Friday, April 25, 2008

"Not My Day" (in fact, not my week)

Friday already, huh? It's not been a pleasant week. Frankly, I'd skip blogging altogether this week if it wasn't for the fact that those "Storytelling Engines" posts look silly right up next to each other. I'm exhausted, I'm feeling decidedly uncreative, and in those situations, there's really only one thing to do: Put up something old that was cluttering up my hard drive and never got published anywhere, but that I sort of like. This is a very short story I wrote to submit to the 'City of Heroes' comic book, back when there was such a thing and they took fan submissions. It's about life as a low-level superhero, and it's called...

Not My Day

Kevin stepped off the tram slowly, his armor still heavy and unfamiliar on his body as he walked the streets of King’s Row for the first time. Everything felt new to him—the sounds of gunshots in the still dusk air, his freshly-laminated I.D. card that proclaimed his new identity as “Neutrino Man” to the citizens of Paragon City, and the tip his friend Paco Sanchez, who worked in Galaxy City’s hospitals, had given him.

“The Circle of Thorns,” Paco had said. “They perform rituals on the rooftops in King’s Row at night. I don’t know what they’re doing, but I know they kidnap people to do it…and that those people are never seen again.” Kevin was still a bit new to the hero gig, but he knew that was exactly the sort of thing he had to stop.

He looked at the setting sun, then at the tenement buildings that rose up all around him. “Rooftops,” he muttered to himself. “Good. Very specific.” He picked a direction and started walking.

He didn’t walk long. After only two blocks, he heard a scream from up above him. It was a woman, shouting, “What are you doing to me?” A deep, sepulchral voice responded, “The ceremony must continue!” It sounded like what he was looking for. Kevin looked for a quick way up the building.

There was a fire escape about halfway along the building, and Kevin quickly jumped for it…only to find that his armor weighed him down just a little too much to do more than brush against its lower rungs. “Stupid nuclear regulations,” he gasped, making another futile jump. “I tell them and tell them, I could get by with half the lead shielding, but…” He carefully hopped onto a nearby fence, balancing tenuously. From there, he leapt to the fire escape…but took a step too many, and plunged back to earth.

“Not my day,” he grumbled, leaping back to the fence and then back to the fire escape. This time, he managed to hold his position and started his way up the ladder. Ominous rumbles filled the sky above him as swirls of green lightning flashed overhead.

Three stories up now, and Kevin was really hoping that whatever this ritual was, it took awhile. He was also mentally redesigning his armor to drop seventeen pounds of redundant systems, and making plans to join a gym.

At seven stories up, the fire escape simply stopped. Kevin looked up, and saw three more stories between him and the roof. “Why didn’t I just go inside and ask if there was an elevator?” he asked himself. He made a desperate leap, grabbing at a window ledge ten feet above him, and managed to just barely hook it. Another leap put him on another window ledge, and another…was just slightly misjudged. Kevin saw the ground rushing up at him, and plans for boot-jets unfolded with desperate clarity just before the impact knocked them right back out of his head.

The armor’s chronometers showed he’d only been unconscious for a few minutes. He could still hear the ritual overhead. Thankfully, the armor also protected him from the seven-story fall he’d just taken…and that ‘unnecessary’ lead shielding had protected King’s Row from the effects of a portable backpack-mounted nuclear reactor hitting the ground.

Another jump to the fence. Another jump to the fire escape. Kevin wasn’t sure how long he had, but he knew he was running out of time. ‘Running’ had featured far more prominently into his day than he’d planned it to, given that he only started this superhero gig as a way of promoting his portable energy sources. But as he reached the top of the fire escape and started his wild jumps again, he knew that there was an innocent woman up there depending on him. As he clung to an air conditioner nine stories above the ground, pulling himself up for the last jump, he at least hoped she was cute.

Finally, he crawled onto the roof. He staggered to his feet, preparing for battle…and saw the flash of light again, thirty feet to his left. Easily misjudged from ground height. Across the alley. On another rooftop. He looked over, and saw three hooded figures in dark robes. He looked out over the alley, did a few quick velocity calculations in his head, and came up with an answer he didn’t like. He looked two stories down, at his probable landing site on another fire escape. He backed up.

“Not my day,” he muttered, as he sprinted across the roof and flung himself into space…

The End

(People who don't play 'City of Heroes' are sort of saying, "Huh," right now. People who do play 'City of Heroes' are saying, "Omigod, that is totally what I was like that first time I had to do that!")

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What Schroedinger Never Understood

The cat knows.

There. Now can science-fiction authors please shut up about the experiment?

(The preceding tiny rant was brought on by 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency', one of the umpteen billion sci-fi books that brings up "Schroedinger's Cat". Although at least Douglas Adams had the decency to do it as a joke, and to point out that the experiment wouldn't work.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Highly Delayed Karma's Gonna Get You...Someday

Dave Barry said it first, but I read it and thought, "I knew that!"

In his book, 'Dave Barry Turns 50', he talks about fifty things he's learned over the course of his life. One of them is, "If the person you're having dinner with is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, they are not a nice person."

And it's absolutely true. There's a certain class of person (and you know who you are) who thinks that being in a restaurant gives them a license to be rude, demanding, obnoxious, and cruel...and all to someone who has to respond to that with nothing but politeness or risk losing their job. Sure, we've all had situations where the food is bad or the service really is terrible, but you can find ways to let people know that without taking out your frustrations on them. (Especially the food. They didn't cook it, they just brought it out to your table. When you shout about overdone steak, you're not even shouting at the right person.) Really, you can tell more about a person by how they treat the waitstaff than anything else about them.

I'm gonna let you in on a little secret. When you die, and you march up to the Pearly Gates, God's going to have a big book with your life in it. And it's not going to contain your donations to charity, or the number of times you swore or had sex or got drunk. No, that book's going to contain a list of every time you went out to eat, and exactly how you treated your waiter or waitress.

God knows how much you tipped. Literally.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Breaking Scandal!


(Associated Press) The Bloodhound Detective Agency has been a well-known staple of the private investigations field over the years, with its catchy slogans and friendly staff. But recently, it's seemed that even if you did in fact have the crime, owner James Bloodhound didn't have the time. The owner and chief investigator for the agency had been noted for his almost perpetual absence in recent months, apparently leaving his cases to a number of youths who frequented the offices.

But it didn't take a detective to find the detective; James Bloodhound was found by a process server in the Eagle's Eye Tavern, a local haunt, at 3:42 PM yesterday. According to witnesses, he was drunk and belligerent, threatening the server with bodily harm when he was presented with a writ to cease operations pending an investigation by the Department of Labor. Police arrived on the scene soon after, and Mr. Bloodhound was taken into custody. Bob Smith, owner of the Eagle's Eye, claimed that Mr. Bloodhound came in every day when the bar opened, and frequently would not leave until closing. "I always wondered where he got his money from," Smith said. "I never dreamed he had some kids solving mysteries for him."

But it turns out that this appears to be exactly the case. Callers to the Bloodhound Detective Agency were greeted with a cheery "Bloodhound Detective Agency, Mr. Bloodhound isn't here," time and time again, and instead of Mr. Bloodhound himself, they found a gang of teenagers solving their crimes. Although the teens had a strong success record, they received no compensation for their efforts, renumeration instead going back to the agency.

"We just do it for the thrill of solving mysteries," said 'Skip', one of the three youths who form the unofficial 'Bloodhound Gang'. "We never thought about getting money, I mean....I..." At this point, 'Skip' broke down into tears. "Please don't tell Mr. Bloodhound I talked to you. He'll hit me again. I...I don't even know what happened to Zach and Cuff!"

At press time, the future of the Bloodhound Detective Agency remains uncertain. The 'Bloodhound Gang' claims to be looking into opening a partnership with Billy Jo Jive, super-crime-fighting ace, but he denies all reports of this, claiming to already be quite happy with his current partner, Smart Susie Sunset. One thing is certain, Mr. Bloodhound is most definitely in trouble, and nobody knows just who will be there on the double.