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I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Burn Baby Burn Chapter Five 3003 words

See chapter one for various disclaimers. This is raw first draft. I'm not pausing to read it yet.


It’s quiet here. Occasionally, I hear a goat or a chicken off in the distance, but normally it’s silent as a tomb. There was a time in my life when I wanted a little peace and quiet.

Be careful what you wish for.

Chapter Five
The Covenant

The supermen traveled via private jet to Guantanamo Bay. Sarah was at the controls, Clint was seated next to her, and Johnny was in the back staring out the window at the blue sea below as they drew closer to the base. The sea changed to a lighter hue as they neared land. The sun was a bit behind them, casting the shadow of the plane on the giant plastic dome that covered the base.
Guantanamo was where they kept the world’s most dangerous terrorists. At least, the most dangerous terrorists that had been captured. Sarah was still on the wanted list. So was Clint. Johnny was the only one on the plane with a clean record, and that was only because he’d spent the last decade as a dematerialized cluster of fundamental particles.
They glided through the jet gate of the dome. The light dimmed instantly.
On the runway, they were met by a jeep that carried them to General Shepard’s residence. Johnny had expected fancier digs, but the General made his home in the same one story tin-roofed style shack that the rest of the base was composed off. His house was fenced off with twelve foot tall chain link walls topped with razor wire. Johnny counted at least thirty cameras pointed at the structure. It looked almost like it was designed to keep the general a prisoner.
The interior was little better. Vast piles of money were being thrown into the war on terror, but apparently the money wasn’t landing here. They were taken to a conference room with a long folding table and folding metal chairs. There was a calendar on the wall, with the November photo showing a kitten staring at a turkey.
Johnny and Sarah took a seat. Clint remained standing, his arms crossed, staring at the door. Sarah left her helmet on. Her plastic surgery made it safe for her to move around in public now, but she still needed the voice modulators in the helmet. This conversation would almost definitely be recorded, and if they found a match with a previous recording of Sarah, it would be game over.
General Shepard came into the room alone. He said, “You have powerful friends. But don’t think for a moment that I lack the technology to neutralize every one of you and toss you into jail. Public use of meta-human powers has an official act of terrorism for five years now. You could all rot in a cell the rest of your lives.”
“Nice to meet you too,” said Clint.
“Yes,” said Sarah. “It is nice to meet with you, sir. We recognize the awkwardness of this situation. We appreciate your willingness to listen to our proposal.”
The general took a seat. “Let’s here it.”
“We will be the first to admit that the world has gotten along fine without superheroes for the last seven years,” said Sarah. “But, that was before Monday’s attack in Richmond by Sundancer in Pit Geek. If supervillians are back, you need us on your side.”
“Ma’am, I think you underestimate the advances we’ve made in the last five years in the field of meta-human controls.”
“And I think the undeniable fact is that you haven’t caught them yet. They’ve hit five banks in ten days. The stock market has fallen by half in that time. There have been riots in Chicago, LA, and Miami. If they remain at large another ten days, civilization as we know it might come apart at the seams.”
“What makes you think you can find them?”
“We don’t need to find them. We just need to respond to their next robbery in time to catch them.”
“But there’s no pattern,” Shepard grumbled. “They could strike anywhere. For all out analysts can figure out, they might be picking targets by throwing darts at a map.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Sarah. “We have access to technology that will allow us to respond instantly the second that another sighting is made.”
“Rex Monday’s space machine,” said Shepard. “You know possessing that technology is illegal.”
“In the U.S. Not where we’re keeping it.”
Shepard crossed his arms, and gave Sarah a skeptical look. “So. I know who you really are. But who are you supposed to be?”
“Skyrider,” said Sarah. “I can fly, and neutralize the gravity of anything I touch. This effectively provides me with superstrength. My flight uniform is Kevlar. I’m not invulnerable, but I can take most things that are thrown at me.”
Sarah’s flight uniform was sky blue and clung to her like a glove. Her helmet was the same shade, though her face plate was a pure mirror. She didn’t have an inch of exposed skin. With her voice modulator, she sounded suspiciously robotic. “My real name is Sarah Sandlin,” she continued. “Our people have provided your people with all the needed documentation to confirm out identities. Unlike previous superheroes, we have nothing to hide. Nor will we ever take the law into our own hands. We call ourselves the Covenant. We intend to be heroes the world can trust.”
Shepard looked toward Clint. Clint was a big man, built like a linebacker. Save for his logo, his uniform was all white, so bright and pure it hurt to stare at it. On the center of his chest there was a large red “S.”
“Clint Christianson,” he said. “My code name is Servant. My body generates force fields that produce various effects. I’m completely invulnerable. I don’t need to breathe. I can run two hundred miles an hour by compressing time around me. I can bend steel with my bare hands.”
“You fly?” asked Shepard.
“I can jump about a quarter mile. But, no, I can’t actually fly.”
Shepard turned to Johnny. “You’re a little young for this game, aren’t you?”
Johnny shook his head. “Name’s Johnny Appleton. The birth certificate we sent in should show you I’m twenty nine.” Of course, twelve of those years he hadn’t actually had a body. Biologically, he was only seventeen.
“Code name?” asked Shepard.
“Call me Ap,” said Johnny. “I’m the world’s first open sourced superhero. Twelve years ago, Rex Monday was trying to design a teleportation belt. He needed a guinea pig, so he had his henchmen kidnap some random person off the street. Lucky me, I’m the guy they picked. Monday strapped the belt on me, fiddled with the dials, and tore me down to a cloud of quantum particles. Unfortunately, the supercomputer he was using to piece me back together wasn’t quite up to the task. I was stuck that way until a few months ago, when the Katrina Knowbokov Foundation rescued me.”
The Foundation was an independent team of the world’s best scientists who’d been assembled to make sense of the mad-scientist inventions of both Rex Monday and Dr. Nicholas Knowbokov, both now deceased. The team had been able to put Johnny back together, but his years in a diffuse quantum state had left his atomic structure highly unstable. The belt now essentially was constantly rematerializing him in order to keep him from fading back into nothingness.
One side effect of his instability was that by making minor programming alterations to the belt, he could change his body. The scientists at the foundation had written a few superpowers for him, sort of as a consolation prize for the missing twelve years of his life. Johnny had since published the belt’s code on the internet. Now, thousands of programmers around the world uploaded new programs daily for him to test. Most were just variations on a theme; he had at least five hundred programs that phase shifted him so that he could walk through walls. Still, it was a fun toy. And, now that he’d been recruited to the covenant, it was more than a toy. It was a tool he could use to make the world a safer place than it had been for him growing up.
Shepard leaned back in his chair. He looked around the room. “For a team supposedly making a pact to be open and honest, you’re getting off to a damn shitty start.”
“How so?” Johnny asked.
“First off all, you check out,” said Shepard. “You’ve given us your real name and verifiable contact information. But, you didn’t mention your criminal record.”
Johnny turned pale. “I was a juvenile. Those records are sealed.”
“The Department of Homeland Security unsealed them for me,” said Shepard. “You’ve been arrested for prostitution, what, seven times?”
Johnny felt his cheeks turn red.
“You started smoking crack when you were sixteen. Dropped out of school a month later. Ran away from home a few months later. First actual arrest was in San Diego six months later. Then, pretty much once every other week until Monday’s men grabbed you.”
Johnny let out his breath slowly. He was determined not to lose his temper. “I understand you may feel the need to judge me,” he said. “But, I haven’t done any of those things in over a decade. When the team put me back together, I was clean. I have a new lease on life. I don’t need any kind of artificial substances to make me feel good about myself now.”
“Very inspirational,” said Shepard. “But if I authorize the Covenant to operate openly, how long do you think it will take others to discover your past? How much of a hero are you going to be once the National Enquirer tracks down some of your old clients and dealers for their opinions of you?”
“I’ll take that chance,” said Johnny.
Shepard turned to Clint. “Your birth certificate and contacts check out. So, we checked out your contacts contacts. They also passed.”
“I’ve got nothing to hide,” said Clint.
“Don’t you?” asked Shepard. “Because you’ve got the same biometric energy signature as an old supervillian that used to operate out of Detroit. Called himself Ogre. He ran the gangs there for five years. Rail Blade finally beat him by sealing him in a cube of solid steel twenty feet on each side.”
“I didn’t really keep up with the news back then,” said Clint.
Shepard shifted his gaze toward Sarah. “You barely even tried, girl. Sarah Sandlin? You’re Sarah Knowbokov. The Thrill! You’re wanted for the destruction of Jerusalem.”
Sarah shrugged. “An interesting theory.”
“The other interesting thing is that your mother is Katrina Knowbokov. She’s the richest woman in the world. And, if she hadn’t just purchased a combined nine trillion dollars in debt in US, European, and Japanese bonds this week, the entire financial system might have collapsed.”
“Yes,” said Sarah. “It might have.”
“That kind of money buys a lot of second chances,” said Shepard. “Whoever you are.”
“We are who we appear to be,” said Sarah. “Just three people who want to save the world.”
“This will have to go up my chain of command. There’s no way I can sign off on meta-human activities without the explicit consent of the President.”
Sarah nodded. “You will discover that Katrina Knowbokov spoke on the phone with him this morning. They discussed further lines of credit, and the subject of the swift authorization of our activities may have come up. Not that there is any quid pro quo.”
“Of course not,” said Shepard. “So. How do I reach you? Some kind of fancy laser that paints a big ‘C’ on the moon?”
“I’ve got a cell phone in my helmet,” said Sarah. “Ap has one in his belt. We’ll give you both numbers.”
Shepard eyed Clint. “Why don’t you have one?”
Clint shrugged. “No pockets on this suit.”
“He’s the strong and silent type anyway,” said Sarah. “Johnny and I handle the talking.”
“Nope,” said Shepard. “Before I turn you loose on Sundancer and Pit Geek, there’s going to be a press conference. Just announcing to the world that we have three meta-humans working on our side is going to reverse some of the damage these two have inflicted on the financial markets. Servant will be your spokesman.”
“I really don’t like public speaking,” said Servant.
Sarah said, “And I’m—”
Shepard cut her off. “You’re the only one on the team not showing her face. And, your voice is plainly altered. It will undercut the message that you team has nothing to hide if you’re so obviously hiding something.”
“Then I’ll speak,” said Johnny. Like Clint, he wore no mask. His costume was a set of red tights with a large ‘A’ on the chest, with black gloves and boots to match the black teleporter belt. Between the three costumes, they were red, white, and blue. It wasn’t the most subtle appeal to gain people’s trust.
Shepard shook his head. “No offense son, but even if I hadn’t read your record, the first time I heard you speak I could tell you were queer as a three dollar bill.”
Johnny felt like he’d been slapped.
Sarah jumped in, “Sir, maybe that mattered a decade ago, but I hardly think Johnny’s sexuality is going to matter now.”
“You’re nuts,” said Shepard. “And, even if he was straight, he’s still obviously a damn teenager, and practically a midget.”
“Now your just being gratuitously offensive,” said Sarah.
“It’s okay,” said Johnny, determined not to sound flustered. He was five six, just two inches shorter than the average male height. He only looked short because he was in the same room as Clint. “I’ve been called worse.”
The General turned to Servant. “Like it or not, you look like a hero, and you’ve got a heroes voice. James Earl Jones would be envious. You’re the spokesman.”
Clint shrugged. “Fine.”
“The first question you’re going to be asked is, are you Ogre?”
“One word answers won’t do.”
“No, sir.”
“Then where did you get your powers?”
“From the Lord,” said Servant.
The general stared at him.
“I became Servant after accepting Jesus Christ as my lord and savior.” Clint sounded utterly sincere. “He gave me these powers so that I could use them for the good of all mankind. As long as I have my faith, I’ll have my powers.”
The general grinned. “Oh, the folks in fly-over country are going to love this.”

Things turned ugly when they got back on the plane.
“The nerve of that bastard,” Johnny grumbled. “Acts like I’m an embarrassment because I’m gay.”
Clint shook his head. “You should have told us.”
“You didn’t know he was gay?” Sarah asked, with a tone of surprise that Johnny found bothersome.
“So he’s got a funny voice,” said Clint. “I try not to judge people.”
“What’s funny about my voice?” said Johnny.
“Never mind,” said Clint. “Anyway, what I meant was, you should have told us about your record. The Covenant is supposed to represent the highest moral standards. It’s hard to think of anything less moral than having a fag prostitute on our team.”
“I thought you were Christian,” said Johnny, crossing his arms. “You’re not being very love your neighbor at the moment.”
“Loving my neighbor means trying to help that neighbor get into heaven,” Clint said. “If you’re having sex with men, that’s a sin. I know people who can help get you straight.”
“Get me straight? It’s not a disease. It’s just how I was born.”
“Maybe you could use the belt to fix it,” said Clint.
“It’s not something that needs fixing!”
“Guys, let’s just calm down,” said Sarah, as the plane taxied down the runway. “We’ve got a long flight home.”
“So,” said Johnny. “Were you Ogre? Because being a murderous drug lord trumps being a hungry teenager who had to do some unpleasant things in order to have a meal.”
“You could have walked into any church in San Diego and asked for help,” said Clint.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Who I used to be doesn’t matter,” said Clint. “I’ve been born again. I’m a new man.”
“Then you were Ogre.”
Clint shook his head. “There’s thirty meter cube of solid steel in Detroit that you could cut open if you ever wanted to find out the truth.”
“Or you could tell me the truth.”
“I’m Clint Christenson. I’m Servant. This is truth.”
Things went quiet after that. Clint stared out the window. Sarah just looked straight ahead. Johnny pulled the wireless keypad off his belt and activated his retinal display. He’d been off-line for almost two hours. One of the conditions for getting onto Guantanamo had been to turn off all radios, meaning he’d been without his satellite link. In the missing time he’d gotten two hundred comments on Facebook on his proposed costume changes. People were enthusiastic about swapping the white capital “A” for the “@” symbol.
Of course, there was also the usual trove of spam. “What a fag costum!” someone named Alpha Dude had posted. Johnny started to delete the comment, then decided to leave it. Sometimes the simplest form of justice was just to let people expose their own ignorance.
He then signed into the Ap Exchange. Thirty two new apps had been uploaded. As usual, a fair amount were vision powers. It turned out to be relatively easy to tweak a retina to see in infrared or ultraviolet. But what he really needed now was something no one had yet effectively cobbled together.
He opened a chat box and typed, “X-ray vision. See through thirty feet of steel. Possible?” He hit send.
Almost instantly, the people currently on the forum started responding.
Sidekick: “Nope.”
BruceBanner: “What you need are gamma rays.”
Code4U: “Even gamma rays would be stopped.”
TheYellowKid: “Seismic imaging might work.”
BruceBanner: “Neutrinos?”
Sidekick: “How 2 capture?”
TheYellowKid: “4 iron, something like magnavision?”
Sidekick: “Like!”
BruceBanner: “Already pounding out code.”

3003 words

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