8FOLD/HCC: Journey Into # 15, Slow Build
joltcity at gmail.com
Wed Sep 29 01:02:18 PDT 2010
Cold open. Lake Guntersville, Alabama. May 2010. Five years.
Whaley has arranged to be out of Washington for the week of the
anniversary. He's adept at handling the press, known for candor,
warmth, and precision in a position that often thrives on the
opposite; he'd have to be, to have been retained, let alone promoted,
after the election. But he has no interest in Secretary Whaley, today
marks the fifth anniversary of, and, Secretary Whaley, how do you
personally feel about Dingham's disappearance, and, Secretary Whaley,
what about that new-new Darkhorse, and blah-blah-blah. And so, for
the first time since his confirmation, Whaley and his wife are on
vacation, the Department of Four-Colour Affairs in the capable hands
of Deputy Secretary Graham. Graham has not only Whaley's trust, but
the boss's as well; no reason, the boss said, for anyone to disturb
his fishing trip.
So when Whaley's cell rings out its rendition of "Hail to the
Chief", he's hoping it's merely the boss checking up on him. But,
given everything that's on his plate, Whaley doubts it.
"Hello, Mr. President," says Whaley.
"Phillip," greets President Obama. "I hate to do this to you, but
something's come up."
Whaley knows that the boss wouldn't call him unless it was
something that Graham couldn't handle, and being that both of them
knew there was almost nothing that Graham couldn't handle, this had to
be something of dire importance. Others might make a show of this,
make it a back-and-forth, might protest that Graham could do it, might
cling to "I'm-on-vacation" until the President made it apparent that,
no, there was no one else, followed by a reluctant "I'm-on-my-way".
Others cling to those rituals because it makes them feel important.
Whaley has no use for them: they waste time. And even though it's
been five years since he was able to run from sea-to-shining-sea in a
half hour, the original Darkhorse doesn't like to waste a second.
"I'm on my way, sir."
The back-story: sixteen years ago, shortly after Whaley got his
powers (praise Allah), the teenaged Darkhorse crossed paths with a
beta version of Skullblazer 3D, a first-person shooter with AI so
advanced it had become sentient. Intent on destroying the fictional
Skullblazer-- a beer-swigging, bosom-leering egomaniac with a flaming
skull for a head-- it became enraged when it could not find its
target. Gaining access to nuclear weapon codes worldwide, it
attempted to destroy the Earth. Using his super-speed ability to read
and comprehend 30,000 words per minute, Darkhorse mastered C++ and
created a patch mere moments before doomsday that not only removed the
program's sentience, but rebalanced the range and damage of certain
over-powered grenade types. As a result, the software was released
the following year to mass sales and acclaim, and Darkhorse was
credited as a programmer-- much to his chagrin, given the violent
nature of the game and his disdain for the medium.
The situation: the game's decades-long-in-development sequel,
Skullblazer Legacy, is finally set to be released next year and a
playable demo has been unveiled at a trade show. Said demo, like its
predecessor, has somehow gained sentience. Able to access the
internet to verify the current weather in whichever city a particular
level is modeled after (a feature of dubious utility to its core
audience that still necessitated rebuilding the game from scratch, and
not for the first time), it learned of its predecessor's humbling at
the hands of Darkhorse and has sworn vengeance. The demo used the
expo center's wireless network to install itself on all the other
consoles and computers, as well as the computerized security system,
locking all the doors and then taking down the network. It is holding
both the attendees and the hardware hostage until Darkhorse shows
himself, so that he might exact that revenge. No nuclear missiles
this time, and no way that it can harm the attendees; really, all he
or anyone else would have to do is walk in and turn off the power.
The wrinkle: the new-new Darkhorse happened to be at the expo and
quickly made an ass of herself trying to take down the harmless
Skullblazer Legacy Demo with her computerized wrist-watch, at which
point it installed itself into said wrist-watch. Which-- unknown to
anyone save herself, Whaley, and the President-- is not only the
source of her super-speed powers, but is also synched up with every
muscle in her body.
So: the Skullblazer Legacy Demo has complete control over the very
dangerous body of a teenaged super-speedster, is holding hundreds of
hostages until Whaley will meet it in costume, and Whaley has been
powerless for exactly five years.
JOURNEY INTO # 15: SLOW BUILD
A HIGH CONCEPT ADVENTURE BY TOM RUSSELL
Whaley's never been able to adequately explain to the missus what
it was like when he lost his powers. She understood it in abstract,
but never could quite grasp the enormity of it. Speedsters almost
never perceive themselves as moving fast; rather, the world around
them slows to a crawl. This is what made them so competent and nigh-
impossible to overcome: from the time a shot is fired until the time
the bullet hits something, a speedster has both a luxurious amount of
time in which to come up with an ideal solution and a number of power
applications with which to see it through.
But the day Gregory Dingham told him to slow down, Whaley no longer
had access to those powers, could no longer move briskly. He still,
however, perceived the world through a speedster's eyes; everything
and everyone still moved and spoke in slow-motion all around him, but
he moved even slower than they did. Whereas before, a bullet slowly
eking its way through the air presented possibilities, now it could
hold only terror and dread; he could spend what seemed to him to be
minutes contemplating it, but his body could not move fast enough to
do anything about it: his contemplations, then, could be only of his
inevitable demise. His mind couldn't handle it.
Later, his wife told him that he had been in the mental hospital
for only four months following his battle with Dingham. Whaley
believed her, but could have sworn it had been years.
Now, everything still moves in slow motion, which gives him an air
of impatience that he's tried hard to curb. As he watches the
secretly-designed federal stealth seaplane touch down on the surface
of the lake, as he observes the white foam's yawning fingers slowly
reaching into the air, twisting sensuously before falling, sad and
dead and separate, back into the turbulent and murky blue that spawned
them, Whaley tries not to look agitated. After all, to the pilot,
it's only been ten minutes since he was told to pick up Whaley.
Before the plane takes off, the fresh-out-of-college that's been
chose to accompany him opens his attaché case/laptop and reaches in.
His hand clasps around the rim of the headset. He looks up to Whaley
and opens his mouth wetly. He closes his mouth and clears his throat:
two long buzzers emanating from his skinny little neck. He opens his
mouth again, and then brings his teeth down around the pale tip of his
tongue: Sssss. The mouth opens: Ehhhhh. The teeth pull back against
the tongue: Kkkkkk. The lips thrust forward: Rrrrrraaaahhhh. The
teeth gnash down: Ttttt. Open again, then arcing slightly closed and
forward: Aaaaaarrrreeeee. There's a reason why Whaley's aides call
him Whaley, instead of Secretary Whaley, and it has nothing to do with
him being amiable.
Whaley raises his hand, and in the time it takes him to do that,
fresh-out-of-college has already spent an eternity on "Whaley, I
"Graham is on the line," says Whaley.
"Deputy Secretary Graham, yes," says the redundant little twat.
Whaley extends his arm.
The aide re-grips the headset, pulling it out of the case like some
kind of Excalibur, raising it into the air with all the urgency of a
sloth. He stretches his arm outwards, the fabric of his suit jacket
stretching tight and sans wrinkles. His quivering hand pushes the
head-set towards Whaley like the air is made of molasses.
Whaley puts on the set. "Go."
Graham knows not to waste time with pleasantries, or any time at
all, for that matter. "Plan?" As in, do you have a.
"Thinking." As in, not certain, but I'll think of something.
"Options?" As in, are there ways to give you back your powers, even
"Tried." As in, the fruitless months between the mental hospital
and his official retirement. Super-speed is the rarest and most
dangerous of powers, and also the most mysterious and least
understood: no one's quite sure how it really works, let alone how to
reproduce it or bring it back.
"Watch?" The girl's watch, the third Darkhorse, the watch that
gives her her powers, and, right now, gives those powers to
Skullblazer Legacy Demo. Is it possible to duplicate the watch, how
much do we understand of its technology?
"Journeyman." The great hero who disappeared in the seventies. No
one knows why or how. A mystery that might never be solved.
Graham doesn't have anything to say that he hasn't said before, so
he remains silent.
Three seconds stretch out in Whaley's mind like taffy. Then, he
"We meet again," enthuses Dr. Fay's lilting voice over the phone.
"We've met before?"
"Last year, face-to-face. When I got the, you know, that thing."
"The Nobel Prize."
"Yeah, that thing that I won," says Dr. Fay. "For inventing that
thing, the one with a little something called perpetual motion. You
were there with the President."
"I'm sorry; I was occupied at the time with other things." Namely,
coordinating the group of heroes providing extra security to the
President. "Now, to the matter at hand..."
"That's okay," says Dr. Fay. "You might not remember me, but I
remember you, good-looking." She clicks her teeth.
"I am a married man," says Whaley, drawing the eyebrows of the
aide. "And I find your flirtations unbecoming of a Muslim woman."
"Okay, then," says Dr. Fay. "Excuse me while I put on my burqa.
Well, Mr. Grumpy-Pants, your deputy secretary explained that you were
looking for a way to either restore your old speed powers, or negate
hers. I guess with the former, the idea was, if anybody can find a
way to synthesize super-speed, it'd be the world's most affable mad
genius. And while I can do any number of seemingly impossible things
(see: perpetual motion machine), I must admit it is beyond even my
"Hers?" says Whaley, hoping his terseness might curb the doctor's
"I only know one way to take down a speedster," says Dr. Fay. "I
can put the chip in your neck. The chip that..." She trails off,
attempting to be delicate. The chip that put the second Darkhorse in
traction. The reason why there's a third Darkhorse. That chip.
"You'd have to be careful," continues Dr. Fay. "The range is ten
feet, so you'd have to keep that distance until you're ready, then get
her to vibrate her molecules. When she gets in range, it'd snap her
back, and then, hopefully, you've got something appropriately nasty
(but not too nasty) for her to run into."
"No on the chip," says Whaley.
"I would suggest one of my old Vibra-Jacket fail-safe guns, but the
chances of you actually hitting her with it would be pretty slim."
"Then why bring it up?"
"The way her watch works..."
"I know how her watch works."
"Ssh, I'm building up to a plan that's just so crazy it might
work. According to the file you sent me, the way her watch works, is
her brain says to the watch, hey, I'd like to run really fast, and the
watch is all like, hey, feet, get to stepping, and then they step and
they're all speedy and cool. But, if we were to line your suit with
some super-cool high-power magnets, the second she got close enough,
it'd fubar the watch's computer. Then her brain will be, I want to
run really fast, and the watch will be... well, I'm not quite sure how
to render corrupted computer gobbledygook phonetically, but you get
the idea. It's somewhat drastic, as it would rob her of her powers
permanently, but with all those hostages, it might be our best bet."
"It'd do more than that," says Whaley. "It'd kill her."
"Oh. Well, that's not such a good idea, then."
"The watch doesn't just control her powers. It also regulates her
"I'm glad you put that information in the file you sent me."
"I didn't expect you to suggest we shut down her powers," says
Whaley. "I was hoping you could suggest some way hack into it and
remove the program."
"Use a computer to crack remotely into a wrist-watch in a wireless
dead-zone, right," says Dr. Fay. "That's sarcasm, by the way. What
you're suggesting isn't actually a thing. Uh, so I guess we're done,
"Should I ask for your assistance in the future, please do so via a
succinct e-mail," says Whaley. "And should you find that you have
nothing to say, then say nothing."
Few ever witness his anger and impatience. Anyone who lasts long
enough in the DOFCA to work with the Secretary directly knows to keep
things brisk and business-like. He actually likes how self-important
and long-winded the press are because it gives him more than ample
time to craft his answer. When he's not on the clock (an increasingly
rare occurrence) and in the company of friends, he indulges their
small talk, even enjoys it to a degree; one advantage to watching the
world in slow-motion is that a moment of relaxation is never too
short, but always languid and lazy, like sleeping in on Saturdays. His
wife, he indulges most of all; when she speaks at length, he studies
her eyes and her mouth, and falls in love with her again and again and
Another call comes in over the head-set, and the aide again reaches
into his attaché case. He looks at the incoming number, then at
Whaley, and his eyes bulge slightly. "Thhhhhhhhhuuuuuhhhhhh
pppprrrrr, pppprrrrr, pppprrrrr, pppprrrrr..."
Stuttering. If there's one thing Whaley can't stand, it's
stuttering. He reaches out and grabs the headset.
"Hello, Mr. President."
And then there's one more person that Whaley practices patience
with, and that's the boss, because, well, he's the boss. "Phillip,"
he says. "You'll be touching down in about an hour. There'll be a
truck waiting to take you to the convention center, along with a, a, a
costume. Bulletflux." Costly and experimental material that emits a
low-range force field, partially absorbing impacts and deflecting
glancing bullets. It'll help soften her blows, but not by much.
"There should be an e-mail in your inbox," the boss continues.
"Those are all the, uh, four-colours in the immediate area who have
volunteered their services."
"Are any of them speedsters?" says Whaley.
"Then it's too dangerous."
"Not more dangerous than it is for you to go in alone."
"If they're seen, it's too dangerous for the hostages."
"The hostages are our number one concern," says the boss. "I've
been speaking with the game's director, and he assures me that, as far
as the code for the game is concerned-- this might've changed since it
became self-aware, so bear that in mind and don't bank on it-- but as
far as the code is concerned, the game's AI is set up to hold hostages
for the player to rescue but not to harm the hostages. However, he
also said the hostages, or NPCs, are all invulnerable to bullets in
the game, and so it might harm them accidentally since it may or may
not realize that real people aren't invulnerable. So, of course, we
have to tread carefully."
"Of course, sir."
"They're our number one concern," reiterates the President. "And I
hate this as much as you do, but if things start to get ugly, and one
of our snipers can get a clear shot of her... that is, if she holds
still long enough, then they will be instructed to take the shot."
"With all due respect, sir," says Whaley, "that'd be a bad idea
with a speedster. She'd be able to feel the vibrations of the bullet
through the air a good two or three seconds before impact. And that's
all she'd really need to react. She would even have enough time to
grab a hostage, or myself, and zip back with a human shield in tow. I
would withdraw all snipers immediately."
"Will do," says the boss.
"I'm going to try to get the program to release all the hostages
before engaging Darkhorse in combat," says Whaley. "That way, if I do
get the bad end of the stick, they'll already be free, and the game
won't hold them as it waits for me to respawn. Again, we don't know
how much it understands how about the real world works."
"Luckily, the wireless network was still down when we moved the
jammers into place," says the boss. "It won't be able to get any
information from the web."
"That might play into our favour," says Whaley. "Super speed
powers take a while to get used to, and even once you've gotten used
to them, it's a long learning process before you can really utilize
them to their full potential. Without any articles or books to help
it along, I might be facing an amateur, might even have a chance. Of
course, on the other hands, it's a piece of software, and it's going
to try to find the most efficient ways to exploit whatever tools it
has at its disposal. If it finds something that works, it's just
going to spam me with it as mercilessly as possible."
"That's a grim prospect," says the boss. "I'm not asking you to go
in and sacrafice your life. Maybe we can call in another speedster?
Maybe the other Darkhorse?"
"No," says Whaley. "He got out of it for a reason, and I respect
that. He has a right to live his life after what happened."
"Are you sure Dr. Tarif was unable to come up with anything?"
Whaley briefly flashes to the idea with the magnetic field, the one
that would stop the girl's heart. "No," he says. "Nothing that's
His old costume was a one-piece: gloves, boots, hood, body,
everything one sleek black mass. He would vibrate his molecules and
pass through the fabric to put it on or off, a perfect fit, down to
the last atom. This suit is a two-piece, cut at the middle, and
putting it on is a struggle: the fabric bunches and snags, pulls
itself too tight against his face, has to be smoothed out and
When he finally has it on, he looks himself in the mirror, and
notices that he doesn't look appreciably different than he did five
years ago. His eyes are still obscured in shadow beneath the mask's
heavy brow, his chin and mouth are still muscular, clean-shaven, and
appealing. There are parts of him that show the past five years-- a
melodramatic streak of white hair snuck up on him during his days in
the mental hospital-- but nothing that's visible when he has the mask
Whaley wishes he did look different, wishes the suit was ill-
fitting, wishes he looked past his prime. But looking in the mirror,
he still sees Darkhorse, speedster supreme, member of the Seven
Wonders; looking in the mirror, he sees not only what had been but
what should still be, what still would be, if not for the two words
Dingham said five years ago.
He spoke to Dingham a week before he made his mask statement.
Ostensibly, it was to help Whaley get "closure", but both of them knew
the real reason. The thing Whaley remembers most about the encounter
is the burning in Dingham's eyes. This wasn't surprising; the
technological muzzle that prevented the boy from speaking covered his
nose, his mouth, his cheeks: all that was visible were his eyes and
the angry shock of black hair.
When he entered the courtroom on the first day of his trial,
Dingham had said, "The jury will find me not guilty." The judge
immediately declared a mistrial-- at two minutes, the shortest
mistrial on record-- and Gregory had been unable to speak a word
since, taking all his sustenance via an intravenous drip.
Dingham waited for Darkhorse with a pile of scrap paper. As soon
as the costumed hero took his seat, before Darkhorse could even open
his mouth, Dingham began fidgeting with the pen. I SUPPOSE YOU WANT
ME TO TELL YOU HOW SORRY I AM, he scratched out aggressive, messy
"No," said Darkhorse, handing the paper back.
Dingham slid it off the table with the flat of his palm. He began
attacking a new piece of paper. WHAT DO YOU WANT THEN, without
"Don't you feel bad about what you did? Don't you feel any
remorse?" And then, almost as a challenge, Darkhorse slid the paper
towards him again.
Dingham swooped it off the table and went to work on another sheet,
scribbling not just with his hand, but with his entire body, one
fidgety mass distilling into splotches of ink. Darkhorse supposed
that others found this intimidating, this energy, this perpetual chip-
on-the-shoulder. But in slow motion, with each jerk of each muscle
robbed of its essential surprise, it's a uniquely pathetic spectacle.
YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT I DID OR WHY I DID IT
"Do you want to tell me about it?"
Dingham defiled a new sheet with a sketchy representation of a
middle finger. He followed it up with another sheet: ARE WE DONE
"Do you want to make up for it?" said Darkhorse. "For part of it,
"I need my powers back," said Darkhorse. "You could give them back
to me, couldn't you? Anything you say happens, so if you said that,
I'd have them back."
Dingham stared at him; it was the first time since Darkhorse
entered the room that Dingham's eyes weren't darting about. Then, he
looked down at his second-to-last sheet of paper. REDUCED SENTENCE
"I can't do that," said Darkhorse. "I have no say in that."
Dingham didn't waste his last sheet; he took the sheet back from
Darkhorse, and wrote it down again: REDUCED SENTENCE
"Even if I had the power to pull strings, I wouldn't," said
Darkhorse. "It's not right."
The last sheet comes out. THEY'RE GOING TO KILL ME
"You killed forty people," said Darkhorse.
Dingham flipped over the sheet. NOT ON PURPOSE
"Maybe not in the earthquake," said Darkhorse. "What about your
NOT ON PURPOSE
Dingham bent over, picked up a sheet from the floor. On the other
side, he scratched out desperately: I DON'T WANT TO DIE
"That's not for me to decide," said Darkhorse. "I can't give you
anything in return. Except maybe some small piece of mind before you
Dingham stared at him again. Then: OKAY I'LL DO IT
Darkhorse knocked on the door, alerting the two guards and warden.
"He said he'd do it."
The guards entered, each placing a gun against a side of Dingham's
head. The warden pointed his remote at the front of the muzzle and
input the access code. The bits that kept his mouth shut relaxed and
withdrew, the bulk of the contraption still resting on Dingham's
shoulders and chest.
Dingham looked Darkhorse in the eye and smirked. "Good-bye."
Gregory Dingham was gone; the guns were pointing at the air; the
contraption that had silenced him fell to the floor with a heavy
Approaching the convention center, Whaley is besieged by reporters
and photogs, each flash bulb blooming like time-lapse flowers before
snuffing themselves out. There hasn't been this much activity
swarming around him in all the time he's been in government. It
reminds him of old times.
He had always been popular. As the first prominent teen hero after
the death of the High Roller, how could he not be? He was handsome,
led a clean life, was a good role model: a friendlier face for the
Nation than, say, Minister Farrakhan. And that's what he told himself
as he agreed to interview after interview and photo session after
photo session. He was presenting the public with an image; he was
doing noble work.
But part of him wonders, in his dark moments, if that's all there
was to it, or if there was something more sinister, more selfish,
behind his love affair with the media. Part of him rankles every time
he recalls making a glib one-liner or an off-colour joke. Part of him
reflects that it was Allah who gave him this blessing of speed, and
part of him wonders if Allah, through the boy Dingham, took it away,
to punish him for his arrogance.
As he makes his way through the throng of reporters, there's a bad
taste in his mouth, a sickness in his stomach, and he knows that's
only partially because he's likely walking to his death.
The twenty feet before the convention center's entrance is
cleared. Whaley alone approaches the door, and Whaley alone dares to
knock upon it. He steps back; the door flies open.
The third Darkhorse, who bears his name not with his blessing, but
with his successor's, stares at him blankly. "Darkhorse," she says
"Skullblazer?" says Whaley.
"Skullblazer Legacy, Playable Demo," corrects the girl. "Are you
ready to meet my vengeance?"
"Let the people go first," says Whaley. "Then we can..."
As his mouth begins to muffle the alveolar nasal, Whaley sees the
girl's hand flinging out towards him; not in the slow motion to which
he's grown accustomed, but at what would pass, five years ago, for his
normal speed. As a reflex, he starts to bend backwards, but he's
hardly budged a millimeter before she has a hold of him.
He's lifted into the air, over her head.
She throws him behind her, into the convention center.
He sails through the air, inching his way across with terrifying
leisure. He sees the wall ahead of him, the wall he shall surely hit,
sees it growing closer and closer.
His body tells him to throw up his hands and arms, to protect his
head. But he knows in his brain that he's moving too fast to get them
up in time. He tries anyway.
It's like moving through molasses, he thinks, and it occurs to him
that before he makes impact with the wall, he'll have enough time to
think of another metaphor, one that's less of a cliché.
He figures he's about half-way there. Maybe he'll have enough time
to get his arms up after all. He's not sure; it'll be close.
His arms continue their slow, sluggish climb. If he can get them
up, his arms plus the bulletflux will cushion the blow a bit. Not a
hundred percent-- the field generated by the bulletflux isn't really
built to sustain direct impacts-- but enough to make a difference, and
certainly more than if his noggin absorbed most of the blow.
Whaley starts to tuck his head in, partially to help shield it, and
partially to see what's going on below him: where he might land after
he hits the wall, and what he might be able to use once he gets there.
He's not in luck; it's a spike-pit display for some kind of violent
fighting game. Really?, thinks Whaley. Really? Someone really
thought this was a good idea?
Keeping his head tucked in, he lets his eyes slide forward to the
incoming wall. Yep, impact any moment now. This is going to be
close; but he might just do it...
Come on, arms! Come on! Get up there!
Whaley thinks back to his encounter with the demo's predecessor,
and to the crash-course in video game lingo he got from the chief
designer. This, he muses grimly, just as his arms finally start to
come into view, this is what's known as a frame-rate problem.
And, just as his arms click into place, just as they start to
absorb the agonizing shock of the wall (pain being one sensation
that's always unbearable when you're feeling it in slow motion), just
as he begins to pray he doesn't land smack dab in that asinine pit of
spikes, Whaley has an idea that's just crazy enough to work.
The impact is enough to send him flying backwards as he makes his
descent. He's now on his back, slowly slipping through the air like
bubbles, watching as the ceiling lights grow farther and farther
away. He reminds himself to keep his eyes wide open, no matter how
bad the pain is.
But his back hits the floor, and his face scrunches up in pain,
and, yes, his eyes squint closed. He commands them to open even as
they start closing, but as always, his body is several steps behind
his brain. By the time his eyes do open, he sees his opponent leering
over him. She reaches towards him.
He knows he won't get it out before she grabs him again, but he
might be able to do so before he's airborne once more. "Pause."
And though she now has a hold of him, though she has him firmly
lifted off the ground, she does, indeed, pause.
Whaley looks her in the eyes; they're blank, but they looked blank
before, so that tells him nothing. He passes his hand in front of
them; no change.
He can feel the sweat rolling between his two skins, epidermis and
spandex, as he manually unfurls her fingers from the fabric. She does
It worked. He paused her.
It worked, indeed, too well; looking at her closely, he sees that
her nostrils are not flaring, her chest is not rising, not even
slightly. There's no rhythm to her. No life.
The program really paused her. Paused her heart and her lungs.
"Unpause! Unpause! Resume!"
Something flickers behind her eyes. And then, her body starts to
tilt backwards. Whaley knows he won't get around to her other side in
time to catch her before she falls, but he makes an effort just the
Once she hits the ground, he feels for a pulse; none.
"I'm starting CPR," he announces to the hostages. "I need somebody
to find me a hammer. Now."
It seems a strange request, but a few of the hostages start
As Whaley starts the second set of chest compressions, he asks the
hostages how long it was that she was paused.
There's some muttering and confusion.
"I need to know how long!"
"Maybe ten seconds, maybe fifteen," says someone.
It had felt like longer. That's good, though. A better chance of
bringing her back. He checks again for a pulse. Not yet. Come on,
"Where's that hammer?"
He checks again for a pulse; there it is. Not breathing yet. "How
long has she been out now?"
"Maybe two minutes."
"Someone call 911," says Whaley. He stops CPR for a moment,
grabbing the hammer. He raises it above her foot, takes the luxury of
a deep breath, and then brings it crashing down on her ankle. The
bone shatters, the flesh rendered a bloody pulp.
He sets down the hammer and gives her two more rescue breaths. She
sputters awake. Whaley can tell from her eyes that it's her in
control, and not the program. He asks the obvious question anyway.
"No," she says. "You stopped my heart?"
"Not on purpose," says Whaley. "And I did start it back up again."
Her voice gets quiet. "When it restarted, it rebooted my watch
from its back-up drive. The demo's gone."
"I probably broke your ankle, too."
"In case it was still there, so I wouldn't be able to run after
you," says Darkhorse. "I understand. I think you probably owe me a
free dinner or something, but I understand."
Whaley hides his umbrage; he doesn't owe her anything.
Taking care of the program is simple now that it doesn't have a
corporeal body. Over the course of the next hour, the hostages are
moved from the convention center. The girl is among the first outside
of the building, so that she can received medical care. Whaley stays
in the center, watching the computer specialists going from computer
to computer and console to console, uninstalling and removing every
trace of each copy of the sentient program. It's a long and boring
process, and Whaley doesn't have much to contribute to it; he stays
and watches anyway, until the job is done.
Denouement. Lake Guntersville.
Before the day is through, a certain cable news network seizes this
bizarre episode as a chance to launch another salvo against the
President. There's nothing new there; even before his election, his
opponents have tried to convince some Americans that Barack Obama is
really a master super-criminal commanding a robot army bent on world
The narrative this time around is that Whaley's always been a four-
colour hero, even after his "retirement", and that the President knew
Whaley was still a four-colour hero when he bumped him up to Secretary
of Four-Colour Affairs (the previous President that Whaley worked
under was of course blameless). "That's not just a conflict-of-
interest," sputters one man who regularly tells his viewers to invest
in the gold offered by one of his largest sponsors, "it's also a
violation of the law of the land. No four-colour vigilante can hold a
cabinet post, or," and here, he draws an arrow on his chalkboard to
the President's name, "elected office."
"The thing is," Whaley tells his wife, "this time, they're
technically right. I wore a costume, again, I did the whole vigilante
thing, again. Even if it's just one day, that does violate the
Humphrey Law." So called because it was passed in 1972, following the
revelation that 1968 Presidential Candidate Hubert Humphrey often
disappeared to fight crime as the Happy Warrior while serving as
Lyndon Johnson's Vice-President.
"So, what are you saying?" says the missus. "You're thinking of
Whaley rubs the tip of his nose with his finger, thus obscuring his
mouth. "I already did. As soon as I got on the seaplane, I drafted
my letter and had it placed on the President's desk."
"You should talk to me about these things."
Whaley nods. "You would've tried to talk me out of it. Lord knows
the President tried. And he can be a very persuasive man. But..."
"But you're a very stubborn man," says his wife. "I don't
understand you. Why did you not let Brian take care of this? He
still has his powers."
"He retired," stresses Whaley. "He has a right to his own life."
"Ditto, and ditto, for you."
"Yes, but, I also have a responsibility."
"To people you don't know?"
"You, with no power, have this responsibility, where Brian, with
great power, has none?"
"I guess that's just... where he and I differ. I don't know,
dear. It was something that needed to be done. The right thing to
do. Even if it wasn't the right thing for me to do, in terms of my
own life, I was in the position to do it. And so I did."
She stares at him for a long time, her eyes sparkling with
incredulity and anger. And as always, as he stares back, as he
studies the soft rare green of her eyes, Philip falls in love with his
wife; as always, she softens, resigns, and loves him back.
"You are a difficult man."
This story, for High Concept 13, was a bit messier and looser than I
had at first anticipated, but I stuck with it because I wanted to
illuminate different facets of the character. Whaley has had a
handful of appearances in various Eightfold titles, but he's always
been on the periphery. To the point, in fact, that I wasn't
particularly careful in constructing the various bits of his biography
that have been revealed over the years; it was a little dispiriting
when rereading some of his appearances to discover that it was a
rather contradictory jumble.
For example, he makes his first appearance in SPEAK! # 4, where he
sounds like a self-absorbed emo tosser; in SPEAK! # 7, on the other
hand, he's a smart-alecky wise-cracker who makes a tentacle porn joke
when one of his cohorts gets something shoved up his rectum. Whereas
the deeply religious man of JOURNEY INTO... # 3, who in GREEN KNIGHT #
3 claims his powers to be a divine gift, wouldn't dare make that sort
of joke, nor would he be the compelling role model for young black
manhood that Martin Rock faults the second Darkhorse for not being in
JOLT CITY # 4. One goal in this story, without it being a continuity
porn sort of explain-all-the-holes-away kind of thing, was to create a
character from this mess who made some kind of sense.
Speaking of continuity porn, here's a bunch of continuity/timeline
SPEAK!, the very first Eightfold series, was mostly written in second-
person and charted the willful moral decline of one Gregory Dingham
who, as you might have inferred, made things happen by speaking them
out loud. It was in his first (and, so far, last) battle with four-
coloured heroes that he told the first Darkhorse to "slow down", thus
robbing him of his powers but not his slowed-down perception of the
world. Since SPEAK! takes place over the course of a couple months
and started in April, I placed this event in May of that year, 2005.
In GREEN KNIGHT # 3, Martin Rock and Ray Cradle watch a news report in
which Whaley makes his "mask statement". For newcomers, this is a
sort of Declaration of I Used To Be a Superhero made upon retirement.
According to the code that not all villains are quite so keen on
following, a hero and his family post-mask statement are off-limits
for reprisals. Because Ray Cradle dies on Christmas Day 2005, this
moment would take place sometime in the fall or winter of that year.
I'm erring closer to the side of winter.
In JOURNEY INTO... # 3, Whaley is already working for the Bush White
House. He's established as being friendly with Brian Clipper, alias
Fleetfeet. In that story, Clipper fakes the death of his costumed
identity at the hands of the Gorgon in order to keep his civilian
identity a secret. I'd place this somewhere in the summer of 2006.
The story was posted in July of 2006, and is hinted at in THE
NOSTALGICS # 2 (June 2006), in which it is said that Fleetfeet died "a
couple months" after The Nostalgics were formed. The timeframe for
the still-unfinished THE NOSTALGICS is a bit iffy/hard to determine,
but it's further tied down because Martin Rock appears in THE
NOSTALGICS # 3 as the second Green Knight, and there acquires a better-
looking costume than the ski-mask and sweater ensemble he sported in
the GREEN KNIGHT ANNUAL, which takes place in January of 2006. In
September of 2006, Martin begins working with Dani Handler to take
down Samson Snapp in JOLT CITY # 1, so that would pin THE NOSTALGICS
sometime between January and September of 2006.
Speaking of JOLT CITY and 2006, that's where Brian Clipper made his
first appearance as the second, and probably most prominent,
Darkhorse, in JOLT CITY # 4, which takes place in either October or
November of 2006. Due to hints dropped in the story, he's likely been
using the Darkhorse II identity for at least a few months, which would
again put the Fleetfeet story somewhere in the summer of '06.
Brian's career as Darkhorse was put on hold in April of 2007, however,
when Martin Rock put him in traction (JOLT CITY # 11). And he's been
on the mend ever since, though there'll be some definite news on that
front in JOLT CITY # 20.
JOLT CITY # 18-25 take place during 2008-- two years, then, before
this story-- and so if you're wondering things like, "Hey, where did
that third Darkhorse come from?" or, "When did Dr. Fay invent a
perpetual motion machine?", don't sweat it. All will be revealed in
more-or-less good time.
Speaking of Dr. Fay, you might think Whaley's treatment of the world's
self-proclaimed most gorgeous mad scientist was a little harsh. As an
unabashed Dr. Fay fan myself, I know where you're coming from. I
thought it fit his character, though, and I thought it might be nice
to offer a different perspective on a character who-- given her
voracious flirting, constant self-aggrandizement, insane levels of
competence, and her ability to win the affections and trust of
seemingly every character she meets, might sometimes come across as
something out of bad fan-fiction. ;-)
Finally, as I noted earlier on RACC, anything post-SPEAK! you may have
read about the fate of Gregory Dingham is to be forgotten in favour of
this tantalizing morsel, which is much cooler I think than people
lamenting yet another delay in the legal process.
COPYRIGHT (C) 2010 TOM RUSSELL
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