8FOLD/ACRA: Jolt City # 10, The Most Dangerous Man!

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Wed Jul 25 22:51:57 PDT 2007


   Earbox Super-Security Prison, thirty miles outside
of Jolt City: a state-of-the-art facility designed
specifically to house convicts (and persons awaiting
trial) determined to be super-criminals.  One of a
dozen supervillain prisons across the United States,
its escape-proof designs were derived, ironically,
from the calculations of the hypnotic genocidal
computer virus, the Gorgon.
   It is calculated to resist the effects of every
known power in the universe.  It keeps us safe from
some of the most powerful, most vile, and thus, most
dangerous men on the planet.
   No one has ever escaped.

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   # 10 JULY 2007 
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The end of February.  Jolt City.  Martin Rock's bail
   It seems like the whole city has come out to spit
on its least favourite son.  Martin avoids their
glances and tries to tune out the obscenities; the
judge pounds his gavel and demands order.
   Fisk takes his cue.  "The people of Jolt City
charge the defendant with possession of illegal
technology-- the Costello Vibra-Jacket.  This also
classifies the defendant as a super-criminal, and so
he is also charged under the SV act.  As such, we ask
that he be remanded to custody at Earbox."
   "Objection!" says Martin.
   The judge peers over his spectacles at Martin.
   "Um, objection, your honour," says Martin.  "I pose
no danger to others, and no flight risk.  The only
time I've left Jolt City in my entire life was in the
service of my country."
   "The defendant is also being investigated in
connection with two counts of homicide," says Fisk. 
"The murders of police lieutenant Danielle Handler and
Fatima Tarif."
   "Fay...?" says Martin.  It takes him a moment to
recover.  "Um, look, your honour.  I don't think these
ongoing investigations have any bearing on my bail
hearings.  And, uh, to be frank, the last time he
charged me with murder, the, uh, victim wasn't dead. 
And unless he can produce a body..."  The last word
sounds so cold.
   "The victims were dissipated, their atoms vibrated
out of existence by someone wearing a Vibra-Jacket,"
says Fisk.  "There would be no bodies-- only traces
and particles which we were able to detect at the
crime scenes."
   "I think he has a vendetta against me, sir.  The
last time damaged his credibility..."
   "Mr. Rock, are you finished?"
   "Yes, sir.  Your honour."
   "Good.  The defendant is remanded to custody at
Earbox Super-Security Prison until a date can be set
for trial.  Bail is denied."
   No one cheers, but no one has to.  Martin can hear
them in his brain, crying for his blood.
   Two guards grab him by the arms and escort him out
of the courthouse, to a waiting armoured car.  Three
more guards sit in the back with him, their guns at
the ready.
   Wow, thinks Martin: I'm in some deep shit.
   He looks at the three men and their guns, all of
them as alert and erect as ever, never wavering, never
blinking.  He is handcuffed and chained to the cold,
hard bench upon which he sits.  He raises his hands up
to his face, pretends to scratch his nose: in reality
he's checking the chain for tension.  
   It is unyielding and hard.  It'd take some serious
filing to break them.  He's not sure if a gunshot
would break the chain, or if it would ricochet.  He
doesn't want to risk injuring or killing one of the
guards; they're only doing their jobs.
   Of course, logically thinking, a sane person who
values human lives would spend the money to ensure
that the cramped interior of the armoured car (and its
accoutrements) would not be conducive to wildly
ricocheting bullets.  But Martin knows that logic
seldom applies to government.
   No, better not to risk it.  What then?  He could
knock the three guards out-- before they had a chance
to fire off a shot.  He's fairly certain he can do it
with a few well-timed kicks.  But then he'd have,
what-- a minute? forty seconds? -- before the two
guards in the front came round the back.  Forty
seconds to break the chains and make a run for it?
   He could try to knock out the two guards when they
came running-- he could try to be ready for them.  But
what if they didn't come bounding into the car?  What
if they just opened the door and opened fire?  Dying
is not a viable option.
   Well, there's always the 'nature calls' trick...
   "Uh, excuse me?" says Martin.  "But I have to go. 
Er.  To the bathroom."
   "Should have went before we left," says the guard.
   "I didn't have to go then," says Martin.
   "Shut up.  Piss your pants for all I care, you
miserable lump of shit."
   Martin raises his voice, hoping to find a more
sympathetic ear in the driver.  "Excuse me, driver,
but I have to use--"
   Martin sees a blur of motion.  He tries to dodge,
but his mobility is limited: the butt of the guard's
gun collides with his jaw.  Martin's mouth fills up
with blood and hard, sharp slivers of teeth.
   "They got a dentist at Earbox," says the guard. 
"He can fix you up.  Until then, why don't you keep
your damn mouth shut?"
   Martin sits, and stares, and bleeds.

   It's a study in cold, functional symmetry.  There's
not a single architectural flourish, not even
something threatening or foreboding.  The outside
walls are a mild gray-- not drab, but sterile:
mechanical.  They don't appear to be made out of brick
or wood or even plates of steel.  There are no seams,
no mortar, just one complete slick shiny whole.
   Inside is more of the same.
   They direct him to walk into a room.  The door
closes behind him, and suddenly there's a wave of
light.  When it clears, he is cold and naked.  He
feels something crawling over his skin, and now,
something crawling inside him.  Nanites.  Checking for
weapons.  The safest way to do a full body search when
the inmate can lift a bus with his pinkie or grow ten
feet in the blink of an eye.
   But Martin's just a man, a man without any powers,
and this invasion makes him feel small and vulnerable.
 After one of the longest minutes of his life, he
feels the nanites withdraw.
   There's a beeping noise (the all-clear) and another
flash of light.  It dissipates, and Martin finds
himself in a plain orange jumpsuit.
   The door opens, and he's led by gunpoint down a

   The prison has no cells or bars; each inmate has
their own alcove, buffeted by an invisible force
field.  As Martin passes by them on his way to his
cell, he recognizes many, even without their costumes.
   The Headman: able to detach his head from his body,
walking on tendons emanating from his neck. 
Blues-Beard: the jazz musician who strangles his
victims in his living facial hair.  Glassman: every
inch of him razor-sharp.  Beefeater: an immortal
British soldier who's decided the Revolutionary War
isn't over yet.  Rondo: can force someone to relive
the same horrific moment in time over and over again,
until he's driven you insane.
   The Trojan: a mute autistic man trapped in an
indestructible teddy bear, driven by insane rage and
incredible strength, speaking only the language of
violence.  The Gourmand: monstrously fat, his only
sustenance comes from the memories of others, leaving
his victims amnesiac and lobotomized.  Micro-Dave: can
cook a man dead in twenty seconds, just because he
can.  Cancer-Man: his living airborne virus can
overwhelm a body in six seconds flat, fill you up like
a balloon and kill you from the inside out, but he'll
prolong it for hours, weeks, months or years in order
to study the effects of suffering.
   Doki-Doki: kills.  No one knows why.
   And just a few cells down the hall, Martin Rock: .

   Martin's one of the few black persons being
interred in Earbox.  While it's true that the nation's
prison population is predominately black, the
statistics are inverted for supercriminals, who are
mostly, and historically, white.
   Martin figures it's because they have better things
to do than run around in spandex hiding clues to their
upcoming crimes.  White people.  Feh.

   At fourteen hundred hours the next day, Martin is
escorted to the cafeteria.  There are only a couple
dozen inmates present, only one of which looks
terribly dangerous-- and that's only because the
brawny, bald-headed figure is someone Martin doesn't
recognize.  (If you know what someone can do, than you
can figure out how to deal with it.)  He grabs his
tray and looks around the room for the most
inconspicuous seat.  That's when the brawny guy sidles
up next to him.
   "Hello," he intones, a big deep British tuba of a
   Martin nods deftly by way of greeting.
   "You're new here.  What's your name?"
   "Martin," he answers, not wanting to give him
   "No, your rogue name."
   "Don't have one."  He starts to move away.
   "Hmmph.  Powers?"
   Martin tries to think of an answer.  He takes a
split-second too long.
   "Ah.  That'd be why they put you in our lunch
   "I thought this turn-out was a little light," says
   "Well, some of the guys, like the Gourmand and the
Trojan, they have what'd you'd call special dietary
needs.  The real psychopaths, the level twelve guys,
like the Crooked Man, don't get to leave their cells
at all.  Other than that, they've got nine lunch
periods.  They sort us-- I guess by power level or how
much of a threat we are, or something.  If you ask me,
it's a bit lopsided.  But it seems to work."
   "Works how?"
   "No fights," says the tuba.  "So however they
figure it, they set up a good mix of people."
   "Well, like you know, I'm new here," says Martin.
   "How long?"
   "I'm awaiting trial.  Falsely accused."
   The tuba nods indulgently.  "Uh-huh."
   "I don't want to make any waves while I'm here,"
says Martin.  "Is there anything I should be aware
   "Yeah, as a matter of fact.  New guy sits over
there."  He points to an empty table.
   "Thanks," says Martin.  He extends his hand.
   The convict shakes it.  "I'm Joe Lutcher."
   The name rings a bell, but it isn't until he's been
seated for a couple of minutes that he places a mask
to a face.  Joe Lutcher, the Angry Young Man:
psychokinetically harnesses ambient negative emotions.
 The more he devours, the stronger he becomes.
   Martin whirls around towards where Joe had been
standing; but his view is blocked by a very angry
looking Beefeater.
   "I'm sorry," says Martin, not wanting to fight an
invulnerable immortal on an empty stomach.  "Is this
your seat?"
   Beefeater responds by tossing Martin on his ass. 
His tray soon follows, the food splaying o'er the
dirty floor.
   "No," says a tiny, shrill voice.  "It's mine.  Ya
gonna make somethin' of it, buddy?"
   Standing before him, in an impeccable pinstripe
suit, is a six-inch tall man in his fifties.  Martin
recognizes him immediately as Pocket Vito, a Mafioso
he had put away last year, in the guise of the Green
   "It was my mistake," says Martin, still on the
floor.  "It won't happen again."
   "You bet your ass it won't," says Vito. 
"Beefeater, I want to look this yutz in the eye."
   Beefeater leans down, allowing Vito to climb on his
palm.  He steps towards Martin.
   "Not so fast," says Vito.  "And hold it steady. 
You want to give me motion sickness?"
   Soon, Vito is face-to-face with Martin.  "What's
your name?"
   "Nah, your other name."
   "Don't got one."
   "Then I'll give you one," says Vito.  "How about
Monsieur Pussy-Nose?  You like that one?"
   "Not my first choice," says Martin.
   "It's the only choice you got," says Vito.  "What I
say is law around these parts.  I'm the man that runs
this prison.  The warden?  He's scared of me.  But...
come on, say it with me now.  But... I'm only... what?
 C'mon, Monsieur Pussy-Nose..."
   "You're a little short," says Martin.
   "Yeah, but I'm a lot smart," says Vito.  "You don't
get to stay alive as long as I have and be as small as
I am without getting a little smart.  So, if you want
to stay alive, Monsieur Pussy-Nose, get a little
   Martin thinks Vito spits on his nose, but he can't
really tell.
   "I'll be watching you," says Vito.  Beefeater turns
and places his boss on the table; he then produces a
miniature table, plate, and napkin.
   Martin scrambles to his feet and now catches sight
of the Angry Young Man, just as a couple of guards
lead him out of the room.
   "Oh-oh," says one of the criminals.  (Gallery: art
historian turned art 'collector'.  Uses magic paint to
bring things to life.  One of Darkhorse's.)  "They
must have figured out that he set you up."
   "Does he do this often?"
   "When he thinks he can get away with it," says
Gallery.  "He'll get punished.  Solitary for a week or
   "That's not so bad."
   "It'll drive him nuts.  He's a gregarious sort-- he
just doesn't like people to be happy, that's all."

   At about nine-thirty, Martin lies in the dark on
his bunk and says, almost indiscernibly, "Wow.  I'm in
   Of course, he had been aware of his surroundings
the whole time: he knew where he was and he was alert.
 But it's at this time that it hits him especially
hard, clear and hard and clean, like it was a building
he had seen it in the distance, obscured by trees, but
now, having moved passed the foliage, he could see the
mammoth and frightening geometry of its scope and the
brittle pock-marked brick of its façade: now he
understood it, and it was at once terrifying and
mundane.  And now that he had arrived, the question
remained as to what he was going to do.
   Clear his name, for one.  (This is one case he
wouldn't trust to blind justice.)  Stay alive, for
another.  Take down Fisk.  Take down Snapp.  Get back
to what counts.  To protecting his city.  Making a
   But those words sound a bit hollow now, a little
empty and hopeless.  How much good has he done?  What
lasting difference has he made?  There will always be
more villains to put away, more people to rescue, more
people to let down.  Like Dani.  Dani and Fay...
   What was the point, really?  If he never put away
another villain, if he never saved another life, would
Jolt City be any different?  Others would pick up the
slack.  Darkhorse is there already, a dozen times more
efficient than Martin ever was.  A dozen more times
than Ray.
   Ray had held onto the mantle for too long.  His
best years had long been behind him.  And, Martin
realizes, feeling the too-long-ignored creak in his
back and the soft aches of his muscles, he, too, was
in decline.  Too old for this job, and he had just
gotten started, really...
   If he had taken over when he was younger, it
wouldn't matter so much; when you have more years
ahead of you than behind, existential questions are
purely hypotheticals, trendy and divorced from the
pain and years of futility that give them meaning.
   Usually when these kind of things crop up to haunt
him, Martin ignores them through the illusion of
momentum: apprehending crooks, going on patrol,
forcing his forty-six-years-old body to twist and bend
and flip and leap and slice through the air like rain.
 Nothing that ever really does anything, nothing that
really changes for the better.  Things only change for
the worse.
   And as if on cue, he sees Dani's face in the dark,
troubled and afraid, as real and soft as a ripe plum
and as immaterial as the thump of a heart-- heard and
felt but abstract, almost invisible.  Her face fades

   Pam visits him the next day.  She says she's met
with a lawyer already, and that he'll be coming
tomorrow to discuss the case.
   "Thanks," says Martin, a little dazed: the trial
had, until this time, remained an abstract concept,
something known but not acknowledged, like the hum of
atoms.  "Did you tell him anything?"
   "He didn't seem to believe that Fisk was crooked,"
says Pam.  "I think he might be trying to plead
insanity.  He might say that you're paranoid, and that
your time in Iraq made it impossible to distinguish
right from wrong."
   "That was fifteen years ago," says Martin.
   "Didn't stop Nathan Willis."
   Martin nods, tight-faced.  "I need to know what
happened to Dani and Fay.  Details.  Evidence. 
Estimated time of death.  Anything."
   "The police are keeping it under wraps," says Pam.
   "Probably so they can frame me."
   "But I'll see what I can do."  She smiles.  "You'll
be surprised at what a man's liable to tell a girl
with pretty knockers."
   "I know," says Martin.  "You didn't tell the
   "No," says Pam, almost offended.  She lets it
slide, though, easing her voice into a soft warm pat
of butter.  "Your secret's safe with me, Martin.  It
will always be safe with me.  No matter what."
   He considers apologizing but doesn't want to dwell
on it.  "Thank you.  For the lawyer.  And for coming. 
I want you to be careful, though.  If Fisk suspects
you know anything, you could be in danger."
   "I'll take care of myself, Martin.  You just worry
about yourself right now.  They're not exactly social
butterflies in there."

   A week later.  Martin's allowed recreational time
for good behaviour.  Talking with Gallery the day
before over lunch, he decides to spend it at the
prison library.
   There's an old card catalogue; computers are not
allowed because of several electricity- and
machine-based prisoners.  (Naturally and yet
ironically, the Last Librarian is the only inmate not
given access, since books are the source of his
   Martin selects an old Talbot Porter novel (Poor
Little Dead Girl) with a smirk-- one of Ray's
favourite authors.  Martin doesn't think that Ray
particularly liked the books all that much-- like
Martin, Ray was more of a non-fiction guy-- but rather
he liked Porter because he was sixty-feet tall,
banging out a crime or western novel every two weeks
on a custom-built giant typewriter in between
super-exploits as Rhodes, the Colossal Man.
   He cracks open the first page en route to Gallery's

Jolt City's a hard town.  But that's alright, baby:
I'm a hard man.

   He closes the book, bemusedly, and takes a seat
across from Gallery.  The super-criminal looks at
Martin's copy of Poor Little Dead Girl with a polite
but poorly-disguised sneer, peering over the top of
the fifteen-hundred page second volume (The Small Fast
Difference of the Bottling) of the eight volume roman
a clef (The Framework of the Flies) penned by Porter's
archnemesis in both the literary (as Gerard
Lamiegnere) and literal senses (as the Black Gardenia)
of the word.  Martin taps the cover, almost
defensively.  "May I?"
   Gallery hands him the Lamiegnere; Martin hands him
the Porter and, carefully using his thumb to keep
Gallery's place, cracks open the first page:

Like a certain insect whom, after spending ten years
in infancy under the ground, burrowing blindly into
the black earth, feasting innocently on roots and saps
until such a time that metamorphosis occurs, upon
reaching adulthood flies and hunts and mates, only to
die within a scant few weeks, Mme. Amelia's childhood
was so dark and mundane that, when she too blossomed
into an adult form, she flew and hunted and loved--
especially loved-- with such energy and devotion that
she seemed determined to fold the rest of her life
into an insect's passionate few weeks, as if her time
on this earth was an exquisite and ornately-decorated
handkerchief to be stolen and squirreled away into the
breast pocket of a lover after a particularly furtive
and significant rendezvous.

   "I'll just stick with the Porter," says Martin,
looking a little pale as he hands back the Lamiegnere.
   "I'm a nonfiction reader, myself."  It's not
Gallery, but rather a short and sweaty man with
wagon-red father-christmas-cheeks.  Martin rolls his
eyes: introducing oneself by way of cryptic witticism
before anyone has seen you is a crime both sides of
the four-colour spectrum-- heroes and villains-- have
been guilty of many, many times.  (Even the cosmic
star-beings do it.)
   "Martin, this is Whistler.  Whistler, Martin."
   Another of Darkhorse's villains: able to perfectly
reproduce any sound.  Often works with Gallery and a
third man.  If only Martin could remember the name...
   "They got Jerry," says Whistler.
   "The Chemist," says Gallery to Martin.
   "Right," says Martin.  "He's the one with the
Periodic Table of Evil?"
   "That's the one," says Whistler.
   "Darkhorse?" says Gallery.
   "Not this time," says Whistler.  "Green Knight."
   Martin nearly chokes on his tongue.  Whistler
doesn't pay him any mind.
   "That potzer?" says Gallery, disheartened.  "He
doesn't even have any powers.  Did you get to talk
with him?"
   "No, not yet," says Whistler.  "But he just got in.
 He, uh..." He glances sideways at Martin.
   "He's cool," says Gallery.
   Whistler clears his throat.  "He's in the
infirmary.  When the Knight found him, he was off his
rocker.  Raving about..."
   "About what?"
   "I don't know what.  Just raving."
   "I got to see him," says Gallery.  "Martin?  Could
you do me a favour?"
   It takes him a moment to register the question. 
   "Could you punch me in the face?"
   "Um, I'd really rather not.  Why?"
   "So I can get into the infirmary and see the
   "Why don't you have Whistler do it?"
   "They know that Whistler's my friend," says
Gallery.  "If he did it, they'd know something's up."
   "Is something up?" says Martin.  "Are you planning
   "No.  I just want to see Jerry."
   "Yeah, I don't know," says Martin.  "I mean, I'll
get in trouble, won't I?"
   "Maybe a little," says Gallery.  "We can make it
out so that you were right to do it, though.  Maybe I
was threatening you or something.  It could be
   "Wouldn't that get you in trouble?"
   Gallery clutches the hardcover in his hands like
it's his best friend.  "I'd really like to see him, is
   "Pam's supposed to visit me this afternoon," says
Martin.  "She's coming all the way up from the city. 
Why don't you wait until after that, then I'll punch
you in the face.  If you can wait that long...?"
   "Sure.  You're a real pal, you know that?"
   "It's fine."
   "When you punch me in the face, you'll have to
break the skin.  But... uh, I haven't seen Jerry in a
while.  And I want to make sure he'll still, y'know,
recognize me.  So don't mess it up too bad, okay? 
Leave me looking kinda the same.  Unless you could do
it just over the eye, maybe like a long cut, like a
straight line, like a scar?  That'd be cool."
   "I don't really have knuckles that'll cut you in a
straight line," says Martin.  "But let's talk about it
later, okay?"
   "Sure, sure."
   "Maybe by that time, you'll figure out a way to get
in to see him without getting punched in the face."
   "Yeah, maybe."

   Pam smiles when she sees Martin, but he can tell
it's forced.
   "I have to ask you a question before I tell you
anything," says Pam.  "But I'm not sure how to phrase
it.  And I feel kinda shitty just asking."
   "I am who I say I am."
   "I believe you," says Pam.  "But something like
this pops up, you gotta check, you know?  Okay.  So:
Handler and Tarif.  Here's the skinny.
   "Apparently the Vibra-Jackets leave a trace when in
use that can be detected with the right doodads.  Last
time anyone say Danielle Handler alive, she was
heading into her apartment.  No one saw her come out. 
Police found traces that match her blood type.  (Still
waiting on the DNA test.)  Amount of the trace
material is consistent with the witnesses Snapp had
murdered the night the evidence room blew up, which
strongly suggests-- but does not prove-- death.  Same
case with Tarif, only it was at her lab at JCU.
   "Difference between these two and the murders is
that with the murdered witnesses, there was a body. 
The victims were vibrated to death, and then vibrated
back to our universe; in these two cases, though,
there's no body at all.
   "No evidence tying you to the crimes.  Hell, no
evidence that there was a crime.  He'll have to drop
the charges."
   "Unless he can fabricate some evidence," says
Martin dourly.
   "Why go through the trouble?  He can put you away
for thirty years on possessing the Vibra-Jacket,
thanks to the SV charge.  He'll probably save the
murder raps for some other sap."
   "This just makes my head spin," says Martin. 
"Especially with there being someone out there..."
   "You want me to dig around, try to make contact?"
says Pam.
   "No.  Don't you dare."
   "I can take care of--"
   "No," says Martin.  "You don't understand, Pam. 
Whether someone's a hero or a villain-- there's a
code.  Some follow the code more than others, but
there's one rule that's almost never, ever broken. 
You don't pretend to be another mask.
   "So whoever's out there is extremely dangerous. 
Don't seek him out."
   "Mr. Rock," says Pam.  "I never knew you cared." 
She touches the glass.  He hesitates and returns the
gesture, cold flat polished sand a bad substitute for
soft yielding flesh.

   Martin takes his lunch, as he has since the second
day on, with Gallery; Whistler, having a different
threat level, has a different lunch hour.  Gallery
wonders if the Chemist will be classed with Whistler
or himself.
   "When was the last time you saw him?" asks Martin.
   "December, when Whistler and I got nabbed by
Darkhorse.  Jerry got away.  Did you, uh, did you hear
about the Twelve Crimes of Christmas?"
   "Which one?  There've been so many."  Martin stops
himself from rattling off a list, instead searching
for those that, conceivably, someone outside the
four-colour circle might have heard of.  "Off the top
of my head, there were the twelve crimes that the
DGA[*] pulled off in L.A. in '89, then there was the
time Tall Poppy did it, and they charged him with 364
separate counts."
   [*-- Director's Guild of Anarchy.]
   "Okay, okay," says Gallery, a bit irritated.  "So
everyone's done it.  But we did it-- Whistler,
Chemist, and I-- last year.  In Jolt City."
   "Why did you come to Jolt City?"
   "Because Darkhorse did," says Gallery.  "Or this
Darkhorse, anyway.  To be blunt, we kinda liked the
old one better.  But now that he's gone, and there's
this one, this one's in Jolt City and so we came to
Jolt City.  Themed crimes are always fun, Christmas
was coming up in a month or so, and so Jerry suggested
we do Twelve Crimes of Christmas."
   "How far did you get?"
   "Two.  Sort of.  We only pulled off the first one. 
The partridge.  And so rather than try to find a bird,
we kidnapped Danny Bonaduce."
   "He was in Jolt City?"
   "We tricked him into coming, and then we nabbed
him.  We told him we were filmmakers and that we had a
role for him."
   "So, he just came..."
   "Well, we wrote a script and sent it to his agent."
   "All that for the first crime?"
   "You got to prepare," says Gallery, taken back. 
"We had most of the crimes planned out.  We were kind
of stuck on the ten lords a-leaping.  And Jerry and I,
we weren't as keen as Paul was on the nine ladies
dancing or the eight maids a-milking."
   "So what happened with the second one?"
   "Two turtledoves.  We were going to steal them from
a magic show-- because otherwise, who's going to miss
a couple of doves?  So we set up a magic show-- rented
a theater, hired a magician, go through all the
trouble of promoting it-- and we leap on the stage to
steal the doves, and Darkhorse shows up.  We don't
even get to commit the crime.  So they got us on
attempted theft."
   "And the kidnapping," says Martin.
   "No, Bonaduce wouldn't press any charges.  I don't
know why.  It's just the way he was."
   "Hmmph.  And that was the last time you saw the
   "Right.  Darkhorse shows up, and the first thing he
does is he knocks out Paul-- Whistler.  So I use my
magic paint to draw up a deck of living playing cards,
real Alice-in-Wonderland stuff, and while he's
disarming the fifty-two cards--"
   "You drew fifty-two cards?"
   Gallery seems a little perturbed about being
interrupted.  "No, I just drew a rectangle and a
squiggle on the back, and that was a deck and it came
to life itself.  That's the way it works. Anyway,
while Darkhorse is dealing with that, we try to make
our escape.  But I'm trying to carry Paul-- who's
unconscious, remember-- and that slows me down.  Jerry
got away okay, but before I could get to the door,
Darkhorse is done with the cards and so, well, here we
   "So you could draw anything, anything at all, and
it becomes what you drew?" says Martin.
   "Yep," beams Gallery.
   "Why didn't you just draw a trap door, or a force
field?  Then Darkhorse wouldn't be able to stop you."
   "Yeah, well, I didn't think of that.  Nice idea,
   "Sometimes the simple answer is best."
   "Well, maybe I'll try it next time."
   "You haven't gone to trial yet."
   "No.  I'm going to plead guilty to the attempted
theft, in exchange for them dropping the SV charge. 
I'd still have a couple years here, but it sure beats
   "You think they'll do that?"
   "It's likely," says Gallery.  "It wasn't a major
crime, no one got hurt, and all the ticket sales from
the magic show went to charity.  Um.  So, Martin."
   "Lunch is getting to be almost over.  Could you hit
me now?"
   "I dunno," says Martin.  "I mean, we've been
sitting here talking for the entire time.  People must
know that we get along.  Wouldn't it raise eyebrows if
all-of-the-sudden I socked you in the face?"
   "Yeah, but I really want to see Jerry.  I got to
see him.  Please.  For me."
   "Why don't you just say you have a stomach ache or
something?  Just pretend to be sick."
   Gallery turns white as a sheet.  "I can't do that,
Martin!  That's lying."

Lunch, the next day.  Gallery and Martin are eating
when Joe Lutcher-- the Angry Young Man-- walks up to
their table.
   "Just got out of solitary," he says.
   "I'm sorry about that," says Martin.
   "Why are you apologizing to him?" demands Gallery. 
"He's the one that did it."
   "He's right about that," says Joe.
   "I'm just sorry you got put in solitary, that's
all," says Martin with a casual shrug.
   "Thanks," says Joe.  "We cool then?"
   "No reason not to be," says Martin.
   Joe pats Martin on the shoulder and starts towards
his regular table.
   Gallery calls after him.  "Hey, asshole!"
   Joe turns.
   "What're you doing?" says Martin.  "Be cool, man."
   "Yeah, I'm talking to you, asshole," says Gallery. 
"You think you're something special, don't you? 
You're not.  You're a scrap of excrement!"
   Joe stops.  "A scrap of excrement?"
   Someone calls out: "I think he means a piece of
   "I know what excrement means," says Joe, annoyed. 
"I just never been called that before."
   Martin stands up.  "He's just having a bad couple
of days.  Doesn't know what he's talking about."
   "He knows what he's talking about," says Joe. 
"Someone doesn't come out and call someone a scrap of
excrement in casual conversation and not know what
he's talking about.  It's a deliberate act."
   "Yeah," says Gallery, "and I meant every syllable."
   "Just ignore him, please," says Martin.  "Be a
bigger man than he is."
   "I know I'm bigger," says Joe.  "I'm twice his
size.  He's just shooting his mouth off, just talking
trash.  And I don't mind that.  I've been called a
piece of shit hundreds of times in my life, and I
don't think much of it.  But that's not what you
called me, Gallery.
   "You called me a scrap of excrement, and that's a
whole 'nother matter.  I can forgive a man who's
willing to insult a man on the level.  But when you
put on airs-- when you whip out your highfalutin
extra-credit gold-star vocabulary words and you talk
down to someone-- that, you pusillanimous dollop of
odiferous shit-- that I will not brook."
   He starts towards him.
   Martin holds firm.  "Stop," says Martin.  "You'll
rip him in half.  That's not even a fair fight."
   "He's starting it," says Joe.
   "And I'll finish it," says Martin.
   "That a threat, or a promise?"
   "You touch him," says Martin, "and I'll finish it."
   "You're not much bigger than he is.  And you don't
have any powers.  I could probably rip you in half,
nice-and-easy.  What makes you think differently?"
   "I'm Martin Rock."
   "You don't even have a code name."
   "I don't need one," says Martin.  "I'm the one that
beat the Crooked Man." [*-- see JOLT CITY # 2.]
   There's a murmur of recognition, and Martin thinks
he sees Joe flinch ever-so-slightly.  For his part,
Martin remains hard and smooth as polished stone.
   "Luck," says Joe.
   "You want to try me?" says Martin.
   "Not today," says Joe.  He shoots a glance at
Gallery.  "Not for Gallery, anyway.  He ain't worth
   He starts to turn away; Martin clandestinely
exhales.  Two seconds later, there's something moving
over him-- Gallery, flying off the table towards the
Angry Young Man.
   Joe turns, leading with his outstretched arm.  He
swats Gallery away.
   Gallery cracks the tile as he splays out on the
floor.  Joe stalks towards him like a bull.
   "Stop," says Martin.
   "He's the one with the death wish," says Joe.
   "Yeah, well, I'm morally opposed to assistant
suicide," quips Martin.  "He came at you, you hit him,
he got what he had coming.  He can't hurt you, you've
proven your point-- let's call it a day, huh?"
   "Okay," says Joe.  He throws up his hands and spits
on Gallery's twitching form.
   "H-hey Joe...?" says Gallery, the words quivering
into the air like the last hesitant smoke-streams of a
dying campfire.  "You're a piece of shit."
   "Gallery, shut up!" says Martin.
   But it's too late.  Joe is already upon him,
stomping his big foot into Gallery's side.
   Martin rushes to the rescue.
   Joe turns and rushes back.  Within seconds, he's
upon him.
   Martin's fingers hook into Joe's muscles and he
lifts him into the air like a ballerina, pivoting in
mid-Judo throw, sending him flying, back-first,
towards Beefeater.
   There's a sickening crack as the Angry Young Man
collides with the invulnerable, immovable immortal. 
Bones break and he slumps to the floor.
   One of the inmates-- Stopwatch, high-school track
coach turned super-crook (no powers, watch-and-time
gimmicks)-- enthusiastically announces that the battle
lasted all of nine point five seconds.
   In just over twice that time, the guards are in the
room.  They quickly put Martin in cuffs.
   They bring in two stretchers-- one for the Angry
Young Man, the other for Gallery-- both on their way
to the infirmary.  Gallery smiles through bloodied

   They'll both be fine in due time, Gallery before
Joe.  Martin's punished with solitary for a week; it
would be more, but it's a first offense and everyone
said he tried to stop the fight in the first place.
   At supper, the guards pull out a small black box
and click it in front of the cell, emitting a
high-frequency sound that only the computer can
detect.  The force field disappears.  They slide his
meal in at gunpoint before restoring the field.
   Martin eats, and he laughs inwardly.  A week in
solitary?  This is nothing, he thinks, nothing!  In
between his stints as sidekick and hero, during that
long ten-year one-man war-on-crime, Martin would go
for months (months!) without speaking to anyone.  And
then when he did, it was to intimidate, or to extract
information.  He doesn't need warmth.  Doesn't need
human contact.
   But the next day, around the time of his recreation
period, he finds himself missing Gallery.  And Roy. 
And Pam.  And Ray.  Even Anders.  Fay.  Dani.  (Ree.)
   And as he sets his lunch tray at the edge of his
bunk, he's overwhelmed at how much he's changed in the
span of a year.  How much he needs people.  How much
he hates being alone.
   Pam comes to visit him a few days later, but she's
sent away; no visitors, not until after his stint is
over.  In his loneliness that night he closes his eyes
and pretends that she's with him; in his neediness, he
summons up her eyes and her mouth and her breasts, her
beautiful dark round breasts, and suddenly it's not
Pam anymore but Dani, he opens his eyes and it's Dani
(soft coffee skin), her body twinkling in the dark and
made of stars, climbing onto him and guiding him
inside.  With slow, sad thrusts he breaks her cosmic
hymen, and the stars bleed over his fist.
   And she kisses him, and then she's gone.
   And he's alone.

   His solitary ends.
   First thing they do is take him out to the exercise
yard.  There's not much segregation here, the way
there is at lunchtime; there's enough wide open space,
guards, and machines to ensure relative peace.  The
walls are six stories tall-- overkill for regular
inmates but appropriate for Earbox.
   Between these walls and the building proper, energy
crackles over their heads, too blue and erratic to be
simple electricity.
   The other inmates see Martin, but they don't
acknowledge him with more than a slight nod: an act of
respect or a gesture of warning, depending on who's
doing the nodding.  Even powerhouses like 133tmotif
and Glassman, or Lord Leviathan, whom has held entire
galaxies ransom and has no reason to fear Martin Rock,
all huddle uncharacteristically in the corner.
   But now Beefeater is marching (neatly, briskly, in
a formation of one) towards him, his palm open not in
a gesture of friendship but because Pocket Vito sits
upon the five-fingered sedan chair.
   "Hiya, Marty," says Vito, grinning so big that
Martin can see it.  "I'm going for my walk.  What say
you go with me?"
   "That's alright."
   Beefeater snarls.  "It was not a request."
   "Then I guess I'll go."
   "Smart boy," says Vito.  "Beefy, hand me over to
   Beefeater looks shocked.  "But Vito-- I always take
you for your walk."
   "So today you get to rest your lily-white
fingertips.  Hand me over."
   Beefeater does as he is told.  Vito weighs about
the same as a small bird in Martin's hand.  "Be
careful with him," Beefeater demands.  He turns to his
boss.  "You want me to follow behind?"
   "No, dummy."
   "I, I like taking you for your walk, sir."
   "Just stay here in case somebody wants to throw an
idiot at you."
   Beefeater bristles, but obeys.  "Yes, sir."
   Once they're out of earshot, Martin observes: "A
little harsh."
   "But necessary," says Vito.  "He was getting too
big for his britches.  You took him down a much-needed
notch last week."
   "I didn't mean anything by it.  I needed to take
the guy out, that was the fastest way I could see to
do that."
   "You think fast on your feet, kid.  You pay
attention to your surroundings.  You're resourceful." 
Vito pauses, lets this sink in.  "I like that.  That's
how you survive."
   Martin lets the compliment hang in the air for a
moment, then snatches it up with a mumbled and
noncommittal thanks.
   "I like you, Marty.  How about from now on, you sit
at my table?"
   Martin knows he has to tread carefully.  "Is there
more to it than that?"
   "Of course."
   "Such as?"
   "You'll become one of my boys.  Take me for walks,
cut up my food..."
   "I thought Beefeater did all that for you."
   "You both will.  And when you're outside-- when
your sentence is over--"
   "Haven't gone to trial yet."
   "You will," says Vito.  "And you'll lose.  Never
see a guy beat a SV charge yet.  But once you get out,
you can run some errands for me."
   "Yeah, 'ah'.  Don't be a smartass."
   "And if I say no?  It wouldn't be in my best
   "Something like that."
   "I'll never understand that," says Martin.  "What
do you gain from pressing people into service?  Except
   "I'm a man that gets what he wants from people,"
says Vito.  "If I let people make up their own minds,
next thing you know people will think I'll be
reasonable.  I'm not.  I'm stone, baby.  Immovable. 
So you're going to be one of my boys, or else."
   Martin laughs.  "I could just squash you in my
palm.  Right now.  Easy."
   "But you won't, and you know why?"
   "Because I'm morally opposed to murder?"
   "Pull the other one and it bleeds.  You kill me,
and Beefeater will kill you.  Nice and slow.  Y'see,
Martin, that's my superpower: fear.  So.  Are you in,
or dead?"
   Martin tries to think of an answer, but is saved by
the bizarre sight of Lord Leviathan, Glassman, and
133tmotif flying straight up towards the blue energy
   "Holy shit," says Vito.  "They're trying to escape.
 That thing's gonna fry 'em!"  He seems almost pleased
at the prospect.
   "They're flying right through it," says Martin. 
"They've got a force bubble."
   "Won't be any good," says Vito.  "The energy bolts
can think and adapt to any resistance.  Won't take no
for an answer."
   "They're almost through," says Martin.  "133tmotif
must have encrypted his force-field."
   It's at that moment that the force-field is
compromised.  Electricity rips through 133tmotif's
body.  He is cooked in mid-air, in a matter of
seconds.  Ashes scatter below.
   At the same time, Glassman falls six stories
straight down and shatters.
   Leviathan passes through the blue energy field
unscathed, rising into the air.
   A gunshot rings out.  Bullet through the head.  He
falls through the energy field and hits the ground a
smoldering corpse.
   Three dead in ten seconds.
   The guard stands at the top of the building and
holds his shotgun up for all to see.
   "No one escapes from Earbox," he bellows.  "No

   "He's right," says Vito as Martin passes the
pint-sized mobster back to Beefeater.  "No one ever
escapes from a supervillain prison.  Only chance is in
transit-- on the way to trial or on bail.  And let's
face it-- resourceful as you might be, you don't have
a chance against the kind of firepower they'll have on
   "This is your life from now on, Martin Rock.  Get
used to it.  And make sure you're on the right side."
   "I'll get back to you," says Martin.
   He starts to walk off, still a little queasy from
the smell of rotting, burning flesh, when one of the
guards calls him aside.  "Rock, you have a visitor!"

   It's not Pam.
   Martin regards the green costumed figure coolly
before pronouncing sentence.  "You're shorter than I
   The mask-- the old Ray mask, doesn't betray a
single inch of a human face-- stares back at him. 
"Meeting heroes is often disappointing."  Young voice,
trying much too hard to disguise it: a common mistake
for first-timers.  (On the other hand, Martin can't
place the voice, so he's doing something right.)
   "So, to what do I owe the pleasure?" says Martin.
   "First of all, I want you to know that Pam and Roy
are safe.  I'm keeping an eye on them for you."
   "Stay away from them," says Martin.
   "Look, man, I'm doing you a favour, keeping up
   "How's that?"
   "You know," he answers slowly.  "You know what I
know.  About you.  About me.  You know what I'm
talking about."
   "Maybe I do," says Martin, scratching the left side
of his neck with his right hand.
   "So let's not do this, Mr. Rock, this dancing
around things.  Time's too short.  Let's talk, okay?"
   "Well, I don't have anything to say to you," says
Martin.  "So I assume that you have something to say
to me."
   "Fay Tarif is still alive," says the Knight.  "She
had a vest.  Vibrated herself to safety just before
Snapp's men tried to scatter her atoms.  She's hiding
out, helping me."
   "Helping you what?"
   "There's something big going down.  Something
bigger than Snapp, though I think he's a part of it. 
We're talking global.  Maybe universal.  I'm not sure
yet.  There's so many pieces, it's hard to put them
   "But I could put them together," says Martin.  "Is
that why you're here?  Get me to be your own personal
Dr. Lector?"
   "For someone who wants to be part of the community,
you're not very giving."
   "I don't feel like part of the community right
now," says Martin.  "Being framed does that to a man. 
I don't suppose Fay's going to come forward and vouch
for me?"
   "As long as Fisk thinks she's dead and as long as
he thinks you're rotting here, then you're safe," says
the Knight.  "Otherwise, both you and Fay are in
   "So, what, then?  I stay here indefinitely?"
   "No.  We're going to bust you out.  Saturday."  He
shrugs.  "Haven't quite figured out how yet."
   "It'll be messy," says Martin.  "A lot of escaped
supervillains.  That's not good.  Not good at all. 
Won't do."
   "So you'd rather stay here, then?"
   "Not particularly."
   "Any better suggestions?"
   "I'll bust myself out," says Martin.
   "Really?  How?"
   "Haven't quite figured that out yet.  You can
arrange a getaway car?"
   "Sure," says the Green Knight.  "There's...
something else I have to tell you.  I already told you
that Fay's alive."
   "Danielle might be, too."
   "At least that's what Fay thinks.  We're not sure. 
With the witnesses they killed, the bodies snapped
back to our reality at death.  But Handler's never
did.  She-- Fay thinks it might have something to do
with you.  That she's trapped between worlds, and that
the implant in your neck-- the grounding device--
might be calling her to you.  Her essence.  Like a
   "Like she's made of stars," says Martin.  "Dani's
   "That's another reason why we have to get you out
of here.  She can't survive in that state for long. 
You need to get to her apartment-- Fay thinks you
might be able to call her back.  That's... that's if
she's right, of course.  She told me not to get your
hopes up..."
   "How much does she know?"
   "Your secret is safe with me, Martin," says the
Green Knight.  "But she said she could tell by the way
you looked at Danielle that you carried a torch for
   "Maybe I do," says Martin.  "Saturday.  Midnight. 
You'll get some transport, make preparations?"
   "You can count on it."
   "So, who are you, anyway?  Why are you doing all
   Martin can see a smile crease its way across the
mask.  "I'm a friend," he says portentously.  "See you
on Saturday."

   That night, blanketed by the dark sweat of his
cell, Martin closes his eyes until he feels her next
to him, glittering and translucent.  He opens them and
Dani starts to dim a little.
   "So," she whispers softly, haltingly: "you're my
   "You're alive."
   "I think so.  It's so strange..."
   "So you were here, a few nights ago.  It wasn't
just my dream."
   "It hurt a little, that first time," she says.  "I
knew it would.  But maybe it would have hurt more if I
was all there."
   "I don't know," says Martin.  His arms jitter like
wooden planks loose in the wind as he reaches in to
embrace her.  She starts to scatter, like dust.
   Martin lets out a sharp cry of no! and, sobbing,
grabs at the scattering balls of Dani-light, jamming
them back together, trying to hold them in place.
   It doesn't work; she scatters again, moving through
him and around him and starting to fade.
   "So," she says.  "Martin Rock is the man I love."
   "I'm sorry."
   "I see why you didn't want to tell me."
   "I wanted to.  Please.  Don't go..."
   "It's hard to hold myself together," says Dani, and
then there's none of her left at all.
   But she's still alive.  Martin knows she's still
alive.  Somewhere.  Somehow.
   But for how long?

   He dreams of Anders-as-the-Green-Knight, and upon
awakening realizes that it makes a stunning kind of
sense: he knows Martin's secrets, he's the son of the
first, he has the money and the technology.  And while
he was never buddy-buddy with Martin, at the same
time, he's been making attempts to right the
situation, the most recent of which being a job-offer
that Martin, out of equal parts pride and skepticism,
never followed up on.
   But Anders-- sickly, cold, intellectual Anders--
doesn't have what it takes to jump on rooftops.  And,
furthermore, he's never had any interest in it:
doubly-so after his ordeal in the clutches of Melvin
Tightly, the Green Night.
   He dismisses it and goes back to sleep.

   He wakes with a start.  The Beefeater is in his
cell, walking towards him.
   Martin doesn't have time to wonder how this
happened; he's immediately on the receiving end of an
invulnerable fist.  He blocks it with his arm.  It
hurts, but it could be worse: could be his face.
   Beefeater's driving his other first down, and
that's Martin's cue to roll off his cot.  The hard
metal bed breaks under the immortal's fist.
   Martin scurries to his feet just in time to be
slapped and sent flying against the side of the cell. 
He turns his body in mid-air-- an impressive feat for
his age and current level of practice-- so that his
feet hit the wall first.  With a nice solid kick he
propels himself off the wall and towards the ceiling.
   He sails down, shifting his weight so he can land
on the other side of Beefeater.  But before he can
even get overhead of his opponent, he slams into
something harder than the wall, bouncing towards the
back of his cell.  He falls straight down on his back.
   Beefeater brings his two massive fists down towards
Martin.  Martin scoots out.  The unstoppable knuckles
grind into Martin's ankle like it's sand-- soft and
   There are tears in the Beefeater's eyes, and he's
muttering-- you made me do it, I didn't want to, you
made me, I was so happy before you-- but Martin
doesn't allow that to distract him.  He withdraws his
ankle and, wincing, wedges himself in the back corner
farthest from the Beefeater.
   It won't do any good, but it puts enough distance
between them for a long enough period of time-- about
four seconds.  Which is four seconds more that
Martin's alive, and four seconds more to figure out
what the hell is going on.
   And just like that, with two and a half seconds
left, it dawns on him: the Beefeater isn't in his
cell.  The force-field is still functional.  Beefeater
is an immovable object (or, in this case, an
irresistible force).
   Beefeater lunges towards him.  Martin jumps into
the air, briefly stepping on Beefeater's outstretched
arms and leaping smack-dab into the force-field that's
enveloped around him.  It's not perpendicular to the
floor anymore, but rather at an angle-- and Martin
(ankle or no ankle) finds he can run across this
slight incline to the other corner-- to a few more
seconds of safety.
   The force-field's moving around him, twisting,
refusing to yield.  Martin can't see it, but he feel
its shape, its contours.
   And now (he concludes as he lands, painfully, on
his bad foot) he has a plan.  First, in case the plan
fails, he hollers for help, help, Beefeater's in my
   This enrages Beefeater all-the-more, and he rushes
at Martin.  Martin steps to the side, leading
Beefeater to throw a left cross, pivoting in
mid-punch.  Martin lands with his back against the
force-field, finding himself wedged in a space between
Beefeater and the field.
   He scurries up and out, landing behind him. 
Beefeater pivots again, flailing wildly.
   With a speed and agility that belies his age,
Martin leaps over the Beefeater again, landing in the
wedged-spot he occupied before.  Beefeater twists
around again, the force-field contorting and tying
around him.
   And he begins punching.
   Blows connect with Martin's stomach and face and
arms.  He tries to block them, but he's trapped.  He
has no choice but to take the punishment.
   But Beefeater's trapped too.  The field twisted
around him, he has no fresh oxygen.  With about twenty
seconds, he gasps for breath and falls limp.
   His tremendous willpower no longer a factor, the
force-field snaps back to shape, flinging the
unconscious Beefeater out into the corridor.  He lands
against the force-field of the shield opposite, which
rubber-bands for a moment before pathetically spitting
him to the floor.
   Martin, for his part, bleeding freely from the many
bruises on his face, slumps to the floor.

   He awakens in the infirmary.  In the bed next to
him, he's pleasantly surprised to find Gallery.
   "Been awhile," mumbles Martin.  His jaw hurts when
he speaks.
   "Boy," says Gallery.  "Will you look at me?  Not a
scratch, right?  I'm good as new and you're-- well,
you've been better."
   Martin stretches his tense, aching muscles.  "I've
been a lot worse, too."  And he has: broken bones,
bruises, sprains, aches, pains, migraines and mild
stiffness all being symptoms of his chosen vocation.
   "They said you'd be okay.  Back in your cell
tomorrow, or the day after.  Do you know what happened
to you?" Gallery doesn't ask the question because he
doesn't know the answer; at least half the question is
leading-rhetorical in nature (the other half being
concern for Martin and a general gauge of his
   "Beefeater happened," says Martin.  "Though I'm
kinda hazy as to why.  I knew he was sore, but I
thought Vito kept him in line."
   "He killed Vito," says Gallery.  "Suffocated him. 
In his pocket.  Real slow."
   Martin's shocked.  "He seemed so... loyal."
   "Well, Vito didn't return his-- uh, loyalty.  Vito
never felt the same way Adrian-- Beefeater-- did.  And
when Vito set his sights on you as his new muscle,
Beefeater just went nuts.  He was too cocky.  He
should have realized that no one was scared of him,
that everyone was scared of Beefeater."
   "How'd he get out of his cell?"
   "He was never in it," says Gallery.  He just
stepped backwards into his cell when no one was
looking, and the force-field bent around him.  Guards
see him standing in the middle of his cell, the
computer says the field's in place, still picking up
the sonic signal, and so they just figured that a
different guard put him in and flicked it on.  He
stood there in one place, struggling against the
field, for hours.  Come midnight, he stepped out and
stalked over to your cell.  You know the rest."
   "Where is he now?"
   "Back in his cell," says Gallery.  "On the right
side of the force-field now.  They have machines in
the corner of the room that will suck the air out if
he tries to tamper with them or the field.  No matter
how tough he is, he still has to breathe."
   "Yeah.  So, how've you been?  How was the Chemist?"
   "Didn't get to see him," says Gallery wistfully. 
"I was out cold when they took me in here.  I guess he
was still ranting and raving, but as soon as they set
me near him, he started to ooze out my magic paint,
subconsciously.  Obviously they didn't want me using
it.  So.
   "They moved Jeremy to his cell.  Still oozing out
the paint, but no one but me can use it, so it can't
do any harm.  We won't get the same lunch hour.  Too
much of a risk.  And I hear they're going to boost you
up a threat level, too.  So you'll have a different
   "I'll be eating alone."
   "Hey, I'll still see you at the library," says
   "But I won't get to see Jeremy at all," says
Gallery.  "I like your company and all, but it's
Jeremy I want to see.  And.  And I'm just going to be
here, for years, and he'll be there, for years, and I
won't get to see him.
   "And he has to be scared, Martin.  I don't know
what's going on in his head, but it can't be good.  He
needs someone.  Needs me.  And I need him.  And I
can't.  Now I can't.
   "And.  It.
   "It's not fair, y'know?  It's just not fair."
   "Yeah," says Martin-- slowly, awkwardly.  It's a
poor salve for tears.  He tries it again anyway,
hoping it'll have incantatory power.  "Yeah."
   No luck.  "Hey," he says.  "This place sucks, huh?"
   "It does," says Gallery.
   "So I was figuring," says Martin, "maybe the four
of us-- me, you, Whistler, Jeremy-- maybe we should
   "That'd be nice," says Gallery.  The laugh goes a
long way towards drying up his eyes.
   "So let's do it," says Martin.
   "You're serious."
   "Yeah.  I got somewhere to be on Saturday.  Why
   "It's impossible, for one.  Dangerous, for another.
 You did hear about Glassman and the others?"
   "I was there."
   "And that doesn't-- that doesn't deter you?"
   "We'll do better," offers Martin with a shrug.
   "I'm working on it," says Martin.  "But I think I
almost got it."

The next afternoon, the library.  Gallery and Whistler
listen to Martin skeptically, but with interest.
   "Now, Gallery-- you can do anything you want with
that paint.  You could paint a line, a line that means
nothing to me, but if you think that's a laser, than
it's a laser.  You're the most powerful of all with
that paint, because the only restraint your power has
is what you can think up.
   "So you could paint a force-bubble to float us past
the blue field."
   "It would eat through it," says Whistler.  "It
always finds a way, finds a weakness.  It evolves,
   "But it's not stronger than the human imagination,"
says Martin.  "If you say that this stroke of paint
can't ever be compromised by the blue field, that
means it will never be compromised."
   "You really think I could do that?" says Gallery.
   "Sure.  You can get it to do whatever you want it
to do.  Hell, you could paint a circle and call it
world peace, and it'd probably be world peace.  You
can express anything-- even an abstract, an idea.  It
doesn't have to be tangible.
   "All you need is the paint.  And for that, you need
the Chemist."
   "And we can't get near him," says Whistler.
   "Well, that's where you come in," says Martin. 
"You can duplicate any sound, right?"
   "Any sound."
   "Even a dog whistle, even a sound that the human
ear can't pick up, that you've only heard
   "I've done it before."
   "And the cells, their force-fields, they're
activated and deactivated by... well, you see where
I'm going with this, don't you?"
   "Sure, sure," says Whistler, suddenly a bit more
excited.  "I can't believe I didn't think of it
before.  I emit the sound the computer's expecting,
and that pops open my cell.  I spring the Chemist..."
   "You open the cell; the Chemist secretes the paint;
Gallery gets us out of here.  Simple and clean. 
   "Well, what do you do?" says Whistler.
   "He thought up the plan," says Gallery, a bit
agitated.  "My eyes are open, Martin-- I'm seeing
possibilities I never considered."
   "So," says Whistler, "when do we do this, then?"
   "Saturday," says Martin.  "Midnight.  And let's not
get smart and experiment before then, Whistler-- we
don't want to tip them off.  Gotta catch them with
their pants down."
   "Why wait so long, though?"
   "Because that's when I arranged to have transport
ready.  And, hey, four days isn't that long."
   "I just figured you'd want to get out as soon as
possible.  With your skin intact."
   "Last I heard, they had Beefeater taken care of,"
says Martin.  "I'm in no danger."
   "Not from Beefeater," says Whistler.  "But he has
friends.  Powerful friends who don't like what's
happened to him.  Any number of 'em would be more than
happy to stuff you in a body-bag, Rock."
   "Don't worry about me," says Martin.  "I can take
care of myself."

   On Wednesday, Martin does some laps around the
exercise yard.  As the other inmates file in at the
end of the recreation period, he lingers and dawdles. 
He's the last one in the shower; he waits until he's
alone before undressing completely.
   He showers quickly and efficiently, hoping to get
dressed and start back towards his cell before anyone
tries to cause any trouble.  A familiar and sickening
chorus of caws dashes these hopes.
   Raven Man-- a hive-mind being taking the general
shape of a man, comprised of several dozen ravens,
their wings flapping furiously.
   And with him, his long-time partner-in-crime, Mr.
Matryoshka-- containing within himself four
duplicates, each smaller than and nesting within its
predecessor.  Both of them naked, both of them
   Martin stands, facing front, water and soap
dripping off his body, his fists clenched.
   "All alone?" says Mr. Matryoshka.  "No Beefeater to
throw us against, no refrigerators to trap us in, no
force-fields to suffocate us.  Nothing.  You don't
stand a chance, Citizen Rock."
   "Never more," says Raven Man.
   Martin does not flinch.  He does not try to cover
his nakedness or his vulnerability.  he does not step
backwards, even though they continue to advance.
   "Aren't you going to run, little man?"
   He doesn't answer.
   Mr. Matryoshka laughs.  "You trying to scare us?"
   They step closer.  He holds his ground.  The water
has long since turned cold.
   But he refuses to shiver.  He does not twitch.
   He simply holds himself still, and stares at them,
cold and long and hard.
   He studies them, notices that they're moving a
little slower.
   Mr. Matryoshka laughs again, but it's less hearty. 
Raven Man doesn't join in this time.
   They move a little slower, and a little slower
still.  They don't return his steely gaze, instead
glancing around, looking for some secret lurking
defender.  Finding none, and thus emboldened, they
start to move towards him, faster.
   Martin moves his left foot forwards.
   Both villains stop cold.  They exchange the
briefest of looks before quickly back-pedaling.
   Martin's alone again.  He turns off the water,
dries himself off, and gets dressed.

   As he's being escorted back to his cell after
lunch, he becomes conscious of the seldom-heard but
unmistakable sound of the guard hitting the floor.  He
turns around to find the cause.
   The Crooked Man.  Alex Tyson-- once employed by
Samson Snapp to create stronger, more addictive drugs
under the alias of, strangely enough, the Chemist--
injected himself with a painful drug that grotesquely
misshapes his body.  Every time there's a strong
impact-- a bullet, a punch, a kick-- on any point on
his body, a new bone grows on the spot of impact.  His
arms are long, jagged zigzags, flailing wildly like
maniacal accordions; one eyeball is easily a foot high
and shaped like a child's scrawl of an 's'.
   "Martin Rock," he snarls, as if to promise him that
he's here to do him harm.  He follows this up by
propelling a distorted fist forward.
   Martin jumps out of the way as quickly as he can;
the ten-foot long arm is capable of taking someone's
head off, easy.
   "No refrigerators," says the Crooked Man.  "No
desks to hide behind."  He swipes his hand from one
side of the narrow corridor to another; Martin falls
onto his belly in order to dodge it.
   The Crooked Man brings both fists down hard. 
Martin has already rolled away from him.
   Now the Crooked Man is running towards him.
   And Martin knows that he's right; there's nothing
nearby he can use as either offense or defense.  The
guard's gun is useless; the bullets will just bounce
off him, make him stronger.  He needs to take him out,
and he needs to do it fast.
   The Crooked Man is almost upon him.  Martin runs
towards him and leaps into the air, using his jagged
arms as stair steps, clearing the Crooked Man's head
and landing on the other side of him.
   There has to be something he can use against him! 
Know your environment, Ray had said: the first lesson
is to know your environment.  The second, to know
yourself; the third, to know your opponent.
   The Crooked Man pivots, his arms turning before he
does.  Martin dashes and slides under the Crooked
Man's legs.  His enemy reaches his arms under the
bridge created by those rickety legs.
   Martin leaps to one side; the Crooked Man's arms
follow, still wrapped underneath his legs.  Know your
opponent.  Use him.  Use him against himself.
   Martin bounces off the wall and leaps to the other
side; the arms follow.
   He lands behind the Crooked Man again, and before
the fiend can turn around, he leaps and kicks him in
the back with both feet.  A blow that would break a
normal man's back, but in this case simply causes (1)
further distortion, and (2), loss of balance.
   The Crooked Man splays out, his arms tangled all
around him, landing on his belly.  Martin leaps on top
of him.  Before his opponent can untangle himself and
get back up on his feet, Martin grabs him by his
jagged greasy black hair.
   He slams his face into the floor.  It makes a hard
and sickening thud as his face warps on impact. 
Martin slams it again, and again.  Each thud followed
by another like a staccato symphony for percussion and
   Blood squirts from the Crooked Man's nose, and his
breathing gets shallow.  Martin feels the struggling
limbs go limp.  He releases the misshapen head; it
falls with a final thud.  He feels for a pulse, making
sure his enemy is still alive.
   Satisfied, he turns his attention to the
unconscious guard.  He, too, is still alive.  He has a
pulse but is not breathing.  Martin begins CPR
   With a few rescue breaths, the guard comes to. 
Martin helps him up to a sitting position and then
reaches for the guard's fallen gun.
   "Here," he says, handing it back to him.  "Point it
at me and call for back-up before the Crooked Man
comes to."

   That evening, ten armed guards come to Martin's
   "You're being moved," says one of them tersely.
   "What for?"
   "You've been reclassified," says the guard.  "Level
   "I didn't know there was a level thirteen," says
   "You're it," says the guard.  "The most dangerous
man in Earbox."  He spits out of the side of his mouth
to show he isn't impressed.  "Hands on your head."
   They turn off the force-field and lead him out.  He
passes by Doki-Doki's cell, and glares at him.
   Doki-Doki steps back in fear.

   His new cell is surprisingly like his last; the
only difference being that there's no other prisoners
on this floor, and that the security measures are the
strictest in all of Earbox.
   He's told that from now on, he will receive his
meals in the cell.  He won't be given access to the
library, the gym, or the exercise yard.  "Showers"
will be administered in his cell, and they will
consist of dirt, grime, and sweat-extracting nanites. 
He will receive no visitors at any time, for the
safety of those visitors.  On the bright side, he's
told, his case goes before the grand jury in four
months time.
   He tries to protest, and demands to know "how the
Crooked Man got out of his cell anyway"; but the
superintendent won't be back until Monday, and you can
take it up with him at that time.
   This, he decides, puts a bit of a damper on
tomorrow's escape attempt.

   He wonders if this means, then, that Gallery and
the others will still try to escape without him.  If
so, what then?  How does he get out of here?
   He can't come up with any answers at this stage in
the game.  One look at the lasers and gadgets lining
this lonely corridor, and his head starts to spin. 
But, surprisingly, it doesn't bother him all that
much.  He trusts Gallery, not because Gallery has
exactly earned that trust, but because Martin finds he
has no other option but to trust him.
   Maybe he'll come through; Martin hopes so.  Maybe
he won't.  Either way, there was nothing Martin could
do at this juncture.  And for once, this realization--
the kind of thing that would drive him mad for hours
on end and deprive him of sleep-- for once it makes
him drowsy and calm.
   It feels good.  To trust.  To depend on other
people.  "I'm not alone anymore," he says.
   His voice echoes around his cell, and the long,
empty corridor, until it fades in the bitter dark.

   "Hiya, hero."
   "Dani.  Is this a dream?"
   "I dunno.  Everything feels like a dream.  You're
coming to get me, right?"
   "I think so."
   "Do you love me, Martin?"
   The question hangs in the air.  Some time passes,
and Martin realizes that he's alone.  He wonders if he
awoke from a dream, or if it was real; he wonders if a
moment has passed or an hour; he wonders if he
answered the question or not, and if he did, he
wonders what his answer was.
   Soon, he is asleep.

   Saturday passes and a strange peace washes over
him, stranger and calmer than that that seized him
last night.  And then, midnight comes.
   And with it, the sounds of struggle, getting
louder, working their way down the dark corridor.
   Until he can see them: Gallery, Whistler, and the
Chemist.  The latter is shaking in Gallery's arms,
magic paint streaming from his skin.
   "Gotta stop 'em," he says, shuddering.  "So big and
so hairy, gonna get us, gotta stop 'em, gotta stop 'em
dead or else we'll be dead.  I don't wanna die," he
says, this especially directed to Gallery.
   "You won't," says Gallery.  "Come on, Paul.  Before
they catch up with us."
   "We'd be gone already," says Whistler, locking eyes
with Martin.  "If we didn't have to spring Earbox's
most dangerous man."  He purses his lips and blows. 
No sound comes out-- at least no sound that Martin can
discern.  But the computer hears it, the force-field
blitzes off.
   Gallery quickly paints a force-bubble around them. 
"This will hold," he says.
   "Let's hope so," says Whistler bitterly.
   "It will hold, because I say it will," says
Gallery.  "This isn't just some bubble, but one that
can never be cracked by the blue lightning.  It can
break through the walls, and it's bullet-proof, and it
can fly.  So let's fly."
   The bubble rises into the air, quicker than Martin
was expecting.  The steel ceiling crumbles around
them, crashing down into his cell.
   They're airborne, and the night is clear and clean
and oh-so-black.  Gunfire ricochets off the bubble.
   Chemist freaks out.  Gallery clutches him tight. 
"It'll be okay, Jerry.  Almost there..."
   "They're probably calling in some heroes," says
Whistler.  "We should have moved faster.  Chemist was
lagging on us.  You practically had to drag him up to
Martin's cell."
   "I wasn't going to leave him," says Gallery.  The
bubble's passing through the blue lightning now. 
"Either of them.  They're both my friends."
   "I wasn't saying that," says Whistler.  "I'm just
saying, this is too close for my blood."
   The bubble clears the lightning, and the wall.
   "That must be the car," says Martin, pointing to an
old station wagon.
   Gallery brings the bubble down.  Martin stares at
   "What?" says Whistler.
   "I know how the Crooked Man got out of his cell,"
says Martin.  "And you know how he got in the
infirmary.  Don't cross me.  Ever.  Again. 
   Whistler nods.
   The bubble touches ground about twenty feet from
the car and disappears.
   "I'm scared," says Chemist.
   "It'll be okay," says Gallery.
   Two seconds later, both of them are unconscious and
on the ground.  Martin perceives a shadow moving in
the night.
   Whistler hits the ground, and then something hits
Martin in the chin.
   He flies backwards some fifteen or twenty yards,
landing in the wet grass.  He looks up at the
black-garbed figure that clears the distance between
them in what is literally the blink of an eye.
   "You better throw in the towel," he warns. 
"Because now there's a Darkhorse in the running."


Be here next month for the quintessential climax to
this epic for our times!  A little number we had to



Tom Russell


"Personality is everything that's false
in a human being."-- Sam Shepherd


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