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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Shark Girl and Belly Button (Graphic Novel)

by Casey Riordan Miller

Publisher: Blue Manatee Press (September 1, 2014)

Hardcover 40 pages






    Shark Girl, for those outside of Cleveland and Buffalo, is a sculpture of a little girl dressed, I imagine, as Alice in Wonderland (or at least in that style) with the head of a shark- reminiscent of the poster from Jaws. You can see it in the picture below. It was initially presented in Cincinnati and became a local hit, but the city didn’t want to pay for it, perhaps believing that it was owed them or something. So the elders of Buffalo, operating through the Albright Knox Art Gallery, swooped in and snapped it up for a mere ten thousand or so. It is now proudly displayed in Downtown Buffalo, and there are other objets d’art associated with the character, such as this book. 

    I bought two copies. One for my five nieces and nephews and one for myself, since I liked the artwork. The kids hated it, but I enjoyed it. So don’t be deceived, this isn’t a children's book. It is meant for adults, but crafted in the style of kid’s morality tale. There are no simple answers here, but the narrative reflects the nature of friendship between two deceptively complex characters.
    There are five short stories here all dealing with various anxieties of life: jealousy, fear, covetousness, guilt, and love. Shark Girl represented the fears of life, the unexpected jolts that our journey through the world can take. While Belly Button is a comfort animal, the safety blanket of the duo, there to reassure. Like all great literature, the stories are simple and deep simultaneously, and can be read as a pleasant little diversion or as a more complex discussion of the human condition. The art is bright and colorful, the binding is sturdy, and the cover is crisp and attractive. The only minor complaint I would have is that most of the art is limited to the two characters, I would have liked to see more of what the author could do. To see her flex her artistic muscles a little more. 


           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Bloke's Terrible Tomb of Terror (Graphic Novel)

By Jason Crawley, Mike Hoffman, & Various Artists

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 27, 2013)

Softcover 200 pages 



    Collecting stories from the first eight issues of the magazine, this book is a throwback to the old black-and-white horror magazines from the 1970s as put out by Warren Publishing. A homage to titles like Eerie, Creepy, Psycho, and Vampirella, themselves a restart of the EC comics Tales from the Crypt horror lineup. Each of the stories is introduced by the mag’s Crypt Keeper-esq narrator, Bloke. Based on the writer, he sports Victorian era clothes and top hat, and spouts bad horror themed puns at the beginning and end of each story. There are twenty two tales in this volume, averaging about six pages each, some standard horror, some science fiction. 

    Most of the stories are your common horror book fare with telegraphed twist endings, people returning from the dead to reap revenge, alien invasions, vampires, and werewolves. If you read any of the previous magazines then you should be familiar with them. None really stand out, except for an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s short story The Crickets. They do tend to get better as the book moves along, however. Looking back on the old stories in other magazines, there was always a greater sense of depth to them. These stories seem a bit sparse, some more padding around the edges and detail would improve them dramatically.
    The art however is amazing, rich and detailed. Each story is done in nearly a different style, but never wavers in quality or texture. Quite frankly it’s worth buying for the art alone. This book would appeal more to those who look back on the old magazine with nostalgia… and that’s the trouble. Reading this made me want to dig out my old Warren back issues and read a better class of horror story. 
           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Beast Warriors of Shaolin (Graphic Novel)

by Peter Quinones, Glen Johnson, & Bill Stancik

Publisher: Pied Piper Press; First Printing edition (1986)

Softcover 46 pages





 This is part three of a three part graphic novel series, the first two of which I have not read. It is a kung-fu fantasy set in ancient China. There a number of creatures and men have been imbued with mystic powers and battle it out. The main plot revolves around an attempted assassination of the Emperor by his son, and their relative forces clash, much death following.
The story competent, as is the art. Black and white, with good use of gray tones to give the proper accent when needed. In fact it is above average, especially for what is essentially an independent title. All of the characters have personality and each can be differentiated from the other.  
Honestly there isn’t much to say about this comic, apart from some speculation as to why it didn’t take off. The average comic in 1986 was 75 cents, at $6.95 this was way more expensive and only gave double the length of the standard book. Also the martial arts comic had pretty much died by that time. Iron Fist and The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, the two big ones, had both been canceled- the Iron Fist character had actually been killed off. And quite frankly, most of the martial arts comics were really the same. This one is slightly different, but not enough to cause a buzz. 

The publisher, Pied Piper Comics, specialized in short graphic novels (or albums, as they still being called then). It died rather quickly, lasting only from 1986 to 1988. Most of its titles were picked up from other publishers, and then most later moved to Innovation Publishing. This one wasn’t. It ended here in the third album. The now obscure indie comic Ex Mutants was the biggest deal to come out of this company, publishing four of the issues. But when’s the last time anyone thought of that comic?
By the way, strangely enough I’ve seen a lot of people trying to sell this series on various forums. Some are just tossing it out there, others are claiming it's a rare collectable and trying to charge ridiculous prices. If you want to buy this series, the pricing guides value it at around $2, even in mint condition. So don’t be ripped off. 
           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Bogie [Humphrey Bogart Graphic Novel]

by Claude Jean-Phillippe & Patrick Lesueur (Translated by Wendy Payton)

Publisher: Eclipse Books (November 1989)

Softcover 60 pages 


    Originally in written in French, this graphic biography, masquerading as an autobiography, has Humphrey DeForest (Yes, that’s his middle name.) Bogart as the narrator filling us in on the key events of his life. This book was one of series of graphic novels the authors did on old Hollywood stars. There are additional ones covering the life of the Marx Brothers, Errol Flynn, and Charlie Chaplin- though this is the only one reprinted in English. 

    The art is excellent, photo-realistic, culled from old publicity stills and candid photos. The coloring and shading gives a real gritty feel to Bogart and his permanent five o’clock shadow. It covers his upscale beginnings in the best neighborhood in Manhattan, to his early days as a bit player on the stage, to being the backup guy for George Raft, Paul Muni, and Jimmy Cagney, to his eventual rise to fame and cinematic immortality.
    While not the most exhaustive biography into Bogart's life (how could it be? It’s only 56 pages.), it covers the parts the casual reader would be interested in. It delves into some interesting detail on his four marriages, his incessant drinking, and his big break. Apparently he only got the lead in The Maltese Falcon because George Raft had little confidence in the new director John Huston. Who, of course, went on to direct some of the greatest films of all time. There are lots of fascinating tidbits like that in this book. 

    It was published by Eclipse Comics in 1989. Eclipse was one of the first direct marketing comic publishers which sprung up in 1977, after the new distribution system was set in place. It then crashed in the same direct market bust in the mid nineties- when oversaturation of material and a general decline in art and writing caused many people (including myself) to quit collecting the medium.  
    Their demise was unfortunate because they had consistently produced excellent creator owned material. Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman did Miracleman through them, an astounding comic only know being re-released after decades in legal hell. They published a lot of high quality adaptations of Clive Barker books. And they pushed out one of my favorite comics Destroyer Duck by Steve Gerber, Jack Kirby, and Buzz Dixon. Which was a comic designed to bring in money for Gerber’s ongoing legal battle with Marvel Comics over the rights to Howard the Duck. 

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Gift: The Illustrated History of the Statue of Liberty (Graphic Novel)

by Henry Gibson & Alfredo P. Alcala

Publisher: Blackthorne Pub (May 1986)

Softcover 48 pages





    Here’s an old one from the 80s that I dug out while culling the crap from the back of my house. It was originally part of my classroom library when I was wasting my time being a middle school teacher. It was frowned upon by the pretentious administration to stack the shelves with material that kids might actually like, so I filled it overpriced educational material like this. Despite the cynical intro here, it is not a bad book. Perhaps it is a little too historically detailed for the middle school age range to take in (especially with the pack of imbeciles they’re churning out nowadays), but well researched and flawless in historical accuracy.

    It was published to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of the statue’s erection on Liberty Island. The story is often presented as the French just showed up at our door one day with a huge statue for us, as if it were a colossal surprise gift. It was actually brought over in various sections. The arm and torch was presented at the Philadelphia World's Fair in 1876 and the head at the (modeled after architect Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s mother- the body was that of his wife) in Paris several years later.
Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi

    The amount of planning that went into the statue was incredible. It really was one of the most daring experiments in the world at that time. The main architect's dream was to create a statue to rival the ancient civilizations. So with typical Victorian zeal, he set about doing it. First he attempted to create one for the opening of the Suez canal in 1869, but was rejected. Then the French government, having changed from a constitutional monarchy to a full fledged republic, wanted to cement ties with the United States, and agreed to the plan. To the French, this was as much about advertising their greatness as a goodwill gesture. They had recently completed the Eiffel Tower and this was their next achievement.  There was some government funding, but it was mostly supported by bond drives, raffles, and lotteries. The details of the actual construction was fascinating.
The book was published by Blackthorne Publishing, one of the many smaller comic houses that popped up when the direct marketing boom revolutionized the distribution methods of the medium. Initially they focused on reprints of classic strips, like Dick Tracy and Little Nemo in Slumberland, and parody comics such as Hamster Vice, Legion Of Stupid Heroes, Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung Fu Kangaroos, and Cold Blooded Chameleon Commandos (The last two were parodies of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which itself initially was a parody. So a parody of a parody. Is there a word for that?), along with a few action and educational titles- like the one here. Their marketing was interesting as they never planned to publish a series for longer than 6 issues and most titles were simple one-shots, thus sidestepping many a new publisher’s trap of trying to establish a universe immediately, only to have the whole damn thing crash and burn.
    The company found their distinction in publication of 3-D comics which was a growing fad at the time. They cornered the market on these titles and rose to become the fifth largest comic publisher in the United States. That is until they severely overpaid for the licensing rights to do a 3-D adaptation of the Michael Jackson video Moonwalker. This, combined with their audience’s overwhelming lack of interest in the pedophile singer, bankrupted the company.
The author playing the head of the Illinois Nazi's in The Blues Brothers
    The author is none other than Henry Gibson of acting fame, a fact that only registered to me while glancing at the back of the book 10 years after purchasing it. Some may forget who this is, but he was a regular on the horribly dated Laugh-In (only good now for cringe laughs), the head of the Illinois Nazis in The Blues Brothers, and as Thurston Howell in the underrated flick Magnolia.  If you haven’t seen the last one, forget the book and go watch it immediatly. How he got into writing this book is unknown. I could not find any information anywhere and now that everyone involved is dead, it’s a mystery for the ages. C’est la vie!

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 
 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The MLJ Companion (Graphic Novel)

by Rik Offenberger, Paul Castiglia, & Job B. Cooke. 

Publisher: TwoMorrows Publishing (September 27, 2016)

Softcover 288 pages

 


    MLJ, now known as Archie comics, began like many of the old time companies, in a panic to toss out superheroes and collect all the sweet cash being thrown at them by kids in the 1940s. It wasn’t until several years in that their star, Archie, would emerge from the back pages of Pep comics to dominate the company up until the current day.
    But during that time, and in their brief revival in the 1960s, the MLJ comics made their mark. Granted a lot of their names are not those of household superheroes. There will be no cinematic universe enshrining their noble deeds in celluloid (I know films don’t use celluloid anymore, but it sounds more poetic). You might never have heard of The Shield, The Black Hood, Steel Sterling, The Fly, The Comet, The Wizard and Roy the Superboy, Madam Satan, or The Mighty Crusaders. They may all sound like rips-offs to you. And well… you’d be right and you’d be wrong at the same time. 


    What the MLJ superheroes (or ultra-heroes, as they called themselves in the 60s), had was influence. A lot of firsts, a lot of similarities in hero origins, a lot of new writers and artists emerged from this company. The first patriotic themed superhero was The Shield, coming out 8 months before Captain America. Fear of litigation from MLJ also changed a singular aspect of Captain America’s outfit. For those who remember, the Captain’s original shield was more in line of a medieval one, but it also looked exactly like the front part of The Shield’s costume. A change was ordered and the more functional round shield was drawn in.  Two characters had taglines later co-opted by DC comics: Steel Sterling was “The Man of Steel”; The Black Hood was called the “Dark Knight of Justice.” The Fly, developed by the classic team of Kirby and Simon had a striking resemblance to Spiderman’s origins and dealt with the problems of a teenager turned superhero. It is also interesting to note that The Fly debuted fourteen months before Spidey (Kirby had always claimed that the initial idea for the webslinger was his). The Comet, an extremely violent hero, was the first superhero ever killed off in comics in Pep #21.
    There have been several periods of incarnation (or attempted incarnation) for the MLJ line up. The first being in the golden age, where the superhero craze came and went. Next was the 60s, when superheros (apart from the big three Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman who’ve never gone away) came back into fashion. Then further attempts to revive them in the 80s with Spectrum imprint, 90s with Impact imprint, and 2000s with Dark Circle Comics (getting grim and gritty). After the second wave, all of the others have been relatively short lived. All in all the MLJ heroes have had seven incarnations in the eighty years since their conception, each lasting shorter than the one previous. 
 
1940s The Web, hero. 
  
1960s Web, henpecked husband.
  The book also shows an interesting perspective of the various flavors of the superhero genre over the ages. The heroes of each era were presented very differently. Many have forgotten that the Golden Age heroes were a pretty violent bunch, often killing off their enemies in brutal ways (and the comic stories included bear out this unrepentant viciousness) and with no remorse. Steel Sterling in the comic presented here, blows up his adversary, The Black Knight (who wore no black on his outfit) and his castle with a shrug and a quip, “There goes the Black Knight.”
That all changed thanks to the Comics Code Authority. The heroes were softened up and had more ridiculous fantasy type adventures. This lead to the 60’s revival, the Batman TV series, and a newfound appreciation for camp. The MLJ heroes were brought out of mothballs. At the line’s helm was the creator of the superhero, Jerry Seigal. Whether the results were a hit or a bomb depends on the individual, but their return did not garner much revenue. I guess the old saying is true, “Camp cannot be deliberately made, it can only occur”. Seigal takes a beating in this book, the authors seem to blame him personally for the wonky work, while everyone else is lauded. I’m not sure if he deserves the scorn, having clearly gotten editorial directives to “camp it up”. Plus his later work on the British series The Spider was well done.
    In a sense the darkening of the superheros (often directly related to Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns) in the last two decades of the 20th century and on into the new millennia, was simply a return to form for the heroes. Dealing with violent criminals in a final manner has been popular again for some time.  
 
I actually own this issue. I don't recall getting it. It was just there in my collection.
    One great flaw I had with this volume, however, was that so many of the sections were written by different people, cobbled together from old interviews, or reprints of earlier articles that much of the material is repeated. You will read the same fact over and over. While not a great drawback, it can detract from your overall enjoyment.
    On the plus side, it is an exhaustive text. You will be hardpressed to find out anything more on the subject of MLJ superhero characters and their various incarnations. It’s a great look at some old comics and, if you have an interest, well worth your time. Ultimately the MLJ characters were once ahead of the game, but each time they are brought back, they are always playing catch up with the big two. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a look, it’s just that there hasn’t been a whole lot of innovation after the 40s and 60s. 
And let's not forget old Archie.
           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Michelle Remembers (Autobiography) (Psychology)

by Michelle Smith and Dr. Lawrence Pazder

Publisher: St Martins Press (September 1980)

Hardcover, 330 pages




    “Dr. Pazder would often look back upon this day- he would think of it as the day the war began. It was a cosmic battle Michelle was describing, lasting many weeks, with the Devil and his followers on the earthen floor of the round room, attempting to proceed with their dreadful and apparently crucial ritual, and, somehow in the air above, other forces bearing down, disrupting the ritual with an interference that was not physical but spiritual. In that battle, Satan would attempt to use the child Michelle as his pawn….”
    The above snippet is a good example of the sort of torturous prose one can expect in this book. Michelle Remembers is the text which set off the “repressed memory” craze among the mentally ill in the 1980s. This fad added to the already simmering Satanic Ritual Abuse Panic, allowing mentally ill people to “recover” memories of satanic abuse as children (that is recover, not falsify) to gain attention and acceptance in the society they were ostracized from. Not to sound too cynical, but this entire book has been thoroughly debunked so many times, the only reason to read it now is for ironic purposes or to see how such a massive deception is achieved. Remember this text was taken very seriously at the time of its publication and propelled the career of the doctor involved. For the next decade, he toured around giving lectures and being a consultant for police on ritual abuse cases. 
     Obstensively this book revolves around a woman who, with the help of her psychoanalyst, begins to relive a series of abusive events at the hands of a group of people. Much of the memories are foggy, up to near the end where the memories become very specific. Each memory apparently is emerging exactly 22 years after they first occurred. According to Michelle, she was sold by her mother to a group of Satanists. This group abused her for various fuzzy reasons, most of which involved some sort of sensory deprivation, anal wand dowsing for prophetic purposes, the mutilation of baby corpses, possessed women drooling insanely, and the actual murder of a teenager. She is witness to a murder, which is made to look like an accident. Then, after an 81 day ceremony in a graveyard in Victoria, British Columbia, the group succeeded in summoning up the Devil. She only survives through the intervention of the Virgin Mary and goes back to live with her mother. 
 
Michelle recounting her "memories" under hypnosis
    This is all recovered by the use of  hypnosis at the hands of her therapist, Dr. Lawrence Pazder, who up until this book seems to have a stellar record in the field of psychotherapy. The problem with “recovered” memories, especially with the use of hypnosis, is that they are prone to false memory syndrome. This is a condition in which a person's identity and relationships are affected by memories that are factually incorrect but that they strongly believe, and can be triggered and often accidentally implanted by the person doing the hypnosis. Here the author, a deeply Catholic man, begins to make connections between his subject’s babblings which she might not have. Michelle, a chronically depressed woman who had been seeing Pazder for four years previously, might indeed believe her story. But her belief in the ridiculous ramblings does not make them at all true. 
     The depiction of Satan in the text is odd. He is alternately shown to be beastial, a constant shape-shifter, who roars in a blood chilling manner and plays with the bones of a freshly slaughtered teenager, but then he speaks only in rhymes (bad ones at that, which might be in character). These make him seem like a mischievous leprechaun more than the Lord of Evil. The text claims there are numerous examples throughout history and in religious texts of the Devil speaking in rhymes, but this is news to me. They certainly aren’t Biblical examples, as the red devil only appears in it a handful of times and none of the translations rhyme.  I wonder if they’re confusing Faust or Dr. Faustus as historical documents?
Obsessive Compulsive Rhyming Disorder is an actual thing however. It is characterized by distressing, intrusive thoughts that may leave one’s stomach tied up in knots. Sufferers neutralize these obsessions by creating lyrical successions that, at least in part, resemble a rhyme. I only mention this because it seems to fit in with the mental illness the protagonist suffers from. There are pages and pages of rhymes from “the Devil” listed here. I just find it unlikely that a person could remember all of them in such detail after 22 years, especially when they are in a state of terror, hunger, and malnutrition as the authors claim Michelle was. 
 
The authors, patient and doctor. Later to be husband and wife.
What is just as interesting in this text is the material left out. Namely was that, Michelle had two other siblings living with her at the time of her “abuse”, an older and younger sister. Both of them have refuted any of the supposed blood orgies described (Michelle claims several of them happened at the family home) or Michelle’s supposed 81 day absence. Her father, still alive even though the Mother was conveniently dead, states that his former wife would not indulge in any such activities.
Most damning of all, these two ended up divorcing their spouses and married. Doctor and patient, now man and wife. The subtext of their mutual attraction is rampant all throughout the book. It is written in the third person, but the protagonists described in the book did write it. Little hints here and there, suggest their intensive psychotherapy sessions spilled over into inappropriate lust. This is further foreshadowed in the descriptions of their old spouses. Neither of whom seemed to understand the importance of this 14 month “investigation”. It seems likely that this all started by a young girl wanting to be closer to a man she admired and began making stuff up to get his attention. When it succeeded, she kept on adding to it until, like the proverbial big fish story, it grew to ridiculous proportions.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Disorder in the Court: Great Fractured Moments in Courtroom History (Humor)

By Charles M. Sevilla (With illustrations by Lee Lorenz)

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (August 17, 1999)

Softcover 255 pages







    Police Report

“The accused was observed parked on Downing Street at Peck Street in the middle of the intersection for several minutes talking and cleaning out his truck. His actions did make it difficult for the residents and narcotic buyers to pass: he was charged accordingly.”

A fun book filled with actual statement, misstatements, quips, and jokes that occurred in courtroom across the United States and beyond. This is a conglomeration of the choicest snippets from a column he writes. On television dramas, scenes of the courtroom are depicted as scenes of high tension where both sides are emotionally invested in seeking the truth, often with the District Attorney as the shining angle, and the defending consul as the almost-literal Devil’s Advocate. Sometimes vice-versa. But it is almost always a struggle of the pure versus the corrupt. Never simply two people doing their jobs. This book punctures that viewpoint, just a little bit.

This book is not some grand vision, but a humorous pause for fun in a serious literary curriculum. A pause to realize that even in the most serious of jobs, there is room for humor and mistakes. In short, it makes a great bathroom book.
Author Charles Sevilla

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Across the Wounded Galaxy (Science Fiction)

by Rex Hurst

Softcover 267 pages



        A forced grown Gen-Human, only three months from his decanting bottle, is shanghaied by a sadistic pirate clan. Three aliens track a gleeful villain who is hell-bent on destroying his own world. A military failure on a ruined planet finds only one chance left for personal glory. All their paths collide together in a galaxy at war. Worlds destroyed. Civilizations ruined. Cities devastated. Join them on this trek across a wounded galaxy. Included here is Chapter 1.


Across the Wounded Galaxy- Visual Glossary

Muzachan
Zen Rigeln

Phentari

                   Chapter 1

 Species: Gen-Human
Planet of Origin: None
Description: An artificially engineered species, designed to shore up the ranks of the genetically wounded Human race. They are force grown in vats with an average gestation period of four months. Their occupations are predetermined according to commercial demand and a skill set is chemically implanted into their brains. They are mostly employed in bureaucratic and middle management careers or commissioned as lower echelon military officers. While their memory and physical skills are a step above the average Human, their emotional growth varies greatly from their parent race.
Freaky Fact: Due to a lack of childhood indoctrination and societal bigotries, Gen-Humans tend to be attracted to people who they feel are “interesting looking”; ie those who differ wildly from the high standard of beauty to which Gen-Humans themselves are sculpted. Those people usually believe that they’ve hit the jackpot.
 
***
            There was a splash of gore and intestines. The masked Phentari whirled, a chainsword clutched in each of its four tentacles. The guard fell apart before him, sliced into four sections across the torso. Ah what skill, what nerve, it took to do that. An accomplishment requiring hours of practice. The Phentari swiped at a cowering nurse, carving off half her face. It was an act of pure sadism, doing nothing to advance the plot. The Phentari revved its swords and lurched into the maternity ward.  
            BEEP
            There were two guards in the ward, both firing pistols with impunity. Rather risky thing to do in a hidden room filled with babies. After taking a few hits, the Phentari summersaulted over a crib and speared one guard in the abdomen while simultaneously decapitating the other. The obstacles dealt with, the Phentari raised its weapons. Remember, babies were worth 10 points and preemies 20.
            BEEP

            With the second warning Drake flipped off the game, Lone Phentari 2: Mass Murder is My Hobby, and sat up in his steel chair, pretending to be engaged in his work. He had uploaded a restricted program into his system that warned him whenever the supervisor or any of his cronies were logging in to monitor Drake’s work, giving him time to spruce himself up.

            Drake- DKE-k0018 (as was his full name) was employed in an administrative capacity on the Brethia Stargate Project. Stargates created a stable wormhole from one gate to another. They allowed a ship to move easily from star to star, galaxy to galaxy, without needing to employ warp drive or dip into hyperspace. Easily the quickest method of travel, the demand was so great that a ship could wait for weeks before getting clearance to enter. And with the energy required to maintain these holes, the cost for Stargate travel was appropriately astronomical.

            The Brethia Stargate was an attempt by the Mutzachan Trade Council to create a structure to power hundreds of stargates. To achieve this, they were building a Dyson sphere around the system’s star (with a surface area of 92 billion Earths) to absorb every iota of solar energy emanating from the heavenly body and, after 104 years of construction, it was only 35% complete. It was, quite simply, the single greatest feat of astro-engineering ever attempted. And Drake was bored silly by it.


            By its nature this amazing attempt created incredible amounts of administrative difficulties in all areas- from storage of construction supplies, to housing the ten million workers, to the acquisition of enough paper products so that everyone could clean themselves. This is where Drake came in, or rather Drake’s batch. The entire DKE series, all 50,000 of them, had been developed to address the organizational issues, specifically spoiled food indexing, hazardous material disposal, and septic management. Laugh if you want, but the amount of excrement generated each month could have created its own small moon orbiting the station.


            Day after climate controlled day it was the same grind. Type figures, check figures, adjust figures, order figures. Then walk back to his designated rest area, consume the daily food allotment, complete the regulation exercise regimen, engage in the compulsory social hour with his assigned friend group, watch the film being shown that night, and pass out in his sleep cylinder. One day meshed invisibly into another.


            A waterfall of tiny numbers streamed over Drake’s monitor. It took all of his effort not to sigh or yawn. To the average supervisor (and Drake’s was very average) it looked as if he was sitting in rapt attention, taking in each integer flooding his vision. In reality, his mind was elsewhere.


            After I take care of the Maternity Ward, I should double back and see if any patients have respawned in the Leukemia Ward. If they haven’t, I can toss an incendiary device into the Burns Unit and see who blows up. If that goes well, I should have enough points to earn the Blood Soaked Achievement!


            A further buzz indicated that his Mutzachan superior’s omnipresent eye had cast his gaze at another hapless middle manager. Drake slouched back in his chair and sighed. He wasn’t bad at his job. He couldn’t help but be competent. Having been decanted only three months prior, practically the only knowledge rattling around in his head was the implanted managerial skill suite. It’s just that the thing he was bred to be good at didn’t interest him. 


            Technically the Gen-Human species were designed to be fanatically enthusiastic about their assigned field, but as Drake himself was a living testament to, it was extremely difficult to genetically engineer a body’s personality. One minor fluctuation in the DNA coding could result in a host of new quirks and mental disorders. It was probably why the species had such an abnormally high rate of schizophrenia.


Jake-DKE-r0865, Drake’s co-worker from down the hall, popped his head into the pod.


“Hey,” Jake said. “Did you see? I got in the upper twentieth for Mazian Bubble Bounce this week! Now that’s a feat!”


“Great, buddy. Congratulations.” 


Mazian Bubble Bounce was a game where you tried to keep an amorphous grey blob afloat using a combination of green, red, and blue bubbles, while avoiding random dropping needles. This was a favorite among the DKE series as it depended primarily on muscle memory and required no actual higher brain usage. Some of the others had created a secret leaderboard where they competed for the high score, but Drake didn’t partake. He just liked to lazily shoot things.


“When are you gonna join in?” Jake asked. “That way we can challenge each other. It’ll be fun. Match our wits.”


“I dunno if I want to.”


“Ahh you never know what you want,” Jake said and left.


            What did he want? He wasn’t so sure. Something exciting that he could brag about. Something on the edge. Something that others would ooh and ahh over when they heard. Like a hero from the movies, or the Spiff Blasthandy Tri-V show. They’d slap him on the shoulder and call him brave, maybe buy him a beer. He’d never had any alcohol, but the vids made it look great. Yeah that was Drake’s dream, as vague as it was.
            He snapped to. There had been a noise far far away, one that was distinctly different from the usual hums and buzzes of his artificial environment. He couldn’t exactly place it. Then his screen flickered and the near fleshless face of a Zen Rigeln appeared.


 Drake knew the species without having met any, they being one of the 12 core races making up the Galactic Alliance. They tended to adhere to a religious philosophy of pacifism and healing, codified in a series of interminable rituals and exhausting canons that was of little use to any outsider except as a cure for insomnia. The Zen’s had a reputation for being sanctimonious, but this one seemed different.


“Hello,” the Zen said in the standard trade dialect, “I don’t know you… but I hate you!”


            Drake heard the words echoed in the hallway and stepped out to see that every monitor and screen had been hijacked. If this unknown person had managed to send his message to the entire station, it was indeed an impressive hack.


            “I hate you because you live. I hate you because you breathe. I hate you because you can think. I hate you because you have ideas other than my own.”


            All of the overhead lights turned to a warning red and the evacuation alarm boomed, drowning out the rest of the figure’s words. The monitors cut in with a yellow circle- the universal symbol for emergency. Drake panicked. He knew the routine, had been drilled on escape procedures, but when imminent atmospheric collapse loomed all discipline deserted him.


            He ran down the hall screaming and shoving others out of the way. The hysteria was infectious. Soon the entire section broke down into a free-for-all with Gen-Humans, Mutzachans, Orions, Goola-Goolas and a host of other races all pushing, kicking, tripping, and biting each other to reach the survival bubbles.


 Drake had just accidentally knocked another Gen-Human down a flight of stairs when an explosion rocked his section, bowling everyone over. Then what had just been a confused struggle turned into a murderous riot. People clubbed and stabbed whoever was ahead of them. Mutzachans let loose fatal blasts of matrix energy to clear the decks. Sporadic gunfire was heard further down the section.


“Remain calm! Remain calm!” a voice yelled over the intercom.


But the toothpaste was out of the tube. Drake stumbled, his knees nearly buckling with fear, and steadied himself on a desk. He picked up an oblong paperweight and judged that it might be a good weapon. Several voices, overlapping each other, squawked through the monitors. 


“Sebe engaging… electrical systems compromised, launching fighters… flux shield holding… configuration unknown, seems to be a hodgepodge of inconsistent parts…..”


Was the station under attack? No way, it had to be sabotage. This was the best defended area in the quadrant. They had three battle cruisers in rotation around it at all times. Any assault would be a suicide run. And yet…


White gas vented into the room. Definitely not part of the evacuation procedure. It was some sort of acidic mist that liquefied any flesh it alighted upon. The mist was scrubbed away in seconds by the station’s atmospheric conditioners. But the damage had been done. Jake, who had somehow gotten ahead of Drake, lurched before him, screaming. He had taken a spritz dead in the face. His eyes had melted and were running down his cheeks like giant globulous tears. Large chunks of meat still clung to his face, attached by thin strands.


It was enough to make a person vomit and Drake was no exception. He heaved his stomach contents onto the floor as a further explosion shook the station. Drake knew that he had to get out of there now. He readied his paperweight and…


“Help… help me,” Jake hoarsely cried.


… paused. Damn it! He couldn’t just leave the guy. He’d known Jake his entire life (all three months of it) and he deserved better than this. Drake hoisted him up and helped him walk down the hall. Unfortunately this slowed them down greatly.


“Hold on buddy,” Drake said, “We’re almost there.”


“Drake?”


“Yeah.”


Jake said nothing more. Most of his tongue had plopped out of his mouth and was smeared down the front of his shirt, yet the jaw continued moving in a foul mimicry of human speech. Drake vomited a second time.


By the time they finally managed to make it down to the evac chamber, most of the section had already ejected. There were a few broken figures lying about, some burned, some bleeding, some trampled, but otherwise it was empty. He boarded the bubble (a device designed only to be a short term solution) and hit the large, idiot proof, eject button.

Hope you enjoyed it.