LNH/ACRA/TEB: Net.heroes on Parade TEB Vol. # 3: Gary Niceguy Blues
milos_parker at yahoo.com
Tue May 23 09:47:31 PDT 2006
PARADE Vol. 3
Gary Niceguy Blues
BY TOM RUSSELL
Subplots are the bane of serial fiction, especially
if they are abandoned and never pay off. Issues
twelve and thirteen of NET.HEROES ON PARADE were
basically subplot-a-paloozas, setting up a number of
threads that either, a, were never developed, or b,
were developed poorly. Approaching the twenty-three
canonical episodes of NHOP as a self-contained (if
unfinished) work, these pose a problem and thus they
have been culled.
For example, I had intended for the character of
the Porcelain Girl (introduced in the Larry Tablet
arc) to join our band of net.heroes, and so issue
twelve originally referenced Michette trying to
apologize to the girl. But, the fact is, I didn't
like the Porcelain Girl, and so this scene was really
pointless. Out it went.
One of the most underdeveloped characters in NHOP
is Speed Richardson; he doesn't get much screen time
in the first story arc, and didn't appear in the
second at all. In the original form of this TEB,
there were a lot of hammy scenes where Speed's
obsession with Michette was foregrounded. I feel kind
of bad cutting it out, as one might forget who he is
when he takes center stage at the end of the series.
But, at the same time, there's nothing in those scenes
that develop his personality in any substantial way.
One of the bigger changes that the long-time NHOP
fan will notice is Maggie's mysterious virgin
pregnancy. I never really developed it to any
meaningful conclusion, the birth scene itself was just
an excuse to have Maggie incapacitated when Chatillon
reared his ugly head, and to have a fight scene with
the Ultimate Ninja that introduced Mipource Chayefsky,
a character who has been eliminated completely from
the story-- along with Maggie's pregnancy.
Another supporting character who wasn't developed
particularly well-- Eugene Grimmer, who basically came
across as a caricature of an angry black youth, though
this was assuredly not my attention-- has been cut as
well, along with the attending werewolf cult plotline
that, like so many others, never went anywhere. All
in all, this TEB has born the largest brunt of my
editing knife, which sliced off over 26,000 words,
leaving this the shortest of the TEB editions.
Now, in contrast to Speed Richardson, one of the
better developed characters in NHOP is Gary Niceguy,
who is also the earliest of them all to appear. He
has a lot of history on both sides of the law, and I
think this is really what makes the character work: he
has a lot to be guilty for, a lot to make up for. And
he does want to make up for those things: he just
keeps screwing up. Which, in the end, is something I
think any of us can identify with. I think that at
some point in our lives, we've all had a case of Gary
Sarcastic Lad was playing poker with Master Blaster
when Gary knocked on his door.
"We're busy," the caesar of cool said. "Go away."
"I have to talk to Sarc," said Gary. "A matter of
life and death."
"Are you dying now?" asked Sarc.
"Accelerated aging aside? No, I'm not."
"Good. Now go away."
"I have to talk to you. Alone."
"Alone?" said the caustic crusader. "My, that's
very forward of you."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Sarcastic Lad."
Master Blaster recognized something on the kid's
face. "Look, I've got to go clean my gun anyway.
I'll catch you later."
"Nice going," said Sarc after Master Blaster had
made his exit. "Okay, kid. So what's this about?"
"Three or four years back, you went to the moon,
"That'd be correct."
"And you met the Queen of the Moon Amazons?"
"I did more than meet her, kid," said Sarc with a
"Good," said Gary. "Then I've come to the right
place. You see, she's my mother. And I'm Gary
Niceguy. Your son."
"Right," drawled Sarc. "It's all so clear! It
makes perfect sense! You, my apparently teenaged son,
just happens to have born about three years ago."
"Moon people age faster than Earth people."
"Fine," said Sarc. "So, on your way back up, could
you drop off this roll of film for me?"
"Ha, ha. Real funny. Now listen. My mother died
about a year ago. Before she did, she told me who my
father was. I came to your Earth, and adopted the
crime-fighting identity of Smart Alec, hoping to catch
"You should try a skimpier outfit, then."
"My plan," Gary stammered, a bit flustered, "was to
become your sidekick. Get to know you. And reveal
that I was your son. Well, I asked to be your
sidekick... and you said, no."
"Oh, right. You were the one who wore the donkey
"That's right. You remember!"
"So, what happened? Why the costume change? Did
you get sued for infringement by the Flying Jackass?"
"At any rate," said Gary, trying to keep his cool.
"I started to hang out with Golden Man, sort of became
his sidekick. But I kind of got side-tracked from the
whole net.hero thing. I, uh, I kind of fell in love
with this net.villain."
"That's not cool, man. Well, wait. Is she
"You have my blessing."
"Shut up, please!" said Gary. "I don't mean to be
rude, but I'm trying to tell you what's up with your
one and only son."
Sarc wasn't about to tell him that he had
fathered-- and more or less abandoned-- at least one
other. "Well, maybe if you weren't taking so long..."
"Well, maybe if you wouldn't keep interrupting
"Bitch, bitch, bitch."
"Just let me get through this, please. This is
important to me. When... when Golden Man was dead
there for a while, part of the Golden Force-- that's
the energy that powers golden-age net.heroes-- became
part of me, giving me, you know, super-strength,
super-speed, flight, an incredibly dense..."
"That's all good and great, kid," said Sarc. "But,
really? I don't care."
"But I'm your son!"
"You're some of my sperm and an egg, kid," said
Sarc. "That doesn't make me your father. That
doesn't make you my son."
"But my mom's dead. I don't have anyone left."
Sarc shrugged. "Look, I'm sorry about your mother.
She was a nice lay. But, you seem to be doing pretty
good on your own, Gary Niceguy. I like the name, by
"Next time you're up on the moon, why don't your
bring some of the girls down with you? I wouldn't
mind a visit, if you know what I mean."
"I wouldn't sweat it, kid," said Maddie. "My dad
was rotten to me, too. And look how I turned out."
"Yeah." Gary looked at his feet.
"Oh, what is it, Gary?"
"It's just... that scientist. The one with the ray
you want to get your hands on."
"We, baby. We want to get our hands on."
"Right. Do we... do we have to kill him, actually?
I mean, I don't think he'd talk if we just scared him
Maddie clicked her teeth. "Gary, what's the
scientist to you?"
"Exactly. Nobody. Look, if I've learned one thing
on this earth, from my shitty father and my shitty
sister, it's this: you've got to look out for number
one. Because if you help anybody-- anybody at all--
they'll kick you in the teeth first chance they get.
No one ever got anywhere with altruism. Understand?"
"Yeah, I understand. But..."
"Nothing." Gary kissed her and flew off to kill
He had wanted to ask, what about love? Is love
altruism? Or it is mutual selfishness? There were
many times that he wanted to ask her that. Many times
he questioned also the morality of their actions.
But after a while, he stopped caring, stopped
questioning what they were doing. The question about
love, it never went away, though: probably because he
never asked it. Maybe he would have, given enough
time. But then Maddie went and died on him.
His brain did him the favour of erasing the doubts,
of creating an ideal Maddie in his brain.
He tried going back to the moon, but found it
stifling. He returned to earth, talked his way into a
radio interview show, followed by a TV version. He
stayed in Net.ropolis. The first place that ever felt
And slowly, surely, he gravitated back towards the
LNH. Towards being a hero.
The door opened and the girl in the hip-hugging
shorts and loose-fitting t-shirt sized Gary up. "Who
"That makes two of us."
"No, I... I'm Gary Niceguy. You're Melissa?"
"Yeah. What do you want?"
"Can I come in?"
"I've got a gun."
"Whoa, whoa. I'm not going to hurt you. I just
need to talk to you."
"I... can I come in first?"
"I just... look, this is going to be hard for me
and I just need a minute to get all collected."
"Then you can collect yourself outside." She began
to shut the door.
"Jimmy the Fish."
She stared at him through the tiny crack of the
door. "I haven't seen him for a week, the bastard.
Where is he?"
"He... please. Let me inside. Let me sit down and
talk with you. I won't hurt you. I promise."
She opened the door. "Walk slowly and sit down
over on the bed."
Gary walked into the dingy apartment and sat down
on the unmade bed. Christ. He didn't want to be
here. He really didn't want to be here.
"So, what is it?"
Gary opened his mouth to speak, but the words got
stuck in his throat. "Uh. You better sit down."
"I prefer to stand."
"Please, just sit down."
"Listen, buddy, you're starting to get on my
nerves. I ain't got all day. If you got something to
say, then say it already."
"Are you... are you sure you don't want to sit
"Are you fucking deaf?" she demanded shrilly.
"I... I can't do this. I'm sorry. Here." Gary
reached into the breast pocket of his suit and
retrieved the key that Jimmy had given him. He put it
on Melissa's nightstand.
She turned her nervy gaze from Gary to the key, and
her eyes softened, her lower lip twitched. "He's
dead, isn't he?"
"Yes. He says he's sorry." He walked out of the
room, closing the door behind him. As the girl began
to scream and cry, he considered going back inside.
Something within him told him to go back inside, that
he was needed.
He kept walking.
Alicia asked herself why she was doing this. She
had no powers to speak of. She was of no use no
matter what the operation. And yet, here she was in
LNHHQ, wearing the skin-tight spandex with the
mini-skirt and cape, the sort of thing she had
promised herself she'd stop wearing once she had
attained a certain age. So, why?
No answer came, except for the obvious, and
probably correct, one: she was doing this because she
wanted to feel that she was doing something
worthwhile; she was doing this out of her childish
urge to feel good about herself and all the money and
Things that she had laid claim to over the years.
If she was any kind of hero, she would have been a
hero to her children first. But no. She sent them
away to military school. Come the summer, there were
some tentative plans to send them to their
grandmother's in Kansas. How long had it been since
she had seen them? December, maybe? Christmas?
Maybe she had seen them on Easter. But she didn't
know. She couldn't be certain.
She winced; she couldn't tell if it was an
emotional pang, or if she was fading away from the
morphine's rapture. Bitterly, she decided that it
couldn't have been the former; she was too shallow to
know or feel such pain, too shallow and selfish to
think of anyone but herself.
For, in the long run, that was all that mattered to
Maggie entered the infirmary. "Hey, Alicia."
Alicia tilted her head towards Maggie.
"Where's everyone else?"
Alicia attempted to shrug but found it too taxing.
At best, she offered a lazy movement of the shoulders
that might have been mistaken for the beginnings of an
epileptic shrug. (She faintly recalled that each year
she gave a quarter million dollars to some epilepsy
research foundation. It made her feel good about
"How're you doing, Alicia?"
"I've been better. I've been worse."
"Yeah. Me too."
Maggie stared down at her own feet. She did that a
lot. Alicia had noticed it before.
Alicia wondered what Maggie thought about when she
stared at her feet, and if she herself would ever walk
Gary liked to be alone.
People bothered him, reminded him of his past
failures, and of his current failure to atone for what
he had done. For someone who was always talking about
his own need for redemption, he wasn't really doing
much to accomplish this. And he knew this, and it
When he was alone, he could just enjoy the moment
he was in. Without any faces to remind him of someone
else's face, and without any people to remind him of
what a cosmic screw-up he was, he could just relax and
peacefully enjoy the absence of thought. At least, in
For in actuality, when he was alone, he was alone
with himself, with his thoughts: those damning nagging
reminders of his inadequacy.
So, really, he was uncomfortable no matter what.
But he still preferred being alone to being around
people; when he was around people, he felt more
He had never really explained all this to anyone,
not until he ran into Melissa a few weeks after he had
broke the news about Jimmy's death. He was sitting in
a coffee shop when she came up to him, sat down next
After a few awkward moments of I thought that was
you, and, how have things been?, and, funny running
into you here, there followed an even more awkward
moment of silence. Gary, always the coward, let it
hang there in the air until Melissa broke it with an
"I should never have came in here when I saw you.
I don't know why I did it. You just looked lonely."
"I like to be alone," he said with a shrug. Then
he explained it, told her why he liked to be alone,
glossing over the details of his past transgressions
with pretty, accessible generalizations.
"I like to be alone, too," she said, finally.
"I gathered that."
"Do you want to be alone... together?"
"We hardly know each other," Gary said.
"Let's get to know each other."
Gary mulled it over for a moment, and his voice
became tender. "What about Jimmy?"
"I don't want to talk about Jimmy," said Melissa.
"I don't want to talk about Jimmy, or the pretty
things he promised me. I'm through with pretty. With
love. With bullshit." She touched his face. Her
hand was soft, soft like Maddie's, and her eyes were
just as hard and unloving. "If you want me, Gary, you
know where to find me."
Kelly had been prepared.
When her cousin, Fred, the Legion's receptionist,
had asked her to fill in for his shift while he went
on a well-deserved and long-overdue vacation, he had
taken care to explain to her just what she was getting
herself into. He had explained about the assorted
loonies who populated the building; he had warned her
about the assorted loonies who tried, on a daily
basis, to gain entry to said building. She knew which
lollipops to give to hostile children in order to
placate them, and which to give to hostile aliens to
subdue them until she could call for help.
She knew how to distinguish between evil
balloon-animal creating dwarves and those
balloon-animal creating dwarves that were just having
a bad day; she was quite aware of what to do should
the fabric of time and space rip open and suck
Cheesecake-Eater Lad and Cannon Fodder into a
miniseries; Kelly even knew how to properly use the
rolodex that sat next to the computer.
What she did not know, and what Fred had not taken
the time to explain to her, was what to do should she
find herself suddenly suspended in the air. And if
she had been taught this at secretarial school, she
had forgotten it the moment the levitating young man
with the unkempt hair and burning green eyes came into
LNHHQ and pointed at her, causing her-- swivel chair
and all-- to be propelled towards the ceiling. Awash
in the green light, she found herself suspended in the
air by no recognizable force.
She had read about such things happening (these
sort of events were considered common place these days
and for these people) but she had never encountered
anything like this before. And instead of the passé
shrug of the shoulders the usual twenty-something
substitute-receptionist would give should they
suddenly find themselves floating, she found herself
consumed with awe.
The wonderment soon gave way to fright. She
The man with the burning green eyes tightened his
fist, and she imploded. Her remains fell to the
ground in a bloody heap.
And the man with the green eyes? He smiled.
"Ultimate Ninja, this is Multi-Tasking Man, come
"A hostile has entered the building. Killed the
receptionist. Power levels are off the charts."
"I'm on my way. Call in all the big guns. I have
a feeling we're going to need all the help we can get.
Gary made soft, quiet circles with his fingers
along the smooth skin of Melissa's body. She began to
stir; she was ticklish. If she caught him cuddling
while she slept, she would make fun of him. He
stopped. Still wanting-- needing-- to touch her, he
gently placed a hand on her hip, and buried his face
in her hair. He sniffed deeply and pretended it was
His LNH Communicard bleeped. He shut it off, and
drifted to sleep.
Alarums blared through out LNHHQ. Michette and
Lily had been in the pool when Lily answered her
Communicard. "We'll be up in five minutes," she said.
"Come on, Mimi. Let's hurry up and get dressed."
Quickly, they doffed their swimsuits and pulled on
their uniforms. Michette had just closed her locker
when they realized they were not alone.
The man with the green eyes smiled at them. There
was blood on his shirt. "Duclos, I presume?"
"Don't you touch her!" Lily rushed towards him.
He pointed at her and she suddenly found herself
suspended in the air.
"Put her down!" said Michette.
"Not likely," he snarled. He began to harden his
fist, intending to implode Lily like he had the
receptionist. But, instead of the familiar and
pleasant sounds of her bones cracking and her body
retracting into a ball of blood and guts, the air was
filled instead with the sounds of skin popping. Rocks
and pebbles, which had been protruding from her skin
in the first place, were increasing their incidence.
Dissatisfied that this woman refused to be killed and
could not be made to implode, he simply tossed her
through a wall with a flick of his wrist.
By this time, Michette had opened her lunchbox, an
energy bolt flinging towards him. Her opponent thrust
his hands forwards, the green glow manifesting itself
as a solid blast of energy. The bolt fizzled when it
came in contact with the green.
"No more games," he said. He resumed floating
That was when Lily leapt up from the ground and got
him around his shins from behind. She pulled down and
he fell into the wooden bench, breaking it.
Michette nodded, raising her lunchbox high above
her head. She was going to clock this son of a bitch,
she was going to bring the lunchbox down on his
sorry-ass skull so hard and so fast that he's going to
wish he had been hit by that lightning bolt. She
brought it down, hard.
A flash of green, and she was sailing through the
air. Michette collided with the wall. Her skull
"Stupid girlie," the green man snarled. "Both of
you," he added, turning towards Lily. "I'm going to
kill you for making me hurt. Do you want a short
death, or a slow one?"
Lily tried to get up on her feet. Unable to do so,
she settled for spitting at him. He did not get
And that was much more frightening than anger.
He picked her up by the short locks of her brown
hair, dragging her aching body towards a wall. He sat
her up so that she was perpendicular to a row of
He waved his hand in Lily's direction. A terrible
squealing squeak filled the air as the row of lockers
began to lurch towards her. The bolts that kept them
locked in their place popped out; the tiling cracked,
dust and old asbestos filling the air. Moving just an
inch at a time, slowly but surely, the lockers made
its way towards Lily's tired body.
She was aching all over. When he had tried to
implode her, he somehow had caused her transformation
process to expedite. She was used to the slow,
natural cycle, to finding a pebble here, a pebble
there, gradually working up towards her ultimate form.
It had always hurt before: every time the skin on
her neck popped to a let a sharp little stone take its
place, she winced. When her fingertips became stone
and her fingernails fell off, leaving her nerve
endings exposed, she cried. But it was just a little
at a time. It wasn't that bad, just a little at a
But she was not used to, or prepared for, a couple
hundred pebbles at once. Her body ached. She was
lightheaded, dizzy. And being thrown through a wall
didn't exactly help. She was certain that her nose
And now, pebbles seemed to be popping up all over
the place. She found the surface of her stony layer
of skin to be sweaty. She would pass out soon, if the
lockers didn't squash her first.
And they kept coming.
Closer and closer, relentless and slow.
She closed her eyes, partially because she was
tired and partially because she did not want to see
these old burgundy-painted lockers inching ever
But she found no solace in the darkness, no refuge.
The sounds without images were infinitely more
frightening and alien. The squealing bolts, the
bastard's laughter. Michette's groans of pain. Mimi.
Her eyes shot open. No. She could not give up.
The bastard was torturing her, cutting her open
with green glowing knives of energy.
She knew there was no way she would be able to get
up on her feet. Lily let her body fall to the ground,
and she began the arduous process of crawling towards
her best friend and her tormentor.
"I see you," he snarled. He let Michette drop to
the ground like a rag-doll. "Tsk-tsk, pebbles. Looks
like I'll have to make it quick after all." He
snapped his fingers. The lockers picked up speed.
Lily scurried, nearly clearing the lockers before
it collided with the wall. Nearly: it smashed her
ankle against the concrete. She let out a terrible
"And, for my next trick..."
"That's no way to treat a lady."
The green man turned towards the door. Maggie,
Tyler, and Shrink-Wrap Man had made their way down to
the pool. Lily afforded herself a few tears of
relief. Just don't pass out now, she told herself.
Don't pass out and everything will be fine.
"You people just never learn," said the green man,
almost whimsically. "Haven't you run out of room in
that infirmary of yours?"
"Stand back, everyone," said Tyler. "I shall
handle this ruffian."
"You?" giggled the maniac. "I'll have you for
"I doubt it," said Tyler. "You see, I'm a ghost,
and thus invulnerable to harm."
That's when the green man impaled him with an
energy spike. Tyler allowed his eyes to train towards
his belly, which was sticky with his own blood. He
looked up again at the green man.
"Well, then. That's interesting." Tyler swooned.
"Any other challengers?" began the green man.
His words were cut off, an air-tight bubble of
shrink-wrap fitting around the contours of his body.
"Yes!" said Shrink-Wrap Man. "I am the champion!
I totally kick ass. I saved the day. I saved Lily.
I saved Mimi. I saved... I saved Mimi!" He blinked,
exceedingly pleased with himself. "Maggie, check up
on everyone. You know first-aid, right?"
"Right," said Maggie. She rushed towards Lily,
carefully side-stepping the shrink-wrapped form of
their opponent. His whole body seemed to still be
glowing green, floating in the air and frozen in time,
like some kind of giant, demented action figure. It
creeped Maggie out.
"I think my foot's broke," volunteered Lily
cheerfully. "But otherwise, I'm okay."
"I'll call for one of the muscle guys," said
Shrink-Wrap Man, "so that they can move those lockers
and get you out of there."
"Thanks, Speed. Um. What did he mean about the
"This asshole's been mopping the floor with us,"
Shrink-Wrap Man explained. "Even Master Blaster and
the Ninja are laid up. He hasn't killed anyone yet.
"The new receptionist?" Michette said. "I liked
Suddenly, an unnerving sound: a quick gush of air
being inhaled. Our heroes turned as one, directing
their eyes to the now-freed form of the green man.
"My shrink-wrap wears off after thirty seconds,"
Speed explained sheepishly. "Oops."
The green man nodded towards Shrink-Wrap Man,
causing the Protector of Men and Preserver of Meats to
fly through a wall.
"I've been doing that a lot lately," the green man
chided himself. "I must be more creative." He turned
towards Maggie and Michette and reached towards them.
A blinding white light flooded the room, causing
the green man to cover his eyes with his arms. When
he brought his arms back to his side, the light having
faded, he saw that Lily had freed herself from the
lockers. She stood before him with an ax to grind.
From head to toe she was covered in stones and
earth. Her black uniform, especially made to survive
the transformation process, shone eerily as light as
reflected onto the fabric by the huge cosmic battle-ax
she held in both hands.
It was at this moment that Tyler Bridge awoke.
"Maggie, get everyone out of here and to safety,"
Lily commanded. She smiled with thin-lips. "Now it's
She rushed towards the green man.
"Is it over?" asked Alicia. She tried to sit up in
her infirmary bed. It was too painful, and so she
laid back down.
"Not yet," said Maggie. "But it will be. Lily's
down there now."
"Lily...?" Alicia began, concerned.
"Oh. Hate to be in his shoes."
She had hardly spoken the words when Lily's
unconscious body, now in its human form, was tossed
into the room. Towering over it, framed in the
doorway, was the green man.
A shudder rushed through the scores of injured
"She's not dead. Yet," he said. "I want the
lunchbox, and the bitch who wields it."
"You'll have to go through me, first," said Maggie.
"What are you going to do, chubby? Sit on me?"
She didn't understand it. It always happened
automatically whenever she was in danger. So why the
delay? She stalled. "I'm giving you fair warning. I
can transform, too."
"Let me guess. The amazing Cheese Danish Lass.
You turn into a pastry, then you eat yourself."
"I'm waiting. Eagerly." He hovered over to her,
breathing over her, smirking.
Maggie's body shivered.
That's when Michette made a run for it, flying out
"Enough of your games, little girl," said the green
man angrily. He slapped her across the face, sending
her into a Kirby Tech machine. Her body slumped,
"Now, if there are no further interruptions..."
He left the room to continue his pursuit.
Michette did not look behind her. She did not have
to. His laughter grew louder and more hideous with
each grotesque jag: that was all she needed to hear to
know that he was gaining on her.
He had already proved immune to her lunchbox, and
her lunchbox was all she had. Lily was a bloody pulp.
Most of the Legion would be laid up for months.
There was no one left. She was helpless.
And he was picking up speed.
That's when she tripped over something and fell,
her chin striking the tile floor and her teeth
rattling. Oh. Shit.
She scurried to her feet, but it was too late now.
Here they were. Face-to-face. Nowhere to run. No
way to fight.
"You here to kill me, collect the bounty?" she said.
"Then do it. I've died before. No big deal," she
added: the last sentence was a blatant lie. It had
been one of the most terrifying experiences of her
If he saw through her falsehood, he didn't mention
it. "I'm not here to kill you, you stupid bitch. And
I'm not here to collect any bounty."
"Then what do you want?"
"I'm to bring you and your lunchbox to my...
benefactor." He smiled. Even his teeth glowed green.
It spooked her, jogged her memory. "Tex?"
"You killed my predecessor. One of them, anyway.
It's very noisy in here," he said, pointing to his
head. He got very quiet: "But it's not like it was.
And I have him to thank for that."
"And yours, too. If you let him. He'll take away
all your bad things, make it quiet inside. He'll..."
There was a sound. He gasped for air, his eyes
rolling white before closing. He fell to his knees,
then into an unconscious heap. Slowly, the green
Michette looked past the body of the green man.
Alicia was on the floor. In her arms, she carried one
of Master Blaster's concussive guns. Her nails were
raw and bloody. She had crawled every inch from the
"You owe me one, froggy," she said in her smoky
voice. She sucked the blood from her fingertips.
"Man, I've heard of intensive rehab in cases like
mine, but this is ridiculous."
Gary liked to fly. Above all others-- above the
heat vision and cold vision and endurance and
super-density and everything else combined-- the one
he cherished the most was the ability to fly. It was
a cliché for net.ahumans of his class to speak of the
sense of freedom it afforded them, of the thrill that
it sent through their bodies.
But for Gary it was not a cliché; he felt that
intangible sense of freedom deep in his heart as
sincerely as he gave it voice. To fly was to be free.
It made one feel young, no matter how gray their hair
That was what it did for Maddie: it made her feel
young. She couldn't fly herself, but the effect was
still the same when Gary took her up into his arms and
up, up, up into the sky. He remembered that she
giggled whenever they passed through a cloud, the
moisture clinging to her cheeks. She regressed to a
little girl, and sometimes Gary wondered if that was
the real Maddie, visible only for brief glimpses and
obscured by wispy clouds.
He knew that that Maddie was the one that he loved,
the one that he mourned. The Maddie he remembered, on
the other hand...
The Maddie who had died...
He remembered holding her dead body in his arms and
sobbing so fiercely that the tears blinded him. He
began hyperventilating, his over-developed super-lungs
working overtime. He ended up blacking out.
When he awoke, it finally occurred to him to find
the bastards that did it. But by that time, the trail
had grown cold. He never found them.
His need for vengeance gave way, over the years and
almost imperceptibly, to his need for redemption. If
it wasn't for him, Maddie wouldn't have died in the
first place. If he had flown fast enough, if he had
just been there for her...
It was his mistake that caused everything to fall
apart. And now this...
Most of the LNH was still recovering from the green
man's attack. The Ninja would be alright (secret
Ninja healing techniques and all that), but as for the
others, it would be weeks... maybe months... before
they all got back on their feet.
Lily was recovering from a number of injuries that
could collectively be filed under, getting the shit
kicked out of you. Shrink-Wrap Man's suit had been
damaged, and so he had to stay in a containment room
for the rest of the week, lest he suffocate everyone
in shrink-wrap. Maggie had been tossed around like a
rag-doll. Tyler had been impaled.
"A touch, a touch, I do confess," he had said.
"But otherwise, I'm quite alright. It's a bit windy
in my mid-drift, and I won't be wearing my bikini
anytime soon. But I'm quite alright, Gary Niceguy.
Nothing to beat yourself up over. You didn't hear the
call, then you didn't hear the call."
He had heard it; he just ignored it. Not that
Tyler knew anything about that.
"We'll all be okay, Gary Niceguy," said the ghost
gingerly. "I would appreciate it if you picked me up
a copy of THE WEEK."
But they wouldn't all be okay. "What about Kelly?"
"K... K..." Tyler sucked his lips inwards. "Her
funeral is the day after tomorrow. Nothing you could
have done, though, Gary Niceguy, even if you had heard
it. The call for help didn't go out until after she
No matter what Tyler or his own brain told him,
Gary couldn't divorce Kelly's death from his failure
to respond. He held himself responsible. Maybe if he
had been at LNHHQ at the first place, instead of
knocking boots with Melissa, he would have saved her.
He tried to explain this to Melissa, to let her
know what was going on in his head. To tell her of
the horrible guilt and futility that gnawed at him.
But she cut him off at the pass.
"I don't care, Gary. I'm not your mother, and I'm
not your girlfriend, and I'm not your therapist. I'm
a good lay. You want to talk to me, talk dirty."
"What happened to you, Mel? To the girl I talked
to in the coffee shop?"
"I'm still here. I think I told you then that I
didn't want any bullshit. Just looking for a good
time. And you've been getting too clingy," she added.
"Yeah, but it didn't feel like you meant it, then.
Felt like an act."
"Well, it's not. I don't know who you think I
"I know you better than you think," Gary said. "I
know that deep down, beyond this hurt, cynical person,
there's a beautiful, optimistic girl. Smart, kind,
"Oh, Jesus Christ, Gary..."
"Please, Maddie, just hear me out..." He stopped,
immediately conscious of the slip. He expected her to
make a big deal out of it. She didn't. She just
stared at him with that cold hard stare of hers. Like
it didn't matter if he was here or not. Like he
It was Maddie's stare, too. And, like he had with
Maddie, he tried to force her to care about him; he
tried to make himself matter. "You want to go flying
with me?" he offered. "Melissa," he added,
emphasizing her name.
"Nah. I've been on a plane before." She wiped her
mouth. "Can't be that much difference between the
And so he took up into the air, alone.
"You know, Gary old boy," he said to himself-- it
was only in his worst moments that he talked to
himself-- "she is not your ideal companion. She is
not what you need."
Gary knew what he needed: someone to be there for
him, to help him out as he tried to atone for all the
wrongs he had committed. Someone stronger than him,
who would hold him and still make him feel like a man.
Someone to take care of him.
But all the strong women he had encountered-- from
his mother to Maddie to, yes, Melissa-- had never been
Maybe he needed a like-minded spirit, instead:
someone who shared his burden. Someone who wanted to
make their wasted life count for something.
Someone like Alicia...?
For all her faults, she was a better person than he
was. A better hero. She had saved the day, and she
was paralyzed from the waist down. He could have
stopped that sadist without breaking a sweat. Alicia
had gone through hell and pain like he had never
known, just to save Mimi. She risked her life to save
someone she didn't really give two shits about.
When was the last time had risked his own neck for
anyone? What good was all his power if he couldn't
even respond to one simple Communicard call?
As if on cue, his card beeped. It jogged him out
of his introspection. He had been flying up here for
hours after leaving Melissa's place, going through the
events of the day.
"What is it?" he asked.
Multi-Tasking Man frowned at Gary while rubbing his
broken nose and knitting a sweater with his feet.
"Someone just called for you, name of Melissa. Says
"Thanks," said Gary. "Niceguy out."
Gary snorted and flew in the other direction. He
had to get his head straightened out, had to pick a
clear path for his life. He had been flying up here
for hours, but he had been floating by for far longer
After an hour, Gary gave up on trying to be
self-reliant and flew back to Melissa's apartment.
She had left the window open for him.
He landed, smiling. "Mel! I'm back!"
That's when he noticed her body, and the pool of
The officer in charge of the case was named Cookie
Crumple. "If we have any more questions, we'll call
you, Mr. Niceguy. You'll be at Legion Headquarters?"
"And if you think of anything else, call me
directly." Crumple handed him a business card.
"That's my cell phone number. And I promise you, sir,
I'll get to the bottom of this."
Gary thought this was a little funny, the police
officer reassuring the net.hero.
"Moment of your time, Mr. Niceguy?"
Gary turned towards the sound of the voice. Its
owner was tall and spindly, dressed in a long red
robe. His eyes were black, his skin chalk-white. His
red hair shot forth from his head like cheese from a
grinder; it reminded Gary more of play-dough.
"My name is Chatillon," the man said. "And I have
a proposition for you, Gary."
Gary shrugged. "What do you want?"
"You're asking the wrong question. What is it that
you want, Gary?"
"That's a tough one, Chevrolet. And a little
"Sorry. Hard name to get used to. Kind of harsh
on the tongue, don't you think?"
"No, I don't think it is, personally. There are
many names which are more unpleasant to the ears.
Especially your ears. Let's see. There's Wendolyn.
And Madeline. Or Melissa. But, particularly,
"What do you know about Maddie? And the rest?"
"I know they're dead. And I know why they're
"Because of me," Gary said.
"You're not the one who wielded the weapon. But
you blame yourself just the same. It gnaws at you.
You screw up and then you screw up some more and that
just eats at you, doesn't it?
"Keeps you awake at night. It's always on your
mind. Your entire life is focused on one thing, and
that's Redemption, with a capital 'R'. You want to be
redeemed, and the more you try to straighten things
out, the more crooked they get. But you still keep
trying, Gary, even though it's hopeless. And you know
"Because more than anything else in the world, you
want to make up for your mistakes."
"Yes!" said Gary intensely.
"I can give you that redemption."
"You're a cardinal?"
Chatillon ran his palm over his red cloak with a
bemused expression on his narrow face. "No, I'm
someone with true power. I can bring her back from
"Which one? Melissa?... or Maddie?"
"Both. I assure you, it's well within my power to
"But that won't make up for it," said Gary.
"That's not redemption. You'd just be giving me
something, a gift. I'm not working towards it. You
understand? That's not redemption. And only God can
"Gods," corrected Chatillon with a laugh that was
more for his own benefit than for Gary's. "But you
will be working towards it, Gary. In a way. You have
to give me something in return."
"What's your price?"
"Hear me out. Sometime soon, I'm going to collect
her and her lunchbox for reasons of my own. No real
harm will befall the girl, just..."
"You can find someone else," said Gary abruptly.
"I'm not going to help you. I'm not going to turn
traitor. Not again."
"Asking you to help is precisely what I am not
doing. I'm asking you not to help. When I apprehend
her, all you have to do is... nothing. No one will
suspect you because you always manage to screw up
anyway. Just be somewhere else or be 'paralyzed' by a
stray energy blast or some such nonsense. I'm just
asking you to do what comes naturally, and fuck things
"And you won't hurt her?"
Chatillon smiled. " I promise you, Michette Duclos
will emerge from my care healthier than ever, and,
more importantly, without a price on her head. It's
going to get quite annoying and predictable with every
supernatural thing between here and the seven layers
of Hell attacking LNHHQ every few weeks."
"You're dealing straight with me, here?" Gary said.
"I am a bastard of my word," said Chatillon. "It
will be a sacrifice, something you have to work at, in
a way. But by making this sacrifice, you'll have your
Melissa and your Madeline returned to you."
"Hmm," said Chatillon, rubbing his chin. "Melissa
before. Madeline after. All you have to do is accept
and I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. Within
minutes, Melissa will be back on her feet and dancing
to show tunes."
Gary frowned, his eyes shifting back and forth. "I
don't know. It seems wrong."
"Wrong? My new friend, there is no right or wrong.
There is merely the path that is difficult, and the
path that is easy."
Detective Lou Lynch called for Cookie. "Crumble!"
"Now you're doing it on purpose," said Cookie
Crumple crossly. "What do you want?"
"Well, I don't know how to tell you this..."
"Out with it, Lou. It's late, I want to get home,
I don't have time to..."
"It's the corpse."
"What about it?" Cookie walked back into the crime
"Where's Gary?" said Melissa. She stood at the
center of the room. There was not a scratch on her.
Chatillon appeared in the shrink-wrap containment
chamber and introduced himself.
"What do you want?" said Speed wearily.
"Always so direct, you net.heroes," frowned
Chatillon. "You know, I figured you, at least, would
share my flair for elegance. I have a... dangerous
gift for it." He smiled.
Speed returned it. "You've read Sabatini."
"As have you, Wilson St. Wilson. Yes, I know quite
a lot about you."
"If you knew so much, you would know that I don't
use that name anymore," said Shrink-Wrap Man.
"Very well, Speed Richardson. Say! That sounds
like an exciting name, rather like a gun-slinger,
"So I'm a bit of a show-off," said Speed with a
shrug. "I admit it. So?"
"This is the life, isn't it? Fighting villains,
engaging in daring-do, making a name for yourself?"
"Yeah," said Speed with another shrug.
"So, you must be very satisfied with your life,
very content. Very happy. Aren't you?"
"Are you happy, Speed? Are you really happy, or
are you missing something?"
"Your life is lacking something... or someone.
Your lady eludes you, does she not?"
"You're not content with that, are you?"
"I love her."
"So you've said. Have you told Mimi?"
"No," said Speed. "She hates me. I tried to hang
out with her a couple times, but she gave me the cold
shoulder, spends all her time with Lily. Uh, Lily
"I know who she is," said Chatillon.
"Oh. Of course."
"Would you like her to love you back?"
"That's a stupid question," said Speed.
"A rhetorical one," said Chatillon testily. "It
can be arranged. If you want the heart of Michette
Duclos, I can give it to you."
"What do you want in return?"
"Very astute. I want the body of Michette Duclos.
And her lunchbox."
"I don't understand," said Speed. "And I don't
like where this is going."
"Her life is in constant danger," said Chatillon
sharply. "The Terrible Ones are undying and
unrelenting. I know, because they are my enemy, as
well. Now, if you love her, do you want her I this
kind of danger?"
"That's another stupid-- uh, rhetorical-- question.
Of course not."
"Then let me set her free. Let me sever the tie
between her and the lunchbox."
"What will that do to her?" asked Speed.
"Emotionally, physically, mentally? Nothing."
"But a sizable chunk of her soul is tied to the
lunchbox, and that chunk will be forfeit."
"And what will that mean?"
"I guess that depends on your point of view on such
things," said Chatillon cryptically. "But, we live in
a real world, Speed, my boy. Not one of absolutes,
but of compromises. Would you rather her be alive and
with you, or dead?"
"I'll do whatever it takes to save her."
"Then when I come to collect her, don't stop me.
You don't have to help me, as that would compromise
your standing with the Legion. And you'll need that.
After all, Michette will be powerless. She'll need
someone to take care of her."
"I can take better care of her than anyone can..."
"All I'm asking you to do is to throw the fight.
Or better yet, don't even show up."
"How will I know when you're coming?" Speed asked.
"You'll know," said Chatillon. "You'll know."
Chatillon sat down on the corner of Maggie's bed as
she opened up her window. "You're awfully hard on
yourself, don't you think, Maggie? I mean, those
aren't very nice things to think about yourself.
Calling yourself fat and ugly."
"That's because I am fat and ugly," she said
"Imagine losing ten pounds every week," said
"So you've come all this way, teleported into my
room, to sell me on some cosmic diet fad? No thanks.
Exercise and good eating for me all the way. Slow and
steady wins the race."
"But it doesn't win the prize. Love."
"The man who will love me will love me for who I
am," she said sharply. "And I'm beginning to dislike
you, Mr. Chatillon..."
"The fruit might be sweet, but if the skin is
bruised, no one's going to want to take a bite."
For some reason, this got to Maggie. It became
hard for her to speak. "I want to be beautiful. Like
Lily. Or Michette. A. Arlie. But... But God made
me fat. I've always been fat."
"His mistake, his loss," said Chatillon, clearly
enjoying the blasphemy. "Let me fix it? Not only
will I take the weight from you, but I'll also make
you a gift: the gift of self-confidence, which is far
more attractive than any toothpick with breasts. How
about it, Maggie?"
"What do you want me to do?" she said, sniffling.
"Well, it's like this. Within a few weeks, I'm
going to be apprehending Michette Duclos. All I need
"I'm not going to hurt her..."
"Out! Out! Out!" Maggie repeated the word until
her mouth disappeared, her body transforming with her
rage. The blob-bodied girl lumbered towards
"Please," he said with withering contempt. He
snapped his fingers. She stopped in her tracks.
"Once I leave, you will forget this ever happened."
Well, this one was another dud. But, on the bright
side, he had gotten a chance to see her powers up
close. They were nothing he would have been scared of
before, but at least now he knew how to make himself
immune to them.
With a flick of his wrist, Chatillon enveloped
Alicia and himself in a sound-proof cloaking bubble.
"Prognosis isn't good, is it?" said Chatillon,
clicking his teeth.
Alicia shook her head. "Months of physical
therapy, heavy medication. If I'm lucky, I get to
hobble slightly by the end of the year. Kirby Tech's
helping, but chances are I'll get moved off the active
roster, end up in some shitty rehab center. On the
other hand, it could be worse."
"Could be dead. Not everyone survives that many
bullets in the gut. Or through the spine, for that
"Yes," said Chatillon with a ginger nod, "I suppose
it could be worse. But, it could also be better."
"I knew it," said Alicia, laughing.
"How intriguing," said Chatillon. "Tell me, dear
child, what do you know?"
"You have some kind of offer to make me. A devil's
bargain. Well, then, proceed dear Mephistopheles.
I'm all ears."
"Awfully big words for an actress."
"I'm not an actress anymore. I'm a net.hero.
Automatically boosts your IQ by ten points."
"You're a net.hero? Really?" smirked Chatillon.
"Pray tell, what are your powers?"
"I saved Mimi from that green dude."
"But she doesn't exactly come to visit you, does
she?" said Chatillon.
"No. Not even as a courtesy."
"You're a liability," Chatillon said. "Every time
they have to rush you off to the hospital or the
infirmary, they lose precious time and they resent you
for it, don't they? Pretty little actress, playing at
being a hero. Doesn't even have any powers."
"But you can change that, can't you?" said Alicia,
"Yes, I can. And I'll heal your body, too. The,
uh, 'green dude'. How do you like his powers?"
"I could do some real damage with them. Be a real
part of the Legion, instead of just a mascot. Okay.
What do you want in return?"
"Michette Duclos. Now, I'm not..."
"When do I get my powers?"
Chatillon nearly choked on his own surprise. "I
was about to tell you that no harm was going to come
"When do I get my powers?" Alicia said again.
"I'll heal your body before, and give you the
"No way. Both at once. Up front."
"And if you betray me?" said Chatillon.
"If you're powerful enough to do all this for me,
you're powerful enough to take it away. I'm not
"Fine. The day of the kidnapping, then."
"Fine," said Alicia. She reached over the
nightstand and lifted her water glass in the air. "To
friends and traitors."
Chatillon returned the toast with a smirk. "And to
the easy path."
(C) COPYRIGHT 2002, 2006 TOM RUSSELL.
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
"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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