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Duke Bushido

Origins, practice, and recaps

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There's a lot of writing going on here on these boards of late, and I admit, it's been tempting.

 

Too tempting.

 

So terribly tempting that I lost the battle, and have given in.

 

But that brings up another problem:  Time.  I don't have time to write like I had years ago, before the kids-- and _certainly_ not like the time I had before the wife.  Honestly, if any single guys out here find themselves routinely bored or wondering what to do with the copious amounts of free time on your hands, get married.  Boredom may still be problem, but it will be far less frequent.  Free time, however, will disappear completely; you have my word. ;)

 

There are a thousand other things that weigh in on my "creative time," just like anyone else-- and especially if you happen to GM for a couple of games thrown into the middle of the "normal" things like work, family, etc.  I have of late begun to wonder about the methods of Shrike and Bolo:  Just put up a little at a time, as you find time.  Tempting, but I honestly don't know if I can write that way.  All my life I've had the problem of the story appearing in my head _almost_ finished.  As I wrote it, I _had_ to completely write it, because once it was completed in my head the impetus to keep writing was gone.  Not that I didn't want to get it down, mind you; the problem was that the next story had started, and was far more interesting than the one for which I already knew the ending.

 

So I thought: put up something you've done-- something short.  Test the waters.

 

Alas, there isn't much that survives.  Well, let me give you a short run-down:

 

The bulk of my non-gaming writing was lost in a small house fire twenty-two years ago (lightning strike).  I'd done other stuff since, and even some after I got married, but when we moved to Vidalia fifteen years ago, our computer and relevant accessories (which my wife had insisted on labeling "COMPUTER ROOM" as opposed to my own suggested "FETAL CATS."  You can never be too cautious, you know?) didn't make it.  I really haven't had much time since then (we moved here to have babies; frankly, given the choice between practicing my writing or practicing making babies--- well, _that's_ a no-brainer). 

 

But every once in a while--every once in a rare season, I find a precious moment to stroke the keys.  Unfortunately, inspiration does not--for me, at least-- work quite in that way.  So what do I find myself doing?  Expanding character bios for players who really want one; expanding character bios for villains I was particularly taken with.  Honestly, today, even "my" creative time serves the double-duty of both letting me have a bit of fun _and_ going into the game, because I don't have time to do both.  Honestly, I don't even have enough time to call it "practice."  When I get these rare opportunities, I am always ultimately disappointed in the results, and I realize that the jumps and omissions and bad cut-aways are all the result of getting rusty.  Way, way rusty.  Frankly, I should stop calling myself a writer and start calling myself a "hobbyist" or "dabbler."

 

At any rate, I have perhaps half-a-dozen expanded bios done for various characters-- and one really, _really_ long "special circumstance" type thing done for a very dear friend some years ago that I was fortunate enough to still have in my "sent mail" box from way back when.  I thought I'd post one here -- not the really long one.  (You're welcome)-- to gauge feedback.

 

This particular character was the first character I had made after finally getting to "retire" my ungodly, became-unfun-years-ago-why-won't-you-let-me-make-a-new-character-like-everyone-else-has-you-bastard first character.  This was my "martial artist" who wasn't a martial artist (not fond of the genre, but twenty years of the same damned brick got _so_ old, I wanted something different).

 

 

At any rate, presented for your consideration:  The extended background of Maximum (yeah; it's a crappy name, but it's chosen on purpose as a nod to the character's social ineptitude)

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Thanks for the vote of confidence, Chris.  :D

 

 

Sorry it took so much time to do a copy/paste, but I was weighing out where to break it up: didn't want to dump it all into one post (and not sure I could have).

 

At any rate:

 

 

Maximum



 

    “Look, I’m going to be as straightforward with you as I can.  You have been in a lot of action with us lately, and you have proven yourself to be quite an asset.  Keeping with the honest approach, Maximum, I am not only impressed by what I’ve seen, I’m flat-out flabbergasted.  You claim to have no real paranormal abilities, yet using nothing but your martial arts prowess you have been able to not only hold your own against some of our more powerful opponents, but to provide us with an edge against them.  There just aren’t any words—

    “I guess what I’m trying to say is that we’d really like you to accept the offer we made; we— all of us, myself included— would really like you to officially join the Crusaders.  I know it’s only been a month, but have you given the offer any thought?”

 

    The man in the simple sleeveless ghi stood before him, his arms crossed before his chest, nervous tension clear in his shoulders and on his face.  He stared out over the edge of the skyscraper whose roof they all stood on, his back to the small group of colorfully--costumed people ten feet away.  Finally, he spoke, trying to find the words to both express his appreciation and let the group before him down gently. “Look, Jetstream, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it, but I’m just not the guy you think I am.  I’m just really fast and really lucky. That’s it. You guys can find a lot better people out there— real paras— that would fit in with you way better than I could—“

 

    “That’s not true, Maximum,” interrupted Fury sharply.  Her white eyes shone brightly under her silver mane of hair, all of which accented the glistening metallic reds of her skin.  “There are certainly many paras out there who are more powerful than you are.”

    

    Maximum wondered absently how an alien being could not only look so human but sound so downright… Jamaican.  He almost laughed, but Fury was still speaking.

 

    “… and we are petitioned almost daily by many fine paras anxious to join our cause.  But the fact remains that power—“ “pow WAH!” gave Max an internal snicker— “is not de only ting that we are looking for.  I might say to you that as a former soldier—“ ‘Sol-JUH!’ rang through Maximum’s head and pulled up memories of a really hokie movie he had seen as a kid, something about a military strike force looking for an escaped monster on an island off the coast of Jamaica.  All he really remembered was there were zombies and that the accents were really, really…. _bad_. That was it Fury actually sounded like she was faking a Jamaican accent. Badly. He couldn’t help but be slightly amused.  “is useless to any team if the one who wields that power cannot bond to that team.”

 

    “She’s right, Max.” Jetstream offered, his voice somehow both tinny and flat coming through the small modulators on the face of his helmet.  “We’ve been a better unit with you on board than we have been in a long time. We’ve even tried some of the others that Fury is talking about.  No one really felt right; we couldn’t get that ‘trust fall’ sort of confidence in each other the way that we have with you in just a few weeks.”

 

    “Guys,” Maximum began to protest again, “I appreciate it.  I really do. I just don’t know that I am the guy for you. I don’t even know if this is what I want to do with my life.”

 

    Jetstream paused a moment, taken aback a bit by this unusual admission, then was struck with a new approach.  “So what are you doing with your life now, Max?”

 

    “I’m a cop” he fired back, reflexively and without feeling.  His thoughts were clearly elsewhere.

 

    “So… you don’t think that this is a natural extension of that?  You don’t think that what we do is fighting crime? Not only is it fighting crime, but think about the criminals we take down.  There aren’t very many regular policemen who can handle the sort of threats we deal with. There aren't many police _departments_ that can do what we do!  Step up to the next level, Max. You could be a part of something that takes your career further.”

 

    Maximum turned away from them again and stood silently for a few minutes.  Then sighed and slumped his shoulders. “At least, I wanted to be a cop.”

 

    Jetstream and the others looked at him, surprise and confusion on most of their faces.  Perhaps all of them; Jetstream’s white powered armor gave him the perfect poker face. “What do you mean, Max?”

 

    “Feh— My name isn’t even ‘Max,’ Man.  It’s not! It’s…. It’s just…..” Maximum wandered away, across the rooftop, aimlessly, wrestling with something inside of himself.  He paced around randomly and ended up back in front of the Crusaders, who were waiting patiently. “Look, Jetstream…. I would _love_ to join you guys.  I really would. But I have to say ‘no.’ I just have to.”

 

    There was a long silence while Maximum shifted his gaze across the city, down at the pebbled gravel of the warehouse roof, off over the bay.  Finally, he turned to walk away.

 

    “Why, Max?” another-- the small one with the green bug-eyed goggles and exoskeletal hardsuit called ‘Techtic’ called after him, partly confused and not quite managing to fill his voice with the bravado of a demand.

 

    Max paused.  Techtic-- voice plain, open, honest-- continued.  “Why do you have to say no?”

 

    Maximum drew a breath.  His desire to share his story--at least, the good fortune of the more recent events-- bolstered by the simple sincerity of the question, wore deeply against his resolve to keep his life a secret that he would erase as quickly and painlessly as possible.  He couldn’t quite meet any of their gazes and when he finally spoke, it was softly, distantly. The sounds were almost lost to the people at his back. “Because for the first time ever, my life is more than just a joke.” He turned to look at them, take them all in, one at a time.  “I have finally become something I’m proud of. I don’t know if it will last, but I want to enjoy it; I want to use it for as long as I can. If it’s gone tomorrow, then I’ll go back to being— well, to who I was. But until that happens, I don’t want to even _think_ about what I used to be.”

 

    Jetstream called out to him, firmly, almost a dare.  “We can help you be everything that you want to be. Believe me, if you stick with us, you’ll have the chance to use all your training, all your skills—“

 

    Maximum laughed out loud.  He laughed and laughed, long, loud, completely.  Finally, almost in exhaustion, he walked back to the group.  “You have no idea why that’s funny. I do; I know why it’s funny, and that’s what I’m running from.  I know your rules, Jetstream: if I join, I tell all of you who I am. Well you know what? From today on, I’m Maximum— the epitome of human physical potential.  That’s all the name I need.”

 

    “We don’t do it to invade your privacy, Maximum.  We do it so we can keep an eye on each other while we’re incognito, too.  We all have loved ones, you know. They make tempting targets to the wrong people.  We help keep each other safe, twenty-four-seven.”

 

    “Well who I was was a complete joke; it’s a miserable existence that I don’t want to remember anymore, and I’m not reliving it for you or for anyone else, do you hear me?”

    

    “Max….  have you got family?  Friends? People you care about?  Anyone at all? It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to go back to whatever your life was before, but someday, someone may find out who you are— or were, rather.  Then those people closest to you, they suddenly become targets. Revenge, or worse: some kind of sick voodoo dolls. You know: ‘if I stick this pin deep enough into her thigh, Maxie-Boy, what will you do for me then?  What will you do for me to keep me from —“

 

    “Enough!”  Maximum was clearly shaken.  Yeah, I get it. I’ll take my chances.  But then I have to tell you how I got my powers—“

 

    “What powers?  I— we all— assumed you were a gifted martial artist.  Your moves make Bruce Lee look arthritic!” Techtic blurted.

 

    “Yeah.” Max hissed through grinding teeth, the muscles in his temples bulging and shifting.  “Yeah. Gifted athlete. A gifted athlete who just sixteen months ago was having his third surgery to repair a hole in his heart, right?  Who spent his whole life making sure he had an asthma inhaler close at hand in case he accidentally tried to run somewhere, right? That kind of gifted athlete?”

 

    Stunned silence.  The Crusaders as a whole looked to him for some explanation.  Maximum himself looked torn, the agony on his face a testament to his struggle with the decision.  “Guys, you just don’t know. You just don’t know how badly I want this— how badly I want to join you, to fight the good fight with one of the greatest team of superheroes ever assembled.  The breeze rustled his sandy hair and the crimson silk highlights of his blue-black ghi. “But I don’t….

 

    “Look, if I walk out of here now, I have the respect of some of the greatest crime fighters the city has ever known, probably the greatest group since The Seven.  I leave here as equal to each and every one of you. If I stay— if I tell you my story…. You have no idea what a joke I am.  If I join you, if I reveal my secrets to you, I’m just a joke again. I lose again.”

 

    He felt a hand on his shoulder.  He glanced to see Lightning standing beside him.  The smaller man looked up at him. Without moving his hand or breaking eye contact, he spoke, earnestly, with clear embarrassment on his face.  “Th-th-the ac-ac-ac-cid-d-d-d'nt that gave me my powers has played havoc with my autonomic nervous system."  Max was taken aback.  Lightning rarely spoke;  Max had no idea the little man had a stammer.  "My digestion t-t-took a bi-big hit. I c-c-c-crap-p a-a-eight or ni-nine times a d-d-- a day." He paused a moment and swallowed while swinging his head in some sort of personal ritual, then continued in a slightly sing-song manner.  "T-Techtic built this” he said, rolling up his tunic and pointing to a small electronic device on his side, just under his ribs. Noting Maximum’s lack of comprehension, he clarified “it’s an electrical zapper and m-monitor."  For whatever reason, the sing-song seemed to help him speak.  "At least, th-tha-dat little button is the external axi-access for the interface for th-the zapper. B-but hey— at least I do-don’t need batteries!” He smiled humorlessly.  He spun his head, breathed a time or two, and continued on again in his sing-song manner.  “Som-uh-muh-times, my diaphragm just s-s-stops.” He rolled his tunic back down and continued speaking.  “When that thing notices, it kicks me hard in the guts to get me breathing again. Hurts like H-He-Hell, too.” Done speaking, he walked back and joined the group.

 

    Fury came forward to him.  At six feet, four inches tall she moved uncomfortably close, her nose not quite touching his, staring almost through his eyes with those weird reflective pupil-less eyes of hers.  “I tell the world that I left the service of my people to come here and escape the evils of grand warfare. I tell them that I wish to help stop those who would conquer this planet or who would abuse those who live here.  This is not the truth. I am here because I am running from my own execution at the hands of my people. I was caught selling weapons to our enemies for nothing more than the fortune to be made. My own squadron was cut low with weapons that I myself sold to our enemies.”

 

    Maximum stood there for a long while, watching Fury’s eyes and their reflective brilliance, become cloudy and foggy.  He could feel the catch in her throat as the weight of this admission bore down on her. “I did not even come here on purpose.”  She said, more softly than before. She broke eye contact for the briefest of instants, but it was enough to express her humiliation.  “I got lost. I escaped and ran to the first jump-capable ship I could find. It is fitting that it was a ship that I had stripped of valuable navigation software and sold to the enemy.  When I came out of jump space, I had no idea where I was. I drifted for weeks. I was nearly out of even the air to breath when i collided with an old probe from this planet. Desperately I studied the information it contained, calculated its trajectory, and found my way here.”

 

    Maximum said nothing as she turned and walked back to the Crusaders.  “But these people here—“ she sliced a broad sweep to indicate the parahumans collected around her— “these people helped me to understand myself.  They helped me to realize the horrors I had created for nothing more than personal greed. They helped me to find a way to balance my debts, to repay the cosmos for the damage I have done.  And they have never once held my past against me. These are good people, Maximum. We do not judge our own. We help them to grow. We all help each other to be the people that we want to become.”

 

    Maximum stood for a long time, staring in disbelief.  He met each of their eyes in turn, and each gave a slight nod, as if to admit that they all had something that they would prefer stayed secret.  

 

    A few moments passed, then he began to step toward them.  Instantly he thought better of it, but began to speak. “I wanted to be a cop.  All my life, I wanted to be one of the good guys— the heroes. I mean, doesn’t every kid want to be the guy who saves the day?  Doesn’t every kid want to be respected, even just a little? I never had that. Not even from my brothers. I was the oldest of four kids, and my entire life was just a complete joke.”

 

    Jetstream stepped forward, hand outstretched.  “We are asking you again. Will you join us, … ‘Max’?”

 

    Maximum took the offered hand in a firm grip and shook it.  “Hazel. My name is Hazel.”

 

    “Seriously?”

 

    “Yeah, seriously” Maximum defended aggressively, throwing his hand out of the shake.  “I told you, my entire life is a sick joke.”

 

    “I’m sorry;” Jetstream offered sincerely.  “It’s just unusual. But it’s nothing to be ashamed of; it’s actually-“

 

    “Yeah, yeah— I know.  It’s a unisex name. You don’t think I’ve heard that all my life?  Fine. I know it; you know it. But let me tell you, there ain’t a kid in any public school on planet earth that knows it.  I spent my whole life catching it. But it’s worse. My name is Hazel Schlipzenskartz. You have no idea that fun you can have with that.  Really, you don’t.”

 

    Maximum continued, and within moments his whole life story poured out to his little audience.  He told them of his childhood, born to a woman who had, against her family’s wishes, married “down” from her upper middle class life to a poor immigrant worker, a burly west-european giant of a man who promised to devote his life to making her happy.  Hazel had been their first child, and had barely survived infancy. His mother had named him ‘Hazel,’ for his beautiful green-flecked light-brown eyes. He was born with, among other things, diabetes and a hole in his heart. He grew slower than other children, and while his father never showed it, Hazel had little doubt that his weak and slight frame and lack of endurance were a heartbreaking disappointment to his father, a rough and athletic man who vigorously and joyously wrestled with all aspects of life, a man who was happiest when he was laboring the hardest.  Hazel was also a sickly child. The only thing his immune system seemed to fight with great vigor was itself, and when he wasn’t nursing some bug or germ, he was having fits with his allergies.

    By the time he was six, Hazel had three younger brothers, all of them broad-shouldered robust creatures like his father.  They would often wrestle with their father and chase footballs and Hazel would watch as they played themselves into exhaustion.  Hazel, of course, pretended to be having just as much fun watching. He grew slowly, and by the time he was sixteen, though he had managed to reach a respectable height of five-foot eight inches tall, only his youngest brother was still shorter than Hazel himself, though he was nearly half again as broad, and as thick-thewed as their father.  He loved his brothers and his father, and deep down, he was certain that they, in turn, loved him, but he always felt himself an outsider amongst his kin: unable to engage in the things they enjoyed the most, and them largely uninterested in the things that filled Hazel’s life. The only time he really felt like he belonged at all with his family was holidays, or special celebrations: his father would spend two days roasting a pig, each and every special event.  He would tell them stories about their heritage as west european boar hunters, and how special it was for the whole village would come together and roast hogs and have a huge feast. Even into his adulthood, Hazel would get a special sense of comfort from something as simple as a ham sandwich or a side of bacon. It gave him a sense of connection— something he could do with his family.

 

    As the oldest child of working parents, he was often called upon to pull duty as babysitter, and this was perhaps one of the cruelties of his life: the brothers that played rough and tumble with his father expected to do the same with him, and he would invariably end up pinned to the floor, or tied to a chair, or locked in a closet, or a hundred other such things.  His brothers, too, seemed to sense their father’s appreciation for the physical side of life, and it shaped them accordingly. While they loved him, they had lost anything resembling respect for Hazel by the time he turned ten. Children, cruel things that they are— even his brothers found him an easy target for the teasing and harassment that he endured from other children in the neighborhood and at school.

    Determined to prove himself, Hazel early on turned his efforts to his studies, hitting the books late into the night, studying every chance he got, taking extra assignments at school, and joining as many clubs and extracurricular activities as he could schedule.

    Unfortunately, Hazel wasn’t much of a scholar, either.  All the late nights barely kept him afloat, and the extra assignments were the only thing keeping him up in solid “C minus” territory.  He was horrible with the clubs and social groups, too: he was too uncoordinated for dance, too short-sighted in his thinking for chess club, too nervous and self-conscious for drama, and teased and laughed out of almost anything else he ever tried.  It turned out he was a fair hand around the science lab, but that might have simply been because his allergies kept him from smelling too many unpleasant odors so he didn’t avoid it like most of the other members of the science club. It did help him to make science his best subject, though: he graduated high school with a C plus.

 

    Maybe it was all this that drove him to want to be a policeman.  Mostly, though, he simply wanted some tiny opportunity to prove himself to be a good, upstanding guy, to demonstrate that he, too, could contribute something useful.  Certainly the poor neighborhood in which he grew up had been nothing but brutal him, and he had always felt out of place in his own home: not athletic enough to make his father proud, not academic enough to make his mother beam with pride.  He had never met his father’s parents: they had remained behind in western Europe while their son sought to make his fortune across the planet. He had always hoped that perhaps they dreamed of a grandson just like him, and not like his rowdier siblings.  He had met his mother’s parents twice, and wished that had never happened. They had made it perfectly clear that they did not approve of his father, and by extension approved of his brothers less, and him even less still, with his grandfather once remarking “at least the others have the potential to dig ditches; that might somehow be useful.”

 

    He had thought that graduating high school and getting out into the world might improve his life.  He was quite thrilled to notice that the senior yearbook had actually voted someone else as “least likely to be remembered.”  He was so delighted that he pointed it out Randy, who sat across from him in homeroom. “Oh.” said Randy. “You know, when we were voting, I forgot all about you.”

 

    After high school, Hazel tried to join the police academy, only to be told that his grades were not good enough to overlook his questionable health and overall physique.  Unhappy with life in general, and learning that finally getting out of school doesn’t mean that random strangers won’t mock you for being named ‘Hazel.’ he bounced from dead-end job to dead-end job, marking the passing of the years with unhappy observations: there had been the day in his mid-twenties when he noticed that his acne finally cleared up.  He also noticed that his hair was thinning. It was hard to be certain, of course, because his vision wasn’t quite what it ought to be. Probably all those years of late-night studying by flashlight finally catching up to him.

    ‘Another stage in my development into a fully-developed drone,’ he thought.  ‘I need a job with insurance.’ And so began the quest for possible long-term employment.

 

    That was how he happened to become a security guard.  There wasn’t a lot of physical demand: sit here, watch this, walk here, look at that and that, walk here, sit there, watch that, then walk back and repeat.  This job was something of a no-brainer. Alas, the pay reflected that. But he did have a job with at least a couple of minor benefits, and the possibility of promotion.  The greatest and most unexpected benefit was how often he would be alone. Completely by himself, there was no one to harass him, and no one to whom he could compare himself and find himself lacking.  Perhaps his father would see that he had turned out to be, if not a huge success, a responsible adult with long-term goals. He should call him this weekend. That phone call was how he found out that two of his brothers had formed a plumbing company and were already considering buying more trucks and hiring more crew and his youngest brother had gained a full scholarship to State.

 

    Hazel plodded through the next ten years or so of his life uncomprehendingly.  He paid little attention to the pattern of work, go home, pay bills, repeat, and hoped for nothing more than a death spectacular enough to get a few lines in the newspaper.  He would never be respected; he would never be remembered; he would never be anything special to anybody, ever. On a lark, he began to take boxing lessons late at night, more to keep himself from simply vanishing than anything else.  It was simply a reason to get out of the house not related to going to work, paying bills, or buying the groceries he needed to keep the cycle going.

 

    Just before his thirtieth birthday, he was assigned to the Shepherd Research Facility, a branch of a national science institute that specialized in medical research and was renowned for the number of medicines and medical procedures they had pioneered in the last sixty years.  Well, a change of scenery would be nice, and it was still in moped distance. Yes, at age thirty, Hazel Schlipzenskartz was still riding a moped older than he was. It was the best transportation he had ever been able to afford.

 

    Something wonderful happened during the first few weeks at the SRF: Hazel had made friends.  While his claims that science was his best subject were completely true, his ‘proving’ that with his C-plus final average was met with laughter, but not the kind he was used to.  While there weren’t many, there were three or four people at the SRF who had taken a genuine liking to Hazel (though not without first cementing the jokes they would attach to his name for as long as they knew him), and he quickly learned quite a few things about the place he was working.  When the offer of a permanent position here, working for the SRF as staff security instead working for his placement agency came along, he jumped at it. With the position came better pay, better benefits, and an honest-to-goodness feeling of actually belonging somewhere. Even a couple of the ‘pedigreed’— the name that the lay staff used to refer to the scientists and researchers busy at the center— had come to know him by name and would often chat with him when taking small breaks from their work.

 
 
 
copyright D.E. "Duke"  Oliver, 2019

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    While science was not a “good” subject for him by any means, it had ended up being his favorite, and the research being done at the facility excited him.  He was filled with questions, and the staff were always willing to answer him when they could, in specific as often as in general. One scientist in particular had taken something of a shine to him (he was pretty sure that she would never have noticed him before he could afford contact lenses and scalp reduction surgery), and usually made it a point to hunt him up at his station for a small chat when she had a break.  She might have been cute. She might have been a three-headed alien. All he knew for sure was that she was a she, she smiled every time they spoke, and she seemed genuinely interested in Hazel. She was probably the first person he had ever met that would walk up to him and start a conversation. She actually seemed to enjoy his company. Perhaps it was just his eagerness to learn about the research being done and the equipment with which it was being done; perhaps it was his genuine appreciation for the people doing the work and the good that their work had done for the world.  It didn’t matter. All that mattered to Hazel was that she seemed to like him, and would even show him around some of the more secure projects. It would take him weeks, but he was steadily trying to build the nerve to ask her out. Certainly not until he had a nice rental car lined up, but he was going to do it.

 

    Her name was Pauline, and she was a molecular biologist.  Her team was working on a new breed of medicines, specifically medications that would boost the healing process.  The implications, if they could pull it off, were huge. If the healing process could be isolated and commanded to promote better or faster tissue repair, or the immune system directed to attack cancer cells specifically— medicine would take a huge leap forward.  Imagine healing a broken leg in two or three weeks. Or battling cancer totally without surgery or chemotherapy. Through Pauline, he met the rest of her team and learned about their experiments and those of many of the other teams housed in the facility. Hazel had friends, and in a very tiny, very minor, support sort of way, his work was important to the world.  He might possibly even have a girlfriend (he wasn’t quite sure how to tell). He was dangerously close to being happy with his life, and he wasn’t sure how to handle it.


 

    This was it.  This was the night.  Or rather, it would be the morning.  Tomorrow morning would be the day. Morning.  This was the day. Night. Okay, he was a little nervous….  He had casually asked for night shift a couple of weeks ago, shortly after Pauline had mentioned moving some of her research to nights as it granted her better access to some of the busier labs.  A lot of the compounds she and her team had worked on were almost ready for testing, but they were running some computer simulations before moving on. He had rented a car earlier that day— a nice car: not too flashy; not too sporty; not too luxurious— just a nice, sensible car with a couple of nice appointments, smooth ride, and a comfortable interior.  He had also “accidentally” parked it in the visitors’ area, closer to the main entrance than the employee lot. Tomorrow morning, he would walk out with her, stop to open the car, and suggest that they take in a cup of coffee or maybe some breakfast out before going home. He was scared to death, but he was also strangely excited….

 

    Then came the little light.  The little light on his monitor that told him that someone had activated the silent alarm.  He checked the location— Pauline’s area! He snatched the phone, but hesitated before calling.  It was a silent alarm. It was double-blinking, which meant that someone had intentionally activated it via panic button.  It wasn’t the loud clanging “emergency! Everyone out!” alarm or the automated sensor-based break-in alarm. Someone in the building was in trouble, but couldn’t draw attention to themselves.  He dropped the phone, pressed the police call button, grabbed his flashlight and ran straight for the section of the building that housed the research of Pauline and her team. The elevator did not respond to his override code.  He pulled up the monitor on his phone: power had been cut to the elevators that served this corner of the building, as well as to several alarm circuits. He opened the flap on his holster and headed for the fire stairs.

 

    On the third floor he found Pauline, hiding behind a barely-cracked door to the Ladies’ room.  “Hazel! Hazel! It’s me!” Unsure what to do at this point, he slipped into the Ladies’ room as well.  “Pauline! What’s going on? What happened?!” he whispered impatiently.

 

    “I was coming back from the computer lab to review some ideas the simulation run gave me.  I was about to swipe my card when I noticed that the door was open. Not just open, but forcibly opened, like it was pried open with tools.  I pressed the silent alarm and hid.”

    “Where were you going? What door was open?”

    “My desk.  I was going to my desk.  The door to the group lab was open.  I didn’t go in and check anything else.  Do you think they’re after the samples?”

    “Samples?”  

    “We’ve got some of the compounds close to perfect.  That’s why we’ve been running the sims. We’re almost ready to start live testing, unless we want to make some last minute tweaks.”

    “It’s just medicine.  What could they be after?”

    “I don’t know; I’m not a thief!  But Hazel, if even _one_ of the drugs in that cooler works, it would be worth a fortune to any pharmaceutical company on the planet!”

    “Right.  Stay here.  I mean it. Don’t open the door until you know it’s me, okay?”

    “Hazel, don’t—“

    “Listen, there could be a burglar in your lab, and my job is to make sure you’re safe, then make sure the facility is secure.  You stay here. I’ll go check. The police are on the way.”

    “Hazel—!”  But he was gone.  As he approached the lab, he never more in his life felt the ramifications of his short stature and his slight build.  There was no way he was going to intimidate any but the most incompetent of crack heads, and none of the signs so far suggested that this was anything less than a professional criminal at work.  Well, he had a gun, if he didn’t shoot himself in the foot with it. He was suddenly very grateful for ten years worth of boxing lessons. At least he knew how to cover his face and head when taking a pounding.  He had made it to the lab.

    Slowly, he eased the door further open with his toe. He could hear movement inside.  He drew his pistol and stalked cautiously into the large group lab. As he entered, he could see that three of the four private labs had also been forced open.  The sounds were coming from Pauline’s office. Through Pauline’s office was door to the cooler room where the samples were stored. No doubt about it: someone had heard the compounds were ready for testing, and had hired a pro.  As he approached Pauline’s door, he peered carefully around the door jamb and could see the intruder. Man, where were the _police_, already?! The man looked for all the world like a refugee from an old Kung Fu movie: long soft black pajama-looking outfit with a dark scarf pulled lower over his head and wrapped around his face.  Soft socks covered his feet and ensured his passage would be noiseless. He was busily grabbing tiny phials from the cooler, wrapping them into a silk scarf and tucking them away into a roomy sack purse.

    Well, you only live once.  He braced his weapon in front of him and filled the doorway,— at least, as best he could, hoping to take the intruder by surprise.  “Don’t move!” he yelled.

    His clunky orthopedic shoes had given him away.  Even as he leapt into the doorway, the intruder was on the move, sprinting toward him.  Not knowing what else to do, Hazel fired, but even as he squeezed the trigger, the intruder dropped to the floor backwards, and let his momentum and silk pajamas on the glossy tile floor slip him right between Hazel’s legs.  Even as he turned around to aim again, the intruder had already regained his feet and raced for the outer office door. Hazel squinted against the kick (that first shot had _hurt_!) and fired again, putting a hole right through the wall three feet away from the door.  Disgusted with himself, he was also quite shocked to hear a man yell in pain. He bolted through the door and into the hallway.

    The intruder was clutching his side, blood leaking through his fingers.  His sprint was now an extremely fast limp, slowed by his wound and having one arm wrapped around his abdomen.  He was still faster than Hazel, though. Hazel, now in the hallway behind him, tried again “stop right there! I _will_ shoot you!”  But by then, the ninja thief had rounded another corner. As Hazel raced past the ladies’ room, Pauline poked her head out. “Stay put!”  he yelled as ran by.

 

    When he rounded the corner, he caught no sight of his quarry.  Warily, he stepped down the hallway, cautiously looking behind the bulkhead fire doors before passing through them.  Then there was pain and the world went tilted and splotchy. A leg shot down from the ceiling behind the bulkhead and a heel kicked him square in the forehead.  Had he been taller, the blow would have been brutal. As it was, he was stunned for a moment, but as he fell backward he instinctively reached out to grab a purchase and save himself.  In a bit of sheer luck, he grabbed the intruder’s leg. As he fell backwards, he yanked hard and pulled the intruder from his hiding place wedged above the bulkhead of the fire doors. Caught by surprise, the intruder fell hard as if flung by the ankle.  His reflex attempt to spin around and kick Hazel again with his free leg, but Hazel’s fall was tilting him just out of range. The thief's effort resulted in his landing hard on his neck and collarbone. There was a wet snapping noise as his shoulder popped out of joint.

    Hazel had fallen backwards, staggering, but kept his feet.  He had dropped his pistol when he grabbed the silk-clad leg, but he still had his flashlight.  Out of desperation, he threw it as hard as he could, hoping to catch the thief somewhere vital.  The Thief had dropped the bag in which he had stashed his score, having been holding it in his now almost-useless right arm. The flashlight had missed the thief’s body, but managed to smash his hand as he swept the floor, the heavy aluminum flashlight breaking several bones in the back of the pseudo-ninja’s hand and fingers.  He again dropped the bag, this time spilling it’s contents out, the sash coming unfurled and slinging scores of little phials all over the floor. Far more quick-witted than Hazel, he swept his other hand across the floor, picked up as many of the tiny glass ampules as he could and shoved them into his mouth, then swept the floor again and picked up the flashlight.

    Just as Hazel drew next to him (he had stopped to pick up his pistol), the  intruder stood up, swinging the flashlight from the floor. Had it not been for ten years of boxing training, Hazel would have taken the blow straight under the jaw.  He jerked his head up and over, side-stepped, but over-compensated with a quarter-turn. When he turned back, the ninja was halfway to the next intersection of hallways.  He fired again, wildly, but missed. The ninja spun down the left turn as Pauline came up behind Hazel. “Hazel! He’s got the compounds! It looks like all of them!”

    “I told you to stay put!” he snapped and ran after the thief.  As he rounded the corner, his hopes of wrapping this up before the police got here were dashed.  He had hoped to capture the thief, retrieve the stolen property, and stride up to Pauline a hero.  Unfortunately, there were eight doors down this corridor, all of which led to some of the larger labs— the ones that required heavy equipment.  It would be absolute lunacy to chase a hiding thief, especially now that he had a few moments to prepare. Best to wait for the police. But if he did that, the thief might find a way to escape.

    “There!” Pauline pointed.  She wasn’t good at staying put, it seemed.  He hoped with everything in his heart that she would get through this unharmed.  “There! Lab 7! See? Look— blood on the frame. And it looks like it might have been forced.”

    Well, he certainly couldn’t back down now— how would he look?  Security guard with a gun, refusing to chase a wounded thief. Not the sort of man a girl would consider having breakfast with; no, Sir!  He kicked the door open and peered inside.

    Dark.

    Dark, and shockingly tiny.  “Here,” Pauline said. “Cycle the lock.  It’s a safety measure.” She pointed to a large yellow button labeled “Cycle In.”  The tiny antechamber lit up, a door slide shut between him and the hallway door, pushing it shut.  He heard air movement and the click of assorted machinery. Then the door in front of him slid open.  The lab was dark as well. It was very large, and lit only with the light spilling out from the antechamber, making it impossible to see anything as more than a large, lumpy shadow.  The room was filled with those. Eventually, his eyes adjusted as best they could, but he could still tell little about his surroundings. There were rows of machinery along the walls, then another row inside of that, a large closet in each corner, and a massive machine with some kind of chimney right in the middle of the room.          Details were impossible to make out in the dark.  He inched slowly along the walls, looking for a light switch or a lamp or anything that might give him some idea where the thief was hiding.  The light in the antechamber went out as the inner door slid back shut. It was totally dark. He crouched lower and rubbed his hands along the wall as silently as he could.  Eventually, he found a bank of switches and was nearly blinded by the explosion of brilliance from the ceiling. He scurried forward, away from the wall and into the scant cover offered by the machinery and workstations ringing the room.

    Just as he began to scan the room for his quarry, the lock at the door snapped back open.  Hazel leapt nearly to the ceiling, spinning and scrambling frantically to bring his weapon to bear on the lock.  He landed, crashing into the work station behind which he had been cowering. Machinery hummed to life, and a low rumble permeated the lab.  Pauline sprinted up to him from the lock.

    “What are you doing here?!  You could get killed!”

    “I can’t just hide like that.  It’s— it’s scarier alone. I want to be with you.”

    “_I_ could get killed!”

    “Don’t say that!  Besides, you’ve got a gun.  I’ve heard the shooting.”

    “I missed him three times!”

    Her eyes widened, and Hazel instantly regretted admitting that he’d never once fired the weapon after finishing his training with it a decade or so ago.  “Hush!”

    “Well I hit him once, too.”  He started, sheepishly.

    “Hush!”

    “What?”

    “That noise.  That hum. It’s the capacitors charging.”

    “The capacitors?”

    “Like big batteries—“

    “I know what capacitors are!  I want to know what these are for!”

    “Oh, God!”  She yelled. She jumped up and worked frantically at the workstation into which he had fallen.  “Shut it down! We have to shut it down!”

    “Shut what down?”

    “The irradiator!  It’s charging!”

    “The what?”

    The hum intensified.

    “The irradiator.  This lab is primarily for the geology department.  That thing there—“ she pointed at the massive machine with the colossal chimney “is used to irradiate specimens for all kinds of research.”

    “With what?”

    The hum had been replaced by a tightening whine.

    She looked at the control panel and attempted to read the various controls and figure out what had been activated and what had not.  Her eyes got even larger and more distant. Her face slackened. “Everything….” she whispered in shock.

    “Oh, crap!” Forgetting the danger of the ninja thief, Hazel began to frantically throw switches and push buttons, and in desperation he finally reached for the various wires at the back of the console—

    “NO!” Pauline screamed.  “This isn’t a TV show, Hazel!  It’s already been told to go; if you snatch the wires, there is absolutely no way to tell it to stop!”   Back to her senses, she began keying in commands and working the controls in sequence, cutting in overrides— or what she hoped were overrides.  She rarely needed anything irradiated, and had only watched the procedure a few times.

    A low bass thud that was felt more than heard vibrated through the lab.  The lights dimmed the tiniest bit. It was surprisingly anticlimactic. At least, right up until the screaming started.  Pauline worked feverishly. “It’s pulsing! We need to get it to— There! There,” she said, “I got it.” Her shoulders slumped in relief and her breathing was short and ragged.  “It’s off. It’ll take a few minutes for the scrubbers to clear the sample chamber, but the danger is over.” She noticed the screaming for the first time.

    It was horrifying.  It was a raw, animalistic sound of pain and nightmare and death.  Hazel ran toward the source— behind the irradiator. As he circled it, he realized that the sound was coming— the sample chamber door was closed, but not dogged.  He heard Pauline scream “Not yet!” as he threw the door open. The thief was there, writhing, his skin burned, the silk of his clothes seeping with fluids oozing from his massive wounds.  Hazel grabbed him to pull him out of the chamber, but the man fought— not against just Hazel, but against whatever nightmare Hell he was enduring. Blindly, he swung his good arm, a wide arc that even Hazel could dodge, stepping under it with ease, then Hazel threw him to the floor and pinned his good arm and legs with the (admitted limited) weight of his own body.

    The man was in bad shape, and getting worse.  Hazel got sick to his stomach, and only the totally-out-of-place notion that he could not let Pauline see him do it kept him from vomiting. The smell was far, far worse than the sight— like burned pork roast and demon scat.  The man continued to fight wildly while Hazel tried to keep him restrained. “What are you _doing_, Hazel?” Pauline pleaded, terror in her voice. “You’ve got to get away from him! Get over here, behind the shields!”

    “We’ve got to help him!”

    “We can’t!”

    Pauline, I can’t leave him like this!”

    “Damn it, Hazel!  get away from him!  Don’t you get it?! He’s already dead!  He was dead the minute that first pulse fired.  And he was in there for nearly forty. He’s taken enough gamma shine to poison this entire city.”

    “We’ve got to do something!”

    “We can’t!  Get away from him!  He’s shedding enough radiation to kill you out there!”

    “I can’t leave him like—“

    The thief had spun and in an instant he had flipped Hazel onto his back and with his good arm— and even with his dislocated arm and shattered hand— began strangling Hazel.  Out of adrenaline and pure self-preservation, Hazel swung a fist as hard as he could, and connected solidly with his captor’s jaw. The sick crunching noise made him think for a moment that perhaps he had broken the man’s jaw, but he knew he simply didn’t have that kind of skill or the brute strength to do it by luck.  ‘The phials!’ he thought. This man was still, with whatever remained of his capacity for thought in spite of what was happening, trying to carry out his mission. Hazel wondered for the briefest of moments just how much such a job paid. Dozens of phials were still stashed in the thief’s mouth, and Hazel may have just crushed them between the man’s own teeth.

    The new pain of the shattered glass slicing the insides of his mouth and tongue and back of his throat distracted him long enough for Hazel to reverse the pin and punch him again, as hard as he could manage.  The thief tried to gouge Hazel’s eyes, but Hazel leaned in and bent the man’s arm up under himself. As Hazel leaned down, attempting to hold the pin, the man rolled forward in agonized desperation and bit him.  Hard.

 
 
 
copyright D.E. "Duke" Oliver, 2019

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     Hazel yelped and tried to pull away as the man bit deep and hard into the  trapezius muscle at the base of Hazel’s neck, tearing the flesh and chewing, grinding in teeth and bits of shredded glass.  Hazel released the hold on the thief’s arm and grabbed his head, pulling and pounding until he freed himself. He stood, kicked his opponent in the gut as he grabbed for him again, and ran behind the shield with Pauline.  She was panicked, screaming and chiding. Hazel tore off his uniform shirt and attempted to hold it against the blood running from the large wounds on his neck, chiding himself for being stupid, calling himself out for not simply waiting for the police, not running behind the shields as Pauline had begged him to do….

    Hazel became vaguely aware of noise behind him-- hurried footsteps, shouting and yelling, squawks of radio static.  It took him a moment to realize that four police officers were moving into the room.  It was a good thing, too, because everything was all catching up to him now.  Post-traumatic stress: the shakes, the exhaustion, the confusion, the uncertainty.  He gave as good a recount as he could, Pauline trying to fill in what he could not, and the security system remote installed in his phone allowed the police to view a great deal of what happened.  The investigation would go on long into the morning and continue late into the night, It would have to do it without Hazel, though. Exhaustion was catching up to him, and he was feeling kind of…. weird.  Sick-ish.         Great.  All he needed on top of everything else.  He felt a bit dizzy— probably the adrenaline shortage.  He sat back on the floor, waiting for the EMTs that the police had called, trying to stop the bleeding with his uniform shirt.  He looked up at Pauline. At least, he thought it was probably Pauline. He was too tired and too woozy to look any other direction, so he hoped with all his heart that it _was_ Pauline.  “Hey.” he whispered, attempting to sound friendly and energetic. “You uh… You wanna go get a coffee this morning? We can take my car.”

    “Oh, Hazel,”  she replied, stress still obvious in her voice.  “this…. this really isn’t a good time.”

 

    Of course it wasn’t.  Probably just as well, though.  He was really starting to feel very, very sick.  It didn’t matter if Pauline was watching or not. He vomited.  A lot. Then the world spun and slid sideways a bit, but gravity went in an entirely different direction, and the blackness and quiet were something for which he was very, very grateful.





 

    “Wait a minute.”  Techtic popped the visor on the helmet of her exoskeletal frame, the obvious look of incredulity on her face.  “You’re telling me that you became the greatest living martial artist on this half of the earth because you were bitten by a radioactive ninja?”

 

    Maximum stood there, glowering, his arms slowing crossing back across his chest.  “Like I said, Lady: my entire life has been one sick joke after another. Thank you for watching yet another episode of the ‘Hey, God!  Let’s screw with Hazel Schlipzenskartz!’ show.” He crossed his arms on his chest as he turned his back to the audience and glowered, his regret at choosing to ignore his earlier reticence making him more recalcitrant than before.  Absently, he took in the serenity of the clouds moving over the rooftops of Campaign City.

    When it was clear that Hazel was going to offer no more, Techtic made supplicating noises, apologizing for asking, but Hazel was done.  Jetsteam, too, tried to apologize for the ill-conceived joke. “She wasn’t trying to be offensive. That’s a lot to take in; she was just trying to keep things…. you know; ‘friendly.’”

    “Right;” Techtic agreed hastily.  “I wasn’t trying to insult you. I”m sorry, Hazel.”

    Without turning around or actually accepting the apology, Maximum eventually offered a tiny olive branch.  “I prefer Max.”




 

    Hazel awoke in agony, sweating and trying to escape the feeling of being in an oven.  He couldn’t feel his legs. He could feel his arms, but begged anyone that would listen to rip them off and stop the agony.   He was vaguely aware of sound, of shapes— a face? two? none? Then he was gone again.

 

    Over the course of the month since the break in, he had been on lock-down within the facility, every single scientist that worked on every single compound that had been in the raided sample cooler was watching him around the clock.  Radiation sickness specialists, too, were on hand, as were numerous medical doctors and more specialists than could be listed. All of them were here to keep Hazel alive. All of them were astounded by what they were seeing. No one could lay a solid hypothesis as to which formula— none of them ready for human testing— was affecting him, or how, or what part the radiation played, — it was all guessing; it was all reacting to the latest development.

 

    Two months later, Hazel awoke again.  His head was pounding. He was in a hospital bed of sorts, but it was tilted up to the point that he could almost fall forward out of it.  Restraints held him in pace. As soon as he stirred, a nurse announced “Mr. Schlipzenskartz, you’ve been in an accident. You are in a hospital, and for your own safety, you have been lightly restrained to prevent you from falling out of bed.  Please do not fight the restraints. Are you here, Mr. Schlipzenskartz? Can you hear me? Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”

    Hazel nodded feebly.  He tried to speak, but his tongue was fat beyond belief, and his mouth was _so_ dry….

    “Mr. Schlipzenskartz, I am going to tell the doctors that you are awake, okay?  I will be _right back_. You will only be alone for two minutes. Please don’t fight the restraints as you may hurt yourself.  I’m going to lay your bed back down some more so that you can rest more comfortably, but please don’t fight the restraints; they are for your safety while we have you elevated.  The doctor will remove them as soon as he gets here, okay?”

    Hazel nodded, loosely.  He was vaguely aware of the nurse leaving.  Or at least he was aware that there was some movement and then the busy noises and the talking stopped.  Was he lying down? He couldn’t tell, and he couldn’t remember what she had said. Had she said something?  There was more noise— hurried noise, briskly marching footsteps and then flutters of motion and hurried activity.  “Mr. Shippenkatz (Hazel was aware enough to wince at yet another mangling of his name), I am Dr. Woonsocket. I’m going to ascertain your physical condition.  I am going to touch you in several places to determine your sensation, your reflexes, and your muscle tone. Do you understand what I am going to do?”

    Hazel nodded again, this time a bit less groggily.  He wished he could find the strength to open his eyes, but the light was burning too intensely through his closed lids.  He felt the doctor press against the soles of his feet and push the balls of his feet upward, then down, then up again. He felt him probe lightly behind his kneecaps and into his thigh muscles.  “Fascinating.” he muttered. “Unbelievable.” Hazel felt the cold bell of a stethoscope move across his abdomen, followed by more probing and prodding. “This is absolutely incredible.”

    “Mr. Shippenkatz, do you know how long you have been unconscious?” the doctor asked as he clicked on a pen light and reached a thumb gently toward Hazel’s left eyelid.  Just as he touched Hazel’s face, there was a snap and a tearing noise and the doctor’s wrist was grabbed in a near-crushing vice. He tried to jerk back, but the hand around his wrist was an iron manacle, rooted to a tree limb of an arm.  Hazel was sitting bolt upright, wide awake, with a look of almost-fear on his face. Only the doctor and the nurse noticed the torn restraints.

    It was then that Hazel realized he was holding the doctor’s arm.  Sheepishly, he apologized and release the man. “I”m sorry, Doctor.  I’m sorry. It was just— it was really bright. It hurt a lot.”

    “Understandable, Mr; Shippenkatz; your eyes have been closed a very long time.” the doctor reassured, pleasantly.  His wrist really hurt, but there appeared to be no damage.

    “Hazel, Doc.  Hazel’s fine.” he fell back to the routine— the best defense against hearing his name mangled— for fun or sincere accident— was to give them one easier to remember.  How…. How long have I been…. “ he settled on “out?” simply because he had no idea of a more appropriate term.

    “It’s been thirteen weeks since the accident, Hazel.”

    “Accident?”

    The nurse chimed in: “the break-in, Mr. Schlipzenskarts; he means since the break-in.”  The doctor shot a mildly perturbed glance at the nurse, while Hazel offered an appreciative thank-you face.

    “Yes; the break-in was three months ago.  You’ve given us all quite a scare, Hazel. Did you know—“

    “Pauline?  Is she okay?  Did she get the radiation, too?l”

    “I beg your pardon?”

    “Pauline; the lady that was here that night— it was her lab that got robbed.  She sent me the silent alarm. Is she okay?”

    “I’m okay, Hazel.”  she said, gliding in the door with a look of excitement and overwhelming relief.  “How are _you_, though? That’s what’s been scaring us!” She came over to the side of the bed, took his hand in hers, and patted the back of it.  Hazel was pretty sure the monitors in charge of telling on him were going crazy somewhere.

    I’m okay, I guess.  What happened?”


 

Pauline, with the help of Dr. Woonsocket at first, and soon with over a dozen other physicians, filled in the blanks for him.  The bite of his attacker— as potentially infective as that was in its own right— had introduced up to twenty-seven experimental compounds into his blood.  The exact number— even the exact compounds— were unknown and, given the circumstances leading up to the bite, likely forever unknowable. The dosages were beyond even guesswork.   Some of them didn’t work. Others did, but not all of those that worked had worked correctly. Perhaps it was flaws in the compounds themselves, or perhaps it was the extreme radiation to which they (and to a slightly lesser extent, Hazel himself) had been subjected that affected the compounds, or perhaps the radiation affected Hazel, altering how the compounds would react to him.  Perhaps it was none of this; most likely it was some combination of all of this— but Hazel had died. Nine times. Each time they had beaten the odds, and brought him back.

    His body had writhed in unknown agony while he was kept in a medically-induced coma to ease his pain.  His body writhed in more than agony: whatever mixture of everything come together had worked on him, it had worked on him in a previously-unknown completeness.  He burned through nutrition; he burned through body tissue. His bone structure changed— thickening, lengthening; muscle and sinew grew and layered and became more dense.  It was something totally unseen outside the womb.

    Overwhelmed, Hazel finally chased everyone out of the room, claiming he needed rest.  Only Pauline remained, and without invitation.

    He looked at her for a long time, her face still beaming with joy that he had lived.  “Pauline, what happened to me?”

    “Well it’s pretty much like they said, Hazel.”

    “In your words.  Tell me what happened, from one person— a person I _know_— and in words I understand.”

    “Well, Hazel— you know, I thought that was your _last_ name!”

    “Yeah.  I put it on my name tag because it’s just easier on everybody.”  He didn’t go into the reality of having a cartoonish last name or being a man with the first name of Hazel.  “People remember it easier.”

    “I see.  Well anyway, _Hazel_—“ she winked.  There was no malice in it. “like they said, we don’t really know what caused all this to happen.  Presumably, it was the compounds. These weren’t just drugs. We’re far more cutting edge than that.  These were living nanites— lab-created bits of RNA designed to respond to pre-programmed chemical and biological conditions and elicit a precise mechanical response without fail.”

    “RNA?”

    “I hate to put it this way, but think of it as custom-built viruses—“

    “Viruses?!”

    “Well that’s what RNA is; that’s what viruses are: not really living things, but random very small sections of DNA that exist only to replicate themselves.  They break into the DNA of a host cell and replace some of that DNA with their own code, which forces the host cell to start producing more and more identical copies of the virus.”

    “So you were making some kind of new chemo or something? Get them sick with germs instead of drugs?”

    “No; nothing like that.  The nanites we created are far, _far_ more complex than that.  They were staged in such a fashion that they would…’evolve’… at each trigger situation.”

    Hazel didn’t like the way that sounded, but he kept his mouth shut for fear of coming off as an ignorant witch hunter and blowing whatever friendship he might build with Pauline.

    “You see, a simple virus is little more than a command to ‘make more like this’ with a key on each end.  When it finds the right two locks in a piece of DNA, it unlocks the DNA and inserts itself. What we built was multi-layered.  That is, we had a command set between two keys, around which was another command set between two keys, around which was another command set— this is a gross over-simplification, but you see where I’m going.”

    He didn’t; not really.  He caught the gist, but already it was over his head.  Still, he was exhausted, dizzy, sick-feeling, and it felt good to lay here with his eyes closed and listen to her voice….

    “…so that after “locking in” on the first trigger, they are then completely changed— like peeling the shell from a walnut, so to speak, and what’s left is now ready for the second trigger.  When that trigger occurs, it locks in again and is now ready for the third, and so on and so forth. You see, that is what makes this so revolutionary! Instead of trying to use drugs to induce a reaction that we _hope_ the body can put to good use we are instead attacking the problem _directly_!  Now granted, a lot of these things need to be specially tailored, both to the patient and to the condition— especially cancer; I think we’re a long, _long_ way from that yet, but this is such a huge start! But for example, if you have a broken bone, we can inject a compound— the correctly-designed nanites, along with proven medications— that not only become bone tissue, but trigger a chain reaction that causes surrounding tissue to generate bone, or to divert more resources for the formation of bone, etc.  Hazel, we might one day be able to give a shot to a dialysis patient and watch them grow new kidneys! This is groundbreaking stuff we’ve been doing here!”

 
 
copyright D.E. "Duke" Oliver, 2019

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     Intrigued, he coaxed her back on topic.  “So what happened to me?”

    She paused.  “Well…. as I said,” she continued softly, “this stuff has to be tailored, matched to a patient’s DNA, things like that.  The stuff you were exposed to— Hazel, you have to be the bravest man I know. I can’t believe you went after that guy…”

    “What happened to me?”

    “We weren’t ready for human testing.  Not even close. Most of what you were exposed to was tailored for a very specific chimpanzee— well, group of them: we were using identical lab-created quadruplets— and rats.  Not human. Not even close.”

    “And….?”

    “‘And?’  ‘_And_?’ ‘_And_’ it _worked_ that’s ‘and’ for you!  It worked!”

    “How?”

    She said nothing for a measurable time.  Finally, she was soft again. “We don’t know.  Who knows? It might have been a lucky break: we might have been so far off for the animal tests that we’d have killed them all.  We might have been perfect for human. It might have been all the different types of RNA machines introduced into your blood all at once.  For all we know, it might have been the radiation; RNA is just as subject to mutation as is DNA, after all.”

    “But I’m okay?”

    “Oh, you’re better than okay!  Trust me!”

    “What are you talking about?”

    “Well….  well, it didn’t work, initially.  There was too much going on. Each compound was looking for its locks in DNA where they didn’t exist; each compound had a different job to do, and they were as often as not working in opposition.  There was so much interaction and replication in the various nanites, and some had started to attack your DNA as unviable while others started reinforcing microorganisms within your system— it was a mess; they were killing you, tearing you apart and rebuilding you bit by bit into…. well, they were killing you, okay?”  She stopped and fought back tears. Hazel’s eyes were closed; he couldn’t see the wetness in hers, but he could hear the catch in her throat; the poorly-concealed sniffle.

    She paused to catch her breath and regain her composure.  “Right at the end… you had been pronounced four times already; we were all in agony.  Right at the end, as they brought you back… There are pictures, but I can’t look at them.  I don’t think you should, either. Right at the end though, after they brought you back, we all knew that there was no way we could do it again: you were too far gone; too damaged.  I…. I have to tell you,” the tears were welling up again; he could hear the catch in her throat ”you wouldn’t have wanted us to save you even if we could! You really wouldn’t. We talked about it, and decided for….”

    Hazel was terrified, but he controlled himself perfectly.  He continued to look relaxed and peaceful, as if he were listening to a recounting of a particularly pleasant picnic from two seasons ago.

    Pauline found her stride and continued.  “Right after they brought you back, I had an idea.  We started taking samples from you— a thousand, at least— blood, muscle— every tissue sample we could get.  Then we filtered them and strained them until we had nothing but _you_, and I literally mean _you_. It wasn’t double or treble redundancy: I’m talking we compared hundreds and hundreds of samples against each other until we could one-hundred percent _know_ that each individual molecule was in the right place.  Once we had a few perfect strands of your DNA analyzed, we built more— millions more; copying is pretty easy. I worked on the coding myself until we had a new compound— a new nanite, with a single purpose. It fit all the keys of the various compounds already released into your body and it modified whatever compound it touched.”  She fumbled for words. “Oh, how do I explain this? Essentially, it just said “‘this is the blueprint. Whatever you fix has to look like this.’ There’s more to it than that, of course, but it worked. The shift in what was happening to you was incredible. I swear, it looked like you… you were….” A vivid image hit her memory and she dived for the trash can near the bed and threw up.

    “It was awful, Hazel.  If it wasn’t for the team the company put together and the fact that the absolute best in this field are all right here, there’s no way you would have lived.”

    “I heard I died.”

    She giggled, half-heartedly.  “You did; a lot. But the last few weren’t that bad.  There were too many nanites, doing too many jobs, and your body couldn’t handle it.  We continued coding, sending in more to shut down replication, to slow the work, even a few that simply bolstered your constitution against the shock.  In the last three months, what we’ve learned to do is worth billions in terms of sheer research-“

    “Why would they waste  that kind of money on me?  I’m just a security guard, and not a very good one.  I let a thief get in, then I killed him.”

    “It’s complicated, Hazel, but first and foremost, I want you to realize that the people we work for are _good_ people; very, very good people.  You prevented fifteen years of research and theory from walking out the door and being mass produced in some converted missile silo in a third-world desert.  They felt that they owed you all that they could do for you. You have to remember that before you think about the rest.”

    “The rest?”

    “Well Hazel….  While it wasn’t at all what they wanted— what _ANYONE_ would have _ever_ wanted; you have to believe that!  You were…. well, you were a human test, dumped right here in their laps.”

    “So they did this just to see if your super-germs worked?”

    “No; Hazel; that’s not why they did this.  They did this because it was the right thing to do.  But because there was so much to learn, we had no problems at all getting you the absolute best medical attention possible.  Everyone worth their salt in their field was begging to help, just so that they might learn a tiny bit about what the future of medicine is going become.”

    “And is this it?  Am I a success?” He was suddenly very sleepy.

    “Oh, there’s no doubt that this is the future, Hazel.  But not in our lifetimes. Maybe not in our children’s.  We’ve learned that the reactions are too… well, ‘virulent,’ I suppose, if you’ll pardon the expression.”

    He’d have to: he didn’t get it.

    “No; we’ve learned a lot, but mostly we’ve learned that we’re nowhere near ready to implement the nanites.  We’ve got to learn how to control them more tightly; how to better organize and structure them.”

    “I see.  Pauline, I can’t believe I’m going to say this to you, but I need to rest now.  It’s been a big day.”

    “I understand.”  She stood to go, and patted him on the hand again.  “You get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow. And Hazel?”

    He raised his eyebrows without quite opening his eyes.

    “I think when you get out of here, I’d really like to have that cup of coffee.”

    He grinned and slipped into blackness.




 

    It wasn’t until the next day that he was clear-headed enough to get out of bed.  It was strangely difficult to do. It was as if everything in the room had been built slightly off scale.  Not enough to notice just looking around. It was more like showering at a friend’s house: you get soap in your eye and try to find the towel with your eyes closed.  You know where everything is, but it’s not precisely where it should be because it’s not your house. Odd comparison, but it was exactly the feeling he got as he stumbled about the room.  He stumbled quite a bit. It was probably loss of muscle mass due to laying in a bed for three months, but he felt a lot heavier than he should have.

    Another doctor came in.  “Well, Mr. Schlipzenskarts, this _is_ a surprise.  I see you’re out of bed already. How do you feel?”

    “Weak as a kitten.”

    The doctor laughed uproariously.  Hazel stared down at him and was not amused.  He was miserable. Why was this funny? If he wasn’t so happy that the doctor was actually short enough for him to look down on, he would have felt just nasty enough to say something rude.

    “Mr. Schlipzenskarts, do you feel well enough to walk to me?”

    If you get this tube and bag off the bed frame, I’ll try it.  But I’m not making that mistake again.” This brought another, though more reserved fit of laughter from the doctor.

    “Mr. Schlipzenskarts, you are a funny man.  That’s good! People with a well-developed sense of humor tend to adjust to changes better, and you’ve got a lot to get adjusted to!”

    Hazel had begun to walk toward the doctor.  “What do you mean by that?”

    “You’ll see in just a moment, Mr. Schlipzenskarts.  First, let’s see how steady you are.”

    Hazel walked in slow, methodical steps, pretty sure that his legs were not his own.

    “You’re doing fine, Sir.  Just fine. All right; now turn and walk back toward the bed.”

    Hazel turned toward the little bathroom instead.  “Doc, if it’s all right with you, more than anything, I really want to brush my teeth.”

    “Of course, Mr. Schlipzenskarts, but please, use the stool; we don’t want to risk you falling until you’re fully recovered.”

    “Right.  Then we’ll risk — WHAT THE-?!”  Hazel had glanced in the mirror and nearly had a heart attack when he saw the open-robed stranger casually staring at him.  “What the— DOC! What’s going on?!”

    “It’s okay, Mr. Schlip—“

    “It’s all right, Hazel!” Pauline cooed reassuringly as she entered the room.  Calm down. It’s all right.”

    “Pauline!  What happened to me?!”

    “Calm down, Hazel.  Calm down.”

    “Calm?  What did you do to my face?”

    “Nothing, Hazel.  We didn’t do anything to it.”

    “What happened to me??”

    “Hazel, calm down.”  This time it was more authoritative.  She waited while he gained his composure.

    He turned and walked, visibly shaken, out of the bathroom.  “What happened to me?” he begged, weakly. Was she shorter? Was he out long enough to forget she was short?  He walked back and sat on the edge of the bed.

    “Hazel, listen to me.  I’ll answer all of your questions, of course, but don’t interrupt until I’ve gone through this.  The first thing you have to believe is that what you saw _is_ your face. Your honest-to-God genetically perfect face.”

    “How?”

    “Don’t interrupt!”  she snapped. Then she gave in to the look of confusion and mild fear on his face.  “Oh, all right. Remember what I told you? How the nanites were trying to tear you down and build you into whatever they had been told that you were?  And how a large number of them were simply mismatching all kinds of things into you? And I told you that we solved this by using your own purified DNA and directing them to work on restoring you and only you?”

    “Yeah; kinda.”

    “Well that is you, Hazel.  That is what your DNA meant for you to look like.”

    “Then why didn’t I look like that?”

    “Almost no one is a perfect example of what their DNA intended.  Even identical twins-- people who share the exact same DNA-- don't look exactly alike. Slight mutations, irregularities, et cetera.  But not you. At least, not anymore. You no longer have a deviated septum. You no longer have a slight cleft pallet. You no longer have that narrow chin from when you broke your jaw riding a bicycle as a child.”  

    Man.  How much research had they done on him?

    “You have all your teeth; your wisdom teeth have been restored to you.  No; we don’t know exactly how.

    Your allergies are gone, and your body has been rebuilt from the ground up in accordance with your pure DNA.  You are not diabetic, and your size has not been affected by it. Your heart is perfect, and again— your body shows none of the signs of a child who grew up minding his physical exertion.”

    “So my body is different?”

    “Your body is exactly what your DNA meant it to be, thirty years ago, without any of the mistakes or the meddling of outside influences.”

    “I can’t think I can get my mind wrapped around that.  I mean, I understand it, but I don’t really—“

    “How tall are you?”

    “Five ten.” he answered instinctively.

    “You’re a liar.  You’re five eight and a quarter.  You have been telling people that you’re five ten since you landed your first job.  It’s to be expected though, what with you being a male and a single inch or so not being something that anyone’s going to scrutinize.  You simply fudged a bit so that you were at least perceived to be average.”

    “How much did you look into me?”

    “We had a lot of time.  However, it’s not that hard to figure out.  You’re a male, and being short has some sort of taboo attached to it.”

    Hazel thought back to his enormous father and brothers.  She had no idea.

    “That, and _I_ am five eight, and the first thing I noticed about you is that we were exactly the same height.”

    She notice me! he thought.

    “Hazel, it was your plethora of metabolic issues that resulted in you stopping at five eight.  That, and who knows how many allergies, illnesses, etc.”

    She really had no idea.

    “The nanites rebuilt you entirely from pure samples of your DNA.  Hazel, you are now six-feet, three-and-one-quarter inches tall.”

    Hazel was stunned.  “You mean… you mean… you mean I’m normal sized?”

    “Normal?  Six-three puts you well over average, Hazel.”

    “You don’t understand; I mean like my father and my brothers— I’m as tall as they are!”

    “You are now exactly as your DNA dictated you are supposed to be.  I suppose it’s perfectly reasonable that if being tall runs through your family that you would be tall, don’t you?”

    “Well I never have been.”  Hazel stretched out his arms and examined them.  Thick. Long. He put his hand up to Pauline’s face, gently.  He was clearly ecstatic. “I’m tall! I’m tall! I’m as big as my father!  Pauline, this is _great_!”

    “Calm down.  Lots of people are tall.”

    “Have you ever been tall?”

    “Well no taller than I am, but I can’t say that I’ve ever been unhappy with it.”

    “You have no idea, Pauline.  You have no idea at all!” He didn’t elaborate, but spent the next few minutes staring at his arms and legs and grinning stupidly.    Finally, Pauline had endured enough.  “As I was saying: the nanites rebuilt you to the exact specifications of your DNA.  Your skeleton, obviously, is much larger and more dense than it was, as is your musculature.  Granted, muscles themselves are built through use and not simply ‘given’ to you, but you seem to have been given more to start with than most.  We have no solid understanding for why you have so much muscle mass, though, especially since you've been essentially without exercise for weeks now. We suspect it has something to do with the simian RNA nanites, but who knows?”

    “I’m perfect!  Oh, God, Pauline; you have no idea how wonderful this feels!”  The look on her face told him that he would have to explain it to her, but right now he couldn’t.  He was too caught up in the feeling.

    She slowed, perceptibly.  “There were some complications.”

    He froze.  “Complications?  Am I going to shrink again?  Lose it all? Die? Cause that I don’t care about right now, so long as I can die tall!”

    No, Hazel.  Complications with rebuilding you.  There were too many sample specimens and the nanites were all competing— it’s why I had to create a blueprint….”

    “What complications, Pauline?!”

    She forced herself to take a distant,  authoritative air. “Now keep in mind that there are still a few nanites working inside you, and this may all straighten itself out—“

    “They’re still in there?”

    “Yes; of course.  They are RNA, after all.  Just like any other virus: it’s a semi-living thing that will burn itself out or be metabolized eventually, but yes, there are still some inside you.”

    “What will—“

    “They can’t hurt you, Hazel.  They are responsible for what has happened to you, after all.  They will simply keep doing what they are doing until they can’t or until something destroys them.”

    “So what kind of complications…?” he trailed off.

    “It goes back to the earliest stages of their attempts to repair you in spite of you not yet being broken.  Bone and muscle tissue were built, rebuilt, and over-built. Your bones and muscles are over-built. That is, they are both far stronger and far denser than they need to be.  In fact, testing shows that a great deal of your muscle and connective tissue, while keyed almost completely to your DNA, is actually simian in nature—“

    “What?!  I’ve got monkey inside me?”

    “Well, for now, yes.  We expect that the nanites will either replace it or as it dies and is replaced naturally that it will be replaced by genetically perfect human tissue.”

          “So I'll end up normal after a while?”

           “Quite likely. Though there is the chance that those parts of you that keep your genetic code for muscle and tendon have been changed to continue simian tissue, but that's highly unlikely. Or perhaps your DNA has been changed to produce some sort of hybrid tissue that incorporates traits human and simian. There is no way to know except to wait and see.”

          “Is any of that possible?”

         “Nothing in any of this has precedent, but the driving for almost every nanite in you was repair, strengthen, improve. I don't know how likely it is, but it_is_ possible.  You might have become some sort of unique superman, in a way.”

    “But what am I going to do right now?”

    “Nothing.  Enjoy it.”

    “Enjoy it?”  While she could not possibly know how much he was already enjoying it-- the height, the muscles, the handsome picture in the mirror-- he was still confused about how to go forward with his life.

    “Hazel, apes have a different type of muscle tissue than do humans.  It’s far stronger, ounce for ounce, and their tendons are capable of storing far more energy than our own.  The tradeoff is that these tissues are less suited for precision or delicate use—“

    “What kind of monster am I?!”  His eyes were wide. “Can I tie my shoes?”

    “Calm down!  What we think you have is an unheard of hybridization of the two types of tissues.  I can’t say why this is, but I can offer the guess that when the nanites were finally given a map to your DNA that they either were too few in number by then to completely rebuild all your tissue or they were already far too regulated by our additional control sequences to finish the job before they burned out or— who knows?  Maybe something in the radiation affected how they perceived some DNA sequences. For all I know, they _chose_ to give you a superior combination of the two!” She was clearly becoming impatient with his interruptions and flustered by her own lack of answers. And of course, there was the fear of the unknown, the possibilities for her friend scared her, even if she didn’t let on.

    “Can they do that?”

    “Of course they can’t do that.  They can’t think; they’re not even truly alive, any more than is a virus.  I can’t explain why it happened; I can only tell you _that_ it happened. The same is true of your bones: they are far stronger than they should be, as though you’ve been training to be a powerlifter since you were a child.  Your nervous system, too, is…. well, you’ve got triple redundancy in your nervous system.”

    “What’s normal?”

    “Roughly none.”

    “None?”  

    “No.  Nerves don’t have redundancy, and they don’t generally heal.  Ever cut yourself, in your life?”

    “Sure;” he said, opening up his gown and peering to his left flank. “Right he—“  He stopped. There was no scar.

    “You’ve been rebuilt, remember?  It’s like a second chance. No scars; no moles.  You even got a full head of hair all over again.”

    He hadn’t noticed that.  Instinctively, his fingers raced through it and he reveled in its thickness.  It could also stand a good washing.

    Your nervous system— and I can only guess that it’s related to the requirements of your unusual muscle structure, has been repeated throughout your body.  There are also a number of reflex arcs— let’s call them ‘shortcuts’ for now; I’ll explain them later— that don’t exist in humans.”

    “But they had a copy of my DNA—“

    “Hazel, let’s remember that there were _many_ different kinds of compounds delivered to you.  Some were to heal; some were to augment; some were — well, we don’t know what you ended up getting, but there are many kinds of healing, and there were a lot of things done to you before we got a blueprint in the mix; understand?”

    Hazel was quiet for a few moments.  “Yeah; I think I kinda do.” He vanished into his thoughts for a moment, sullen.  “What else?”

    “Beg pardon?”

    “What else might be wrong?”

    “‘Might be’ is an open-ended list; we can’t say for sure.  The only thing now that really seems different from before— in terms of side-effects, that is— is that you seem to have developed an allergy to pork.”

    He slumped visibly, folding as if he had been hit in the gut.  “Well of course I have” he grimaced. His eyes closed as they rolled, and he was shocked at how much that hurt him—not so much having an allergy; he was quite used to those, even if they were all gone now.  But that one— it separated him from the only thing that ever made him feel like he was truly a part of his family; the only thing he ever had that resembled a bonding experience with his brothers and his father.  It was too good to be true, he supposed. The universe had never given him anything before; it only made sense that it would give him all this at the expense of a massive sucker punch to the gut. He sighed.

    A look of genuine regret came over Pauline’s face.  “I have to go right now, but I wanted to let you know that we think you’re out of the woods.  You’re going to live. We will need to keep you here for another month or so—“

    “What?!”

    “Testing, Hazel.”

    “Oh yeah; the accidental guinea pig—“

    “No; not that.  We need to make certain that you _are_ going to be okay.  What happens if you go home to your apartment tonight and fall on the floor, turning into another liquidifi--“ she stopped herself.  “It’s for your own good, that’s all. We want to test you to make sure that you are in control of yourself and that there are no side effects; that’s all.  And frankly, there’s no place on earth right now better equipped to help you than we are right here. Everyone we might want to help is already here, from all over the free world.  Obviously, we can’t force you to stay; you’re not a prisoner, and whether you believe it or not I want you out of here just as badly as you do.”

    Hazel let it sink in, and then nodded his consent.

    “Thank you, Hazel.” she said sincerely, taking his hand in hers.  “I just want to be sure that you’re going to be okay.” Her eyes grew moist as she turned to leave.



 

    Over the next few weeks, the Facility learned a lot about Hazel.  They learned that he was, with a few notable exceptions, almost perfectly what his DNA should have made him.  One thing that everyone involved had to agree with, however, was that, unusual musculature and neural systems notwithstanding, he was completely without flaw.  Unexpectedly, his altered nerve system was repeated in several parts of his brain as well. He discovered that he was able to “see” faster than he could before.  Essentially, his mind was able to faster analyze incoming sensory data and allow him to react to it even before others registered anything at all.

    The combination of his altered and additional reflex loops in combination with his increased twitch muscle mass allowed him to move extremely quickly.  He could perform dance steps almost faster than the eye could follow, and he picked up some interesting sleight of hand tricks with ease. He could extend his palm to a button that lit a small bulb, draw his hand back to a sensor on his chest and press the button again so quickly that the bulb never quite stopped glowing.  While others were amazed, as his movements were almost a blur, they did not appear so to him. Continued and constant physical testing began to put muscle mass on him far faster than was normal for even a pubescent boy, let alone a thirty-something year old man.

    Every day, Pauline would draw blood from him to analyze for nanites.  Every day, her team would find them. He told her she did not have to draw the blood.  He had discovered while shaving that morning a much simpler test. He drew a small knife across the pad of his thumb.  As her eyes widened, she watched the scab form, then watched the ends of the wound come closer and closer together unit they disappeared under the scab.  A few minutes later, the scab flaked off, and the wound was gone, leaving not even a scar.

    “How did you—?”

    “I cut myself shaving this morning.  Superior new body or not, mirrors are still two-dimensional and my rugged new face isn’t.”  He grinned.

    All of his test results put him at or slightly above the absolute ideal in every physical category.  His endurance seemed to be endless. By the end of the testing, it was concluded that he was perfectly fit, and allowed to return to his job and his life as he knew it.  The first thing he did was take Pauline out for that cup of coffee. Then for a movie. Then for dinner. It was as though his life had suddenly come together in one giant fit of perfection.

 
 
 
copyright D.E. "Duke" Oliver, 2019
 

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    Returning to his life was a lot harder than he thought it would be.  He no longer matched any of his ID: his driver’s license showed him to be six inches and roughly a hundred pounds less than what he was now.  Worse, the skinny, pointy-chinned, thin-haired, hook-nosed man with glasses in the picture looked nothing like the broad-chinned square-jawed man he had become.  His landlord didn’t recognize him; the security checkpoint at his job refused to let him enter until someone from higher-up ordered it. None of his clothes fit, not even a little.  He felt ridiculous that first day out shopping for new clothes, poking out of all his old ones. He had gone to see his father later that same day, and that had been a total disaster.

 

    “Hazel!  What you have done to yourself…!  What you were thinking?!”

    “I didn’t do anything, Dad.  I was in an accident, like I said.  The doctors saved me, and what they did— it made me the way I was supposed to be.  It made me… _me_.”

    “Hazel, how you could do this to yourself….  Do you really think we are not loving you as you were?  We are not loving all of our boys?”

    “Dad, I didn’t do anything!  I stopped a thief, like I said, and I got infected with a bunch of experimental medicine, and I came out of it—“

    “Hazel….. We have loved you, always we have loved you.  You are my _son_! My boy! You were the first child and the first son!  My heart is so much full of you, all of the time. It pained me that you were sick so much times, but I loved you.  I did not care that you were not like the others. I was proud of you. You always worked so hard; you studied while your brothers played….  You were such good boys, all of you, and I love _all_ of you, Son. There is no matter that you were different. I did not realize that you were….   ashamed.” Viktor's throat fluttered, and a soft almost-choke accompanied the sudden wetting of his eyes.

    “It’s not like that, Dad.  It’s not like that at all. Or maybe it is.  I don’t know. But _this_—“ he gestured up and down himself  “this is something special. I am more like you and Steffano and Grigory and Lukas.  I am who I was supposed to be, Dad. I was excited. I thought you would be proud….”

    His father shook his head in disbelief.  “My son…. I do not know how you can do this to yourself…”

    “I didn’t do anything, Dad!  It happened to me! I told you!”

    His father was beyond hearing him. “You face….  you little bright smile with the buck-out teeth….  you slender hands— you mother, she hoped you would be pianist, you know.   You have worked so hard to throw away who you were. Do you not know that you were my son?!” he barked at the end, anger welling up from somewhere deep in his heart.

    “I told you, there was an accident; I was exposed to experimental medicines—“

    “There is no medicines that can do this!  This is why you have no car; no home for you own!  All these years— you spend all your money on the surgery for the face!  The hair— you never have thick black hair this way, Hazel; do not deceive me!  How you get so big? You take the hormones! The hormones, they ruin you body. Do you see the news?  The steroids, the hormones— they wreck you heart and you guts! They kill you! They kill you, Hazel!”  Viktor was in a heart-broken frenzy by now, tears running down his face as his voice ran higher and more jagged.

    “Dad….”

    “Why, Hazel…  What I did so wrong, so terrible that you want take away my baby son from me?  Why…?”

    “Dad….  I love you, Dad.”  And with that, Hazel turned and left.


 

    He swung by the gym after that, desperate to release the maelstrom of emotions whirling away inside him.  He had to buy a new membership: no one believed he was the man in the picture on his club card. He started with the speed bag, and worked it like he had never been able to do before, but no matter how hard he hit it, or how fast, it seemed that he couldn’t get it to fall into its familiar blurry rhythm.  Lost in his thoughts and his pain, he was oblivious to the crowd that had slowly formed to watch him. He walked away, unaware of the split seams on the bag or the stretching he had done to the spring. He found a heavy bag and began jabbing it, trying to remember the rhythms and patterns his instructors had taught him.  He danced and shuffled and hopped and poked the bag, harder and harder until he fell up against it and was hammering his fists into it, harder and harder until he managed to tear a hole into it and shoved his gloved hand completely into it. He snatched out his hand, furious over his loss of rhythm, drew back and delivered a haymaker roundhouse dead center of the bag, tearing it loose of its moorings on the wooden beam above.  Everything in the gym stopped.

    All eyes were on Hazel.  He stood, frozen, arm still outstretched with the follow through of his last blow.  Finally, a bow-legged little bald man in sweats walked up to him. “Son, your stance is crap, absolute crap.  But you get good results.”

    “I’ll— I’ll pay for the damage-!” Hazel started.

    “Don’t worry about it.  That was quite a show, Big Fella.  My name’s Dietrich. It’s on the glass where you came in.  If you ever decide you want to train up, go pro…. You give me a call that number on the other side of the window.”

    “Let me pay—“

    “Don’t worry about it.  I was going to replace a couple of those things anyway; they’re getting’ old.  Get outta here; get some quiet. You got a lot on your mind, and I ain’t got a lot a spares around here.  That one came from China, dirt cheap anyway.”  He studied the mess on the floor.  "Kinda surprised." he muttered to no one in particular.  "I for the price, I figured that thing'd be full a' old diapers or somepthin'."  He had already forgotten about Hazel and jerked a thumb toward one of the high school kids that worked the afternoon shift.

    Hazel stammered more apologies as he left the gym.  He _did_ have a lot on his mind. As awful as his life had been, for just a few weeks, it had all seemed worth it: for a few days, he was exactly what he had always felt he was supposed to be: a big, strong, athletically built handsome man, just like his male kin.  He had been surrounded by people who cared about him, and his friendship with Pauline seemed to be growing stronger by the day. He had even gotten to be a hero of sorts, keeping Pauline safe from the intruder and saving the company the massive financial loss that a successful theft would have been.  All he was lacking was the acceptance of his family, and it turned out that the very thing he thought might gain him that acceptance was, simply because the truth was too fantastic to believe, the very thing that instead cost him the acceptance that he never understood he had.

    Lost in thought, Hazel didn’t really notice that he had walked a few dozen blocks beyond his apartment.  There was so much to which he had to adjust, around which to get his head. He didn’t notice the extra footsteps that had fallen in with his, or that they were getting closer.  He barely noticed the young man that stepped away from a porch stoop and stood in front of him, cigarette in mouth, fumbling through his pockets. “Hey, Mister; you got a light?”

    Hazel stopped short.  “Sorry; I don’t smoke.”

    “Yeah,” said the younger man, spitting out the cigarette.  “me, neither.” he said as he whipped a knife from inside his jacket.  Hazel stepped back instinctively, only to find himself pushed forward by two more thugs behind him.  “Your wallet! And your phone! Give ‘em to me. Now, Dude; I ain’t playin’ with you!” He waved the knife menacingly.

    Well this was just great.  All he needed to top everything else off was to be robbed.  “Hey, check it out.” the hood with the knife called to his partners.  “Big man’s looking all scared.” They all chuckled.

    Hazel didn’t want any trouble; he just wanted to go home.  He reached back toward his pocket for his wallet. Then the thug’s words spun a wheel in his mind.  ‘Big man.’ His mind’s eye exploded with a series of images— the testing, his new speed and endurance and muscle mass; his increased perceptive abilities (for all the good they had done him so far) and the heavy bag at the gym torn from its mount.  He didn’t have to be anyone’s target, ever again. Without thinking further, he sprang into action. The hand behind him flew forward as he whipped his shoulder forward, propelling his fist as hard as he could. He twisted his waist and lunged from the knee, they way his boxing trainer had always tried to get him to do.  Even as the young thug’s face had just begun to register surprise Hazel’s fist drove home into his abdomen, pushing deeper and deeper as Hazel followed through for all he was worth.

    The young man curled around Hazel’s fist, and the look on his face told Hazel that he had taken a hit at least as good as a heavyweight boxer might have delivered.  The hood sailed backwards, trailing vomit as he arced through the air and landed on the sidewalk six feet away. Even before the first criminal hit the ground, Hazel spun around, shooting his left arm out and whipping it with his rotation.  He balled his fist and delivered a perfect backhand smash to the side of a head. The hood spun in place, staggered, and began to fall.

    By now, the third man had a moment to begin to react.  He lunged forward for Hazel, reaching as to pin his arms from behind, and his face showed confusion that his target was now facing him.  He was already in motion, lunging forward, over-balanced. With both arms still partially extended, Hazel drew up his knee, counterbalancing by bringing his fists in tight, and delivered a snap kick directly into the younger man’s chest.  He fell backward against a mailbox, but hadn’t gone down like his friends. Before he could react, Hazel darted forward, grabbed him one-handed by the front of his jacket, swung him overhead as though he were a rag doll and slammed him on his back to the sidewalk, while being careful to cushion his opponent’s head with his own foot.  The impact stunned the thug’s diaphragm and left him gasping for air. Hazel noticed, and commented. “Poor little fishie. Look at you… You got too adventurous. You swam too hard and jumped too high, and now you’re all the way out of the bowl. You have to be careful, Little Fishie. That’s a good way to die….” The hood looked terrified.

    Hazel walked back to the first young tough, the one who pulled the knife.  He was cradled in a fetal ball, barely able to breathe, in too much pain to attack, or even to get up and run.  “You.” Hazel demanded. “Give me your wallet.” The thug looked up at him, uncomprehending. Hazel reached down and tore the jacket from him.  Rifling through it, he found eight wallets and six cellular phones. He used one to call the police. In turn, he searched the others. In total, he relieved them of thirteen wallets and nine cellular phones.  The hoods had started to stir, but Hazel kept circling them menacingly.

    He didn’t realize just how long it took the police to respond to some neighborhoods, and by the time they showed he had been seriously considering letting the boys go and turning their ill-gotten gains to the lost and found.  When they did arrive, Hazel told the police what had happened, while each of the three muggers gave radically different stories about being attacked by a crazed stranger. Hazel handed off the wallets and phones to the officers, who told him point blank: “Listen, this is a really good thing you did, hanging around to turn this stuff in.  I wish I could tell you that these kids are going to get locked up, but the fact is I got nothing. It’s a he said / they said kind of thing. We’ll likely have to let them go after we get them there.” Hazel was a bit disappointed. Even though he had always wanted to be a police officer, he had never realized how often even the simplest bad guys got away with it.  The officer could see the disappointment on his face. “Listen, Man; don’t let it discourage you. That’s a mighty brave thing you did; not a lot of people think any good deed is worth getting out of a chair for anymore. Don’t let this get you down. The world needs more people like you.”

 

    The officer’s words rang through his head as he turned and walked home.  By the time he opened the door to his apartment, Hazel Netteldryk Schlipzenskarts knew what he wanted to do with his life.  First though, he was going to have to learn a few things. He called Dietrich’s gym and asked for the owner. After a brief conversation, he thumbed through the phonebook and looked up a few dojos.  His life might turn out to be useful to someone after all.




 

Powers and Abilities


 

    Maximum, through the combination of the radiation and experimental nanotechnology to which he was subjected, has gained extraordinary gifts.  Most of his physical abilities have been raised to or just beyond the absolute peak of human potential. Owing to both his altered physiology and the persistent presence of a large number of molecular RNA nanobots (it took Pauline some time to realize that Hazel would never be completely free of them, as many of them had mutated to become self-replicating or, like the viral model upon which they were based, co-opt Hazel’s own tissues to replicate themselves as needed), he is able to lift approximately one ton, run for hours without becoming unduly tired, and recover energy far quicker than all but the most intensely-trained athletes.  Owing to his altered musculature, he is able to leap roughly twelve feet into the air; up to eighteen feet if he has a moment to prepare.The nanobots also allow him to heal extraordinarily fast from injury, and make him extremely resistant to illness.

    His trebly-replicated nervous system includes uncountable redundancies in his neural map and thousands of neurological ‘shortcuts’ both in his brain and his nervous system in general.  While none of this makes him more intelligent than he ever was (while the public education system failed him, Hazel was always extremely bright), he is able to process and recognize data far faster than most other people.  This allows him to recognize a situation sooner than others, and combined with his augmented reflex system and superior muscle structure, he is able to react faster than most others as well. Testing has demonstrated conclusively that extremely-well-trained combatants are able to react to an attack or an opening an order of magnitude faster than the average person.  Hazel is able to do this as though he has spent his life training in martial combat, but further, he able to do this in _any_ situation, from timing button presses to driving. Without a common experience, he usually explains this as feeling like he can “see faster” than most other people. In times of extreme stress, he states that it is as though “the rest of the world is moving at half-speed.”  An unexpected side-effect, he rarely perceives the “speed blur” associated with viewing rapid repetitive motion. As with his experience with the speed bag on his last night in the gym, he is able to clearly see the object at speeds far above what most others are capable of perceiving.

    Hazel’s movement, too, is faster than that of most.  While his running speed is incredible, it can be matched by a small handful of olympic champions.  It is his “twitch” speed that borders super-human. With his altered perceptions, reflex speeds, and muscle structure, Hazel is capable of orchestrating a dizzying number of movements in an instant, though the faster he moves, necessarily the less refined the movements must be, as is the case with any other human being.  The most spectacular demonstrations of this ability are found in his more complicated combat moves: his signature “Machine Gun Punch,” in which he can deliver up to ten specific, full-strength strikes in one-seventh of a second. There is also his well-known “Flying Smack Down,” an exhausting combination of punches, kicks, and nerve strikes that he uses to gain a bit of breathing space when the fight is going badly, or to quickly take down a powerful threat.  Super-high speed cameras have counted as many as thirty precisely-coordinated strikes in two-sevenths of a second. Perhaps his most impressive move is the one he has termed “the Ambush Reversal,” with which he has been able to deliver serious blows almost instantaneously to a half-dozen targets placed to surround him. He once commented that he could be the world-record champion of typing, if he wasn’t so lousy at spelling.

 

Weapons

 

    Hazel has no special weapons training— in fact, he has very little combat training of any kind, save a decade of amateur boxing lessons and his recent study of Mixed Martial Arts.  While his powers have given him the ability to deliver a staggering offense, they have not made him invulnerable, and striking fifty blows a second hurts a bit. Because of this, he wears a lightly-armored wrap around the knuckles of each fist and carries a pair of wooden sticks that he will often use as weapons to deliver his attacks and block the attacks of others, though he is perfectly capable (even though it is unpleasant) of continuing to fight without them.  He is clever at finding numerous objects durable enough to use as weapons should he lose his sticks, and wears the half-gloves typical of many martial arts schools to wrap and protect his hands. Interestingly, though with his increased strength and perceptions one would assume it would be easy to do, Hazel will very rarely use a thrown object as a weapon, and in fact carries no weapon specifically for that purpose. The reason is surprisingly simple: Hazel has had no sporting experience or even outdoor play that has given him the chance to practice a throwing skill, and his aim and throwing skills in general are sub-par compared to the typical person.  His fears that he might injure someone thirty feet away from his target are well-founded.

 
 
copyright D.E. "Duke" Oliver, 2019
 
 
And that's it, folks.  That's as far as I've ever had time to finish it out.  Like I said: this is about all I get for practice anymore, and the time to do it is scarce.
 
 
I hope you enjoy it, and if you don't, I hope you take a minute to tell me why not: I've _got_ to do something to get the rust off!  :D
 
 
Duke

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Well, I'm not sure if it's "no constructive criticism" or "no interest."  Either way, though, I should be safe to continue: if there's no constructive criticism, it could be because there's not a large enough sample to determine routine flaws.  If it's because there's no interest, well then there's no chance I'm bothering anybody.  :lol:

 

 

So off to the next one:

 

 

 

This one starts off a bit different, as I originally did this for a friend who wanted to understand just what the thought process is to making a character "that works."  Yeah; there are lots of definitions of what a "working" character is, but from our conversation, I think he was looking for one who's background and origin story-- no matter how "out there" shaped him to be the hero he is today.  I just shot my mouth off a bit and then went into creating the character (at length).  There was meant to be a second part: a "making the background match the character (because we've all done it that way, too), but it never happened because I swung through his neck of the woods on vacation shortly after the first part and we hashed through it in a series of actual conversations (the uncool, old-fashioned, spoken-out-loud kind).

 

Either way, and in spite of the outdatedness of a lot of the references in the first part (directed to my buddy, before the character background starts out), I've decided to leave it in simply so that 1) there is more to criticize and 2) you can kind of see where some of this goofiness comes from. ;)

 

 

So let's begin.

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The Tiger.

 

inspiration:

 

A large crux of things.  A couple of months ago, i stumbled across an over-the-top Bollywood film titled "Singham."  As I looked for more hilarious clips, I learned a lot about the movie, primarily that it was actually a remake of a much more serious drama (of the same name) and I got sidetracked researching that movie as well.

 

More recently,  my eldest has been asking religiously-oriented questions and has had her interest piqued by the "weirdness" of Hinduism and Buddhism, yet both kids have taken a fancy to a short run of History Channel programs focussing on east Asia, in particular the Bengali.

 

My surprise at having learned that Bengali are the single largest ethnotype on the face of the earth-- it seems somehow wrong that western heroic fantasy doesn't feature much in the way of Bengali characters who aren't deranged hypnotists masquerading as carnival fortune tellers.

 

My undying love of the old-even-before-I-was-born movie serials and their portrayal of all-powerful yogis and swamis.

 

My unending hatred for Batman.  Hate the character; hate the concept; hate what that Watchmen guy (was it Moore?  I don't remember) did to him even more, turning him forever from Batman (who was only barely tolerable, for brief moments, on the rarest of occasions) into "Batmunch, the Uber-jerk."

 

My almost-appreciation for a couple of key elements of the re-imagining of Batman that has now been in place for so long that most fans today have no idea that this is _not_ the grinning, laughing Batman many of us remember from our own youths.

 

The fact that I have never made a character who actually worked in law enforcement.  Yeah; sounds stupid, as most of my characters are the "uphold the law" type, and nearly all of my favorites are "good guys," heroic or not, but I've never made an "official" good guy.

 

I have stumbled across a score of stories on the net recently about the involvement of Indian police involved in riots, beatings, etc-- usually as participants.  They can't _all_ be like that, any more than it's fair to assume that _all_ of our own policemen are arrogant, above-the-law jackasses who became cops specifically for the gun-toting off-duty privileges it affords them.  I mean, there has to be at least _one_ exception, right?

 

 

Those are the major contributors to my inspiration.  There are several others, of course, but those are the biggies.  The fact that they have all piled in on me in such short order has _compelled_ me to do something with them, even though I generally don't turn back to creative writing until the weather starts to cool (go figure).

 

 

So-- what do I like from each inspiration?  (Another "con" to this method of creation is the incredible verbosity!  I guess that's the problem when you write eight words a minute but type almost as fast as you can talk. lol )

 

 

From the re-made movie "Singham," I like the larger-than-lifeness" (tm) of the character.  I like the look of character as well: athletically built, but with a build that suggests lots of hard work as opposed to hours in the gym body sculpting: big arms without 'cut' or 'relief' or whatever the latest buzzword is for 'over-exagerated and incredibly unnatural-looking definition) attached to strong but not-too-wide shoulders that slope naturally, as a well-worked trapezius would dictate.

 

There is also the "he look-a like a _man_" thing going on with the firm facial features and serious set of his expression; the wide chin-- even the "cop" mustache works better for him than it does for most men who chose to wear it.  He is a very imposing and yet-- far more importantly-- very _believable_-looking guy.  A build that states power, but with an over-all physique that demonstrates endurance and motion as opposed to the typical muscles-on-muscles action hero that looks like he'd be Hell on wheels for twenty minutes, then gasping for breath as his body is wracked with the lactic acid that even a few minutes of intense strain would produce.

 

From the original movie, I really liked the integrity and determination of the character.  This is actually one of the very few things I like about Batman-- not Batmunch.  I'm sure that Batmunch has just as much integrity and determination, but they never really come into play for Batmunch: he's too busy making sure he has ten thousand plots to destroy all his friends well in place, "just in case," and in his spare time, he's too busy either proving that he is God over every molecule of his body or brooding about how miserable and lonely it is to be so devoted to being such a total schmuck.

 

One thing completely missing from Batman that I found to be very important to both versions of the Singham character (particularly the original) was a very deep belief in the general "goodness" within his fellow man.  While he accepted that many men did not properly know _how_ to act for the good of others, and that others were afraid or simply unable to do so, he believed that most were willing to do right by others, to do good for others, and strove not only to do the right thing himself, but to always be a very public example of right action, no matter how overwhelming the situation.  

 

To be fair, the first Singham was not the evidently-superhuman that the second was, and was a bit more cautious in his dealings with 'the bad guys,' but he did not ever cower before them, either.

 

 

So right off the bat, I've got a Bengali character who is a policeman.  He's in India for several reasons: it's the correct nod to the largest parts of my inspiration.  I am happier setting this character amongst the "bad cop" stories I've been reading lately than I would be simply cloning him and painting him some other color and moving him to the US.  Besides, putting him in India lets me make him a motorcycle officer with a rural or urban jurisdiction (not many rural bike cops here in the US) and it lets me put him on a Royal Enfield.  Not really a great piece of equipment unless you live in the country that makes all the parts, but they have a certain "look" that works well for the character I am imagining.

 

In keeping with the naming of the character (I'm told that "Singham" means "lion" or some such thing in a language that I know nothing of), I have decided to call the character "Bāgha," the Bengali word for "tiger."  I can do that because on paper, I never, ever have to pronounce it. ;)

 

So what do I derive from Batmunch?  I know: it's the question that super-hero and super-heroesque fans have been waiting for me to answer.  So I offer this:

 

The original Batman character worked extremely well.  I never much liked it, but it was cohesive and worked well within the parameters of its own world.

 

Batmunch never did. 

 

There. I said it:   Batmunch is completely broken as a concept.  No one that fanatical or driven to put themselves through so ridiculously much can claim that they are motivated by the love of dead parents, or even the love of living ones.  The only "love" involved here is pure and simple narcissism.  Batmunch isn't doing this to make the streets safe or any other glorious "greater good" reason: he's doing it for his own personal ego trip, constantly proving to himself that he is somehow superior to every other human being he encounters.  

 

How do I justify this conclusion?  A man with his wealth who really wanted to do something for the "greater good" could do what Bill Gates and many others of nigh-inexhaustible finances are doing: funding research to irrigate the desert, cure disease, etc.

 

Oh; I see.  He wants to do something _specifically_ for NewYo-- uh, Gotham.  Fine. He can build a thousand-bed hospital with income-adjusted fees; he can organize massive meals-on-wheels programs; he can subsidize electric bills or build shelters for the homele--

 

Oh.  He wants to do something for _crime_.  I gotcha.

 

Okay: he can build and donate a new prison.  He can build better weapons for the police department-- he can put his own privately-funded troops on the street, at the beck and call of "Gotham" police officers.  Hell, he could put _walls_ up at Arkham Asylum!  There's an idea.  That place has apparently had a massive shortage of walls, since it seems impossible to keep anyone in there long enough to even meet their court date.

 

But _NOOOOooooOOOooooOOOooooo_!  Batmunch does none of these things!  Instead, he invests untold millions in gadgets that let him prowl around in his skivvies and do hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property damage to buildings financed by taxpayer money or the homes of the working poor or the very buildings in which their meager wages are earned.

 

Yeah.  That's better.

 

Fight crime, my eye teeth.  Batmunch exists because he's a self-righteous prima dona who is clearly every bit as sociopathic and hopelessly deranged as the people from whom he claims to be defending Gotham.

On top of that, he spends endless hours brooding about how the people whose homes and livelihoods he has destroyed by attempting to carpet bomb the Penguin into submission just don't seem to appreciate him enough.

 

What a dick.

 

Batmunch redeemed:

 

A young boy witnesses the murder of his parents and dedicates his life to making sure such evil is erased from the earth.  He dons a giant bat costume, studies some king fu, builds some exploding gizmorangs, and spends the next few years picking off criminals with the aid of a sniper rifle.

 

Nowhere near as heroic, but more acceptable than the crap most of his fans are swallowing.

 

 

So let's back up just a bit.

 

Let's assume that our character has always been taught by his parents that there is an inherent "goodness" in everyone.  Let's say that he has been raised to believe that the good you do in this life will be rewarded in the next.  Let's say that his close-knit family taught him love: that they loved him, and encouraged him to love them and others.

 

It rather makes sense that such a pretty-much normal kid would not only enjoy other people, but want to actively help them: to love them, and perhaps be loved by them as well.  It's easy enough to see that even in western culture.  Factor in a religion that resulted in a culture of "doing right leads to reward" (instead of our own more-popular-in-the-west "believing right leads to reward") might yield a warm, friendly young man who is quick to help and slow to criticize.

 

Now the turning point.

 

Why a turning point?  Yes; it sounds cliche, but the fact of the matter is that we ordinary human beings are every day the sum total of our reactions to every situation we have experienced up to that very moment.

 

We are also terribly boring as adventure characters:

 

"Okay, Steve.  You come home from work.  It's been a horrible day: the boss has been crawling all over you about those TPS reports, and the numbers are way, way down."

 

"Do I have enough money for some weed and a hooker?"

 

"Nada.  You just paid the mortgage and the lights, and payday's still ten days off.  You could possibly do one or the other, but let's face it: nothing in your life has really prepared you for successfully purchasing either one."

 

"Okay.  Well I guess I'll go home and watch four-and-a-half hours of television."

 

"Television was pretty boring: it was mostly reruns, but you found a strange level of comfort from the familiarity of the dialogue.  Now you have to decide: are you going to shower first, or go straight to bed?"

 

"Not sure.  How's my deodorant doing?"

 

"Let me check....[rolls dice ominously]..."

 

See what I mean?

 

A 'turning point' doesn't really have to be as contrived as you might think: it's simply the point at which something happened that made this character react in a way that was counter to what the majority of people in that situation would have done.

 

For example, the majority of people who watched their parents get gunned down would probably have lived fearful lives, or dedicated a large chunk of their personal fortune to law-enforcement initiatives, or perhaps even joined the police force to help protect others from the same sort of thing.

 

But then there's the one nutjob who makes a bat costume and goes on extended jags of violence and wild destruction as his own coping mechanism.  You know: that whole "if you can't beat them, join them but do it in a way that lets you present yourself as being completely in the right" thing.

 

So...  what was the turning point for young Mr. Bāgha?

 

To find that out, we need to know a little tiny something about his background.   We don't really need a lot of detail, but we do need to set into motion some sort of situation in which becoming a policeman seemed like a good and right thing to do.

 

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So....

 

He grew up in a rural area, where there were no regular police stations or civic buildings.  Let's say he was rather poor.  Makes sense, as even today, rural India tends to run to the 'seriously destitute' end of the spectrum. 

 

His family lived well-- better than many others, but not wealthy or even 'middle class.'  His parents were vendors who set up a semi-permanent shop in his home village:  Ooh!  Let's have them be fishermen, because then I can google up all kinds of pictures of that part of India with the bayous and those neat trees with all the stilt roots!  Mangrove?  Is that right?

 

Okay, they were fishers and merchants, with a semi-permanent home in their village, where they would fish when the fishing was good, and they raised and sold fruits as well as they had the luxury of owning a small amount of land upon which they grew a small grove of fruit trees.

 

When fishing and fruiting were "off," they would travel the area a bit, setting up a kitchen along popular trade routes and twice a year they would take a stall in an urban bazaar to trade fabrics and clothing.

 

Okay: sounds like a really nice life for a poor kid: an idealized concept of high-end poverty.  Always enough money for food and bills and perhaps a fun thing or two now and again- perhaps a couple of small vacations during his life-- but nothing particularly "luxurious."  We can reinforce that by including that his family was well-off enough to afford a vehicle: an old Royal Enfield for which his father had fashioned a sidecar and trailer.  This allows for the modest travel of his family, and limits the scope of their trading operations to just what could be carried thusly.

 

Well done, Me.  If you see me before I do, pat myself on the back for you, would I?

 

So what would be the turning point in this life?

 

Bad guys, of course.  We know that most of these fictional heroic characters in stories of good-vs-evil become good guys as a response to finding their lives filled with too many bad guys.

 

Are his parents murdered?

 

No; that doesn't fit in with the idea of the character.  He doesn't have enough money to make bat-themed weapons.  Besides, something so incredibly horrible at a young age might shake his belief that there is an inherent goodness in mankind.

 

So whatever the turning point is, his parents have to be with him throughout-- and perhaps after-- to continue to reaffirm the idea that good action is its own reward.

 

Clearly, something pretty bad should happen.  Something relatively long-term, so that it makes sense it would follow him as a motivator.

 

Got it!

 

His village, near water for fishing and rural enough that a police "patrol" is a single man on a motorcycle every few weeks whose primary role is settling squabbles--

 

This is a _great_ place for a hideout of sorts:  lots of poor people who don't move around talking to other people, and precious few police.  Moreover, a place to anchor boats and perhaps even land a plane or two.

 

Cool.  Now we've got a couple of bones!  No story skeleton, but a couple of bones.

 

At some point in his youth, his village had to deal with some sort of organized crime.  It was this interaction that serves as the turning point for young Mister Bāgha.  

 

 

You know what?  Screw it.  Time to flesh this story out a bit.

 

 

    Lohit Bāgha  was a native Indian, born to native Indians of Bengali descent.  Like most third and fourth generation Bengali living in India, he grew up in what, to western eyes, would be abject poverty.  However, amongst the population of rural India, his family was remarkably well-off.  No one-- even the majority of urbanized Indians-- would have considered them fortunate, but the fact remains that while his family worked very hard, daily, to facilitate their lives, and while they had precious little by way of luxury, Lohit and his siblings never truly wanted for any basic needs, and lived slightly better than most of the others in his small village.

 

    During the three months before Lohit's birth, the area around his village had been suffering from unusual dryness, and the dust hung constantly in the air, giving the sun a bloody-orange cast and painting the moon nearly crimson in the summer sky.  His parents, not especially superstitious, but cautious enough, chose to give him the name "Lohit," or "reddish in hue."  

 

    Lohit was the third child and eldest son of nine siblings and was raised by his parents and his uncle Sādāē ("Whitey").  Sādāē was not his actual name, but a nickname that referred to his albinism.  Lohit-- and quite possibly no one in the village, save Lohit's parents-- ever knew Sādāē by any other name. 

 

    Lohit's small village was situated near the eastern borders of India against Bangledesh and was on the edge of the Ganges delta as it passed into the Sundabans.  Many families made their living here farming or fishing, and a few even did both.  Lohit's father was more entrepreneurial (unusual in a culture with perhaps the most oppressive caste system ever devised), spurred on perhaps by his brother-in-law's guidance.  What Whitey was unable to do in the fields he more than made up for with business acumen and financial leadership.

 

    Many of the people in Lohit's village lived and worked on the Chars formed by the annual floods; many Char-dwellers found themselves unable to leave the Chars simply because of governmental fear of illegal immigration: the shifting nature of the Chars leaves most Char-dwellers without a permanent residence, and unable to secure documentation from either nation.  Lohit's father and uncle had, over the years, helped many Char farmers secure documentation from one nation or another, and those who remained in the village tended to be very loyal to Lohit's family.  No one was ever so bold as to ask just how documentation was secured, and so far as anyone ever knew, no one had ever been asked to pay so much as a dry goat for the favor.

 

    This was typical of Lohit's parents: both were raised Hindi, but had lived under a heavy Buddhist influence.  Lohit and his siblings were raised to believe that all life was sacred, and that there is a fundamental "good" that dominates humanity.  Many times, it may appear that this goodness is missing from one individual or another, but more likely it is simply buried under fear or misplaced desire.  All good done in this life will be rewarded in the next, and the greatest good that anyone can do in this life is to bring out the goodness inherent in others.  This desire to do good by and for others may have been the sole motivator in helping many people secure the documents they needed to gain access to the workings of government, from simple health care to the feeling that casting a vote helps a person control his own destiny.

 

    Lohit's family had always fished when the waters were rich, just after the floods started to recede, and farmed the fertile soil left behind when the rivers were back in their beds.  They grew primarily legumes and potatoes on the driest parts of the Chars and cultivated rice around the boggy edges.  Sadate had shown Lohit's father, Biman, how to bank the soil of the outer Chars to provide dry ground for growing jute, from which the family would braid rope, weave fabric, or trade as raw fiber.

 

    When the rivers started to rise but were still placid, Biman would take his wife and the eldest daughters by boat to various small towns where they would set up shop vending and trading, bringing much-needed cash into the family.  When the waters began to drop, they would return in time for the peak fishing season.  Once the Chars could be planted, Biman and the women would load trade goods and dried foods onto their motorcycle and they would head for the trade roads, setting up kitchens at the busiest intersections.

 

    Life for Lohit and his family was always busy, but it was very good: his home was larger and in better repair than most in his village, and his family's diversity in their work allowed him a great deal more travel than most others in his village.  Further, the payoff for the never-ending work of his family resulted in a higher level of cash income than most of the other villagers.  Combined with the fierce loyalty of the many Char farmers who had gained a measure of citizenship through the actions of his family, and his family's embrace of the concept of helping others through good acts and kindness had made his family rather affluent.  Certainly, influence in a poverty-stricken area might be meaningless by more urban standards, but as a whole, life was good for the clan of Biman Bahga.

 

    Still, like most people, Lohit had daydreams of a more prosperous and glamourous life.  While he had seen many places and many people, most of the people he saw were very much like those people of his own village: fishers, farmers, traders-- those who travelled as work as opposed to those who travelled for the joy of travel.  The most glamourous thing Lohit ever saw was the lone motorcycle police officer assigned to his area.

 

    The officer was stationed four or five towns over, and rode a regular circuit that carried him to Lohit's little village every four or five weeks.  He would ride into town on a motorcycle much newer and in far better repair than the one owned by Biman Bahga.  There was no sidecar and no rattan baskets hung from the forks or rear fender.  There was no trailer in tow.  There was only a recently washed (if dusty from travel) motorcycle with fancy luggage and a light on a pole.  There was shiny chrome and beautiful paint.

 

    As he rode to town, children would begin to run alongside him, and he would slow and toot the horn repeatedly.  Then he would sway wide from one side of the dirt road to the the other until he would stop across the road, and help whatever lucky child he had stopped near clamber onto the back seat and he would take off again, with the light blinking and the siren howling the half mile or so to the well in the center of the village. 

 

    Here, he would park his motorcycle and hand the child a small bag, from which the child would throw small bits of wrapped candy to the other children as they ran to the well.  All the while the small man with the little belly would laugh and dance excitedly with the children.  Soon the adults would come; the candy would be gone, and business would begin.

 

    Lohit rarely chased the officer for the candy.  Certainly he would take it when it was tossed his way, and twice he had been lucky enough to ride on the back seat to the well and throw candies to his friends.  But candy wasn't what attracted him to the police officer.  Lohit was fascinated by the uniform.

 

    The policeman's uniform was always quite dusty from the ride, and his face and arms bore a day's grime.  But still, the creases were visible in the trousers and the starch of the collar usually held up well.  The buttons were all the same, and the shirt tucked perfectly into the waist of the pants.  The various badges and patches and insignia represented some sort of authority or power that Lohit did not yet fully understand, and he was fascinated by it.  He was perhaps the only child that stayed while the adults came forward to conduct their business with the officer.

 

    Such boring business, too.  Lohit knew from school and his parents that policemen captured criminals and brought them to justice, even if they had to spend weeks and weeks hunting for them.  Lohit knew that this was their way of protecting the rest of society from harm, and he understood the value of this job.  But clearly, there was no criminal in his village.  The policeman never came here to arrest a farmer or fisherman or to search for clues of a crime.  Certainly there were many reasons for this, most of which could be laid squarely on the simple fact that the people here were too poor to rob and too busy to rob someone else.

 

    Still, there were always minor disputes: goats grazing on a neighbor's land without compensation; damage done to a loaned fishing boat; debts not being paid according to schedule-- things of that nature.  There was no courthouse here (and just barely a need for one) and over the years the policeman had become sort of a traveling arbiter for small disputes owing to both his knowledge of the law and the inability of most of the villagers to find the means or the time to travel to a real judge.  He and the villagers had slowly come to an unspoken agreement that he would serve in this capacity so long as his decision was heeded, and they would abide by his decision so long as no formal arrests or complaints were made.

 

    This fascinated Lohit.  Not the unusualness of the situation, for it was the only situation he had ever known, but the idea that here was a man dressed in a fine uniform, clearly a powerful man, who had been charged by the government to help people.  This man who commanded so much respect actually made his living helping people, and his perpetual smile and chuckle were doubtless the result of the satisfaction that such a life must bring.

 

    Lohit dreamed of such a life: of wearing fine clothes and riding a fine machine and spending his days from sunup to sundown traveling the horizons helping people.  Surely this must be the most satisfying job in the world; the greatest way a man could spend his life.  Lohit never failed to marvel at the somber agreement of all the parties adjudicated by the officer, and never failed to notice that, even if they did not get the decision for which they had hoped, they nonetheless seemed happier simply to have come to a resolution.  Indeed, this was surely the greatest way that a man could hope to earn a living.

 

    From time to time, Lohit would discuss his dreams with Uncle Whitey.  Often they would sit in the shade of the door's awning in the evening, when the sun was waning.  Uncle Whitey wasn't particularly afraid of the sun, but he was always careful of himself.  When he had to venture out into the sun, he usually wore over his clothes a long heavy robe that dragged the ground slightly, and always wore full shoes over his feet lest they should peek out from beneath his robe while he was walking or working.  He looked almost like a religious figure, with his face hidden deep within the hood of his robe and his walking stick, always with him whenever he left the house: Uncle Whitey had a limp from an injury before Lohit's birth, and he said walking great distances tired him.  He was afraid if he fell he might strike his head; if he fell unconscious and his robe failed to cover him, exposure to the sun could be life-threatening.

 

    Still, in spite of his condition, Uncle Whitey loved the outdoors.  He would often sit in the shade and watch the children play, and was never far from Biman's side when there was work to do in the field.  Most of all, he loved to watch the last of the sunlight vanish from the day, and often he would sit under the porch awning and watch the children play until it was too dark to continue.  Many nights, if the sun was obscured and light enough remained, Sādāē would even lead the children in whirling dances, tiring them out until there were no complaints when it was time to get ready for bed.  

 

    More often than not, if Sādāē was sitting and watching, then Lohit would sit by his side and the two would talk long into the dark.  Sādāē had a special fondness for the boy, who was startlingly intelligent and markedly precocious for his age.  Lohit, for his part, enjoyed talking with Sādāē, who treated him as an equal of sorts during their talks.

 

    They had talked many times of Lohit's interest in becoming a policeman, and Sādāē had reminded him of his position in the family, and his responsibilities.  When it was clear that this was not just a passing fancy for Lohit, Sādāē would tell him of the perils of being a policeman, and even the difficulty associated with one of Lohit's social ranking trying to become a policeman: even the lowliest officer held a caste higher than that of Lohit's family.

 

    Still, Sādāē would tell him, hard work, earnestness, integrity, and money would go a long way toward making it at least possible.  Certainly it would take a great deal of money, but Sādāē assured Lohit that so long as it was his goal, and so long as he worked hard for it and never shirked his duties to his family and the village, then there was a good chance that he may one day become a police officer.

 

    When Lohit was seven years old, he saw his first airplane.  Strangers had come down the river just before the waters began to rise- many men in a great many boats.  They set up camps on some of the chars and worked late into the night with the goods from their boats, never venturing into the village and rebuking any approach by any of the villagers.  Then, one day while the waters were high, an airplane landed on the river.  It roared up the river, noisily crawling from char to char until it neared one of the strangers' camps, at which point it grounded itself up on the muddy soil and nine men got out.

 

    The airplane was something completely new to the villagers-- they knew about airplanes, of course, but none had ever been so close to one before-- and many boats began to drift cautiously toward it.  A score of the older children simply swam out toward the char, hoping to gain a better view of the airplane or perhaps talk to the pilot.

 

    Lohit had not gone to the plane: there had been many preparations to make that day.  Biman had gone, against Whitey's advice, and at the evening meal told a strange tale of unfriendly strangers with guns hanging from their shoulders menacing anyone who approached the char, warning them to tend to their own work and ignore what was going on in the chars.  Still, Biman had extended to the men an offer of a meal.  It was met with laughter and derision, yet Biman had not rescinded.  Whitey cautioned Biman to heed the men and not return to the chars, believing that they would be gone soon enough and life would return to normal.  He announced to the children that any of them going near any of the camped chars would be soundly whipped until any ounce of disobedience within them was rattled loose and forgotten.

 

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The airplane was gone the next day, but seven of the armed men remained behind.  Most of the first strangers loaded things into their boats and began to move back upriver, the boats much lighter with only a tiny fraction of the cargo they had held when they first arrived.  Most of the tents had been struck, but three tents remained on a single large char.  Life was almost immediately normal again, or close to it.

 

    The seasons changed, and the water receded and the time came to plant the chars.  Biman-- perhaps intentionally, or perhaps by luck of desirable soil and water currents-- had selected a large char adjacent to the camped char to begin to farm.  The first day, the strangers simply watched him.  The second day, they suggested-- menacingly-- that he would have better luck on a char further removed from them. 

 

    Biman smiled, thanked them for their concern, and told them that he felt his legumes and rice would do best here, and that perhaps when they were ready to harvest, the strangers might join the village in a feast.  The strangers simply repeated their belief that Biman's crops would meet with certain failure on that char.  Or the next.  Or any char adjacent to the one upon which they were camped, and quite likely on any adjacent to those.

 

    Biman wasn't an especially stubborn or proud man; he simply believed that left with no choice, people would naturally seek to get along.  He continued happily to farm the chars he had selected, and a few of the other villagers followed suit.

 

    It wasn't too much later than the chars most closely located to the camp burned completely.  Many of the farmers were devastated; the village as a whole was in shock.  Biman simply replanted while the other farmers moved further out from the camp.  Weeks later, Biman's crops burned again.

 

    Lohit was stunned.  It actually took him some time to wrap his mind around the idea that a group of men might intentionally do so much harm to others: Lohit's family was relatively fortunate in that they could survive with a bad harvest now and again, but many of the villagers would be reduced to beggar's portions before their next crops came in; many others might actually be reduced to begging.  He took to discussing it with Uncle Sadate, and for many, many nights it dominated their conversations.  

 

    Whitey, a few days into the conversation on the evils of men, knew that Lohit's beliefs and backgrounds would compel him to do something to right the injustice.

Late one afternoon, when the dust turned the sinking sun prematurely red, as he danced with the children, Sādāē saw Lohit approaching.  He merrily excused himself and begged them continue on without him.  He walked swiftly to meet his nephew, grabbed him firmly by the wrist and offered no explanation beyond the word "Come."  Obediently, Lohit followed.

 

    Sādāē led him to the river bank, where they climbed into the small boat Biman used to farm the chars and made their way to the swampy banyan forests and as far into them as they could move.  When they could no longer see or hear the village, Sadate stood up in the boat and gestured for Lohit to do the same.  "Today" he began firmly, "you learn to balance."

 

    "Uncle, I don't under--"

 

    Sādāē stomped violently on the side of the boat, rocking it in an instant to nearly swamping.  By reflex, Lohit spun and pivoted on one leg. using the momentum of the other to keep him upright.  As the boat settled, he swept his trailing leg low and in front of him, settling himself into a crouch.

 

    "You dance well, Little Cub!" Sādāē laughed.

 

    "Dance?!  You nearly sank the boat!"

 

    Sādāē stomped the edge of the boat again, this time, as it rocked back to right itself, he leaped onto the gunwale with both feet, forcing it to lurch back, further than it had before.  Lohit began to whirl again, and as he felt the second disturbance in his footing, knowing that he could not correct, he leapt into the air and rolled over, both legs flailing around in a tight circle.  When he touched down, the boat had settled and he spun off his excess momentum, landing lithely in a three-point crouch.  "Uncle have you lost your mind?!  Did you bring me out here just to force me to swim?"

 

    "No, Lohit.  I did not.  I brought you here to teach you to dance."

 

    "I know how to dance, Uncle.  I have danced all my life.  For as long as I can remember, you have danced with us.  But Uncle Sādāē, I do not see what dancing has to do with trying to throw me from a boat."

 

    Sādāē was a long time in responding.  He sat in the boat and exhaled a long, slow sigh.  "Lohit, I have taught you more than you know.  Your father, he would not approve of everything I have taught you and the other children, but dancing-- there is beauty in dancing, Lohit.  There is joy and celebration.  A village cannot harbor ill will when it dances together."

 

    "And this is why you love to dance?  Why you dance with us so often?"

 

    Whitey sighed again.  "Lohit, what do you know of fighting?"

 

    Lohit blushed slightly.  He knew more than he knew his parents would approve of.  Certainly he was no bully or thug, but he was a boy, and boys played rough, and sometimes they would fight.  He himself had been in a few fights.  Still, he was an obedient child who did his best to stay true to his beliefs and his teachings.  "Fighting is the last resort of those who will not open their minds to cooperation.  It is how the frustrated insulate themselves from the solution to their troubles."

 

    Sādāē laughed again.  "Very good, Lohit!  You sound just like your parents!"  There was no derision in his laughter; something had truly warmed his heart, and laughter was the only way he could express it.

 

    Lohit was confused by his uncle's reactions.  "There is wisdom in their words" he stated, a bit defensively.

 

    "Yes;" Sādāē grinned.  "there is a great deal of sage truth in their words and their teachings, Lohit, and it is my deepest hope that you and your brothers and sisters live your lives knowing that, and helping others to live as your parents do.  Your parents are beyond any question the most decent human beings I have ever known."  He paused here, almost as if considering whether to continue speaking.  When he began, his words were softer, nearly whispered.  "Your parents are the reason that thirty-five thousand people you nor they will ever meet are still alive.  It is a debt I will spend the rest of my life repaying."  He simply stared at the bottom of the boat for some time.  

 

    Lohit tried to digest his uncle's words and alien demeanor, but only made himself more puzzled.  He opted to wait for Sādāē to speak again.

 

    "Little Cub, I must ask you to keep a grave secret."

 

    "Any secret that can harm a man or his spirit is best not shared, Uncle.  You know that."

 

    "This is a different kind of secret, Lohit.  There is no malice in it.  It is simply a truth that has never been told, and must never be told if I am to repay a debt.  However, Lohit, it is a truth that I want you to hear while I am able to share it, for I doubt that your parents ever will reveal it to you.”

 

    "A grave secret, Uncle?"

 

    "It is not harmful; it is not earth-shaking.  Calling it that is my little joke.  You see, Lohit, it is a secret that one of us must take to the grave.  If it is me, then you will be able to share it one day.  If it is you…  Well, if it is you, then I fear I have failed in keeping a vow to myself."

 

    "I promise you as my own blood that I will share this secret with no one, Uncle."

 

    "That is the secret, Lohit.  That is it completely."

 

    Lohit stared, waiting.

 

    "I am your Uncle Whitey, your mother's albino brother.  However, Lohit, I am not your mother's brother.  Nor am I your father's brother.  I am, so far as I have ever known, brother to no man.  I am not even Bengali, Lohit."

 

    Lohit was both confused and stunned.  This was a very complex joke, or a poorly-thought-out prank.

 

    "It's true, Lohit.  I am not even an albino."

 

    "But your skin, Uncle---"

 

    "I am a white man, Lohit.  As fate would have it, I have always been very fair complected, even for one of white skin.  My hair is pale beyond blond, but I must treat it with chemicals to strip it to brittle yellow that you know it to be."

 

"This is not the same--"

 

    "Please, Boy; let me finish.  Thank you.  As I said, I am not Bengali.  I am Siberian, Lohit-- a 'Russian' to most people's way of thinking.  I was once called upon to carry out a grave injustice.  That is how I met your parents.  

 

    "I had never known people quite like your parents.  In a very short time, they made me question my beliefs and taught me many things about people that I had never truly believed before.  I was to carry out a military strike that would have resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, Lohit.  I am not proud of that.  However, the things your parents made me see--- it changed who I was inside.  I could not do it.  I sabotaged the mission so that it could not be carried out, warned the targets, and fled here with your parents.  In time, your parents wed and started a family.  I have been unable to do so, as there is a bounty upon me even to this day.  Yet I have proudly served your parents and helped them prosper as best they will let me.  I owe them no less for the life they have given me."

 

    "They made you an albino?" 

 

    Sādāē laughed.  "No, Son!  They could not do such a thing.  That was my own devising.  As I said, I was always very fair, and I would have stood out like a beacon amongst the people of this village.  Certainly it would be madness to hide here.  That, Lohit, is why this was the perfect place to hide.  And of course, if you're hiding, you should never stand out.  That is why I have gone to such measure to stand out.  Surely such an oddity cannot be a man in hiding, eh?"  he winked.

 

    "I find the sun in this region unpleasant, even after all these years of being in it.  It burns even your skin when you are not mindful of it; it positively crisps mine.  I realized that should I simply shield myself from it at all opportunity, I would become even more pale as months went by.  And it is simplicity itself to bleach my hair.  Perhaps I could live better if I went off on my own journey, but I feel compelled to remain with your parents and help them with their family."

 

    "But your eyes, Uncle.  Surely you cannot bleach them pink!"

 

    "I cannot.  However, pink they are.  In my youth, they were as clear and grey as river ice, but that was before I was chosen...." his voice trailed off into some buried memory, snapped back almost instantly "The color they are today is the result of one of many things I endured during my previous life, Lohit.  Fortunately, it doesn't stand out on an albino, does it?" he winked again.

 

    "I do not know that I can accept-- or even understand-- what it is you are saying to me, Uncle, but I believe both that it is the truth and that it should remain a secret within my family--"

 

    "No, Lohit!  It must remain a secret between you and me.  Your parents know my secret, of course, but they must never know that you know it.  If they did, they may more closely scrutinize the things I do to protect them and your village."

 

"I do not understand.  Do you still fight, Sādāē?  Do you conspire to kill others?"

 

    "No, Lohit.  I only dance."  He said, happily.  "I dance with the children, and teach them all I know of dancing.  I race with the children, and when the sun allows it, I play sports with them.  I teach them many games that they enjoy, and dances that they will perform for themselves just for the entertainment."  He smiled, seeing the children dancing in his mind.

 

    "You fear that my parents would not let you dance?"

 

    "Lohit, what do you know of the dervish?"

 

    "The Sufi Muslims?  They have a spiritual tradition that includes an energetic spinning dance as part of their prayer ritual."

 

    "This is true.  And this is why your parents tolerate my incessant dancing with the children: there are many Muslims in our village, and most see it as nothing more than sport that suits well into their beliefs.

 

    But the Sufi and the Mevlev are not the only Darvesh to have walked the earth.  While their dancing ritual is at least seven centuries old, at one time, there were many dervish upon the earth.  In this part of the world, the Hashashin used a frenetic whirling dance as a tool of assassination; closer to my own people, the Gypsies of Romania were once fierce warriors feared for their own powerful and quick spinning attacks.  Even today, Cuopera, an elegant spinning dance, is rooted in a powerful fighting technique used by shackled slaves to overthrow their masters."

 

    "And the dances you teach us...?"

 

    "Are the rudiments of many, many fighting techniques, Lohit."

 

    The boy looked shocked and disgusted at the same time; the taint he felt upon himself was plain on his face.

 

    "No, Lohit.  I have not poisoned anyone's spirit.  Such a thing isn't possible: no man can ever be made evil if he isn't willing to be.  And as I said: all of these things have become beautiful dances.  A root in violence doesn't not prevent something from transcending it.  You're a Bhuddist, Lohit.  You of all people should be able to accept that."

 

    The boy remained silent for a long time, pondering everything the cloaked man before him had revealed.  The boat lurched from beneath him, snapping him back to reality.  Even before his focus returned fully to the world, he saw a blur heading for him.  Already bending backwards to keep his balance, he let himself collapse into a back stretched arch, falling down onto his extended arms as the boat oar his uncle swung flushed a rush of wind and a stream of water across his face, missing him by inches.  He drew his arms in and threw his feet skyward, wrapping Sādāē's forearm between his calves and levering the boat oar from his hands with a quick twist as he continued on through his impromptu backflip, both to defend himself and to distance himself from a close family member turned crazed homicidal stranger.  As he cleared vertical, he coiled and sprang back, completing his flip and springing up to his feet---

 

    nearly three feet beyond the bow of the boat.  He landed perfectly, save there was nowhere to land.  As he darted into the water, Sādāē laughed loudly and extended a hand to help him back into the boat.

 

    "You move beautifully, Lohit; like the tiger for which your great-grandfather was named.  Your balance is impeccable, and your reactions are swift, built on good instincts.  But you need to be more aware of your surroundings if you are to become a good fighter; combat uses many dance floors."

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    The boy spit dirty water from his mouth as he shook it from his face and hair.  He stood in the neck-deep water and defiantly proclaimed "I need to be aware of nothing more than the evil that seems to dwell forever in even my closest loved ones!  I need to know nothing of fighting, for I will not do it.  Violence is the worst way to gain accomplishments, Uncle.  I will not become like so many other unfit simpletons, using violence and fear to take what they want from others.  Violence has no purpose other than to create disharmony in the community.  It takes a fool to wield it like a club.  No matter what comes of my life, I will not be a brutal, foolish, disharmonious simpleton, taking what I will and throwing fear and threats at others for my own amusement."

 

    Sādāē seemed both furious and disappointed.  He roared a grunt of frustration then spoke to the boy, voice strained and urgent.  "You are absolutely right! You are right; your mother is right; your father is right!  Violence is the poorest choice of tool!  You cannot use it as a plow, for it is a hammer!  But Lohit, will you please listen to me-- listen more openly than does your father-- and accept that while violence is the last resort of the selfish, so too is it a shield!  It is the shield that protects society from those who wish to use it as a lever!"

 

    "Violent action has never brought happiness to a people!  Not once!"

 

    "But it has protected all people at one time or another."

 

    "No empire built on violence has proven itself permanent; all are gone or are going."

 

    "Because violence has stopped those empires from continuing on!"

 

    "Precisely!  What one group seizes by force, another group sees as being accessible through force!"

 

    "Violence from _outside_, Lohit.  Violence from outside has stopped these empires."

 

    The boy blinked, confused for a moment.  "I do not see the difference: violent action is violent action.  Something is either right or it is wrong."

 

    "That is your father talking, Lohit. That is because you are still a child, and painting the world with simple colors using broad strokes.  You are looking at violence as one all-inclusive equal thing.  There are, in fact, three faces of violence."

 

    "Explain yourself."

 

    "Simplicity itself, Lohit," he stated as he hauled the boy grudgingly back into the boat.  "There is the first face of violence, the one with which everyone is familiar because everyone fears it.  This is violence as a fast and cheap way to seize all that you can hold.  Fighting, killing, destruction for the simple purpose of eliminating an obstacle or getting what you want when you want it.  It allows you to take what you will without having to accept the needs or desires of others, and keeps you from having to learn the thoughts and ideas of those who differ with you: your opinion rules and your sword makes your opinion truth."

 

    "That is the nature of violence, Sādāē.  That is why it runs counter to harmony.  However, at the end of the day, no matter how many swords you wield, only the truth can be the truth.  That is the undoing of conquest through violence."

 

    "Does it matter?  Does it matter if your ideas are completely backwards to the universe if the ten thousands under your rule all agree to pretend that the truth is whatever you determine it to be?  What does it matter if you are the worst dancer in the world if all the ladies of your court compete to dance with you and boast forever of your skill?

 

    "This, youngling, is the second face of violence: fear.  Once you have shown yourself willing to grasp violence and swing it as a hammer to smash everything in your path, those in your path will forever fear that you may use it on them.  Your conquests are maintained by fear; your rule is maintained by fear.  You will never have respect, but there are so many for whom that does not matter: they have lived so long in fear of something that simply having the fear of someone else is good enough.  Many do not even know the difference.

 

    "This is the reason most people hate violence.  Certainly, the reasonable man has no use for it simply because it denies cooperation, community, harmony-- but most people, they hate violence because they fear it will be used on them, and they are not strong enough to realize that they, too, could wield it in defense of themselves.  As most people do not choose violence as their first option, they tend to picture themselves as the victims of someone who does.  No one wishes to live in fear.  Sadly, many of them-- forgive me, Lohit, but your father himself is one-- are so consumed with the idea that violence equals destruction, disharmony, and fear that they forget the third and most important face of violence."

 

    "Uncle, the 'second face' you talk about is nothing but the end result of what you are calling the first face.  Considering it somehow different is nothing but a perversion of words--"

 

    "Not at all, Boy.  Not at all.  You see, the second face _is_ the end result: it is the memory of how violence was applied, and nothing more.  When violence is used as a weapon, the victim remembers being a victim, and will always place himself in the position of victim when in the presence of his tormentor.  But the third face of violence is the most pure, even by your own standards."

 

    "You will not pervert my understanding, Uncle.  In spite of everything you have told me, I know that you are not a person other than the one I have always known, and so I love you and respect you as I always have, but I will not let that respect cloud my belief.  There is absolutely no situation in which it is preferable to attack another person."

 

    "No, Son.  There is not.  However you, as your father before you, and many, many thousands of others before and after him, are failing to accept one simple basic law of human nature!"

 

    "What law is that?  Surely you don't suggest that it is natural for all men to secretly wish to harm others?"

 

    "No; of course not.  However, it is an easy-to-grasp fact that all men are different.  That some men are more greedy than others.  That some are more aggressive than other.  That some men are simply too greedy, too self-centered, too unwilling to yield to consider mutual concession?  That some men are too easily frustrated to ever rise above their baser instincts?"

 

    "I see where you are going, Uncle.  You cannot tell me that it is okay to force yourself onto others simply because they are stupid or uneducated or easily frustrated--"

 

    "No, Boy!  No!  That is _not_ what I am saying!  Listen, Lohit, time is short, and I am now begging you to _please_ listen with a more open mind than does your father:

 

    "There are those in the world who will resort to violence.  There are likely as many reasons as there are people who will do it, but it can all boil down to a combination of personal weakness, greed, frustration, and an unwillingness to bend as the wind requires.  These are the people who will always see violence as a perfectly reasonable option to achieve their goals."

 

    "So you believe that it is perfectly acceptable to give them the violence they seek.  To meet violence with violence.  I disagree."

 

    "It is not only acceptable, Lohit, it is _necessary_."

 

    "How can you say that?  You know as well as I that violence solves nothing!  You yourself taught me of Ghandi and many great men who solved great tensions with discussion, by meeting the vital needs of those of who squabbled and convincing them to differentiate between their needs and their desires--"

 

    "Child, I am not saying that it is _ever_ correct to deal violence to anyone.  I am saying, simply, that there are those people from whom violence is the only acceptable defense-"

 

    "Violence is never a defense, Uncle!  It leads only to more and more violence-"

 

    "Lohit!  Calm yourself.  What I am trying to tell you will be difficult for you to hear if you insist on picking out only those things to which your parents have taught you to object!  No please, for your uncle Whitey, sit quietly and listen to _all_ my words and the ideas they express.  Absorb them; study what I say.  Then, and only then, should you speak."  He waited a few moments for the boy's reaction.

 

    Lohit calmed himself, the effort of absorbing his uncle's complex ideas showing clearly on his face.  Finally he exhaled, drooped his shoulders, and announced with more tranquility than he felt and more maturity than his years should have allowed "I'm ready, Uncle Sādāē."

 

    "Very well then.  Lohit, I must first ask you a question."  He pointed to one of the chars that shielded them from the view of the river.  It's bank was unusually high, owing to the back-cut of the water currents and banyan roots that  spread out from this part of the river bank.  “Do you see the bluff of that char?”

 

    "I do, Uncle."

 

    "Can you climb that bank, Little Cub?"

 

    "No, Uncle.  The bank is too high and steep and the mud too soft."

 

    "And if I told you that there was a great treasure atop that char, would you then want to get to the top?"

 

    "Yes, I would, Uncle."

 

    "Would you let the steep bank hinder you, and leave the treasure there?"

 

    "No, Uncle.  I would find a way to climb that bank."

 

    "What do you suggest, Lohit?  How should we scale that bank and retrieve the treasure?"

 

    "The bank seems to be scarcely four meters, and there are the tops of trees and roots near its crest.  We could throw ropes to the trees and scale the ropes.  Or perhaps we could raise a ladder from the boat, if we anchor securely bow and stern."

 

    Sādāē paused for a moment, to ensure that the young boy was focusing on his plans to scale the bank.  "Those are both remarkable ideas, Lohit.  But suppose we try them.  Suppose we bring ropes and ladders only to find that we are still two meters from reaching our goal?  Suppose the ladder is too short, and the ropes not long enough to return down so that we can secure them?"

 

    "Then we should find longer ropes, of course!" the young boy brightened, happy to abandon the world-shaking talk of violence as a necessity and focus instead on this new game.

 

    "I agree; longer ropes certainly seem to be in order.  But suppose we return to our home and braid our ropes into longer, heavier lengths and return to this bank.  We throw our ropes, only to find that the floods have pushed up more mud and the waters have receded and the bank is now three meters higher than before?"

 

    "Then we should lengthen our ropes again!  We can tie them together right here in the boat  We could tie strings to rocks and use the strings to pull up the heavy ropes!"

 

    "A wonderful idea, Boy!  Suppose, though, that as we began pulling up our ropes, the bank rose until it was again two meters longer than our ropes?"

 

    "Uncle," began the boy, puzzled, "I do not understand this game."

 

    "Let me ask you another question, Lohit.  Suppose I told you that there was great treasure atop this char, and when you looked up, the bank was ten thousand meters high?"

 

    "It would be impossible to get the treasure!  No one could scale a mud face of such height!  I do not think that mud can even be stacked so high as ten meters, let alone the cliff you're talking about!"

 

    "Lohit, I swear to you, there _is_ great treasure atop this very char.  I swear upon all the love I have for your family, and all the love that you have for me that upon the top of this char is the greatest treasure I can ever hope to give you."  He paused again, waiting for his words to sink in.

 

    "I do not understand, Uncle.  The chars shift with every flood and drought.  How have you managed to keep treasure hidden in such conditions?"

 

    "You will have to get to the top; you will have to see the treasure that I have prepared for you.  I had planned to wait until you were older, but recent events, and the fact that you are on the cusp of something that will determine your path in life, have convinced me that it is now time to pass it on to you."

 

    The boy was apprehensive.  "I don't understand.....   Why would you give me treasure?  Why would you stay here if you had treasure?  What have I done to deserve unearned wealth?  You don't make sense, Uncle!"

 

    "Lohit, it is nothing you have done; it is what you will do.  It is who you are.  Now come; let's get up to the top."

 

    The older man watched with amusement as his adopted nephew spent the next two hours and then some trying to scale the short mud cliff.  True to the boy's earlier prediction, the mud was too steep and too soft to allow it to be climbed.  Exhausted and filthy, the boy finally quit, his frustration plain.  "Uncle, it is not possible....  there can be no treasure up there....  you could not have climbed up there, especially with your stick, too...."

 

    The older man simply smiled.  "Lohit, you are almost there.  You must continue to try."

 

    Obediently, but with a clear prediction that the task was hopeless, the boy set half-heartedly back to his task.  "Uncle!"  he called out.

 

    "Yes, Lohit?"

 

    "Perhaps we _should_ go back to the village, and find a ladder or some rope?"

 

    "When we return, Lohit, it will be as I said: the top of the bluff will have grown two more meters.  Our ropes will always be almost long enough; long enough to make us believe that if we just had a bit more, we could make it."

 

    The boy slid back down into the water and rolled onto his back against the slick mud.  "Then Uncle, there is no hope."

 

    "Lohit, I made it up there.  I left your legacy atop this very char."  he smiled slyly.

 

    Lohit thought for a bit.  He looked up at the sky, staring to get a bit darker where it streaked through the banyan canopy.  "Then there must be some other way."

 

    Sādāē beamed; his face split and his voice roared with joy.  "Well of _course_ there is, Lohit!  Of course there's another way!  And it's much easier, as well!"

 

    Angry, Lohit turned to him "Then why did you not tell me?  Why did you let me strain and fail and get completely filthy with mud?!  Why have you let me stay here all afternoon doing something so stupid?!"

 

    Sādāē roared another belly laugh-- no derision, but pure joy.  "Because, Little Tiger, you kept trying the short path ahead of you."

 

    "You make no sense, Uncle."

 

    "Then come, Lohit; get in the boat and I will pole us around to the other side."  The boy swam slowly, rolling in the water in an attempt to wash away what clumps of mud he could, then climbed in the boat.

 

    As his uncle poled the small boat around the char, Lohit could see that on the side less exposed to the river the bank had not been washed as abruptly.  It tapered nearly completely into the water.  He could also see that it was not truly a char as he knew them to be, but simply a bit of the river bank that the flood waters had cut through as they receded, leaving this piece separated by a section just large enough to pole the boat through.  Even then, the banyans had not given up.  Their massive roots bridged the gap overhead, completely hiding the small boat.

 

    Sādāē grounded the boat, and two strolled leisurely up the gentle slope into the copse of banyans.  The older man made sure to lead the boy near the bluff edge that he had so fruitlessly tried to scale.  "So" spoke Lohit "tell me of my treasure, Uncle.  Is it a statuette?  A gem?  Coins?"

 

    Sādāē spread his arms wide about him.  "It is this, Lohit.  It is this place, and your future."

 

    The boy clearly did not comprehend.  Sādāē continued, unperturbed.  "In this place, Lohit Baga, I shall train you.  I shall prepare you for your future."

 

    "My future, Uncle?"

 

    "You wish to be a policeman, do you not, Lohit?  You wish to spend your life helping those who cannot help themselves?"

 

    "You know I do, Uncle."

 

    "Then I shall train you to be the best policeman that I can.  But to do that, Lohit, you must at all times be a protector, and to truly be a protector, you must understand the violence that you have been taught to abhor."

 

    "I understand violence, Uncle, and there is no place for violence in a just society.  Violence cannot protect; it can only destroy."

 

    "Lohit, I tried to make you understand the third face of violence.  I could not.  But perhaps your exercise in getting to this point, up here, will help you to understand.

 

    "You knew that you could not scale the bluff.  Yet you tried.  Why did you try?"

 

    "The more I looked at it, the more it seemed that it might be possible.  You yourself said that you had been up here."

 

    "But you failed, did you not?"

 

    "I came very close, a couple of times!" he defended.

 

    "And that was the problem."

 

    "The problem was that the mud was too soft and slick."

 

    "The problem was that even though you never quite made it to the top, you came close enough to believe that with just a tiny bit more effort, you might make it.  So you tried, over and over again, you tried."

 

    The boy said nothing, but stood sheepishly.

 

    "When did you make it to the top, Lohit?"

 

    "When I quit climbing the bluff, and we came to this side of the char."

 

    "Precisely.  And so it is with violence, Lohit."

 

    "I keep saying that I don't understand, and you keep answering with things that I do not understand much better, Uncle.  No riddles, please.  I will listen to you.  Explain to me what you mean with the third face of violence."

 

    The older man spent a few minutes composing his thoughts, trying to break his ideas into concepts the child might more readily grasp.  "The third face of violence, Lohit, is discipline.  It is rebuke."

 

    "Everyone knows that, Uncle.  Any action rewarded with an unpleasant punishment--"

 

    "It is more than discipline, Lohit.  It is complete and total rebuke.  Denial.  It is the unquestionable rejection of an action or school of thought.  It is like your mud bluff, Lohit.  With the bluff, you came so very close that you continued to try, no matter how many times you failed.  You began to wonder about ropes and ladders and other things that you could add to your plan to scale the bluff so that ultimately you might be able to do it.

 

    "It never once occurred to you to abandon your behavior and try something completely different.  Why?  Because none of the rejection you were given was so thorough as to remove from your mind all doubt that you could not succeed in your methods.  Each attempt got you closer.  You never made it, but you continued to get closer, and each time you failed you were bolstered by how close you had gotten.

 

    Now imagine, Lohit, if that bluff had been not four meters, but ten thousand meters.  If I had stood you before such a bluff-- ten thousand meters high-- and told you that should you scale it, you could claim whatever treasure I had to offer you, would you have struggled so powerfully against the first four, time and time again?"

 

    "Well of course not.  Knowing that I could not make it four meters would prove I could not make it so many more!"

 

    "And that is the third face of violence, Lohit: rebuke.  Protection.  Denial."

 

    "How is that violence?"

 

    "Of itself, it is not.  But violence as a tool to protect others-- when used thusly, it _must_ be absolute.  You see, Lohit, there are many, many undesirable things in the world today, and there are many people who see violence as a tool to take what they want, as we discussed earlier."

 

    "Are not these men met with violence?  From police?  From armies?"

 

    "They are; they are indeed.  But not in any useful way.  They are in reality, little more than kept in check.  You see, civilized people want to believe that they and their society is somehow above violence, and over many generations have placed rules upon themselves about the sort of violence that they will use even to protect themselves.

    

    "Those rules, Little Cub, are the reason that they will never stop the violence that is used against them.  The violence directed toward them they meet in kind, both in type and in measure.  They simply resist, and they do so as equally as possible.  Much like your river bluff, you see."

 

    "No, Uncle.  I do not."

 

    "Lohit, you continued over and over again to scale the bluff because while you never succeeded, you never failed badly enough for you to decide it was impossible.  The same goes with the violence that is used to 'protect' society from the violence outside of it.  Society will not allow itself respond in such force as to demonstrate conclusively to those who would attack that their behavior will not be allowed.  

 

    "When violence is used to protect, Lohit; it must be absolute."

 

    "Absolute?!"

 

    "Killing is wrong, Lohit, even in the worst of times, and even thoughI learned that many years too late, I do not pretend that it is ever right.  I am not telling you that violence must be carried to its ultimate end.  What I am saying is that any force set up against a violent attack or action must -- and there can be no doubt there, Lohit-- it _must_ be so clearly competent, so absolutely undeniably impenetrable and irresistible as to _force_ those who would use violence as a tool to accept that they have chosen the worst, least-effective possible method for achieving their goals."

 

    "I believe I am starting to understand you, Uncle but I do not know that I agree with you."

 

    "Right now, you do not; I have no doubt.  But in time, when you enter the world, think of what I have said to you.  Remember that violence as a shield _is_ effective, but it is only effective when the violence offered in resistance is more than capable of completely crushing of the initial attack.  There are those who _will_ choose violence.  It is easy and seductive.  They must be shown that violence will not work.  The only way to do that is to offer such a level of violence in return as to make them understand that they have no chance pursuing that path.  They must be _forced_ to look for some other way of meeting their goals."

 

 

 

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    "Is this not how wars begin?  Violence getting bigger and bigger until countries are killing hundreds of soldiers every day?"

 

    "No, Son.  That is the result of the way society handles violence today: the constant reassurance that violence will win if one tries 'just a little bit harder' and 'with a few more guns'.  I am talking about offering an absolute, insurmountable resistance:  a mud bluff ten thousand meters high."

 

    "I don't understand."

 

    "Lohit, come.  Come here, and knock your uncle down."

 

    It took a great deal of coaxing and explaining, but eventually Lohit understood that Sādāē was trying to prove a point, and it was best demonstrated through wrestling.  Lohit moved in quickly, and without knowing exactly how, found himself flat on his back.  He tried many more times, all with the same results.  "Uncle, I'm tired.  Please, let's go back to the village.  I need to bathe, and it's late.  We haven't done any chores today."

 

    "Of course, Lohit.  We shall return home and do our chores.  If time permits, perhaps we may even find time to dance."

 

    "I do not think I feel like dancing."

 

    Lohit spent several days thinking over what his uncle had tried to teach him and reconcile it with what he believed in his heart to be true.  'When you correct a child,' he reasoned, 'you must back that correction with a steadfast refusal to allow any tantrum to work, or else you have failed to correct the child.  You have only taught him to carry his bad behavior further to gain his goal.'  He pondered on it from this angle for a few afternoons and at last made up his mind to at least hear his uncle out again, from the beginning, and see if his ideas did indeed contain some grain of value.

 

    Just as he made up his mind to speak again to his uncle, gunfire rang through the village.  Lohit snapped to attention and even before he had gained his feet the adults and many of the children were racing for the docks.  Bihman Bahga's crops, replanted and not yet well-leafed were again ablaze.  The bow of his boat was held out of the river by the rope mooring it to one of the small village docks.  It had been riddled with bullets and ruined.  Four men stared back from the camp on the chars, waving their rifles.  "The chars are our business.  There is nothing for you here."

 

    Lohit was stunned.  Nothing in his life had prepared him for such malicious and treacherous actions.  His mind reeled and he felt unsteady.  He felt a weight on his shoulder and his head lolled absently toward it.  His eyes found Sādāē's hand on his shoulder and slowly his mind cleared.  His uncle's eyes burned into his.  Lohit simply stared back into his uncle's gaze and nodded.

 

 

    The next week the policeman came.  Lohit didn't even notice.  He had spent every free moment away from chores and lessons with his uncle, in secret, learning that what he thought he knew about violence and the skills of war wasn't even enough to qualify him as naive.  On the one hand, he was awed at the skills, prowess, and knowledge of his uncle.  On the other, he was terrified at the very same skill and prowess that his uncle demonstrated.

 

    "Why, Uncle?  Why do you have all this horrible power within you and not use it?  What is it like to fight against the rage inside you, daily controlling your urge to kill?"

 

    Sādāē threw back his head and laughed.  "Lohit," he chuckled, "you do not understand yet what I have been trying to teach you.  Believe me, there is no longer any hatred in me, and I can honestly say that I've never had a true desire to bring about the end of another man's life.  Having the ability to do so does not mean having the desire, any more than holding a shovel makes you want to dig a hole.  In fact, it doesn't even guarantee the _will_ to do such a thing should you truly have to!

 

    "No, Son.  You still misunderstand.  As you are learning from me what your parents cannot and will not teach you, I learned from them what they have already taught you and what they taught me before you:  Violence is _not_ a means to an end.  However, I know-- from my own life and the history of the human race-- that it still has unparalleled power as a defense and as a tool to lead others _away_ from it.  But know this:

 

    "It will only work as an effective tool so long as it is delivered without hate, without retribution, and without the slightest hesitation.  It must be used as a fence to lead a simple animal to a gate, though which it may enter and be warmly accepted.  It must be delivered with care and genuine compassion.  It is difficult to explain to one so young, but if-- 

 

    The old man stopped, struck with a fresh inspiration.  "Lohit, you know that your parents love you, and that everything they do to and for you they do for the purpose of making you the best person that they can make you."

 

    "I know."

 

    "Think of the times that they have done things that have pained you: when you slipped away from your chores and played with your friends until well after supper, you were made to do your chores and go to bed without supper."

 

    "I remember, Uncle." he said, sourly.

 

    "Do you think that they did this to hurt you?"

 

    "No, Uncle.  I know better.  At least, I do now."

 

    "And have you stayed away beyond supper even a single evening since?"

 

    "Well yes!  ...but not without asking permission first...." he added sheepishly.

 

    "And have you slipped away from your chores since?"

 

    "Sometimes.  But not often."

 

    "And when you do?"

 

    Lohit laughed.  "I am given good reasons to not do it again!"

 

    "That is guidance, Lohit.  It is hurtful until you understand the importance of the guidance.  And that is what I speak of:  When you deliver violence, it must never be for malice, lest you become what you defend others against.  It must never be to cause humiliation or suffering.  It must at all times be exclusively to protect others.  It is wrong to force your will onto another, Lohit, and when you master violence, it becomes very easy to do.  I know this.  I know it well.

 

    "Which brings me to the other thing that you must always remember: you cannot give in to the temptation to use violence to push back.  You must never try to force another to adopt a certain behavior.  You must only use violence to stop a behavior, to defend others from violent actions.  When you use power, Lohit, use it only to send the clear point that intolerable action ends with you.

 

    "Further, you must use your power absolutely.  Remember the lesson of the mud bluff, Son.  You must never leave your opponent wondering if he might succeed should he try violence again, with greater force.  Every bluff you build must always be ten thousand meters high.  Leave no question that your defense is impenetrable, and that there is nothing but madness in trying again."

 

    The two talked and sparred more and the hour grew late.  As they walked back home for mealtime, the entire village was far busier than it should have been.  Talk and talkers raced from group to group as Bihman Bagha stood by the well and patiently waited for the people to settle.  Sādāē set Lohit on the path to his house and wandered over to talk to his 'brother-in-law.'

 

 

    Lohit was vibrating with excitement when the men came home some hours later.  He listened to them talk, unable to hear all their whispered words, but catching enough to piece together the day's events.

 

    When the policeman arrived, the townspeople were quick to point out their behavior, their threats, the burning crops, and the destruction of Bihman's now-nearly-repaired boat.  The policeman had gone out to the chars to speak to them; a small handful of men from the village had gone as well.  The men were met at gunpoint, threatened, mocked-- one man had been hit in the chest with the butt of a rifle and suffered broken ribs.  The policeman was given the choice of a painful death, or a regular payment in exchange for keeping the villagers— and other policemen-- away from the operation.

 

    Lohit was crushed to learn that the policeman had accepted.  When he did so, the men with him left, cast off for the village without him, forcing him to wade and swim back to the shore.  None would look at him, and there was no doubt that whatever respect they had for him was now forever lost.  Lohit himself was heartbroken.  He never really knew the man, but had always imagined what an honor such a noble life was, and he could not imagine throwing it away for scraps of money.  'Could not the policeman have simply returned with more police?  Was it not their job to protect society from people like the men on the chars?'

 

    The next morning Bihman and Sādāē rose even earlier than was their custom.  Had Lohit not come into the habit of waking well before sunrise to practice what his uncle had last taught him, he likely would not have known.  They headed to the docks, and he followed behind them.  As they approached the river, they were joined by a handful of other men carrying scythes and hooks and shovels.  Bihman chided them their implements and forbade them to follow until they laid down their arms.

 

    When Bihman stepped into a boat, Lohit leaped out from the men in the group and climbed into the boat with him.  "Lohit!"  Bihman reprimanded him sternly.  "This is no place for you.  There may be danger where we are going."

 

    "Father!  I wish to come!  I wish to help!  You have taught me always to face my problems and those problems of others that I have agreed to share as my own.  This is my home, Father, and I wish to a part of all that goes with keeping it safe!"

 

    "Lohit!" he father snapped angrily.

 

    "Bihman."  Sādāē said softly, a cold resolute promise in his tone.  Bihman Bagha looked at his old friend.  Lohit watched in amazement as his uncle's eyes, unseen under the cloak he wore even at this early hour, suddenly glowed with a pinkish light.  "He _will_ be safe."

 

    Bihman's face sobered.  He said nothing for a moment, then nodded.  "Very well, my son.  This is your home, as you say.  You may join us."

 

 

 

 

 

    The boats left the dock as soon as the sun had risen clearly.  Bihman was resolute that their advance not look like an attack.  He merely wished to meet with the men on the chars.  Sixteen armed men waited on the bank of the char.  "That's enough.  It's time for you to turn back and return to your goats and your huts.  There is nothing here for you."

 

    Bihman stood.  "I am Bihman Bahga, and I will come to stand on the land I have farmed all my life.  We are not armed, but have come to speak."

 

    "We can hear you well enough from your boats."

 

    "I will speak to your leader, and on dry land."

 

    Confused, or perhaps amused at what they took to be ignorant arrogance, they beckoned the boats ashore.  By the time they had dragged the boats out of the water, two more men-- one in a miltary-style outfit, and clearly the leader; another man-- large and directly flanking him at all times-- had appeared.  The leader grinned.  "You amuse me, fisherman.  What business do you think you would have with me on my island?"

 

    "My name is Bihman Bahga.  My village has entertained your company for longer than has been welcome.  It is time for you to leave this place."

 

    The man in the fatigues was suddenly less amused.  "Listen to me, peasant.  I am Colonel Fatuk Hareem Jael, and these are my most trusted men.  In our years, we have killed far more dangerous opponents than the rag-covered filth that stands before me now.  We will stay here until we are done here, and we will be back the moment we feel like returning, and it will be that way for all the days of Colonel Fatuk Hareem Jael, do you understand me, peasant?"

 

    Bihman spoke again, unperturbed.  "You surely have some means of contacting your airplane.  It is completely understandable if you prefer to leave under the cover of night, but it would be best for all if you were gone by sunrise tomorrow."

 

    The Colonel's eyes bulged.  The veins in his neck strained against his skin.  "Animal!  You sick, disgusting animal!  You foul, filth-riddled beast of mud! " he roared.  "I defy you-- I _dare_ you!-- to give me one singular reason that I should not butcher all of you like the diseased vermin you are!"  His hands shook with rage and the men surrounding the villagers raised their weapons.

 

    "Most importantly, I think" began Sādāē in a low, calm voice, "is that you will not be able to."

 

    "WHAT?!  How DARE you!  How _dare_ you speak to me with such -- such _insolence_!" he roared and spat, and when his thoughts finally returned he continued raging in what sounded to Lohit to perhaps be Turkish.  "Guards!  Kill them!  Kill them all!"

 

    Even as they braced to fire, six men fell.  Four more fell while the others gawked in confusion.  One man screamed as he felt his neck crack then felt little else.  One shot rang out.  Terrified, Lohit couldn't help but look.  One gun fired.  Sādāē held it skyward, over his head even as the man with his finger torn off inside the trigger guard slumped to the ground, hacking for air around a crushed trachea.

 

    Sixteen men.  Perhaps as much as two seconds ago, the men of the village were surrounded by sixteen armed men.  All those men lay at their feet, broken and beaten.  The villagers were just as stunned as Lohit.  The Colonel was dumbstruck.  

 

    "FATIM!" he yelled to the big man beside him.  The muscular soldier leapt forward in a diving crouch, drawing a pair of pistols as he sprang.  He never had a chance.  In the space of a shocked look, Sādāē shot forward, inhumanly fast.  The big man had no way to alter his course.  Lohit fought hard not to vomit when he heard the sickening wet cracks and thumps as Sādāē's fist buried itself deep inside the big man's face.

 

    Sādāē stood quietly over the big man, assessing him.  When he spoke, he spoke in nearly-flawless Turkish, laced with only the trace of a Russian accent. "Your men are not dead, Fatuk Jael.  Some may right now wish it, but they are not dead."

 

    "The same cannot be said for yours, peasant!" roared the Colonel.  Sādāē spun around in time to see Jael raise a pistol point-blank to Bihman Bahga.  Lohit screamed.  He ran forward, desperate to protect his father.  Even as his feet churned in the loose soil he knew he could not help.  The world slowed down.  Everything took on an eerie, too-real surrealism that was beautifully frightening.  He saw the bullet leave the gun, drawing a coil of powder smoke with it.  He saw it spinning and dancing toward his father.  He absently wondered at how it didn't fly flat, but dipped down then up then dow--  then there was a hand.  A hideous, scarred pink thing with red and white wounds tearing jagged lines through the flesh and metal cables and braces where bones should have been.  There was a soft but violent thump and a muffled clang as the bullet tore into the hand and struck some bit of plating and the worldbegantospeedupandsuddenly

 

 

    Lohit was standing, straining against the hold one of the village men had on his tunic.  Sādāē was standing beside Bihman, leaning over precariously, his arm outstretched and flowing into the twisted mockery of a hand that had caught the bullet meant for his father.  His other hand had a firm grasp on the Colonel's wrist and as the world returned to the dizzying speed it held since the villagers had been ordered killed Lohit could hear the cracking of bones even over the Colonels screams of pain and impotent rage.

 

    "How dare you!  How dare you touch me!"

 

    "You, too, will live, Fatuk Jael.  You will live, and you will leave this place.  You will not call your airplane.  You and your men will get into your boats and leave.  You will take nothing but your lives and be glad to have them."  Sādāē didn't even look at him.  Instead he studied the bullet he had caught.  Absently he tossed it toward the Colonel and began to check his hand for damage.  

 

    The Colonel screamed in fury.  "I will return, Freak!  I will return with an army six hundred strong; guns and rockets and bombs!  I will burn this village from the very memory of the earth--!"

 

    Sādāē turned to him, as if noticing him for the first time.  He let go his hold of the man's shattered wrist.  The Colonel instantly swung at him with his good hand and was blown to the ground with a snap kick to the midriff for his efforts.  "You will not return.  Not by yourself, not with an army.  Not tomorrow or next year; not ever.  There is nothing for you here."  He stepped back and opened his robe, letting it drop to the ground.

 

    Lohit had never seen his uncle naked.  In fact, he had never seen him in anything but his robe, shoes, and thin silk gloves.  Even when he slept, he slept almost completely covered under a sheet or blanket on even the warmest nights.  Lohit had never questioned that it was a simple practical fear of the sun that forced an albino to take such measures.  He never _dreamed_---

 

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    Sādāē stood before them now in nothing but a simple breechcloth tied around his waist.  He looked like nothing so much as he looked like a man who had been blow up and then stitched back together again in a macabre patchwork of scars over scars, skin grafts, lumps and twists.  His legs were completely mechanical, one of them twisted slightly, showing damage that was at least two decades old.  Showing here and there through his flesh was clear evidence of some sort of mechanical secondary skeleton.  A few plates and pieces here and there and a series of small machine motors and pistons that race in and out of one forearm.  Only his face and neck seemed untouched. save for the rheumy pink eyes that now glowed as if lit from within.  

 

    Lohit noticed that it wasn't just his eyes; his whole body began to glow, wisps of phosphorescent reds and pinks rose from his skin and curled around him like smoke.  His voice changed, too, taking on a crackling inhuman static-filled quality.  The air around him vibrated and burned.  He looked at the would-be-tyrant on the ground in front of him.  "Not you.  Not your men.  Not your spies.  There is nothing here for you but death."

 

    The Colonel's eyes opened wider even than his slack jaw gaped.  "Th-- th..  The Red Star!" He yelped, genuine fear in his voice.

 

    "You know me."  Sādāē stated.

 

    "I-- I..  I--   You're the Red Star!" he repeated, dumbstruck.

 

    "Then you know that you have no hope.  There is no offense you can raise that I cannot crush with a thought."  As if to demonstrate, the air around the suddenly-terrified villagers exploded outward with a deafening "whoompf" and swept away from them in every direction, as if a bomb had gone off.  Every trace of the camp that had existed here for months was swept away, into the river and beyond.

 

    The Colonel began to laugh.  "You cannot let me leave, peasant."  The chuckled again, as if he had found some new leverage.  "You cannot send me away from here, knowing that Russia would make me a very wealthy man just for the name of this village you are hiding in!"  He laughed again.  "Perhaps we should come to some sort of an agreement, Russian?"

 

    "You will leave here.  Russia will not reward you; they will not find me here.  They do not take kindly to liars who seek payment."

 

    "Then what is to stop me from returning?  This place is good for business, Russian."

 

    "You will leave here.  You will not come back because I am also leaving here.  And for the rest of your life, I will be just behind you.  Do not attempt to come back.  You will not survive it."

 

 

 

    The villagers had rounded up the weapons of the men on the chars and sent them to their boats.  They motored upstream to Lohit knew not where.  They did not ever return.  When they arrived back at the village, it was nearly nightfall, and the entire village knew everything that had transpired.  Sādāē was instantly the most feared man the village.  Even those who had known him only as the friendly albino with the limp that tutored the children and fixed their machines could not look him in the eye.  He was no longer Sādāē.  In the minds of all those old enough to know the name, he was the Red Star, and the people were terrified.

 

 

    "Must you leave, Uncle?"

 

    "I must, Lohit.  But you and your family have done very well for yourselves, and you always will, so long as you remember the teachings of your parents."

 

    "I remember also the things you have taught me, Uncle."  It had been just over a year since the incident on the char.  Lohit had faithfully continued his training, and many of the other village children and even some of the adults, fearful of the return of the Colonel or someone like him, and also sought training.

 

    "Then remember all that you have learned, Lohit, from all your teachers.  Continue to practice what you have learned, and learn all that you can."

 

    "Why must you go?  We are at peace now; no one has come looking for you here."

 

    "They will, Lohit.  Do you not see the different way the villagers treat me?  They fear me.  No one can live long under fear before they seek to resolve it.  Either someone will give away my secret, or someone will attempt something unfortunate in an effort to rid the town of me.  I want neither of these things to happen."

 

    "Why do they fear you?  You have never before or since wielded your power, Uncle.  Is it your appearance?"

 

    "No; Lohit.  They are older than you.  They remember the man that I was.  The man that your parents rescued from himself."

 

    "Who were you before?"

 

    "It doesn't matter, Lohit.  What matters is that you take a lesson from this.  What you see now is the second face of violence:  having seen what I am capable of doing-- and do not ask me what that is, for I will not tell you, Little Cub.  Ha!  Little Cub!  You are growing so quickly, Lohit!  And you have matured so much.  You are nearly grown into your name, 'Red Tiger.'"  Sādāē laughed again, then continued:  "having seen what I am capable of, they fear as individuals that I may single them out as targets.

 

    "I do not want them to live with that fear, Lohit, and I do not wish to remember who I used to be.  I must go.  Only then will the village feel safe from me, and only then will I be safe from the village."

 

    "Safe from the village?!  Uncle, even should they band together to strike you down--"

 

    "LOHIT!  Remember what I taught you?  What your parents taught you?!  It is now and always shall be the hallmark of evil to force your will onto another for any reason other than to stop that person from harming another.  What you suggest is unthinkable.  Better that I should leave.  Before I go, though, meet me atop the char with the river bluff, the place that your training began in earnest."

 

 

Later that afternoon, atop the char, Sādāē laid down a shovel and lifted a large clay pot from the hole he had dug.  "Here, Lohit."  He handed the pot to the dark-haired boy.  "I really did have treasure prepared for you up here."  He winked.  Inside this pot is the last of my possessions from my life before.  I have prepared it for your family, to see you through times of trouble.  I know Bihman well, though, and I know that he would give it away a thousand times to help others before he saved it once for personal assurance.  Inside the pot are coins and gems collected from the empire your parents convinced me to leave.  I know that Bihman will put them to better use than those from whom I took them.

 

    "I will leave after the evening meal; as you now know, there are more reasons than just the sun that I prefer to travel at night.  When I leave, you will find an envelope in my room.  Inside are letters of referral I have collected-- in some cases flat-out bought.  If you truly wish to be a policeman, Lohit, then those letters will get you to the academy.  I can get you in the door, but the work is up to you."

 

    "Uncle....  Uncle  I don't know what to.... Thank you, Uncle!"  Lohit hugged the man so hard and so long that were his legs not already machine they would have been crushed.  "Thank you!"

 

    "There is money, too, Lohit.  Under my mattress.  I have left a fortune to your family.  Do not be ashamed to keep the money that I have prepared specifically for you.  If you wish to excel in your studies for your career, it will help you to not have the distraction of working for your tuition and lodging.  Use it wisely and sparingly, and it will be enough."

 

    "Thank you for this, too, Uncle."

 

    "Let's go home.  I'm sure that your mother is waiting supper for us."

 

    

 

    The next morning, Sādāē was gone.  Lohit gave his uncle's treasure to his family and found the envelope that had been left for him.  In it was money and several letters of recommendation, as had been promised.  There was also a short file of contact information for various people of whom Lohit had never heard.  Also inside was a list of locations and dates, one per year, starting five years hence.  None of these things made any sense, but they were addressed to him.  He would keep them until he knew what they were for.

 

    In the meantime there were his chores, and training.  His uncle was no longer around to guide his training, but he could continue to practice what he knew and expand on it as best he could.  Many of the other children-- and some of the adults-- continued to dabble in the training as well.  But by the time Lohit was thirteen, he was the only one who still found time, every single day, to master his discipline.  It was also about this time that he realized what the strange list of dates and places where.

 

    Lohit was well upriver with his father.  He was familiar with the city in which they found themselves; they had been here nearly every year since Lohit was a  child, whenever the rivers swelled with the rains.  It was also the first location on the cryptic list that Sādāē had left.  Lohit realized with casual interest that the date on the list was two days ago.  His curiosity was piqued, and he kept his eyes open for anything that might be worth his notice.

 

    As he and his father found a place to set up shop, a band of beggars passed by.  One, filthy and crippled, walking with the aid of a stick, fell out to rest in the shade of the stall.  "You there!"  Lohit shouted.  "We are trying to conduct business here!  Please, rest somewhere else lest you be in the way of our customers!"

 

    The beggar didn't look up.  "And you, Little Cub, are two days late."

 

    "Uncle!" Lohit was overjoyed and shocked at the same time.  "Uncle, how did you come to be here?"

 

    "I helped your father establish his business practices, Lohit.  I knew you would be here, though you should have been sooner."

 

    "The rains were slow this year, Brother-in-Law." chimed in Bihman, happy to see his old friend.  "Tell us, what brings you to this lowly state, Brother?  Do you have need of the money you left to us?"

 

    "Nothing of the sort, Bihman; nothing of the sort.  I travelled thus by choice; there is still a handsome bounty on my head, and it didn't take long for word to spread that I had been living in your village.  I felt it safer to be Untouchable, for even those in this culture who desperately want to hide would not consider posing as such."

 

    "So why did you come at all then, Uncle?  Would it not be safer to disappear again, to move as far away as you could?"

 

    "There are many safe places for me, Lohit, and I travel constantly.  Still, I made a promise that I would be here today, and elsewhere at other times.  I am a man of my word." he winked.

 

    "Brother, surely it isn't wise to leave an itinerary of your travels pre-planned...?"

 

    "I have done nothing of the sort.  As I said, I travel constantly.  I merely left thirteen certainties, should you or your son have need of contacting me."

 

    "And what need should we have?  You have left us quite wealthy, at least for life in our village, and have bequeathed to my a son a future I likely never could have.  You have left us largely without need at all, and while it is always a joy to see you, Brother, we both know that it is neither safe nor wise."

 

    "Bihman, you have taught your family many things.  I have taught Lohit more beyond."

 

    "I know of your teachings" Bihman dismissed, displeasure clear in his voice.

 

    "Still, Bihman, the boy will become his own man, and will have to follow his own path.  There are many ways to do good.  Some can do as you do: serve as an example of the right way to treat one another.  Some will spend their lives serving others in whatever meager way they can.  There is still a need for another type of good work, Bihman.  There is a need for those who protect those who cannot protect themselves."

 

    "Such need exists only because so many do not live right!" Bihman protested.  "They choose paths of violence and greed and evil--"

 

    "Bihman, my old friend," Sādāē started softly, love and acceptance of Bihman's opinions clear in his voice, "you are completely correct.  But as you say, there are those that choose to live thus, in spite of all the good examples like you and your family that are in the world.  And it is because of those people that there is a need for those who choose to protect others.  Remember, Brother, how we met.  Who I was.  The evil I represented to you until you taught me the wrong I was doing.  But when you do, remember also that the good I was called to do in ending the wrong was possible only with the exact same methods."

 

    Bihman stopped.  He had heard it all before, many times, even before Lohit was born.  For the first time, though, he gave long consideration to his old friend's words.  "Perhaps, Brother.  Perhaps I am old and getting ill in my thinking, or perhaps the experiences that led to your fleeing our lives have forced me to rethink some of my beliefs, or perhaps because some small part of me has always known that what you say is true, but whatever the reason, I will give time to think through what you are saying.  But I tell you with absolute certainty today that the boy is too young, too impulsive, too filled with adolescent fire to make the decision wisely, so today, for his own good, I must tell you no.  He will not travel with you today."

 

    "Father!  Think of my future!  I wish to do precisely this-- I wish to be a policeman so that I may help people and protect people--"

 

    "That is fine, Lohit, but I believe that Sādāē has more in mind than catching those who would steal goats!"

 

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    "Bihman, I do not pretend to understand your innermost mind, but I understand your fears as a father and a man of peace.  I promise you that I have nothing in mind beyond giving Lohit the best possible chance of being a protector of others that I possibly can.  Should the rest of his days be filled with chasing down lost chickens for farmers, I will be pleased, if it makes him happy.  Know that I simply wish to ensure he has the _ability_ to protect, should need ever arise.  As you saw yourself on the chars, it can arise in even the most sleepy, peaceful of places.  Where would you and your people have stood without someone like me then, Bihman?"

 

    "The boy will not travel with you today."  Bihman answered curtly.

 

    "Father--!"

 

    "Lohit!" chimed both adults.  Bihman continued  "Lohit, I am doing this because you are not yet ready to make the decision.  You cannot consider the danger that lies in what Sādāē offers."

 

    "Father, Uncle  wishes to train me to defend against that danger--"

 

    "Do not argue with your father, Lohit."  Sādāē ordered.  "He is right.  You are not old enough, or you would understand that the danger he speaks of is not external, but within:  the danger of temptation.  One who holds power can be daily tempted to use it as he sees fit.  Remember that your vision of right is not the only right, and too often it is not the most right.  You will not be ready until you fully understand that the teaching I offer cannot supplant that offered by your father.  What I offer must at all times be _guided_ by the things he has taught you, lest you become precisely what society must be protected against."

 

    Bihman nodded sagely.  "Forgive me, Brother.  I did not believe, until now, that you truly understood my fears."

 

    "I have known you many years, Bihman Bahga, and in all that time I have called you 'Brother' because I have loved and respected you as one.  For the life you have given me since we first met, I should call you 'Father' as well.  I certainly respect you as one.

 

    "I must take my leave, Brother."  He turned to Lohit "and goodbye to you, too, Nephew.  I look forward to seeing you both two years hence."

 

    "Wait, Uncle---!  Before you go, what is the other list?  The strangers and their addresses?"

 

    "Ah, yes.  That.  Lohit, I do not know what you have learned of the man once called 'The Red Star;'  I suspect that your parents have been less than forthcoming, and for that I am grateful.  I should like to have that entire part of my life undone, even if it meant never having been born at all, for the evil I once willingly did.  Suffice it to say that at one point, there were very few on this earth who could stand against me.  

 

    "I wasn't born that way, of course-- not like so many of the metahumans and parahumans we hear about in the newsreels.  And while much of what the Red Star was he was through science and technology, at his heart, he was most dangerous because of his unparalleled training.  I dare say that there has been no other human being alive more exhaustively and extensively trained in combat of all types-- hand-to-hand, armed, long-range weapons, tactics, troop movements---

 

    "That list is a list of the men and the students of the men who trained me in the areas that I feel will most serve you, should you decide to take my offer.  If for some reason, I cannot keep the appointments I have made for you, then seek these men out.  They will help you."

 

    "Why should they help me?"

 

    "Arrangements have been made.  As you find them, you must tell them precisely this truth:  

 

    “The sun has set in a red fire.

    “The world will be dark forever should the sun not rise again.

 

    "They will then guide you."

 

    "Thank you, Uncle.  I will consider your choice carefully."

 

    "Good-bye, Bihman; I hope to see you in two years."

 

 

 

 

    Two years later, Lohit left with his father; Bihman Bahga returned to the village alone.  Until he was just before his nineteenth birthday, Lohit studied with his uncle    Sādāē, the man once known throughout the world as the Red Star, iron enforcer of the will of the Kremlin, and quite possibly the greatest hand-to-hand combatant ever to live. 

 

    Lohit returned to the village at nineteen, taking a break from his training with his uncle and wanting to spend a few months with his family before joining the Police Academy the following year.  It was during this time that the world was stunned by the news that the Red Star, once believed to have died during a malfunction of a fuel/air bomb, had been found and "brought to justice" in communist China.  The family of Bihman Bahga was devastated, most especially Lohit.

 

    

    As Lohit was preparing his things for the trip to the police academy, Bihman brought him a creased and worn envelope.  Inside was the list Sādāē had made for Lohit: names and last-known contact information for the people who helped make him the Red Star.  Lohit looked at his father, puzzled.

 

    "Lohit, I can teach you all I know.  I can hope for you all I can hope.  In the end, however, it is your life, and you must live it in the way that most pleases you.  Your uncle taught me as much or more than I taught him.  It saddens me that it has come to me so late that his ideas are as true as my own.  There are those who need to be protected.  If it is your wish to be that protector, Lohit, then it is my dream that you be the best possible protection for those who need you.  Take this.  Finish first you training at the Academy, then finish as you can your training in the world."

 

    Lohit looked at his father, inexpressible love in his eyes.  There were no words.  He hugged him tightly, saying only "I will father.  For you, for Uncle, I will be the best protector those who need me can ever have.  I swear it."

 

 

 

    Lohit excelled at the Academy, graduating with the topmost possible honors.  No one who knew him expected any less, really.  In all his life, he never undertook anything that he didn't throw himself into fully.  Before taking a job as a police officer, he took off for nearly four years, tracking down the first and second contacts on the list his uncle had left for him.  He trained intensely, with the same single-minded determination he had shown at the academy, and with his uncle before that.

 

    He returned to India and took a post as a rural motorcycle policeman, running a seven-town route akin to that which his little village had been on when he was a child.  His route was considerably less peaceful than the one upon which he had grown up, and he quickly made a name for himself as being beyond corruption and for never failing to apprehend a suspect, regardless of their wealth , power, or social position.  This made him many enemies, of course, but even those that hated him regarded him with great respect and more than a little fear.

 

    The most notable point in his early career was almost anti-climactic.  Early in the morning hours, as he rode the plains to the next village on his route, he was set upon by eight men, all well-armed and all hired to kill the incorruptible servant of the law.  In less than two minutes, Lohit Bahga, rural patrolman, stood over the unconscious pile of his assailants.  Securing them and loading them onto his motorcycle and sidecar rig posed more of a challenge than did the showdown, but his reputation was cemented when, rather than turning about and carrying his prisoners to the jail behind him, he continued on to the next four villages on his route, maintaining his schedule flawlessly.  Word rapidly spread of his feat, and within weeks, the villages on his route became much quieter, and the inhabitants much happier.

 

    As the next few years wore on, Lohit continued his training with those rare masters on the list his uncle had left for him, and he would devote as much time as he could searching for signs of Sadate himself, never having been completely convinced that his uncle had been-- or even could be-- captured.  His efforts were fruitless; nonetheless, he continued trying.

 

    As word of his formidable police work, devotion to duty, and nearly unparalleled combat skills, and in particular his complete devotion to the well-being of the citizens he served, spread up through the police force and eventually even to the government, Lohit was approached to serve as the Truth, the Indian government's knee-jerk reaction to the proliferation of flag-suit Paras during the 80s.  Lohit declined, believing that there was little he could do in tri-colored spandex that he couldn't do better as a policeman.  Further, he felt that accepting such a position would actually _remove_ him from his duty of protecting the citizens while simultaneously setting himself up as a pawn of politics, something that he had early in his adulthood learned to despise.  "Negotiation and trading with your neighbors is one thing, but haggling and brokering for simple power is reprehensible" he had remarked once during a mayoral campaign in which his stellar reputation among the people was being used to cast the incumbent in a favorable light.

 

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    There was more to Lohit's refusal than he had stated publicly, of course.  While the reason he gave-- an unwillingness to stop directly serving the citizens of the city to which he was currently assigned, and his on-going work in cleaning up the police force itself-- were entirely true, there were other, more private reasons, first and foremost being his belief that he was simply poorly-qualified to be superhero.  Superheroes were Paras and Metas and orders of magnitude more powerful than a mere policeman.  They could fire lasers from their eyes and fly through the air like rockets and laugh when hit with bullets.  Lohit could do none of these things.  No; best off to let them find a real Super to be a pretend hero.

 

    Lohit was completely unaware of his own power.  Certainly he wasn't born a Parahuman, but through sheer determination and willpower he had done something that only the tiniest fractional percent of all humanity could ever hope to do: he had _made_ himself into a Metahuman-- a normal human with exceptional talents or skills well beyond any reasonable human limit.  He was incredibly fast, able to react to a situation even before his mind had fully processed it.  He could strike ten blows before even the best-trained military man could strike twice.  More than one person had witnessed the single time that Lohit Bagha had unholstered his sidearm in a combat situation.  Even then, he did not fire at his attackers: he merely used his pistol to swat bullets out of the air as they were fired at him.

 

    In spite of his humility, Lohit Bagha did become something of a superhero, at least to the average citizen in his jurisdictions, and an inhuman terror to the criminals he opposed.  More and more, the citizenry and even the media, when his work brought some newsworthy bit before the public, were referring to him not so much as Detective Lohit Bagha, but by the much looser translation of his name: "the Red Tiger."

 

    As the criminals he targeted became more and more powerful— higher and higher ranking members of major cartels— so, too, did their minions.  Over the next decade, Lohit went head-to-head with a number of genuine super-powered parahumans, and always he emerged on top.  His name blasted onto the international news feeds just a few years ago, when the Iron Soldier-- the gigantic Victorian monstrosity that continued to upgrade and rebuild itself in its quest for true self-awareness--  felled all eight members of India’s government-sponsored team of costumed parahumans, in a terrifyingly-short twelve-minute battle.

 

    Lohit Bagha was on duty when the call came that all available police officers— on duty or otherwise— report immediately to help evacuate citizens and offer what resistance they could to the Iron Solider should the on-scene supers fail to stop his advance.  Lohit and twelve of his best men arrived at the scene in time to see Bhālā, the Spear, the last of his teammates left standing member, fall to the mechanical giant.  The Iron Solider had barely broken his stride as he engaged and defeated eight of the most powerful parahumans in India.  Lohit behaved as if the facts of the situation had somehow failed to register with him.  His men stared in hollow disbelief as he marched forward, barking to them “Men, we must allow him to go no further.  Take defensive positions and arm yourselves.”  Two men advanced, mesmerized, absently drawing their weapons as they followed their superior.  Ten others scattered for the safety of the empty buildings behind them.

    “Metal One,” Lohit clipped with authority toward the Iron Solider as he strode toward giant, “you will leave this place in peace.  You will go no further toward this city or these people.”  There was not a hint of fear or panic in his voice; there was only the flat authoritative insistence of one charged with maintaining order.  The metal behemoth ignored him as he strode forward, not even classifying him as a nuisance.  As he stepped casually over Lohit, the police officer’s face set grimly.  He doubled into a one-footed stance and, as his body seemed to begin to radiate light, he spun hard and fast, re-issuing his orders to the mechanical threat.  “I said you will leave this place.  You will not take another step toward this city!” As he whirled around, his leg shot out, low, and connected with the earth under the foot of the giant with a boom that rattled windows.  The earth itself shook and split as Lohit’s foot struck and continued to move with his spin, digging a furrow that deepened and widened and caused the earth itself to give way beneath the clumsy iron giant.  The giant fell, and the whole world heard the crash.  Instantly, helicopter journalists were snapped onto live feeds not just for the region, but for the entire planet.  The whole world watched as a single crazed policeman signed his own death certificate with an incredibly lucky blow.

 

    However, Lohit did not die.  Even as the Soldier was falling behind him, Lohit leaped spinning into the air in a jump that carried him an unfathomable twenty feet or more above the ground and launched himself back down before the head of this colossal opponent.  “Do not rise from this position, Giant.  You have disobeyed a direct order from a law officer to cease your advance.  You may crawl away in any direction away from this place, but should you attempt to regain your feet, I will have no choice but to interpret it as intention to attack this city.  This I cannot allow.”  Even as he spoke, he snaked back and forth, twisting and circling first one leg, then the other.

    The Iron Soldier rose up on his hands and knees and studied the man before him, reassessing him.  As he studied him, soft clanking noises and the hiss of steam jerked Lohit’s attention and he leapt again, up to the giant’s shoulders.  He could see clearly the canon array on the Soldier's back and the damage to the armor that supers had managed to inflict before they were subdued.  He ran forward, spinning and flinging himself toward the barrels of the large guns.  Study of the video footage shows that in the space of ten seconds, Lohit delivered two-hundred and forty-eight blows, all powerful enough to deform the steel barrels of the Iron Soldier's primary offensive weapons.  He backflipped to stand again before the mighty machine, which had already begun to take its feet.  “Do not attempt to use your cannons, Giant!  It will result in destruction of your own doing.  Examine yourself, if you are able, and you will know that I speak the truth.”

    The Iron Soldier paused briefly.  He threw a collapsium-clad fist toward the officer before him, who sidestepped it deftly, bringing his pistol down in a tight arc that chopped in behind the Soldier’s wrist. Instantly, three of the giant’s fingers opened and spasmed, twitching uncontrollably.  Sparks spat from severed electrical lines and hydraulic fluid leaked into the sand.

    “You will cease resisting the order to leave this place.  You will leave at once, or I will have no choice but to apprehend and imprison you!”  The Iron Soldier, notoriously clumsy when off his feet, continued his attempt to stand.  Valves in his torso opened, and without thinking, Lohit fired his pistol directly into four small vents facing him, rupturing the steam lines behind them.  As Lohit holstered his weapon, the remaining valves vented radiation-tainted steam at pressure and temperature enough to strip the flesh from a normal man, but Lohit was unharmed; the vents he had destroyed allowed him a large arc in which no steam was vented.  Instead, the steam seemed to have been vented into the Iron Soldier's own internal workings.  His movements became erratic, and his reactions clearly showed signs of logical breakdown and— if such is possible for a machine— panic. 

    It didn’t last long, but a few moments of what appeared to be fear displayed by something that had in the collective consciousness long ago come to be considered a force of nature cemented the global reputation of Lohit Bagha forever.

    The Iron Soldier made the final stagger to his feet and shot his good arm toward Lohit, fingers spread in an attempt to grab and perhaps crush his opponent.  Lohit dodged, nimbly leaping over the hand and running up the arm that carried it.  “I told you, Metal One, do not regain your feet; do not attempt to continue your attack!”  With that, he struck a lighting quick, terrifying knife hand directly into the optic sensors that served as the Soldier’s left eye, shattering it and leaving the titan without depth perception.  He spun around then, flipping himself over his own shoulder, again beginning to radiate a luminous energy.  “You _will_ fall, Machine, if you do not surrender your course of action!”  His leg came down like like Vulcan’s hammer, striking the back of the Iron Soldier’s head with enough force to turn his face away and the delta V of the strike threw the Soldier's own stabilizers briefly into false compensation.  The Iron Soldier again fell into the sand, this time unable to catch himself on his damaged arm.  Lohit leapt into the air as the clockwork giant fell out from under him, and landed in a perfect double-kick strike at the back of the Iron Soldier's neck, one of the few places not armored by collapsium.  There were a series of noises— electrical sparks, metal being torn and bent, and steam leaking from a dozen torn conduits.  The Iron Soldier’s head was bent backward, and the damage to his internal structure prevented him from straightening his gaze forward.  Lohit spun backwards off the giant’s back and moved again directly into his line of sight. 

    “Machine, I have no wish to destroy you.  I have heard that you may, in your own way, be as alive as any of us formed from flesh and bone.  But I will not allow you to move against this city or to harm those people within it.  I give you a last chance:  crawl away from here.  If you regain your feet, you will see only sky, as I have bent your neck to the heavens.  Take to your knees and what remains of your arm and crawl away from here.  Do not return.”

    The Iron Soldier assessed itself, its situation, and became enraged.  Metallic noises and the whirring of gears precluded the presentation of large-caliber weapons from various compartments along his arms.  He fired with abandon.  The world gasped as each bullet— each and every one of them— that should have hit Lohit directly was swatted away by the policeman who used his own sidearm to deflect them.  The Soldier continued to attempt to regain his feet, but even as he deflected the onslaught aimed at him, Lohit drew himself into a defensive stance, tighter and tighter and the brilliance began again to emanate, brighter and brighter until the man himself was barely visible.  The light ran up and down the metal giant, stopping for a moment here and a moment there, pauses so brief as to only be noticeable during slow-motion viewings of the footage.  The ringing of blows on metal was so fast and so powerful as to sound more like a gigantic machine gun than hands and fists brought against the densest steel science had ever devised.  The Iron Soldier spasmed and twisted and with each beat of the onlookers’ hearts the Soldier suffered more and more damage.   The attack lasted two full minutes.  When it was done, the terrifying IronSoldier lay twitching in the sand, each moment producing a shower of sparks or a hiss of steam or a jet of some lubricating or hydraulic fluid.  Bare-handedly, or so it seemed, Detective Lohit Bagha had very nearly destroyed the Iron Soldier.  As the Soldier continued to test and assess itself, it came to rest with its face and one remaining optic sensor directly in front of Lohit Bagha.  It reassessed itself and the damage it had sustained.  It took particular notice that Lohit looked completely untouched, and seemed not even to be winded.  

    Lohit stepped closer to the machine, filling its view.  Softly, firmly, he addressed the machine.  “This place is sacred, and to be protected at all times, against all who would do harm.  There is a wall here.  It is ten thousand meters high, and it is ten thousand meters thick, and it is infinitely wide.  Do you understand, Giant?”

    The Iron Soldier very slowly backed away from Lohit, and even more slowly turned itself across the sand, difficult with it’s legs damaged beyond the ability to walk and one arm missing completely from the elbow.  Then it crawled away from the city, out toward the desert, and to the sea beyond.  As it began to crawl away, one police officer, running to ensure that Lohit was not mortally injured, was shocked to see that Lohit was to all appearances completely untouched— even his uniform was still pressed and fresh, and his hair was more tousled by the breeze than it had been by the battle.  As the junior officer stood in shock, he watched Lohit turn and walk back to his police motorcycle and heard him whisper to no one in particular “Ten thousand meters,” but did not have the presence of mind to inquire about the relevance of the comment.

 

    What only a tiny handful of people know is that when he left his battle with the Iron Soldier, Lohit checked himself into a small hospital and was kept there for nearly nine weeks.  His leg was broken in three places, his tibia nearly crushed, and his hands mangled almost beyond use.  Yet even as he walked away from the battle and swung himself onto his motorcycle and rode away, not a single person had been able to detect his injuries.  He had several ripped and torn muscles and joints and suffered burns across a good portion of his face and torso from the Iron Soldier’s anti-personnel steam blast defense.  While in the hospital, he showed signs of radiation sickness.  Yet in just nine weeks, he walked out, in every bit the shape he was before he encountered the Iron Soldier, and looking as if he had never suffered so much as a paper cut in his entire life.

 

 

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Powers and Abilities; Personality and Motivation:

 

    Lohit Bagha is one of the most unique metahumans alive today.  He is also one of the most unique parahumans to have ever lived.  While his martial arts prowess and seeming invincibility have allowed him to face and defeat some of the most powerful of super-powered beings, it is the source of his abilities that make him unique: Lohit Bagha was not born parahuman.  He endured no accident or operation or serum or magics to make him parahuman.

    Lohit has been retro-actively classed as parahuman, but it is the nature of his metahuman abilities that have granted him parahuman power.  Lohit Bagha does carry levels of resolve and strength of will that could be considered parahuman, however.  It is entirely through this strength of will that he is capable of parahuman levels of power.  His single-minded focus on rigorous training and discipline have granted him a skill level as a melee combatant that may have only been matched a dozen times throughout human history; he posses undeniably metahuman skill levels in martial combat.  As formidable as his skills alone are, however, it is the power and speed with which he is able to strike— even the raw strength he is able to exert during combat— that are clearly parahuman.  This power comes from his sheer determination to not just emerge victorious, but an absolute personal _need_ for a clear, fast, and absolute victory, leaving his opponent with the understanding that he has absolutely no hope of ever besting Lohit in combat.

    Lohit has shown the ability to will himself to function perfectly and flawlessly, even with broken and sometimes crushed bones, torn muscles, and severe internal injuries.  One official report shows that after detaining, disarming, and arresting a group of criminals, he mounted his patrol motorcycle and rode to the hospital, where nine bullets were removed from him.  Hours later, he returned to the police station and requested assignment to his next duty.

    Compounding Lohit’s power is an ability to somehow increase his willpower through— for lack of a better term— sheer force of will.  Lohit himself cannot imagine any set of circumstances that would stop him from his self-assigned duties of protecting others and stopping those who would do harm.  Even when he feels himself begin to tire or begin to question his ability to continue, he draws from himself a deeper resolve, and greater motivating force.  This cycle can continue apparently endlessly.

    It is this same willpower that provides his seeming invulnerability.  Under no circumstances will Lohit allow himself to show any sign of weakness, injury, or strain until a situation is resolved or he is completely confident that he cannot be observed.  This is not arrogance, but an important part of his belief in what his adopted uncle and many of his teachers and masters have taught him: his opponents must never be allowed to believe that they may one day be able to best him through violence.  Through force of will alone, Lohit is able to always present himself during a critical situation as calm, in control, and totally unfazed by by any situation.  He will never appear injured or even taken aback by any attack or tactic used against him, regardless of his actual condition.  This has proven many times to be unsettling to opponents, particularly highly-skilled or unusually powerful opponents, and has often led them to make critical tactical mistakes.

 

    The power that Lohit can channel into a blow is difficult to measure, as is the full spectrum of his martial abilities, since he has always refused to demonstrate any sort of physical force beyond restraining an opponent, which he willingly teaches to anyone who asks.  He has gone on the record as stating that violence is reprehensible, and he will always refuse to make a spectacle of it for any reason.  However, given the opponents that he has defeated in battle, and their own records and abilities, it is safe to say that Lohit Bagha is undoubtably the single deadliest barehanded fighter alive today, and may well be the most dangerous human being to ever live.  To date, he has trained only two men in the rudiments of his art (the two officers who attempted to follow him into battle against the Iron Soldier), and even then, while they are excellent combatants in their own right, they are not even shadows of Lohit’s own prowess.

    Each of Lohit’s trainers— presumably those who trained the Red Star himself, or perhaps former students of those men— has imparted to him entire styles and systems of of unarmed combat, which Lohit has has blended together and modified to create his own unique and explosive style of fighting, which seems based on the dervish-like dances his “uncle” taught him in his youth.  Lohit’s style depends on tightly controlled defensive moves and dodges that he chains together to set up explosively swift and powerful counterstrikes.  He appears to be completely untouchable in combat, letting his opponent exert energy and eventually lose his own control, at which point Lohit strikes, almost leisurely, but with highly exacting, pinpoint accuracy and crushing strength.  He has an overwhelming preference for nerve strikes and disabling blows as opposed to excessively broad blows, preferring to remove an opponent from combat through the two-pronged method of overwhelmingly disabling him while doing minimal permanent harm and the psychological impact such methods have on a competent combatant who is being stripped of control over his own body.  While this is undeniably his preference, he has no qualms about breaking bones, either, and will select a combination of moves that will most quickly and most effectively render an opponent unable to continue fighting.

    All who have ever trained him have all confessed that Lohit Bagha has demonstrated himself to be not only the most capable student ever taught, but to be far, far ahead of any other, perhaps even the Red Star himself.  Lohit does not focus his training on solely combat.  This same comment has been made by the various mystics and holy men who’s enlightenment and teachings Lohit has sought over the years.  

    Lohit carries to this day the firmly-entrenched beliefs of his parents and his “Uncle Whitey:” that violence is an evil to be openly shunned at most any cost, and used only against those who are open only to violence.  Even then, violence should only be used to enforce the understanding that violence is the worst possible method to achieve a goal.  To ensure that Lohit would not succumb to the temptation represented by his ever-growing mastery at administering violence on what was approaching super-human levels, he sought the teachings of as many sage men— those whom he believed to be truly enlightened— as he had teachers of martial skill in order to maintain his spiritual balance.

    It was, in an amusing twist, this training that helped him meet the goal once explained to him by his uncle: the ability to deliver an always-overwhelming defense, the ability to meet any attack with counter-attack far in excess of what the attacker himself could ever deliver.  Lohit learned to draw upon his own will as a source of power.  Ki, Chi, Heart, Soul, Resolve— there are perhaps more words for the concept than there are philosophies that revere them.  Ultimately, it all comes down to drawing power from one’s faith in oneself, and one’s overwhelming need to achieve a goal.  Lohit can not only draw from his will, but his own faith in his willpower amplifies his belief in his ability, which in turn increases the will upon which he can draw.  In effect, he becomes a psychological feedback loop for the resolve he needs to stop an opponent.  At precious few times throughout his history, such as the video footage of his battle with the Iron Soldier, Lohit has been reported by onlookers to “burn” or “glow” with the energy he is about to channel into a blow.  These instances, while extremely rare, seem to allow him to deliver blows so powerful that the force of the blows themselves do extensive damage to Lohit himself.  Even then, his willpower and resolve allow him to continue on, as if he were in perfect fighting condition.

 

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That's it for that one.

 

It never got the "formal" Champions-esque sectional write-up, as that hadn't been the point of the exercise.  Clearly I started to do just that, but shortly after getting this far, one of my players announced that they really wanted their character to "study" under this character, so things changed up a bit:  he aged thirty years (wow!  Just like that!), had nearly retired from the police force as the Indian government had been pretty heavy-handed about pressing him into training select teams of men, and he only agreed to it on the grounds that he would train policemen from all over the world.  While training some of the police in New York, a policeman from Campaign City (i.e., my player's character, who was a detective in his secret ID) had the chance to train, and the Tiger was so taken by his potential and dedication that he travelled to Campaign City, where he stayed for the next four years, teaching the PC.  (if you're wondering, that particular campaign wrapped up in about four years, and the PC retired.)

 

The Tiger was never a player character, and was never intended to be any kind of real character at all; he was created as an example for a buddy of mine, period.  Oddly, he ended up being a recurring NPC-- never really directly involved with the adventures per se, but being on "conveniently placed" news stories that point out situations in that part of the world that might need PC assistance. ;)

 

(and for those who _might_ be wondering: yes, he is ram-rod straight to the point of being kind of an ass.  Not on purpose, mind you: he's not really a jerk.  He's just abrupt, determined, unsw---  he's a paladin.  How's that?  Kind of a dick, but not like a _dick_ dick...?

 

 

 

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Criticisms?  Complaints?  Problem areas?  Anybody? 

 

Tell you what, Chris:

 

You've seen everything that survived.  Which one should go up next for review?  I'll try to get it up tomorrow night, whatever you decide. 

 

 

 

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34 minutes ago, Duke Bushido said:

Criticisms?  Complaints?  Problem areas?  Anybody? 

 

Tell you what, Chris:

 

You've seen everything that survived.  Which one should go up next for review?  I'll try to get it up tomorrow night, whatever you decide. 

 

 

My vote is for Martin Power. 

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:rofl::rofl:

 

Thanks for the flashback. :lol:

 

For just the briefest of moments, I was sitting at Jim's table, grilling him yet again as to why everyone else was on their third or fourth character and yet they all kept insisting I use Power "just for one more story.". Never mind that it was something like the eigth "one more story." 

 

But certainly, I'll start putting it up tonight.  However, for the benefit of the other fella reading this, I want to put up a short explanation first:

 

There is a lot of stuff in it, particularly in the intro, that will make little sense save as random jargon or "mood music." It isn't random jargon: it's relavent to an old campaign, and at this point likely makes sense only to the guy this was written for. 

 

This was my first Champions character, period.  I never had an origin for him:  not being a comic book guy- and at the time, never having been a GM, I really had no grasp of how important an origin was for character flavor and tying a character to the story. 

 

I played this character for nearly twenty years.  Don't get me wrong: Jim eventually capitulated and let me use other characters, but those were for mostly closed-loop stories or one-shots.  The main campaign?  No matter how tired I was of the character--or how little I got to actually _do_, as years and years of spent experience made his power levels radically out of scale with the newer characters, so I would willingly role play (I enjoy the hell out of that part), but would go out of my way to not step on any toes or just walk through the walls of the story and grab the mcguffin. 

 

In short, after about five years, the character--other than the role playing--wasn't very fun.  It came to the point that I was begging Jim to not just let me retire him, but to let him flat-out _die_ so he wouldn't get dragged back into the story.

 

Eventually Jim moved.  Someone else took over as GM, and felt my pain.  He decided we'd have one last campaign with Martin Power, and he would find a way to ramp up the challenge to him- without making the other characters superfluous-- until the only solution to a problem would be self-sacrificial. 

 

Honestly, I can't say the campaign was bad: we enjoyed and it comes up in conversation now and again.  But it wasn't "Jim-level."  Still, it was better than I could have done at the time, and I was greatful for it (as was the rest of the group; if T hadn't stepped up, our gaming group likely would have fizzled. 

 

T's requirement?  An origin for Martin Power.  So during the earliest part of the campaign, I dropped in a few things that T could work from (in all honesty, after playing this one character for so long, and becoming intimately familiar with him, I really couldn't come up with something that felt "big enough" to suit the personality that had grown into him). 

 

We hashed out some things, and T sort of threw the rest at me during the game.  I am delighted with what we came up with, and it almost made twenty years of playing the same guy worthwhile. 

 

As to the length of this entry:

 

It was a gift for Jim.  He had always wanted an origin for the character and had never gotten it.  So one day, for his birthday, I wrote up the summation of the last Power campaign that he ran and on through the three that T ran, to include the origin of Martin Power.  

 

So when you find something that sounds like gibberish, remember that it made sense to the target audience of one man in Nevada. 

 

I owe a lot to him.  He introduced me to Champions way back when, and more than that: he taught me how to play.  Sure; I'd done role-playing games before that, but Jim taught me how to cut loose and really get into it.  How to build a world, build a character, and keep things moving. 

 

Thanks again, Jim.  It's just as awesome today as it ever was. 

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Seriously long day today, 

 

but as promised, at least an introduction to the story I promised I wouldn't lead with.

 

For perusal and (hopefully) constructive critical commentary, I present selected excerpts from the biography of Martin Power:

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Unstoppable

 

 

 

 

 

 

Public Identity: Power                        Name: Martin Power
Sponsorship: None                        Race: Human; Caucasian; Male
Age: 44 (Presumed) at declaration of death
Affiliation: known charter member of the Seven, which is unusual given his hesitant involvement with super-powered activities.  No other known contracts or group memberships.  Known to have repeatedly been teamed with Operative 4-17; interviews with O: 4-17 testify that Subject was usually unwilling, and cooperation was generally obtained through careful manipulation or blatant coercion.  
POB: Uncertain.  Orphan abandoned in Dallas, Texas and presumed to be local to that area. 

Current status:  MIA 10 years+, presumed deceased.

Prior status:  United States Citizen in good standing.  Unregistered Para, but because he is both an extremely popular public figure and a recluse who prefers to avoid using his abilities, and due to the extreme challenge of enforcing registration in this particular case, his registration has never been pursued.  Advice current during the Registration Era was to continue a policy of disregarding this individual's refusal to register as a Para.  Actions by this individual eventually brought about the end of the Registration Mandate.

 

Minutes of Note:

      Martin Power is an unusual individual.  While simple Bricks are not uncommon, the combination of his Stell rating and his near-refusal to stand as either a dedicated Agent, Servant, unregistered Vigilante, or even as a Threat are extremely puzzling to all of his would-be handlers and recruiters.  On today's stage, Martin Power isn't so much a player as a simple bit of backdrop, overlooked and often simply lost in the most mundane actions of even bit players.  More confounding still is that he seems to prefer and to actively seeks this status.  Given that he has no costumed identity and has never made any attempt to deny who and what he is, and given the extreme level of fame that surrounds him, it is difficult to understand just what it is about him that prefers to shun using his abilities.  While he does have some minor endorsement deals to provide income, he simply has no motivation to "cash in" the way that other publicly-known Paras have done.

For years, it has been the desire of this agency to contract the Subject as a Flag.  The current Flag, Codenamed "Steel," has met the challenge well and has remained in superior physical condition.  Currently he is in the condition of a forty-year-old Olympian.  However, his actual age is more than twice that, and his mind set is dated to the period in which he was raised.  Further, while Steel was and still is one of the highest-rated Metas, given the global proliferation of Paras the last few generations, this agency feels our country would be better represented by a loyalist Para as it's next Flag.  Owing to his stature, demeanor, intelligence, over-all good looks, popularity with the public, and unmatched power level, Martin Power has for years been recruited for the Flag position.  He has turned down all offers, and there appears to be no offer strong enough to sway his decision.  Currently, the public has rallied more and more around the unregistered and evidently immortal Para / Meta "Jack Brass" and his outspoken anti-bureaucracy attitude; it becomes imperative that we recruit a highly-charismatic and well-liked personality as the next Flag.

To date, the only handler to successfully gain repeated cooperation from the Subject has been Operative 4-17, an Agency-trained Meta Codenamed "Vagabond."  He notes that at all times, he was obligated to orchestrate careful manipulation in order to gain cooperation, and very few motivators were successful more than once.  O: 4-17 declares that this is because the motivators were all situational in nature, and that the actual situations were constructs of O: 4-17's own design and extensive work. However, in order to ensure cooperation, the situations had to be constructed in such a way that the Subject's participation would assure resolution, making each motivator unavailable for future use.  Given the extremely high skill levels of O: 4-17 and his own highly-regarded native intelligence, there is little chance of any other operative being able to game the Subject as successfully.  Indeed, no handlers before or since have been able to achieve the level of success enjoyed by O: 4-17.

     There are allusions in many of O: 4-17's reports to a motivational ploy that worked on multiple occasions, but no details were ever given in report.  Upon personal interview with even the highest authority of this agency, he refused to divulge the nature of this motivator, citing the final incident of its use in which his carefully-crafted situation was nearly undone by the target of the operation, and only through "pure luck and the Grace of God" was he (O: 4-17) able to keep the Subject under control.  O: 4-17 states that it is his belief that this motivator stirs too powerful an emotional reaction in the Subject, and that even a single misstep would not only lose the cooperation of the subject, but likely to send him into a blind rampage of ill-conceived revenge that could ultimately cost thousands of lives.  While the veracity of this claim will never be known, it is clear that O: 4-17 believes his conclusion to be true: he has never offered any information beyond restating this opinion, even when faced with termination, trial for Treason, and his own execution.  When faced with the very real threat of execution for High Treason, he offered only the following statement:

 "I have trained all my life to serve my government and the people of my country.  I take my training and my duty as seriously as other men take their own lives.  If faced with the threat of death for refusing to divulge my thoughts on this subject, I must accept death, as I know that in this instance, my singular death would prevent the deaths of thousands upon thousands of American lives and a wave of devastation never before seen by human eyes.  There is no way that any man in this room can doubt that Martin Power on a mindless rampage could not be stopped by any means available today, and that the destruction it would bring would make Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and even The Pit itself appear to be schoolboy pranks by comparison.  Kill me if you must.  I will not waiver from my duty; I will not jeopardize the citizens of my country in such an unthinkable way."

Charges were never filed against Operative 4-17, Codename: "Vagabond."  While lesser agencies view this as a black mark against us, review by all Directors of this agency has resulted in a general concurrence of opinion that as the only Handler in the history of this or any other agency successful in controlling the Subject, O: 4-17 was clearly the definitive expert, and his opinion should be considered to contain more weight than the total of all outside observation of the Subject.


     This concludes the excerpted minutes from the file of Martin Power.  Individual case files remain available and open.  Due to the unparalleled power level of this individual, the Directors have declared that while the Subject may be presumed dead, he will be declared dead only upon the recovery of his body.  Given the circumstances of his expected demise, this will likely never be possible.

Following are excerpts from the never-published 2700-hundred-page unofficial biography of Martin Power as researched and written by Doctor Harland Eriksen, tenured literary professor at Daniels University in Campaign City, Illinois.  Based on the opinions of Operative 4-17, Dr. Eriksen was approached and persuaded to postpone publishing indefinitely, until the discovery of the Subject's body.  Details of the settlement are available in his file.

Selected excerpts from the unpublished biography Irresistible Force: the Complete Known History of Martin Power:


    It wasn't raining.  It wasn't dark.  It wasn't even late.  This is rather odd to an outsider.  We have been taught by our shared culture so many things, and when we hear this sort of story, we have expectations.  It should be late on a stormy night.  This is the sort of deed that is best shrouded by darkness, so that the key players can best hide from prying eyes-- perhaps even hide from themselves, so that they might later believe that what they did was not out of desperation, but out of love and that it was the best possible choice.
    There should be skulking, and furtive footsteps on tiled streets.  A ring of a doorbell followed by a hasty, stumbling retreat, the clicking of heels skittering across wet cobblestones and off into the darkness....  As is usually the case, however, reality is something far different than the fictions we have been taught.
    
    Mid-afternoon on a late summer day, a child's stroller rolled down a nearly-empty hall at a Catholic hospital in Dallas, Texas.  It wasn't moving terribly fast, and the baby sleeping inside had been swaddled and well-padded against any jarring stop it might make.  While well-conceived, it was an unnecessary precaution, as the stroller did not jar, or thump, or bump.  It wasn't disturbed by as much as speck of dust beneath its wheels, for the Sisters here were scrupulous about cleanliness, and they ruled with absolute authority over the staff.  While arguments come and go about the Godliness of cleanliness, there was simply no debate that absolute sanitation is critical to the healing of the sick, and the Sisters here were soundly devoted to their calling of tending to the ill.
    The stroller rolled to a gentle stop.  It was unaccompanied by hand or body.  It had simply been given a gentle push and left to roll where it might, and where it might was just a few inches short of the nurse's station.  It's unclear just how long the stroller remained there, just out of sight of those working behind the counter.  Given the scheduling of rounds, perhaps twenty minutes, possibly thirty.  It likely wasn't more than an hour.
    "What is this doing out here on the floor?!" barked Sister Catherine, in her properly-quiet but still-forceful manner.  The staff behind the counter came around in time to see the Sister with her mouth agape in shock as she peered into the stroller at a delicate baby boy.  She lifted him gently out of the basket and he stirred sleepily for a moment, partially opened one eye, and dropped back to sleep.  Around his wrist was a soft yellow ribbon; tied to the end was a small hand-scrawled note, the ink obscured here and there with what might have been tears that had fallen onto the satin. 
    Sister Catherine read the note: "His name is Martin Power. [Perhaps it was Powers.  It was difficult to make out.]  He is our beautiful baby boy.  Please love him the way we do."
    Sister Catherine flew into action, barking orders and sending the staff scurrying like a well-trained ship's crew ordered to battle stations.  Within seconds, every Sister and staffer in the facility knew what was going on, and within minutes, the entire hospital and its grounds had been searched meticulously.  There was no sign of anyone who did not have a reason to be present.
    "Young man," the Sister spoke to her new charge, "you need someone to look after you, I think."  She took in every aspect of him, hoping to catch her eye on some small flaw or feature that would give her a clue as to who this child's parents might be.  He was smallish, given that she estimated  him to be about six months old.  He had an unusually strong jawline for an infant, and a wide, thin-lipped mouth that combined to give him an over-all dour countenance that would remain with him for the rest of his life.

 

 

 

 

     "Grumpy" Martin Power (the Sisters at the orphanage had decided to record his name as only that which was clearly discernible on the note, deciding that the speculation about the "s" was pointless given that no one had ever come forward to claim the child) was an _almost_ unexceptional child.  He was quiet, but not quite reclusive, and certainly not shy.  "Likely he just has very little to say" quipped Sister Sara Catechism ("Cataclysm" to the students who were unfortunate enough to bear her fury).  He was not even particularly grumpy; he was given the name simply because unless he was actively laughing (fairly rare for this quiet child), his face was pulled into a perpetual almost-frown.
    The most stand-out characteristic of this young man was his surprising intelligence and his voracious appetite for reading.  Unfortunately, he had a preference for works of fiction.  This was a taste that the Sisters tended to frown upon: "All of you have a choice.  You may fill your mind, or you may choose to leave it empty.  However, there is no good sense in making an effort to fill your mind if you are only going to fill it with untruths and trash."  Outside of his surprising intelligence-- not exceptional, just high enough to be noticeably higher than most of his classmates-- there was little else of note about this quite boy.  He was average in his PE classes, and mediocre at sports. (as hard as it may be to fathom looking back from our current vantage point, his worst sport was actually wrestling.)  There was really nothing about this boy that would ever give any indication that he would grow up to become quite possibly the strongest living being in all the cosmos.
    The other unusual thing about this particular orphan was that there was one person to whom he bonded completely.  It was not one of the Sisters, and unlike most who develop feelings of family ties within an orphanage, it didn't spread to envelop a group of people.  Certainly he was sociable enough, polite enough, warmish enough that he was not disliked, and nothing anyone remembers nor anything he has ever said has ever indicated that there was anyone there for whom he bore a particular dislike.  He simply didn't develop friendships as freely as most others his age.  This, like his dour expression, was another trait that would define him for the rest of his life.  Martin Power did not make attachments lightly.  This is still a far cry from not making them at all.
    Just a few days before his sixth birthday (determined by subtracting a six-month age estimate from the date upon which he was found in the hospital), a young girl came to be in the custody of the orphanage.  Her family had been lost in an accident, and efforts to find next-of-kin had been fruitless.  Her name was Jennifer Curtis.  By the end of her first week in the orphanage, everyone knew that the slight little blonde-haired three-year-old was "Grumpy's sister."
    The two were inseparable for the rest of their time at the orphanage, and would remain so for the rest of their lives.  They took meals together; they spent all their spare time together.  The Sisters there at the time all remember that it was as if the two really were brother and sister, and that their relationship was as natural and as easy as if they had been born into it.  Martin smiled more, and while still a very private person, he became slightly more open and receptive to others, participated a bit more in communal activities.  He even began to make a name for himself on school's sports teams.  Yes; teams.  He was equally good (not exceptional, just very, very accomplished) at football, soccer, baseball, and basketball.  Sister Mary Angeline reported that "it was as if he had just suddenly come alive."  And through it all, his "little sister" Jennifer was there to cheer him from the stands.  After the games, he would help her with her studies.  The two fit together as only true siblings could.  It was this powerful bond that would completely change young Martin Power's life.

 

 

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    Hindsight.  Some would call it "a wondrous gift."  Those who would do so are either dreamers or historians, for there is no real benefit to hindsight.  It is merely using unimportant distant facts pulled out of context to support a newly-understood concept.  It was only through this "gift" of hindsight that Sister Sara Catechism would suddenly attach significance to the fact that a simple wrap of the ruler to juvenile knuckles wasn't always enough to rouse her young student from his daydreams.  Only through hindsight did she feel it significant that she more than once found herself wrapping his knuckles a dozen times or more to draw his focus back to the classroom.  At the time, he was simply a lost soul, too deeply engrossed in finding ways to goof off to bother focusing on his studies.  Looking back later, perhaps it was significant.  Perhaps it was. 
    Sister Alice, a nurse practitioner charged with keeping the children healthy, exercised, and well-nourished commented only that "he was never sick.  Not once.  Not one day.  Not even a sniffle."  Perhaps this, too, was significant.  Perhaps.
     But like all hindsight revelations, what does any of it matter now?

 

    
    There came a day that Jennifer Curtis had visitors.  Four years after she had become a ward of the orphanage, a middle-aged couple came cautiously to the orphanage.  After they talked extensively with the Sisters, relating their tale, and providing substantial evidence as to their identities, Jennifer was called to meet with them.  The couple were her mother's estranged brother and his wife.  They had been missionaries to South America, and had "gone native" after their tour was over, staying to continue to help the villagers they had come to love.  Eventually, Jeff Curtis, uncle of Jennifer, had come to miss the family farm on which he had been raised, and the couple returned to the States.  Upon returning, they had learned of the death of Jeff's sister and brother-in-law and of the plight of their only daughter.  A few days investigating and making arrangements, and they had come to the orphanage to give Jennifer a home.
    As any child in an orphanage, the seven year old girl was ecstatic at the prospect of returning to a home, and returning to some semblance of normal family life.  A few hours later, and one of the Sisters returned with Jennifer's things.  As Jeff and his wife Claire turned to leave, Jennifer continued to stare up the hallway, neck straining as she scanned the doorways in the distance.  "Come on, Jennifer." Jeff started, warmly, yet softly, cautiously.  "Let's go see your new home."
    "No."  She stated without even looking back.
    "No?" he stammered, startled by the change of heart.
    "No;" she said, turning back to him, pleading clear in her wet eyes.  "I can't go without my brother."
    The Curtises were confused, and looked to the Sisters, desperate for help.  As the Curtises and the Sisters talked, the story came pouring out.  Jeff and Claire learned of the scared and heartbroken little girl who had arrived at the orphanage, and the quiet boy with whom she spent her time, the bond they shared, how incredibly good they had been for each other....  And just a few days later, on Martin's tenth birthday (presumed), Jeff and Claire were introducing Jennifer and her "big brother" to their new home.

 


Martin Power spent his adolescence on the farm upon which his adopted father was raised.  It was a large farm, at one time a commercial cattle operation that had also raised a few subsistence crops for the owners and their live-on help.  While Jeff never ran it as a full-scale commercial farm, preferring instead to scale it back to a family farm, raising enough food for his family and enough overage to sell and cover the family's bills and save a bit of money for his adopted children's education and his own eventual retirement, he could never bring himself to sell any of the expansive property.  For one, he had a deep attachment to the property, having grown up here, hunting and farming with his father and grandfather.  More practically, should hard times ever come, he had the property; should a true need arise, he could sell parcels to raise large sums of money for his family.  While it wasn't always easy, he was able to keep the farm.  Most importantly to Jeff, he was able to instill the same love of the farm in his adopted children that he himself had always known.  Up to the end of his life, Martin Power never left that farm save as duty required.  Even after the death of his adopted mother to cancer, he continued to live on the property with his father and to work the farm.  His incredible physical prowess would all but eliminate the need for a sizable crew.  But he didn't know that yet.

 


    "I'm stronger than the other boys."  It was a late-summer night, the kind of night that was crisp and cool with the promise of autumn after a long hot day.  The two were in their usual star-watching spot, on the roof of the three-story farmhouse, staring out over the south field.  They had been talking about school.  While school hadn't started yet, football practice had begun, and Martin hadn't missed a game since the day he came to live with his new family.  He had become a star player over the years, and he was entering his senior year.  The two had been talking about the possibility of college talent scouts in the stand.
    "Come on, Big Brother," she grinned as she shouldered into his already considerable bulk.  Martin Power had never been bigger than the other boys growing up.  He had never been smaller, either.  Rather, he had always been what both Sister Alice and later the Curtis's family practitioner could only describe as "a perfectly normal boy, unexceptional in every way."  Lately, though— the last two, maybe three years— he was bigger.  Jennifer had noticed it the fall that Martin started his Sophomore year.  It wasn't until last year that it was obvious to everyone.  Like all the other children his age, Martin had experienced growth spurts-- some minor, some painfully severe.  Unlike the other boys, though, he never quite stopped growing.  Most boys are as big or nearly as big as they were ever going to be by the time they are sixteen or so.  Martin was now eighteen; he would be nineteen next month.  When he was sixteen, he was just barely the tallest boy in school, making him a coach's favorite on the basketball team.  He was also one of the most massive boys in school, making him a sure-pick for the football team.  On this night, just a few weeks before his nineteenth birthday and his senior year, he was six foot, eight inches and easily eighty pounds heavier than next-biggest lineman on the team.
    It was as if he didn't even notice her playful shove.  "What makes you think they're going to be looking at you?  It's not like you're the only guy on the team."
    "I'm stronger than the other boys" he had said in reply.  He didn't look at her.  She didn't reply right away.  For a long time, they just stared at the stars, as they had done on crisp clear nights since they arrived as kids.  It was as if here, in a home that was theirs, with a family of their own, that everything as far as they could see was theirs and theirs alone.  Staring into the heavens was simply an attempt to see everything that they owned.
    "I know." she said, finally.
    "A lot stronger."
    "I know, Martin.  Really.  I know."
    "I don't think you understand, Sis.  I mean--"
    "I know, Martin.  I know; I really do.  I've always known it."
    It was his turn to be silent.  He turned to look at her. "What do you mean, you've always known it?"
    She sighed a bit and laid back against the shingles so that he couldn't see her face.  "I don't know.  I think I've known it longer than you have.  There was just something about the way you moved, even when we were kids.  You didn't really like to play anything physical with the other kids, and even when you finally did it was like you were always so careful-- careful not to break them or something."
    "You're crazy." he said dismissively.  "I wasn't even that good when I was a kid.  I mean, I was okay, but I wasn't like I am now."
    She sat back up.   "Yes you were, Martin.  I don't even think you knew it then.  Something inside you knew it, though.  You were always so careful when you tackled the other boys, or when you were plowing around the bases-- you're the only guy I know who stops to set his bat on the ground after making a hit; did you know that?  You _still_ do it!  Everyone else just flings it to the side, but you stop and put it on the ground before you even start to run!  If you weren't so good at long hits, you'd never get a base!" The mood picked back up a bit, and she teased him with the last few words.  "Besides," she continued, "when was the last time that you got a hit that it _didn't_ clear the fence?"
    "Been a long time," he blew, straightening up from his crouch, preparing to go into his "blowhard big brother" routine.  "You know how it is with us quadruple threat guys--"
    "Not anymore you're not.  I notice you didn't go out for basketball last year.  I bet you're not going out this year either, are you?"
    "No." He said softly, deflated back to the conversation.  She wished she hadn't asked that.  It was clear now that he was trying to tell her something that was very serious, very important to him.  Something that worried him, and she had brought that worry back full-force.  "No," he said, "and I don't think I will again.  Not after I plowed into Randy."
    "Don't worry about it," she said cheerfully.  Randy's fine!"
    "Jen, I put him in the hospital!  Just by running into him!"
    "Well, Goofus, you kinda ran him _over_--"
    "That's just it!  There's too much to watch on the court, and I got busy and I lost sight of him and the next thing I know I'm under the net dancing and the ref's and coaches and half the guys are piled all around a guy I didn't even know I hit!  I didn't even _notice_ it, Jen!"
    "That's just adrenaline, Big Brother.  That's the sort of thing you jocks live for--"
    "It's not adrenaline, Jen.  I crashed dead into a hundred-and-sixty-pound guy and flattened him completely and I didn't even _notice_!  It should have been like hitting a wall!  But there wasn't _anything_!  I had my eyes glued to that net and the only thing I noticed was my shot going in."
    Jennifer drew her breath.  She knew there was no cheering him.  It was bugging him, and he was determined to let it worry its way into his soul.  Resigned to let him play it through, she continued.  "So that's when you knew, then?"
    "I don't know.  I mean, I guess it's like you said: I guess I always knew.  It was just...  well, that was when I realized it.  You know the weird thing?  I wasn't even surprised.  So maybe you're right; maybe I always did know, somewhere inside of me.  But right then, I all of a sudden just _knew_.  I didn't just know it, but I really understood just _how much_ stronger...."
    This was the part that scared her, the part that, even though she had actually known it much longer than he, she had always kept pushed out of her mind, the part she refused to wonder about.  She didn't want to be scared of dear, precious Big Brother.  "So..." she started.  "How much is "stronger?"
    "A lot." He said, stressing it harshly.
    "'A lot,' or '_a lot_ a lot?'"
    "A _lot_ a lot.  You remember that calf that went lame two years ago?  The one I had to hoist in and out of the pen?"
    "Sure I do.  He was a cute little fella!" she giggled.  "I remember you having to carry it in and out of the barn and feed him with a bottle when he couldn't chase his mother."
    "That's the one.  I lifted that critter out of that pen and carried it out to field every day."  He paused for a few moments, staring up at the sharp blue stars against the deep black of the clear night sky.  "I can still do it."
    Jennifer didn't say anything, but he heard her draw a sharp breath and felt her stiffen up against his shoulder.
    "That bull is nearly three years old; I can still pick it up and carry it around the field as if it was just a baby."
      The two stared at the stars for a few minutes more.  "I ran the harrow on the south field today.  I think I managed to turn over about sixty acres."
    "that's all?  I'd'a thought you'd go ahead and and do the whole thing."
    "Dad had the tractor on the west field all day."  In the dark, he couldn't see her eyes widen.  She concentrated on not gasping.  Eventually, he continued.  "I just grabbed the harrow from the east shack and carried it--"
    "CARRIED it?!" 
    "Yeah.  That's what I'm talking about, Jen.  I'm stronger than the other boys.  A _lot_ stronger.  A _lot_ a lot."  He paused while she took it in.  When she failed to reply, he continued.  "You remember when you told me about Luther?  When he tried to push up on you?"  She could hear the anger in his voice even as he remembered it.  She had been fine; the only thing Luther got for his troubles was shoe-related trauma to the groin and the sort of fame that meant he was going to be without a date for the rest of his school life, if nothing else, and probably never again until he moved somewhere else.
    "I told you I handled that!  I told you not to go and fight him--!"
    "I didn't fight him!  I swear, Jen, I never laid a hand on him.  If you want to know the truth, I was almost scared to.  I was so mad, I don't know what I would have done...."
    "Besides, someone stole his car the next day and wrapped it around a tree.  After his folks found out about what he tried with me, he's going to be walking till after college."
    "Nobody stole his car."
    "What do you mean?  You think he wrapped it around a tree himself?  Trying to get some pity, maybe?  Or maybe just end himself?"
    "No.  That's not what I mean.  Nobody stole his car.   It was parked beside the road at the hunting club; he rode in with Javier, just like he claimed.  Just left his car sitting there.  I was coming back from the feed store when I saw it.  Just seeing it made me so mad...!  I stopped the truck right in the road and got out.  I was going to go in there and pound on him--"
    "Martin Power, I _told_ you--!"
    "I didn't do it.  I promised you I wouldn't hurt him.  I sat there, pacing around the road, back and forth, knowing what I wanted to do and knowing how mad you'd be....  I finally just hauled off and punched his car."
    She laughed.  Crystal clear and genuine.  The idea of her big brother, someone she regarded as quiet, introspective, thoughtful-- engaging in something as stupid and pointless and pounding an impotent fist onto the hood of a car.  It was hilarious, even in spite of the weird tone this evening had taken.  "So did you feel better putting a dent in his hood?"
    He remained somber, and she instantly regretted having spoken.  "No.  It scared the crap out of me.  It left a dent, all right.  A dent from the bumper clean back to the dashboard.  I pushed in the whole front end of the car.  The engine was crammed between the bucket seats."
    He let that hang on the air for a few minutes.  
    Finally she spoke. "So...  What did you do?"
    "I was scared.  I didn't know what to do.  I wanted to just drive off, but I knew there'd be questions and an investigation....  I thought for a few minutes, and I thought 'maybe I can hide it!'  So I grabbed his car and I carried it to the other side of the road and I tried to hide it in the woods but there was just no way!  I couldn't carry it through the woods, so finally I just snapped off a few trees and then just jammed his car up around one, right where I had punched it...
    I didn't know what else to do, so I left it there, jumped back in the truck and punched it for home."
    She thought about what she had just heard.  'I punched his car.'  'A dent from the bumper to the hood.'  'I snapped off a couple of trees---'  all so matter-of-factly.  She shivered inside.  It was true, though, that she really had always known that there was incredible power inside her brother.  It was just... a little frightening to finally know just how much.  The two sat in silence for some time.  
    Finally he spoke.  "It's getting on to midnight, Jen.  It's time to go inside."
    "Not yet!" she perked.
    "Come on; it's late.  I've got to take you to Austin tomorrow for your exhibition."
    "No.  Not yet."  She stared up at him.  Even though he towered more than a foot over her and was easily three times her weight, when she looked up at his big grumpy mug, he was just her big brother.  She melted a little then.  She knew that there was nothing to fear from him.  He was the same big softy he had always been.  "No; let's not go in just yet.  I want you to show me first."
    "Show you?"
    "Show me.  I don't know, Martin.  You're my big brother.  I cheered for all your games when we were kids.  I was always thrilled when you could do something, even if it was just calculus.  I just loved being happy for you, being proud of you.  I want to know just what you can do!"  She looked up with that same mischievous sparkle in her eye that almost always ended with the two of them in some kind of trouble.  And as soon as he saw it, he knew he was going to do it.
    "Fine."  He grunted.  "Come with me."  And with that, he wrapped his massive hands around her waist,lifted her from her seat on the dormer, and casually hopped off the roof to the ground three stories below.  He set her down gently, letting her regain her composure (a light squeeze had been enough to keep her from screaming, but she still needed to come to terms with the idea that she was not at all dead, or even injured.
    "Oh my GOD!  Martin, that was AMAZING!  I want to do it again."
    "I don't."
    "I want to do it again!"
    "Jen, I'm gonna level with you.  We scaled tonight at practice.  I had to kinda...  well, I had to bend the scale before anyone saw it.  I don't think I need to be on the roof anymore."
    "Why not?"
    "Jen, I weigh over four hundred pounds."
    "WHAT?!  Sorry, Big Brother, but there's no way--"
    "I checked earlier.  I scaled myself at the slaughterhouse.  It's true."
    "But you just don't look that big...."
    "I don't understand it, either.  But it's true.  And you know what's really weird?"
    "You mean you weigh four hundred pounds, but there's something  _weird_ that you're more concerned about?"
    "I don't think I'm done."
    "Done what?"
    "Done growing.  I just don't think I'm done."
    "You know what?  We'll figure out what's going on with you.  Maybe you can talk to Dad about it [here lately, she too had taken to calling Jeff Curtis "Dad" as Martin had begun to do some years before] and you guys can go to a specialist or something."
    "I don't think there's anything wrong with me.  I think maybe I'm supposed to be different."
    "Maybe, Big Brother, but it's better to be safe than sorry, I think.  Meanwhile," she grinned a dare at him "show me just how different you are."
    And with that, he spent the next hour tossing her high into the air-- high, _high_ into the air, letting her get a bird's eye view of the house and the distant lights of the barns and sheds scattered around the property.  She shrieked with the same delighted glee she had when they were children and he was giving her piggyback rides through the halls of the orphanage.  That was the thing about Jen.  No matter what was going on, there was a way to make it fun.  There was just something about her that let him know that no matter what, everything was going to be perfectly fine.

 

 

 

It wasn't quite five years since Martin Power had told his sister that he didn't think he was done growing, that he thought maybe he was supposed to be different.  He never really thought about that conversation again.  It's a shame, really; he might have found himself to be a prophet of some sort, for he was far more accurate than he could have imagined.  He easily wrangled a football scholarship to college, and at twenty-one years old was already being recruited by pro-league scouts.  He was impressively quick-- impossibly quick considering that he was now nearly seven-and-a-half feet tall and weighed over six-hundred pounds.  In fact, it was his weight that was starting to attract attention.  Even the biggest football players rarely broke much above four-hundred pounds, yet Martin Power, at twenty-one years old, was half-again that.  Moreover, his musculature was so pronounced that he was regularly being tested for steroids and other performance enhancers.  Such was the life, he supposed, of someone destined to be different.  
    He was more worried, though, that his secret might get out.  He was careful to keep his performance on the football field and the baseball diamond carefully in check.  He made sure that he justified his scholarship-- even let himself dominate a game or two every now and again, but he carefully made sure that nothing in his performance was impossible.  However, as he stood in line at the bank to deposit his stipend check, he was contemplating quitting football and sticking with baseball, if only for the safety of his teammates.  His strength and speed were growing faster and faster;  it was becoming more and more difficult to keep himself in check, and there was so much action on the football field.  Baseball wasn't a contact sport; there was far less chance of his accidentally hurting someone because something missed his attention.  He would never have the opportunity to decide for himself, though, because standing there in line he was only minutes away from losing his secret forever.

    "Oh, sorry, Man."  He turned in response to the voice from behind.  "Pardon?"
    "I  said I'm sorry, Man.  For bumping into you."
    Martin hadn't noticed.  That was becoming a real problem of late.  It seemed that the stronger he got, the more he...  well, the more it was like he somehow existed "above" a lot of the physical thresholds that other people knew.  It was part of what made playing football so scary to him lately.  "No problem, Buddy."
    "You're that Power kid on the ball team over at A&M, right?"
    He was used to that, too.  It didn't really bother him that much.  It's not like the cities were filled with people who stood seven-five.  "Yes, Sir.  That's me."
    "You play good ball, Man."
    "Thanks."
    "I don't want to sound like I'm being funny, but that's a really nice jacket.  Uhm...  Just where do you find a leather jacket that fits you, Son?"
    "My family owns a farm.  We do most of our own butchering and sell the meat.  We tan and sell the hides, too.  My old man kept a couple of the best hides and had this made for me.  I'm hard to fit, and kind of clumsy, so I'm a bit rough on clothes.  Reckon he figured leather might hold up to me.  I don't know."
    "You got a real good future playin' ball, Kid, but keep studying.  You know ball ain't forev--"

    And then it happened.  No one seems to be really clear on the details.  It may have gone down like the movies: "This is a stick-up!  Nobody move!"  or it may have been something else entirely.  The video shows six men, dressed in green jumpsuits with assistive exoskeletal rigs, all wearing helmets with tinted face shields.  They are clearly armed, though their weapons are a bit unusual in appearance.  One man fires a burst of shots into the ceiling and the lobby erupts in panic.  Two others stand in front of the doors, weapons trained on the crowd.  Within seconds, the entire crowd is laying on the floor.
    One thing that everyone agrees on is that one woman had a five-year-old child in tow.  The five-year-old, being a normal child, was both curious and confused by the obvious fear of the adults around him.  He stood, in spite of his mother's pleading for him to lay down with her. 
    The video shows the child running, panicked.  There are two robbers stationed by the doors, four more scattered about the lobby watching the patrons, two are working the tellers, and one has begun setting up some distinctly high-tech equipment in front of the vault.  One of the patron guards is clearly nervous about the gigantic man lying on the floor, and has moved in close enough to cover him exclusively.  The child runs directly up to this guard and begins to scream and shout.  The guard spins his rifle around and draws back to bring the butt crashing down onto the child.
    Mister Kevin Boatwright was one of the many patrons in the bank that night.  He was the man directly in line behind Martin Power.  In an interview with him, years and years later, he still remembers it, and still speaks of it with clear awe:

    "It was-- well, it was just amazing.  You never seen anything like it in your life.  He was just so _fast_.  I know; lots of guys are fast, but when you see a guy that big-- well, if you know anything 'bout sports, you know that a big guy has a harder time being fast.  Not just his weight, but just how far he has to move, too.  A little guy swings, he's got to move his fist what?  two feet?  A big guy swings, he's got to move his fist five feet.  Ya see what I mean?  Plus there's the weight on top of that!  Now you think about how big that Power guy is, and -- oh, MAN!  It was unreal!
    But Power, he was just so _fast_!  It was incredible.  One second, this kid is screamin' that he's going to beat up this guy for scarin' his momma and this guy is fixin' ta butt-stroke this kid and when he draws back that rifle all of a sudden---  Oh _MAN_!
    It was like just a flash!  Power, he just shoots out a leg and sweeps this guy, droppin' him right straight to the floor!  I mean just CRASH!  He was _DOWN_!
    Anyway, before this guy even hits the ground, Power was already standin' up.  This guy is trying to flip that weird-lookin' rifle of his back around and before he can even get a bead, Power grabs that rifle and snatches on it-- but this guy, he's just lost, see?  He's thinkin' that rifle is gonna save his skin or somethin', and he's got such a hold of it that he can't even let it go!  Power snatches on that rifle and this guy, he's still holdin' on to it, and he comes right up with it!  And he's kickin' and fightin' and he's easy three feet off the ground and don't even know what's up except that he can't think of anything but that damned gun and just about the time he looks up, here comes this fist--  
    Have you ever seen that man, Power?  He's been gone a while now, but did you ever see him?  I don't mean like on TV or nothin', but right up close and real and personal-like?  He was HUGE!  So here he is, and here's this bank robber, just freakin' out, and then there's a fist BIGGER THAN HIS OWN DAMNED HEAD comin' right at him---
    BAM!!  There's the crushing sound, like someone took a sledgehammer to a microwave or something, and this guy goes just absolutely _flyin'_ across the room, the face mask busted clean off his helmet-- his helmet was _crushed_, too!  It was just smashed up; I thought that guy was pure flat _dead_!-- Anyway, he's flyin' clean 'cross the room and then just WHAM!  Right straight into the wall!  Mister, you got to understand, that guy took one punch to the face and he _flew_ almost THIRTY FEET and never touched the ground!  He was still moving so fast that he hit the wall _three feet_ off the ground!  I never seen nothin' like it, and I won't never forget it, neither!"

The video footage confirms Mr. Boatwright's statements.  The men working the front counter and the man working the vault hadn't yet taken notice.  Power turned to grab a heavy mahogany table with a thick marble top.  The door guards had seen the action when Power dropped their cohort,  and turned their weapons toward him, opening fire.  Before he could reach cover, Power was caught in a rain of bullets; his jacket and shirt seem to explode as they were ripped to shreds.  He can clearly be seen raising his arms in front of his face in a defensive maneuver, and it takes a moment for him to realize that he is completely unharmed.
    As soon as it dawns on him that he is in no danger, he reaches the large table and slings it as though it were a Frisbee.  The other guards had turned at this point, their attention grabbed by the gunfire.  They had time only to register the massive projectile coming toward them before being swept aside like bowling pins.  One of the men working the teller windows was caught between the table and the teller counter itself.  All five were critically injured.  The second man at the teller windows and the man working the vault were both killed by stray shots during the gunfire.
    Power leaped directly across the room in an impossibly-high arc.  He landed further away from them than he was before.  When asked about this later, he stated that he just wanted to do everything he could to keep the gunfire aimed as far away from the other patrons as possible.  He began to simply walk toward them.  Their machine guns had never stopped firing.  A trail of sorts began to form, composed of crushed projectiles that littered the floor everywhere that Power has been.  As soon as he got near enough, he reached out, grabbed a weapon in each hand and crushed them.  
    At this point, video footage and witness reports do little good.  The men are completely shielded from view by the gigantic young man in front of them.  Four second pass during which it is clear that Power is hollering at his assailants, but there is no audio, and later, during trial, Power himself professed to having no real memory of what he might have said.
    Next, he is seen holding the men over his head, one in each hand, and hurling each through one of the double-doors that served as the bank's entrance.  They smash through the heavy glass and according to the police reports sailed completely across the four-lane street directly outside of it, coming to a stop only after bashing into the brick facade of the law firm directly across the street.  It bears mentioning that they struck that building at the second floor level.
    All witnesses agree that it was at this point that Power turned back to the crowd and bellowed "Nobody move until I take a look outside," or words to that effect.

    In the street, three police cruisers were pinned under fire by the mastermind of the crime, the armored Meta Allen Jaffe, known to the general public as "Tech."  The officers were using their cruisers as cover while Jaffe fired away with an array of energy weapons.  There were two people under the cover of other vehicles snapping pictures.  Other than that, the streets were completely empty.  Jaffe first saw two of his men ejected from the bank, then a nearly-nude muscular giant striding from within.  Clearly, this half-naked young man was an immediate threat.  He spun to bring the full force of his weaponry to bear, and managed to hit Martin several times with his laser-like weaponry. 
     Power seemed to not even notice. Instead, his attention was focused on the armored car outside the bank.  He grabbed it, heaved it over his head, and in one quick move simply spun and slammed it down on the armored villain.
    At least, that's how the report reads, and it's corroborated by the surveillance cameras outside the bank and two other locations on that block.  In truth, it's something of an understatement.  He did not simply hit Jaffe with the truck; he never really stopped swinging.  He used it like a hammer, or like  a bat, continuing to swing long after the actual contact, driving into his target with as much force as he could.  The chassis of the truck was imbedded into the substrate of the street.  Jaffe was beneath that.  His armor had managed to keep him alive, but it didn't save him from suffering fractures to over one hundred bones and massive internal trauma.  He lived, but remained hospitalized for nearly two years.  As a side note, this was also the last entry on his criminal record.  It would seem that, after a long and highly-profitable career as a costumed villain, this was indeed enough for him to get a day job and move on with his life.
    Power re-entered the bank and grabbed the man that he had punched initially, who was regaining consciousness and becoming fully-aware of the pain he was in.  "You don't _ever_ hit a kid!  What's _wrong_ with you?!"  He turned toward the other patrons, who had begun to rise cautiously from the floor.  "It's okay, folks.  the Police are here."
    He then carried the first robber outside, opened a squad car, and shoved the man inside.  He looked at the officers and said simply "He tried to club a kid!"  
    Demonstrating his youth, Martin Power then naively walked back into the bank, expecting to make his deposit.

 

    This incident ended his sports career.  It was clear that Martin held a huge and possibly unnatural advantage over the other players, and in keeping with the policies of all modern sports associations, he was disqualified from competition inside traditional leagues.  
    It was also the first time he been really aware of the Para Registration laws.  At first, he seemed genuinely interested in registering, perhaps even petitioning for State Endorsement as a sponsored Para in order to gain a new source of scholarship funding to replace his lost sports grants.  Martin, however, was never known as the rash type, and insisted first on doing some research.  In this way, he was able to postpone his registration for some time.  When approached after completing college (before his presumed death, Martin Power held four degrees.  In spite of his unmatched physical prowess, he always found intellectual stimulation more rewarding) about registering, he stated plainly and clearly that he was not interested in and had no intention of doing so.  When pressured, he used a little-known loophole that allows a Para to avoid registration, if they were truly determined:
     In order to be subject to forcible registration, there had to be proof that the individual did in fact have paranatural abilities.  Martin claimed that during the incident he had become somehow "possessed" with unnatural power, and made a convincing case that the machinery being assembled near the vault was intended to imbue the man using it with enough physical power to rip open the bank vault.  As the machine was destroyed during the battle, there was no way to prove or disprove this.  While the event was sufficient enough to bar him from athletics, he managed to avoid having to admit to possessing paranatural powers or having to register himself and expose his private life to government scrutiny.
    

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