NEW FICTION: NYSS: post nine-eleven (Chapter 2)
July 31, 2002
Continuing a speculative tale of real-life super-heroes in a post-9/11 America.
NOTE: This chapter includes hyperlink footnote annotations. To view the footnote, simply click on the superscript hyperlink.
Phoenix, Arizona: The Phoenix League of Unusual Super-Heroes (PLUSH) was an odd mix of four unique individuals—The Snake Charmer, the Carbonated Man, 4.0 (the self-proclaimed smartest man in the world), and the Woman Expressly Trained to Terrorize (WETT).
In truth, there was little need for a super-hero unit in the southwest, and much of its assignments following 9-11 related to immigration and border patrols. The team’s sole adversary was Preston Chagon, who used the alias Presto-Chango. Chagon was a second-rate magician who had, since his early teens, tried to use his limited magic skills in the pursuit of evil. He’d fought PLUSH on four separate occasions, losing each time in embarrassing ways (including one defeat in which his fingers became ensnared in a Chinese finger trap of his own design). Despite perseverance to the contrary, Chagon was not very good in at what he did.
Because he had no “powers” of which to speak, PLUSH considered him a second-rate adversary and a third-rate illusionist. His arsenal consisted of nothing more than store-bought items to bewilder and confuse. Thus he was not included on the Establishment’s Hot 100 list of super-powered adversaries and required no special consideration during his many prison incarcerations.
In the months following his most recent parole, Chagon had been struggling to earn a living in magic. It was, for him, an ignoble experience. He worked typically as a performer at children’s birthday parties and at various retirement centers in the Phoenix tri-county area. It was during one such party, at the Savannah Home for the Aged, that he was approached by an elderly man who, handing a palm-sized mirror to the middle-aged Chagon, said to him, “Your act sucks. This will help,” before rejoining several of his fellow retirees in a game of backgammon.
Months later, having mastered the mysteries of the mirror, he entered the headquarters of PLUSH. His presence should have triggered several alarms, including a sophisticated DNA recognition device that would sound upon detection of any individual who’d ever engaged in conflict with PLUSH, NYSS, s.h.o.p., or the dozen other Syndicate units throughout the country. But no alarms sounded. No warning systems were activated by his presence. The quartet of heroes was caught entirely unawares, but even upon seeing Chagon standing in the wide doorway of their monitoring station, the members of PLUSH were more perplexed by Chagon’s appearance than they were alarmed.
“How did you get in here?” 4.0 asked. Even the smartest mind on earth did not know.
Chagon did not answer. He held the mirror in his hand, caressed it, and allowed it to slip through his fingers. The mirror tumbled systematically to the ceramic floor where it shattered into a half-dozen odd-shaped fragments.
“Bad luck for you,” the Carbonated Man replied, chuckling.
“No,” Chagon whispered. “For you.”
From the six mirrored fragments from emerged six beams of the brightest frost-orange light. The beams expanded geometrically and soon encompassed the entire room. PLUSH were frozen in the radiating light for but a moment, after which the light returned to the mirror and the mirror reassembled itself into its former whole before rising back into Chagon’s wrinkled hand. The men and woman of PLUSH said nothing; they were literally unable to speak. The quartet stood and stared at Chagon, their pupils dilated through glassy eyes. Chagon had mastered the magic of the mirrors and in so doing had been able to alter himself from detectable to undetectable, from weak to strong, from hack magician to shaper of wills. His authority over PLUSH became unquestionable. Their freewill no longer existed; they’d become subject to his every whim. Thus it was that despite air restrictions to the contrary, PLUSH boarded their hover car and headed toward the Phoenix skyline. It was a saving grace--and no small one at that--when the craft’s left rear engines malfunctioned prior to reaching its destination—the 37 story Starr Building which housed more than 4,500 government workers. However, due to the mechanical problem, the craft veered right, missing the Starr Building by mere feet but colliding with the south-east corner of the adjacent Royer Building, an older, concrete structure erected during the recovery era of post-World War II.
The craft impacted at 82 mph. Its twin fuel tanks ignited in an explosive roar that was, at most, the merest fraction in comparison with the jets that destroyed the WTC towers. The debris of the craft, along with its unfortunate occupants, tumbled 37 stories to the street below. W.E.T.T., who’d been piloting the craft, was impaled by its falling debris. Snake Charmer and 4.0 were killed upon impact. Incredibly, the Carbonated Man was uninjured, no doubt thanks to his unusual composition (he had no flesh and blood, per se, but existed as an entity composed mainly of carbonated fluids that could be controlled by willpower). The fact that no civilians in the Royer Building, or on the street below, were killed was a minor miracle. Several pedestrians were injured; none seriously.
The shock of the impact seemed to release the Carbonated Man from his prior hypnotic state. He wept over the bodies of his slain teammates.
When questioned about the incident, he reported to authorities that his team had been duped by Hocus Pocus, a statement that investigators found more than a bit questionable. Asked to accompany investigators to the local FBI headquarters, the Carbonated Man refused and seemed to vanish into a crowd of onlookers moments later.
The following day, November 7, the body of a man was found in the vicinity of the Desert Cove Park. Police were unable to identify the victim because his face and fingertips had been melted, as if by acid or, as one investigator reported to the New York Daily News, “as if he’d been thrown into a vat of 50-year old coke syrup.” It was later discovered that the victim’s blood had been drained and replaced with a substance that appeared to be carbonated water. The victim was found wearing a black suit. A top hat and magic wand were also located several feet from the body. Among the items recovered on his body were a deck of TV-magic playing cards, and a curious mirror which would eventually vanish from the evidence lock-up of the Phoenix crime lab. The Carbonated Man was sought for questioning but neither he, nor Chagon, were ever again seen.
A New Mentality
As September 11, 2001, grew ever distant, many of nation’s “super villains” slowly began to return to their former trade. However, their mentality had clearly been altered. Whereas once it was a common, if not weekly, occurrence to see some enraged man or woman dressed in spandex and standing atop one of the any tall buildings that composed the magnificent New York skyline,1 the modus operandi had clearly shifted to one of stealth and low profile. They had, in a sense, become an elite type of cat burglar. Grand schemes, such as “ruling the world,” “mutating everyone on the planet into dolphin-like creatures,” and “transforming all metal and concrete objects into paper mache” were replaced with more safe and “practical” criminal exploits such as safe robbing and household burglary done under cover of night. And while the arm of NYSS reached far and long, its minuscule membership could not realistically locate (much less combat) these random, sporadic criminal acts. As the weeks and months dragged forward, the public’s concern about “super” beings waned, replaced by more realistic concerns such as picnics in Central Park and baseball games at Shea.
The Hot 47
By June 2002 the role of NYSS had gone from vague to completely undetermined. The federal government simply did not know what to do with us. Concurrently, there was great concern on Capital Hill with regard to the more destructive super-villains at large and what would be done to restraint them from possible terroristic actions. Thus, the association between NYSS’ parent organization—the Establishment—and the FBI became closer. The key players in this association were the Establishment’s American Dream and Cheryl Yevick, newly appointed head of the FBI’s Super-Human Surveillance Committee (SHSC).
The Committee had been created at the request of the President who spoke quite infrequently about the super-villain element except to say that “certain x-factors who pose a threat to our nation’s security must, and will, be dealt with.”2 The committee had been formed shortly thereafter. Its function was the creation of a database of all known and suspected super criminals, a task that would prove quite simple for Yevick since the Establishment and its regional Syndicate teams maintained databases on super-criminals within their tri-state areas. The second goal of this SHSC was to rank the individuals on the list from least deadly to most deadly. The list was ultimately calculated in a variety of ways: Super-criminals were ranked based on their destructive ability, country of origin, and psychological stability (if known). When all data were combined, a single master list was generated. The list contained a total of 551 known super-criminals, of whom 47 were considered “extremely dangerous.” However, the bulk of the list included criminals such as Letterhead and Ice Machine, who were regarded as no more dangerous than the garden-variety thug. A list of the hot 47 was distributed to all syndicate teams with orders to apprehend on sight.
The top 5 of the list were an impressive group of adversaries who shared one common trait: The ability to cause mass destruction. Only 3 of the top 5 were currently at large.
One of the top 5 was Lyle Ellison, although the warden, security personnel, and fellow inmates at Craterford knew him as the Demolition. He was serving 3 consecutive life sentences. Lyle’s story was classically tragic. A “reformed” criminal, he’d tried to do decent by his family, but soon after parole became involved with a group of criminals who sought to use him to their advantage. Upon being apprehended for the murders of Angelo “Boss” Madison and two of his henchmen, Ellison’s attorneys claimed he’d acted in self-defense. It seemed all he’d wanted following his first parole was a return to a “normal” life—a life in which the Demolition did not exist; to love and be loved by his daughter. The fact that he’d remained incarcerated when, at any moment, he could have escaped the confines of his cell3 indicated, to me at least, that Ellison was noble of heart. He’d remained incarcerated and was listed as a “cooperative” inmate; as far as the Establishment was concerned, Ellison was a nonthreat.
The New Order of Business
Yevick, it appeared, was of a different opinion. The following document arrived at NYSS headquarters shortly after our initial meeting and the creation of the hot 47. The document was significant for several reasons: 1. It represented our first official “order” from SHSC. 2. It green lit the order for the execution of the top 5 by NYSS personnel—specifically, myself and the Inoculator.
CC: Office of The Establishment, Los Angeles, CA; Office of the President, Washington, DC
From: Cheryl Yevick; FBI SHSC
Subject: Top 5
With regard to the events of September 11, 2001 the FBI Super-Hero Surveillance Committee (SCHC) recommends termination of the following operatives. (Note: Unless unknown, birth names precede criminals’ code names.)
1. Lyle Ellison. The Demolition. Currently incarcerated, Craterford Prison, Philadelphia, PA.
2. Agnes Smythe. Exploso—the Self-Destructive Man. Current whereabouts unknown.
3. Phillip Davidovich (and conjoined twin, Sarah). Storm Central. Currently under mandatory sedation, West Virginia Psychiatric Hospital, Wheeling, WV.
4. Fault Line. Current whereabouts unknown.
5. Allen Milgrim. Emotion-Al. Current whereabouts unknown.
NYSS has complete dossiers on individuals listed above. SHSC recommends systematic termination of individuals listed above. Because the whereabouts of several of these individuals is not known, the FBI will assist in NYSS in locating them. For security reasons, SHSC recommends the NYSS taskforce be limited to two operatives—code names “Brain Blaster” and “Inoculator,” both of whom have previous experience in matters of this nature.
Because he is currently incarcerated, the removal of code name “Demolition” will be coordinated through the SHSC, not through NYSS. Because they are currently under forced sedation, the Davidovich twins are considered the lowest priority of the Top 5.
Due to the sensitive nature of the issues described herein, all matters regarding the Top 5, including their disposal, is highly confidential. Discussion of these matters by individuals outside the NYSS and The Establishment is strictly prohibited and would be viewed as an act of treason.
To preserve the safety and security of the people of the United States, SHSC recommends operatives Brain Blaster and Inoculator begin S&D immediately. My office is at your disposal 24/7.
The Price of Killing
Barry (aka, the Inoculator, so named because of an uncanny ability to implant bacteria and other diseases into an opponent at will) discussed our latest “assignment” over several bottles of merlot. Barry was the consummate anti-hero hero. His small frame and sunken facial features (a side effect of his unusual “super power”) gave Barry the appearance of a man more in need of a decent meal than an altercation. He wore dark, oversized sunglasses. Another consequence of Barry’s powers had been the deterioration and discoloration of the skin surrounding his eyes. While his eyesight was 20/20, the flesh around the hollows had turned blood red 10 years ago at the age of 24; he had, understandably, concealed that part of his face ever since.
Yevick’s comment about us having had “previous experience in matters of this nature” was no understatement. She knew that during our tenure with NYSS we had been the “go to” people in matters that required lethal acts of defense.
We’d done so against such hostiles as the Red Sand Gang, the Coffee Cartel, and the Blood Kings; however, this was…different. As members of NYSS, we knew there was always the potential—and usually the likelihood—that we would be required to use lethal force to safeguard civilian life. But we had always done so in a damage-control manner, acting as a defense against a known, hostile threat. No longer. We’d become—were under orders to become—assassins as part of a seek-and-destroy (S&D) mission. Theoretically we could have refused, but doing so would have resulted in serious repercussions and would have 1. blacklisted us from all Syndicates nationwide, 2. cost us our employment,4 and 3. cast aspersions as to our loyalty toward our nation. In addition, we’d have been added to any number of surveillance lists.
But it was this matter of killing—of actually seeking out these men and women and taking away their lives—that weighed upon our consciousness. But that was the assignment and we knew it was ours. So we got drunk on merlot until we puked, knowing that life was sometimes like a poker hand, and that we’d each drawn aces and eights—the dead man’s hand.
- Acts, no doubt attributable, according to NYU psychologist Brennan Jewson—whose clientele once included notorious characters including Madame Mosaic, the Bi-Polar Master Maestro, and the charismatic if not psychotic Letterhead—to a desperate cry for attention despite the consequences.
- This statement was made to the press corps during an untelevised interview on June 2, 2002. Although most assumed the President was referring to terrorists and individuals with terroristic intentions residing in the US, those in the know realized he was, in fact, discussing super-humans.
- Ellison would deny his ability to perform such an escape, attesting that his “powers” were derived from the latex and leather costume that was part of his Demolition persona. The uniform, however, had been tested many times and was found to have no unusual properties. Perhaps Ellison denied having these abilities because he so desperately wished to be, as he reported to CNN’s Penilopie Shaw in a rare interview in September 1999, “a normal man.”
- This was, in fact, a serious consideration. How does one simply abandon one’s career, particularly careers as unique as those held by Barry and I. Our paths were akin to a remark often attributed to the mafia and CIA—once you’re in, you don’t get out.
NEXT: NYSS post nine eleven continues.
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