Thursday, September 15, 2011

Academy Demolished

The Academy for Difficult Girls has lost its home at Yahoo yet again.

I don't know whether this was the work of that creepy little stalker who has been posting libels against me on various groups, or the mischief of some random clod, or just another meaningless glitch in Yahoo's system.

Don't suppose it matters -- Yahoo explains nothing, apologizes for nothing.

There is a backup group,

and when I have the time and energy and am not feeling so kicked in the teeth as I am right now, I will create, I suppose, Academy 5 at Yahoo.

In the meantime, my apologies for the interruption of service.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Speak Out With Your Geek Out

My big geekiness is history, I have recently discovered.

I didn't list "history" among my interests until my wife pointed out to me that I had taught a middle-school class about the Cold War era [primarily by showing them "Dr. Strangelove" ("This is what we feared") and "2001" ("This is what we hoped for")], had written a series of alternate-history stories, was always surprising people with tidbits of historical trivia....

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Poe's Lighthouse, as Completed on Earth-349

Earth-349: Classic Illustrated
By Anton Psychopoulos, PhD.
Disclaimer #1: This story was inspired in part by a story in Superman #349,
but is not limited by that story or any other.
Disclaimer #2: This story makes use of copyrighted characters and titles
for satirical purposes, and is not intended to infringe or disparage those
copyrights, even those which, under a government not totally dominated by
corporate whoredom, would long since have lapsed.
Disclaimer #3: The first three “days” of the diary which makes up this story
were indeed writtten by Edgar Allan Poe, and constitute his last known attempt
at writing. Portions of this story were also inspired by other works of Mr.
Poe, but everything dated “Jan 4” and later is Dr. Psycho’s own creation.
Disclaimer #4: This story is also inspired in part by “Three Skeleton Cay”, an
episode of the radio series Suspense, but not, in the author’s opinion, in any
way that constitutes copyright infringement, much less plagiarism.
Disclaimer #5: This story is not recommended for readers under the age of 18
or the easily offended.

The Lighthouse
By Edgar Allan Poe

Jan 1 - 1796. This day - my first on the light-house - I make this
entry in my Diary, as agreed on with De Grät. As regularly as I can keep the
journal, I will - but there is no telling what may happen to a man all alone as
I am - I may get sick, or worse... So far well! The cutter had a narrow escape
- but why dwell on that, since I am here, all safe? My spirits are beginning to
revive already, at the mere thought of being - for once in my life at least -
thoroughly alone; for, of course, Neptune, large as he is, is not to be taken
into consideration as "society". Would to Heaven I had ever found in "society"
one half as much faith as in this poor dog: - in such case I and "society"
might never have parted - even for the year... What most surprises me, is the
difficulty De Grät had in getting me the appointment - and I a noble of the
realm ! It could not be that the Consistory had any doubt of my ability to
manage the light. One man had attended it before now - and got on quite as well
as the three that are usually put in. The duty is a mere nothing; and the
printed instructions are as plain as possible. It never would have done to let
Orndoff accompany me. I never should have made any way with my book as long as
he was within reach of me, with his intolerable gossip - not to mention that
everlasting mëerschaum. Besides, I wish to be alone... It is strange that I
never observed, until this moment, how dreary a sound that word has - "alone" !
I could half fancy there was some peculiarity in the echo of these cylindrical
walls - but oh, no! - this is all nonsense. I do believe I am going to get
nervous about my insulation. That will never do. I have not forgotten De Grät's
prophecy. Now for a scramble to the lantern and a good look around to "see what
I can see"... To see what I can see indeed ! - not very much. The swell is
subsiding a little, I think - but the cutter will have a rough passage home,
nevertheless. She will hardly get within sight of the Norland before noon
to-morrow - and yet it can hardly be more than 190 or 200 miles.

Jan 2. I have passed this day in a species of ecstasy that I find impossible to describe. My passion for solitude could scarcely have been more thoroughly gratified. I do not say satisfied; for I believe I should never be satiated with such delight as I have experienced to-day... The wind lulled about day-break, and by the afternoon the sea had gone down materially... Nothing to be seen, with the telescope even, but ocean and sky, with an occasional gull. Jan 3. A dead calm all day. Towards evening, the sea looked very much like glass. A few sea-weeds came in sight; but besides them absolutely nothing all day - not even the slightest speck of cloud... Occupied myself in exploring the light-house... It is a very lofty one - as I find to my cost when I have to ascend its interminable stairs - not quite 160 feet, I should say, from the low-water mark to the top of the lantern. From the bottom inside the shaft, however, the distance to the summit is 180 feet at least: - thus the floor is 20 feet below the surface of the sea, even at low-tide... It seems to me that the hollow interior at the bottom should have been filled in with solid masonry. Undoubtedly the whole would have been thus rendered more safe: - but what am I thinking about? A structure such as this is safe enough under any
circumstances. I should feel myself secure in it during the fiercest hurricane
that ever raged - and yet I have heard seamen say occasionally, with a wind at
South-West, the sea has been known to run higher here than any where with the
single exception of the Western opening of the Straits of Magellan. No mere
sea, though, could accomplish anything with this solid iron-riveted wall -
which, at 50 feet from high-water mark, is four feet thick, if one inch... The
basis on which the structure rests seems to me to be chalk...

Jan 4. The lighthouse was named Pannonner's Tower after its designer. The island itself is listed on charts as the Pfallstach. Yet this place where I am to spend the year of 1796 is universally known by another name, one which I can scarcely bring myself to think, much less write. There is a reason why the Consistory found it difficult to find a keeper for this lighthouse, and why I had difficulty in persuading them that I was a suitable candidate for the job.The last keeper of this light went mad. And the three who served as its crew before him....

Jan 5. A storm threatened, but passed the Pfallstach by. I climbed the tower and watched as the lightning flashed far out to sea, and said an occasional prayer for any ship that might be caught in it, and a more sincere one when I was sure that no arm of it would reach me. The storm was a magnificent entertainment, and I felt no fear once I knew it would draw no closer. The day and the evening passed without my experiencing any of the unwholesome fear which I felt the other day. I can now laugh at myself, for the way I could not even bring myself

Jan 6. I kept the old Christmas in joyous silence, luxuriating in being free not to speak a word, contrasting this happy day with the disagreeable evening I spent on the late December 25th, at a crowded inn at Norland with De Grät and Orndoff. The gratification I felt on the 2nd was even more intense and yet serene today, and I would laugh at my fears, as I did yesterday, except that my inner happiness is so great and sacred that mirth would seem out of place. The name

Jan 7. Three Skeleton Rock

Jan 8. In truth, I wrote nothing yesterday. I finally forced myself to
write that unspeakable name early this morning, after spending most of the
night in pacing round the lighthouse, and in climbing and descending the long
stairway, approaching my diary and then turning away. There was no longer any
point in refusing to write it, since the words floated in the air before me
whenever I closed my eyes, scrawled in burning golden letters in my own
handwriting. This place has been cursed with that name since the day three
years ago that the cutter approached the island to investigate the extinction
of the light....

Jan 9. The dawn seemed late in coming, but actually it was simply an overcast so complete as to blot out the Sun. A hole in the clouds near the horizon seemed to offer me a late dawn, but in truth I realized that it was much later than sunrise should be, even in this clime, that the Sun was much higher in the sky, and the patch of brightness was simply a rent in an otherwise impenetrable cloud cover. I will resume my recounting of the story of the previous keepers of this light. Perhaps putting it down on paper will allow me to stop dwelling upon it in my mind. At first glance, the skeletons seemed to lie where their owners had fallen, on the ground near the door to the lighthouse. Closer examination, however, found that the bones had been brought there and assembled into skeletons. Occasional bones were in the wrong place, as a physician among the rescuers observed: hand bones in the feet and vice versa, ribs and vertebrae out of order. Some bones were obviously from one man, yet included in another's skeleton. Every bone, however, had been meticulously cleaned of the smallest particle of soft tissue, scraped clean of even the periosteum, the membrane that covers all living bone, and drained of marrow without being cracked, only bored with small holes. And every bone bore the marks of tiny, sharp scraping tools, or perhaps of teeth.

Jan 10. A howling ice storm outside: sleet, hail, freezing rain -- a crust of ice on every surface. I bundle myself in what seems like every article of clothing I have with me, and still the chill seeps in. The weather is so thick that I have lit the lamp in daylight. The heat of the lamp is welcome -- more than welcome, it is rescue from the cold. The lamp-room is the only warm place in the lighthouse. Even there, I am warm only on the side the lamp shines on, and then I feel a heat that threatens to blister my unprotected skin. The three men had been reduced to skeletons, and every particle of food stored up for them had been eaten or carried away. A single man was chosen to mind the light
thereafter. The exterior door, which had been extensively damaged, was
replaced by one of iron plate that would have done a bank vault proud. It was
believed that the lighthouse was now quite impregnable, and indeed, the next
keeper of the light was quite unharmed when, in the third year of his tenure,
he was found by the cutter, huddled in the topmost place in the entire
lighthouse, quite mad. I am in the madman's final perch, too. There is a small
platform directly above the lamp, about four feet beneath the ceiling. If I
sit here with my notebook, this is the one place in the lighthouse which is
truly warm. The madman was taken away, and a new keeper sought for the light.
And here I am, and now I must face whatever it was that destroyed my

Jan 11. Still abominably cold. I spend most of the day in the
bottom of the ligthhouse, dry even though below sea level, huddled beside a
small cast iron stove. I have two pair of boots, and hang one of them by their
laces from a wire that hangs over the stove. when it is warm, I exchange my
boots, and revel in a few moments of warmth and the return of sensation to my
numbed toes. But my feet are cold again long before the hanging boots are
warm. I look forward to night, when I shall crouch again on that tiny topmost
platform and be truly warm. I am tempted to light the lamps now and be done
with it, but fear depleting the supply of spermaceti. Jan 12. I passed the
night on the little upper platform again. This time, I slept on a comfortable
pallet that I made there. The platform was still too short for me to lie at
full length, and I was occasionally troubled by the thought of the harm I would
come to should I roll off the platform and fall onto the lamps, but at least
the space is blessedly *warm*, the smell of burning oil a comforting incense
like unto the smell of old Maria's kitchen of my boyhood. At dawn, I espied a
dark mass on the horizon that I thought at first must be more sea-weed, but it
stood higher out of the water than that. It might have been a ship, but its
bulk was too great and its motion too leisurely for that. It has grown
steadily larger all morning. Neptune seems to be disturbed by something.

Jan 14. The time since I last wrote here has been a longer and more horrible 36 hours than I could ever have imagined a human being enduring, and they may yet get in.

The mass whose identity I could not fathom was both ship and sea-weed: the
hulks of two derelict ships, rotting and water-logged, embedded in a mass of
purplish-green plant life that seemed to both weigh it down and buoy it up, a
horrible amalgam of living and dead, nature and artifice, plant and animal.

Plant and animal mingled for the entire mass, and the water around it, was
swarming with innumerable rats.

How so many rats could have been gathered in one place, so far from land, I
cannot imagine. Even had the derelict ships been packed to the gunwales with
bread and bacon and cheese, they could hardly have nurtured a brood as vast as
this one. Perhaps the rats were summoned by some power from every passing ship

The fact that I could imagine such a diseased fancy as I wrote above shows how
much the coming of the rats has unsettled my mind. It is nonsense.

Nothing lived on the weed-mired hulks except rats, unless the occasional flash
of white that I saw among the animals represented another species. The rats
would surely not have suffered a cat to live among them.

I watched the agglomeration of ships and sargassum drift nearer, helpless to
forestall the proximity of the rats. The idea of the hideous mass coming near
offended me, but I did not think I was in any true danger until near sunset,
when I saw that the mass was indeed going to pass closer to my island than any
drift of sea-weed had before. I saw that the rats which swam in the sea nearby
to the floating island were even closer than the main mass itself, and I feared
that some of them might come ashore. The thought of my supplies being
plundered, and of the vile diseases that those rats might bring with them, made
me tremble in a way that no storm ever could.

I descended and made sure of the iron door, and even of the windows, though it
would have taken a hardy rat indeed, I was sure, to climb the sheer face of the
lighthouse to the fifty-foot height of the first window.

By the time I returned to the level of the lanterns, the rats had begun to
desert the hulks in a single immense wave of brown bodies, swimming not
aimlessly as the occasional outriding rats had done, but with a distinct and
eager purpose: to invade the island where lately three men had been reduced to

Jan 15. They are out there, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, perhaps
millions. They have climbed to the very pinnacle of the lighthouse, crowding
about the windows, scrabbling at every irregularity of its surface in hope of
scratching their way inside. Only the beam of the massed lanterns drives them
from the great windows, so that the lighthouse still fulfills its function,
even as I cower inside in dread of their horrible teeth, their filthy claws.

They carpet the ground, and I wonder if they do likewise with the lighthouse
itself, making the island one uniform mass of squirming brown fur. But not
quite uniform, for I have seen again and again those small flashes of white
that suggests some small minority of the rats carry an albino mutation. But is
it truly a rat? The flashes I have seen have all been consistent with the
white thing being larger than a rat: a cat, a dog, a stoat perhaps.

Small matter. It is the rats I must fear. They must not gain ingress.

Jan 16. The King Rat is at the window.

Jan 25. I have not been in a fit state to write here for some time. Indeed, I
was surprised to find the journal intact when this morning I ascended to the
tiny platform above the lanterns. But it is here, and I might as well continue
my narrative. I must find some means of maintaining the semblance of normalcy
and sanity, practice the routines of a normal person, that the crew of the
cutter not think there is anything amiss.

The rats broke in on what must have been the 18th. They burrowed fully twenty
feet through the chalk, coming up inside the iron-bound masonry walls and
swarming up through their initial tunnel, ascending the full height of the
lighthouse until they found me cowering in the madman’s perch.

I had spent every hour since the rats first came ashore in that little perch.
I suppose it was in some irrational belief that I would survive there, as the
madman had. I cannot imagine why I would think that: it would have been easy
enough for the rats to have scaled the inside walls and drop down onto the
platform, as in the end they did. But well before then, I had not been
thinking clearly. Not since the rats climbed all the way to the height of the
lantern-windows. And especially not since I had heard the voice of the King

The rats swarmed up the sides of the lighthouse like a living carpet, like ivy
growing with impossible speed. They scrabbled at the iron door but could not
enter. They scrabbled at each of the windows. Eventually, they climbed all
the way to the great windows through which the lighthouse’s beacon shines, and
would have covered it entirely except that they cringed away from the heat and
brightness of the lanterns. All but the King Rat.

It was no fancy of mine that there had been a white shape among the rats, and
larger than them. It seemed to be a rat, but immensely larger than any of
them, the size of a large dog, and its fur was a perfect spotless white. Its
skin was almost as fair, but its eyes were of a red color that was not that of
an albino. They were a richer, deeper red, the red of burgundy, darker than
blood. And so were its claws, as though they had been painted.

The King Rat clung to the glass, staring in at me. It watched me for a long
interval, its eyes on me every second, not so much as flinching when the beacon
shone full into them. The beast’s mouth opened, revealing teeth of the same
red as its claws and eyes, and it spoke.

The words were not those of any language I knew, but still there was no
mistaking that this was not merely the cry of some animal, but the articulate
voice of a mind at least as great as a human one:


It has taken me two days more to bring myself to write that word.

When the rats violated the lighthouse, they did not devour my stores, though
they did eat the flesh from poor Neptune’s bones once they had killed him.
They did not fling themselves upon me, but only gathered, in their hundreds,
upon the floor where I tend the lanterns. They scurried about in what must
have been, to a rat, the equivalent of rigid attention, waiting for the arrival
of the King Rat. He must have waited for his subjects to widen the burrow to
allow him passage.

When the King Rat had arrived, the rats finally scampered up the insides of the
windows, across the ceiling, and showered their bodies down upon me. I
screamed and batted at them, too terrified and horrified to notice that their
claws scratched me only when I scraped my flesh across their bodies, that they
did not bite me at all. I flailed about and finally fell off my little perch,
landing on my side before the turning beacon, feeling its searing heat along my
right arm. The King Rat moved closer

There is a reason the three were eaten, and the madman left inside the
lighthouse, while they exerted greater efforts to gain entry when they found me
inside. The four who came before me had a quality in common among them, and
even with poor Neptune. It was something that is sometimes of little
consequence, sometimes none, but on rare occasions is the only thing of any

I must learn to maintain my composure, and to avoid creating any suspicion when
the cutter comes in March to deliver the Spring’s supplies. If my manner is
serene and my conversation is calm, even though brusque, they will leave me in
peace, I expect.

I do not think my pregnancy will be so advanced as to be perceptible.


If Edgar Allan Poe had died of the sudden illness which struck him
while he was writing “The Lighthouse”, he would still be remembered as one of
the most important writers of fiction and poetry that America ever produced,
but we can see in this story the beginnings of what was to be the most
productive period of his career, ended only by his enlistment in the
Confederate Army during Civil War II.

We can also see in it themes which Poe later developed further in “At
the Mountains of Madness” (1853), and “The First Men in the Moon” (1855),
culminating in the completed “Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” (1860).

After the war, Poe wrote little except for Thirty Months (1873), a
rather lifeless wartime memoir, until he began Mark of the Warrior in 1878,
which he completed in 1885 and which was published posthumously in 1902, a work
which remains the definitive novel of the darkest time in the nation’s history.

In spite of the unflinching realism of Mark of the Warrior, however, it
is still for the equally macabre fantasies – “tales of mystery and
imagination”, as Poe put it – that Poe is best remembered today, and “The
Lighthouse” remains a much-reprinted example of them.

-- Benjamin Tuttle, Editor, Classic Illustrated

Note #1: This story and its Afterword reflect the career of Edgar Allan Poe on
Earth-349, where he was indeed a man. Presumably, the story was adapted for an
issue of Classics Illustrated, as published on Earth-349.

Note #2: Read more Earth-349 stories at

Note #3: Contact the author at

Friday, July 29, 2011

Earth-349: Aquawoman

Disclaimer #1 This story is set in a hypothetical parallel world within
the pre-Crisis DC Universe, based on a story in Superman #349, but not
limited by that story or any other.

Disclaimer #2 Some characters appearing in this story are based on
copyrighted characters owned by DC Comics, Inc., Marvel Comics and
others. Their use here is not intended to infringe or disparage those

Disclaimer #3 This story is not recommended for persons under 18 or the
easily offended, especially those who are uncomfortable with such topics
as transgender, transformation, polyfidelity and participatory democracy.

Gloriana Curry, known to the land-dwelling public as Aquawoman,
considered her reflection in her bedroom mirror. She liked the mirror
very much: oval, a meter and a half tall, an ormolu frame, salvaged from
the wreck of the Antilie (sank in a storm, July 23rd, 1911, near Bermuda).
She thought the reflection was...adequate: 421 moons old (32.2 years,
land-reckoning), blonde hair, fair skin (evenly colored but not very
smooth), tall and muscular (chest very broad, making her breasts look
smaller than they really were), belly firm enough that she could still
wear her unforgiving shirt of orichalcum scale mail. No scars, thanks
to the excellent Atlantean healing capacity. Her right hand was still a
little pale, and the wrist would probably always be slightly crooked
where it had grown from the stump of the one she’d lost, but it was no
longer so noticable that she felt the need for gloves. Absolutely
stunning legs, by the standards of either land people or Atlanteans (did
they look better bare, or in the green tights? Tights today).

She would do for a routine appearance as the Queen of Atlantis.
"Queen of Atlantis" was a very fanciful translation of her actual title.
A better one would be "First Speaker of the Executive Council of the
Poseidonis Reach". Her executive position was an elective one (though
it did involve wearing a crown and carrying a ceremonial trident), and
her territory did not by any means cover all of Atlantis. The city of
Poseidonis and its environs, plus its assorted vassal city-states and
allied settlements and nomadic tribes, accounted for only about half of
the population, and maybe a third of the inhabited area of the Atlantic
Ocean basin (the Reach was defined by tides and currents, not lines drawn
on the seafloor). Still, calling her a Queen did no harm, and calling
the Poseidonis Reach "Atlantis" harmed only those insufferable merfolk
in Tritonis, so what the hell?

Aquawoman thought of a Quaker fishing boat captain she knew, who
had recently been named Clerk of the Committee for Ministry and Oversight
of the Gulf Coast Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends of
Christ. She made a mental note that when next they met, she would
address him as "Archbishop of New Orleans."

It was not a ceremonial occasion, just a semi-formal birthday
party for the oldest member of the Council, so she would forgo the crown,
the trident, the walrus-hide mantle and the tedious riding of an Atlantic
Giant Seahorse. There would probably be a good crowd even so, because
people would be wanting to see the royal consorts.

With a final check of her tights for wrinkles, she swam out the
nearest window and down to the plaza, where her husbands and most of the
other guests were waiting.

It was rare enough for all five of her husbands to be gathered
together in one place. They all had their jobs and their private
interests, and if it didn't happen that one or more of them was away from
the city, he was likely to be occupied with some project elsewhere in
town. For once, though, she found them together: Turth, scion of a
Poseidonis family even older than her own. Malco, a legless merman from
Tritonis. Glibdup, a clawed and scaly gill-man from the chilly coastal
waters of Rhode Island. Blue-skinned Niaremus, an adventurer from
Earth-348. And perhaps the oddest of all --

"Hey, where's Todd?"

Nobody seemed to know. Turth said, "He was definitely going to
be here, but I haven't seen him all day."

A boy in an Army uniform, barely into puberty, swam into the
midst of the royal party, glancing uncomfortably around at the consorts
but remembering to salute the queen, and said, "Excuse me, Ma'am, but
the Black Manta is approaching from north by northeast, showing truce

Todd Arliss's family had been shipchandlers for over a century,
and had inherited a very substantial business at the age of 19. He had
insisted on selling the business and spending almost his entire fortune
on illegal experimental treatments intended to give him an Atlantean
metabolism, allowing him to live in the sea, go to Atlantis, and plight
his troth to Aquawoman.

He had been phenomenally lucky. He might have died, or become a
mindless Aquabeast, or worse yet from his point of view, been turned into
a too-exact duplicate of Aquawoman. Instead, he had wound up as the
curly-haired, round-cheeked amphibian the Atlanteans fondly called
Aquababy. Even then, there was no guarantee that the adventurer and
stateswoman would want anything to do with a somewhat-obsessive admirer.
But he'd proven to have many attractive qualities, and in the end had
been allowed to become her fifth companion.

He'd also proven very popular with the people of Atlantis, who
had made him something of a mascot. It had been very clever of the Ocean
Master to choose him as a hostage.

By the time Aquawoman had reached the dome that covered the city,
the Ocean Master's immense black submarine Black Manta was holding a position less
than fifty fathoms from the glass. It loomed there, resembling nothing
so much as an immense sperm whale's penis, with the Ocean Master himself
perched suggestively at its prow. Atlantean soldiers were arrayed in a
half-sphere before the vessel, spearguns ready.

Aquawoman swam up to the officer in charge. "Has he said yet
what he wants?"

"Yes, Ma'am. The crown of Queen Clea."

"He can't have it," she said automatically. The officer nodded

Moments later the four husbands and most of the Council arrived.
Aquawoman told them what the Ocean Master wanted, and assured them that
she considered paying the ransom out of the question. Malco was dubious,
and tried gently to suggest that they at least consider it. The others
all disagreed strongly. Turth spoke smoothly to calm Malco, with a trace
of condescension. "We must not, of course, allow...that fall
into such hands as those. The Ocean Master is bothersome enough as a
science pirate; giving him the power to truly master the world's oceans
would be disastrous. Nevertheless, for our beloved brother's sake...?"

Aquawoman nodded. "For Todd's sake, we should consider all our
options. And what better place to discuss the matter than in the
Nameless Vault?"

A generation before, Atlantean archaeologists had found an
ancient crown once worn by the Wizard-Kings, a hideous thing formed of
seven serpents. Everyone who saw it was troubled by the evil power
emanating from it, but the silver-haired Queen Clea had dared to place it
on her head. After that, she had displayed increasingly spectacular
magical powers -- and increasing megalomania and depravity.

The escalating crimes of Queen Clea, and the civil war that
eventually resulted, had nearly destroyed Poseidonis. Once she had been
neutralized and the crown secured, it had been stowed in the Nameless
Vault, along with other items deemed too dangerous to be used.

The Executive Council, Aquawoman and her husbands made a crowd
that did not easily fit down the narrow passageways that led below the
city to the Nameless Vault. The Vault itself lay in the deepest and
oldest of the Palace's sub-basements, in the natural caverns and chambers
hewn from living stone that had underlain the city when Atlantis was
still above the surface. Its door was of a kind of steel otherwise
unknown on Earth, possibly older than Earth itself. The lock was two
years old, from Stark Industries, and required three members of the
Council to authorize entry. The Vault-Keeper, a broad-chinned oldster in
a red robe, stood by watchfully as they unlocked the massive door.

As the door swung open, a perverse corner of Aquawoman's mind
reflected that the term "Nameless Vault" could also be translated as
simply "a secure undisclosed location".

The contents of the vault seemed deceptively ordinary. On one
table stood an insulated steel vial labelled simply "Virus". On a set
of shelves were several boxes of waterproof punchcards, marked
"Master PC". Presumably PC stood for "punchcard", but what made a
computer program so dangerous? A television set, looking to be about ten
years old, seemed laughably out of place until it moved, turning toward
the visitors as though it were alive. A sealed package offered no clue
of its contents, except for being marked "SRU". It seemed to Aquawoman
that the Vault badly needed a catalog.

At the very back of the Vault, on a pedestal as though in a
museum display -- or on a blasphemous altar -- a dreadful object waited.
Three snakes glared off to the left, three to the right, and the largest
looked forward, its eyes projecting a challenge.

Come wear me. Come, and have power over the sea and the land.
Come and be like Clea, only better, more perfect. Wear me, and be a real
queen, feared and loved by the whole world.

Not taking her eyes off the crown, Aquawoman said to her
companions, "This is what we're here for. Let's go."

The Ocean Master had his feet planted on the prow of the Black
Manta when Aquawoman returned. It was a strange, nonsensical position to
hold underwater, but landsman that he was, he doubtless thought it looked
dramatic and authoritative. He remained in position as Aquawoman swam
out to meet him. He saw that she did indeed have the Serpent Crown with
She was wearing it.

The Ocean Master spoke through a hydrophone in his ornate helmet,
"The Queen of Atlantis will surrender the Serpent Crown to the Ocean
Master, and thereby acknowledge him her overlord and the true ruler of
all the Earth's oceans."

"Francis Marion Ormsby, if you think I'm going to let you leave
here with Clea's crown, you're a dumber sprat than you were when you
tried to pants me the first day we swam together!"

"I need the crown," the Ocean Master said coldly, not showing any
sign that her backhanded appeal to familial ties had touched him. "I
have to have it, Atlantean, in order to fulfill my destiny. Hand it
over, now, or I'll kill your precious Aquababy before your eyes."

She swam toward him, her eyes burning in a manner that suggested
red lightning might shoot from them at any moment, or perhaps from the
eyes of the serpents in her crown. The ancient and obscene power of the
object carried a weight of silent menace.

"Yes, you could do that, and it would wound my heart in ways I
doubt you can even understand. But with my surviving husbands to console
me, I'd manage to go on. I'd retain enough of my self-control to begin
the hunt for you right away, and you'd find that 71% of the planet's
surface area is not room enough to hide you from my vengeance."

He remained still for a long moment, his face unreadable in that
mask, and then he turned to his nearest henchman, a silver-blonde youth
in the ragged remnants of a U.S. Navy enlisted work uniform. "Let him

Less than a minute later, Aquababy swam out through an airlock,
waved to the crowd as they cheered him, then swam toward his wife. The
so-called Ocean Master slipped into his vessel through a different
airlock, and the Black Manta began to turn slowly in place, preparing to
depart from the city. There was more loud cheering as the invaders fled.

Aquababy swam to his wife's side, but held back at the sight of
her wearing the crown. He was not an Atlantean, and had not even been
born yet when Queen Clea made it infamous, but he knew its reputation as
a corrupting influence. He was clearly wondering whether Aquawoman's
sacrifice had been worth his life.

Aquawoman pulled the crown from her head and crushed it between
her hands. The baked-clay replica crumbled to powder and dispersed in a
muddy cloud. To the people of Atlantis she called out, "The crown of
Clea is safely stored away, and that's where it will stay!" and then
kissed her husband very warmly and firmly.

They broke from the kiss and began swimming back toward the
palace side by side, surrounded by her other husbands and, more distantly,
by government officials and the adoring populace.

Aquawoman gave a long telepathic sigh. "I swear, I don't know
what it's going to take to make him put a stop to all this Ocean Master
nonsense. I may have to marry him."

Niaremus turned to Malco and raised one long eyebrow. "Marry
him? Isn't he her half-brother?"

"Step-brother. Former step-brother, since her father is divorced
from his mother."

"So I suppose a relationship between them would only be..."


Todd swam close to Aquawoman, bumping against her frequently in
an intimate gesture that would only be tolerated between lovers. "Have I
mentioned lately what a really magnificent woman you are?"

"I'm not sure how recently the last time was," she replied
lightly, "but feel free anytime it comes up."

"It's relevant right at the moment, hon. When I heard you
telling Ormsby, 'Go ahead, there's four more where he came from--"

"That's not what --"

He shushed her. "You said what you had to say. I have no
complaint. Quite the contrary. I love and admire you more for having
had the strength to say it. When you stood him down like that, I think
it was the first time I'd ever really seen you look like a queen."

Aquawoman made a dismissive gesture. "Me, a queen? I'm just a
nice girl with five husbands."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Earth-349: Spider-Woman

Disclaimer 1: This story is inspired by a story in Superman #349, but is not limited by that story or any other.

Disclaimer 2: This story is based on characters copyright DC Comics, Inc., Marvel
Comics and others. It is written for entertainment only and is not intended to deny or disparage those copyrights.

Disclaimer 3: The inspiration of Tebra's delightful "Diablo Wars" series is gratefully

Disclaimer 4: This story is not recommended for persons under 18, or the easily offended,
especially those who are uncomfortable with themes such as transgender, mind control,
male dominance and women's undergarments.

Spider-Woman clung to the wall and looked around the room. They were all awake now, eying one another warily. That was understandable – the last time she had met a stranger dressed in a spider costume, it had not been a pleasant experience.
The girl in a violet one-piece bathing suit and spiderweb-print domino mask, red hair flowing freely to the middle of her back, kept looking from one to another, more anxious than hostile, as though wishing someone would take charge of the situation.
The one who was once more trying the room's vault-like door had blonde hair showing at the top of a costume that otherwise covered her completely in a substance that resembled the glossy carapace of a black widow. The blackness was relieved only by a white spider-shape on her chest and abdomen, and white eyespots much like those on pider-Woman's own mask.
The fourth, in a mostly-red bodysuit and with black hair that looked impractically if not improbably long, just sat in her corner, seeming to move not at all, merely waiting for what came next.
The redhead was starting to babble, asking nonsensical questions, panic rising in her voice. The blonde turned from prying at the door with her fingertips and started to speak angrily to her.
"Hey, girls!" Spider-Woman yelled, cutting them both off. "Let's not everybody talk at once, okay? Room's too small!"
"Yeeeah, iddiz too schmall, ain't it?" the blonde sneered, mocking Spider-Woman's Queens accent.
"Quiet," the black-haired woman said softly, her own accent sounding vaguely Slavic. "She is right. Let us find out how much we all know."
Spider-Woman thanked her, then peeled off her mask, revealing her own brown hair, cropped very close except for a small forelock.
"I think I know what's going on. I think we're all four of us from different worlds, with different histories."
"That would explain your haircut, Tiger. I was thinking it made you look like you were from Mars."
"Not different planets. Different Earths.
"My name is April Parker, and I come from a world that some people have called Earth-349. People have visited our world from elsewhere, and some of us have visited other worlds, so maybe you will know that name."
The redhead nodded and April continued.
"Three years ago I was attending a scientific exposition at Osborn Laboratories, where they had been studying the peaceful use of atomic energy. I was bitten by a spider, became terribly ill, and when I recovered I had strange spider-like powers. I can only guess at this part, but I think the spider -- a brown recluse, most likely -- was exposed to radiation, and its venom was altered by the radiation in such a way as to give me these powers."
The blonde asked, "Three years ago?"
"Yes, in 1962."
"Huh. On my world, three years ago was 1972."
The redhead blurted, "A radioactive spider – ugh, it gives me the creeps."
"Irradiated, not radioactive," the other three said in unison.
The redhead shrugged, unabashed, and untied her own mask. It hadn't hidden much of her face anyway.
"Okay, whatever. I'm Mary Jane Watson, and I'm from Earth-348. I'm friends with the Human Torch, in the Justice Battalion, so I know all about Earth-349. I didn't know there was a Spider-Girl on your Earth, though."
"Spider-Woman," April corrected.
"Okay. Anyways, like about three years ago – in 1940 – I had the measles real bad, and I thought I was gonna die. There was this spider in a web up by the ceiling in my room, and one night it started to talk to me. It told me it was Anansi, one of the old gods my Auntie Mae used to tell me about, and he said he would heal me if I would serve him. So I said yes, and the next thing I knew, I woke up feeling like a million bucks, and I was clinging to the ceiling."
"And how do you serve Anansi?"
"Mostly by helping the war effort. Hitler isn't one of Anansi's favorite guys.
"Look, since we're taking off the masks and stuff, I hope you guys don't mind if I get comfortable."
She reached into her suit and pulled out a pair of foam rubber falsies, going suddenly from a C cup to an A.
"What the heck do you wear those things for?" the girl in the black costume asked.
"Part of my disguise. My buddy Peter Palmer – I guess he'd be my boyfriend except he's bent – told me to do it, to keep people from guessing who Spider-Girl really is."
The girl in black chuckled.
"Right, nobody will be looking at your face."
Mary Jane glared at the girl's shiny black D-cups.
"You'd know all about that, wouldn't you?"
April tried to raise the tone of the conversation.
"There's some sort of force at work between the worlds that causes things like this, that look like crazy coincidences."
She pointed at the woman in the mostly-red costume.
"Let's hear your story."
The black-haired woman stood up, revealing just how tall she was, and confirming the amazing length of her hair. She peeled her mask down, revealing a beautiful but not very animated face, and very large dark eyes.
"My name is Felicia Hardy. That's the name I have adopted, although I was raised as Arachne. I was born in a laboratory in a cave on Mount Wundagore, in Bulgaria. It is quite clear that neither of your worlds is mine."
"I'll say! On my world, there's no such country as Bulgaria. It's just a made-up place on the radio."
"And on mine, it's an historical name, out of the Middle Ages. But do go on."
"Yes. I was born there, one of some thirty children created by the scientists Drew Parker and Harrison Osbourne. They called us their X-Men, because we were crossed – 'x'-ed – between humans and other species. Leon was half-lion, Reynard was half-fox. And I was, as I said . . . Arachne."
She looked at the other girls, as though watching for signs of revulsion or disdain.
Two of them smiled reassuringly, while Mary Jane stared blankly, clearly not getting the reference.
"I grew up with my special abilities, my powers I suppose you could say. I was also the only one of the X-Men who could pass for human, at least when fully clothed. So three years ago in 1965, I went out into the world as a sort of ambassador for my family. Those who have shown me friendship call me Arachne. The newspapers call me the Tarantula."
The fourth girl, the one in the black-and-white suit, had been listening thoughtfully while the others told their stories. Without any obvious action on her part, the blackness covering her face flowed downward as though it were liquid, revealing a pretty face with a little too much jaw.
"I see what you mean, April, about weird coincidences. My Uncle Ben used to work at Wunder-Gore Labs, in the Osborne Building. And my name is -- well, I've been calling myself Gwen Stacey, but the name I was born with is Peter Parker."
Mary Jane gave a high-pitched giggle that could easily become annoying with repetition.
"I'm sorry, it's just that on my world, nobody would ever name a boy 'Peter Parker'. Where I come from, a 'peter-parker' is a guy who, erm, gets around the girls a lot."
Gwen blushed but continued.
"Well, I can't very well use that name anymore, anyway. But it's the name I grew up with. My Aunt May and Uncle Ben raised me. Three years ago they both got sick, and I joined the Air Force to make some money to support them."
"You joined the Air Corps? How old are you?"
"Seventeen. I was fourteen then. Why?"
"Never mind, I guess. Tell us more."
"Well, I was at this lab at Wentworth Field, assisting Major Jameson with a sample that a probe had brought back from the Moon –"
April surprised herself by being the one to interrupt this time.
"Your people have been to the Moon?"
"Just machines, so far. One of them brought back this really weird piece of black stuff. It seemed like it was almost alive, but we couldn't get it to do anything. Not until I was transferring it from one containment vessel to another and, well, dropped the jar and broke it.
"As soon as it touched my skin, it came to life, glommed onto me and covered me. It changed me, in a lot of ways, made me faster and stronger, and it turned me into, well, a girl."
She pressed her palms together and spread them. A spiderweb formed between her hands, rather like a cat's cradle.
"The costume – that's the way I think of it, as a suit of clothes, although it's eallyr a symbiotic life form – can spin webs, and it allows me to cling to walls. Since the Air Force doctors can't figure out how to get it off me, they made me a Captain, and now I'm what they call a 'special asset' of the Air Rangers, code name: the Spider."
"Wow. I wonder why it made you a girl?"
"I don't know. Maybe its own reproduction requires that it be passed on through the mother."
"Anyway," April said, "what's most important now is that we find out what we're all doing here."
"And which Earth 'here' is."
"True enough."
Gwen looked again at the door.
"That weird coincidence-causing force, whatever it is, might have brought us all together, but why would we be in this locked room, with a door that even our spider-strength can't open?"
April nodded.
"It seems to me more likely that someone has brought us here."
Arachne was waving her hands along the sides of her body, as though wafting air over herself.
"Do any of you smell that? There is some chemical being introduced to the air in here. A different one from the one that was fading as we woke up."
April sniffed.
"I don't notice it, but I have a sort of danger sense that started going off just before you spoke up."
Gwen said, "My suit is acting all creepy-crawly, like it should protect me from something, but it can't tell what."
"I think it is too late to worry," Arachne said distractedly.
"My spider-sense is calm now. Or is it just damped down by that stuff . . . ?"
Mary Jane wrung her hands.
"Oh, gee, this is like when Doctor Goblin caught me with that drugged perfume. I hated how I just did what he told me . . . ."
April shook her head,slapped her own cheek.
"Yes, like the Green Goblin's drugs, that's what this feels like . . . ."
"Must . . . fight . . . influence . . . ."
"Lady . . . your English grammar . . . slips when you're . . . excited . . . ."
After the four of them had sat passively for some twenty minutes, the gas was purged from the room. The sound of massive bolts being withdrawn came from the door, and it swung open, revealing a strange figure in a scaly green bodysuit and a hooded purple cloak.
The stranger entered the room, pushed back the hood, and smiled at the four spider-women.
"Mr. Osborn!"
"Uncle Ben!"
The man laughed, seeing four sets of eyes turned on him with abject adoration, imprinting on the first male to come into their view.
"All of the above, and none, my girls. From now on, you shall all call me 'Master'."
"Yes, Master," they chorused eagerly, rushing forward to kneel at his feet.
So did the Green Goblin of Earth-349 acquire his four loyal Black Widows.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Oooooh, and I've been trying sooooo hard not to write any more Earth-349 stories and concentrate entirely on writing for money, and then....

With thanks to Arthur D. Hlavaty:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The McCloud Challenge -- Accepted!

I found an interesting item posted here pertaining to a challenge posted here: and took it up, with results that should be visible at this post.

Not particularly funny, but at least it messes with your expectations, and I think it's not bad for something done off the top of my head.

And generally speaking, I am always up for a chance to plug either Scott McCloud or Acephalous.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Earth-349: The Star-Spangled Kid

Earth-349: The Star-Spangled Kid
by Anton Psychopoulos, Ph.D.

Disclaimer #1 This story is set in a hypothetical parallel world within
the pre-Crisis DC Universe, based on a story in Superman #349, but not
limited by that story or any other.

Disclaimer #2 Some characters appearing in this story are based on
copyrighted characters owned by DC Comics, Inc., Marvel Comics, Archie
Comics and others. Their use here is not intended to infringe or
disparage those copyrights.

Disclaimer #3 This story is not recommended for persons under 18 or the
easily offended, particularly those who are offended by themes such as
transgender, intergenerational dominant/submissive relationships and
alternative medicine.

"Tell me what you don't like about yourself," Doctor Fate invited.

Sylvester Pemberton made a vague gesture, taking in his massive chest,
brawny arms and treetrunk thighs.

"I'm not who I'm supposed to be. I'm not . . . me."

Sylvester Pemberton didn't, it was true, look like a "Sylvester Pemberton".
With his build, his curly red hair and his broken nose, he looked more like
one of the roughnecks who worked on the oil rigs surrounding the city of
Stella, Texas, than he did the man who owned most of them (to say nothing of
an automobile plant, assorted office buildings and a movie studio). He didn't
look like anyone's image of a multi-millionaire, not even a Texan one. He
also didn't look like his own image of himself, and that was what had brought
him to Doctor Fate's office.

"And what can I do to help you become . . . you?" Fate asked.

Nelson Fate, M.D., didn't, in his turn, look much like a student of the
mystic arts. He didn't wear robes, or a tunic, or a turban. He didn't even
wear a medallion or amulet with his conventional blue suit, just a yellow
necktie. He looked more like a youngish physician, which he was.

"I don't know. I guess that depends on what you can do. I mean, you
have a reputation as a miracle worker, but I don't want to presume that you
can just wave a pointer over me and turn me into Jayne Mansfield. I'd
settle for being able to live in my skin."

Fate nodded.

"I'm glad to hear you say that. I find that my patients tend to be more
satisfied if their expectations aren't too specific. Not necessarily too high
-- often I can give them more than they were hoping for -- but if, say, someone
has their heart set on a crock of gold, they wind up disappointed when I hand
them a shoebox full of stock certificates."

Pemberton nodded.

"At this point, I'd be satisfied with any outcome that leaves me feeling like
I'm not stuck for life in some sort of masquerade costume.

"I've tried to reconcile myself to being a man. I've tried to be good at it,
get all the pleasure I can out of being this big strong fast healthy stallion.
I've played sports, driven race cars and worked on them, loved women, built up
my business until it seemed silly to want to make any more money. I did all
those things well, and enjoyed them, but I was living someone else's life.

"So finally I decided that if I really, truly was a woman inside, I needed to
be a woman on the outside. But, well, you can imagine what the doctors told

"Too tall, too broad, muscles and skeleton too massive."

"Even if they carved and stitched like Doctor Frankenstein, there's no way I
could ever pass for a woman, even an ugly woman."

He sighed heavily.

"Doctor, you're my only remaining hope. If you can turn me into a woman,
fine. If you can cut the woman's heart out of me and leave me feeling like a
man, fine. And if you can't . . . .

"Right now, my only alternative is to just . . . I guess you'd say move on to
my next incarnation."

Fate shook his head.

"As a Lutheran, I'd say nothing of the sort, but that's beside the point.
Let's see what I can do for you."

Fate turned towards one of the white enameled cabinets that lined the walls of
his consulting room, alternating with rude wooden masks and strange elaborate
hangings that reminded Pemberton of the famous Aztec calendar stone. Fate
began removing things from shelves, assembling them on the brushed-steel

"Um, Doctor, could I ask you -- how did you get involved with all of this
stuff? I mean, you used to be a regular doctor, right?"

"An M.D.?" Fate asked, not looking up from his preparations. "I still am, and
I still write plain old prescriptions when I need to.

"But how I started moving outside the mainstream? It was acupuncture."

He pointed over his shoulder to a chart on the wall which showed a human body
patterned in numbered dots and what looked like contour lines.

"Western medicine ignores acupuncture. Just pretends it isn't there. Then
one day, a colleague of mine tried to interest me in it, so I patiently
explained to her that acupuncture was an absurd superstition, that she was
wasting her time chasing after a worthless placebo. I showed her how the
points don't correspond to the layout of the nervous system, or the
musculoskeletal system, the blood vessels, the lymph nodes, nothing.
So obviously, any benefit gained from sticking needles in the points can
only be a placebo, right?

"She was stubborn. What a nuisance. Finally, I challenged her to join me
in conducting a double-blind clinical trial. I began the study with every
confidence I would prove that the so-called acupoints were nothing, that
you could jab a needle in at any random point and get the same results."

He turned back to Pemberton, his fingers carefully measuring an exact length
of red yarn, cutting it with a knife that looked like it was made of silver,
and winding the yarn carefully around some small object. He shrugged

"And guess what? My findings showed quite convincingly that acupressure was
real and powerful. Live and learn."

Pemberton gave another look to the wall hangings, seeing them now as tools of
the trade rather than decorations, or props. He was especially puzzled by a
design of many ellipses, labelled in a rusty brown ink in some alphabet
Pemberton didn't know, annotated in English in pencil: "Raggador (Saturn) . . .
Munnopor (Jupiter) . . . Cyttorak (Mars) . . . Agamotto (Earth) . . . ."

An antiquarian would probably have screamed at the sight of a parchment
centuries old being scribbled on that way, but Fate clearly thought of it as
simply reference material.

"Next, I studied acupuncture from its practitioners, who were happy to tell me
all about the chi fluid flowing through its tubes to each organ of the body.
It all made sense, except that there is no such fluid, and there are no such
tubes. But if you treat a person for impaired chi flow, they get better, even
when it involves flow to an organ like the hara--"

He placed a cupped hand over his abdomen, between his navel and his pubis.

"--which also doesn't exist. It doesn't exist, but you can put your hand
there and feel it. Try it and see.

"From there, I guess you could call it a slippery slope. Homeopathy, remote
healing, voodoo, hoodoo, astral projection . . . . I seemed to have a knack
for these things, and modesty aside, I think I can do about as much in the way
of quote -- 'magic' -- unquote as anyone else between here and Las Vegas."

Pemberton was startled.

"Las Vegas is a center of magic? Real magic, not the stuff on stage?"

"Sorry. I keep forgetting what the mundanes know and what they don't. Never
mind about Vegas, okay?"

Pemberton said nothing, but filed the information away, along with Fate's
second slip in speaking of "mundanes". Doubtless those in the know had
ruder names for the rest of humanity.

Fate finished what he was doing and handed Pemberton a lightweight object
about a foot long.

"It, er, looks just like a Debi doll."

Fate laughed.

"It is. There's no crime in working with convenient materials. A
mass-produced item, new and unused, has very little psychic residue to
contaminate a spell. I often use new jars, books that have never been read,
knives that have never cut, and so forth. If you were to undress Debi there
and pry open the slit in her back, you'd find that lock of hair you gave me,
along with a few other things, including a mint-condition nickel from the year
of your birth. But please don't check. Just take my word for it."

Pemberton nodded.

"Wouldn't want to void the warranty."

He turned the doll in his hands.

"And this will . . . what, exactly? Turn me into a woman? Make me
stop wanting to be one?"

"What it will do, exactly, I can't say. What it will do in some fashion
is heal the division in your spirit. It may make your body conform with
your spirit, or it may set your woman's spirit at peace in some other way."

"'Set it at peace'? That sounds rather . . . ominous."

"I'm not going to lie to you, Mr. Pemberton: I can't say with
certainty what this treatment will do to you. It may very well cost
you something precious -- your manhood, your womanhood, or something
else entirely. Possibly your life, though I wouldn't be offering you
this if I didn't think the chances of that were quite small."

Pemberton set the doll down on the desk in front of him, looking at it
more warily now.

"And how do I use it?"

"First of all, keep it with you at all times. Ideally, carry it in
your hand or in your pocket. Cradle it in your lap. Sleep with it under
your pillow. You should experience some kind of results within 48 hours,
if you're going to. And if you don't, come back in and we can talk about
other treatment options."

Pemberton put on his suit jacket and slipped the doll into the inside
breast pocket. It made a noticable bulge, but not a conspicuous one.

"I haven't worn a shoulder holster in awhile, but I have one. I'll get
it out."

And that was it. Fate advised him to call as soon as any noticable
effects occurred, they shook hands and he left.

The day passed uneventfully, the Debi doll constantly by his side, and
he dutifully placed it under his pillow, the way he had with the china-headed
doll he'd found in the attic when he was five. In a gaudy pair of pajamas
he'd always liked, he went to bed, wondering what he might find in the morning.

In his dreams, he was lying in bed tossing and turning. Mostly it was
his own bed, but sometimes it was some other he'd once slept in, and other
times it was a bed he'd never seen before. Sometimes he was alone, but more
often he felt very crowded. He remembered only on scene among many when he

A voice spoke softly in his left ear, speaking dream gibberish: "As
sure. Simmered at walls are jaunt."

A deeper voice in his right ear answered, "Are jaunt. 'Fess see

Pemberton woke up sweaty and miserable, with an appalling headache and
soreness in every joint. He felt strained, stretched, hollow yet lead-heavy.
He noticed that he was drenched in sweat, and was wearing only the red and
white striped bottoms of his pajamas.

He didn't notice the shower running in his private bathroom until the
water was suddenly shut off. He sat on the bed, facing the bathroom door,
waiting to see what would emerge. He sat there waiting for long enough to
start feeling foolish, and then the door opened.

A young girl, no more than fourteen or fifteen, stepped out in a cloud
of steam. Pemberton's pajama tops, blue with a print of stars, hung on her
like a dress. Her hair was neatly wrapped in a towel, a trick Pemberton had
never mastered, back when he wore his hair long.

"Oh, you're up. Good."

Slim and petite, everything Pemberton had ever admired in a woman, the
girl moved gracefully around the bedroom, assessing its furnishings and
artwork critically.

"Take a shower, you reek."

Pemberton moved to obey, without even thinking about it. In the bathroom he
looked at the pink bar of soap sitting in the dish, then went down the hall to
one of the guest rooms. Its attached bathroom was stocked with unopened
travel-size bars of soap and bottles of shampoo. For some reason, Pemberton
felt a powerful urge to shower with Lifebuoy this morning.

When he came out of the shower, he found the girl talking with his
housekeeper, who nodded rapidly as she wrote down her instructions,
occasionally adding, "Si, si."

". . . make it a Ladyform Sportswoman, size 30A. And a Terpsichore
leotard, size 2, type K, the one with an attached cowl, in the Number Seven
print -- that's dark blue with stars. Terpsichore K-7, size two, got it?
Good. Okay, and then go down the street to Peak Sports and buy three pair of
Long John tights, size small, in red, six pair of whatever socks they have,
also in red, and a pair of Jackie Taylor All Star sneakers, size 5, the
ll-black kind. Not the regular black, the ones where the rubber is black,
too. That's important, the all-black ones, the, um . . . ."

"Monochrome," Pemberton supplied.

"Yeah, good, monochrome. Okay, see ya when you get back."

The woman nodded twice, saying "Si, don~a," and bobbed a rudimentary
curtsey as she left.

Pemberton looked at the empty doorway after his housekeeper was gone.

"She never curtseys to me."

The girl shrugged.

"Guess she just responds well to a confident authority."

Pemberton looked at his unleashed anima skeptically. She clearly
thought very highly of herself.

"Um, hello. Good morning."

"'Morning, Sylvester," the girl said brightly, rising up on tiptoes to
kiss him on the cheek.

"Er, what name should I call you?"

"Call up Tom Troy," she said briskly, naming the senior member of
Pemberton's family law firm, the lawyer he went to for the most personal
matters. "Tell him to find a birth certificate for a girl born thirteen to
fifteen years ago, who died before she was a year old and whose living
relatives, if any, don't live in Stella. I'll be Mary or Courtney or
whatever her name is. And have him write up a petition to name you as my

She actually picked up up the phone and handed it to him. He dialed,
feeling a bit shell-shocked. He'd never liked know-it-all children, and under
normal circumstances he would have given a snip like this one a good talking-to
by now, or maybe even a spanking.

These weren't exactly normal circumstances, though. He made the call,
asking Troy to hold his questions for later.

He dressed, and found her in the kitchen, cooking up a dozen-egg
omelette while his bemused Japanese cook made waffles. He suddenly noticed
that he was ravenously hungry, feeling as though he had a girl-sized hollow
inside him. His clothes still fit, but he had to fight down an urge to find a
bathroom scale.

It was a good breakfast, a raucous good time, in fact. It felt good to
tear into waffles, slap butter onto biscuits, guzzle coffee and juice. The
girl made jokes about events from their shared childhood, told him her opinion
(sometimes surprising) of his friends and his employees. She seemed to have
all of his memories up until the night before, but definitely had her own
interpretations of things. Perhaps most startling was when she confided that
she thought Dr. Fate was "yummy".

She unwrapped her now-dry hair, revealing that it was a flawless
sweetcorn blonde, almost the same shade as a Debi doll's. That similarity
gave him an uneasy feeling that softened when he remembered that it was
also the color of his mother's hair.

The housekeeper returned with her arms loaded with shopping bags. The
girl took them into a guest room and emerged in a startling skintight
outfit in red white and blue.

"Well, Syl, what do you think?"

He chuckled.

"Well . . . you look like a superhero, more than anything else."

"Well, duh, that's because I am a superhero. I'm the Star-Spangled
Kid. You're going to be my sidekick Stripesy."

Pemberton shook his head, smiling.

"Look, that sounds like a lot of fun, but --"

"It's what we're going to do, Stripesy. Don't give me a hard time
about this."

Pemberton chuckled again, nervously.

"So, uh, what does a superhero do, anyway?"

"Fun stuff. Wear crazy clothes. Drive high-powered cars.

"Listen, you know how you were thinking about building a really hot custom
car? You should stop putting that off -- we're going to need a really fast,
reliable car. And you can trick it out with all sorts of James Blaise stuff --
bulletproof glass, smoke screen, caltrops and stuff. And stuff that just makes
sense, of course: a first aid kit, a police scanner."

In spite of himself, Pemberton felt a stirring inside. Building a really
spectacular car -- he'd dreamed of it for years. Yet he'd never followed
through. As with so many other things, he'd never been able to apply
himself wholeheartedly. Perhaps his new self could do it. Perhaps . . . .

"Another thing superheroes do: they hang out together. The Avengers have that
mansion in New York, and the Freedom Fighters have that armory in Coast City,
and they're both, like, party land.

"There are four or five other long underwear types in Stella: the Vigilante,
the Crimson Avenger, the Shining Sword, the Spider. Let's have them over to
Stellar Studios for dinner, and see what they think about getting together on
a regular basis. We could have the press in and charge all your rich friends
a thousand bucks a ticket for the Police Survivors' Fund, and afterwards it
can be just us super guys."

Pemberton nodded thoughtfully. The girl's -- the Kid's -- proposal wasn't
totally nonsensical.

"Well, if we were going to do this -- and I'm not saying we are -- that name
Stripesy seems kind of . . .limp. How about Stars and Stripes?"

"Stripesy," she said firmly.

Pemberton sighed.

"How come I can't seem to say no to you?"

The girl smiled, showing a hint of sympathy.

"Probably because I'm so much stronger than you. Remember, I was the woman
in you, your female side, your anima. Every man has that, but if it
hadn't been the strongest part of you, being a man would never have torn
you apart the way it did."

"And now I'm, what, the leftovers? A shell of a man?"

She shrugged.

"I guess you are what you make of yourself, Syl. Same as the rest of us.
Me, I'm busy making something of myself."

Pemberton was silent for awhile, turning the Kid's words over in his head.
He was about to say something when the housekeeper entered, announcing that
Mr. Troy had arrived with some papers to sign.

Friday, April 8, 2011

"We Hope To Grow a Whole President Eventually"

According to Jack Cashill, the photo on the left is a fake, and the one in the center is genuine. In spite of its still having young Obama's knee in it.

I say that the photo on the right, which I made in just over 30 minutes with a squirming three year old on my lap, is a better fake than Cashill's.

I leave it to you to decide who is right.

[UPDATE: Upon the recommendation of several people, I have now hidden my signature within my version of this photo to discourage its reuse by Cashill or other clowns.]

Friday, February 25, 2011

Earth-349: The Haunted Tank

Earth-349: The Haunted Tank

by Anton Psychopoulos, Ph.D.

Disclaimer #1: This story is inspired by a story in Superman #349, but is not limited by that story or any other.

Disclaimer #2: This story makes use of copyrighted characters owned by DC Comics, Inc., and other publishers. It is written for amusement only and is not intended to infringe or disparage those copyrights.

Disclaimer #3: This story is not recommended for persons under 18 or the easily offended.

Through her screen of dirt-colored cheesecloth, "Jeb" Stuart scanned the dusty landscape, eyes tracking in neat five-degree arcs in a fashion so long-practiced that she often found herself using it to walk across Baghdad city streets on leave.

Heavily-accented English came up from below. "What's it look like, Jeb?"

Stuart dropped down, leaving the cheesecloth canopy erected, sinking into the (relative) safety of the tank's interior and forsaking the (relative) cool of her lookout position. Aside from her leather football helmet, she wore only red cotton bikini panties, but was still dripping with sweat. Her gunner, Cpl. Yasmeen Farad, who had asked the question, wore less than that: only a scarf wrapped around her hips to keep from sticking ot her leather seat.

"It looks as flat as Prince Reo's butt."

"And about the same color, right?" asked the third member of the crew, Sgt. Fatima Aoud. She wore nothing around her hips at all (insisting that coverings would lead only to infections), just a sturdy brassiere that kept her generous breasts from resting sweatily on her chest.

Stuart raised an eyebrow. "Why, how would I know?"

The three tankers laughed.

The Stuart tank had served Allied forces well in the Second World War, but was declared obsolete soon after. But less prosperous, less industrialized countries could not be so choosy, and so some twenty-odd years after war's end there were Stuarts in service, defnding the Federal Republic of Mesopotamia against the Asranian invaders.

And with American tanks had come American "technical advisors" to train Mesopotamian tank crews. And surely there could be no better training exercise than to take a tank to the front and put it to work.

Lt. Jessica Elizabeth Bowen had been married to George Stuart for a week before it occurred to her that she was now J.E.B. Stuart, or could be if she so chose. Being a self-described "tank girl" from an early age, she definitely did so choose. When she heard that the Mesopotamians were buying mothballed tanks and needed experienced tankers, preferably women, to train crews, she used every angle she could to get an assignment there.

A chance to renovate and command a classic tank, plus the opportunity to see and assist the young republic of Mesopotamia? She'd have done just about anything to get the job.

She might have wound up in a Pershing, or even one of the Panzers the U.S. had confiscated after the war, but damned if she didn't wind up with her own little Stuart.

Mesopotamia had emerged from World War II as the only republic in the Near East, surrounded by hostile, backward states like Syria, Hejaz and Asran. The Mesopotamians were committed to creating a modern, free society. Not a copy of the Western nations but something new, something they called an "Islamic republic". At first nobody was sure what that meant, but their commitment to democracy and human rights struck a chord with many Europeans and Americans, and the new nation in an ancient country had received continuing support from governments and private charities.

Islam placed limits on interaction between men and women. Interpretations varied, but the basics were quite clear. The surest way to avoid trouble was to segregate the sexes, and means were found to do this without sacrificing efficiency or wasting the talents of either men or women.

Two separate education systems were set up. Separate housing for unmarried men and women was built in cities. Men went to male doctors, women to female doctors. Women rode in yellow buses, men in gray ones. The legislature was composed entirely of men, the judiciary of women (a feature of the Iroquois constitution which had not found its way into that of the U.S.).

Originally, the Mesopotamian armed forces were entirely male, but the population of young men was so severely depleted by the long war with the Asranian invaders that a new dispensation had to be made. Now most of the air force were women, and the crews of two-thirds of the navy's ships. And all of the tank crews. It was a sensible arrangement; an air base or a ship could be crewed entirely by women, with no men around to offend their modesty, and the same for a tank company.

Jeb took off her helmet and mopped her brow. Holding the helmet, she looked it over. It was certainly getting plenty of wear out here; the gold was scuffed and patchy, and the leather had a couple of good gouges in it. No condition for the gold-leafed helmet from a tanker's dress uniform to get into (the late General Patton would have cried), but she wore it for luck, and hoped she would keep it with her for the rest of her time in Mesopotamia.

Officially, she was on "inactive reserve" status, in Mesopotamia on a student visa. She was drawing no U.S. Army pay, and accumulating no time-in-service or time-in-rank. Officially, she was wasting her time and hurting her career by taking a year off this way.

In practice, she and a couple of hundred other American officers had volunteered to be lent to the Federal Republic, in a program designed and approved (unofficially, of course) by President Robeson himself. When she returned to the U.S., she'd write a brief paper for the War College and, supposedly on the strength of this "scholarship", be given a commendation that would ensure her next promotion came promptly. Robeson's word, and his handshake, were a better guarantee than any official contract on that count.

She put the helmet back on and climbed back up to her perch.

The sky was a lifeless blue except for a patch of cloud off to the northeast. Jeb watched the horizon, keeping the cloud in the corner of her eye, hoping that the geenral would speak to her today.

After a few minutes, she noticed that the cloud had indeed taken on the familiar form vaguely suggesting the head, chest and arms of General Stuart, namesake of both the tank and herself. It had happened on her first patrol in Mesopotamia, and by now she was almost taking it for granted.

"Morning, General," she whispered. "See anything ahead for us?"

A soft voice spoke, not "in her head" as cliche would have it, but definitely not from the cloud, or from anywhere else she could tell.

<> the General said, <>

Some days the General would say something like, <>, or <>, but Jeb had learned that his more cryptic advice was often the most important.

"Thank you, General," she murmured as the cloud became merely drifting water vapor.

Below her, Jeb heard Yasmeen and Fatima speaking softly, assuming their Arabic would not be understood over the engine noise.

"Do you think she is mad?"

"Who can say? Is she not entitled to go a bit mad, having to stick her head up into the gray weather?"

Jeb snorted, amused. "Gray weather". Typical dry Mesopotamian humor, to call bullets and shellfire by such an innocuous name.

Okay, so the girls knew she talked to the General. She could live with that.

The tank lurched under her as though it had been kicked by Superwoman. She was tossed upward out of her seat, her helmet slapping against the canvas shade, then slammed down again.

Jeb dropped down into the tank, slamming the hatch.

"I think we ran over a mine," Yasmeen shouted as the tank stopped shaking and it became obvious that forward motion had stopped.

"Didn't think they had any anti-tank mines left," Fatima said as she rotated the turret, looking for a target.

Jeb shrugged. "Reo's boys are clever."

Something came rolling from the east. Fatima tracked on it, then relaxed when she saw it was a Mesopotamian jeep carrying four heavily-robed women. The tankers pulled their own abayas from under their seats and tossed them on, preparing to climb out and join their comrades in assessing the damage.

One robed figure climbed out and walked towards the tank, carrying something heavy. Jeb moved to raise the hatch, then froze. Something was wrong. Yasmeen felt it, too, and began swiveling the machine gun onto the robed figure, but it darted forward, getting too close for the gun to reach. Through a view slit, Jeb saw the intruder lift a cover from the basket, revealing a dozen antipersonnel mines, crudely wired together and attached to a detonator. It was a piece of garbage no self-respecting demolitionist would own up to, but it could easily destroy Jeb and her crew. It was probably similar to what had halted them.

The three in the jeep threw off their robes, revealing Asrani uniforms, and trained rifles on the tank.

Jeb looked at her crew.

"We can go out, or let them kill us in here."

"Cooking in a gasoline fire is a bad way to die, Jeb," Yasmeen said softly.

"Going with the Asrani might be worse," said Fatima.

Jeb shrugged.

"Let's live awhile longer. Something better might come along if we're alive to see it."

"Come out! Now!" the least-ragged Asrani called, in English. Most likely, it was their only common language; few Asrani spoke Arabic, and fewer Mesopotamians spoke Pursi.

Jeb pushed back the hatch and climbed into sight, tottering on her seat as she raised her hands.

"No covers!" the officer snapped. "Covers off first, no hiding weapons!"

"Bullshit," Jeb muttered, but complied, pulling her robe over her head and standing in just her helmet and panties for a moment before she began the delicate task of climbing off the tank, avoiding the hottest surfaces. On the ground, hands up, she watched her crew climb out, wearing only what they had in the tank. Yasmeen tembled, tears flowing, clutching the scarf around her waist, one arm over her breasts, but Fatima stood with arms raised, meeting the Asrani men's eyes better than Jeb could.

The officer grabbed Yasmeen's arms and pulled them over her head, laughing at her cry when the scarf fell away.

"Babylon whores," he sneered, moving on to Fatima. He snapped her bra but did not try to remove it yet. "You girls go to nice camp, have lots of big strong Asrani soldiers to protect you. You make lots of Asrani babies to make up for Asrani you murder."

He moved on to Jeb, knocking the helmet from her head.

"Blonde American whore. No babies for you. You, we take to Taharan, for the Shah. He want to add American soldier bitch to his collection, want one very badly. But his girls, he has them fixed. No royal bastards allowed."

Jeb thought of her crew in a rape camp, bred like animals at their captors' whim. She thought of her husband, and the children she wanted to have with him some day. She thought about how likely it would be, if she attacked this Asrani bastard, that they would all be killed, and how of the various fates they'd been offered today, a bullet was by far the most attractive.

"What, you mean little Prince Reo actually has seed in those little raisins between his legs?"

Calling the Shah "Prince Reo" (refusing to recognize his overthrow of his father, the old Shah) was almost as vile an insult as impugning their leader's manhood. The Asrani turned pale. Jeb was just bringing her knee up to his crotch when a gun spoke behind her.

Jeb flung herself to the ground, unthinking, tackling the Asrani officer. She tried to pin his arms, and found that they were limp; there was a red hole in his forehead. She groped for his sidearm, heard more shots, from a higher-pitched weapon, sat up with a pistol and found no living targets. Yasmeen, still weeping, held an Asrani Kalashnikov, standing over the dead men like some very modern symbolic nude.

They checked the men for signs of life, then pulled on their robes and went to work on the tank. The right tread was damaged, but they got it patched adequately to get them back to camp.

Just before they left, Fatima bent over the Asrani officer's body, studying his face.

"Leave it, Sergeant. Why do you want to look at that?"

Fatima said nothing, merely climbed into the tank. But half an hour later, she said, "Jeb, the first man was shot, and then Yasmeen grabbed a gun from one of the Asrani. She didn't shoot him."

Jeb felt a chill, but tried to shrug it off.

"So? Who did shoot him?"

"I don't know. But he was shot with a round from our machine gun. And none of us were in here."

"So what, so what, just shut up," Yasmeen snarled, barely controlling herself.

"Yes, Fatima," Jeb said wearily, "Say nothing more."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Woman Who Received Many Blessings

Once there was a woman who received many blessings in her life, so let us call her Deo Gratia. "D.G." is a suitable name for her.

D.G. received many blessings, but she was only allowed to keep two of them.

The first thing that happened to her was that she received the gift of life, and that is not a small thing.

She had a fiance who loved her and gave her two daughters. But first her fiance was taken from her, and then her girls.

She suffered for years from a terrible disease, but one day her doctor delivered two blessings: not only had her disease gone into remission, but her disease was one which, if it went away, it never came back.

This was an especial blessing because she was still young enough to have another child, now that she knew she would live long enough to raise it.

She had a boy, and then she learned that the disease which would never come back, had.

D.G. had another man, and he said he would marry her, but when it came down to it, he let her down.

She had a profession which brought her satisfaction and money, but there came a time when she could not work at her trade, so she worked at jobs which gave her too little satisfaction, and far too little money.

In the end, there were only two blessings which would not be taken from her:

First, her son. Even death would not separate them, because he would love his mother forever.

Second, all suffering eventually comes to an end.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

She Said "Don't Retreat, Reload!"

So he did.