Truth. Justice. Minesweeper.

Monday, August 29, 2005

...With great power comes great responsibility...

...They seek him here, they seek him there...

...Where's the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds?...

...It's not a normal world...

...When criminals in this world appear
And break the laws that they should fear
And frighten all who see or hear
The call goes up both far and near
For Underdog!...

...Someone has to save the world...

...Clark Kent--now there was a real gent...

...In the chill of the night, at the scene of the crime
Like a streak of light, he arrives just in time

...Yes, evil comes in many forms, whether it be a man-eating cow or Joseph Stalin, but you can't let the package hide the pudding! Evil is just plain bad! You don't cotton to it. You gotta smack it in the nose with the rolled-up newspaper of goodness! Bad dog! Bad dog!...

...In brightest day, in blackest night
No evil shall escape my sight
Let those who worship evil's might
Beware my power: Green Lantern's light

...He'd come in high, like Jetboy, like Black Eagle, like a fucking ace...

...When there's evil on the attack
You can rest knowing they got your back
'Cause when the world needs heroes on patrol--
Teen Titans! Go!

...It's okay--Buffy's a superhero!...

...Mr. Trouble never hangs around
When he hears this mighty sound
"Here I come to save the day!"
That means that Mighty Mouse is on the way!

...Your identity is your most valuable possession. Protect it. And if anything goes wrong, use your powers. [...] Remember the bad guys, on those shows you used to watch on Saturday mornings? Well, these guys are not like those guys. They won't exercise restraint because you're children. They will kill you, if they get the chance. Do not give them that chance...

...Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them. Cheer them. Scream their names, and years later they'll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who told them to hold on a second longer. I believe there's a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride...

...The Legion's not twenty guys with corny names and costumes! It is everyone across the galaxy who has made any kind of sacrifice to take back the future!...

...Who knows what vengeance Superweasel will take against defilers of our planet? Beware, polluters! Someday Superweasel may strike again!...

..."What do you expect to do about me?"
"What I ever do with criminals and destructive forces like you. I'll follow you. [...] Wherever you choose to vent your spleen I'll be there to stop you. It's as simple as that."
"To the rim of the Universe?"
"[...] I'll follow you to the ends of Creation [...] and I don't suppose there could be a nobler mission for a superman."

...The point is, she took care of it. Bingo, and the problem that had been tormenting me for the better part of a year just melted away as if it had never existed. You want to talk about superheroes, you need go no further than that, in my opinion...

..."This is not the question," he said. "If he's like a cat or a spider or a fucking wolverine, if he's huge, if he's tiny, if he can shoot flames or ice or death rays or Vat 69, if he turns into fire or water or stone or India rubber. He could be a Martian, he could be a ghost, he could be a god or a demon or a wizard or a monster. Okay? It doesn't matter [...] How? is not the question. What? is not the question," Sammy said.
"The question is why."
"The question is why."...



Look! Up in the sky!
Asskicker laughed, holding me out in front of him. "I better keep him away from me," he said. "Look at him, he looks like he's gonna piss himself."

"I want to know where he's got Caroline," Underhand said. "Then, whatever else interesting you can find."

Nametaker nodded and focused his eyes on me. "Something weird here," he said. I was wondering if I could feel anything in my mind as he read me. I couldn't. "Where the hell's his mind?" Nametaker said, and slapped me across the face. "What are you doing?"

"I'm not doing anything," I said.

"Who the hell is Marcy?" he said. And then his eyes widened. "What are you doing? Stop - get out of my mind! Get her out! Oh God! I remember - this all happened before! I remember this! Get her out!" He flung himself down and started pounding his head on the floor. "Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out! Get her out!Get her out!" Slamming his head on the floor to the rhythm of his own screaming.

And I didn't have deja vu any more! Yay! Man, it felt good. The whole thing made a bit of sense; the supervillain screws up by running into the mental debris left over from when a superhero screwed up. I guess the Marcy fragments were a lot more dangerous to another telepath than they were for me.

But then Asskicker threw me across the room. "What did you do to him?" I banged off the opposite wall and fell to the floor. Asskicker strode over, grabbed a fistful of my chest and whammed me up against the wall again. "You little shit, I'm gonna twist you in half!"

He wrapped his other hand around my waist, and started to twist, and then


Asskicker's grip relaxed. He coughed. And fell on me. We slid to the floor. I pulled myself out from under Asskicker's inert body. Underhand was standing over him, gunsmoke wafting from one of the fingers of his artificial hand. He pointed the gun-finger at me.

"Winchell!" he called to one of his goons. "Take this fleck of shit to the room where we're holding the girl and let them both go. Make it snappy." Then he turned to me. "Listen to me. If Caroline has an eyelash out of place, if she's had the head knocked off one of her zits, if anything, I am going to hunt you down, your friends, your family, everyone you've ever met, and I am gonna personally rape you all to death."

"She'll be fine," I said, climbing painfully to my feet. "It'll be like all this never happened."

"It better," Underhand said as I slung my backpack over my shoulder and followed Winchell out of the room. "And you two," he continued to his other thugs, pointing at the crumpled forms of Asskicker and Nametaker, "get this crap out of here."

Winchell hustled up some hallways and down some stairs, and I struggled to keep up with him. He stopped and hammered on a door, and someone inside opened it.

"What?" the guy inside said.

"It's all off. Let her go," Winchell said.

"What? Why?"

"All kinds of shit just happened. Let her go."

"Jesus," the guy said, and shut the door.

Winchell and I continued down the hallway, and he opened the next door. It was a big ballroom-type place, with mirrors all over the walls, ceiling and floor, and giant spotlights shining all around. I shielded my eyes. The far wall had some french doors leading outside, and the near wall had Ingrid, being lowered to the floor on some chains. I have to admit, this was a pretty good Greyghost-trap. God knows how many guys were on the other side of those mirrors with guns.

The left side of Ingrid's face was all bruised and puffy, and she favored one leg as she stood. She looked totally pissed off. Once Winchell unchained her, I said, "Come on, let's get out of here."

"Before we go I want to fuck some people's shit up," she said.

"We're really short on time, though," I said. "C'mon." I pointed to the french doors.

We started across the ballroom floor, and Winchell said, "Hey!"

"It's okay," I called back. "We're just gonna go out this way."

"What's up?" Ingrid said.

"I'll explain as we go," I told her.

Outside the ballroom was a little patio, and beyond that, grass and little trees and graveled walkways and rolling hills. From what I remembered of Cole's maps, we'd be okay at least until we got the far edge of the walkways.

"You look like hell," Ingrid said. "Look at all the blood on your shirt."

"Not all of it's mine," I said, getting the Discman out of my backpack. "From here until we're off Underhand's property, could you walk right behind me and don't step anywhere I don't step?"

"Why - what - ?"

"Part of his security includes a minefield," I said, and turned on the Discman.

Super-Power 5: Minesweeper

When I called Itzhak and told him I needed a mine detector camouflaged in a Discman, and gave him the specs of the mines Underhand was using, he said it was a problem, because the mines were not only radio-armed but also radio-jammed to prevent detection. So I said, well, what can you do, and he said he could give me a jamming detector that'd let me know how many mines there were in my immediate vicinity. Say, within six feet or so.

This was perfect, because it made things more like the game.

I've played the Minesweeper game that they give away free with Windows for a long time. A long time. I'm not bored with it; I just keep playing. I've even hunted down all the variants - Minesweeper with triangular grids, Minesweeper with hexagonal grids, Minesweeper where you can have more than one mine in a space, even Minesweeper where you don't know what the hell shape or size any area is. Mastered them all.

This situation was a little harder than the game, in that:

1. Anything in real life is different from sitting in front of a computer screen and flicking your thumb on a button.
2. In the game, when you click on a space where there are no mines anywhere around, it'll show you the entire extent of the safe area right away. In real life, nothing shows you anything.

On the other hand, it was a little easier than the game, in that:

1. In the game, you have to find all the mines. But all I had to do here was find one safe way across.
2. In the game, you start with no safe place at all. Here and now, I was already standing on a real big safe place. Well, relatively safe.

"Well then why the hell are we going this way?" Ingrid screamed. "Why don't we just go out the way you came in?"

"The thing about that," I said as we made our way along, "is that we can't let anybody follow us. As soon as they think it's safe they'll want to grab us both and use us as hostages against Greyghost. I want us to disappear before that happens, and that means we have to leave in a way they don't expect. For one thing, I'm sure they've got some kind of tracking thing in the car I drove here in." I had the poker chip dispenser in my other hand, and flipped a chip onto the grass everyplace I figured there was a mine. Conveniently, Itzhak had rigged this thing so that the track display on the Discman showed me the number of mines within a seven-foot radius.

"You're crazy," she said. "I thought I was supposed to be the one with the stupid plans."

"It was a pretty stupid plan," I said, "but this part of it's solid. I can absolutely do this."

In fact, it went pretty smoothly. We didn't blow up. There was only one part, where Ingrid and I were staring at a cloud of poker chips I had scattered around, and I said, "As far as I can tell, our best bet is to walk through the middle of that."

"No way."

I looked at it again, and thought. It was the old 4-6-4 pattern. Of course we had to walk through it. There was no other way for it to work. "Come on," I said, and walked.

She gasped, but when nothing happened to me, followed.

It only took us a couple of minutes to get to the fence. I cracked open the Discman and took out another little gizmo of Itzhak's. I threw it at the fence. It sizzled and sparked for a moment, then stopped. Then I took out another little gizmo of Itzhak's: miniature wire cutters. I snipped us a little hole in the fence and we were away.

"I was half expecting there to be six guys watching us cross the minefield, calling in our location to someone in the house," I said. "We may be ahead of their train of thought. Or maybe they're just smart enough not to let us see them."

"Where to now?" Ingrid said.

I pointed up the road. "That way, and first right. We should probably run."

We did.

We were halfway to the right turn. Ingrid said, "I can't run any more," and ran some more.

"Me neither," I said, and ran some more.

We got to the car Ron left for us, and I tossed the keys to Ingrid. "You drive," I said. "I have to make some calls." Still panting, we piled into the car.

"Where to?" she said.

"City. Don't let anyone follow us."

I called Nick and told him we were clear and that he and Suchit should get out of there. Then I called Greyghost.

"Hey. Ingrid and I are driving away from Underhand's now."

"Are you all right?"

"Mostly. Listen. Before you go pound Underhand into the floor. Rank Frank called me this afternoon. He tipped me off that Underhand was really Rafhaiel Thing."

"Yes?" And then: "Mm."

"Yeah. So you might want to hold off on going after him."

"You know better than that."

"I know. But be careful."


He hung up, and I clicked off. Ingrid said, "What was all that about?"

"One of Greyghost's informants told me today who Underhand really was. Which didn't help us out much, because we already knew. But it was interesting anyway, because Underhand has lots of other powerful enemies, and if Greyghost's guy knew, it was only a matter of time until they knew."


"So, if we really want to get rid of Underhand, all we have to do is wait, and some hit man will take care of it for us. But of course Greyghost isn't going for that."

"Well, no."

"I don't think it'll matter, though," I said. "I don't think Greyghost is going to get there in time to bring Underhand in. I think he'll be dead when he gets there. Which is one of the reasons I wanted us to get out of there so fast; we don't want to get caught up in all of that."

"Uh huh. Well, Victor's pretty fast. Usually if he wants to save somebody, he does."

"Yeah, but this is different. This is a criminal mastermind who knows Greyghost's secret identity."

She almost took her hands off the wheel. "So you think he'd just let him die? Jesus, Dennis!"

"No, no. He's gonna try his best, I know that. I'm just saying the universe won't let it work out that way. I think Underhand dealt himself the Queen of Spades when he found out Greyghost's secret identity. He might as well have tied a toe tag on himself right then."

"Is this your hexagon thing again?"

"My what? Oh. Yeah. Yeah, kinda."

We didn't talk much the rest of the drive.

I had arranged to meet Greyghost and Cruickshank at the warehouse where Greyghost and I handed out the penphones to all the other Empire City superheroes. Cruickshank was there when we arrived. His jaw dropped when we limped in.

"What the hell happened to you two?" he said.

"The usual stuff," I told him.

Ingrid looked around our ratty surroundings and picked out a tarp in the corner to collapse on. "Wake me when Victor gets here," she said.

It turned out that Greyghost was about forty-five minutes behind us. He was looking bloody and charred himself as he straggled in. "Is she all right?" he said about Ingrid before saying anything else.

"I'm fine," she said, fighting her way up into a sitting position. "What happened?"

"Two helicopter gunships attacked the mansion as I was arriving. I tried to get Rafhaiel out of there, but he was dead before I could do anything."

"Hold on a second," I said. I was never a big comic book guy, but I've read enough to know what kind of a deal this was. "Did you actually see him dead? You personally saw his corpse and verified beyond doubt that it was him and he was dead?"

"Mm? Yes."

"Okay, then," I said.

"All right," Cruickshank said. "Now that that's all over. Let's get the hell out of this place."

"Just a second," I said. "There's one more thing." I faced Greyghost. "I'm quitting my job. I can't do it any more."

He looked startled. "I think you've proved that you can."

I shook my head. "I didn't realize it until this happened to Ingrid. But the superhero world isn't a place for human beings. It grabs us and won't let us go and chews us up and eventually it'll probably kill us. You can handle it. I can't. And I won't. I'm glad for all the time I spent working for you, and I'm proud of it, but I did what I could do and now I'm finished. And I'm leaving while I still can."


"Victor. It's just not safe working for you."

"So what are you going to do?" Cruickshank said.

"I don't know, exactly. I'm going to go find some medium-small city, someplace with, like, a Double-A baseball team, and I'm going to rest there for a while. Then eventually I'll find a job, and I'll get a life that doesn't come from some damn comic book plot." Taking a deep breath - here we go - I looked over at Ingrid. "Do you want to come with me?"

There was a pause while she considered exactly what might be involved in that question and her answer to it. For a second she looked at Greyghost. Then she grinned and said, "Yeah, okay. Let's try that."

I reached out my arm, and she used it to pull herself up. We said our goodbyes to Greyghost and Cruickshank, and limped away. Ingrid and I leaned on each other all the way out of the warehouse and into the evening sunlight.

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