For the second year, Wizard World has come to New Orleans, and the Showcase boys are on the floor. The guys talk costumes, autographs, and convention etiquette, and Blake hits the floor to talk to some of the creators in attendance! Writer John Layman talks about the hit book Chew and his upcoming work on Mars Attacks, arist Joe Eisma gives a tease about Morning Glories, artist Nick Pittara talks about creating The Red Wing and the upcoming Manhattan Project, and writer Brandon Seifert tells us what Witch Doctor has to look forward to in 2012! Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!
Archive for January, 2012
The second annual Wizard World New Orleans convention is this weekend, and I’m well and truly psyched. I don’t get to go to nearly enough cons for my taste, so Wizard plunking one down in my backyard was a great little burst of news (mitigated somewhat by the news that it was essentially supplanting the wonderful local convention, the NOLA Comic-Con, which I miss already).
But as is often the case when I’m about to have a big geek event, the pop culture centers of my brain have been wholly devoted to this event for the last several days. I’ve still been writing, but I’ve spent most of the rest of my downtime thinking about what I want to do when I get there, who I hope I get to meet with, and how to try to make a few connections in the writing world.
If you plan on attending, say hi! I’m planning to attend both days, and I should have Mike and Kenny from the 2 in 1 Showcase podcast with me for at least the Saturday. I’ll be the one wandering the floor with my iPod, trying to record interviews with various pros for my podcast.
And in the meantime, here’s the thought process that went into my preparing for this year’s convention, courtesy of CXPulp.com and Everything But Imaginary…
Blake and Heather get together for a mini-episode this week, looking into the new DC Logo. Heather offers the perspective of a graphic designer, they discuss the variants, and they give overall impressions of the new look for DC Comics. Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!
Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.
A day or two ago, during a Twitter conversation, a buddy of mine expressed surprise that the TV show How I Met Your Mother is already in its seventh season. Specifically, he said when he watched the first episode, his reaction was along the lines of, “A laugh track? Right, this is going to last.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard him express a sentiment like this, and he’s be no means the only person I know who has felt this way. And I have an odd sort of reaction to it every time. While I’m not necessarily a fan of laugh tracks, I’m not instinctively opposed to them either, and in no way do I think the presence or absence of a laugh track is indicative of the quality of a show. Some of the greatest comedies of all time have featured either a laugh track or, even better, the laughter of a live audience — Cheers, The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, All in the Family, Sanford and Son… due to the sheer number of shows that have included the sound of laughter, it’s easy to argue that it has been present in most of the great English-language comedy shows of all time.
Let’s examine the perceived problem with the laugh track. The opposition, I believe, stems from the feeling that the producers of the show are being insulting or patronizing by cuing the audience to laugh, or that it speaks to an inherent lack of confidence in the material that requires the canned laughter so the viewer knows it’s supposed to be funny. In some cases, this is probably true — it’s a little less painful to watch a terrible attempt at comedy if we hear somebody laughing. But for most of us, that’s not nearly enough to disguise bad material. In fact, when used on a bad show, it can even serve to accentuate what’s wrong with it. For example, think of the critics’ current go-to example of terrible programming, the NBC sitcom Whitney. Among the show’s many crimes against the viewers, Whitney Cummings starts every episode by announcing, “Whitney is taped before a live studio audience. You heard me.”
The “live studio audience” bit is standard, of course, it’s been used by sitcoms for decades to let the viewer know that, yes, real people were there when they taped the show and, yes, they really laughed. But Cummings takes it a step too far: “You heard me.” Suddenly she’s become abrasive and confrontational, as if she’s anticipating some critic using the laugh track to condemn the show and wants to cut him off by saying, “See? THESE people like it!” It’s supposed to set the tone with a joke, but it doesn’t work. Then again, “abrasive,” “confrontational,” and “it doesn’t work” are all terms I would use to define the show in general, so perhaps it’s more successful at setting the tone than is readily apparent.
Regardless, Whitney doesn’t suck because it has a laugh track, it sucks because it’s poorly written and performed by soulless automatons that couldn’t hold on to their jobs frightening children in theme park dark rides. The laugh track itself is just a convention of muti-camera sitcoms, and we’re so used to it that such a show would feel strange without one.
There are, basically, two kinds of comedies on television, single-camera and multi-camera, and each has different demands based on the way the television show is filmed. “Single-camera” shows are filmed like movies, with one camera in use at any given time, and no audience. Shows like this — such as Scrubs, The Office, or Community to name a few — allow for location shooting, outdoor filming, and give the director the opportunity to record a take as many times as he wants until he gets it right. The “multi-camera” technique was popularized by Desi Arnaz when he was making I Love Lucy. Like their predecessors in radio, early TV sitcoms were often performed in front of a live audience. The problem here is that you can’t do as many takes are you want with an audience.
People will only sit so long to be entertained, and even worse, the jokes lose their impact upon repeat viewings. Even the funniest scene ever written (and here I am specifically thinking of the bit in The Dick Van Dyke Show when Rob and Mary are afraid their child was switched at birth, only to find out the other family is black) will fail to elicit a laugh if you’ve seen it ten times in the past hour while the director tries to get different angles. Using several cameras to shoot different angles at the same time drastically reduces the number of takes necessary. The vast majority of TV comedies over the past several decades have been multi-camera, and it wasn’t until the early 2000s, when shows like Scrubs became successful, that single-camera began to regain popularity. (Virtually all TV dramas, by the way, are filmed single-camera, and thus aren’t particularly germane to this discussion.)
The result is two very different experiences for the viewer. Single-camera shows are packaged like movies, with more incidental music and greater opportunities for action or special effects. They come to the viewer in a very complete fashion. But multi-camera shows aren’t made like movies. They are performed and packaged like a stage play, and it is for this reason that laughter isn’t only expected, but almost required.
A stage play is far more immediate than a movie. There’s a greater energy and urgency, not only for the actor, but for the audience as well. Live actors can feel when an audience is enjoying a show and feed off that energy, and conversely, when an audience isn’t into it, the show suffers. There is nothing you, as an audience member, can do that will change your experience watching a movie, but simple audience consensus in a live play actually does make it better or worse.
Obviously, this isn’t true of a TV show, once you’re watching it at home. But the point I’m making here is that these shows — probably unintentionally — are designed in such a way as to imitate the shared community experience of watching a live play, which is different even from the shared community experience of watching a movie in a packed theater. And it is because of this that hearing laughter during a multi-camera show “feels” right, and why a laugh track added to a single-camera show “feels” wrong. In 2010 NBC rolled out yet another of their many doomed sitcoms, this one called 100 Questions. This single-camera show was weak to being with, but the producers did it no favors by adding in a laugh track. This sitcom convention, which is almost unnoticable when used well on a multi-camera show, is unbearably conspicuous in a single-camera setting.
By contrast, look at a multi-camera show with no laugh track. There are plenty of efforts on YouTube to strip the track from assorted shows, and most of them suffer from rather poor and obvious editing, but it’s enough for you to get the idea:
Even the funniest show, when stripped of its laugh track, feels like sitting in a play where nobody is laughing, and that’s a miserable feeling for actor and audience alike. The tone is similar to the webcomic Arbuckle, which repackages Garfield comic strips without Garfield’s thought balloons, thus giving Jon Arbuckle the appearance of being a sad (well… sadder), lonely man who talks to his perfectly conventional pets as if they could respond. (This is not to be confused with the more popular Garfield Minus Garfield, which strips all characters and dialogue save for Jon Arbuckle himself, giving him the appearance of being a lunatic suffering from advanced schizophrenia. Although one wonders if The Big Bang Theory would feel this way if you edited out Johnny Galecki’s Leonard and left Jim Parson’s Sheldon by himself.)
To give one more example, this of a fantastic show where virtually everything was done wrong, look at Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night. It was a multi-camera sitcom that, strangely, felt very wrong with a laugh track added in. When the producers dropped the laugh track, it made for a better show, but it also made it clear what the problem was: the show wasn’t really written as a comedy, but a drama. At most, it was a “dramedy,” and should have been shot single-camera, where it may have at least stood a chance. But Sorkin learned his lesson on his next show, a little thing called The West Wing.
While I can accept that a person can prefer the single-camera format to the multi-camera or vice versa, I soundly reject the notion that either format is inherently superior to the other. And I think the sound of laughter (I do prefer live audience to canned laughter, but that’s another discussion) is hardwired into the genre the way comic books use panels. Is it possible to do without? Sure — but it feels… off.
If, perhaps, we were to eradicate the laugh track entirely, we could learn to live without it. Twenty or thirty years from now, it could be considered quaint, and the next generation would find it unusual if someone tried to bring it back. But it’s part of an experience that has been conditioned into our brains, and that’s really hard to change.
Gill Lutz is a Las Vegas runner — a man employed by a casino to make sure that everything runs smoothly with no interference by people with “special” talents, which in a world full of metahumans is no small task. When the Vegas-based superhero called Lucky Penny uses her powers make Gill’s casino pay out jackpot after jackpot, he’s got to stop her before the casino goes bankrupt or, even worse, he’s out of a job.
This new story is set in the world of the novel Other People’s Heroes and the short story “The Restless Dead of Siegel City,” but can be read independently of those works. This eBook edition also contains a bonus short story, “Stowaway.” It’s Christmas Eve, 1827, and Louis Baudreau is determined to find something in the skies over the Gulf of Mexico he never thought he would see again. Instead, he finds a visitor on his boat that may take him places he never imagined.
The Showcase guys had a long weekend in Florida this week, but on the way back they find a few minutes to talk about some of the comic shops they found in Pensacola, this week’s announcements regarding the New (New) 52, and why it’s a bad idea to take a road trip with Mike. In the picks, Blake jumps in with The Ray #2 and X-Men: Legacy #260.1 Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!
Sometimes, friends, in the course of human events, we menfolk gotta kick back, hit the open road, and relax with our buddies. We love you, ladies, don’t misunderstand, but Man-time is sacred. Back me up on this one, fellas. Anyway, this week the 2 in 1 Showcase’s own Kenny “The Fan Guy” Fanguy inspired me to speculate on what time with the guys may be like for some of our favorite superheroes…
On New Year’s Eve I did something that, for me, is kind of unprecedented. I sat down and began writing a story with no idea, no pre-planning, and no idea of where I was going to go. I’ve never worked this way before — I usually need to have a solid premise and a final goal in mind before I even start, for fear of petering out or ending in a distinctively Stephen King-style fashion (villains with a glass jaw that wind up getting defeated way the hell too easily in the last segment of the book… and I say that as a fan).
I was honestly pretty skeptical about this experiment panning out, but it’s turned out well so far. I’ve finished the first segment of story and I’ve got a basic plot, an idea of where it’s headed, a premise with a lot of potential and several characters that I’d like to get to know better… characters that are very different from the squeaky-clean Josh Corwood or the noble but tormented Curtis Dupré that came out of my most notable works. I find myself getting really excited about the story, as I move into the second segment.
I don’t know if this is going to be a short story, a novella, or a novel. Hell, there’s a chance that it could change into something else entirely. But having finished the first story segment yesterday, I thought I would share it with you all. Hope you enjoy it. Meet the the characters that, for now at least, I’m calling the Tempus Fugitives.
There was a light.
Phillip didn’t expect to see anything that morning – didn’t expect to see anything ever again, if he was going to be honest with himself, but from the dank, grungy bed of moss at the bottom of his cell, he looked up and saw an unmistakable, piercing blue light.
“Is that you?” he whispered. If you asked him later, he wouldn’t have been able to tell you who, exactly, he thought was looking for him, but for the six years of his imprisonment he had felt plainly certain that somebody, somewhere must have been at least curious as to what had become of him. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, there were still names – Diana, Chester, Clark (or was it Clarke?) and Eden. For some reason, those four names were clinging to his memory even now, even after virtually everything but this cold, wet hole was nothing but a faded remnant of a dream he was no longer certain was his own.
There was a light.
Not just light, he realized, but a warmth. The chill he’d grown so used to was fading from his skin, the ugly black sores on his arms were slowly irising away and fading, the long gashes in his chest… reaching up and touching his ears, he felt the holes in the lobes closing up, filling with flesh, becoming whole again.
He tried speaking again.
“Who are you?” he whispered.
There was no answer, but the light continued and he began to bask in it. He stretched out his arms, allowing the healing blue glow to surround him. It seemed to flow down his body, warming his legs, turning the calluses on his feet back into skin, regrowing the missing and split toenails that oozed with pus and blood from years of clacking against the cobblestone floors. The aches in his joints faded, the elephant skin on his elbows and knees healed and smoothed. He would never be aware of it, but a series of tumors lining his colon at that moment dwindled away, the matter breaking off and joining the waste material awaiting simple evacuation.
As he felt warm again, whole again for the first time in years, he felt tears begin to prick the corners of his eyes. For several long moments, he didn’t know what he was feeling, didn’t understand what he was feeling. He hadn’t cried in a very long time, hadn’t felt anything but numb misery for a very long time, and when the moisture began to run down his cheek, he giggled. It tickled, somehow, and he didn’t know what the cause was. He thought it was the light.
If he was aware of the feeling of his feet leaving the stone floor, he didn’t react. The gnarled, yellowed extremities drifted upwards, leaving the stone two, six, twelve inches beneath him, as he rose higher and higher. He reached his hands out towards the light, and saw in the beam the shadow of his fingers. His nails were long, broken, splintered in some places. If he could see them in a normal light he would see long, black streaks on his fingers from the dried, gummed blood that flowed from the nails when he first attempted to claw his way from his prison. He didn’t remember how long ago that had been, nor how many times he had injured himself trying to escape to the freedom of a world he could no longer visualize. He couldn’t see the faces of his family in his mind, was only dimly aware of such things as “mothers” and “fathers,” “sons” and “daughters.” He knew Light, if only because of the marked absence of such a thing during his long confinement, but he could not imagine the sun in the sky baking a desert, or bringing clear warmth to a field, he could not conceive of a moon slicing through darkness and bringing a small piece of day into an endless night.
If he could, he may have compared this Light, his Light to a moon, although that would have been wholly inaccurate. It was much brighter, much clearer. It broke through the darkness into his face not like a distant orb shattering a ceiling of clouds, but more like a brilliant globe drifting towards him. He reached for it, grasped at it, didn’t know that it was still too far away to touch… but it was getting closer.
And it wasn’t moving.
He felt air moving past his face, a sensation he once would have thought of as “wind,” if he still had any conception of such things, and the light started to grow brighter, and closer. His cell fell away from beneath him, and a soft blue surrounded him. Another word he hadn’t thought of in some time came to his broken mind: “tunnel.” He felt like he was in a tunnel. No… like he was flying through a tunnel… flying towards his light.
The light grew closer, the blue grew brighter, and to his eyes so unaccustomed to light, it became too intense. He didn’t want to close them, didn’t want to shut himself off deliberately from the light that had been denied him for such a long time, but the pain became intense. He couldn’t look at the light any longer. He shut his eyes just as he was about to touch it.
The wind stopped.
Suddenly, the rushing sensation from all around his body was gone, the sensation of forward motion was gone, but he still drifted. He opened his eyes – forced them open, really – and found himself in a room. It was small, and rather dark, but with many more lights than his cell. There were sconces on the wall that shed a soft blue glow, similar in color to the Light that had rescued him, if much diluted in intensity. There were lights along the walls as well – lights of many colors, some of them round, some in the shapes of letters and diagrams.
And in the middle of the room was a woman, holding a tablet that gave off a light of its own, illuminating her face. She was tall, dark-skinned, and smiling with a sly grin that he liked immediately, even if he didn’t understand it.
“Hello, Phillip,” she said. “We’ve been looking for you for a very long time.”
“Looking for me?” he said. “Who are you?”
“Friends, I promise.” She touched the tablet in her arms a few times, and with each stroke of her fingers he heard a low tone and saw a small burst of light. When she finished, whatever force was keeping him suspended ceased its operation, and he was lowered to the ground.
“I’m keeping the lights low for you,” she said. “Six years in a hole is a long time, I’m sure you’re pretty sensitive to bright lights.”
“The Light…” he pushed himself onto his knees, looking up at her face. “The Light in my cell… what was that?”
“Just our scanner, honey. We had to look all through the timestream to make sure we had the right person.”
“Right person… I’m… the right person?”
“I think you are. Kirby thinks you are. For now, that’s good enough.”
Questions came to mind… who was she, where was he, was she Kirby, was she speaking in the third person. Instead, all that came out was, “Water?”
“Of course – I know they gave you some rations down there, but honestly, I don’t know how you lived on them.” She opened a panel against the wall and pulled out a silver canteen, handing it to him. Phillip unscrewed the cap and was about to guzzle the water inside when she stopped him, putting her hand over the mouth.
“Take it easy there, champ,” she said. “It’s been a while since you had all you could drink, don’t overdo it.”
He nodded, trying to force himself to see the sense in her words even as his mouth cried to him to swallow it in huge, triumphant gulps. He tipped it slowly and let the water spill down into his mouth, cooling the dry flesh and filling the cracks in his dry, broken skin. He swallowed once, twice… He tried to control himself, but he soon felt the canteen tipping back and surrendering its entire contents into his mouth. The dark-skinned woman laughed. “I guess you know best what you need, don’t you sugar.”
She placed a hand on his shoulder and he lurched backwards, horror creeping into his eyes. She looked at him, keeping up her smile without malice, but maintaining an intensity to it. She had her hair pulled back behind her, thick locks lashed together at the crown of her skull and spilling backwards into a long tail. Her face was slim, her nose broad, her lips full, her smile sincere and firm. She had a face that could be trusted, but at the same time, demanded his trust.
“Phillip, right?” she said. “Phillip Kensington?”
“Yes,” he said, nodding slowly. “Are… are you Kirby?”
She laughed again, a gentle sound that hurt his ears for a moment, being utterly foreign to him for the past six years. “No, sugar, my name is Lyla. Kirby’s my man, he’s with the others.”
“Well you didn’t think you were the only one, did you? Oh, sweetheart, we’ve got so much to show you.”
She led him through a doorway into a long hall with the same low lighting as the first room he’d seen. The light was a little brighter here, though, and it dawned on him that she was trying to acclimate him to being out of the darkness. The next room, he assumed, would be brighter still, and he was right. What surprised him, though, were the room’s contents.
A bed. There was a bed here, a genuine bed with sheets and a mattress, something he hadn’t seen in… well, six years. His eyes bulged with a hunger for rest that almost matched the growling in the pit of his stomach. She smiled at that, too.
“I thought you’d want some real rest,” she said. “Or do you want to wash up first?”
“Wash? You have a bathtub?”
“No, but we’ve got a damn good shower.” She led him to a panel along the pure white wall, made of a sort of frosted glass. Touching a small silver square on the wall next to it, the glass slid away to reveal a much smaller room with a drain on the floor and a silver fixture just about head level. There was a grey screen there, and above it a cylinder full of holes, like a strainer. She reached in and touched the screen, which flashed with lighted numbers: 90. Besides the 90, two arrows appeared – a red one pointing up and a blue one pointing down. Water began to flow from the holes in the strainer.
“Water,” Phillip said. “So much water…”
“Like I said, sugar, all you need. You might not want to drink this one, though. Touch it.”
He reached a filthy arm into the stream and felt a flow of warm liquid down his arm. He looked back, startled.
“Use the arrows to adjust the temperature if it’s too hot or cold,” she said. She pointed to another door, next to the shower, and revealed a water closet. “When you’re done here,” she said, “just touch the silver contact on top of the toilet and it’ll flush.”
“Man, you’re gonna love it here.” She opened two cabinets. “Soap and shampoo in this one, clean towels here to dry off. Over here we’ve got toothpaste and a brush, and over here we’ve got some clean clothes. I’m sure you’re ready to get out of those things.”
Phillip looked at what he was wearing – disgusting rags of the suit pants and shirt he’d been wearing on the day he was captured, never having been changed or washed in such a long time. For the first time he paid attention to Lyla’s attire – a pair of blue pants with a red shirt beneath a brown jacket. She had black boots as well. When he looked in the closet, he saw boots, pants, and a coat like her own, as well as several shirts in assorted colors.
“It should fit you,” she said. “I had to guess as to your sizes, but I’m usually pretty good about these things.”
He sat down on the toilet, looking around him. Such a bounty… clean water, clean clothing, soap… all things he thought he would never see again.
“I don’t believe it,” he whispered to her. “Thank you… thank you so much.”
She smiled again, and while her smile was still kind, there was a sadness in it as well. “Don’t thank me too much, baby,” she said. “We’re giving you everything you need, but we’re going to need something from you too.”
“From me?” he said. “What could someone with so much possibly want from me?”
“We need something you can do that we can’t,” she said. “And there’s a hell of a lot riding on it, so you better be as good as they said you were.”
* * *
Phillip never wanted to leave the shower. That feeling, that lovely sensation of water flowing down over his body was unlike anything he’d ever experienced. When he saw the water simply coming out of the spigot, he thought it would feel like rainfall, but that wasn’t the case at all. The water was warm and soothing, rejuvenating his sore muscles even as it washed away years of filth and blood from his skin. The soap Lyla gave him was unusual as well – small enough to fit in the palm of his hand, with a soft aroma that reminded him of citrus fruit. It wasn’t as harsh on his skin as the soap he knew, and he rubbed it all over his body, working up a heavy lather and rinsing it off, then doing it again, and again.
The last thing Lyla showed him, the “shampoo,” was the strangest thing he’d seen yet. He’d heard of “shampoo” before, of course, but he’d been told it was some sort of Oriental massage of the head. This, however, was a small bottle full of a liquid that smelled similar to the soap she’d given him. He was unsure at first what it was for, but there were directions printed on the bottle (itself made not of glass, but of some strange, thin, somewhat flexible substance that only looked like glass). The bottle informed him that he was to pour the “shampoo” into his hair, lather, rinse, and repeat. He smiled at the notion that he was to be given an excuse to return to the shower. He poured half the bottle out over his head and began to rub it into his hair and beard, working up a thick, sweet-smelling lather. Working it up as nice and thick as he could, he thrust his head under the flowing water and let it pour down around him.
Second later, he was screaming.
His eyes were suddenly burning like mad, like when sweat or salt water dripped into them, only much worse. He squinted shut instinctively and stumbled out of the shower, flailing for a towel. Wiping his eyes, years flowing, he grabbed the shampoo bottle and looked at it again. Beneath the directions, in small letters, was a line he had missed before: “If shampoo makes contact with eyes, flush with water. Do not swallow.”
Well, at least they’d been kind enough to include that information. He hadn’t actually thought of drinking the stuff, but he understood now he would have to be careful about anything he found in this strange place Lyla brought him to.
* * *
Finally clean, finally finished with his long shower, Phillip finally stumbled into the little bedroom and lay on the bed he’d been provided. He wasn’t sure about allowing himself to sleep in this strange place with these strange people, letting his guard down, allowing himself to be vulnerable. On the other hand, no matter their true intention, if they wanted him dead they certainly could have killed him any number of times by now. Fewer than 100 seconds passed before he was sleeping very, very soundly.
He was awakened some time later – he had no way of knowing how long – by a hand on his shoulder and a quiet voice in his ear. “Mr. Kensington? Phillip? I need you to wake up, sir.”
He woke from a dream where he was drifting through a cloud, free from the bounds of earth and gravity and all the terror his world had been associated with over the last several years. He was sure he had dreamed during those days in his cell – there was little else to do, really – but he couldn’t remember any dream he’d had in years. This time, he didn’t want to wake up, but the voice was rather insistent.
He forced his eyes open and looked up at the girl in the room with him – brown hair and green eyes, with a sort of weariness to them. She was young to have such weariness – maybe 20, maybe less, about the same age as
(Edna? Was that her name?)
someone he used to know.
“Phillip, Lyla says you should wake up now.”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Diane.”
“Diane. Die-anne,” she emphasized. “Diane Davis.”
“Yes, nice to meet you.” He sat up and the sheet wrapped around him fell from his chest. “I’m suddenly very aware that I didn’t dress after I bathed,” he said.
“Doesn’t bother me,” she said, “But I’ll wait outside if it bothers you.”
“That would be nice, yes.”
When he stepped out of his quarters, he was wearing the odd sort of uniform Lyla had shown him, having chosen a simple black shirt to go beneath his brown jacket. In the hallway, he noticed Diane’s clothing for the first time – the same uniform, but she had a bright blue blouse underneath. It suited her, he thought.
“What time… um… what… I’m sorry, I just realized that none of the typical questions I’m inclined to ask really matter. I haven’t the slightest idea what day or what time it was when I was taken, or even when I was placed in that damnable cell.”
“That’s okay,” Diane said. “Where we are, it doesn’t make a difference. The important thing is that it’s time to eat.”
“Eat?” He thought about what he’d eaten in his cell – bowls of cold, flavorless slime, suitable perhaps for keeping him from dying but little else. The prospect of real food made his mouth began to water without even knowing what food he would be given. “What… eh… what are we eating?”
“Well, it’s breakfast time, so you’ll have your choice of the usual, I guess. Eggs, bacon, sausage. Do you like grits?”
“Yeah, little bits of ground up cornmeal… kind of in a paste…”
“No. No, I do not like grits.”
She laughed. “Whatever you want then.”
The hallway was brighter now than it was when Lyla brought him here, as he rather expected. The light no longer caused him to wretch in pain, and the aroma he was sensing from down the hallway was beginning to draw him in. His eyes were growing wider, his mouth dangling open as he approached, and he realized with a start that Diane was smiling at him. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it, Mr. Kensington?”
“I don’t even know how long,” he admitted.
“Well, get ready. You’re about to get jolted into the modern age really quickly.”
A door slid open in front of them and they stepped into a large room full of people. Each of them was wearing the same costume Lyla had provided him, different only in the color of their shirts, and each of them was seated at a table, happily conversing with other people as they consumed plates full of food – eggs and bacon, as Diane had promised, but so much more. Toast, fruit, cakes, biscuits, bowls of oatmeal, cold cereals, and glasses of milk or juice and cups that gave off the unmistakable aroma of coffee.
“I’ve died,” Phillip said. “I died in that cell and you’ve brought me to Heaven.”
“I kind of thought that when I first got here too,” Diane said. “You’ll change your mind. But for now, let’s get you some food.”
She led him to a bar on one end of the room where a smiling man with white hair and a few old scars on his face was stocking tubs of eggs, breakfast meats, and other food. Diane took a plate from one end of the bar and handed it to him, picking up a second for himself
“New guy?” the man behind the bar asked.
“Phillip, this is Joey Rice. He’s a couple of hundred years ahead of you.”
“Sorry, you haven’t been briefed yet. He’s from far away. But you know the important thing, Phillip? He’s the best cook I’ve ever met.”
“It’s true, I am,” Joey said. “What’ll it be, buddy? We’ve got scrambled eggs prepared, but f you’d rather have ‘em some other way, I’ll make ‘em to order.”
“No… no, scrambled is just fine, thank you.”
Joey smiled, picked up a silver ladle, and served up a healthy pile of yellow eggs on Phillip’s plate, following it up with a small stack of toast, three strips of bacon, and a bowl of melon, grapes, and a cubed fruit Phillip was fairly certain was known as “pineapple,” although it had been many years since he’d seen any. Diane asked how he took his coffee, and she returned with a mug of thick, black liquid, free of cream or sugar, just as he preferred it. She led him to a seat by the window at the end of the room, and as he began eating, he started to notice that everyone else was looking at him. None of them were staring, exactly, they seemed too polite for that, but each person was inarguably stealing glances in his direction
“Don’t take it personally,” Diane said, sitting across the table from him. “You’re the new guy. Everybody wants to see the new guy.”
“I don’t understand anything that’s happening here, you know,” he said.
“I know. Eat. I’ll tell you a little now, but most of it is Lyla’s thing.”
“I rather suspected it would be.”
As he started to eat, she turned her attention away from the people assembled – some 60 or 70, by Phillip’s estimation – and towards the windows. There was a night sky in front of them, clear and brilliant, with more stars than he could ever remember seeing before. “Lovely, isn’t it?” she said.
“It is. So we’re awake very early, then? What time is it?”
“You think you’re looking out at a morning sky, Phillip, but that’s not true.”
“It’s not? It’s night then? Late?”
“The daytime? Has something happened to the sun?”
She laughed at that one. “Oh heavens, no.”
“I’m sorry, then, I’m afraid I don’t know any other alternative.”
“Not your fault. Let me ask you, you obviously don’t know when it is. Where do you think you are?”
“I’m not sure. Lyla rescued me from my cell in Florida, but I don’t know of any place along the coast with cliffs like this.”
He pointed to the window. “So high that we can’t even seen the ground or sea below us.”
“There is no ground below us, Phillip. There’s no sea, either.”
“You’re not making sense.”
“To you, I’m sure I’m not. But it’s true.”
He took a sip of his coffee – strong, slightly bitter, and just the thing to force himself just a little more awake. He became aware of his appearance for the first time – the long, knotted beard and untrimmed hair and fingernails that were on display. No wonder these people were all staring at him, he must have looked like some sort of wild man. Even Diane no doubt saw him that way, and he wondered if this strange complex Lyla brought him to had such a thing as a barber shop at his disposal.
“I’m sorry, Diane, but nothing you’re saying is making anything any clearer for me.”
“I know. Let me cut to the chase, then. What year is it?”
“The year. As close as you can figure, what year is it?”
He thought for a moment. Six years in prison was merely an estimate, but the way she asked the question, he believed an estimate would be close enough. He hadn’t thought about anything as mundane as the exact date in some time, but…
“I was imprisoned in the year 1826,” he said. “If I kept close enough track of the passage of time, it’s 1832.”
“You kept your track pretty well,” Diane said. “Lyla told me she snagged you from the 1830s.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it’s not 1832 anymore. In fact, I’ve never even seen the year 1832, I doubt most of the people in this room have, although I’m not sure about that. I’m 22, Phillip. So what would be the year of my birth?”
This entire conversation was becoming a mess. “Twenty-two years ago… you were born in 1810, then.”
She shook her head. “Way, way off.”
He was holding his mug of coffee very tightly, but still nearly fumbled with it. “I’m sorry?”
“I was born in the year 2019.”
“Are you telling me that the current year is 2041? That I’ve been in that horrific cell, somehow, for over 200 years?”
“No, Phillip, that’s not it at all. You’re right, you were only in your cell for six years.”
“Then how can this be 2041?”
“It isn’t. I said that I was born 22 years ago, not that this is currently 2041.”
“I… I don’t understand.”
“The simple way to put it, Phillip, is that I didn’t live those 22 years all in a row. You don’t have to, you know – nobody here does, anymore. You don’t have to anymore.”
“That’s the simple way to say it?”
“Here’s the hard way, Phillip. It’s not 1832, and it’s not 2041.”
“When is it?”
“No time at all, Phillip. We’re completely outside of time itself. Congratulations. You’re about the join the Tempus Fugitives.”
* * *
“Science hurting your brain yet?” Lyla asked.
“Not as much as I would have thought,” Phillip said. After breakfast, Diane brought him to a small office where Lyla handed him her tablet. It had a metal black and a glass face, which lit up the way the walls did – not only with glowing letters and numbers, but actual moving pictures. The pointed to an image of a small arrow at the bottom of the glass and tapped it with her fingertip. Above it, a picture began to move and a voice began to speak.
“This is the Timecraft Kronos,” the voice said. It was loud, booming, and seemed to consider itself extremely important , so Phillip decided to do his best to treat it as such. It was difficult, though, the voice reminded him of an uncle he had that tried desperately to tell stories of his own adventures and prowess despite the fact that no one believed a word of it.
The “timecraft” itself was a long vessel, with a bottom hull that looked somewhat like that of a sailing ship, at least in shape. It wasn’t made of wood, though, but some sort of metal painted a dull purple color. Instead of having a deck open to the air, the top of the vessel was another shell, similar in shape to the bottom half and welded to the top. Both halves featured small windows in various locations, too small for Phillip to see the people inside, but considering the sizes of the windows he saw in the eating area and here in Lyla’s office, it gave him a greater understanding of just how large the ship was.
The odd part of the ship, he noted, were the fins.
The top and sides of the Kronos had large, silver fins affixed, bolted on somehow. They looked odd, out of proportion with the rest of the vessel, and far from functional. When he saw them, he was unable to stop himself from touching the glass face of the device as if the fins were in front of him. When he did so, the image stopped moving and the voice and incidental music that had been played ceased.
“You paused it,” Lyla said. “Like the fins, huh? I’ll have to tell Kirby, he’ll be proud. Just tap the arrow again.”
He did so, and the image resumed its movement. When he heard the Very Important Voice refer to the Kronos as a “Timeship,” he rather expected to see it cruise somehow, as if sailing through the water. Instead, it was dangling in an empty void, surrounded by blackness and stars, save for the image of an immense grey spherical shape in the corner. Some of the patterns of the distressing on its surface were familiar, though… could that be the moon itself?
“The Kronos is the first and only timeship of its kind,” the voice continued. “Constructed in the Tranquility Base Lunar Shipyard, the Kronos began construction in the year 2091 and was completed in 2094. It was constructed as a joint project between the governments of the United States and Chine, with heavy subsidization from Microsoft, Pepsico, Toyota-Chevrolet and the Walt Disney Corporation.”
“I didn’t understand any of those words,” Phillip said.
“Shh! You’re missing it.”
“I apologize.” He returned his attention to the screen, where several numbers were flashing around the spinning Timeship.
“-72 meters long, capable of sustaining a population of up to 500 people, but simple enough to be operated by a crew as small as six. The Kronos is more than a craft, it’s a fully self-sufficient mobile environment, constructed in space with no intention of ever entering the atmosphere – and no need to. The onboard computers of the Kronos are tapped into virtually every database in the world, containing every document and historical record to aid in its mission – track down the most significant individuals in the history of the world and observe their triumphs and defeats, and learn from them.”
The ship disappeared from the screen, replaced by a painting Phillip had seen reproduced before. “Imagine being able to witness the chilling night when General George Washington led his stalwart army across the Delaware River.”
The image changed again, to a slender man with a beard and large nose. “Imagine listening to President Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address.”
Another change and he saw a much clearer image, almost as if he was there, of a man of about his own age, looking haggard and weary, accepting a tattered remains of a flag from another man kneeling before him. “Or be there when King William V accepted the unconditional surrender that brought an end to the brutal third World War.”
“World Wars?” Phillip said. “Three? Lyla, what did you people do to the world after my time was over?”
“Don’t look at me, I wasn’t born until 2177.”
“The strangest thing about my life right now is that I don’t feel the need to question such a preposterous statement.”
On the device, the ship had reappeared, and the voice was continuing its story. “The Kronos was designed by Kirby Dalton, the Silicon Valley software developer who first perfected the mode of time travel used by the ship. Dalton also suggested that the ship be constructed in such a way as to not enter the atmosphere of the planet, making it more difficult for rogue elements to try to use the time travel device to attempt to alter the past. It was, in fact, Kirby’s dedication to preserving the sanctity of the time stream that made it such a shock when he stole the Kronos himself.”
As the voice made its revelation, the ship vanished from the screen, replaced by the smiling face of a man with burning red hair and green eyes that had an undeniable jocularity to them. The man was large, though, and beefy, with a smile that indicated he could easily conquer anyone who decided to put him to the test.
“I’m Kirby Dalton,” he said, in the same voice as the narrator of the presentation .Somehow, Phillip wasn’t surprised. “I designed this ship, I built this ship, and I stole this ship. I can use it to see anything, observe anything, and – thanks to a few modifications in the design that higher-ups in the shipyards were never supposed to know about, I can use it to take anything or anyone from the timestream. Why would I want to do that? The same reason mankind has done everything it’s done from the moment Ugg the Caveman figured out he could trade Gronk one of his pointy rocks for a piece of his fish – profit.”
“This Kirby uses bizarre metaphors.”
“Don’t I know it. Keep watching.”
On the screen Phillip saw the Kronos hurtling through space, stars becoming streaks in its wake, then sparking and transforming into a strange nimbus of light. The colored lights began to intertwine and twirl around the ship, transforming into a tunnel of sorts. Kirby’s narration continued.
“With the Kronos taken here in the timestream, I’ve got the freedom to go anywhere, to do anything. Any lost treasure can be mine. If a question has gone unanswered for thousands of years, the question can finally be found. The Library of Alexandria can be saved, the children of Pompeii can be rescued… we can even go to Al Capone’s vault and loot it before Geraldo gets there.”
The image changed again, back to Kirby, who now appeared to be sitting in front of a wall lined with bookshelves, heavy, leather volumes weighing them down. Phillip couldn’t quite explain it, but he had to confess the effect made Kirby seem more intelligent somehow.
“But I’m not a greedy guy. I’ll go to these wonderful anywheres and find these magnificent anythings for any charming anybody who needs my help… for a price.”
“Of course,” Phillip said. “I’d expect nothing less.”
“Here’s the tricky part… I’m pretty magnificent, as you no doubt have determined by now. But even I’m not perfect. I don’t know everything. If I’m looking for something that has been lost to history, there’s a pretty good chance I won’t know where to look. That, my friend, is where you come in.”
“Me?” Phillip looked up at Lyla. “He’s talking to me?”
“It’s prerecorded, don’t let it freak you out. We show this video to everybody.”
“If we’ve brought you on to the Kronos, sir or madam as the case may be, we’ve done that for a reason. Maybe you have – or we have reason to believe you have – information that we need to locate a target. Or maybe you have a particular skill that will help us crack a puzzle or solve some problem. That’s another magnificent thing about having the entirety of time and space at my disposal – I can get anybody from anywhere to work for me. In return for your services, we offer a good home and good food, an obscene amount of money, and free passage to any point in the timestream you wish to go once you – or I – decide that your services are no longer required here on the Kronos. We don’t make anybody join the Tempus Fugitives if they don’t want to. But there’s one other thing we can offer that nobody else can – an adventure like you’ve never seen before.
“Oh, and one other thing you should know. If you’re here, that means you’re done.”
“Done. The timestream isn’t really as fragile as a lot of my colleagues seem to think it is, but that doesn’t mean we can go around making massive changes to it either. Time itself has a way of stopping us from changing anything that matters. If we actually tried to prevent the Lincoln Assassination, for example, the Fugitive who made the trip would get lost or sick or die, or maybe the ship itself would malfunction, maybe he’d step on a nail and get tetanus and we’d have to chop off a leg, preventing him from climbing the stairs to Lincoln’s balcony. It could be anything, really, but we can’t change something we already know. It’s actually pretty freeing from my point of view – I don’t need to worry about screwing up history because I know I can’t do it.
“But for you, my friend, it can be a little depressing. Because that means we couldn’t have taken you here if you had any impact left to make on history. From this point in your life onward, you’re not going to become a parent, win an election, invent something amazing, or do anything else that anybody would remember. Ever. Maybe you were about to die in some horrible accident. Maybe you just vanished. Maybe you were just going to waste away in a prison cell for the rest of your miserable existence. The point I’m making is that, whether you decide to join us or not, your life as you knew it was already over. Sorry. It’s the truth.
“But hey, consider that a little incentive. Here’s your chance to keep going, to do something that might matter someday, to have a little fun and make a little money while you’re doing it. So think it over. Feel free to ask Lyla any questions you have. And I’ll be there I person really soon to find out your decision.”
The screen went dark for a moment, then changed to a picture of several small symbols with words underneath them – “INTRODUCTION VIDEO,” “KRONOS WIKI,” and “SOLITAIRE” among them. Looking up at Lyla, her smile had evolved again, this time to one of understanding.
“I’m sorry he’s so abrupt about that last part. I wish he would ease people into it a little better, but… well, once Kirby decides that things are going to be done a certain way, it’s kind of difficult to change his mind.”
“Afraid so, Phillip. But come on, don’t be so down about it. We know why you were in that cell in the first place, you know. Even if you’d ever made it out, what are the chances that you would have gone back to a real life anyway?”
“Well… I suppose that’s true.”
“I’ve gotta say, Phil, you’re taking this really well. A lot of people we pick up get all freaked out when they realize they’ve been taken out of their own time. I know I was pretty surprised the first time Kirby snagged me.”
“I suppose when I was younger, I may have been ‘freaked out’, as you put it. But considering the things I saw in the last few years before I was imprisoned…” He looked up at her, quizzical. “You know why I was in prison, you say?”
“Oh hell yeah, Phil. That’s why Kirby wanted you in the first place. Let me ask you… the history books are kind of sketchy, and we haven’t been able to find anything that describes your methods, but… is it true? Can you really do it?”
This time, it was Phillip’s turn to give a knowing smile. “Oh, Lyla. Oh, my, yes.”
They waited another ten minutes for Kirby Dalton to appear, but it was ten minutes Phillip hardly needed. He knew what his answer would be. Kirby entered the room – a man who appeared larger in person than he did in the moving pictures – the “video” – on Lyla’s pad. His hair was blazing red and, despite the beginnings of wrinkles in his features, he had not yet begun to turn gray. His eyes, green and full of energy, were both sly and jovial. He held out his hand in greeting.
“Mister Kensington, to be accurate. I’m afraid I was stripped of my medical license.”
“We don’t really stand on ceremony about that sort of thing here. If it makes you feel better, it’d be easy enough to travel back a few years and pick it up for you.”
“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary.”
“You’ve seen our presentation? Had time to consider my offer?”
“I have, yes, and must say, it’s an easy decision as far as I’m concerned. You’ve already freed me from that damnable prison. If you can make me free to experiment again–”
“Oh, we can, Doctor, no qualms about that.”
“Well then, it’s worth it to place my skills in your capable hands.”
“Excellent!” Kirby pumped Phillip’s hand much harder, almost shaking the smaller man to his boots. He seemed almost as excited as Phillip had felt when he tested the shower Lyla directed him towards. “I can’t wait to get started. I tell you, Doc, we’ve got all types here… scientists and criminals, safecrackers and swindlers, archeologists and historians… and we’ve even got a few other medical doctors, so don’t worry about being on call every time somebody gets the sniffles. But you, my friend… you are the first man I’ve ever known who has the ability to raise the dead.”
* * *
Prior to joining the Tempus Fugitives, Diane Davis had been a student at Oxford University, an association that came to a rather abrupt end in 2039 when the University made the rather short-sighted decision to eliminate its archive of books and documents, destroying thousands of them in the process. (“Short-sighted” was actually the term her lawyer used in trying to arrange a plea bargain – Diane’s terminology rather consisted of terms such as “asinine,” “moronic,” “insane” and “the stupidest thing ever done by a bipedal creature who wasn’t still picking lice out of its mate scalp and eating them.”) The University’s position was that the vast majority of its students had never even touched a real book since graduating from “board books” as infants and picking u their first digital reader, and since all of the information in the archive had been digitized and was freely available anyway, it was a waste of resources to maintain a facility for the preservation of hundreds of thousands of documents that were going unused and were, in fact, unneeded. Diane’s position was that the president of the university could perform a certain act upon himself that, prior to her discovery that time travel really existed, she would have thought could only be accomplished via bodily mutilation or the most extreme contortionists.
Diane had been arrested for attempting to smuggle books out of the holding facility where they awaited destruction. Although the University expelled her immediately, the President declined to press charges against her – she was already a joke at that point. Her name had become a punchline for television comedians, schools were using her as an example of what happens to a person who is unable to adapt, and she became the unwilling star of an online video series that cast her, among other things, as the world’s last horse-drawn carriage driver, a zeppelin pilot, and (in period medieval grunge) a shoveler of human feces attempting to clear the streets of filth that was flowing underneath her in the sewer. Once the videos hit twelve million hits just two days after being uploaded, she knew it was over for her.
As she had learned later, the moment when “it was over” was in fact the moment that Lyla and Kirby plucked most of the Tempus Fugitives.
Here, on the Kronos, she’d never been happier. A lot of the research and detective work their task called for involved the “liberation” of old books and documents that hadn’t survived into Kirby’s day, so Diane had the thrilling task of sifting through mountains of real, honest-to-god paper. She was digitizing it for easy searching and access, which was all well and good, but she loved the heft, the feel of paper, the smell of these old documents, and the character that came to a page that simply was never captured by an e-reader. One of the old diaries she was going through, for example, kept by a soldier in the first World War, had several pencil notations that had been erased. A little tinkering in a photo manipulation program darkened the writing and revealed this soldier in particular – an Englishman — had fathered an illegitimate child with a French woman, information he erased from the diary for fear of his wife back home finding it after he died. With this information, she was able to trace the man’s genealogy to the current president of France – or at least, the woman who was the French president in the year Diane was removed from linear time. All of history was an enormous puzzle, and the books that the idiots at Oxford would have destroyed were the picture on the box, helping them figure out how it all went together.
Connecting the dots on this sort of thing was really just a hobby for her, of course. When she had these sorts of historical documents at her disposal, she would delve into them as deeply as possible, but when she had a specific assignment, that’s where all of her attention had to go first. And that’s how Kirby and Lyla wound up deciding to place the Ex-Doctor Phillip Kensington on their payroll.
She shared her document lab with Alicia Harris, a refugee from Bristol, England, 1988. Alicia was a theoretical biologist with some interesting ideas that got her in trouble with the medical establishment of the time, so Diane wasn’t surprised when she showed a great interest in Phillip’s case.
“So is it true, dear? Is Kensington really what they’re saying he is?”
“I don’t know, what are they saying about him?”
“That he’s some sort of crazy Frankenstein type. That he can stitch together the dead and make a monster.”
Diane shook her head. “No, that’s not it. Well… not exactly.”
She was actually pretty proud of Phillip, he was one of her finds. When she went through old books, newspapers, magazines, and diaries, she would often find little nuggets of information that she thought were interesting, but incomplete. When she came across something like that, she would tag it for future examination. Such was the case when she came across a court report from Philadelphia in 1826, reporting on a Dr. Phillip Kensington who was denied the right to practice medicine and imprisoned for “high crimes against the laws of man and God.” The lack of specificity about his crimes was what made Diane so interested – there were a few veiled allusions to grave robbing and the performance of some unusual experiments being done with the corpses. There were also reports from the same area at the same time period that caught her attention – several mysterious murders that were attributed to “ghoulish creatures,” then quickly ceased at about the same time that Phillip was arrested. She’d meant to get back and dig further into this situation for a very long time, but she never had the excuse until Lyla approached her with their current client and her highly unusual request.
“Phillip Kensington believed that he could reanimate tissue after death,” she said. “He developed an electrochemical process that could start a heart beating again and restore some functionality to the human brain. The problem was that he couldn’t reactivate brain cells that had already died, and since brain death begins six minutes after a person stops breathing, most of his experiments couldn’t move or talk or think or do anything but lie there in misery.”
“I’m sure it was. So he started some different experiments, started looking for ways to get a corpse moving again Again, he had limited success. He managed to restore some muscle control and functionality to brain cells that had been dead for some time. The problem was that the higher-order stuff was gone. It was like turning off a computer without saving the work you’ve been doing – all of the functionality will be there when you turn it back on, but none of the data you’ve input will remain. Every time he reanimated somebody, they were a slightly decomposed body that walked around with no consciousness.”
“Well, they never tried to eat anybody as far as I could find, and their condition wasn’t contagious. But they certainly scared the hell out of a lot of people and there were a few deaths before they finally caught Phillip.”
“How did they catch him?”
“Ah, that’s the fun part. Eventually, he decided to test his process on a body that had been dead for such a brief period of time that the brain hadn’t suffered permanent damage yet.”
“That actually doesn’t sound like a bad idea. If he could jumpstart somebody who only just died, he could probably save a lot of people.”
“Yeah, sounds great. The trouble is, how do you get to be there when a body has only been dead for a few minutes? They were looking for whoever was creating the ‘ghouls’ at that point, and his equipment was apparently pretty elaborate. He couldn’t just wander into the hospital and hit somebody with defib paddles when they went down.”
“I suppose not. So… what was his solution?”
Diane smiled. “Guess.”
Alicia thought for a moment, then her jaw dropped. “You don’t mean…”
“He led the guy right into his lab and stabbed him in the stomach.”
“In the stomach? Isn’t that supposed to be a pretty horrible way to die?”
“Yeah, but he couldn’t shoot him in the head. He needed the brain intact, remember? Anyway, as soon as the victim died – which apparently took some time – he used the process on him.”
“Did it work?”
“The dead victim was the primary witness for the prosecution at his trial. It didn’t occur to Phillip that the person he decided to test this process on might hold a grudge.”
Alicia laughed. “It sounds like an old scary movie.”
“I’ve watched a lot of those – it’s better than most old scary movies.”
“How’d you find all of this?”
“After I got the chance to research his case, I got Lyla to locate and steal some of the sealed court documents, and then finally managed to find a copy of Phillip’s journal and some private letters sent by people involved with the case. When you can jump anywhere in time, taking something is easy once you manage to find it.”
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t just look into the process itself. A lot of the court documents survived, but the diary wasn’t specific about how he managed to reanimate the dead. I looked through every scrap of paper we could find connected to him, but there’s nothing we could locate that could tell us how he woke up the man he stabbed. So finally, Kirby said, ‘Hell with it, just take the guy’. We waited until the last recorded instance of a visitor to his cell – a reporter, it seemed – and then plucked him a few days after that. He was so muddled I don’t think he even remembered the reporter, really. They left him in that hole for six years. It was pretty terrible.”
“Well, to be fair, the reason they threw him in there wasn’t all gumdrops and lollipops, was it?”
“I guess not. Still… short-sighted people. Pet peeve of mine.”
* * *
They gave Phillip the rest of the day to acclimate himself to life on the Kronos. He was a little worried that they were wasting time, that whatever task he’d been summoned for was too important to waste his precious hours in what, to him, was incredible luxury, but Lyla brushed off his concerns.
“You’ve got to remember, Phil, we’ve got a time machine. You can have as long as you want to get yourself ready.
He nodded, trying to understand, still not completely grasping the nature of his new life. The idea of moving forward in time, he could conceive. Ways of removing yourself temporarily from time’s flow, suspending your aging and vital functions and restarting them when the moment was right… these were all things he had considered in his old life. At times, he even considered using an adapted form of his process for just such a thing. But moving backwards… he simply didn’t understand the physics behind it. Perhaps later he’d try to study the phenomenon, but for now, he was too busy trying to make himself into a human again.
In addition to the truly magnificent shower facility Lyla had provided him with, the Kronos also sported its own barber shop and salon, where a smiling girl named Erica trimmed his hair, shaved his beard, and clipped and filed both his finger and toenails to normal lengths. He was a bit self-conscious about taking off his shoes, considering the condition of his feet, but Erica laughed at the notion.
“Dr. K, Lyla and Kirby have picked up guys in much worse shape than you. Trust me, you’ve got no problems down there I haven’t seen before.”
By the time she was finished, Phillip had to admit, he felt remarkably better… more like his old self again. Even those names that had swirled around his head were coagulating into something solid. He remembered now who Diana was, and Chester… Eden and Clarke (and it was Clarke, with the “e,” he was certain now). He couldn’t quite remember all of their faces just now, but then, he didn’t really have much need for that, did he?
Phillip relaxed for a few more hours, using a pad similar to Lyla’s to study various historical documents and “videos” to begin educating himself on the world he’d missed out on over the last few centuries, and took in a magnificent luncheon in which Kirby introduced him to something called a “Hot Dog,” but finally he knew it was time to begin the work he was really here to perform.
It was time to examine the body.
Kirby led him to a corridor far away from any of the placed he’d visited before. It made sense, he supposed. If a ship of this nature had a morgue they would no doubt want to keep it separated from the rest of the vessel and the people who lived there. The room was relatively small, and dazzlingly lit not only from traditional ceiling fixtures, but also from many of the seams along the floor. There was a large table in the center of the room and it, too, was luminescent, but not glaring. He could look down at the glowing surface without hurting his eyes, and the result virtually eliminated shadow around the body. It was a marvelous construction, and he could only imagine what other little technological advances existed now that would make his task so much easier than it had been in his own time.
The body lying on the table was a man of about 50 years of age. His skin was pale, but not as gray or pallid as he was used to seeing in corpses. It was impossible, he knew, but it looked as if he had been dead for mere moments. He was a relatively tall gentleman, six feet, maybe two or three inches more, and had broad shoulders and a barrel chest. He wore a gown made out of a thin, blue fabric that didn’t look particularly strong or protective, but perhaps it was another of those technological advances that Phillip would have to grow accustomed to.
The cause of the man’s death would be no mystery even for the freshest medical student. There was a hole in the center of the man’s neck, about the size of a quarter-dollar, with broken, ragged flesh all about it and thick red stains of blood beneath, flowing down onto his chest. He couldn’t see the exit wound without lifting the victim’s head, but judging from the amount of light that was coming up from the table beneath him and shining through his neck, Phillip felt safe in assuming it was of prodigious size.
“This was Timothy Lanning,” Kirby said. “He was the head of the Appalachian Trail Mining Company. Don’t let the name fool you, they were involved in mining projects all over the world, on the Lunar surface, and in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. By the year 2204 it’s one of the richest companies in the world, and he was one of the richest men in the world, right up until somebody turned up at his annual shareholders meeting and created that little hole you see in his neck.”
“It looks brutal.”
“It was. The guy who shot him decided to go old-school and use a firearm instead of a laser or particle weapon. Didn’t stop him from using a laser targeting system, though – nobody could have been that accurate from 150 yards away without it.”
“I’m going to pretend I know what all of those words mean and assume the practical explanation is somebody shot him from very far away.”
“Close enough. Anyway, his wife contacted us about a month after his death and asked to secure our services. She wanted us to save his life. I told her we couldn’t do that, because it had already happened in an extremely public forum. Thousands of people saw him die live via webcast. Billions saw the replay later. You can’t pluck a moment like that out of the timestream. So she asked us if we could bring his body back to life after he was killed instead. And I was about to say we couldn’t, but…”
“You thought of me?”
“You? Naw, Phil, I didn’t even know who you were at that point. I was going to say we couldn’t, but then she offered us even more money.” He shrugged. “I figured it was worth looking into.”
“Well, I hate to disappoint you, Kirby, but I don’t know that my procedure would be of any service to you. I don’t know what Diane told you about my techniques, but every time I tried to use them on anybody but the most recently deceased, I was left with a truly mindless creature. I can reanimate muscle tissue, but I’ve been unable to restore life to a deceased brain.”
“I know, Doc. That’s the lovely thing about the Kronos. We can get you to your patient right when he needs you. Our friend Mr. Lanning here was taken from the timestream exactly two minutes after he stopped breathing.”
“Regardless of when you took him, Kirby, it’s been too long.”
Kirby shook his head. “Oh, Doc, you’ve got so much to learn.” He picked up a small metal rod from a tray of instruments and held it over the cold form of Timothy Lanning. “Watch this.”
He tapped Lanning’s forehead, but the rod never made contact with the victim’s lifeless flesh. Instead, there was a cold shimmer of blue light that spread out in ripples down his entire body. The light moved like water, the ripples rebounding and reflecting back when they reached the table and eventually calming down again, with his feet being the last things to stabilize. “It’s a lovely effect,” Phillip said, “But I’m afraid it doesn’t tell me why my technique will work on a man who has been dead this long.”
“Because it hasn’t actually been that long, Doc, not for him. We took you out of your cell on April 19 at 2:56 a.m. and 19 seconds. But we took about two days of our objective time to narrow down the right time to take you – it was after the last time anybody would see you live, and late enough that any commotion you happened to make while we were getting you out of Dodge wouldn’t go noticed by the guards. We found you at 2:56 and 19 seconds, and then we spent about 90 minutes scanning the timestream on either side of you and then we took you from 2:56 and 19 seconds.”
“So your existence – or rather, our existence outside of time allows us to return to items at the moment we desire, regardless of how much time has passed for us subjectively?”
“Exactly, Doc. It looks like Tim Lanning is lying here on our table, but that’s because we’ve draped him in a Chronal Shroud. We did so exactly one minute and 56 seconds after he ceased respiration and the threat of brain death became imminent. What you’re seeing here is the projection of the man inside of that shroud. He’s going to remain at that point, at one minute 56 seconds, for as long as we want him to. Then, when we’re ready, we’ll remove him from the shroud, bring him here to the lab, and let you work your magic.”
“Remarkable,” Phillip said. “You could save so many lives with this sort of invention, Kirby. While I respect your profiteering, I haven’t been above indulging in a little of it myself, have you ever considered using this for more benevolent purposes?”
“Have you been talking to Lyla about this?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Funny. You sound just like her. We do some pro bono work, Phil, not everything we do is for a profit, but that takes some pretty extreme circumstances. Like I told you before, the timestream is very happy the way it is. If we try to change it, it starts to get pissed off. So it’s only in really specific circumstances that we can even attempt to save somebody we know is supposed to die. It’s the reason we can only take operatives for the Kronos that have finished their functional imprint on the timestream. Have you ever heard of the Butterfly Effect?”
“The theory that a butterfly flapping its wings in the eastern hemisphere may cause a hurricane in the western hemisphere six months later?”
“I was actually talking about the Ray Bradbury story, but I guess that’s before your time. The hurricane thing is close enough. Is it possible that a butterfly may cause such drastic changes? Let’s say for the sake of argument that it is. But is it likely that every butterfly will? I don’t know about all that.
“So the short version, we can only take those butterflies whose wings aren’t going to flap anymore. People who are about to die… or are going to rot away with no one else ever seeing them. Nothing personal there.”
“None taken, I certainly made the decision to let a man waste to death in a prison cell.”
“And we can’t restore them to their former place either. When Lanning’s wife hired us to bring him back I warned her straight up that I couldn’t just give him back to her, because I’ve been to her future and I know that history records his death as being irrevocable.”
“Then what is she hoping for?”
“Something clandestine, I suppose. She wants to go into hiding with him somewhere – maybe even some other time. Some place they can start over and not have to deal with all the crap that comes with running a huge company and having people wanting to kill you for the sin of making money. Actually, when I put it that way, I kind of want to go and smack that assassin around a little myself…”
Phillip nodded. “Well, I see then. It seems I’ve nothing left to do but get started. Where is my equipment?”
“Yes. The machinery I used. And my supplies… the chemical bath, the electrociter… oh, I suppose with your vast future technology you’ve come up with far superior machinery to what I created in my humble laboratory.”
“Yeah… Doc, about that… we don’t have any of your stuff.”
“Your machines, your chemicals. We don’t have any of that. We don’t even know what you need.”
“What? How is that possible? I thought you people knew everything!”
“Everything that’s been recorded. Doc, all we could find about how you brought somebody back from the great beyond was a tidbit telling us that you destroyed all of your notes.”
“Well, I did, once it became clear that my traitorous last experiment was going to turn me in to the authorities. I couldn’t take the chance of it being entered into evidence, for all the good it did me.”
“And your machinery?”
“I broke it down, but it wasn’t damaged. I hid it, secreted it amongst other articles in my lab.”
“Oh crap. Doc, that’s gonna be a problem.”
“Why? We have your marvelous ship, let’s just go back to the moment I broke it down and take it.”
“We can’t. Because we do know what happened to the stuff in your lab. It was all sold away at auction, to different owners all over the country.”
“Oh. I see.” Phillip shrugged his shoulders. “Well, fortunately we have all the time in the world, don’t we Kirby? We’re simply going to have to go out into your timestream and get it all back.”
This week we look into the announcements made this week regarding Avengers Vs. X-Men — the marketing and the miniseries. Plus — Blake begins tracking his effort to view as many 2011 movies as possible, and he gives props to Action Comics #5 and Rachel Rising #4. Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!
I gotta be honest with you guys — I’m not above feeling a little schadenfreude when I see a yellow journalist take it on the chin. Today I take a look at why certain styles of reporting not only aren’t worth it, but can be outright destructive.
But rolling back in time, let’s go to May 11, 2005. The week after Free Comic Book Day, I took the time to look into everything that worked on that happy occasion…
Everything But Imaginary #114: What Worked on Free Comic Book Day
When people get back to work or school after Christmas, they talk about their holiday. Their trip to Grandma’s house, the snowman they built with the kids, whether or not they got that Play-Box 65 with internet connectivity, a rumble pack and automatic transmission they really wanted. Well folks, the biggest holiday of the comic book fan, Free Comic Book Day, has come and gone, and I for one think it’s worth taking the time to determine its success.
Now I don’t mind telling you that my FCBD was almost derailed. As introverted as I can be, I’m also more or less a sociable person, and I hate doing stuff like this alone, so I tried to round up my buddies Chase and Mike, the two men on this planet I am most likely to have fun arguing about comic books with, and two guys I haven’t seen nearly often enough in the last few months. But alas, Chase was offshore and Mike was laying down a new floor in his home, using the indisputable logic that, no matter how great comic books are, you can’t walk on them. So finally, I called my buddy Jason, my oldest friend and often my first call when I need someone to hang out with. The reason I didn’t call him first this time was that, for one, he’s not into comics, and also his fiancé was having some sort of crisis regarding her gall bladder or something. (I am taking her word for it, as nobody on the North American continent actually knows what a gall bladder is for.) But Jason managed to get away and hit the shop with me.
I got there relatively early in the day and was quite gratified to see the size of the crowd. Parents, children, young couples, teenagers, all flocked to the shop, sifting through this year’s offerings. Because it was so crowded, the manager was limiting us to two items apiece, which made it rather difficult on me to choose, but in the end the only thing I missed that I really wanted was Mortal Coils. I would have liked to get Sean Wang’s Runners: Remastered as well, as I’m a big fan of the series, but I decided instead to leave that and talk it up to people who were trying to decide what to pick up.
FCBD has, in many respects, become something of a mini-convention. It’s the one day a year I know I’ll mingle with other comic fans outside of my usual circle, talk, gossip and exchange ideas. Saturday was one of the first times I’ve been able to have a conversation with anyone outside of a computer forum about Infinite Crisis without them looking at their watch and suddenly remembering a pressing engagement.
But it most gratifying, to me, to see all the kids that were there. Sifting through the comics, getting Betty and Veronica, Uncle Scrooge and Amelia Rules!, looking at the toys and cards, popping open boxes of HeroClix right there on the counter – now that was a great sight to see.
So I walked out of that shop satisfied – but as I said last week, Free Comic Book Day isn’t really about me. It’s about the people who don’t go into a shop every week as though it were a religious experience. It’s about getting the kids to read it, or the adults who only read casually. It’s about boosting the esteem and profile of the entire medium. Now as some of you may know, I’m kind of a message board tramp. I post all over the place. If you added my post-count on every board I’m on, I firmly believe that I could beat the Hulk in a fight. And not just comic book boards – these are boards for books, movies and anything else that interests me. So I went to several of these boards and asked chaps of my acquaintance, including new readers, casual readers and hard-core fanboys, to regale me with their thoughts on FCBD. Here’s what a few of them had to say.
The gent known as Avalonian said:
I took my kids, and I picked up the Betty and Veronica freebie for our youngest, and I bought the 6th part of the Marmalade Boy manga series because the older two saw it and wanted it.
For myself, I picked up the Flight Primer, Ronin Hood of the 47 Samurai, and the Star Wars comic — all free. And I bought Origin, the graphic-novel collection of the Wolverine origin story that came out a few years ago. I’ve been meaning to read it for a while, and I figured, why not?
Ronin Hood of the 47 Samurai was OK, and the Star Wars comic was… Star Wars. Never could get into the Star Wars comics much. Flight was really cool, though. Great art and oddball stories. I may have to check out the rest of the series.
Av also tells me he was interested in 1602 and Warren Ellis’s Orbiter, as well as the upcoming adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale miniseries Catwoman: When in Rome. He also quite enjoyed Origin. Now this leads me to several conclusions:
1. Am I the only person in the universe who thought Origin was kind of bland and unimpressive?
2. You’ll notice that most of the stuff he got was off the beaten path. He steered right past Batman Strikes and Marvel Adventures. Now this in no way means that the superhero titles are unimportant or should be ignored, but hopefully it will remind those folks at the Big Two that there is a huge audience out there for non-superhero properties.
3. And yes. Flight was really cool.
HarleyQuinn19 informed me…
I grabbed an old (but still free) issue of The Adventures of Barry Ween and totally fell in love with the sick little kid! I so have to get those TPB’s!
Harley, it seems, hit a shop that still had some free copies left over from a few years ago, but hey, whatever works. Judd Winick’s Barry Ween comics helped put him on the map (not that a Pulitzer Prize nomination for Pedro and Me exactly held him back), and it further shows the diversity of the audience. On the flipside, Harley dismissed Heroic Publishing’s FCBD offering, Flare, because it “seemed like just another blonde bimbo in a skin tight outfit to me.” Honestly, I haven’t read Flare and it’s liable to have a lot going for it, but that goes to show you how negative first impressions can keep a potential audience at bay.
[2012 Note: "HarleyQuinn19" today is known better to readers of this column as "My girlfriend Erin."]
Ubiquitousblink had the following observations:
I haven’t read all my free comics yet but I was impressed on what the indy companies provided. Marvel kind of dropped the ball IMHO. Their “kid” books are kind of wimpy and watered down. DC is superior in this aspect. I’ve always believed that DC has been able to provide a wide variety of genres for all ages and tastes. I could read all DC/Wildstorm/Vertigo books and not miss Marvel at all (except for Bendis’s Spidey).
Now personally, there are several Marvel books I would miss if I walked away from the publisher altogether – Young Avengers, New X-Men and Fantastic Four topping the list. But I get what UB is saying here. I’m hearing from a lot of readers that DC is taking the edge in terms of quality. They’ve also got a wider assortment of books geared at kids – Marvel’s offerings are almost entirely kiddie versions of their preexisting characters. DC has some of that, but also opens their ranks up to stuff like Looney Tunes, Powerpuff Girls and Cartoon Network Block Party. In fact, stuff like the Cartoon Network comics seem to be some of the only anthology comics that sell very much these days at all.
Comixtreme’s CXPulp‘s own Walt Kneeland made a lot of intriguing comments in his own LiveJournal, but the one that I found most interesting was…
Should have picked up Runners #1. Offhand, other than Uncle Scrooge and Ronin Hood, that was the one I’ve heard the most about/remembered the most….but maybe I’ll find a copy later if stuff gets dumped into a quarter bin or otherwise becomes available somewhere. I know last year I missed a couple FCBD issues, but wound up getting those at Origins and Gen Con.
Oh, Walt, but you should have gotten Runners. The good news is, a trade paperback of the first miniseries will be coming out in a few short months.
On the other hand, I was quite gratified to see how many older readers were compelled to sample Uncle Scrooge. I am an unabashed fan of Walt Disney comic books, particularly the works of Carl Barks, Don Rosa, William Van Horn and Pat and Shelly Block. This year’s FCBD offering was Barks’s first-ever full-length Uncle Scrooge story, “Only a Poor Old Man” from Uncle Scrooge #1, and it is considered by many to be one of the best. If you got it and read it, by all means, let me know what you thought.
And finally, I thought it would be good to get the perspective of, not just a reader, but a retailer. So I asked my good buddy SSJGOKU555, who happens to be majority owner of his local shop, to tell me how FCBD went for him.
Free Comic Book Day is one of the best days of the year for me. One I’m a comic geek and I love getting free comics. Two, all of the people who normally don’t buy comics stop in to pick a freebie and maybe one or two titles to check them out. And finally, I run a comic shop and I like making money.
FCBD is one of the most brilliant things ever devised. It brings in new customers, brings in old readers, brings kids into comics. My shop opens at noon daily and FCBD we had a line waiting for the store to open. All the normal customers, but what I was happy to see was a lot of new faces and a lot of kids maybe 8-9 with their mother or father. From what I saw, the mothers were reluctant to buy any comics due to the fear of violence and sex while the fathers typically knew there was an entire kids rack and headed right for that. Of course this wasn’t always true though. After I showed them the kids rack, the parents took the free comic and saw familiar faces such as Scrooge McDuck, Archie, Sonic the Hedgehog, the animated version of Superman, etc. These are people that normally don’t come in and did because of FCBD. This is what needs to happen more. The comic industry needs more new, young readers to pick up a book here and there. And parents should encourage it, if for nothing else a young child can go read a comic with a cartoon character in it that they know and they can pick up a few reading skills and learn to enjoy reading.
My customers seemed to be in very good spirits, getting free stuff usually does that to a person. We had music going, games, prizes, etc. Customers got into it, had fun, won TPBs, action figures for the kids, etc. Sales were were great due to the free stuff. We gave away so much free stuff we ran out of the free comics and wound up giving out second printings of Green Lantern: Rebirth #1. It’ll remain to be seen whether or not the new customers come back, but for getting new readers into a comic shop, FCBD definitely succeeded. I can’t wait for the next one.
So there you have it folks, straight from the horse’s collective mouths. In short, is Free Comic Book Day working? Yeah, I think it is. The progress is slow and it’s an uphill battle, but I think it is bringing in new people and re-exciting old readers, and those are the two most important things that could possibly happen in the world of comic books right now.
So let’s start getting ready for next year.
FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: May 4, 2005
It wasn’t even a contest, folks. Not Superman, not New X-Men… not even Villains United could have wrested my “Favorite of the Week” award from The Complete Peanuts: 1955-1956. The third volume in a 25-book series, this is a concerted effort to reprint every Peanuts comic strip the legendary Charles M. Schulz ever did, in their original order, as restored as technology and archival records will allow. This volume contains such notable events as Linus’s first words, Snoopy’s first impressions and the first time Lucy pulled that darn football away from good ol’ Charlie Brown. To a Peanuts lover like me, reading these books is nirvana.
FAVORITE OF THE YEAR: Free Comic Book Day 2005
And now for a special bonus! While I wasn’t able to get every Free Comic Book Day comic this year, I managed to get a few and read a few others, and my favorite hands-down has to be Jetpack Press’s Johnny Raygun Freebie. This comic is a great lighthearted sci-fi superhero title about a teenage secret agent in a world full of mad scientists, monsters and superpowered kids. I’ve never read a Johnny Raygun comic before, but the story of his sister trying to join the esteemed Nuclear Kids left me grinning from ear to ear. I’m going to make an effort to find the first several issues of Johnny’s quarterly title, and I’m almost certainly going to add this one to my pull-list. Invincible fans take note – this is the kind of thing I bet you’d really dig.
Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.