The Hero Within

I’ve got an original fiction idea for you this week. Haven’t done one of these in several months. This one was sufficiently developed that it might work as a “pitch” for either a novel or a TV series. Well, maybe I’ll let you be the judge of that….

“The Hero Within”
(or, possibly something else, ‘cuz I’m not totally sold on this title)

Subject #1: Rich, cultured, and very physically fit man in penthouse suite discussing the day with his valet and joking good-naturedly. Remarks are made about certain “extracurricular activities” and long term plans and “making a difference” and such, but nothing specific. The impression, of course, is that he is a mega-wealthy, playboy type who fights crime in his spare time.

Subject #2: Unkempt man wakes up nearly naked on the couch in his messy dump of an apartment, empty beer bottles and leftover food strewn about. Turning off the TV, he talks to himself while stumbling about the place, obviously hungover and cranky as he gets ready for work (or perhaps to go looking for work). What little we “hear” is laced with expletives and alternates between self-pity and anger/frustration over events in his life (e.g., divorce, bankruptcy of a business and not being able to hold a job since, etc.). As he leaves, yelling at the neighbor’s noisy dog, he mutters to himself about “fixing things” and “making things right”. The assumption, of course, is that he is either an average joe with a streak of bad luck or possibly a small-time criminal who is planning a crime (probably a heist), which he thinks will solve his problems.

Revelations: The reality of it is that Subject #2 was indeed a wealthy businessman at one time, but he let other matters distract him, which allowed Subject #1 to engineer a hostile takeover. Those “other matters” were his obsession with fighting crime — secretly, of course — as a masked adventurer (a la Green Hornet). Having a lot of personal capital tied up in his “extracurricular activities”, he soon went through personal bankruptcy, which then led to his divorce. Between that and the takeover of his business, he also no longer has access to the properties which housed (or had secret tunnels which led to) his crimefighting HQ and related stores of weapons and technology. What he doesn’t realize, yet, is that the unscrupulous Subject #1 discovered these secret locations and equipment and has begun (subtly and small-scale, so far) to use them for nefarious purposes — i.e., to illegally increase his wealth and power, from straightforward theft and back-alley assault to industrial espionage, corporate blackmail, and shady business deals. As soon as Subject #2 discovers what #1 is up to, he will take it personally and make it his mission to stop #1. Meanwhile, #2 just needs to stop drinking and figure out how to get his life back on track….

The revelations about who these two characters actually are/were and how they got to this particular stage in their personal and professional lives might occur within, say, a pilot episode of a TV series or the opening chapter or two of a novel. Subsequent developments — e.g., #1’s creative uses for the “hero tech” he now has, one or more personal confrontations between the two, #2’s other activities as he gets his life together while fighting inner demons, #2 adopting a new adventuring persona and becoming a gadfly in #1’s plans, etc. — would be spread over the course of one or more seasons or books. The story might be played either totally serious or with a strong mix of humor — and, here, I’m thinking #2 would be someone like Bruce Willis as ‘John McClane’ in the Die Hard movies. Similar vibe, anyway.

End of pitch.

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2018.

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From the Mind of Mr. Zeus, part 14

File #: 2018Q2
Subject: new issue of quarterly ‘Official Mr. Zeus Fanclub Newsletter’
Purpose: readers’ enjoyment/entertainment and (occasionally) education
Author: Mr. Zeus (aka <name unknown>; formerly known as Jacob Szymanski, aka “Hacksaw Jack”)

“What Super Privilege?”

I heard one of the most ridiculous things the other day. You’ve heard of “white privilege”, right? Somebody wrote an opinion piece in a major metropolitan newspaper recently claiming that superheroes have something similar, which he dubbed “super privilege”. (Of course, rather than the privilege of a light-skinned majority, this would be the privilege of a (sometimes) super-powered minority.) Apparently, those of us with superpowers or other such talents that we put to use as costumed adventurers are guilty of taking unfair advantage of this “privilege” to get fame and fortune and who-knows-what. What a load of baloney!

Look, some people who get powers are lucky, no doubt. People like myself have been able to use them to make a decent living. Others don’t get any sort of monetary compensation. Yes, we often achieve a measure of celebrity from it, too. Sometimes, it also results in special treatment at certain establishments who appreciate the attention our presence brings their business (e.g., a restaurant, nightclub, boutique store, sports arena), so we occasionally get a free meal or access to an event, for example. A few of us have been paid to promote products or businesses, and there have been a few who had opportunities to parlay their fame and/or fortune into a business of their own — anything from movie stardom to entrepreneurial ventures (see below). (Heck, I’m doing that now.) But, all of this is no different than what celebrities of all colors and creeds do in the sports and entertainment industries. (Believe me, I know firsthand.) And, as soon as you’re no longer A-list, the offers and opportunities get fewer and farther between.

However, there are those who fear, hate, or distrust us “supers” and call us a menace. (Very similar to what Spider-Man, the X-Men, and other characters experience in the comics.) So, we sometimes get treated quite poorly. I should also mention that not everyone who gets superpowers has it easy. The general public doesn’t usually hear about them, but some people’s powers end up killing them. It may take hours, days, months, or years, and sometimes it is very painful. Those of us who survive the changes usually still have problems to deal with, too. This could be anything from loss of limbs or senses, physical deformity, hypersensitivity to light (or something else), emission of radioactivity, development of cancer, or any number of other conditions that prevent one from having a “normal” life. As for me, my skin became thick and leathery, with a diminished sense of touch. Plus, there are those massive migraines that I wrote about several issues ago. In comparison to others I’ve seen and known, though, I count myself very fortunate.

Super privilege? Hah!

The cold winds of fortune don’t care if you have powers or not (or what sacrifices you might have to make), and neither do the fickle media. The thing to remember is to make wise decisions and take advantage of whatever opportunities you have, regardless of where you come from or what your abilities are.

“Super Barbecue”

Last month, Bravado and I organized an all-day barbecue for superheroes around the world and their significant others. Well, it took more than a month to put the whole thing together, but it was held last month. We rented out a 10-square-mile section of a U.S. national park with a river on one side, flew in a band, had all sorts of games and (literally) tons of food. Heck, Leviathan ate at least a couple tons just on his own! People came and went throughout the day, as some had to deal with emergency calls and previous engagements. (We had a couple people with teleporting abilities lending a hand with “transportation”.) And, naturally, a few couldn’t make it. (For example, half of Vanguard Prime was somewhere in Siberia dealing with a new threat. Olympia had to leave a bit early to give them a hand.) But, I’d guess we had close to 50 heroes show up, plus assorted spouses, children, boy/girlfriends, and we even let a handful of agents/managers join in. There was no baseball diamond, of course, but we improvised a game that spanned half our rented area. We limited use of superpowers to select ones — e.g., strength, flight, elasticity, enhanced vision, telekinesis, etc. But, superspeed had to be kept subsonic, and use of any powers that could damage the park (e.g., fire or other energy beams) were forbidden. (We had a half-dozen park rangers on hand all day to keep us in line.) BrightFire set up an energy-net to keep everything within the agreed-upon 5 square miles (and a thousand feet up), which worked surprisingly well. I’m happy to say, a good time was had by all.

“At the Superhero Retirement Home…”

An added benefit of the barbecue was seeing old friends and associates, including four who are fully retired from crimefighting. Not many of you will remember The Blue Mask, but he was a boxer back in the ’50s who became a part-time, street-level hero in New Jersey. (StormFire introduced us about 10 years ago.) He had to retire after a decade in the biz following a serious injury, but he mentored a couple heroes of the next generation, and we all hold him in high regard for what he was able to do back then — without any powers, yet! He owns a bar and a gym back in Jersey, but I haven’t been able to pop in much since I semi-retired out here. So, it was great to see him. He’s pushing 90 and is wheelchair-bound, but he’s mentally sharp as a tack. Reminds me of a cross between my grand-pops and ‘Mickey’ from the Rocky movies.

I got to hang out with my old buddy, Fazerfist, too. I enjoyed working with him back in our days in the Alliance. I always told him he was too “pretty” to be in that line of work. Then, one day, he lost his powers, and suddenly he didn’t have a choice but to find a new profession. He was pretty bummed out for a few weeks, but after a little counseling and talking with a couple pals (like me), he found his calling. He changed his name and appearance and started taking acting lessons. Now, the world knows him as the movie superstar ‘Gideon Chamberlain’! I kid you not. (I’m not betraying any secrets, either. It’s in his new book being released next week.) That’s right. I am personal friends with last year’s “World’s Sexiest Man Alive!” 🙂

Of course, you have all probably heard of TechKnight and Cyber-Witch, right? If not, TechKnight (aka Randall McCrae) was the armored hero that was popular back in the late-’80s and ’90s. When he retired from superheroing, he was replaced in that superteam (which name escapes me at the moment) by Major Tech. That guy was killed a couple years afterward and the cyborg Cyber-Witch (aka Amanda Johnson-Ruiz) took his place. Meanwhile, McCrae had used his creative engineering genius to build a successful high-tech firm, McCrae Engineering LLC, and some in the crimefighting community were/are his clients. Cyber-Witch consulted on a project a several years ago, and Randall effectively swept her off her feet. (Not easy, since she’s a lot heavier than she looks!) Long story short, they’ve been married for 7 or 8 years and became friends of mine through mutual associates. Great couple!

Time to sign off for this quarter. Stay strong, everbuddy!

‘Til next time…

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2018.

From the Mind of Mr. Zeus, part 13

File #: 2018Q1
Subject: new issue of quarterly ‘Official Mr. Zeus Fanclub Newsletter’
Purpose: readers’ enjoyment/entertainment and (occasionally) education
Author: Mr. Zeus (aka <name unknown>; formerly known as Jacob Szymanski, aka “Hacksaw Jack”)

“Keepin’ Busy”

Hmmm, what have I been up to over the past few months that you might be interested in?

Well, I’ve been involved in a few rescue operations lately. Y’know those forest fires that were raging for several days in the Northwest a couple months ago? Well, I have a friend with connections in the firefighter community, and when they were looking for volunteers from around the country to go join the effort, my friend thought I might be able to contact some superheroes that could lend a hand. Unfortunately, none of my contacts with weather- or fire-based powers were available. (One was off-world, one went missing a couple weeks earlier (and still is), one was injured and in the hospital, and the other two were occupied on other missions around the world.) But, I grabbed my buddy Bravado (who doesn’t fly but he’s almost as strong as I am) and we flew up to help. I also called my Canadian friends WinterHawk and SummerHawk, and they met us there. Part of the time I worked with Bravado digging and clearing firebreaks and doing other dangerous work where our strength and fire-resistance were advantageous. The rest of the time I joined the Hawks in the air, doing aerial searches for stranded people, etc. I also dumped a few vats of water on some spots. We couldn’t stop the fires, but we were able to save people and property before the rain finally came and put them out.

Last month, I aided in the search-and-rescue efforts after terrorists blew up that office building in Tennessee. I’m sure you heard all about it on TV or other newsmedia. Some anarchist nutjobs decided to “make a statement”, and 73 innocent people lost their lives for it. I’m just glad we were able to find the other 16 in (and under) the rubble and dig them out. (Btw, that baby the cameras caught me flying with out of the crater and over to the EMTs? She and her mother both survived with minimal medical issues. (I don’t have permission to mention names or specify their injuries.) A couple weeks after that, I heard about a pair of 5-year-old twins who had gone missing, and I volunteered to aid in the hunt for them. Turns out they’d been kidnapped by some psychopath who was preparing them to be sacrificed to Molech (or maybe it was another one of those ancient pagan gods). Anyway, the FBI Behavioral Science team worked up a profile, then the local LEOs got a hot tip, and — long story short — I joined the FBI team in an assault on the freak’s lair. It was in an old wine cellar, and I got to bust the door down and shrug off some bullets, before the rest of the team took him down. We saved the kids, too, though they’re going to need some counseling.

Beyond that, I’ve been doing my usual mix of reading, writing, working out, and helping to train young superheroes. Yep, that’s right! The ILEAD Superhero Virtual Training Program is already underway, and we have our inaugural batch of (seven) students from across the U.S. taking courses in basic forensic sciences, physics, and human physiology, to be followed by military strategy, electronics, and macroeconomics. I’m the program’s co-administrator and serve as a sort of “guidance counselor” for the students. So far, so good!

“What’s up, Doc?”

Speaking of counseling, I may need some myself. Yes, I have a therapist, though I don’t see him much anymore. He is one of a handful who specialize in helping superheroes, though they help with more mundane stuff as well. (I tried to get Major Bad@$$ to see my doctor for anger management, but he wouldn’t go.) Lots of people go to therapy for a variety of reasons, not just “serious” mental issues. Sometimes, you just need someone who can help you think through stuff, process issues, give you constructive advice, etc., without being judgemental. (And, of course, the professionals are required to keep everything confidential.) I know for a fact that several superheroes go to counseling for regular and/or superhero-type issues. Believe me, some of the evil and suffering we see can be pretty traumatic (just like for those in the military, law enforcement, medicine, etc.), and sometimes it helps to have a therapist to confide in and keep you “sane”. That guy I mentioned above who was going to kill those kids in some ritual sacrifice? He had a lot of nasty stuff in his hidey-hole, and the whole incident was quite disturbing. Maybe I’ll give the doc a Skype-call….

“Q & A”

Ready for some Q&A? Okey-doke…

Q: Have you ever been really scared or freaked out when fighting someone? (Greg T. from Washington, DC):

A: Not often but, yeah. I mentioned the injuries I got while fighting the Gargantosaur. I mean, that thing is literally Godzilla-size, and I was getting pretty banged up before the other heroes arrived. I was afraid it might kill or seriously injure me before it was over, but I lucked out. Phobius and Hysteria once used their weird drugs to make a couple colleagues and I freak out, have hallucinations, etc. When I confronted some Satanic cult a few years back, their leader was one evil, creepy dude and his black magic was so oppressive that I could actually feel a demonic presence. (Don’t know how else to describe it.) Scared the crap outta me! There have also been a couple times when I was racing to beat the clock before a bomb blew up or some poison gas was released, and I was <real> scared I wouldn’t make it in time and people would die… but I somehow stopped them with seconds to spare both times.

Most of the time, though, I have enough confidence in my own knowledge and abilities, and those of my hero colleagues, that I don’t really fear much of anything. (Sorry if that sounds cocky.)

Q: How do you feel about animals? (Thea M. from Sandusky, MI):

A: Love ’em! I grew up with dogs and cats in the house. (Well, one of each at any one time.) I had cousins that lived on a working farm, which I visited some summers, with horses, cows, pigs, and goats. I had a golden lab named “Goober” back when I wrestled, but he got sick and had to be put to sleep shortly before I quit that biz. I like reptiles, too, and used to visit the reptile exhibits at the zoo. As a full-time superhero, I couldn’t be sure I’d be able to take care of a dog, especially since they are such social animals, and we have to be ready to leave for hours or even days at a time at short notice. (The staff at A.S.H.A.’s Atlantia Compound adopted a couple stray cats, though.) Even now, I hesitate to get another dog. But,… I have a very independent cat (“Samantha”) and an iguana (“Chumlee”) that are very low maintenance and keep me company.

Q: Do you ever go off-roading? (Jason K. from Oklahoma City, OK):

A: When I was still wrestling, I used to go off-roading with friends some weekends. I had a Ford Bronco that I customized a bit, and I’d take that baby over sand dunes and creek beds and all over tarnation, as they say. Loads of fun! Then various things took up more of my “off” time, and I didn’t get out to do that much anymore. When I was superheroing full time, I only managed to go off-roading with friends a few times, but it made me realize how much I missed it. (My Bronco was long gone, but my buddies had Jeeps, Land Rovers, and a Ford F-150.) Nowadays, I have a customized Humvee that I take out once in awhile, but I’d also like to try dune buggies and ATVs some time. Those things look like a lot of fun, too!

Q: What is your favorite kind of ice cream? (A.J. from Oshkosh, WI):

A: Just about anything with chocolate, peanut butter, and/or mint, as long as there are no nuts, raisins, etc. So, right now I’m on a Chocolate Moose Tracks kick; before that was Peanut Butter Cup/Swirl. Next I’ll probably start adding some Mint Chocolate Chip into the rotation. Yumm!

Great questions, everyone!

Stay strong, y’all! (Or, should that be “all y’all”?)

Anyone reading these Mr. Zeus posts? If so, is there something you’d like to know or want me to (have him) write about? Lemmeknow below….

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2018.

The Director

It has been awhile since I posted one of my “original fiction” ideas. I came across this concept that I’d forgotten about and decided it was fleshed out enough to share. It would really work best as an ongoing series, whether novels, comics, or TV, so that there is time to really develop the characters and watch them connect the dots on the big conspiracy, plus other ideas.

“The Director”

Over the past decade or so, there have been a large number of disparate and seemingly unrelated “events”/incidents — some public, some private; some known to police/feds, some not. They have included various crimes (e.g., arson, burglary, kidnappings & strange disappearances, murder & assassination, fraud, terrorist bombings, etc.), as well as car accidents (some during car chases), a downed plane, and a few accidental deaths. Some of these have been solved, others have not. There have been other things as well, such as people suddenly “going crazy” or discovering documentation that either explicitly implicated someone in a crime (or cover-up of a crime) or was at least suspicious (like a piece of a larger puzzle). There are also links (though not apparent at first) to events in the corporate world — e.g., mergers and takeovers, stock manipulation, corporate espionage, class-action suits, et al. Other than in a couple obvious instances — e.g., insurance fraud and one of the arson cases, and deaths resulting from the downed plane & a couple car accidents –, no one has successfully made any connections between the various incidents. Until now…

A small-time private investigator and his bounty hunter associate encounter some lowlifes that turn out to have information about two other cases — one current and another closed but unsolved — which links all three together. A city police lieutenant has an unusual dream that inspires her to look for links between two seemingly unrelated cases; not only is she successful, but when she relates her discovery to a retired mentor, he remembers something similar about an old case of his that also turns out to be related. A former profiler for the FBI (now teaching criminal psychology at a college) reluctantly helps local police on an unusual case and unintentionally gets involved in something that leads to clues about an old, unsolved case (a child abduction/murder) that has haunted him for years. And then, there are the Men-in-Black (for lack of a better term) who begin to show up, either in the shadows or in a less-than-public confrontation and warning our protagonists to “back off” or slightly more politely “It’s our case and we’ll take it from here.” They always claim to work for one federal agency or another, but the names they give either aren’t in any federal databases or they are so highly classified that not even our heroes’ contacts can get access.

While it would not be revealed until some time into the series, the idea is that these prima facie independent events, spanning roughly 15 years and all over North America (but occasionally elsewhere), are all due to behind-the-scenes machinations of an extremely powerful individual and his/her efforts to cover up some of his/her activities. Obviously wealthy and/or in a position of influence, this person’s ultimate goal is to secretly take control of the U.S. government, while leaving not only the general public but most government officials and law enforcement thinking that everything still functions as normal. S/he has managed to fly under the radar, with very few in government, law enforcement, or the corporate world having an inkling of how much power this person wields. S/he is a master manipulator, who accomplishes his/her goals — from stock fraud to homicide to legislation — by directing actions through various intermediaries, sometimes several levels of them.

Eventually, our heroes discover and/or are contacted by a group calling itself ‘The Network’, who have begun connecting the dots on these cases. Their members include representatives from law enforcement, government officials, business/industry leaders, and various “lesser” members. They are just starting to get a handle on the magnitude of the conspiracy and have hypothesized the existence of ‘The Director’ (as they have dubbed him/her, though ‘Maestro’, ‘Kingpin’, and ‘Big Cheese’ have been suggested, too), though obviously not his/her identity or ultimate motives, and are doing what they can (with limited knowledge, despite their resources) to thwart The Director’s plans and build a legal case. Perhaps a later plot thread would be to see efforts to convince/recruit others into The Network, after we’ve spent some time with the above group.

I see this as an amalgamation of ideas from various comics, movies, TV shows (e.g., X-Files, but less UFO-centric) with elaborate plots and constant new revelations and conspiracies within conspiracies. Feel free to ask questions or make your own suggestions to expand on this concept….

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2018.

From the Mind of Mr. Zeus, part 12

File #: 2017Q4
Subject: new issue of quarterly ‘Official Mr. Zeus Fanclub Newsletter’
Purpose: readers’ enjoyment/entertainment and (occasionally) education
Author: Mr. Zeus (aka <name unknown>; formerly known as Jacob Szymanski, aka “Hacksaw Jack”)

“Big Guy Blues”

First order of business is a shout-out to the guys-n-girls of Sensei Custom-Tech and Electronics Innovations. As you might imagine, guys my size and larger sometimes have trouble using or operating devices meant for more average-size people. I might have mentioned before that I had some furniture and a few other things custom-made for me. (Also, my personalized gym & equipment, but that was more due to the particular needs of working out with tons of resistance rather than a few hundred pounds.) I have trouble fitting into most vehicles, which is why I love big trucks. Electronics — phones, computers, coffeemakers, essentially anything with a manual interface — can also be a little trying at times, ‘cuz my fingers are so big. It’s hard hitting those small buttons! Anyway, my buddy Bravado turned me on to Sensei, and they were able to customize a computer keyboard for me that is not only ergonomically-designed, but the keys are all 33% bigger and the materials are extra-strong, too. So, they can take a “beating”, and I don’t fat-finger nearly as much as I used to! 🙂 They also made me a bigger mouse of the same material. Very cool! These are actually prototypes that Sensei is developing for a line of products for people of various special needs — whether being extra-large and/or superstrong like Bravado and me, or a “little person” who needs smaller-than-average stuff, or someone with other physical challenges. I’m sure I’ll be using Sensei again, and if you have or know anyone who has special needs, I’ll bet Sensei can help you/them out, too.

“Where’s The New Book?!”

Book Update: You may remember that I told you last year about my new book deal for the fiction market. The first project is co-writing a novel with Phil Prendergast; well, he’s doing most of the actual writing this time around, but it’s based on my concept and plot idea. It is a murder mystery involving… well, here’s the summary pitch I gave to Phil, which was also enough to interest the publisher:

“Sherlock the Autistic, Albino Detective: Twenty-year-old Nathan Sherwood is a brilliant savant with an eidetic memory and intuitive mind for higher math & physics. He is also an albino and a high-functioning autist with a mild case of OCD. Having a fascination with detective mysteries, Nathan gives himself the professional pseudonym “Sherlock” (which is Old English for “white-haired”, after all) and hires himself out as a private investigator. After a shaky start, Sherlock’s successes in a couple of high-profile cases gain him a little fame and a growing reputation as a top-notch investigator, despite his social awkwardness and, er, eccentricities. Nathan/Sherlock is assisted both personally and professionally by his caretaker/aide, Emily Baker, a former high-school teacher and EMT whom he insists on calling “Watson”. His other near-constant companion is a very smart, well-trained, pure black ferret named “Nyxie”. (Inspired by “Monk”. Could also be thought of as a cross between Rain Man and a modern-day Young Sherlock Holmes.) Serious subject matter but with doses of humor.”

Phil had some health issues earlier this year that delayed work on the final draft, but he just sent it off to the publisher a couple weeks ago. That’s why the book hasn’t come out, yet, as I had hinted at in an interview or two. (Would’ve been a nice stocking stuffer this Christmas. Alas!) As it stands now, ‘Sherlock’ Sherwood and the Phantom Killer will likely debut in Summer 2018. I’m excited! Meanwhile, I’m organizing my notes for the sequel to my autobiographical The Rise of Mr. Zeus.

“Q & A”

The Q&A section went so well last time that I decided to do a few more this time, too. Maybe I’ll make it a (semi-)regular feature?

Q: Who is your favorite superhero to work with? (Charlotte T. from Shrewsbury, PA):

A: Olympia from Vanguard Prime, of course! 😉 Seriously, even aside from the fact that we’re now dating, I’ve always liked working with her, since I admire her both personally & professionally, and we seem to “mesh” well in our battle tactics and general outlook. Doc Matrix is pretty cool, too, once you realize that he doesn’t intend to sound arrogant or act standoffish. His social awkwardness is the result of being a supergenius and on the Autism Spectrum. And, of course, I’ve worked a number of cases and fought in battles alongside Bravado, and we just seem to always have fun together beatin’ on and roundin’ up supervillains and their minions.

Q: Do you look up to any other superheroes, and did you have a mentor when you first started out? (Ryan C. from Cherry Hill, NJ):

A: While I respect many in the superhero community, the top two that come to mind are both retired (or deceased) now. First is American Ultra. He was (and still is) such an icon of American ideals and patriotism — sort of an amalgam of Superman and Captain America, for you comics fans. I never got to meet him before he retired a few years ago (supposedly to an island retreat somewhere), but from everything I’ve read, he is/was simply one of the most honorable and selfless men to put on a uniform, military or otherwise. He has also been lauded by military experts as having one of history’s most brilliant minds for both tactics and strategy. After serving the United States and the world in general for nearly 60 years, A.U. deserves our thanks a thousand times over. The other “older” hero I most look up to was indeed my quasi-mentor during my formative years as a superhero — StormFire. Apparently, he silently observed me during a few of my first outings as Mr. Zeus, assessing my skills and demeanor, until he finally approached me and gave me a few words of sage advice. He had, of course, been “in the biz” for nearly 20 years and was well respected in the international superhero community, so I listened to whatever he had to say. (He had some good “war stories”, too!) We became friends and colleagues. In fact, he was the one to later sponsor me for membership in the Alliance of SuperHuman Adventurers. When he sacrificed himself during the Pakistan Incident of 2012, I lost a close friend, colleague, and teacher. Btw, I can neither confirm nor deny the popular rumor that StormFire was an extraterrestrial. However, I can tell you that his daughter, BrightFire, is just as powerful and just as stoic and “mysterious” as her father.

Q: Why did you change your alias when you started superhero-ing, and do you ever miss wrestling? (Manesh V. from San Francisco, CA):

A: My reasons for changing my nom de guerre were twofold, Manesh. First, “Hacksaw Jack” didn’t really seem like a good superhero name. Second, it was a big life-change for me, both personally and professionally, and I wanted to make a clean break. Changing my name — along with my look, of course — was as much a marketing thing as it was to aid my own mental transition. As for missing wrestling, some parts of it I miss (e.g., good friends, good memories) and other parts I don’t (e.g., some guys (and gals) were real jerks, plus there is a “dirty” side of the business that really made me uncomfortable).

Q: What size shoes and shirt do you wear? (Kong-Lei D. from Tulsa, OK):

A: Well,… that’s an interesting question. Being a man of unusual size (as mentioned above), I often need to have my clothes custom made. My boots range from size 20DD to 24E, depending on the maker. My shirts are probablly XXXXL, or something like that, since my chest is over 60 inches (biggest it has ever been).

Stay strong, my friends!

Done already?! Whew! Another newsletter out the door for mass consumption….

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

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.