From the Mind of Mr. Zeus, part 11

Here’s the latest issue of the quarterly ‘Official Mr. Zeus Fanclub Newsletter’ for your (hopeful) enjoyment and entertainment. (For the first 10 installments, follow the ‘Mr. Zeus Posts’ link at the top of the page.)

“Close Call!”

I have mentioned in the past that I work out in my basement, both for exercise and as a stress-reliever. I have also mentioned that I sometimes will change things up by flying — very fast — to the middle of nowhere and letting loose — punching, pounding, digging, stomping on very large rocks, the ground, etc. I’ve even been known to carve large objects into a hillside or rock quarry. On one occasion, though, I got sidetracked and never made it out to the “badlands” for my “work out”. And I’m very glad I didn’t, ‘cuz I met my “neighbor” (though he lives a couple hundred miles away) for the first time, and he has been a good friend ever since.

I’ll call him “Joe” in order to maintain his privacy. Joe is a rancher with many acres of property out in Texas. (Montana, too, but he rents that out.) On the evening we met, he and his ranch hands were rounding up some cattle, and I hovered above (and out of sight) to watch. A thunderstorm was rolling in, and they were trying to get the animals — at least 1000 of them — back to the barns before it hit. I kept an eye on the stormclouds and realized that they were moving pretty fast. I also noticed that the cattle were being led across an old, dry creek bed at the foot of some hills with some leftover snow at their tops. I’m no outdoorsman, but something I’d read or seen made me think that the cattle were in danger of being caught in a flashflood, if they didn’t get well away from that creek bed.

I landed around the bend so as not to spook the animals or the men, then I walked up to the nearest hand and asked him who was in charge. Joe rode over and I quickly explained who I was and what I saw. I suggested that I probably had enough time to fly all the cattle — two at a time — at superspeed back to the barns. But, after two trips, I could see that the poor critters were really freaked out, and Joe agreed that we shouldn’t traumatize them if we could help it. The storm was thundering and almost on us, and I suddenly got an idea… Long story short, I managed to dig a big trench half-way around the two nearest hills, buying Joe and his men enough time to get the rest of the herd across the creek bed and around to the other side of another (large) hill before my makeshift moat overflowed and the water rushed down the creek bed. It was raining pretty hard by then, but the barns were only a half mile away, and the lightning & thunder gave everyone — including the cattle — extra incentive to move faster.

Afterward, Joe invited me inside to dry off by his fireplace. We shared a couple of beers and really hit it off. In fact, I drop by his place whenever I can, now. Weather permitting, we typically sit on his porch and admire the view, while talking about whatever’s on our minds. Sometimes it’s business (his or mine), sometimes it’s personal. We talk about sports, politics, religion & philosophy, law enforcement, current events,… whatever. Joe is about 20 years older, so he treats me sort of like a son, which is fine by me. (His son died of cancer as a child, but he has a daughter in grad school.) I love listening to his stories about ranching and serving in the Army and just life in general. He’s a common-sense kind of guy, and very sharp — streetwise, which is an odd term to apply to him, since he doesn’t care for the city. I’ve spent many evenings with Joe, just “jawin'” and listening to his wise words. (Btw, his wife Judy is an awesome cook and a smart, terrific lady, too.) When Joe’s 80-year-old father, Big Jim, joins us, that’s the best! Jim is a real trip, very funny, and also one of the wisest men I know.

“A Man of Many Words”

Someone asked me the other day about my reading tastes and habits. A bit of an odd question for someone like me, since most people assume I don’t have much brains — or intellectual curiosity — to go with the brawn. I’m no genius, but as most of my fans know, I do read on various topics. It’s a practice I started as a kid, slacked off on for a few years, then resumed when I became a superhero. In the past, I have recommended that superheroes get a foundation in various subjects to help with solving crimes, perfecting one’s abilities, dealing with tech, etc., and that involves reading.

I still do some reading along those lines, though I’m not at the moment. I’m pretty busy (see below), but I always try to set aside time to read during lunch (assuming I’m not eating with someone else) and for an hour or so before bed. I also long ago developed the habit of keeping a book with me — either hard copy or audiobook — when running errands or going to an appointment of some sort, when I might have a few minutes of waiting around. Why waste time twiddling my thumbs or flipping through magazines when I could be reading a good book, maybe even learning something? In addition, I usually listen to an audiobook or an educational lecture/podcast while working out in my gym.

What do I read? Well, on the non-fiction front I typically have at least a couple books in progress, sometimes three or four. Topics include American and world history (including biographies), politics & culture, theology, philosophy, popular science, and recently some on writing fiction. Right now, I’m reading a biography titled Churchill: A Study in Greatness by Geoffrey Best. It’s a tad dry in places, but any history buff will enjoy it. Churchill was a fascinating guy! I’m about half-way through a collection of essays by renowned economist Thomas Sowell, too. (Can’t remember the title at the moment.) It’s not as boring as it sounds. Sowell was a columnist for decades, and he wrote about all sorts of political and cultural issues. Very smart man! (His books on economics are actually pretty good, too, and geared more for the average reader.) I’m also just starting a book by Christian speaker/apologist Greg Koukl called The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between. Rather bold and intriguing title, eh? Koukl has a very engaging style and conversational tone, as he explains the basics of the Christian worldview as a picture of reality. So far, I’m impressed.

As for fiction, I read a mix of crime, spy thriller, mystery, action/adventure, sci-fi and fantasy. Over the past couple years, I’ve been re-reading some classics from Isaac Asimov, Philip Jose Farmer, Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, and other science fiction legends, as well as getting into some newer stuff — at least, new to me. So, for example, I recently read Asimov’s The Naked Sun (second time) and Haldeman’s The Forever War (first time), and I started series by David Weber, Robert Sawyer, and Kevin J. Anderson. I am now reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the first time. (Yes, I occasionally read young-adult fiction.) I’m a bit late to the party with the whole Harry Potter craze, since I’m finally finishing the series 10 years after the last book came out. Gotta say, though, I find them highly entertaining! Meantime, I am listening to an audiobook edition of Rules of Vengeance by Christopher Reich. It’s my second book by Reich, and he’s a nice addition to my “collection” of favorite authors. However, my other new discovery, which I enjoy even more, is Gregg Hurwitz. The first book of his I read — well, listened to — was Orphan X, which was excellent. It spurred me on to try one of his older works: The Crime Writer. Very different plot and protagonist, but also very good. If you like the above genres, then you’ll probably like Hurwitz’s stuff, too.

“Q & A”

You might remember an earlier issue of the newsletter where I answered a few questions that people at cons and book signings had been asking me. Of course, people (like, you guys) ask me questions by mail, too. So, I figured I’d round out this issue by responding briefly to a few of those here for everyone’s benefit….

Q: What do you do in your “down time” to relax? (Peter S. from Chattanooga, TN)

A: To be honest, I don’t have much down time, lately. I’ve told you about some of the activities I’m involved with (e.g., part-time crimefighting, working on ILEAD’s Hero Training Program, writing, public appearances, etc.), and they keep me pretty darn busy. But, as I explained above, I do quite a bit of reading — both fiction and non-fiction. My gym workouts are “down time”, I suppose, but hardly relaxing. Occasionally, I find time to chill out with a movie or TV series. (Confession: I own every single Star Trek series and movie on DVD. Also, Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica.) In fact, I have been known to host movie parties with friends at my place.

Q: Do you do any work for the environment? (Warren Z. from Portland, OR):

A: I assume you are talking about ecological stuff, protecting wildlife and things like that? Well, I have been involved in a number of clean-up operations following natural disasters — from hurricanes to oil spills. I am concerned about some ecological/environmental issues, but I’m not an activist, by any means. Also, my position is more conservationist than environmentalist. (See this brief explanation of the difference.)

Q: What injuries have you sustained while “adventuring”? (Kelly P. from Fort Hood, TX):

A: Several, but most mend within seconds, minutes, or hours (depending on severity), thanks to my enhanced healing ability. Also, my near-indestructibility makes is pretty darn difficult to damage me. So, for example, high-caliber bullets or explosives at close range might slightly bruise or scorch my skin, but not enough to slow me down, and that stuff heals really quickly. The more serious injuries were a few broken bones (e.g., 3 toes, left ulna, both femurs, 3 fingers, right thumb, 4 ribs) and some internal bleeding/damage from doing battle with the strongest and most powerful foes (e.g., CrimSun, Visigoth, Summerset, the Gargantosaur).

Stay strong!

Another issue hot off the presses!

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

From the Mind of Mr. Zeus, part 10

Guess what time it is, boys ‘n girls! Time for a new issue of your favorite super-zine, the Official Mr. Zeus Fanclub Newsletter. Let’s see what our semi-retired hero has been up to….

“Joy of a Child”

I did something fun the other day! Okay, okay, big deal, right? But, this was special.

You remember me mentioning last year that I was friends with an ILEAD agent and his son, Jason? Well, Jason’s 10th birthday was last week, and, super kid that he is, Jason decided he wanted to do something different this year. Instead of having a regular party and getting presents, he went to a pediatric hospital to play with and hand out presents to the kids who are patients there. (His Dad, “Agent Mike”, helped him raise money for the gifts by having a fundraiser in their neighborhood, supplemented by donations from Mike’s co-workers — a great group of guys ‘n gals!) Jason a bunch of friends dressed up as their favorite heroes — real or fiction — before showing up at the hospital. (Jason went as me, of course.) What none of the kids knew was that, when “Agent Mike” told me a couple days before what they were going to do, I decided to make a surprise visit — in full costume, of course.

I didn’t want to take away from Jason and his friends surprising the patients, so I gave them an hour to make their entrance, pass out presents, and get a couple games going. Mike and his wife caught it all on camera, which I watched later, and it was really sweet to see Jason & friends handing out toys and befriending the kids with cancer and other conditions, some quite serious. They really brought a lot of smiles! Then Mike called to give me the go-ahead, and I flew up to the big, bay windows, smiling and waving to the kids eating cake & ice cream in the 3rd-floor cafeteria. Seeing those kids’ faces light up even more when they saw me, I’m honestly not sure who was more thrilled, the kids or me. Then I went inside, where I talked to the kids, making sure to visit every one, signed autographs, and flew several around (slowly) either in my arms or riding on my back.

Seeing so many kids suffering with terrible diseases and injuries was heart-breaking. But, seeing and hearing how brave they were, listening to them talk animatedly about “regular” stuff, and being able to give them a few minutes of added joy, was also heart-warming. Sweet kids, too, and I felt really blessed by the whole experience. I’ll definitely be going back on a (semi-)regular basis.

“Big Relief”

I suppose the visit to the pediatric hospital might have been particularly meaningful for another reason, too. I haven’t said anything publicly until now, but I was recently hospitalized myself. A couple years ago, I told you all about my migraine headaches that I’ve been dealing with since getting my powers. I only have a truly bad episode two, maybe three, times a year, but they are whoppers! Neurologists couldn’t make any specific diagnosis, so I’ve just had to live with them, like 37 million other migraine-sufferers in the U.S. Of course, my extra-large body size and modified metabolism (which is at least partly to blame) mean that I have to take extra-large doses of painkillers. Other than that, I ride it out like anyone else. Until now…

You might also remember that my super-headaches started being accompanied by nausea — not unusual for other migraine-sufferers, but it was for me. Long story short, after brainstorming with Doc Matrix and a couple other big-brains, my regular neurologist (Dr. Beni Vaniswaran) came up with a new device to perform some new tests — ask him, I don’t understand it. In fact, I was visiting Dr. V’s office in the hospital, where he was going to explain their plans for the device, when I had my latest migraine attack. He was able to get me admitted, called in Doc Matrix, and the two of them worked 24 hours straight to get the prototype built. They put me through a battery of tests over the next few days — even after the migraine subsided — and figured out what was happening to me.

As it turns out, my unusual migraines are caused by sudden surges of some mutated hormone causing the blood capillaries in my brain to spasm. The nausea is a side-effect of my body’s immune system trying to neutralize the hormone, which was causing tiny cysts to form here and there in my brain. Fortunately, the cysts degraded naturally and were flushed out of my system. So,… the good news is that they now know what is going on in my head to cause these symptoms. The bad news is that they don’t think they can stop the hormone surges, because it has to do with my weird metabolism, which they don’t understand very well, yet. So, I’ll be going back for more tests, giving samples of bodily fluids, etc., every few weeks. On the other hand, the (second piece of) good news is that Dr. Vaniswaran and Doc Matrix have developed a nanite-based drug that greatly improves the effectiveness of my body’s delivery of the natural hormone-neutralizer. This should mean that the migraine episodes will be shorter, hopefully less severe, and the nauseous side-effect should be a thing of the past. Yeah!

“Spielberg Would Be Proud”

Here’s something you all might find interesting…. I met that mysterious new “hero”, Star Seraph. Not his real name, of course, but that’s what the media are calling him. (I even saw one news headline that read: “There’s A New Seraph In Town!”) For those of you who haven’t followed the sightings, his first known public appearance was when he stopped that nuclear meltdown in the Ukraine 6 months ago. Two months after that, he showed up in Italy to rescue hundreds of people during the earthquake. And, of course, last month he quite suddenly appeared in The Hague, Netherlands, where he made short work of the terrorists who were plotting to blow up the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. In each case, he just pops in, does his thing, and pops out without so much as a “Hello there. Happy to help. Bye, now!” And, since he teleports, no one has been able to track him. No one knows who he is, where he comes from, etc. We all appreciate his work so far, of course, but his deadly dispatching of the Hague terrorists has some a bit worried.

No one has gotten a clear, up close image of him on camera, either, partly due to his speed and partly due to the bright glow that always surrounds him. He did appear to be fairly humanoid in appearance, though. Since I have now met him, I can confirm that he does indeed look basically human, yet what some might call “exotic”. He is slightly shorter than I am (maybe a little over 6’6″), less bulky but still quite muscular, alabaster skin, angular face and almost non-existent ears. Not sure if he has any hair.

How did I meet him? He just showed up one evening, hovering over my backyard. For whatever reason, his glow was toned down, allowing me to see him, and I think he was wearing white, form-fitting “pants”, but no shirt or footwear. I cautiously walked up to within maybe 30 feet of him, tried talking to him, but he just watched me and listened. (Felt like I was being… assessed.) After about five minutes, he uttered one word, “Good”, before floating up and then teleporting away with a soft “Pop!” sound.

And that, my friends, was my “close encounter of the odd kind”. Probably won’t be the last….

Stay strong, amigos!

Finito.

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

From the Mind of Mr. Zeus, part 9

Time for a new episode… er, I mean, issue of the Official Mr. Zeus Fanclub Newsletter…

Anyone else think Thurman looks like this guy?

Anyone else think Thurman looks like this guy?

“Here’s Hopin'”

What do you think of President-elect Thurman?

You may have noticed that I don’t talk about politics or my own political beliefs much in the press or in this newsletter. Ever since my wrestling days, my friends, mentors, and agents all advised me to avoid talking about politics and religion, ‘cuz people are often very passionate about those topics and comments tend to touch off discussions that can get heated very quickly. Some people will go from mega-fan to anti-fan in a heartbeat! Best just to keep my semi-informed mouth shut. (Of course, sports is the third topic you’re supposed to avoid, but since I was a wrestler, people sort of expect it and don’t mind comments on that.) Well, I’m about to violate that rule just a little bit.

Truth is, I’m not a big fan of either of the big two political parties here in the good ol’ U. S. of A. Sure, my positions — those that I bother to think through, anyway — lean more one way than the other. But, I have no party affiliation and remain proudly Independent. Now, I’m not one of those who says there’s no real difference between Democrats and Republicans. Ideologically, at least, there are some quite obvious differences, which is why the true-believers on both sides knock heads so often. The problem is that too many politicians on both sides become more worried about prolonging their political careers than about doing much good in Washington. They make empty promises, go along to get along, and tax & spend without really solving the big problems. Same old, same old, every dang year. Aargh!

Thurman, though, seems to be enough of an outsider that he might be able to shake things up for the better. So, while I wasn’t a huge fan of his and couldn’t bring myself to vote for him, I do want to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s unconventional (pardon the pun and the understatement) and has some fresh ideas. I think he does have the best interests of this country at heart, and we should probably reserve judgment about his competence, etc., until he’s had some time to implement some policies and make a difference. God knows, there are enough opportunities for improvement in Washington and in the nation in general. I’m willing to put most of my doubts aside and see what happens. It’s not like we have much choice, anyway. The electorate has spoken, and President Thurman will be in the Oval Office very shortly.

Besides, he’s on record as being generally pro the superhuman community and supports ILEAD and the new educational program that I’m co-developing with them. So, that’s a good start! Maybe we’ll get more funding….

hpdseal“Hangin’ with the Local LEOs”

Speaking of law enforcement, here’s something you might find interesting. Several weeks ago, I was called in to consult on an unusual case with the Houston Police Department. Somebody was robbing wealthy citizens of jewelry and other items in their supposedly-secure home safes. After 3 months of such thefts occurring every couple of weeks, they had no helpful evidence and no suspects. Oh, they had trace evidence from most of the scenes, but it was weird and inconclusive. Plus, the perpetrator often managed to avoid or somehow neutralize electronic security measures (e.g., CCTV cameras, pressure-sensitive alarms, laser grids). In half the cases, the cops weren’t even sure how the guy(?) got in and/or out.

For example, in one instance the thief had apparently entered the house through a 3rd-story window; he tripped a motion-sensor alarm on his way out and was trapped in a storage closet. Except, when the cops got there, he had disappeared, leaving only — get this — a small pile of dead skin. (Eewww!) Another time, some cops chased him into a dark alley. They thought he was trapped, ‘cuz there was no way out but past them. Except, he vanished. The only thing the CSI guys found that was out of the ordinary was a strange, slimy substance of unknown origin along the edges of a drainage pipe.

The local LEOs realized they could use a little help but didn’t want to risk the Feds taking over the case. And, since I have a couple friends in the governor’s office, they called me. It took awhile, but eventually I remembered why the case seemed familiar. One of my last cases prior to retiring involved some guy who had recently acquired superhuman powers, but they kept changing every few days, and he had no control over those changes. He managed to figure out how to control each ability just long enough to commit some crime with it, then he’d wake up the next day with a different ability. My friends and I caught him by booby-trapping his three next most likely targets. When he showed up an one of them, he was shot with a dart containing some sort of “mutagenic neutralizer serum” that Doc Matrix cooked up. It stopped his mutations for roughly 72 hours, so we could capture him and ship him off to Stratford Supermax.

As it turned out, the same thing was happening to this guy in Houston, too. His name was Jeremy Craine, and he was a very talented cat burglar who recently relocated from Canada. Somewhere along the way, Craine had been tricked into getting injected with some mutagenic concoction that was rewriting certain parts of his DNA — those that researchers are finding connected with the emergence of superhuman abilities in many cases –, giving him a new ability every couple of weeks. The dead skin we found was a side-effect of using his teleportation power. The slime was something he secreted when he morphed into a slug-like form, so he could escape through the drainage pipe.

Anyway, since I had a hunch that our suspect was experiencing something similar to what that other dude did, I contacted Doc Matrix. Doc used the skin and slime samples to customize a neutralizer serum for Craine, which we injected him with when he fell for a trap we laid. Despite all the money and stuff he’d stolen, Craine was really freaking out about the uncontrollable mutations by then and was actually relieved when we caught him. Another crime spree stopped and another bad guy sent to prison. Doc is a consultant at the research lab at Stratford, and he agreed to make sure they have a regular supply of the serum. As long as Craine gets regular shots, his DNA should remain stable and (mostly) human.

menorahcross3d“Old-Fashioned Values”

A few days ago, I was interviewed for Action Magazine, and they asked if I was dating anyone. Fortunately, Olympia and I had discussed the fact that this would inevitably come up in the press, and we agreed to reveal our relationship to the general public when the time arose. (Of course, you guys-n-gals already knew.) So, I told the interviewer about our odd, long-distance romance. I mentioned that we went on three dates before I even kissed her, and the interviewer was really surprised. When I implied that we haven’t gotten any more intimate than that, and we even kept separate bungalows on our recent weekend getaway, the interviewer couldn’t believe it.

*** PARENTAL ALERT! ADULT SUBJECT WARNING! PARENTAL ALERT! ADULT SUBJECT WARNING!
The fact is, Olympia and I are both what some might call “old-fashioned” when it comes to stuff like that. We believe in self-restraint, personal responsibility, and that sexual intimacy is *not* necessary for a healthy, pre-marital relationship. So, we’ve agreed to take things reeeaaal slow. It sure takes a lot of the pressure off of us, and we don’t have to be pre-occupied with wondering about that stuff on our oh-so-infrequent dates.
***

The reason we both feel this way is due to our somewhat religious upbringings. For my part, I was brought up nominally Christian, with both Catholic and Baptist relatives. I never fully accepted all of the theology, but the conservative, Judeo-Christian values stuck with me. As for Olympia, her immediate family and a few cousins are from the Lutheran and Dutch Reformed strains of Christianity. She spent a couple of her rebellious teen years embracing old Germanic paganism, then became agnostic, until returning — sort of — to her roots while in her 20s. Like me, she’s still trying to figure our exactly what her spiritual/metaphysical beliefs are. But, she has decided to adopt the conservative, Judeo-Christian values instilled in her during her youth.

So,… there ya go! By the way, I am told that my interview will appear in the March 2017 issue, print edition, so keep an eye out!

Look at that! I talked about politics and religion and no fights broke out! No one unsubscribed, either! (I hope….) Stay strong, dudes and dudettes!

Das Ende.

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

Cypher

The following piece of original fiction is over 20 years old.

I seem to remember being inspired in part by a TV movie, but the title and plot have long since faded from memory. (Well, mine, anyway.) Originally, I wrote it longhand… in pencil. (You remember those, right?) But that copy disappeared, probably around the time I moved from NJ to FL 8 years ago. I thought it was lost until a few years ago, when I found a partially-corrupted text file version. I managed to salvage it, but the second half was gone. I was considering posting it here, anyway, but held off.

Then, a few days ago, while going through some old boxes of stuff, I found my handwritten copy with both parts! Plus notes to explain what’s going on! Yay! So, I’m able to share the whole thing. (There are additional notes for a Part III, but I’m gonna hold onto them, in case I ever get the urge to continue the story in another post.) Not that it’s anything fantastic. But, it was my first foray into fiction-writing since my college years, and I thought it turned out pretty good.

The style of narrative should be a familiar one: protagonist gets thrown into an awkward situation with little helpful knowledge (and, in this case, a dose of amnesia), and the reader discovers things at the same time as the protagonist does. I tweaked the text just a tad to eliminate an inconsistency and improve the flow, but it’s mostly intact here….

“Cypher”

Part 1:

bald-head-side-view-with-three-question-marks_318-48742Sand.

That was the first thing he was aware of when he came to. It was in his mouth, and it did not taste very good. He tried spitting it out, but he just got more sand on his dry lips. The gritty substance seemed to be all over him. He could feel it on his hands and face and in his clothes. As he started to turn his head, he became aware of a melange of odors assaulting his nostrils. Fish… dead fish and brine. That was most obvious. Wet wood, candy, rubber,… and a faint wafting of smoke.

He suddenly realized he had been lying face down in the sand and, apart from his feeble attempts at spitting, he had not moved since becoming conscious. He tried to open his eyes to see where he was, but there was only a gray fuzziness at the edges of a field of black.

“Am I blind?,” he thought. It occurred to him he should panic at that, but somehow it did not bother him too much. It was as if his subconscious knew the condition was either normal, or temporary, or both.

Slowly, however, his remaining senses seemed to start kicking in. He became aware of sounds, faint confirmations that the world around him was feeling a bit less out-of-sorts than he was. He heard, and then felt, the gentle surf lapping at his feet. His shoes and the lower half of his pantlegs were obviously soaked, but the water was warm and he felt no chill.

Hesitantly, he moved arms and legs into position and pushed himself onto his hands and knees. His whole body felt stiff and he sensed that he had a few cuts and bruises, but he did not seem to be in any real pain. His shoulder bumped something which, upon further tactile examination, appeared to be a log about four feet long and nearly a foot thick, lying on its side and slightly slick to the touch. As he eased himself into a sitting position on the log, he started trying to fit some of the pieces together.

He was on a beach somewhere, but he did not know which beach or even why he was there. Probably not to swim, as he was fully clothed and had no swimming trunks on beneath his pants. Judging by his physical condition, he had either fallen and injured himself, or he had been involved in some sort of scuffle and then abandoned. Had he been mugged? He had no wallet, but that was not proof in itself of foul play. He had no watch, but somehow he knew he neither owned nor needed one. Furthermore, he seemed to know exactly what time it was — 11:23pm on Friday, September 6, 2013.

He was, however, wearing what felt like a man’s wedding band on his left ring finger. Either he had stumbled across some rather inept thieves, or he could rule out being mugged. Beyond that, he had no idea where he was, how he got there, what happened to him, or, despite his uncanny awareness of time, how long he had been lying unconscious in the sand. What was most disturbing, however, was the fact that he had no idea who he was.

Part 2:

under-a-pier-at-night“Young man, I said, ‘Are you alright?'”

He jumped and spun around at the sudden sound, startled out of his introspection. Squinting into the darkness of his slowly clearing vision, he thought he could make out the stocky figure of a dark-skinned man standing less than twenty feet away. He had been so absorbed in his self-examination that he had not noticed the stranger’s approach in the semi-damp sand.

“Easy, son. I don’t want any trouble. I just saw you sitting there on that log with your head in your hands, and I thought you might be sick or hurt or need some help.”

The black man continued to appraise him with a kind but wary eye.

“Hey, is that some kind of karate move or something?”

Only then did he realize he had instinctively gone into a defensive, semi-crouching stance when he first heard the man’s voice.

“Tae kwon do, actually,” he responded automatically while taking note of how dry his mouth was. Sensing an absence of hostility from the stranger, he began to relax a little. How do I know tae kwon do? And how much do I know?, he thought. Judging by his reflexive actions of a moment ago, he was probably well-trained, at least.

“I took a class down at the ‘Y’,” he said. It seemed his instincts were also telling him “Never let the other guy know how much you know until absolutely necessary.” He could hear it in his mind, as if it were part of a lecture. But from where?, he wondered. Was it really from a public self-defense class?

“Say, you do look banged up a bit,” the stranger observed as he approached cautiously. “Why don’t you let me have a look? I’m a doctor.” The black man started giving him a cursory examination, then stopped. “The moon may be ‘big and bright’ tonight, but other than a couple minor cuts and bruises on your face, I can’t see diddly. Why don’t you come back to my place, and I’ll get you patched up and maybe throw in some hot chocolate if you like. C’mon, it’s only about a quarter-mile back up the beach,” he said, gesturing behind him with his thumb. “And, besides, it looks like we could both use someone to talk to tonight.”

He considered his options and, given his situation and the seemingly genuine concern and kind offer from this friendly stranger, he decided not to look a gift-horse in the mouth.

“Alright,” he said, “I guess I could use a little medical attention. And the hot chocolate sound pretty good, too.” Besides, he thought, if this guy was involved with whomever or whatever happened to me, why would he come back now? And why the ‘good samaritan’ act?

“Fine,” said the stranger, taking him by the elbow and leading him slowly back the way from which he had apparently come. “Lean on me if your legs seem weak or you feel dizzy. You may have a concussion. By the way, I’m Amos. ‘Dr. Amos J. Thibodeaux, M.E.’, if you want the business card version. But, you just call me ‘Amos’.”

The two began walking quietly side by side, each immersed in his own thoughts as the surf whooshed gently on the beach, making the occasional bid to caress their feet. The younger of the two glanced back at where he had just been and realized he had been lying just outside the shadow of a huge pier. On the land beyond the pier, he could see and hear the workings of a small amusement park. That would explain the cotton candy smell, he surmised, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a breeze tonight. I wonder how I could smell it so well, especially with the stinky dead fish smell being so strong. But, that should be the least of my worries. I still don’t know who or where I am or why I was lying unconscious under a pier in the middle of the night.

Notes:

bionic-eye-implanted-in-old-blind-man-to-seeo  He, aka “Cypher”, is a cyborg with an organic brain, cloned from one “donor” (supposedly without memories), but partially “programmed” with engrams of another. He has a computer-enhanced memory, processing, etc. Everything that happens to him or is detected with his enhanced senses is recorded and backed up to “the cloud” every hour. [I just added that bit, since “the cloud” wasn’t a thing when I first wrote this.] He can interface and up/download data on any known system.

o  Occasionally, he has memory flashes from both the original brain donor and the engram “model”.

o  Eventually, he will discover that his “creators” were not entirely benevolent and that he was programmed with some rather violent urges and deadly skills.

o  He also discovers that the incident which ended up with him being beaten and left on the beach was due to betrayal by another synthetic human.

Apparently, I later spent some more time thinking about how I might further develop this concept into a complex, three-part story. I had totally forgotten about it, but I found my old notes about this on another sheet of paper just the day before yesterday. So,…

Notes II:

First novel/chapter originally develops that Cypher was created by a benevolent organization, then it ends with a twist to indicate that Cypher was built by and/or working for “bad guys”. Second novel/chapter develops this further but ends with another twist, indicating he may have worked for/with “good guys”, after all. Third novel/chapter expands on this, finally revealing his true origins/mission. It would be something along the lines of:

1) “Created” by benevolent organization that was partially funded by U.S. Dept. of Defense.

2) Top-secret group within the intelligence community convinced (bribed? coerced?) one of the scientists involved to deliver the first successful “product” of the Proteus Project (i.e., Cypher) to them.

3) This group then trained Cypher/Proteus for an undercover mission to infiltrate and expose a rogue faction (“bad guys”) within the intelligence community.

4) While on this mission, he is ambushed, beaten, and left for dead on the beach.

– fake pulse is temporarily damaged
– experiential memory is 99% erased, and link to back-up memory is damaged; so, even if he knew he had it, he couldn’t access it
– eventually, limited self-repair of functions are able to restore the link

5) If Cypher ever gets full (back-up) memory restored, it won’t be until end of third novel/chapter.

There ya have it! The genesis of “Cypher”. Hope y’all found it enjoyable.

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

From the Mind of Mr. Zeus, part 8

The latest issue of the Official Mr. Zeus Fanclub Newsletter…

Hi, gang! (We need a name for my fans…. Zeusites? Zeusians? Thunderers? Help me out here….)

I think I’m gonna try a slightly different format this issue. Using a typical Question-n-Answer style, I’m going to address a few of the questions that people at cons and book signings have been asking me lately. See how many of them you already knew the answers to. Anyone who has heard me talk about all of these must be superfans! (Super-Zeusians?) OK, first up…

Q: What’s with the name of your newsletter? Do you think you’re brilliant or something?

The Birth of Minerva (by Rene Antoine Houasse)

The Birth of Minerva (by Rene Antoine Houasse)

A: Hah! Hardly! Growing up, I was a big fan of Greco-Roman mythology. I forget what grade I was first introduced to it, but I loved reading about gods and demigods and heroes and monsters and all that crazy stuff. Didn’t believe any of it, of course. But, that stuff is like comic books for the ancients. In fact, several heroes and villains I know or know of have been inspired by characters from those old tales. I’m one of them! You knew that, right? (A few even claim that they are those characters from the myths and legends!)

As Wikipedia will tell you, Zeus (aka Jupiter to the Romans) was “the sky and thunder god in ancient Greek religion, who ruled as king of the gods of Mount Olympus.” That’s why I incorporated the thunder-n-lightning shtick into my superhero identity. Anyway, one of Zeus’ many children was Athena (aka Minerva), the goddess of wisdom, courage, law & justice, and a bunch of other stuff. But, Athena wasn’t born the normal way. After sleeping with Metis, goddess of crafty thought and wisdom, Zeus remembered a prophecy that Metis’ children would be more powerful than their father. Rather than just killing Metis, he swallowed her; but, it was too late, because she had already conceived. Zeus later got a terrible headache and one of the other gods tried to help by splitting Zeus’ skull with an axe. (Doesn’t sound like “helping” to me!) When he did, Athena jumped out, fully grown and armed, and shouting a war cry. Weird, I know. But, that was the inspiration for the title of this newsletter. Plus, it’s sort of a play on words, since I, Mr. Zeus, am putting my own thoughts down on “paper”.

Q: Where do you live? Also, do bad guys ever find you and try to fight, even though you’re retired?

A: Well, now, if I told you (and everyone reading this, which might include bad guys) where I lived, then that would be a problem, wouldn’t it? Other than mentioning the region of the U.S. where I live, I have been very careful not to give away too much. There are three reasons: 1) fans, 2) press, and 3) villains. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love all my fans, and I really appreciate their/your loving me in return. But, just like other celebrities, I sometimes get hounded by the press, and I like to have a retreat to get away from it all. I don’t have millions of dollars, so I can’t afford a big mansion with lots of security like some movie stars, singers, and athletes. But, I found a modest-sized place where I can have some privacy.

When I was wrestling as “Hacksaw Jack”, my real name — Jacob Szymanski — eventually became known to the public. (I think it was in a magazine write-up about up-n-coming wrestlers.) When I started superheroing as “Mr. Zeus”, I didn’t advertise that I used to be Hacksaw Jack, ‘cuz I wanted my new career to be a “fresh start”. I originally kept an apartment and credit card in the Szymanski name; but, once I moved into the Atlantia Compound, I had living quarters and an expense account. When I retired, I legally changed my name, and my attorney and I created a network of shell companies through which I own my home, car, etc., and get paid for conventions, signings, royalties, and those other jobs I’ve written about.

Before you ask, no, neither my new name nor my company names have any connection to my old name or Greco-Roman mythology or anything like that. That would have been cool, but then the wrong people — from stalkers to former enemies looking for vengeance — would probably figure it out too easily. I’d like to avoid any such surprises, thank you very much.

dangerous-diamond-shaped-signQ: What does your family think of your superheroing? Have they ever been in danger?

A: I don’t talk about my family much, but here’s the scoop. My father died a long time ago, when I was a little kid. My younger sister died of a rare disease when we were teenagers. (One day she seemed normal, the next she started exhibiting weird symptoms. She was eventually diagnosed and within a few months, she was gone.) I never met my stepbrother, since he was in the military and deployed overseas when my Mom married his Dad. He never visited us, and then he was declared M.I.A. shortly after I graduated high school.

My Mom and stepdad weren’t exactly thrilled with my wrestling career, what with all of the violence. So, you can imagine what they thought when I transitioned into superheroic adventuring. Of course, once I showed them my newfound abilities — especially the invulnerability and superstrength –, they were somewhat mollified. As the months and years passed, and they saw not only that I could handle myself but that I was making a difference, they grew to accept my chosen profession and not worry about me so much.

I can only think of two times when they were in danger that had anything to do with my superheroing exploits. Once, early in my career, I was walking with them at night in the city, when we were mugged. Well, almost. There were street punks — one with a gun, and the others had knives. I hesitated to do anything for fear that my parents might get hurt; but then one of the punks made a move toward my Mom. I grabbed him by the wrist and flung him into the guy with the gun. Then… well, let’s just say that it helps to have skin that is impervious to most knives and bullets, though the guy with the gun didn’t even get off a shot. They weren’t in any shape to mug anyone for a few days after that, either. (We called the cops to arrest them, of course.)

The second time happened a few years later, when my Mom was at a concert with some friends. Some wannabe terrorist decided to blow up that concert hall with over 4000 people in it. He had no idea my Mom was there, but I did. I heard the call on a police scanner and rushed over. I found his bombs and, with the help of the local LEOs, got all but one of them defused without any casualties. (The final bomb had a glitch, and I managed to toss it into the bay before it exploded.)

By the way, my Mom and stepdad have since retired and moved… somewhere I won’t mention, ‘cuz they prefer the safety of anonymity. (They use government-approved aliases, too.)

Q: What’s happening on the writing front? Any books coming out?

A: I got a book deal! “But, don’t you already have one?”, you ask. “You’ve already written two books.” True, but Capes, Masks, & Tights — Oh My! and The Rise of Mr. Zeus are non-fiction and largely autobiographical. The sequel to Rise is still in the planning stages, too. But, this new contract is for a fiction novel co-authored with Phil Prendergast. Remember how I mentioned meeting him back at last year’s Hype City Sci-Fi and Comic Convention, and we discussed working together? Well, this is that. (Did you know that, before his success with “Shadows of Eternity” graphic novels, Phil wrote a half dozen popular adventure novels under the pseudonym “Taryn Vail”? OK, you probably knew that, but I didn’t. Shame on me.)

story-by-robert-mckeeI resurrected a few story ideas I had several years ago but wasn’t able to follow up on — being an unknown quantity when it came to fiction writing, no publisher was interested — and showed them to Phil. One idea was a heroic epic that takes place in ancient times. (Not sure if it will be in a real place like ancient Greece or some imaginary land like Cimmeria.) Another was a futuristic war adventure. One was a murder mystery involving a rather unusual and somewhat eccentric character. The last one was a straight-up superhero story.

Phil liked them all but favored the murder mystery, so once I flesh out the plot some more, he’ll write a first draft, and we’ll see how that goes. Meanwhile, he has agreed to be my writing coach, and now he has me reading Story by Robert McKee. (Highly recommended for all aspiring fiction writers, by the way. Peter David is another genre author who swears by it.) If the collaboration goes well and the book sells decently, there is an option for two more novels co-authored by the two of us. After that, I’m hoping for an opportunity to fly solo (no pun intended).

Q: What is your favorite color?

A: Purple, of course.

Q: What are your Top 3 favorite TV shows ever?

A: “24”, “Alias”, and the original “Star Trek”.

Q: What musical artist are you somewhat ashamed to admit that you listen to?

A: Err, Just… no, Celine Dion.

Alrighty, that’s enough of that! Stay strong, my friends!

End transmission…

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2016.

Three of a Kind (or, Who Is the Crimson Fury?)

Last time I presented one of my original fiction story ideas, it was about three adult siblings who gained amazing powers. So, this is (almost) deja vu 🙂 , except that, besides the “three adult siblings” protagonists, everything else about this idea is very different. The initial concept bubbled up in my mind some months ago, but I added a little more later and then fleshed out quite a bit of the details just this week. (That’s getting to be a pattern….) Here’s what I have:

“Three of a Kind”
OR
“Who Is the Crimson Fury?”

Philip, Derrick, & Terrell Jameson are identical triplets who grow up in a great, middle-class, African-American family. They loved rock & blues music and excelled in academics, sports, and martial arts. They attended the same university, majoring in business (Phil) and software engineering (Derrick & Terrell), eventually earning master’s degrees. Shortly after graduation, they went into business together and soon released their first software product. While celebrating their 26th birthday, a tragic accident(?) left their parents dead and Phil & Terrell missing but presumed dead. Fortunately, none of the brothers was married or had kids. Following a fairly quick police investigation that cleared the surviving brother of any suspicion of wrongdoing, Derrick collected a few million dollars in inheritance and insurance (from the parents’ policies), then cut all personal and professional ties and effectively disappeared.

The Jameson brothers as college freshmen

The Jameson brothers as college freshmen

What Derrick didn’t realize was that his brothers both survived. The explosion at the vacation cabin where they had been staying apparently blew their battered and burned bodies to the river’s edge; the current took them miles downriver, where they washed ashore. They were discovered and taken first to the closest hospital, then transported to one many miles away with a burn ward. The brothers remained comatose for the first few days. Once they awakened, it was discovered that they were amnesiac re their own identities (and familial relationship) and of the events leading to their burns and other trauma. Namely, Phil and Terrell both had 1st- & 2nd-degree burns on 75-80% of their bodies — hands, arms, legs, feet, back. (Could have been worse if they hadn’t spent hours in the cold river.) Their fingerprints had been burned off, too, which was another obstacle at identifying them. Fortunately, their faces and necks had only minor burns and would suffer no lasting scars. They also had an assortment of bruised and broken ribs and limbs.

After a few weeks, first Terrell and then Phil recovered his memory, but they remained in physical and psychological therapy at the hospital for many weeks. As soon as they were able, they set about tracking down Derrick — contacting friends, family, and associates; doing internet research; talking to cops and insurance investigators. Those last two groups were understandably interested in finding Derrick, so that they could properly redistribute some of the inheritance and insurance money. Phil and Terrell were sure their brother would be happy to see them and share the money, but at the time they had no money to spend on investigators or anything else. (Their only close relatives were cousins with a struggling farm in the Midwest.)

Eventually, they went on TV, asking Derrick to contact them or for others who might know where Derrick was to get in touch. Derrick, who had been living in isolation in a cabin in Canada, saw a newspaper article about the televised plea and the brothers were reunited days later. Once the lawyers and insurance people cleared everything up, Phil & Terrell returned with Derrick to his cabin. Determined to get back into the athletic shape they used to be in, the brothers adopted a rigorous training regimen. Meanwhile, Derrick shared with Phil and Terrell the research he had been doing on the cabin explosion that injured them and took their parents’ lives. Contrary to the official report, he did not believe that it was accidental. Furthermore, he believed that they were collateral damage in a larger web of corporate espionage and corruption at high levels. Once his brothers were convinced he was truly onto something, they began to discuss how they might set things right….

Jump forward to a few years later. All three brothers have fully recuperated and invested a lot of time and money (which they had invested quite wisely, while living very modestly) into implementing an intriguing plan. Using false identities, shell corporations, cover stories, etc., the Jameson brothers essentially fell off the grid. Having moved to a strategically-located area (and far from where they grew up, went to school, and worked), they now share a new, single civilian identity — Forrest Blaque, reclusive software engineer and entrepreneur. They continue to make and invest money under this name and BlaqueStar Software, while making few public appearances. (Note: All three now have identical facial hair, which they never used to wear, and haircuts. They already sounded and moved quite similarly.) They also share a single masked identity — the crimefighter known as the Crimson Fury — with a nearby base of operations at an abandoned factory/warehouse, that they purchased (through a shell company) and secretly renovated.

Crimson Fury - helmet, gloves, staff and nunchuksThe brothers share the same muscular build (5’11”, 190 lbs.), the same love of athletics, the same weight-training regimen, and they are all black belts in both aikido and taekwondo, including mastery of several weapons. The Crimson Fury costume incorporates some innovative materials, including a non-conductive, temperature-resistant outer fabric with an inner layer of impact-absorbant padding. There is extra protection in the gauntlets and helmet, though they are considering replacing the helmet with a reinforced cowl. Finally, they have loops, straps, and pockets for weapons, as well as a utility belt.

The three sometimes work cases together and sometimes individually, depending on the complexity, seriousness, and who’s available. They trade off on who appears in each identity, thus helping to ensure that none gets overworked. Whenever they go “out” in either guise, they use cameras, microphones, and GPS trackers to monitor and record their activities. This not only supplements verbal reports but serves as a “permanent” record for later study. After all, since they share an identity (well, two of them, technically), they need to know where each other goes, people encountered, what was said, intel uncovered, etc. This makes it easier to stay informed and maintain their identities. There is always at least one guy at home/HQ, doing research, keeping surveillance, and generally backing up whoever is “out”, while in near-constant audio-visual contact. Naturally, when “off duty”, they have to sleep, train, and run a small-but-successful software development business (though they do have an assistant or two for that last one).

The sorts of cases that the Crimson Fury works on vary, sometimes involving one or more corrupt and/or legit businesses, sometimes organized crime, sometimes government agencies, sometimes public servants, and occasionally other masked adventurers on both sides of the law. But, no matter what else they have going on, they always keep at least one eye on their main goal — uncovering the international network of white-collar criminals and government officials who are ultimately responsible for the deaths of their parents and many, many others.

Questions? Comments?

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2016.

Variation on a Theme, Fantastic Four: Tetras

As genre fans are well aware, authors/creators sometimes like to experiment with alternate timelines, mirror universes, and the like. Marvel and DC Comics do this all the time. It allows them to explore “What if?” scenarios, where key events went differently in world history and/or in the lives of certain heroes and villains. Sometimes they give familiar characters different abilities or put them in a different location or time period. Or, sometimes the stories involve familiar surroundings or thematic parallels but with a whole new cast of characters. (“Familiar Names, Unfamiliar Heroes.”)

fantastic_four_logo_ii_by_balsavor-d3em5aaI would be willing to bet that a fair number of you have come up with ideas of this sort, and, of course, I am no different. Some time ago, I began developing ideas for three familiar-yet-very different teams of heroes, which I return to from time to time. Just as the Fantastic Four were inspired by Challengers of the Unknown, this first team — “Tetras” — is based on the Fantastic Four. Mostly. In a nutshell, it is a self-funded band of explorers/adventurers headquartered at an underground base below a mansion in upstate New York. If they sound a little familiar, it is because I mentioned them in a “From the Mind of Mr. Zeus” post.

The members are…

Codename: Andronicus
Civ. Name: Thomas Leonard Carrington IV, 39
Occup./Bkgrd: physicist (multiple sub-disciplines) and engineer
Eth./Ntnlty: British(/Russian) expatriate living in America
Ht./Wt.: 6’7″ – 8’2″, 470 – 900+ lbs. (6’7″ is his normal height; he was about 215 lbs. before the disease brought him down to about 130 lbs. (from slender to skeletal))
Powers/Skills: He possesses both a super-genius IQ and superhuman strength (press 5-10 tons). Due to his size and personality, he can also be quite intimidating in person, even when not exercising his abilities.
Comments: Carrington comes from a very “well-heeled” British family. His Russian mother died when he was 5, his father remarried (an Italian artist) when he was 14, and his half-brother came along shortly thereafter. He was incredibly smart & industrious, earning two doctorates by age 23, but socially immature (partly due to a superiority complex). By age 30, he had earned quite a bit of notoriety as a maverick physicist, and a handful of patents (for inventions made in his “off time”) increased his fortunes, paying for his private, subterranean lab (including a small supercollider). He then developed a degenerative disease, his body wasting away while his mind remained as lucid & brilliant as ever, resulting in the proud scientist becoming a recluse. Since the accident that transformed the members of Tetras, his already amazing IQ has increased, while his frail body has become large & muscular and looks somewhat like artistic renderings of what Neanderthal man may have looked like, but much bigger — think DC’s Blockbuster or Marvel’s Mr. Hyde. Under normal circumstances, he can pass for a taller-than-average bodybuilder. Under highly stressful conditions or when very angry or frustrated, he can mentally trigger a temporary growth spurt up to 8+ ft. tall and nearly 1/2 a ton, which also effectively doubles his already prodigious strength. Unfortunately, a side-effect of the physical and biochemical toll this transformation takes on his body is that it also dumbs him down to a “mere” 120 IQ while “hulked out”.

Codename: Solaria
Civ. Name: Alethea “Allie” Brown, 29
Occup./Bkgrd: personal physician and research assistant to Dr. Thomas L. Carrington
Eth./Ntnlty: African-American
Ht./Wt.: 5’9.5″, 135 lbs.
Powers/Skills: Allie’s ability to absorb and control large amounts of cosmic energy allows her to project this energy in blasts from her extremities, either offensively or to fly — or, with great effort & for a brief time, both. She was quite unsure of herself and her abilities when she first gained them, but her confidence has grown, and she now enjoys experimenting and testing her limits.
Comments: When Allie Brown first moved into the Carrington Estate to care for Thomas, she found the arrogant physicist to be both pitiful and maddening. Fortunately, she is a very patient and compassionate person. However, not only did she respect his incredible accomplishments, but over time she became fascinated with his towering intellect and the way he sometimes gained sudden insights, even into scientific disciplines where he did not specialize. She was surprised when he asked her to extend her responsibilities and become his research assistant. Since the failed experiment that mutated the four of them, giving them extraordinary superhuman abilities, Allie and Thomas have grown increasingly close. They have even developed romantic feelings toward one another, though neither would admit it.

Codename: Chameleon Kid
Civ. Name: Ramon “Ray” Alessandro Carrington (Thomas’s half-brother), 24
Occup./Bkgrd: playboy
Eth./Ntnlty: British/Italian
Ht./Wt.: 5’10”, 160 lbs.
Powers/Skills: Ray’s organo-crystalline body can be reconfigured into different shapes & textures. The diffraction of light around him which has a chameleon-like effect, allowing him to “blend” into his surroundings. He also possesses superhuman durability and the ability to absorb, “record”, and/or replay or redirect various frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum.
Comments: A fun-loving, spoiled rich kid, Ray is bright, with a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. But, he can’t keep a job, because he is irresponsible and tends to bore easily.

Mudslide might sometimes sorta, kinda look something like Clay-Face here

Mudslide might sometimes sorta, kinda look something like Clay-Face here

Codename: Mudslide/Vulcan/Terrus/Ferrus/???
Civ. Name: Christopher Vassar Blake, 35
Occup./Bkgrd: ex-Army Ranger (Sgt.); ex-black ops; personal bodyguard for Dr. Thomas L. Carrington and head of security for the Carrington Estate (inc. the lab)
Eth./Ntnlty: American (caucasian) fr. South Carolina
Ht./Wt.: 6’2″, 215 lbs.
Powers/Skills: He has the ability to temporarily merge/phase(?) his body with nearby rock, soil, mud, and metals and exert control over them (like Image’s Grunge). While doing so, he can choose to maintain a human form or some other form (e.g., rockface, pool of mud, pile/layer of dirt, etc.) However, those elements are still subject to normal laws of physics (e.g., rock cannot bend, nor can he change his physical state without the regular requirements of temperature, pressure, etc.). He exerts some form of self-directed telekinesis to move in these forms. He possesses limited invulnerability to projectiles while merged, though some energies may cause him to melt or fuse. From his military and intelligence training, he has expertise with various firearms & demolitions, as well as intelligence-gathering and associated technologies. He has also reached first-level Expert (E1) rating in Krav Maga.
Comments: Blake was briefly part of an unnamed intelligence agency’s black-ops squad before being discharged for insubordination, then hired by Carrington. He has a slight temper problem, but it usually only surfaces when something goes badly due to poor intel or (what he considers) incompetence.

Codename: n/a
Civ. Name: Jasper Binghamton Wellesley, 40
Occup./Bkgrd: Originally hired as Carrington’s butler/chauffeur shortly before his disease manifested, Wellesley soon became Carrington’s personal assistant. They developed an odd friendship and Wellesley was eventually promoted to head of household staff.
Eth./Ntnlty: British
Ht./Wt.: 5’9″, 150 lbs.
Powers/Skills: Trained as a 4th generation “gentleman’s gentleman” to British high-society, Wellesley has a wide range of training, including nursing, cooking, tailoring, defensive driving, as well as additional training in firearms, wilderness survival, and various emergency conditions. He is very efficient, thorough, and an effective manager of personnel.
Comments: Though not technically a member of the Tetras team (else they’d have to rename themselves “Pentas”), he is valued and well-liked by all, and his unofficial roles often include confidant and peacemaker. Ray Carrington insists on calling him “J.B.”, which annoys Wellesley, but he tolerates it. Essentially, the character is a cross between Batman’s Alfred and the Avengers’ Jarvis.

There ya go! Comments?

Not thrilled with the name “Tetras”, but it’ll do until I come up with something better. (Your suggestions are welcome.) I enjoyed doing a bit of mix-n-match with quasi-familiar powers & appearances. Throwing in a British “butler” as an unofficial fifth member was fun, too. I still need to flesh out my other two teams a bit, but I’ll introduce you to them down the road, eventually.

‘Til next week…

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2016.

From the Mind of Mr. Zeus, part 7

Trying something a little different this issue. I finally started messing around with HeroMachine.com’s online software for creating superhero/sci-fi/fantasy characters. There are a lot of options to choose from for various articles of clothing, facial features, weapons, etc. — some are great, some not so much. Of course, they can’t offer everything you can think of, so there are definite limitations. Limited number of poses, too. (Actually, 3 different male figures and 3 different female figures, but all in the same pose.) But, I can’t complain too much, since I have no artistic skill of my own. Eventually, I’ll try the 3.0 version, which is more advanced (and presumably has more options) but not as easy to use.

“Those Were the Days”

Mr Zeus - purple and yellow, beard and cape, lightningI found old promotional shots of me in a couple of my old “uniforms”, which I thought you might enjoy, so I scanned them in for this issue. The first one was, in fact, the one I wore when I first debuted publicly as a “costumed adventurer” (Is that the PC term?). So, naturally, it was inspired by my wrestling costume from back in the day. Of course, I didn’t look quite so “regal” when I was wrestling, and the beard was a bit bushier. But, I kept the longish hair, the cape (which I had to take off once I got in the ring but usually kept on when doing the hero thing), and the purple & yellow color scheme. I switched to pirate boots, which were still quite popular back then. They just seemed to fit the semi-classic look I was going for. And, of course, I added the jeweled belt.

Fun fact: The belt actually housed the small computer that controlled the circuitry in my costume, which absorbed & stored the electricity that I released in bursts from my gauntlets. *That* was the true source of my “lightning bolts”. Most villains — along with the public at large — assumed the bolts were part of my superpowers and never thought to intentionally damage or remove the belt or gauntlets.

The second superhero costume is from a few years later. I had decided to ditch the cape, cut the long locks, and go for something a little more militaristic. Changed the color scheme, too, which I thought worked really well. I never liked the placement of the lightning bolt on the chest, but I really liked it being blue. (As you probably remember, I used it again in my next couple costumes, but the bolt looked more “normal”.) Also, I switched over to “throwing” lightning from my new “power mace”, which eliminated the need for circuitry in the belt and costume/gauntlets. The computer and circuitry was self-contained within the mace, and it was programmed to operate only for me.

Mr Zeus - blue and black, scruffy wi goggles, maceThe cigar was a personal touch I added at the last second, since I was smoking it off-camera. When my agent first saw the pic, he almost had a fit, saying that the politically-correct crowd would accuse me of setting a bad example, yada yada, and that my popularity would take a hit with the general public. I insisted on keeping it, but the shots that ended up being used by magazines and such were without the cigar. So, my agent needn’t have worried. Since this particular pic was never used (to my knowledge), I guess this one is “rare” and a collector’s item of sorts.

In fact, I just decided… I’m going to have a contest. Send in one paragraph describing your favorite costume that you ever saw me wear (as wrestler or superhero or ???) and why you like it. I’ll choose my favorite three entries. Two runners-up will get a personalized, signed photo of me in that uniform. The grand-prize winner will get the same, plus a signed copy of the rare “cigar photo”. (That’s the only one you can’t write about.) I may throw a little something extra in there, too. Not sure what, yet. Be sure your entry is postmarked by July 30th.

“So Long, Soldier!”

Speaking of old memories, I recently attended the funeral of an old friend: Major Bad@$$. He wasn’t the most, uh, family-friendly hero. (Had quite a foul mouth!) Very violent, too, what with the heavy firepower and explosives. He had very little patience, even less mercy, and we fellow superheroes often had to rein him in from killing indiscriminately. If you remember him at all, you might remember that he came on the scene a couple years after I did, then disappeared a couple years after that. What you might not know is that Major was a wrestler, briefly, just like me. He went by the name “Danny Draco”, but he only wrestled professionally for one year before being thrown out of the Federation for erratic and dangerous behavior both in and out of the ring. I was the only friend he had from those days, but I could never get him to chill out or get counseling for his personal “issues”.

Another thing the public doesn’t know is that Major actually did eventually go rogue, killing a mob kingpin’s family, including women and children. He had been especially edgy in the days beforehand, but he wouldn’t talk about why. He finally just snapped. A small group of his colleagues (including me) in the superhero community had to bring him to justice. Unfortunately, Major wouldn’t come in quietly and was seriously injured in the battle, leaving him in a coma. He was still in that coma up until a week ago, when he had a serious stroke and died.

I can’t tell you Major’s real name, because his parents & siblings want to maintain their anonymity. They also requested that the news of his death not be made public, but they let me inform some in the superhero and wrestling communities. A few showed up for the funeral and/or the wake, but not many. He was not an easy guy to like, and frankly he was a pain-in-the-butt to work with. (Someone once remarked that he should rename himself “Major Headache”.) But, he did take down a lot of mobsters, drug-dealers, and various other scumballs. He even assisted in stopping an alien invasion one time. (Oops! That may still be classified. Forget I mentioned it.)

guns and grenadesOver the past few days, I’ve been thinking about those times I worked with Danny Draco / Major Bad@$$. One mission in particular stands out. Some wannabe dictator in Central America had hired a boatload of mercenaries, the worst of the worst, to be his army. He then launched a coup against the U.S.-friendly government of island nation of San Rafael. The U.S. government’s hands were tied, though I’m sure the CIA was mixed up in it, somehow. Anyway, at the request of a couple of our Central and South American colleagues, a half-dozen of us North American superheroes decided to, uh, unofficially intervene. The hostile army was headquartered at a military base they had captured, which included a massive underground bunker. Security was really tight, too. The eight of us heroes, along with a couple representatives of San Rafael’s duly-elected president, discussed and debated for a full day and a half how best to neutralize the enemy forces, while minimizing casualties and destruction of said base.

Major wanted to just storm the place from the start, but the rest of us nixed the idea. He didn’t say much after that, but I could tell he was getting *very* impatient to get on with it. When we broke for lunch on that second day, I noticed Major (and all his gear) was gone, and one of the Hum-Vees was missing. (Remember, he couldn’t fly.) By the time we realized what had happened, Major had already infiltrated the base. The rest of us arrived on the outskirts of the base and did some reconnoitering to a) see what the enemy was up to and b) try to figure out what Major was up to. Less than an hour later, we were just about to execute our plan whent there were a series of huge explosions, mostly underground, and practically the entire base imploded into the bunker.

As we found out later, Major had snuck onto the base and found his way to the armory, where he grabbed a few extra explosives and other gear to add to what he already had on him. Then, he quickly worked his way down into the bunker and strategically placed several high-energy explosives in structurally-crucial areas. Originally, he was going to wait to remotely detonate them after he got out. But, most of the army was gathered in a gigantic central hall, receiving instructions and prepping for an attack on the president’s palace that afternoon. Major saw an opportunity to take out virtually the whole army at once, even if it meant he probably wouldn’t survive. He was discovered and got caught in a firefight, but he managed to set off the explosives just as he dove into a reinforced shaft of some sort.

All that was left for the rest of us to do was mop up. We found Major alive the following day, trapped in that shaft, which was covered in some pretty heavy debris. With a combination of superstrength and telekinesis, we dug him out, along with a handful of other survivors. But, the crazy son-of-a-gun had managed to take out the wannabe dictator and several hundred brutal, bloodthirsty mercenaries at once, thereby saving untold death and grief for the people of San Rafael (and probably a lot more). And he was willing to sacrifice himself to do it. For all of his ridiculous bravado, violent tendencies, and other issues, that’s the kind of guy Major was deep down — a selfless warrior for freedom and justice. That’s the guy I choose to remember.

Sleep easy, soldier, and thank you for your service….

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2016.

Family Ties

I came up with an idea for these characters a couple years ago and have added to and tweaked it a few times since then. (In other words, same as usual.) I originally considered calling it “Sibling Rivalry”. But, as their story developed in my mind, there wasn’t much rivalry to speak of. Although, to be honest, most of the “story development” so far has been about the individuals and the superpowers they develop, and not much plot for a series. Then, I was gonna go with simply “Siblings”, which is accurate but sounded dull and non-descriptive. So, I changed it to…

“Family Ties”

Three siblings — ages 22, 20, & 18 — manifest superhuman powers at roughly the same time (though the odd timing isn’t discovered until later). But, instead of putting on tights and becoming costumed adventurers or masked vigilantes, they get “regular” jobs where they can use their particular talents, which are known by at least a few of their family and/or friends, peers, superiors. They are…

45584137-united-states-army-ranger-with-assault-rifle1) Robert O. Jenkins: The eldest, “Bob” (5’11”), develops chameleonic abilities that are initially limited to his body, but through practice can be extended to clothing and, eventually, to anything within 10 inches of his body (e.g., a gun, package, or other body). Essentially, he psionically bends or manipulates light so that he blends into the surroundings. He joins the military (Army?), where he is trained in sharpshooting, infiltration, hand-to-hand combat, and rescue operations. However, the exact nature of his training, as well as his new abilities, are considered “classified”; he can’t even discuss it with his family.

abbe_dorn_in_illegal_streetgear2) Melissa A. Jenkins: “Missy” is a tall (5’10”), “big-boned” young woman (but not fat or chubby) who develops “weight problems” — i.e., her bone, muscle, and other tissue are all roughly 3x normal density. As a result, her weight triples from 170 lbs. to roughly 500 lbs. This, coupled with a superhumanly heightened immune system and healing factor, makes her incredibly strong and resistant to physical, viral, and bacterial harm. She drops out of community college and joins the State Police, where she also weight-trains, learns some martial arts, and hones her already-formidable skills at the gun range. She becomes the first participant in a new, little-known program to train law-enforcement officers with unusual skills and abilities.

terry-hollands-353) Matthew E. Jenkins: The youngest sibling is “Mattie”, a tall, chubby kid with an inferiority complex which is exacerbated by his tendency to overeat. By the time his power manifests, he is very overweight (6’4″, ~450 lbs.). His power is the ability to generate an energy field, either as a force-field radiating outward from his body or directed outward from his arms and hands, which can be mentally fine-tuned to deflect/reflect kinetic force and/or various types of radiation above or below the visible range (So, for example, he cannot become invisible, but he can insulate himself from temperature and pressure extremes.) He is hired by an industrial salvage & rescue firm, where his abilities are quite useful. (He also takes college courses on-line.) The nature and strength of young Mattie’s abilities are not public knowledge, though his involvement in a couple of high-profile rescues does get his face on TV.

It is hypothesized, and later proven, that the strength of Mattie’s energy projections are affected by both his body mass and his mental focus. With the aid of a personal trainer, a nutritionist, and a psychotherapist (all subsidized by his employer), he is eventually able to replace a lot of his weight with solid muscle (which is naturally 3x denser than fat), become more self-confident, and improve his mental discipline.

Beyond this, the first story-arc would follow their lives individually for awhile, but they would eventually “team up” on some adventure. While there is no “rivalry”, per se, perhaps at least a couple have a bit of a  strained relationship that could be explored. Maybe the situation or events leading to their first “team up” since gaining their powers somehow involves a family member or close friend of the family. This could be a catalyst for repairing the relationship(s); or, maybe it would cause jealousy or other emotions to resurface. I would also want to investigate why their powers manifest, and why simultaneously? What is the cause? Is it natural or “intelligently designed”? Do their estranged parents know anything?

Well, that’s as far as I got. Any of you want to add some suggestions?

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2016.

From the Mind of Mr. Zeus, part 6

New entry from the Official Mr. Zeus Fanclub Newsletter…

“Criminal Categories”

“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” — Obi-Wan ‘Ben’ Kenobi to Luke Skywalker, looking down on the city of Mos Eisley

The other day at an event I made some comment — only semi-serious, I assure you — about enjoying beating up on villains and scum. Someone asked me in passing afterward, “How do you tell the difference between villains and scum?” Figuring the person was being a wiseguy, I cracked some joke and left it at that. But, I was thinking later that we — or, at least, I — really do categorize bad guys differently, even if only subconsciously. So, having now given the matter a bit more thought, here is a more serious(?) attempt at answering the question:

It’s usually easy to tell the difference. But, sometimes a villain will temporarily pretend to be mere scum in order to minimize the attention drawn to them. Also, scum sometimes think they are a bigger deal, bigger threat, than they really are. (Of course, I guess you could say it’s all relative.)

Condiment King -- more of a joke than a threat

Condiment King — more of a joke than a threat

“Scum” are typically the low-life, common criminal or thug — pimps, street-level drug dealers, petty crooks, mob soldiers, thieves, rapists, etc. They generally have rather limited “vision”, limited resources, and limited intelligence, all of which works to the benefit of the cops, costumed crimefighters, and (sometimes) the scum’s potential victims. They may or may not wear a costume or have a special weapon or ability.

Your average “villain” is higher up the food-chain, if you will. These are often the guys (and gals) who run criminal organizations and, therefore, are one of — if not *the* — major target(s) in a big case. These typically include mob bosses, big-time gang leaders, violent cult leaders, serial killers, assassins, shady CEOs, dirty politicians, drug cartel honchos, terrorists, slave-traders, mercenaries, arms dealers, etc. Some of them are the ones with illegal (and unethical) agendas, making the plans, pulling the strings, wielding influence, gaining money & power, etc. Others might be called “operatives” or even vendors & consultants for the first group. Still others are sick individuals with motivations all their own. But, they don’t typically have any unusual psychopathy or affinity for costumes or strange weapons.

“Supervillains”, on the other hand, kick it up a notch in their villainy. They have something special about them that makes them “super”. It usually involves some type of superhuman abilities, armor, weaponry, etc., though there are exceptions. Like many “superheroes”/crimefighters, they typically wear a distinctive costume of some sort, though not necessarily tights-and-a-cape. These guys-n-gals come in a variety of flavors and threat-levels. There are a handful that are just goofy and not much of a threat, and some can be somewhat of a challenge to most law-enforcement but not for a trained crimefighter or team with superpowers or techy gadgets. The more powerful and/or crazy ones can be very dangerous, especially if they are known to have little regard for human life. I say “crazy”, and some of them are certifiably insane. (Of course, some of the regular villains are, too, I suppose.) This brings me to what I call “mega-threats”. These are supervillains — arguably suffering from megalomania or some other extreme psychopathy — who try to take over or destroy entire cities, nations, the planet, or even all of reality. Sometimes, they come waaaaaaaay too close to achieving their goals, too. And that scares the crap out of me!

Something tells me I’ve put way too much thought into this…. Anyway, it was kind of fun to do, and I thought you might like it. However, I reserve the right to revise it at any time. 😉

Moving on…

“Training the Next Generation”

Have you heard of the Independent Law-Enforcement Administration Division (ILEAD)? (The acronym is pronounced ill-ee-ad, like Homer’s epic poem (“The Iliad”), and not eye-leed.) It is pretty low-key, but sometimes it gets mentioned in articles, papers, and reports about federal law enforcement in the U.S., especially where the caped-and-masked set are involved. ILEAD is sort of an odd duck. It began as a temporary, joint task force between the Dept. of Justice and the Dept. of Defense. As most government programs do, though, it grew much bigger and more expensive than planned and its charter is (almost) automatically renewed by Congress every three years.

college-textbooksILEAD’s primary function is to liaise with superhuman/costumed/etc. heroes and vigilantes and the occasional paramilitary group — call ’em all “heroes” for short –, trying to establish and maintain friendly (or, at least, cooperative) relationships with local, state, and federal authorities. When said heroes have defeated a villain that they are unable to personally deliver to the authorities, they can call ILEAD to arrange pickup. When a hero comes across information of impending criminal activity that is too much for them and they think it best to hand it off or get assistance from the proper authorities (e.g., FBI, CIA, military), they call the ILEAD hotline. If a hero gets into trouble with local LEOs, sometimes a call to ILEAD can help get them out of it or at least ensure better treatment. On the other hand, if a hero gets out of line, ILEAD may assist in his/her arrest and then take custody. Finally, not long ago ILEAD took responsibility for arranging new identities for retired superheroes (and, sometimes, villains), particularly if their real name is publicly known (at least to villains) — what you might call WITSEC for “supers”.

I have worked with ILEAD and even got to be friends with one of the agents. His kid is a big fan of mine and gets this newsletter (Hi, Jason M.!), which the agent confessed that he reads, too. (As you all probably know, I have fans of *all* ages!) As it turns out, he really liked what I had to say a few months ago about aspiring superheroes needing to make sure they train not only their bodies but their minds, learning about many different topics that will help in their missions. He brought it up with his superiors, and — long story short — ILEAD now wants to be involved in helping to make sure young heroes get that training. And they want me to help create the program from the ground up!

Crazy, right? I’m no dummy, but I’m no professor, either. Physics, biology and anatomy, mechanical and electrical engineering, world history, etc. I can’t exactly teach any of this stuff. But, they want me to lead a team of heroes and educators to design a curriculum covering several topics. The courses won’t be full-length college courses, and they won’t be transferable for credit. (Though, we encourage students to take relevant college courses on their own, too.) They will cover certain basics and, when applicable, give particular attention to situations likely to be encountered in crimefighting and similar adventures. There will be pre-recorded lectures online, with instructors interacting online. Only registered heroes and heroes-in-training will be allowed to sign up. (Sorry, guys!) The end goal, of course, is to save lives — heroes, civilians, even villains.

Pretty cool, huh? It’s a great project, and I look forward to working with ILEAD and the team of experts that I (hope to) recruit. If all goes well, who knows what other opportunities this might lead to….

Stay strong!

Thus endeth another newsletter….

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2016.