary footage of the roughest gang-ridden Detroit and South Central L.A. neighborhoods to cheer themselves up have something brighter to dream of. To the throne of a crime lord who can put people to sleep with a thought.”

“I suppose it would be foolish if, in fact, I were here,” Janus said, “rather than having sent a minion in a really nice suit wearing one of my used helmets, helpfully installed with a speaker, mic and two-way transmitter in it.”

“I say that’s a bluff,” Hush-a-Bye responded. “GoodKnight, sic him—just a tiny bit.”

In a flash, the muscular man in leather was upon Janus and had two fingers of the left hand in his grip. With a quick jerk, he snapped them both and bent them back hard, until one broken bone of the little finger burst free of the skin. The helmeted, Armani-clad man screamed, but coming through calmly, mixed with that cacophony, was Janus’ voice.

“Really? Violence so early on? You know it’s going to much harder to hear me now over the moans and groans of this pitiful, pain-averse pawn.” The fake Janus was on his knees, gripping the wounded hand close to his chest, as the real Janus’ voice continue to issue forth from the helmet, unperturbed. “Satisfied that I’m not really here, or do you need to wound the two bodyguards, too?”

“Well, I had to be certain. I could have gotten lucky,” Hush-a-Bye noted.

“You’d consider harming the real me to be ‘lucky?’ This does not bode well for our future business dealings.”

“You didn’t come to do business, Janus. You came to get a foothold in my playground and a firm grip on the balls of my criminal enterprise. No one—no one, I say—takes from me anything that is mine. I worked hard to take it all from others, after all.”

“It’s true that I had hoped you’d be a bit softer or more fragile in person and perhaps easily cowed by a personage with such a notorious reputation as mine,” Janus admitted over the sobs and groans of the man on the floor wearing his attire. “But mostly I’d like to diversify. I propose to invest in your operations a bit. And in so doing, reap some of the rewards of your efforts.”

“I’m not a publicly traded company, Janus; I don’t need investors. I subsist on victims, pawns and customers. Privately owned and never imitated.”

“There could be benefits in this for you, Hush-a-Bye. I have begun to assemble a very impressive group of transhumans. I’ve been very exacting in finding just the right personalities and just the right incentives to have a stable dynamic. No infighting. Just a perfect collection of power at my command.”

Hush-a-Bye smiled, but there was no humor in it. She stood up slowly, and then rested one hand on top of the leather-clad head of GoodKnight, who had quickly and quietly returned to her side on all fours after breaking the faux Janus’ fingers.

“Are you telling me that such a force would be available to aid in my own endeavors from time to time, Janus,” she asked with a warning note in her voice, “or that it will be aimed at me if I don’t comply and let you ‘invest’ in my operations?”

“I’ll let you decide which is more likely,” Janus answered.

“You’re playing a dangerous game with a lethal person in the meanest city in the United States, Janus. And even if I do say ‘yes,’ your cut will be small, your obligations will be set in stone and your input will be silent.”

“A ‘silent’ partner? Is the pun intentional, Hush-a-Bye? Is that a sign perhaps you’re warming to my charms?”

“I’ll let you decide which is more likely,” she responded. “Have your two upright henchmen here pick up that whimpering fool and bring him back in two days. I’ll have a response to present through him to you then.”

“As you say,” Janus responded through the speaker in the mask, as the man was lifted by both arms and half-dragged from the room. As the trio retreated slowly toward the door, the voice fading slightly as they did, Janus added, “Let’s just make sure no nuclear responses will be called for.”

* * *

Cole had groaned inwardly when Blockbuster told him to show up at Desperado’s office in the Guardian Corps HQ at 3:15 sharp.

He almost groaned out loud after he passed through the empty meeting area and conference room—a shabby area filled with mismatched chairs and even more mismatched long foldout tables—and then realized that Desperado was meeting with a pair of his top lieutenants. He couldn’t hear everything, but much like the fiasco when he was doing the newsletters the other day, he was certain he was inadvertently intruding on a very private conversation.

For a few minutes, he hovered near the door, unsure whether to stay—it was 3:18 now and he had been told to be here—or whether to leave and risk Desperado’s wrath for being a no-show.

“Is someone out there?” Desperado demanded roughly, then threw open the door, throwing his imposing shadow over Cole in the process. “What the fuck are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be hear for an hour. Get the fuck out and get the fuck back when you’re supposed to!”

The man stepped back into his office and slammed the door, but not so soon that Cole couldn’t see the piercing glares of the other two men inside—one suspicious and one almost hostilely curious.

As he left, the stress of the whole situation sent a piercing stab of pain through his head, and he stumbled to the nearest quiet space away from Desperado’s area as he could to ride out another one of those dirty, almost migraine-like auras dominating his vision. The dirtiest yet, turning his world into a haze of greens, browns and bloody reds.

[ – To view the next chapter, click here – ]

Updating the Backstory

Posted: February 3, 2012 in Announcements / General

I’ve let a lot of notes pile up about the Whethermen universe, so in addition to getting new chapters out for “The Gathering Storm” and miscellaneous one-off stories, I’ll be doing a lot of updating of the info pages for this blog, adding characters, bios, background info, history, etc.

Prepare to be overwhelmed with everything from gourmet fare to junk food, loyal readers.