Introduction This final collection of episodes has two moderately significant revisions. The first, and to my mind mere housekeeping, is in part 33 where more of TJ's Secret Origin is revealed in detail. Brian Perler pointed out that the key political argument that in Looniverse Y led the creation of concentration camps, skewed the political history of that world and set up for an excellent shaggy dog ending was - on balance of probability - not something that occurred in Real Life. After checking the Snopes.com site on urban legends I'm inclined to agree, and accordingly I've deleted almost a paragraph of text including much speculation about how a similar turn of events could have affected other non-Looniverse Y continuities (including not just Real Life but also the classic LNH, Omega and ASH universes). The second involves when TJ is given a joint to smoke. In retrospect the original description always struck me as having a mean spiritedness that was never intended. 'A Devil Came Down to Georgia' parts 31-45 Originally posted in _The Daily Super Short-Short Story_ #49-63 An LNHY / Acraphobe series By Saxon Brenton ==================== The Daily Super Short-Short Story #49 A Devil Came Down to Georgia 31 Last time: Martin fought some more with the Diabolicals, and got to kill the evil sock. Maybe. " 'Other three of them'?" Martin repeated. Then his mind caught up with what the scarred man was telling him. "Hold it, hold it, hold it. You mean there's another one?" "Yes." "And where was that one?" "It... well, she, I suppose, was left guarding your friend." "You mean Delroy? Delroy's dead." "No he's not." "I saw the body!" said Martin with heat. "You saw another guy who they picked out and killed because he was the same size and would fit in Delroy's clothing," countered TJ. "No," disagreed Martin. "That can't be right. I recognised his face." "Which Tsurlich stole and swapped onto the corpse," explained TJ patiently. "I don't think they bothered to swap fingerprints as well, but frankly it'd be quicker simply to mount a rescue mission than try to prove identities with forensics." Martin felt sick to his stomach at what he'd just heard. "Who the hell is Tsurlich. Who are you?" TJ gave him a strange look, then said, "You don't recognise me, do you?" "Should I?" Martin demanded. "I'm TJ. The guy that Damian the wondersock grabbed at random for a host body, and who's been stalking you for the past half week," TJ replied in a curiously detached tone of voice. "We've talked a couple of times. Well, you two have. The last time was the other morning when you ripped my dick and balls off after I exposed myself at you." Martin stared at him in horror, and his flesh began to creep. Considering the nature of the student's flesh at the moment, this resulted is an eerie rippling of machine parts and debris. "Oh God," he murmured. It took him several seconds to get his thoughts together, and even then the only thing that he managed to say was to let slip, "So you're not gay then..." "No, actually I'm not," said TJ. "But I don't hate them either." Martin gave him a sharp look, but still couldn't decipher the other man's flat expression or tone of voice. For his part TJ watched, just as he watched everything - and paranoid schizophrenic or not, he recognised the homophobic anxiety in Martin's reaction. .oO( How far does your bigotry extend, little god-botherer? ) TJ wondered clinically. ( Does the fact that I won't burn gays at the stake mean you'll lose your sense of guilt? And how would you react to knowing that I've been interned in one of the concentration camps? ) Unfortunately TJ considered himself to have little choice but to deal with Martin. There simply wasn't anybody else who he could reasonably expect to believe a story about abductions by demons - especially since it included possession by evil socks. They were too dangerous to be left running around, and Martin was the best chance TJ could see to remove their threat. But the two of them would have to act quickly... which come to think of it led right back to the question that he'd first asked Martin after dealing with Damian. "Look," said TJ, cutting through Martin's mixed emotions. "Those demons are after you. They talked about either recruiting you or using you as a bargaining chip, and maybe they were just feeding me lines while having another agenda in mind altogether, but either way they aren't likely to stop coming for you. Now if you're strong enough then we can start offing them like we did with the wondersock, or we can lay low and plan an attack. Considering they have your pal, I'd say a quick snatch- and-grab was in order for starters." Martin considered this. "To get back Del, yeah." Then a though occurred to him. "And what's in it for you?" "I really don't feel safe with creatures running around who either hurt people just for the fun of it, or actively feed of other people's pain. I want them out of the way so I don't have to worry about them turning up to torture me again just because they're having a boring day." "So... We're not just talking revenge then..." TJ stared at him as if he had gone senile and started to dribble. "Folks who let themselves get worked up about revenge overlook things that are obvious. No, I'm talking about survival." Tomorrow: Panty raid! Uh, no, hold on... The Daily Super Short-Short Story #50 A Devil Came Down to Georgia 32 Last time: TJ gave Martin a run-down on what their Diabolical opponents were up to. TJ looked at Martin and asked, "Are you going to be all right?" They were standing outside of an abandoned building that was back in towards the city center. After TJ had given his outline of what was going on, Martin had agreed that urgency was needed for a snatch-and-grab raid to retrieve Delroy, and had flown them back to near where TJ had said Tsurlich was keeping the other seminary student. Then they had quickly walked (well, approached silently with extendible limbs) to just outside their target. Martin returned TJ's gaze but found himself numbly unable to give an answer. He was still feeling shook up by the revelations that TJ had given him earlier. This was... this was all getting a bit much for him. He knew it shouldn't be, since this was more or less was Saint Christopher had warned him about, but still the pace of events was wearing. Banjo Duelling Kangaroos and demonic socks and another Teenaged Giant Halfbreed Fallen Angel who wanted to mate with him and Frankenstein's monster-esque succubi created by underground cults in ancient @lantis... And Martin had instinctively kept his mind from even touching on this issue of how he'd castrated TJ; his emotions were too mixed as far as that was concerned. For his part TJ worried that Martin would be overcome with numbness and simply stall in shock. The student hadn't even taken any pleasure from his newfound ability to fly, which as TJ understood it was a very common human ecstasy. The mutant waited patiently while Martin composed himself, like a character in a video game who was in standby mode waiting for the player to do something. Not even shifting his weight to relieve muscle tension. He was a really strange guy, Martin thought to himself, not for the first time. Then Martin sighed and said, "I'll be fine. Come on, let's get this done." They snuck into the building and found that Tsurlich was exactly where TJ had remembered her being. Martin didn't recognise the man kneeling on the floor, trembling and weeping, but he could guess that this was Delroy. He felt himself turn a queasy green at the sight of Tsurlich, since she was doing something approximating the Dance of the Seven Veils in front of Del, and was everything that TJ had described her as. "She's like a human body constructed out bits and pieces," TJ had said. "I guess that each bit might be beautiful on its own, but put together she's a patchwork horror. But if I understood things right, that's not the worst bit. The worst bit is that she was built to be a succubus, a sex lure. I only got to see her face when her hood was pulled back, and that was bad enough, but apparently she can cloud a man's mind with lust so that he doesn't see how hideous she is, or worse, can make him screw with her despite him seeing what she is, and the experience drives him insane." Martin had exclaimed that that was sick. TJ's only disagreement had been that, considering what Tsurlich was and who she hung out with, actively and deliberately evil was probably a better overall description, and sick was just a means to an end. Now the pair of them burst in and while Martin covered the room with suppressive fire, TJ scuttled over and grabbed Delory. The skin of Delroy's current face was more olive than the original, which should make proving what had been done to him easier. TJ remembered the young latino businessman who the diabolicals had brought, already dead, and how Tsurlich had used her flesh sculpting abilities to swap their faces. They were still keeping Delroy in his underwear too, he noted clinically. As he hustled Delory to the door, TJ couldn't help but notice Martin having trouble with Tsurlich. He had collapsed on the ground, weeping, as she advanced on him in a provocative manner. .oO( So much for the Catholics' vaunted powers to resist the temptations of the flesh, ) he thought with distant irritation. "Fight her!" he yelled at Martin. "Say the Lord's Prayer. Think self-flagellation and hair shirts if you have to!" Martin went for the first option, causing Tsurlich to hiss in anger as she felt her hold on him slipping. She hated it when libidinal young men were able to resist her. TJ made a snap decision in the instant that Tsurlich was distracted by her anger at Martin's act of piety. He wasn't fully sure whether his emasculated state would protect him from her, or whether her abilities directly manipulated the pleasure enters of the brain or somesuch. In any case, he dashed up behind her with his slightly greater than human speed, grabbed her around the throat, and twisted her head through 180 degrees. There was a snapping sound as he broke her neck, and her struggling ceased. Martin stared at the body, then demanded, "What did you do that for!?" "What?" said a suddenly confused TJ. Did this idiot have some sort of pacifism thing going? Didn't he realise how dangerous these monsters were? What, he could destroy a wondersock but wasn't able to kill a flesh golem? How did he expect to deal with Lisa and Kien, who both looked much more human than Tsurlich did? "She could have put Del's face back!" practically shouted Martin. "And I would have dearly loved for her to put my balls back too! But she's too dangerous!" shouted TJ in return. "Get over it!" "Boooooyyyyss," moaned Tsurlich as she struggled to her feet. Martin and Delroy's hair stood on end, while TJ just became more urgent. "Kill her! Toast her with your laser or something!" he yelled. Martin retained enough lucidity to doubt whether the IR laser would work against the naked, patchworked and head-back-to-front woman advancing on him, as well as the fact that he had no idea how to make a flamethrower out of himself. He settled for forming blades and slicing her to pieces. There was a moment of consternation as the bits continued to wriggle, but Martin had made enough Mystery Science Theatre 3000-style comments about bad horror movies to know that you don't stop dismembering a zombie at limb level: if you wanted to keep the disembodied hands from chasing you down and throttling you, you had to sever all the fingers as well. Which is what Martin did. When he was done Martin looked over at TJ, who had found some clothes for Delroy and was now gathering up Tsurlich's cloak. "What are you doing?" "If those bits are still active, we can't risk someone coming along and putting them back together," he answered. "We'll gather her up, get some more gasoline, and incinerate her as well. And all of her stuff too," he added, picking up her panties and throwing them into the improvised sack he had created. "Just in case." (Hmmm. Looks like I was able to fit in a panty raid (of sorts) after all.) Tomorrow: The boys go into hiding. The Daily Super Short-Short Story #51 A Devil Came Down to Georgia 33 Last time: Martin and TJ rescued Delroy from Tsurlich. "Now what?" asked Delroy as the three of them left the area after disposing of Tsurlich's bits as best they could. It was early evening, and without quite realising it they were gravitating back towards the university where he and Martin were seminary students. "We need to retreat to a safe place while we work out which superhero group to contact," TJ said thoughtfully. "Superheroes?" asked Martin. He had managed to get his morphology under control, and his techno-organic encrustations that were still showing were again smooth metallic imitations of human flesh. "The rescue we pulled off had to be quick, so there was no time for calling in help and explaining what was going on," TJ explained simply. "Now that we have time, we can call in some heroes, who will no doubt be more than willing to eradicate demons. Also, the word of superheros will make the police and coroner more likely to listen to our story of how Delroy had his face stolen, and that will be important for re-establishing his identity." Delroy sucked in a breath. He'd been tying not to think about that. TJ continued, and to Martin's eye he almost seemed to trying to offer Delroy support despite his pragmatic manner. "It should be easy enough to prove what's happened by checking dental records, maybe even fingerprints." TJ didn't add that it would be easier to prove their story to superheros with the clear evidence of a man who had a face a noticeably different skin tone to the rest of his body. You could even see the line of demarcation running around his neck. Then he realised that they had arrived on campus, and sighed. "I don't think this is the safest place to stop over." "Why?" "Lisa and her friends have been following you for a while, so they know where you live." He paused and added, "Only Damian knew where I live, and it's gone now, so I suppose my place would be safer. Mind you, Kien seemed to think that if he had enough time he could track anyone using his psychic powers, so there might be nowhere that's fully safe except for really short stops." "Something like that occurred to me, and I've been trying to block it," said Martin. TJ looked at him. "You can do that? Lisa knew you were powerful, but it looks like you're more versatile than she thought." They had paused near the dormitories. Martin said, "I... think so. It feels like something I can do, and I'm following the feeling, but I have no idea whether it's working or not." "Mr Wryce!" interrupted a sour sounding voice. "What do you think you're doing?" Delroy and Martin groaned. It was Sister Garvina, a suspicious- minded and authoritarian old battleaxe who had developed the style of terrorising students when she had been teaching primary school and had been unable to change her ways even now that she was dealing with young adults of voting age. "Sister, I can explain everything... " "Oh, I'm sure," she replied sarcastically. "Smugging hoards of unsavoury visitors into the dorms for drunken frat parties." "It's not like that..." "You can just save your explanations for Father Sourdust. Now move!" "Sister, we don't have time for that. It's an emergency." "Move, I said!" And then TJ, who for reasons which will soon become clear really didn't like members of institutional religions in general, grabbed her by the shoulder, spun her around, and hit her full force with his leather-gloved mutant fist. There was a (to him) satisfying crack as his knuckles connected to her jaw, and then the nun collapsed unconscious on the grass. "What did you do that for!?" cried Delroy, sudden visions of what sort of discipline would be in the offering when the university's authorities found out. "We don't have time for this," snapped TJ. "I am going home. If you want a safe place to stay while we sort out our next move, you'd better come with me." Then he strode off and refused to answer any questions until he arrived at his tenement. "Okay, look, what was that all about?" demanded Martin as soon as they were in the door. He had been stewing over it all the way here, and any sense of gratitude for TJ's help or sympathy over his part in TJ's castration was fast evaporating. TJ rounded on him. "I have seen more than enough bullying from you religious types in the concentration camps to last me a lifetime, and I'm not going to put up with that shit again! If I catch *any* of you trying to push me around again, I'll assume your a fscking Christian Terrorist and kill you like I would a Muslim planejacker!" "What!?" exclaimed Martin. He glanced at Delroy, who looked equally shocked. "You were in the camps? You mean you're an *atheist*!" "Yes," snapped TJ, with a mixture of anger, pain and stubborn defiance. Hmm? What's that, you were expecting TJ to have been in a concentration camp for MUTANTS? Tsk. Yes, well, I'm a naughty Writer for pulling a bait-and-switch like that, but admit it, you wouldn't have fallen for that trick if you hadn't been soaking up the cliches from all those X-Men comics and movies, now would you? Sigh. Now I suppose I'd better offer up an explanation. I'll try to keep the infodump from getting too dry. As you recall from the first arc set in the Garden of Party Time, in Looniverse Y God the Obnoxious Father - the God of Abraham of the Hebrews, Christian and Muslims - is an overbearing pain-in-the-arse. This has certain inevitable effects on the nature of the faiths that worship him. Now, it's nevertheless True that Jesus the, Like, Totally Mellow Son, and various angels, archangels and saints have tried to ameliorate this but that simply means there's a slightly schizophrenic dichotomy between those people who believe that they're obliged to be good and help make the world a better place, and those who consider their faith as a tool for consolidating their own authority. After all, there is a *reason* why, in Looniverse Y, Lucifer succumbed to pride and rebelled; and that reason is the Hermetic principle of 'As Above, So Below'. In August of 1987 the then vice president George H. Bush said that as far as he was concerned atheists didn't deserve citizenship of the United States. Bush's Net.publican administration quietly handed out authority to various conservative groups for the creation of concentration camps for the internment and 'political re-education' of those known to profess to not have any faith. There wasn't any fanfare, but it wasn't exactly secret either... and the denials and lies wouldn't come until much later when the whole thing was falling apart. Even under Clinton's Dir.mocrat government, the camps persisted. A conservatively stacked Supreme Court, combined with cowardice among congressmen and senators, made it seem that they could not be closed down. It would take the greed of those involved to destroy their own creation. Different camps were administered by different denominations. It eventually came to light that they had separately but collectively began to plan to use their institutions to advance their own dogma at the expense of all others. The political stink that arose when it was shown that the ultra- conservative Christian groups weren't just trying to suppress atheists and non-Christian religions, but other Christian sects, was enormous. How dare they try and do unto us before we get the chance to do unto them!? The camps were outlawed and closed (although rumours persist...). The participants blustered or denied everything (the Catholics fell back into invoking Papal Infallibility; the Mormons recycled Brigham Young's methods of trying to keep bigamy a secret and simply lied about their involvement; everyone else fell somewhere between those two), and perhaps most concretely, the conservative religious vote was split along sectarian lines, thwarting George W. Bush's 2000 bid for the White House. And that was how Hexadecimal Luthor became the Usenetted States president in *this* Looniverse. Tomorrow: Not sure. There's a fire bombing due in the next issue or so, but I think tomorrow TJ will go and get some takeaway dinner. The Daily Super Short-Short Story #52 A Devil Came Down to Georgia 34 Last time: TJ ranted about why it's okay, in his opinion, to beat up nuns. Although the three young men were no longer glaring at each other, the atmosphere in TJ's flat was still uncomfortable. Fortunately TJ was all business, and having made his point about why he neither liked nor trusted the two students, or anything that they stood for, he readily returned to the main issue at hand. "We might as well start figuring out which superheroes or superhero groups to try to contact." Martin was undecided as to what, exactly, was going inside the older man's head. If TJ was an atheist then he was, demonstrably, not a good person, and his short rant and threat against the camps and the organisations that ran them was obviously nothing but bitterness caused by a refusal to acknowledge his culpability with his own fate. On the other hand, his failure to follow through with tirade and the way he had moved on to the issue of dealing with the diabolicals suggested that he wasn't stewing on it. He seemed to be very goal focused. After a pause Martin said, "Actually, I've already thought of the best person to try and contact," before going on to outline how he had helped Exclamation!Master! against the Banjo Duelling Kangaroos. Clearly, the LNH would be the best place to start. TJ nodded. Yes, work your contacts. It made sense. Then his stomach grumbled. "I suppose we'd better get some dinner," he said. "Are you two hungry?" "Famished," said Delroy with a exaggerated smile to try and warm the situation. "What have you got?" asked Martin. TJ paused in thought, then said, "Not much, actually." A statement that was born out by a quick check of the cupboards. "I'll need to go for takeaway." He considered again. "There's a good Thai near here." "The Pronsa?" said Delroy, then after TJ had nodded, "Yeah, they're good. You got any problems with that, Martin?" "No. Do you want us to go with you, TJ? Once you're away from here you won't be protected by that blocking that I'm generating..." Then he made a sour face. "That I *hope* I'm generating." TJ shook his head. He had an ulterior motive, and said, "Kien will be looking for you, not me. You two stay here and try to find a contact number for the LNH, or an address, or something." TJ headed in the opposite direction to the Pronsa. The others had pressed some money to him as he was leaving, but truthfully TJ was getting too low on cash and needed to mug somebody. As he arrived near his destination he shucked off his jacket. It was more expensive than it looked, because it was reversible. Normally, he wore it with the charcoal grey side outwards. It had subdued red piping, and looked pretty smart. Now he quickly turned it inside out, revealing the vinyl side of a totally different cut to what he normally displayed. It was a minimal disguise, but that, combined with his careful habit of committing robberies well away from where he dwelt and worked (never shit where you live), had kept him from too much trouble so far. The area TJ chose was not particularly known for it's risk of muggings, which was to his advantage. He sized up one prospect, shadowed him until he was alone, then punched him out with his mutant powered fist. Then he quickly rifled through the victim's money, taking the bills before returning the wallet. TJ considered the risks of using credit cards elsewhere - even once - to outweigh the advantages. In any case, with so many crimes needing to be investigated by the police, he considered it less likely that a robbery for money alone would be followed up than a theft of a full wallet with ID cards, in much the same way as knocking someone out would be less likely to be given priority over a shooting if he had used his gun. And the gun was a ranged weapon, but in close quarters his own powers gave him a better advantage. Hopefully the hundred dollars or so that he'd just appropriated would offset any loss of earnings from having been hightailing it off under the domination of an evil sock rather than working for the last two evenings. His wages were poor enough as they were. When he arrived back with the takeaway he asked the others how the search had gone. He had been expecting them to use the internet connection, but was surprised when Delroy pushed forward the phone book and pointed to the LNH's contact number and address. "But this book was put out before the LNH was formed," TJ protested. "How did their number get in here?" "It looks like their number magically inserted itself in there," said Delroy. "There have been a couple of cases where superhero teams have caused stuff like that to happen. Cool, huh?" They ate dinner, then tidied up. TJ made the offhand comment that there was no point in attracting more roaches than he already had to put up with. This caused the two students to glance at each other; while he had been away they had noted that for a run-down tenement TJ kept the place clean. Spartan, almost. After dinner the three of them decided to go to the LNHQ first thing in the morning. Martin found it hard to get to sleep, and not because he was unused to sleeping on sofas. TJ's cold obnoxiousness nagged at him, and he wondered whether the astral travel/dream walking that St. Christopher had explained to him about would let him get in contact with TJ's mind. That seemed to be the way things were working: the physical powers seemed to be originating from the heritage of being a Teenaged Giant Halfbreed Fallen Angel, and the psychic ones from being an Astrally Travelling Werewolf Crusader. And as TJ had already commented, Martin's powers seemed to be very versatile. Martin frowned in the darkness. TJ again. Lord, that guy was exasperating. A sudden burst of anger catalysed a sense of determination, and Martin began to focus on releasing his awareness from his physical body and probing TJ's mind. He had no idea if it would work, but he had a burning need to at least try. Then he'd see what it was that the delivery boy was hiding. He was sure it was something terrible, some moral vacuum that was typical of scum of the earth. He was wrong, of course. Tomorrow: TJ's Secret Origin. The Daily Super Short-Short Story #53 A Devil Came Down to Georgia 35 Last time: The three protagonists holed up at TJ's place. TJ woke a short while before dawn. Despite his attempts to remain calm, he had felt nervous all evening and hadn't been able to get much sleep. He discovered Martin already awake and standing at the window, moodily watching the street below. Martin heard him and turned. TJ saw that he had an unhappy look on his face. "Tim, I'm think I need to apologise to you." TJ froze. He hadn't told Martin his real name -- but then, Martin hadn't used it. It was close enough, however. He must have been poking around... but where? Martin saw his surprise and discomfort. "You're going to be ticked off at me," he said. He paused for several seconds. "I went looking around in your memories last night. I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry. I'm also sorry about your family putting you in the camps. That was wrong of them." Martin was surprised but incredibly relieved when TJ didn't fly off the handle the way he had last night. He just looked kind of disappointed. Quite calmly TJ asked, "And what makes you think my memories are reliable?" "Huh?" went Martin. He hadn't been expecting that one. TJ sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose. "You didn't feel that you could trust my version of events, so you went looking in my head to see what I really believed, and because I was almost certainly going to be wrong you could then feel all smug and righteous that I'd gotten the punishment that was coming to me." He said this without any rancour, and frankly that scared Martin more than if TJ had started screaming at him. There was something dead about the man, and Martin had a pretty good idea what it was. "But," continued TJ, "it's been well known from several decades of abuse from false suppressed memory syndrome that human memories are really unreliable, even for things that happened only five minutes ago. What I'm wondering is why you were prepared to admit that I was right simply because that's what I remember. I could be having myself on, after all." Martin stared at him. "I really don't think I want to be the type of person who has to be right at any cost," he countered with heartfelt intensity. "I've seen too many of those..." "Which is hardly a direct answer," TJ said distractedly. He looked uncomfortable, and rather than keeping eye contact like he had yesterday (direct and rather disturbing eye contact, now that Martin thought about it), he let his gaze wander over the room. He noticed Delroy still on the mattress on the floor and said, "You'd better stop pretending to be asleep. You'll want to hear this, and we may as well get it over with now." Delroy stirred. "Uhm..." he said with a touch of embarrassment as he got up. "People who are really asleep tend to shift about to keep comfortable," TJ said neutrally. It occurred to Martin that while it was possible that he was explaining, it was also likely that he was simply saying something to fill up an embarrassing gap in the conversation. "Do you want to narrate this, or will I?" TJ asked, looking at Martin. "Are you sure you want to talk about it?" Martin asked dubiously. "It's pretty painful stuff..." "I'm beyond feeling pain from any of this anymore," TJ replied, lying to himself as well as to the others. Tomorrow: No, stuff it. After two days of long episodes, I have no doubt that Jamas'll go completely berko if I put out another post of more than 100 lines, and he'll start laying into me with the virtual shoji mallet again. *Tomorrow* we'll have TJ's Secret Origin. The Daily Super Short-Short Story #54 A Devil Came Down to Georgia 36 Last time: TJ was disturbed to be told that Martin had gone rummaging around in his memories about his incarceration at a concentration camp. "The story itself is pretty simple," said TJ. And then he began to recite in a detached voice, like someone reading out a shopping list. "I was the youngest of five kids, and had a domineering father who was a self-righteous son-of-a-bitch. He was always trying to control what we did and thought, and putting us down when we showed any initiative rather than doing what he told us. He got worse after Greg and Tammy both hit legal age and left without ever bothering to come and visit or be part of `his family'. I think he had his heart set on being a real old-style patriarch who everyone would obey without hesitation, and when he realised that they weren't interested in supporting his little power games he pretty much went off the deep end. "In any case, that was about the time that the beatings started, although to be fair they weren't all that frequent at the start. More worrying was when he started exerting his authority with arbitrary and petty rules. I don't count things like the cutting back on television time or more chores or not being allowed to eat unless it was something that had been prepared by Mom. I mean like not approaching him from the left hand side, or not being allowed to enter certain parts of the living room that had been marked out with tape on the floor. Mom wasn't much help in all of this, since he had her pretty much under his total control. She just ignored everything and smiled a vapid smile and pretended that everything was fine. I don't know whether she was afraid of him or whether she was worried about disapproval from the other women around town if our house wasn't seen to be a `happy home'. I never heard Mom and Dad arguing with each other, so I've always assumed it was the latter. "Then Alex left. He was younger than me and Josie, but he was always a big boy, so he just ran away and joined the navy by lying about his age. Dad went completely nuts when he realised that all the discipline he was dishing out wasn't doing any good, and things got worse. Josie's 16th was coming up in about 3 months time, so he made an arranged wedding for her with the son of one of his drinking buddies. "Josie was pretty upset about this, but he beat her enough that in the end she stopped objecting. Out loud anyway. Me, I was thinking that Alex had had the right idea, so I began preparing an escape attempt of my own for me and Josie. In hindsight I think we should have stolen the family car, driven it to the nearest big city, and *then* gotten ourselves lost on the public transport, but Sheriff Parker was another friend of Dad's, and I figured that if Dad put out the word he'd be able to trace our car pretty quickly. Anyway, they caught us at the bus station, and the Sheriff was only too happy to give us back to Dad. "Josie's wedding went through, and after that Dad took it into head that I needed stricter discipline than I'd been getting at home. So he talked it over with Sheriff Parker. Now, I'd never been big on religion, and as Dad went more and more psycho I had a very good example of precisely the type of man I didn't want to be. So I just quit. The other kids made the attempt to look like they were still believers, but I was always too stubborn to put up with stuff like that, which might've been the reason I always got more beatings than anyone else. "But that gave Dad the excuse he needed, so with Parker's help for the paperwork he had me shipped off to the local concentration camp. I'll always remember the look on Mom's face. She was *proud* of the fact that I'd be made into proper little choir boy." All though this retelling TJ had been staring at the wall, as if watching something in the distance. This didn't change, but for the first time a hint of emotion had began to creep into his voice. He took a deep breath, and now there was an unmistakable note of bitterness in his tone. "The problem with monotheist religions, especially the Middle- eastern slaver faiths, is that they always have to be right, which means everyone else has to be wrong. They can't *stand* seeing virtue in other people, and have to destroy it wherever they can. I..." TJ paused, then continued with the same flat tone of voice as before: "Eventually the camps were shut down, and I headed back home to see how Josie was doing. Her husband Jeff had been a football jock at high school, and he'd boasted that once Josie was his that if he ever caught me trying to see her he'd have me strung up from the railway bridge. It turned out that that wasn't even a risk. Josie had committed suicide two years beforehand, and they hadn't bothered to tell me." TJ glanced at the two students, for the first time making eye contact with them. "And that's it. After that, I worked my way across the country and ended up here in Net.ropolis." Tomorrow: Hopefully, the fire bombing. The Daily Super Short-Short Story #55 A Devil Came Down to Georgia 37 Last time: TJ gave his Secret Origin. "That's horrible," said Delroy after TJ's recitation. TJ made a non-committal, "Mmmm." He was examining his own reaction. It had been ages since he'd allowed himself to think about these things, and was mildly disturbed at how much hurt he felt. .oO( I don't remember feeling like this before, ) he thought to himself. .oO( Trauma is supposed to heal over with time, not get stronger, isn't it? ) Then he began to worry. .oO( How am I supposed to help Martin get rid of Lisa and Kien if I'm turning into an emotional basket case? ) Then he blinked and asked, "Sorry, what was that again?" "I said, I hadn't gotten up to the bit about your sister committing suicide," repeated Martin. He still looked like he was feeling guilty at peeking in TJ's memories, although in practical terms TJ suspected it was more that he had peeked in TJ's memories and had been proven wrong. "I kind of stopped way before that," Martin finished. "It just got too personal and painful." .oO( And if you can't handle a second-hand look at my problems, how are you going to bear up under the sort of thing the diabolicals will have in store? ) TJ thought fretfully, wondering how he would be able to prop up Martin in the light of TJ's own newly identified emotional weakness. But on the up-side, it probably meant that Martin didn't know about how the robberies to supplement his income. Oblivious to this, Martin squared his jaw and said, "Tim, listen. I know this is probably opening old wounds, but I'm impressed of what I saw. I saw a man who cared about others and who tried to help regardless of the cost to himself, and who went back again to finish his job even after they'd imprisoned and tortured him. I'd be proud to call that man my friend, if you'd let me." TJ just stared at Martin with that totally expressionless look he had, and neither of the other two young men had any idea what was going on inside his head. Actually, it wasn't particularly flattering, since TJ was reviewing what he knew about brainwashing techniques and comparing it to Martin's little speech to see how the student had stacked up. The basic principle was to take a person who was under stress and then relieve (or seem to relieve) them of their burden, so that they would be grateful and give up their independent judgement. Variations such as drug use, hazing, solitary confinement or Moonie-style love-bombing were simply different ways of applying the same underlying principle. When TJ did say something, he did not mention any of this analysis. To do so would have given up an advantage and probably incited Martin to try a different tack; one which next time TJ might not be able to catch onto soon enough. Instead he said, "That *boy* died a long time ago. I'm not naive enough to make those sort of mistakes anymore." "I don't think they were mistakes," said Martin. TJ shrugged. And that was when the Molotov cocktails came crashing through the window and exploded, spreading fire around the room. Tomorrow: The diabolicals attack, again. The Daily Super Short-Short Story #56 A Devil Came Down to Georgia 38 Last time: The boys were holed up at TJ's place when they were attacked with Molotovs. The fire spread quickly. Martin made a game attempt at connecting himself to the water taps in the kitchen and make a sprinkler system of himself, but the pressure was too low and the burning alcohol took ahold too fast. Delroy and TJ had already retreated to the door by the time he gave up. "Come on!" yelled Delroy over his shoulder as the two of them ran down the hall, banging on doors and yelling, "Fire!" before heading for the stairwell. Just as they were about to head down, they heard Martin call out from behind them. When they turned to see what he wanted, he pointed upwards and yelled, "Upstairs!" "What?" went TJ. It took him a second to realise that with Martin's abilities they were hardly likely to be trapped if they went up, and by that time Martin had bounded up the hallway and grabbed them both. "We go upstairs," Martin emphasised. "More people likely to be trapped, and maybe Lisa and her lot will be confused when we don't escape to street level." "Maybe," said TJ. "Or maybe they'll figure that this sort of thing is exactly what you'll do." "Oh come on," said Delroy as they arrived on the top level. "How likely are they to figure that?" TJ had a nasty suspicion, and said, "Martin doesn't want to end up like Lisa, no matter how much being a Teenaged Giant Fallen Halfbreed Fallen Angel might be in his blood. Trying to do good and even play superhero is the obvious way of resisting. If they recognise that, and try to use it against him..." Martin winced as he recognised the truth of the underlying statement, even if the risk it suggested seemed remote. For Delroy, Martin's insistence in helping against the Banjo Duelling Kangaroos suddenly made sense. Nevertheless, Delroy pointed out, "Just because they might realise how he's going to resist in general, doesn't mean they can anticipate our every move." "We can hope..." said TJ, but he sounded dubious. Martin, who'd been inside his head, recognised that hope wasn't something that TJ usually held truck with. They got halfway through banging on the doors along the top floor before it occurred to Martin to make a siren and wake the tenement. TJ commented, "You realise that'll tell them were we are, don't you?" Martin gave him an irritated look. "Yes. That's a risk I'll just have to take." TJ simply nodded; he figured that Martin really needed to do this, more for his own peace of mind than for any practical effects. By this time there were people coming out into the hallway and becoming alarmed by the smoke that was starting to drift up the stairway. The three young men were at the other end of the hall, and Delroy stuck his head out the window to look around. Then he turned to Martin and said, "Well, if we're going to do this right, you'll probably need to ferry everybody to the next building." "No, not ferry," said TJ with his deceptively calm voice. "Just tear the wall out and build a bridge across. We'll go get everybody." He turned his head slightly, as if to listen to the sound of the fire engines that were now just beginning to be heard, then he added, "But watch out for the demons!" Delroy and TJ began banging on doors again and herding people towards the end of the hall. "Don't worry guys, we've got a superhero who can get you across to the next building," TJ called out to his neighbours, prompting Martin to think to himself, .oO( Oh yeah, superheroes. ) before covering his head with the metallic half-face helmet of MegaMetal BlastLord. It took about a quarter of an hour to get everybody across the impromptu bridge that Martin had made from himself, and the last few stragglers had only been convinced to not waste time bringing possessions because of the thick and choking smoke that was now filling the building. Afterwards the three of them were standing on the street, watching the building burn as the firemen tried to keep the conflagration from spreading. "You know, this is probably my fault," said Martin. "What? Having Lisa chase you? That's not your fault," said Delroy. "I mean the fire. I think..." he looked embarrassed. "What if I let the cloaking field slip while I was sneaking around in Tim's head?" It was possible, of course, thought TJ, but for some reason he felt more irritation at Martin for continuing to call him Tim than the possibility of letting Lisa and Kien get a bead on them. He said, "And what if you've never been able to create a cloaking effect at all, and Lisa's simply been playing with you?" It would have been nice to be able to blame someone, but to TJ's mind having demons play cat-and-mouse with them actually made more sense; with Martin's suggestion, you had a measure of control over your circumstances, and could avoid bad stuff happening if you just put a bit of effort in. "Maybe," said Martin. "But all your things..." TJ shrugged fatalistically. "What's more important? Trying to save stuff, or living and being able to replace it later?" Martin gave him a dubious look. That hadn't been what he'd been talking about. He'd also noticed a dubious paradox to the way Tim thought. "We'd better get to the Legion Headquarters," TJ said. Then, as they turned to go, Lisa whipped out two long tentacle-arms and snatched Delroy and TJ by the throats. Tomorrow: Lisa gets a surprise. The Daily Super Short-Short Story #57 A Devil Came Down To Georgia 39 Once again Martin found his attention curiously detached from the current crisis as he stared across at Lisa, his fellow Teenaged Giant Halfbreed Fallen Angel. She wanted him, although it had only been while talking over dinner last night with TJ... no, with Tim... that he had begun to see that her plans involved more than just mating with him. The implications of that were disturbing in more ways than one; the most angering was that she thought she could win him over simply by offering him sex, but the notion that she might want to use him as an item of barter in turf wars with other demon gangs was fairly creepy as well. And now she was attacking his companions, again; holding them up by the throat with her taloned claws. Delroy, who she and her group had already kidnapped and abused by stealing his face for use in laying an earlier trap for Martin. Looking at him now, it seemed that he was putting in a lot of effort to keep from freaking out. Del was tense and had a strained expression on his face. By comparison Tim seemed to be quite calm, but that was because he tended to keep his feelings inside. Knowing the young mutant, he wasn't in shock, but was watching and waiting. Behind him Martin could hear cries of consternation from the fire crews at Lisa's arrival and taking of hostages. Some of them were calling for help even now, but unless they were specifically calling in super- heroes - with their amazingly fast reaction time to emergencies - then any other help would most likely by at least several minutes away. It was all up to him. .oO( Well, God helps those who help themselves, ) he thought. Martin used spirit sight to find where Kien, the remaining member of the demonic gang had gotten off to, while at the same time calling out, "What do you want, Lisa?" "You know the answer to that." "Fine. You want me, then as long as you put down those two and let them go free, then you can have me," he said. If nothing else it would give him opportunity enough to see if he could slice her into little bitty bits with monofilament wires. It was one of a few possibilities for defeating her that he'd been running over in his mind, and was the one that he thought he had the most realistic chance of pulling off. "I have you anyway," she said coldly. She was probably ticked off at the loss of both Damian the wondersock and Tsurlich the @lantean-made succubus, Martin noted. "These boys now have some very nasty slow acting venoms in them," she continued, as Delroy and TJ began to writhe in pain. "If you want to save them, you'll surrender now, and no tricks." Martin scowled. No doubt she would try and break him to her way of thinking, and when he was thoroughly corrupted she'd tell Martin to kill them anyway. You didn't need to be a pessimist like Tim to see that one coming. How fast acting a poison? If he were to attack and overwhelm her with a slice-and-dice assault, would he have time to get the others to medical help, even by flying? For that matter, was she even telling the truth at all? Well, maybe. Saint Christopher had said that the way Martin had thought had influenced they way his Nephalim powers had developed, so that as a technophile of the 21st century he had gained mechano-morphic powers. Tim had reported that Lisa had claimed to be several hundred years old, which would mean that she would have gained her powers towards the end of the Enlightenment but before the Industrial Revolution proper. If her formative years had been influenced by the new discoveries in biology and zoology, then it made sense that her shapeshifting powers related more to the organic forms that he had seen so far. In such a case, it would be quite likely that she might be holding a number of tricks up her sleeve regarding poisons - and a lot of other things - copied from nature. "Now now youngsters, that's no way to behave," interrupted a new voice. A figure that looked like a man in a trenchcoat approached from the direction of the fire." "Go away," said Lisa shortly, and spat something venomous at the newcomer. He abjured it with a wave of his hand, and the spittle fell short about halfway between them. Another wave of his hand and a surprised looking Kien suddenly appeared. "I will be adjudicating this issue," he told Kien, "So there will be no need for you to be lurking around invisibly for a counterstrike if Mr Wryce gets up to anything." "Who are you!?" demanded Lisa. "A good question, and one that will get you a direct answer, considering that you weren't even able to establish exactly what Mr Wryce here is." "He is a Nephilim," said Kien. "He is both Nephilim *and* Benandanti," countered the newcomer. That revelation hit Lisa like a thunderbolt. "Then you're a direct pawn of the Powers of Light," she said, staring angrily at Martin. Then she turned to the trenchcoated figure, and said with more deference, "Which means you're one of the Lords of Darkness." The figure nodded. Then the fire flared up, spitting out a burst of plasma which seemed to engulf him. The fire rose and expanded, and then congealed into an enormous fiery man with horns. "Beel.gzip.bub, the Lord of the Files, at your service." Tomorrow: The situation escalates some more. Author's notes: Okay, in the final stretch now. Hopefully. If things go the way I have them plotted out in my head, this story should be finished off somewhere in four to six posts time. Keep fingers crossed. The Daily Super Short-Short Story #58 A Devil Came Down To Georgia 40 Last Time: Beel.gzip.bub, the Lord of the Files, arrived and upset the plans of everybody else. .oO( Okay. So. We're in Hell, ) thought Delroy through the pain. ( I guess things *can* keep getting worse. ) Strictly speaking TJ and himself should have been dying horribly of the poisons that Lisa had infected them with. However, after Beel.gzip.bub had teleported them all to his netherwordly demesne (in an overdone wash of flames, thought Delroy sourly), it had turned out that eternal suffering rather than actual death was the order of the eternity, and so the two of them now had to put up with the slow, unscratchable-itch-like discomfort of being envenomed without having to worry about actually dying of it. Oh joy. So here they were, hanging upsidedown, forced to watch the entertainment. The entertainment consisted of Martin being tortured by demons in a particularly John Byrne-like fashion. Yes, he had a cackling demonic pillow sitting on his face, suffocating him. A pity Beel.gzip.bub had neutralised Martin's powers when he'd had him shackled to that rack, otherwise Martin could had grown breathing vents for himself elsewhere. Meanwhile a demonic teddy bear was methodically disembowelling the young man. It wasn't a pretty sight, even with the substitution of techno-organic bits. Beel.gzip.bub, meanwhile, was gloating. "You know," he said to Martin from where he was seated on his granite throne, "Dragging you down here wouldn't have been anywhere near so easy if you hadn't insisted on not losing your friends. The psychic inertia of the Benandanti is enormous, but you allowed yourself to be dragged along simply so that you could keep Lisa from harming them. And look what good it's done you. Oh, I do so love heroes; always throwing themselves into hopeless causes without thought of strategy or tactics." Then he looked thoughtful, and turned to look for Lisa and Kien, who were standing off to one side, also watching the show. "And what of you two?" asked Beel.gzip.bub. "Knowingly or not, you did help create the situation that was able to trap this placing- piece of the Light. Some rewards are in order. Within reason of course. What would interest you? Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice? Perhaps a Title here in Hell?" Lisa and Kien exchanged glances. Lisa looked calculating, then said, "A payment for services rendered would be nice, and we can discuss what would be reasonable to all parties. However, I understand that there are always *independent* contracts for work going." Beel.gizp.bub nodded. Evil, by its nature, was fractious and always splitting off into newer and smaller groups. The various gangs of younger diabolicals, of which Lisa's group was but one, were numerous examples. The Dark Lords of Hell preferred a more feudal approach, with as many entities under their direct control as possible. However, they had also recognised long ago that attempting to cement absolute control of the other factions of Evil before they had finished their war with Good simply gave their main opponents an advantage. As a result, the Dark Lords had simply made arrangements to subcontract out for certain mercenary groups among the independents of their own pantheon and those of other mythologies. If nothing else it gave them the options of plausible deniability if they ever needed it. However, before the negotiations could advance any further, a new voice said, "You know, that's, like, just so amazing uncool, man." Beel.gzip.bub cringed in surprise and horror at the sight of a semitic looking young man in rainbow coloured tie-dyed jeans and t-shirt, and who was smoking a joint. "Jesus Christ!" exclaimed the demon lord. "That's right. So, like, you'd better let all these boys go before I lose my mellow and go righteous on your hash." Tomorrow: You remember how Arthur was labelling the posts of the first story arc, in the Garden of Party Time, as probably being a danger to your soul if you read them? Yeah, well, tomorrow's post is going to be a bit like that. The Daily Super Short-Short Story #59 A Devil Came Down to Georgia 41 Last time: Beel.gzip.bub had dragged everyone off to his infernal domain, but his seeming victory was short lived. And so it came to pass that Beel.gzip.bub found himself confronted in his own domain by Christ the Nazarene. And the Lord of the Files did think unto himself: .oO( Expletive deleted! ) because having one of your most powerful adversaries turn up in your demesne can really mess up your day. This would be bad; really bad. Beel.gzip.bub could, of course, always run away - and this was standard procedure for Evil whenever it found itself outgunned, because Evil always thought of itself first rather than being prepared to commit to a cause. But the political fallout would go beyond `unfortunate' and well into `disastrous'. Numerous resources would no doubt be lost, and the loss of face before the other Dark Lords - especially from losing a Benandanti as powerful as Martin Wryce - would be considerable. It would take ages before he would be able to reconsolidate his position. That might explain why Beel.gzip.bub decided to show at least a bit of opposition. "You are a fool to have come here!" he snarled, swirling his red cape about himself like a bad pantomime villain. A burst of flame chuffed up from behind his throne and the sound of much wailing and gnashing of teeth filled the chamber. "Wryce belongs to Hell now!" "You're a total doofus," said Jesus. "You people said that the last time I harrowed this place too." Beel.gzip.bub gritted his teeth in hatred, then lashed out with a rapid succession of hellfireballs, spat out like machine gun rounds, while simultaneously a horde of imps and gremlins and snotlings moved in to harry. But Jesus unleashed his Righteous Food-Fight-Fu! With an amazing cartwheel leap he parried the fireballs with a beadstick and peppered the demonlings with his boomerang fish shuriken. Beel.gzip.bub was able to swat away into nothingness the returning fire, but a number of nearby demonlings were caught in the returned offensive and were incinerated. Then Jesus was in close combat range and jabbed at the Dark Lord with his breadstick. Beel.gzip.bub dodged and conjured up what was effectively a lightsaber of hellfire, then parried. The force of the clash of their `blades' was way out of proportion to the amount of apparent force being put into their blows against each other, and the region of Hell that they were in rocked and trembled with the fury of the conflict. Perhaps this was the intended effect, because in addition to the floor buckling in places and parts of the ceiling threatening to collapse, the rack holding Martin overturned and fell to pieces as it his the floor, releasing the student in question. Martin was not in a good mood, and quickly pulled his guts together, as well as slicing up a few imps that tried to recapture him. A quick scan around the area showed that Delroy and Tim has similarly been freed. Then he was hit from behind, sending him sprawling. Martin scrambled out of the way, turned and discovered a chitinous-armoured Lisa advancing on him. "You are not getting away this time," she said. Martin formed a shield to parry her strike, and then dodged as she formed multiple pincer-tipped limbs to overwhelm him. Then he formed a laser and tried to blast her while she tried to engulf his arm and bite his limb off. The two of them went like this: one taking on one form and the other trying to match it. As this went on, Martin wondered whether he should risk seeing how finely he could distend his consciousness with the monofilament wire tactic. On the spur of the moment he decided to risk it, and while he was feinting with a manoeuvre of taking the shape of a metal armoured sphere, he began to get under her skin in the most literal way. Meanwhile Delroy and TJ had their own problems. Tomorrow: Meanwhile... The Daily Super Short-Short Story #60 A Devil Came Down To Georgia 42 Last time: Jesus Christ was pounding Beel.gzip.bub with a loaf of bread and Martin was in a grudge match again his fellow Nephilim, Lisa. TJ grabbed Delory and hustled him to a corner that looked at least vaguely defensible. And which didn't look as though it was under threat from having something collapse on it, TJ mentally added as another sheet of dust from the cavern's roof drifted downwards, causing them both to cough. Needless to say the view from where they were was no longer panoramic, and the two of them had only the vaguest idea of what was happening. Even the flashes of fire that Jesus was batting back at the demon lord only gave an indication of where the conflict was happening, not what was actually going on with it. Jesus was battling Beel.gzip.bub - although `toying with' might have been a better term - and Martin was fighting Lisa. That left an unspecified, but probably very large, number of demonlings to worry about if they took it into their malformed little heads to make trouble. Plus Kien. "Cowering in a corner?" asked Kien as he faded into view. "That's not like you, Timmy-Joe." Big talk, TJ knew, from someone who used his powers of psycho- projection to attack from afar rather than running the risk of being harmed himself. And so TJ said nothing, instead adopting a defensive stance. Neither he nor Delory was really in the best condition for a fight, what with the venom Lisa had put into them earlier. While they were here in this infernal realm they weren't going to die, but they were still in a pretty poor condition with which to stave off an assault. He let his eyes roam around the immediate area, looking for any hints of where Kien really was. Kien attacked - lunging at TJ and swinging punches. There was not much grace to the motions of the assault, TJ noticed, but the Tulpa didn't even need to connect precisely. Well, he wouldn't need to, would he? Kien only needed to focus his telekinesis through the psionic projection of his body, and as long as he came within a few inches with his swipes, then that was indeed `close enough'. TJ dodged as best he could. Could he hold off this murderous little soul-eater for long enough for Martin to finish off Lisa and come to their rescue? Dunno, but best not to rely on such a happy prospect. TJ hastily glanced around, wondering if the cost in exhaustion would be worth the benefit in trying to run ahead of his attacker. Or the chance that they might be able to run across Kien's real body. For his part Delroy felt frustrated and helpless. He had been warned about Kien's abilities, and also knew that TJ's mutant powers made him slightly faster and dextrous than normals. There was no logical reason for him to even bother trying to be in the fight against Kien... If TJ couldn't handle Kien, then realistically Delroy had little hope. As if this angst-ridden self-reproachment had attracted Kien's attention, the tulpa quirked a little smile and simply walked through TJ towards Delroy. TJ did a double take, and Delroy backed off - but not fast enough, and certainly not nimbly enough. He tripped over a rock as he was stepping back, and in a second Kien was on him, pummelling him with the telekinetic equivalent of super strong fists. It was lucky that TJ caught some movement out of his eye. There were footprints in the dust nearby, for which there was no reason he could see. TJ carefully looked around, and noted another Kien some way away. He was staring at his psycho-projection bashing Delory, and his face was a Paper White Masque of Evil (obligatory They Might be Giants reference). TJ remembered Kien's claim that he was all that was evil and debased in the soul of some young monk which had then overwhelmed and eaten his originating self, and shuddered. Almost without thinking he ran and crash tackled the physical body of the tulpa, and began slamming Kien's head against the ground. That felt good. It brought back memories of the way Damian the wondersock had used his earlier host body to similarly bash TJ's face to a bloody pulp, and being able to return the compliment was very fulfilling. Such reminiscences were not wise, however, and unexpectedly TJ remembered the taste of the shit that Damian had made him eat in order to repair that damage, and without warning he gagged. Kien used the opportunity to renew his own attack, this time on TJ. Hammering from two sides, one from his physical body and one from his psycho-projection, Kien began pummelling TJ. He didn't retain the upper hand for very long, though. TJ simply grabbed Kien's throat and began throttling him, and with bloodyminded determination ignored the punches from the psycho-projection. Eventually those punches weakened and faded away. TJ barely noticed; he was too intent on watching Kien's face turn desperate and purple. "Tim, no! Don't do that!" said Delroy frantically, grabbing TJ's arm. "Go away you stupid twit!" yelled TJ. "What do you think you're trying to do?" "Don't murder him in cold blood," Delroy said. "Not here. Not in Hell. The contamination of the soul..." TJ stared at Delroy. He couldn't believe this. For a dreadful second he considered killing Delroy just to get him out of the way, and then telling the others that Kien had done it before he could stop him. "He's a fsking Monster from the ID that ate the soul of the body he's inhabiting!" TJ explained with an exaggerated, grating patience. "Do you really think that just because he's got the looks of baby faced innocence that he's any less evil that Tsurlich or Lisa or the bloody wondersock? And besides, it's not in cold blood. He'll try and kill us if we don't get him first." Delory looked anguished. "It's kill or be killed, Delory," TJ said. "We can't kill anything here, Tim," Delory reminded him. "That's why we haven't died of the poison yet, remember? And if you let yourself lose it, you'll just be scrabbling with one another here, forever." "Then I'll subdue him by smashing his head to pulp. That should keep him out of our hair," replied TJ, jabbing an angry finger at Delroy. Which was when Kien ran TJ through the gut with a long metal spear. Tomorrow: Penultimate part of the story. The Daily Super Short-Short Story #61 A Devil Came Down to Georgia 43 Last time: TJ and Delroy were under attack from Kien. "Tim!" cried Delroy. Intellectually they both knew that in this time and place having a large hunk of metal speared through the guts would not be fatal, ever. Still, the sight of the spear that Kien had put through TJ was not a pretty one, and it certainly didn't hurt any less. The mutant had half collapsed, and Delroy was helping him to the ground to lie on his side. "Shit," swore Delroy as he gazed at TJ's state with helpless horror. Then he looked up at Kien, who was watching with a particularly satisfied smirk, before returning back to TJ. "I'm sorry man," he whispered. Kien sauntered forward, once again walking through TJ to get to Delroy. The latter youth glanced about hurriedly, partly looking for anything that might be useful in fending off the tulpa, and partly wondering where Kien's real body had gotten off to this time. Heck, he even had a instance's worth of wondering about why Kien had allowed himself to get so physically close in the first place: .oO( I guess Tim was right, and Kien is a totally bloodthirsty psycho. And I blew Tim's one chance to deal with him, ) he thought with recrimination. TJ was weakly struggling to remove the spear, but the pain of it was greater than that of Lisa's poison. Frankly he was amazed that he was even conscious, but then the part of his mind that always watched decided that it made sense that if the Dark Lords wouldn't allow anyone to die, then they'd want to keep them conscious when they were wounded and in pain. He gritted his teeth and ignored the tears of frustration as he worked with seeming futility at getting the spear out. His fingers couldn't get a proper grip on the bloodsoaked and gory barbs, and it was simply taking too long for him do. Kien would have maimed Delroy and come back to finish off TJ long before he got this damned thing out. With a satisfied look on his face Kien's psycho-projection grabbed Delroy by the throat and held him up. Then Kien was knocked to the ground as a huge wolf hit him side-on at chest height. "What?" said Kien, clearly confused by this turn of events. "That isn't possible. How...?" "Nothing should be able to touch your psionic double?" said the wolf with Martin's voice. Then he said, with a big wolfy grin, "Astrally Travelling Werewolf Crusader, remember? I can reach you this way," before beginning to maul the psycho-projection. Most of TJ's attention was on the bloody and bloodyminded task of getting the spear out, but he noticed that Kien's screams of pain were coming from both in front of him and more distantly as well. .oO( I guess Kien's body must be over that way, ) decided the part of him that was paying attention to the issue. Then TJ found Delroy beside him, helping with the spear by pushing it through from the front. Delroy didn't say anything until it was out, then asked, "Are you all right?" "I'm fine," said TJ. Actually, what he was was tired. His adrenalin high from earlier had worn off, and he just felt numb and bruised. Delroy looked much the same. Martin didn't and was calm and smiling - but TJ supposed that considering the mythopoeic setup of Martin's powers that the opportunity to Fight Evil had flooded his brain with endorphins. "Well dudes," said Jesus, walking over, "old tall, dark and evil decided to take the better part of valour, if you know what I mean. I think we can, like, call it quits here." Delroy couldn't help but notice TJ tense up. He wondered why. In fact TJ was mentally running over what could go wrong now, and the top candidate was that he'd be left here. Well, it was obvious, wasn't it? TJ had worked out a quid pro quo with Martin and Delroy that they would act together against their mutual enemies among the diabolicals. Now that that was over, and knowing the self-righteous arrogance that various gods had shown over the years (this was a superhero class universe; gods were always turning up to kibitz), TJ could well imagine being left marooned here unless he agreed to become a worshipper or something. FsckingFsckingFsckingFsckingFscking. As if an agreement made under coercion was valid. Oh well, at least he'd be able to spit in his eye and say that if was going to be relegated to Hell, at least he'd take pride in not having collaborated with a middle-eastern terrorist god... Jesus looked at TJ and said, "You look wasted man. Here, you'd better, like, have a drag on this," and handed over his joint. TJ took the rolled up weed in bemusement. Normally he would have refused, on the grounds that you can't keep alert for your enemies when you're drugged out of your head, but he was exhausted and his train of thought had just been derailed. He stared at the joint stupidly for a few seconds, and then Delroy leaned close and whispered, "You stick the end that isn't burning into your mouth and inhale." TJ followed the prompting, and immediately doubled over in a coughing fit. "Good stuff," he managed to croak. "I think I'd better get you boys home," Jesus said sympathetically. Tomorrow: The Epilogue. The Daily Super Short-Short Story #62 A Devil Came Down to Georgia 44: Epilogue 1 Last time: The Diabolicals were defeated and everyone went home. It was several days later and TJ was sitting up in bed at the Legion of Net.Heroes HQ. Martin's contacts with Exclamation!Master! had proven useful after all, and the Legion (whatever their actual membership is at the moment) had been able to deal with the poisons and TJ's gut wound remarkably efficiently. Which was a relief; Martin had been worried that Lisa's venom might have had supernatural properties that even a superhero medical bay might not have been able to treat properly. Now Martin appeared at the door. "How's it going?" he asked. "Getting better," admitted TJ, his hand briefly touching the dressings on his stomach. "How's Delroy?" "He's cool. Kid Kicked-Out even knows someone who he says he might be able get to help give Del his face back." TJ nodded. "He knows a lot of people." "Yeah. But... not necessarily all of them are on good terms, if you now what I mean. Problematic superpowers." "Yeah." There was a moment's awkward silence before Martin continued, "I've been thinking things over, and I think I need to say I'm sorry about..." "Martin," interrupted TJ with a hint of exasperation, "You've already given me apologies for being in the camps and for my flat burning down, and you weren't even responsible for the first one. We're still not sure about the second either, when you get down to it." "That might've been bad phrasing on my part. There's a difference between giving condolences and admitting liability. I *do* know that. Really." He rubbed his face, more to buy himself a few more seconds than because of tiredness. "The talk about getting Delroy's face back got me thinking about what you'd lost, and how I ripped off your dick and stuff. I... Sorry, this has been difficult for me to talk about. See, uh, even if you leave aside the stuff about church teachings about gays, for me personally the thought of being intimate with other men gives me goosebumps. It's just something that makes me feel icky. So even if what I did that to you was in the anger of the moment, well, I guess it's just the type of thing I don't feel comfortable talking about overall. I think I've just been avoiding the whole issue. Sorry." "Oh. Okay," said TJ. He looked both thoughtful and put out. "Is that a problem?" "Not really. I was thinking about how I feel about... something related to that." "What? That I don't like gays?" said Martin a touch defensively. "Maybe. That isn't what I was thinking about, though. Actually, I was worried that I shouldn't be caring what you think or don't think." .oO( He's actually starting to relate to other people? ) thought Martin with a mild sense of wonder. He relaxed and leaned against the doorframe. "That might be because people care about their friends, even when they don't agree with them," he suggested. "Yes," said TJ in a totally neutral tone. .oO( He still doesn't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, ) Martin realised. Then he recalled something Shane had arranged earlier in the week. Shane, of course, had been majorly ticked off at Delroy and Martin for running off and getting involved with mutants and demons and Banjo Duelling Kangaroos and an honest-to-God food fight alongside Jesus Christ, just so that Shane could finish off a due assignment, but had set something up for when Delroy got out of hospital. "Listen," said Martin. "A friend of ours at the seminary has gotten some tickets to a baseball game in a few weeks time, and he should still have some spares. Would you like to come?" TJ looked blank for a few seconds, then smiled - the first genuinely happy smile that Martin seen on his face. "I think I'd like that," he said. Author's notes: Ha! Finished! And thank goodness; I was beginning to worry that I might be getting close to burnout. This took longer than I thought, since I was expecting it to be maybe thirty posts long, maximum. However, stuff kept turning up, and in fact there are a few elements that I hinted at along the way that were planted for future expansion, but which I decided to not follow up on. And then there was the decision I made about half way through to start getting rid of some of the villains, otherwise I'd end up making things even longer in order to do justice to them as characters - which resulted in the rather abrupt removal of Damian. No, that wasn't part of a grand pre-planned surprise plot twist, it was the Writer having a brief panic attack :-) Anyway, thanks to Arthur for allowing me to continue with this even though I hadn't asked permission first. Thanks to everyone who wrote in with encouragement, including constructive criticism. And I'm sorry about starting that flamewar in passing - but perhaps we can make something useful out of it, since the RACCies nominations will be coming up soon, and somebody can nominate it for Best Flamewar, or something. The Daily Super Short-Short Story #63 A Devil Came Down to Georgia 45: Epilogue 2 [Due to popular perception (ie, comment from more than one person) that I haven't properly tied up the main themes of this story, I'm going to do another post.] Several weeks later Martin and TJ were waiting in front of the baseball park for Delroy and Shane to arrive. Martin had worked up a bit of a sweat after a bunch of high-tech costumed thieves had turned up with a tank armed with a sonic cannon and tried to rob a museum of sport memorabilia two blocks down the street. Now the pair of them were waiting again, idly watching the crowds who were gawping as the police took away the malefactors after MegaMetal BlastLord had apprehended them. "That was well done," said TJ. "Thanks," said Martin. He didn't look particularly enthusiastic though. In fact, he looked somewhat resigned. "But I think that if you're going to continue doing this, you'll have to change your codename," TJ said seriously. "Pfftt," went Martin. "All the good codenames have been taken." Which was wasn't /quite/ true, but in any case was not, as far as TJ could tell, the real issue. "Martin, you're not Lisa. You don't have continually play at being a superhero if you don't feel comfortable at it. And you definitely don't have try to battle *every* crime that your come across - you'll burn out if you try." "I know I'm not Lisa!" Martin snapped. "But I've got the same type of problem, even if it's more complex. I may be called to do good as a Benandanti but I've also got to put up with the drag of evil from being a Nephilim. I don't want to... slip up and fall into indifference or anything just because I'm not comfortable with the superhero schtick. That's a slippery slope." He sighed. "But, yeah, I realised a while back that I couldn't fix everything," he said with a more conciliatory tone. He shrugged. "It's hardly as though I try though. It's not like I go On Patrol or anything." "Have you thought about lower profile occupations within your Church? Like demon hunting or exorcisms? Actually, that also brings up the issue of what, exactly, do the Benandanti do? I mean, presumably Saint Christopher has a more concrete agenda for fighting spiritual evil than humans could ever come up with." Martin shrugged again. "I've been looking for answers to that myself. I haven't seen St. Chris since those first few meetings, so I've been looking into some of the old archives. The problem is... well," and here Martin looked somewhat abashed, "unless it was under the Church's direct control, anything strange tended to be labelled as being the work of the Devil." TJ nodded. "Mmm, yeah. Demonisation. It's a function of politics. The Catholics aren't the only ones who do things like that." He paused and said, "I'm not going to say that you shouldn't worry about it, because that's exactly the type of moral decline that you said were worried about sliding into. But you should keep in mind that it's a very *human* failing." "We're supposed to be better than that," Martin said, somewhat testily, eliciting a shrug from TJ. "Everybody says that," the latter said. " 'Supposed to be' is only good if you actually intend to follow through with it, rather than use it as a blanket excuse to cover up your flaws." Martin frowned at him. It was one of the things that he had discovered about TJ that still disconcerted him. TJ may be a cynic and a paranoid, but he was extremely egalitarian in his cynicism and his paranoia. As long as it wasn't threatening him personally, it was almost like being lectured by a kindly old saint who gently pointed out your character flaws in an attempt to reform you. But Martin also knew - because he had peeked - that if TJ thought it was a threat to himself, then he went all quiet and intense and began planning exactly what form of ultraviolence to use to defend himself. It was a paradox that Martin worried about in trying to socialise the young mutant and maybe try to help heal him. "Yes, well, anyway, there wasn't much stuff on the Benandanti that I could find, except for references in folklore and more recent fantasy material - and I certainly don't trust the latter stuff. I'll keep looking, but I think I'll just have to ask." Then Martin changed the subject somewhat. "Actually, that brings up an interesting question. You've never met St. Christopher, so how come you're so willing to accept from me that he's real? You aren't prepared to take my word that Jesus is God, and you've met *him*." TJ went quiet for a moment, and Martin began to worry that maybe he'd offended him. TJ could be prickly like that. It wasn't just physical stuff that he interpreted as threats. "I don't see why that's such a problem," TJ said, finally. "There's a world of difference between knowing something exists and thinking that it's important. I mean, if you pay proper attention to the antics of the superheroes in the news, you soon realise that there's loads of gods and demons and stuff out there, all from mutually contradictory myths and religions. Most of them seem to match up to the general details of their mythologies, but still get things slightly different - and none of them seem to be trustworthy on the issue of whether they're the real creator of the universe or just faith-based parasites. They can't all be true, and in any case I've seen enough of what they and their followers get up to realise that all of them are crapping on to draw in new worshippers. So, no, of course I don't believe in your Jesus. Or Yahweh or Allah or whatever. But I know that he exists, and by the same token I'm perfectly happy to accept your word that you've met St. Christopher. And that he really does have the head of a dog." A thought occurred to Martin. "I wonder if that's why people who don't believe are atheists. They've seen too much?" "I kind of doubt it," said TJ. "Most people don't seem to pay attention to the weird stuff." "Mmm. St. Chris said much the same thing, come to think of it. Although he was talking about the way everyone seemed surprised every time there was an alien invasion." "That's about the size of it. I'm still not sure why. It's not like the way your average man of the street doesn't think constantly about famines in Africa. This seems to be something slightly different. Sometimes people don't even recognise weirdness even as it's happening right in front of them, and if they do it's probably because it's something big causing property damage. It's strange, because there are other things, like the fact that people with superpowers exist, that don't faze them." "Hey," said Martin with a wicked grin. "Maybe that's why atheists don't believe. They're editing out the stuff they don't want to think about, so they can't see the evidence in front of them." TJ raised an eyebrow. "You sure you want to follow that line of thought? Because the obvious conclusion is that people who belong to one religion or another are so committed to their faith that they *only* see the evidence that supports their way of thinking, even if there's other evidence having a Fight Scene right in front of them." Martin pouted. TJ shook his head. "Hey, I didn't say it was *bad* idea. It might even be true in some cases; I really can't speak for how anyone else thinks. I just meant that if you take it to its logical conclusion, that you're going to get some results that you might find uncomfortable." Martin sighed ruefully. "I think I realise well enough that being right doesn't always mean being comfortable." "Yes," said TJ, and from the suddenly flat tone of voice Martin knew that he was thinking about the camps. "Tim. Listen. A few minutes ago you told me that even if I shouldn't ignore that sort of thing, that people being up themselves is a human failing. The same applies here. These things happen. Don't ignore it, but don't let yourself get cut up over it either. You've got friends that you can fall back on." "I'm strong enough to handle it." "Yeah? But just because you *can*, there isn't any reason why you *have* to." The answer that was on TJ's lips was, `Sometimes there is', but something made him wish it wasn't, so he didn't give voice to the obvious answer. Instead he pointed and said, "Here come the others. We can find out if Shane got he pass mark he was hoping for." "Tim..." "I know Martin. And I appreciate the thought. But... I don't think I can take you up on that. Not yet. Maybe not ever." And because he was growing to like Martin, he didn't add that he was feeling uncomfortable about being Martin's pet project to prove to himself that he wasn't like Lisa. "Okay then. Whatever you feel comfortable with. Let's go see the others." _The Daily Super Short-Short Story_ series and the wondersocks created by Arthur Spitzer, and used with belated permission. The Duelling Banjo Kangaroos are Usable Without permission creations of Arthur Spitzer. The Teenage Giant Halfbreed Angels epithet for the Nephilim/Nephalim cooked up by Andrew Perron, then slightly modified by the Writer. All other characters created by Saxon Brenton. With the conclusion of this storyline all main characters created by Saxon Brenton are now Usable Without Permission for LNHY stories.Back to the Index.