Monday, December 11, 2017

Classic Anarchy: Startup

Startup
Mark A Davis
128

"Grandpa Anarchy, come look at this."

Deep in the basement of the Anarchy Mansion, Grandpa Anarchy's current sidekick, the Compound Eye, sat before the famous Anarchy Computer -- clearly the latest in high-tech crime-fighting computer equipment circa 1962, with reel-to-reel tapes occupying one long wall, another large wall of dust-covered machines with blinking lights, and a jacob's ladder for that added special effect.  True, it had been updated with a few more recent additions -- new keyboard and monitors, cameras and the like  -- but it remained essentially the same computer it had been for fifty years.


The Compound Eye was a young woman in an all-black costume with insect-like armor and huge, glittering compound eyes built into the face mask -- as if she had once attended a horror convention dressed as Jeff Goldblume in the Fly, and then adapted this into her hero costume.

Grandpa, dressed as usual in an old gray suit with a silver anarchy symbol stitched over the chest, and wearing a gray fedora, ambled over and glanced over her shoulder.  He saw images of villainous minions, a battle between himself and one particular villain, and a wall of text, along with numbers in big fonts off to one side.

"What am I looking at?" asked Grandpa.

"I was scanning the entries on Lairbuildr," said the Compound Eye, "and look who I came across!"

"Lair Builder?"  Grandpa's eyes narrowed.

"No, Lairbuildr," said the sidekick.  "It's a villain crowdfunding service on the darknet.  You know, like Kickstarter or Indiegogo.  Mr. Medberry taught me how to find it and monitor it...."

Grandpa, who only touched computers when he wanted to smash them, was now completely lost.  "Dark what?  Kick who?  Go where?"

"Grandpa," said the sidekick, "do you know what crowdfunding is?"

"Of course I know what it is," Grandpa snapped.  Several moments of silence followed.  "It's... giving money out to random crowds... right?"

"Close!" she replied.  "It's actually a method of raising money from crowds of people via the internet.  For example, if I wanted to publish a how-to book on Sidekicking for Grandpa Anarchy, I could go to Kickstarter and request money."

"Kid," said Grandpa seriously, "not to curb your enthusiasm, but you've been my sidekick for all of two weeks.  I hardly think you're qualified to write a book on the subject."

"Just an example, Sir," she said.

"And people will give you money?  Why?"

"Because they want to see the book published?  Also I could offer enticements -- a signed copy for a certain level of contribution, or maybe at the highest level of contribution I'll print their name as a thank you acknowledgement in a preface to the book.  Or whatever.  The sky's really the limit -- only your imagination holds you back.  People have used this to fund game development, to fund books, to fund music releases, to fund movies, to fund art and graphic novels.  Whatever you can think of that you'd want to raise funding for."

"Let me get this straight," said Grandpa.  "Let's say I want to fix up the Anarchy Mansion.  I can just ask people to give me money so I can do that?"

"Sure," replied the sidekick.  "For an incentive you could give away signed photos for a low level contribution, on up to a personal meeting with you and a tour of the mansion for the highest level."

Grandpa frowned.  "Strangers touring my mansion?  I ain't having that!"

"Just a suggestion, Sir," said the sidekick.  "If you wanted to crowdfund a remodel, of course."

Grandpa stared over the sidekick's shoulder.  "Wait a second," he said.  "That's Kid Calculus, isn't it?"

"That's right, Sir," she said.  "Your number one villain."

"He ain't my number one villain," Grandpa snapped.  "He's just some young punk with delusions of grandeur."

"Well, he's crowdfunding a new secret base from which to relaunch his attacks on you.  You blew up his mobile sky battleship a few months ago, remember?"

"Blew up real good, too," Grandpa replied with satisfaction.  "I'll never understand why people want to build flying fortresses.  They crash, and it's never just dents that the body shop around  the corner can pound out."  He studied the screen.  "Still," he said, "A bad guy's gotta have a base of operations, I guess.  You can't blame him for wanting to build a new lair -- and I'm sure he sunk everything he had into that battleship, so this interweb funding racket thing must be his only option."

Grandpa stroked his chin thoughtfully.  "Okay," he said.  "The max contribution is ten thousand, right?  Put me down for that."

It was impossible to know the Compound Eye's expressions, hidden as they were beneath the bug-faced mask, but she stared at Grandpa for a very long moment.  "Grandpa," she said, "you want to help fund his lair?  Why?"

"A villain in a lair makes for a good confrontation," Grandpa replied.  "Lairs are fun to blow up.  And I noticed that the top tier included a special invite to the grand opening."  Grandpa Anarchy grinned.  "Should be quite the shindig, don't you think?"



FINI

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Hurricane Punch

Hurricane Punch
Mark A Davis
284

"Did I ever tell you about the time Grandpa Anarchy stopped a hurricane with his fists?"

Jay Medberry, known as the Electric Bluejay, downed his gin and tonic.  The mostly-retired hero and public face of Temporary Superfriends was, as usual, dressed in a suit of electric blue.  He was a good-looking man, apparently in his mid-twenties.  The bartender -- a sharp-dressed man of about the same age with brown hair and a closely-cropped beard, known as Walter Vandroogenbroeck -- prepared another.

"That's not possible," said Continuitae.  The young woman was dressed like a reject from a Sailor Moon show.  She had a white leotard with a sailor pattern and a short skirt of dark purple with a stardust pattern.  There were bows, ribbons, ruffles, tiaras, bracelets, and necklaces.  Her girlfriend Saturnae was similarly dressed, only with a skirt of golden brown with gold numbers around the border, so that it would resemble a clock if seen from above.

The others present were Sun Wukong, his wife Ravella the Traveller, and Dog Is My Copilot.  The latter was a woman with white fur and the head of a dog.  She wore flight goggles and a red scarf, and had two metal license tags on a chain around her neck -- one a dog's license, the other her pilot's license.  Ravella was tall and beautiful, with dark skin and long, straight black hair.  She wore khaki shorts and a black tank top.  Sun Wukong, meanwhile, was dressed in loose black pants and a green silk robe with gold trim.  He was, of course, a monkey -- the famous Monkey King -- but was as tall as a human and very  well muscled.

The six of them were gathered in the secret bar room of the the Eternal Order of the Second Banana, a place where former sidekicks gathered.  A large mandala hanging behind the bar depicted the all-seeing eye of Horus, with scales balancing a banana on each side, and a diamond mask depicted just below.  The words written clockwise around the border were:  Avete ariera secundus.  Fidelitas.  Ministerium  Consilium Prudens -- loyalty, service, wise counsel, hail the second banana.

There were vaulted ceilings with stained glass windows depicting scenes out of mythology and fiction in which heroes fought beside their famous sidekicks.  The bar itself was carved from polished hardwood in the shape of a large banana.

Sun Wukong sipped his beer.  "It is said that in ancient times, the monks of the Hanging Temple in China's Shanxi province were able to throw punches so powerful that they created tornados," he said.  "The trick, I'm told, lies in inciting your enemy's fury, producing a red-hot battle aura while you yourself maintaining an aura as cold as ice.  When the timing of the punch is right and the hot air meets the cold, a tornado is the result.  The technique can be quite devastating."

"Okay, sure," Continuitae replied.  "A tornado, maybe.  But nobody's creating a freaking hurricane with a single punch -- nor stopping one."

Saturnae narrowed her eyes.  "Hang on," she said.  "Why is the Monkey King even here?  I thought this was a club for former sidekicks.  Sun Wukong is not just a hero, he's a god!"

Sun Wukong held up a finger.  "Point of order, my lady.  I was made a living Buddha because I proved my loyalty and my strength as the disciple and bodyguard to the great teacher Xuanzang on his journey to the West.  So you see, before I became the Victorious Fighting Buddha, I was first a sidekick."

Saturnae frowned.  "Well," she said, "fair enough, I suppose -- although it feels like you belong in the same special category that we place Grandpa Anarchy in -- you were always the hero, even when you were a sidekick."

"But that is clearly not the case," said Sun Wukong.  "Before my redemption I was imprisoned in a mountain for five hundred years for my many crimes.  They had so little trust in me that they fitted me with this magical headband which Xuanzang could constrict at a word.  I was a powerful warrior before that point, but also quite arrogant and mischevious."

"Do you people want to hear this story, or not?" asked Jay.

"Yes, of course," said Sun Wukong.  "I myself probably could not stop a hurricane with a punch, so I am curious how Grandpa Anarchy managed this.  Do continue."

Continuitae opened her laptop and began to type.  "As long as this isn't another of your stupid shaggy dog stories...."

"Bark?" exclaimed Dog Is My Copilot excitedly.

"No, not about a dog," replied Continutae.  "It's just an expression.  Sorry to disappoint."  Dog Is My Copilot's ears drooped.

"I assure you, this tale is true," Jay replied.  He sipped his drink, then said, "This was when I was Grandpa's sidekick, of course.  It was the Spring of 1965, and a freak hurricane appeared in the gulf coast, just south of Louisiana.  It was quite early in the hurricane season, and there was no warning, it just appeared overnight...."

"Hurricanes don't work that way," said Continuitae.  "Tropical depressions typically form off the coast of Africa when hot air from the Sahara creates thunderstorms out over the warm waters near the equator.  Eventually those can become hurricanes -- but meteorologists will track them long before that.  They don't just appear."

"Well, this one did," said Jay.  "If you let me tell my tale without interruptions, I'll explain how it happened."

Jay took another sip of his drink.  "Now, as you might imagine, those meteorologists Continuitae speaks of were shocked.  But they sent a plane into the eye of the hurricane, and do you know what they found?  At the center of the hurricane was a man -- or at least, a man-shaped being.  It was flying in the air with the storm swirling about it, and it was black and humanoid shaped.  It looked a bit like a man completely covered in oil."

"Kaptain Krude!" exclaimed Continuitae.  "Of course!  I remember!  Now it makes sense!"

"Woof!" Dog Is My Copilot agreed.

"What makes sense?" asked Ravella.  "Who's Kaptain Krude?"

"A 1960's villain," Continuitae.  "He's in my data base.  He had incredible powers over storms -- well, not him exactly...."

Jay cleared his throat.  "Continuitae, who's telling the story here, me or you?"

"Sorry!" the woman exclaimed.  "Just excited to actually hear some real history for once!"

"All my stories are real," said Jay, sounding hurt.  "And yes, this was Kaptain Krude -- a villain who could control wind and rain and even create hurricanes -- he was a very powerful storm shaman, as powerful as the hero Monsoon.  This was our first encounter with him.  We later learned that he'd gained his powers only a couple of days earlier in a oil rig accident... well, that's not important.  The important part is that there were no weather controllers available, so they called in Dark Dr. Dark, who brought Grandpa Anarchy and I along.

"Now, Dark Dr. Dark was a powerful sorcerer even back in the sixties, but he flew into the storm and was unable to get the villain to say anything.  Next he tried to shut the villain down -- but his magic was useless against Kaptain Krude; the oily surface seemed to repel magic.  The Air Force got involved, but bullets and even missiles bounced off his black exterior -- the oily good that encases him was like a rubbery armor that deflected projectiles.  Nothing could penetrate it -- I even tried my electricity against him, but it didn't work.

"Meanwhile, this storm was growing stronger by the hour.  It was about to hit category five, and was aimed squarely at the oil rigs off the Texas and Louisiana coast.  They weren't prepared for it.  Hundreds of lives were threatened.  We racked our brains to come up with a way to defeat the villain, but Grandpa Anarchy had an idea.

"Grandpa said he'd seen this creature before -- not necessarily the man himself, but the thing that gave him the power.  He said that it was an oil-based demon called Mhalaxal.  It crawls down your throat and dwells in your gut.  It was dredged up by an oil well in Texas in the 1930's, and consequently has a hatred for oil drilling and mining, two things that have disturbed its slumber.  Grandpa had fought it once, and while it was very very powerful, he knew how to beat it.  It had worked before.

"Of course, Grandpa Anarchy couldn't fly.  We didn't have jet packs or anything like that back then.  All we had was my glider suit.  We sabotaged that to construct glider wings for Grandpa, and Dark Dr. Dark used his magic to make Grandpa lighter than normal.  We circled around and he launched himself from the airplane and glided straight at Kaptain Krude.

"One punch was all he got, but that was all it took.  Grandpa's fist struck the man right in the stomach.  Just like the last time, the man became ill.  He vomited up a dark, oily creature which plunged into the sea.  The hurricane began to fade immediately.  As for the man himself -- Grandpa grabbed him and they managed to half-glide, half-fall to the ocean surface.  We dropped some life preservers and a floating buoy, and they were picked up a couple of hours later.  By that point the hurricane had completely vanished.

"And that," said Jay, "is how Grandpa stopped a hurricane with his fist."

"I cry foul," said Continuitae.  "Grandpa didn't stop the hurricane.  He punched Kaptain Krude, and that stopped the hurricane."

"Well, that's true enough," said Jay.  "I guess I was waxing a bit hyperbolic -- Grandpa punching a storm sounds so much better.  But it just goes to show that an ill Krude blows no wind."

Continuitae glared at Jay.  She tapped her fingers on the bar.  After a moment, Sun Wukong barked a short laugh.  "Ah, yes!  A pun, and for once I get the reference!"

"I would guess," said Continuitae, "that you've been waiting most of the last sixty-seven years for the right time to use that line?"

"That," said Jay, "is probably an accurate statement."

"Well just so you know, it wasn't worth the wait," said Continuitae.

"No," said Ravella, "It wasn't.  Jay, the next round is on you."

FINI

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Motivational Poser

Motivational Poser
Mark A Davis
282


Smoke rose from the peak of the tropical volcano and up into the sky.  Mount Infinity was erupting again, bright orange lava flowing down to the sea, where it hissed and snarled and turned to stone amid clouds of steam.  In one corner of the island in a protected cove, Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, grappled on the sand with a thug clad in dark blue and covered with silver symbols.  Grandpa was dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with the silver anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast.   Nearby three more thugs faced his sidekick Hexcoder, a young black man in a red robe and wizard's hat, with red high top converse sneakers.  He clutched a smartphone.

Above them all floated Kid Calculus, about fifteen feet in the air.  He was dressed in his usual form-fitting suit of blue so dark it was nearly black, over which silver mathematical symbols and formula floated, constantly rewriting themselves.  Near his right hand floated the small holographic keypad with which he controlled his dimensional gateways.

"Motivation!" Kid Calculus exclaimed.  "It's what separates me from the pack!  Every morning I wake up and ask myself:  what do I want to do today?  And do you know what that answer always is?  I want to defeat you, Grandpa Anarchy!  That is my motivation!"

"You'll never get away with this, Kid Calculus!" Grandpa exclaimed.  "My sidekick and I are here to stop you!"

"Oh, Grandpa," said Kid Calculus, "Did my manifesto scare you?  My apologies but there is no plot to destroy Tokyo.  My threats were merely a ruse to draw you to this island, and to your death -- on this, the tenth anniversary of my sojourn in hell!"

Grandpa slammed his fist into the thug's face.  The thug in turn grasped Grandpa's lapels and tossed him towards the lagoon.

"Magic Missile!" Hexcoder yelled, pressing a button on his phone.  Spears of fire struck the three thugs before him.

"Tell me," said Kid Calculus, "do your other enemies have half the motivation that I do?  Do they have the tragic backstory that I possess?  The scars of the past which drive me forward, which fuel my hatred for you?"

"Tragic backstory my ass!" Grandpa Anarchy growled, punching another thug.  "Look, Kid, you're a broken record.  You've been going on about how I ruined your life for forever!"

"Only ten years," Kid Calculus replied.

"Well I've got a news flash for you!" Grandpa said.  "Being a hero's sidekick is a dangerous business.  Nothing that happened to you was anything special."

Grandpa landed a roundhouse kick to the thug's chin.  The man spun about like a top.

"You left me stranded in an alien dimension on Nogloria, a desert planet filled with poisonous spiders!" Kid Calculus exclaimed.

"Yeah?" said Grandpa.  "Yer still alive, ain't you?  That's what your fancy schmancy dimensional gate doodad is for."  He punched the thug again, knocking him out cold.

Kid Calculus tapped his holographic device, and a gateway opened up.  A foul, rotting stench filled the air, and through the portal came a massive thing with rubbery black skin that was apparently part octopus and part bat.  It landed in the shallow lagoon and immediately snatched up one of Kid Calculus's own henchmen in a tentacle.  It dropped him screaming into a maw filled with razor-sharp teeth.

"You placed me in danger dozens of times," the villain said.  "You abandoned me on backwater planets, left me tied up or chained to bombs and other devices of destruction, chose to save some random citizen or fight the villain or monster while I was in mortal peril.  And for what?  You never paid me one single cent!"

"Experience," Grandpa Anarchy exclaimed as he was lifted up in one thick black tentacle.  "...is its --"  He slammed the rubbery tentacle with his fists.  "...own reward!"

Grandpa Anarchy drew a pistol and fired several shots into what he presumed was the creature's head.  The beast thrashed violently, emitting a piercing scream.  Grandpa was flung to the far side of the beach.

"You can't put a price on experience!" Grandpa exclaimed, rolling to his feet.  "Hexcoder!  Kill it!"

Hexcoder pressed an icon on his phone.  "Bigby's Iron Fist!" he yelled.  A massive magical fist appeared and smashed down on the creature, crushing it.

"Well," said Kid Calculus, as ink and ichor seeped into the water, "You current sidekick seems like a clever fellow, if a tad too focused on rpg games.  Tell me, what are you paying him?  Oh, but I know the answer -- despite being quite wealthy yourself, you've never paid any of your sidekicks."

"It's an internship!" Grandpa exclaimed.    "They learn how to be real heroes -- how to deal with idiots and jokers like you!"

Kid Calculus tapped his device again.   Another portal opened and another creature stepped through.  This was an amorphous humanoid monster which glowed a bright orange -- apparently made of living lava.

"Everything's Better With Lava!" Kid Calculus exclaimed.  As the two heroes circled the lava creature warily, he added, "That's a well-known TV Trope, you know.  Can't you hear the capitalization in my voice?  That's why I built this volcano lair, you see -- I want to be recognized as your true arch-nemesis, and it's a trope that all the best supervillains have a volcano lair.  Doctor Zero had one, and I know you've always considered him your greatest foe.  Committed to the Third Reich, striving with every fiber of his being to bring about the vision of his Führer.  Now there was a villain with motivation!"

The lava monster lunged.  Grandpa Anarchy blocked with a short piece of driftwood.  The wood burst into flames.  The lava creature slammed one arm into Grandpa's side, sending him rolling across the beach, his jacket aflame.

"Also Spectre in  You Only Live Twice.  Dr. Evil in Austin Powers.  Syndrome in The Incredibles.  They all had volcano bases!  But the granddaddy, I suppose, is Captain Nemo.  Do you remember Mysterious Island, Grandpa?"

"Remember it?" Grandpa asked.  "That's where I fought Nemo's homunculus!"

Calculus raised an eyebrow.  Grandpa dodged the lava monster while Hexcoder tried to hold it back with a giant magical palm.  "And yet I'm certain you don't remember what today is," said Calculus.  "This is the tenth anniversary of the day you hired me as your sidekick."  The villain's eyes flashed with anger.  "I'm particularly motivated to kill you on today of all days, Grandpa Anarchy!  Perhaps, if you remember that day at all, you regret your actions.  Perhaps you imagine that your failure as a hero, a leader, a teacher, and as an example of all that is good and just and righteous led me down a dark path.  Perhaps you regret your part in creating a monster -- but that is not how I see it at all, Grandpa, for it is you who are the monster!

"Motivation is why I left the League of Former Sidekicks to pursue my own solitary path of revenge upon you.  Oh, they claim to hate you, but their hate was not a seething, open sore at the core of their being, eating away at their soul day by day.  It is more like a simple flesh wound cured with a band aid.  My pain and anger, meanwhile, are bottomless!  I hate you like darkness detests light!  I despise you with the intensity of 10,000 stars!

"My tragic back story, my personal torment at the hands of Grandpa Anarchy himself -- all of this is what makes me your greatest rival, your one and only true arch nemesis.  None of your other foes can claim to have the tragic backstory that I have!"

Kid Calculus laughed like a hyena.  "Let us consider your other major enemies, Grandpa -- my rivals to the throne, as it were.  First, I think we can all admit that, until his death, Carnival Act was your arch nemesis.  But what was his motivation?  He was just a crazy clown, no backstory to speak of."

"See, that's where you're wrong," Grandpa Anarchy said.  "Carnival Act was a doctor, did you know that?  He never knew his father, but his mother worked in the circus and was left to raise him.  She worked two jobs to provide for him and to put him through medical school.  In the end she died of an obscure disease six months after he  graduated.  See, he was really bitter about that -- nobody had ever tried to cure this disease; it was too obscure and not worth the money.  In his own mind, the world didn't care about him or his mother -- so why should he care what happened to the world at large?

"That was his motivation.  The death of his mother, and the circumstances that lead to it, broke his will and fractured his mind.  It's what drove him to become one of the world's foremost supervillains.  You can't seriously tell me that your little sob story compares to that!"

As he spoke, Grandpa circled the lava monster.  "Now, Hexcoder!" he called out.  A giant fist appeared in the air, knocking the creature into the ocean.  The magical fist held the creature down as it sizzled and cooled, sending up clouds of steam.  In moments the creature was reduced to motionless rock.

Kid Calculus sighed.  He tapped his keypad, and a new monster emerged from another portal -- this one a sort of giant black cat with long saber teeth and eight legs.

"Okay, granted, that sounds like a good background," he said.  "I'd never heard that story.  But after all, we're talking about your previous arch nemesis -- a man even I feared.  I shouldn't be surprised that there was more to him than met the eye.

"But let us consider your current crop of foes.  Baron Climate Change, for example -- a wacko who thinks he's responsible for global warming?  Tell me how that, in any way, even makes sense, let alone can be attributed to a convincing back story...."

"It can," Grandpa Anarchy said.  "He was a climate change scientist.  Lost his government job during the George W. Bush administration.  He was angry about that, and angry at the government's lack of concern over global warming, and it sent him over the edge.  He decided that if the government right-wing types were going to deny that climate change existed, then he was going to prove that it did, or bring it about himself.

"Now, that ain't exactly rational thinking, I'll give you that.  But he's still got a brilliant mind, in his own way.  He's got quite a few patents in renewable energy fields, strangely enough.  That's why he's so rich, and that's why, as crazy as he is, I ignore him at my peril."

Kid Calculus sighed.  "Okay, granted, I didn't know the Baron's backstory, but it sounds plausible enough.  Not that I consider him your true nemesis of course -- but I'll  give him a pass for now.

"Let's consider Death Medal, then:  a heavy-metal obsessed human with a flaming skull who wants to destroy the world?  That's straight out of central casting.  He's the modern equivalent of the villain in the top hat who twirls his mustache as he ties the heroine to the train tracks.  Tell me that makes logical sense in any kind of context...."

"Oh," said Grandpa Anarchy, dodging a leap from alien cat, "but it does.  His name was George Turner, and he was a twenty-something sub-par guitarist in a forgettable heavy metal band -- a young rock and roll loser whose life was going nowhere.  But when he wasn't stoned out of his mind, he was actually pretty smart.  He figured out how to craft a spell that summoned a very powerful demon, and he struck a bargain that he thought would bring him power and make him cool:  he asked to become a demon himself, a human with a flaming skull.  You didn't think a normal human would have a flaming skull, did you?

"Unfortunately, instead of becoming cool and tough and relevant, Death Medal found that he was now on the lowest rung of Hell.  See, he went from being a human loser to being a demonic loser.  But instead of accepting that he would always be a loser, Death Medal set out to prove himself as a great demon.  See, that's why he's bent on destroying the earth -- I mean, sure, there's the whole death metal blow things up angle, but he wants to show that he's a serious contender in the demonic realms.  He wants to make it big.  That's his motivation."

As he spoke, Grandpa Anarchy continued to dodge the alien cat, while Hexcoder blasted it with fiery missiles.  One struck a nearby rock, shattering it.  Grandpa snatched up a piece of sharp obsidian to use as a weapon.

"But he's so bad at it," Kid Calculus whined.  "Am I really supposed to take such an incompetent villain seriously?"

"Being incompetent is not the same thing as having no motivation," Grandpa replied.  "You said he lacks a backstory to explain who he is and how he got that way -- but obviously you're wrong."

Kid Calculus scrunched up his face.  After a moment he said, "What about the Literate Lemur?  Huh?  Explain his amazing backstory!"

Grandpa Anarchy frowned.  "He... likes old books?  And constructing elaborate riddles and puzzles that explain what he's about to do?"

The eight-legged cat leaped.  A massive magical hand met it in midair.  Grandpa launched himself forward, driving his makeshift knife into the creature's throat.   The alien cat screamed and writhed.

"Yes!  See?" Kid Calculus crowed.  "Clearly I have greater motivation than that clown!"

"Well, sure."  Grandpa replied, scratching his chin.  The alien cat ceased to move.  "I can see that.  Actually, I never really considered the Literate Lemur much of a foe... more of an annoyance, really...."

Anger filled the eyes of Kid Calculus.  He tapped his keypad and a portal opened beneath Grandpa and his sidekick.  They fell into a hot, sandy desert.  As the portal above them closed, Kid Calculus called out, "Enough trying to justify myself.  Let's see if you have half the motivation that I've already demonstrated!"

The portal winked out.  Grandpa and Hexcoder looked about.  Rolling dunes of hot sand stretched in all directions.

"Let me guess," said Hexcoder.  "Nogloria, the planet with the poisonous spiders?"

"Yeah, looks like," Grandpa replied.  "Predictable, really."  After a moment he added, "You can program a way to portal us back home, right?"

"You know," said Hexcoder, "he's got a point.  I'm getting paid nothing for this...."


FINI

Monday, November 20, 2017

As High As the Falcon

As High As the Falcon
Mark A Davis
285

Highsis posed atop a building in downtown Hoboken, the skyline of Manhatten across the water framed in the background.  Highsis was a young woman with dark skin, clad in a simple white shift dress with a short hem and a wide wesekh collar of gold and turquoise beads.  A distinctive amulet on a circlet of gold rested against her dark forehead, holding back long black braids.

"That looks great!" the cameraman exclaimed.  "Smokin' hawt!"  The camera whirred and clicked.

"You know," said the photographer after a moment, "I did a photo shoot with your mother once."

Larry Stone was a middle-aged man with long hair, jeans, a plaid shirt of blue and black and a Dodger's baseball cap.  Despite his looks, he was well-known as a talented photographer who worked especially well with heroes -- which is why Highsis had hired him.

"My mother?" asked Highsis.

"Yes.  Well, Highsis, I mean," Larry replied.  "The original.  I was a writer/photographer for High Times in the 80's and 90's.  We did a story on Highsis around 1990."

He snapped several more pictures, as Highsis performed a series of acrobatic martial arts moves.

"Okay," said Highsis.  "I think I've seen that."

"We should do some of you flying.  Switching to the digital camera now," the photographer said.  He put one camera down and picked up another.  "Anyway, your mom gave me the best weed I've ever smoked.  With that amulet, you know.  I even learned a bit of history, about how far back cannabis has been smoked."

"It's been cultivated in China since ancient times," said Highsis, "and was known to be used in Egypt at least as far back as 2,000 BC.  Otherwise how would the Puffmost Amulet even exist?"

She tapped the amulet on her forehead and said, "Great Goddess Isis, make me high, Sis."

Two marijuana cigarettes appeared in her hand.  She put one in her mouth.  With a small flash it lit itself.  She used it to light the other, then handed it to the photographer.

"Awesome!" he exclaimed, taking a long toke.  "Weed of a quality to satisfy the gods!"

Highsis nodded.  "O Zephyr weed which makes me high," she exclaimed, "lift me up so I can fly!"  She floated into the air.

"Great!  Fantastic!" Larry exclaimed.  "Smokin' hawt!  Just like your mother used to do it!"  He snapped multiple photos in quick succession.

***

A bright sun warmed the tiles of an open Egyptian courtyard.  Dressed in red and black, the royal sorcerer Ahmose stood before his queen and presented a beautiful amulet on a chain.  Made of gold and inlaid with sapphires, the tyet or knot of Isis sparkled, bright and beautiful to behold.  "O my queen Hatshepsut!" exclaimed Ahmose.  "With this, the Pufmost Amulet which I bestow upon your highness -- you, and all your descendants who shall come after, are endowed by the goddess Isis with the powers of the animals and the elements!  You will soar as high as the falcon soars, you will run as fast as the gazelles run, and you will command the elements of sky and earth!"  He paused, raised an eyebrow, and added, "In addition, it can summon the finest kanbos leaves known to the gods, for you to smoke at your leisure...."


It was an hour later, and the two of them were lying on the rooftop, staring up at the evening sky.  Highsis took a long toke on her marijuana cigarette.  She blew out a stream of lavender-grey smoke.  "I don't remember the show going exactly like that," she said languidly.

"Well," said Larry, "that's how it should have gone, anyway.  Mind you, I was just a kid in 1979, but I was in love with Highsis.  I used to watch the Sacred Goddess Highsis Show every Saturday morning.  Such cheesy action!

"But they never explained that Highsis actually transforms by smoking pot.  Can't have that on Saturday morning, eh?"  He took another toke and slowly exhaled a  stream of smoke.  "Ah, but Alicia Townsend -- that girl was smokin' hawt."

"The actress?  That she was," Highsis replied.  She watched smoke ascend into the night sky.

"Best pair of legs on Saturday television," said Larry.  "And that short white skirt?  It made my pound!"

Highsis stared down at her own outfit, and her long bare legs.  "I'd wager it did more than that," she added.

"Well, I was just a kid at the time but... yeah, it did," he replied.  "Anyway, I didn't realize that she wasn't the real Highsis until later."

Highsis frowned.  "Seriously?  Alicia was undeniably beautiful, but she wasn't even black."

Larry laughed.  "Like I said, I was a kid then.  Still, the real HighSis was smokin' hawt too.  I had posters of her in my room."

Highsis nodded.  "Lots of people did, back then.  At least, that's what my parents say."

A phone buzzed.  Highsis held hers up.  On it, video appeared of Grandpa Anarchy struggling with some exotic creature with multiple tentacles and rows of jagged teeth.  She frowned, then set the phone to do not disturb and set it aside.

"Isn't that Grandpa Anarchy?" asked Larry.  "You're his sidekick, right?"

"He'll be okay," said Highsis.  "Things always work out for him."

"Anyway," said the photographer, "I met your mom again in 1997 at a Highsis convention.  Now, this might be a bit shocking, but...."

Highsis sighed.  "Look, if you're going to say that you slept with Highsis -- well, sure, lots of people did.  That's how mom and dad met.  But if you're going to tell me that you might be my father, then trust me, you're not.  I know who my father is."

"Hey, at least let me tell my story first!" Larry protested.  "Besides, how can you know for sure?"

"I just know," said Highsis.  "I've heard these stories before.  But okay, sure:  go ahead.  Let's hear it."

"Listen," said Larry.  "I know that the true identity of Highsis -is a big secret.  But it's obvious that you're related to the previous Highsis, most likely her daughter.  That's how it works, right?  Only the descendants can use the amulet."

"That's true," said Highsis.  "Go on."

"Well, it's like you said -- Highsis slept around.  Everyone knew that.  I didn't get with her in 1990, but in '97 I ran into her at a room party at the convention.  She remembered me.  We talked, and one thing led to another... we wound up in her suite on the top floor.  I was there all night, and we did it... several times."

"Yes, I understand," said Highsis, looking bored.

"Oh, and by the way, I also slept with Alicia Townsend in '94, for what that's worth," he added.  "But I've worked out the timing of it.  You were born in 1998, roughly nine months after Highsis and I met...."  He paused, then added, "You have to admit, there's at least a small chance that I'm your father."

"No," said Highsis, "there really isn't."

"But..."

The heroine took one last, long toke of her cigarette, then stubbed it out.  "Look," she said, "I'll tell you this much.  You know that amulet only works for those who are descended from Hatshepsut, right?"

"Sure," Larry replied.

"Well, my mother isn't descended from any Egyptian pharaohs," she said.

The photographer frowned.  "But...."

"My father, however, is."

There was a long moment of silence.  Smoke drifted into the evening sky.  The sound of cars could be heard in the distance.  "So," said the photographer.  "Highsis was your dad?"

"That's right," the heroine said.

Larry took a long puff on his cigarette.

"Wow," he said, "your dad was smokin' hawt."

FINI

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Market Crash

Market Crash
Mark A Davis
283

The villain known as the Malevolent Marketeer was a tall, thin man who dressed like a 19th-century railroad tycoon in a turn-of-the-century suit and tie with a tall stovepipe hat.  He had a walrus mustache and a monocle on a gold chain.  He would not have looked out of place among the Jay Goulds, J.P. Morgans, Andrew Carnegies, John D. Rockefellers, Cornelius Vanderbilts and Henry Fords of the past, save that he was currently waving about an uzi atop an in-motion roller coaster.

"Blood sport!" the villain exclaimed.  "Blood sport, my good man!  Did you never wonder where the terms bull market and bear market come from?  Long ago people would pit bulls against bears in battle.  The bear swipes down with his paws!  The bull swings up with his horns!  People bet on the outcome!

"That is, of course, only one theory of where those terms come from, but a compelling one nonetheless!  The truth may never be known, but we do know that bull versus bear fights were a thing!  In this fight, I am the bull and you are the bear!"

The roller coaster sailed down a steep hill and around the bend.  It was newly built, but designed like the rides from a hundred years ago -- all white wooden trestles and nary a loop de loop in sight.  Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, clung to one of cars as he waited for an opportunity to land a punch.  He was dressed as always in a rumpled gray suit with a silver anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast.  His current sidekick Highsis clung to a car behind him, braided black hair and short white dress buffeted by the wind.  There was a Wesekh collar of gold and turquoise around her throat, and a distinctive gold amulet on a circlet about her forehead.  Her smartphone was raised.

"Why do I always get the lunatics who think that fighting atop a moving roller coaster is a good idea?" Grandpa muttered.  He leaned into a sharp turn.

"Come, Mr. Anarchy," the villain called out.  "We both know that you haven't had a good roller coaster battle since that insane clown archvillain of yours passed away.  Carnival Act was the name, I believe?  But consider:  the up and down ride is the perfect metaphor for one who plays the market.  That is why I chose this place to do battle!"

Highsis exclaimed, "You built this stupid carnival just so you could have a battle in it?"  The villain laughed madly.

"I should've known when they wanted to build a Wall Street-themed carnival that something was up," Grandpa muttered.  "Enough of this tomfoolery!  Tell us where you hid the bombs!"

"I am the tidal wave of unfettered capitalism, which washes away regulation and market reform!" the Malevolent Marketeer exclaimed.  "I am Wall Street greed incarnate, with free reign to destroy your savings and ruin your economies.  I am the Bernie Nadoff of the financial world...."

"Bernie Nadoff is the Bernie Nadoff of the financial world," Highsis replied.

"Then I am the Mike Tyson of the financial world!" the villain exclaimed.  "I knock out every enemy I face!"

"Mike Tyson was pretty terrible at finances..." Highsis noted.

"Enough!" Grandpa yelled.  "What's your game, Marketeer?  You seem too intelligent for a random bomber.  What's in it for you?  How do you benefit?  Tell me where these bombs are!"

The villain smirked.  "Were you aware, Mr. Anarchy, that your very battles with your villainous foes affect the stock market?  When Doctor Totengräber threatens the New York water supply, prices on bottle water soar.  When Death Medal threatens to destroy the world via a book of magic, bookstore stocks drop.  When Baron Climate Change threatens to drill a hole in San Francisco Bay, tourism in the Bay Area suffers, but stocks in renewable energies climb.  Why, even your previous battles with Carnival Act atop roller coasters and otherwise set in old carnivals -- when those are broadcast on the news, theme park attendance goes down!

"What I'm saying is, a man who knows these things can benefit.  A man who knows which companies are about to suffer catastrophic losses via some villain's bombing campaign stands to make a great deal of money!"  The villain spread his arms and added, "And yet you ask me what my motivation is?"

"You'll never get away with it!" Grandpa snarled.  "The market is good at catching those who trade on inside information!"

"They're remarkably bad at it, to be honest," replied the Malevolent Marketeer.  "Small wonder since most of them are complicit to some degree.  Do you think I have not taken steps to hide my identity?  Do you think that I have not hidden my trail through the use of multiple pawns, unknowing associates, fake accounts and dummy companies?  They can try to track me down, but I assure you my secrets are safe!

"The best part about my plan?" asked the Malevolent Marketeer.  "At the same time, I can ruin your retirement accounts!  Kiss your hard earned savings goodbye, Grandpa Anarchy!"

"My retirement plan?"  Grandpa Anarchy shrugged.  "I ain't got one.  Don't plan to ever retire."

The villain frowned.  "Fine then.  I will ruin your bank accounts...."

"I keep most of my money hidden in jars around my property," Grandpa said.  "Haven't trusted banks ever since the Knickerbocker Crisis of 1907."

"Surely you must have some investments?" asked the Malevolent Marketeer.  "Grandpa Anarchy is a powerful brand.  I know you make money off of movie and merchandise royalties."

"Yes, I do," said Grandpa.

"Fine," said the villain.  "then I will ruin....."

"All of those finances are handled by a demonic law firm," Grandpa added.

As the roller coaster crested another hill, Grandpa Anarchy leaped.  As the coaster descended, he fell even faster.  He flew straight the villain, his fist connecting with the Marketeer's chin.  The villain was knocked out cold before he could topple over.

At the same time, High Sis called out, "O Zephyr weed which makes me high, lift me up so I can fly!"  She was lifted up into the wind, one hand still clutching the phone.  Grandpa and the Marketeer flew off the trolly, but the sidekick exclaimed, "O purple haze, all in my brain, grant me control of wind and rain!"  A lavender-tinted wind lifted the hero and villain up and set them gently on the ground.

***

A week later Grandpa Anarchy was in the kitchen making strawberry pancakes, when his sidekick -- in her civilian disguise as archaeology student Adoree Thompson -- appeared.  "Good news, Grandpa!" she said.  She was staring at her smartphone.  "You remember that video I made of our fight atop the roller coaster?  It went viral!  We've got five million hits on Youtube in just a week!"

Grandpa Anarchy nodded.  "You know, Warren Buffett always said that the most important investment you can make is in yourself.  I might take his words more literally than most, but you can't argue with results.  Sales of Grandpa Anarchy products are up 20% across the board, and my stock in Grandpa Anarchy Inc. is through the roof.  That's one market tip that even the Malevolent Marketeer missed!"

FINI

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Gods and Punks

Gods and Punks
Mark A Davis
280


Once again the city owes a debt of gratitude to our local hero Grandpa Anarchy, who foiled a bank robbery this afternoon.  With the aid of his current sidekick Highsis, the two confronted would-be thief the Trauma Queen, a chainsaw-wielding young woman who held police at bay at the First National Bank of Frosthaven earlier today....


Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, slammed on the brakes of his Austin Martin.  He pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the car radio.  In a nearby alley, collapsed against a wall, was an old man in a filthy outfit that could best be described as that of a demonic pope.  There were red and black robes with skull motifs where one might normally find crosses, and a tall pope's hat with a skull mask.  Everything about the costume was old and worn, with the paint chipping away, like a derilect clown from a theme park closed for decades.

"That's Holy Terror," Grandpa Anarchy exclaimed.  "I fought him dozens of times!  I'd recognize that evil face anywhere!"

Grandpa was dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with the silver anarchy symbol stitched in silver over the left breast.  In the passenger seat sat Highsis, dressed like an ancient Egyptian princess in a white shift dress with a short skirt.  She had dark skin, braided black hair, and wore a wide Wesekh collar of gold and turquoise beads.  A distinctive amulet on a circlet of gold crowned her forehead.

Highsis took a long puff on her cigarette.  "You can't actually see his face," she said languidly.  "It's hidden by the mask."

"Right!" Grandpa exclaimed.  "The mask!  That's how you know it's him!"

Highsis checked her phone.  "Hmmm.  Holy Terror, huh?  Looks like he tried to conquer the world a few times...."

"He did!" Grandpa exclaimed.  "Back in the 70's and early 80's.  I haven't seen him in a coo... well, a long time."  Grandpa jumped out of the car.  "What's he doing lying in an alleyway, is what I want to know."

As Grandpa strode towards the vagabond villain, Highsis called out, "Grandpa!  This is one of your old arch villains!  He could be dangerous!"

"Nah, he's harmless," Grandpa replied over his shoulder.  "Look at him!  Down on  his luck.  Besides, helping the downtrodden is also a hero's duty!"

The man in the robes and mask stared up at him.  He clutched a bottle in a brown bag, which he waved at Grandpa.  "Grandpa Anarchy!" he exclaimed.  "You miserable ass!  Come to gloat at my misfortune?  Come to mock me in the hour of my greatest defeat?  How very much like you, you pompous, two-faced do-gooder!"

"Actually," said Grandpa, "I was going to offer you a meal and a place to sleep."

***

Grandpa Anarchy watched as his former foe greedily devoured mashed potatoes and fried chicken.  The pope hat and mask had been set to one side.  The man's hands were filth-covered.  The stench that emanated from him filled the small kitchen.

"You can stay here the night," Grandpa said.  "Lord knows we've got enough spare rooms in this place.  Tomorrow I'll see what we can do to get you a new place to stay.  There's charities that can help out -- even for an old villain like you."

"I still say this is dangerous and stupid," said Highsis from the doorway.  "Inviting one of your old foes into your house for dinner?  What's to stop him from killing you in your sleep?"

"Holy Terror never killed no one," Grandpa replied.  "Except Scavenger Boy, and that was an accident.  Also Snowflake Behavior, but she was kind of mentally fragile anyway and flipped out at the wrong time...."

"Never understood why you worked with an Aryan witch anyway," Holy Terror muttered.  "I thought all of you heroes were against Nazis big-time."

"Grandpa, he killed two of your sidekicks?" Highsis replied, shocked.

"Snowflake Behavior wasn't a Nazi per se," Grandpa said.  "And Highsis, I said those were accidents.  He's mostly harmless."

Grandpa!" exclaimed Highsis.  "His nickname is the Pope of Pain!"

"My point exactly!" Grandpa replied.  "He's the Pope of Pain -- not the Pope of Murder and Dismemberment.  See the difference?  The former doesn't actually involve killing anyone, and it's also nicely alliterative -- always an important point in this business.  Not to mention he always kind of oversold the whole pain bit... the most pain he ever subjected me to was his long monologues about how he was going to take over the world.  He was more the Pope of Discomfort if you ask me."

"Also not alliterative," the Holy Terror noted.  "You ask me, the art of the monologue is what's missing in your modern villains.  This Kid Calculus, does he monologue?  Death Medal?  Not half as well as I used to, I'll bet!  I practiced for hours every day in front of the mirror just so I could get it right when we were in the middle of a battle!  True monologuing is an art form!  You need to practice it!"

"Dang straight!" Grandpa exclaimed.  He stared at the washed-up villain.  "What happened to you, Holy Terror?  You were one of the best at being bad.  You were always on top of the world -- or at least trying to be -- I was always there to stop you, of course...."

The villain scowled.  "I don't want to talk about it," he said.

"Now that don't sound like the Holy Terror I remember," Grandpa said.  "Nobody could monologue like you.  Everyone's heard about the day you out-talked Captain Monologue himself!"

The Holy Terror's scowl deepened.  He spread his hands wide.  "Isn't this what you always thought of me, Grandpa Anarchy?  Isn't this what you always expected to see?  A drunken has-been in a garish costume, barely surviving amid the street grime.  From the very beginning I had to claw my way up from the sewers, and nobody gave me any credit for that -- instead the whole world mocked me!  You hated me, you feared me!  You doubted me!  But I was this close to redemption, this close to snatching the world from the hands of the privileged.  Oh how I would have relished that moment!  But you, Grandpa Anarchy, you beat me back at every opportunity!  I live in a cesspool now because of you!"

"Now, it ain't like that," said Grandpa.  "Sure, I beat you.  Can't have villains and their death rays taking over the world -- what kind of a place would this be if we allowed that?"

"Need I remind you that our mayor is a former supervillain?" Highsis added.

"Well, okay," said Grandpa, "point taken.  You know, your real problem, Terror, is that you were always flying solo.  You're a demonic pope!  You should have an entourage!  You should have followers!  You should be a man of the people!"

"Always hated people," said the Holy Terror.  "That's why I'm a villain."

"That's how Judge Doomhollow survived, you know," Grandpa said.  "He always had a criminal syndicate beneath him -- one of the most vicious in  town.  When he decided to -- well, I wouldn't call it reform exactly -- but when he decided to get a legitimate job, he used his crime gang to help get elected.  He turned it into a party machine.  That's why he's been mayor of this town for almost forty years."

Holy Terror sniffed.  "That wannabe?  He couldn't hack being a true villain!  When the going got tough, he turned tail and ran!"

"Well, he's mayor," said Highsis, "and you're just a homeless drunk in a costume."

"That's right," said Grandpa.  "He bought the vote, just like any normal politician.  He followed the rules.  He didn't come storming in with his death ray and usurp things -- mostly because when he tried doing that I stopped him.  You should learn from his example, Holy  Terror -- heroes have a hard time opposing you if you get elected first."

Ignoring Grandpa, the villain stared at HighSis.  "What's your shtick, anyway?" he asked.  "Highsis?  What kind of a name is that?"

The young woman touched the amulet at her forehead.  "This is the Pufmost Amulet,  given to Queen and Pharaoh Hatshepsut by the goddess Isis herself.  I am her descendant and I wield power through this amulet -- the power to summon the best marijuana cigarettes in the world.  They transform me into the hero Highsis."

The villain's eyes narrowed.  "Mary Jane?  Really?  What's the world coming to when Grandpa Anarchy's sidekick is a dopehead?"

"I take whoever Jay sends to me," Grandpa replied.  "She is super strong, and she can fly and do other cool things.

"Hey," Grandpa added after a moment.  "I've got a crackerjack idea!  I bet I could get you a job with city hall!  Mayor Doomhollow is big on reforming criminals, in his own way of course.  I'm certain he will give you a chance.  As the hero of this town, he listens to me -- it's kind of a weird relationship."

"Don't want no job," Holy Terror mumbled.  "Want to rule the world."

"Well you gotta start somewhere," said Grandpa, "and having a roof over your head and something to eat every day is the place to start."

***

Two weeks later, looking much better in a clean suit and tie, the villain known as the Holy Terror smiled.  "The mayor signed me up for A.A. meetings," he said.  "He's paying for everything!  He even helped set me up in a lair -- I mean an apartment."

"That's great," Grandpa replied.  He and his sidekick were seated before the villain's desk in city hall.

"You were right, Grandpa!" the Holy Terror continued.  "The mayor explained to me how being a supervillain and being a public servant aren't incompatible goals.   He's going to help me put my life back together, just so long as I keep sober and do my job.  And the best part is that I can incorporate my villainy into my new job as Secretary to the Minister of Community Development and Public Works"

The Holy Terror lifted a paper from his desk.  "That brings us to your new application for an improved submarine tunnel access to your lair....."

"Not a lair.  It's a base beneath the mansion," said Grandpa Anarchy.  "The Anarchy Cave.  Heros have bases.  Villains have lairs."

The villain raised an eyebrow.  "Whatever," he said.  "I think you know the drill."  He paused to don his pope hat and skull mask.  "If you want approval for this project, Grandpa Anarchy," he boomed, "you will have to defeat... the Holy  Terror!  Are you ready, Grandpa Anarchy?  I've prepared a monologue!"

Highsis sighed.  "I knew helping him was a bad idea," she muttered.


FINI

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Classic Anarchy: Walpurgisnacht

Walpurgisnacht
Mark A Davis
166


"Strangely enough," said Black Dahlia, "Walpurgisnacht is a Christian name for a pagan festival.  At least that's how it's worked out.  Saint Walpurga was an English missionary to the Frankish Empire.  She is credited with bringing Christianity to Germany.  But of course, celebrations of the end of Winter and the coming of Spring date back to pagan times."

Five heroes were gathered in a warehouse, about a small table.  Black Dahlia poured five cups of hot tea, then added clear liquid from a tall bottle to each.  "A mixture of water, strong apple cider, and several herbs," she said.  The leader of the Black Moon Maidens was a pale woman with long, dark red hair, in a black Victorian dress, and an abundance of silver jewelry.  She wore black lipstick, black eyeliner, and black nail polish.

On her right was DarkFireNinjaCatgirl, often called Dafinica for short.  She was a young half-cat woman who normally dressed like a ninja -- though for tonight she was wearing one of Dahlia's dresses, looking very uncomfortable in a laced-up corset bodice and poofed sleeves laced from the wrist to the elbow.

On Dahlia's left was Dark Dr. Dark, her mentor and current Supreme Sorcerer of the World (five years running, non-consecutive -- not counting 2010 when he had tied with Alvadine the Bold and lost in a runoff, or 2012 which was a strike year) and a member of the League of Two-Fisted Justice.  Dark Dr. Dark was a tall man dressed in black with a thick black beard.  For tonight he wore a cape and dark glasses.

Across from Dahlia were two more members of the League of Two Fisted Justice -- Unpossible Man, a seven-foot, 350 lb behemoth in blue and black spandex, but also for tonight wearing over this a brown robe that bore a strong resemblance to a graduation gown, and Grandpa Anarchy, a very old man in a gray suit who normally wore a fedora, but who tonight had on a black witch's hat, along with a black robe thrown over his suit.

"Traditionally the drink is consumed in a shot glass or wine glass," said Dahlia, "but I prefer to mix it into a lovely cup of tea.  It seems more civilized, and I do love my Earl Grey."

"Who doesn't?" replied Dark Dr. Dark, selecting a cup and breathing in the aroma.

Dafinica made a face.  Unpossible Man said, "Gimme a beer any day."

"In Germany," said Black Dahlia, "they say that witches and warlocks hold a pagan celebration and meeting atop the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains.  The truth is more complex -- the Brocken that we will visit is not on the mountain in Germany, but a kind of idealized version of it -- a spiritual Brocken of dreams, as it were.  Witches, Wizards and Warlocks the world over gather here once a year on Walpurgisnacht to feast and celebrate the changing of seasons and the coming of spring."

"Everyone meets in a magical place to get drunk," said Grandpa.

"Yes," said Dahlia.  "That's pretty much it."

"Sounds like quite a shindig," said Unpossible Man.  "Doc, you say you've been doing this every year since we've known you?  How come you never said nothing?"

A pained looked passed over Dark Dr. Dark's face.  "It was not my idea to tell you of it this time," he said.  "This is a celebration for practitioners of the magic arts only.  But we have need of your help...."

"Mycontrolofdarknessandfireisjustlikemagic," said DarkFIreNinjaCatgirl.  "IcandissappearatwillninjapowersarebasicallymagictoosoIbelongthere."

"We're here to stop a potential terrorist event," said Dahlia.  "We are here to capture a very clever magical terrorist.  She calls herself the Witch of Heath and Hedge, and she is bent on causing a global catastrophe.  I should not have to add, we are not here to drink."  She glared at Dafinica and added, "You are too young to drink."

"I'mtwentyoneIturnedtwentyoneinJanuary!"

"But you're mentally twelve," said Dahlia.  "You will always be too young to drink, as long as you're working for me."

"Aw," said the catgirl.  "Nina lets me drink!"

"That's nice," said Dahlia.  "When you work with her, you can drink.  But for now, nobody drinks.  Clear?"

"Sure," said Grandpa.  "I don't drink liquor anyway.  So how do we get to this place?"

Dahlia glanced down at the teacups and said, "We drink."

***

As soon as they'd downed their tea, the five heroes found themselves in a grassy clearing.  The air was crisp and cold and the night sky was overhead.  In the distance they saw burning bonfires and crowds of people.  Dahlia and Dark Dr. Dark led the others in this direction.

It was like a carnival.  First came the smells of sizzling steak and chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs, and of cotton candy, spent fireworks, beer, and the smell of people crowded too close together.  With this came the buzz of hundreds of colliding conversations, of musicians playing and chorale singing in unfamiliar tongues, and the crackle of  fire and hiss of the grills.  Fog-like smoke crawled across the ground.

"Looks like they blew the budget on dry ice," Grandpa said.

There were many small fires at the edges of the gathering, but one giant bonfire in the center, with flames leaping high into the sky.  The witches and wizards in the crowd tossed small vials and spells into the flames, so that they turned green and blue and violet and bright red, and sometimes took on shapes like those of dragons or burning butterflies or phoenix birds rising up into the night sky.

Everywhere there were cats, and wolf-like dogs, and other animals mixing with the crowd.  Nearly everyone had a robe of some sort, and many had pointed hats.  There was a large beer garden.  There was mead, food, sweetbreads, cakes and pies and unfamiliar treats.  One location was making some sort of Asian noodle stir-fry.  Another had piroshkis.  Yet another stand had strawberry shortcake.

A large, overweight man with a smiling face already flush from drink greeted them.  "Grandpa, everyone," said Dahlia, "this is Alparkaneous.  He is the Master of Ceremonies for tonight's gathering."

"Call me Al," the man replied, shaking each of their hands.  "Master of Ceremonies is just a title that means I get blamed for anything which goes wrong."  He laughed heartily, then added, "I can't tell you how much we appreciate you heroes showing up for our little shindig tonight.  We have no idea if this Witch of the Heath and Hedge will make an appearance, but the threat has spread among the population.  Just having a few heroes present makes everyone feel better."

"It's no problem," said Dark Dr. Dark.  "We do this sort of thing all the time."

"Very good!" Al exclaimed.  At the same moment, a tiny fairy appeared and buzzed in his ear.  He paused, then said, "In the meantime, enjoy the festivities!  Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm being summoned to resolve a dispute between wizards...."  He rolled his eyes.  "That's, like, three-quarters of what I do around here...."

The man disappeared.

After a moment, Unpossible Man said, "Welp.  You'll find me in the beer garden."

"No drinking!" Black Dahlia hissed.  "We're here to stop the Witch of Heath and Hedge."

"What's this witch look like, and what's she planning to do exactly?" asked Grandpa.

"We have no idea who she really is," Dahlia replied.  "But she's threatened to cast a spell that would destroy certain crops worldwide, just to draw attention to her cause.  I suggest we split up and search the grounds.  Meet back here in an hour."

Black Dahlia and Dark Dr. Dark disappeared into the crowd.  Dafinica simply disappeared.  Unpossible Man said, "Welp!  I'm off to the beer garden."

"You'll piss off Dahlia," said Grandpa.

"Sure," said Unpossible Man, "but if you think I'm gonna let a young girl tell me what I can and can't do, you've got another think coming."

"She's a witch," said Grandpa.

"Don't worry, Grandpa," said Unpossible Man.  "You know I can hold my liquor.  I have the alcohol tolerance of ten tolerant men!"

"That makes no sense whatsoever."

"Nope," said the the big man, puffing on his cigar.  "When the time comes, I'll be ready!"

Grandpa sighed as Unpossible Man muscled his way through the crowd.  "Feel like a danged fool in this outfit," he grumbled.  "Well, better go looking around...."

He turned and collided with someone.  He stumbled back and mumbled, "Sorry, sorry!  I'm just a foolish wizard, nothing more!  Name's Doctor Anarchy...."  He looked into the eyes of the other man, and froze.

The man could have been Grandpa, if Grandpa wore a much nicer black suit with a stylish cape, a top hat, and a neatly- trimmed beard.  The man looked serious and studious, like a history professor with twenty years tenure who knew he was smarter than you and never smiled.  Grandpa himself could never have managed that look.

"I beg your pardon," said the bearded man, "but I am Doctor Anarchy!"

Grandpa Anarchy shook himself.  "Whoa, Nelly!" he said.  "I've met a lot of alternate me's in my time, but not one like you."

"No," said Doctor Anarchy.  "And I have met a lot of alternate selves as well.. and they were always like you."  He frowned more severely and added, "You do not belong in this place, Grandpa Anarchy."

"Huh!" Grandpa replied.  "You know better than that!  There's trouble afoot, and here is exactly where I'm meant to be."

Doctor Anarchy raised an eyebrow.  "Indeed?  I shall have to keep my eyes open then."

And with that, Doctor Anarchy was gone.  Grandpa frowned in turn.  "That was pretty condescending of me," he said.  "I don't think I like me at all."

Grandpa paced the fairgrounds like a police detective who only had eyes for murder.  He made a complete circle of the grounds, and then another.  Everywhere there were dancers and revelers and people making merry, and many tried to hand him a drink, friendly wizards or witches too drunk to spell the word spell, let alone cast one.  Grandpa always refused.  He hadn't touched alcohol since the waning days of prohibition, when his brother had been murderer by a rum runner.  He certainly wasn't going to start now.

He wasn't certain what he was looking for.  In theory, he was looking for something out of the ordinary, but this was quite difficult.  For one thing, in place of the usual face painting and temporary henna tattoos, this carnival had an entire row of booths offering temporary transformation spells.  Skin and hair color were just the least of it, but those alone accounted for many youngsters running about with rainbow-colored skin and hair that glowed or appeared to be made of green and purple flames.  Beyond that, some booths offered to transform you into animals, or exotic creatures such as centaurs, fauns, and fairies, while others merely offered a temporary sex change.  Spotting one person who seemed unusual or suspicious among all this strangeness was next to impossible.

There were other spell booths as well -- more traditional ones that offered true fortune-telling or hawked love potions, and more exotic ones that offered instant spells for self defense, for utility, and for pleasure.  On a whim, Grandpa bought a small bottle of roast beef sandwich pills -- just add water! -- and a vial that promised to transform your opponent temporarily into a pink kitten.

After his third trip around the fairgrounds, Grandpa said, "Well, I suppose a little strawberry shortcake won't hurt...."  He laid down some money at the appropriate booth, got a plastic bowl filled with with shortcake -- not spongecake, but a real shortcake biscuit, flaky and much heavier, and piled high with syrupy strawberries topped with whipped cream.  Grandpa sat by the fire and ate it up, and had to admit it was almost as good as his favorite breakfast, strawberry pancakes.

After that he joined a group of wizards and young kids who were roasting marshmallows.  The giant bonfire had settled down somewhat, and was now burning even hotter, with a glowing heart of bright orange coals.  Grandpa's first marshmallow turned golden brown and grew too soft and slid into the fire.  His second caught fire.  He yanked it out and blew out the flames, and then handed the charcoal mess to a kid who could appreciate it -- Grandpa was not one of those Philistines who would eat a scorched and blackened marshmallow.

For his third attempt he concentrated very carefully.  Slowly it turned golden brown on all sides.  He pulled it back from the flames just in time, and blew on it to cool it down, then popped it into his mouth.  It  tasted heavenly.

It was then that he realized how the soundscape about him had changed.  There was no more singing, no music, no drunken conversation.  Instead he heard the squealing of pigs.

Everywhere he looked, Grandpa saw pigs.  The ran about the fairgrounds and rooted through the food on the ground.  The booths were empty, as was the beer garden.  The only other humans he saw were the four kids who'd been roasting marshmallows with him.

Some of the pigs had pointy hats.  Grandpa grimaced.

"Mister?" asked one kid.  "Where did everyone go?"

Grandpa stood.  "Looks like someone spiked the punch," he replied.  "Find a safe place to hide, kids.  Things are about to get ugly."

A young woman dressed in green and brown strode into the center of the fairgrounds.  She had flowers in her hair, and might have been Mother Nature herself, but the look on her face was far too sinister.  She spotted Grandpa.  She raised an eyebrow, then, ignoring him, produced a canvas bag, removed a handful of seeds, and began to scattered them on the ground in a curving line.

Grandpa strode towards her.  "You wouldn't happen to be the Wizard of Heath and Hedge, would you?" he asked.  "Because if you are, I'm going to have to ask you to stop...."

With a look of annoyance, the woman gestured at him.

Grandpa was slammed into the air and across the fairgrounds.  He crashed to the ground nearly 100 yards away.

Grandpa Anarchy groaned.  He climbed to his feet.  "Right," he said.  "So that's how it's gonna be."

Grandpa charged back across the fairgrounds.  Pigs squealed and scattered before him.  Ahead he saw the woman complete a large circle with her seeds.  She chanted a spell, and flowering plants sprung up.  They formed a perfect circle, with her in the center.

"Magic circle made of plants?" Grandpa muttered.   "That's not bad...."

He charged into the circle and threw a punch.  The woman dodged at the last moment.  She touched Grandpa as he passed, and suddenly he was flying face-first into the dirt.  Grandpa grimaced -- she'd redirected his energy like a  trained martial artist, with the lightest of touches.

"Didn't feel like drinking, did you?" the woman asked.  "Well, I can deal with you directly."  She chanted a quick spell.  Grandpa scrambled to his feet, but the magic struck him in the chest.  His skin crawled.  For a moment his body morphed and twisted out of shape.  Grandpa focused on his own body like a master zen Buddhist, and he was suddenly himself again.

"You can build up a resistance to transformation spells," Grandpa said.  "Takes a great deal of willpower and a deep-down knowledge of exactly who you are.  Plus there's this godawful nasty potion you have to drink once a week, smells like raw sewage.  But it works."  He swung at the witch again.

The woman caught his fist and threw him twenty feet.  Again Grandpa crashed face-first into grass and dirt.

The woman uttered another spell and thrust her hands upwards.  Vines ripped through the ground in front of Grandpa, barring his path.  The writhed likes snakes and twined together.  Within moments, they formed two long poles, which converged overhead into a thick cylinder.  two more long ropes of entwined vines sprang from the top of the structure.

Grandpa gaped.  It was a headless humanoid creature made of living vines, nearly thirty feet tall.  It swung one long arm at him.

Grandpa dodged.  Behind the creature, the woman began to chant a spell.

"Where the Hades are Dahlia and Dark Dr. Dark?" Grandpa exclaimed.

"Your friends have been neutralized already," the witch said with an evil smile.  Grandpa followed her gaze across the fairgrounds, where stood two large bushes.  He looked closer, and saw that these were thickly-bundled vine cages, with a person trapped within each one.

But even as the witch spoke, a shadow moved behind her.  DarkFireNinjaCatgirl appeared, thrusting her sword at the witches's unprotected back.

Inches from the witches's skin, the blade hit something as hard as stone.  It bent nearly in two.  The witch spun about, anger flashing in her eyes.  "Another?" she exclaimed.  She blasted the catgirl with a spell -- but what fell to the ground was only the catgirl's dress, wrapped around a two-foot wood log.

Dafinica appeared behind the witch again, clad only in her underwear and slashing again with her sword.  "Do you not learn?" the witch exclaimed.  She caught the blade with one hand, as if it were made of wood and not sharp metal.

With her free hand, the catgirl blasted the witch with a fireball, point-blank to the face.

The witch cursed and stumbled back, but she hit the catgirl with a second spell.  This time the catgirl failed to dodge.  Her skin morphed and shifted, and she grew smaller.  However it was not a pig she turned into, but a guinea pig.  The creature squealed and ran off to hide under a  table.

In the meantime Grandpa dodged the giant vine golem, which was clearly powerful but not quick.  In its attempts to crush Grandpa it pounded the ground, leaving deep scars in the earth.  Grandpa tried to punch it back, but this was as useful as punching a bush.  Finally he failed to move fast enough, and the creature caught him with a blow that knocked him thirty feet back into the still-burning bonfire.

Grandpa cursed and scrambled out of the fire, beating his smoldering robe.  He stripped the thing off.  "Fool idea, dressing like a wizard anyway," he muttered.  Then he turned to the fire and hauled two pieces of wood from it to use as burning torches.

Fire drove the vine golem back.  Grandpa tossed one makeshift torch at the creature, but this failed to set it on fire.  He circled, waving his slowly-dying firebrand at the thing, unsure what else to do.

The witch was chanting her spell now.  A cage of vines had grown up around her, sealing her off from Grandpa.  He was running out of options.  Without Dark Dr. Dark or Black Dahlia, he was no match for a magic-user with this much skill.

Then he remembered the spell he'd purchased.  Reaching into his pocket, he removed a small blue vial and tossed it at the vine golem.  The thin glass shattered on impact.  The liquid inside soaked a small part of the creature's leg, but the results were almost instantaneous.  The thirty-foot creature writhed and shrunk.  In moments, all that stood before Grandpa was a cute and fluffy pink kitten.

"Thank the devil for magic spells!" Grandpa exclaimed.  "I'm a wizard after all!"  He  turned and charged the vine cage.  He laid his dying torch at the base of the vines, which slowly caught fire.  He then began to climb the cage.

The witch inside looked very annoyed.  She gestured, and a second vine golem arose.  It swatted Grandpa off of the vine cage.  He landed hard on the ground.

"Oh, come on!" Grandpa exclaimed as the vine creature towered over him.  It raised one ropey arm to pound him into the ground....

A voice yelled out, "FIST OF THE ANARCHIST!"  A giant fist appeared over the golem and slammed it into the earth.

Grandpa blinked in surprise.  "Dang," he said.  "Now that's a magic spell I could get used to!"

Doctor Anarchy jogged up to Grandpa.  "I thought you could use a hand," he said.  "Or rather, a fist.  Quickly, she's almost done!"

The wizard with the familiar face summoned his mystical fist again.  It slammed through the vine cage, crushing the witch into ground and interrupting her spell.  She howled in rage and leaped up, apparently unhurt.  Instantly Doctor Anarchy and the Witch of Heath and Hedge were locked in a magical battle, each hurling spells at the other.

Grandpa charged forward and clocked the witch in the head as hard as he could.  This time, it worked.  Her head spun about, and her body followed.  She went to the ground, unconscious.  Almost instantly magic shackles formed on her wrists and ankles.

Soon pigs began transforming into people.  They were startled and confused -- it became clear that no one could recall the last hour.

Dark Dr. Dark and Black Dahlia arrived with Master of Ceremonies Al.  "You captured her, Grandpa!" Al exclaimed.

"I had a lot of help from Doctor Anarchy here," Grandpa said.  He turned to introduce his alternate self -- but the bearded wizard so like and yet unlike him was nowhere to be seen.

***

It was morning.  Grandpa Anarchy, Unpossible Man, DarkFireNinjaCatgirl, Dark Dr. Dark, and Black Dahlia were seated in the kitchen of the Black Moon Maidens headquarters.

"A Doctor Anarchy, you say?" said Dark Dr. Dark.  "I should very much like to meet this man.  It is rare to find an alternate version of yourself so far removed from your own talents and inclinations."

"Just think," said Grandpa.  "Somewhere out there is a Dark Dr. Dark who don't read, and solves all his problems by punching people."

Black Dahlia poured the tea.  There were cookies and coffee cake as well.  Grandpa placed a pill on the table and added a drop of water.  Instantly a roast beef sandwich appeared.  His eyes lit up.  "Hot damn!" he exclaimed, and bit into the sandwich eagerly.

His look soured.  He managed to swallow.  "Tastes like cardboard," he said.

"They always do," said Dark Dr. Dark knowingly.  He bit into a cookie.

"The magical authorities are dealing with the Witch of Heath and Hedge, of course," Black Dahlia said.  "It turns out her real name is Annalottle MacGilfoyle.  She's an expert in nature magic, and has become something of an environmental terrorist.  But she won't be causing any more trouble now."  She paused, then added, "Your friend Doctor Anarchy vanished before anyone else could talk to him.  Even Dafinica here didn't see him."

"Something strange about him," Grandpa said.  "I mean, him being a magician version of me.  But I supposed anything's possible in an infinite multiverse."  He dropped a sugar cube into his tea and added, "What exactly was this witch trying to do, anyway?  You said destroy a year's harvest of a certain crop.  What was it?  Corn?  Rice?  Wheat?"

Dahlia set her cup down.  "Worse," she said.  The witch threatened to wipe out the world's supply of citrus bergamia -- the bergamot orange."

There was a long pause.  "That's it?" Grandpa asked.  "Bergamot?  I risked my life for a tea flavoring?"

"It has other uses," said Dahlia.  "But yes.  Without it, there would be no Earl Grey."

Dark Dr. Dark sipped from his cup.  "A terrible threat indeed," he said, "and a great tragedy averted."

FINI