The Shadow Knows! (Final Update 6/3/04)

Which of the Shadow's epithets do you like the best?

  • The Cloaked Crusader

    Votes: 1 6.3%
  • The Dark Avenger

    Votes: 7 43.8%
  • The Man of Mystery

    Votes: 2 12.5%
  • The Sable Sleuth

    Votes: 6 37.5%
  • I've got the perfect one! (post it!)

    Votes: 0 0.0%

Hey there. I've been posting a log of the Mutants & Masterminds game I play in at the "Atomic Think Tank" - Green Ronin's official M&M forum site. Several people there have urged me to cross-post here, so I thought I'd give it a try.

This is a solo game, usually played weekly over the phone. The GM goes by "SuentisPo" online, so I usually refer to him as "SP". He is, as you will see, quite evil. :)

Character sheets are posted in the Rogues' Gallery, under "LA Under Shadow".

Gaming session posts will be marked with the M&M icon, campaign backgrounds with the News icon. (If this is inappropriate, somebody please let me know.)

This first post is actually a short-short story I was inspired to write before the game actually started. It introduces the Shadow and his sidekick/associate, Carlos.


A Night Off

Alex took a calm deep breath as he quietly entered the run-down building, his mind-sight showing its interior to him as clear as day despite the hour. None had seen him - of course. He paused at the top of the lobby stairwell, taking a moment to finish "getting into character." By the time he went down the stairs and swept his trademark floppy black hat off the ornate banister knob to place it on his head, it was the Shadow who did so.

But where was Carlos? He should be sitting at the computer with the headset on, turning to him with a sunnily sarcastic, "'Morning, sir!" and offering him a fresh cup of coffee. Strange how quickly I've gotten used to him, he mused, closing his eyes and letting his mind rove outward. There he was - dim with rhythmic sleep patterns. Sacked out in the next room, no doubt on one of the weight machines. That's the second time this month, he thought with a trace of annoyance.

It vanished when he went into the room and took in the boy's ludicrous position - draped over the leg-curl bench, legs askew in the machine, knuckles of one hand resting lightly on the floor while the other forearm inadequately pillowed his face. He'd thought experience with his son David had inured him to the contortions of teenage sleepers, but this was a bit much - exhaustion was written in every line of the young man's body.

Carlos stirred and mumbled a little as the Shadow carefully worked his legs out of the machine, but did not wake. He did manage to half-sleepwalk over to his cot when the Shadow lifted him easily onto his feet and supported most of his weight - noticing as he did so that Carlos' tank top was still sodden with sweat. He worked the boy's shoes off carefully and covered him with a blanket. I suppose I should go home, take the night off, he thought. No, wait... David's on a date tonight, and there's no work tomorrow. What's to go home to?

He sank into a chair by the cot, lazily looking around, taking in the textbooks and papers scattered over the nearby desk. That boy drives himself too hard, he thought. But the inner rejoinder, "As hard as you?" was a difficult one to answer.

Moved by an obscure impulse, he took off his hat and studied it for a moment, hesitating. Then he tossed it (unerringly) onto the banister knob from across the room.

He looked back at the sleeping youth at his side, thinking. He looks so young this way, so vulnerable... you'd never guess the hard life he's led when he sleeps. Alex sat for a timeless time, thinking nameless tumbling thoughts. After a while, he hesitated again, then reached out and ever so gently brushed an errant lock off of Carlos' forehead. The boy's eyelids started twitching then as he entered into REM sleep. Oh, oh, Alex thought glumly - that'll teach you. But Carlos relaxed back into deep sleep, smiling slightly.

The next REM cycle was not so gentle. Alex started when Carlos abruptly sat bolt upright, gasping for air. The young man hunched over and hugged himself, the very picture of misery, then nearly jumped out of his skin when Alex touched his shoulder and asked, "Are you OK?"

"OH! Uh, fine, sir. I..." Carlos gulped. "I had a bad dream." Alex nodded. "Was it one of the 'special' ones?" "NO. I, uh, don't think so."

Alex got up and started rubbing his shoulders, which were still bunched and hard. "Want to talk about it?" Carlos sighed gratefully as he started to relax. "Thanks, sir. Not yet... if that's okay." "No pressure."

Carlos yawned and asked, "What time is it...?", then he gasped and his eyes went round in horror when they found the clock. "Caramba! I'm sorry, sir!" He flushed and looked away. "I didn't mean to, it won't happen again." Alex said firmly, "Don't bother about that, I've decided to take the weekend off. And in any case, I have something for you to do tonight, so you won't be able to man the place for me." Carlos nodded eagerly, "Sure, what is it?" Alex snorted. "Go and shower and get dressed, get some food in you, Mr. Castaneda. Then we'll discuss it."

He made a king-sized omelet while Carlos showered, smiling ever so slightly as he deliberatedly added some mushrooms. Carlos grinned and took the inevitable ribbing on that subject while he inhaled the thing with typical teenage gusto, giving as good as he got. Then he sat up and asked, "What have you got for me, sir?"

"Carlos, when was the last time you went out and had some fun?" The boy's face betrayed surprise. "But I have fun all the time, sir. I like being here!" "Perhaps so, but I asked when was the last time you went out and had some fun." "Er... I grabbed some pizza last Thursday after classes." He grinned wolfishly. "There were some hot chicas there too!"

Alex nodded, letting that pass. "Well, your assignment tonight is to go out and do something thoroughly enjoyable." He rummaged in the petty cash drawer (his wallet safely at home, after all) and passed over a few bills. "On the house." "Wow, uh, thanks, sir!" But Carlos' expression at this remarkable change of routine was something closer to wary uneasiness than gratitude.

Alex permitted a trace of the Shadow's cold, no-nonsense tones to enter his voice. "Carlos, you are using yourself up before my eyes, and I won't have it. If you can't sleep, that's one thing - you're still getting used to your powers. But you spend every waking minute taking care of everything but yourself. Since you won't, it falls to me to do so." Taking in Carlos' stricken expression, he softened the blow by adding, "Do we have a meeting of the minds, Mr. Castaneda?" (The joking nickname taking some of the sting from his words.)

Carlos essayed a weak smile. "Of course, Chief. Mind like a steel trap." (In cheesy Maxwell Smart tones.) Alex snorted. "I shall have to tell Garrity to add a Dome of Silence to his plans." Then, shaking his head, "Then again, he probably would." When Carlos laughed with relief, he added, "Now run along and have some fun, see a late movie or something." The boy nodded and started to go, when something prompted Alex to say, to his own surprise, "Wait, I'll join you."

Alex doffed his all-too-characteristic black cloak and gloves, then cloaked them both in invisibility until they were well away from the base. Then they found a late-night movie worthy of MST3K, dissecting it mercilessly on the way back - Alex's humor dry and sardonic as always, Carlos' laughter merry. Then they played cards for a while, until Carlos started to yawn contagiously. "Time for bed, Carlos. If I docked your pay a dime each time you yawned, I'd soon be arrested for using slave labor!" The boy yawned again and nodded, "Yessir. And sir... thanks." Ducking his head shyly, he added, "I had a good night."

Alex yawned himself and stretched, then walked amiably over to the stairwell. There he was brought up short by the sight of the Shadow's hat on the banister knob. He stared at it for a time, troubled. It wasn't until he left the building and started walking home that he tried to put the thought into words:

"Wasn't I doing this all by myself just a few short months ago? When did I start to..." he let the words trail off, not quite daring even to think the remainder of the sentence.
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This first session occurred about five months after the events in "A Night Off", game time. It's mid-November 2003 in Los Angeles.


Alex strode purposefully toward the base. A Friday night, and David had asked permission to stay out late with the gang watching movies and eating pizza. They'd made an early start of it - he should be able to get a lot done. Perhaps he'd be able to get a lead on those mysterious black cars.

Long, pricey, and with tinted windows, they'd been causing a lot of talk on the street of late - talk that gave the Shadow pause. They weren't the first group to try to muscle in on the power vacuum he and the Forbidden had left in the area, but the first to use tactics like these. Local underworld leaders would get taken for a ride, in which the benefits of mutual cooperation were supposedly discussed. Upon their return, they would be... different. Colder, more purposeful... and, the Shadow had found to his shock, with a mental shield about their memories that was difficult to pierce. They didn't seem to have it in for him personally, so he was at a loss to decide what it was all about.

Worse yet, when he'd seen one of the cars himself last week, it had registered blank to his inner sight - something that shouldn't be possible, unless robot cars had been suddenly perfected. He'd tried getting a better fix on it by sending out a pulse of psychic energies, but got only that whatever was in the car was even blanker than empty space. To say he didn't like it was an understatement.

Alex ghosted into the building, went down the steps, and let the Shadow take over as he put on his hat. The lights were out... oh, right, he was early. Carlos would still be sleeping. He put on his cloak quietly and checked his weapons. Should he wait?

Nah. He'd been getting spoiled lately, with all the commlinks and security systems and even Garrity's latest toy, a hovercycle immune to radar (among other features). A night out on foot would be like old times, and perhaps keep his edge from being blunted.

He left a note on the keyboard, "Went out on my own," and suited actions to words. Sticking relatively close to the base, it was a quiet night, save for a loud domestic disturbance down the block. He waited to see if it would get violent; when it didn't, and the husband stormed out in a huff to go get his drink, he dismissed it as not worth his time.

While patrolling, one of those cars came motoring past - blank as ever to his mindsight. He tried "pinging" it again... and his flesh crept when it slowed down and stopped. He stepped back into an alleyway - if they could sense his regard, perhaps they could sense other things... after an interminable time, the car powered up again and moved on.

The Shadow eyed it in frustration as it sped away, unable to give effective pursuit. "Nostalgia has its limitations," he muttered as he memorized the license plate.

Keeping an eye peeled for members of his network, he caught sight of Hands stepping out of a bar to go to the john. Perfect.

"Malone." The man started badly. "Who's there!" The Shadow did the chuckle, throaty and rich with mockery. "I would think you'd be used to me by now, Malone. The Shadow knows!" He permitted Hands to see him, then, and the man's face spasmed.

"Shadow, I, uh, what do you want to know?" "Everything, Malone. Everything. But especially about these black cars. You know the ones I mean."

Malone spilled his guts feverishly while the Shadow slipped into the upper reaches of his mind to help spot evasions and the like. The man's hatred for him washed over him, overmatched only by his gut-wrenching terror. "Nobody knows much about them. They invite you for a ride, cut you a deal, and you're not quite the same when you get back. Hell, this one guy with the Blue Stars swore he'd never go with them, but he went meek as a lamb when they came! They say he's making money hand over fist now, but, you know, ain't quite the guy he was." "Who says?" "I don't know! People."

"Who else is in with them around here?" "The biggest guy around here would be Carlos. You know, El Bandito of the Red Shivs?"

The Shadow filed that away and handed the man a ten dollar bill. "Anything else?" A variety of things flashed through the man's mind in a panic, including an imperfectly-hidden reference to a crime he'd committed recently. That brought an unpleasant smile. "You've been a good boy lately, haven't you Malone?" "YES!" Hands squeaked. "I even turned down a B&E job recently!" "And why was that?" "I wanted to take it, but I knew what you'd -" "You lie poorly, Malone. The Shadow knows!"

"All RIGHT! I was all set to buy a whore that night!" The Shadow tsked. "Malone, Malone, Malone..." Defensively, the young man said, "I didn't break the law THAT much, it wasn't something BIG..." "Never mind that. What else do you have for me?" He watched Hands come to a decision. "There's these other guys around..." The Shadow was amused to discover the man's fervent hope that they and the Shadow would manage to do each other in. "Go on."

Malone shivered. "There's just something WRONG with them! No, wait... wrong with their suitcases." He seemed puzzled. "Their suitcases?" the Shadow prompted. "I don't know how to describe it... I just now remembered. They're just guys, big guys, dressed a little classy for the street, you know? I don't know what they're out doing. But they've got these big aluminum suitcases, and somehow I forgot all about them. They just... look really weird. They give me the creeps!"

"Interesting," the Shadow observed, "now be a good boy and don't fight." He went deeper into Hands' mind. The man stiffened as he caught on to what was happening, looking ready to bolt. The Shadow examined the memory, but there was little more there than what Hands had told him. As long as he was in there anyway, he followed the associations of that earlier hint of crime, and found a small-time break-in Hands had done in a company's cafeteria vending machines.

"All right, Malone. That was most interesting." He held out another couple tens, then pulled them back when Hands reached out for them. "Anything else you'd care to confess?" "No..." The Shadow smiled nastily, "What about the vending machine job a couple weeks ago?" Hands' face curdled and he moaned in fright as the Shadow gently pushed him up against the wall.

"It isn't nice to steal other people's money, Malone," the Shadow observed in deceptively mild tones. The man was still speechless, so the Shadow went on, "I think an anonymous donation to that company is in order, don't you? With a little extra thrown in for the damage to their locks." Malone nodded frantically in approval. "I'm so glad you agree," the Shadow noted, as he patted the man's cheek and tucked the tens in his jacket pocket.

As he turned to go, the Shadow paused and asked, "Malone, have you ever TRIED to get a legitimate job?" "Yes! But... they don't seem to want me." He got in reply only a snort of contempt and an acidic, "I can't imagine why..."

After leaving Malone, the Shadow heard the telltale rustlings that meant Carlos was putting in his commlink and coming on-line. "Good morning, Mr. Castaneda. I trust you slept well." "Evening, sir. Yeah. Why didn't you wake me?" "Nostalgia. What have we got on the Blue Stars and the Red Shivs?" Carlos' innocent voice responded, "One's Crips and the other's Bloods?" earning a dry, "Thank you, Carlos, I couldn't possibly have figured that out without your help." Carlos added, "The Shivs have a thing for knives..." then gave it up when he saw the Shadow wasn't buying any. "While you're at it, run this license plate number. Big black stretch model."

Tappity-tappity-tappity, he heard faintly through the commlink. "The car's supposed to be a brown Suburban - must be a stolen plate. We don't have much on the Blue Stars in the database, they seem to be one of the newer splinter groups. They don't have anything near your current location, sir. We have a little on the Red Shivs and El Bandito." "What have they got nearby?" "There's the crackhouse on 18th..."

"It's back already?!" the Shadow said incredulously. He'd cleaned the place out thoroughly not a month ago. "You know what they say, sir - supply and demand." "We'll see about that!"

Annoyance warred with a warm sense of satisfaction as the Shadow surveyed the place. Bars on the windows, deadbolts on the doors, guards posted all around the place... you'd think they were afraid of something, imagine that. "At times, a reputation has its rewards," he said to Carlos. "I'll have to come back sometime soon and give Garrity's new 'Shaolin Doohickey' a try, he'll like that - and no doubt it'll give the Shivs something to talk about for a while. But for now... I suppose finding El Bandito and the black cars is the top priority."

Most of the guards were in pairs, but there was one all by his lonesome at one of the corners. The Shadow tsked - poor planning, these gang members have never been the sharpest knives in the drawer, whatever they call themselves. He leveled his gun at the hapless young man (noting with minute discomfort that he was barely David's age, if that) and spread his invisibility over him, meanwhile letting him see through the illusion so he didn't realize he was invisible. This, of course, had the side effect of letting him see the Shadow.

The boy tensed, his jaw going slack in shock. "Keep your hands where I can see them," the Shadow warned as he approached. "You're not the Shadow!" the boy blurted out, "The Shadow can't be spotted!" That worthy suppressed a grin - yes, he did have a reputation with this gang - and did the chuckle, spreading it out into a malicious laugh. "All right, I am not the Shadow. You have nothing at all to worry about. Except, oh, wait, I'm pointing a gun at you." Close enough now to reach out and touch, he added, "And you are going to tell me what I wish to know."

The laugh did it. The boy froze like a rabbit caught in headlights. My word, the cloaked crusader thought, I didn't even have to "push" fear at him to do that. Shrugging, he plunged into the lad's mind, keeping the gun leveled on his chest.

Aloud, he asked, "Tell me about the black cars," meanwhile reading the associations and responses that leapt up mentally. But he had to wrestle with the boy's raw inner strength, greater than he'd guessed. [Yes, I was rolling incredibly badly that night, and the GM was blessed by the dice gods.] For a moment, the gang member got the upper hand, seeking to know what the Shadow's plans were. The truth - that he wanted information and wasn't planning on killing him YET - did not do much to assuage fear.

Enough of this! He pointed the gun directly between the boy's eyes and said mildly, "I suggest you play nice," but to his astonishment realized he'd made a misstep - the boy actually feared mental invasion more than death! His revulsion for it was overpowering - with a moan, he tried to bolt, gun or no.

The Shadow swept his legs out from under him, then pinned him to the ground. [Finally, some decent rolls!] Twisting the boy's arm up behind his back and holding the gun to his temple, he said, "If you don't tell me what I wish to know, or if you lie, I will have to go into your mind again. You'll like it even less the second time." "I'll tell you anything!" "Where is Carlos?" "At the Hangout, man!" A local arcade, popular among certain shady circles. "What do you know about the black cars?" "Carlos is the only one who talks to them! He said we'd make a lot more money!" "And have you?" the Shadow inquired scornfully. "I dunno!" "What about the men with the suitcases?" "Huh?! You mean the couriers...?" He knew nothing.

During this time, the hapless gangbanger's comrades noticed his "absence" from his post, and started coming to see what the trouble was. The Shadow cursed silently, and rapidly dipped into the boy's mind to erase the substance of his questions so as not to tip El Bandito off to his next move. It took longer than he expected, too long. The other gang members were on him by then, and they had guns out. He let the boy become visible to give them something to think about, then couldn't resist telling him, "I suggest you find another line of work if you want to grow up." (Not his most inspired line, but not bad under pressure.) When Carlos (HIS Carlos) shouted at him, "Get out of there!" he complied.

It took some fancy moves and dodging to get out of the sudden mass of bodies. He bumped into one, but even with that "clue" the man saw nothing. But another stumbled into him from behind and his eyes flew wide when the Shadow whirled on him. The Shadow dropped his shields, letting his seething emotions boil outward. "Get out of my sight!" he hissed, and the man fled as if demons were cackling after him. [That was actually an ordinary Intimidate check with a +21 bonus. I rolled a 2. :) ]

As he jogged toward the Hangout, the Shadow said calmly, "Make a note for the weekly calendar, Carlos. 'Clear out crackhouse on 18th street.' And remind me to look up that kid I reamed tonight..."

"He could perhaps be useful one day."
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[I was almost too embarrassed to post this session... To be honest, I haven't gotten regular gaming in a looong time, given that the gaming group has been forced to, you know, grow up. :) Matching schedules is a killer. I'm not in the habit of thinking deviously on my feet any more, and I made several gaping rookie errors that the Shadow would frankly never have made. Plus I'm not yet used to M&M combat. Ah well, chalk it up as a (re-)learning experience.]

As he approached the Hangout, the Shadow was filled in by Carlos on El Bandito: Carlos Gomez, 24 years old, five of them illegally in the US of A. He'd done time, but never hard time - small-time stuff like assault and battery. (Though he'd been tried for things like murder-one, none of it had ever stuck.)

He also had Carlos check juvey records on Juan Martinez, the boy he'd just got done reaming. (He'd picked up the lad's name while in his mind.) 17 years old, with a rap sheet as long as your arm, but for nothing worse than drug possession. An address was given (Juan was on probation), but it was of a large flophouse that the boy might or might not ever have actually visited.

The Shadow surveyed the Hangout briefly; he'd been there before. The upper floor was given over mostly to arcade machines and a bar, the basement to pool tables. The basement was more popular for less-than-forthright doings. Fortunately the door was open for ventilation; he was able to slip right in.

He went through the first floor thoroughly, just on the off-chance. The Red Shivs were heavily represented among the clientele, but there were also a half-dozen Angels - a girl's gang, mostly rebellious rich kids. Ordinarily they wouldn't amount to much on the food chain, but money does talk... and their current leader, "Lady V", had quite a fearsome reputation. (A flair for threats, and a tendency for people she threatened to not be heard from again...) The few patrons not in gang colors were being hassled confidently by the Shivs.

The door down to the basement was guarded by a heavyset guy with an air of competence about him and a baseball bat ready to hand. But why bother, when there was a fire door also available? Garrity's 'Shaolin' device would get an early workout, that's all.

The thing worked! Walking through the door was slow and unpleasant, like walking through peanut butter. But no harm was done to it nor the Shadow, so he breathed easy. Going down the stairs, he passed through the other door, and found himself in a scene that struck him as positively surreal.

As a lead chemist at a major pharmaceutical company, Alex had sat through his share of interminably boring business meetings; he knew the drill when he saw it. But he'd never before sat in on such a meeting devoted to drug sales... the illegal kind, anyway. Nor was the dress of the participants exactly up to corporate standards. It was like Dilbert crossed with Dickens. (Fortunately the proceedings were in English.)

A scraggly young man (20 at the most) named Josef was doing a not-entirely-uncreditable imitation of an accountant, though he'd do better with a suit, ten more years, and ten fewer convictions. It appeared that sales were actually up overall this quarter, but costs were also on the rise. (A moderately snazzy, if unpolished, chart tracked these statistics.) A sharp dip in sales a month ago was explained as "one of our crackhouses being raided by that nutball who calls himself the Shadow". The cloaked crusader frowned and committed the youth's face and mental signature to memory - he should show more respect. (And he proceeded to do the same for the other major lieutenants.)

Next, Carlos called upon Jorge, who evidently handled the protection racket - nothing excessively overt, just threatening to hang around and hassle customers unless moderate sums were paid. Jorge reported that business was doing well, with about 75% of businesses in their territory having caved in. They were stepping up "persuasion" on the rest, but he warned that there were a number that "We probably won't be able to get without using heavier measures - they don't have many walk-ins." Carlos responded, "Then we don't get them." Evidently the gang leader was not out to stir up excessive trouble.

Jorge yielded the floor to Miguel, who reported that he had managed to bribe "somebody on the force". (The Shadow's ears pricked up, and he taped the rest on a mini-recorder.) This individual couldn't let them "get away with murder", but could make evidence disappear if needed and snarl things up in other ways. He also warned that with the recent election, many of their solidly-bribed people in appointed office were being replaced by "The Terminator", and it would take time to figure out who among the new people could be bent.

Finally, an unnamed, unpleasant-looking fellow reported that with "our new business arrangements" - here shooting a glare at Carlos, who glared back - it was harder to keep the "putas" in line. "We have to beat them more."

Carlos wrapped up with a pep talk that only heightened the Shadow's sense of unreality. He ended with, "Our new business partners tell me that things are going smoothly. We just have to keep things quiet for now - if we all fight amongst ourselves, the only winner will be The Man."

"They also say that they aren't willing to commit resources to the Shadow unless we provide proof of his existence." The Shadow listened with great intensity at this point! (Evidently his strategy of trying for urban-legend status in respectable circles was working to some degree.) At the rising tide of dismay, El Bandito continued, "Yes, I know WE know he exists, but they aren't buying it without proof. So put word out on the street: Five grand for anyone who can name a name of one of his collaborators. Ten for anyone who brings one of them in, if they've got useful information. Fifteen for anyone who can get solid proof of the Shadow. And fifty G's for anyone who brings in his head - with or without the body attached."

"What sort of proof do they want?" someone asked. "Hell if I know! But if you can get a good photo or a videotape of him, I figure that'll do it. Yes, I know he can't be seen, but he's gotta be human - he might slip up sometime." The Shadow frowned - he was more vulnerable than they knew, for his mental invisibility only worked on people, not machines. He would have to be cautious.

With that, the group filed up the stairs, with the Shadow following. Carlos moved for the door, but was confronted by the group of Angels. "Lady V's not happy with you." El Bandito sneered, "And why should I care?" "You don't wanna make Lady V unhappy." "What's she gonna do about it if I do?" "You could get hurt." "Yeah," another Angel smirked, "or lose some face. Lady V's got a thing for making people lose face." There seemed to be a private in-joke involved, for the Angels all laughed. Carlos said only, "I ain't afraid of Lady V," and started to leave.

Only to get zapped by the Shadow's suggestion that his bladder was quite uncomfortable. Sure enough, the man decided to wander over to the bathroom, followed closely by the Man of Mystery.

Just the two of them. Once El Bandito was in a compromising position, the Shadow aimed a heavy blow at the back of the man's head.

[Mistake one - I was expecting an easy knockout. No such luck. No dodge bonus means you HIT - it doesn't help you do damage. Plus, a guy like Carlos is not a minion. And finally, the GM was rolling like a demon, while I suffered from my usual player-level Unluckiness disadvantage all through the combat. I swear I should get points for it! :) But I got 19's and 20's for sensory rolls and so on. Go figure!]

Carlos slammed into the wall, but was still alert. He spun around and spotted the Shadow. He also spotted the Shadow's hastily-drawn gun. Tense but retaining a certain degree of cool, he asked sarcastically, "Are you here to rape me, or do you mind if I zip up?" The Shadow magnanimously permitted this, so long as his hands remained in sight.

[Mistake two - I can't BELIEVE I didn't search him. Terminal brain failure!]

"Care to go for a ride?" "Thanks, but I've got one outside." "I'm afraid I really must insist." "I'll pass." "And if I take exception to your passing?"

[Mistake three - witty banter is all very well, but let's remember who's holding the gun, shall we? I finally remembered and started taking control of the situation again.]

"There's only one door out of here..." The Shadow laughed maliciously. "Oh sure, ha ha. But there's no way you can get me out here past my boys - and that window isn't big enough for either of us." The Shadow peremptorily gestured. "Go stand over by the sink, Carlos." "I prefer 'El Bandito'." "Your preferences don't interest me. Now turn around." He pulled out Garrity's doohickey again. (That wall was an outer wall of the Hangout - I'd checked.)

[Mistake four - one hand to hold the gun, one hand to stay in contact with El Bandito... which hand were you planning to use the device with, again? I dithered, then settled on holding it in one hand and wrapping that arm about his middle.]

Activating the phasing device, the Shadow shoved El Bandito forward, but the man instinctively braced and couldn't be budged. [Not my fault for once, unless you count my incredibly crappy dice-rolling.] In the moment of confusion that followed, El Bandito managed to spin away and pull out a semiautomatic. [And the Shadow's player proceeded to curse himself for an unusually hapless village idiot.]

The short silence that followed was filled by the Shadow's words: "You should have done it my way, Carlos. I wasn't going to kill you, but now..." They traded shots, neither conclusive. El Bandito ducked behind a stall for cover and started spraying bullets around in a panic. None came near the Shadow, and he managed to wing the gang leader.

Suddenly the Shadow realized: He can't see me! When he turned his back on me, my invisibility reasserted itself! He carefully worked his way around the field of fire and dispassionately looked upon his enemy, who was himself looking in entirely the wrong direction. You must die, he thought; it must not be said that you fought the Shadow to a standstill. Carlos Gomez, I sentence you to death.

The next bullet tore messily through El Bandito's head. The man lived, but hung on by the barest of threads. Since others were bursting into the bathroom, the Shadow spread invisibility over his enemy, picked him up in a fireman's carry, and stepped through the wall.

Once through, he had (his) Carlos call 911 and tried first aid to keep El Bandito in the land of the living a little longer. No such luck, the man was slipping rapidly. The Shadow went into the man's mind, slapping aside the shield around his memories almost effortlessly. [Oh sure, NOW I roll a natural 20!]

How do you contact the men in the black cars? A distinct impression of a phone number.

Who are they? No knowledge on this subject.

What happened during your car ride? A well-dressed man in the car reaching into a satchel with a spherical metal object glimpsed inside, manipulating it... All of a sudden, the things they were saying started to make sense.

What do they... Too late. Carlos "El Bandito" Gomez had met his reward.

The Shadow filled Carlos in on what he'd learned as he dropped by the crackhouse again. (But Juan turned out to not be on duty any longer.) "But sir," Carlos' puzzled voice responded, "didn't Mr. Garrity tell us that it wasn't possible to make a machine that could do telepathic stuff?" "Yes," the Shadow replied, "so either he was wrong, or else they were using the machine to boost an already-existing telepathic talent. I would not, myself, be inclined to bet on Hal being wrong about something like that." "That makes sense. What now?" "Run the phone number of the black cars... No, wait. Send Michael Barnes an email telling him to meet me tomorrow at the library at 10 PM. I'll have him do it."

With that, he decided to use the rest of the night seeking black cars on his hovercycle (sent out by Carlos to home in on his commlink beacon), but had no luck. Finally, he managed to hunt up Harvey to drop off the tape and warn him about the dirty cop he'd found out about - Harvey'd know who to tip off in Internal Affairs.

And with that, he headed "home" to the base, a little wiser and no worse for wear.
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Alex stalked down the stairwell and dropped his hat on the knob at once. (No doubt a sign of his upset, as he usually takes it off only when he leaves for the night.)

Carlos spun around in his chair and took in the look on his face. He got up to help Alex off with his bulletproof vest. "So, uh, do you want to talk about it, sir?"

Alex did not respond at once. He got off the vest and his cloak, and hung them neatly on their hooks. Then he sat in a chair and stared off into space. Carlos, knowing his moods, wisely kept silence.

"How much did you hear?" he finally inquired. "Most of it." "Ah." Longer silence. Then:

"I did not want to kill him."

Carlos sat down. "Do you want my assessment of what happened?" "Very well." "I think you got caught up in your own image - invisible, untouchable. You let hubris get the better of you for a moment. It happens to the best of us, sir."

No response except a minute sigh.

Hesitantly, Carlos went on, "I see a good man sitting there..." Alex finally looked at him and said with quiet firmness, "No, Carlos. I am not a good man. I do what I do because I must. Not because I think it right." "You're not working to make the world a better place?" "A cleaner place, perhaps..." He snorted. "I am scarcely Mother Teresa."

"Well, no," Carlos replied uncomfortably. (Over the previous year, he'd been returning to his Catholic roots and getting moderately devout.) "But then I guess Mother Teresa wouldn't do very well in your position either..." He changed the subject. "I did some checking up on El Bandito and the Red Shivs that may help us figure out what to do next." "Very well, let's hear it."

The boy dutifully reported on some rather old violent crimes believed to have been committed by his erstwhile namesake - beating rivals to death and the like. Alex looked at him, having picked up on the fact that he was being cheered up. "You found this in the time since I left the Hangout?" "Yessir." "While the smart thing to do, it was also a kind thing to do." Carlos looked intensely nervous for a moment. "What do you mean, sir?" "Never mind. Who is likely to succeed El Bandito?"

It developed that in Carlos' expert opinion, three successors were likely. "There's Julio, his right-hand man. He's basically Carlos' protege. He's likely to follow through on everything Carlos was doing. Then there's Mario, the guy in charge of pimping. They didn't get along. And finally Maria, Carlos' ex-girlfriend, more or less." Alex frowned. "I did not have the impression that the Red Shivs were the kind to take direction from a woman." Carlos shrugged. "I don't know who she'd pick to use as her figurehead, but she'd be the one really in charge."

"It occurs to me that the successor, whoever it is, will be needing to make some decisions about the black cars very quickly." "Well, the whole thing will probably take a week to shake out at least, sir." Alex replied sardonically, "I imagine one of Julio or Mario will be dead before the week is out." "Probably," Carlos said matter-of-factly, "If not, the Red Shivs will probably splinter."

Alex had a sudden thought. "Did I just start a gang war between the Shivs and the Angels? Given that Carlos died just minutes after being threatened by them." "It honestly depends on who succeeds El Bandito, sir, and what their goals are. It would be easy to start a war if they want to. I'd guess that Mario would go after them, while Julio would pin the whole thing on you. I have no idea what Maria would do."

"Will the price on my head go out on the street, do you think?" "Again, it depends. Mario despised Carlos and will likely oppose anything he was in favor of. Julio, on the other hand, got where he is by not making waves (the last protege met a sudden end by making them...) and working to keep El Bandito happy. ... Honestly, sir, we want Mario to win."

Alex sighed a world-weary sigh. "I suppose I can arrange that if I work at it. What I would really like is for nobody to 'win'... but I suppose that's too much to ask for."

Coming to a decision, he announced, "Carlos, I want you to be careful." The young man looked faintly puzzled. "I'm always careful, sir, don't worry..." Alex gave him a look. "Have you forgotten? You are one of my principal 'collaborators', as El Bandito so gently put it."

The look on Carlos' face would have been priceless in a less serious situation. Plainly he HAD forgotten. Visibly flustered, he got out, "Er, yeah, I guess I did, sir." Alex added with quiet intensity, "I don't want anything to happen to you." The boy ducked his head, pleased, but unsure of what to say.

Alex filled the short silence with, "I also want you to get word out to Maria and others of the network that there may be danger in the upcoming weeks." "OK... Who else?" "I've already spoken to Harvey. They and Doc Griswold are the most likely targets. And you might say a word to the 'fan club.'" Carlos snorted with wry contempt. "Even Ricky?" Alex weighed it. "I suppose he might go off and do something stupid, now that you mention it." "Honestly, sir, their connection is remote enough that they probably aren't in danger. Not enough people take Ricky seriously enough to think he's actually tied to you." "Very well."

"And Carlos..." "Yessir?"

"If you were thinking of seeking out the men with suitcases... Don't." That one syllable was freighted with ominous finality.

Busted! The boy suddenly found the table intensely interesting. Alex continued, "If you happen to come across one, by all means get a good look at the suitcase and tell me what you notice. But do not show undue interest and do NOT attempt to follow them under any circumstances. Understood?" He waited until he got a meek "Yessir," in reply. Disaster averted, Alex thought.

Alex glanced at the clock. It was quite late - early, rather. Carlos followed his eyes and said, "Hadn't you better be getting home and to bed, sir?" (Saying nothing, to be sure, of his own sleep schedule!) Alex snorted. "Yes, mother." It took Carlos a moment to decide that was a joke, and therefore safe. Then he grinned. "And be sure to button up, it's chilly out!"

Alex grinned despite himself as he rose to his feet. "What did I ever do before you, Carlos?" He got the impudent reply, "Bumbled along like usual, sir - just not as well." "Just so. ... I'm glad you're here." He gripped the startled Carlos' shoulder a moment, then went up the stairs.

Once home, he performed his nightly ritual of looking in on his son. But instead of reassurance, he found this night only a new worry...

David was sleeping on his belly, the covers in disarray... with a stained bandage about his left shoulder. Alex froze for a long moment. Then he entered the room, got a closer look (the stains were brownish, like curiously old blood), and retrieved David's clothes from the chair he knew they'd be on. Taking them out of the room to look at in the light, he found no obvious bloodstains... but the shirt was conspicuously missing.

Sensing movement behind him, he whirled only to find his sleepy-eyed son confidently holding a baseball bat. "Oh! Uh, hi, Dad..." Plainly he was expecting a prowler.

Alex asked in conspicuously emotionless tones, "Hello, son. How did you come by the bandage?" "Oh, uh, a guy knifed me." (Trying to say it casually - no big deal, Dad, just a Friday knifing - and not quite making it.) "A guy. Knifed you." Acutely uncomfortable, David said, "Uh, yeah."

"You do not seem very bothered by this." Playing for sympathy, David made a misstep: "Well, you know, after being kidnapped and worked over by goons last year, it doesn't seem that bad. Just a scratch..." Uncharacteristically, his father turned his back on him, putting an abrupt end to the conversation. He strode into the bathroom and leaned on the counter, struggling to collect himself. David trailed behind sans bat, getting nervous.

The boy offered, "The movie was longer than we thought so we decided not to watch another one and go for a walk instead." Silence. "The rest of the gang eventually went home, so Twyla and I started heading back to her place." Silence. "This guy with a knife said she was going to come with him. I said she was with me, and he slashed at me. Got me the once before I took it away from him." Silence. David plainly took this for an ominous sign, getting more nervous as his recital went on.

Alex abruptly cut in. "Let me have a look at that shoulder." David submitted meekly to his father's ministrations with visible relief. The cut was shallow - too shallow for the amount of dry blood on the bandage. "How deep was it at the time?" "I don't know! Deep enough to need a bandage." Alex sighed. More evidence of David's healing powers. "Were you hurt anywhere else?" "Just some bruises."

"How did you get the blood on your hands?" For the second time that evening, a young man gave him a flabbergasted look worth framing if it'd been a less serious situation. He stuttered, "H-how did you know?!" while displaying his clean hands. Alex snorted without amusement. "I am the detective in the family, remember?" He pointed to the bloodstained knobs on the sink, and David said some words he probably shouldn't have.

The boy started looking intensely uncomfortable again. "I, uh, banged two of their heads together." "So there were two of them." "Uh, yeah, you see it was sort of, that is, I mean..." "David, we both know you are avoiding saying something. Just say it." For once David didn't bridle at Alex's bluntness, and did as he was told... in a small voice.

"There were six of them."

"Six." "Yeah..." then he added, "Not all at once!" as if this were an extenuating point in his favor. "Were they all armed?" "Yeah." "Any guns?" "One of them. I, uh, threw one of the other guys into him before he could draw it." "I see." Another silence followed.

David filled it with more nervous explanations - a little more unabridged, this time. "We weren't looking for trouble, Dad. It was by this alley..." He described the location, and Alex recognized it - an alley notorious for violent crime that he'd cleaned out of lowlives himself several times. He mentioned the notoriety, only to be met with a blank, "I didn't know."

At any rate, David had taken the knife from the erstwhile rapist (breaking his arm in the process), while one of his buddies got in the slash on his shoulder. After that, nobody managed to touch him, save for a few whacks with a stick he got from one of them. "He was pretty good," he added nonchalantly.

"David, where did you learn to fight like that?" "I dunno. Roughhousing with the guys, I guess." Having been in more than a few spats himself, Alex did not find that theory too believable.

"The two whose heads you knocked together... There was a lot of blood?" David said in a small voice, "Yeah." "Are they still alive?" "...I dunno." "How do you feel about that?" "Weird." "I do not blame you." Silence again prevailed. This time, it was Alex who broke it:

"I killed a man tonight." He NEVER talked about the Shadow's doings with David. Never. David went tense with shock. "I did not want to kill him."

The boy looked away first. "It was too EASY, Dad! It shouldn't be like that... so easy." (A memory: David getting ready to try out for the track team while his father timed him. Upon hearing the time, he showed shocked pleasure, then uneasiness. "It's too easy..." He never did join the track team...)

Alex's face twitched - a rare sign of loss of control. "Killing should never be easy," he said, and the two reflected soberly on that. David asked hesitantly, "Have you ever... you know. Done it by accident?" "No. I am very deliberate in what I do."

David shook his head and repeated, "It was too easy," looking like a little lost boy for once.

The father in Alex instinctively knew what to do. He hugged his son tightly - noticing that the hug he eventually got in return was curiously gentle, as if David were suddenly afraid of his own strength.

Alex was still struggling to retain emotional control when they parted. Abruptly a new thought occurred to him. "How is Twyla?" "She's all right. None of them touched her." "So she is all right, but is she all right?" David took his meaning and said uncomfortably, "I dunno." "What does she think of... what you did?" David bit his lip and repeated, "I dunno." Alex twitched again.

Suddenly he asked, "David, why are you standing like that?" David blinked and shifted in surprise. "Like what?" "You dropped into a fighting stance just now." "I did?" He visibly tried to regain the position, looking, well, like a gangly inexperienced seventeen year old trying to mimic a fighting stance and failing - comic, if it weren't so dead serious. "Like this," he demonstrated. David immediately fell into a matching stance, poised on the balls of his feet, clearly surprising even himself. Alex sighed. As if their lives weren't difficult enough.

"Well," David said too brightly, "I'd better get back to bed." "Yes," Alex agreed wearily. "G'night, Dad..."

"I love you, son."

"Love you too, Dad."
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The Shadow said:
Only to get zapped by the Shadow's suggestion that his bladder was quite uncomfortable. Sure enough, the man decided to wander over to the bathroom, followed closely by the Man of Mystery.

Just the two of them. Once El Bandito was in a compromising position, the Shadow aimed a heavy blow at the back of the man's head.

Let's hope the tabloids never get ahold of this. No criminal will be able to use the toilet in peace again! :D
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First Post
Wow, not even a page long and filled with a huge amount of substance. It must be the one on one thing. Very nice.

I feel like I'm reading Batman here. Only with a little more complexity and deeper supporting characters.


First Post
Piratecat said:
Let's hope the tabloids never get ahold of this. No criminal will be able to use the toilet in peace again! :D

Holy Hannah, Shadow! Not even a page in and the mighty Piratecat has posted on your storyhour!

Glad to see you made it over here.

-Swack-Iron (aka Winter over at the Atomic Think Tank)

Lela said:
Wow, not even a page long and filled with a huge amount of substance. It must be the one on one thing. Very nice.

I feel like I'm reading Batman here. Only with a little more complexity and deeper supporting characters.

*blink* Now there's a compliment and a half! Thanks, Lela!

And PirateCat: The streets get cleaner even as the bathroom gets, ah, messier. :) Entropy has to increase, get me? ;)

Thanks for suggesting this, Swack-Iron.

I'll be getting background material on the Shadow, Carlos, and the major members of the Shadow's network here and in the Rogue's Gallery shortly.
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This campaign is picking up from a duo Champions campaign run several years ago, in which the Shadow adventured with a similar outcast vigilante called the Forbidden. (A life-drainer who had to drain life occasionally to survive, who went after criminal low-lives so he could live with himself more easily.) The campaign fell apart when the GM prematurely offered the Forbidden a way out of his life-hunger, which was his sole motivation for adventuring. I'd always loved the campaign, though, so the GM and I decided to revive it in a solo M&M version.

In this campaign, all powers must come from the Psionic, Super-Science, or Training sources. (ie, no mutants, aliens, wizards, "gods", people hit by lightning, or whatever.) Psionics is genetic in nature, but not a mutation - it's a natural part of the human species, and always has been in one degree or another. (Most people with psi powers don't even realize it.) Super-Science is limited to a few geniuses, governments, and major corporations, and it's usually highly experimental. (Powered-armor superheroes are usually corporate PR stunts more than anything else.) Training is pretty much limited to people highly trained in martial arts or the like. The GM raised the cost of Mental Protection to 3 pp/rank because he wanted it to be rare - most psis are untrained.

Psionics is not publicly known to exist in this universe, though there's more chatter about it there than here. Several early researchers who talked about having definitive proof of it suffered mysterious heart attacks... The predominant attitude of the media and academe is withering skepticism. There are very few open "superheroes" - most of whom are military types hired to wear powered armor, beat up a few bad guys, smile for the camera, and mention the sponsoring corporation's products.

The only other major difference between this world and ours is that 9/11 did not happen - an anonymous phone tip cracked the plot wide open. Most people have forgotten about the whole thing.

Now for the main character. His sheet (among others) is in the Rogue's Gallery in the "LA Under Shadow" thread. This background is repeated there to avoid confusion.


Alex Brighton did not have a happy childhood. Nobody seemed to like him, but they couldn't explain why... "There's just something WRONG about him, but I can't put my finger on it!" they'd say. He had to work five times as hard to get the same recognition and approval as others. Life, he decided, just isn't fair.

It wasn't. Alex was born a rare homozygous telepath - he inherited telepathy genes from both parents. (His dad was a consummate salesman - an unconscious Mind Controller - and his mom a sensitive soul with much insight into others and a not-entirely-unfounded belief that she could predict the future with Tarot cards. They broke up when Alex was 7 - Alex's dad couldn't appreciate a woman with mental shields for long...) His powers raged out of control, projecting his emotions - especially the darker ones not suited for public display - to everyone around him. Meanwhile he would occasionally "overhear" the ugly thoughts others directed at him in response, which only alienated him further.

The solution he instinctively hit on worked in the sense that he survived and remained sane, but it didn't leave him any better adjusted socially. He trained himself to suppress and control his emotions as much as possible so there was nothing left to project... Of course he wasn't entirely successful. When agitated, the steep mental walls he'd erected would slip and he'd "zap" people again. "Most of the time he's a cold fish, and the rest he's a hair-raising freak!"

A brilliant young man, he entered university early, majoring in chemistry. There he met Jennifer, a psych major who found him irresistibly fascinating. (She was genetically "mindblind", immune to telepathic vibes.) She saw a shy and retiring young man, but one with a nice smile and (once you got to know him) a magnetic personality. She couldn't figure out why everyone treated him so badly for no apparent reason... Alex for his part found friendship, and then love, intoxicating. Within a couple of years, they were married.

Alex got a good job at a major pharmaceutical company, researching flora and fauna from around the world to discover, purify, assess, and alter new drugs. Meanwhile, he and Jennifer had a little son named David. After making a name for himself with a highly promising new cancer therapy, he gained a coveted promotion despite his social awkwardness. Life was good, far better than he'd ever dared to hope for - he had a loving family, challenging work, the satisfaction of helping others, and, as he learned to shield better and better, even a few friends. He had the money to indulge a few hobbies, like growing rare tropical plants (something he'd started doing for his Ph.D. dissertation) and collecting tapes of old radio shows. Including "The Shadow".

Then Alex's world came crashing down about his ears when Jennifer was raped and murdered by a hopped-up burglar. To add insult to injury, the guy got off on a technicality! Alex snapped and went on a rampage through his precious tropicals, destroying them to vent his rage... but when the juice soaked into his hands, he started to shake and then had a seizure.

When he got to his feet, he discovered to his astonishment that he could "hear" the thoughts of his terrified son in the next room. When he stumbled outside, he heard a neighbor thinking that he must be drunk... when Alex glared at him, the man's face was suffused with terror and he ran for his life. Alex, while not entirely understanding, smiled grimly. He could use this.

The murderer died that night, and he was very, very frightened before he died. (The coroner ended up ruling the case a truly bizarre suicide. You don't want to know.) While stalking him, Alex discovered something new - when he didn't want to be seen, he WASN'T. He was like the Shadow, clouding men's minds!

And why SHOULD some other guy lose his wife, some other little boy his mommy? There were more animals out there. Somebody should do something about it... somebody like him. Who else knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

Alex didn't do anything rash. He took a sabbatical from his job, and used his chemical knowledge to isolate and purify the compound that had opened the door in his mind, altering it so it would no longer impair his judgement or give him hallucinations like it had that first night. (The seizure turned out to be due to another, unrelated compound.)

He got a gun and learned how to use it. He took karate classes, and then classes in other, more esoteric martial arts. He turned out to be something of a natural. (He has genes for biokinetic powers as well, but they're latent as they don't mix well with telepathy. But they make him stronger and faster than a guy his age and size ought to be.)

And when he felt ready, he donned black clothes, pulled on black gloves, swept a black cloak about his shoulders, and put on a battered black hat. Then he took a small white pill. The Shadow lived again... his eerie, mocking laughter from thin air striking fear into the hearts of the criminals of Los Angeles. "The Shadow knows!" (He also muffles the lower part of his face with a black bandanna, and uses a tiny amount of Illusion to fuzz his features, making them entirely nondescript save for the blazing intensity of his eyes.)

Five years now he has stalked the streets, a year or two of which alongside the tormented mystic known as the Forbidden, and there have been many changes. He has put together an enormous network of informers - criminal scum who fear him more than they fear higher-level criminal scum. And he has found a few people who approve of what he does and are willing to help him.

David is seventeen now, and starting to worry his father. The boy is much too strong, much too fast, and heals ridiculously quickly. (The biokinetic genes that skipped the last couple generations of telepaths came out with a vengeance in him - Jennifer's mindblindness in effect canceled out the telepathy genes David got from his dad.) David has inherited his father's stern sense of justice, and might try his hand at fighting crime more rashly than his father. His raging biokinetic hormones (mentioned in no biochemistry text) make for a fairly stormy relationship at times, too.

Still, David has received an object lesson that may give him pause. He was kidnapped and severely roughed up by a syndicate who discovered the Shadow's secret identity about a year ago. (The Shadow and the Forbidden utterly dismantled it - nobody who learned anything compromising is still alive.) He of course healed the physical damage rapidly but the psychic scars are another matter.

David found out about his dad's powers and "night life" at that time, and still isn't sure how he feels about it. It has become an edgy subject for the two of them, a sleeping dog neither cares to disturb. It is pretty much a given, though, that David would NOT approve of Carlos, who has been the Shadow's sidekick for the last eight months or so.

Carlos is a former gangbanger (18 years old) who turned over a new leaf after a nasty run-in with the Shadow. He caught the Shadow's notice by his immunity to the Shadow's mental invisibility... Carlos also has compellingly accurate, if unpleasant, dreams about the past and future, and often gets flashes of danger moments before it occurs. At a second run-in - the Shadow rescuing Carlos from gang members beating him up for trying to go legit - he managed to save both their lives by giving warning of a sniper bullet.

The boy had absolutely nowhere to go (a truly awful home situation, and in the neighborhood of his old gang to boot) and the Shadow liked his spirit, so he brought him to live at the base and support him in his work. He doesn't let Carlos go out on patrol or mix up in the rough stuff (though Carlos has had to come pull his bacon out of the fire once or twice) - mostly Carlos feeds him information from the base computer through his (Garrity-provided) commlink and offers him what he can from his unpredictable psychic talents.

Anyway, Carlos all but worships the Shadow - the closest thing to a father he's ever had - and he and David would likely feel highly threatened by each other should they ever meet, which Alex tries to make sure doesn't happen.

Alex has determined that the drug he uses is not addictive... but the same cannot be said for the Shadow persona it makes possible. Alex doesn't LIKE the Shadow, but he NEEDS the Shadow - needs to let the rage and anguish he feels out of its cage sometimes. (His Psychic Assault is nothing more sophisticated than exposing the target to his swirling confusion of bottled-up emotions all at once.) He keeps his two lives - and thus David and Carlos - as separate as he possibly can while still remaining sane. It's gotten a bit precarious at times...
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And now for...


Carlos Gutierrez was a typical casualty of society gone wrong. Abandoned by his father before his birth and neglected by his drug-addicted mother, he was mostly raised by an aunt and uncle who didn't really want him and abused him physically and verbally on a regular basis. His true family was the local gang, the Lions. By the time he was seventeen, he was a hardened fighter and gunman (having killed two men) and a fairly accomplished drug dealer who occasionally sampled his own wares.

All of that changed when the Shadow broke up a gang rumble that Carlos was participating in with great enthusiasm. Mind you, the Shadow himself got a nasty surprise - Carlos HAD always heard rumors about his Gypsy grandmother, and had occasionally had some weird dreams, but he hadn't figured on seeing this dude all in black striding through the battle bold as brass with a really weird feel to him! Nobody else seemed to see him... Was he a ghost? A hallucination? BANG! No, ghosts and hallucinations don't bleed. But then the dude turned on him, (gripping his wounded arm) and sheer ravening fear ripped through the boy like he'd never known it before. He pissed himself like a baby and ran... soon the others ran too.

Scrabbling at a wall to get away, he could do nothing but cower, babbling his terror, when the dude approached him, exuding a cold contempt. He knew him now - damn, that Shadow guy was said to be a KILLER! Scary-loco. But he just hauled Carlos to his feet and held him against the wall, keeping the fear on him. Finally he spoke: "You're not quite old enough to have wholly lost your humanity, boy. But mark my words - you shall be there soon, if you keep on this path. And I will be waiting for you." Then, after relieving him of his gun and stash, "Now get out of my sight," with a shove. Carlos didn't need any more encouragement to make like a rabbit.

Maybe it was the fear, worse than he had ever known. Maybe the drugs in his system hyped up the whole experience. Maybe it was the sudden flash of ultimate sadness and tightly-leashed fury he got when the guy touched him. (Something to do with his wife? She died, ugly...) And maybe he'd been gradually ripening for some sort of change for some time. Whichever, he couldn't get the Shadow's words out of his head. And he knew, down to his core, that they were the truth. Not just that he was on the road to losing his humanity - but that the Shadow would be waiting for him. Somehow he knew that the man was intertwined with his destiny.

Carlos turned over a new leaf. He ditched the drugs and went to Narcotics Anonymous meetings. He got a job for chump change and started taking classes to get his GED. He separated himself from the Lions as much as he could without getting killed, suffering the inevitable beatings stoically. He got involved with his church, which had always seemed boring and pointless up to that point. He found to his amazement that he was actually tentatively happy in a way he'd never imagined before... but also that the memories of his old life filled him more and more with shame.

Almost a year later, walking home from work one night, he got waylaid by his homies from the Lions. This was no ordinary beating - they were joking around about putting a bullet in him if he didn't stop "putting on airs", and maybe it wasn't all a joke. Next thing he knew, the Shadow was there, a most welcome sight, tossing unsuspecting gang members about with abandon. The Shadow hauled him to his feet, just as on that other day, then recognized him. "You," he said flatly. "I warned you..." but to the astonishment of them both, Carlos suddenly burst into tears. He started pouring out his story as he never had before to this total stranger who had changed his life so much. But suddenly a nameless dread gripped him that he could not explain, nothing like the Shadow's fear. He cried out, almost involuntarily, "Look out!" The Shadow (already more than a little paranoid) dove forward, bearing both of them to the ground, while a rifle shell cracked into the pavement through the space they'd both occupied a moment before.

The Shadow made short work of the sniper (who turned out to have been tracking him for weeks for the local crime syndicate). Meanwhile, Carlos was busy falling in love - not a love like he'd had for the girls, but a love for an idea and for the man who embodied that idea for him - the man who could have leaped any direction and let him take the bullet but chose to save his life too. He poured out the rest of his story, with many tears, on that street corner when it was safe again, not even daring to hope for any response... he'd been disappointed so many times. But the Shadow pondered deeply for a while - Carlos had the distinct impression the man was looking right into his heart - then said, "Come with me."

He set Carlos up on a cot in the basement of an abandoned building he'd fixed up. (He'd moved some of his more outre' stuff there out of concern of putting his secret identity at risk. Later, that basement got souped up into something completely other by Hal Garrity.) The lad would receive room and board and a small stipend for watching the place and doing whatever errands the Shadow needed doing. It wasn't much by most standards, but to Carlos it seemed like heaven compared to flipping burgers while sleeping on the street on those nights he didn't feel like getting yelled at by his aunt or beaten by his uncle.

The Shadow has come, with ample justification, to trust Carlos implicitly. He hasn't revealed his true name (he's too paranoid for that) but Carlos knows what he looks like. Carlos is nearing nineteen now, but his feelings for the Shadow stop only just short of worship. The man is the only father-figure he's ever had, and he soaks in every bit of approval and affection. (The Shadow is not all that demonstrative toward him, but it seems like a lot by Carlos' standards.) He mans the headquarter's communication panel, keeps track of details, has learned carpentry just so he can keep the place in repair, and offers what he can from his unusual but unpredictable flashes of the past and future... but what he really wants to do is help in more tangible fashion. He scrimps and saves to take karate lessons, and works out with the base's gym to exhaustion daily. The Shadow has told him it's a no-hoper, but he keeps hoping anyway. (Despite the official lack of hope, though, Carlos has helped pull the Shadow's bacon out of the fire on a couple occasions - occasions he is fiercely proud of.) The Shadow has been getting a little concerned about Carlos' fixation on him, and when the kid finishes his GED - it's slow going, because he missed a lot of school - he intends to gently push him toward college or some other path that will get him out on his own.

While the Shadow never discusses his "real" life with Carlos in any substantive way, Carlos has picked up more than he lets on through his retrocognition. He knows about David and has a pretty good idea that David causes the Shadow some grief, which makes him privately indignant. Indeed, if the two were ever to meet (David has no clue about Carlos' existence), it's probable that sparks would fly - with Carlos likely seeing David as a spoiled brat who is too stupid or too pissy to appreciate his father, and David seeing Carlos as a threat - somebody who knows more about his dad's "other" life than he does! (And who's a tiresome one-man cheering section for the old man, to boot. Plus, ahem, who's considerably more hardened and experienced than most teenage wannabes. :) But if they were to get past the initial conflagration, they would likely have a good bit to learn from each other.

Carlos is unfailingly eager to please without being too obtrusive about it (he outgrew being obtrusive in his first few months at the base). He has metamorphosed into a rather clean-cut youth who makes a good impression on people. He donates a large fraction of his money anonymously to the families of the two young men he killed. He always addresses the Shadow as "sir". (People he sees as "decent folks" are also always "sir" or "ma'am".) While the Shadow can do little wrong in his eyes, he is merciless to his own mistakes. A bad grade on a test in his GED classes, or a word of disapproval from the Shadow on any topic, is liable to find him driving himself even harder than usual in the gym and denying himself fun activities. (Once, early on, he "punished" himself by going to his old house and deliberately mouthing off to his uncle, then submitting to a terrific pasting, but the Shadow gave him a VERY stern talking-to after that, and he's never repeated it.)

Though he'd been in and out of juvie repeatedly as a child and teen, now that he's eighteen "Mr. Reston" (Lance Reston is an upper-crust lawyer-minion of the Shadow's, who is definitely a "sir" in Carlos' book) has gotten his record sealed by the court. Lance has also managed to get Carlos off probation in view of the manifest change in his life, which is why Carlos doesn't have to worry about keeping the authorities notified of his rather unusual address. (The criminal justice system never knew about the gang shootings, otherwise that probably would've been impossible.)

Physically, Carlos is a bit short (5'6") and sensitive about it. He's also rather slender for his height - he didn't have the best nutrition in his formative years. Even so, he's managed to pack a surprising amount of wiry muscle on his slim frame with his arduous workouts, and there isn't an ounce of fat on him. He has a truly impressive collection of scars and welts, especially on his back (where his uncle got overly enthusiastic with a variety of domestic implements) and a number of nasty burn scars on his wrists and torso - cigarette-size and on up. (Some from being "punished" by his uncle, some self-inflicted to prove his machismo, some from being tormented by a rival gang and by the Lions when he tried to leave.) He is quite embarrassed about these marks of his old life.

While at home in the base, he usually lounges about casually in shorts and a t-shirt or undershirt; when "on duty" he will be seen constantly wearing a wireless headset to monitor police bands and keep in touch with the Shadow. When he goes out, though, he takes great pride in his appearance, usually wearing a button-down shirt and a nice pair of jeans or slacks, his jet-black hair slicked back with gel. His father was Mexican and his mother Puerto Rican; he speak Spanish as fluently as English.

Carlos doesn't get enough sleep, and it's not just that there aren't enough hours in a day for GED classes, the laborious studying he has to do to keep up with them, karate classes, his long workouts, and helping out the Shadow at night. The long and the short of it is that he's afraid of his dreams and wants to sleep as little and as hard as possible. He rarely sees pleasant things with his precognitive and postcognitive dreams, and even his normal dreams are plagued with nightmares - nightmares of the things he's done and suffered in the past, of letting the Shadow down, of failing to measure up. (He can usually tell which dreams are "special" and which aren't, but it's not a sure thing.) The Shadow has talked to him gently about it a few times, and occasionally takes a night off to let Carlos recharge the batteries and simultaneously let Alex have some quality time with David. (Alex himself is one of those rare people who only needs two or three hours of sleep a night, so his schedule does little to discommode him.) When he finds the kid snoring on the bench press, he knows a night off is overdue. :)

The two have a series of standing jokes between them. The Shadow calls him "Carlos Castaneda", though he had to loan him one of the books before he got it. Carlos strikes back with cheesy TV and movie references - especially from "Men In Black", "Meet Joe Black", "Dirty Harry" and so on. (Nor does he neglect "The Shadow". :) A typical exchange:

"Don't eat any mushrooms while I'm gone."

"Jawohl, Herr Kapitan!" (In an incredibly bad fake German accent - Sgt. Schultz from Hogan's Heroes.)
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