Mimsy Burogrove: Psychedelic Detective
The Prison of Concentration
Episode 1: The Tenth Gate
Deep in the devilishly decadent district of Soho, above the luminous light of the lanes and the inebriated intonations of the imaginative industry that calls it home lays the flat of that most flirtatious and fiery fighters for freedom, Madu Bandara, also known as Mimsy Burogrove, perhaps the world's only psychedelic detective. See her now, safely sat upon silks and satins, silently supposing and mute as she meditates upon the mysteries of the mind and this mortal coil.
Mimsy is a small woman, perfect and petite, charming and comely in her coffee-coloured cut-off kaftan than blends with her caramel skin until it looks like all is one. Laying upon the cushion in a lotus, her limbs aligned languidly, the lissome lady of love and learning, sable shorn, has no reasons to suspect the scandalous scoundrels that slip and slide through the shadows toward her sanctuary.
The Hashishin are heralds of the hate that her hirsute rival, The Guru, now feels for our famed feminine figure. Silently they shimmy open a shutter and slip within, sharps shivs held in sure hands, eyes shining as they slide towards her. Their steps may be virtually soundless but she is aware of them and, as they approach her, intent on assisting her into the afterlife, her eyes open and bindi that she bears upon her brow begins to burn with a brilliance that blinds and baffles the brutes who have come to bleed her.
She floats, she sees, through their minds as though she were rooting through their pockets. She sees the hatred that they have for her, instilled in them by their mentor. She sees the promises that they have been made, the heaven that they have been promised. As they hesitate, she strips out of her body and steps naked into their minds.
Wadi was a pleasant little boy, until his father shut him in the hut with the spiders. All night long he could not sleep, feeling the webs brushing his face, hearing their skittering legs – imagined or not – feeling them dance across his skin. He is grown now, a man, a thug, a killer, brave in the face of almost any danger but...
Wadi's mouth opens wide in a wail. Under his skin swarm a slew of spiders and he screams as he slaps and stabs at them, sprawling backward through the sash and down to the street below with a sickening splash so high is our siren's shelter. Her impossible iris turns its ire upon the other interloper and infiltrates his intelligence.
Haider on the other hand... Haider just wants to be loved. In the secret gardens of The Guru he has met the dusky maidens who serve in the afterlife and he wants to carry out his missions so that he can be returned to their embrace He doesn't know that this heaven is a fake, he doesn't understand that no right-thinking deity would never accept a murderer, however much they thought they were doing the right thing. Mimsy takes pity on him. She breaks apart like a kaleidoscope of curves and lips, of soft eyes and warm kisses and she enfolds him within her, she tells him she loves him and her one becomes many, surrounding and stroking, murmuring sweet word in his gullible ears.
Haider slides to the floor with a subtle and serene smile and sighs as he stares into the stars only he can see. These two thugs are not the only transgressors though. Their task to trouble her, to throw her off, to tempt and taunt and turn away. At her door the deadliest of the dangerously deranged dealers of death delays, determined and – he thinks – destined to kill her. Luck is with our lady at least as he leans in, a latecomer looms large over the lowlife.
Detective Inspector St. John is an imposing individual, intent upon ingress when he identifies the ingrate intent upon inflicting iniquity upon our illustrious ingénue. Maddened at the malice of this malcontent the man makes his move, laying his mitts upon the miscreant and mashing him against the marmalade-coloured mass of the door until his mandible is mincemeat and his muzzle is mushroomed across his mug. With that accomplished, the agent of the law seeks access and admits himself to the scene of anarchy and amour that has become of her accommodation.
“Mimsy;” St. John nods, wiping his hands, leaving the unconcious body of the Hashishin assassin behind him. “Trouble?”
She uncoils from her crouch over the barely-conscious cur, and crosses the carpet to give him a kiss upon his cheek. “Nothing that I couldn't take care of Christian, but thank you for your help.” She smells like jasmine and jam, honey and hashish; she's warm and wonderful but he's here for work, not women.
“Well, we do have trouble, down at the station. A murder that seems like your sort of thing.” He screws a cigarette into his kisser and sighs as he sparks it, taking a deep and soothing suck upon the slender cylinder. “Gruesome business, but strange. If you're finished playing with religious fanatics and cults, we'd like you to take a look at it. For payment of course.”
The psychedelic princess pouts prettily. “It's always business these days Christian, never anything fun. If I am going to help you with this, you have to agree to let your hair down.” She fondles his follicles and he must confess that his fine features have been flattened by the cutting of his flowing locks, but he falls in with her feeling.
“Agreed.” It was no hardship to hang around the happening with this hepcat, she was honest and happy and had to be humoured, at least here and now.
“Did you see the victim? Investigate the murder yourself?” Her hand hesitates over his and her eyes turn heavenward, as he hesitates.
“Yes, I did.”
“Then we don't need to go anywhere.” A touch and her ten digits tingle at his temples.
She slips into Christian's mind, they know each other, they've been lovers. It's like sliding into a warm bed next to someone you care about. For a moment he's alarmed, but she's done this before and he tries to relax. She walks through his structured and ordered mind, bare feet slapping against the hard surfaces of laws and duties, of honour and decency, leaving little footprints of chaos in her wake.
She stops, a moment, a glittering barrier around his thoughts, cutting her off from his memories, his fantasies, though trough the shield she can make out the shape of herself and hear words they once shared together. He's so nervous, she finds it sweet and skips on, giggling, deeper into his mind.
A giggle is not appropriate here, not in this dark corner where he buttons down the bad things that he's seen, the bad things that he's done. Here the horrors and the guilt wait behind walls far stronger than those used to keep her out but these are to keep these memories in, suppressed, hidden.
Mimsy closes her eyes and steps through and what she sees she can scarcely believe.
A man stands naked in a room as the ghost of her astral body watches. A screwdriver in his hand, the body of another man before him, dead and bleeding, his skull stabbed through and bleeding, right above and between his eyes, deep into his ajna chakra, into the pineal gland, the gate to the higher planes and the imagination.
She dissolves into a cloud of butterflies and returns to her body, opening her eyes to her friend, the Inspector.
A moue of disgust marrs her marvelous mask as, in a moment, she opens her mouth and mumbles. “A horrible murder, but you know who did it. Why do you need me?”
He shrugs his shoulders and with a shudder speaks what has been unspoken. “The man we caught claims not to remember anything. The man he killed is his friend, his business partner. They have no reason to kill each other. It's motiveless and if it wasn't for the fact it happened, we would never have thought it would. We need you to look inside him and to tell us if he is telling the truth.”
She taps a fingertip, marking time against her top lip and as time passes she takes in a terrible something in the man's eye. In his eye, as though perched in an aerie is an eerie entity. A yellow man yells at her, a man she has a yen to understand. Determined she decides to dive once more into his dreams, this derangement indicative of something deeper than the dead man at work, but the little man is gone.
She realises then that St. John's radio is unwrapped and he is ranting. The radio is rushed away again, rapidly and he reaches for her hand. “We really do need you.”
“There's been another murder, the same method, a different man, a different victim.”
“Curiouser and curiouser...”
“Wherever and whenever the ego function began to form, it was akin to a cancerous tumor or a blockage in the energy of the psyche. The use of psychedelic plants in a context of shamanic initiation dissolved-as it dissolves today-the knotted structure of the ego”
I'd lost faith completely in the counter-culture 'revolution' of the 60s as we approached the 1970s. Everything seemed to be going to shit faster than a diet of stewed prunes and roadside chilli-dogs. For a decade that had started off so well we'd seen it end with Kent State, the break up of The Beatles and Manson and The Family doing their nasty little business. What was left of the counterculture movement was holed up in Fortress 'Frisco, wrapped up in their own bullshit and a fluffy haze of drug-induced euphoria as if they were trying to will Nixon into non-existence simply by ignoring him.
It was a big, huge, enormous, giant, shitter of a comedown and like oh-so-many I'd become just another disillusioned hippies and revolutionaries. Spitting out what venom I could in Rolling Stone, criticising, blaming and throwing tantrums while drowning my sorrows in fifty kinds of pill and any kind of booze that came across my path.
Those of us old enough to remember know where we were for important events. Events used to be important, miracles used to be rare. I remember where I was when Kennedy was shot, when Nixon wasn't and when we landed on The Moon – which back then was a big fucking deal, like something out of a trip. I also remember where I was when the miracle happened and the first of the new gods came to walk amongst us.
I was in a diner in San Fran, chewing the inside of my face to a bloody pulp, trying not to dig the ants out from under my skin with a fork and trying desperately not to gouge the eyes out of the self-righteous hippy who was trying to lecture me about my breakfast of bourbon, codeine and a three-patty murder burger, rare as pandas.
That's when it happened.
Somewhere in Los Angeles, and we'll never know the full alchemy of it, some mix of creative genius, a normally lethal dose of LSD, the screechy pretension of Yoko Ono and Dr Janov's bullshit primal therapy led to a genuine transcendence and it rolled across the world like a tidal wave. Colours became brighter, light more profound, we heard music in the wind and everyone poured out onto the street to watch. It rained diamonds, the clouds sang to us, in Vietnam the fighting stopped as every soldier found himself naked, home and carrying a single daisy. In Northern Ireland there were suddenly two versions of the same place, mirrors of one another, one for the Catholics, one for the Protestants. In South Africa blacks and whites were all the same colour and it was neither black nor white.
John had become something else, something more, something that so many of us have become since. The first real superhero. A god-man, something that we've all become – those of us who were able. He switched us on the way he'd been switched on, turned us on to the wellspring of the godhead. Anything we could think, anything we could want, we could make, limited only by our own imaginations. For so many of us, that was so very small a thing.
Even me. I'm 'writing' this into what looks like a typewriter in the library of the Mind of Mankind, something that only exists in our collective imagination. How do I spend my time? Writing about the way thing were before we got our godhood, before we remade the world, before we did away with the swine and the jerks and the republicans, the violence and the pain and the agony, the death the disease and the hate.
Life's nothing without a little pain, without a challenge to overcome. The children of the new gods don't understand this and they're never going to change. They're spoiled, to the ultimate degree, nothing to be denied to them, nothing they cannot do, nobody to tell them 'no' or 'stop', no challenges to overcome. Just peace and love forever and for a man who runs on bile and vitriol, that's no life at all.
I'm going to make one last, stupid gesture, I'm going to see if I can die. That might put a thought or two into the heads of this universal pantheon of indulgence. I am so very, very bored.
- R.D. Library of the Mind of Mankind, Seventh Heaven, Jupiter, 2005.
Friends and family, English and French, old and young... and I've gotten gravy on my speech.
No pressure then.
It's traditional, when giving a best man's speech, to embarrass the groom.
Conventionally one might go on about the groom's past, his less-than-stellar girlfriends, cast aspersions about his character and give the bride reason to regret her decision to marry the poor sod.
I've never been much for tradition.
There's really nothing I could say or do to embarrass Steve in front of this august company any more than he has already done himself in the past and will doubtless do again, either today or in the future.
Steve had me organise his stag do, which was a bit like asking a trout to cross the Gobi desert in a shopping cart a nest, but fortunately that wasn't traditional either.
I could embarrass Steve by saying that all we did was stay up and play board games, while drinking, but then you all know Steve and that'd be no surprise.
Nobody ended up naked or handcuffed to anything.
More's the pity.
I could embarrass him by mentioning that we met through a live-action roleplay group, where we all used to meet up, dress up as vampires, wizards, werewolves and other sundry things and scheme against each other.
You all know that already though and if you don't, I'm sure there'll be words exchanged later.
Perhaps I could embarrass him with stories of how he used to cheat at Diablo II, or how he met his wife through a computer game.
That's not as embarrassing as it used to be though and many would consider it quite normal these days.
Can't say as I've had any trouble with my internet bride... she'd hit me if I did.
The other problem that we have with a best man's speech is that we have both friends and family here and the kind of stories I have about Steve, the kind of things I can say about him will simply not make sense to some of you.
If I joke about how he must have 'rolled a critical on his Charm skill' to get Maddie to marry him, some will laugh, others won't know what the hell I'm talking about.
I know many Steves. So many Steves, in fact, that we had to start giving them extra names to distinguish which Steve we were talking about.
There was Big Steve, Little Steve, Medium Steve, London Steve, Baby Steve, even Quantum Steve for a while, so called because he only ever showed up in the interference pattern between two others Steves.
This particular Steve though, amongst a bunch of reprobates that includes gamers, programmers, LARPers, console junkies, MMO players and other assorted nerdery, managed to gain the honorific of 'Geeky Steve'.
That shows a degree of effort and dedication which, I believe,is to be commended but also shows how difficult it is to say anything about Steve and, to a lesser degree Maddie, that anyone will understand.
No, I don't think the traditional route of embarrassing the groom with stories of epic failure and silliness is going to cut it here. So instead I'll have to embarrass the groom, and the bride, by saying nice things and making them bashful.
So then, I'll say this.
Steve and Maddie have been great friends to us. They have always made effort to maintain our friendship, to stay in touch, to see how we
were and to take care of us – and vice versa.
If they put half as much love and effort into each other as they have put into their friends, then they're going to do well and have a wonderful future together.
Friend or family, across the generations, no matter where you're from, I do believe there is one thing that all of us here present can agree on and understand and that is this...
That in marrying Maddie, Steve is punching way, way, way above his weight.
And good on him.
So, back from the doc's.
I don't have an ear infection, but both my ears are completely blocked with wax left over from when I was sick and it's not shifting. So I'm stuck dripping oil into my ears until next week when I get an aggressive syringing. The pain in my ears is because the pressure can't equalise quickly, the heat and itching is because of the irritation rather than an infection. The really fun part is that having oil in your ears to clear the wax makes you a bit more deaf until it gets sorted.
I don't seem to react normally to any of these antidepressants, my side effects are peculiar and don't tend to conform to the literature. Essentially I seem to have very weird brain chemistry. There's a couple more different drugs we can try but the SSRIs all work in the same way and my reactions are likely to be similar. We've decided to stick with the Fluoxetine (Prozac) as its a known quantity and the drug that I've probably gotten on best with of the three I've been on. We're going to reduce my dosage from 40mg to 30mg (I was on 20 before). Hopefully that should lessen the side effects while giving me the good effects of the drug, all at a level I can cope with.
I've also been referred to the Community Mental Health team for additional support. I probably won't hear anything for months, they're stretched, but the extra support and expertise should help me cope with the dips more. The downside is that being on the 'radar' of the CMHT isn't always a good thing, it's like putting a flag up over yourself 'I have problems'. Still I feel that the expertise and additional help, especially given my odd reactions to drugs, is probably worth the risk.
So yeah, coping, can't say much more than that at the moment. Going to take at least a week to adjust to the 30mg dose, possibly as much as three weeks.
Thank you everyone for your ongoing support and understanding. It's appreciated more than I know how to show.
Blackhawk from 2000AD
This is an entry for Chuck Wendig's genre-mashup flash-fiction challenge, 'Southern Gothic/Sword and Sorcery'.
The chains weighed heavy on his wrists and ankles, dragging through the dust. He glowered from beneath his heavy brow, eyes like a bull; deep, brown, simmering with aggression. He was a broad and powerful man, a slab of ebony muscle and scars. To look upon him one could only imagine how he might end up in chains. The magic of the ghosts was powerful and could bring low even the strongest, so it seemed.
He lingered a moment too long before the wooden gates, head turning, always alert. The ghost behind him lashed out with his whip, opening a broad stripe across the man's back that stung and bled down his shadowed skin.
“Git yer ass in thar slave.” The ghost drawled, spitting a brown stream of tobacco juice onto the ground. The grey uniform they all wore made them look alike to the chained man. His thick lips curled back from his teeth, feral, but he took the step into the stockade, allowing himself to be shut into the dark with the other slaves whose fates would soon be discovered.
Those soulful eyes adjusted to the darkness slowly. He arched his back, feeling the flesh sting afresh along the line of the whip with a new trickle of blood. Through the cracks in the beams lines of light shone, swimming with dust motes. It did little to disperse the stench of fear and shit from the cell. Most of the others he dismissed with but a glance. Ghost criminals, broken slaves, only one drew his eye.
A woman of the redskins, beautiful and proud. She was almost naked, her modesty covered by a beaded necklace and a waist mat of soft doeskin. He took in her proud mien - she stood when the others huddled - the way she paced like a mountain lion, testing the boundaries of their cage relentlessly. She noticed him the same moment he noticed her.
“You look like you can fight.” She said in the ghost-tongue they shared. She stepped close, her scent of fresh sweat, a feminine tang that was stirring after the perfume stink of the ghost-people's 'ladies' and the stench of the other slaves.
“I can fight,” he admitted, his voice a rumbling growl. His hands pushing up his face, through the thick beard that framed his mouth, up into the tight ball of curls that crowned his head.
“So can I. I am a daughter to a great war chief of my people. I am Nizhoni.” She said, with a toss of her hair, as though he should know who she was - and be impressed.
They were interrupted, the gates at the other side opening. The ghost-people with their fire-staves standing guard as the slaves were ushered out, their chains unlocked from their limbs. He flexed his hands and rubbed his wrists as they were freed, testing his body, ready for the battle ahead.
“Whut's yer name slave?” The older ghost snarled, looking down at his board covered in the chicken scratches his people called writing.
“Wano.” Rumbled the man, glowering at the functionary, grunting as a whip fell for a second time across his back.
“Yer slave name, ya uppity bastich,” the man snarled through crooked, brown teeth.
“Jon.” Came this time, reluctantly. He was ushered forward, a heavy sabre pressed into his hand. It was no spear, but it would do for the grim work of spilling blood.
Together they entered the arena, surrounded by the grey-adorned ghosts and their strange womenfolk. Afraid of their own bodies they swathed themselves in tents of fabric, hats and gloves, hiding from the life-giving sun beneath umbrellas. They might as well be veiled as the women of the desert-folk were. There was one amongst them all, men and women, who looked different. Clad in white, leaning on his fire-staff. The master slaver. The White Wizard of the people from across the sea.
A cheer went up from the crowd, even as the 'ladies' averted their eyes in shame from the red princess' bared breasts. Harland raised his staff and stood, gesturing to the gate on the other side of the arena. With a glow from that rod the wooden doors slammed open with violent force.
A lean man in grey stepped forth to the bloodied sawdust. His hair and beard were long, neat, he was whiter still than the other ghosts and he held his sabre like it was part of him. Wano watched him, tensing his fist around his own blade. The ghost-magic could hollow out a man, take his weaknesses, his emotions, his pain, but it left him with a need to fill that hollow. That made a man dangerous beyond imagining.
Harland's staff struck the ground with a flash of sparks and a peal of thunder, the fight was on. The lean man moved like lightning and almost immediately one of their fellow captives was gurgling his lifeblood onto the sawdust. Wano growled, this was no fair match, who could stand against the ghost magic?
Nizhani backed up against him and even in this fight for his life he could not ignore the curvaceous press of her hips as they stood together, the other slaves and prisoners dying around them one by one. The ghost's beard stained with blood as he tore the throat from one of them to sate his need.
“We cannot win.” Nizhani hissed, a hint of fear giving her voice a tremulous flutter.
“They have their magic,” Wano rumbled, waiting for the inevitable attack “we have ours, drawn from the land. What makes land other than the blood, sweat and tears of our brothers and sisters? Distract him. I will do the rest.”
The ghost came upon them then, seeming to fly over the sawdust without touching the ground. Fast, almost too fast to see but Nizhani was barely fast enough to meet him. With every sinew and muscle straining to the task she could – just barely – hold this creature off.
Wano sprang, built like a bull but with the grace and speed of the panthers from his native land. Too late the ghost realised he was no longer slaying the broken and the helpless. These were warriors of red and black.
Overconfidence was his downfall. Wano's blade carved the ghost's neck clean through, a spray of blood, unnaturally dark, lost against the
darkness of Wano's flesh even as he was drenched. He finished his wild swinging circuit and snatched the severed head from the air,
still alive, blinking, mouth working silently as Wano held it high. He fixed Harland with a wild glare, beating his chest with the fist
that held the sword, Nizhani proud at his side.
“WE WILL BE FREE!” Came their roar, together, man and woman, red and black, so powerful that the silent, shocked audience rocked back in their seats. Afraid, perhaps for the first time ever.
Osmium's Corvette screamed across the city like a barely-tamed tiger with Susan clinging hopefully to the seat, not trusting to her harness given the Doctor's erratic driving and devil-may-care approach to the rules of the road. She didn't really want to distract him, but things were nagging at her.
“I still barely know anything about you.” She screamed over the guttural roar of the engine and the whipping of the wind about her face, streaming her hair out behind her.
“Do you really need to?” The Doc shouted back, turning left suddenly, throwing her body back and forth. One of his eyes was on the road and another on his lap where a map of the city and a business directory jostled for primacy.
“If I'm going to keep helping you, yes!” Susan yelled, leaning back to him and gripping onto his arm to hold herself steady.
“If?” The Doc turned and grinned to her, taking his eyes off the road and steaming past a parked car with barely an inch to spare. “I think you're going to be with me a while, we can get to know each other after the mystery is solved. Alright?”
“Over dinner at the Lamb's Grill Cafe?”
Susan's mouth fell open. He still wasn't paying attention to her questions but the tone of his voice. That was the first time he'd treated her as a woman, rather than a colleague or someone just along for the ride. Her mouth opened and closed several more times but he's completely derailed her with a simple comment.
The Corvette screeched to a halt in a downtown side street, right in front of an old shop that had definitely seen better days. Without waiting the Doc scrambled out of the car and strode into the shop, the bell chiming and the door slamming shut before she'd even gotten out of her harness. Damned, impulse, great, galoot that he was. She slammed the door turning from surprised to annoyed on a dime before she followed him in.
The bell above the door chimed and she found herself surrounded by a wonderland of boardgames and old wooden toys. The kind of thing nobody gave a damn about any more, at least not the kids. The Doc was deep in conversation with the grey-haired owner at the counter, gesturing with the little plastic dominoes, so she took a little time to look around by herself.
There were boxes of finely crafted wooden bricks, imported sets of Mah-Jong, chess and chequers, there were puzzle boxes, play-chests, rocking horses and all manner of carved toys from nodding ducks to spinning tops. She was too young for much of this to mean much to her, but she ran her fingers over the smooth wood and admired what she saw, though her hands came away with a thin coating of dust. Business can't have been good.
The old man shuffled into the back, disappearing from view, leaving the two of them alone in the store for the moment.
“So why are we here?” Susan asked, drifting up behind the Doc as he leant over the counter.
“Those weren't just any dominoes. They might be cheap plastic, but they're also old. You can tell by the yellowing. More modern plastics don't age like that. Wherever they came from also had to be old and there aren't that many places that can be selling old sets of dominoes can there? Not in a modern city like this. This seemed the most likely place and if our missing 'friend' is as clever as he seems to be then he would have anticipated that this would be the place I'd come to.”
Susan baulked. “So... the one who caused the crash and set the police on us... knows we're here?”
“Or at least knew we would come here.”
“Is it safe?”
The Doc opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted by a sudden and terrific crash from the back of the store. Without pause he vaulted over the counter, Susan not far behind, as they rushed to find the old man.
There was a smell of smoke as the Doc smashed through the door into the back room. The room was lit by flickering orange light, no bulb, just a length of flex hanging from the ceiling. The old man had tumbled from a ladder, candle in hand and the dust and papers strewn about the floor had caught almost immediately. He lay, his leg twisted, close to the flames, a box of old, cheap, imported dominoes still clutched in his hand even as he writhed and twisted in pain.
The Doc gathered the old man up in his muscular arms as the flames leapt from shelf to shelf. Susan took off her jacket and tried to beat out the fire, but it was moving too fast. Sweating and blackened she tried to keep the flames away from Osmium and the old man, beating them back though they were spreading so damn fast, almost unnaturally fast.
The Doc stopped at the entrance, silhouetted by the flames that were already spreading through the front of the store and turned back to her. “You pick, which way out?” The old man was limp now in his arms and his face was a mask of frustration and annoyance.
Susan blinked, pausing a moment from her beating of the flames. The Doc was normally such a take charge guy and suddenly he wanted her advice? She shook her head, they couldn't afford to think about it, to wait. “Out the back, less fuel for the fire there and the fire's not going to be as hot.” The Doc nodded and let her lead the way, beating out the patches of fire spreading across the walls as they scrambled for the back door.
It was locked, she put her shoulder to it and then gave it a kick but didn't have the strength. “Doc!” She cried. He was their only chance and she'd seen how strong he was. Without even putting the old man down the Doc slammed his foot into the door, propelling it off its hinges and out into the street, smoke sucked out with it as they emerged, coughing, into the light.
They lay the old man down, Susan's scorched jacket as his pillow. The Doc prised the scorched domino set from his hands while Susan checked him over. “His leg's broken, at his age...”
“The paramedics can deal with him.” The Doc showed little compassion, tearing open the domino box and dumping the little pieces onto the ground with a clatter, triumphantly hauling out a folded pamphlet hidden behind the pieces.
“What? You didn't know how to play before?” Susan looked up angrily from the injured man and waved to the paramedics and firemen that were running into view. “This man's hurt!”
The Doc thrust the pamphlet into her face, it wasn't instruction, it was a flyer for the Utah Museum of Natural History. “He's one man and he isn't dead. Whoever is behind all this has killed at least once, hurt this man and put both of us in mortal danger. They're a danger to far more people than one old shopkeeper. The greater good must prevail.” He actually sounded irritated and she couldn't argue with his logic when it came to it, but she could argue with his lack of compassion.
“Every single person is valuable. That shouldn't have been in that box sure, but why do you think this is part of this master mind's scheme? If there even is a master mind.”
Osmium tore open the leaflet and stabbed one gloved finger down at the page. “There's a display about genetics. I believe that's where we need to be, after closing.”
“How can you know that?” Susan moved away, leaving the paramedics to deal with the old man, the firemen starting to do their work as she and the Doc began to pace back around the burning building, back to the car, which was in the way of the fire department.
“Because,” the Doc said with a sigh as they clambered back into the Corvette. “I think this whole thing is about me somehow.”
Susan snorted at his ego and arrogance.
“About you? It might be about me for all you know.”
“No, I'm not normal Susan. My parents were scientists. Far ahead of their time. The museum, the display, it's a clue that this person knows my secret. I was my parent's greatest experiment.”
The Doc sighed and pulled his heavy gloves from his hand, stretching them with a groan of palpable relief. “Look.”
Susan frowned and looked down at his hands. Like so much of the rest of him they were tattooed.
“Look closer, read.”
She read, each finger and thumb was tattooed with a letter. When he held his fists up two words could be seen.
Wait... he had an extra finger on each hand. No, not fingers, an extra thumb, in opposition to the other one. Thumbs that functioned. Susan's head swam looking at him, this was impossible, even mutation, even freaks of nature... the odds of such a thing happening to someone were astronomical.
“Not just the thumbs. My intelligence, my lifespan, my strength, my immune system. I was made, not born. My parents uncovered the secrets of human germ plasm and they used that knowledge to make me the best I could be.” He gripped that strange steering wheel and she understood now why it was the shape it was, his strange hands fit the grip perfectly, tighter than any normal person could manage.
“Our enemy knows. They're sending me a message. Let's go and say hello.”
The Corvette roared anew, the blazing shop left in their wake as the grim-faced Osmium and the stunned Susan sped across the city to, finally, meet their foe.
Part Two: Domino Rally
The Corvette roared like a lion, the race-tuned, three-hundred-and-twenty-seven cubic inch engine thrusting the car along at terrifying speed. The sound of that snarling motor was almost loud enough to drown out the wail of sirens from the police cruisers swarming behind them like a battery of barracuda. The Doc hurled the car into another bone-shaking turn, leaving long stripes of rubber on the road and a burning smell behind them before rocketing down into another street, headlong into traffic.
Susan didn't know why she'd come with him, she didn't know why she hadn't run screaming at the sight of his car once they'd reached it, all chrome and blower and a strange-looking steering wheel, she certainly didn't know why she wasn't screaming for help or hurling herself bodily from the car to take her chances, rather than waiting for the inevitable crash.
“I have no idea why they're chasing us!” Hollered Doc Osmium, terrifyingly taking his eyes off the road to look at her. Her nails dug into the leather of the seat and she squeaked, raising her hand to point at the road ahead as a bus whistled past her right ear, inches away.
“Might it be something to do with the speed you're driving?” Susan screamed over the roaring engine, the wailing sirens and the honking of distressed car horns.
“We're supposed to have an understanding!” The Doc swung the car into another corner with a banshee wails of protesting tyres and hurtling forward again, weaving through the oncoming cars with unerring accuracy.
“They don't seem to think so!” Susan leaned across the car, close to his ear as she yelled, trying to make herself heard.
“Another strange coincidence! We should get to the bottom of it!” The Doc grinned his easy grin and swerved left without looking, almost clipping a police cruiser that darted out of the side road to try and cut them off.
“Hard to investigate anything with an APB out on you!” Susan twisted her head, hair whipped into her face by the airflow around the convertible, there were still three, maybe four cruisers, doggedly on their tail and, hair stuck to her face or not she gave the doc a frown.
The gave a throaty growl and hauled forward again with even greater speed. Now the doc was paying attention, eyes fixed rigidly to the road and she could see his lips moving, counting down. Then he turned and she finally screamed in terror, he was turning too fast, too soon, there was a blur of brick and concrete and she flew forward against her harness, her scream choked as she felt as if she was being crushed into the harness and then as she flew back into her seat doc's hand slammed like steel over her mouth and stopped her from breathing in and screaming again.
They were in an alley, inches to spare either side of the car, stopped now, engine off, the metal of the engine pinging and clicking as it began to cool down. Behind them she heard sirens wailing and rushing past, one after another until all their pursuers vanished, chasing their imaginary route across the city. Once they were clear, the doc's hand moved from her mouth and she gasped for breath.
“You bastard. I thought we were going to die!” She gasped, balling up her fist and punching the doc hard in the shoulder, it was like punching a wall.
“We had to lose the police and get some space to think and to formulate a plan.” He explained, calmly. “I think if we're going to get them to stop chasing us...”
“Chasing you.” Susan folded her arms and gave him a glare.
“As you wish, chasing me then. Now, where's the last place they would look and the best place to find out why they're after me?”
Susan knew, but she wished she didn't.
The door swung in front of Susan before the shove of her hand as she strode into the police station and slapped her hands down upon the sargeant's desk with a loudness and determination that felt utterly unconvincing to her. She swallowed back her nervousness and stared at the surprised policeman behind the counter, raising her voice to a shrill and ear-piercing shriek of indignation, trying to ignore the breaking squeak of fear.
“I demand to see a senior officer, I have a complaint!” She screamed into the dace of the man at the desk, drawing eyes from every corner.
Behind her, moving in plain sight, came the doc, barging through the door of the station and striding confidently, as though he belonged there, across the entryway and through a door to the back marked 'No Civilians Beyond this Point'. Now he was inside, her outrage and nervousness lost their convincing edge and she began to bluster before the sudden attention of several police officers, some of whom seemed to be trying to judge whether they knew her.
The door swung shut behind Doc Osmium and he strode forward through the desks as though he belonged there, an attitude and a conjurer's trick that he found tended to convince people that you did belong there, more than any badge or ID card you cared to mention. Head held high the people at the desks couldn't get a good look at him and he swept by with no indecision, snatching up a pile of papers as he strode forward and tucking them in his arm as his confident pace took him deeper and deeper into the heart of the thin blue line.
The Doc didn't know where he was going but if there was one thing about public building you could rely on it was clear signposting. Left, right and left again and he was striding into the records office, slamming down the stack of papers on a desk with a thump that startled the poor desk-jockey sat there nearly out of his seat. The Doc made his gamble.
“You sent the wrong record up to traffic, they're pretty pissed.”
Panic clouded the man's mind and he swallowed nervously, springing up from his seat and dashing off in the direction of the traffic department offices. The Doc slide down into his chair and began rifling through the records, looking for anything that could tell him why they were after him. They'd been supposed to have a deal, the Doc would help on certain cases and, in exchange, they would leave him alone most of the time. Something had clearly gone wrong with that.
Even as he flipped through the records, relying on his superior peripheral vision to alert him if he saw something relevant, he noticed something about the record-keeper's desk. The peeled back plastic from a sticking-plaster, tucked to one side, brown with specks of blood. Almost the same instant he found the references to himself and frowned at the number thoughtfully, not even a glance over his shoulder – that would look nervous – as he got back up and wandered over to the stacks.
His file wasn't where it should be, the lazy desk jockey had filed it in the wrong place, the last digit of the reference number obscured by blood and then wiped away, the pencilled in number faded to near illegibility, the misfiling placing him on Salt Lake City's most wanted, rather than being flagged up as a friend to the force.
The Doc suppressed a growl of frustration that so much could come down to a stupid mistake, another coincidence like the ones at the crash site but he needed a city's resources to uncover what was going on. This was correctable though, a few strokes of a pen, a refiling and note on the clerk's desk and things should be sorted out in a matter of hours, briskly efficient for the police force.
Now there was just the matter of Susan...
It had been some time, maybe two hours, maybe more, since she'd first walked into the station and once they'd worked out that she was the passenger in the Doc's car she'd been manhandled, cuffed and bundled into a holding cell to await questioning. At least they'd taken the cuffs off once she was locked up but there was nothing to do in here, unless you fancied reading The Bible or The Book of Mormon and, well, she didn't. Instead she paced the cell and went over everything in it, every inch of wall, every scratched bit of graffiti, the little sleeping bench, even the toilet, just for something to do, comfort in being methodical.
Tucked into the edge of the mattress her fingers found two tiny lumps of plastic and she plucked them out, a pair of dominoes – of all things. What was the use of that? You couldn't play a game with two dominoes, these cells were for one person so you couldn't play a game or gamble. Susan flipped them over in her hands, they were nice little things, very tactile, weighty for their size and she wasted a minute or two just turning them between her fingers until there was a cough from the door.
The eyes peering through the slot she recognised, the Doc, the very man who'd gotten her into this mess in the first place. The eyes were replaced by a grin and the door swung open to reveal perhaps the least inconspicuous man in the universe, unmolested by the police and walking about, free as a daisy.
“Your chariot awaits my lady.” The big man bowed ostentatiously and Susan sniffed haughtily an strutted out, pausing only to give the big man a punch on the arm.
“We hardly know each other and you're using me. How'd you get them to free me?” The answer presented itself in the form of two unconscious police slumped over their desks with bruises on their necks.
“They'll be fine, just a little pressure-point tap it'll just take a while for everything to get sorted out and there's too many coincidences here too.” The Doc got her up to speed as they slipped out the back through the garage and out onto the street, keeping off the main streets as they made their way back to the Corvette to wait for police bureaucracy to catch up with events.
As they sat down in the warm leather of the seats again, Susan fished out the dominoes that she'd pocketed from the cell and tossed them onto the dashboard. The Doc froze, instantly, staring at them with an intensity so fierce Susan could almost hear the gears whirring in his mind.
“What? They're just dominoes.”
The Doc reached across her and stood them up on the dashboard, tapping one so it fell into the other and knocked it down. “No, someone's sending us a message. None of these coincidences are coincidences. Not the crash, not Jose, not the police, not these dominoes, not even you. Someone is doing this on purpose, stretching my credulity, making a challenge and it's one I have to answer.”
“And you just assume I'll go along with it?” Susan folded her arms and stared at him challengingly, though his gaze was hard to meet.
“You wouldn't be here if you weren't going to come along the rest of the way.”
Susan opened her mouth to argue with him, but then snapped shut again. He was right damn him. “So... where to Osmium? We know someone's sending you a message, but how do we find them?”
He held up the domino between his thumb and forefinger. “We go back to the previous domino in the chain.”
A doesn't bother me at all. B does.
I have been trying to work out, since this morning, why it is that all this continual fuss about portrayals in fantasy bothers me so much, because it does bother me, quite a lot.
Portrayals in more everyday media do concern me. I'm fairly secure and confident in my own physique etc for the most part, largely because I consider my attraction to people to be my mind, but I do worry now and then when I 'pudge out' a bit who doesn't? Equally I don't want to devote myself to spending the sort of time needed to be Captain Six-Pack above and I'm OK with that, really. That's not to say the pressure isn't there so I do empathise with women who feel the social/media pressure to be the size zero model and who get complexes about that. I really do. Women aren't the only ones to suffer due to media portrayals, either in terms of looks or behaviour.
Heroes in fantasy and SF generally aren't normal people, they're archetypes. The word 'hero' is used for a reason. Go back to the folk stories, the Greek legends, the tales of gods and demigods and that's just what you find powerful archetypes, handsome, beautiful, strong, cruel. Sure, there's a place for the everyman hero now and then, either for comedic effect (Jack Burton), succeeding against the odds (Deeba) or for grounding the story in a more realistic way for empathy (Dagmar) but for escapist fantasy? Not so much.