The Grand Matron Receives an Answer
Literature Unbound is the collected works of Matt Snee, a 44-year-old schizoaffective writer living in Phoenix, AZ.medium.com
There are no rules in art.
The Grand Matron Receives an Answer
Literature Unbound is the collected works of Matt Snee, a 44-year-old schizoaffective writer living in Phoenix, AZ.medium.com
Doc Masterson’s been in the superhero game for most of his life. But his powers are more dependable than his mental health. Deep in Apparatus headquarters, Masterson meets with General Goff…
Soon enough, I was sitting in the unsurprisingly sparse office of General Alexander Goff, Supreme Commander of the Apparatus Armed Forces. I had known Goff for a long time, because he had been in his position for a long time, overseeing their response to the Mirror Man’s Terror War after 9/11 and the mess in Iraq with America’s Super People, but even before that he was central in the M-Men stuff and the Revenge Agenda. He hadn’t made the decision to kill Jenny, but he had executed that decision. He did not appear to take pleasure in it – something I did observe and never forgot. But he also had not hesitated.
“I thought Paul was going to be here,” I said immediately. The thought of Paul’s secure mental web managing this meeting had convinced me to do it in the first place.
“I’m not going to lie to you, Masterson,” said Goff. “That was not the truth.”
“Well,” I said. “Maybe next time, you can warn me in advance that you’re lying, so I don’t waste my time, and you don’t have to make such an elaborate apology.” I histrionically move to get up, a half minute after sitting.
“Please, Masterson,” said Goff. “You really are going to leave now? And take the train back? And ride the elevator up? After all you’ve done to come here?”
“I could leave by unconventional means,” I pointed out.
Colleen lifted her hands up. “Gentlemen. Things are as they are. It won’t happen again, John, I promise.”
I looked at Goff. “It was an oversight,” he said, which was as much as I was going to get out of him.
“What do you want with me?” I asked.
Goff sighed. “We want your power, Masterson. Of course.”
“No,” I said. “You want my loyalty. You want it to be your power.”
Colleen threw me a two-ton grimace. “You’re being deliberately ambiguous, John.”
“I don’t know how else to be,” I said. “That’s who I am. Down to the atomic level. That’s a scientific fact.”
“People like you are such pains in the ass,” Goff barked. “You are given all this power and yet you don’t know what to do with it. If I had your power, I would not be choked with uncertainty.”
“Certainty and power are the cause of every problem in this world,” I glared at him.
Goff shook his head. “You don’t know what you want.”
“I want see him,” I said. “That’s what I want. I want to see the Time Traveler.”
It was about that time, as we left Goff’s office and ventured towards another elevator to head deeper into the facility, that I noticed a loud hum in the back of my mind. I say ‘noticed,’ because it was one of those things where, once you discover it, you realize you had been blind (or in this case, deaf) to it to for God knows how long. It was not an electric hum, like static or a radio or other technological broadcast; and I also knew immediately that Goff and Colleen couldn’t hear it. As I followed them down the gray halls, I tuned them out and focused on the hum, and realized it was a babble of voices, thousands of them; but among that herd there was a dominant, stronger voice and language, that the other voices seemed to be clinging haphazardly to, like refugees onto the legs of a fleeing helicopter.
Of course, I considered that I was having another schizophrenic break; but this was different, and I was different – I knew this was coming from outside of me, no matter how deep in my mind it sounded and no matter how silent it was to others. I looked at Goff and Colleen – their movements seemed to be slowing, their voices were lowering in volume, and the light of the facility seemed to be dimming and yellowing. The opacity of reality was diminishing, and another reality underneath was revealing itself. Goff and Colleen slowed to the point of being unmoving – frozen, but flickering. The Apparatus facility around me was as translucent as plastic wrap – and now I saw what was underneath, some kind of shadowed antechamber lit by burning torches and dripping candelabras of huge size. I could smell incense, and I could feel the traces of a mountain wind, exhausted after making its way through tunnels and corridors, but still quietly fierce. The Apparatus facility was gone. Colleen and Goff were gone.
Among the shadows, I saw a robed figure, with long blond hair and a pointed, high-flying mustache like twin rapiers that would have appalled Salvador Dali in its radicalism, sitting meditating in a lotus position on a giant, glowing sapphire pedestal.
I realized who it was. “Doctor Alan Weird!” I exclaimed. “But I thought you were dead!”
The Occult Magus opened his eyes and gazed at me, piercing into me with his cosmic stare. “Don’t be foolish, Masterson,” he said. “I am dead.”
Doc Masterson’s been in the superhero game for most of his life. But his powers are more dependable than his mental health. Today he ventures into the belly of the beast: Apparatus headquarters.
“Your name, sir?” the Receptionist asked me.
“Uh… Doctor John Masterson.”
“Thank you, Mr. Masterson,” said the receptionist. She was in her thirties, probably former special forces sent to business administration classes, you could tell by how tight her hair was pulled back, only women in the military do that. “Have you been here before?”
I was a little confused. I wasn’t here to see the Apparatus dentist. “No, I haven’t,” I answered.
“Since it’s your first time, we have some paperwork for you to fill out.” The receptionist pushed a clipboard at me.
That was enough. “I’m not filling out any fucking paperwork,” I said, glancing at the men with the futuristic machine guns, whose masks were expressionless.
“Mr. Masterson,” smiled the receptionist, as though she were dealing with a child. “We ask for so little.”
I took the clipboard in my hands and sunk my fingers into it, deeper, deeper, until I was pushing through the field of its molecules like a knife through a living membrane. The clipboard started to glow and vibrate, a whistling sound spun around me, the paperwork and clipboard burst into a flash that looked like flame, but wasn’t, and then both ceased to exist entirely.
A fine mist of the clipboard’s undisintegrated matter lingered in the air, reeking of cancer potential. I glared at the men with guns while I spoke to the receptionist. “I have an appointment.”
A woman’s voice: “John!”
I turned – a petite, middle-aged Jewish woman with curly black hanging to her shoulders was coming out of a hidden door off to the side. It was Colleen Weiss, also known as QuantumKat, formerly of the M-Men, a superhero group consisting only of people of color that had been active in the 80s and 90s before most of them were annihilated. Like me, Colleen could dematerialize and pass though objects, but her powers were entirely different than mine – not that I understood how – someone had explained it to me once when I was drunk at a party. Colleen’s electrical field could also interact and disrupt electronic devices, and there were rumors she had other… undisclosed powers.
When Professor M died in 1997 and the M-Men kind of just faded into an unfulfilled dream like most civil rights causes, Colleen was one of the few survivors. She kind of floated for a while, but then I guess she “grew up,” – found a nice Jewish neurosurgeon to marry, had two daughters. A person of Colleen’s skills and qualities wasn’t found on the classified ads on Craig’s List, so eventually the Apparatus came knocking. Like the rest of us, Colleen said yes. But despite how it might have started, I knew Colleen was a believer now.
We shook hands. “How are you Colleen?”
“Good! How are you?”
Colleen looked me up and down. “I see you still refuse to comb your hair or put on clean clothes before you do something serious.”
I was hurt. “This suit is clean,” I protested.
“I was talking about your shirt, John. There are two coffee stains. That I can see.”
I looked down at myself. She was right. “I assure you this shirt was clean before I spilled coffee on it,” I told her.
She chuckled. “Let’s go for a ride, John.”
Colleen led me through a set of thick blast doors down a long hall. “How are you these days, John? I mean, really?”
Colleen Weiss. Eternally “authentic.” The girl next door. She had a way of making everyone feel like she was their best friend. When I was young I had a big crush on her – she was the spunky teen media darling, her trials and tribulations in the fight against evil and in dramas of teen romance Must See TV back in the 80s and 90s. I remember the TV special she did on the Holocaust, to educate “young people.” And now, here she was, an adult, invisible. But I wasn’t fooled. I knew QuantumKat had a dark side.
“I’m okay, I think,” I told her.
“You ever see your dad?”
Only a nihilist who clothed herself in compassion would have asked me that. I knew Colleen, but we had never been close. She probably read an article about me and my dad at some point. I doubt I’d ever talked to her about it. That’s the thing when you’re famous – people assume that anything the media has dug up on you is an appropriate topic of conversation, that because they’re out in the open about it, you are too. Colleen was getting sloppy, going through the motions. She had handed in her girl-next-door act for the modern mother persona, and she had become appropriately blind – everything had become orderly to her, everything was worries and schedules that must be adhered to.
“No,” I told Colleen. “I haven’t talked to him for a long time.”
Through another set of blast doors was “the train,” – a sort of subway pod that was carried on rails from this front entrance to deep Apparatus headquarters under the river. While every communicable disease on Earth could be found on the seats of the MTA, this subway however was immaculately clean, the plastic seats traded for rich, enveloping leather, and the scum-magnet floors exchanged for thick, luxurious carpet that begged you to take off your shoes and dig your does into its fabric. Colleen sat herself on a loveseat and I chose an armchair next to her. There were no windows in the pod. It never traveled on the surface.
“John,” Colleen said as the pod doors closed behind us, and the pod began to power up, “I wanted to talk to you about our visitor and his ship.”
I nodded. “Of course.”
“We know a lot more now than we did the day he arrived, but there is still a lot we don’t know. But first of all, you should know the ship is from the future.”
“Yes. Our physicists managed to figure out a way to pinpoint its date of origin – 178 years into the future.”
“Seriously?” I asked. I had considered the possibility, but the reality of it was a little more frightening. “Are you sure?”
“Even if the dating is wrong… the technology on that ship is a whole other level. But not alien – it’s technology that we could theoretically develop, but still, for now, is incomprehensible to us. We don’t know how to interact with it. We don’t even know how to identify what does what.”
“But could people in the future really invent time travel?” I asked Colleen.
“It might seem impossible, but the evidence is pretty indisputable. We have come to the conclusion that the level of technology needed to create the illusion that ship is from the future would have to be as advanced as technology really capable of doing it.”
“So that’s that,” I said. “What about the pilot?”
Colleen stroked her wrist. “The pilot is part of that technology. He seems to be in a self-induced, computer-regulated coma, managed by the same kind of technology in the rest of the ship, meaning we don’t understand it.”
“It’s been nearly two weeks since the ship crashed!”
“We can’t say for certain what the purpose of the coma is – perhaps the pilot is injured, or the coma is used to protect him from the effects of time travel, which we can only guess at.”
“What about his DNA?”
“We thought of that too,” Colleen snickered. “But his DNA is locked.”
“What do you mean, locked?”
“The system managing his coma seems to be part of a larger network of artificial intelligence that regulates and protects his body.”
“You can’t take a damn mouth swab?”
“You don’t understand, John. It’s like when a file on a computer is locked and hidden. It’s like it’s not even there. We can’t find it. The technology in his body and his actual body are inseparable.”
I didn’t know what to think about that. When you think of insane technology, you think of death rays, armies of robots. Not password protected cells. “I have a headache,” I told Colleen.
Colleen frowned. I had expected her to laugh. “There are many questions,” she said, her eyes distant. “But there are a few clear facts. The pilot and the ship ARE from the future. They ARE real. But the most important detail is this – signs seem to increasingly point to the pilot travelling to our time period in an act of reckless desperation – a one-way, last-ditch attempt.”
Colleen turned to me and laid her hand on my forearm. She looked into my eyes in utter seriousness and my doubts about the morally complex former M-Man wavered. “Now,” Colleen said, “why would someone do that?”
Doc Masterson’s been in the superhero game for most of his life. But his powers are more dependable than his mental health. Now that he’s back in New York, Masterson has a meeting with the Apparatus..
When I woke up the next morning it was raining. I could hear the steady tapping against the windows and maudlin, gray light grimaced through the cracks in my blinds. I was scheduled that day to meet with some top brass at the Apparatus – apparently dealing only with Paul wasn’t going to work anymore. I was too apathetic to put up a fuss about it. It wasn’t a big deal. I knew these people. Though I wished I didn’t.
I climbed out of bed, clicked on the coffee machine, took a bong hit, ate a weed brownie in preparation for the bullshit I anticipated later that day, and washed it down with the thick coffee that was a bit of a superhero itself. It jumped into the shower, where I almost forgot my plans for the rest of the day for a few glorious minutes, and then into the most wrinkled suit I could find, which was easy because I had never ironed anything in my life. When the bell rang announcing the driver had arrived, I had been ready for five minutes.
Outside it was pouring. I was picked up by the same Nordic driver I had been escorted by before. I still didn’t think to ask him his name. He said very little. I stared at the back of his head and his elaborate trellis of golden blond hair. He didn’t listen to the radio or make small talk. I had to struggle to detect his breath. He was stoic as hell. He had a bruise on his forehead from that punch from Stomper Blukowski though.
I stared out at the rain and the New Yorkers hustling through it in their own personal rat races. This was what we were supposed to be protecting – a life most people hated. You have to remember, there had been super humans in every age of the Earth, but they were commonly remembered as only folk tales or myths. Gilgamesh, Heracles, Joan of Arc. I’m not kidding. Some people put Jesus and Buddha on that list. Super powers have always been ambiguous, sometimes obvious, sometimes not, sometimes obedient, sometimes the opposite. In my own age there had been the Marvelous Four, The Strangers, the ever-independent Violet Russel (who even eschewed a codename), the Dysfunctionalists, America’s Super People, etc. Super humans were either born or made, and sometimes in some gray area in between. And like the rest of humanity, they fell in a wide variety of extremes ranging from those willing to sacrifice their lives to save the lives of others, to the opposite side with people who were hellbent on destroying everything good in the world.
But like any other war in history, most of the casualties were civilians. Sure, superheroes died. But while chaos and order battled it out in the sky and the streets of Manhattan, suffering people were more invisible and unheard than ever. Violet might have been able to lift an M1 Abrams tank in one hand, but that didn’t solve institutional racism, or government corruption, or environmental collapse.
The Apparatus had tried it the other way, letting superheroes be autonomous. It had worked at first – but what if someone who had the power to incinerate the Earth in a flash of thought – like Jenny – suddenly decided she was no longer going to accept the intractable injustices of the world that those in power relied upon? Have no doubt, there was a cabal that controlled Earth, and while its members seldomly agreed on most things, they were unanimous in their view that THEY should remain in control of the world.
And there were more super humans on Earth than anyone could guess. Most kept themselves secret. A few of us were stupid enough to try to become heroes. Almost all were driven by insane compulsions. I guess I fell into that category. I didn’t do what I did for any sort of rational reason. I was just trying to satisfy the hours each day provided me with. Did I like the danger? Yes. But only because the nature of my powers usually keep me OUT of danger.
Jenny loved the danger. Nothing was dangerous enough, not until the day she died. For most of the time I knew her, boredom drove most of her actions. But… in the end… she believed in what she was doing. For the first time, she had clarity. She knew what to do. She had to save the world. That’s the ironic tragedy of Jenny Clifford – she was murdered by the people she was trying to save.
Of course, the aftermath of the near-Apocalypse of Jenny Clifford, Nova Girl, finally gave the Apparatus (disguised as the fed-up governments of the world) the power to put an iron clamp on the super beings of the Earth. Really it was about two things: money and resolve. Now that the Powers That Be realized someone like Jenny could come and destroy everything they’ve been protecting since civilization began at any moment in time, they were suddenly a lot more amiable to consensus.
And me? I worked for them. When people asked, I said “it was very unfortunate,” about Jenny. I gave them a look of grief painted in capitalist realism.
So, when I tell you that in south Midtown there is a certain unassuming Art Deco building, a building which our Nordic chauffeur glided the black SUV to a stop in front of in the torrential rain, I assure you, I am not changing the subject. In fact, this unassuming building, and its history, are very integral to this story.
The Nordic chauffeur double-parked and pushed his door open, slipping into the rain in his black suit. He walked around the car, expanding an umbrella as he opened my door. All this even though I could dematerialize and remain completely dry. Of course, the Nordic chauffeur knew this.
“What is your name?” I asked him.
“I am Thor,” he said.
“It’s nice to meet you, Thor,” I told him. I felt briefly ecstatic in the rain at the ridiculous nobility of our introduction.
Water was dripping down his big, pale nose. “The honor is mine, John Masterson.”
I took the umbrella and maneuvered through the pedestrians on the sidewalk – all of us in our own personal rat race – to the building’s front door. I pulled open the heavy glass – the cold air conditioning inside the beginning whipped out into me, and every drop of moisture on my body shivered in unison. I headed to the front desk.
“I’m here to see Anderson Delorio on the 4th floor,” I told the receptionist.
“Mercury Consulting?” he asked me.
“One moment. The elevator is coming up now. First on the left.”
The first on the left. A mysterious elevator, that on certain days only appeared to be in use. Yes, you could press the button to call it, but another elevator would always arrive before it did (and quickly.)
The elevator doors dinged open. I stepped on board. A woman made to follow me, but I raised my hand to stop her. “This one’s going down,” I told her.
“Oh!” she laughed. “My mistake.” She stepped back.
The doors closed behind me. A thick purple laser shot out of the ceiling, accompanied by another on the floor, scanning me at the atomic level for god knows what. I could only imagine what the defense protocol would be if I wasn’t who I said I was.
The elevator glided down for a minute, maybe two. Perhaps three. Gently it slowed its descent, a white light shined briefly at the base of the doors, and the doors slid open, revealing a wide, golden reception area with black leather furniture, an attendant at a desk, and four men in black masks with futuristic machine guns.
I sighed as I stepped out of the elevator. So this was it. The forbidden sanctum. Well, not really – that was a couple miles deeper under the Hudson. But I was at the front door.
The receptionist smiled. “Welcome to the Apparatus,” she said.
Hey everybody, I’m sorry there was no blog yesterday. The thing is… I’m not a corporation, or a machine, or an algorithm. I’m a human artist, and a mercurial one at that. I can’t hold to a regimented schedule of posting the same thing every day at the same time. It’s also another reason I jump around to different stories. That’s just how my mind works.
The Mortal Feelings of W. Somerset Maugham
I posted this on Substack, but I’m putting in on medium with a few changes before I archive it on WordPress.
The Mortal Feelings of W. Somerset Maugham Part 1
The Mortal Feelings of W. Somerset Maugham Part 2
I’m taking this short story of two boys in love at summer camp in Pennsylvania in 1957 and turning it into a comic. Really crazy about it so far.
And that’s it. I hope to get a new chapter up of the Stephen King comic. That’s today’s job.
Thanks for reading,
Doc Masterson’s been in the superhero game for most of his life. But his powers are more dependable than his mental health. After returning from upstate, his visits Isabel in the hospital…
I arrived in the city later that night and headed straight to Mary’s Mercy hospital where Isabel had been admitted after her ass-kicking. When I got there she was a fucking mess. She was not attended by the hospital’s doctors but by the Apparatus’s own physicians. Isabel’s anatomy was rather unconventional; no one quite knew how her muscles conjured up the strength she wielded. Then there were her reflexes, which were, in some cases, five times faster than the average human. Though they were little help that day.
When I found her she was laying in bed and listening to her music on earphones. When she saw me she pulled them out.
“Hey, Doc,” she said, weakly.
I could tell her supposedly indomitable spirit had been broken. “What are you listening to?” I asked.
“Nine Inch Nails,” she replied.
“Really? I listened to them when I was your age too.”
She turned away. “I guess you aren’t that old after all.”
I was surprised myself. “Yeah I guess not.”
She started to cry. “I fucked up,” she murmured.
“No you didn’t.”
“I did! I just wasn’t thinking. Now look at me!”
The poor girl. It was bound to happen to her eventually. It happens to everybody that wants to be a hero out there. Eventually you are going to get really hurt. I had to remind myself though that she was only fourteen. I felt pissed that the Apparatus was using this kid for their ambiguous plans. Sadly, she believed the crap they were selling her and she believed in what she was doing. It was useless.
“Has Paul been here yet?” I asked.
“No, he has been meeting with the president. He said he would come later.”
Paul would calm her down, one way or another. Who knew how long he would be, sometimes a president could take forever to submit to the plan. I decided to take the matter into my own hands.
“Did you ever hear of Gargantua?”
“No,” Isabel replied.
“He was a giant. Twenty feet tall. Lord knows where he came from or what he was. He was invincible, practically. Well one day when some friends and I were rescuing miners in the hills of Pennsylvania, we came across and woke Gargantua up. He had been sleeping underground for who knows how long.
“We knew we had to stop him before he came to any densely populated areas. We alerted Violet Russell, who was just 200 miles away. Of course Violet immediately headed for the mine. It took her all of two minutes to reach us, and when she had, she speared through the giant’s stomach. Didn’t even slow down. She came out in a giant cloud of green blood.
“Gargantua just laughed. Violet wheeled around through the air, built up even more speed, and flew right at him again. This time though he caught her in his hands. Violet is strong. Very strong. But she was not stronger than Gargantua. He clenched his fist, crushing her. I will never forget the sound of Violet’s scream.”
“Did that really happen?” Isabel asked.
“It did. He didn’t kill her though. She was in the hospital for six weeks.”
“Really. So don’t let it get you down, kid. Everybody runs into somebody stronger than them. You can’t win all the time.”
Isabel did not respond. She leaned back and closed her eyes. “I am very tired.”
“Okay, Isabel,” I said. “I’ll check up on you tomorrow.”
How many times had I given young superheroes that same speech, only to bury them a couple years later?
After I left Isabel I wondered if Thousand Dragon Fist was still nearby. I headed up to the roof, and sure enough, he was there, looking down at the city, eating a burrito with his Buddha mask half-lifted. I had known for a long time that the Fist was a black man – it was sort of an open secret. But other than that, no one I knew was aware of his real identity.
“Hey,” he said.
“Your girl in there is pretty stupid,” the Fist said.
“Her heart is in the right place,” I countered.
The Fist gave me a dubious look. “You mean, in her chest?”
I can’t believe I was defending the Apparatus’s use of Isabel. “She’s super.”
“But she’s not a hero, Masterson. Can’t you tell?” He drew in a deep breath and stuffed the burrito wrapper into a pocket in his costume. “You’re going to die working for the Apparatus.”
“I’m not working for them,” I said. “I’m working with them.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“So… because you’re working with an evil organization out of the kindness of your heart, your conscience is guilt-free.”
“There’s room on the roster,” I offered.
Thousand Dragon Fist laughed bitterly. “Never,” he said. “I work alone, and I work here. I have my little world that I protect and that’s that. Besides,” he chuckled. “I’m not really super.”
“But you are a hero,” I told him.
“Maybe,” he mused. “I do my best, that is all.”
“Why don’t you join us? You would if you knew what we are up against.”
“Do you know what you’re up against? I have a feeling you don’t. You know, Paul Drake visited me too about a month ago.” The Fist scratched his ear through his mask. “Trying to recruit me. I heard the whole spiel. Didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now.”
“We don’t know what could happen.”
“How is that different from any other point in history? Seriously? I can’t deal with your problems out there. I have problems right here that need dealing with, every day. The answer is no, Masterson.”
He jumped off the roof and vanished into the shadows of the city.
Not much of an update today. But I did post the final chapter of “The Prophecy of Carson McCullers” on Medium, here:
The Prophecy of Carson McCullers, Chapter 3, Conclusion
Thanks for reading.
Doc Masterson, Isabel, and Paul fly to Tokyo to deal with the crashed extra dimensional ship.
I felt dizzy. Everything was happening too fast.
Isabel poked my arm gently with her right index finger. “I said, isn’t this exciting?”
Few people who know my reputation have the courage to touch me. I stared into Isabel’s eyes. They were blue, fearless things, enraptured by power. I knew that sort of fearlessness and rapture well. I knew it backwards and forwards.
“Sir?” one of the helicopter pilots had come over. He handed me an Apparatus phone.
“I don’t talk on the phone,” I protested.
“It’s Paul Drake, sir,” said the pilot.
“Hello?” I said into the phone.
“John, I need you to get in the helicopter now.”
I glanced at Isabel and the pilots. “Paul? What’s happening?”
“I don’t know, John.”
“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what’s happening,” I told him.
“I don’t know what’s happening, John. That’s the problem. Don’t you understand?”
Suddenly I did. Crystal clear.
“Yeah,” I said. I handed the phone back to the pilot. “Let’s go,” I said.
We flew South out of the city. The helicopter was noisy and no one talked. I stole glances at Isabel when I could.
It took almost half an hour to reach Dover Air Force Base. We landed. Paul was waiting for us.
“I want to talk to you, alone,” I said to him.
He nodded, but then asked if we could do so en route, gesturing towards a hypersonic cargo jet parked on the tarmac. We boarded the jet and took off again, this time headed straight for Tokyo. The plane would skim the atmosphere until we arrived in Japan in record time.
Paul escorted me to an office inside the jet where we could talk privately.
“Well?” I asked.
Paul took a deep breath. “Something’s happening.”
“Are we under attack?” I asked.
“That’s also unknown; however, if we are under attack, then it’s possible the attack has been going on for some time. It’s possible that the Apparatus has been sabotaged.”
“You mean, that’s why you didn’t know this was going to happen?”
“No, it’s worse,” Paul said. He rubbed his temples. “We’ve been having problems with things for awhile. Don’t you see? Why else would I come to you?”
Everything was fucked up.
“How did it get past the sensor net?” I asked.
“We don’t know what’s wrong with them. They didn’t detect anything.”
Paul and I sat around a small round table replaying video of the crash. In Paul’s hands, the video distorts time, replaying previous moments electrically into the air. He twisted the camera around, showing dozens of angles of the ship.
“It’s the size of a city block,” he said.
“It must have killed thousands,” I whispered to myself. “Has it done anything else since it crashed?”
“No — well, it’s emitting a noise. A buzzing sound. I’ll turn up the audio. “
We were watching live video now. Paul turned up the volume, and pulled out the video into a wide shot from above the crash site. It just seemed so impossible; but there it was.
“It has to be sabotage,” I said. “This has to be an attack. Anything is possible. We know nothing!”
“We know nothing,” Paul confirmed. Then he turned to practical matters. “Do you need something to eat, John? I know you haven’t had breakfast.”
“A last meal? Sure,” I said.
Paul raised his watch to his mouth and spoke, “Can we get some eggs and coffee, please? And tell Isabel to come up here.”
“Roger that, sir,” an electronic voice replied.
Five minutes later we were served plates of eggs and two decanters of steaming hot coffee. We were also joined by Isabel. All three of us were ravenous. We ate silently. Once finished though I was imbued with a strong courage. I was more relaxed. Suddenly it hit me–
“Shit,” I said. “Isabel is coming with me down there, isn’t she? You are goddamned crazy. She’s a kid for Christ’s sake. We could both die.”
“I’m not afraid to die,” Isabel said, defiantly.
“There’s more to her than it looks like,” Paul said.
“That doesn’t matter,” I said. “She’s still a kid.”
“We were kids when we did this stuff,” Paul replied.
“That was different,” I said.
“Hey,” Isabel said. “Hey! Listen: the buzzing is getting louder.”
It was getting louder, and doing so very fast. The sound became distorted as it raged, was transformed into bits and sent through to TV’s around the world.
“What is it?” Isabel asked.
It continued to get louder. Another sound started: a low, rumbling bass.
It exploded. Or at least that’s what it looked like. The hull cracked, and a thick blue smoke came pouring out into the area. It wasn’t just blue, it was brighter than any other color in the world. The whole area was covered with blue smoke in moments. The ship hid in the smoke; we could not see it any longer.
“How long until we get there?” I ask Paul.
“T-minus three minutes.”
We made our way to the back of the plane. They opened up the cargo hatch and wind besieged the air. Isabel sat down on the floor, took off her shoes, and then put on what looked like snow boots, except there were lights blinking on them.
“I really wish you wouldn’t send her,” I said to Paul. “I can’t protect her.”
Paul smiled at me. “She’s going to protect you.”
Isabel finished putting on her boots and stood up.
“What are those,” I asked. I pulled a gas mask off the wall and put it on.
Isabel smiled at me. “These are my jet boots,” she said.
“Jet boots?” I asked.
“Jet boots,” Paul said.
“So what you’re saying is she is going to fly down there.”
“That’s right,” Isabel said. “I’ve done it before. I’ve practiced for this. How are you going to get down there? With a parachute?”
I think my treating her as a child was starting to annoy her. I didn’t care how much she had practiced for this shit. She was too young. Paul could have been sending a teen girl straight to her death. I didn’t care if I died. I hadn’t been afraid of dying for a long time. But she was just a girl. People like her didn’t know what death was.
“It’s time,” Paul said.
Isabel and I approached the door. I looked her in the eyes. Was she ready for something like this? We would all know soon enough.
She smiled at me. She didn’t appear nervous at all. “Can I ask you a personal question?”
“Okay,” I said.
“You know Violet Russell, right?”
I hadn’t heard Violet’s name in an age. “Um, yeah, why?” I replied.
“What’s she like in real life? She’s been my hero my whole life.”
“She’s just Violet,” I said. “She’s a mom now. She hasn’t done stuff like this for a long time.”
“She’s the most amazing person in the world,” Isabel said. “Well, I guess this is it.” She saluted Paul, nodded to me, and then jumped out of the airplane.
I watched her fall for a moment before her jet boots kicked in. She started to float down through the air. The girl was psychotically fearless. I had seen the same thing in many of the superheroes I had worked with through the years.
Who was I to complain? I had been called reckless more than once in my career, and it had always been an understatement.
“So long,” I said to Paul.
“Be careful,” he said back.
“Yeah fucking right,” I replied, jumping out of the airplane.
Good morning everyone. It’s a holiday here in America, but I’m ready to get back to work here after a liminal weekend, so here we are.
After a short break, here is chapter 9 of He-Thing and the Cabal of the Cosmos, featuring the first appearance of the arch-villain Skullatroid.
He-Thing and the Cabal of the Cosmos, Chapter 9
I’m working on a bunch of He-Thing related things right now. I know this story is an acquired taste, but it’s very enjoyable and freeing for me. And a lot of fun and intellectually stimulating.
There’s also a new chapter of The Black Sorcery of Yelena Bulgakova.
The Black Sorcery of Yelena Bulgakova, Chapter 4
Down below, Hard Scum is killing it with Midnight Man.
Midnight Man, Chapter 3, by Hard Scum
Finally, here is a short post I did introducing my thoughts about realism in literature.
Snee’s Thoughts on Realism in Literature
And that’s it! Got a big week planned, so buckle up!