Archive for February, 2013

Storytime: Scal and the Ice.

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Scal the sorry, Scal the sorry, lived down by the sea, where the sky grew tall and the trees lapped against the rocks like hungry little dogs. She fished and she hunted and she apologized to the world, but not quite properly, and she did her best until she didn’t feel like it anymore.
“I am sorry,” she said to the berries in her hand, “but I’m really very hungry right now.” And then she ate them without so much as please or thank you. “I am sorry,” she said to the fish that flapped on the rocks, “but I thought you might look more tastesome dead than alive.” And she bashed it with a stone and ate it all without wiping her fingers.
Scal found it hard to keep up with all the apologizing sometimes, but she was a persistent person and so she persisted. Some things made it easier. A flock of redbirds (red, not blue – blue was a sad colour, the colour of lonesome waves and winter skies) would put a summer in her step that made spring seem feeble, and finding the proper sort of clam (cautious, with firmness in its lid that mocked mere granite) could set her chuckling for hours and days. But what she liked most of all was to sit down on the rocks at the shore and watch the icebergs float by in sprint, eight-at-a-time, two-in-a-row, three-by-three or all at once. She could sit there for weeks without remembering to apologize even once, and felt all the better for it.
It was spring now, so Scal was already ready to feel good. She took a fistful of berries and a strip of dried salmon, she hauled herself down to the coziest, most grandfatherly boulder on the beach, and she squatted on it like a comfortable crab, chewing her lunch as she waited for the ice.
She waited nine minutes, then five hours, then six days, and then a week more before she jumped up and threw her gloves down in disgust. “Up and down and all around!” she cursed, and the boulder she’d been sitting on cracked into threes and then fours in a fright. “Crickets in a thicket! Something isn’t right and that’s making me angry, and that means I have to say sorry again, and that makes me angrier!” She stomped and she shuffled up and down the shore in a huff, yelling and waving her arms. But still the icebergs wouldn’t come.
“Fine!” she said. “I’ll find out about this, I know I will. And I’m not sorry one bit!”
So Scal the sorry picked up her gloves and put on her right glove again, but kept her left glove off because that hand was her magic hand. She rubbed it and spat on it and rubbed it some more, and then she held it to her mouth, mumbled, and chewed her thumb. Once she’d done that she ran down into the water and swam north, and she swam as strong as a dolphin now, with great leaps and splashes. She swam in such a hurry that she barely had time to apologize for all the noise she was making, all the way far away up north to where the ice ate the land up and hovered over the sea like a broody bird.
There was the ice, but there wasn’t an iceberg to be found, nowhere in sight – the sea was as clean as a whisker licked by a loving mother bear. The ice-cliffs were ready, heavy with weight, but not a single child of theirs was there.
“Lazy old mothers and ill-bred fathers!” said Scal the sorry. “I am sorry for calling you that, but that’s what you are. Now stand still while I fix all of this mischief.” She took off her left glove and whispered to her hand and picked at her teeth with it and then she chewed her pointing finger. A slice of her nail popped out like a jack-in-the-box, and just like that off came a berg from the ice-shelves with a groan and a roar like thunder’s grandmother, thick and stubborn.
“I am sorry for making such a noise, but that’s more like the thing that things should be like,” said Scal the sorry.
The berg bobbed in the water like a cork for a moment, wobbling its way to finding out which side was up. It decided on down, contemplated sideways, changed its mind and decided it was up, and then it was gone, yanked clean out of the water in such a flashing haste that it barely left a ripple’s slip.
“What is that and what is this!?” yelled Scal the sorry, hopping with fury. “What’s up now, eh? What sort of tricks is someone playing with my icebergs!” She ran up and down the shore again twice as angry as before, using every swear and curse she knew until all the rocks were crossed like bric-a-brac.
A voice laughed, deep and rolling. It would sound nice, but nothing sounds nice when it’s laughing at you.
“Who’s that and who’s there?” asked Scal the sorry. “I am sorry for making such a stir, but I am extremely angry right now!”
“Up here,” said the voice. “Look up, not down! You are too small to pay attention properly. Be sorry for that instead!”
Scal the sorry looked up and up some more and up again and up and up until she saw the toes of the giant. He was standing in the trees, and he was so big that she’d missed him entirely. He was a mighty impressive giant – his fur was sleek and coal-black as a bear’s nose, his beak was clean and razor-swept, and both his heads had three eyes each – but Scal the sorry was too angry to notice that right now.
“Who are you?” she called.
“I am the largest giant in all the world,” said the giant, “or at least the largest that I have ever known, and that is good enough for me.”
“What are you doing with my icebergs?” she asked.
“They’re mine as much as yours,” said the giant, holding up the iceberg Scal had shaken loose in one paw. In his other he held a fishing pole made from a tree-trunk, with ten thousand feet of line. “And I am hungry. See how fine a meal they are!” And with that he held the iceberg to his mouth and he ate it in three bites.
“Put that back or I’ll make you sorry I’m sorry to say you sack of senseless pebbles and driftwood!” she yelled at him.
The giant laughed again, a lovely rumbling sound that could’ve come from a mountain’s gut. And he picked up Scal the sorry and threw her as far and as hard as he could until she landed right in the middle of the ocean, and it took her all week to swim back. But that left her time: a day for swearing, and a day for swimming, and the other days all for plotting and planning and scheming and thinking and seething. And when at last Scal the sorry placed her foot upon the ground, she did it with the narrowed eyes and tight-lipped mouth of a person with a plan ready to fire. And with one glove missing.
The first thing Scal the sorry did, she raised her left hand to her mouth and chewed (gently) on the index finger. And then she was a big raven, with wings larger than a man.
The second thing Scal the sorry did, she flapped up and over to the giant’s campsite. He was snoring on the ground, his fishing rod and line lying at his side.
The third thing Scal the sorry did, she nibbled at his line. She nibbled every inch of those ten thousand feet of line, picking it clean of wax and snipping it until it was a thin and reedy as a fern-stem or a sprig of moss. And when her job was through, she flapped over to where the trees ended and the ice began at the sea and did the fourth thing, and she croaked three times and watched as the ice split three bergs into the chilly sea. Then she hopped up to the tallest branch of the tallest tree nearby, and sat down to wait.
“Eh?” said the giant, waking up with a snort. “Eh? So soon? So early in the morning?” He shook his heads and ran down to the shore with three steps, stomp stomp stomp, fishing rod in his paw. The sun shone, the waves gleamed, and he cast his line into the biggest and burliest of the three bergs, where it snapped into a million pieces and sunk its hook down to the bottom of the sea, where all the crabs scurried away in fright from it.
“What?!” shouted the giant. He stomped up and down the beach in a fury for two hours, roaring and yelling and waving his arms around, kicking down trees and stomping on bushes. Finally, when his temper had cooled and his feet were sore, he’d had enough. “Fine! I don’t need my line to fish!”
He walked back to his camp and sorted through his giant pack, and he pulled out a fishing net that was ten miles on each side, with boulders the size of houses for weights. Down to the shore he walked again, so angry that it was only two strides this time, stomp stomp, and he threw the net in and swept up all three of the icebergs in a cast. He ate them raw in two short bites each, belched loudly, and settled down for another nap at his campsite – this time with one eye opened and staring at the woods.
Scal the sorry swore – but she was still a raven, so it didn’t break any rocks, it just frightened all the young rabbits for miles around and sent them to bed with the shakes. She transformed herself back to normal and spent the rest of the evening walking around the beach kicking things and hurting her toes and apologizing to them and the things she’d kicked both.
Finally, she had an idea, and so she took off her left glove again. This time she chewed upon her second-last finger, and this time she transformed herself into a small piece of wood, and fetched herself up in a tree above the giant’s campsite. She waited ‘till past midnight, then down she swooped, click-a-clack.
“Eh?” mumbled the giant, sitting up and looking around. But Scal the sorry had tumbled straight into the campfire, and the giant didn’t see her.
“Hunnff,” he said at last, and fell asleep again, one eye on the woods. And the moment he did that, Scal the sorry hopped out of the fire again and burned up all the lines that held the weights to the fishing net. Then she burnt up to ashes in the air, swooped down to the shore, and spat four times into the ocean – and down came the icebergs again, one for each drop. Then she clambered up to the tallest branch of the tallest tree nearby and settled down to wait again.
“So early in the morning again?” grumbled the giant, as he heard the creak and the crash His head still hurt from all the shouting he’d done the day before, and his eyes were blackened and tired. He jumped to his feet and jumped to the beach in one big go, STOMP, and he threw his net and watched as it left its weights behind and sailed over the horizon and floated off far away, farther than anyone could ever swim.
“What?!” shouted the giant. “What?!” He roared and hollered and stomp-stomp-stomped the earth so hard it shook like a drum, he picked up the nearest tree and threw it and knocked down every tree on the shore in that one throw, WHAM. Down tumbled Scol the sorry, and she landed on the shore with a quiet “ouch.”
“YOU!” yelled the giant.
“I am sorry,” she said, “but I enjoy icebergs.”
“If I can’t eat them,” growled the giant, “maybe I’ll eat YOU.” And he jumped at her.
Scol the sorry was quick as a weasel and swifter than a jackrabbit, but her legs were much shorter, and it was no time at all before she was almost caught. But if her legs were fast, her mind was faster, and she knew that she’d never seen the giant swim, not once. So she dashed into the water, right between the giant’s feet, and swam out half a mile.
“Come and get me!” she yelled at him. “Come-and-get-me, come-and-get-me, nah-nah, slow-foot, fat-face!”
The giant turned so black in the face that he was nearly white. “If I had my line, I’d hook you like a minnow!” he shouted.
“It’s on the bottom of the ocean, where I put it with my tricks,” she taunted. “Come-and-get-me!”
“If I had my net,” he yelled, “I’d wrap you in it ten times over like a spider’s breakfast!”
“It’s at the end of the world, where I sent it with my cleverness,” she laughed. “Come-and-get-me!”
“If I could swim,” he screamed, “I’d come right out there and strangle you myself!”
“The water’s shallow here, empty-head!” she told him. “Come-and-get-me!”
The giant looked and sure enough, the water there was shallow as a pond. He didn’t have to think twice after that – he dashed out there so quickly he didn’t seem to step at all, and he seized Scal the sorry in both his hands.
“I am going to eat you in one bite!” he said. “Or maybe I’ll strangle you like I said, or crush you underfoot, or throw you against a mountain, or into the sky, or all at once!”
“Make up your mind,” complained Scal. “But whatever you do with me, you’ll need one hand free to do it.”
The giant saw her point at this. “Then I will crush you underfoot!” he said, and he raised his one hand to throw her down. And while his one hand was missing, Scal put her littlest, most magic finger of her left hand in her mouth and chewed it once, hard. And BOOM, all the ice fell into the water at once – one, two, three, four, five hundred icebergs, all bigger than the last and the first at once. The giant barely had time to turn and yell before they were all over him, battering and knocking and bruising. He lost his grip on Scal, lost his footing on the bottom, and lost his life pinned underneath all five hundred icebergs, drowned in water that a child could’ve gone paddling in.
“I am sorry,” said Scal, as she bobbed in the water again, “but I did not like you very much.” And she meant about half of what she said, which was pretty good for Scal on a good day, like that day.
So she went home, and still had half a handful of berries left for when the bergs came by.

The Life of Small-five (Part 12).

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Small-five thought about cycles.
Big and little, both important. The day-to-night. The year-to-year. Youth-to-adult. Life-to-death. What held her mind at the moment was the cycle that was place-to-place.
Place the first was here, an old home made new again, a reefcolony safely tucked away in the backwaters of the temperate ring just beneath the equator’s belt, where the Fiskupids seeded freely and the water was warm. A place of food, of rest, of peace.
Place the second was the pole, an evil she’d learned was necessary for thought, for growth, a hunting-ground of lurking fear, where the elements of sapience coalesced from deep water and took root inside juvenile skulls.
It would be a long trip, a hard trip. But her sister needed it, so it would be done. If she had managed it as a frightened, runted subadult, she could manage it again as a scarred, lightless adult. And at least this time, she would set out on her journey with a sister’s company.
Pulsing-point grew more talkative by the day, despite (because of?) Small-five’s inability to reply. Proto-sistertalk, stilted and repetitive but wonderful in its persistence and simplicity. Small-five already understood much of what her lost sister told her; it was communication going the other way that was something of a challenge. At first she was direct, clumsy – she poked and prodded and pulled with her proboscis, steering her sister to prey, to safety, to move. It was slow work, often left Pulsing-point in total confusion until she lit eyes upon whatever it was Small-five was showing her, and occasionally surprised her enough to trigger her fright reflex, whereupon Small-five was stuck spending some time coaxing her out of a coral bolt-hole. She was most adept at finding those, at least. Despite all those years on the reef, Pulsing-point’s childhood instincts of fear had never altered, never adjusted to her modified size, as delayed as her intellect.
No, you couldn’t be too blunt with her. What you could do instead, as Small-five discovered, was use body language. Pulsing-point fixated on changes in posture or muscle tension lightning-fast with no more than slight exaggeration of natural reaction – a stiffening of the body and a swift turn would have her spinning to confront whatever her sister had sighted, a loose, lazy swimming posture would calm her and bid her to follow. Managing her sister was second nature within a month.
This was important, because Small-five was busy.
The Fiskupids wouldn’t swarm for some time, and so their journey would be delayed for want of food. But she remembered the hunger of the poles, and the starving march that had been the return trip. She also remembered much of her populism studies, which had placed a focus on the reefcolony ecosystem and its effects on juveniles.
Mtuilk bile, it transpired, was a preservative. Primitive and long-obsoleted by the more advanced preservative methods it had mothered in cities such as Far-away-light, vile-tasting and capable of giving an undisciplined stomach indigestion, but extremely powerful, capable of transforming a meal into a ration that would last for years, if done properly.
Small-five lacked the materials to do it properly, but she (and, it transpired, Pulsing-point) was an experienced hunter of Mtuilks by now, and was able to procure enough of her prey to saturate leftover kills in the bile, experimenting carefully to find the absolute edge where palatability was lost to the acidic bite of the slime. The leftover juices she sealed in their durable, elastic guts, sewing them shut with sinew and bone.
When she wasn’t preserving food, Small-five was sewing containers – long, billowing strips of flayed skin and the lightest segmented shells she could procure, tied together with residue and secretions and patient, endless labour. She would’ve traded a fin for an industrial loom, or even for a primitive weaver, and endlessly cursed herself for never paying as much attention to Maintenance work. Dim-glow could’ve assembled everything she was working on at double-time, and no doubt would’ve made more efficient use of the materials.
Then again, considered Small-five, perhaps she wouldn’t have known where to find them. Give her sister a set of juvenile Ooliku bones and perhaps she would make wonders, but would she have known exactly what size of Ooliku adolescence heralded the onset of a sturdier skeletal system (just as the last of the filminess left the body, before the fat was packed on)? Would she have known at precisely what time to hunt the prey (just before dusk, when they were tired and full, but not yet prepared to go into their wary sleep)? Probably not, and these thoughts made Small-five feel much better and only a little ashamed when her efforts at fastening crude buckles literally unraveled before her eyes, or when Pulsing-point ate a week’s worth of preserved food and became violently ill for some time, or when she failed to properly preserve a Stairrow corpse and it spoiled a week’s-worth of other meat, or when…
…Well, none of it mattered. Progress reversed was never as decisive as progress made, and bit by bit they were getting there, both of them. Three separate (well-hidden) nooks and crannies in the reefcolony’s sprawling body housed their supplies, and they swelled daily – despite a somewhat warier Mtuilk population, and the occasional thieving Stairrow that would dare risk a mouthful against the chance of being added to the hoard, which was getting substantial indeed and threatened to outgrow the crude bandoleers that Small-five had crafted. She began plans for another means of carrying food – a dangling bundle that hung from mid-body, with a buoyant lining of air bladders – and was busily working on that in the scraped-out-niche that had become her workspace one evening when Pulsing-point came scurrying in, positively vibrating with excitement.
Look-look-look-strange-look-strange-strange-STRANGE-look! she bubbled, flashing and sparkling as best as her half-formed glowshine could permit. She swam excited swirls around the chamber, knocking away the bone needle Small-five had laboured an hour over and sending it plunging into a tiny fracture in the wall.
Small-five felt the familiar ache in her sides as her body attempted to express emotion through glowshine (a flash of irritation) and heroically supressed her urge to poke her sister in the eye. At the very least, this was the most enthusiasm she’d ever seen Pulsing-point express over anything that wasn’t obviously food. Investigation would prove worthwhile.
Come-come! Come! Follow! Here! Look-look-look! And so on and so forth for far too long and far too far away until they came to a broad coral plateau in shallow, warm water.
Small-five look-looked. The plateau was empty, the waters glowing in the sundown light.
Pulsing-point flickered with impatience and smacked her head against Small-five’s right fin. LOOK-look-LOOK!
Small-five twisted herself around to glare at her sister, looked, and saw. A shape in the reefcolony’s bumpy profile that was too regular, too symmetrical to be anything but designed.
Look? inquired Pulsing-point.
It was unmistakably a research habitat – albeit a radically different one from those that Small-five had inhabited, now that she knew it for what it was. The camouflaging was intensive, and she thought that several of the growths dotting its surface were not artificial, but rather local organisms that had taken advantage of any surface available to stake a homesteading claim. A pair of segmented worms were forced to give up their own squatting spot in protest as she watched; the surface of the habitat bulging beneath them.
Its side split apart under the gentle pressure of a Safety warden’s nose as she slid out into the open, flaps overlapping into a perfect reseal behind her. Relaxed light spilled down her sides, soft and already dimming into the disciplined low-illumination of a warden on-site, dimmed to avoid trouble but ready to flare if it appeared.
Sister? asked Pulsing-point.
Small-five was too far gone inside her own head to pay any attention to her. What did this mean? If this expedition was from Far-away-light, she didn’t dare approach them; its Safety wardens had crippled her without hesitation. If it were from another city, would they know of her? Was whatever unspoken secret she’d violated severe enough to warrant cross-city cooperation in her expulsion?
But then again, maybe they could help. They would have food, if they had a computer she could use othershine in place of her own light to communicate. Maybe they would agree to send her and Pulsing-point south on the next trip down, or arrange an expedition from scratch. Maybe…
…maybe Pulsing-point would swim right up to the Safety warden and begin chattering excitedly at her in sistertalk.
Small-five dithered in place for a moment, hated herself for three moments longer, then slunk down into the shaded canyons that were growing against the reefcolony’s floor as evening moved in, sliding slowly in, eyes fixed on the two luminescent forms in front of her. Pulsing-point was a flickering lightshow, but her eyes were focused on the warden; it had been so little time since she’d lived among hundreds, but after just her short time spent alone again the speed with which adults talked was a fresh marvel. Even slowed down into a carefully-modulated semblance of sistertalk, it was a chore to understand her.
Where-are…your-sisters? asked the warden.
One-sister-now-none-then-you-are-sister? said Pulsing-point.
The warden shone over her carefully, focusing its light. It hovered around her skull and sides, and Small-five was close enough to see her patterns jerk to a halt in their cycling as realisation hit.
You-are-sister? repeated Pulsing-point.
No, said the warden. You-have-travelled? she asked, and Small-five knew a redundant question when she saw it being asked.
The warden’s sides rippled through confirmation into disgust and ended in resignation, abandoning the stilted sentences of sistertalk in a flash for a single word.
Pulsing-point stared at her, confused, as the Safety warden’s proboscis slid underneath her belly and retrieved a small, sleek shape from her harness that glimmered with the soft light of othershine controls.
All-fin had educated her little sister on Safety devices before, on request, and Small-five had actually seen this one in use. A Fjiloj had gotten entirely too close for comfort on a return trip to Far-away-light, the persistent, light-gutted predator refusing to leave the research habitat alone. Warden Five-bright had pointed this small device at it and clicked a button with her proboscis, and all of its soft-glowing organs had shut down so abruptly that Small-five had half believed it had vanished before the corpse became clear in the darkened sea, sinking gently in the current’s grip.
Sonic needle, Five-bright had explained. Land it close to the head, and the reverberation shreds through the brain matter, as long as the skull isn’t too thick. Best to aim for the eyes.
Small-five had swum softly around the wardens for a few days after that. It was one thing to know that they possessed such tools, and another to see firsthand what they could do. Still, they were in the hands of Safety, who were committed to their job of ensuring that no one came to harm. The same Safety who had thrust her through a ring of tearing pain, the same Safety whose nearest representative was taking careful aim at Pulsing-point’s face.

Small-five had enough time to do one of three things: panic, think, or intervene. Luckily her mind locked up entirely at the sight in front of her, leaving only the third option.
As it was, she was very nearly too late. The full mass of her body impacted the Safety warden’s jaw and proboscis just in time to send the shot skirting the edge of Pulsing-point’s dorsal fin, causing her to emit a terrified blast of light that nearly blinded all three of them. The needle-machine spun loose, jostled by their impact, and vanished.
The Safety warden thrashed in the water, smacking Small-five into the reefbed more by accident than design, and shook her head sharply, proboscis grasping at nothing, flexing and unclenching to check for damage. The warden had gotten the brunt of Pulsing-point’s surprise flare, but she’d been trained, like All-fin had, like all of them had. She was already sure that no major damage had been done to her, she was still in possession of her senses, she was trained to battle without tools but reaching towards her weapon harness to be sure of an advantage all the same, and that was why Small-five killed her, and told herself that it was what she had to do.
It should feel different, to slip your proboscis through a hide just like yours, puncturing glowshine tubes alongside veins, to penetrate a skull that held a large brain with thoughts and feelings that could talk and ripple-laugh and flare and shimmer in all the ways that you could
But instead it felt like all the others, and that was what frightened Small-five the most, as the Safety warden’s body shuddering, spasmed, and went limp against her, dead in the water, and her emergency flasher began to sing its warning-call.
Sister? gleamed Pulsing-point, her sides guttering in the aftermath of the unaccustomed exertion. Sister?
Small-five turned and fled, and it was only later that she thought to make sure that Pulsing-point followed. It was only later that she thought at all.

Later, luckily, happened sooner. Small-five’s body knew where to hide even as her mind vanished, and she was in the nearest of their bolt-holes again, the half-complete dangling-bundle underneath her proboscis almost exactly as it had been so little ago, before she’d killed someone.
They’d section the reefcolony in a grid pattern, search it in teams. Stagger the patrols, lay as low as possible. See before being seen.  The bone needle was wedged in that crevice right there by her fin, how had she missed it earlier?
They would travel armed and alert and ready to fire on anything that didn’t have a flasher equipped. There would be no more chances for sudden reversal, and no hesitation before attacking. Their only advantage would be a greater knowledge of the terrain, and-
Small-five shook herself all over, a full-bodied shiver that seemed to lift a cloud from her brain. She was alive. Her sister was alive. Right now, that was all that mattered.
She took up her harness, and filled it with the best-preserved of the rations. She put it on – carefully, slowly, with Pulsing-point watching – and then repeated the gesture for her sister, twice as slowly.
She still flinched, but she didn’t balk, and she followed as Small-five moved (quickly, but not in fear) to each of the other cache sites. Each visit left their harnesses heavier in the water, each stroke a bit heavier, but it was too late for practice, for the Fiskupid swarm to come, for regrets, for anything.
The edge of the reefcolony approached, the drop-off of a thousand feet and more. Small-five halted here, her mind clear, and stared off into the unknowable distance.
Safe? shone Pulsing-point, hesitantly. Her eyes were rapid, darting from murk to murk, looking for shadows that could turn to teeth.
No, thought Small-five. Not for us. We swim the longest journey of your life on a fraction of the preparations we should. It is not safe. But I will do my best to make it so for you.
She swam forwards into the blue, turned, and waited.
And after a time, her sister followed her.
All the way.

Storytime: A Burial.

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

It was a good day for a funeral; grey and clotted, with the clouds swirling around the sky in muddy daubs. No sun shone, no thunder cracked, even the rain restrained itself to the dampest possible spittle. All plants seemed to have been replaced with slickened moss, and all ground seemed to have been replaced with mud. The pond down the hill was as tepid as a cat’s conscience.
It was a good day for a funeral. But the man in the pit didn’t have one. He lay still and alone, rigor mortis firmly set in, neck still twisted at a curious angle, head-first in a little hollow twice the depth of his body that only so recently had been hidden by ferns.
Time passed, seasons changed. The skies cleared and the plants blossomed, the ground bloomed and the world froze. Over and over again and again over again. And as this happened, the man crept deeper and deeper into the hole as water trickled in and tunneled, bored and buried. He lay under twelve feet of soil, dirt and stone now, naked bones that were he. His teeth were the loveliest part of him, gleaming brighter now than they had when he breathed. A mole burrowed through his ribcage once and nearly blunted a claw upon his thoracic vertebrae. It never came down that tunnel again.
Time passed, years flowed – like glaciers, not water; an impossibly huge mass descending slowly but inevitably, a liquid that shammed solid. An earth tremor spilled the pond that lay to the man’s northwest, sent its beautiful translucent guts away to fade into dust and left the frogs all mourning. Half a hill fell atop the burial-place of the man, pressing with patient weight on softer soil and bone below it. Compacting it, bearing down on it, thrusting it deeper and lower, past soil and into places where light was not even an idea, leaving the song of the earthworms far above and fading out of mind.
Time passed, and the man remained dead. His bones, however, merely slept, and as they sank deeper, they began to stir in their slumber, as things formed from carbon do. From primates to protists, all things dream, even if they never wake enough to realize it. But given time, all sleep ends, and death is sleep writ large and in extremely firm print.
The bones were fitful. They had spent their youth growing, building, binding, and in time, breaking; exuberant pursuits, energetic, the best times of their lives. And fittingly, they had done so as sleepwalkers, leaving the thinking and the feeling and the experiencing to others as they just did what came naturally. To do was unnecessary, to be was enough. That had always been enough.
Now, far underneath the land they had walked, they woke to the strange sensation of mineralization – a cold, clammy tickle through the spine, an icy grip on the skull, a slow seepage into the tibia. A drowsy feeling, but not one to lull you back into torpor; rather a numbness to be shaken off. First out of surprise, second for alarm, third for a determined struggle for consciousness, or whatever semblance of it that had been washed into them. A long, hard battle towards awareness, pinned in place under a million tons of dirt and stone.
It took decades, felt like mere years, but in the end, the hard part was over. The man was gone, but his bones were awake. Immobile, but that didn’t matter. Awake and aware, open to the world beyond their borders. Dark. Silent. Heavy, so infinitely heavy.
Above was life, unreachable and a dwindling not-memory. Below was darkness, opaque and inevitably approaching. Mercifully, the bones had no time to grow fearful before the second major tremor of their existence rumbled past them in an instant, tore apart the world below them, and sent them cascading downwards in a split month, still-entombed in a solid slab of rock.

The dark was always something that they never quite got used to. No eyes to see it, but they had a mind to feel it, or at least something close enough to a mind. It was more of a pressure than a lack of light at this level, a constant sensation that vibrated through every moment.
They were never used to it, but they were able to move past it. Time still passed when years and seasons were never-memories, and with time came change. The bones began to search outside themselves, to go hunting along cracks and crannies, to dance upon pebbles and squeeze under the stubs of mountains. Sometimes they almost lost their way back to themselves, and it would take them many decades to once again work up the courage to go a-voyaging, for fear of what would happen to them if they were left alone and gone.
One day, they found a fissure grand and cavernous, a full hairs-breadth of unoccupied space that must have stretched downwards until the stones melted. They wandered far and came no closer to that endless burn, but found something far strange still: a gap in the wall that touched them with whispering echoes dredged upon from deeper layers, places where the rocks had slept like the dead for half an eon.
What was in the rocks was awake. More than awake. It was in motion.
Identity was ambiguous down there. What they found could have been millipedes, sea scorpions, fish, or amphibians. That long dead, all had been stripped away to the bedrock, and a new self had emerged from the most basic core: predator, prey; animal, vegetable, all locked away in mineral form, all emitting a part of the same breathless whisper-song that permeated the rocks of their fossilized bed. Life that had been thickened to the tiniest, most concentrated scraps possible.
That was just the surface. It was nearly comprehensible.
Far below, hidden in seams beyond knowing, there were murmurs. The old ones talked to each other, deeper down in time, using words without a language. Time passed, the world changed, but they would never raise their eyes to know, would never even realize they no longer had eyes. The stone cracked away at their touch as freely as if they walked in air; shambling, ancient bodies alien to the thoughts that moved them. Old grudges, ancient hunts relived. Bone eating bone, hidden in the dark.
They did not linger there. Instead they retreated, and only now did doubt arise in them, in their trust in themselves. They had plunged too low too quickly, had been pulled far down below their rightful depth. The dark was familiar, maybe, but it was not home – not yet, and maybe now it never would be. The bones now knew what lay beneath them, and they didn’t want it. To be pressed down to nothing but ancient instinct might be appealing by the time the process was nearly through, but to see it from afar, a long time before… that was less appealing. And that was supposing that they did not fall victim to their fellows before they were boiled down to their essences; they were only safe thus far because they were insignificant. As they grew more concentrated in their presence, they would be prey, and easy prey.
And so it was that the bones had their first goal ever conceived, though they did not know it then: to escape.

The idea was simple, the concept less so. There were limits to their grasp, limits that the surface lay well in excess of. Their grasp on the stone was weak and hesitant, their substance still soft-formed, near-bone. Cracks were their avenues rather than the result of their passage, and strain as they might they could not free themselves from their matrix, stuck fast where they lay.
Time passed, and now too quickly. They heaved and hauled and sank nearly as quickly as their reach expanded, murmurs from below growing closer every day – and now day existed again, an infinitesimal change in the moisture and temperature of the dirt that once more arose at the very verge of their expanse.
Once days existed, time seemed to move faster still. Tense, sunrise, untense, sunset. Reach, sunrise, relax, sunset. Over and over and over and farther down they sank, the world pressing them towards the rumbling elders down below.
And one day, as they scraped away at the soil above, something strange and hauntingly unfamiliar stirred at the very tip of their awareness. A strange…emptiness.
Stale air, in a soft-earth pit half a dozen feet below the surface. So very close to far away, but so far. And in the pit, something sleeping, a distant cousin, a far-away relative of themselves. But softer, and so much younger. They had forgotten that anything could be so young. It smelt faint, but vibrant and strange, unmistakable.
Sleeping. Still asleep. There was still matter heaped atop those bones, still decaying. It would be gone soon.
Exploration, tentatively conducted, at the very edges of their strength, showed dozens more, all either new bone or not yet unfleshed.
The plan was intuited immediately. The justification took but a significant moment longer. They were young and asleep, not really awake. This was a necessary act of survival. They would eventually fall victim to the same descent into the not-there if they remained. Why should they care anyways, it was irrelevant.
None of it was successful, but it didn’t need to be.
They reached up,
and raked at the sides of the corpses above them with desperate strength, the dangerous sort. They were no great ancient walkers of stone, but their lives depended on it, and that gave them the power they needed to flay the diffuse, weak, but somehow intoxicating shreds of fresh life from the hides of the graveyard’s crop of bodies and send them hurtling down, down, down. All the way down below they flung them, stretching them to their limit, an ethereal rope of that which separated bone from rock – faint, so faint, so diffuse in its presence in the newly-dead, but unmistakably alluring in the novelty of its freshness. They carried it through cracks microscopic, they carried it through the grand fissure, they carried it to the gap in the fissure’s wall and they flung it into that strange and remote deep where the murmurs leaked through from far down below.
Time passed, and at first nothing changed. Then the whispers stopped.
Time passed, and the world stood still and the darkness deepened. They moved not at all, as paralyzed as if they were true stone themselves.
Time passed… and the rocks fell away.
After a life lived in years and decades, it was a shock extreme to see such change in mere months. First there was silence, and then a roar; stillness, then turmoil. The bones bobbed in their rocky bed as corks in a stream, and watched as life’s grandfathers tore their way free of the roots of the continents to seek the trail of their children’s children’s children ad infinitum.
The bones found that their confining matrix was gone and that they were falling, half-fossil, half-there, still unnoticed. Not safe, though – the migration of the ancients was indifferent as to what it crushed. The brute strata vanished under their limbs as if nothing, the passage of their bodies ruptured geological formations massing a million mountains, and they did not notice, did not care. All of history had passed them by, and they passed it by in turn on that hellish climb, one claw, one heave, one limb after another, chasing that long thread that had been drawn down to them until the first of them broke through and felt sunlight for the first time in half a billion years.

Some days later, the bones emerged from the yawning pit that had been the graveyard. Movement was almost unimaginably swift now, but they had decided to play it cautious.
They looked down into the pit behind them – ten miles across and more, though they could not measure it with eyes – and for a moment they wondered if what they had done was worth it.
They decided it was irrelevant.
Time passed, things changed. Time was passing, always passing. It was never too late to see what you could do as it did.
They stepped out under the bright blue sky.

Storytime: Super-Duper.

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Is this thing on? Okay. Right. Almost ready then. Want a drink?
No? Good, more for me.
Okay, shoot.

Do I still remember the first time I saw him? No, not so much. By then he was everyday, y’know? Business as usual. But I remember my mom telling me about the first time SHE did. The first time anyone did.
So my mom was walking down the street, right? And she’s going to the bank. To drop off a cheque. And there’s this van parked in front of it, – a plain white van – and as she’s walking down the street these guys come running out of the bank. And they’ve got covered faces, and they’re holding guns – no, she didn’t say what kind – and they start piling into the van.
So my mom said she was a bit freaked out then, right? Which is normal. An armed robbery right in front of you freaks you out; she was worried about the tellers, too, one of them was a friend of one of her friends. And she sort of ducks into a shop doorway because she isn’t sure if it’s safe to stay on the street or not, but she doesn’t want to run away because she’s worried about the teller and she doesn’t want to get closer.
And as she’s in the doorway there, she hears this big loud voice yell “STOP, VILLAINS,” or something. I think it was ‘villains.’ And she looks up and she said she always remembered that the first she ever saw of the guy was his ass. He was swooping down as he aimed at the van, and his ass was level with her eyes as he scooted along. She said his tights were baggier back then, but it was still a pretty firm butt.
What happened next was pretty fast, and she was still a bit in shock from the whole robbery thing, so she always said it got a bit blurry in her head. But the papers corroborated her memory the next day: he picked up a car and hit the robbers with it. It was a little Volkswagen Beetle, Christ only knows what would’ve happened if he’d used their van or a truck or something, because he could’ve; he picked it up one-handed.
So he beat these four or five guys with a Volkswagen for maybe ten seconds – three or four whacks, full-arm, god knows how many bones he broke on them – and then he ripped out its muffler, the whole thing, and he wrenched it around them and twisted it together. A tight fit. And then he yelled again “CRIME DOESN’T PAY, BOYS!” and shot off into the air and he was gone.
That’s my mother’s story, and that was the first time anybody saw the Super-Maniac. Nobody called him that yet, though. The papers hadn’t thought that schlock up yet. He never seemed to mind, I’ll give him that. He wasn’t self-aware enough.
We all waited with bated breath for a few weeks after that, she told me. Nobody figured it’d be a one-in-a-lifetime thing. Not even the guys desperate enough to hold up convenience stores made a move for a month. Quietest, tensest time the place had seen since the bomb scare.
And then, some idiot jacks the mayor’s car. Hotwired the thing right in the parking lot and takes off. He’s dumb, he’s young, the cops have a blockade set up, everything’s all ready to sort itself out, and then “STOP, EVIL-DOER,” and down swoops a streak of crazy in electric blue tights. Picks up the mayor’s car, flies it over the harbour, and starts shaking it. Shaking it like a rattle. The kid’s getting smashed around like crazy, he’s crying and sobbing – he didn’t belt himself in – and finally the lunatic tips the car the right way and the kid’s foot hits the door latch. Out he falls, into the bay, head-first. Sheer luck his spine didn’t snap, even more that he wasn’t unconscious when he made contact with the water.
God, the pictures the press got when he hauled them in, car in one arm, idiot in the other. Such a big, cheerful, friendly, beaming grin. The most genuine expression of happiness you’ve ever seen in your life.
God help us.
No, really. That was the headline that the Post went with. A bit extreme sounding at the time, but in retrospect, well, I mean it was perfect. The next decade alone was –
Ah, damnit, I’m losing track again, aren’t I? Let me start over.
But first, another drink.

Right. The first time I saw the Super-Maniac was when I was ten. My mom and dad and all of us had gone down to see a ball game. Just a good old fashioned, all-American ball game. I think we even bought hot dogs, ferchrissakes. No giant foam hands at least. And it was a pretty good game, you know? I mean, baseball was never my thing it turned out, but we had fun and the scores were close and I still remember sitting in my seat as I watched a home run go flying up, up, up, up…. And then realizing that it was heading right for me. All I had to do was reach out and touch it, it was almost there, then WHAM. Ball’s stuck inside an ice cube, drops like a rock, almost smashes the brains out of the man sitting in front of us. I think it broke his thigh.
Now, I can’t recall the exact details of the speech made by the man who ran out into center field just then – I was too busy staring at his ridiculously loud, clunky, shiny steel suit. But I remember the cliff notes: he was Doctor Igor Madderson, this was his magnificent robo-fridge armour, and he was going to prove that he was better than the Super-Maniac once and for all something something unless he showed up he’d freeze us all solid in our seats.
Well, he showed up fast all right. The ball players barely had time to run for cover before there was a helluva fistfight going on at the pitcher’s mound – the noise was terrible, like a tractor trailer fucking a conveyer belt coated in sandpaper. Some of that freeze ray ended up being sprayed everywhere; half the bleachers got frostbite. And at the end of it all, the Super-Maniac stood victorious, after tearing every single bit of moving metal out of the suit and smashing it everywhere, then hurling its inanimate body through the billboards and proclaiming it a “HOME RUN.”
And then he smiled.
Then he stripped all the ice off the “INNOCENT BYSTANDERS” by shooting lasers out of his eyes. God there were a lot of burns. Scalding water, you know? The paramedics had a field day, and they already had a full plate just making sure ‘Doctor’ Igor (he had a BASc – well, most of it) didn’t go into cardiac arrest. That fall almost killed him outright, good thing he wasn’t in half bad shape for a man in his fifties.
Oh, and he’d crushed four cars in the parking lot when he landed. One of them was ours. Just about put us out of house and home; dad had to work weekends for a year solid to get us sitting pretty again. Didn’t see my father’s face except at night when he came stumbling home, but you know how fast kids adapt. That was just business as usual.

That was the beginning of it. Doctor Igor was a has-been, a nobody, a nothing. Some poor chump whose medical fees almost bankrupted him, who lurched his way through the prison system, retired in poverty, died in obscurity. His obituary was the most press he ever got, and it was only because of historical note: the first nutcase who ever picked a fight with the Super-Maniac.
Why couldn’t he have been the last, huh?
The summer that Doctor Igor showed up was a busy one. By the time fall was on its way out, Clonemageddon, Laser-O, and Mister Matchstick had already popped up and popped a shot at the guy. And in retrospect, we really should’ve seen this sort of thing coming. The local, everyday crime was dead and gone by then, and the organized stuff wouldn’t set foot in town. Too dangerous and too unpredictable for too little gain. Word spreads, and eventually it kept reaching the same people: total nutjobs with axes to grind. And god was Super-Maniac a perfect grindstone. Most people looked into that big happy smile he flashed the papers and wanted to go home and hide for a while. The crazies looked at it and saw a target.
Clonemageddon got cancer back in the seventies. All of him. Laser-O was another Doctor Igor – I think he actually went back to university and got a physics degree. Mister Matchstick, well, we all know about that.
Anyways, we all kept hoping it’d calm down. There were only so many lunatics in the country with so much time on their hands, right? Wrong. We hadn’t even scraped the surface of the barrel and it turned out the damned thing was four miles deep. Hell, two months after my fourteenth birthday, the cops six counties over in Oakfall City started finding guys tied up black-and-blue outside their station. One guy, three guys, four guys, six guys. Some of them they were looking for, most of them they had no idea who they were – muggers, pickpockets, or just somebody’s kids. Never a damned clue. The one common connection: they were always beaten to a bloody pulp. Some of them acted like they’d been pepper-sprayed too, but worse. Some kind of gas. The best they could do was get them to the hospital.
It took six months for any sort of photos of Oakfall’s nighttime predator to get out there. And god that was a feeding frenzy – photographers, reporters, everybody out trying to solve that mystery, get that shot. I guess I sort of fell into that same trap, huh? Started fooling around with my granddad’s camera and look where that got me.
Well. Let me tell you where it got me then.
It was four years later, and I was out looking for a target to shoot. Something big, something bold, something that’d make an editor sit up and take notice. Just me, an ancient, sorta-shit camera, and a pressing urge to get as close as possible to the chemical fire down at the plant to get the finest angle available of the really weird flames in there. They were practically candy-coloured, and the smells were amazing – god knows what kind of cancers I skirted by inhaling all that. Anyways, I was close enough to see what everyone else wasn’t, which was someone banging on an emergency exit’s window. Must have gotten stuck thanks to shitty contractor work. Business as usual, just a little more evil than average.
Now, because I was young and eighteen and therefore immortal, I ran straight in there and started trying to get the handle working. And it was creaking and groaning and I like to hope it was about to give when all of a sudden FWOOSH half the lake falls on my head.
It was Super-Maniac, of course. He’d seen the fire brewing from miles away, and decided to pick up a tugboat, immerse it in the lake, and then upend it over the chemical fire. God almighty, the stink and the smoke – a lot of things in that blaze didn’t care for water at all. That’s where I got this little cough of mine from, you know. I guess I got lucky, got that raspy barroom crooner voice without having to smoke a pack a day for two decades. Never was much of a singer, though.
They never did find whoever had been on the other side of that door, but Super-Maniac found me as I washed up against a pile of rubble, half-drowned. Hauled my sorry ass up by the scruff of my shirt and told me that “Fires are DANGEROUS, CITZEN! Leave this sort of thing to ME!” and so on and I was really half-concussed at the time so mostly what I said was ‘huh?’ and ‘awuhhur’ and stuff like that. But I guess he appreciated it, because he flew me down to the hospital before up-up-and-awaying off into the distance.
It turned out Mister Matchstick had started the fire or something, testing out his new chemically-derived pyrokinesis. It fried a few dozen workers, and that was new. That was ugly. We’d all known it’d come to this, but we’d all HOPED it would just… fade away. No more nutcases, no more collateral damage, all gone and over with before it got any sloppier.

I had a bit of a close-up view on all this next part, as you know, but I should explain how I got it. See, a week after the chemical fire, I was talking to a homeless man in a parking lot about the upcoming elections. He was pretty upset about the frontrunners, and he was getting energetic about it – arm-waving, shouting, stomping, and so on. Well, out of nowhere, he gets yanked into the air and hung off a lamppost by his jacket, while Super-Maniac’s lecturing me on how I’m “A REGULAR MAGNET FOR TROUBLE, AREN’T YOU?” and laughing at how he’s “PRACTICALLY GOING TO END UP BEING YOUR MOTHER AT THIS RATE.” I tried to tell him to take the man down, but he perked up at “A ROBBERY AT MAIN AND GRAND!” and left. We had to wait for the fire department.
Now that was a bit disconcerting, but the very next day I was taking pictures at the opening of the new dam up the Calley River when Mister Matchstick decided to showcase his new powers. He was more than just a nut with a flamethrower, he was a walking furnace. Why he decided to attack a dam was beyond me though – after a pitched fight that set half the place on fire, Super-Maniac threw him off it. He superheated so much water that the steam clouds took days to fade, and of course he got away scot-free because Super-Maniac had recognized me in the crowd of “INNOCENT BYSTANDERS” and had stopped to talk to – talk AT – me and my “CONSTANT SCOOP-HOUNDING.” And then he gave me that big smile and told me all about his problems and how swell it was that he had a good buddy like me.
That was how I became Super-Maniac’s official “BEST FRIEND!” and personal reporter. That’s how I got up close to most of things I’m talking about, and I’d rather not go too much into it because it makes me feel sick. Suffice to say that I followed the big stuff, and in return he paid enough attention to me to make sure that none of it squished me. At least, not as often as the typical bystander. God, the casualty rates just went up. Like I said, it was a trend. We hoped it was just a temporary thing, that the destruction would die down over the winter or something, that it was cyclical and would stabilize itself. That this wasn’t the new normal.

But it didn’t, and it was. Ever year there were more nuts, more fights, and more deaths. Oakfall’s thug calls himself The Creeping Vine (they started naming themselves after the newspapers christened the Super-Maniac – guess they learned that lesson fast enough), and gets in full public view for the first time battling a guy called Alley Gator, who looked like, well, guess. Soon he’s got a pack of loonies after him too, one of whom – a failed sitcom star calling himself no-shit Hugh Larious – turns into the biggest news since the Super-Maniac fought Bob the Blimp over the city during a thunderstorm, when he threatens to gas the whole city if the Vine doesn’t reveal his identity. The psycho snuck around behind everyone’s backs and punched him out instead, risking about four and a half million people against the chances of him getting turned in for vigilantism. Six months later he was charged with more than that – footage during a brutal outdoor brawl with a gang of honest-to-god ninjas showed that he had a kid with him, a little kid whose balls hadn’t even dropped yet running around in some stupid little getup trying (and mostly failing) to kick men with giant knives in the crotch with tiny fire-engine-red pixie boots.
Yeah, they got the kid about a year after that. He broke his leg or something and the cops nabbed him before the Vine could. Took a lot of therapy, a lot of work, but he’s the mayor now. Got some sweet biography deals out of it too. Good for him, good for anyone who’s managed to turn lemons that massive into lemonade. But there was another kid out there with the Vine inside the year, and another after that, and another…there must’ve been five or six of them. And by the third, we’d almost gotten used to it. Business as usual.
Besides the Vine finally leaking into the limelight, there were suddenly more than a dozen others. Oildozer, Lord Hippo, Deadbolt, Admiral Flag Patriotism, and Sheila the Sultry, off the top of my head. And they all attracted their own crowds of enemies. It got to the point where you couldn’t go downtown without being a bystander in some bunch of costumed nutso’s brawl. And the arms race didn’t slow down, it went up and up and up. Super-Maniac and the Vine teamed up to stop Alley Gator, so Mister Matchstick and Hugh Larious teamed up in self-defence. The Admiral starts a ‘Navy-SEAL-style combat response team,’ whatever that means since he’s as much a government man as I’m a hamster, and its members are six of the most high-powered bruisers on the planet. So in response to that, Doctor Doobie (an actual chemistry Phd.) takes over a nuclear sub and tries to nuke their headquarters. The thing gets ‘heroically diverted!’ into the ocean by Oildozer, the idiot, whose ‘noble sacrifice’ irradiates half of the richest fishing grounds this side of the Atlantic. Fucking Christ, how many years before you could guarantee you wouldn’t be eating two-headed salmon around here? Oh god, and the fishermen. I don’t even want to think about how many ended up in emerg thanks to that whacko.
They put up a statue to him in the park, you know? Thing got removed before you were born, but let me tell you this: they only took it down because there was no more room for graffiti on it.

Well, legislation takes time, and like I told you this all happened awfully fast. By the time the Supreme Court was weighing in, half the population of the country’s mental institutions was running around armed with explosive limbs and cybernetic bees and fuck knows what. So the ruling was about to go through (can barely remember the wording, it was so legalistic – but it basically boiled down to ‘being a loony in tights is now the biggest offense ever please turn yourselves in and maybe we can help you use those physically impossible abilities like a responsible adult rather than a playground thug’), when the Vine, the Admiral, and Super-Maniac storm the building and start yelling at the court and assembled press that they’re a bunch of appeasers and ungrateful know-nothings and they’ll all be stuck at the far end of the wedgie line when Bob the Blimp conquers the world unopposed and puts them to work slaving away in his helium mines. And then, of course, Hugh Larious saw that they were all in one place so he bombed the building. The court didn’t make it because they weren’t immune to explosions, the lunatics did because they were, and then they loudly denounced the outcome as the expected result of this sort of foolish fascist oppression. Regulation never quite got off the ground after that, especially after what happened two months later.

Two months later, the first world-wide catastrophe hit. Doctor Doobie kidnapped Mister Matchstick, replicated the formula that turned him from a pyromaniac to a pyrokinetic, and used it on a small army of Bob the Blimp’s Zeppelmen. Every first-world capital had twenty five-hundred-foot flaming blimp-people in its front yard, torching monuments. About a hundred thousand people died, millions were injured, the Eiffel tower got melted down, and during the final showdown at New York where Mister Matchstick exploded inside Bob the Blimp’s engine chambers, Super-Maniac impaled him on the Statue of Liberty and crushed that too. It took all of us years to recover from the damage economically, and I think the shock still lingers. But Super-Maniac? The Super-SEAL-Six? The Creeping Vine? They looked sad, they looked mournful. I took their pictures. But the very next month, they were back on schedule. Beating burglars to a bloody pulp, stringing suspected ‘EVIL-DOERS” from skyscrapers or dangling them a mile high in midair, and conducting their personal lives in a way that made B-list celebrities look like cloistered nuns. I think the sickest point had to have been when Sheila the Sultry got killed in action, so Lord Hippo cloned her and tried to pretend that effectively she was the same person and therefore they were still married. Can’t blame that girl for going crazy and trying to stab him to death; she had more reason than most.
Still got beaten to a pulp, though. And escaped. We did our best, but our jails can’t hold the damned loons, and every time we thought we found a way to remove their powers Hugh Larious would steal it and try to use it to murder Super-Maniac or something. And whenever it didn’t work, because they’d always take the half-functional prototypes, whatever vigilante they’d tried to use it on was sure to ‘accidentally’ destroy it while “FOILING THE VILLAIN.” Like clockwork, it was. I think the feds went through four rays five serums and a single full-scale power leeching facility. That last one got drained dry by the Human Brazilian Wandering Spider, after she learned how to suck out the innards of things made of metal, not just meat. What a nightmare. Went from being a serial killer to a global menace, and one that still liked to pick fights with the Creeping Vine. He always won them, but he liked to play rough with city infrastructure to do it rather than ask any of his five billion superpowered friends over to help out. Like that time he rigged the entire city’s power grid to run through a pair of mechanized gauntlets and punched her in the head. Christ, what was that, a four-week blackout? And that wasn’t even the end phase. By the time that fight was over he’d used hidden ballistic missiles to tear up half of downtown, and finishing her off had involved flooding half of city hall.

Anyways. That little episode with Bob the Blimp and Doctor Doobie was the first taste of what to come, but it was the smallest. Three years later, aliens – the Sleebos – drop out of the sky and start shooting up half of the USA looking for super-powers to drain. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you what THAT did to our infrastructure; how many years before you could take a bus coast-to-coast without seeing at least one stretch of plasma-melted highway? And then two years later, some shiny lightbulb that claims it’s a god promises the winner of an all-lunatic Fight Club tourney a free wish, and they all gather up in one spot and punch the shit out of each other for a good six months before any of those bright sparks goes ‘hey, what if that ‘god’ is just Mesmermastermorpho tricking us all into becoming weak and vulnerable before blowing us all up with an h-bomb?’ In all fairness, who could’ve guessed? It wasn’t as if he’d had conversations with his conspirators in front of active security cameras that the Creeping Vine could hack into. Oh wait, he did. God, they’re all as bad as each other.
And the year after that, one of those conspirators turned out to be a clone of Super-Maniac made from a tissue sample from Clonemaggedon. And there ended up being one thousand of them. God, that mess took all year to fix, and then the summer after that it turned out that Deadbolt was a secret agent of the USSR, except he wasn’t because only an idiot would blame him for that and it was just Lord Hippo framing him so nobody would notice that the CLONE EXPERT was probably behind the previous year’s ARMY OF CLONES. Jesus Christ, Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ, Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ on a Crutch With a Crouton Up His Crack.
Of course, the next year reality folded in on us during the big war with Stellaron the Living Supercluster. About half of the human race vanished or was merged with their counterparts from a parallel dimension, which lead to something like a 33% increase in superpowered whackjob populations, good and bad. I’m one of the five or six non-loonies who got to remember it happening, and I wish I didn’t. The oceans were vaporized, during the last battle Africa’s atmosphere was peeled off and left to boil away into space, and Stellaron disintegrated Antarctica to halt Doctor Doobie’s attempts at developing a toxic agent that could kill him. Unsuccessfully. In the end, he died and wham bam, back to normal. Except for the changes.
My fiancée vanished. Half the presidents of the last century are new to me. There’s a city that was called Tokyo that used to exist, and now there’s a country named Canada that didn’t. And you, I’m pretty sure, didn’t exist before then because I knew every person working at this paper damned well. Still do.
A few things’re still the same: the trend for the big, bad stuff is almost every summer now, and the body counts are going up and up. Even the powered nutjobs don’t always get out clean now – but there’s still hundreds of us poor commoners going down for each one of them, and they just don’t damned seem to die otherwise; Super-Maniac should be twice my age, but he looks thirty still, fuck knows how. Ten thousand Parisians die screaming as the seventh Eiffel tower explodes under one of Hugh Larious’s jackass whims, and the Creeping Vine sheds a single tear, business as usual. His latest semi-abused adolescent sidekick gets beaten up? He’s thunder and lightning and dramatic showdowns at midnight on skyscrapers. Skyscrapers, hah – we build them, and Super-Maniac punches people through them and flies away from the rubble. Fuck him, and fuck him sideways, and fuck that upside down on a trampoline.
It doesn’t matter. It’s not our world, not anymore. The big stuff is getting bigger and coming faster, and it’s caring less and less about us and more and more about them. We should’ve sided with the Sleebos. Better life as a slave than life as furniture.
Shit, I’m too drunk for this. Come back tomorrow, huh?


Timothy ‘Timmy’ O’Reily, Super-Maniac’s best friend, was found dead in his apartment yesterday, burned to a crisp. Mister Matchstick has claimed responsibility for the murder as a message to the super-hero of the seriousness of his intent. A tear-streaked, emotional Super-Maniac vowed that the villain had “GONE TOO FAR!” and that “THIS ENDS NOW.”
As Timmy would say, fresh from the rubble of a skyscraper or the waves of a Depth-Master invasion: “business as usual.”