8FOLD/ACRA: Jolt City # 18, War of the Balloonists! (part two of two)

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Tue Sep 29 23:00:58 PDT 2009

THE STORY SO FAR: Derek Mason has made his first-app as Blue Boxer,
and it's been less than stellar.  The object of ridicule and derision,
he is himself unsure of his abilities as he aids his mentor Green
Knight in attempting to capture the two apparently unrelated costumed
criminals each known as The Balloonist.


    ////  //////  /// //////  ////// /// ////// \  //
// ////  //  //  ///   //    ///    ///   //     \//# 18
//////  //////  ///// //    ////// ///   //      // PT.2

The Knight's Den.  Nearing midnight.
   They've been coming here less and less in recent months, much to
Father Riddle's chagrin.  But with both of our heroes living under the
same roof, and with a plausible explanation provided by Dani, who
after all is now Derek's boss and one of Martin's girlfriends, there's
less and less reason to sneak into the church and access its cramped
secret sub-basement.
   Still, Martin keeps some of his gear here, less because it's
convenient and more because it gives him a reason to drop by.  And,
with Martin's polyamorous lifestyle having become a bone of contention
between the Green Knight and the priest who keeps his secrets, Martin
knows if he doesn't have to come by every once in a while to restock,
their friendship would likely collapse.
   Martin finishes stuffing his utility belt and locks it back into
   "So," says Derek.  "Here we are on our first big adventure."
   "What's next?"
   "Well, we wait and see.  I still think it's a safe bet that
Balloonist One will show up at the Jordan ball tomorrow." Martin
checks his watch; midnight has passed. "Well, tonight."
   "But until then?"
   "Don't really have any leads, unfortunately.  We keep an eye out.
Maybe go on patrol, see if we find anything."
   Derek is understandably discouraged.
   "Look, kid, I know you want to get this over with.  All this media
attention, you feel like you got something to prove..."
   "Well, I just want to catch him, you know?  To protect people."
   "Unfortunately, the name of our game is reactive."
   "Reactive is a terrible name for a game."
   "Always been partial to Hungry, Hungry Hippos," says Martin.  "But
that's neither here nor there.  Sometimes, we get leads and we pound
the pavement, sometimes we get clues and we piece it all together.
But a lot of the time, we wait around until our bleeper goes off, and
Dani says, your boy is up to some nonsense in Chinatown, and we go to
Chinatown and we punch him in the face.  A lot of it is hurry up and
wait and it can be really frustrating."
   His bleeper goes off.
   "It's Dani," says Martin.  He taps his comm-link. "Lt. Handler?"
   "Your boy is up to some nonsense in Little Warsaw."
   "Well, I was close."
   "We'll be there in ten minutes."

Little Warsaw.  Nine minutes and a lot of breathless unicycle-peddling
   The first thing that comes to their attention is the fact that much
of the street is covered in a slightly orange-ish goo.  The second
thing they notice is an older gentlemen, covered from the waist-down
in the gunk, apparently stuck to the ancient ruins of a Studebaker.
   "Zielony Rycerz!" cries the man when he sees Martin.  He looks at
Derek. "I Granatowy Kretyn, kto spada od budowli."
   "What'd he say?" asks Derek.
   "He greeted us by name."
   "Why was my name longer than yours?"
   "Maybe if you kept up on your lessons, you would know," says
Martin.  Speaking in Polish, he asks the man what happened.
"Apparently our boy is spraying some sort of orange glue all over
Little Warsaw."
   "Well, I could have told you that without even asking him," says
   "The question is, why is he doing this?" says Martin. "It doesn't
exactly fit with his balloon animal motif."
   "And where is he, anyway?"
   Martin asks the man; the man points.  Martin and Derek turn.  "Oh.
That makes more sense, then."
   Our heroes leap out of the way as another glob of glue bursts onto
the pavement, Martin to the left side of the street and Derek to the
right, each of them rolling with practiced efficiency and landing back
on their feet, Martin more gracefully and effortlessly than his
   Both our heroes look up at the mustachioed man in the hot air
   "Balloonist Two!" says Martin.
   Derek is about to say something like, 'duh!', when the villain
speaks, every bristle of his nose-hair a-quivering. "Two!  Two!  Why
am I 'Two'?"
   That's when it dawns on Derek.  It wasn't a case of Martin
identifying the villain. It was a case of Martin attacking him on an
emotional level.
   "Well," says Derek, "you're twice as big, aren't you?"
   The Balloonist responds by firing at Derek; Derek jumps out of the
way with ease.
   "Or," calls Martin, "it might be because you're second-rate."
   "Take that back!" scowls the Balloonist.
   Martin dodges the glue-shot and comes back with another oral
assault.  "You're just not as important as Balloonist One.  Not that
much of a threat!"
   "I'll show you a threat!"
   Derek opens his mouth to say something, but Martin beats him to it:
some sort of allusion to "doing a number two" that doesn't quite
work.  But the joke isn't the point, not in itself; what Martin's
doing, Derek realizes, is drawing the enemy's fire so that Derek can
close in on him.
   Derek aims his grappling gun, waits for Martin to make another
joke, and then fires it right into the basket.
   "Hot-diggity-dog!" he cries as the gun reels itself (and Derek) up
to the basket.  Derek grabs ahold of the rim with his left hand and,
letting go of his grapple, he swipes the glue-gun away with the
right.  He throws it to the ground.
   "Now look what you've done!" says the Balloonist.  He raises his
chubby fists above his head, aims for Derek's left hand, and brings
them down, fast and hard.  It's not fast enough, however, because
Derek is able to switch hands; now holding onto the rim of the basket
with his right, he thrusts his left fist into the Balloonist's face.
Before the Balloonist can react, he switches again, now hitting him
with his right, then his left, then his right.
   "There's a reason they call me the Blue Boxer!" says Derek.  Now
grabbing ahold of the rim with both hands, he prepares to swing
himself upwards, kicking the Balloonist in the face.  He prepares, but
he does not pull it off; mid-way through the swing, the weight of his
bag sends him back down the way he came.  He loses his grip.  He
starts to fall...
   And then he grabs ahold of the grapple-gun, still stuck in the
   "Boxer!" calls Martin.  "Drop!  I'll catch you!"
   "No, I got this," says Derek.  He starts to reach up for the rim
   By this time, however, the Balloonist has recovered.  He's not
going to let Derek regain purchase quite so easily.
   "God, you're fat," says Derek.
   The Balloonist's face falls, and even Derek feels squeamish for a
moment about the naked stupidity of the insult.  No wit to it, no
colour; just ugliness.
   But it does its job; it distracts the Balloonist enough to let
Derek grab ahold of the rim with one hand.  He coils his other fist.
"Ready for another paczki?"
   Boom!  Big right hand, right in the kisser!  The Balloonist
stumbles backwards, causing his balloon to jerk back and then forth.
Derek loses his grip!
    He reaches for the grapple again, but it is too late; as he falls
back to the earth, he realizes that a parachute might be a practical
addition to his ensemble.
   And then, Martin plucks him out of the air and sets him on his
   "My hero," says Derek flatly.  "Stand back.  It's time to see what
my new piezoelectric boots can do!"
   He leaps forward, braces himself for the big bounce, touches the
ground, catapults...
   ... and veers off sideways, face-first into an adjacent wall.

  He comes to (Martin has smelling salts).  "How long was I out?"
   "Hardly a minute."
   "The Balloonist...?"
   "Getting away," says Martin.  He looks skyward and raises his
voice.  "Doesn't matter.  It was the wrong one anyway." He turns back
to Derek and whispers: "I got a call from Dani.  Might have a lead on
Balloonist One.  We got to get going.  Are you okay?"
   "My head hurts.  But I've had worse."
   Martin helps him to his feet. "Piezoelectric boots?"
   "Quiet, you."
   Derek sees that the old man is now free from the glue; in fact, all
of it has been reduced to a quickly-browning slush.
   "What was the point of that?" says Derek.
   "I'm not sure if even he knows," says Martin.  "It's been a while
since I had  a villain like that."
   "A villain like what?"
   "Well, he's not all there."
   "I could have told you that."
   Martin mounts his unicycle.  "It's not just that he's crazy.  A lot
of them are.  He's just... I dunno, there's Crooked Man crazy and
there's this kind of crazy.  Crooked Man is scary.  This guy?  He's
just kind of sad and pathetic.  If he hurts anybody, it'll be entirely
by accident."

En route.
   "So, what's the situation?" says Derek.
   "The situation is someone found a balloon animal."
   "Is it dead?"
   "Still alive.  Parents called.  Apparently their little girl's been
keeping it as a pet, in secret.  They just found out."
   "Is anyone hurt?"
   "No, not yet, anyway," says Martin.  "We'll be there soon.  So.
'Are you ready for another paczki?'  Seriously?"
   "You didn't like that one?  Little Warsaw, and Fat Tuesday coming
up next week...?"
   "That one of Schrebel's?" Abner Schrebel; official joke-writer to
the Green Knight.  Martin doesn't always share his sense of humour.
   "No, that was one of mine."
   "Hmm.  I'd stick with Schrebel."

Her name is Portia.  She is four years old.  "It's past my bedtime,"
she says to Martin as he crouches down to her level.
   "Do you know who I am?"
   "You're the Green Giant."
   "I'm the Green Knight."
   "That's what I said!"
   "Oh, okay."
   "I'm taller than you," says Portia.
   "Are you?"
   "Are you sure about that?"
   The girl's mother interjects.  "You're not taller than him."
   "Shut up," says Portia.
   "Excuse me?" says the mother.
   "I didn't say it."
   "I think you did."
   "No, it was him." She points to Derek.
   "Now, wait a second..." starts Derek.
   Martin gives him a sort of sideways nod.
   "You're right, it was me," says Derek.  "I'm sorry."
   Portia doesn't pay him any mind; she turns to her mother.  "When I
was the grown-up, my daddy was bigger than you."
   "I hate to break it to you, sport, but I'm older than your dad."
   "But my dad is old."
   "When I was the grown-up, I made you sit in the corner."
   "Okay," says her mother.
   Martin breaks in.  "Well, what I wanted to ask you about, Portia,
is your cat.  Your mom said you had a cat?"
   "You don't have a cat?"
   "Okay, I have a cat."
   "Right," says Martin.  "What's your cat's name?"
   She says the name but Martin can't understand it.
   "What's his name?"
   She says it again.
   Her mother interjects: "Simon."
   "Where did you meet Simon, Portia?"
   "I don't know."
   "You don't know where you found him?"
   She shakes her head.
   "Did someone give him to you?"
   "I don't know."
   "Did someone give him to you, or did you find him?"
   "I'm four."
   "I'm not three, I'm four."
   "That's right."
   "Do you have a cat?" asks Portia.
   "No, I don't.  Could you tell me about your cat?"
   "Do you want to see me dance?"
   "Could you tell me about Simon?"
   "Hold on.  I'm really good at dancing."
   "Okay, go ahead and dance."
   She starts to scoot around and wave her tiny, balled-up fists.  She
stops.  "You're not dancing."
   "Was I supposed to dance?"
   She looks at him like he's an idiot.
   "Okay, then I'll dance."
   Martin stands up and imitates Portia's dance moves.
   Portia stops again.
   "What's the matter?"
   She points at Derek.  "I don't like him."
   "Thanks," says Derek.
   "I'm sorry," says Portia.  She waddles over to Derek and hugs him.
   "Portia," says Martin.  "Can I ask you a question?"
   "Portia, did Simon..."
   "No!" screeches Portia.  She relinquishes her embrace of Derek and
begins to beat at his legs with her fists.  "No-no-no-no-no!"
   "I said no!"
   Martin rubs his ears through the spandex.
   The mother exhales sardonically.  "You should see her when she's
not tired."
   Portia waddles up to Martin.  "Okay, I'll be a monkey and you be a
rabbit, okay?"
   "I don't really want to," says Martin.
   "I don't want to either," says Portia.  "I'm sleepy."
   "Has Simon ever hurt you?"
   "No, he's a good kitty.  Sometimes, I pet him."
   "Well, that's very nice.  Do you feed him?"
   "He's not hungry right now."
   "Is he ever hungry?"
   "Sometimes he gets scared of me, because I chase him!" She says
with the absolute relish that only a four-year old can muster.
   "He's never hurt you?"
   "I don't even know who you're talking about."
   "I don't even know who that is."
   "We were just talking about him."
   "I have to poop."  She runs to the bathroom and closes the door.
   Martin looks to Derek, then to the mother.  "You said the cat's in
her room?"
   She nods.
   "About how big is it?"
   "Little smaller than a shoebox."
   "Do you have a shoebox?"
   "I'm a woman, of course I have a shoebox."  She disappears into her
own bedroom and returns with three boxes.  "Take your pick."
   Martin grabs one and quickly pokes a few holes in the lid with a
safety pin.  "We'll try to get it out while she's in the bathroom.  If
you could stand back, for your own safety...?"
   She stands in front of the bathroom door.  Martin crouches down in
front of the girl's bedroom door and nods at Derek; Derek turns the
   Both of them fully expect Simon to rush out of the room, a squeaky
whirlwind of rage and violence.  Or, conversely, it might be hiding,
waiting for its prey to let down its guard.  But as Derek gently
pushes open the door, he finds that neither is true; the balloon cat
is splayed out on the girl's bed, bringing one of its paws up to its
mouthless muzzle, as if to clean it.
   It stops cleaning for a moment, points its eyeless head at our
heroes, and then resumes what it was doing.  Martin gets up on his
feet and cautiously enters the room.  Derek follows suit, noiselessly
pushing the door shut behind him.
   The cat continues to clean itself.
   Martin opens the shoebox; the cat's interest is piqued.  Rather
than try to pick it up when its alert, Martin simply lowers the open
box near the cat's muzzle.  It sticks its little tied-off nose at the
corner of the box, sniffing at the crinkly paper.
   Martin sets the box down on the bed and takes a step back.  Simon
gets up on all fours and sniffs the box again.  He bats at the paper.
Finding it perhaps to his liking, he steps into the box, circles
around inside it, and curls up.
   Martin slaps the lid on and tucks the box under his arm.  The cat
moves around a bit and starts to meow; it's a weird, almost hellish
   A sound that Portia recognizes all the way from the bathroom.  The
door swings open, and before her mother can prevent her from doing so,
Portia zips out from between her mother's legs.  "Simon!"
   Martin hands the box off to Derek.
   Portia waddles out.  "What are you doing with Simon?" she demands
of Derek.
   "We're, um, we're..."
   "You're a mean blue man and I hate you!" says Portia.
   Derek backs into the front door and makes his exit.
   Portia looks at Martin.  "I want my cat.  Promise me I'll get him
   "Simon might be sick," says Martin.  "We're taking him to a friend,
a doctor."
   "Will he be okay?"
   "I hope so," says Martin.
   "You didn't promise," says Portia.
   Of all the times for the kid to develop an attention span.
   "Just promise her," says the mother wearily.
   "I can't do that," says Martin.  "Sorry."

Outside.  Martin takes the shoebox back from Derek.
   "That wasn't cool, man," says Derek.
   "Making me the bad guy."
   "She just didn't like you, what can I say?"
   "But I noticed you gave me the box when she came out, that you had
me take the box out instead of you.  I'm the one that stole her cat
now.  You're blameless."
   "What are you getting upset about?" says Martin.  "It's just a four-
year-old kid."
   "That's right," says Derek.  "So why were you so concerned about
what she thought of you that you had to do me like that?"
   Martin doesn't answer him.  It's silent for a moment; the silence
is broken by a particularly plaintive meow.
   "These things are alive," says Martin.
   "I know."
   "That's not what I mean.  We already know that they're not
controlled by Granger.  That that woman didn't detect a psychic link.
And this one didn't attack us, didn't attack the girl or her family."
   Derek realizes where Martin's going with this.  "And so they're not
just automatically angry.  They think.  They can be trained.  House-
broken.  They're... they're sentient.  They're really alive."
   Simon meows again, more pathetic than the last.
   "He's sad," says Derek.  "He's scared."
   Martin hands Derek the box.  He contacts Dani via his comm-link.
   "Hiya, hero.  Everything alright?"
   "Yeah.  We got the... creature.  It's intact.  Call Dr. Fay, see if
she's burning the midnight oil?"

To make a long story just a little bit shorter, she is.  As a matter
of fact, Dr. Fay was on the cusp of calling Handler in order to get in
touch with the Green Knight.
   "You've got something for me," says Dr. Fay, "but first, I just
might have something for you."  She removes a towel from her
workspace, revealing some sort of box-like contraption.  "This, my
spandex-clad comrades, is one genuine, made-to-order, one-of-a-kind
dues-ex-machina, at your service.  One press of this shiny blue
button-- don't flatter yourself, Boxer, it's only because I'm
temporarily out of the industry standard big shiny red button-- and,
viola!, no more balloon animals."
   "How does it work?" says Martin.
   "Well, after various and sundry tests, yours truly (the lovely and
amazing and oh-so-single Doctor Fatima Tarif) determined that, yes,
the gas that brings these suckers to life is, indeed, extra-
dimensional in origin, brought here during the great Vibra-Jacket Free-
For-All of Twenty Aught-Seven.  Once I knew that for sure, I could
determine the frequency of its home dimension, tune this here hunk of
machinery to the same, and, with a push of a button, negate said
frequency in our reality."
   "I see," says Derek.  "You push the button, and it sends out a
pulse for a certain radius, and it just zaps it all back to where it
came from?  Kind of like the pulse you used to shut down all the Vibra-
   "How did you know about that?" says Dr. Fay.
   "Educated guess," says Derek.  He had actually been there, but that
was when he was impersonating the Green Knight.  "So, this... wait, it
gets rid of all of it?"
   "Within that radius, sure.  Kills 'em dead on the spot.  At least,
in theory.  We won't know until we press the afore-mentioned big shiny
blue button."
   "What about the fail-safe guns?" says Derek.  "The ones Green
Knight used to target individual Vibra-Jackets.  Could you repurpose
one to emit this sort of pulse, but at just one... balloon creature?"
   "The fail-safe gun works on a different principle; it takes things
that are fuzzy, that are between two realities, and brings it kicking
and screaming back to ours.  But the balloon critters, and the gas
that animates them, are completely of our world.  We'd just be tapping
into the latent dimensional radiation."
   "So that's a no?" says Derek.
   "That's a no."
   Martin buts in.  "Could you excuse us for a moment, Dr. Fay?"
   "Don't push it without me."

   They set the box down on the floor; Simon points his face up at
them, looks around the room, and settles back into the shoebox.
   "So," says Martin.
   "So.  You're the one that fought Granger on Thursday.  How
dangerous are these things?"
   "Oh, they're dangerous, alright," says Martin.  "One about his...
about this size, I think it was supposed to be a dog or something, a
poodle?  It jumped up at me, knocked me clear across the room and down
on my back.  Others were scratching at me, and I know it sounds kind
of ridiculous (after all, they're made of rubber or whatever) but they
drew blood, drew it pretty deep.  So, enough of these things, come
after a person or loose in a crowd... yeah, they could hurt people.
Kill people."
   "I see why you're concerned about him more than the fruitcake in
the hot air balloon."
   "Granger is a very disturbed, very dangerous man," says Martin.
"And he might have an army of these things.  On the other hand,
though... we've got proof right here that they're not just killing
machines.  It's just in how they're trained, how they're conditioned.
And maybe this one got away from Granger.  Maybe he had trained it
like the others, but the little girl... well, she taught it to love.
   Derek stares at the now-sleeping balloon-cat. "It'd be great, it'd
be different, if she could give us a fail-safe gun, so we could only
take out the dangerous ones.  Because if there's more like this..."
   "Or," says Martin, "if they could be rehabilitated..."
   Derek nods.  "I mean, if they haven't done anything yet, if one of
them is innocent, but they die because of something another one did,
or something another one might do..."
   Martin takes a deep breath and pushes it out through his nostrils.
"This is a bug-fuck."
   "Maybe they don't die, though," suggests Derek.  "Maybe the gas is
all alive already..."
   "It'd be some kind of hive-mind then, wouldn't it?" says Martin
sharply.  "And if they can learn, they can think for themselves, as
separate entities... then they're not a hive-mind.  They're not
psychically linked.  They can only exist in these physical bodies.
When the gas is gone... they're gone."
   "So, what are we going to do?"
   Martin rubs his mask with his glove.  "I don't know.  What do you
   "Is this a test?" says Derek.  "You want to see if I'll come up
with the right answer?"
   "No, it's not a damn test," says Martin.  "Why would I come up with
a test like this?"
   "That's not what I meant.  I meant, are you asking me to see if I
pick the right one?"
   "I'm asking you because I don't know," says Martin.  "It's... it's
your call."
   Derek exhales sharply.  "You never can make a decision."
   "Watch it," says Martin.  "Just... what do you think?"
   "Heroes don't kill, right?  That's an absolute."
   "We don't kill people," says Martin.  "Animals... it's a little
   "If we do this thing," says Derek, "then we'd be killing
potentially innocent creatures, to save human lives.  Potentially.  We
don't even know one hundred percent that they would be attacking
anyone.  But if we don't do it, and they do, then humans might die,
and we could have prevented those deaths.  So, do we strike
preemptively to ensure those lives are safe or do we do nothing and
claim the moral high ground?  Hell, is that even the moral high
ground, then, if we might be letting people die?"
   "Like I said," says Martin, "it's a bug-fuck."
   "If it was a person, or a group of people," says Derek, "and they
may or may not do something, we wouldn't attack them or try to arrest
them, let alone kill them, not before they did something to deserve
it.  If the Psychopomp..."
   "No, we wouldn't."
   "In the end, though, we're talking about the value of animal lives
against the value of human lives.  And..." Derek falters for a moment,
then regains his resolve.  "And I can't put the life of an animal, no
matter how intelligent, above the life of a human being.  So... So I
guess we better do this.  I'll get Dr. Fay."

   Derek reaches into the shoebox and plucks out Simon, setting him on
the table.  He's awake now, alert, emitting a soft, strange purr.
Derek strokes its head with his glove and presses the button.
   The purring stops, and is replaced by a half-hearted little whine.
Simon stretches out his paws on the countertop; Derek holds one in his
hand.  The pink balloon body begins to wither, creasing and pressing
in on itself, wilting.  The noise it makes, no longer recognizable as
that of a cat, slows down, becomes quieter, slower, quieter, slower,
until there's no noise, until there's no form, no cat, no thing there
at all.
   Derek lets the paw slip out of his hand.  He looks at Martin
soberly.  "Did we do the right thing?"
   "I don't know," says Martin.  "I hope so."

   Derek knows he needs to fix those boots, and he has an idea as to
what exactly went wrong with them, but he's too tired to tinker.  At
the same time, he can't get to sleep.  To fill up the time, he powers
up his computer, checks his e-mail, browses the web, does a vanity
google on "Blue Boxer".  Apparently, someone in Little Warsaw saw him
jump into that brick building.

lance_ocelot says:
   If this is true I can't say I'm surprised I don't understand why GK
is doing with this guy he's making GK look bad but I don't think he'll
be his sidekick for too long I think once GK realizes how ridiculous
he is he'll choose someone else someone who actually knows what
they're doing and I'm not naming any names but I have a hunch who that
might be more to follow as it happens

   Derek closes his browser and pulls up his games folder.  And,
knowing full well that he's much too tired to try to tackle the
dungeons of doom, he starts up NetHack.
   As predicted, the game doesn't go very well or far.  He's at the
fourth level when his samurai succumbs to Yet Another Stupid Death.
He checks his conduct.
   "You were an atheist." (Of course.) "You were hungry." (That much
he knew already.) "You were illiterate." (Well, the last time he read
a scroll, the damn thing killed him.) "You never genocided any
   He turns off his computer and goes to sleep.

Saturday morning.
   Martin wakes Derek.  "Suit up.  We got a lead."

Just outside of Jolt City: the woods.  More specifically, the
residence of Darkhorse and his wife, Daphne.  The latter had been
going for a walk this crisp and chilly February morning when she came
across a pile of balloon carcasses.  She checks to make sure her
domino mask is on and her parka is fastened tight before leading our
heroes to the site.
   "This is the spot," she says.  The withered corpses are piled atop
of one another.  "And there's a campfire over here."  She points a few
feet away.  "It was still warm when I found it.  That's when I had...
my husband call Lt. Handler."
   "How is he?" asks Martin.
   "He's coming along," says Daphne.  "Walking again.  Not quite up to
snuff, but he's getting there."
   "Good, good."
   Daphne stops and looks at Derek.  "Did we... did we meet?"
   "Yeah.  Before I chose my codename."
   "Was I... uh..." She seems to be embarrassed to ask Derek, and so
she directs the question to Martin.  "Was I naked?"
   Martin nods somberly.  "You both were."
   "Did we tell you who we were?  Who we really are?"
   "You tried to."
   "But we didn't."
   "If you did, I don't remember."
   "Well, I just want to apologize, on behalf of both of us."
   I didn't mind, thinks Derek.
   "That's okay," says Martin.  "It's not the first time I've seen
Darkhorse naked.  Probably won't be the last."
   "Well, it's, it's not really our fault," says Daphne.  "His old
enemy the Gorgon had planted this hypnotic suggestion, and we... well,
we did some silly things."
   "So," says Martin, "the camp site was over here?"
   "We'll take it from here."
   "Okay.  Do you want any thing to drink?  Some hot cocoa?"
   "No thanks."
   "I'll be inside."  She turns and leaves.  Martin heads over to the
camp site.
   Derek follows.  "Hey, GK... I thought there was no such thing as
mind control."
   "Well, not really.  Hypnotic suggestion... that's a little
   "So it does exist?"
   "It does, but it's very, very rare and it can't make you do
anything you don't want to do.  In the end, people are responsible for
what they do."

   They spend about ten minutes searching the area for clues.  There
are none.
   "Do you think he just gave up?" says Derek.  "We took out his
weapons, so he left town?"
   "I don't know," says Martin.  "He might give up, he might try for
Anders anyway.  I guess we'll find out tonight."
   "The Jordan Ball."
   "Oh, right.  Do I have to dress up?"
   Martin's about to crack wise back at him when a shadow falls over
the woods.  He looks up.  "Balloonist Two!"
   Derek hops onto his unicycle.  "Lend me your grapple?"
   "You can't fire at him through the trees."
   "He's heading east," says Derek, "towards the dirt road, towards
the clearing.  I can get him there, bring him down to the ground.  I
can do this if you give me a chance."
   "Sure, knock yourself out," says Martin.  He hands Derek the
grapple.  Derek speeds eastward, and Martin follows.

   I'm going to do this, thinks Derek.  I'm going to hook into his
basket, and I'm going to slowly reel him to the ground.  I'm going to
punch his lights out and we'll see that on the front page.  I might
even apologize to him for the fat crack I made.  I feel bad about
   Take aim.  Keep your balance.  Have your thumb ready to slow the
reel; you don't want to end up zipping up there, not without a way
down.  Aim.  Deep breath.  Oh, crap, he's picking up speed, got to get
him before he starts going too fast.  Push the button, Derek, push the
damn button...!
   Zip!  The line flies through the air.  Thwack! It finds purchase!
Ka-click!  Reeling it in, slowly, slowly (stupid Balloonist doesn't
even know what's happening yet), slowly...
   The unicycle hits a bump in the dirt road, sending Derek flying off
the bike.  He lands belly-first in the gravel, and then takes to the
air again, and then lands again, dragged along by the hot air
balloon.  His limbs flail up into the air and painfully flop back to
the ground.  The dust stings his eyes.
   "Let go, let go!"  It's Martin.
   That's right, thinks Derek, I've still got the grapple.  Maybe if I
reel it in faster I could
   He hits a telephone pole and lands in a sticky thump.

   And, of course, there was a young woman with a cell phone nearby.
Her forty second phone video "Blue Boxer wipes out trying to apprehend
rogue telephone pole" not only garnered that video tens of thousands
of views, but increased the subscribers on her Youtube account some
twenty-fold.  The video went on to be uploaded to other accounts and
other video sharing sites.  Some users added surfing music to their
version of the clip and it found its way into several web comedy
   Additionally, "rogue telephone pole" became a meme in and of
itself, used somewhat nebulously to refer to any task that is not only
worthless or quixotic but that is also done very, very badly.

   Martin's standing over him when he comes to.  "You know, when I
said knock yourself out, I didn't mean to knock yourself out."
   "Oh God," says Derek, his eyes blistering with tears.  "That
hurts.  Shit."
   "Take it easy," says Martin.  "Just sit there for a moment.  Are
you dizzy?"
   "That depends.  Which one of you is asking?  Because I see four of
   "He got away, right?"
   "With your grapple."
   "With my last one."
   "Sorry.  I really thought I could do it."
   "Let's get you home, buddy."

That night. An hour before the ball.
   "So," says Martin, "are you coming, or staying?"
   "I'm coming," says Derek.
   "You sure you feel up to it?"
   "Only a flesh wound.  Okay, a lot.  A lot of flesh wounds." Derek
smiles weakly.
   Martin's jaw hangs open.
   "You're missing like three of your teeth."
   "Are you fucking serious?"  Derek gets up and, limping slightly,
heads into the bathroom.  "Son of a bitch.  Shit.  I like my teeth.  I
need those to eat with."
   "We'll get you to a dentist.  These kinds of things happen."
   "Don't you have all your teeth?"
   "Well, it never happened to me, but I'm good at what I do."
   This rankles Derek a bit.
   Martin puts his hand on Derek's shoulder. "On the bright side..."
   "There's a bright side to this?"
   "Well, with less teeth, maybe you'll stop masticating six times a
day.  I mean, it's really disgusting.  And you do it in front of
   "That one of Abner's?"
   "No, that's one of mine."
   "Stick with Schrebel."

The Jordan Ball.
   As always, Ree's mother is there to greet everyone at the door.
"Oh, the Green Knight," says the matriarch archly.  "And the Acrobat."
   "Blue Boxer, actually," says Derek.
   "You have a new little boy, how delightful," says Mrs. Jordan.  "I
don't remember inviting you..."
   "Well," says Martin, "as you'll remember, two days ago a maniac
made an attempt on your grandson's life."
   "Hmm.  You haven't caught him yet?"
   "Not so much, no," says Martin.  "We're working on it.  But we
thought this would present a perhaps irresistible opportunity, and
that it might be in Anders's best interest if we were here to, you
know, just keep an eye on things.  And Anders agreed."
   "Yes, well, it's not his decision to make," says Mrs. Jordan.  "And
no maniac of any description is going to get into my house.  I'm here
to see to that.  I'll only allow people whom I know personally.  Oh,
Carlos!  Hello, Carlos!"
   "Madame."  It's Carlos Canton, the city councilman.  He does a deep
bow and kisses Mrs. Jordan on her pasty-white hand.
   "And with you is young Mr. Proctor," says Mrs. Jordan.  "You've got
quite a competition going with my grandson and his father's company,
don't you?"
   "Yes ma'am."
   "Don't run him too hard, you know."
   "Where is young Mr. Cradle, I wonder?" asks Canton.
   "Upstairs, likely, sulking.  He's such an unusual, solitary boy.
Very much like his father, I'm afraid."
   Martin stifles a laugh.  He apparently doesn't stifle it
particularly well because it invites the stares of Canton and Jordan.
   "Blue Boxer," says Canton.
   Derek nods mutely; he hasn't forgotten how Canton played him last
   "I saw that video of yours," says Canton.
   "Your little... body-surfing.  Interesting approach to crime
fighting, vigilante."
   "I'll be going to find that little wallflower grandson of yours,"
says Canton.  "You'll save me a dance?"
   Dame Jordan does indeed promise Canton a dance.
   Derek turns to Martin.  "What does he mean, my video?"
   "Someone... someone saw you on that dirt road, with the grapple,
and... well, they had their cell phone on them, and they uploaded it
to YouTube..."
   "Oh, son of a seahorse."
   "I don't mean to insist here, Mrs. Jordan," says Martin, "but for
your grandson's safety, I think it would be best if..."
   He's drowned out by a crash of glass.  He immediately points his
head at the source of the disturbance, and sees a very familiar hot
air balloon rising above the east end of the manor.
   Derek grabs his binoculars and slaps them over his eyes.  "He's got
   "Oh, shit," says Martin.  "And me without a grapple.  Excuse
   He presses past Mrs. Jordan, into the house; he quickly gallops up
the stairs and rushes to the east end of the house.  There's a line
ahead of him of people waiting for the bathroom, apparently oblivious
to the crash of glass just a few moments before.  He leaps into the
air, presses his palm down on the shiny head of a balding man, and
leap-frogs himself over the crowd.
   He can see the broken window now, just a few feet away, and there's
the balloon-- if he leaps and crosses his fingers, he just might reach
it before it gets out of range...
   There's a flash of light, and the crack of a pistol; it rings out
three times and the balloon folds in on itself, just like Simon had,
crashing to the ground.  Too late, too late, too late.
   Martin pushes himself past the crowd again (no grace, no
acrobatics, just violence).  He makes his way down the stairs, still
moving quickly but without urgency.  He moves now like a man already
dead.  "I'm sorry, Ray," he says, and it takes a moment to realize
that he's said it aloud.
   He heads outside.  Derek is already at the crash site.
   The Blue Boxer lifts the flap of the balloon and helps Anders to
his feet.  Anders stands there, awkward as always, the pistol resting
on his open palm.
   The Green Knight stands next to the Boxer and notes the hole in the
balloon before he sees the two in the Balloonist's face.
   Anders locks eyes with Martin.  "I just couldn't go through it

   The police arrive soon after, and they question Anders about the
incident.  Martin's fairly confident that there won't be any charges,
given not only the circumstances of the crime but also Anders's
considerable wealth and influence.  The names of Cradle and Jordan
still mean a lot in this town.
   "You know," says Derek to Martin after, "I wouldn't have minded so
much if it was the other one.  From what you told me about him... but
this guy, I kind of liked him.  That's weird, isn't it?"
   Martin shrugs.
   "I wanted to apologize," says Derek.  "I still feel bad about
calling him fat."
   "I liked him well enough," says Martin after a bit of
deliberation.  "That is, before he pulled this stunt.  What was he
going to do to Anders?  What would he have to do, to prove that he

Fat Tuesday morning.
   Pam's back from Vegas.  She looks at Derek in disbelief.  "Don't
tell me that's your breakfast."
   "It's paczki day," says Derek.  "So I'm eating paczkis."
   "How many have you had?"
   "Counting this one?"
   "Four?  Are you insane?  Four.  You really need to eat four
   "How many are you going to have?"
   "Half.  Half a paczki is reasonable.  Four is ridiculous."
   "They're tasty."
   "Don't be complaining to me when you have a stomach ache.  Or when
you can't fit in your spandex any more."
   Martin pokes his head into the dining room and gives Pam a quick
peck on the mouth.  He opens the paczki box, closes it, and looks at
Derek.  "These aren't just for you.  How many have you had?"
   "He's had four," says Pam.
   "Jesus Christ.  You want to have a heart attack before you turn
   Derek doesn't have time to think of a witty comeback.
   "That was Roy Riddle on the phone," says Martin.  "Looks like he
found a body.  Wearing some kind of union."
   "Jesus," says Pam.
   "Dani'll want us to see if it's anyone I know," says Martin.  "Suit
up and let's go take a look."

Roy greets them with a box of paczkis.  "You want one?"
   "No," says Martin.
   "I'll take one," says Derek.
   "You've had four."
   "Four?" mouths Roy soundlessly.
   "Where is it?" says Martin.
   "Couple blocks this way," says Roy.  "I was coming back from the
bakery and I saw him lying in the alleyway.  I think he... I think he
missed a jump.  Fell off a building."

   "I know him," says Derek.  "He, uh, he came into the office on
Friday.  Wanted to... to replace me.  Called himself... Hmm.  Lance
Ocelot."  He tries to laugh at the name, but nothing comes up.
   "It's a dangerous world that we live in," says Martin.  "Call Dani,
get an ambulance."
   Derek nods and walks down the street aways before activating his
comm-link.  "Dani, it's the Boxer..."
   Martin stares at the pool of blood spanning out from the kid's
broken face.  "A dangerous world..."
   "Well," says Roy, soberly, "that's why you need a partner, isn't
it?  And that's why your partner needs you.  So you can watch each
other's backs, fight the good fight."
   "Actually, no," says Martin quietly.  "That's not it at all.  It's
not that I need protection.  It's that everyone else does.  It's a
dangerous world, and Jolt City needs a protector.  A Green Knight.  A
Blue Boxer.  Even a Darkhorse.  And because it's a dangerous world, I
know that I'm not going to be around forever.  Superheroes... it ain't
for old men, and I'm getting older every day.
   "The whole point in training him has diddly squat with wanting a
sidekick.  I'm training him to be my replacement."

    ////  //////  /// //////  ////// /// ////// \  //
// ////  //  //  ///   //    ///    ///   //     \//# 18
//////  //////  ///// //    ////// ///   //      //NOTES

Wow, it's been a while, hasn't it?  Over a year, by my reckoning,
since our previous issue.  I hope it was worth the wait.

I want to tip my hat to Dave Van Domelen, who suggested
piezoelectricity as the basis for Derek's high-jumping boots.  Rest
assured, young Mr. Mason is hard at work getting the bugs out of them.

I also want to thank the readers of RACC for voting JOLT CITY their
favourite series last year, and me one of its two favourite authors.
It was quite an honour.

Finally: paczkis.  Most of my readers probably have no idea what these
are or how they're pronounced, which renders the pun kind of dead on
arrival.  I probably should have thought better of it but there's
something about a pun, even (and especially) if it's a groaner, that
renders me unable to resist it.

A paczki (pronounced "punch-key") is a sort of Polish deep-fried jelly-
filled doughnut served on the day before Ash Wednesday ("Shrove
Tuesday" or "Fat Tuesday") in the United States as a sort of last
indulgence before lent (in Poland, they're consumed on "Fat Thursday",
the last Thursday before lent).  It's found in areas with large Polish
populations, such as Metro-Detroit or Chicago, though it has
apparently begun to spread further out.  (I do know that a lot of my
relatives from other parts of the country have no idea what these
are.)  They are, to be blunt, extremely fattening, with a single
paczki typically containing between 300 and 500 calories.


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