LNH/ACRA: Teenfactor # 132
milos_parker at yahoo.com
Sat Oct 15 07:59:01 PDT 2005
TOM RUSSELL PRESENTS
AN LNH TITLE
TEENFACTOR # 132
A couple of days later, a letter comes for Roxie
from the department of health and it changes
everything and nothing. It mentions a man named
Michael William Salinger, who has tested positive for
HIV. He claims to have had sex with Roxie within the
last six months.
"I never even heard of the guy," Roxie says, but
both she and Electra know that that doesn't mean shit.
"We'll get you tested, okay." Not a question.
Electra seldom asks questions.
"What does it matter?" Roxie says, laughing,
tossing the letter on the floor. Electra picks it up.
"World's going to end in four days anyway."
Part of Electra had believed what Mable had said;
that part of her just didn't care. Roxie was joking,
Electra tells herself. Roxie doesn't believe him,
doesn't believe the world's going to end. And since
Roxie doesn't believe it, it's not true; she was just
joking; as long as Roxie doesn't believe it, it won't
Electra finds Mable fairly quickly; he's hung
around Sig.ago and, what's more, he wants to be found.
"So, how does the world end?" Electra says over
coffee. She puts saltine crackers in them, a habit
she wants to pick up from Roxie. She doesn't really
like it but hopes that it will grow on her.
"I dunno," says Mable. "I haven't really been
given too much information to go on. Could be
"Well, first of all, where do you get your
"Long answer or short answer?"
"If the world's going to end in four days, you
better make it short and snappy."
"Death. Well, one of the aspects of death, anyway.
Travels through time, he does some bad things
apparently in a future life, so in his younger life,
he has to do penance, has to redeem himself, and
that's by being death. Before that? He was a friend
"Basically, I wished I never existed and, blip,
here I am, in a world where I never existed.
Terrence-- that's death, by the way, my informant-- he
says, you got your wish, and now the world's going to
end. You've got seven days. You save their world,
and I'll blip you back to yours. You don't, then you
got your wish, you blow up along with them-- along
with a whole world-- and you have their blood on your
hands, so I take you to hell.
"I would say that your world's Terrence is a little
less jolly than my own. He was always doing
ridiculous shit like talking to spoons and jumping on
tables. I dunno. Maybe as death, he's just damn
sour. But, anyway. I got four days left. Your world
has four days left."
"And we have no idea how it's going to end?"
"Not-a-one. I assume it's something that I can do
something about, that we can do something about..."
"That reminds me. Where do I fit into all this?
You told me before that you were told that I can help
"Right. I was told that Carolyn Forge-- one of my
very best friends-- survived, but had changed. That
she had gotten electrical powers. That all her nerve
endings were dead. That she was..."
"That she was bitter. Nihilistic. Not the Carolyn
Forge I knew at all."
"No. I'm not. I'm Electra."
"And that she was my one hope."
"Great." She decides to give up on the
saltine-crackers-in-coffee today, gets up, and Mable
They have dinner with Roxie at the apartment,
Chinese food, and Mable doesn't look Roxie in the eye.
Roxie doesn't look at him, either. Electra watches
both of them out of the corners of her eyes, which
isn't unusual for Electra. One ear is concentrating
on the radio, where the President is giving a speech.
He's in Florida and he's promising some refugees
that he'll free Cuba.
"Holy shit," Roxie laughs. "Did he just say he was
going to invade Cuba?"
"I don't know how else we're supposed to take it,"
Mable says. "This guy has all the tact of a
hundred-foot horny tentacle monster."
"Reminds me of my father," Electra says obliquely.
The President says something now about tax cuts and
flip-flops, but Electra's mind isn't fixated on
footwear. It's reaching out at the speed of light,
finding the most obvious answer to the problem at
hand. Foucault's Razor: the most obvious answer, the
most likely one. "He's the one.
"The President. He's the one that's going to end
"It makes sense," says Mable. "From what Roxie
told me this morning, he's alienated just about every
foreign power. I know the German Bill was his thing,
got rid of all the heroes, forcing them into
"Deported most of them that were still alive,"
Roxie says. "All in Europe now. In Poland."
"If ever there was a time for someone to strike,
it'd be now."
"You're talking nuclear war," says Electra.
"You don't think that's going to be it?" says
"I dunno. Mutual annihilation just doesn't seem
likely these days. I don't think anyone is that
stupid or pig-headed where they're going to take out
the rest of the human race down with them."
Roxie pipes up: "Electra, these people are
"I think it'll be something else. But definitely
something he's behind, or some idiotic thing he does,
or some mistake. Oblivion by clumsiness. The
"So, all we got to do is get him out of office in
three days," says Mable. "Great. We have to get him
impeached. By a majority Republican senate. Yes.
This is going to be a piece of pie."
"We don't need to impeach him," says Electra. Like
she said before.
He reminds her of her father.
Mable tries to argue with Electra, but to no avail.
All of his arguments stem from one place: murder is
And that would have worked with Carolyn Forge, with
his Carolyn. But he doesn't know Electra. For
Electra, any moral stance on an issue is irrelevant.
Electra's smart, a god-damn genius, but she doesn't
run on intellect, she runs on instinct, and impulse,
and passion, and hate. She chooses a course of
action, and then she takes it.
Introspection's for wimps.
She agrees to think about it over-night, but as
soon as they're asleep, she goes to the nearest bus
On the bus, she ignores the other passengers and
soon falls asleep.
Electra dreams that Roxie is being murdered, and
Electra is standing by, doing nothing. Roxie begs her
for help, but to no avail: Electra just watches as
Roxie's flesh tears off in long strips.
"Please," Roxie says, I'll do anything. I'll give
you money. I'll give you sex. I'll give you back
your nerve endings, you'll be able to feel again.
I'll bring your mommy back to life, I'll bring your
daddy back to life. Anything.
All of it's tempting, even the return of her father
(only tempting in dream-logic), but Electra refuses,
steadfastly. Then Roxie says, I love you, Electra,
you're my best friend, and Electra saves her.
In her dreams, she can feel Roxie's kiss on her
lips, a pure and saintly kiss. But when she awakes,
she feels nothing again: numbness, like her whole body
Carolyn's body is dead, and Electra is forever
Carolyn's body is dead. Electra's just using it
for a while, that's it. Just taking it for a little
spin. Electra's not Carolyn at all, she's the fuzzy
crayon just outside the edges of Carolyn's corpse.
She's a force of nature, a soul, a spirit, a ghost, a
ghost of anger.
She tries to remember what things feel like, what
fabric and skin and cold and heat and leather and
sweat and pain all feel like, but her memory echoes
only the numbness in her finger-tips.
Maybe she never had been Carolyn at all, maybe
she's always been Electra, and Electra has never felt
a thing in her life.
The afternoon comes and she's reached DC. Home.
Her intellect tells her that Carolyn is dead and
Electra is all that there is now, and so DC is no home
to her, the old house has no secrets or mysteries that
should be her concern. Her instinct leads her to the
She knocks on it without hesitation, and though
there's a car in the driveway and a tricycle on the
lawn, she is surprised when someone answers the door.
Her name is Maureen, she's thirty-five, short black
hair, polo shirt and blue jeans and a dish towel over
My name is Roxie, Electra says-- Carolyn is dead
and Electra has no business here, so her name is
Roxie. My name is Roxie, and I used to live here.
Can I come in? look around?
Maureen lets her in.
It's a small house, one floor and a basement, dark
olive green walls. This she remembers. There's a
couch where a chair should be and a chair where a
couch should be and an four year old sitting on the
floor, not really playing with any of the toys spread
out before him like minions or slaves. They kept the
television in the same spot.
Maureen goes to the kitchen, grabs a pot she was
drying and gets back to it. She makes a couple stabs
at conversation, but it's clear that Electra isn't
interested, that she'd rather quietly relive childhood
memories, and so she leaves it at that.
The funny thing is, there are no memories here. A
trip to her old bedroom confirms this. She tries to
force one to the surface, but has no luck: while using
the bathroom, which is predictably exactly the same as
she had left it (eight? nine?) years ago, an anecdote
comes but the details are fuzzy. Electra realizes
that it isn't even one of Carolyn's memories, but
rather a lie she had made up as a child, embellishing
it and retelling it so many times that she had to
remind herself that it hadn't happened.
Sometimes, she wouldn't even tell the story to
anyone: just think of it herself, and the emotions
that were produced, the shock and anguish, were more
intense than anything that had really happened to her
in her prissy frilly white girlhood.
Electra, unlike Carolyn, had known real pain, real
suffering. Only weak people need lies to feel good
about themselves by feeling bad. Only white people
want to self-induce suffering. For a moment, Electra
thinks she is black. Then, upon exiting the bathroom,
Maureen calls her Roxie again and the invisible
floating intangible skin of Electra becomes Roxie's
skin, blue and purple and sweating and swelling with
Maureen asks her what prompted her to come to her
childhood home, just feeling nostalgic are we, just
And Electra says, I'm a prostitute. I have AIDS.
I'm going to die soon.
And then she leaves.
Electra decides that she wasn't trying to disrupt
her host's pleasant WASPy afternoon, but rather that
she was being generous: she gave Maureen a story, a
sad and haunting incident about a poor dying sixteen
year old hooker who comes to her childhood home and
Her gift to Maureen.
Her gift to Roxie.
In front of the white house, Electra becomes a ball
of light, bouncing over the fence and the cries of
various secret service agents, bouncing off a tree, a
body, the ground: and the long and short of it is,
before too long, she finds herself inside the white
house, inside the oval office, face to face with
President Buford Wesley Gas, Wes Gas.
Her form becomes whole again, now she has toes and
feet and lungs. The door bursts open behind her, and
she is ready, Carolyn's fists crackling with hot white
Electra, as the dandruff-free and flawless black suits
and sunglasses point their guns at the back of her
"It's all right," said President Gas. "I'm fine.
Leave her be."
The suits hesitate for a moment, and President Gas
smiles and says again, I'm fine. "Really. We're
The suits slowly exit, and for the first time
Electra notices someone else in the room, someone
besides a pure primordial predator and her
presidential prey. She doesn't know his name, but she
thinks it's the secretary of Vigilance.
"If you could leave us, please?" says President
The secretary hesitates, just like the suits did,
but doesn't need to hear it a second time. He takes a
glance at Carolyn's body before he goes, and he's able
to sense Electra in there, the danger in there. "If
you need anything, Wes, I'll just be outside."
"I'll be fine," he says. "Take a walk, Chuckles."
Chuckles nods and exits, closing the door behind
him. President Gas smiles.
"Good afternoon, Electra. I've been expecting
(THE VILLAINOUS MONOLOGUE)
"Of course I know who you are. First, I'm the
president of the god-damn Loonited States of America.
I'm the most powerful god-damn person in the world.
You think I got where I am by being dumb? I'm smarter
than the fox that got the chicken, I'll tell you what.
So, give me some credit here: I know what's going on,
I'm aware of my surroundings, and when someone comes
all the way to Washington with the intent of ending my
life, I'm going to god-damn well know about it.
"And on the second hand, you're Carolyn M. Forge,
fifteen year old inventor of nanites. There's an
explosion that claims the lives of a hundred others,
bodies all buried `neath a multiplex, and the only two
bodies we can't find and yours and Roxie Winters. And
you know what they say: if there ain't no body, than
there ain't no body. We knew you were still alive, we
just needed to keep our eyes peeled. Roxie Winters
was easier to locate, of course: God gave her purple
skin for a reason. And, some months down the road, we
saw the two of you together and we figured you helped
Electra knew that Roxie had been the sole survivor,
as far as she knew, of an explosion; she didn't know
it was the same explosion that had put Electra
squarely in her father's clutches. She didn't say
"So, we know what you're up to, girl. We saw you
fry up those two n... pimps." He smiles, a bit
embarrassed. "The smartest god-damn woman of our
time, you think we would let her fall through the
"The nanites didn't work," Electra says. "They
"They needed some tweaking, sure," says President
Gas. "But with your research and government dollars
behind it, well, it got tweaked. Now it's the most
successful and important scientific discovery in a
hundred years. They were going to give you the Nobel,
if it wasn't for the fact that you've been declared
legally dead. But we can fix that, readily enough."
"Carolyn Forge is dead," says Electra.
"I know, I know, you're Electra now," says the
President. "But pretend, for just a minute, that you
are Carolyn. That prize money-- over a million
dollars-- could go a long way towards taking care of
Roxie. Hell. Mind as brilliant as yours. Could go a
long way towards curing the disease all together. No
more AIDS. Maybe you'll be a double Nobel winner.
That would look good on the gravestone, wouldn't it?"
"I admire you," he continues, pausing a bit before
saying her name: "Electra. You want to know why?
Because you are my kind of hero. Where did you start
at? Dirt poor."
"I'm poorer now than I ever was," Electra says, not
wanting to hear the sob-story version of her life.
"And I still get by just fine."
"Did anyone hand you your opportunities? No, you
took them. Did anyone make it easy for you? No, you
made it easy for yourself. With your earlier
inventions, you kept you and your mother afloat, even
with her drinking and spending habits. Did any alien
life form come down from the skies and give you the
recipe for those nanites? No. You did it yourself,
through trial and error, through perspiration."
"I killed Henkerton," Electra says again.
"Eh, got to kill a few chickens before you get
eggs," he says dismissively. If he notices Electra's
ire increasing, he doesn't let on. He just smirks
again and continues:
"You got where you are by being who you are, by
realizing your full potential. And you might call me
a dreamer, but I believe everyone has that potential
in them. Everyone can be a hero in their own lives,
and everyone is capable of achievements equal to or
greater than yours. But, here's the rub, bub:
"People are lazy. They say it's too hard on the
offset, and so they don't try. And they get
comfortable being taken care of. Now, there was a
time-- depression, for example, the Great Depression--
where people needed that help. But that time was long
ago. The social safety net has become a crutch. And
all me and mine want to do, is take the crutch away,
so people can learn to walk. But the biggest crutch
"Heroes. And I'm not talking about heroes like
Carolyn M. Forge, inventor of nanites, but I'm talking
about heroes like the Ultimate Ninja, or Irony Man, or
Master Blaster or whatever. I'm talking about
"Net.heroes are a problem. How do you become a
net.hero? Well, you're born with it, born special,
born better than other people. Or, you're given some
magic ring that lets you warp time and space. Or
whatever. Nine times out of ten, people become
net.heroes through sheer luck, or coincidence, or
"They perform amazing feats, sure. But it's gotten
to the point where people like Carolyn Forge are
overlooked for people like Kid Kirby, or Catalyst
Lass. And people look up to them as heroes, and they
say, I could do that, I could make a difference: if I
got a hold of that magic ring, or if I was born that
way. Most people aren't. Most people are ordinary
you-and-me's. And so, rather than try, they just give
"But beyond that...
"If some kind of alien terrorist lands in the
middle of a city street, what do people do? They
scream and faint and cower and wait for the net.heroes
to come and save them. They're incapable of saving
themselves. They've become too used to it, like
infants. If there had never been any net.heroes, what
would have happened when the earth was invaded the
"There would have been problems, sure. Loss of
life, undeniably. But as long as America stands, we
would have kicked their alien asses, because that's
what America does: we kick ass. And part of the
American dream, Electra, is that anyone, no matter
their walk of life, anyone can kick ass. And the next
time some alien menace reared its ugly head, we would
have been ready for `em. And we would have kicked
their ass so resoundly that people would have heard
"Who knows how far along we would be if people had
acted like Americans, pulled their own weight, done it
themselves? It's a serious problem, a flaw in the
modern American character, and I'm doing my best to
remedy it, Electra.
"By taking away the crutch of heroes first, and
then all this namby-pamby socialist FDR bull-puckey,
I'm making people stand on their own feet. They'll
have to, or they'll die. And once survival kicks in,
once that instinct kicks in, watch out! Because there
ain't no one as powerful. I think you can attest to
"There's going to be an alien invasion. Tonight.
I've arranged it myself. I want you in the thick of
it, finding a way to defeat them."
"Wait. You've... arranged it... yourself?"
"In a manner of speaking," says President Gas.
"Basically, I blew up their moon, sent their planet
out of whack. Lots of dead alien-things, too close to
their star, burned up, et cetera. Barely any left.
Pissed as hell, they're coming to earth now. Should
be arriving in a few hours. But that's not important.
"What's important is what we do now. Either we
survive, or we swim. I want you-- your human
ingenuity, your mind-- working on this problem, on how
we beat these sons-of-bitches, what their make-up is,
genetics and what-not. The whole world's going to be
counting on you. And from this test, a new kind of
American will emerge. And let me tell you, the nation
that kicks ass together, stays together."
He smirks again.
Electra's hand becomes a blade of electric anger.
Then she takes his fucking head off.
This is a work of fiction. I do not in any way
advocate the murder of any human being, even
And yes, before anyone asks, President Gas IS on
everything but roller-skates.
SOME THOUGHTS ON WRITING THIS ISSUE
The first time I wrote this issue, it was about seven
pages long (which is its current length) and it ended
with the words, "Good afternoon, Electra. I've been
There was a couple of pages that took the reader into
Electra's mind as she decides to go to Washington.
Her motivations for doing so were clearer (though I
think they're still clear). There was a scene in
between her conversation with Mable and her dinner
with Roxie and Mable in which Mable and Electra come
across some protestors and here I vented quite a bit
of political anger. The dinner scene itself was much
shorter, and Electra's epiphany about President Gas
did not happen until noon the next day. Electra
didn't take a bus to get to Washington, but rather
rode electrical wires as pure energy. That was an
idea I remember wanting to play with in Teenfactor but
that I never worked in.
Giving it a second thought, I realized it was pretty
lame to work that idea in here, especially since this
is an origin story and in the years since '98 she's
never done it since to the best of my recollection.
And so that necessitated some other form of
transportation, and so a bus ride.
Which means that, to keep to my countdown-to-the-end
timeline, I had to move the actual trip back, which
means that the decision to kill Gas had to be
incorporated into the dinner scene (which it was).
Around this time I cut a lot of Electra's
introspection, because that didn't really fit into
Now, don't get me wrong: I like introspection, I like
doubts, I like angst, it's all very dramatic and
effective. But that's not Electra. Electra is a
woman of action. She works from passion and from
anger. She is not, for example, Gregory Dingham, who
is more-or-less defined by his indecision. He
shilly-shallies a lot, and when you shilly-shally you
usually end up choosing the path of least resistance,
or letting other people make your decisions for you.
Electra is not a passive protagonist; she makes her
own decisions and for the most part follows through on
them. Rereading some of her earlier appearances, in
particular the "Electra's Paradise" arc that Jesse
Willey enjoys so much, that's the thing that struck
me: Electra, in that arc, basically betrays the entire
team so she can have her sense of touch back and get
laid, she nearly rapes Terrence, all this out of
selfish reasons: and though she's eventually talked
out of it, there's no back-and-forth and this-is-wrong
in her own mind. She's made her decision, and she
follows through on it (to some extent).
And so, the introspection was cut out. On the one
hand, this is a character piece, and though it's
called Teenfactor, it might as well be called ELECTRA,
at least at this point. But that's all the more
reason to be true to her character, which is at its
heart NOT introspective. Angsty, yes, but not
Probably my favourite Electra story is the one Jesse
Willey did in THE TEAM # 16, in which Electra's
look-all-depressed-Tom-made-me, my-life-is-pain act is
deliciously undercut. Several people comment on how
Electra looks happy, and she continually says, I am
not happy. "Could have fooled me," they all say.
Which brings up a bit about structure. I consider
Jesse Willey a friend, and a comrade, and a damn good
writer. (Check out his current ROAD TO KILLFILE WARS
series for more on Electra in the present day!) We,
however, are vastly different and this comes into play
in how this issue finally found its final form.
Having cut out the introspection, the issue ran
something like four and a half to five pages. Short,
but not Chris Ireland or early Tom Russell short. I
considered, for a moment, introducing a subplot
between the Maureen scene and the President Gas
Now, Jesse Willey loves subplots. Jesse, in fact,
will often take five or six different plot threads and
develop them, a little at a time. It seems like
they're completely unrelated. And then, most of them
all tie together at the end of an arc. From chaos
comes order. The reader is confused at first, but
they're in good hands and if they trust him, then at
the end of the road, there's some satisfaction.
I have nothing against subplots, or parallel lines of
action. I used them quite a bit myself in Teenfactor,
and in NHOP, and countless other projects. But,
structurally, I prefer clarity and a strong, central
narrative line. This might have less to do with my
actual preferences and more to do with the fact that,
again, I'm writing essential a one-character piece
here and in SPEAK!, for example. (Though SPEAK! was
in second person for most of the series, and that
necessitated a more linear structure.)
Willey's structure is more complex, and requires a
great deal more formal ingenuity. When he was writing
RTKW, I kept coming up with ideas to make it more
linear and I think, eventually, I just pissed him off.
He was in the right; it's his baby, and it's wrong of
me to impose myself onto it, especially since we're of
two different minds on this particular issue.
And so, no subplot. I considered posting the 4 and a
half page version and came close to doing it once,
when I took a good long look at my cliffhanger ending.
Here's the thing: I don't like cliffhanger endings!
Do they generate suspense? Sure they do. In the
right hands, can they create excitement and provide
satisfaction? You bet your bottom dollar. Shock
endings and cliffhangers are perfectly valid tools to
use in the creation of any serial narrative.
But, it does get used quite a bit, doesn't it? One of
the complaints about the original run of Teenfactor
(besides the fact that most of it was shit and I
couldn't spell for the life of me and I didn't know
anything about people and how they actually behaved)
was that an issue would start picking up from last
issue's cliffhanger ending. Some exposition was
delivered explaining what we need to know. And we
started building towards another cliffhanger ending.
So that the next issue could, et cetera, et cetera.
And, really, while cliffhangers can be quite powerful
and mysterious, it's a somewhat artificial form of
mystery (compared to, say, the mysteries of
personality, of motivation, of character, of the
miraculous). It's something stylish and tends to
stretch stories out longer than they should be.
(Also, the cliffhanger-to-cliffhanger structure can be
annoying; just a bunch of little climactic moments all
in a row.)
And so, I took the chunk I was saving for the next
issue, and plopped it here. That way, the next issue
is that farther along in the story. No padding, no
subplots, just the story told as efficiently as I'm
able to do it.
I do that a lot, actually: from issue 2 onto issue 8
of SPEAK!, I took the first page or two or three of
the next issue and put it at the end of the previous
one. Just seems to get the story moving faster that
way, and I think it helps to connect certain plot and
That went on a while, didn't it? I really just wanted
to point you to RTKW and THE TEAM # 16, by my friend
Mr. Willey, and to offer some of my thoughts on
cliffhangers, subplots, Electra's character, et
cetera. If any discussion or thought springs off of
this bloated excuse for a notes section, then it'd
have done its job.
Characters mentioned and their creators:
Master Blaster: Martin Phipps.
Ultimate Ninja: Ray Bingham.
Irony Man: ?
Henkerton: Jesse Willey.
Characters featured were created by myself.
Copyright (C) 2005 Tom Russell.
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