Update and Flash-Fiction


Hey everybody! Just thought I’d drop a line and let everyone know what has been going on. First and most important, I am making progress on the fourth Wearing the Cape book; I’m still not writing as fast as I’d like, but this one has a complex plot with several moving parts and I want to get it right. However, I have decided to return to the single-person POV (Hope) for the next book–as much as I enjoyed writing the scenes for Grendel and Mal in Young Sentinels, upon reflection I feel that the book was not as focused as it could have been otherwise.

News Flash: I have been working with someone on a new website for my books, and it should be up shortly–I’ll post a note when it goes up. It will mainly be an advertizing site, but I will also have a blog page there (duplicating this one), an Author Contact page, and in the not-too distant future a shopping page where prints of the covers and the upcoming interior art from the gamebook will be available–I really hope to be able to reward my excellent artists beyond the straight commission fees I’ve been paying them.

Playtesting on the beta-rules for Wearing the Cape: the Roleplaying Game continues, with positive notes so far but good suggestions are also coming back. And on that subject, here is a little piece of flash-fiction I wrote for the world-background section of the gamebook. Enjoy.

Turning Points

Sam checked his watch for the fifth time in five minutes, and wondered again why he’d thought it was a good idea to use his juice to get a ringside seat to the hearings. Sure, President Kayle had surprised everybody when he stomped on the Containment Act—the guy had been a complete nonentity as a vice president, and watching him grow a backbone after his emergency swearing-in had been like watching a poodle decide it was a Doberman—but watching the new round of Emergency Security meetings, while senators from both parties droned on about what to do now, was turning out to be about as interesting as watching paint dry.

Normally Sam handled the Corruption Beat, but the Senate Ethics Committee hadn’t convened since the day of what everyone was calling The Event. That had been an interesting day, and Sam had missed all the action—he’d been in upstate New York for a nephew’s Bar Mitzvah and the other than the weirdness of the Blackout and the tense and wondering wait until the phones and cable came back up, it had been a quiet day for his small hometown. Sam had been a wondering spectator along with the rest of the world, and by the time he’d gotten back to Washington word had already come that Air Force One had made a big hole in the South Dakota prairie; he’d managed to miss Kayle’s emergency swearing-in.

Things had gotten really interesting then, but now…

“Isn’t democracy wonderful?” Linda whispered beside him, suppressing a yawn. He grinned at her echo of his thoughts.

“Shut up, both of you,” Simon hissed. Their fellow Associate Press reporter was usually good for a beer and a laugh, but today he wasn’t giving them any slack; he’d been focused on the speakers with raptor-like intensity since the press had been ushered in. Sam shook his head.

Since Kayle had stamped a big old veto all over the Containment Act and begun sending the Justice Department after state law enforcement agencies who’d started using their new laws to begin indiscriminately rounding up “dangerous breakthroughs,” neither party could decide whether to support him or impeach him. It made for great political theater, but only on the talk-shows; inside the hearings, since neither party had picked a side yet, speaker after speaker grabbed his turn at the mic and droned on about the need for security or the need to protect the public. They huddled with aides and trawled the internet for the latest opinion polls in between speeches, trying get a feel for what their constituents wanted so they could lead the mob the way it already wanted to go.

 “C’mon, Simon.” Sam nodded towards Senator Barker, who was living up to her name but seemed to be winding down. Just one minute left in her time, and the chairman was ruthlessly enforcing the hearing rules. “You think we’re going to get a byline out of any of this? Nothing’s going to get decided here, not even a decision about how to make a decision—you notice nobody is talking solutions, just gassing on that something has to be done. Nobody wants to be caught on the wrong side of their party’s eventual policy, whatever it is.”

Simon scowled, not ready to let it go even though Linda was rolling her eyes and Sam knew he’d been trying to get her to go out with him for weeks.

“You’re both wrong. I think everyone here is talking to their voters, laying the groundwork so they’ll look reasonable when they announce a decision they’ve already made.”

“Which is?”

“They’re going to go after Kayle. They’ve got to, he’s not playing ball. At least half the public thinks he’s standing in the way of even commonsense safety measures, and the other half is split between backing him and only half-agreeing. The half that thinks he’s being a complete dumbass is putting pressure on their congressmen to make them safe, and it’s an election year.  They’ve got to—”

He cut himself off when the hearing room doors opened. Senator Barker had sat down, and now the Capitol Police were ushering some new people in.

“Elvis on a bike—” Linda sat up.

The newcomers who walked through the doors weren’t on the speaker list.

Sam had seen pictures and video—they all had. They knew the names they’d given themselves: Atlas, Ajax, Minuteman, Blackstone, Touches Clouds. Seeing them led into the hearing chamber, watched by Capitol Police, was a different experience, and the room exploded into noise as the chairman pounded his gavel and every reporter and journalist scrambled to take pictures with their phone-cams.

“Holy shit.” Sam added his own commentary.

Pictures really didn’t cover it. Atlas—John somebody—was a kid. Tall and rangy, he’d found a shiny blue racecar driver’s jumpsuit somewhere and stuck a white cape on it. Even under the mask, you could tell he was young, and he led the way but didn’t get more than a step ahead of the big guy at his back. Somewhere since their last Chicago press conference, Ajax had managed to get ahold of an actual suit of Greek armor, helmet and all. He didn’t have his maul—he’d probably set it down outside, and Sam smiled at the quick thought of any of the Capitol Police trying to move it from wherever he’d put it.

Someone had found Minuteman a patriotic-themed red-white-and-blue spandex bodysuit (an Olympics aficionado, Sam thought it looked like the kind of suit worn by speedskaters and the man did have the Stripped and Ripped physique to actually look good in it), and Blackstone, who Sam had heard really was a stage magician, was dressed for his act in a black tux and opera cape. Only Touches Clouds wasn’t in a costume, just a black business suit, but as fine and regal as she looked she could wear anything.    

 “The outfits are new…” Sam trailed off. Simon wasn’t listening and Linda was too busy watching. Damn, Atlas might be a kid, but he didn’t look like walking into a room full of media and some of the most powerful politicians in the country was any kind of a problem for him. The rest didn’t look bothered any, either. The Blackstone guy looked amused at the noise.

And Linda was edging back in her seat, checking the exits. Sam shrugged. Linda had made her opinion of breakthroughs who could ignore anything short of anti-armor artillery, forget about the guns and tasers of the Capitol Police, real plain in her last few articles: “Put them where they can’t hurt normal people” pretty much summed it up.

Sam was still having a hard time believing the things they could do, but maybe being able to do those things explained the confidence he saw.

The chairman welcomed the colorful group as soon as the crowd-noise died, and they took their seats. Everyone waited while aides checked their microphones, dialing one down when a spike of feedback made everyone wince. He thanked them all for accepting the Senate’s invitation while cameras flashed and Simon frantically checked his recorder. Sam had never turned his on; he knew Simon was good for a copy.

“Thank you again for coming,” the chairman concluded. “Now, this is not a formal hearing but could you give us your backgrounds for my colleagues and the press?”

Atlas gave his real name and “codename” in a clear voice and they went around the group. Minuteman was the only one who didn’t give his real name or say what he did, and the face-obscuring bike helmet he wore meant the media was still guessing at it. The chairman’s mouth tightened at the obvious omission—Sam made a note to ask what he thought of “mystery men” if there was a question and answer session afterward—but the senior senator let it pass.

When they finished, he nodded.

“Now, I understand that, agreeing to appear here today, you have asked to have Ajax—Professor Gibbons—speak for you, that is correct?”

“That is, indeed, correct.” The big man took off his Greek helmet, displaying a head-full of tight dark cornrows. He looked more like the kind of guy Sam was used to seeing keeping rowdy club-lines in line than a tenured university professor.

He set the helmet on the table beside his mic, and continued in his cultured but deep bass voice. “Blackstone is a veteran performer, but as a teacher I am much more used to taking questions and clarifying points.”   

 “And what do you teach?”

“For undergraduates, classical and early Western history. For graduate students, political history.”

“You have, of course, been following the current debates?”

“It is history.”

“Certainly. History in the making. A decision about who we are and who we want to be.” The chairman searched the small stack of papers beside him, pulling a sheet. “I believe that, last Thursday, you answered a question from gentlemen of the Chicago press by saying, and I quote, ‘Attempting to regulate or control the new superhuman population through any form of extraordinary measures would be a tragic mistake, for our citizens and our nation.’”


“And this was just after the, let’s see, Diamond Street Caper? A ‘supervillain’ calling himself Rickets had just successfully robbed three of Diamond Street’s jeweler boutiques for half a million in jewelry and stones?”

“That is correct. The police will find him, and the Sentinels will apprehend him.”

“Which will not help the five dead employees or their families. Yet Rickets was a known breakthrough, or at least the police knew about him. Isn’t that true?”

“It is.”

“And Mr. Rickets was already known to be have a questionable  past. Assault. Petty theft. Drug possession. Nations around the world are seeing outbreaks of lawlessness committed by breakthroughs, often with a tragic cost of life. And you suggest that we treat this as merely a police matter? That we wait for the tragedies?”

“Yes, senator, I am. We all are.”

That was all. Sam could see the chairman, the distinguished and long-serving senator from New York, struggling with it. And with Ajax and the rest of them. The big guy wasn’t being rude, or impatient, but they were in a room with some of the most powerful power-players of Washington, and he sounded like he was answering questions from a student. Sam had seen CEOs melt into puddles in this room, or go up in flames, and Ajax wasn’t even sweating, just sitting there like a fricken’ Greek hero—sure one out of Africa but with at least one god in his family tree. The others beside him didn’t look any more worried. Was this what happened when you realized you were strong enough nobody could touch you?

The chairman took a sip of water, tested his smile, and finally gave up waiting for Ajax to elaborate.

“What is the expression, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? Can you tell us why you don’t agree?”

Ajax looked at his teammates, faced front again. Sam held his breath. So did the rest of the room.

“Senator, are you familiar with the social theory of force?”

“Excuse me?”

“Karl Marx famously defined the power-relationships in society as dictated by the ownership and control of the means of production. Ownership of the means of production and control over the product generated is the fundamental factor in delineating different economic systems. Capitalism is defined as private ownership and control over the means of production, where the surplus value of the product becomes a source of income, deserved or not, for its owners. Socialism is defined as public ownership and control of the means of production so that the surplus value benefits everybody, not just the capitalist.”

Simon looked like he’d swallowed something sideways, and at least half the room had too. The guy was sitting in the Capitol, in front of a hostile audience, and talking Marxism?

The lecture continued. “However valuable Karl Marx’s social and economic theories might be, his prescriptions were fundamentally flawed. He was also not looking at the true source of power. Mao Tse-tung less famously said, ‘Power is in the barrel of a gun,’ and he was closer to the truth.

“Historically, gentlemen, force—military and police power—has been the defining power of a state. Call it the socialization of force, if you will. The leader of any state is the man or woman who can point most of its guns at someone. This is true whether the state is democratic or despotic, and the modern age has produced military weapons with power far beyond what any merely private citizen can hope to possess or wield. Tanks. Artillery. Missiles. Planes and bombs. Modern industry has given the modern state an almost complete monopoly on force, even in nations where citizens retain the right to keep and bear arms.

“But that was before the Event.”

“I don’t understand.” The chairman spoke for everybody.

“Gentlemen, my new friend Atlas—the young man sitting beside me who can punch through walls, outfly jets, shrug off hits that would drop an elephant—is a tactical weapon capable of matching an armor division. You cannot stop him from going where he wants to go, or doing what he wants to do when he gets there. And he is only one of the more extreme examples of superhuman power we are seeing every day. And you cannot disarm him.

“And that last fact, gentlemen, is what makes this moment so dangerous for all of us. You cannot disarm him. You can only try and contain him, at great cost, or kill him, at greater cost. And although most breakthroughs are not like him, or like myself, many of us are exhibiting powers which make us weapons in one way or another, at least as deadly as a gun.  Many more of us, like Minuteman and Blackstone here, can go where they want to go and do not have to stay anywhere they don’t want to stay, which makes even passive restraint impossible. We are armed and dangerous and you cannot restrain or disarm us—you can only deal with us. On the day of the Event, force was randomly, capriciously, privatized.”

The mic spiked again as at least half the sitting senators erupted and the chairman banged his gavel.

“Order! Order! Be quiet! Mr. Gibbons, you are not reassuring us.”

“With respect, we are not trying to reassure you. We are trying to scare you. Many of you are scared right now, but you are not scared enough to consider anything beyond your political careers. Your constituents want to be safe, gentlemen. Well, so do your newly empowered constituents. Right now, all that we have to deal with are a few criminals among us who are suddenly gifted, a few emboldened by their breakthroughs who think they can take what they want now, do what they want. But their numbers are small, and the Sentinels and the other teams that are forming will show them differently. Working with the law, gentlemen, because we have as much interest as anybody in preserving the law.

“And this, gentlemen, is because we know that the law is the only thing that protects us from bloody necessity, from the need to exercise the force that we have been given to preserve our lives and our liberties. If our government makes us criminal, then our numbers will not be small. If you force us to decide between dying on our feet or living on our knees, then you will destroy this country. Something might survive, but it won’t be an America where the Bill of Rights has any meaning. It will not be the Land of the Free.

“I have named myself for a Greek hero of the Trojan War, but now I would like to play the oracle—hopefully not Cassandra. Many, most, governments around the world have enacted their versions of the Containment Act, and are now implementing them. Some of them will repent of their actions quickly enough to preserve themselves. Many will not. Some of them are otherwise liberal and lawful enough that their new laws will not be so oppressive as to breed immediate and deep opposition. Many are not. Nations who already persecute their religious and ethnic minorities will suddenly find that their victims have powerful champions. Despotic governments will not even try to restrain their impulse to control the breakthroughs they can trust and kill the breakthroughs they cannot, and people already fighting rebellions and civil wars will find that losses will grant power to the losers.

“A few nations may successfully co-opt their breakthroughs, turn them into a new arm of police and military power. Those nations will survive in something like their current forms. America may be one of them, but only if this country keeps the faith and trust of its newly empowered citizens, if it allows us to serve the greater good, or not, as we see fit and within the law, rather than attempting to coerce our obedience. No man or woman will keep faith with a nation that does not keep faith with them.”

Simon’s mouth formed a silent “wow” as the room erupted again. Lisa looked like she was going to be sick, frozen in her chair, and Sam knew Simon, geeky-cute as he was, was going to be looking somewhere else for female company. She didn’t get it. They’d all heard the same speech, but all she’d heard was a declaration of war. A lot of people would, and this bit of hearing testimony was going viral before dark. But Sam had just heard a declaration of allegiance, provisionally. Simon had heard it too, he was nodding. They exchanged looks past Lisa’s head.

They both knew what Lisa’s next byline was going to be like, and if they wanted the people that counted right now—the people who were going to decide what America was going to be—to make the right choice, then those people were going to have to hear what Sam and Simon had just heard. They were going to have to hear it from their constituents, which meant their constituents were going to have to hear it first.

“Beers later?” Simon asked, an invitation meant for one.

“Hell yes. I’m really eloquent when I’m too drunk to drive.”

“Works for me. We’ll spell-check in the morning.”

That’s it for now. Thank you, everyone for your support and your comments!


8 thoughts on “Update and Flash-Fiction

  1. Fantastic! I’ve always thought that you’ve created one of the most well-thought out and believable ‘worlds,’ in terms of how superpowers interact with the state, and this piece (specifically Prof. Gibbons’ testimony) further cements it.

    As an aside, thinking of powers and the state brought something to mind. Have you ever checked out the game Mutant City Blues? The premise is the palyers are police officers,investigating superpowered crimes. I know you’re beta-testing the WtC RPG, and I’m not suggesting it as a system to emulate or anything, I was just reminded of it as another example of a setting that takes a hard look at how the law interacts with superpowers.

  2. Well done. Like others, I’ve always been impressed by the world you created. I look forward to the next book, or even the next bit of fiction like this.

  3. Great story! Love the perspective and thought behind Ajax’s speech. Makes me sad that we won’t see post-Event Japan in the next book. But hopefully soon!

  4. Had not seen this until now.

    I hope in the real world there’s some mechanism that prevents laws that are unenforceable from being enacted.
    Like Prohibition.
    The large scale internment of Japanese Americans wasn’t applied in Hawaii as it was unworkable.

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