8FOLD/ACRA: Jolt City # 19, "The Little League of Doom!" (1/3)

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Sun Jun 13 20:50:37 PDT 2010

   It's the bottom of the ninth, and Derek "Blue Boxer" Mason has made
it to third base.  His cohort and mentor, Martin "Green Knight" Rock,
is at bat, his costume drenched in sweat.
   "Strike him out!" cries the demonic twelve-year-old catcher.
   The pitcher hovers in mid-air above his mound.  "One more of my
super-sonic curve-balls, coming up!"
   "You can do it, GK!" says Derek.  "You have to!  This is our last
chance!  If you can't knock it out of the park, Jolt City will be done
   A point down, two outs, two strikes, and the bottom of the ninth.
   Can our heroes triumph against...

               "THE LITTLE LEAGUE OF DOOM!"

    ////  //////  /// //////  ////// /// ////// \  //
// ////  //  //  ///   //    ///    ///   //     \//# 19
//////  //////  ///// //    ////// ///   //      // PT.1

   In media res, boys and girls: our heroes are at this very moment
(that's early March of 2008, for those not-in-the-know) descending
into Jolt City's sewer tunnels, oxygen masks clamped tight, in
determined pursuit of the homicidal Hotspur and the absconded alien
artifact he clutches tightly against his thorium thorax.  Who is
Hotspur, and what is his prize? Hotspur: software programmed with
every line William Shakespeare ever wrote and driven insane by same,
determined to wipe out the strange, wondrous, and passionate creatures
the bard wrote about-- the human race.  The macguffin: stolen from Dr.
Fay's AATS lab, its precise purpose and name yet unknown, but carrying
with it the warning that it can and will result in achieving Hotspur's
aim.  Those are the stakes, dear readers: Green Knight and Blue Boxer
are in a desperate race to stave off complete and irreversible
armageddon, thank you very much.
   "Oh, wow." Derek reels, nearly falling off the ladder. "The
   "It's a sewer," says Martin.
   "Yeah, I expected it to smell bad," snaps Derek. "But not this
bad!  I thought the mask would cut it down."
   "It probably does, at that."
  Derek looks at the ground; he's up to his knees in sewage.  "Oh, I
think I'm going to throw up."
   "On the bright side, it's slowing him down." Martin directs his
electric torch down the tunnel, and, indeed, Hotspur is there,
struggling through the rancid waste with all ten of his pointy, insect-
like legs. "Let's press the advantage while we've still got it."
   Martin begins to wade through the sewage.  Derek, however, has
other ideas; Hotspur might be slowing down, but so is Martin, and
sewage or no sewage, ten legs are better (and faster) than two.  At
this rate, they're gonna lose him, and if they lose him, then
everything is lost.
   But, like I said, Derek has other ideas, he has a plan, and beyond
that, he has the means to implement it: his new-and-improved,
foolproof-tested, and otherwise thoroughly-and-completely-debugged
tungstate ceramic piezoelectric high-jumping, wall-rebounding, speedy-
travel-through-mucky-sewers-enabling boots.  He flicks the switch on
his belt and takes a tiny, sloggy jump into the air; he comes back
down, the boots impact the surface, the tungstate expands, and voila!,
he is propelled out of the muck, sailing over Martin's head, his own
noggin narrowly missing the hard ceiling (ever-so-narrowly, we're
talking half an inch here!) before coming back down and doing it all
over again, gaining on Hotspur by literal leaps and bounds.
   The antagonistic automaton twists its spine to turn its head
towards his approaching opponent, its one hundred tiny red eyes
flaring: "You bite your thumb at me, sir?!"
   Hotspur fires his grappling-wire electropoison-tipped tail high
into the air, anticipating Derek's next leap; Derek, having
anticipated the robotic rascal's anticipation, and, more than that,
having counted on it (four-colour combat being nothing if not a game
of high-stakes, split-second speed chess), switches off the current so
that he might land square smack-dab in front of the rampaging robotic
rogue, grab that tail by its inch-thick cord with his insulated
gloves, and thrust that electropoisoned tip into its clockwork heart
(the great thing about fighting robots, of course, is that the gloves
come off, you can be brutal, do some real God of War shit)!
   But just as he is about to unleash his inner Kratos, Derek finds
that the switch in his belt in stuck between the on and off positions;
in the next split-second, it occurs to him that designating that
middle slot for parachute deployment was perhaps unwise.  The chute
billows out behind him, jerking him backwards.  Derek lands in the
muck and is pulled along through it, the oxygen mask doing little to
mitigate his disgust.
   He breaks free of the chute, emerges from the muck, sputtering and
gagging, clearing the waste from his goggles just in time to see
Martin catch up to Hotspur.
   Tail. Thrust.  Dodge.
   Whip.  Leap.  Wall.  Bounce.  Pounce.
   Twist.  Bronco.  Toss.
   Wall.  Bounce.  Pounce.  Miss.  Sludge.
   Tail. Thrust.  Grab.  Twist.
   Swing.  Release.  Splay.  Jump.  Spray.
   Acid.  Dodge.  Whip.  Trip.  Splash.  Escape:
   "Thither I must, although against my will; for servants must their
masters' minds fulfill." And with that, Hotspur scurries up the ladder
to the surface.
   Martin's getting too old for this.  Derek helps him up, and before
either of them can crack wise, there is a terrible ka-kroom! above
them, followed by a squeeee!, an errrt!, an seemingly infinite loop of
fzk-fzk-fzk!, and an intermittent, agonizing wurr-fwaank.

   Hotspur twists about in the middle of the street, his mid-section
and five legs crushed and sparking, his tail-end limping behind him
like dead weight, that oh-so-deadly electro-poisoned tip twitching
aimlessly in the air.  "A  touch, a touch, I do confess."
   "More than a touch," says Martin grimly: "looks like that minivan
did the job for us.  I'll put him out of his misery, you check on the
   Derek rankles at being regulated to such a menial task, at being
reminded that he is really the sidekick and not the partner, not the
equal.  Martin, apparently having the same idea Derek had for
dispatching their foe, grabs hold of the tail and starts to pull it
from the body; Derek knocks on the door of the van.
   The driver opens the door, visually displeased at having been
attended to by the Blue Boxer and not the Knight, and ascertains that
he's alright.  "But my van!  The tires are all chewed up, the front--
look at it, look at my front.  Who's gonna pay for this?"
   "You want to call the Four-Colour Liaison's office and ask for
Derek Mason, he handles property damage claims," says Derek, hiding
his smirk behind the oxygen mask (forgot that was still there).  He
takes off the oxygen mask: "That's Derek Mason, M-a-s-o-n.  Just call
once, leave a message, he will call you back within a week.  Don't
just... keep... calling..."
   He trails off because he sees half of a Hotspur scrambling off down
the road, double-quick.  Derek whip-pans to Martin, who holds the
lifeless other half of their enemy.
   "Huh," says Martin.  He tosses the still-dangerous stinger down the
manhole (too dangerous to run around with it, and also too dangerous
to leave laying around) and gives chase.
   "Just one call, one call," says Derek to the driver.  He tries to
toggle on his high-jumping boots, but finds that the switch is
seemingly permanently stuck in the middle position.  He sighs and
starts running.

   It takes just over a minute for Martin and Derek to catch up to the
slithering mechanical monstrosity, and if you think that's brief,
you've got another thing coming: sixty-plus seconds of sprinting at
full speed, sixty-plus of aching lungs, of feet clomping hard against
the unforgiving pavement, of blood thudding in their skulls.  For the
young man who's never quite been in shape and for the old man, the
athletic wonder slowly falling into decline, sixty-plus seconds of
sprinting because the fate of the world depended on it is an agony.
   But they're sixty-plus seconds well-spent, because the distance
between Hotspur and Martin is only a few yards.  If he had his
grappling gun, he could fire a clean shot into that compromised mess
of still-sparking wires, pinning it writhing to the cement like a
collected moth.  But, as the still-viral internet video (and our last
exciting chapter) can attest, Derek lost it in an epic struggle
against a telephone pole.
   If he can close the gap by just a few more feet, Martin could
probably leap for it and tackle him.  But he's pushing himself to his
limits as it is; he can't keep up this pace much longer, and it's not
like the tireless robot is going to slow down.  He's got to think of--
   Derek's electric bola shoots out, snaring Hotspur in its hot sexy
coils, sending a low-level charge through the robot's circuits;
intended for use on human criminals, it doesn't do much to Hotspur.
But it wraps up all but his top two legs, wraps them up tight, sending
him colliding into a loose cinder block.
   "I did it!" he cries.  "I did something right!" Ohmigod, did I just
say that out loud?
   "You did," says Martin.  He presses his gloved hands to his knees,
bends over, catches his breath.  Then he turns towards Hotspur and
reaches for the artifact.
   "I know thee not, old man," says the ailing robot defiantly.  "Fall
to your prayers!"  With one of his free appendages he punts the
artifact down the alleyway.  It bounces impressively, quickly putting
some distance between it and Martin.
   Martin sighs, chasing after it.  "Take care of him," he says to
   Derek grabs the cinder block from behind the robot's head and
raises it high above his own.
   "How ill white hairs become a fool and jester," says Hotspur.  "I
have long-dreamed of such a kind of man, so surfeit-swell'd, so old
and so profane..."
   There's something about his borrowed words and their naked hatred
that strangely, ironically resonates with the Blue Boxer.  Derek sets
the cinder block down and from his action bag produces a decent
quantity of rope which he uses to further bind the pitiful creature.
   Then, from the alleyway, a split-second flash of light.
   A moment after, the Green Knight emerges from the alley, carrying a
twelve-year-old kid.

   Martin greets Dani Handler at the door.  She cocks her head at his
full-body containment suit.
   "You're going to have one, too," he says.  "So think twice before
cracking wise."
   "Difference is I'm gonna look good in mine."
   "No argument.  They've got the kid on the tenth floor."
   "The psych ward?"
   "There's only one elevator that goes all the way up," says Martin.
"So it's the only way they can control the traffic and enforce the
dress code."
   "Well, tell me what I need to know."
   "We caught Hotspur-- Blue Boxer's taking him into custody-- but he
tossed the artifact down an alley and it set itself off somehow.  This
kid (Ralph Zurich, twelve years old) was passing through the alley on
the way to softball practice and whatever-it-was from the artifact
just zipped into his body, knocked him out, doing whatever-it-did.  As
far as we know, he's the only one that got the whammy..."
   "I've already got some police canvassing the neighborhood, like you
asked," says Dani.  "So far, nothing unusual, no one else seems to
have been affected by whatever-it-was."
   Martin nods. "Right now, the doctors still aren't sure whatever the
whatever-it-was was.  Oh, there's Doctor Gannon.  He can explain
better than I.  Doctor Gannon?"
   "Can't explain much better, really," says Gannon.  Momentarily
forgetting the containment suit, he brings his hand up to adjust the
glasses that are slipping precariously from the bridge of his nose and
becomes exasperated when it's clear that there's nothing doing.  "He's
giving off a lot of radiation.  We're just getting a blood sample
now.  Until we know something, we're assuming it's contagious."
   "So you haven't notified DHHS yet?"
   "I think it's best not to get that particular ball rolling unless
we have to," says Gannon.  His bleeper goes off.  He reaches for it,
then remembers that it's in his coat pocket, underneath the
containment suit.  "Excuse me a moment."

   Martin and Dani (both in HAZMAT suits) hold the door for Gannon.
   "As I thought," he says, "it was about our patient.  They appear to
be having some trouble taking the blood sample."

Ralph's room, a rubber-walled box hastily converted into a proper
hospital room with bed, television, and accoutrements.  On the bed,
Ralph sits, gleaming; present are three other containment suits, one
of normal size containing a rather frustrated nurse and two of smaller
proportions containing within each a member of his Little League
softball team, Doug and Fish of the Proctor Products Fighting Badgers.
   "Green Knight!" beams Ralph.  "What'd I tell you?"
   "We believed you before," says Doug.
   Gannon addresses the nurse.  "You said you were having a problem?"
   "Oh, yeah!" shrieks Doug.  "Show us again!"
   "They seem to think it's a great thrill," says the nurse.  She
produces a blood-drawing needle, breaking open its bag with some
difficulty (clumsy gloves!) and presses it to the boy's arm, upon
which the needle bends and breaks.  To the unmitigated glee of Ralph
and his visitors, she places the broken needle in a pan with over a
dozen others.
   "His skin's too hard for the needle to penetrate," says Gannon; the
words are fuzzy in his mouth, spoken with neither conviction nor
   "That, that's rare, right?" says Dani to Martin.
   Martin tosses his head towards a door; Dani and the doctor follow.

   "I'm right, though, that's pretty rare?" says Dani.
   "Beyond rare.  We're not talking about a thick hide like a rhino or
elephant; this is a human skin, an epidermis that's as thin and porous
as ours, but can't be pierced by a needle."
   "So, what, we're talking about a dozen like that on earth?"
   "More like two.  There's this kid, that's one, and then there's
   "What," says Gannon, "you're saying he's Doc-Class?"
   "I'm not qualified to make that determination," says Martin, "but I
think it might be a possibility."
   "Doc-Class," says Dani. "I'm going to warn my people."
   "You also need to get ahold of Darkhorse," says Martin.
   "He's still recovering," says Dani.
   "I know, but I'm going to need to call in some favours and I don't
have favours to call in.  I bet he does."
   "What if it's just the kid?"
   "If it's just the kid, we can probably handle things, play it by
ear," says Martin.  "But if it's not, if other people did get hit by
the whatever-it-was, I'm gonna... I know when I'm out of my league."
   "What do I do?" says Gannon.
   "Treat him like any other patient, but exercise caution.  Limit the
visitors.  Don't let it get around that he might be Doc-Class.  Kinda
thing that brings out the creeps and the schemers."
   Dani nods.  "I'll see about putting a couple cops in the hospital
to keep an eye on things."
   "I'll start by sending those kids away, and hushing the nurse,"
says Gannon.  He heads back into the room.
   "And I'll get started on my phone calls," says Dani.  "Hero, you
   "Stings a little, being out of your league?"
   "It does at that."
   "But you admitted it," says Dani.  "I don't know if you would've
done that a year ago."
   "Go make your calls."
   The door opens again; the two kids smile broadly at Martin before
turning back towards the room, waving. "Sorry you're gonna be missing
the game!" says Doug.
   "We're probably gonna lose without you," teases Fish.
   "Take it up with this joker," says Ralph, jerking his head towards
Gannon.  "I don't feel sick at all.  I feel better than I ever have.
If this is me being sick, I want the whole team to come down with what
I got because you'd cream the corn out of the Cradle team."
   "He really does need his rest," says Martin.  "I'll walk you guys
to the elevator."
   "Cool!" says Fish.  He lets the door close behind them.
   "So," says Doug, "what's the deal with Blue Boxer?"
   "Yeah, what's the deal?"
   Martin glares at them bemusedly-- which is actually hard to do with
a HAZMAT suit.
   "I mean," says Fish somewhat nervously, "no offense or anything,
but I don't think he knows what he's doing exactly."
   "He's just a little new," says Martin.  "There's something I want
to talk to you fellas about..."
   "Yeah, but, does he have to learn on the job?"
   "You think you could do better?" says Doug.
   "I think I could, yeah," says Fish.  He turns to Martin.  "I'm a
fast learner."
   Martin presses the call button.  "He saved my life once."
   "I didn't see him do that," says Doug.
   "All I see him do is fall off buildings," says Fish.
   "Well, not many people know about it," says Martin.  "And I'll tell
you about it."
   "Yeah, like a secret?"
   "Yeah," says Martin.  "But a very important secret.  Can I trust
you with it?"
   The elevator opens; they step inside.
   "Yeah, just tell us," says Fish.
   "I tell you what," says Martin, "I need you to prove to me that you
can keep a secret before I tell you."
   "Well," says Fish with the sort of ridiculous smile only a child
can muster, "that's kinda silly, because, because how can we prove
that we can keep a secret if you don't give us a secret to keep?"
   "Well, how about this," says Martin.  "You know what was happening
with Ralph and the needles?  That was cool, right?"
   "It was very cool," says Doug.
   "I didn't know Ralph could do that," says Fish.
   "I need you to keep that a secret."
   "What!" says Fish.  "That's stupid."
   Martin clears his throat.
   Fish looks at his feet.  "I mean, it's just really cool and I want
to tell people."
   "Well, the secret story I have about Blue Boxer, that story is even
cooler-- much, much cooler!-- than what happened with Ralph.  So, if
you can't keep that secret, which isn't even nearly as cool as my
secret, I don't think I should tell you."
   "Well, how long do we have to keep it a secret?" says Doug.  "The
Ralph thing."
   "You have to keep it a secret forever."
   "What?  Nuh-uh, that's not fair.  We keep it forever, then you
never tell us the secret, because forever isn't even a number even."
   "What he's saying," says Fish, "is how long do we have to keep it a
secret before you tell us your secret?"
   "Well, that won't be forever," says Martin.  "It'll be soon."
   "But how soon?" whines Doug.  "It's hard when you don't have days
to count."
   "I can't tell you," says Martin.  'But you've got my word on it,
and I always keep my word."
   "I know," says Fish.
   "So, we have a deal?" says Martin.  "You don't tell anybody about
Ralph and then I'll tell you about Blue Boxer saving my life."
   "How would you even know if we told anybody even?" says Doug.
   "Doug, be quiet," says Fish.
   "I would know," says Martin.  "And I would not be happy."
   Doug and Fish exchange glances.
  "Okay," says Fish.
   Ding.  The door opens; Doug and Fish step out onto the ground floor
and are immediately herded by guards into a sterilized room where they
can change out of their suits.  Once they've doffed those duds, they
head towards the door, taking only a moment to glance back at the
yellow-suited Green Knight talking to the yellow-suited lady he had
come in with.

   They hit the streets; it's nearly four-thirty, practice will be
over by the time they get there, and then Jack's gonna give 'em shit.
"He's gonna razz us for going to see Ralph," says Fish.  "Gonna call
us faggots."
   "He probably wouldn't if we told him what we saw, what Ralph could
do," says Doug.
   "Yeah, but we promised we wouldn't."
   "That's why I said 'if'.  I ain't gonna do it," says Doug.  "This
story better be good, that's all I'm saying."
   "I'm sure it'll be worth it," says Fish.  He grips his stomach with
his palms.  "Do you think Jack's going to punch me again?"
   "What do you mean, again?  He's never punched you."
   "He punched me in my arm."
   "That's a charlie horse.  That's not a punch."
   "It felt like a punch," says Fish.
   "It doesn't count.  It's like calling doorknob on somebody.  It's
not a punch."
   "Well, you can't call safety on a charlie horse like you can on a
   "But Fish, you're not supposed to call safety on a doorknob
anymore.  Because now he can call override.  You have to say safety
cob-knob because he can't override that."
   "What?  Since when?"
   "Since, I don't know, since forever.  God, you're a stupid kid.
You call safety on a doorknob and someone will call override and beat
the snot out of you, and then you'd cry about it."
   "I only cry because it hurts."
   "But it doesn't count, Fish, they called doorknob.  If they were
actually punching you, that'd be one thing, but if you cry when they
called doorknob, fair and square, you're being a pussy.  And if you
cry after you called safety but they called override, you look
stupid.  That's why you got to say safety cob-knob."
   "But what if they come up with something to override that?"
   "I dunno."
   "Do you think they're gonna?"
   "I dunno.  Maybe.  Probably.  I think Davis thinks so, that's why
he carries around a doorknob in his pocket."
   "In his pocket?"
   "Sure!  So when someone calls doorknob, he just reaches into his
pocket and pulls it out.  His mom's always giving him lots of cheese
and beans.  He probably has people calling doorknob on him six times a
   "So, if the rules can change, how come there isn't a safety for
charlie horses?"
   "I think it's because you only charlie horse someone once, where
you get to doorknob somebody until they touch a doorknob.  It's your
own fault when somebody calls doorknob on you, you have to fart for
it, you deserve it.  You don't need to do anything to get a charlie
   "Then I could just charlie horse Jack."
   "Are you crazy?  He'd knock your block off."
   "But it wouldn't be like I was punching him; charlie horses don't
   "Yeah, but he'd still knock your block off."
   "But that's not fair!" says Fish.  "That's not the rules!"  He
kicks the brick wall of the building they're passing.
   His kick creates a hole the size of his foot and sends cracks up
the building's side.
   Doug and Fish step back, in awe; Fish grabs ahold of the stop sign
for support.  The metal girder is crushed in his tiny fist.
   "I... I..."
   Doug runs up to the wall and kicks it; he, too, causes an impact.
"Fish-- we, we..."
   "C'mon!" says Fish.  "Let's vamoose!"  He starts running.
   "Fish, your asthma!"
   Doug follows, both of them running faster than they've ever ran
before, tackling whole city blocks a minute apiece.
   "I'm gonna dare that meshuguna Jack to charlie horse me," says
Fish.  "He's gonna break his fucking hand...!"
   They come to an abrupt, dust-raising stop when they reach the
baseball diamond; there's Jack, floating in the air, his arms crossed;
there's Davis, bench-pressing the bench; the twins run the bases,
barely-perceptible blurs; A.J. is catching the grass on fire with only
his eyes.
   And in that brief, terrible moment, all the wonder that was in Fish

   Pam is cooking dinner when Martin comes in through the side door.
He kisses her on the cheek and gives her ass a pinch.
   Dani comes in through the front.  Martin kisses her mouth and gives
her a quick hug.
   "Got some good news," she says.  "The kid's radiation readings have
gone down precipitously.  Still no luck taking the blood, but maybe
the effects are temporary.  Maybe we're worried for nothing."
   "Hoping so," says Martin. "But I hope you asked Darkhorse to make
those calls just in case."
   "I did," says Dani.  "He did.  Coming up empty so far, but he's
going to make some more calls. Unfortunately, Doc is out in space.
Keeps going to voice-mail.  I know Darkhorse asked Rainshade."
   "The girl in Naperville, with the umbrella?" says Pam.
   Dani doesn't answer. "She asked for help last year, Kickflip
Kingpin and his crew. You said no."
   "Last I checked," says Martin, "Naperville hasn't been transformed
into a skate-park.  She took care of it."
   "She and Rivetrix took care of it."
   Pam cringes. "She's from Michigan City, right?  The woman with the
rivet gun where her hand should be?  It's just so weird, her not
having two hands, it creeps me out.  It's like the most disgusting
thing.  Just makes my skin crawl."
   Dani keeps her gaze on Martin.  "You still said no."
   "Yeah, because she didn't really need my help," says Martin.
"Darkhorse said that she brought it up?"
   "Not in so many words.  But you might want to start scratching a
few backs in the future just in case we get an itch like this again."

JCU, Kistler Building.  Derek (in costume) and Dr. Fay (in lab coat).
   "Um, about that artifact?" says Derek.
   "Let me guess: police are keeping it?" says Dr. Fay.
   "Keeping it, comma, police are."
   "Despite the fact that they have no idea where to start with it?"
   "Despite the fact."
   "And they'll probably ask me to figure it out in two or three
   "Well, at least they're consistent.  Certainly gives me time to
clear my calendar."
   "Speaking of stuff you're working on," says Derek.
   "Grapple gun!" says Dr. Fay.
   "Grapple gun," says Derek.
   "Yeah, no, still banging my head against the wall on that one,
   "Well, maybe I can help, a little," says Derek.  "I know a thing or
two about gadgeteering."
   "Well, it's not so much the physics of it," says Dr. Fay.  "I mean,
I've got an old air launcher kicking around from my soldier of fortune
days, I know how it all works.  But that's nearly five feet long and
weighs over a hundred pounds.  Getting as much line as you guys need
into a lightweight pistol that can fit in your utility belt is quite
the conundrum."
   "Wait, you were a soldier of fortune?"
   "That was two sentences ago, yes, please try to keep up with me
here.  Other than creating an interdimensional wormhole inside the
gun, which while not technically difficult for someone of my unabashed
brilliance would really be more trouble than its worth without some
sort of tightly-controlled pocket universe, I must admit defeat.
Unless you have any ideas?"
   "I've been thinking about it off-and-on, but I'm stumped too.  It
really seems impossible... but, wait, really?  You were a soldier of
fortune, really?"
   "Really-really, really and truly," says Dr. Fay.  "You better tell
your boss to ask the guy who made the original, because I'm really
   "I think that guy is dead," says Derek.  "So, like, a PMC, a
mercenary, that kind of soldier of fortune?"
   "Less unsavory than that.  Well, slightly less unsavory.  More like
daring missions helping people out in dangerous locales across the
globe, that sort of thing."
   "I don't want to pry, but when was this?  When did you stop?"
   "Well, I got my doctorates and moved into teaching/science/
awesomeness/what-have-you.  That was always the plan."
   "So, you went to school while you were..."
   "Well, I needed to do something with my summer vacations."
   "Huh.  Right.  Um.  You're quite remarkable, do you know that?"
   "Yep.  And gorgeous, to boot."
   "I'm not one to argue with a lady," says Derek.
   She smiles.  "Oh, you should, you should argue with me.  I look
radiant when I'm pissed off."
   Derek tries to think of something clever and flirty to say, but
comes up empty.  The moment passes.
   "Well," says Dr. Fay, "I'm going to try and figure out this grapple
gun.  If you come up with anything, feel free to stop by.  We can
    Usually 'brainstorm' is a word that Derek hates, but the way Dr.
Fay says it makes it sound novel, turbulent, electric with

Early the next morning, the Cradle Steel Refinery construction site.
Crime scene.
   Dani flashes her badge and an officer directs her and Green Knight
through the twisted remains of the gate.  He hands both of them gas
masks to keep the dust out of their lungs.
   "Looks like a damn tornado ran through it," says Dani.
   The officer points them in the direction of the foreman, a big bald
man whose gas mask gives his round head an altogether alien
   "Came in for work this morning, and this is what I found," says the
foreman.  "Look at this," he says, kicking at a pile of burgundy
sand.  "You know what these were?  These were bricks."
   Martin pulls a baggie out of his utility belt and stoops down to
collect some of the fine dust.
   "Already got some."  It's a forensics guy that Martin's seen one or
two times before, his usual piercing, reedy voice morphed by the mask
into mush.  "Thanks anyway, but we've got it from here."
   Dani clears her throat.  "Green Knight's been asked by the mayor
himself to look into this."  And the mayor, in turn, was asked by
Anders Cradle, but there's no need to tell him that.
   "I don't see why," says the forensics guy.  "It's obviously an
explosion.  Maybe industrial sabotage.  No one to punch in the face
   You wanna bet, thinks Martin.
   "Mayor's orders," says Dani.
   "Yeah, you're good at following his orders.  Like you did with
Proposal 2."
   Dani waves her hand.  "Just stop.  You ain't impressing anybody."
   "Just remember while you're high-hatting us that cops are always
cops, and that mayors come and go.  Especially in an election year."
   Martin bags his sample and places it in his belt.
   As the foreman leads them deeper into the wreckage, Martin says to
Dani: "There's no way that was an explosion.  No way you'd get all the
brick uniformly into dust that fine.  There'd be at least some chunks
strewn about."
   "What do you think it is?" says Dani.
   "Rather not think about it until we have some more data.  We'll
have Dr. Fay look at it."
   "And this," says the foreman, "this used to be a vacuum tower.
Weighs over a million pounds.  Also used to be clear on the other side
of the site.  Something moved it and punched a hole clear through it."
   "Not something," says Martin to Dani.  "Somebody."

JCU, Kistler Building.
   Derek is momentarily startled when he sees his costumed mentor
enter Dr. Fay's classroom.
   "Not to bother you, ma'am," says Martin in his best hero voice,
"but there's a sample I'd like you to look at when you have some
   "I always have time for a man in spandex," says Dr. Fay.  "And if
you call me ma'am again, I'm gonna give you a fat lip."
   "Duly noted."
   "My lecture will be over in about twenty minutes," says Dr. Fay.
"Meet me in my lab then."
   "Sounds good."  He makes his exit.
   Just as Derek has composed himself, his bleeper starts to go off.
It's Martin.
   "Um, sorry," says Derek.  "It's kind of a, it's a, it's a thing."
   "Is it an emergency?"
   "Um, yeah," says Derek.  "Maybe.  I mean, yeah."
   "Shoo, shoo, shoo," says Dr. Fay.  "But this isn't the first time
this has happened.  And I won't be tolerating this behaviour in my
   "Understood.  Sorry.  I'll... okay.  Going now."

The lab.
   Green Knight and Blue Boxer await the results.
   "You're right," says Dr. Fay.  "Every grain geometrically identical
to every other.  Slight traces of radiation consistent with super-
ocular rays."
   Derek raises his hand. "Like, heat vision?"
   "More like divide-bricks-into-tiny-symmetrical-particles vision,"
says Dr. Fay.  "Though I dare say whoever did it would also be able to
do it to people."

Stately Cradle Manor.
   Before Martin makes a joke about all the hoops they've had to jump
through, before Anders nods to his head of security that it's alright
to leave the three of them alone in his study, before he peers into
Martin's eyes to make sure it's really him, before the head of
security presses his own eyes against the retina scanner to open the
door to the study, before Martin gives that security head the password
that Dani Handler had given to him an hour earlier, before our heroes
are escorted down the hall by a cordon of guards to the study from the
foyer, before they wait nervously in the foyer for several long
minutes at gunpoint, before the guards at the front door type in their
portions of the access code to their ports (a delicately timed to-the-
tenth-of-a-second back-and-forth dance that doesn't work until their
third attempt), before they walk (briskly!) across the turret-infested
lawn, before they're told they have forty seconds before the
electroturrets are turned back on but that they are not to run, before
the paralyzing electroturrets are turned off, before four men on the
inside and two on the outside work together to open the massive gate,
before their unicycles are entrusted to the care of the two guards,
before the Green Knight and Blue Boxer identify themselves, and before
they have even made their way uphill to the gate, our heroes spot the
helicopters and spotlights making slow, sad circles over the grounds.
   "I guess it's true, then," says Derek.  "I had heard he went kinda
Howard Hughes after that whole Balloonist thing."
   "Yeah, I heard it too," says Martin.  "It's too bad.  Let's see
what kind of hoops he has for us to jump through."

   Anders was always sickly-looking, always so thin and so drawn, but
he looks even paler now, with big lumpy sacks hanging from his eye
sockets.  Almost the entire time that they speak, he clutches at his
robe, pulling it tight against his body.
   "You didn't have to come to me directly," says Anders.  He's
talking to Martin but not looking at Martin.  His eyes jitter about
the room.  "You're just going to have to tell someone in the board
anyway.  I haven't... haven't been in the office for a couple, for a
couple, for a few weeks."
   "It might not be directed at your company."
   Anders covers his mouth with his arm; his cheeks puff out like a
bullfrog before he swallows his vomit.  "I don't..." He quickly brings
a glass of water to his lips, tries to soothe the acid in his throat.
"I don't like where this is going."
   "I don't want to alarm you, because we don't have any hard evidence
yet.  But I can say that it was not explosives that did that to your
site.  It was a four-colour."
   "I hate your world.  I really do.  Well, I hope you do a better job
of stopping him than the last one."
   "Probably... he... or she... is probably Doc-Class."
   Anders stares at him, making eye contact for the first time.
   "Um, you've heard of Docrates...?"
   "The cat?  The, uh, so-called 'most powerful mammal in the
   "Yeah.  And, uh, when we say that someone is, is Doc-Class..."
Martin opens his palms and trails off.
   "Oh God."
   "And we just think it might be unlikely that one of your business
rivals would hire someone of that power-level for simple industrial
sabotage.  It's possible, certainly, but it's also possible that you
yourself might be a target, and I think it's best that we err on the
side of caution.  We've taken the liberty of alerting the federal
government, and they're willing to escort you to what we presume is a
safer location."
   "I, uh, this is my house," says Anders.  "I haven't... I feel safe
here.  I really do."
   "If we're right," says Martin, "your current security, no matter
how thorough it might be, is nowhere near adequate.  For your safety,
Anders, I think you should go."
   "Well, it's your job to get him, though, isn't it?" says Anders.
"The two of you."  It's the first time he's acknowledged Derek's
presence.  "So, why don't you concentrate on doing that, and I'll just
stay here."
   "Because Doc-Class is out of my league," says Martin.  "I'm as
vulnerable as you are."
   "Then what the fuck good are you?" says Anders.  "What good are
you, if you can't do what you're here for?"
   "Anders, please," says Martin.  "I can't let anything happen to
you.  I'm asking you as a friend of your parents.  For your father.
For your mother..."
   "Don't you talk about my mother, you fucking nigger." Anders stops,
then starts up again.  "You don't get to talk about her.  Not after
what you did."
   "What I did...?"
   "What you did to my mother.  What you did with my mother.  The two
of you, together.  You know what you did."
   "It's your life or your death," says Martin.  "The choice is really
up to you.  But I think you should try to live."

   They watch as the convoy of black limousines bears Anders away from
his house.
   "I didn't think he was a racist," says Derek.
   "I don't think he is," says Martin.  "He was just angry, just
trying to find ways to hurt me.  You've said things you didn't mean
when you were angry."
   Derek nods soberly.  "I took those things back.  I don't think
Anders is going to."
   "Well, that's his problem.  Come on.  We got work to do."

Baseball diamond.  Midnight.
   "Will you look at that?"  Coach holds up the newspaper, grinning
broadly at the photograph of the Cradle construction site's
devastation as he makes his way down the bleachers.  "Beautiful.  Just
beautiful.  You did a great job, boys.  I'm proud of you.  And J.
Donald is proud of you.  You know how proud he is?  Five hundred
dollars apiece, that's how proud he is."
   The boys float down to the earth to collect their money.  All
except Jack.
   "Come on down, Jack," says Coach.  "You earned it most of all."
   "What's your share?" says Jack.
   "I took a bigger cut, sure," says Coach.  "I took twenty hundred.
If you're sore about that, I can divvy it up.  You kids did the work.
I know that.  Six thousand, nine ways, that's what?  Fish?"
   "Six hundred sixty-six dollars and sixty-six cents.  Sort of."
   "Aw, creepy, devil numbers," says Coach. "I put mine in the bank,
I'll get it out tomorrow and divvy it up.  You kids know I'm good for
it.  You're my boys.  Now, come on down here, Jack, and get at least
part of your share."
   Jack floats down, his arms still crossed imperiously.  He takes the
money, but does not touch the ground, preferring to hover a couple
feet in the air.  "What's next?"
   "Ready for more mischief already, huh?" says Coach.  "Let me talk
to J. Donald tomorrow, see what else he has in store for us."
   "Why are we dependent on J. Donald Proctor?"
   "First of all, because he's the one giving us six hundred sixty-six
dollars apiece.  That's not bad for a night's work.  Second, you are
the Proctor Products Fighting Badgers," says Coach with a goofy smile.
   "Not anymore," says Jack.  "I don't think we're much interested in
softball anymore, are we, gents?"
   "Well, I kinda like it," says Fish.
   Jack ignores him.  "I think this changes things, these powers,"
says Jack.  "I think we can do a lot more with them than smashing
construction sites for five hundred dollars apiece."
   "Six sixty-six," says Coach.
   "If we want money, we can go to a bank," says Jack.  "We can rip
open the vault with our bare hands.  But we don't even need money.
Money's nothing.  Money's just for paying for things, and we don't
need to pay a damn cent for anything anymore.  We want something, we
just take it."
   "Your mom raised you better than this, Jack," says Coach.  "That's
   "I get to say what's enough," says Jack.
   "You're the kid.  I'm the adult.  I'm in charge.  You get that shit
   Jack rips Coach's head off of his shoulders.  The blood geysers out
of his neck before the body falls to the ground.
   Fish stares at the body and the gore, and he wishes he could take
it back.  But take what back?  He didn't do it.  Didn't matter; he
still wanted to take it back, still wanted to hit control-Z, just like
with his mom and dad.
   "Come on," says Jack, rising into the air.  "Let's fuck some shit


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