Archive for the ‘Allosaurus’ Category

This is sort of a “sideways” story, a tangent from Allosaurus. You don’t really have to read any of that to get anything out of this, if you don’t want to, or if you already read enough about Fran and Palmetto Bug Man. Just a thought that I had from listening to Laurie Anderson this afternoon.

“Who told the 80’s they could come back, anyway?” Morgan sighed, in between bites of his sandwich. “Popped collar polos, Ray Bans, bright ass colors … and this music you kids listen to these days!” He took a long pull from his extra large size soda. “Not one original guitar riff! Not one! Jesus Christ, I liked Vampire Weekend a lot better when they were called Peter Gabriel -”

“Sir,” the young woman behind the deli counter started, ” you sound a little bit … agitated.” “Sir” and “agitated” were said as though they were questions. The young woman continued. ” I’m going to have to ask you to calm yourself down a little bit, mmk?”

“Don’t take that tone with me!” Morgan blurted. “Who are you, my wife? ‘Calm down’, she says-”

“It’s just that we’re showing some elevated signals here on your blood pressure and anxiety levels.” The young woman pressed a few buttons on a console in front of her. “Plus, it looks like you lied to me earlier. You had a regular cola just the other day.” She extended a hand to him. “You’ll I have to give me that one back and accept a diet lemon/lime or water.”

“Oh, really?” Morgan sneered. “No unsweetened ice tea?”

“Hmm. Nope. You’d be over your caffeine limit for the day.”

“You. Have got. To be. Kidding.” But, the young woman was resolute, and Morgan couldn’t afford another interaction with the Powers That Be. He gave the young woman back the cup with a sigh. “Lemon/lime,” he muttered, a broken man.

It was during his last tango with the Powers That Be that he’d been put on a modified potassium diet. A bit moody and restless, they’d said. More bananas, they’d ordered. Morgan hated bananas – yellow, mushy, obscene. Who knew what horrors they’d introduce him to next time? Gluten – free? Morgan grew up on his mom’s baked spaghetti. Not happening.

Just then, Morgan’s pedometer broke in. “Look, I don’t wanna start anything,” the pedometer said in a pleasant, slightly matronly tone, “but you’ve got another 4,000 steps to go before six p.m. this evening. Now would be a good time to start walking in place, don’t you think? I mean …” The pedometer trailed off, the audio version of a rather passive/aggressive shrug. Morgan rolled his eyes and began to march about in place.

The screen above the counter displayed the news of the day. Morgan glanced up to read as he continued his lunch – gulp, step, gulp, chew, step, step, step.  Gulp, step, gulp, chew, step, step, step. Bombings over here. Shootings at this school or other. Building collapses. Weirdos in spandex making a mess of things in Saint Pete. Gulp, step, gulp, chew, step, step, step. He looked around the deli. The other customers seemed to be engaged in the same shuffling dance, with eyes on TV screens or smart phones or tablets. The same matronly voice from the pedometers exhorting the dancers. From the tablets. From the TVs. A safe, soothing, comforting voice.

words (except “O Superman”, which is linked from youtube and is by Laurie Anderson) © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.

So, I finished the rough draft of the first book of Allosaurus. I did a quick and dirty word count, and it comes out to just around 19,300 words. Those of you who are familiar with National Novel Writing Month know that the goal is 20,000 in one month.

Took me seven.

Still, it’s the first time I’ve written that kind of volume without being on some sort of manic episode – thus, putting the tales of Fran and Palmetto-Bug Man ahead of the original Ashland* by leaps and bounds. Also, the original Ashland has been, mercifully, lost. So, yay meds.

A lot of people look at writing as homework that you have to do, every day, for the rest of your life. Forgot who said that. It doesn’t feel too far off the mark. But there was also an element that felt like I was compelled to write. Even on days when I was tired, or didn’t “feel” like it, Fran and company beckoned. I could see her in my head, arms folded, foot tapping. “Dude, let’s go!” she’d exclaim, while Fenris and Pamela checked their watches. “I got asses to kick! C’mon!” And so I’d follow them along, writing as I went. When I would try and write something that was out of character for them, they would look back at me, incredulously. “You know I wouldn’t do that,” Mister Vanglorious would say. This made it a bit difficult to stick to the original plan of my story, in which Fran dies. It also allows me to go further in exploring what I really want to write about with these characters, which is the way a person can become a monster – and how they can, maybe, win back their humanity.

Speaking of Mister Vanglorious, there are several characters that I “borrowed” from my best friend Doc. Doc’s a hardcore gamer, with experience working in the industry designing peripherals. He’s that serious. He came up with D – Nforcer, Vanglorious and Arctica Winters as avatars for DC Online and Champions Online. Thing is, he more or less killed them off in the games, so I was only too happy to give them new life in Allosaurus. Thanks, Doc.

 

*Ashland is a story I’ve been writing on and off for about twenty years, in all honesty. The basic theme of Ashland is the way things lose their real value when everything has a price. I stopped writing it because, as a satire, it slowly became indistinguishable from reality.

This is a long one. It is also the last one. Thank you for following along. I hope it didn’t suck much. Go back to the beginning, or go to the previous episode. Again, thanks.

Cheryl ran on tip-toe down the hall. Her hand hurt like a sonuvabitch, but it had been worth it. Just because you had a last minute change of heart about me, she thought, doesn’t make up for what you did. This thought, however, made her stumble a tiny bit.

Somewhere in this trap they’d set up, Fran was looking for her. Trying to save her.

If Fran only knew, Cheryl thought. A wave of guilt shook her, shook her violently. She flashed back to that night, two years ago, at the Midnight Moon. Terrible things happened. Cheryl inhaled sharply.

You gotta make it out of here, she thought. Make it out of here or you won’t be able to … make things right with Fran.

Cheryl rounded a corner, and gasped.

Fran stopped dead in her tracks, and gasped.

Wordlessly they ran at each other, so hard that Cheryl almost knocked Fran over. The embrace lasted forever, but not nearly long enough.

“We gotta get outta here,” Cheryl blurted. “This is a trap.”

“Shh. I know. Perfect bait, too,” Fran replied with a grin. “But we can’t go just yet. Me and Killswitch got some unfinished business – ”

“And we’d be only too happy if you stayed around,” came Franklin’s voice; seemingly from all around them. He appeared from around a corner, briefly; just long enough to point something that flashed twice. Cheryl and Fran dropped to the ground.

Now, how do I move them? “Fenris! A little help?” Franklin called.

~~~

Sub-vocals and hand signs. Signals. The SWAT team moved into position. Breaking through the roof, the windows, the doors. Palmetto-Bug Man/ Ping Bai Mah heard them. Sloppy. In China, such sloppiness would not have been tolerated. A group, three or four, approached him, guns drawn.

It wasn’t enough.

Bullets bounced harmlessly off Ping Bai Mah, just like in the good old days. Palmetto-Bug Man felt oddly rejuvenated as he bent their rifles into balloon-animal shapes. It was as if knowing the truth had set his aging process back. Something to muse on as he beat one officer with another officer. When they were all incapacitated, Ping Bai Mah moved on. By memory, he made his way to what he knew must be the command center. He had some things to discuss with his handlers.

~~~

Vanglorious heard the SWAT team breaking in. Sloppy, he thought. If I were in charge of them, I wouldn’t tolerate it. He heard gunshots, then a laugh; muffled and choked screams followed. He hoped that it wasn’t Fran.

“Don’t move.” A voice from behind him. Female. “Flinch and I will put large holes in several of your organs. Do you understand?” Vanglorious nodded. “Hands straight out to your sides and fingers spread, please,” the female voice continued. He complied, dropping the metal staff he carried. It clanged on the ground, then shrank to a rod about a foot long.

“Hm. UHY-97 Bo Staff. Memory steel. Unlicensed, I’m sure.” Bamela Divers, Bureau Agent, nodded in admiration. “An elegant weapon, wouldn’t you say? Nothing loud and sloppy like the SWAT team. Now, carefully – and I can’t stress this enough – carefully kick that back to me. Then turn around.” Vanglorious did what she asked.

“You’re that ‘Mister Vanglorious’ guy, right? What are you doing here?” Bamela asked, stooping to retrieve the staff while never taking her eyes off Vanglorious.

Vanglorious shrugged. “I got lost,” he answered. “A friend of mine told me about a little Hurricane Melpo party.”

“Right. I think I got the same invite.” Bamela nodded.

“Okay. You got me.” Vanglorious casually remarked. “Now can I put my arms down? They’re getting tired.”

“Slowly,” Bamela answered. The gun never wavered. Vanglorious yawned. This triggered needle darts that shot out from hidden shooters in his sides that sped towards Bamela. They hit home, slowing her reflexes. She fired, but too late. Vanglorious wasn’t where she was aiming anymore. He snatched the gun out of her hand. As Bamela lost consciousness, she saw Vanglorious shrug.

“Sneaky and old’ll beat young and quick every time,” or something like that she heard him say, as she slumped to the ground.

~~~

“What do you think we should do with ’em?” Fenris asked.

“Whaddya  mean?” Franklin replied. “We follow the plan. We’ll film Commando Girl here, we chop off her head or whatever, then we do the same with her friend.”

“What are you going to do with the traitor?” came Forbes’ voice. He had Pamela by the arm, a gun in her back. “I had my suspicions about her ever since the school incident.”

“Let her go.” Fenris’ hands reflexively formed into fists at his side.

“Shut up.” Forbes shouted.

“Freeze!” Officer Smith yelled. The SWAT team, minus the several that Ping Bai Mah took out, burst into the room.

“我会毁了你!” bellowed Ping Bai Mah.

“So, we’re all here,” Forbes called. “Good! I’ve been waiting for this – ”

Fran was groggy. Slowly she came around. There she was, tied up. There was Cheryl, next to her, tied up as well. She could just barely make out voices, all yelling, all at once. People-like shapes swam in and out of her consciousness, her field of vision. Someone pointed a gun at Cheryl.

Then, it got weird.

Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She jumped in front of the gun. It was her unprotected head, and not the bullet proof vest with the target painted on it, that intercepted the bullet. Dead, instantly.

Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She grabbed at Cheryl, pulling her out of the way of the bullet at the last second. Somehow, there were brains and skull bits on her bullet proof vest, right near the target she had painted on it. They ran from the room.

Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She leaped at the face wielding the gun. There was a shot. She heard a scream.

Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She tackled the swat team. All of them. At once.

Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She took Ping Bai Mah down a second time.

Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She met up with Vanglorious in the hallway. “Come on!” she yelled. “The shit’s goin’ down!” Vanglorious followed.

She kicked Franklin in the throat.

She broke Fenris.

She snapped Forbes’ arms like twigs.

She stood and stared at Pamela. She couldn’t bring herself to do anything to her.

She paused to glance at the twin sister, Bamela. Bamela slowly came to, a look of comprehension dawning on her face.

All these things happened at once.

Bamela shook her head. “You figured it out,” she sighed. “The dis-entangler.” There was a small army of “Fran”s, one for each possible choice Fran could have made at that instant. Several had died. Others were kicking ass. They won.

And then they vanished.

~~~

“Way I see it, we need each other,” Bamela said. Vanglorious, Fran, and Cheryl, had separated themselves from the crowd of police and EMTs. A quick badge flash from Bamela was all it took to quell any questions or double takes.

“Wait,” Cheryl asked. “What’s gonna happen to them?”

“Who? Franklin and Fenris are going away for a long time. Forbes too, most likely.  Palmetto-Bug Man is the Bureau’s responsibility. He’s a clone with a limited life span. We’ll try to calm him back down, let him live out the rest of his life in peace. My sister has some explaining to do. Did I leave anyone out?”

Cheryl thought for a moment, then shook her head.

“Who needs who?” Vanglorious asked.

“Ms. Braithwaite needs our training. She’s a natural, but there are some things you don’t learn at the community college annex. And the Bureau could use her – she’s the first person who’s ever figured out how to work with the dis-entangler.” Bamela looked across to Vanglorious. “We could use a man with your resourcefulness as well, Mr. Douglass. – Oh, don’t look so surprised. The Bureau’s been keeping tabs on you since you got all ‘Black Power’ -y back when Flava Flav mattered.”

“Do I have a choice?” Fran asked. “I think Vangl – Mr. Douglass could use some help from me, too.”

“There’s always a choice, Ms Braithwaite,” Bamela answered. “You of all people should know that.”

“Good. We’ll let you know.” Fran nodded. The three of them left.

~~~

“Fran, there’s something I have to tell you.” Vanglorious had dropped the two of them off at their apartment. The wind was dying down. It was too – damn  -early – in  – the  – morning thirty.

“You’re leaving? I knew that part.”

“No, that’s not it – shit, this is hard for me.”

Fran put a hand over hers. “Take your time.”

“You know, two years ago, when – ”

“Yes. What about it?”

“I … I saw what was  … happening. I saw you, struggling, hurt, the fear in your eyes. I could’ve stopped it. But I … I didn’t. I was too scared.”

Fran grinned a little ruefully. “I know.”

“WHAT-” Cheryl blurted.

“Listen. Shh. Let me tell you what happened.” Fran stroked Cheryl as she pulled her close, leaning against her. “I saw you. I saw you looking so terrified. I saw the guilt come over you in the weeks and months later. Did you think I was just out to get revenge?”

“Well, yeah, kinda.” Cheryl shrugged.

Fran nodded. “‘Well, yeah, kinda’,”, she mocked. “There was that. All the people I fought for, that I tried to save? I knew that they’d have someone at home, someone who’d beat themselves up all the time because they thought they’d failed their friend, or their spouse, or kid, or whatever. I saw what that did to you. I couldn’t stand the thought of that happening to anyone else, ever. They didn’t fail. You didn’t fail.

“You were a human.”

The End (of book One)

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.

This has been a rough month. Lost my apartment, my uncle, and for a  time,  my ability to speak. Here’s the next – to – last chapter of Allosaurus. Here’s what happened before.

Vanglorious looked at his watch anxiously.

A couple of minutes later, he looked at it again. Satisfied that time was still moving forward, he looked out the car’s window. The wind howled. The rain beat against the windows in waves: now intense, frighteningly so; now, calmer. This cycle repeated a few times. Vanglorious looked at his watch once more. Another two or three minutes passed. No one had come out of the warehouse: not Fran, not Killswitch, no one. He sighed, opening the door against the storm.

“I don’t do ‘waiting’,” he muttered. He ran toward the door. It had been kicked open; it was bent, twisted, broken. “Ah, subtlety,” he smiled ruefully. He drew his weapon of choice – a telescoping quarterstaff made of a proprietary “space age” memory steel. He blended into the shadows and started to hunt for Fran.

~~~

Commissioner Cohen didn’t have time for this. Whenever there was a hurricane, there were always idiots who wanted to go surfing in the huge waves out by the Causeway. There would be fights and altercations at the supermarkets as people beat each other up over the last twelve pack of beer and bag of potato chips. This time, there were also reports of some of the mask-and-spandex crowd breaking into the old warehouse connected to the meat processing plant. Some annoying, faceless lady agent from some Federal government bureau or whatever was demanding to see him. And now, of course, word had gotten to Tricia Gutierrez from Channel 2. Someone else wanting something from him. Cohen wearily looked up from his desk at the detective in front of him.

“Get a SWAT team over to the warehouse,” he began. “Tell Gutierrez ‘no comment’ for now. And let me see this agent, uh, agent – ”

“Agent Divers,” the detective finished.

Cohen nodded. “What’s she from, again? Some alphabet soup or other?”

“Dunno. Bureau of Weights and Measures, I think?”

“Yeah, fine. Whatever. Send her in. I wanna know why all this exotic weaponry is showing up in my city, and if she’s the one who can tell me, then great.”

~~~

All of the buildings, and all of the cars, were once just a dream in somebody’s head. – Peter Gabriel

In this case, Larry Forbes mused, this warehouse was a dream in the heads of an architectural firm that wasn’t very imaginative. They tended to use the same designs over and over again. For example, the Bureau had commissioned a facility from this very same firm. Larry knew that Ping Bai Ma, usually known as Palmetto – Bug Man, would feel right at home here; would even be drawn to the very room he’d suggested that Project Killswitch set up their base of operations.

There are no accidents or coincidences, Larry thought.

No accident, then, that it would be Ping who would take down the Bureau. Their precious little project if they been working on so diligently for years. Forbes would see to it that their Frankenstein’s monster would go berserk, just as he had planned.

Fire him from the project, would they?

~~~

” Did you remember to charge the stun net?” Franklin asked.

~~~

I really don’t think that you have thought your little plan through.

Shut up.

~~~

… then, there was the time that they used me for target practice, and weapons calibration. I will enjoy snapping their necks.

~~~

“This better not be another wild goose chase. I got better things to do than be out here in this stupid hurricane-”
“You need to silence the chatter, officer Smith,” the captain broke in. “Word from the Big C himself is that the commando girls and the killswitch lunatics are going to be here. Watch it!”
“Sir, yes sir,” came officer Smith’s chastised reply.

~~~

“Looks like your friend brought some back up,” Fenris teased Cheryl. “That’s kinda too bad. Guess she’s not mad at you anymore?”

Cheryl didn’t look at him. She didn’t look up. She stared at the ground. In her head, she cursed Fran out, and prayed for her at the same time.

Fenris smiled. Pamela looked at him. It was full-on beatific now; he seemed to have finally found his element. Where was the shy, stuttering bookworm she’d known since they were children? That boy was gone, she realized. Gone and replaced by this … person. Bent, beaten, molded, into a revenge machine.

Just like me.

Pamela glanced at the closed circuit monitor. Fran was coming.

Just like her.

Pamela turned her attention to Fenris. “Go tell Franklin – ”

Fenris started to protest. “Code names!” he barked.

“-Kracko, then,” Pamela sighed. “Go tell Kracko that she’s getting closer. Help him with the flash grenades or something.”

Fenris eyed her suspiciously. She shrugged. “Or don’t. I’m just saying. He wanted to know.”

As he sauntered off, Pamela recognized her Fenris again. Whip-smart and armed with a most advanced bullshit detector. She waited for him to get out of sight before she began untying Cheryl.

“What-”

“Sh!” Pamela ordered in a whisper. “Twenty yards down that hall. Back stairs. Leads to an exit. Take it!” Cheryl blinked rapidly, processing. “Why?”

“You wanna get killed? Get out of here!” Pamela hissed.

“Well,” Cheryl mused, “I probably should make it look like a struggle, or something.”

Later on, Pamela rubbed her jaw and thought. Who knew bass players had such devastating uppercuts? 

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.

Next: The Commando Girls.

So, it occurred to me that I need to make something that explains what is going on in Allosaurus; especially since there’s a lot of different characters and motivations and all that. You can read this, you can skip it, you can do whatever. It’s kinda like Zombo.com in that regard. You can do anything. And as always, here’s the link to the first episode of this thing.

In the present day and age, in an America not too dissimilar to the one we know, there is a city on the Gulf Coast of Florida. This city, for reasons not yet known, is experiencing an epidemic of costumed vigilantes. Some of these people are comical, or just doing it for a laugh; some, not so much. Each of them is an “other”, an outsider in some way. Perhaps it is this sense of being “not quite the same” that fuels these “superheroes” in their night time activities?

Francine Braithwaite –   Two years before our story starts, something … bad happened to this young woman. Something turned a carefree, music loving, slightly spoiled daughter of West Indian immigrants into a dark, brooding machine of vengeance and wanton violence. Some people think she’s one of several reported “Commando Girls” stalking the city’s criminal element. What ever you do, however, don’t call her Frannie.

Cheryl Jefferson – Francine’s girlfriend, and once-upon-a-time band mate. A few years older than her, Cheryl is very protective of  Francine and her secrets. However, this bass-playing momma bear has a few secrets of her own. Also, she hates toe tags.

Palmetto-Bug Man – A man who has taken, for his totem animal, the tank-like Floridian cockroach  with whom he shares a nearly indestructible nature. He often works in conjunction with the mysterious Bureau. An amnesia victim, Palmetto-Bug Man goes by the name “Bud” when not in his crime fighting ensemble in shades of doo-doo brown.

Mister Vanglorious – Lawyer by day, black nationalist superhero by night. Vanglorious, also known as Gerard Douglass, was one of the first of the masked vigilantes to appear in the city. Together with the Enforcer and Arctica Winters, Vanglorious is something of a community leader/elder stateman in the spandex and cape set.

Larry Forbes – Former Bureau agent with an axe to grind. Forbes has a jones for cheese curls, highly caffeinated citrus soda and complicated revenge plots. Sells arms and surplus weapons tech to the highest bidder; however, Forbes sees this as merely a means to an end.

Project KillswitchFranklin DeSoto, Fenris Quarters and Pamela Divers (or Kracko, Teppo and Oxmyx) are three best friends who, for some reason, are not running the city as they would expect. They formed Killswitch as a means of pooling their intellect and nerdy abilities to rectify this unfortunate circumstance. They have been receiving some guidance and equipment from Forbes, but they are starting to chafe under his dictatorial rule.

Bamela Divers – twin sister of Pamela Divers, Bamela works for the Bureau where she acts as a handler for Palmetto-Bug Man. With her cover as his girlfriend, Bamela is able to provide Palmetto-Bug Man with intel and instruction. She has no idea that her twin is anything more than a perpetual college student and cashier at a grocery store; she has, however, an inkling as to who Palmetto-Bug Man was before he lost his memory.

Arctica Winters – She may be from another world. She’s not telling. Whether extraterrestrial in origin or not, Winters has an uncanny knack for controlling ice and for freezing things. Which, by the way, is an ironic superpower for a vigilante in Florida.

The Enforcer – Genetically engineered super-soldier from the future, Keith Stuart-Windsor was trapped here in our time by an accident. At least, he claims it was an accident. Vanglorious suspects that both Winters and the Enforcer have hidden motives.

Lady Justice – Irene Sadowicz alternates between referring to herself as Zaria the Honorable and Lady Justice. She considers herself to be the vessel for the Slavic goddess of valor and protection.

And The Rest – Amazin’ Ape, Kid Kaos (R.I.P.), Maxine Mistress, The Mighty Green Aphid, Gang Green (also R.I.P.), Los Stupendoids, and Ms. Potato, Girl of a Thousand Body Parts: Other vigilantes that make appearances from time to time, or not. Maybe.

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.

Allosaurus part sixteen. Catch up with part fifteen, or go back to the beginning.

The trip to the warehouse had been a quiet one. Fran was restless, rocking back and forth in her seat, arms folded across her chest. “You figured out who I was just from that one conversation we had that night?” she asked. Her words ruptured the silence so completely it made Vanglorious jump.

“What?” he asked.

“You were telling me about ‘projection’. I accidentally called that woman ‘Frannie’. You must be some kinda detective.”

Vanglorious softly grunted. “Lawyer, if you can believe it. – And, I looked up your case, if you don’t mind. I can’t believe those guys got off so lightly – ”

“Drop it.” Fran said, voice like stone. Vanglorious dropped it. Without a word, they continued on.

“Stop here,” Fran whispered. She got out. Vanglorious made a move to follow her. “No,” she ordered, gesturing for him to stay back. She paused, looking at him. “Thank you,” she nodded, shaking his hand. “For …”

“Yeah,” Vanglorious replied. “Go get ’em.”

~~~

There was a special knock. It had to be just the right rhythm, or it wouldn’t work. This knock opened the first door. The second one was at the end of a maze. One had to time one’s journey through to maze to arrive at it, so that the second door would open; not a moment too soon or too late. Otherwise, a trap door would spring, and one would be staring at the inside of a broom closet for a weekend. The third and final door didn’t look like a door at all – it was a very convincing hologram that look just like the street outside. One had to slide past this at just the right angle to not actually wind up back outside. It was a very tricky setup. Lady Justice scoffed at it, considered it to be overkill. Amazin’ Ape had to be walked through it, each time. Vanglorious had designed most of it, seeing as how the conference room it led to was in his law firm. Even as tired as he was this night, he made short work of the twists and double-backs, entering the conference room to find Arctica Winters and the Enforcer waiting for him.

“Sup?” Vanglorious muttered in greeting. He began shrugging out of his mask and armour, down to a turtle-neck and black khakis. There was a decanter of gin on a nearby table. He poured himself a shot and tossed it back.

~~~

Fran bolted into the dark and rain, pulling the goggles over her eyes as she ran.

So, you got a plan for this, dearie?

Nope.

Wonderful. Always makes sense to charge into a trap with no idea what to do, right?

That’s how it’s happening tonight. Deal with it.

Hm. You’re gonna die, then.

Yep, probably. At least, I’ll be rid of you, so there’s that.

You might wanna sneak in through –

Nope. Kicking the door in.

Fran’s steel toed boot crashed through the door with a loudly satisfying clang. She grinned like a feral monster.

Nothing like it!

Nothing like it, indeed!

“Alright, bitches!” she roared. “Come on out so we can do this!”

“You really are a bit of a thug, aren’t you?”

Fran whirled to face the voice.

Grabbed an arm.

Twisted.

Threw.

Palmetto-Bug Man sailed overhead, crashing into an iron pillar. It dented slightly.

“Ow! That hurt, you little -” Palmetto-Bug Man lowered his head and charged like a battering ram. Except, faster. It caught Fran off guard, knocked the wind out of her. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he panted.

“Shut up,” Fran growled. The powered gauntlets hummed as Fran pounded Palmetto-Bug Man’s face. Blows that would have cracked cement, stung and bruised him. Not long ago, he thought, it would’ve barely tickled. He grabbed her hands, held them tight, tight.

“You’ve got some property that doesn’t belong to you,” he said, struggling to peel the gauntlets off.

“And …” Fran grunted, fighting back with every ounce of strength, “You … can have …. them … when I’m … DONE!” She kicked, hard.

Palmetto-Bug Man went down, whimpering. Why do they never think to wear a cup? I know I would, Fran thought. She knelt down over him.

“Don’t follow me,” she ordered. She grabbed his head and slammed it into the concrete floor. He was out.

“Who’s next?” she called.

~~~

“You smell a bit … earthy,” Arctica wrinkled her nose in disgust. It must suck to have senses that acute sometimes, Vanglorious thought.

“I’m fine, thanks for askin’,” he said. “Also, thanks for the help, guys. Couldn’ta done it without you. Oh, wait.”

“You knew this was her fight,” Enforcer replied. “There wasn’t any reason for us to get involved -”

“Why are you doing this, then?” Vanglorious barked. “Look, it’s not like you need to put on your technicolor bondage gear to sit around and do nothing. -Or maybe you do, Keith. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I’m just sayin’ -”

“I take it it worked out,” Arctica broke in. Her voice was measured, deliberate. Otherworldly. Well, well, well, take a look at us – we’re the leaders of the superhero community, Vanglorious thought. A woman who may or may not be an extraterrestrial, a genetically engineered super-soldier from the future, and an over-amped Black Nationalist. He glared at the other two.

It worked out, he thought. That was Arctica’s main concern. She and the Enforcer were better suited to dealing with bug eyed monsters from Venus, than the rough and tumble crooks and delinquents that tended to be on Vanglorious’ beat. For some reason, however, they saw fit to show up in town, just as all this superhero stuff started getting underway. Vanglorious sensed that there was something they weren’t telling him. No matter. I’ll work it out soon enough.

~~~

Larry Forbes sighed. Taken down by a girl, he thought. He walked over to Palmetto-Bug Man, looked down at him with disappointment. Larry reached into a pocket. No, that’s where I put the cheese curls. The other one. He pulled out a small leather satchel. A syringe, a bottle of some fluid. He injected Palmetto-Bug Man in the neck.

“Wake up, Bud,” he whispered. “Come on, big fella.”

Palmetto-Bug Man stirred. “Wha … Hoozat … ?” he mumbled.

“Hiya, Bud,” Larry cooed.

“Uh, hey, pal,” Palmetto-Bug Man offered. “And you are …?”

“The name’s Forbes. Larry Forbes, Bud.”

“Um, great? Do I know you?” Palmetto-Bug Man furrowed his brow in deep concentration.

“No, but I see that the little hamster on a wheel you call a ‘brain’ isn’t generating the required horsepower for you to complete a thought right now, so lemme do some dot-connecting for ya. I know who you are when you aren’t all dolled up in yer fancy-pants and goggles. Bud.”

Palmetto-Bug Man sat up. “Are you … are you from the Bureau?”

“No,” Larry replied. “Not any more, anyway. Listen. I got a message for you. It’s a very important message, so you have to really pay attention.”

“What are you-”

“Shh. Listen.” Larry leaned in close. “I’m here to cure your amnesia, Bud. And all it’s gonna take is one word. One little word, and you’ll remember … well, everything. There’s just one catch. You might not like what you recall.”

Palmetto-Bug Man was shaking, in spite of himself. “… I …”

“Here it comes,” Larry whispered into his ear. “Al-gol.

And suddenly, Palmetto-Bug Man remembered everything. Every. Thing.

A village in China.

Winning medals.

Chosen for a special honor.

The first man in space. Not from the Soviet Union, not from the Yankee imperialists. The Glorious Peoples’ Republic. It was to be him.

Pin Bai Ma.

An accident.

Lost.

Falling, falling, forever.

Dead.

… alive?

Captured, tortured, by Americans.

Killed. Again.

Alive, again. Over and over.

“A clone, grown over and over from what they found left over in your crashed space capsule,” Larry whispered. “A tiny, little scrap. A ‘bud’, if you will. Used, over and over again, by the Bureau.  So sad. I resigned, in protest, of course.”

Palmetto-Bug Man was Bud. Or wasn’t he? He remembered that he was Pin Bai Ma. Didn’t he? And the pain, always the pain. A slave. At the hands of the Bureau.

“Yes,” Larry nodded. “The Bureau. They did this do you! Only you can stop them now! I’ve set you free!”

“F-free?” Palmetto-Bug Man whimpered. His fists tightened in rage.

“Yes, my friend. Free.”

And suddenly, Palmetto-Bug Man knew. He knew where to find the nearest representative of that evil Bureau, that had robbed him of his life so many times, that had used him, played him, even while pretending to be his friend.

He knew he would find …

Bamela.

He stood, howling like a berserker.

Well, Larry thought. This should work out just fine. I should be able to get rid of these Killswitch idiots AND the fools at the Bureau, all in one night. He smiled.

Yay me.

~~~

“Never mind the sarcasm, Vanglorious,” the Enforcer interjected. “Is Project Killswitch -”

“Project Killswitch is … neutralized, as you might say, Keith.”

Wordlessly he nodded to himself. Neutralized. Nice word for it. He poured himself another shot of gin, gulped it as if by reflex. He’d seen a lot of weirdness go down tonight, and he wasn’t in any hurry to let it take root in his long-term memory.  This looks like a job for … Inebriation!  Vanglorious thought. He was thankful that it was his name over the door of this place. One of the junior partners could run the business in the morning; he would go home, get some rest. Watch some ‘toons, maybe.

“I’d prefer you call me ‘Enforcer’ -”

“And I don’t really care about your preferences at the moment, Keith,” Vanglorious snapped. “I’m sick of all this bullshit. Sick of it. Something big, real big, went down tonight. Bigger than all the spandex cosplay freakshow crap everyone’s always on about. What bugs me, though, is two things. One, what happened with that Braithwaite girl. B, or two, or whatever,  the two of you are connected to all this, somehow. So, Keith, you’ll forgive me if I don’t really feel like referring to you by your ‘scene’ name at the moment.”

“Very well, Gerard,” Arctica pointedly responded. “Do you suggest that we terminate this arrangement?”

“No, nothing of the sort. Not after tonight. Tonight convinced me that I need to keep my eye on you two, more than ever.”

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved

I’ve written better, I think. But, I want to just get this out here already, because if I don’t, I feel like I’ll never finish this. This is part fifteen; here’s part fourteen. And here’s the beginning. This could change, so don’t take this as canon yet.

“We got you some clothes. Sorry we had to cut yours off you.” Pamela put the set of coveralls in Cheryl’s hands. Blindfolded, but with her limbs now freed, she shrugged and struggled into them.

“Fuck you,” Cheryl hissed. She fumbled with the buttons. “Since you’re probably gonna kill me anyway, fuck you.”

Pamela chose not to respond. She’s right, she mused. I don’t think this is gonna end well. For anybody. “Are you thirsty?” she asked. “I could get you some water …”

“Could you? And be a lamb and put a lemon wedge in it, please?” Cheryl grunted.  “And then, could you shove it up your ass and GO FUCK YOURSELF!” she yelled.

“Shut that bitch up!” Franklin called. “Where’s the fuckin’ duct tape?” He strode across the room towards the two of them. Raised his hand to strike Cheryl.

“No.” Pamela grabbed his arm. He struggled against her surprisingly strong grip, then he relaxed.  She let him go. Franklin scowled as he stormed off.

“Fine,” he grunted, rubbing his wrist where Pamela had grabbed him. “Just keep it down, will ya?”

Fenris sat off to the side, saying nothing. He watched, he listened.

“Do you know the kind of stuff your girl gets into?” Pamela asked.

Cheryl sighed. She had been afraid of this moment. Someone would call her out, someone would know Fran’s little … secret. She always figured that it would happen when Fran wound up in jail, somehow. Jail or the morgue, where her toe tag would get some use at last. Someone would see Fran rotting away in a cell, and ask Cheryl, “How could you let Frannie come to this?” Their eyes would burn with indignation. “What kind of person lets someone they say they care about put her life in jeopardy every night?” they would accuse, looking down at Fran’s broken body.

She just never suspected that it would be like this.

She never knew she would feel so …

Relieved.

Cheryl nodded, mute. Hating herself for feeling the burden ease off her shoulders. Hating herself for not putting a stop to it all, somehow. Hating herself, because now, she realized, she was just bait.

They want her to come after me! They want to trap her!

“… She won’t come,” Cheryl lied. “We broke up. I … I cheated on her, and she left me.”

“Well,” Fenris spoke up, in his too-deep-for-his-skinny-body voice. “You better hope she has a change of heart.” So bland, so matter-of-fact.

“What’s it like?” Pamela asked.

“Huh? What’s ‘what’ like?”

“Living with someone like, like that,” Pamela finished. “I mean, do you help her get her armor on? Do you have to come up with alibis and explanations a lot? Take her costume to the dry cleaner?” She shook her head. “It’s gotta be a rough life.”

Cheryl blew a short breath from her nose. “It’s nerve-wracking.”

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.

Allosaurus continues in part Heterodox.