[Artifice Comics] Chessmen: Foundations #1
utsukushuu.dreamer at gmail.com
Mon Jun 2 12:20:05 PDT 2008
>From Artifice Comics:
Chessmen: Foundations #1:
by Aaron Baugh
"This is all very interesting, Mister Castle," said the four-star
general. He was a West Point man, Army for twenty-seven years.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs for the past year. But he still didn't
have a damn clue what the man before him was showing to him after
a quick ten minute virtual presentation in the privacy of Castle's
office. "But I fail to see how your solutions stack up to what the
"Provide-ED," said Nicholas, with emphasis on the past tense ending.
"We've seen what happened to that group. They were the best we had,
when they were created. I'm showing you something better."
"Not yet you haven't."
"I'm sure we could discuss the pros and cons of the Seven, General.
And I can confidently predict that you would support them because of
their military backgrounds and government training, but I would
counter with a much more solid argument. You see,
there's nothing like competition to produce the best things. Food,
technology, toys...it all goes together. After all, the competition
for military contracts is very fierce, although no pilot wants to
think of his plane as being built by the lowest bidder, much less the
infantryman and his rifle, or the gunner and his tank."
The general shifted in his leather chair. "Go on."
"So I offer you something that those in the military and the
government love to hear, General. What I have to offer you will not
cost you more than the Seven. It will not cost you more than the B-2
bomber program or a new Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. It will cost
you in legitimate building contracts and subsidized federal insurance
as outlined in my prospectus." Castle waved a hand to the leather-
covered folder at the General's left elbow. The only ornamentation was
an embossed kite shield, crenellated at the top, enclosing a capital
letter C. "So, General, what do you have to lose by listening and
looking at just a
few more things?"
The general smiled politely, but it was obvious to anyone that he
wasn't convinced. Castleâs smile, however, was confident as he tapped
a keyboard command and a massive LCD display behind the general
âKeep your eyes and ears open, general, and look at that screen.â
Castle pointed, and the general swiveled his chair to the view that
dominated his field of vision.
There were a serious of snapshots, some black and white, most in
color, showing a young woman with short, spiky black hair in various
outfits in a multitude of places. In one shot, she was on stage at
that appeared to be a karaoke bar. In another, she was kicking in the
door of a burning building. A third showed her standing astride an
with a paper bag of spilled money laying beside his outstretched hand.
The others either showed her in other normal situations or post-
âCaroline Danvers. An amazing girl, this one. Twenty, claims no
parents. Emancipated from the state of Illinois at age eighteen.
Strength, speed, quickness, all above Olympic caliber. A little rough,
but good-hearted. Sheâs the first one.â
âMister Castle, if youâre submitting a replacement roster for the
Seven, this hardly seems like a great place to start,â said the
âGeneral, just a little of your time is all Iâm asking. It gets
better.â Castle paused. âWhere was I? Oh, yes. Each of these pictures
were taken in Chicago a month ago. Each of them were taken within
thirteen minutes of each other.â
âReally?â said the general, halfway between piqued curiosity and
âOh yes. Danvers can create eight independent copies of herself, out
of thin air.â
The screen blanked, then was filled with video of a huge defensive
tackle for the Washington Redskins from various games. The general
gave a nearly imperceptible flinch when he hit a running back
specially hard or slammed on top of a quarterback.
Jeffrey Green was NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000. Wouldâve
had MVP in â01, but a car wreck would and his career before it began.
A hospital error resulted in him being given the wrong blood type
while paramedics tried to save his life.â The picture
changed to a news photo of the massive man being wheeled into an
ambulance. âThe resulting infection and countermeasures led to his
bone marrow being nearly irrevocably damaged. Greenâs Leukemia became
a new disease.â The picture changed to a significantly
reduced Green in a wheelchair, surrounded by his former teammates at a
charity event in his benefit.
âThatâs where I came in, or rather, Castle Pharmaceuticals. Weâd been
searching for a candidate for our new bone marrow transfer process,
utilizing gene therapy in the new marrow to specifically tailor it for
the recipient. Near-matching with family members or strangers would
not be required. Anyway,â said Nicholas, almost losing his way after
the brief company pitch, âGreen was the lucky one who passed our
initial screening. The lure of curing a brand new disease was simply
too overwhelming to resist.â
The generalâs mouth quirked in a smile.
Again, the screen changed to show a thinner but healthier-looking
Green standing without assistance, though the wheelchair was still a
few paces behind, and a therapist only an armâs length away. âThe
transplant was a success. This was Green after forty-eight hours.â
He clicked, and another picture slid into view showing Green looking a
tad bigger, sweating profusely on a treadmill. âAfter seventy-two
Click. Green on a Nautilis machine. âNinety-six.â
Click. Green on a bench press, with a massive weight on the bar, so
massive that the bar was bending slightly. The general leaned forward
to read the stenciling on the weights. âIs that . . .â
âFour hundred kilograms,â Castle said dryly. âSix days after his
surgery. One hundred fifty-three hours and nineteen minutes after
having a bone marrow transplant to rebuild his ruined blood supply.â
âNo, general. My friend. Greenâs leukemia has been cured, and Green
himself has shown the ability to deadlift over eight tons. Weâre still
not sure exactly how strong heâs become, but we think itâs still
increasing, though not nearly as much as before.â
âThis process, can it be duplicated?â
âNo. The gene therapy has been successful over two dozen times since
then, and at all stages of leukemia, but never with the same results.
We still think the recombinant marrow somehow altered not only his
blood, but bone and muscle composition. Weâre still working on it.â
âToughness? Most of these strong types can take small-arms fire at
âYes, and no. Green bruises just like the rest of us. But, since
bruising is caused by blood leakage right below the surface and Green
has super-blood, for lack of a better term, it coagulates almost
instantly and possesses the strength of the iron itâs made from. So
he cuts, and bleeds, but his blood is tougher than his skin.â
âThatâs. . .disturbing.â
âSomething to eat or drink, General?â asked Nicholas.
âNo, no thanks. Iâd rather continue.â
Nicholas smiled, the bait already having been swallowed. A short
keyboard sequence blanked the screen, which was almost immediately
refilled with a late-eighties sitcom featuring a blond-haired little
boy. The general suppressed a groan as the scene ended to canned
laughter. âMy wife loved this show,â he said.
âSo did millions of Americans. â âLife with Mikeyâ was a coast-to-
coast hit, stayed that way for its first six years, starting in 1989.
Its star, Michael Dean Lawrence, was eight when the show started, but
after he turned fourteen, the cutesy show began to lose viewers, and
was axed after its seventh season, leaving Michael yet another child
star trying to make
it in a business where they canât see past his early work. And it was
that way until 2002, when he was hired by MGM.â
âFinally a job in showbiz?â inquired the general.
âNot really. He was key grip on movie sets.â
âWhatâs a key grip?â
âI have no idea.â
The two men were silent a moment, and Nicholas then continued. âA
terrible on-set accident resulted in poor Michael being crushed under
a lighting rig. The story would have ended up on E! had it not been
for Michael Ross Lawrence, the father. Currently among the top five
neurosurgeons in the world and a personal friend of mine, he
approached me with a project that I simply could not ignore.â The
images of both the younger and elder Lawrences cleared from the screen
and an outline of a human body appeared, containing a red-coded map of
the major nerve bundles in the body. Over this was a series of
flashing green squares detailing areas of the spine, four in all, and
the junction of spine and skull. âFor his son, who was
rendered a quadriplegic, he wanted to attempt radical neural surgery,
his speciality, along with strong, lightweight skeletal reinforcement
and bionicenhancement, mine. So we combined to give his son a new
life.â The video changed to a smiling, walking Michael Lawrence the
âSomething tells me that wasnât all you gave him,â said the general,
turning his head to direct his voice better. âWeâve heard about
Castle smiled. âOf course, our earlier successes emboldened us, and
with Dr. Lawrenceâs help, we were able to increase the speed of
Michaelâs muscle contraction, making him very quick. I was able to
strengthen his skeleton and with aggressive therapy his muscles
responded. Without the limiting influence of his skeleton, Michael
became very strong and resilient. As he got used to his enhancements,
he wanted more.â The wall screen changed to a multi-shot
collage of Michael, some on the treadmill, a few of him on an
operating table. âI cannot, of course, disclose all of the
modifications weâve made, but he only has one lung left, the other
being replaced with filters and storage cells allowing him to function
in low or no oxygen areas as well as being able to survive a wide
variety of inhaled pollutants and poisons. We reinforced his ribcage
to protect his heart, and have given him a variety of ocular implants
and filters, plus the brain implants to allow him to use all of these
âUnknown. Over the past three years weâve used cutting edge technology
and labor that nobodyâs been charged for. If I had to estimate, Iâd
say heâs well past the eight hundred million mark.â
âNot for us. Lawrence is on the team.â
âWhoâs next?â asked the general as the screen before him blanked once
"Adam Noah Ezekiel Lazarus," said Nicholas as a scruffy-looking man in
a black duster popped up on screen.
"How biblical of him," muttered the general.
"You can say that again. Notice the collar right above the six-pointed
star he wears around his neck."
"After a fashion. Although he doesn't look like much, Adam here is the
single greatest practitioner of self-belief and positive chi
reinforcement that we've found."
"Positive what reinforcement?" said the general as he spun his chair
to face Castle fully. "Self-belief?
What kind of bullshit are you talking here?"
Castle shrugged. "We live in extraordinary times, General. Men and
women fly. If itâs by using their basal ganglia to levitate themselves
or if they can use technology to manipulate local gravity, it doesn't
change the end result that the person is flying. We don't know how he
does it, exactly, but if he believes in its possibility, he can
usually do it or come pretty close."
The general stared. "Bend bars?"
"Up to two inches thick. Solid steel."
"Thousand pound deadlift observed."
"Bruises from .22 caliber fire, mild sunburn from contact with metal
heated to five hundred degrees."
The general slouched back. "The religious iconography?"
"Adam holds several doctorates of theology from a variety of sources,
from the respected schools to the internet specials for 9.99. Self-
taught in dozens more. Our staff believes that it is the strength of
his beliefs that give him his abilities."
"So if someone can disprove God he is just a mere mortal?"
Castle shrugged. "Sure. But good luck. He's got the most complete
knowledge of religious arguments both for and against that I've seen.
Still, he's cool with what anyone else believes, as well. And he's
writing a new holy book."
"Rewriting the Bible, I take it?"
"No, all new. Encompassing any and everything you and I and the staff
at Harvard could come up with in a week. Massive book. I've seen it."
"How close is he?"
"We'll never really know. He got through his first chapter on the
creation of all things, but he's been reworking it and correcting
errors for the past twelve years."
"How long is the book?"
"I have no idea. Chapter one is over nine thousand pages long. Hand-
written. Double-sided." Castle reached for the remote and held up his
left hand, thumb and first finger a small space apart. "Itty-bitty
The general had no response as he spun his chair back around.
The screen changed to full video of a stunning brunette walking along
a white line painted on the floor, then twirling and ducking in time
to no rhythm that the general could discern and made even more
mysterious by the complete lack of sound in the video. The camera
panned back, widening the shot to reveal a dozen men on each side,
each armed with a semi-automatic pistol, each firing at random times.
Sparks could be seen on the floor, the ceiling, the reinforced glass
booth that protected each shooter, and none of the rounds so much as
scratched the woman.
"I've seen her somewhere before," said the general, chin resting on
his right fore knuckle.
"Of course you have. Downstairs when you arrived. Veronica is my
"You're a lucky man," said the general.
"Don't I know it," replied Nicholas wistfully. "But, to the matter at
hand. Veronica is demonstrating her pre-existing knowledge of the
bullet's trajectory. She's not really dodging all of the bullets, but
she's dodging the ones that have the greatest chance of hitting her
while staying out of the way of the others. Her precognitive abilities
are but one of her talents."
The scene of her dodging moved to the upper left corner of the screen
to make room for more video clips that then moved to an empty section
of the display. Veronica consistently guessing the correct symbol/
shape/word on flashcards, calming wild animals with a glance, and then
summoning that same animal to her side.
"This is all very nice, Mister Castle, and I am entertained, but
this...well, to be blunt, I can't put
much stock in it. Video and pictures are nice, but it really comes
down to belief and trust. A man walks up to me and says he can throw a
Chevy around, I don't believe him. When I see him throw a Chevy
around, that's what gets me convinced."
"Fair enough," said Castle. "I understand completely. What with
Hollywood tricks and such, any and all of the images I showed you
could be fabricated. So come along with me, if you please."
Nicholas gestured towards the door as the lights came up in the room.
"Follow me and I'll give you something you can see up close and
"I promised you six people, General, and we've only seen five so far.
I've showed you my self-replicator. My strongman. My fighter, my
believer, and my mentalist. The last one is me."
The general raised an eyebrow. "And what, Mister Castle, can you do?"
As they had talked, they cleared several security checkpoints, the
last of which included a massive yard-thick door and a combination of
identity tests. All of which led them to a very stark room with a
twenty-foot ceiling and what could only be described as a twelve foot
tall by eight feet wide sarcophagus, featureless and made of thick,
dull gray metal.
"What can I do, General? I drive this." Castle laid his hand on the
flat surface of the sarcophagus and a network of circuitry lit on the
face of it, extending out to the sides. An audible clack sounded and
the front of the massive slab began to move into the floor as Nicholas
removed his hand.
The slab revealed a massive humanoid suit which opened before both
men's very eyes. The interior was also featureless, save for what was
plainly thick padding lining the interior. Its interior void was
obviously meant to accommodate a human form, legs in legs, arms in
arms, and head protected by the thickness of the upper chest and lower
head of the suit itself. The
exterior of the suit was made of the same dull metal as the slab-case-
sarcophagus, the head a featureless egg except for a simple, basic
crown motif. The arms ended in massive hands, the wrists surmounted by
integrated barrels and openings therein. All features combined into a
massive representation of an armored knight standing a very literal
ten feet tall.
The general let out a low whistle. "Nice."
"Thanks. I've worked on him my whole life."
"Aren't most creations referred to as 'she' or a 'her'?"
"I'm not a sailor or a pilot, General. I become King."
"Yes, general. We've got a Pawn, Rook, Knight, Bishop, and Queen. I
complete the set. The
* * *
"See you at the Senate hearing, then?" said Nicholas as he pumped the
general's hand just before his captain's-bars wearing adjutant opened
the door to the late-model, not in any way government issue deep blue
sedan with a blue four-star license plate.
"Count on it," said the general as he sat down. "Let's go, Newman," he
said to the captain, who
hurried around to the driver's side and then drove away.
"Like candy from a baby," the industrialist said to himself before
turning to walk back into the building.
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