Old Ventures 2, Ch 23

Note: Apologies for the late posting. Family drama and the Pacific Northwest heatwave collided to destroy my productivity last week.

Twenty-Three, Bakdida, Iraq, 2015

“This feels serendipitous,” Ian said, pointing at Jack. “You’re here to rescue hostages- hostages taken by Isis while they were studying the cultural artifacts that you are here protect,” he pointed to India.

“He and I have a pleasant working relationship; you we could do without,” India said.

“Ah, but I’m far more than simply an attractive visage,” Ian said. “Jalal?” A thin Iraqi in an ill-fitting green uniform came in from the other room. “This young man is a skilled interpreter.”

“My Arabic is excellent, my Turkish more than adequate, and my Urdu at least passable, though I believe today I’ll let my guns speak for me,” she said, pushing out her chest to emphasize her twin shoulder holsters, each housing a blued revolver. She caught a glint off Ian’s eye, and added, “Including in retort to any poorly considered innuendo from you.”

“My innuendos are always very well considered,” he replied, “and I meant interpreter in the way the US Army uses the term. He functions as guide, knows the local players and culture, as well as pressure points.”

She thought a moment, as she shoved a satellite phone into her satchel. “You could have said that from the start.”

“And missed all this fun? I assure you, I could not.”

“He’s trustworthy?” she asked.

“The Americans have been using him for years. He’s scheduled to emigrate there, as reward for his exemplary service, and because as a result of his service the insurgents as well as ISIL want him dead.”

“And he’s sticking his neck out for us because?”

“Because he’s a good man,” Ian said. “Sure, I’ve offered him some compensation, and to aid in whatever way Jack or myself can in getting him and his family to safety… but he agreed to help before I offered anything; I simply believe that loyalty rewarded is loyalty reinforced.”

“I love my country,” Jalal said, tearing up. “I loved her enough to help the Americans rehabilitate her- knowing that my service would likely mean I’d never see her again. And I love her enough not to want to see that work, and her progress, crushed by the Islamic State. Including her culture. We cannot let them wipe our works out of our history.”

A thin smile crossed India’s lips. “A man after my own heart,” India said, cinching her pack shut, then thrust out her hand for him to shake. “My parents named me India, because they suspected I wouldn’t stay- they barely did- but they wanted me to carry their love, and pride, for our home, wherever I went.” He shook her hand delicately. “It also taught me to appreciate those thoughts in others, rare as they can sometimes be.

“And I’m not sure Captain Jack Simon requires much in the way of introductions,” Ian said.

“Of course, Captain,” Jalal said, his posture stiffening as he raised his hand in salute.

“I ain’t been active duty for a while, son,” he put out his hand, “and I always preferred to take a man’s hand- mutual respect, as opposed to deference.”

“I,” Jalal licked his lips nervously, “am not sure I agree, but I am joyed at the sentiment, nonetheless.” He enthusiastically shook Jack’s hand.

“I did, um, actually bring along some support of my own,” Jack said. “Hon?”

His wife entered from the opposite room as Jalal had. “Rose!” India gasped, and rushed to hug the larger woman. “I was just thinking of you.”

“Of course,” Rose said, smiling. “We first met defending a holy site from the Khmer Rouge.” She sighed. “We’re still fighting the same old fights.”

“But we’re still fighting,” India said. “And I have to believe that people are even more against ISIL than they were the Khmer Rouge, though we still haven’t discovered a proper counter to megalomanical and culturally destructive insurgencies.”

“That’s the work of generations,” Jack said. “And Jalal, my wife, Rose-”

“The Riveter!” Jalal gushed. “I had your poster, vintage, of course, from the Second World War. The man who sold it to me claimed it hung in the British base here.”

“I may have left it behind,” Jack said sheepishly.

“You had one of my posters?” Rose asked.

“You had a nice smile,” Jack said, staring at the floor.

“Still do, of course,” Ian said, “though he’s too embarrassed to look up and see it.”

“You never told me,” Rose said, putting her arm around his chest and resting her cheek on his shoulder.

“I didn’t put it together, at first,” he admitted. “I knew who you were, when we met, but… I’d forgotten the poster. I bought it because I wanted to remind myself what we were fighting for, what the world back in the US was while we were gone. Especially while I was fighting here and in Africa, it was a different enough world I, I needed that connection. And when I was leaving, I couldn’t stand the idea of damaging that poster to take it with me, so I left it here, a little reminder to the Brits who stayed behind, and anybody else, really, what the world we were fighting for held.”

“You inspired me,” Jalal said, and flexed his arm in her direction. “I’ve done many more push-ups, though I never could match your guns.”

“They look plenty impressive to me,” she said, and touched his bicep.  

“Would you sign it?”

“Your arm?” she asked

“My poster,” he said with a laugh. “When we are done. It would,” he stumbled to find the next word.

“Of course,” she said. “It would be my pleasure.”

“And my honor,” he replied, putting his palm against his chest.

 “Splendid,” Ian said, “and now that we know each other, I’m told Jalal has an idea as to securing the site. Time is of course of the essence, so let’s out with it.”

“I grew up here, on the outskirts of town. It was the cheapest place to live, further from work and the market, but for a boy, it meant the whole world outside of town was my backyard. Including the shrine. It was frowned upon, of course, but we were young, and stupid, and did not understand what ‘sacred’ truly meant. There is a tunnel from a well outside of town. I believe it once was used to get water to the shrine, but as the water level in the well shrank, the tunnel dried out. A frontal assault on the shrine would likely lead to the death of the hostages, and if they’re to be believed, ISIL have already rigged explosives to the site’s most important art and structures. The Iraqi army has the ISIL force isolated; they can’t escape, but the Iraqis have thus far refused any attempts to negotiate.” “He and I discussed sharing this infiltration strategy with the Iraqis,” Ian started, “but the tunnel’s size would prevent a large force from entering at a brisk pace, and the Iraqi army is still too young, too green, to have a special force likely to succeed. This will boil over into madness shortly, before any hope of reinforcement. We’re the only hope these people have. To say nothing of their important cultural artifacts.”

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 22

“Thank God,” Rose said, hanging up her phone. “That was Jack. They got Jalal and his family away safely. Ian has a friend in Canadian intelligence with some pull.”

India looked up from a cardboard box of supplies, “Friend?” She wrinkled her nose. “Ew.”

“He’s pretty sure they can get Jalal and his family settled there.”

India carried the box over to a similar stack. She marked the packing slip, and put it inside the box. “So our boys are all safe?” she asked.

“Boys?” Rose asked with a light laugh. “It’d warm their cockles to hear you call them that.”

“I was describing their maturity, not their decrepitude.”

“I’m hurt,” Laney said, mock-pouting from the door. “They’re resettling someone and didn’t even call me?”

“He’s Iraqi,” India said.

“Ah,” Laney said, her smile fading. “My contacts wouldn’t have helped get around the travel ban. If they were here already, like the people in the lobby, maybe, depending on the court challenges.” She parted the blinds to look at the parking lot, where ICE agents were sitting in a car with their logo on the side. “But with our own private Gestapo out there…”

“It’s why we didn’t ask,” Rose said. “Otherwise, we know you’d have moved Heaven and Earth to help us.”

“You may be giving me too much credit,” Laney said.

“I’m not sure there is such a thing,” Rose said, leaning her head on Laney’s shoulder. “Actress, inventor, aid worker, and wrangler of a certain aloof metal man’s affections…”

“Yeah,” India said, “credit where it’s due. I was beginning to think Hugh was just always going to be a confirmed bachelor his whole life, and then…”

“We’re failing the Bechdel test, ladies,” Laney said.

“We don’t have to talk about your love life,” India said with a shrug.

“But we don’t understand your research,” Rosie said.

“And your aid work is frankly exhausting to even think about, let alone keep up with.”

“That’s true,” Laney said. “But that’s why it’s important. There’s too much to do. Too many people in need of help. Which is why I need to get back out there. Though I promise I didn’t come back here to crack the whip. It’s exhausting work, as much emotionally as physically. And if you don’t take the time to take care of yourself, you’ll burn out, and miss out on helping more people in the long run. So you two take whatever time you need.”

“We’re pretty resilient ladies,” India said.

“Plus, the menfolk have notched a success under their belts,” Rose said, standing a little taller. “We need to do at least as much good as they have.”

“Under their belts? Jack’s poor under-belt area…” Rose raised her eyebrows at India. “What? Stop looking at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like I’m spending too much time thinking about your husband’s under-belt area.”

“You’re only human,” Rose said. “I had to make my peace with Jack being in an entire generation’s rotation.”

“No, um, for literally years I thought he might be my father, and I never understood the appeal of an Elektra complex, so…”

Rose laughed. “Can’t say I’m sad to lose the competition. No one could ever keep up with him, but especially at my age…”

“Don’t be a dummy,” India said. “You’re his world- you and Joe.”

“Maybe,” Rose said. “But his world has been in turmoil, and I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to calm those seas… especially not when it all falls to me…”

India took Rose’s hand, and squeezed it. “It’ll be okay,” she said, her voice betraying a gentility she usually kept hidden behind a layer of cynicism. “There isn’t anything you and Jack can’t get through… but you know, if you need help, we’re here, all of us. Whatever you need.”

“I think,” Rose sucked her lips, and wiped a tear away, “I think I need the world to live up to what Jack expects of it. He’s, he’s easily the best man I’ve ever known, and sometimes… he can’t help but expect the rest of us to live up to the same standard. And we can’t. I know that, I know it from nearly a lifetime married to him. But we’ve never fallen so far from that ideal before. We don’t have to be perfect, but… we need to be better than this, do better than we have. Otherwise, I think we’re killing him.”

“Rose, I-” a crash from the front of the office interrupted her.

“Later,” Rose said, listening for more.

“You armed?” India asked.

Rose made fists through a pair of leather gloves. “You?”

“Always,” India said, and opened her jacket to show her a revolver in a shoulder holster.

They crept cautiously to the swinging door separating the stock room from the front office. Rose flattened her palm against the door, and pressed so that she could see through a sliver of space between the door and its frame. Screams filtered through, and Rose saw a woman leap over the counter. “It’s a riot,” Rose said, and let the door close.

“What happened?” India asked.

“And what do we do?”

Laney pushed her way in, wrapping her bloodied hand in her shawl. “Whatever the hell we can,” she said.

Pitchgiving 2021, part 1: Milestone Comics

Okay, I didn’t expect Juneteenth to become a holiday virtually overnight, so this wasn’t planned in advance. But I just happened to be working on Pitchgiving (rather than the novel I’m currently posting because I have a complicated relationship with what most people classicaly term productivity), and the one that I got caught in and poured a lot more time, love and effort into feels appropriate. I’m moving it to number 1, and posting it now. Just know, that when September 17th rolls around, you already got your first present under the Thanksgiving tree, because this is it (so expect the second on the 24th):


I think Pitchmas 2020 only went okay. There are really 2 reasons, the first being that pitching 10 episodes of a show is a lot more work, which either led to extra-long pitches (lead-time permitting) or corner-cutting, with what feel to me like somewhat mixed results. The second is I started before the debut of WandaVision or WinterFalcon or LokiLoki, so I made the assumption that the shows would be, er, shows, in the more traditional sense, and not miniseries, or perhaps better understood as slightly extended movies- always designed to feed directly back into the movies themselves, which means some of my concepts don’t fit as well as I’d have liked them to (Sentry, though, still feels like a high point, to me- since it was written later and got to adjust accordingly- and was always a more tightly plotted/planned story, thanks largely to Paul Jenkins’ original). 

But for those reasons I’ll probably stick to movies this year. And yes, the plan is to start with Pitchgiving, and roll right into Pitchmas. For both, I think we’ll keep around the same basic ruleset of no sequels to existing properties, though I can pitch a story for something that’s been announced but for which I know no story details. The exception I’m rolling with is I can pitch sequels to my own pitches half the time, and that’s the plan: a 50/50 split of sequel pitches and new property pitches. This could be interesting, since between what Marvel and DC have already tapped and what I’ve previously pitched, we’re going to start scraping the bottom of the barrel at some point. But if need be, I can always change the rules.


Okay, so some of you may not know this, because it’s relatively obscure comics ephemera. But there is a Black Superman, and a Black Iron Man, both running around the DC Universe (along with a kinda-sorta Black Spider-Man). And I’m not talking about Steel or the Superman from Multiversity (or Spider-Boy in blackface, either- I don’t think that’s a thing that happened, but even if it had, not what I’m talking about). I’m talking about Milestone Comics. It was created in the 90s as an Own Voices type of deal for comics. In the early stages It involved Christopher Priest, but it was Dwayne McDuffie who got it past the finish line. Those of us who were kids (or kids at heart) in the early 2000s will know its biggest cultural contribution to date: the Static Shock cartoon. DC has already green lit a Static movie; I hope they make it, because even in the wake of Black Panther, I think Black audiences deserve still more representation, and I think the Milestone brand in particular is still relatively unknown enough that there’s more room at the margins to make harder points; it’s possible Disney would balk at BP marching with Black Lives Matter, but it’s honestly expected that the Milestone heroes would be there. Milestone was also ahead of its time (in some ways ahead of our current time, too) in other ways, with better LGBT representation than most franchises today. Some may, likewise, view this as a cheat; Milestone isn’t owned by DC (at least as far as I know), but licensed to them, and at a minimum doesn’t fit people’s conception of what the DC Universe proper is. But that’s kind of the point, and they were recently reintroduced back into the comics universe, so I’m counting it.

The first hurdle we hit, though, is the name, maybe names, plural. The universe was called the Dakotaverse, for the fictional city of Dakota that functioned as their home turf. In general I’m against fake cities, especially when an existing city will do nicely, and this one seems easy. We make it Detroit, set the dial somewhere between modern, post-white-flight Detroit and RoboCop Detroit, and it’s basically if Wakanda had been in charge of rebuilding New York after the Chitauri attack in the first Avengers movie- making it a big black-majority city with some renown, wealth and reach.

The next stumbling block isn’t so simple. The big team in Milestone was known only as Heroes. Not only has NBC subsequently snapped up that name, but it was generic and bland to begin with- not a name you can market a $200 million hero flick on the back of. At present, I think the strongest idea I have is just calling the team Milestone- because it is one, an all-Black superhero team, especially one built by Black creators- it makes sense both within their world and within ours. We could even go a step further, have it not just be a Milestone, but because the fictional universe contains a pastiche of all kinds of Black characters from Marvel and DC, you could even have Milestone refer to the fact that it was the first hero team, period, back in the 70s, when a teenaged Black Lightning (no need to use Buck Lightning, since this is set in the DCU proper and he’s, you know, around), a Luke Cage homage (Buck Wild, Mercenary Man), Buck Goliath (I’m… not sure why so many of these just replace Black with Buck… ), a Captain America pastiche we probably can’t call Patriot anymore (I imagine Marvel have been keeping up on their trademark for the Young Avenger- especially with him recently having debuted in the Captain Samerica show)… and I’m not sure whether or not calling his Falcon-alike “Jim Crow” is going to fly today, no pun intended. But that, fighting alongside our Black Superman (who was thankfully not named Buck Superman) ,could cement them as the Pre-Justice League premier superheroes of the DCU (once the Justice Society disbanded after half of its members disappeared, for those who think I have no sense of my own continuity)… they were just more localized and less well known.

And then there’s Icon. Look, it’s probably the strongest of the names I’ve complained about, and I even get why having a Black Superman in ’93 was legitimately iconic… but it’s still a little on the nose, and not my favorite name. Hardware fairs better, for me, and Static as a name actually does feel pretty iconic to me (even if, next to Black Lightning, I’d expect Static’s powerset to be more limited, possibly just to cling, and maybe the occasional annoying zap- which is not really the case). I’m also uncertain about the name “Bang Babies” for their metahumans… I feel like back in ’93 it wouldn’t have read as oddly dated or a slogan you’d see on a NAMBLA shirt, but we can replace with a more generic term like metahuman, transhuman, superhuman, mutant, or whatever if need be; but your mileage may vary on all of these names, and I hope this all reads as one creative gently but lovingly ribbing others, cause the folks behind these properties have a lot more cred than I do, and deservedly so.

And the usual caveat, as I start, here, is that I’m white, and am just doing the synopsis for funsies; any Milestone movie should absolutely be written, directed and to the greatest extent possible shot and performed by Black creators, who have an intuitive experience of the Black experience that no amount of research or empathy could give me (though I’d be happy to consult or help in some degree, if anyone were interested); the one exception to that might be Tarantino being a possibility to direct; I think even in that scenario, the optimal outcome would be he and Spike Lee co-directing. They might kill each other, but they’d turn in a hell of a movie (and thirty years from now the making of doc would be better than that).

And before I go further, a caveat: DC are supposedly making a Static Shock movie. But… they were supposedly making a Cyborg movie. And while I buy that someday that Flash movie will get made, I’d put about even money right now on it taking so long Grant Gustin will be age appropriate to play their version of Jay Garrick. Both for the uninitiated and because it’s a slightly more interesting story, I’m assuming it gets folded into our movie, here- not because I wish the Static movie ill, but because I wanted to play with all the toys, damnit, and folding Static’s origin in made sense to me.  

We’d start with Icon, named Arnus, in the 1800s. He’s an alien, traveling in a starliner that malfunctions, and he crashes into a cotton field in the American South. His lifepod scans an enslaved woman named Miriam, and alters his physiology to look like her. She raises him as her own son, and he grows up as a slave; he was quickly discovered to be personally unpunishable- not a one of the hands could manage to break the boy’s skin no matter how long they flailed him- and his spirit was even more unbreakable. They threatened Miriam, and the other slaves, which served to keep him malleable for a time. Early in his teenage years, however, he realized how great their fear of him was- and engineered a revolt, and saw his adoptive mother and the other slaves safely along the Underground Railroad.

He spent the years of the Civil War and after continuing his work aiding freed and escaped slaves, after which he retired to a relatively reclusive manor in Michigan. He played the stocks, and when necessary did labor, reasoning he would some day use human technology to fix his craft and return home- but even by the 2010s we were still far behind the tech he needed. But that’s why he takes an interest in young Curtis Metcalf, perhaps the brightest young man of his age. He seeks to mentor Metcalf, and provide for his education.

Here we shift perspectives, to follow Curtis as a boy, scraping gum off of desks and tables; we assuming he’s an overly polite young man, until he catches sight of a big for his age kid chase a frailer student into the boy’s bathroom. He crams the remaining already-been-chewed gum into an invention that envelopes the bully in a thick, pinkish sludge that prevents him from moving. The bullied kid and Curtis run in opposite directions, Curtis running home. We lace in his mother speaking about the opportunity this represents for her son, how thankful she is that his gifts can be nurtured, maybe a little guilt about how she couldn’t afford the tutors or fancy school she knew would help him, not on a lowly teacher’s salary (she doesn’t mention it, but her husband is a doctor, but at a poor community clinic, barely making enough to pay off his med school debt), and is in the process of profusely thanking the man sitting on her couch when Curt arrives, surprised. We are, too, because it isn’t Arnus, it’s Edwin Alva, a white man who looks enough like Edison (genial, but definitely evil) for people to get the message (though some white people will get to it later). He smiles, and explains that he’s going to see to it Curt gets the leg up he didn’t- that he’s going to remove ten years of hard labor to get him where he was always going to end up, inventing better ways for man to thrive.

We follow Edwin outside of the Metcalf home, where he meets Arnus who was clearly about to make his approach, living under the name Augustus Freeman IV (he was also I-III, over the years). Edwin tells him that the boy is his- his genius, his inventions- all of it, and not-too-subtly threatens to out Arnus as something other than human. He also leans, hard, into calling him “Free Man.”

We follow a deflated Arnus home, where he continues to monitor Curt growing up. He doesn’t feel he has a free hand, though at one point he does try to intervene, managing a few minutes with the 15 year old college graduate at his graduation to tell him he should understand Alva has his own machinations. Curt isn’t surprised, but trusts some old dude who jumps out at him in a green trenchcoat even less.

More years pass, and we see Arnus in his study, becoming more and more disillusioned. As dust gathers in his home, webs in the windows, it’s clear he’s interacting with humanity less and less in his depression. Suddenly, the webbed-over window is lit by a flashlight, that smashes its way inside. A hand juts through the pane, and unlocks the window. It belongs to one of a handful of youths, but the only one we really focus on is the one called Rocket. She’s pretty, and sounds more worldly than the others. She’s also the one that Arnus catches, inadvertently demonstrating his superpowers. Her friends run, but she’s intrigued by this powered recluse. She asks why he doesn’t use his power to help people- their people, to set an example. Now… Icon was originally very much in the Bill Cosby, respectability politics mold; I’m probably not the right person to make the call, but personally, I’d update him, as someone who tried, but failed, that not only did he hero in the 70s with the other previous generation of Milestones, but he’s been trying for nearly 200 years. Past a point, he couldn’t handle pulling cats out of trees but not being able to stop police from beating Black people to death on the street. I think we could split the difference by having him state that their people don’t need an example, they need a lighter load. She could still respond to that with something like, “It’s easy to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you can fly.”

We return to Curt, who is now an adult, and is working on a new kind of tear gas. His lab partner protests, that the specs the police have asked for require a dose of their proprietary irritant ten times that level- which Curt protests, because even double the current dose has been shown to have mutagenic and carcinogenic properties in testing- that as it stands it can only be used by domestic police because its use in war would be against international law. Alva bursts in, and fires Curt’s partner, saying they were hired to get Curt on the same page, and clearly can’t do that, so security escort him out. Alva then asks how the exoskeleton is coming along.

Curt says they’ve made some progress, but expresses reservations; the police are already heavily militarized, and its had devastating effects, especially in Black communities. Alva doesn’t seem moved, and turns to leave, at which point Curt asks about his proposal- that he helped Alva build this company, that a full 25% of profits are directly attributable to his patents and discoveries, and he would like to benefit accordingly. Alva is savage, explaining that he isn’t a partner or a protégé, but an employee, one who signed a contract, one that Alva is willing to enforce in court, if need be, that deals with patents, royalties and all other compensatory forms, and prohibits any productive work for any company in any capacity related to his work at Alva industries, or the education it provided for him.” Curt protests, that between the breadth of his education and his multi-disciplinary work for Alva, there’s nothing he could do elsewhere (someone else would have to weigh in whether or not he should go the extra step and say, he’s “practically a slave”); Alva makes a joke about never using him to work on food extracts, and that being an exciting field- that he’d even put in a good word with Wilcox for him, laughing as he leaves.

And here’s where we meet Virgil. He’s a geeky 15-year old more into comics and nerd-stuff than anything else. He wakes up early, with his friend still asleep in his room as he plays with his Legos. His mom ducks her head in, and says they need to be getting dressed, that breakfast is ready and the bus will be here in a few minutes. Virgil and Rick discuss going back to school after a fun weekend hanging out; Virgil’s not terribly keen, because he’s being bullied. We watch as the two boys chase after the bus with juice-boxes and toast in hand as they run.

After school, we witness Virgil get bullied. Rick stands by, unable to help, because his bully, Francis, is flanked by two other gang members, wearing similar colors to help hammer home the point. Francis wants to stay and continue to beat on Virgil, but the others convince him they have to go, that they’re making plans for the Big Bang tonight.

Later on, Virgil, with Rick talking through how he wished they could get the bully alone, is tapping away at the internet trying to find out information on dark portions of the web to find out about the Big Bang. He clicks one link and up pops an adult site, which is immediately blocked by their internet settings. His mom yells in from the other room, wanting to know if he’s looking at something he shouldn’t. He hollers back that he was just trying to research on the Big Bang. After a pause, she tells him to be careful which links he clicks on for that.

We cut to another screen, but this one’s different, littered in icons, dissertations, spreadsheets, science. We see Curt’s reflection in the monitor. He’s opening and closing documents and spreadsheets at a fast clip, but from it we can gather that he’s doing research on his boss, Edwin Alva, and finding out he’s both incredibly dirty and untouchable. I’d say this might be a good moment to inject Arnus back into the story. Curt is surprised he’s there, that he got past Alva’s security. It takes him a moment to place Arnus, before he calls him the flasher from his graduation. Arnus stuffily protests that it was just a trenchcoat, that he had on a full three piece underneath, just like he’s wearing now (I think, in his civilian guise, he wears a green trenchcoat over a red three-piece suit, similarly if more mutedly colored to his costume).

Arnus relates all he knows about Alva- that he’s dirty, that he’s even tried, at various times, to leak information to the press, to prosecutors. But Alva’s too well-connected. He’s bribed everyone in the state, and his defense contracts are so central to the Defense Department that there’s no way they’d let anyone jail their golden goose. Curt mutters that he’s the goose bitterly. Arnus tells him he didn’t come to tell Curt to give up hope- he came to provide it. He has a plan, to hurt Alva’s legitimate and shadow organizations strategically; he just knows that he needs an inside man, someone with access who can help him navigate the portions he can’t see from outside. Curt smiles, saying he wants a “man inside the machine,” and says he came to the right guy, hitting a button that pops out the exoskeleton he’s been working on. Curt falls back into it, and it seals around him. Arnus may not be impressed, but it’s still the closest anyone’s come to the kind of tech his people had in a couple hundred years, so he’s intrigued.  

Rocket walks into the room. She’s got her own costume, now, as well as some flying tech she rigged from Arnus’ craft. Icon confirms she’s with him, and Rocket confirms she adapted his tech to her needs on her own, but his suit “Looks neat, too.”

We cut to the underground meeting of one of the gangs. I’m picturing the Foot Clan from the first Ninja Turtles movie, because that’s the era this stuff took place in, but if we could shift the relatively realistic feel of that to a modern context we’re probably set. Francis, essentially a peon, listens intently to their leader talk about what’s really just a street brawl amongst a couple gangs; big, in terms of numbers, but he’s discouraging most of them from bringing guns or anything that might impact people’s parole, that this is about a public display of power- sticking a knife in someone’s ribs is a private display- you don’t do that in front of witnesses. Someone cast in shadow arrives, and the leader tells his boys to all scram.

And here’s where we thicken up the plot a bit. Alva meets with the head of one of the gangs. He uses the youth gangs basically as a minor league- he’s always looking for talent, and implies that he’s had his eye on the gang leader for some time, that he views this Big (gang) Bang [yeah, this might be another name from the 90s we have to change] as their All Star Game, that he’ll be watching for his own draft. After the gang leader leaves, he asks his assistant if the new irritant will be ready for tomorrow. The assistant says that Metcalf fixed all the technical issues, the only remaining issue was the irritant cocktail, and that they’ve already increased it to the requested levels. Alva asks what the LD-50 is on the compound, and is told it’s five times greater than current levels. Alva tells him to ‘only’ triple it, then; that there’s bound to be more Black Lives Matter protests, and other police departments will be watching to see how effective their new irritant is- and he wants to give them a fireworks show.

The next day at school, Virgil stops Francis from bullying a different kid, inadvertently getting his attention. Virgil’s saved from a particularly bad beating by a rival gang member. Virgil asks him about the Big Bang, and he tells Virgil if he’s thinking about hopping off the sidelines, he’ll have a shot at Francis- and that his two cronies will have their hands full- that he can guarantee. Rick pantomimes for him not to, but Virgil says he’ll think about it.

After school, Rick tries to convince Virgil not to go, playing the pity card, that Virgil only just started warming up to him, and it took years– he doesn’t have that kind of time to break in another new best friend before high school ends. “Your confidence in me it’s, frankly it’s just embarrassing,” Virgil deadpans. Virgil tells Rick, when he threatens to stay with him the rest of the day, that he won’t go. Rick cops to the fact that he’s got a dentist appointment, so it was a bad bluff, but he appreciates it, really. He’ll sleep better- and that if Virgil wants to come over after his appointment, they can game or something. Virgil tells him he’s got a lot of homework, a big paper due. Rick eyes him, but decides to trust him.

We cut to later, as lines are being drawn. One of the gang leaders chugs a beer, crumples it and throws the empty into the street between them, says something to the effect of they might as well get things started. The Big Bang lights off. During the fighting, Virgil is able to isolate Francis and get in a few good licks, before the cops arrive. They barely hesitate before showering the place in tear gas. I imagine we pop into a police helicopter for a moment, where the officer weighs whether or not it violates the safety instructions to fire a second cannister into the smoke, and decides to, anyway.

We cut away as Icon tells them the plan, that he, Rocket and Hardware will start out the evening at three different locations, starting havoc, setting charges, destroying caches; while coordinated, they’re also coordinating to leave open the possibility of accidents or industrial sabotage- at least as long as possible.  

We cut back to the Big Bang as the sun starts to set. The cops go into the smoke with riot gear and gas masks, thinking that’ll protect them. They walk into a Cronenbergian body horror exhibition, with several of the gang members mutating in real time before their eyes. We spend a few minutes with the cops, who freak out and just start shooting everyone they see, until the first of them says he thinks there’s something wrong with his mask, reaches up and realizes the gas has eaten through the plastic shield of his mask. He collapses to the ground and starts convulsing, and one of the cops shoots him. I think from here the exposed cops retreat out of the gas; the other cops refuse to let them rejoin their line, so they form a second ring within it, to keep the gang members in the smoke.

Icon finishes destroying the conveyance of both legs of a smuggling handoff, and cocks his head, smiling as he hears an approaching siren. He turns, as Hardware lands relatively quietly behind him. Hardware informs him of the news- a riot breaking out amongst two rival gangs, with the cops on the scene shooting. Icon calls Rocket over the radio, and she says she heard, “And he was so worried your old ass wouldn’t know how to work a radio, he schlepped over to you.” 

The three heroes fly to the scene of the riot. At first they’re horrified, as the cops just outright murder injured gang members- most of them underaged kids. Then they see one of the shot gang members get back up and tear the cop who shot him in half. They spring into action, Icon telling them to stem the loss of life- all life. He tells them to handle the gangs- that he’ll move the cops back- the last thing a situation this complex needs is cowboys shooting blindly into the smoke.

It’s Rocket that finds Virgil and shakes him awake. He was passed out beside Francis. He says he doesn’t feel good, but says he should be able to walk. “I was less worried about you walking than who was going to carry your unconscious cuddle buddy,” she says, nudging Francis with her foot. A cop pops out of the smoke, too close for Rocket to respond. Virgil, instinctively, puts up his hands, tearing a manhole cover out of the street and shunting it between Rocket and the policeman’s shotgun as he fires. The cop cocks his head, before Rocket punches him. Rocket and Virgil exchange names, and as their guards are down, Francis, now the powered F-Stop, jumps up. Virgil again puts out his hand, and the manhole cover smacks Francis, putting him back on the ground. Rocket asks Virgil if he’s good, but doesn’t wait for confirmation as she disappears through the smoke. Virgil continues to play with the manhole cover, sending it flying left, then sending it flying right, but too far, where he looses control of it and we hear it clang into someone, who groans. Virgil glances around, before saying, “He did it,” and pointing at the unconscious Francis.

We cut to a couple of bangers who came armed. “Pigs are armored,” one of them says. The other says that means it’s open season on bacon. They start shooting into the smoke in the direction of the police line. Hardware walks into their hail of gunfire, bullets pinging off his armor. He reaches forward and grabs their guns, crushing them, then grabs them, and pulls them into the smoke.

Icon floats in the air above the gas. A policeman in the helicopter he’s been trying to shoo away fires off a burst of bullets that bounce off of him. Icon glares. “You okay?” Virgil, who’s awkwardly floating on his manhole cover, asks.  He’s about 80% of the way there to being Static at this point (design-wise; he tore the bottom half of Francis’ t-shirt to make himself a mask, even). Icon says it kind of tickles… but he’s not sure how to get them to shove off without knocking their helicopter out of the sky- which could be dangerous. Static says he’ll give it a try. He magnetically bends the barrel of the gun that moments before was used on Icon, then gestures for them to shove off. The pilot doesn’t hesitate.

Icon smiles at him, then wonders if he has any thoughts about breaking the police line. He asks Icon if he really just asked him to “Fuck the police?” Icon says he’s certain he didn’t use those words, but he would appreciate the help- nonlethal, of course. Static looks up the block, and notices their cars are all in pretty close proximity to some street lights. He relates that his physics teacher told him that electricity and magnetism are just different names for the same phenomenon, so he might have an idea. He claws his hands across the air, and the metal lightposts warp enough to shatter their bulbs, ever so slightly angling their exposed wiring towards the cops. Then electricity leaps from the lights, burning the paint off the cars. The cops who had been holding the line behind the cars run; without them keeping the exposed cops in a smaller circle, they too, flee.

I think at some point in the fighting I would cameo a lesbian couple, who eventually hero under the names Donner and Blitzen but for now run a coffee shop on the nearby corner, and were caught in the gas as it wafted through. Donner is a big blonde German powerhouse, and Blitzen is a Japanese speedster. It’s more a cameo, though it probably wouldn’t hurt to cast them now and just assume they’ll get more play in the sequel, but they help keep the bangers contained and pedestrians/passersby safe. Probably they stop and pose at the end of the fight, with the other heroes. 

Between Static and Icon, the cops get the message, and leave. Hardware says the equipment in his suit has analyzed the gas, and confirms it was the compound he was working with, but at a much greater concentration; he confirms that it’s relatively harmless in lower doses. Icon does a couple of quick fly-bys to suck the gas away with him, cutting its concentration to safe levels. Static helps by plonking the blades off the helicopter he grounded and using them as a big fan.

Most of the remaining gang members, no longer feeling hidden by the gas, and even with powers don’t want to fight heroes. Maybe the gang leaders and their respective entourages do, with Virgil having to help take down the one who he was quasi-friendly with. The cops try to come back, looking for payback, after getting chased off. The heroes stand between them and the captured gang members to prevent a bloodbath, until live TV crews are on the scene (or maybe enough of a crowd gathered filming with camera phones is a better modernization).

Alva blames the issue with the gas on the police adding a radioactive isotope to help them track people from the ‘riot.’ Because of his wealth and reach, the media largely go along with it, and the stink stays off him. But privately, he’s pissed. He lost millions, and his contacts in organized crime all saw how much egg he took in the face. But that’s fine… he’s pretty sure he knows at least one person he can make pay.

He stampedes into Curt’s lab the next day, flanked by security personal in a flying V. He accuses Curt of misusing company property, and says he’s already been in contact with his lawyers about suing him for any damage done to the exoskeleton prototype. Curt acts surprised, and says he has no idea what he’s talking about- he’s been working in the lab all night. He pulls up the security feed, which does, indeed, show him hard at work. Alva demands to have the footage authenticated, and storms out.

Curt talks to Arnus and Rocket over lunch in the park, all of them in their civilian clothes. Curt explains that he’s never really trusted Alva, always figured there would come a day when he was going to have to go against him, and need some cover. First project he undertook working for him was worming inside his security system, and capturing enough archival footage he’d have just about any kind of loop he’d need. Didn’t hurt that he had been working a lot of late nights, after his proposal for a royalty sharing agreement- he figured he was demonstrating value, that he had a dozen ten-million-dollar ideas he’d planned to give up to show his own good will. Rocket asks if they’re better ways to kill people, or things that might do somebody some real good? Curt tells her that most any idea can be used to hurt people, or help them, if you’re clever enough, but that these ideas are some of his most clever- he thinks he could change the world, so long as Alva doesn’t stop him from putting these patents out into the world. Arnus tells him he’s got the resources to make sure they go public and stay public… that maybe he’s been thinking too small, about only helping himself, when the best way to help everyone up is to lift everyone up. He and Rocket exchange a knowing glance.

I think we shoot to credits, just the cast, real quick, then do an early credits scene, Rick confronting Virgil. Virgil thinks he’s in for it. He’s already had an ass-chewing from his mom, because he’s bruised up and obviously been fighting. And he just doesn’t have it in him- he could have died and he knows he was an idiot and- Rick latches onto him like a scared baby koala, and tells him how scared he was. He saw the fighting and that the cops were there on the news and Rick just knew that Virgil was there, and he wouldn’t pick up his phone and- we pull back, and Rick realizes they’re floating a few inches off the ground. He lets go of Virgil, and drops. Virgil tells him that the gas the cops used changed him. He can manipulate metal and electricity. He wants to use what he’s got to do good, and he’s been thinking names. We’ll throw out some others, either jokes or references.

“Lightning Lad?”

“What is it the 50s? Black Lightning?”

“What is it, the 70s? Also, I think there’s a guy.”

“Magnet-o. Mag-neat-o?”

“What is it, the 80s? Plus Disney has very scary lawyers.”

“Maybe we ditch the call and response. What is it, the 90s?” They both turn to camera and stare for a fraction of a second too long. We’ll do some fast-cuts now to burn through a few more.  


“Electric Boogaloo?”

“Racists ruined that one,” Virgil says.

“Man, racists ruin everything,” Rick says, and Virgil shakes his head in agreement. “Electro?”

“Marvel did it.”


“Feminine. Also, Marvel did it.”

“Man, what didn’t Marvel do.”

“A Black superteam,” Virgil says.

Virgil pauses. “How about Static?”

“Like cling? Like if this is about the hug… I don’t like the term needy, but I was scared for you. I thought maybe I’d never even see you again.”

“No,” Virgil insists. “Static.”

“Like what you give your mom?”

“Like what I’ll give to cops, and bangers, and whoever else needs it.”

Editorial note: You may have noticed I’m capitalizing Black when it refers to the cultural identity, but not white. On grammar grounds I couldn’t make the switch; I agree that white shouldn’t be capitalized because it’s not a monolithic cultural identity, and I think Black is the same (I just don’t think my high school gym teacher from Compton’s experience was anything like Barack Obama’s, just as as an example). However, after the 2020 election, when Black voters pulled our collective asses out of the fire, again, I decided that grammar wasn’t the only metric to judge this by. I’m capitalizing Black as a sign of respect for people our country has repeatedly harmed, but who have repeatedly fought to save us from our worst selves. Mistakes may happen along the way, of course- grammar me and socially-conscious me aren’t always working in tandem. I’m uncertain about my back catalog… it’s a pain largely inflicted on my editors and formatters if I try to change that, too, but I am considering it, as well.

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 21

Twenty-One, Paris, 4/14/45, 7:42 PM local time

Jack had checked the address twice since arriving. He was in the right place, but nothing about being here felt right.

He sighed. Standing in the hall wasn’t going to change a damned thing. He knocked heavily on the door, each subsequent impact heavier, and louder, the last artillery fire beside his head. From inside he heard a woman’s sing-song voice as she slid the bolt open. Flossy opened her door wide, grinning happily.

Her smile faded when she saw him. “Oh,” she said softly, and glanced up and down the hall. She stumbled, her legs going out from under her. Jack managed to catch her under the arms, and steadied her against the wall.

“You okay?” he asked.

“No,” she said, “not since I heard the news about Goethe. All those people… I’ve dreaded seeing you again, though,” she shook her head, “I knew I would.”

“I’m so sorry,” Jack said.

“Of course,” she said. “But come in. You travelled a long way to bring me news. You shouldn’t have to give it in the hall.” She turned around, and led him inside. “Sit, please,” she gestured to a recliner. “I have tea that should be ready any-” her kettle began to whistle from the kitchen, “I’ll be right out with it.”

Jack sat down in a recliner with a musty smell, and a doily balanced on the headrest. He could feel a pair of spectacles in his shirt pocket, and shuffled uneasily. “I should have asked, but I hope you take tea and honey,” Flossy said, emerging from the kitchen with two cups, each balanced precariously upon a saucer. She held one out to Jack, her hand trembling enough as she stretched to spill onto the saucer.

“I never turn down anything sugary,” Jack said. “Never know when you’ll need the energy.”

“Do you like the pattern?” she asked, staring at her own cup. “Heinrich bought the set on our honeymoon. We went to Prague. He has family in Prague.” She frowned. “He did. They were taken, canaries in the coal mine. We thought, we thought maybe they bought us a chance to escape. We fled, but…”

“No one would take you,” Jack said, and the words burned. “It’s a lovely pattern,” he took a sip, “and the tea is exactly what I needed.”

“I think what I need,” she swallowed, “is to know what happened.”

“They didn’t make it,” Jack said.

“That I knew, the moment you arrived alone at my door. But I want- no, I need to know what happened. Because even the things I’ve heard about Goethe- I see worse in my nightmares. I can’t stop imagining the horrors they saw, or convince myself it isn’t still happening to them. I need to bury them in my own head, for that to stop.”

Jack reached into his shirt pocket and removed the spectacles. They were wrapped in a piece of paper, tied carefully with a red ribbon. “I think these belonged to-”

“Heinrich,” she said, and crossed the room to take the glasses from him. She unfolded the glasses, and set them on the mantle, beside a small picture of her husband wearing them.

“I met a very nice woman who knew your husband, named Caroline. They lived in the same room together, with a hundred others. The Nazis at Goethe were paranoid, always believing people were out to harm them. They would take people form their bunks at all hours. Usually they’d come back a day or more later, quieter, more cowed. Except Heinrich. He always came back just as defiant, just as biting.  

“The last time she saw him was different. They hit him with a club, knocking his glasses off his nose. It wasn’t the first time- because of his age and the way he spoke, people looked to him as a leader, so every time there was trouble, or the Germans became concerned there might be, they dragged Heinrich off to another room. He usually struggled-”

“My Heinrich would,” she said, his name coming out in a sob.

“and often they knocked his spectacles off, and she would keep them safe, until he needed them again. But he never came back. Still, she kept them, hoping, until she couldn’t stand to any longer; she kept them after that for you. She said she felt like she knew you, from his stories. She,” he held out the paper and ribbon to her, “she wanted to write to you.”

Flossy took the paper, refolded it, and wrapped it again in the ribbon. She caught a smell from it, and narrowed her eyes. “The ribbon was hers?” `

“Yeah, sorry, she was wearing it when she was taken, and clung to it. She thought it was her lucky charm, because she kept living, when so many others didn’t. She once fought another woman who tried to take it- though she laughs about that now. She wanted you to have that, too.”

“She sounds like a lovely woman. I’m glad Heinrich had… someone.”

“I don’t think she-”

“It wouldn’t matter,” Flossy said. “If she had, I wouldn’t hate either of them. The world was ending. They deserved whatever peace they could cling to.”

“It’s,” Jack bit his lip, “it’s okay, too, for it to hurt.”

“It does hurt,” she said, looking into him. “It hurts that my husband is gone, and I wasn’t there- couldn’t be there for him. It hurts that even that was taken away from me. But,” she frowned, as she considered her words, “I can’t help but hope they loved each other. It would be a less sad ending, or perhaps, perhaps I would just have someone left with me to grieve. Perhaps I do,” she said, putting her hand over the letter. “I will read what she wrote, and see for myself.” She took the hand away. “Later. What else did you find?”

Jack had to half stand to get the ring, with the Star of David with the inlaid sapphire, out of his pants pocket. It was charred on one side. He handed it to her. “I couldn’t find anyone who remembered her. She wasn’t housed with Heinrich, that I can tell you. From what I was able to gather, she and her husband were kept on the other end of Goethe. They didn’t let prisoners keep anything of value. She smuggled the ring in, and hid it any time she was likely to be seen by a guard.”

He pursed his lips, guilt gnawing at him. “After we landed at Normandy, the Nazis panicked, and stepped up the murders at the camps. They were working their way from the far side to Heinrich’s side. But Ruth and her husband, I think they were killed together. A very nice Brit by the name of Fleming helped me, track all of this down in a hurry. He works with the Resistance, but the reason I mention him now, his father worked with firefighters, cleaning bodies out of burnt-out buildings. The scorch marks, on the ring, he thinks that’s where the ring was exposed; where it wasn’t, the heat was blocked by their bodies.”

Flossy gasped.

“I’m sorry,” Jack said, closing his eyes against the depressive weight of it.

“No,” she said weakly, “I need to know. It’s how we remember those we’ve lost. It’s how we strengthen our resolve. Now please, tell me what happened to the children.”

“The children,” Jack said, his voice weary. “I think I found their remains. They burnt a lot of the records, once they realized we were coming. But what we were able to piece together, from survivors and the things they didn’t have time to burn, they kept the young children alive. A man named Heshell convinced the Germans to use them around the camp, little work for little hands. Except, once they realized we were coming, they-” the words caught in his throat.

“Please,” she said, “finish.”

“The ovens were going nonstop, operating past capacity. They discussed building gallows, but the wood they wanted to use disappeared in the night. They knew they couldn’t hold the camp, not in the face of the Allied advance. Which meant they had a lot of extra bullets. They set the children to work digging a hole. They worked them past the point of exhaustion; some died digging. When the Germans felt they could delay no longer, they lined the children up at the edge of the pit and shot them in waves. I stayed a day, to help with the digging at the hole, digging up all those children. We found two girls and a boy with long hair, still clutching each other, shot several times each.” a tear slid down Jack’s cheek.

“They,” he downed a gulp of tea so he could keep going, “they would have died quickly. Barely suffered,” he said.

She stood up, and walked slowly across the room. She pulled him to her chest, and gently patted his back. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled, “you shouldn’t be the one comforting me.”

“No,” she said patiently, “it’s good. It’s been too long and,” she swallowed, “it may be for the last time. It’s good to feel needed, necessary. And we’re helping each other,” she said, and squeezed him harder.

“I’m so, so damn sorry.”

She huffed, a noise too heavy to be a laugh but too light to be a sigh. “You’re a good boy. You did more to help one old woman than a country… than a whole world.”

“It wasn’t enough,” Jack said. “It couldn’t be,” she said, “because you couldn’t bring them back. No one man alone could heal a world so sick, or save us from ourselves. But together,” she pulled him so tight she lifted him off his chair, “perhaps we can weather the storm.”

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 20

Twenty, Baghdad

“Ready to roll out the welcome mat?” Jack asked into his headset.

“They fired a volley of poorly aimed rockets over a civilian population,” Hugh said over comms, “I’m eager to return the remaining shrapnel to them.”

“Please remember this is a hostage situation, so not everyone inside is a combatant,” Ian said into his radio.

“Please,” Hugh said. “I’ve got thermal scans of the building. Your entrance will be on the opposite side of the building. See you on the south side.”

Jack watched the flare from Hugh’s engines as he descended from a holding pattern above them into a parabolic curve, before flying just a few feet overhead, and crashing through the warehouse wall. Hugh landed in a crouch, and was almost immediately hit with gunfire. “Really?” Hugh’s voice roared over a speaker. “I wasn’t angry enough with you?”

He stood, planting his feet, and raised his hands. The stabilizing engines on his palms fired once, knocking the gunmen off their feet.

“Suppressing fire,” Jack called as he ran past Hugh. Return fire from Ian and Jalal crackled off from behind them, keeping the gunmen down.

“Do yourselves a favor,” Jack said, not slowing down as he knocked their weapons away, “and stay down.”

“Or don’t,” Jalal said, slamming a new box magazine into an M249 SAW.

“You got them?” Ian asked.

“They’re gotten.”

“Good.” Ian paused and used a knife to cut open a plastic bag full of zip ties, before scattering them on the floor. “Cuff yourselves and help each other tighten them. When I get back, anyone whose cuffs aren’t tight loses a thumb. Anyone not cuffed at all loses both.”

Hugh followed him after Jack, and once they were around the corner asked, “You wouldn’t really take their thumbs, right?” Ian raised an eyebrow. “You have a thumb collection, don’t you?”

“Not one anyone will ever find,” Ian said.

“You scare me enough sometimes I’m never sure if you’re kidding.”

“That uncertainty is my fish and chips,” Ian said, “though I’m sure you know, if the queen asked, there isn’t a set of thumbs I would not collect on this entire planet.”

“That’s a weak bluff,” Hugh said. “Angela? Laney.”

“She wouldn’t ask it if weren’t necessary, and if it was, I would do it, however reluctantly.”

“You two planning on helping?” Jack grunted over his headset.

“Sitrep,” Ian barked.

“Pinned in the hallway. They’re-”

“In the room at the end, far right,” Hugh interrupted. He held out his arm, and projected a schematic of the buiding onto the wall, and overlaid a heatmap over top of it. “We’re still in my satellite’s footprint for another minute or so.”

“I’ll take up a position here,” Ian said, pointing at a window in the exterior of the building, opposite Jack, “see if I can’t relieve the pressure.” 

“This wall,” Hugh said, tapping the far wall on the map, “is weak, especially for an exterior. Records show it was once a receiving bay. They didn’t bother to reconfigure, put more supports in it, they just boarded it up.”

“Kool-Aid Man?”

“I really hate when you call it that.”

“You are going to walk through a wall,” Jack said. “It would only be more appropriate if you said, ‘Oh Yeah’” when you did- ah!”

“I hope that hurt,” Hugh said.

“Just hit the door jam. But on that subject, I’d appreciate help sooner, rather than later.”

“Could I get a hand through this window?” Ian asked, stretching towards an outward-opening window some eight feet in the air.

“You shouldn’t need one; you’ve got hundreds of thumbs stashed away,” Hugh said, stepping into the hall and kicking his engines on. He roared down the hall, towards the hole he’d torn in the side of the building.

“I think we upset him,” Jack said.


“I didn’t say we upset him equally.”

Ian dragged a chair towards the window. “You’re lucky there’s plenty of lightweight furniture left in this place,” he jumped, catching the windowsill with his fingers, “and that,” he grunted loudly as he pulled himself up to the window, “I can still do a proper pull up at my age.”

“Yes, we’re so fortunate that you can still, ahem, get it up,” Hugh said, over the crackle of his engines.

“Why are you counter-punching me?” Ian asked, rolling sideways through the window, onto the ground.

“You were just hanging there, like a punching bag,” Jack offered.

“I changed my mind,” Ian said, prone at a window, aiming his shot. “I don’t owe Jalal enough to put up with this. Let’s just leave Jack here, go get milkshakes. My treat.”

“Have to pass,” Hugh said. “That much dairy does bad things, especially when I’m stuck in the suit.”

Ian saw one of the kidnappers raise an MP9 in Jack’s direction. He exhaled, and put a bullet through his arm.

“Ingress in two, one,” Hugh’s suit stepped through the wall, sending a cloud of drywall dust and chunks of wood sweeping through the room like fog on a light wind. Ian glanced away from his sight towards Jack, but he was already gone.

Ian swore, and turned on the thermal scope on his rifle. He saw Jack and Hugh wade through the remaining kidnappers as big red blobs. One of them tried to hide behind two people sitting in chairs. Ian watched as he raised a gun- though the gun was a cold spot in front of him. “Naughty,” Ian said, before drilling a shot through the kidnapper’s thigh.

The dust was already beginning to settle. Hugh flicked one kidnapper in the head with enough force that it knocked him unconscious. Ian fired dead center into a kidnapper trying to sneak a knife between Jack’s ribs from behind. “Thanks,” Jack said, as he threw a haymaker into the jaw of the last of the kidnappers.

“How are our prisoners?” Ian asked over the headset.

“Seem preoccupied over the prospect of losing their thumbs,” Jalal replied.

“That’s a good answer. Tell them to lay on their chests and not to move. I’ll be there in ten seconds or so. Go down the long hall. Jack will meet you. There are two lovely young women eager to remake your acquaintance.”

Jalal sighed, “Allah be praised. No thanks will ever be enough.”

“If you hadn’t saved me, I wouldn’t have been here to return the favor.”

“Then we’re square.”

“Of course not. We’re friends; we don’t keep score anymore. And if we just leave you here, we’ll be back in another week rescuing you all over again. Now stop talking to me and go see your wife and daughter.”