8FOLD/ACRA: Jolt City # 12, The Sensational Character-Find of 2007, Pt. 1: A Beginning...!

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Wed Apr 23 23:35:37 PDT 2008

   Derek Mason is seated in an old wooden chair, his hands tied behind
his back, struggling, as a bemused Green Knight looks on.
   Looming overhead, and unseen by our heroes, are the colossal,
menacing ghosts of Fidel Castro and John Wilkes Booth.
   This is a story of the past, but also of the future.  It is a story
of fathers and sons, of a legacy continued and one passed on.  It is a
story of discovery, growth, and most importantly of all, of
   It is not the story of one man finding himself, but of two.  And
that story starts here.  This is--

          A BEGINNING...!

//////////////  2006 & 2007 RACCIE WINNER FOR
    ////  //////  /// //////  FAVOURITE ACRA SERIES
// ////  //  //  ///   //
//////  //////  ///// //
   # 12 APRIL 2008
  ////// /// ////// \  //  THE SENSATIONAL
 ///    ///   //     \//    CHARACTER-FIND
////// ///   //      //    OF 2007 PART 1

April, 2007: right where we left off.  Martin Rock-- the Green
Knight-- has just agreed to take on Derek Mason as his sidekick.  The
first thing to pop into our hero's mind immediately afterwards runs
something along the lines of, what the hell am I doing?
   And it's not like it's a surprise, like it was something he blurted
out.  He thought about it a lot over the last couple days.  He weighed
all sides of the issue, and had satisfied at least himself that this
was the right thing to do.
   But now he was faced with actually doing it.  With actually
training Derek and teaching him.  And Martin's been a lot of things in
his life.  He's been a sidekick and a soldier, a vigilante and a
hero.  He's no dummy; he's a smart man.  But he's never been a teacher
and, let's face it, he's not really what you'd call a people person.
   Of course, Ray Cradle hadn't been much of a people person either,
and he taught Martin just fine.  The bond may have frayed over time,
and Martin was never sure if it really got repaired at the end, but he
could still say that Ray had been the single most important person in
his life.  That Ray was more than a mentor or some distant (and he was
distant!) father figure.  Ray had made him who he was; Ray had made
   And Martin supposes that maybe that's part of it, too, maybe the
biggest part: would he be as good for Derek as Ray was for him?  And,
of course, he'd been asking himself that same basic question over the
years, like playing different arrangements of the same sad melody:
would he ever be as good as Ray?
   It's different this time though.  The question is raised, but now
it recedes from his mind.  A sort of calm explodes inside him-- an
   The question's there, but it doesn't matter.  It remains
unanswered, and it doesn't matter.  His intentions, his doubts, his
anxieties: they are like the age in his muscles, always there, and
nothing he can do about it.  What matters is what he can do.  The
actual things he does in the actual, exterior world.
   And the thing before him right now is Derek Mason.

   He starts by showing him the ropes.  Literally.
   That evening-- now secluded from view deep below the church
basement in the Knight's Den-- Martin sits his pupil down and ties his
wrists behind his back.
   "What you want to look for is a weakness in the knot.  Find the
weakness and exploit it."
   "Just, like, tug at it?"
   "Tug and wriggle, basically," says Martin.  "Now, what you want to
do eventually is do it so no one can see that you're doing it.  So
that there's no visible movement in your shoulders, or your arms, or
your neck.  And a lot of people, when they do that, they try to-- what
they do is, they get very tight, because they're trying to control
their muscles.  Or they transfer that tension to their facial
muscles.  And all that gives it away, too.  The trick is to be calm.
   "I'm trying," says Derek testily.
   "Well, don't worry about it now," says Martin.  "I just meant
that's what we'll be working up to.  I got ahead of myself there.  I'm
sorry.  Just-- just concentrate on finding the weakness.  Don't worry
about the rest of it now."
   Derek finds the weakness and pulls the knot apart.  He hands Martin
the rope and rubs his wrists.
   "They're going to be a little sore," says Martin.  "We'll do this a
few times, get you used to it, then we'll work on a couple of other

   The next few nights don't go too badly.  Derek still betrays too
much movement when he's untying himself, but he's getting better,
quicker, and more agile.  They spar a bit, and Martin builds on
Derek's already solid base in martial arts.  He's not as graceful as
Martin was when he first started, but he's not as clunky as Ray was
   Martin shows him how to pick certain locks the old-fashioned way
and how to crack safes.  Derek's slightly amused by this.  "Are you
sure you're teaching me to be a hero and not a villain?"
   "It's stuff you need to know," says Martin.  "I can't tell you how
many times it came in handy myself."
   "But, look," says Derek, pulling some kind of gizmo out of his
pocket.  He presses a button and the lock pops open.
   "That the thingamabob the Sprocketeer gave you?"
   "No; this is another thingamabob they made for me over at Cradle,"
says Derek.  "It does the same thing for safes, doors, computers-- you
name it."
   Martin swipes it from him and resets the lock.
   "Aw, come on!" says Derek.  "What's the point if the gadget does it
all for me?"
   "And if you don't have it?"
   "I'd have it if you'd give it back to me," says Derek.
   "You don't have it now," says Martin.  "You're in a room, you've
got vacuum's sucking out all the air, you've got to get out in fifteen
seconds.  Can you get that lock out in fifteen seconds-- without the
gadget?  What about ten?  What about five?"
   Derek sighs and works at the lock.  It quickly pops open.
   "Can I have it back now?  I showed you that I could do it, so just
give it back."
   "You can't just do it.  You have to do it good."
   "I have to do it well," Derek corrects.
   "Well is fine.  You have to be better than well.  You have to be
good.  Damn good.  Now try it again.  Faster."
   "You know," says Derek, "I could just destroy the vacuums.  Gives
me more air and more time."
   "What if they're vacuum-pored walls?"
   "They actually have those?" He pops the lock.
   "They have humidors of doom.  Of course they have vacuum-pored
walls." Martin resets the lock and hands it back to Derek.  "Faster."
   "Wait.  Humidors of doom?"
   "Humidors of doom."
   "Who has humidors of doom?" He pops the lock.
   Martin resets it.  "Faster.  Well, a humidor of doom, actually,
singular.  It was Castro."
   "Castro?" Pop.
   "Faster.  Castro."
   "You fought," (pop!), "Castro?"
   "Faster.  Hmm-mm."
   Pop.  "Where, like in--"
   "No.  I've never been out-- faster-- of the country except for
Iraq.  Faster.  It was here."
   "Castro was here?"
   "Faster.  Yes."  Martin puts the lock aside and continues in
Spanish: He was here in the seventies.  I had only been the Acro-Bat
for a couple of years.  He was hiding in Jolt City-- it's a very long
story about a lot of stuff that was happening in Cuba at the time.
Anyway, we tangled, and he put us inside his humidor of doom.  It was
kind of funny, actually.  That morning some kid was trying to get me
to start smoking, and, then, bam!, here I was in this humidor of
doom.  And the box just sweated cigars.  It was an awful smell.
Bottom line: never started smoking.  It was a weird time in my life.
Like every time we fought a villain, I learned some kind of lesson.
Some of them were real important stuff, and a lot of them were kind
of, I dunno, after-school special type of things.  But, anyway, that
was Castro and his humidor of doom.
   "I'm sorry," says Derek.
   I'm sorry, says Derek.  He continues in halting Spanish: I have no
idea what you were saying.  You have to remember, I learned this back
in banana school.  I'm still rusty.
   Banana school?, says Martin.
   Yeah, banana school.  I just said banana school.  What about it?

   As is so often the case in his life, Martin finds himself wavering
between two extremes.  Sometimes, he moves much too quickly-- Derek
misses things or can't keep up, and most of the time Martin knows the
fault lies with the teacher and not the student.  The other times, he
moves at a glacial pace-- and this gets Derek frustrated.
   "Ropes again, yippee."
   Martin ties what he feels is a particularly difficult knot.  "This
time, let's try to control those muscles."
   Derek tries his best.
   "Shoulder's twitching."
   "You're moving the tension to your face again."
   "Just relax," says Martin.
   "What if there's no weakness?"
   "You'll find it," says Martin.  "Don't let it frustrate you."
   "No; I mean, what if someone ties me up and the knot has no
   "Well, there's always a weakness, so that's a moot point," says
   "No, it's not a moot point.  I mean, what if?"  The rope falls to
the floor.  Derek picks it up and hands it to Martin.
   "You're saying, what if there's this rope where every single fiber
is precisely as strong as every other fiber, and the bad guy ties you
with this rope absolutely perfectly-- uniform tension through-out,
every strand as tight, something not even a robot can do absolutely
right absolutely every time.  That's what you're saying?"
   "Yeah.  I mean, what's the trick?  I mean, this can't be it-- just
wriggle and tug at it.  There has to be something else to it."
   "That's pretty much it," says Martin.
   "So, if there's this perfect knot--"
   "An impossible knot."
   "Right," says Derek, and he's getting about as irritated and as
irritating as Martin is, "if I'm tied with this impossible knot that I
can't wriggle or tug my way out of, I'm pretty much screwed, is that
what you're saying?"
   Martin thinks for a moment.  "Well, if there's a shard of glass
laying around, you could--"
   "What if there is no shard of glass?"
   "Pocket knife--"
   "No pocket knife."
   "-- let me finish!-- pocket knife in your utility belt--"
   "They took the belt."
   "-- and you probably would struggle as you were being tied up
   "And if I can't struggle?" says Derek.  "What if there's a hostage
or something, and if I struggle they're going to kill her?"
   "You struggle in a way that doesn't look like you're struggling,"
says Martin.  "Just like tugging and wriggling.  And we'll work on
that, and--"
   "No," says Derek.  "No, no, no!  What I'm saying is, what if I
can't struggle, what if there's nothing to cut it with, what do I do
then?  What if they use plastic tubing, or a tough thin cord?"
   "Well, then.  Then, I guess you're screwed."
   "Thanks," says Derek.
   "I mean, Derek, what you're asking me about here is a perfect
storm.  A situation where there are no options.  You might as well be
asking me, what if someone points a gun in my face and pulls the
trigger, how do I dodge the bullet?  Well, you don't, and that's the
truth.  There's no trick that's going to help you there.  The trick is
to not put yourself in those situations where someone's going to put a
loaded gun right up against your temple and shoot.  The trick is to
pay attention to your surroundings and not fooling yourself into
thinking you're in a perfect storm, because there's no such thing."
   "No, that's not what I'm asking," says Derek.  "That's not just a
little different, that's a lot different; that's ridiculous.  I'm
asking you a legitimate question here, about this specific situation,
and your answer is, well, maybe there's a fairy princess laying around
and she'll make everything all better.  Just leave it to chance.  I
thought you were going to train me, show me the real stuff.  This crap
I could have figured out on my own."
   Martin sets the small length of rope down on his bed and pulls his
pocket-knife out of his utility belt.  He takes a long strand of rope
and cuts a large length of it before setting the knife on his night-
   Derek takes his cue, sitting back down in the chair and putting his
hands behind the chair's back.  "This'll have to be the last one for
tonight," Derek reminds him.  "I've got to get home in a bit or else
my dad will give me crap."
   To Derek's surprise, Martin binds him at the elbows, then down the
length of his forearms.
   "If you tie someone at the elbows," says Martin, "it's almost
impossible for them to get out of it by wriggling."
   "It's a bit painful, too," says Derek.
   "Yes it is," says Martin.
   Derek doesn't make any pretense to hiding his wriggling this time
around.  "So, how do I get out?"
   "I'm sure you'll figure out a way," says Martin.  He starts towards
the stairs.
   "Where are you going?"
   "Oh, we're done for today," says Martin.  "Once you get out, you
can go home.  See you tomorrow."  He opens the trap door, exits, and
sets it back into place.

   Nearly an hour later, Derek shows up at Roy Riddle's manse.  His
right arm is bleeding, though not severely.  Riddle invites him in and
immediately sets to work bandaging the wound.
   "What am I going to tell my father?" says Derek.
   "Don't look at me," says Riddle.  "I'm no good at lying."
   "Say, aren't you in a tough spot there?  I mean, what if someone
suspects and they ask you, point blank, if Martin was the Green
   "Well," says Riddle, "I have thought on that a little, yes.  And
I've come to the conclusion that, given the nature of what all he told
me and how, that it constituted a confession."
   "Was he in the booth?"
   "No.  He was sitting right about where you're sitting."
   "Doesn't it have to be in the booth to count?"
   "No.  It's not the church that makes the sacraments, but the
sacraments that make the church.  I could baptise you right in my
kitchen and it would count."
   "No thanks," says Derek sourly.
   "Probably for the best.  Whether I bless it or not, the water in
the kitchen still comes out brown and disconcertingly slushy.  Must be
the Big Guy's way of telling me I need to get new pipes."

The next day, the office of Lt. Danielle Handler-- Jolt City's Four-
Colour Liaison.  The Green Knight comes by to talk shop, reeking of
alcohol.  Dani dismisses her secretary, locks her door, and pulls down
her blinds.
   She presses near to him before activating the audio scrambling
device that Derek had given her: privacy.
   "I missed you last night."
   "Sorry about that," says Martin.  "I ran into Merlot while I was on

   This time around, Merlot's plan was inspired by the Great Boston
Molasses Disaster.  Only instead of flooding Jolt City with molasses,
he was going to use three million gallons of 1994 Saint-Emilion
Boudreaux wine.
   Every time Martin thought he had captured him or halted his plan,
Merlot threw something else at him, the same basic Merlot tricks:
imperiled drunks, automated corkscrews, his mutant grapes of wrath.
   From hideout to hideout the chase went on.  Martin spent the better
part of ten minutes treading wine inside a gigantic slosh bucket
shortly before he escaped, thwarted the plan, and captured the madman,
more-or-less in that order.

   "I just dropped him off downstairs about five minutes ago," says
Martin.  "I didn't even have time to change.  Sorry about the smell."
   "S'alright," says Dani.  "How's the sidekick coming along?"
    "It's alright," says Martin.  "I mean, he's a good kid, he's smart
and he's scrappy.  I think he lives inside his head too much, maybe.
Gets too hung up on abstracts and gadgets.  But otherwise a good kid.
He's a little slow.  I mean, he learns fast, but when he moves,
physically, he doesn't have a whole lot of grace.  He's a little
clumsy with his body, I guess.  We got to shave a few seconds off his
reaction time.  It'd be fine anywhere else, but in this vocation, it
can be a big difference."  He shrugs.  "But, we'll get there."
   Dani just nods; Martin can tell she turned off about mid-way
through his blathering.  "So.  Any chance you'll be staying over
   "I don't think so," says Martin gently.  "I already told Pam I'd
come stay with her tonight.  Maybe tomorrow?"
   Martin watches her shrivel up.  "Yeah," she says.
   The silence hangs there in the air, thicker than the stench of his
slightly purpling costume.  Suddenly: screams, somewhat muted by the
scrambler's field.  It's followed by a slightly slurred but highly
recognizable laugh.
   "Merlot must've escaped," says Martin.  "Just what I need."
   He rushes off to be the hero, to save the day.  In many ways, it's
easier than dealing with this woman and her breaking heart.
   And Martin realizes, with a bit of a chill, that this is exactly
how Ray handled his personal relationships.

   One giant cheese sampler, one long hot shower, and two rinse cycles
later, Merlot is back into custody and Martin is no longer smelling
like a particularly well-heeled souse.  He meets Derek in the Knight's
   "Before you say anything," says Derek, "I got the point.  No such
thing as a perfect storm, right?"
   Martin nods.  "But they want you to think there is.  They'll go on
and on about how their plan is perfect, how there's no way out.  And
if you believe them?  Well, then you won't get out.
   "Don't go looking for ways that you're trapped.  You got to
concentrate on finding ways to get out of that trap.  All that being
   "I knew there was more."
   "If you're in a pinch and you just don't have time to get yourself
untied, there is always the fine art of chair-fighting."
   Martin gestures for him to sit down and he does; Martin ties
Derek's wrists to the back of the chair.  "Chair-fighting.  Fighting
with the chair."
   "Pardon my insolence here, oh great and wise master who art
schooled in the fine arts of chair-fighting," says Derek, "but if I've
got a world to save or some shit, I don't think beating on a poor
defenseless chair is really going to remedy the situation."
   "Not fighting against the chair," says Martin.  "Fighting with the
chair.  The chair's kinda like your sidekick."
   "Gee, thanks."
   "Let's say, for example, that I'm a thug and I'm coming at you,
like so--"
   Before Martin even gets started, Derek leaps to his feet and twists
his back towards Martin.  The chair swings and Martin dodges it with
ease; the chair flies to the floor and with it, Derek.
   "Not quite like that," says Martin.  "Let me finish."  He helps
Derek up.  "You do it like that, you're going to lose your balance,
and that won't do you a lick of good.
   "Now, you don't have the use of your fists.  And without your arms
to counter-balance, using your legs, kicking and stuff-- not a good
idea.  Swinging the chair like that, also not a good idea-- in most
circumstances.  There are exceptions, but we'll get to that.
   "What we're talking about here is using your shoulders, using your
weight as a weapon.  Knocking guys flat on their ass and doing it
clean and doing it fast.  You know what?
   "Let's start over, without the chair, just with your hands tied
behind your back.  I should have done that first, and built up to it."
   Derek nods and quickly loosens his arms from the bonds.  Martin
gets set to retie him, sans chair, when someone starts knocking on the
trap door.
   "It's me," says Roy, peeking his head in.  "Costume's dry."
   "Thanks," says Martin.  "Just toss it down."
   "Actually, can I talk to you a minute?"
   "Uh, sure.  Be right up."
   Martin heads up the stairs and closes the door.  "What is it?"
   "I want to talk to you about the boy," says Roy.  "You left him
alone yesterday."
   "He had a certain lesson to learn, and he learned it," says
Martin.  "At least to an extent.  It's not like I left him over a vat
of boiling oil or anything."
   "Did you see the cut on his arm?"
   "Nothing major."
   "It could have been," says Roy.  "He could have cut a vein.  And
you're not there, and I'm in the manse.  There's no way I'd be able to
hear him."
   "... You're right," says Martin.  "I'm new to this.  I'm sorry."
   "I know you didn't mean any harm.  You just didn't think it through
all the way.  You just got to stay with him from now on.  I know you
can't protect him one hundred percent once you're out in the field,
but here and now--"
   "I'll stay with him," affirms Martin.
   "There's something else you've got to think about," says Roy.  "I
don't know your business like you do, but it seems to me that you're
more than just a teacher.  You're a mentor.  A father or uncle or big
brother or whatever.  And that means you have to set an example.  You
have to make moral choices."
   Martin stares at him.
   "I mean, I'm not saying that you don't do that," says Roy.  "Most
of the time, you do.  And especially when it comes to your business.
But in your personal life... well, like I was saying, you have to
teach by example, you know?"
   "Yeah," says Martin flatly.
   Roy throws up his hands.  "Okay, okay.  I'm not trying to preach at

   "So," says Derek when Martin returns, "chair-fighting, without the
   "Yeah, well, now that I think about it... I hate to do this to you,
but I haven't slept since yesterday morning.  I need to get some rest
before I have to go on patrol again."
   "That's cool," says Derek.  "Same time tomorrow?"
   "Yeah," says Martin.
   "Um, before I go... I got to talk to you.  It's about my dad."
   "He in any kind of trouble?" says Martin.
   "Nah," says Derek.  "Nothing like that.  He just wants to know what
I'm doing with my time, why I get home so late."
   "What'd you tell him?"
   "Nothing, really.  Just kinda been avoiding the questions.  But now
I think he's started to get the wrong idea.  Maybe he thinks I'm mixed
up with drugs again or something."
   "Has he said that?"
   "No.  But he doesn't have to.  I can see it in his eyes.  He's
worried about me.  And I just don't want him to worry.  Worried enough
over me.  And I can't tell him what I'm really doing."
   He says it almost like a question; Martin is firm.  "No, you
can't.  Besides, that'd probably worry him just as much."
   "What'd you do?" says Derek.  "Your dad was still alive when you
started, and you were a lot younger than I am."
   "He's still alive, far as I know," says Martin.  "But he didn't
care then and doesn't care now."  There's no sadness in his voice, no
bitterness.  There's just plain nothing in his voice at all.  "But I
had a cover story, sure," he adds.  "I'll see what I can do to get you
one.  Anything else?"
   "No," says Derek.  "That's it."

The next day, Martin shows up at Cradle Industries.  "Martin Rock to
see Anders Cradle."
   The receptionist stares right at him.  "You have an appointment?"
   "He's not going to see you without an appointment," says the
receptionist.  "He's a very busy man."
   "Tell him it's Martin Rock."
   "Okay," says the receptionist, throwing up his hands.  He makes the
call, gives Martin's name, listens, blinks, and hangs up.
   "He'll be right down."

   He had actually been here a few days before, interviewing for a
job.  Anders had suggested he do so earlier in the year: with his past
history with the company, he'd have a good shot.  But by the time they
called him in for an interview, he was in prison; now that he was out
and cleared of all charges, he had rescheduled.
   However, the interview didn't go very well.  After all, he had no
employment history (or place of residence) for a ten year stretch; he
had twice been accused of murder and twice acquitted because the
victim wasn't dead; he was associated in the public's mind both with
taking down the Crooked Man and bringing Nathan Willis into Jolt City;
he was the only man ever to escape from Earbox Super Security Prison,
shortly after being officially recognized as being the highest threat
level in the prison; he had put Darkhorse into the hospital: and the
interviewer was surprisingly candid about all this.
   "I mean, that's quite a resume, Mr. Rock," he said in closing.
"Now, let me be frank here.  We really can't hold any of that against
you, legally.  If you had anything approaching any kind of
qualifications for any kind of job opening, I wouldn't even bother
bringing it up.  But you don't.  And if it wasn't for the fact that
Anders asked me to see you, you wouldn't even be sitting in front of
me today.
   "But, here you are, so let me shoot straight with you.  Products
aren't important.  Companies aren't important.  What's important is
the marketing of products and the perception of companies.  And if a
publicly-held company hires someone with no qualifications and your
notoriety-- it's not good perception-wise, and that hurts our products
marketing-wise.  Frankly?  Frankly, you scare us shitless."

   Anders greets him with an awkward handshake and an apology.  "I'm
sorry to hear that the interview didn't work out."
   "Your dad would have just given me the job."
   "Are you saying I should have?"
   "No; I'm saying that's how you're different from your dad.  You're
completely on the straight-and-narrow.  I'm giving you a compliment."
   Anders nods as if he didn't know what a compliment was in the first
   "I got a favour to ask you, though," says Martin.  "Somewhere where
we can talk?"

Anders's office, eleventh floor.
   "So," says Martin.  "Tough break about Harvard."
   Anders had been kicked out under less-than-ideal circumstances.  "I
was never the academic type anyway.  What is it that you want?"
   "I'm wondering if you have any part-time jobs," says Martin.  "Like
for a teenager or something."
   "I think there's something," says Anders.  "Unpaid internships at
the least.  And my recommendation would probably carry some more
weight there.  Who for?"
   "This kid I know," says Martin.  "He needs something flexible.  I
mean, he'll show up, he'll be there a lot of the time, but he really
needs it more to say that he's there."
   "Like my dad did for you?"
   "Yeah, something like that."
   "Well, like you said, I'm not my father," says Anders.  "And this
isn't the old days.  Cradle's a big company now, and there'd be a lot
more people who would notice an absence.  Raise all sorts of red flags
and you don't want that, do you?"
   "No, that wouldn't be good."
   "I'd hire him on as a personal assistant," says Anders, "but the
fact is, I'm not exactly a nine to five person myself.  I don't plan
on spending a whole lot of time at the office.  I'd rather let the
people who know how to run the business run the business.  So I
wouldn't be here to cover for him.  I'd like to help, but..."
   "It's alright," says Martin.  "I got a couple other places I was
thinking of trying."
   Martin turns to leave when a large horse-like humanoid wearing a
comic-con t-shirt comes crashing through the plate glass window.
"Better make your saving throw, Anders Cradle!" it proclaims in a
slightly nasal yet still strangely stentorian voice.  "... Because
you'll never escape Hobby-Horse!"
   Anders clears his throat.  "Okay."
   "Okay, what?" says Hobby-Horse.
   "I won't try to escape you," says Anders with a shrug.  "What do
you want?"
   Martin, as yet unnoticed, sidesteps towards the two figures at an
angle; he wants to make the distance between himself and either one
more equal, so that if he needs to run and push Anders out of the way,
or if he needs to sock Hobby-Horse in the jaw, both will be within
easy reach.
   "I'm going to hold you ransom," says Hobby-Horse.
   "Really?" says Anders.  "Who will pay it?  Both my parents are
   "Your company will pay it, soon enough," says the villain, throwing
in a sound that was half-way between a whinny and a maniacal laugh.
   "How much?" says Anders.
   "The ransom?" says Hobby-Horse.
   Martin's in position now.  He stops moving for fear of coming into
the villain's peripheral vision.  Now he just has to wait for the
right moment.
   "Yes," says Anders.  "How much?"
   "A hundred thousand," says Hobby-Horse.
   "Only a hundred?  I must be worth more than a hundred.  Quarter of
a million, at least."
   Hobby-Horse scratches the top of his head with one of his hooves.
"Yeah, I guess a quarter million."
   Anders pulls out his bulging wallet.  "How much is that in hundred
dollar bills?  Martin?"
   Martin nearly has a heart attack as Hobby-Horse turns towards him.
"Um," says Martin.  "Uh, I dunno.  Two thousand, five hundred?"
   All three mentally do the calculations at the same time, and
discover that Martin's guess was correct.  "Geez," says Anders as he
begins to slap bills on his desk.  "This is going to take awhile.
Say, I got some old ten thousand dollar bills stashed away from before
they stopped printing them.  They're perfectly legit, spend just the
   "Might draw attention," says the villain.
   Anders motions to Hobby-Horse.  "Press that button there then, will
   He does.
   A secretary's voice over the intercom. "Mr. Cradle?"
   "I need you to run to the bank for me," says Anders.  "You'll need
to-- hold on."  He looks to Hobby-Horse.  "I don't suppose you'll
accept a check?"
   Hobby-Horse stares at him, slack-jawed.  "Um.  Wouldn't it be
better if I just kidnapped you?"
   "What, and get yourself caught?" says Anders.
   Martin butts in: "It's not like you'd be hard to find.  There can't
be more than a couple dozen horse-people in the world, and that's
   "Sir?" says the secretary.  "Are you in trouble?"
   "No," says Anders.  "So, a check?"
   "I don't think so," says Hobby-Horse.
   "Very savvy," says Anders.  "Gretchen, I need you to run to the
bank and get out, oh, let's see, two hundred and forty thousand
dollars."  He pushes a large stack of bills towards Hobby-Horse.
"There's the first ten.  She'll be maybe an hour or so with the rest
of it.  You want something to eat?"  He smiles, a rarity for Anders.
"Oats, perhaps?"
   But Hobby-Horse is not amused.  He points at Anders with one of his
hooves.  "You do not want to be messing with me, little man!  I will
kitbash you into Abe Lincoln with exploding brains action!"[*]
   "Sorry," says Anders.
   Hobby-Horse bristles loudly, then: "Wouldn't mind some pizza,
   "Pizza it is," says Anders.

[*-- This reminds Martin of the time when he and Anders's father found
themselves occupying the bodies of Lincoln and Booth, respectively,
due to a botched séance conducted by Mary Todd Lincoln the week before
the assassination.  As that fateful Good Friday approached, one
terrible day at a time, "Lincoln" and his future murderer would meet
in secret, trying to figure out what to do: if events did not adhere
to the established timeline, the repercussions would have been
catastrophic; if the two acted their roles as history intended, Ray
would be murdering the boy who was like a son to him.
   And so our heroes found themselves in Ford's Theater, awaiting the
biggest laugh-line in "Our American Cousin", Ray pointing his pistol
at the back of Martin's head, both wondering if they could go through
with it.
   During all this, however, the minds of the real Lincoln and Booth
were waging psychic war on the astral plane.  Lincoln triumphed and
Booth fled; Lincoln followed him back to the corporeal world.  Ray and
Martin were knocked out of the bodies they had bakula'd into.
   Unfortunately, Booth had arrived in Lincoln's body and Lincoln in
Booth's.  During the battle on the astral plane, Lincoln had become
one with the universe and thus became aware of his fate.  Lincoln-in-
Booth's body pulled the trigger, committing the strangest case of
suicide in the history of the human race.
   But Ray and Martin did not immediately return to their own bodies
and their own time.  They had to assist Lincoln in his imposture of
Booth, coaching him as he made his escape and spent twelve long days
on the run, until his death at Garrett's Farm.
   The continuum of space and time having been made whole, Ray and
Martin returned to their bodies shortly after they left them.]

   Roughly an hour later, Hobby-Horse zippers up his bag of money,
slings it over his shoulder, and heads towards the window.  He trots
onto his hovercraft and exits.
   Martin looks to Anders.  "Let me get changed and I'll follow him."
   "Why bother?  He didn't break any law-- just a window.  And I can
certainly afford to replace the window."
   "He was going to kidnap you," says Martin.
   "But he didn't," says Anders.  "So I thank you not to butt into my
business, okay?"
   Martin puts up his hands and begins to unbutton his shirt.  "Okay,
but I'll still going to follow him.  He might try to kidnap somebody
   "There are cameras here," says Anders.  "Cameras in the whole
building.  Best to change elsewhere."

   By the time Martin gets changed, the trail is very cold indeed.  He
asks numerous passersby if they saw where the equine evil-doer got off
to.  They'd like to help him, but no one has any answers.
   He changes back to his civvies and heads over to Jolt City
University.  Once there, he dashes towards the Kistler Building and
knocks on the door to lab four.
   The door opens just enough for Dr. Fatima Tarif to slide her face
into view.  "Mr. Rock," she says, as if she was ordering him with a
side salad.  "What brings you to my neck of the woods?"
   "Got a favour to ask you, actually.  It's kind of a peculiar
   "The best kind.  Come on in..."
   She opens the door.
   The thing most notably different about Dr. Fay's lab is the
presence of a ginormous water tank, and residing within that tank a
rather pensive-looking Apelantian.  The last time Martin had seen him,
it had been in Dani's bathtub; he had given them valuable information
that helped link Samson Snapp to the Apelantian invasion.  Because
Snapp's trial for treason would not be going to trial for sometime,
the Apelantian's testimony would be required.  In exchange for his
cooperation, he would be allowed to stay in the United States; while
the feds fiddle-faddled over exactly what to do with him, he's been
discharged to the care and custody of Dr. Fay.
   Fay taps on the glass lightly, pulling the Apelantian-- whom Dr.
Fay had named Alister, as his actual name is not pronounceable in
English or, in fact, in any surface language, since the Apelantian
language is a non-verbal one-- out of the water-proof book he was
   Look who's here, Dr. Fay signs in American Sign Language.
   Before she can even finish, Alister greets Martin warily.
   "He probably still remembers our little interrogation session,"
says Martin to Dr. Fay.  He turns his attention to Alister: Don't
worry; I won't hurt you.  We're friends now, yes?
   I suppose.
   Do you like it here so far?
   Well, it's no ocean (says Alister wistfully), but on the other paw
if I was in the ocean, I'd probably be executed.  The Aquatic Ape
Empire does not smile on failure.
   That's probably why it doesn't get anywhere (muses Martin).
Killing off your troops after every battle can't be good for morale.
(Once he says this, he immediately feels as if he's been rude.)
   Well (says Alister), that's not quite true.  They spare your life
if you demonstrate incredible bravery.
   And what constitutes that?
   Being the son of a senator.
   Your dad...?
   Not really a senator, no.  So, all things considered, this is not
so bad.
   You must be lonely.
   Actually, no, not really.  Never really been the gregarious sort.
It's kind of peaceful.  It is nice to have some company, though, I
suppose.  You'll visit?
   Excellent.  Well, if you'll excuse me, I'll get back to my book...
   Of course.

   "So," says Dr. Fay after they have left Alister, "what's this
rather peculiar favour you have to ask me?"  A single twisty strand of
hair slips salaciously out of her hajib.  "I do hope it's something
   "Sorry to disappoint," says Martin.  "No, it's a little
complicated.  There's this kid, this friend of mine.  He's really
interested in technological stuff, has a real talent for it."
   "Let me stop you right there," says Fay.  "I can't just get people
into college.  It doesn't work that way."
   "I know that," says Martin, perhaps snapping more than he'd like
to.  "No, but-- um-- he needs a job, sort of.  Doesn't even need to
get paid for it, just needs somewhere to be."
   "Like a lab assistant?"
   "Not exactly," says Martin.  "Well, yeah, but the catch is, he's
not going to be there all the time.  He just needs somewhere to be
some of the time, and if his dad calls, you can just say that he's
here, or that he's out in the hall, even if he's not and why are you
looking at me like that?"
   "What's it for?" says Fay.
   "It's... complicated.  It's private.  I mean, it's nothing bad or
   "Nothing sexual?"
   "God, no," says Martin is disgust.
   "In which case, it must be something criminal.  You need a cover
story for someone."
   "It's not anything crooked..."
   "If it was something straight, you wouldn't need the cover story,"
says Fay.  "I'm kinda disappointed in you, Mr. Rock.  I had you pegged
for someone on the straight and narrow.  You just got dealt a bad
hand, is all.  That's what I thought, anyway."

   This was a stupid idea, Martin decides.  He looks at JCU's looming
clock tower and notes that it's nearly supper.
   He heads over to Pam's apartment.
   He knocks on the door and is surprised when Derek answers it.
"It's Martin," Derek announces.
   Pam strolls out of the kitchen, every inch a woman and every inch
in glorious motion.  She kisses Martin wetly on the mouth before
admonishing him to take his shoes off.  "Help me in the kitchen?" she
adds, half-demand and half-invitation.
   Martin takes off his shoes and follows slowly; he presses behind
her and slides his fingers up her shirt and across her belly.
"Derek?" he asks.
   "Showed up at work today," says Pam.  "Wanting to know if he could
have a job.  Well, not a job, but, y'know."
   "I know," says Martin.  "I'll give him this, he ain't shy about
taking the initiative.  What'd you tell him?"
   "No, of course," says Pam.  "Can't have a kid out there running
around doing bail-bonds shit."
   "Well, he wouldn't really be doing it, would he?" says Martin.  "I
mean, that's the perfect cover job, isn't it?  He'd be out for long
stretches of time..."
   "It'd be perfect if it was plausible," says Pam.  "And an eighteen
year old kid looking for guys who don't want to be looked for?  That's
just not plausible."
   "I guess."
   "Besides, Anna is suspicious as hell," says Pam.  She tastes her
stew thoughtfully.  "He stays out in the field and never brings
anything back, she'd ask a lot of questions."
   "Well, I wasn't going to ask you anyway," says Martin.
   Pam is not convinced.  "Uh-huh."
   "I mean, you're right, it's completely stupid.  Doesn't make any
   "I wasn't going to ask you.  Seriously."
   "I'm not saying a thing."
   "I wasn't."  Martin's hands start to stray north.
   "Grind me up some coriander, will you?"
   Martin pulls back away from Pam and looks for the coriander.
   "You should ask Dani," says Pam, the natural hardness in her voice
curling in on itself.
   Martin pours some coriander into the mortar and proceeds to pestle
the living shit out of it.

   Dinner is pleasant yet tense; Martin and Derek both compliment her
on the stew.  When they are done, she piles their plates and utensils
together and heads back into the kitchen.  Both males watch, as males
are wont to do, as Pam's rear gradually recedes from view.
   "You know," Derek says to Martin, "if it turns out you can't make
up your mind, I'd be more than happy to take Pam off your hands for
you."  He smirks.
   Martin tries very hard not to be amused.
   Pam calls out from the kitchen: "I bet you would, at that!"

After dinner.  The Knight's Den.
   "Before we move on to the finer points of non-chair chair-
fighting," says Martin, "I wanted to say something to you.  Um, this
whole thing with Pam and Dani.  I, uh, it's not... it's not..."
   "Stop," says Derek.  "It's not important."
   "No, it is," says Martin.  "I know I'm not setting a good example
here, and..."
   "Seriously, don't worry about it.  I'm not stupid.  I'm not some
stupid kid who's going to do whatever you do because I see you doing
it, or I want to be just like you or some shit.  I'm perfectly fine
being myself, thank you.  I can make my own decisions and I'm not
going to imitate you like some damn idiot.  I still remember how we
could have got Snapp behind bars last year."
   "Okay," winces Martin.  "Good point.  Let's just get back to work."

   Moses Mason is sitting in the living room when his son creeps in at
nearly midnight.  "Derek," he says in his deep long voice.
   "Yeah, dad?"
   Moses takes a deep breath and lets it steam out his nostrils.
"Nothing," he says.  "You're going to do whatever the hell you want to
do no matter what I say."
   "I love you, dad," says Derek.  "And I ain't doing anything to make
you ashamed.  Not no more."
   "You said that before," says Moses.
   "But I mean it now," says Derek.
   "Maybe you do.  But you still said it before, and at that time it
didn't mean a thing."
   "I'm tired, dad," says Derek, and it's true-- his muscles ache and
whine, and each night they feel more miserable than the night before;
"I'm going to bed."  He starts towards the stairs.
   "Son," says Moses.
   Derek stops, and he wishes his dad knew how much this means; when
he was dealing, he would've kept on moving, but now, now he stops dead
   But his father doesn't seem to notice.  "Tomorrow, I expect you to
be home at a decent hour.  I'd rather you stay home.  But if you're
going to go out, I'd like you to be home when I get off of work.  We
got to talk, you and I, and you're not going to like it.  But tomorrow
we're going to do it, and you're not going to be too tired,
   Derek nods.  "Yeah, dad.  I understand."

   "Ugh," says Martin to Roy as he suits up in the Knight's Den.
   "Ugh?" says Roy.
   "Ugh," says Martin.
   "Why ugh?"
   "Sometimes I wish I was still out there by myself," says Martin.
"I mean, I like where I am now.  I like being the Green Knight, I like
having friends.  I'm making a difference now, even if it's just a
small one, and that's great.
   "But at the same time, everything was a whole lot simpler before.
And no, I'm not even talking about Dani and Pam, and no, I don't want
to talk about it."
   "Who's talking about it?" says Roy.
   "But I mean, this teaching stuff, this mentor stuff, in addition to
the job itself-- and I still got to find myself a day job.  And one
for Derek, as well."
   "But Derek hasn't even started yet," says Roy.  "You're still
training him."
   "His dad's starting to get persnickety," says Martin.
   "I don't blame him," says Roy.  "Sadly, not enough fathers care
about their sons.  Well," he adds as he darts his eyes upwards,
"except for You.  Thanks for being awesome, Big Guy."
   "Regardless, I still need a cover for him," says Martin.  "And I've
tried everywhere I can think of."
   "You didn't ask me," says Roy.
   "Ask you?" says Martin.
   "He can work here," says Roy.  "I mean, it won't be lying because
here is where he'll be anyway.  And when he's not working with you, he
can help me keep the place tidy."
   "But he's an atheist," says Martin.

   Derek introduces Roy to his father.  Roy explains that Derek's been
working at the church for nearly a month now.  Moses asks a few
questions and receives answers he considers satisfactory.
   "Well," says Roy, "I better be on my way."  The priest leaves, and
Moses turns to his son in disbelief.
   "But you're an atheist."

   Derek walks through the pews, picking up a surprising amount of
candy wrappers left over from the Wednesday night mass.
   "Want a wafer?" offers Roy, a box full of hosts tucked underneath
his arm.  "It's just bread," he adds hastily.  "I haven't
transubstantiated them; these ones are a little stale, actually."  He
pops a few in his mouth.  "Still tasty, though."
   "I'll pass," says Derek.  "Thank you anyway.  And thanks for
squaring things with my dad."
   "No problem," says Roy, his mouth full and mushy.
   "Can I ask you a question, though?"
   "Sure," says Roy.
   "You do know I'm an atheist, right?"
   "And you don't have a problem with me working here?"
   Roy shakes his head, as if the answer was obvious.
   "Alright," says Derek, shrugging his shoulders.  "And-- look, I do
appreciate you letting me work here, but don't-- don't be pushing
stuff on me, okay?  Seriously.  You don't push yours, I won't push
   "Who's pushing?" says Roy.  "I just offered you some munchies.
They're actually pretty tasty.  Especially with some salsa."
   Roy pulls out a small jar of salsa and unscrews the cap.  "Come on,
give it a try."
   "Isn't that, like, sacrilegious?"
   "What?  No.  This is just bread," says Roy.  "After it becomes the
actual flesh of our Saviour?  That would be sacrilegious, yes.  You
definitely don't want to use salsa then.  (Found out the hard way.)
But right now, it's just a wafer, and let me tell you, it tastes darn
good with a little salsa."


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