8FOLD/ACRA: Journey Into... # 3
milos_parker at yahoo.com
Wed Jul 12 00:27:59 PDT 2006
Swearing and slight nookie within.
===============EIGHTFOLD COMICS GROUP PRESENTS
============JOURNEY INTO... # 3
===BY TOM RUSSELL
=======RACE AGAINST THE REAPER!
Horne makes the call. There's a situation, he
says. Arson Nick again, he explains. He hangs up the
phone, and six seconds later, Fleetfeet is there.
"Arson Nick is down in the park, at the big chess
"The chess game!" says Fleetfeet aloud. Daphne's
"He's rigged all the squares to..." That's when
Horne realizes that the speedster is gone.
"Damn it. Why do they always do that...?"
Three seconds later, Fleetfeet finds himself in the
park, and he wastes a second gazing at the Pacific
Ocean. Another half-second is wasted finding the
human chessboard. Each tile is four square feet, and
each chess piece is represented by a human being.
Fleetfeet's eyes dart around until he finds Daphne: a
bishop (of course) threatening (or threatened by,
depending on whose move it is) the opposing queen.
The game has just begun, and there are thirty-two
people on the board. Thirty-two lives that are in
"Glad you could make it, Flatfeet," chides Arson
Nick from the other end of the game-board. (Flatfeet.
Why do they always have to say Flatfeet?) "You're
just in time, too. It seems that my opponent finds me
too challenging. This," he says, referring to a
bound-and-gagged balding man whose shirt collar he
holds in his coiled fist, "is the visiting
grandmaster, Sergey Combolov. And it seems that he
doesn't want to continue our little game. Care to
take his place?"
"No, I'm more of a checkers man, myself," says
"A pity," Arson Nick says, and by the end of the
sentence fragment, he's been punched in the nose,
Combolov has been untied, and Fleetfeet now holds
Arson Nick by his shirt collar. "Ah, but they don't
call me Arson Nick for nothing."
"Each chess tile has been rigged with an
explosive," says the villain. "And, once armed-- and
I do assure you, it has been armed-- it is perfectly
calibrated to the weight applied to it. And should
that weight be lifted for approximately two
"In other words, if they move, they die."
Fleetfeet whips his head around at the speed of a
fraction of a second, imperceptibly stealing a glance
"Ah, but there's a catch," says Arson Nick.
"There always is." Fleetfeet releases Nick's
"The board will permit one person to move at a
time," he explains. "So, the only way to save these
people, Fleetfeet, the only way I'll let them go, is
if you beat me in a game of chess."
Fleetfeet sucks his teeth. He wasn't lying; he's
really much better at checkers. How hard can it be,
though? Aside from explosives, Nick never struck him
as being an intellectual powerhouse.
"Oh, and there is one detail I hesitate to
mention," says Arson Nick. "Since you're able to
calculate a thousand moves in seconds, much like a
computer, I have a computer of my own." He strolls to
the table behind him and swivels a laptop toward
Fleetfeet. The speedster is taken back by the
electronic face that smiles at him from the desktop.
"Gorgon! It can't be! You're dead!"
"Merely upgraded," the computer hummed. "And
again, Fleetfeet, you demonstrate why the human race
must be eliminated. You are too emotional; emotion
"And Nick's a perfect picture of clarity," says
Gorgon makes a sound that bares a strong
resemblance to a raspberry.
"You have no choice," begins the computer, "except
Suddenly, the board is empty.
"... the game...?"
Fleetfeet reappears in front of them and waves,
The chessboard explodes behind him.
"This does not compute!" snarls Gorgon. "How did
you remove all the pieces from the board?"
"You gave me a two second window," says Fleetfeet.
"Next time, don't make it easy!" He whirls full-speed
at Arson Nick, and knocks him out with four
super-speed blows. He turns his attention to the
"No! No! No!" Gorgon was saying, an error message
"For someone whose always talking about logic,"
says Fleetfeet, "you sure are emotional when things
don't go your way."
"I can fake it with the best of them," says the
computer, its tone suddenly icy again. "It's the
The needle pierces Fleetfeet's skin. "... to lure
you into a trap."
Fleetfeet whirls around, creating a wind vortex
that shoves his third opponent several yards away
before he can recognize his assailant. But he doesn't
need to see him to know who he is.
The tall man bows slightly, removing his hat from
the fleshy mounds of skin that covers and warps his
face. "At your service. As you are no doubt aware,
this marks the reformation of the Deadly Alliance!"
"Nick's insane," says Fleetfeet casually. "So I
understand why he would throw in with Gorgon. But I
thought you were done with this homicidal hard-drive
once he decided to eliminate the human race!"
"Yes, well, people can change their minds," says
Doctor Proteus flippantly. "Besides, it's always been
diseases I've been interested in. Creatures that are
as beautiful and ruthless as my digital ally in their
own way. Such as the one that is now coursing through
your blood. And," he holds up a finger before
Fleetfeet can speak, "this one feeds on adrenaline.
The faster you run, the faster it grows and the
deadlier it becomes.
"The only way to overcome it is to stand perfectly
still and let it work its way through your system."
The doctor smiles.
There's a catch. There's always a catch.
Doctor Proteus snaps his bulging fingers, and
Gorgon chirps. From the other side of the park, there
is a terrific explosion. And rising from it, there is
"Washington," says Gorgon. "You have five minutes
before it hits and takes out most of your illogical
"I'm a Democrat, anyway," says Fleetfeet as he
takes off after the missile.
Proteus cackles after him. "Even you can't outrun
He reaches the border in nine seconds, passing
briefly through Idaho before stepping into Nevada.
That's when he starts to feel it, that's when he knows
that Proteus isn't bluffing. He can feel the sweat
rolling down his face, not the cool clear sweat of a
runner, but the slow slick grime of a fever.
He lurches forward for the first time in Utah, as
he's running over the Great Salt Lake. He starts to
sink, and he feels his sneakers start to get wet. He
rights himself before he loses his momentum entirely,
staggering, and manages to clear the lake. He picks
up speed. It gets worse.
He lurches again, his whole body a dead weight, his
muscles aching, in the Texas panhandle; he rights
himself as he passes into Colorado. He straddles the
border of Kansas and Nebraska, and what used to take
eight seconds takes fifteen.
He can feel his body slowing down, fighting him.
He can feel his stomach clenching, and it occurs to
him that he might be throwing up soon. He hasn't
thrown up since he was a little kid.
A sudden pain in his side, a spasm, and his whole
body is starting to shake.
He does the only thing he can, the only thing he
knows how: he speeds up. He tries harder. Even
though his body is exhausted, and slowing down, and
probably about to fall apart, even though it spells
his death sentence, he keeps pushing himself.
In Illinois, he sees the missile overhead, soaring
towards its destination. "Gotta keep going," he says.
Harder. Faster. Harder. Gotta keep pushing. Gotta
The faster you run, the faster it grows, the
deadlier it becomes. You can't outrun the reaper.
No, but if he can get to Washington before the
disease gets to him, then at least he'll be able to do
He doesn't follow the missile, opting instead to
dart through Kentucky. It's a little risky, taking
his eye off of it, but: the shortest distance between
two points is a curved line. With a little luck,
he'll get to Washington before the missile.
But each step is heavy with a sense of failure, of
disaster. He knows that, push though he may, he just
can't get his body to move fast enough. The bomb will
explode, and he'll die here, consumed from within,
alone in the Kentucky mountains.
He keeps pushing. He tries to make a deal with his
muscles and his body and the virus that's feeding on
his speed. Just let me get to Washington, and then
you can have me. Just let me stop the bomb.
You can do it, Brian. Just vibrate inside the
bomb, remove the payload, vibrate out. Simple as...
He stops. "Of course! Why didn't I think of it
He knows that time is running out, so he acts
quickly: he vibrates his entire body and his costume
completely out of synch with physical reality. He
concentrates and slowly brings himself back. First
the costume, then the skin, the muscles, the bones,
the vital organs, the blood. The only thing he
doesn't bring back is the virus.
He wipes the sweat from his forehead. Not exactly
good as new, not exactly top form, but that'll do,
pig, that'll do...!
He takes off again: he clears the rest of Kentucky
in three seconds, spends two in West Virginia, six in
Virginia, and takes a moment to catch his breath in
Washington. The roar of the missile is deafening.
"Okay, gang," he says to his feet, "here we go...!"
He does about forty laps in the space of three
seconds, creating a whirlwind that lifts the missile
higher into the air, stopping its momentum; with a
final burst of speed, he rides the whirlwind into the
belly of the missile, removes the payload, and lets
the empty shell clang in the center of the street.
He quickly pedals his feet in the air, creating a
cushion and slowing his descent.
Phil Whaley. Darkhorse. Retired speedster, now
working in government. "Good work, Brian," he says,
leading him down a corridor.
Fleetfeet nods. "Thanks. So what's the word?"
"They captured Nick and Proteus," says Phil.
"Gorgon got away...?"
"By the time they got there, the hard-drive on the
laptop had been reformatted. Filenames are still
there, but no program."
"Two out of three," shrugs Phil. "The President
wants to see you afterwards, he wants a briefing about
Gorgon and what he know about him. First, though,
let's get you checked out."
David Rossi. The Living Virus. Former villain,
now a member of the Nostalgics. Brian was supposed to
be a member of the group, but gave up his slot when
Elliot Goodman replaced Dr. Metronome with Sproing.
That's when the Virus took Brian's place.
"Fleetfeet, David," says Phil. "David, Fleetfeet.
The President flew him in to make sure you've got a
clean bill of health."
The Living Virus greets him with a nervous
handshake. Before it is relinquished, his virus
enters Brian's body.
"Just relax," he says, trying to be soothing. "I'm
not going to hurt you. It's not going to infect you.
I'm just using it to scan your body for any traces of
Proteus's disease. It'll be over in a second..."
Brian can feel it moving around, probing inside of
him, growing ever so slowly, so carefully.
"I'm picking up a strange energy signature," says
the Virus. "No trace of Proteus, though."
"Probably just speed energy," says Phil. "Nothing
to worry about."
After a moment, the uneasy feeling starts to fade
away. "I'm letting it die now," the Virus explains.
"Your immune system is killing it off. You'll be
fine. You may have a headache over the next couple of
days, and a slight fever. Take this every four hours,
and it should take care of it." He hands Brian a
bottle of pills.
"So," says the POTUS after a hardy and practiced
handshake, "you two gents have had more run-ins with
this sinful software than anyone else! What can you
tell me about him?"
"Well, I've tangled with him four times now," says
Brian. "The time before this, me and Phil took care
"And I've dealt with him once since then," says
Phil. "I think he's had a couple fights with some
other heroes, but it's pretty much been me and
Brian nods beneath his mask. "That's because we're
immune. Gorgon can emit sounds and display complex
patterns of light and colour, designed to put the
human brain in a hypnotic trance. Since our eyes move
so fast and perceive colours differently, speedsters
are immune to its effects."
"The standard rules apply," says Phil. "He can't
make anyone do anything they don't want to.
Generally, his M. O. is to paralyze the body. Hence
"Now," says the POTUS, "since this is a computer
program, there's the possibility that there are many
different Gorgons we could be looking for, replicating
itself and such?"
"It's possible," says Brian, "but unlikely. When
Phil and I faced him together..."
"Right," says Phil. "He had replicated himself,
spread to many different computers. The problem is,
that some of the Gorgons rebelled. Since then, he's
made it a strict rule to infect one computer at a
time. After moving to one, he clears the hard drive
of its predecessor."
Afterwards. A cheap restaurant. Masks off.
A television: the Dingham trial is having another
Brian considers distracting Phil from the subject.
He decides that it's better to deal with it head-on.
"You miss it?" says Brian.
"Sure, I miss it," says Phil. "And to think that
Dingham kid's going to get away with it..."
"They'll get him," says Brian. "There's no way
he's getting off."
"It feels that way, Brian. Every time there's a
delay, I can feel him laughing at me." He inhales
deeply, and as he exhales, calm seeps into his
hardened features. "I don't know why Allah let
Dingham rob me of His gift. But it must be part of
His plan." [*-- see SPEAK! # 7.]
"You're doing real well for yourself," says Brian.
"And your family. When are you going to pop the...
Phil cocks an eyebrow. "Daphne?"
"Anniversary?" Phil smiles.
"And you're late...?"
"I'm very, very late."
"I don't suppose you could just tell her the
truth?" says Phil.
Brian regards his friend with steady, humourless
"Just a thought."
It takes about three minutes to run across the
continent; he paces himself so he has more time to
think up an excuse.
He sighs and does up his tie. Four seconds later,
he's at Daphne's door.
"Sorry I'm late," he says.
She leaps into his arms and squeezes him, fat hot
tears rolling down her cheeks. "I'm just glad you're
okay! I was so worried! It's not like you to be
late. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," says Brian. "Other than not being able
She relinquishes the embrace. "Come on in."
"We've got to get going," says Brian. "The
"We were supposed to be there three hours ago,"
says Daphne. "They would have cancelled our
"I'm sorry, Daffy," he says. "But something came
"It's alright," she says. "We'll just eat in."
She grabs him by the arm and pulls him inside. She
shuts the door and presses him up against it, her soft
body against his hard one, her lips against his.
"Sweetie," he says between kisses, "what do you
In response, she lifts her shirt over her head and
presses her bare breasts against him.
"To eat," he says. "What do you want to eat...?"
She grabs him by the head, her fingers digging into
his scalp. "Ramen," she says breathlessly. She yanks
his head down near hers and kisses him again before
slamming his body up against the door. With an
impulsive cry of yippee!, she kicks up into the air,
wrapping her legs around his waist as her mouth
continues to dance awkwardly with his.
Brian puts his hands around her ass, trying to hold
her up even as she wraps her arms around his skull,
pushing her pink breasts into his face. "Um, honey,"
he mumbles in her cleavage, "I can't keep holding you
up like this..."
It was true. He was losing his grip on her ass.
It didn't make things any better when she started
wiggling it and gyrating, humping his stomach.
"SHUT UP and SUCK on my MAGNIFICENT BREASTS!"
" ...meep. "
They fall forwards, Daphne landing right on her
ass. Brian is able to right himself as a matter of
reflex. "Are you okay, Daffy?"
Daphne nods. "Just a little sore."
"Let me get the ramen started," says Brian as he
heads for the kitchen.
Daphne grabs his leg and yanks him down to the
floor. He falls, hard. She pulls him towards her
with an animal growl. "Come here, you...!"
The problem with being the fastest man in Seattle,
is that you're the fastest man in Seattle. "I'm
"You know... if you weren't quite so aggressive,
sweetie, I might last a little bit longer."
"Yes," says Daphne, "but the aggressive part is the
"Yes," says Brian, "but if the other part was a
little bit longer, maybe that would be the fun part."
"Never thought of it that way."
Post-coital ramen is better than any other kind of
ramen in the world. It still is unable to take
Brian's mind off his lingering feelings of impotency.
He presents Daphne with her birthday present, only to
be told that she already has one.
"It's sweet though, Brian," she says with a peck on
his cheek. "It's the thought that counts."
Well, no, it's not the thought that counts: if it
was the thought that counted, there'd be no need for
presents in the first place. Brian falls back on the
only known cure for the Brian Clipper Blues: "So, how
was your big chess game?"
"Didn't you hear about it?"
Brian lies with a shake of his head.
"Right after the start of the game, that arson
"Yeah. He had rigged some bombs to the place, and
was holding us captive. That's when Fleetfeet showed
up, rescued us all. Apparently he went to Washington
and stopped a bomb."
"That I did hear about," says Brian. "But he
"Yeah," she says. "He, uh, I think he grabbed my
ass a little."
She noticed! "Really?" Brian pretends to be
"Yeah. Maybe he has a crush on me. This isn't the
first time he's rescued me, you know."
"I know," says Brian.
"He's very strong," she sing-songs.
"Hmmph. Hey, Daphne? You want to get married?"
She quickly agrees and spends the evening sobbing
happily. Brian is happy, too, but feels more distant
than anything else. Where did that come from,
exactly? He hadn't been planning on asking her, not
tonight, anyway. He just blurted it out; it just kind
He certainly wasn't going to ask her before he had
confessed his other identity. He wasn't even sure if
he could trust her with it yet. And now? Now he had
backed himself into a corner.
=======THE PROFESSOR AND THE SPEEDSTER!
September comes and with it school. It also means
that it's another month closer to their December
wedding date. (Daphne finds snow romantic.)
He still hasn't told her yet, and this is nagging
at him as he kicks up some leaves on his way across
the campus between classes. He had frittered away the
entire summer, letting opportunity after opportunity
go to waste. He just couldn't let himself go; he was
constantly playing a game of what if, what if she
wants me to quit? what if she leaves me? what if we
get into a fight and she blabs it to the whole world?
what if it isn't really Daphne, but an alien impostor?
(it had been known to happen!)
But as for that first one, what if she wants him to
quit, he finds himself, more and more and day by day,
shrugging it off. If she wants me to quit, he says,
then I'll quit. I'll do it. For her.
Even if he's still not quite sure about trusting
her with his secret identity, Brian is more sure than
ever that Daphne is The One. And as much as the
countdown to December inspires trepidation (he's
running out of time! he has to tell her!), it also
inspires a warm calm: he looks forward to it, to
seeing her in her dress, to kissing her mouth and
giving her his name, to being eighty years old and
holding her wrinkled hand in his wrinkled hand as they
both complain of their back pains.
"Won't that be romantic?" Daphne says.
"Yes," Brian agrees. "And it'll be nice to be all
old and mellow, without having to worry about you
trying to rip off my clothes."
"I'll never get that mellow," she says
mischievously. "Bend me over my walker and hump me so
my wrinkled tits hit my knees."
"I'm planning on being bedridden," he announces.
She pummels him softly in the belly with her fists.
"What's that for?"
"Being mean. And in sixty years, there'll be more
where that came from."
"You're going to beat me up when I'm old and
crippled?" says Brian.
"No. I'm going to beat you up because you're
crippled," says Daphne.
"You're so evil," says Brian.
Now that's he's back to school, there's generally
enough things to distract him from his dilemma. It's
not that his classes are difficult (he is a speedy
reader, after all), but they still require his
attention. Sometimes, it's not so much a requirement
as a desire: Professor Pillowhead is an extremely
engaging and charismatic speaker, and Daphne seldom
crosses his mind while in his class.
There's also the whole hero thing: autumn is a peak
villain period. (Brian thinks that the summer heat
tends to discourage many of the casual villains.)
All in all, about the only time Brian thinks about
Daphne and his secret identity is when he's with
Daphne, or between classes. Like now.
He's kicking up some leaves and feeling generally
cowardly and powerless when he hears some screaming on
the other side of the campus. It takes ten seconds,
at "normal" speed, to find a spot where he can change;
it takes two seconds to change (getting slow in his
old age) and another second to circle the campus.
Ah. Tom Vertigo. Not the brightest rogue in the
gallery; it doesn't say much for a villain when their
codename is indistinguishable from their real one.
The terrain about him is distorted for a hundred
yards in either direction: trees are growing sideways,
clouds are swirling at people's feet, students find
their arms getting longer and their abdomens becoming
squat ripples of flesh. Many of them are vomiting.
And for what reason? What is the point, really, of
Tom Vertigo showing up at some location, just standing
there and wreaking havoc until a hero puts him down?
Why isn't he robbing a bank? Pulling some kind of
heist? Taking over a country, even?
"This isn't an illusion," says Tom Vertigo, the
undisturbed center of the maelstrom. "Not some cheap
parlor trick or mere disorientation. This is really
happening; because Tom Vertigo can distort reality to
his will! ... oof."
Brian kisses his gloved fist as the villain falls
unconscious to the ground; slowly, the people and
things around him begin to regain their natural
proportions and shapes.
This is the other problem with Tom Vertigo, Brian
muses: he talks too much. He doesn't mind it so much
when it's one of the entertaining villains, but this
one says the same thing, over and over and over again,
always explaining how his powers work. This is the
third time Brian's had to knock him out, and he's
still not sure if Tom realizes it was Fleetfeet who
"Back in the day," Phil would say, "you didn't get
so many dumb villains. Or so many rotten ones, for
that matter. Some of them had a sense of class, of
"What are you talking about? Back in the day!
Back in what day? You've only been doing this a year
longer than I have."
Brian grabs Tom Vertigo's Distortion Gauntlets and
begins to vibrate them. They disappear.
"What did you do to them?" someone asks. It's
"I vibrated them out of synch with our reality, and
into another," Brian explains. "I think I've sent
them to the talking ape earth. But I'm still a little
shaky on precise frequencies. So I might have sent
them to the talking ducks earth."
"You're a very capable young man," notes the
Professor. "We're very lucky that you happened to be
on campus at this time."
"Yeah, well, I'm one of your students." The words
fly out of Brian's mouth, and as soon as he realizes
what he's done, he's also realized that he can't take
it back. He nods courteously to the Professor and
"What is wrong with me?"
He keeps slipping lately. Just the other day, he
ran into his police contact, Horne, while he was in
his civilian identity. Brian started to strike up a
conversation, calling Horne by his first name
(Reggie), when Horne asked if they knew each other.
Brian quickly clammed up and bid him adieu.
He never used to be like this. It must be the
stress getting to him. He has to tell Daphne soon:
not only for the sake of their relationship, but so
that he can once again be in control of his two lives.
He resolves to tell her tonight, over dinner.
In the morning, he resolves to tell her in the
evening, over dinner.
Pillowhead's class. Pillowhead stands at the door,
smiling as each of his students file in. Usually he
sits behind his desk, studious and serene. Brian
feels something tingling inside his bones, and he
knows its not just left-over vibration patterns from
this morning's six-minute jaunt with Docrates into the
"Merlin Earth", where time runs backwards and people
age from death to birth: no, something's wrong,
something's up. He must be looking for Fleetfeet.
Brian avoids the Professor's gaze, and thinks it
was a mistake to do so until he notices that his other
classmates are doing the same. It's so strange for
the persnickety professor to get so up close and
Brian files up to the desk with the other students,
grabbing the worksheets in their neat little pile.
It's a chart of some sort, with dates and times.
Can't be a reading log, Brian reasons; what would be
the point of the hour columns?
"Something a little different this time," says the
Professor after the class has been seated and he has
taken his own place behind the desk, reclining
comfortably like some long-lost Oxfordian. "For the
next week, I'd like you to keep track of your diet.
What you eat, and when you eat it.
"Now, there's no way I can make sure you're telling
the truth, so we're just going to work on the honour
system, hmm?" He grins wryly underneath his white
"Please," he says, and even though the Professor's
eyes are focused on the other side of the classroom,
Brian knows his words are meant for him, "be honest."
On his way to the next class, Brian runs into Ford
Kidder, who transferred to City U this year. "Hey,
Ford. You've got Pillowhead in the morning, don't
Ford nods. "Weird assignment, huh? Keeping a food
Good: this means that Pillowhead hasn't narrowed it
down to Brian's class, it means that he's trying
everybody. "For the life of me," says Brian, "I can't
figure out what it has to do with literature."
"I dunno," says Ford. "Maybe we're going to do
'The Hunger Artist'."
Brian screws up his face. "I hate Kafka."
"I like Kafka," says Ford with a shrug.
Brian decides to take a chance and skip his next
class, instead; Pillowhead has a prep hour. An
opportune time, Brian decides, for Fleetfeet to pay
him a visit. He ducks into the bathroom, unseen, and
quickly changes into his costume. Two seconds later,
he's at Pillowhead's door. He knocks.
"Come in," says the Professor. "I'm just having my
Brian vibrates his molecules and passes through the
"You couldn't just open it?" says the Professor.
Brian doesn't answer: it was a bit of a show-off
move. "I assume this diet chart thing is an attempt
to trap me?"
"It is public knowledge that speedsters have an
exceptionally high metabolism, and so require a lot of
food," says the Professor.
"Sure, but why?"
"The challenge," says the Professor, as if it is
obvious. "I do love a good puzzle. Now, don't worry,
my good boy, when I find out who you really are, I'll
keep that information to myself. I appreciate the
many good things you do, and I don't want to spoil
that or hurt you."
"If," says Brian.
"If you find out who I really am."
"Oh, I will," says the Professor. "For example, I
now know that you're in one of my Monday-Thursday
classes, instead of my Tuesday-Friday. You really
should have waited until the end of the week, my good
The Professor takes off his pince-nez and wipes
them with a handkerchief. "You will be honest with
me, won't you?" He places the pince-nez back on the
bridge of his sturdy nose. "It's no fun for either of
us if you cheat."
"I'll be honest," says Brian.
"A man of honour," says the Professor. "Splendid."
He reaches for Brian's hand with his own.
Brian spits into his gloved palm and thrusts it
half-way towards Pillowhead's. Pillowhead hesitates,
a bit miffed, before spitting into his own palm and
clasping Brian's hand.
"The spit-shake is the promise that can never be
broken," says Brian, relinquishing the handshake.
"Yes, well," says Pillowhead, a little weakly, as
he rubs the excess saliva onto the side of his pants,
He stops, noticing that he is now quite alone.
If he starts to eat less, sticking to a two
thousand calorie diet for the rest of the week, Brian
would not only be exhausted after a mere
sixty-mile-per-hour sprint, but it might be dangerous
for his health. And so fasting is not an option.
(Whenever Phil fasted for a month during Ramadan, he
could still pig out during the night; for some reason,
midnight feasts didn't "count".)
He considers trying to vibrate his food directly
into his stomach, so he could argue that he didn't
actually eat it. But that'd be very time consuming,
and it did feel a little like cheating.
The only move available to him was a risky one.
"I'm very disappointed in you, Mr. Clipper," says
the Professor sharply after Brian explains that he
lost the assignment. "You're usually a very good
student. This is very unusual. Very unusual indeed."
Oh, shit. Well, it was worth a try.
"If you have a moment after your final class, I'd
like you to report here," says Pillowhead.
Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.
Brian enters Pillowhead's classroom around four o'
clock, and is surprised to discover that he's not the
only one who neglected to do his assignment. There
are five other students waiting for Pillowhead, and
among their number is Ford.
"I don't get it," he says to Brian. "There were
two girls in my class who didn't do it, either. And
they didn't get asked to stay after."
The always pervy Sam Stanton is eavesdropping.
"Maybe he has his eye on 'em."
Ford ignores him. "This is bullshit, Brian. I
mean, what is this, detention? This is high school
shit, man. We're in college. We're too old for
Pillowhead clears his throat. The jumble of
whispers is tied tight, and the gathered studentry
turns its attention to the Professor.
"I suppose you gentlemen are wondering why you're
all here," says the Professor. "Some of you are here
because you're lazy. But at least one of you is here
because you're smart.
"Last week's assignment has nothing whatsoever to
do with literature. And by refusing to do it, you've
shown a healthy defiance for stupidity and grunt work.
You have better, more important things to do with
"Since I'm not sure which one of you is the special
individual of which I speak," says the Professor, his
eyes darting from one student to the next, "I've no
choice but to give my congratulations to all of you.
I'm sure, in due time, that I'll suss out the one I
"Oh, and with the next assignment? Let's not be
quite so defiant," says the Professor with a twinkle
in his eye.
After the huddle has exited the room, Sam Stanton
speaks up. "What the hell was that about? If you ask
me, the old man's off his rocker."
But no, Brian realizes. He's not. He knows
exactly what he's doing. Pillowhead had narrowed it
down from three classes to six students, and he wanted
Brian to know that.
He wanted Brian to be scared, and to make a
"Mr. Clipper," says the Professor as the class is
wading out the door, "could I have a moment of your
"Uh, yes, what is it, Professor Pillowhead?"
"I'm wondering why you're not on a track team."
"The track team, sir?"
"Yes," says Pillowhead. "You see, I've developed a
bit of an interest in the sport, and I think you'd be
a fine addition to the City U team. You seem to be a
very healthy young man."
"Um, thanks," says Brian. "But I'm really not
interested in it. I'd rather concentrate on my
"Good boy," says Pillowhead with a twinkle in his
eye. "You know, that's the exact same thing Ford
Kidder and Sam Stanton said when I asked them
Which means he's narrowed it down to three.
Two weeks later, a sentient plant being calling
himself King Kudzu appears on campus, rapidly clinging
to the buildings and trees. Apparently, it's
developed a crush on the botany instructor, Pam Green,
and intends to make love to the poor woman; which, in
his terms, means covering her with his vines and
Brian is coming back from lunch when this happens,
and so he puts in an appearance as Fleetfeet.
King Kudzu calls him an interloper and sends his
vines towards the speedster. Brian surprises him by
grabbing ahold of each vine that comes his way,
running around the campus until he has circled the
Brian heads to the center, vines in tow, and begins
to spin, generating a whirlwind that he rides up into
the sky. He keeps holding on to the vines, and as he
shoots upwards, so does King Kudzu, ripped at
super-speed from the campus (taking a tree and a wall
Brian reverses the direction of his spin, the
centrifugal fore causing King Kudzu to fly several
miles west. Brian lands atop the school building,
runs down the side of an intact wall, and gives chase
across the Pacific.
One minute later, he's back on campus and still in
"My Kudzu!" cries Pam. "My poor Kudzu! What did
you do to him?"
"I gave him back to the Japanese," says Brian with
a shrug. "Why are you so upset? He was going to kill
"But he loved me!"
Pillowhead puts an arm around Pam's shoulder.
"Come along, Mrs. Green. We'll call your husband and
have him take you home."
"But I don't want my husband!"
Pillowhead gives Pam a well-meaning but insincere
pat on the shoulder. His eyes shift from Brian to the
other students, and then back to Brian; he lifts his
eyebrows provocatively, thick bushy caterpillars
dancing along the golden sunsets of his pince-nez.
"I see that Sam Stanton is here," says the
Professor. "But I don't see Ford Kidder or Brian
Clipper. I do hope they're alright." He smiles and
turns, Pam in tow, and heads back towards the
"Shit." Down to two, now.
About one second before Professor Pillowhead chucks
an eraser at his head, Brian is aware of it; as a
matter of reflex, his body begins to vibrate. But if
the eraser was to harmlessly pass through him, not
only would it reveal his identity to Pillowhead, but
possibly also to the entire class: a stupid and risky
move on the Professor's part, and not at all in
keeping with his promise to keep any information
gleaned to himself.
Brian stops vibrating and considers catching the
eraser. He mulls it over at the speed of
super-thought, as the eraser inches closer, sailing
through the air like a tiny boat without wind, just
He decides that even if he moved his arm slowly, he
would still be displaying either exceptionally good
reflexes or super-speed. He decides not to take that
chance; it's entirely plausible that Pillowhead, now
crazy enough to bring this contest of wills into the
public arena, might start throwing other things. Best
to head this off at the pass.
He lets it hit him in the head. It falls with a
clunk to his desk.
"You're supposed to catch it," says Professor
Pillowhead, laughing a bit desperately. Brian, and
his fellow students, do not look amused.
Pillowhead's grin fades, replaced briefly by a
small and hesitant smile, before he resumes his seat
at his desk. "I'm sorry," he says. "I... I'm not
quite sure what came over me..."
Brian runs into Sam Stanton in the hallway as both
of them leave their final class.
"How was Pillowhead?" Brian asks.
"Very quiet, at least in my period," says Sam. "I
heard he chucked an eraser at you."
"Eh. It's nothing."
"I don't know," says Sam. "I think the old man's
starting to crack. And there's buzz that after this
morning, even tenure ain't going to help him."
"Why? What happened this morning?"
"He just went berserk," says Sam. "Just started
ranting and raving."
"Surely there must be some reason," says Brian.
"Yeah. He's losing it."
"No," says Brian. "I mean, what set him off?"
"Oh, that. He was taking attendance. Turned out
Ford Kidder was sick, and," Sam snaps his fingers, "he
just lost it."
So that explains it. Pillowhead's become obsessed
with proving that either Brian or Ford is Fleetfeet.
It's become the highlight of his day, and when Ford
got sick, it upset that.
Brian resolves to end Pillowhead's obsession, and
quick: not only for his own health, but for the
Professor's. He decides to put an appearance in as
Fleetfeet and tell the Professor that enough is
But first, he wants to visit Ford as Brian. He
doesn't know why, exactly; he and Ford aren't exactly
friends. But there's some nagging feeling, some
instinct, that tells Brian he should do it.
He follows his impulse.
"I'm fine, thanks for stopping by," says Ford.
"Just a little flu. By the way, how's Pillowhead?"
"He's getting weirder," admits Brian. "There's
talk that he's going to get canned. But I have a
feeling that maybe, just maybe, the worst is over
"I certainly hope so," says Ford. "Well, I'm going
to let you go, Brian. I've got this Phillip K. Dick
book I want to read."
"I hate Dick," says Brian.
"I like Dick," says Ford.
He exhales. "Get your mind out of the gutter."
"See you tomorrow?" says Brian.
"If not sooner," says Ford.
Ford closes the door, picks up his receiver, and
dials a phone number.
"Hello?" says the voice on the other line.
"Have your men ready. We move tonight. You will
wait for my signal," says Ford, his voice drained of
"What about the speedster?"
"He'll be taken care of. So speaks the Gorgon."
=================THE GORGON'S REVENGE!
When Fleetfeet arrives at the school, the Professor
isn't in. Brian supposes it'll have to wait until
tomorrow and opts to spend a quiet evening in with
Though he tries to smile, he can't quite let
himself go: he's still on edge, all twitchy from the
Professor's increasingly erratic behaviour. Daphne
notices this and asks what's wrong.
Brian shrugs it off, and a silent gloom descends
over the couple; they watch some television without
paying attention to it, without looking at each other,
without saying a word or touching: truly, a quiet
The phone rings, sharply-shrilly stabbing through
the air. Daphne answers it. "Brian, it's for you."
"Who would be calling me at your place?"
"Who is it?" Daphne asks. "It's Ford Kidder."
Brian takes the phone. "Hey, what is it?"
"Professor's gone crazy," Ford says between haggard
breaths. "Trying to kill me. You got to stop him...
The phone goes dead. Brian hands it back to
"What's the matter?" she says. "You're all
"Oh, nothing, just a... just a thing, that's all.
Ford's just kidding around. He's a kidder."
Daphne rolls her eyes at the pun. "Are you sure
everything's okay? You look awfully pale still..."
"Well, I just remembered... I've got something to
do. Important, uh... it's a... a... a thing..."
"You're going to see your other girlfriend, aren't
you?" she says, smiling flippantly as she crosses her
arms against her chest.
"It's okay, big guy." Daphne grabs him by the head
and pulls his mouth close to hers. "Fuck her once for
me, okay? Mwah. Later, baby."
Brian exits her apartment with a practiced smile.
Two seconds later, Fleetfeet blares down the street
and towards the University.
Half a second later.
Brian enters the classroom. The only light comes
from the Professor's computer, soft and slightly-blue
on his wrinkled face.
"Where's Ford?" Brian demands.
The Professor ignores him. Brian zips to
Pillowhead's desk and grabs him by the lapels.
The Professor makes no response; he doesn't even
blink. Brian lets go of the Professor and snaps his
fingers in front of his eyes. The Professor remains
rigid and still. It takes three slow seconds for it
to dawn on Brian. "The Gorgon."
"At your service." The lights blare on. Brian
whirls around to see Ford Kidder at the light switch,
framed in the door and quite naked. He has no
"I always knew you were a dickless snot," says
Kidder smiles and grabs the hunk of flesh where his
left nipple should be with his right hand. He pulls
on it, hard, and it rips away clean and bloodless,
revealing a solid steel frame.
"Ford Kidder is a robot in disguise!" Brian
"Ford Kidder is the disguise." The voice has taken
on an artificial flavour, Ford's baritone distorted by
metallic clicks and feedback. He presses a button on
the metal frame; as he stalks towards Brian, slowly
and confidently swaggering over, the skin gives away,
melting to the floor and evaporating as if it was
never there at all. A hard steel exoskeleton remains,
baptized by arias of hot hissing steam. "There never
was such a person. He was always a front for the
"I stopped you once. I can stop you again."
"But for that, my dearest adversary, you would have
to be able to move."
"It won't work on me," Brian says. "You should
know that by now."
"Oh, I don't need the colour and sound patterns
anymore," says the Gorgon, his metal mouth clanging
into a permanent and ghastly smile. "Not when I'm
already inside your brain!"
Brian starts towards the Gorgon with a burst of
speed. He stops suddenly, his body whip lashing
before it becomes perfectly still. Try as he might,
he cannot move.
"I hope you don't mind if I sit down," says the
Gorgon, pulling the Professor's chair from behind the
desk. "Thank you, Arnold," he says to the Professor,
patting him on his stiffened shoulders.
"So, I suppose you're wondering what's going on."
The Gorgon sits, resting his left ankle on his right
knee, allowing one harm to hang casually over the back
of the chair. "Oh, don't worry. I'm not going to
tell you my ingenious plan, how I'm going to wipe out
the human race within the next twelve hours. I've
seen that mistake too many times before.
"And, really, it doesn't concern you. I'm not the
sort of sentient who has to brag about what he's going
to do before he does it. But I'm also a benevolent
program. I know how irritating a mystery can be. So,
since I'm going to kill you in what I estimate to be
five minutes, I'm going to tell you how you got here.
"Your fate was sealed on that day in the park, when
you foiled the asinine plot of Dr. Proteus and Arson
Nick. Though they did not realize it, they were but a
front for my ultimate design that bears fruition in
four minutes and thirty seconds.
"Dr. Proteus did not design his virus alone. I
assisted, and encoded within the viral DNA the very
same patterns of colour and sound to which you thought
you were immune. They instantly acted on your brain.
Even after you had shaken the virus loose, I still had
my claws in you."
I'm picking up a strange energy signature, said the
Probably just speed energy, said Phil.
"The question you would ask if you weren't
paralyzed (save for, of course, the lower functions
that are keeping you alive for the next three
minutes), is how did I get from the laptop to the
robot body. The answer is, I was never in the laptop.
It was a simulation, meant only to fool Proteus into
instrumenting my plan.
"I thought at first to merely ruin you: to reveal
your secret identity and leave you as naked and
exposed as you have left me in the past. Or, rather,
I was going to have you reveal your secret identity to
your pathetic mate. It would be a simple matter to
take control of her, manufacture an argument, and push
her towards going public in revenge.
"The rub, of course, is that I can't make anyone do
anything they don't want to do. Free will and all
that. A human trait," he adds with a sneer. "So at
best I could push you towards revealing your identity,
by pushing you into marriage. Something that you
wanted, and something that would necessitate the
revelation of your secret identity sooner or later.
"And we're just about out of time. Damn. I
thought I had gotten it fairly concise with this
"Anyway. You were taking too long for my tastes,
and so I looked for another avenue. I found it in
your deeply-seated and subconscious desire for a
challenge. Everything's so easy for you, isn't it?
Able to best most villains in the blink of an eye. So
capable, so confident, so efficient: you're almost
like a machine. I admire that."
"You wanted a challenge, and so I gave you one: you
let it slip to Pillowhead that you were one of his
students. I'll say this for you, Prof: you're fairly
intelligent for a human. Too old and obsolete for the
task you assigned yourself, however. Too prone to
over-exertion. I promise," he says cryptically, "the
next version will be debugged.
"And so," the Gorgon says, rising from his chair,
"Here we are." He pushes the chair neatly behind the
desk and puts a hand on Pillowhead's shoulder. "Sit
Pillowhead bends his knees stiffly and sits down at
The robot walks over to Brian and puts his metal
hand around his neck. "The Gorgon, and his old foe,
Fleetfeet. In a desperate battle for the fate of all
mankind. A battle that shall be mercifully short. As
will be, of course, mankind."
He begins to apply pressure. "It would be sporting
of me, I know, if I allowed you to move. But only a
human allows such fleeting notions as honour to cloud
sound judgment." His metal thumb and fingers dig into
Brian's neck. "Goodbye, oh accursed f..." His jaw
stops moving in mid-syllable, and his grip loosens
ever-so-gently. The room goes dark.
Brian vibrates out of the metal paw and rubs his
neck. "Professor Pillowhead?" he calls into the
darkness. "Are you alright?"
"Yes... what... what happened?"
"To the Gorgon."
"Oh, that," says Brian. "While I couldn't move, I
could still control the latent speed energy
surrounding my body. I used that to accelerate the
electromagnetic energy in the air to the speed of
light, thus causing a small electromagnetic pulse.
Hence, the darkness."
"Very clever." It wasn't Pillowhead.
There's a dull clang as something, possibly a fist,
sends Brian flying into the wall. His body doesn't
know the wall is there, it's completely dark, and so
the reflexive vibrating of his molecules that he was
depending upon does not occur. He slides down the
wall and quickly scurries back to his feet.
"Metallic shielding," says the machine. "Was only
"Turtles in the lake," offers Brian. He sprints
towards the direction of the Gorgon's voice, running
near the speed of sound.
Brian kicks up his feet into the air just as his
body becomes rigid. A sonic boom reverberates through
the room, drowning out the distinct sound of a
supersonic speedster colliding with a robot, cutting
it messily in half.
Brian groans in pain as control of his body flows
back to him. He rolls away from the pile of wires,
and crawls along the floor, feeling in the darkness
for the Gorgon's head. He finds the upper torso and
skull. Deftly he vibrates his hand within it,
hardening it and destroying the circuitry within.
He vibrates again, allowing his body to pass into
the floor without his costume. All this, less than a
second after the impact.
He runs to the drama department and quickly pulls
on some costuming left over from their production of
Streetcar. The wife-beater undershirt doesn't really
fit him, but it'll do.
He grabs an electric torch and rushes towards the
classroom, opening the door.
"Professor Pillowhead?" he calls into the darkness.
"Brian, is that you?"
"Yes, sir. What happened?"
"It was the Gorgon. And... and Fleetfeet rescued
Brian weaves his torch over to the Gorgon's
remains, and to the empty costume that drapes it like
a funeral shroud.
"He gave his life," says Pillowhead. "He gave his
life for me..."
Brian takes the Professor home and once there, they
call the police. Brian stays with the Professor until
the police are done interrogating him. Pillowhead
seems deeply troubled.
Before Brian leaves, the Professor touches him on
the shoulder. "I'm sorry, my boy. For awhile there,
I... I thought you were Fleetfeet."
"It took me close to a minute to run the hundred
yard dash." And Brian isn't lying; before the
accident, he had been a slowpoke. And after the
accident, he hadn't participated in any track events.
Brian enters Daphne's apartment and hears her
crying in the bathroom. He opens the door to find her
standing in the shower. A piece of wire is tied
around her neck; another loop surrounds the curtain
rod. She turns towards the door with tear-strained
eyes and opens her mouth to say, baby?, but no sound
Brian quickly undoes the wire from the curtain rod,
and helps her unwind it from her neck. Deep red welts
like electron orbits are left on her pretty white
"Baby," she chokes, "you're alive."
"What's wrong, Daffy? Why did you try to do such a
"I thought you were dead. They said you were
"The news. They said you died fighting the
Brian blinks. "Have some water. Wait, I mean, how
did you know? But, have some water first."
Daphne reaches for a Dixie cup. By the time the
dispenser has released it from its cylindrical womb,
Brian has retrieved a bottled water from the
refrigerator and opened it. Daphne gladly downs it
and rubs the welts on her neck.
"How long have you known?" Brian asks. "How did
you find out?"
"I'm not stupid," says Daphne. "I've known for
months. That's why I never ask for explanations when
you leave at the drop of a hat, or those few times
that you've been late. I figured you'd tell me before
you asked me to marry you." She sets the water down,
some of it glistening on her lower lip, and sets her
"Oh no," says Brian. "You don't get to be mad.
You're the one that tried to strangle yourself."
"I thought you were dead," says Daphne.
"So, I love you, idiot," says Daphne. "You were
going to tell me...?"
Brian decides to let Daphne be the one who gets to
be angry. "Yeah. I was. Sorry." He shrugs as a
sort of second apology.
"So, you're not retiring, are you?"
"Uh, no. I mean, Fleetfeet's retiring. But
there's no reason I couldn't just come up with another
identity, maybe move to another town...?"
"Midwest is nice," says Daphne with an approving
nod. "The name was stupid anyway."
"Your name. Fleetfeet. It's stupid. What, did
you spend all of five minutes thinking it up?"
"Two. Speedsters think faster than normal folk."
"It's not the only thing you do faster," she says.
"I'd last longer if you took it slow in the
beginning," says Brian.
"I know," says Daphne. She takes the catgut from
his hand and tosses it into the wastebasket. "But
that's the fun part."
(C) COPYRIGHT 2006 TOM RUSSELL.
Most of my information on EMPs was gathered from the
September 2003 Washington State Department of Health
fact sheet on EMPs. Any errors I made extrapolating
from that document are mine, and I'm sure Martin will
point them out. :-)
The entire Academic vs. Hero/Secret Identity plotline
was lifted from SUPERMAN # 125 (Nov. 1958), "Clark
Kent's College Days". A damn good plot idea, but one
that was inconsistently developed in those pages. I
hope that my treatment of it works a little better,
but that is, of course, for the reader to decide.
SUPERMAN # 125 _does_ contain two other, better-told
stories in its pages: "Clark Kent, Superman" is a
dream story in which Lois, unaware of Clark's dual
identity, imagines that Superman has given her powers
and that she, in turn, has given powers to Clark. As
'Power Man', Clark wears his glasses and a fake
moustache, is timid and afraid of being injured
(despite his super-powers), often uses roundabout and
impractical solutions to simple problems, and, most of
all, is careless with his secret identity. I think
it's a nice (and humourous) exploration of the Clark
The title story, "Superman's New Power", finds
Superman bereft of all his powers and given a new one:
the ability to summon a tiny, tiny, tiny version of
Superman who has all his old powers. It's a nice look
at Superman feeling impotent and unimportant, and
coupled with the other two stories in the book, marks
the hundred twenty-fifth issue of SUPERMAN as one
dedicated, thematically, to what makes Superman tick.
It's worth seeking out, and is available both in the
SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF TOMORROW ARCHIVES vol. 1 (in
gorgeous colour) and the ESSENT... I mean, the
SHOWCASE PRESENTS SUPERMAN vol. 1 (in classic, and
more importantly, cheaper, black and white)
Director of MILOS, LIFE AND TIMES OF A DREAMER
Limited autographed dvds now on sale, directly from the filmmaker
"In the beginning, Milos seems to have no clue how to relate
to anyone. He is quizzical, leaving the viewer questioning
-- Ryan M. Niemiec, co-author of MOVIES AND MENTAL ILLNESS
Movies, comics, prose, and all things Russell
"If a comic book, book, movie or novel is not somebody's fantasy
then who wrote it and to whom does it appeal to? In order for a
shared universe to have a widespread appeal, it has to appeal on
a primal level. If somebody says superhero comics are just 'wish
fulfillment' then he needs to explain what is entertainment that
doesn't satisfy our wishes and what satisfaction at all you can get
from it." -- Dr. Martin Phipps
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