14 July 2013

Unintentional Acts of Lexicomancy

Sometimes I blurt aloud words out that don't mean anything. This often happens in cases of frustration or twitterpation of some kind, or else in idle, nervous mumblings. They are rather like the way that my brain perhaps perceives what a curse word must sound like or feel like without actually resorting to preformed or agreed upon words for such a cause.

I decided last week to keep a running log of the nonsense words I muttered, and roughly of the circumstances surrounding them. I present them here as a record and for the potential amusement of any who might want to see them.

Swiddle. Sunday, 7 July, walking home from work, muttered while reflecting on a failed conversation with a housemate.

Brind. Monday, 8 July, while at work, checking in books for the library. No immediately obvious reason for this utterance other than bland, repetitive toil.
Flibbit. Tuesday, 9 July, getting ready for work, on realizing I had to hurry.
Fazwid. Tuesday, 9 July, while making a phone call and put on hold.
Frab, sindal, fribbage. Tuesday, 9 July, said in short succession as a single phrase upon the thought of forcefully throwing a hat.
Frabble. Wednesday, 10 July, walking home after printing a resume at night, thinking about the Lily Ledbetter Act and how easy and common sensical it should be to write and pass a one-sentence law stating, "Women shall be paid equally for equal work."

28 May 2013

His Supreme Wrath is Born, Clothed in Darkness

     All fear the wrath of Anak Xothoth, whose unblinking eyeholes see all! Robes of black magick he wrought from the very Shadow That Consumes the Crypt so that all darkness hid and protected him, and he was of the dark. Eons ago, in the depths of the world-crypt, Xothoth slew the deathmage king Elechmides and stole his diamond crown, making him sovereign over powers of all life and terror.
     Most powerful at spells and fearful hexes, and the most fair of the Arcane Order of the Sorim to look upon, this necromancer was first among them marked for Death. How humbled, awed, and grateful were the subjects of the crystal crown that Death knows only one way to take a prize.
Deep in the tunnels of the eldest dead, running for his life and fearing for his head, the wizard slew his doomed subjects with dreams. Tombs echoed with his laughter... and their screams.
And so it was written upon the walls in runes of dream while his pursuers followed:

“...e who hunts the darkness must deep down go, 
To darkness, to Kurm, 
To Nightmare Below.”

Dream-slaying magick taxed the dark wizard with a terrible sickness. In pain awroth, he collapsed upon his own altar. Outside his walls erupted a howl more hideous than any before.
From within his high tower under tombs, in darkness, surrounded by black pools of nightmare pulled up from beneath the eternal wormworld, Anak Xothoth knew to fear the savage baying and growling of beasts beneath him, for they were the makers of worlds. They built the Grand Crypt with worms stolen from the moon and trapped nightmare at the core of everything. Now they would rebuild it for the reign of Death in the diamond crown of Elechmides, and no darkness no matter how deep could shelter the body of Anak Xothoth.
Instead, the dark would preserve his order and his kingdom forever. For he thrust the glittering band into a hidden pocket of his great and terrible robe which was of all Shadow and could be any shadow, concealing it and its power forever. With a final invulnerable breath, the deathwizard lord cursed all of his arcane order with still-dreaming unlife in nightmare for all eternity, so that they should see in the impending reign of crownless Death a gift of the greatest wealth.
So they say that the dread sorcerer saved his wicked order, and his kingdom, before the beasts broke in and  ripped him to pieces. They broke Xothoth's tower under the tombs, that should never have been, drank its nightmare, and cast it down. Yet nothing could destroy his robes of black magick, woven of Shadow, and the Lord of the Sorim needs no eyes to see.

14 May 2013

Do or Die: No Miniatures? How to Make Basic Counters.

Sometimes you want to play D&D on a grid, but you don't have any way of marking positions on the map, a counter. Ideally you'd want a miniature, but they're not always available. With a little preparation and some basic materials, though, you can make your own basic counters.

Things You'll Need
a gluestick
paper
pen (or computer images & printer)
cardboard
scissors

Draw or write something on a piece of paper or print out an image at about 100x100 pixels. Cut the image out along with a sheet of cardboard the same size and glue them together.

Yup, that's it. Dang, I made a bunch o' those. I usually put a character portrait on one side and wrote the character's name, class, and level on the back. I also made some quicker and dirtier versions using two pieces of paper taped to a nickel. The extra weight of the cardboard or nickel is necessary so that pieces don't go flying all over when someone opens up a book or if you turn on a fan or whatever.

Other Ideas for Quick Counters:
-spare change (good w/ few characters and limited enemy types)
-Go stones (without or without masking tape and Sharpie for names)
-Scrabble or Bananagrams tiles
-if you have enough of particular colors, use dice!

What other things have you resorted to using as counters in a game? If you have any favorites or any stories about counters in general, let me know in the comments.

08 May 2013

Crypt Thieves

They came after the age of the Sorim. Many tales of crypt thieves have already been told: of Jabeld, Rizeld, Mylcra, Kleppin, Fedzl-- worst of all Melthin-- and myriad others. These people dwelt on the Surface, but not above the Grand Crypt, for there can be no such thing as being outside a crypt when all the world is one.

These thieves told myths amongst themselves about the bottom of the world, where some discovered elaborate, abandoned catacombs without end. In awed whispers would thieves repeat that greatest wealth hides deepest, for this is what they read down there in cryptic runes. So thither into the world they delved, poking sarcophagi, finding treasures of the past, and witnessing strange, terrible dreams as they would never know in life on the Surface.

When thieves repeat their mantra and imagine jewels, however, they forget that they did not invent the world. They do not know the true cosmology of the Grand Crypt. Only the magick nightmares of ancient warlocks could shape the world with their words. Death gave the ancient magi their power in an age long buried that all life tries to forget. No thief would ever learn or wield this power, yet all who dared to delve deep enough might find what ancient deathwizard lords meant when they spoke of “greatest wealth.”

04 April 2013

Laserman III: Laserman Vs. Dash Dervish's Hyperquantum Cyclonic Terror & the Countdown of Doom!

Billions of volts exploded in white hot plasma inside a giant, chronochrome-plated hourglass, ready to explode and engulf New Detroit in an unstoppable whirlwind of supersonic, quantum unstabilized lightning. An unused rack of laboratory beakers shook uncontrollably atop a steel console. The air filled with static so that the hair of Dash Dervish (the maniacal meteorologist) stood out on its ends in a wild, white shock. A rush of endorphins forced an uncontrollable laugh from out of the megabrain's mouth. Ultimate control rushed over him, as in a lucid dream.

“Let the countdown begin!”

9:00:00:00

Blaring klaxons meant Laserman had breached level two, where he would undoubtably be defeated by an army of thugs. The first of the Terror's final checks came in all clear. Dash commanded a mutant scientist to open the teleportation pod doors, and sections of man-sized, metal eggs surrounding the cyclone-storming hourglass of the Terror flew open with a steaming, hydraulic whoosh.

The Dervish leapt into the first available pod, lab coat flapping behind. The door whooshed shut with a crunch. Without belting himself in, he shifted the pod interior to zero G and teleported away, still gasping for air from all his laughing. The lights on the pod he used went dim, all used up. The rest still flickered with color against the brilliance of the Hyperquantum Cyclonic Terror.

7:11:05:00

Seven pods for seven mutated scientists. A secondary initiative booted efficiently amongst them. The mutants needn't shout over all the alarms because they communicated telepathically. Their green, suction-cup fingers darted around over a series of computer consoles teeming with buttons. Their uneven eyeball clusters showed no pupils, which were transfixed on an inwardly located, holographic interface within their collective neural net. Between the seven, they might have had close to a hundred eyes yet not one of them looked outside itself at the world around it, focused as they were upon their digital labors.

Like programmed automatons, they would not break until the absolute last. Until that final minute, their highest priority would be to ensure the operation of the Terror. After it they would flee to the pods, and woe to anyone still within the city limits then! Woe, okay?

6:22:03:14

The third level breach alarms erupted into siren shrieks and banshee wails.

Laserman burst through a pair of double doors, turned and immediately decked a mutant clicking at a computer mainframe. He grabbed a metal furniture (formerly weighed by the thing in the lab coat writhing on the floor) and blocked the massive doors with its legs, making it a different sort of bar stool. It would only hold for so long if they turned the flamethrower on it, but that was a risk Laserman would have to take. His nostrils flared mightily, lungs stinging but uncaring at the heat and turbulence of the lab's atmosphere in close proximity to a churning plasma vortex, just greedy for air.

Down dropped Blackout― Laserman's loyal, intelligent service cat― from a ceiling tile at the other end of the room (landing, of course, on its feet). The cat's tail had been scorched bare at its tip by Flame― boss of The Dervish's cruel gang of miscreant meteorologists― and his napalmy weapon of choice. An unflappable force of felinity, Blackout sauntered over to its ape descendent partner.

“M-ow?” asked Blackout, or “Are you hurt?”

He certainly looked it. While once he had pressed at the double doors to bolt them shut, now he verily leaned upon them (momentarily, of course, for the clock was still ticking). A bruise had already begun to form along his jaw, where he had taken a punch zooming past the SWAT team and their battle with Dash's minions at level 2. His lower lip was split and numb. Sparks spat out a joint at the left shoulder of his robosuit where it'd been pierced by three wicked projectiles from stormtroopers wielding a weapon against which his armor was not prepared― assault staplers! One leg on each of the giant staples, machine-sharpened to nanopoints, pierced the electromesh plating of his robosuit like arrows through chain mail. The legs that hadn't hit him hung just over his shoulder looking sharp and deadly.

Despite his injuries, Laserman only reached out, scratched under Blackout's chin, and whispered, “Who's a good kitty?”

Blackout knew the answer, but felt reassured at its friend's health rather than patronized.

The mutants, this whole time, kept up their automatonish poking and clicking at consoles with their suckered fingers. Even the one who'd been punched off his stool resumed its work as though nothing had happened. They had a single program, a single mission, a single mind. They weren't made for combat, but Laserman knew that. This wasn't his first encounter with mutated men from XI V.

“We come in peace.” Laserman took a step forward. “Stop this machine now!”

The mutant scientists ignored him entirely. They did hear him in some way, even if (all eyes turned inward) they couldn't see him, but they didn't hear in a human-normal auditory sense. The HQCT had whipped up into such a frenzy by now that anyone with that kind of auditory sense would have a hard time hearing anything other than the thunder of soon-to-explode plasma echoing in its chronochrome hourglass. Instead, the mutants heard Laserman's words reported deep in their neural net. Unfortunately his order conflicted with their current program. So, without their help, shielding his eyes against the scintillations of the whirling, potentially city-vaporizing, giant time bomb in the middle of the room, the Man of Laser and his faithful feline hurriedly scanned the consoles for something, anything, just some way to shut it― or even slow it― down.

5:31:00:20

Our hero's eyes alighted on a conspicuous, red button under a sheath of glass between two of the mutants' consoles. “STOP,” it said in white letters. He wasted no time in smashing the glass open with a hard elbow and slapping at the button.

But nothing happened, except that Laserman cursed and went, “You've got to be kidding!” to nobody in particular.

Mind racing, he smacked the button again. Was it broken? A false abort switch, designed by Dash to torture him with hope? Perhaps he'd activated it the first time, only to shut it off by pressing it again? Or had it really been on and he'd turned it off by pressing it (as Dash would've expected him to, especially since he'd had it sealed so innocently behind glass!) and now his pressing it again had perhaps reactivated it on some sort of timer? Was it all reset? Was it all too late?

While he was busy freaking out, Blackout tapped him on the leg and looked up at him imploringly. The cat's ears had picked out the racket of a modem from one of the consoles surrounding the Terror (in a minor way, our hero's lack of hearing had spared him). Laserman shot out for it and, recognizing the readouts as belonging to the XI V neural net, attempted to force a stack overflow in one of the alien robot mutant scientists.

The door jolted against its hinges. The stool's metal legs held, but bent. Twice.

?:X-:12:00

Laserman cursed again. It might be stressed that normally Laserman was politely spoken (as any Michigander) but his life, his cat, and all of Detroit could be blown up in mere minutes. Just how many minutes was now impossible to tell, as the countdown flickered wildly between inscrutable, unreliable symbols and a blinking twelve. Was it four minutes? Three? One?

Suddenly, a six-and-a-half foot tall, eye patch-wearing minotaur of a dude materialized at close quarters to Laserman wielding an Uzi. This happened even though the door never opened because this man-mountain― The Dervish's chief lieutenant, Flame!― wore a phase displacement headband, clearly visible without his protective welding mask. He didn't need the welding mask because he didn't have his signature weapon. Phase/displace-materializing in close proximity to a doomsday device is dangerous, true, but shooting a flamethrower around one would be an idiotic guarantee of disaster. Bullets, though, can't penetrate the chronochrome plating of the Hyperquantum Cyclonic Terror― and so Flame planned to assassinate his rival once and for all!

In the split-second while Flame's body still coalesced into substantiality, our hero grasped and controlled the beefy wrist of his opponent, twisting it away and down. Laser speed and cybernetic strength saved our hero and the seven XI V from spraying, deadly hot lead. Flame had only enough time to roar, “I'll kill you!” before Laserman disarmed and tripped him. The fiendish forecaster had a bind on Laserman's cannon arm, though, and forced it outward, pulling him to the floor.

They wrestled for like two minutes. Blackout leapt at Flame in defiance, but he batted the cat across the lab with his boot. Only then (with Laserman pinned under him) did Flame see the glitched-out timer.

He knew he'd blown his one opportunity to personally avenge himself against the man who'd blinded his eye. The course of their punching, crawling, dragging, strangling combat had taken them to the other end of the room, so that he'd have to leap to the other end to recover his gun, completely exposing himself to a laser blast. The teleportation pods, and escape, were his only possibility if the flamethrowerless man-mountain wished to survive the death of his enemy.

Flame pummeled his foe about the shoulders and back, where old burns still scarred him, and jumped off him into the nearest teleporter. A burst of blue light shimmered out from the pod and its lights went dead. Then the giant was nowhere to be seen.

Part of Laserman― the part crumpled up in a heap of old, throbbing scars on the floor― hurt and despaired so much that he just wanted to curl into a ball.

*:\!:12:00

A powerful surge from the robosuit's concentration chip brought our hero's vision and determination back into laser focus. His hand shot up to one of the Terror's consoles― with all his code still typed in― and pressed a button to upload.

In that same microsecond, the mutant scientist robots' final command kicked in. Blast shields fell down over all the consoles. The mutants all piled into their respective teleporters and zapped away to safety before Laserman could find his feet again. All of them, that is, except for one.

This one sci-mutoid, codename Xolglox, plopped in front of a blank console in the teleporter used up by Flame. Android-like, it'd depressed the system initiator. Nothing happened. It sat there for a second, either expecting to teleport or awaiting new commands from its collective, until Laserman's forced stack overflow error finally hit home, disrupting its internal connector program and jogging it out of its neural net. Xolglox realized it was all alone and was going to die that way very quickly when the Terror blew up, without any time to process either of those really quite dire feelings.

“Help us!” The Man of Laser yelled at it. “We've got to stop this thing.”

So the alien stuck its sucker-ended fingers into Laserman's ears and transmitted a mental blueprint of the Hyperquantum Cyclonic Terror via infomeld, highlighting its weakest points.

“Cross the circuits...” it croaked.

That message might have been cryptic if not for the simultaneous, red blinking of a series of parallel mirror circuits in the mental blueprint image of the Hyperquantum Cyclonic Terror. A single laser beam entering through a pinhole-gap (accidentally introduced to the chronochrome shell by all the freakish, rumbling instability of the HQCT) charged to incredible intensity and aimed at just the right angle might connect two primary mirror configurations made never to touch, and thereby short out the entire doomsday device.

But could Laserman do it? Did he have enough time left to charge a laser blast to such incredible power? Could he avoid hitting any of the other vital parts that might just make it explode catastrophically, spewing plasma and evaporating all life for miles? Could he fire off a beam in the absolute nick of time with such superhuman― one might even say laser― precision?

… actually, never mind. This was kinda his thing.

Lasers exploded everywhere in shockwaves throughout the Hyperquantum Cyclonic Terror, but outside nothing so much as crackled. Outwardly all that happened was all the lights went out and the machine whirred to a stop. Then it was suddenly eerily quiet and still.

So suddenly, in fact, that Laserman wondered aloud. “Was that it?” He touched his robosuit, sought out a fleshy spot of his neck. “Am I dead?”

“Meow,” said Blackout. The cat's claws scratched at the door, pawing underneath it at a moving light. From the other side, someone giggled.

Our hero thought maybe this was one of Dash's minions. He approached with caution, guiding himself to the barred entry with a laser point. “Excuse me,” he said. Whoever was on the other side didn't seem to hear him, so he repeated himself.

“Oh hey, guy?” came a voice from the other side. “Are you in there?”

“Who do you work for?”

“Huh? I'm Deputy Frank... NDPD!”

Laserman pulled the bar stool out of the door handles (a bit of a trick in the dark) and opened the door. On the other side― holding one of those squarish, emergency flashlights with the handle on the top― stood an unathletically large, smiley fellow in a police uniform. One of his eyes didn't move much, and seemed permanently fascinated with his own nose. Atop his police badge he wore a nametag sticker with “Frank” written on it in permanent marker.

“Hey, I know you!” said Frank.

“You do?”

“Yeah. I saw you at the bank today.” Frank looked very proud at having remembered this, even though he didn't want to show it.

“I didn't―” Laserman was about to finish with how he hadn't been at the bank when he recalled his predicament.1 Frank must have seen the fake footage on TV.

Immediately, Laserman switched tactics. Getting past the SWAT team during the assault stapler distraction was one thing, but getting out while the whole police force processed the scene from top-to-bottom would be a totally different matter. Practically impossible. So he asked, “How would you like to be famous, Frank?”

The policeman's eyes widened, glowing. “Famous?”

“How did you get down here?” Laserman uprighted a fallen furniture and invited Frank to sit on it. “Are other officers coming?”

Frank frowned sheepishly. “I... aw, shucks, I got lost. I'm sorry, guy.”

“That's okay, Frank, that's okay. You're doing fine. Please, take a seat.”

He did.

A laser dot traced spirals in the ceiling, bored-like. “I see you've met my cat, Blackout.”

“Is this your cat?” Blackout was busy rubbing its ears on the stool legs. Frank reached down to pet it. “Wow, what a nice cat. You've probably got the nicest, best cat I've ever met. I really mean it.”

“Thank you.”

“Hey,” said Frank. “We're friends, right?”

“Of course we are, Frank.” Laserman saw no reason to say this with anything but sincerity. “Hey, do you like games?”

Frank nodded, saying he was really good at games, and so the Man of Laser proposed a couple of rules for theirs. The first was that Frank had to show him where he got lost. The second was that he couldn't let anyone else know that some guy named Laserman was down there― or the cat, for that matter, or this alien― even though they're good guys. And, lastly, Frank had to say that he pushed this button― a big, shiny red one that said “STOP.”

“You know what?” said Frank. “Y'know, I would give you a million dollars.”

“Thank you.” Laserman swapped a lens function or two in or out from his laser cannon to produce an exact 3D scale model of the Hyperquantum Cyclonic Terror's lair. He pointed to exactly where they stood. The deputy nodded his understanding and pointed to where he must've come in― of course! Police or villain, no-one would think to patrol the tertiary dredge control conduit exit.

The black cat jumped up into the crook of Laserman's waiting arm and they headed out the door, followed by a scared-looking alien in a lab coat. Laserman paused at the door. “Frank... we're friends, right?”

“Friends forever, I think,” Frank answered.

Laserman shook on it. “Friends forever.”

Frank hardly knew what to say. “You know what? Wow, you deserve a raise, guy. I mean it!”

And then they were all out the double doors back to the safety of wherever it is Laserman goes off to. Probably back home. The mutant might get a look or two in the elevator, but for real it would take more than some slightly rearranged facial organs to disturb your typical New Detroiter.

Meanwhile, the deputy stood diligently on guard, lighting the dark of the disabled doomsday lab with his flashlight. He circled around the room a few times, patrolling and whistling the theme from The Great Escape. The timer's display flickered back on, frozen dead in defeat.

0:00:00:00000000033564095

But that didn't mean a whole lot to Frank.


1[In episode 2, Dash Dervish framed Laserman for bank robbery using the magic of green screen technology! -db]

23 March 2013

To Accompany Submission to Whispers from the Abyss

Note: This essay begin as part of a package of submissions (all rejected) to the publication named in the title. It has since been modified.

Mission Statement.
     Oversaturation of the American pop culture apparatus with mere elements of HPL's work-- epitomized in visual spectacles of Cthulhu or tentacles-- has led to public familiarization with Cthulhu Mythos material at expense of affect. In “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction,” HPL said, All that a marvel story can ever be, in a serious way, is a vivid picture of a certain type of human mood” (emphasis in original). Authors emphasizing merely the elements of his work do so at expense of its serious emotional impact.
     To this end, while inspired by philosophical and artistic expressions of literary pessimism sometimes popularly described as “Lovecraftian,” my stories elude entirely the trappings of Lovecraft's fiction to reclaim their affect. My stories never mention New England let alone Cthulhu, nor will readers hear an “Iä!”, nor find the words “eldritch” or “tentacle” anywhere in them. While taking inspiration from across the span of Lovecraft's fictional oeuvre, my work aspires more to the expressionistic impulses of his dark fantasy writings in the 1920s-- the self-loathing of “The Outsider,” the isolation and wonder of “The Temple,” or the disillusionment turned urban phobia of “He”-- rather than his more popular, documentarian-realist sci-fi style of the '30s. From within the array of Lovecraft's artistic sensibilities, I also implement an awareness of those exploring the milieu after him-- especially Fritz Leiber and Thomas Ligotti. The following works highlight themes of frailty, cosmic terror, alien indifference, loneliness, pessimism, and black humor that are essential to the emotional impact found in their inspiration.

Synopses.
  • The Pendant of Zeklin Kha” (564 words)
    Essential to the conception of a Lovecraftian aesthetic is that no horror can be overcome by physical force. In this tale, a thief in a world of crypts and dead wizards finds a magical treasure from which no sword can save him.
  • The Damned Cat” (559 words)
    Inspired by “The Cats of Ulthar” and the half-rat figure Jenkin Brown in “Dreams in the Witch-House,” this tale tells of a lonely flowergirl, Niza, accused of witchcraft, for whom life only worsens. Learn how a cat may be the cause of a rat problem.
  • Pacific Undersea Equal Opportunity Employment” (66 words)
    Applying a sense of pervasive, urban panic from stories like “He” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” to notions of corporate [rather than corporeal] horror, ala Ligotti, this ad parody imagines the Pacific Ocean as an incorporated entity recruiting suicides.
  • An Empty Room” (764 words)
    The modern obsession of associating Lovecraft too strongly with body horror misses the point by emphasizing element over affect. This story removes bodies by extending its horror away from a single monster to a more sinister, all-encompassing emptiness. Recalls HPL's "Ex Oblivione" while invoking the pandemonism of Ligotti's "I Have a Special Plan for This World" or "Nethescurial."
  • Mosquito-Things” (830 words)
    Imagines a horrifying losing scenario in an empiricist's battle for reason. Doomed to the unreality of dreams, nightmare monsters conspire to erase an individual from time. Bonus: begins with a line from “The Whisperer in Darkness.”

24 January 2013

Laserman #2: Laserman Vs. The Weathermen in a Kung Fu Firefight

Once one understands the power of SCHEME in New Detroit, it is easy to see why there is no unorganized crime in the city. As a single organization Supervillains, Criminals, and Henchmen Engineering Monumental Evil controls even petty crime. Any jaywalker worth his wits would be lucky to cross a single street himself before the more powerful forces of crime either made him into a pawn to fund some terrible death ray or other, or else the leaders of SCHEME would destroy him. Laserman sought to bring down just one of the hydra heads of the organization, the mad meteorological mastermind Dash Dervish.

The supergenius doctor recruits gangs like The Weathermen to do SCHEME's dirty work. Just one of Dash's criminal suits, The Weathermen's conspiracy racket spreads misinformation to the public about the weather. Their façade diverts money away from honest broadcasters and into their master's diabolical experiments.

Once again Dash Dervish threatens the city with his newest doomsday device, the Hyperquantum Cyclonic Terror!

Internets told Laserman he would have to go through The Weathermen to find Dash and bring his nemesis to justice. He planned his attack with sophisticated computer simulations. He rehearsed building layouts at his cat, Blackout.

**** Windy Tower ****
Villains' Hideout
Type: Offices (plain sight)
Floors: 28
Organizations: Clobbering Catering Company
IBB - Inane Blathering Broadcasting
Robotechnica, Meteorological Division
Terror Telemarketing
The Weathermen

Supervillains: Dash Dervish

Our hero entered the Windy Tower's abandoned lobby with his robosuit and laser, cat tucked in one arm. The directory said: “Weathermen, floor 13.” The elevator had no 13th floor button, but Laserman knew to press and hold B. Before the elevator dinged next, our hero buttoned the elevator to a halt, pried open the escape hatch in the ceiling, whispered to his furry companion, and (after some reassuring petting) sent the black cat up into a secret network of ventways. Ace up his sleeve, he shut the hatch. A moment later, the elevator lulled its doors wide before the lair of devious weather predictors.

Nobody could navigate these monotonous, green screen-dotted caverns as one might a real set of offices. A villainous intern wandered by in a confused gust from one decoy conference room to another, trailing reams of dot matrix print-outs that he kept tripping on. Laserman followed the trail of discarded paper sides to a room of sprawled cubicles, where unseen men sneered evilly over petty, short-term changes in the stratosphere.

The suits glowered at our hero from their practice chroma key screens. They dangled heavy chains in a menacing way, slapped microphones like lead pipes in their palms, and flashed switchblades from inside their suit pockets. One seemed to take a phone call, then emerged from a cubicle. Laserman recognized the ruffian (by his hideously disfiguring facial scar) as 'Dusty' Rogers from the IBB 2 O' Clock Report.

As an agent of the law, Laserman had obligations to diplomacy. “I am here to speak with Mr. Dervish. Compliance will be rewarded by authorities.”

The hideous gangster cracked his knuckles. “Hate to rain on your parade, pal. If you really knew what way the wind was blowin', you would run. There's a cold front coming up from my fist to the region of your face. Severe chance of thunderstorms and butt-kicking if you persist...”

Dusty struck a kung fu stance-- and suddenly Weathermen burst out of hiding from their cubicles all over the office floor! One grabbed at Laserman from behind, trying to wrench his beam arm into a hammerlock, but laser-quick reflexes and a backward kicking foot saved the hero. He threw an elbow into the gut of another attacker at his left and sprang up from a knee to clothesline Dusty down with his cannon arm. A quick leap into a sprint put him out of harm's way while a few of them rubbed their noggins. Laserman overturned a conveniently armored conference table, ducked behind for cover, and charged his beam weapon.

But The Weathermen had one of their own, already buzzing with energy: the Giganto-Dynamo Lightning Doppler Ray, capable of heating a single point to three times the surface of the sun with a superdirected ripple of electrical hyperons! A line of three men in specialized welding masks aimed it at the downed conference table. Before they could exact their aim, however, our hero toppled all three of them like dominoes with a laser-precise, supercharged beam to the shoulder. The electrical megagun pinned them all at once for the count.

The three downed goons squirmed like turtles on their backs. Laserman switched off their cannon, but not his. He grabbed one by the tie. “Where is the Hyperquantum Cyclonic Terror? Where is Dash's secret lab?”

The elevator opened just then-- ding! Inside a meteorologist beefy as a minotaur brandished a flamethrower. Despite a sort of protective welding mask, Laserman still recognized him by sheer massiveness as Flame, the boss of the Weathermen! Flame hauled his gun out of the elevator, hulking his way ever closer with the giant weapon...

“Mrrow!?” At the signal from its primate companion, Blackout pawed shut the main lever of the floor's circuit breaker. The elevator door closed, entombing the basement offices in sepulchral dark.

The nearly-unconscious Weatherman seemed to be having some trouble talking, so Laserman choked up grip on the weatherman's tie and pinned a bright laser point on the felonious forecaster's forehead to remind him what he was dealing with. He hissed urgently, “Where is Dash hiding?”

“... on the... the r-roof... th-the homing dev... ice... to the lab...” The goons' heads all lulled under their masks, and their lights went out like the building's.

Laserman hid against the reinforced inside wall of a cubicle. Everything went quiet for a tense second, until interrupted by the roar of a flamethrower. The evil manbull's spewing flames threatened everywhere, all at once, lighting the blind black of the underground offices with streams of burning.

Instinctively, Laserman sprang away from the heat. It burned so hotly he couldn't bear to look directly at or around it. Body poised in a fighting stance, his ears went alert for any sound over the roaring plasma gusts that could be his opponent.

Flame advanced with slow, trudging footsteps, calm, measured, and thunderous under the sloshing weight of sizzling napalm tanks. Laserman's fists clenched for punching, beam trigger a twitch away, supercharging the laser's intensity while his enemy neared.

Somehow, a roaring flash of heat and light from behind-- Laserman turned just in time to see the shot of the flamethrower, duck and roll out the cubicle, out of the heat's path. Robosuit filling with cinder-induced sweat, our hero swept wide with a supercharged beam, his shot in the dark missing entirely.

A hairy fist collided with his robosuit helmet, nearly sprawling him to the ground. Laserman kicked out to trip the villain, but he'd disappeared again into the darkness. Hopping back on balance, Laserman waved his beam before him with the trained reflexes of a fencer, but dazed by the blow.

Flame blasted Laserman, again from behind somehow. A quick drop and roll saved the hero from full conflagration damage, but he couldn't avoid it entirely. He clambered through the door of the nearest conference room. Gritted his teeth. Fell. Crawled and quivered behind another conveniently armored overturned table.

The robosuit protected Laserman well against impacts, shocks, and some other trauma. Burns? Not so much. He laid under the protection of that armored conference table for eight-to-sixteen seconds, trying to think only of defeating Dash Dervish, of how much it would cost to repair the suit, his invention, of surrender, of just getting out of here-- anything!-- but he could not crowd physical pain from his mind.

“You think you can hide in the dark? Make it easy on yourself, Laserman...” Flame had flipped up the visor of his welding mask briefly to search for our hero.  “Come out and let me burn you!”  He punctuated that last bit with a burst of molten napalm. 

In the volatile, searing light of Flame's brief firework display, Laserman glimpsed him standing in the doorway to the conference room. In that brief second, in spite of pain, the hero's concentration chip kicked into overdrive. The Man of Laser summoned every laser quality from his robosuit the scorched thing could handle.

Laser precision! Laser speed! Laser focus! His mind aligned into a single, unerring beam against his suffering. Our hero shot forward, a ray of desperate bravado arcing over the steel table and past a jet of fire to shoot a beam straight into Flame's right eye.

The bull of a weather caster dropped his infernal weapon before he could even trigger it again and collapsed, grabbing his eye with a shriek! Laserman dashed on through the labyrinth, unseeing, too, in the parts of the villainous cubicles where nothing smoldered in flame. The keen nightvision and guiding meow of his cat in the vents led Laserman to the elevator.

He did not linger, but immediately pressed R for the roof. Well... then he had to linger a little. The doors lolled shut. A muzak version of “The Girl From Ipanema” played, tinny and a little too cheerful. The elevator rose on its own time, a mule of schedule, oblivious to urgency.

Beep, beep. A little, red light on Laserman's suit lit up. Too drained from the powerful exertion of the concentration chip, it threatened to run out of energy! If it ran out, he would be a sitting duck, trapped in an immobile cybersuit. If only the elevator could've moved faster...

Laserman leapt out when the doors finally opened, pointing his cannon arm. At the far end of the tower's roof, just before a 400-something foot drop into oncoming traffic, Dash Dervish clutched a briefcase in one hand and dangled a pendant with an RFID stud over the edge with another. His hair was a gray shock in the wind.

“No closer, Lazy Boy! Or I'll drop this fragile, little homing device and you'll never find my new lab before the Hyperquantum Cyclonic Terror is finished.”

That halted our hero. On top of making him super quick, Dash's quantum suit blurred his outline-- even his shadow looked like a tornado-- making it hard to see where he stood exactly, even when Laserman's concentration chip wasn't failing. So The Man of Laser bluffed first: “Toss me the beacon, Dash, or I swear I'll shoot you blind.”

“Just go home, Lazy Boy...”

Taut as two titanium springs, the men stared each other down. While they stared, Dash's bladeless stealth hovercopter-- Stratus-- silently autopiloted to level with the roof. Dash moved first, throwing the briefcase into the silent, black chopper. Laserman gritted his teeth against the pounding headache of staring straight into the flicker-and-whirl of quantum instability, reaffirmed his aim. Spot on for the eye.

“Stop right there!” The laser cannon glowed with a fully built charge. “Hands behind your head and lie down-- now!”

“Oh, Lazy Boy...” Dash retracted his beacon-dangling hand, slowly bringing it in, smiling madly and unable to fight a giggle. “You never did know when to quit. Going to read me my rights...?”

The mad scientist started lowering himself, just a little lower, a little... low enough to make a lightning quick grab for a hidden micro-ray gun! Laserman fired off his charge-- it should've hit!-- but an impossibly fast dodge assisted by quantum displacement put Dash clear of it. In the same instant, the mad doctor fired from the hip, sending one shocking beam at The Man of Laser that brought him down to a knee. A second blast of the weird, purple ray threw Laserman onto his back. Electricity arced out of his damaged robosuit. One of the robotic limbs twitched as its servos started to give.

Dash dared to walk two steps closer to the downed man, unable to control his insane chortling. “Ray to go, Lazy! Aha aha ha ha!”

Laserman's head lolled to one side; he picked it back up, almost rolled his body over to one side. The failing robosuit grew too heavy and rigid to move.

“Oh, oh! Too much Jim Beam?” Dash zapped the prone protector of the people again. “Gonna start singin' in the ray-n!?”

From out a nearby vent at about The Dervish's head-level launched a black bolt of fur, fury, and claws-to-the-face.

“AAAaaaaaaaAAhHHhH...!” Dash dropped all; his hands flew up, swatting and yanking at Blackout. The stubborn feline hung on until the mad doctor finally, with effort, shoved the cat off his face. Blackout landed on its feet beside Laserman, seemed to scratch its ear briefly, and then hissed, with hair all on end.

Dash scrambled to retrieve his ray gun and pendant. Two ragged breaths from his lungs mutated into laughter. “Look at you... you... an invalid in a tin can with a little laser pointer and some mangy, black cat.” He wiped blood from one of his bushy eyebrows. “SCHEME will make an example of you, Lazy Boy... just you wait. You'll wish we had just killed you here, instead. Aha... aha ha ha haha ha!” Laughing obscenely, the maniacal mastermind hopped into Stratus-- still smoldering from where the charged laser bolt had blown a scorched hole into it-- and flew off to his lair.

“Meee... ooow?” said Blackout. The cat nuzzled its ape descendent companion, who lay quietly cursing himself as his robot suit locked up completely, leaving him practically paralyzed in its heavy shell.

It took the skill of an escape artist, but Laserman worked one arm-- his weak arm-- out of his suit. Fumbling with a palsied hand, he opened a compartment at the suit's collarbone which concealed a button for summoning an emergency medical airlift.

His cat, with a little scratch at his own collar, revealed the tracking stud it clawed from Dash's pendant.

“Good kitty.” With no functioning concentration chip to override his pain, The Man of Laser had just enough wits left in him to press that emergency button, to breathe, and-- with his partly paralyzed free hand-- to pet his cat while he waited for a helicopter of his own.

“Good kitty...”

* * *

A hospital stay was the least of his worries. Here at New Detroit Central Hospital, our hero was not known as Laserman, no, but Dr. Jim Fields, D.O., PhD. Those letters after his name meant that Fields was a doctor of osteopathic medicine (a neurologist, actually-- a brain surgeon), able to direct his own recovery, on top of being a talented scientist in the field of robotics. With proper care and robosuit-assisted rehabilitation, he made an incredibly quick-- if still not immediate-- recovery. Only the burn on his back left any residual scarring; he modified the gel-like padding of his robotic suit there, for the sake of his future comfort and mobility.

Slightly more a worry, the RFID stud which he'd recovered and turned over to the police turned out to be heavily encrypted. It took about as long as Laserman's recovery for a team of forensic computer scientists to crack the code. Our hero and the police now knew the location of the secret lab, but also that they had precious little time left before the Hyperquantum Cyclonic Terror became fully operational.

But the worst of Laserman's worries came on the news-- a just-breaking IBB report of a bank robbery by a man in a robotic suit. There he was on the television, kicking backwards at a man in a suit, elbowing another, and clotheslining a third “innocent,” according to the report. That third, recognizable by his hideously disfiguring facial scar as the IBB weatherman, “Dusty” Rogers, came forward to testify about the events at the First City Bank. Others-- a corrupt bank teller and security guard, no doubt bankrolled by Dash Dervish himself-- came forward to verify Dusty's account of the false robbery.

Police came for Laserman while the report still played that scene, over and over again, on televisions all across the nation.

“No!” Dr. Fields protested, pointing to the still-repeating scene. “Can't you see it's been 'shopped? The pixels. Man, look at the pixels!”

But there could be no avoiding his arrest, no avoiding the shame and hatred he would endure from the public, just as there now could be no avoiding... the trial of Laserman!