Archive for April, 2013

Dirt, he decided, tasted decidedly foul.

All the more so mixed with his own blood.

However, the taste of soil and blood in his mouth—a few stray dry pieces of grass sticking to the bloody split at the corner of his mouth—as least gave him clarity. That was a welcome thing if he was going to get out of this mess. Because when the fist had connected with his face and his face with the ground, he had felt certain he’d be out cold.

“Get up, nigger!” the older teen shouted. He was a senior, and Hugo struggled to remember his name. He wasn’t sure he’d known it all that well even before his brain had gotten rattled.


Josh was the name. He played varsity football. But why the fuck did Josh just blindside him? Hugo struggled upward, arms shakily getting him into a push-up-like position, then onto one knee in a crouch.

angry-teen“I said ‘get up’ you fucking nigger!”

Hugo spat out blood, but was relieved that no teeth followed. “I’m not a nigger,” he blurted. The statement made his gut twist coldly and he felt like a coward. His skin was brown, and he lived in Pouco Brasil—New Judah’s “Little Brazil” neighborhood. That had been the home of his family since his grandfather, after whom he’d been named, emigrated here. A light-skinned Brazilian who married a dark-skinned one and started a life in the United States at the age of 21. An act Hugo’s own father had repeated when he put bachelorhood behind him—marrying an even darker-skinned woman at 23. Almost paradoxically, Pouco Brasil was both a microcosm and a mirror image of Brazil. Like the homeland, Portuguese was the local tongue and skin colors ranged from pink to dark brown. Unlike Brazil, though, the rampant racism toward darker Brazilians was nowhere to be seen—though often the paler denizens of Pouco Brasil transferred that racism onto blacks of African-American rather than Brazilian-American heritage.

Just like I just did, Hugo thought. What a little shit I am. A coward.

“You look plenty black to me, shithead. Get up! Take your fucking medicine!”

“Medicine for what?” Hugo cried out as he stumbled to his feet and shakily took three steps back from his attacker.

A thin blonde girl—a junior named Stacy, came into view. “Leave him alone, Josh. Jesus! There’s nothing going on between us. I’ve barely said 10 words to Hank all semester.”

Hank. She called me Hank, Hugo realized.

“Josh,” Hugo warbled, “the only people who call me Hank are most of the fucking school. And most of the fucking school doesn’t give a shit about me or just doesn’t like me. That’s why I tell them to call me Hank. If your girlfriend liked me and we were doing anything, she’d call me by my birth name: Hugo.”

“Fucking spic nigger, right?” Josh shouted. “Fucking Little Brazil bastard bussed in here. I saw you giving my girl the eye today. I’m gonna fuck you up!”

Josh advanced on Hugo and Hugo backed up more. He wasn’t a fighter under normal circumstances, and he was totally outmatched by a football player, even one who was a receiver or kicker or backup quarterback or whatever the hell Josh was.

Thank God he isn’t a lineman or I probably would be missing teeth.

“I was probably giving the eye to some hot Latina behind her,” Hugo retorted.

“Oh, so now you’re saying my girl isn’t worth looking at compared to some wetback slut?”

Josh advanced faster and Hugo retreated in the same way.

Hugo’s head was spinning, and suddenly the world around him started not to make sense.

No! Not now!

It was something that had been happening a lot over the past few weeks and he’d been afraid to say anything to his dad for fear he’d end up getting looked over by doctors. And he hated doctors, and more so hospitals. His mother had died in one when he was five and the memory of visiting her hours before her death had never left his memories. Nor the memory of visiting his grandfather—who’d driven the both of them off the road while drunk—two days before that and having him die a day later.

Hugo tried to focus, and found the world slipping even farther away from comprehension.


Not the world; the people, he realized, and stopped trying to escape Josh as he realized there was a kind of halo around the older teen’s head. A bubble, maybe? Stacy had one, too. It was like a color but it also seemed like a sound and somehow, Hugo felt like he could even touch it from afar. How can something that shouldn’t even exist be something I can see and hear and touch?

Panicked and not sure what to do, Hugo touched the halo of Josh’s head with his eyes. Or his mind. Or…something. The sensation was both nauseating and exhilarating, and Hugo was almost more curious what would happen than he was afraid of being pummeled.

Josh stopped, and looked confused. And then that confusion became something else. Worry? Hugo wondered.

Then it became something so much worse.


Before Hugo could react, Josh was punching him in the belly. The ribs. Over and over. And finally, a blow right to the side of his head that made Hugo’s left ear peal like a church bell. And as the ringing screech reached its crescendo, Hugo hit the ground again.

This time, though, he was unconscious and didn’t taste the dirt or the blood.

* * *

Hugo smiled when Andrea walked into the room. He winced as that made the scab of his injured mouth break open, but he didn’t stop smiling.

A small and rare burst of happiness, even if he was in the place he hated most: A hospital. His father hadn’t even been to visit him yet—apparently, there was something going on at work that he couldn’t get away from.

Or maybe he hates hospitals more than I do and for the same reason, Hugo thought, and that made him feel even more alone. Not to mention more grateful for Andrea.

“Hey, Hugo,” she said, and punched his bicep firmly. “By the way, the doctors told me you didn’t get hurt there, just in case you think I’m heartless. What have I told you about playing rough? What did you do to Josh, anyway?”

“Nothing. He thought I had the hots for his girlfriend.”

teen-girl“No, Hugo. What did you do? There’s all kinds of talk running around the school since you got admitted here yesterday. They haven’t even suspended Josh because there’s talk you provoked him and he was acting in self-defense.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Andrea?”

“Well, Josh is telling the school you tried to make some unwanted advances on his girlfriend and then you sucker-punched him after school saying you were going to get rid of your competition. But to his close friends, he’s telling some weird stories. Only to a few people, because it’s so weird, but I’ve heard some things because I’ve got my ways, you know. To them he’s saying you messed with his mind.”

“I didn’t…I mean…” Hugo paused. “After he started in on me, when I was trying to get away from him, I started seeing something weird and I guess…I dunno…I think maybe it was something psychic. I’ve been feeling weird lately. Could I be a transhuman?”

“I don’t know, dude, but Josh says you changed.”


“He told his buddies that suddenly, it wasn’t you there. It was a police officer that looked a lot like you and he says you must have had him seeing things because you hit him with a ‘psychic blast’ that stunned him and that’s the only reason he hit you. That’s his story to his friends, anyway. I think he hit you first. But it’s all bullshit, though.”

“What do you mean…bullshit? How? Maybe I did blast him…”

“Hugo, I don’t know exactly what the fuck Psi crap you did to him, but it wasn’t a ‘blast.’ He’s a terrible liar and only his friends would believe him. I think he did see a cop where you were. Josh hates cops. His stepfather is a cop and beats him silly sometimes. There’s no one he hates more than that guy except his mom for marrying the bastard to begin with. Plus, Josh has gotten picked up by the cops at least three times for drug possession or being drunk in public. If his dad wasn’t a cop, he’d have been in jail a few times already.”

“Great,” Hugo said. “I have a transhuman power that makes me look like a cop? That has to be the lamest shit around.”

Andrea smiled.

She was Hugo’s best friend in high school and had been since fifth grade. Maybe his only real friend in any school. A fellow sophomore and a fellow outsider, though people liked her more than him—he was more than an outsider; more like an outcast. But she was his friend and he kept her close. Maybe because when she smiled, like she was doing right now, the whole world lit up. If he wasn’t so happy being her buddy, he’d probably have been dating her by now.

Or if I wasn’t so chickenshit.

“What?” Hugo asked. “Why are you smiling?”

“I doubt you’d have a power that specific, dumb-ass. But I think it’s cool you might have one at all. And when they’re sure your skull is OK and they clear you to get out of here, we’re gonna find out just what it is you do. I think I already have a good idea. But you’re probably almost right; it’s probably even more useless than making yourself look like a cop.”

* * *

In one of the more heavily forested edges of Whitley Park, Hugo stood 10 feet away from Andrea. She smiled again—that enchanting smile that kept her on the periphery of so many cliques in high school and not as much the loner as he was. There was also nervousness in that smile. But expectation as well. And, Hugo thought, a hope for something amazing.

“What are we doing here, again?” he asked. “And why am I standing so far from you?”

“Here’s what I think,” Andrea said. “I think you’re a Psi and I think you can make people see you as the things they hate most.”

“Okaaaay. And so…why again are we here? And why am I all the way over here?”

“I want you to try it on me.”


“Science. Curiosity. Morbid curiosity, maybe.”

“I don’t want you to hate me, Andrea. You’re the best friend I have.”

“Oh, don’t be stupid. Josh doesn’t hate you any more than he did before—well, maybe a little more, since Stacy broke up with him. Not that I expect that to last. I just want you far enough away so that if I go trying to assault you, you can stop what you’re doing or at least run away until whatever you do wears off. Not like I want to beat you up any more than you already are.”

“I dunno…”

“C’mon! If you’re transhuman, let’s find out. You should probably learn to use what you have so that you don’t get into trouble if it kicks in again. Learn how to control it and shut it off and stuff.”

Hugo wasn’t even sure he could do what he’d done again. And if he could, the thought of Andrea hating him, for even a little while…

“Hugo! Earth to Hugo! Seriously, you need to work on this. And there’s no one else who’s likely to volunteer to be the guinea pig. Do it!”

For a moment, Hugo heard the “Do it!” in Josh’s voice instead of Andrea’s and remembered the senior telling him to “Get up!” He thought of the things Josh had called him. For a moment, he felt a flash of anger toward Andrea, and it made him sick.

And then the halo appeared—the bubble around her head that was tangible to him and calling to him. No, not calling; singing. And there were colors there, or something like colors, because he had no name for some of them—nor for the almost-scent of them that tickled not his nose but something deeper in his mind.

“C’mon!” she urged impatiently.

Hugo touched her there. At the edge of that aura. His mind to hers.

He saw a similar play of emotions on the sophomore’s face as Josh had expressed, and Andrea snarled. Stepped forward. Stopped. Almost lunged at him. There was something wild in her eyes.

Hugo panicked, and tried to disengage from her mind. For a moment, it seemed like he couldn’t. Her halo seemed sticky. It seemed to want to pull him in. But with something like the feeling of a wet, growling rubber band, he was out again.

Andrea’s face was confused. She swayed a bit and he thought she might fall. She blinked. Closed her eyes. Opened them again to look at him. And sighed. Her smile was nervous at first. Then elated. The world lit up as it always did when she smiled.

“Fuck, Hugo! For a moment there, you looked like a person made of damn snakes. All kinds of snakes. Slithering and hissing.”

Hugo didn’t know what to say.

“I hate snakes, Hugo! Godammit, I was right.”

* * *

Hugo’s face still hurt. And his ribs. And his kidney. But his father’s words hurt more.

“Don’t do that again, Hugo,” Eduardo said. “Don’t pick fights, especially fights you can’t win.”

“I didn’t Dad!”

Eduardo Silva_1999Eduardo waved away his son’s word with a double-flick of his wrist. “Don’t! There aren’t going to be any charges. Your word against his, and that girlfriend of his is the only witness. She doesn’t want to say anything about either one of you. Don’t fuck with another boy’s girl, boy.”

“Dad, I’m telling you…”

“Enough. Son, it’s just you and me, at least for the next couple years, and then you’ll be off,” Eduardo said, a strange hitch in his voice that Hugo couldn’t place. “No one left but you and me,” he added, and Hugo could see the memory of his late wife Monique in the man’s eyes. The memory of Hugo De La Silva. Hugo remembered how it was only weeks after both of them were buried that he’d changed their name to simply Silva, as if to wash away the memory of his own father. Almost as if he knew what his son was thinking, Eduardo put on a pair of sunglasses and mumbled something about going out for a little while. “Just stay out of trouble. Now go. I love you, Son.”

As Hugo headed for his room, he wondered—as he had so many times before—why his father’s voice seemed pained when he said those three words that most boys all wished their father would say—even if they wouldn’t admit it.

* * *

“Why are we here?” Andrea said in Whitley Park, almost exactly where they’d met before two weeks earlier.

Hugo laughed.

“OK, déjà vu,” Andrea admitted with a grin. “We’ve switched roles. Seriously, though, why are Odium_15-yr-old_01we here again?”

“Because something’s been nagging at me, Andrea. There was something more.”

“What?” she said, and now she was intrigued instead of wary.

“When I did that…thing…before…I felt something. Something pulling at me. Like there was another level. But I didn’t touch it.”

“What do you think it is?”

“I don’t know, but maybe there’s more to my power. Maybe I can do something more useful than encouraging people to attack me,” he said with a chuckle. “I figure I don’t need to have a way to make people dislike me more. What do you say? Be my guinea pig again?”

She didn’t hesitate. “Oh why not? Hit me, baby!” she said, and rolled her shoulders back a few times to relax, then clasped her hands in front of her. “Ready when you are.”

Hugo reached toward her again—the aura was easy to pull up now. He’d been able to master the art of perceiving it in anyone at will now without being under duress. He’d also been able to toss away his glasses, though he wore them around his dad. Everyone else he’d let think he was wearing contacts now. He was pretty sure his vision was better than perfect now, but that power—a Sensor power, he guessed—wasn’t foremost on his mind.

As he pressed forward into her psyche, he saw Andrea tense and become angry. Then he let the pull he’d felt before draw him to the next level. No, the next layer. He sensed nothing beyond it, and simply felt that new part of her mind. Stroked it and pushed. Activated it as he had activated hatred before, and hoped it wouldn’t simply make her more angry.

Her demeanor changed almost immediately.

She looked terrified.

But she didn’t run. Unlike the hatred which had spurred her to almost pounce, this terror seemed to root her in place. He wondered what she saw now. Probably still snakes. That’s what he figured. But they didn’t evoke the same feeling in her now. Fear instead of anger.

He didn’t release the connection. It felt comfortable, and since she wasn’t going anywhere and she wasn’t attacking, he figured he could talk to her a bit and then end this.

“I wasn’t sure…I thought it might be…” he started. “I remembered a teacher saying something about how we hate what we fear. Or fear what we hate. Or something like that. From some Shakespeare play or something. Because most people deep down fear something, and that’s why they hate it. Like Josh and cops. And calling me a nigger. He was really just afraid, but I had to push deeper to get that going. You don’t really hate snakes; you’re afraid of them, and we both should have realized that.”

Andrea’s eyes were wild now, and Hugo felt a pang of remorse. He had to break this off now. Why hadn’t he just done it already and told her his thoughts afterwards?

Because this feels good.

That’s what it was. Good. Really  good. Sexual? No, not that. He was inside the walls of her mind and doing this made him feel right. No, that wasn’t it, either.


For the first time since he’d been a little boy who still had a whole family, he felt real again. He felt whole.

Andrea was shaking. She was…

Oh God, is she having a seizure?

Hugo pulled out of her mind, and rushed to her as she fell to the ground in the throes of violent spasms. Her mind probably filled with the horrifying, terrifying image of him as a mass of snakes that wouldn’t leave her alone. Filling her with hopeless fear.

Hugo ran.

She needed help. He couldn’t carry her. He needed to find a phone.

Then he ran back to her.

I’m an idiot. She has a cell phone in her purse. I don’t, but she does.

Hugo called for help. And prayed. And waited as he held her shaking body in his arms and hated himself.

* * *

“What the hell did you do to her?” his father shouted.

“Nothing!” Hugo cried. It wasn’t true, he realized, but he hadn’t done any of the things that were running through his father’s mind right now. Of that he was certain.

“What were you doing in Whitley Park? What were you two doing? What did you do? Her parents are angry. They’re talking about the police, Hugo! Did you give her drugs? Did you try to rape…”

“No, Dad! I didn’t touch her. Except when I was trying to help her after the seizure. I swear!”

“Bullshit!” his father roared. Hugo rarely saw his father angry, and this was the first time in years he’d even shouted. Even now, though, the man was restrained despite the harshness of his words. Of all the things Hugo feared, being beaten by this man wasn’t one of them. His father had never raised a hand to him, not even to spank him. “Hugo, something happened. First that football player; now this! What’s going on? What are you into? What did you do?”

Hugo’s mind reeled. He already felt horrible for pushing too far with Andrea. If her parents thought he had done something, he knew the police wouldn’t find any evidence of anything. A rape kit would prove they hadn’t had sex. Her body was uninjured because he hadn’t attacked her. A toxicology report would show her clean; he knew she’d never done anything harder than pot, and even that rarely.

“Dad…I…I’m a transhuman. It just happened. It happened when Josh beat me up. I mean, it came out then; it’s been happening for a while, I think. Andrea was helping me figure out my powers. It just got out of hand.”

For a moment, his father simply stared. Then shook his head. “No. No no no. I won’t have you making tales. Tell me what really happened.”

“It’s true.”

Only one way to prove to him. Only one way to show…Andrea didn’t attack me right away. Dad doesn’t hit me or hardly even yell. I can show him and pull back before he loses control. I won’t push to that second layer…

Hugo reached out to his father’s mind and felt the connection. It seemed as if Eduardo’s eyes squinted and as if some emotion crossed his face. Hugo couldn’t be sure. But he knew he’d done it, and held the connection for a few seconds. He paused.

“What did you see, Dad?”

“What are you talking about, Hugo?”

“What did you see, just now, for just a brief flash? What did I look like?”

“You look like you, Hugo. What are you on about?”

“No. I changed. You saw something else. What did you see when you looked at me just a few seconds ago?” Hugo’s voice was pleading now. He didn’t understand.

“I saw you, Hugo. What the hell else do you think I would have seen?”

Hugo’s breath caught in his throat. For ten seconds, he couldn’t breathe as his father looked on, dumbfounded.

Oh, God. Oh, no.

It was clear suddenly. His father, made motherless when Hugo was just a baby and the boy’s grandmother had succumbed to cancer. Eduardo’s wife, Monique, taken from him when Hugo was only five. Dead because Hugo’s grandfather had been driving her home drunk off his ass. His father raising him since then, all alone. No other family. Everything lost to him. Raising a son with the same name as the man who’d killed his wife so carelessly.

I am the one thing my father most hates in this world.

Hugo probably could have poured his power into his father for hours and the man wouldn’t have struck him. He was that good at bottling his anger. Every single time he’d said he’d loved Hugo, it had been a lie. Hugo was a burden. The greatest pain in his father’s life. His father hated him, and probably didn’t even really know it.

He hates me. My father hates me. I’ve put my only friend into a coma and if she wakes up she’ll hate me, I know it. My father has hated me since I was five and it was just the two of us. I’ve never had anyone but Andrea and I’ve destroyed that now, too.

Hugo realized he was crying. He looked into his father’s nearly placid—if slightly confused—face and realized that the calm affect was just a mask. Behind it was hate.

Hugo turned and fled. Ran from the house. Down the street. Into the heart of the city.

* * *

There had been fear at first.

Odium_15-yr-old_02He couldn’t go back to school; not that he wanted to. He couldn’t go see Andrea; not that she’d want him to even if he could. He couldn’t go home to the lie of a loving father.

He was 15 and alone. Hated and hating himself.

Then, after a day or so, there had been comfort.

He was free.

Always a loner, lucky to have any casual friends at all and luckier still to have had a true friend in Andrea.

He’d managed to call the hospital under the pretense of a being a relative seeking to visit Andrea, just to find out what he could. She wasn’t in a coma anymore—that much he discerned. But she was in the psych ward now, and he wondered what trauma he had wrought. What damage was done to her mind and her emotions.

With no money and no place to stay, he’d become frantic. He’d targeted a guy he thought looked like a shithead anyway. Hugo made the man hate him and then made him afraid of him. As the stranger cowered in a corner of an alley, Hugo took the man’s wallet and ran.

The money carried him for several days, and he was even able to get a cheap room for a couple nights. In the Hollows—the poorest neighborhood and most violence-ridden one in New Judah, lots of hotels took cash and didn’t ask questions. And Hugo knew he had little to fear from those who lived in that place.

Now, more than three days after fleeing his home, he wasn’t sure how he’d ended up in front of the main branch of New Judah’s library downtown. Oh, he knew he’d taken the bus, but wasn’t sure what drew him here. And then he considered how English classes had been one of his few bright spots in high school. Reading and writing. Hugo knew he wasn’t especially book-smart, but he was pretty good at that stuff.

And now he was inside the library. In the reference section.

He was a transhuman. A transhuman with no more family and no friends. His father had worn a mask for 10 years in front of his own son—a mask that looked like his own face. Looking into the face of a son whom Eduardo had so often said had his mother’s eyes.

I can put on a mask, too. A real one. I only have one way to live now—off my powers. No other future. I can put on a mask; maybe a costume. I can survive. Alone. Like I’ve always been.

He was, he realized, the embodiment of hatred. That was his identity now. His self. His future.

But hatred wasn’t enough. The word was too weak. It didn’t express just how freakish and just how wrong Hugo was. It didn’t truly speak to who and what he was.

He pulled a thesaurus from one of the shelves. Flipped through it until he found the entry for hatred. Looked down the list of synonyms, and almost smiled. He found the word he needed.

The name he needed.

I am Odium.

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

Chewing thoughtfully on his cheeseburger, Carl realized he probably wasn’t doing it thoughtfully at all. He was considering the scent of machine oil and harsh cleanser in the room. He was blaming it for how his stomach now churned. And as his appetite quickly fled, he realized that all of that—far from being thoughtful—was just a delaying tactic.

There’s something I need to deal with—there are important thoughts tumbling around in carl-beachammy head, but they’re something my brain knows I don’t want to face, Carl considered. So why deal with them when I can sit here and leisurely gnaw on greasy hunks of food like a cow chewing cud?

Query looked up from the fuselage of the drone he was fiddling with, and regarded the lawyer through his mask. “Are we going to get to new business any time soon, Carl?” Query asked. “Usually you plow through your two burgers in no time flat—this second one’s taking you a while. Did Wendy’s use some rancid meat?”

“More like my employer using rancid-smelling and probably toxic substances that aren’t supposed to be used in enclosed spaces,” Carl said, finally setting the remains of the burger down on the table next to him.

Query put down his tools, turned in his chair, and pushed the recently installed bulletproof window behind him up about halfway. “There’s no good angle to get a bullet through that particular window anyway unless you’re in a cherry picker, so as long as no one is waiting to lob a grenade up in here, we should be good. Can we get on with things so I can get back to this without complaints from you?”

“Feel the love,” Carl teased wearily, and regarded the compact surveillance craft occupying all of Query’s desk and extending nearly a foot past each end of it. “What’s wrong with your drone there anyway?”

I’m stalling again, he realized, because I think the new business is what will put my mind where I don’t want it to be—it’s what’s going to trigger a talk I don’t want to have.

“New Judah PD shot at it and got lucky,” Query answered. “Nothing too serious, but a pain in my ass. Seems they don’t like my eyes in the sky. Guess they don’t like the competition for the three drones they have that are twice the size of mine, half the speed and not nearly as cool-looking.”

“Well, next time they should steal theirs from the military like you did instead of settling for first-generation models,” Carl shot back, looking at his half-eaten burger and sighing. “OK, new business, then. I’ve heard from inside Fortunato’s building, but only from one of our parties: Zoe. After a few days, Fortunato finally made a job offer, and she’s got a contract to send me for review.”

“Look it over with the finest-tooth comb you have and don’t let him screw her, Carl. At least not screw her over legally and contractually. I don’t care what other kind of screwing might happen.”

“I’ll keep her safe and solidly armored by flawless paperwork. Don’t worry about that. What you should probably worry about is yourself. Fortunato finally gets your attention and now leaves you hanging for three or four days? What’s he up to, you think? Why so coy now?”

Is this what’s bugging me? Carl thought. Fortunato’s plans? No, there’s no sense of dread. What am I avoiding?

Query paused in adjusting the wing articulation controls in the drone and looked up again. “Partly he wants to make me sweat, because he’s delusional enough to think he can. Mostly he’s busy trying to figure out how to get Zoe in his camp—”

“Loc-Down,” Carl interrupted.


“Just occurred to me you might want to know. Zoe’s codename’s apparently going to be Loc-Down.”

“Cute,” Query said. “She’s got a whole head full of locs that can punch through metal plates and tear you to ribbons when she morphs. As good as any name. Anyway, he’s busy with her,” the black-clad hero continued, “because he knows I’ll sit tight. Zoe’s slippery and he doesn’t want to let her get away. Certainly not until he puts her to work with the plans he’s hatching.”Query-3

“Which are?”

“I don’t know,” Query admitted. “I’ve got wonderful intuitive powers, Carl, but I’m not an oracle. Most likely it has something to do with his cousin that took a dive out a window. I think Fortunato wants revenge.”

“On who? Did the guy’s pharmacist give him the wrong anti-depressants?”

“No, Crazy Jane gave his cousin all the right incentives to make the leap to the great beyond,” Query responded.

“How do you figure that? Did one of your birdies see her watching his swan-dive?” Carl asked, nodding to the owl-head-shaped cowling on the desktop that Query had removed from the nose of the drone some 10 minutes earlier.

“Nah. I got hold of some video that shows her making regular visits to the guy. The images were sent to Fortunato privately so he’d know who was responsible. I knew she could unnerve people psychically as well as transmit electrical shocks, but always wondered if she had more powers, given how unstable she is. Guessing this was either some mind control in action or, more likely, she can make people lose their fucking minds. That’s in line with her name, so it seems most likely. Nasty power.”

“I thought she was being held in the Givens facility under high security.”

“You must have been hung over or out of town a few months back, Carl. She was busted out of Givens. Bloody damn job, too. A dozen dead staff or thereabouts—and they took one of the doctors there with them—hard-ass, DA-hired headshrinker named Marcus Blood. No one knows if he was an accomplice or a hostage. Still haven’t found him. Big news. Janus busted her out personally—well, with some of his lackeys with him. Those three scary killer women he’s got and a couple norm human troopers.”

“So, Crazy Jane got busted out, maybe just to do this job against Fortunato’s cousin, which means Janus is behind it all, and he isn’t just going after you but Fortunato, too. Fortunato wants your help with getting back at him.”

“Probably,” Query acknowledged. “But I can’t say for sure yet. It feels like Fortunato has something else brewing. I think he may be trying to form some kind of team, but I can’t tell if it’s just a revenge kick or some kind of vanity project with longer-term goals. I need more data. Which is part of the reason I’m even going to lend him an ear when he finally calls you up to meet with me. As far as I’m concerned, the biggest single threat to New Judah after Janus is Fortunato right now. Man has a God complex and even if he thinks he’s doing good, he’ll probably leave a whole lot of damage in his wake—eventually, his ego and greed always get in the way.”

And there it is, Carl thought, and with a sickening mental lurch, he realized he was finally in the territory he had been avoiding all along. No stopping now…

“With all due respect, Query—”

“In other words, ‘let me point something out something potentially insulting to you’.” Query said, cutting him off.

“Anyway,” Carl sighed. “No offense—”

“Same thing,” Query teased him.

“Jesus! OK, Query, what I’m trying to say is, you’re right that Fortunato has an ego bigger than the city itself, but you’re not in a position to judge somebody else’s God complex. You have a squadron of high-tech, programmable, auto-pilot mini-drones flying around the city, you’ve got a network of informants, you regularly hack into all kind of surveillance systems and all that, and you share hardly a speck of your intel with the police. You know the identities and even the damn home addresses of several costumed whackjobs and you mostly keep that to yourself. You don’t go after them yourself very often, you don’t send other white hats after them very often and you almost never share with New Judah’s finest men and women in blue. Why?”

For several moments, Query said nothing. Carl’s guts clenched, but he didn’t sense anger from the man. Bewilderment, maybe, but not anger. As the sharp cramp in his belly eased, Carl could almost imagine the hero’s eyes blinking behind the mask like a startled cartoon character. The mental image calmed him a little.

“First off, Carl, my personality gives me plenty of right to judge Fortunato,” Query retorted mildly. “If I’ve got a God complex, and I don’t—but anyway, if I have a similarly large ego and level of presumption as Fortunato—then I’ll judge him all day long. Takes one to know one, and I have enough distance from his issues to know when he’s too close to them to think straight. Honestly—and this pains me to admit—the same could probably be said of him sorting out my issues if he knew enough about me to know what I was up to.”

“So why don’t you?”

“What? Share my entire wealth of data with everyone who’s going after the bad guys, you mean?” Query asked.

“Yeah. Because you should be.” Carl’s tone was flat, but still, the sense of accusation transmitted clearly.

“Partly because I’m not God, Carl. I can’t fix everything, and I shouldn’t try to. I also don’t want people knowing just how much I know, because then they’ll start wondering if I’m more a danger than an asset to the city or, if they’re the bad guys, they’ll realize I’m even more a threat to their operations than they know already. I don’t need to be dodging hit squads like the one Janus sent on a regular basis. That shit’s tiring, and I’m getting too old for that.”

Carl said nothing. But the accusation remained.

“But in the end, it’s really about balance,” Query said.

“You think the crooks deserve to have some kind of balance?” Carl spat out. “That’s crazy. A level playing field for them?”

“Oh, hell no,” Query sneered. “It’s not about making things fair for the black hats; it’s about not adding to their numbers, man.”


“Look, transhumans aren’t crazy per se, Carl, but we’re wired differently. We have issues in our heads—an awful lot of us, anyway. And some of us more than others. Let’s say I handed out my data like candy at Halloween and we cleared out most of the costumed bad guys in the city. What would happen?”

“I guess folks would come in to the city to fill the voids. That what you mean?”

“Worse, Carl. Some of the heroes and vigilantes in the city might fill those voids, too. Without suitable challenges…that is, without enemies that are like them—peers in power, if you will—I suspect some of the white hats who mostly like kicking ass or getting attention might gravitate toward the dark side. Jedi/Sith-style like in Star Wars. A lot of those heroes need an outlet—fighting folks who are like them. Without that, seizing power and misusing their power might start to taste good to them.”

“But some of these black hats are way more of a risk than the average crook, and you let a lot of them continue to run free when you could shut them down. Doesn’t that—”

“Make me feel conflicted? Make me feel like shit sometimes knowing if I’ve misjudged that someone I thought was no big deal might kill a whole bus full of children or a convent full of nuns? Yeah, Carl. My job sucks. But the fact is, no matter how big my ego, I’ve got enough perspective and humility to know that sometimes I need to let nature run its course. I need to remind myself that no one—not even me—can make crime ever go away. We all have our roles to play, Carl. A lot of times, mine is to sit back and keep my nose out of other people’s business—even when I can smell things are going to go sour.”

* * *

Although her work as an assistant district attorney took her to the main building of the New Judah Police Department on a fairly regular basis, Andrea realized this would be her first time going above the fourth floor since she had started the job two months ago. Truth ADA_Andrea-Yatesbe told, though, that little bit of trivia was only a minor note in her mind right up until the elevator doors opened.

Then she gasped.

The man standing in front of her in a crisp suit-and-tie ensemble might have thought she was gasping at the sight of him, she considered many hours later—he was tall and handsome enough—but what had taken her breath away was the crisp, clean, high-tech appearance of the mostly open-plan landscape of the sixth floor. The rest of the eight-story main precinct building and the other, smaller precinct buildings she’d visited weren’t that much different than what she’d seen in the city of Cleveland’s Division of Police—the offices were neither startlingly decrepit nor were they models of modernity.

But this floor looks like it belongs on the set of some science fiction show, she thought.

“ADA Yates; good to meet you,” the lieutenant said, extending his hand. She took it and gave him a light, quick shake as she exited the elevator car. “Can I get you a coffee?”

“Sure. Black. Do you have a machine that teleports them straight to you, Lt. Greene?” she joked.

He chuckled, low and slow, as he stepped around into a small reception desk and grabbed a cup, pouring from a pot just underneath the counter. “Well, a lot of the officers around here do call this floor ‘The Enterprise,’ but no. Old-fashioned brewing and pouring,” he said, smiling and handing her the paper cup as the steam from it spiraled up in the air between them. “C’mon, let me give you the grand tour. So, I know this is your first time here, or I wouldn’t be your tour guide, but I wanna make sure I show you the right things. I hear that you wanna handle a lot of transhuman cases?”

“Yeah. Is that weird or something?”

“Not at all, Ms. Yates. You see,” he said in an almost boyishly excited voice as he extended one arm in an arc to show off one half of the floor like a gameshow prize, “a lot of this floor is forensics. State-of-the-art lab computers and stuff—the actual labs and clean rooms are a floor above us. Lots of great equipment in there, but that floor looks pretty much like standard police issue architecture. Fortunato actually paid for a lot of this floor as a goodwill gesture to the city. But this—this is what you’re really gonna wanna see.”

He pointed toward the other side of the floor, and led the way to a door marked “SO/GT Div.” Opening it, he waved her in and followed right behind her. It was one of the few parts of the floor that wasn’t open and airy, and there were no windows to let anyone see into this section from the rest of the floor or see out onto the main part of the floor.

“Why do I feel like I’ve been ushered into a secret lair?”

“In a way, you have. This part of the department doesn’t get talked about a lot. I wouldn’t say it’s secret, but it’s probably best if you kind of behave like it is. We talk about it too much, and it may not work as well for us as it does.”

“As what does?” Andrea probed.

“Well, remember how Detective Sergeant Lindemann kind of read you the riot act a few weeks ago about not pushing the department to arrest transhumans on weak evidence?”

“Good God. Is he telling that story all around the department or something? Am I going to be like the village idiot around here?”

“Oh, hell, nothing like that. He’s discreet as hell. But I asked anyone in the department who feels like they have any sense of you or any major interactions with you to come and talk to me before our appointment today.”

“Why, Lieutenant?”

“So I know what your level of knowledge is and what I need to teach you about what we do here. What did Joe tell you was one of the biggest problems about arresting transhumans?”

Andrea sighed and didn’t bother to try to mask the exasperation in her voice. “Making a positive ID and linking them to a crime, since they typically wear masks and gloves—hell, whole costumes that make it less likely they’ll even drop hair as evidence. Plus some of them use body doubles as misdirection.”

“Bingo!” the detective said eagerly. “Even if you get good video, making an ID is hard, because unless the mask is pretty form-fitting, you might not even be able to use facial recognition software to match a suspect to the perp you caught on tape. And that’s why we have the SoundOff Program. That’s the ‘SO’ part of what was on the door back there. We have high-quality recordings of the voices of a lot of transhumans—criminals, vigilantes, heroes, whatever—and we can use those to match a suspect with their voice on file to help make the identification stick when we charge ‘em and you try to convict ‘em.”

With a rush of awareness, Andrea realized what felt strange about this area. Much of it struck her like it was a sound recording studio or radio station.

“But you’d only have them recorded if you’d captured them before, right?”

“Oh, no. We estimate we have voiceprints—good, thorough ones—on probably a third of the trans crooks in town, regardless of whether they’ve ever been caught or even questioned,  and average to middling quality on another third.”


“They call us.”

“No, seriously.”

“Dead serious, ADA Yates. Dead serious. Transhumans who put on costumes tend to be the ones most touched in the head. They’re the ones who often want the attention, or why would they put on costumes and give themselves these crazy names? They love to call and taunt us right before or after a crime. Or just to try to strike fear into our hearts when they first enter the scene. Or to complain to us when the press is mischaracterizing them or we’re supposedly slandering them. And of course the heroes and vigilantes call in to let us know there are bad guys to pick up—so we’ve got them recorded and stored, too.

“Attention,” Lt. Greene continued. “The biggest mental block most any costumed transhuman has is a desire—on some level—for attention or validation. So we sometimes know the villain’s name before anyone’s even seen the creep in action in costume, and we have a voice to match to it—all because he called to introduce himself—or herself. We’ve even been able to nab a few who changed their costume and name later thinking it would help them avoid capture, and charged them with the crimes committed under their previous identity.”

“How long have you been doing this?”

“We’ve had this division and this equipment—or earlier generations of it—for a decade, give or take. There are similar centers like this in Manhattan, D.C., Chicago, L.A., Dallas, Philly and Gryphon. Marksburgh flat-out refuses to adopt the technology, even though God knows they need it more than anyone else.”

“And they still call you? No one’s caught on? Surely you have to reveal to the defense and the judge that you have a recording and how it was obtained.”


“Then why don’t the newer transhuman villains stop calling you and giving you evidence to help identify them?”

“Same reason people see shows on TV like CSI or Law & Order or some cheesy Lifetime woman-gets-murdered-by-crazy-husband movie and know the police have special sprays and lights that can show bloodstains that aren’t visible to the naked eye and yet still clean up all the blood and think they’re free and clear. Or rape a woman without wearing a condom. Or don’t wear gloves even though fingerprinting technology’s been around forever. They’re either dumb, overconfident or want too badly for us to realize how amazing they are. And it’s not like we go trumpeting the fact we have all these technologies—that’s why I say behave like it’s a secret, even though it really isn’t.

“But in the end, who knows?” the lieutenant continued, “Ego? Stupidity? Both? I dunno. Maybe just ignorance in some cases. Doesn’t matter, though. In the end, we have these trans guys and gals on file—and non-transhuman folks who crave attention, too, like serial killers or activist extremists. And that’s where we get into the ‘GT’ part of this division’s name. The GeneTrapper Program. Genetic material when we can get it from a crime a trans villain is known to have been at, cross-referenced with the voiceprint and with the gene records and voiceprints of known associates and enemies. And other stuff, too. But showing’s better that saying, and I’ve got some people for you to meet. C’mon, Yates—let’s show you what you’ve got to work with when you go after these costumed nutjobs.”

Barely even looking at him—her head swimming with the realization of just what kind of people she was about to start making the focus of her work and the strangeness of them—she followed in his wake.

I guess we’re not in Cleveland anymore, are we, Toto? Andrea mused as her guide continued to regale her with tales of technology and transhumans as he led her farther down the long hall. Or maybe I’m picking the wrong fantasy analogy. Maybe I just fell down the rabbit hole like Alice did.

* * *

Pushing a comic book just slightly to cover an errant view of the dull, pitted hardwood of his apartment’s floor, the man leaned back. He admired the wall-to-wall “carpeting” of his small, dingy place in the part of the city known as The Hollows—the sea of comics. This tiny place was more than he deserved, really. Crazy Jane had told him that so many times, even as she stroked his hair and called him her good little puppy. Or her bad little puppy.

In the end, both terms were usually used for the same behavior.

He didn’t deserve this little hovel furnished with nothing but two wooden chairs, a small table, and hundreds of comic books to cover the floors. He didn’t deserve Jane. But in the end, he’d played that small part in her escape because she was his world by then. He needed her. Craved her attention. Even now, he shook with stress over the fact she hadn’t Dr-Marc-Bloodbeen to see him since two mornings ago, and rubbed his hands nervously across his black-hooded face.

Usually, she’d visit him daily—sometimes a few times in a day—to monitor his progress. To see how he was developing.

Her art project. Her pet project.

Her pet.

And her toy.

Oh, never to play with sexually—such a thought repulsed him. Not because he didn’t desire her. He did. Oh so much. But it would repulse her he was certain. And it would anger Janus, which might cause him to be permanently removed from Crazy Jane’s attentions. He couldn’t disappoint her like that. So he would never overstep that line.

Besides, he could slake his desires on other men and women just like Crazy Jane had taught him. Just as she had molded him to do. Because she’d imprisoned the sanity that had always held him back from glory. She’d freed his mind to the wonder of what others called madness.

But it was really just truth. Problem was, most of society couldn’t handle the truth.

He admired the colorful, paper carpeting of his abode. Comics with Doctor Doom on the cover. Or Doctor Fate. Or Doctor Strange. Doctor Octopus. Doctor Light. Doctor Silvanus. And so many others.

He’d need to get a tarp today. And then a victim. Mustn’t disappoint Crazy Jane, who’d expect him to have some kind of project to show her when she arrived tomorrow. That’s why she was making him wait, probably—he’d been slack in giving her new pieces to admire. It had been a couple weeks now. He needed to find someone new to—modify.

But first, the tarp.

It wouldn’t do to bloody all these famous comic book “doctors.”

Even if his own name was Marcus Blood, M.D.

Dr. Blood.

* * *

Janus looked out through the broad window of the conference room in which he and Underworld were ensconced. Toward the figure sitting outside on a small sofa. Long-legged and busty with silver-streaked dark hair pulled into a pair of pigtails. Black, sleeveless top and plaid miniskirt. Fishnet stockings with a big pair of lacy white garters at Caterwaulthe swell of the thighs, matching the four smaller garters on the arms, over black opera gloves. High-heeled red pumps with their own lacy garters. Face shining with pale powder and highlighted with a black circle at each cheek and equally black lips. And to top it all off, contact lenses that made the eyes look red as burning embers.

“I cannot believe you convinced me to let that on my team,” he sighed.

Our team,” Underworld corrected him. “And you can’t deny the test results and reports. She’s everything I promised you she would be. Her powers are incredible, especially now that my team has honed them with vocal training and couple technological additions. She’s a goddamn work of transhuman art.”

“She? She has a dick. Cleverly secured back between his ass cheeks or not—a dick. That’s a man, and I wish he would act like one.”

“She already agreed to change her name from Shrill to the more intimidating Caterwaul—and go Goth for you so that she doesn’t look too frilly in a fight. And I have to admit, she does Goth so well. She’s made her concessions. I’m not going to make her dress in slacks and a button-down for you.”

“That is not a woman,” Janus insisted. “I cannot believe you are enabling this ridiculousness.”

“She feels like one, and I’m on her side,” Underworld said. “A chick with a dick, as she likes to say. Variety is the spice of life, Janus. I’ve even found a Regenerator who assures me he can get her body to start producing estrogen consistently. With that and a little cosmetic surgery help, she won’t need the padded bra anymore.”

“A fucking she-male on our team. Just what I wanted,” Janus sneered.

“She hates that term; so do I. You know, for someone who wears masks that express some kind of duality and has the name of a two-faced god, you’re awfully persnickety about sexual identity issues,” Underworld observed.

half-and-half-mask-4She also observed, silently, that there was a subtle difference to his mask today compared to others he had worn. The forward-facing central part of it struck her as angry and male. On each side were two other faces, one looking right and the other left. Both of them seemed feminine, with one smiling and the other’s mouth exhibiting a more neutral affect.

In a sense, he’s wearing three faces today instead of his usual pair, and it mixes masculine and feminine. A little outside his box and perhaps a sign of confusion. I do believe I’ve hit a nerve and found a new way to make Janus uncomfortable, Underworld considered. And that’s always a good thing for me.

“I’m a superpowered kingpin. I reserve the right to be a hypocrite. I just happen to believe that when it comes to gonads, you play the hand you’re dealt,” Janus said. “Or you go under the knife and change your hand to a whole new one. You don’t mix up two different decks.”

“She likes having a dick. It’s like her big, fat juicy clitoris,” Underworld taunted him in a syrupy sweet tone. “And for a pussy she has—”

“Oh, God, please shut up,” he groaned. “Will he go all the way in a fight if necessary? Does he have the killer instinct?”

“She’s sexy and pretty, not a pushover,” Underworld said. “She’ll perform. She will get the jobs done. She. C’mon…say it. Sheeeeeee.”

“It…has…a…dick,” Janus enunciated slowly. “He’s your responsibility, so just make sure he—”


“If I start using ‘she’ and ‘her’ can you promise me we will never again discuss its sexual anatomy or who and what it sleeps with?” Janus said with quiet intensity.

“Oh, of course, my dear,” Underworld said with even more exaggerated sweetness. “That Underworld-2sounds just lovely.”

“Then I look forward to her proving herself. If she fails me by showing the slightest hesitation—if she crumbles at any crunch-time—I will not hesitate to crush every one of her protuberances before I kill her.”

“Fair enough, Janus,” Underworld said with a smug undertone. “You’ve gotta admit, though, she has a great ass and gorgeous legs.”

Janus sighed heavily. “In hindsight, I suppose I should have made you agree not to talk about any part of Caterwaul’s body.”

“Yeaaaaah,” she responded, slowly and softly.

“I think we’re done today,” said Janus. “Tell the others to come back in a couple days and we can finish sorting out the final roster and backup members. Hopefully, you’ll be over your gloating by then. I trust you can see your Goth-tart protégé out by yourself.”

“Of course, darling,” Underworld said as if addressing a small child, her glee at ruining his day a little taking some of the edge—a sliver at least—off her burning daily desire to murder him. “Wouldn’t want Caterwaul to get any of her transvestite cooties on youuuu, would weeee?”

“Go,” Janus snarled, then smiled brightly beneath the angry frown of his mask. “Please go before I forget how much I need to keep you around.”

So, I don’t actually have the project I mentioned in my last post (“Vital” Matters) done yet, but it’s far enough along that I suppose I’d better juggle its completion with the production of some new fiction around these parts.

As such, another chapter of “The Gathering Storm” should be along this week.

But I also wanted to extend a hand of fellowship and invitation to any writers out there, be they you my faithful readers or friends or yours, or whomever.

It’s long been in the back of my mind that I’d love to have other people contribute to this universe with their own fiction. I’m hesitant to hand over any kind of access to some of my characters, if only because I have some firm thoughts about their past, present and future that I don’t want muddled, but there are so many characters I’ve only barely mentioned or that haven’t appeared at all…or whom I haven’t even thought up yet that some of you might like to create…that there is still ample opportunity for others to bring their own work into this blog.

Now, if any of you want to do this, simply contact me by email. Anything you write remains your property. Even though it would be part of my Whethermen universe, if you can find a way to profit from it through publication somewhere, more power to you (just please drop a mention of where it first appeared…pretty please?). The only caveat to that is that while you own it, by submitting it here, I pretty much reserve the right to use it myself here or elsewhere, as long as I don’t personally and directly profit from it.

Like I said, there’s a wide-open field here, as long as you stick within the “rules” of this universe as described in the various “About…” pages you can access from the top of the blog pages here.

Some ideas, though…

  • A story from the past of now-retired Fishboy (and/or Madman, The Hydra, Ocular and Lord Jurassic, who are also noted in the story Fishboy and Madman Strike Again)
  • A tale from the past of deceased Beastman (and/or the villains Mister Mimic and Reprisal, also noted in the story Fallout)
  • Tales involving such actively working supporting characters as Burlesque (The Rule of Opposites), Cheshire (mentioned in several tales, including Fresh Wounds, Old Scars and Curiosity Thrills the Cat), Buttress and Peregrine (whether individually or as a couple), Fugue, Hellfire, Mister Conviction, Ringmaster, The Vegan Manhunter, Speed Demon, Carl Beacham, etc.
  • An origin story for any character that’s only been briefly seen and for whom I haven’t started to develop a backstory in my head, such as The Vegan Manhunter, Hellfire or Speed Demon
  • Or suggest something of your own

One caveat, though, if you use any characters I’ve already mentioned (whether in passing or as main characters), please touch base with me before writing anything, as I would need to share some basic history and info to maintain continuity with other stories here.