SG: Rad #96: Let's Toast

Gary swede at
Tue Oct 7 04:42:12 PDT 2008

                             Episode 96
                   [ Rad Returns, Part Six of Ten ]
                       "Let's Toast This Taco"
                            Gary W. Olson


     Around Rumiko Moroboshi, in the midst of what otherwise was a hot
and empty expanse of nighttime desert, something was being built.
Numerous structures were in various stages of construction, including
at least two that were disorienting just to look at, given how they
were physical representations of the kind of mind-benders found
commonly in the works of M.C. Escher, Salvador Dali, and Jim Beam.
Crews she recognized at Ottsamaddawiduan and Dalan mixed freely with
human men and women as they planned and worked.  Nearby,
Ottsamaddawiduan engineers worked on what appeared to be a giant,
drink-serving mechanical spider, while close by, an underground-
burrowing vehicle's large drill was spinning down.  In the distance,
she saw what looked like a prehistoric giant with a ragged, multi-
colored beard helping a crew construct a fifty-five foot tall antler-
bearing wooden pyramid.
     She was at Burning M00se, the annual gathering held in and around
the otherwise almost imperceptible town of Malaga, New Mexico.  More
accurately, she was there while preparations were underway--the
actual event being weeks distant.  Only earlier that afternoon, she
had voiced her intent to attend, though she had not expected to be
around that very evening.
     Esteban Veracruz had brought her here, this much she knew.  She
had awoken on a blanket in this very spot, where several paths through
the organized chaos of construction intersected.  Esteban was with
her, as was Shadebeam Moroboshi--one of her only two aunts who were
actually official Aunts as opposed to the informal and honorary kind--
and a Reptiloid identified to her as Slithis.  Under other
circumstances, she might have been pleased.
     But not right *now.*
     "Okay, to repeat," Rumi said.  "I was in Los Angeles, California,
when I was last awake.  I'm in New Mexico now.  What am I doing in New
     Shadebeam Moroboshi took a long drag from her cigarette, exhaled,
and looked at Esteban.  Esteban looked from her to Rumi and back
     "I told you," he said, an earnest look in his brown eyes.  "I had
nowhere else to go.  Mrs. Busey wasn't around, Cendra's mom and dad
were kidnapped, there was no answer at Templar's or Hal's... so I came
     "Hundreds of miles away," Shadebeam noted.  "And don't tell me
you flew all that way, because we both know you didn't."
     Before Esteban could work up an answer--and he was working it up,
Rumi saw, his hesitation and apprehension clearly signaled by his
expression--a metallic being shaped like a bonobo poked his head out
from Esteban's backpack and waved.  In its tiny paw were pages of what
Rumi recognized as the diary of Esteban's great-grandfather.  In
particular, she saw the image that had formed the basis of an
extremely lucid dream-slash-vision, in which she had been above a
Central American jungle, in the midst of a freeze-frame of a battle
involving a massive, rococo-styled airship and a mysterious Mayan
temple.  Within said dream-slash-vision, she had had a long
conversation with Akane Moroboshi, her not-so-dead other official
Aunt, who also happened to be Shadebeam's twin.
     The bonobo, whose name was Coco, climbed up onto Esteban's
shoulder and shuffled the pages.  He saw everyone watching, grinned,
and waved his arms.
     *It's maaaaagic,* Coco telepathically sent, his voice still like
that of a young boy who had snuck a hit from the nitrous oxide tank.
     Esteban grinned, then immediately lost said grin.  He looked at
Shadebeam, wondering if she had heard Coco.  Rumi doubted it; Esteban
had said that even Cendra, who was a telepath, could not hear Coco.
Rumi believed she could only hear the bonobo because of her
bioelectric contact with the nectarisite that was the substance of not
only Coco but also Los Pantalones, Esteban's armored battle-pants.
Strange, she thought, that the link had not yet faded.
     Esteban sighed, and appeared to come to a decision.
     "I used a portal stone," he said.  "I know I'm not supposed to
have any, and they're only for emergencies, but this was an
     "They're for the Radians to use in emergencies," Shadebeam said.
"You're not one, and it'll be a few years before you can be one."
     "What are Radians?" Rumi asked.  Aunt Akane had gone by the code
name Radian when she had been a superguy, and what had eventually
happened during that time had made the word 'Radian,' on Earth and in
considerable parts of the galaxy beyond, a byword for 'holy crap, this
person is going to destroy everything.'
     "Security during Burning M00se," said Slithis.  "Volunteers who
go around helping people out, resolving disputes--peacefully, if at
all possible--and ejecting people who either insist on being violent
or on attempting to do something to someone else without their
consent.  'Radians' wasn't her idea for what to call them, it just
sort of stuck after the first year."
     Rumi's attention was quickly taken by the way colors swirled and
skittered across Slithis's leathery, scaly hide.  As all he wore was
a pair of khaki shorts, there was a lot to look at.  His reptilian
face, with its snakelike eyes, short snout and wide, lipless mouth,
was nearly lost in the psychedelic swirl.  He was like a walking
screen saver, she thought, and wondered how he had become that way.
     "Who gave you the portal stone?" asked Shadebeam, and Rumi had to
pull her attention away.  Esteban seemed intensely uncomfortable now,
while Coco calmly shuffled diary pages.  "As if I couldn't guess."
     "He said you wouldn't mind..."
     "Mind?" Shadebeam asked.  "No, I don't mind.  I would have given
you one, if you'd asked.  Might have given him one if he'd asked, too.
But he doesn't exactly ask, does he?"
     "But he said..."
     Shadebeam did not say anything this time.  Esteban saw her look
and ducked his head.
     "Guess not," he finished.  He glanced at Rumi, and she gave him a
sympathetic smile.  The lecture she had received from her mother only
that morning on not throwing indestructible five-year-olds at
airplanes, and how she had felt afterward, was still fresh in her
mind.  Not really a realization that she had been wrong, as such,
though she recognized that as a technicality.  The feeling was more of
an inner cringing at the realization that she had been caught.
     "Well, then, that's settled," said Shadebeam.  Despite her voiced
disapproval, she did not seem unsympathetic.  "Tell me stuff.  What
happened, what happened after that, that thing with the thing, you
     Esteban appeared to know.  Hesitantly at first, aware that eyes
were on him, he described how Eivandt, Alice, Glum, and Rumi had been
over to visit when a large number of people made to look like zombies
--badly--went all 'Night of the Living Dead' on his and Miguel's and
Cendra's apartment.  He told how Rumi had somehow fixed the problems
with Los Pantalones with a judicious--not to mention dangerous and
involuntary--application of bioelectricity, and how he had used Los
Pantalones to fly up and catch her after she had passed out in midair.
He told about trying to find or call the adults he had been
instructed to call, and how, failing in reaching anyone, he put some
stuff in a backpack and took off with Rumi in his arms.  The portal
stone he activated in mid-air not far from his apartment, and as
designed, the portal on the other end opened a mile from the edge of
     "Lemon said it was one of the single-use stones," Esteban
finished.  "Um... he was right, wasn't he?"
     "Yes," Shadebeam said.  "It'll be just a funny-looking stone now
to whomever finds it."  She stood.  "I'll see if I can get in touch
with Rad or Hal or someone over at Harxxon HQ.  You two can stay over
at Lemon's tonight.  I think I saw his mother with the setup crew at
the Mind Swap Pavilion, let me go see..."
     "There's more to it," Rumi interrupted.  She could hear the
quiver in her voice, and knew it was all she could do to keep from
shouting.  Her mother had been kidnapped and her father was who-knew-
where and she was *not* going to be babysat in New Freakin' Mexico.
She opened her mouth again, then realized that what she had to say was
not for a wide audience, because of who it involved.
     "Um... can I tell it to you alone?"
     Shadebeam frowned, considered, then looked at Esteban.
     "Do you mind---"
     But Rumi, and the world at large, never got to learn if Esteban
minded or not.  At that moment, someone landed less than a foot from
where they stood, slid on the blanket that Rumi had before been lying
on, then crashed into Esteban.  Rumi winced as Esteban, Coco, and the
new person rolled on the sandy desert floor.
     "Good," said Shadebeam.  "This saves me from having to... oh my
god, what is that *smell?*"
     Rumi got a whiff at the same time, and wrinkled her nose.  It was
a sharp and pungent scent, at once bitter, raw, and strangely
chocolaty.  It was also kind of familiar.
     "Is that wort?" she asked.
     Esteban, Coco, and their tackler were still untangling
themselves, and so did not answer.  Rumi replayed the appearance of
this person in her mind, and realized that he had not flown in, but
had in fact leapt from the drink-serving mechanical spider.  She
looked up at the machine and saw several wet, dark footprints heading
down its reflective face.
     "It was an accident!" a voice from the pile shouted.  It was
sharper than Esteban's, and broke at the end of 'accident.'  Its owner
finally managed to stand, helping up Esteban in the process.
     "Lemon Hardy Rydell," Shadebeam said, weariness evident in her
tone.  "What have you gotten into *this* time?"
     The name helped Rumi place where she had seen him before.  He had
been in a photo she had seen on Esteban's desk, back in his room.  The
wide grin she now saw was the same, though the boy it was on seemed
taller--nearly half a head above Esteban, not even counting the shock
of blond hair that rose straight up a couple inches from his head
before arcing forward and down.
     Now that she saw Lemon and Esteban side-by-side, certain other
comparisons leapt unbidden into her thoughts.  First was their
physical forms.  While both were on the thinnish side, Lemon seemed
much more gracefully built.  Where Esteban's limbs often seemed a
collection of angles searching for geometry, Lemon's moves seemed
fluid and graceful.  Aside from his 'dismount-from-the-giant-metal-
spider' move, of course.
     Her second comparison was of their skin color.  Not only what
they had been born with--Esteban medium brown, Lemon light pink--but
of recent additions.  Esteban had a light sheen of sweat that gave his
skin a glow, while Lemon's skin was obscured in large part by the
brownish and smelly liquid that now puddled at his feet.  Rumi
recognized it as wort--unfermented malt--because she recalled the
smell from her father's few attempts at brewing beer.
     Her third and final comparison was of clothing.  Esteban had on
the same black shorts she had seen him in before, with the addition of
a shirt featuring something called 'Gorillaz,' a backpack, black
tennis shoes, and a pair of plastic safety goggles that hung by a
strap from his neck.  Lemon, meanwhile, was--coating of wort
     "I was just checking on Slithis's brew, like he asked me to,"
said Lemon.  "He said to check the gravity and add the hops, and I
     Shadebeam looked at Slithis.
     "Neither activity should have led to my wort exploding," Slithis
said.  The patterns on his scales were now light green and purple, and
seemed content to pulse in splotches.  "What happened?"
     Lemon's grin faltered.  "I... well, I thought your beer could'a
used some more kick.  I mean, the last batch was crazy weak, right?
So I added some peppers, and tabasco, and... um... that black powder
in the dish on Miss Moroboshi's desk."
     "The chiaroscuro powder," Shadebeam said.  "An essential
ingredient in a few spells that bridge the light/dark magic
spectrum... that just happens to react badly with wort."
     "Right... um... that."
     No one said anything for ten seconds.  Esteban glanced at Lemon,
and Rumi could see he seemed embarrassed at his friend's clothes-less
state--or, perhaps, that Lemon did not seem embarrassed about it at
all.  Rumi was unfazed--adolescence on Planet California, while not as
freewheeling as adult life, generally managed to sort out who had what
in short order--though she could not help thinking that if she was in
Lemon's place, she would cringe at the thought of everyone seeing her.
     She also could not help thinking that, from what she could see,
he had no reason to *be* embarrassed.  She pushed the thought firmly
away and focused on his face.  It held wide brown eyes, a nub of a
nose, and that cocky grin--which widened when her eyes met his.
     Rumi quickly looked away.
     "You are *so* lucky," said Shadebeam, "that I don't have time to
deal with this.  Or to remind you that you're not legal to drink yet.
Go hit the showers."
     "Go!" she ordered.  "And use soap this time!  On your actual
skin!  And then put some clothes on!"
     Lemon slapped Esteban on the shoulder, leaving a handprint.
"Race you!"
     Now it was Esteban's turn to protest.  "But... my brother...."
     "We'll sort this out," said Shadebeam.  "I have to talk to Rumiko
first.  Give us twenty minutes."
     Esteban seemed on the edge of protest, until Lemon grabbed his
hand and tugged him in the direction of a path.  Coco rose from
Esteban's shoulder and flew in the indicated direction.  Esteban,
after giving Rumi a 'what-can-I-do' look, took off after his friend.
     "And no bouncing on the chimeras!" Shadebeam called after them.
"We need them not-cranky so they can finish with the... ah, hell.
They're gone already."  She shook her head and turned to Rumi.  "Come
on, let's go to my place.  Oughta be safe to talk there."
     "Should I come with?" Slithis asked.  His skin now resembled a
brushfire pulled through a polarizing filter.
     Shadebeam glanced at Rumi, then shook her head.
     "Not this time, babe," she said.  "Check on the autobuffet the
Ottsamaddawiduans brought through the porta-transmat station, make
sure they're not going to hook the temporal flux generators to it this
     "But how else are we going to get neverending sesame chicken?"
Slithis asked.  She rolled her eyes.
     Slithis leaned down and kissed Shadebeam.  Though human and
reptiloid mouths did not seem the most compatible of their features,
Rumi thought, they made it work.  After a few moments, Shadebeam
pulled away, grinned, and slapped Slithis's rump.  Slithis grinned
back, then ambled away, soon to be lost behind a swarm of leather-
shorts-clad Dalan engineers.
     "Come on," Shadebeam said.  "You're not drinking age yet, are
     "Not on this world," Rumi answered.
     "Well, I am," said Shadebeam.  "And I've got a feeling I'm going
to need one."


     Rad reflected that, if there was one thing of which he could be
certain--aside from the love of his family and friends, the
awesomeness of his tan, and the tastiness of tofu--it was that he was
certainly not made for the standing around and listening to people gab
on about things that lacked awesomeness.  That he had spent a large
part of his time on Harxxon's flying battle-block-ship-thing, the
_Vander Harkness_, doing exactly that was not lost on him.  And now
that they knew where bad things were either happening or about to
happen--Dodger Stadium, which had filled up with the sometimes-liquid
mystery metal nectarisite, and the surrounding area, which included a
number of pseudo-zombies and pseudo-ninjas and possibly his kidnapped
wife and daughter--he was ready to fly out and pound stuff with
psychokinetic beams until something resembling justice emerged.
     But Rad had also been around the superguy-ing block a few times,
having been one for going on eighteen years--never minding that
sixteen of those years were not technically 'on Earth.'  So, when
Chalandra Harkness urged him to follow Dr. Giuseppe Gigawatt to his
on-ship labs to meet Bhossi and Cla'rabhele, the scientists whose
revolutionary engine designs allowed the _Vander Harkness_ to fly and
who had more information on the mysterious 'Hidden Empire' that had
connections to the bad things happening, Rad reluctantly agreed.
     All of Rad's thoughts fled his mind the moment he entered the
laboratory.  They were not chased away by the lab equipment, which
featured the traditional assortment of bubbling-liquid-filled beakers,
electrical arc generators of uncertain purpose, and walls filled with
monitors and blinking lights.  They were not chased away by the less-
traditional equipment, such as the espresso machine, the exercise
equipment, or the plasma-screen television.  They were not chased away
by the weird theramin music in the background.  They were chased away
by the cows.
     The cows, of which there were two, wore well-tailored lab coats
over their otherwise standard, brown-and-white bovine bodies.  They
were not anthropomorphic, as they stood on all four hooves.
Clipboards and pencils hovered close to their faces.  The brains of
the cows, which extended a full foot-and-a-half above the heads of the
cows and were protected by see-through helmets, were gray and green
and glistening.
     Rad watched the cows.  The cows watched him.
     "Like... um..." Rad finally ventured.
     He heard a sigh that was unmistakably telepathic in nature.
     *You did not tell him, Giuseppe?*
     "What would I say?" Dr. Gigawatt answered.  "I've told you.  Some
things you just have to see for yourself first."
     *You have told us he is a galactic citizen,* the voice replied.
It was a vaguely feminine voice, and reminded Rad a bit of Eartha
Kitt's.  Rad sensed it was coming from the nearer of the two cows.
*That should mean he is inured to the sight of non-human sentients of
a variety of shapes.*
     "Like, yah," said Rad.  "Totally inured, y'know?  So inured I'm,
like, outured."
     *I... very well.*  The nearer cow shuffled forward.  *I am
Bhossi.  My colleague here is Cla'rabhele.  We are from... you really
haven't told him, Doctor?*
     "I find it best---"
     *Of course you do.*  Bhossi sighed again.  *Very well.
Cla'rabhele and I are distinguished scientists who were driven into
hiding by our government for prying into the affairs of the Hidden
Empire.  We were hiding in the tunnels beneath the Great Pyramid of
Giza, in Egypt, where Harxxon's pyramid exploration team found us.*
     "And your government is..." Gigawatt prompted.
     *Of an ancient and esteemed land,* thought another voice, which
Rad identified as coming from Cla'rabhele.  It was also feminine, and
resembled the voice of Tina Turner.  *It sunk long ago.  Not into the
sea, but into another dimension, into the realm now controlled by the
Hidden Empire.  It---*
     "It has a name, does it not?" Gigawatt asked.
     This time, both cows sighed.
     *You're going to make us say it, aren't you?* Bhossi asked.
     "I think---"
     *We are from,* thought Cla'rabhele, *the lost continent of...
     Rad watched the cows.  The cows watched him.
     "Like, what?" Rad asked.
     "Tell him your name for your species," Dr. Gigawatt urged.  His
hand covered his mouth now, as if trying to hold in something.
     *Our species name would translate into your language as 'the
people of the land,'* Bhossi thought.
     "But in your language..." Gigawatt prompted.  Rad noticed that
part of Gigawatt's face was flushed.
     *We... are Mu'Kaus,* replied Cla'rabhele.  *M-U-apostrophe-
K-A-U-S.  It is only a bizarre linguistic coincidence that it sounds
     Gigawatt could no longer contain himself.  He fell to the floor,
almost weeping with laughter.
     *It was not funny the first twenty times, Doctor,* thought
Bhossi.  *In fact, you are the only one who seems even mildly
entertained by the joke.*
     "Like, what joke?" Rad asked.
     Bhossi and Cla'rabhele regarded him for several moments, as if
evaluating his sincerity.  Rad, who really did not get it, whatever
'it' was, regarded them right back.
     *It is of no importance,* Cla'rabhele answered.  *Welcome to our
laboratories, Rad.  We have heard much about you from our host and
employer, Chalandra Harkness.*
     "Radical, um, babe," said Rad, as he looked away from Gigawatt--
who was valiantly attempting to compose himself--and at the lab
equipment.  "Like, I'd love to, like, be diplomatic and stuff, but,
     *Your wife has been kidnapped,* Bhossi finished.  *We understand,
and are in the process of tracking her location.*
     "Like, wife and daughter," Rad corrected.
     *Rumiko was not kidnapped, Joe,* a new and very familiar voice
thought at him.  *I was able to confirm this before I was cut off.*
     Rad looked wildly around him.  There was much equipment in the
lab, but not so much that he could have failed to see the woman who
had sent that telepathic message.
     "Like, Liz?" he asked.  "Where, like, are you?"
     In answer, two panels in the far wall slid apart, and Elizabeth
Tirkoff--casually beautiful in a Red Sox t-shirt and blue jeans--
strode into the room.  Though her hair was now bleached-blonde, and
she wore deep-red oval framed glasses, he recognized her at once.
     "Like, Liz!" he exclaimed.
     Elizabeth Tirkoff was one of his oldest friends, one who went
back nearly as far as Manny and Glum.  When he met her, she had the
code name of Healer, and had been part of a now-forgotten government
agency dedicated to registering superguys.  So much had happened since
then.  CalForce.  The loss of her partner and son-in-all-but-blood,
Faith.  The Adjusted League Unimpeachable.  The Genocidal Wars.
Boston today.
     "Don't call me Liz," she said, though she smirked as she said it.
She hugged him quickly, then looked at Bhossi.  "You were right.
They're in a secret base of some kind, about eight-and-a-half miles
beneath Dodger Stadium."
     "You, like, knew where they were, like, being held?" Rad asked.
     *She means we correctly hypothesized that they had been taken
underground,* Bhossi corrected.  *We know little of Terra Subterrene
in this part of the world, and because of our status as fugitives, we
cannot exactly 'go exploring,' as it were.  But we do know that there
is a civilization underground.  And since the involvement of the
Hidden Empire has become clear, we deduced that the former Empress
Glum, along with the others, were taken below.*

(continued in part two, following...)
Gary W. Olson
swede at novitious dot com

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