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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%

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Lela said:
Yeah, but then she'd be all bloody. And a bloody Mary just isn't good luck.

I don't know. I think I could get off Scot-free. ;)

But let's not lose our heads over it or anything...

Why yes, I have been diagnosed as a certifiable paronomasiac. Why do you ask? :)

[This was a short and somewhat muddled session. I was feeling under the weather (and proceeded to get genuinely sick the next day), SP was tired... We ended the session early by common consent, because we could tell that our gaming just plain wasn't clicking. We also extended an experiment of letting SP roll for me... which only proved that I can roll poorly even when someone else does it for me! Fear my mystical powers! :)]

Alex thought for a moment, tapping his pen idly on the table. The strategic possibilities are tempting, he said to himself... but face it, Alex, if you take the job you'll feel compelled to do it right, even if it is for Legion. "No, Bob, I don't think so." "Why not?" "I don't care for the smell of this job... It's a little too weird. Plus, I have too many other irons in the fire just now." That at least is no lie, he thought. Bob accepted that, though he was clearly disappointed.

While Bob was asking others, Alex used his waning mental powers (the drug producing his heightened awareness fading rapidly from his system) to lean on the ranking manager present, a Dr. Harris. (Who he felt would be an easier nut to crack than Bob.) He pushed a sense of nervousness, of uneasiness with the project, at the man, and thought he managed to make a connection. At any rate, Harris began to fidget a bit. Meanwhile, Bob had managed to get Wright - a highly skilled chemist with a reputation for ambition and expensive tastes - to agree to take on the challenge.

The chit-chat after the meeting was unusually acrimonious, with the staff splitting roughly into two camps. One took the position that the whole thing was unethical - the chemicals in question having no realistic therapeutic value (the literature said that the client wanted to move to human testing after animals) and - as one noted neurochemistry expert pointed out - probably even being toxic to the brain. Meanwhile the more bizarre details only added to the unwholesome flavor, hinting darkly at illegality. The other camp said (inevitably with a shrug) that the company was in business to make chemicals; if the stuff was dangerous it would never get approved for humans anyway. As for animals, don't lab rats die here every day? And if not us, someone else will make them - why not make the money ourselves? Several knots of discussion began to ramp up into shouting matches.

Meanwhile Alex managed to extract from Bob the name of the "kid" (a "Mr. Montalban") and the company he worked for ("Cerebral Design") as well as one of the competitors that had also been approached ("BioGenics"). But then Harris drew Bob aside and began arguing with him earnestly in low tones. Alex permitted himself a slight smile, and did his best to support the opposed camp, dropping little barbs about the weirdness of it all. By the time people broke up to go back on the job, he had positioned himself with them - though the more fervent members regarded his "irons in the fire" comment as showing a certain lack of zeal.

Returning to his team's lab, he tried to immerse himself in the problem at hand, but was shortly confronted by one of the younger researchers. "Dr. Brighton, what the heck happened in that meeting?!" "I'm afraid I can't tell you." "It's like World War III in the halls today! Can't you give us a hint, even?" Alex considered briefly. "The company has been offered a... controversial... project. We had to sign a non-disclosure about it... I've already said too much." The man's jaw dropped. "That must be some project! Well, thanks for bending the rules a bit."

After knocking off for the day, Alex paused, as he often did, in the animal testing section of the lab. He preferred to work with the beakers end of thing himself, but he found the rats curiously compelling on some days - inspiring morbidly bitter thoughts about society that he chose not to burden anyone else with. He let his gaze rove over the cages full of sleeping, eating, mating, fighting rodents, all of them blithely unaware of their true status in the grand scheme of things. As often before, he asked himself quietly if the Shadow's war meant anything more in the end than one rat fighting another, in a cage. Only now I have to fight a rat who can be in many cages at once... I'd better start evolving a pair of wire-cutters.

Still thinking dark thoughts, he stopped at home - no messages - and then went to the base. Carlos was soundly asleep. Alex sighed. No sense sitting around brooding... perhaps I can check on the whole Twyla situation before I get sucked back into dealing with Legion. He dressed quietly in his costume, saving the hat for last; the dark avenger's sense of iron purpose and leashed fury came over him with quiet, reassuring strength. The Shadow dismissed his moody Alex-thoughts as irrelevant and went out into the night.

He decided to look Ricky up - he went to the same high school as David and his friends, and was, though not popular, at any rate notorious. If there were rumors floating around, he'd be one of the first to hear. After some trial and error, he found the boy lounging about chatting outside a dance club. He became visible for Ricky's eyes alone, then suppressed the impulse to roll his eyes when the boy started as if jolted by an electric shock and made the lamest of excuses to leave: "I just realized I need to talk to someone."

Once they were alone in an alley, he noted drily, "Smooth." The defensive reply came back, "Well, sor-ry! You surprised me." "I could tell." Ricky quickly got over his chagrin and stuck out his chest. "Anyway, what can I do for you, Shadow?" "Heard anything interesting lately?" "There's a buncha gang members dying lately. Word is that the bodies are real pale... some people actually say it's a vampire." "A vampire." "Yeah, how stupid can you get, right?" Then, plainly disturbed by the lack of immediate scorn, "Er, right?" "Stranger things have happened... but I think the vampire hypothesis is premature." "Huh?" "I don't think it's a vampire." "Oh. Glad to hear it."

"Anything else interesting making the rounds?" He proceeded to pump the lad as blatantly as he could without actually mentioning David's name... Ricky not being noted for subtlety or penetrating insight. The end result was nothing, to his relief. "What about you? Staying out of trouble?" Ricky shrugged. "No more'n usual." That meant he'd been in a fight. Again. "What happened this time?" Defensively, "This guy was picking on a girl, I told him to knock it off, and he didn't. So I slammed him up against a wall and punched him in the kidneys a couple times. He decided he didn't want to push it." At the Shadow's expression, Ricky said, exasperated, "You said to cut down on the violence, and I did! He probably won't even piss blood!" "Did you get suspended again for it?" "Nah. Off school property and after hours."

The Shadow seriously debated leaning on the boy again, but gave it up as a bad job. And in any case, Ricky WAS doing better than he had been. (He'd even given up drinking and smoking in response to his idol's disapproval.) "Well... Keep your ears open. I'm interested in any unusual news coming up in the next few weeks." "You got it, Shadow! Is that it?" "That's it." "See you around, then!" The Shadow watched with amused chagrin as the boy swaggered off cockily, proud of being consulted by the cloaked crusader once more.

Flying back to the base, he caught a glimpse of something something improbably large climbing a tree in the yard of a house in an upper-scale neighborhood. Dipping a bit lower, he couldn't make much out through the foliage except that it was really big and curiously ape-like in its movements. He tried 'pinging' it... and got back that it was either a really smart animal or an abominably stupid person. ... And also that there was a mind with mental powers nearby. A suddenly alarmed mind.

The thing, whatever it was, was clambering over a limb and into a window... but then abruptly clambered back and down to the ground, loping off toward the psionic mind the Shadow had sensed. Now that it was in the open, he got a good look at it... and had to take a second one before he believed it. It was like a large gorilla... but with the leathery hide of a rhino... and with numerous spikes projecting outward from its torso. It also wore an ordinary looking dog-collar around its neck, with studs and an incongruous heart-shaped charm hanging from it. What on earth?!

The psionic mind proved to be a man in dark clothing and a ski mask, opening the back doors of a large van for the ape-thing to get inside. Then he got in the driver's seat, revved the engine, and sped off. The Shadow decided to give pursuit without giving any further sign of his presence; perhaps the man would decide he was safe and get careless.

During this time, Carlos came online, saying cheerily, "Morning, sir! What's up?" "I'm not sure..." "One of those nights, huh? What is it this time?" Upon being told, he asked incredulously, "You're not kidding?" "No." Then, only half-joking, "And you haven't been drinking?" With a snort, "I don't drink, Carlos." "I know. It's just... wow." "Yes."

The van pulled into a parking garage. Rather than risking getting caught by the gate on his cycle, the Shadow dismounted and sent it up, entering on foot. There he found the man, and a woman, working together to change the van's plates. They clearly were quite practiced with the maneuver. While they worked, Carlos managed to track down both plates - the old one belonging to a fleet of vehicles with the California Department of Wildlife, the second supposedly to a private person. Then the two of them, plus the unnatural ape, got into a large car and sped off through a different exit.

The Shadow ran back to the cycle and got airborne, but lost the trail. He tried a spiral search pattern, to no avail. [Like I said, SP's dice-gift doesn't seem to work on my behalf. :p] Sighing, he said to Carlos, "It's a mark of how surreal this week has been that I'm almost relieved. We don't need a distraction from Legion at this point." "Too true, sir! What now?" "I'm heading in. I have some calls to make."

Once greeted by Carlos and a fresh cup of coffee, he dialed Grace's number. "Grace, Shadwell. Any news?" "None of note, I'm afraid." He explained about the project he'd learned about at work, and she cursed tiredly. "You said your neighborhood was infested with FBI agents. Are you on good terms with any of them?" "You mean, can I get them to do what I want? Yes, within reason." "And do you know if the government does any work with our end of things, so to speak?" "I have my suspicions, but no solid proof. What are you thinking?" "I'm thinking that involving the government may be just the thing to put a stop to Legion's shenanigans."

"I won't be able to get an investigation going on the chemistry project without something solid." The dark avenger smiled without humor. "I know. That is why I'm considering carrying out OmniMetal's plan... only clumsily." "What do you mean?" "Suppose I plant the screamers and gas-bombs in the companies doing the work... but obviously enough that they'll be found. Cerebral Design's project will be the only connection; and when the police can't make head or tail out of the screamers, I suspect that elements in the government will start to get very intrigued."

"Hmm," Grace mused, "Not bad... but there's the risk of getting Legion's wind up. At least for now we know it's in LA... what if it moves?" "True. But we can't allow it to get the chemicals, either. Perhaps we can arrange a little surprise when it picks them up." "It won't pick them up with all its bodies," she warned. "Of course not. But it has also occurred to me that a captured Legion-body could be extremely useful. They're all one mind - and I suspect that could be as much a weakness as a strength. At any rate, it's worth trying." "True... What's the next step?" "I'm going to call OmniMetal and sound them out a bit." "Do you want me listening in?" "Certainly."

At the Shadow's cue, Carlos dialed OmniMetal and patched Grace's line through. "This is Van Helsing. Get me Torrance." Shortly after, "Torrance speaking. I must inform you that I have been instructed to apologize for attempting to trace your call." "Big of you." "I did not say I was apologizing, only that I had been instructed to do so." "I noticed that." "Now, why have you called?"

The Shadow said, "I have bad news." He proceeded to explain about the synthesis project, which got a phlegmatic "Unfortunate," in response. The dark avenger responded, "Yes, very. Tell me, does OmniMetal have any government involvement?" "No."

Not mentioning the plan to plant the screamers in an obvious fashion, the sable sleuth coolly outlined his idea to ambush Legion as the chemicals were delivered. "We are prepared to assist. If you give us three hours' warning, we can have a strike force on location." "I do hope they're armed with something better than tasers." "I did not say a security detail, Mr. Van Helsing. I said a strike force." "...I see."

"Will that be all?" "I did have one more question for you... tell me, are the screamer fields cumulative? That is, if the fields overlap, do they have greater effect?" "Let me check." The sound of typing came through the receiver, then the disgusted reply, "I am not cleared for that information. I will try to find out." "Thank you." "Is there anything more?" "No." "Good night, then." Click.

Pleasant fellow, the Shadow mused, but was interrupted by Grace's incredulous "Strike force?!" "Yes, that took me aback somewhat as well. One wonders what they use them for. Anyway, what do you think?" They discussed plans for a while; Grace pointed out some potential pitfalls, but had to admit the Shadow's idea was worth trying. "Where are we supposed to keep a Legion-body, anyway?" "Er. Good point. Your place or mine?" She didn't bother to respond to the rather weak humor of that, so he asked, "Can you arrange something?" "I'll work on it. Where do you want it?" "Not too far out of the city. Other than that, I don't see how it matters." "Got it. I'd better go." "Until next, Grace."

The Shadow stretched, then shook his head. "Well, Carlos, we would seem to have our work cut out for us."

[Like I said, it was a rather choppy session. If it doesn't seem that way in writing, it's because I've mercifully condensed many meandering scenes and cut out a lot of dead wood. SP was getting pretty monosyllabic and incoherent by the end, and I was feeling off my game as well. I called a halt because I have a major bit of scenage in mind very shortly, and I didn't want to tackle it in the state we were in.]

[Also, I think SP needs to learn to do one adventure at a time and not pile it on all at once. I mean, sheesh! It's almost like Villain-of-the-Week club! :)]

[Another short session. I've been getting sicker instead of better, and I really wanted to get some sleep. SP was busy, too. On the other hand, I did want to get this scene played out. It's been on my mind. ... The Shadow had just said, "Well, Carlos, it looks like we have our work cut out for us."]

"No kidding, sir! What's next on our plate?" "In a few days, you and I are going hunting." Carlos digested that for a long moment, then said, "For Legion?" The Shadow gave him a bit of a look, and the boy flushed slightly. "Right. So you're going to lay a trap for it?"

"Yes. I think our first priority will be to visit the places it's been seen. If you sense it there, we'll take whatever measures suggest themselves. If not..." He sighed. "I suppose I'll have to take Maria up on her offer of a drug shipment." "Don't want to owe her any favors, huh?" "Absolutely not. ... Though of course, she'd best know there are strenuous limits to the favors I am willing to perform in return." Carlos nodded amiably in agreement.

"In any case..." the sable sleuth levelled a finger at Carlos' chest and said sternly, "You are going to be wearing a bulletproof vest. Since you have not worn one before, I want you to get used to moving in one before it becomes an issue." "Yessir." The young man got up and fetched a spare vest from storage and the Shadow helped him put it on. Carlos started stretching and moving around, getting used to the feel of the thing. The Shadow suggested, "Perhaps we should spar a bit."

Carlos looked dubious - and maybe a little nervous. "Well... If you think it would help." They'd never done anything like that before. "I do." The Shadow strode into the gym, onto the mat, Carlos trailing behind. Sketching a bow to each other, they began.

Almost right away, Carlos fumbled, zigging when he should have zagged. The Shadow's blow, which had been intended to stop with no more than a firm tap to the young man's side, connected quite solidly. Even through the Kevlar, the boy had the wind expelled from him and he winced visibly. The Shadow halted at once and looked at him, concerned. "Maybe this isn't a good idea after all..."

When he had enough breath, Carlos gasped, "No, sir, it was my fault. My sensei would not approve." The Shadow hesitated, looking anywhere but Carlos. With great intensity, he began, "I don't..." but he let the words trail off as Carlos recovered. "OK, sir, I'm ready." They began again.

The Shadow quickly learned that Carlos was faster than he had suspected - perhaps faster than he had thought possible. The boy was like smoke, eluding blows the Shadow was certain would land - maddeningly dodging at the last possible moment. On the other hand, the cloaked crusader could easily fend off Carlos' less-practiced attacks as well. In the end, it seemed clear that the Shadow could take Carlos down if they were serious - but that it would take quite a long time for his superior skill to tell. Starting somewhat clumsily in the vest, Carlos quickly got the hang of things to the Shadow's satisfaction. (In fact, he was shocked that the lad kept on getting better.)

Carlos inadvertantly knocked the Shadow's hat off as Alex ducked his blow and attempted a sweep. Alex did not bother to retrieve it.

When they were both panting, Carlos called a halt moments before Alex was about to do the same. The boy put a hand lightly to his side, trying to hide his wince. He started to take off the vest, and Alex moved behind him to help him with the buckles in the back. Quietly, he asked, "Are you OK?" "I'll have a bit of a bruise there, sir. It'll be fine." Alex gripped Carlos' shoulder for a long moment, then managed to say what he hadn't been able to finish before. "I don't... want... to remind you of your uncle."

The boy froze, tense. When his words came out, they were soft. "You don't. You're trying to help me. He... only thought he was doing the right thing." Which is probably far more credit than the man deserves, Alex thought, but he let it pass. He slowly turned the young man around and took him by both shoulders. With great intensity, he said, "Carlos, I have something important to say." He received in return complete, undivided attention.

"In a few days, or perhaps even tomorrow night... as I said, we are going hunting. And that means there is a measurable, though hopefully very small, chance that... one of us will not return." He had to look away and pause for a moment before going on; Carlos did not move a muscle, completely receptive.

"There are many things that have been going unsaid in the last eight months or so. I learned... when my wife died..." Here Alex choked, but grated out the rest, "That there are things that one does not wish to leave unsaid." At the mention of Alex's wife, Carlos, already motionless, froze - a subtle point, but a real one.

He did not breathe as Alex forced himself to look in his eyes and say quietly, "I love you." And he remained stiff for a moment in shock as Alex hugged him tightly for the first time.

Finally, relaxing and returning the embrace fiercely (even through a layer of Kevlar), he said in a choked voice, "I love you too." There followed a long silence; Alex waited for Carlos to break it. "I know you can't... be my... father. But I have to tell you... If I had a father - a real one, I mean - you're everything I'd want him to be." "Thank you."

They parted. Carlos couldn't meet Alex's eyes. Alex said quietly, "I think I am going to take the rest of the night off." Carlos nodded gratefully, took a deep breath, and said, "There's some stuff I should look up on the web. I suppose it can wait for later." Alex nodded briskly. "You can do that while I cook." The young man smiled shyly and fled to the computer.

Alex followed him out, doffed the cloak and vest, and called as he went to the kitchen, "What would you like?" "We did Oriental last time. Maybe something American?" Alex nodded in approval. Best to keep it simple, he thought, and started whipping up a stew with what ingredients were to hand.

A sudden thought struck him. "What would you like to do next Thursday for Thanksgiving?" "I dunno... I hadn't really thought about it." "Do you have any family traditions you'd like to continue?" "...Not really. My aunt and uncle thought of Thanksgiving as an Anglo thing." His tone suggested that even if they'd had any, he'd just as soon forget them. "Well, if you have no objections, I have a few traditions. And, well, maybe we could create some." "That sounds great, sir!"

Carlos called, "Oh, and sir, you remember I mentioned a site you should probably look at?" [SP tells me Carlos said this to the Shadow last session, but I don't remember it.] "Yes?" "Is now a good time?" "Very well." Alex set the stew to simmer and walked over to join Carlos at the computer desk.

The two of them were all business as Carlos called up a typical homemade site devoted to the Shadow. "This guy claims he's actually seen you. Worse, he says he's seen the Shadowmobile. No pictures, though, just eyeballs. He saw you land, get off, and vanish. Then the bike went up and he lost track of it." [No, the Shadow doesn't fly around visibly. SP says the guy probably was so focussed on the rising motorcycle that the Shadow's personal invisibility clicked back on for him.] "Hmmm." "Of course, as you can see, he has all sorts of crazy ideas about it - he thinks you're a gadgeteer in league with a corporation, your invisibility the product of a "distortion field"... still, his guesses are not too far from the mark in some ways."

"Yes... What kind of buzz is this generating? What are people saying in his guestbook, and elsewhere?" "Well, the 'vampire' and 'ghost' theorists of course dismiss him loudly as a nut." That would be the pot calling the kettle black, Alex thought wryly. Carlos continued, "I first encountered the site as a link on a derisive post on Mike's site, actually. It hasn't been up very long."

Alex mulled it over. "There's no immediate threat, of course. I don't think I need to take any action now, and perhaps not ever. Our best bet may be to drown his ideas in misinformation. ... Perhaps we can play up the conspiracy angle. There are already people out there who think the government is spying on people with black helicopters... black flying motorcycles shouldn't be too much of a stretch. What he thought was a hat and cloak were really a high-tech helmet and armor." "Gotcha, sir. Actually, Mike has a username that goes in for that kind of thing. Want me to do some plants?" "I do, when you can manage it. And make a note on the monthly calendar for us to reassess the situation." "Will do."

Dinner was served shortly thereafter; the two were companionably silent through the meal. They played some cards desultorily afterward, with little of their usual banter. Both seemed content just to be with each other, the tension of the things that had been said earlier winding down into an easy camaraderie.

Eventually Alex yawned and said, "I should sleep. There's a long day ahead." "Gotcha, sir. Good night!" "Good night, Carlos." Was there a new undertone to the simple greetings, a new level of meaning?

Meanwhile, the Shadow's hat lay on the floor of the gym, forgotten.

[I have to say that I find it extremely telling that their first hug was while they were wearing armor. :) Very moving scene, though. I have the impression that the yuckiness I'm still feeling is affecting my writing for the worse, but maybe that's just me.]

These next couple posts are the last chunk of campaign data you'll get, barring unforeseeen developments. (It's the last I have written, for one.) So don't worry, be happy! :)


The issue of David's HS friends will likely come up very soon in the Shadow's adventures (they're going to wonder where he is), so I thought I should put some mention of them here, and also sketch out a brief scene SP and I RP'd while we were still feeling out the campaign.

The gang David usually hangs out with is heavy into sports, but also fairly academically inclined. They buck the "dumb jock" stereotype. David is, in fact, the only one who isn't actually on a team.

The Brighton house is mildly favored as a hangout, in part because "Mr. B" is such a good cook and always willing to fit people in at the dinner table. The house also has a more expansive yard than most of theirs. And Alex basically treats teens as inexperienced adults, and thus gives them more respect than they usually get from the older generation. This offsets his rather "flat" and quiet personality somewhat. On the other hand, when they're in his house, they are firmly expected to abide by his rules - which includes no drinking and no cussing, and cleaning up any mess you make.

"Little Dave" has been David's best friend since junior high. He's "little" only in comparison to "Big Dave", David Brighton. (David is 6'3". Alex is 6'1". They're both very big men too, even apart from their height... and not much of it is fat.) Little Dave is black, a fullback on the football team among other things, and very cheery and easy to get along with. He's the clown of the group. He's the one who started calling Alex "Mr. B". There is no father in his family, and he seems to take a lot of responsibility on himself at home as "the man of the family". His only career goal seems to be to play professional sports, which worries Alex, though he hasn't screwed himself up to say anything yet.

Miguel is the other core member. He's the oldest in a large family, very responsible. A wide receiver on the football team, he'd also like to play sports professionally, but is well aware of how unlikely that is, so he hits the books hard. Alex approves of his attitude and hard work.

John is a big Norwegian kid from the Midwest. He also is on the football team, and is probably the smartest of the group. He is quiet and painfully shy - he's been mocked so much for being big that he does his best to melt into the background. Alex really empathizes with him, for obvious reasons - reminds him of himself as a teen. David is the one largely responsible for including John in the group, and stands up for him regularly at school. John's also the youngest of the group, a sophomore. (The two Daves are seniors, Miguel a junior, and I forget about the girls.) [Shauna and Twyla are juniors, Mary a senior.]

Shauna is second-generation Chinese (Chinese father, American mother) and grew up in a fairly traditional family. Soft-spoken and very respectful to her elders. She has learned some martial arts (soft forms, mostly) and has recognized the signs of extensive training in Alex. She's a gymnast, too. She's by far the smallest of the group, only 5'3".

[Mary was not there. (In the scene to follow.) Daughter of 2 classic yuppies, she is in track and has the classic lean runner's build. She is also the most sensative to Alex's moods and is slightly wary of him. She is a senior and closely rivals John for being the smartest in the group. One sign of her intelligence is that she won't date either Dave. :) (This paragraph was written by SP, as I couldn't recall the details we'd worked out about her.)]

Twyla is David's current girlfriend. (The one he was caught sleeping with in the old campaign was someone else - Kelly, I think her name was? Anyway, her family has moved.) She is the firebrand of the group - loud, at times obnoxious, often egging the boys on to do things against their better judgement. She rubs Alex thoroughly the wrong way, but he does his best not to let it show - it seems clear that she and David are not really very compatible, and he figures the only thing that could keep them together long-term is if he expresses disapproval. :) [Or, as SP maliciously points out, a baby...]

Now for the scene I mentioned. You will see what I mean about it potentially being important, more so than we thought at the time. Just consider, for example, how it will now look through Twyla's eyes...


Little Dave stuck his head in the kitchen just as Alex was considering what to fix for dinner. "Hey, Mr. B!" "Yes, David?"

[Alex, as you may have noticed, doesn't believe in diminutive nicknames. :) The only reason he calls his boss "Bob" is that Bob basically ordered him to stop calling him "Robert". :) Why, then, is he "Alex" rather than "Alexander" usually? Because it's what other people call him, he's used to it. :) Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. And as for "Mr. Castaneda", that's really more of an in-joke.]

"Are you like a kung fu master or ninja or somethin'?" Quizzically, Alex responded, "No..." "Well, are you like a martial artist?" He made some shadow-boxing moves and aimless whining noises as sound effects. "Why do you ask?" "Shauna said you move like a warrior." "Did she." "Yeah. So are you?"

A fey mood took hold of Alex. What's the harm? "I will let you decide for yourself." "Huh?" "Let's go out back." "Cool!!"

Those members of the gang who were present went outside, eager for a spectacle. He stood on the lawn, not particularly in a stance, and said to Little Dave, "Come on, try something. All in fun."

The boy charged him with all the subtlety of, well, a fullback... and quickly found himself flat on his back. "Ooof! How'd you do that?!" Alex permitted himself a slight smile. "Try again and I'll show you." "No thanks, I'll pass! ... I wouldn't want to hurt you or anything!" Alex tsked. "You wouldn't happen to know the word 'sarcasm', would you?" Innocently, "Why no, Mr. B! Never heard it before in my life!"

[Something else significant about Alex - he remembers these little details. At Christmas, Little Dave is going to get the gift of a dictionary - with the word "sarcasm" neatly highlighted and a marker at that page. Yes, he has a weird sense of humor sometimes.]

Miguel announced, "My turn!" and approached Alex somewhat more warily, trying a few boxing moves on him... but he shortly joined Little Dave in a heap on the grass, laughing.

"Shauna?" But she declined saying, "It would not be my place to spar with you, Dr. Brighton." "As you wish."

Twyla then goaded David into trying, and Little Dave and Miguel added their voices to hers - wanting to spread the humiliation around, no doubt.

Neither Alex nor David were entirely comfortable with the idea at first, but David warmed to it. This match lasted considerably longer than the others - Alex was shocked at his son's raw strength. The others began to send nervous glances at each other - they'd seen David lose his temper before and do some pretty impressive things. But David was laughing, not angry at all.

Finally - age and treachery beating youth and speed every time, of course - Alex managed to pin his son to the ground, winning a good-natured surrender. The others visibly relaxed.

"I trust your question is answered, David?" (Speaking to Little Dave, of course.) "Sure is, Mr. B!" "Back to planning dinner, then. I trust you've worked up an appetite!" This brought a hearty round of agreement.


Now look at what Twyla's thought process is going to be. "David can beat up six armed men. His father can beat him..." And also consider that David and Alex have unaccountably disappeared lately...

She should buy the Super-Leap power, with the Flaw, "Restricted - Only to Conclusions". ;)

Almost forgot another point that will be worth noting for future adventures... The bulky manila envelope that Jerry handed to David after he was comfortably ensconced somewhere well out of California. It contains:

A new cell phone, with a Garrity-built scrambler. (Guaranteed to be utterly untraceable for the first minute - cells are harder, of course.) And instructions to destroy the old one if he has it on him.

A completely new identity, complete with driver's license, birth certificate, Social Security number, and passport. Even bank accounts. The cell is, of course, paid off in this name.

A legal instrument giving David durable power of attorney over the Brighton family finances. The lad will certainly not lack for funds. Alex can cancel this at any time just by calling his lawyer, of course. ("Durable", a lawyer friend tells me, means that it remains in effect even if the person is unconscious or dead, not that it can't be easily ended.) And the lawyer is NOT Lance Reston, also of course.

Details about said finances. There are going to be some shocks in here for David... Dad never mentioned the Swiss bank account, for example. :) And SP and I think that David really has little idea of how much Alex makes a year... His salary is well over six figures, but he socks most of it away, spending only 40 G's a year or so. I can see David starting to wonder uneasily just where it all comes from. :)

Finally, and most chillingly...

A copy of Alex's will. The vast majority of the assets go directly to David, of course. But there are bequests to a few charities... including, among others, the Clara Gutierrez Memorial Foundation, and a scholarship fund for kids from the inner city. One of these, the biggest, is earmarked for Carlos, but his name is of course nowhere in Alex's will. Anyway, there's certainly enough there for David to get curious about, if he's so inclined...

Besides the envelope, there's a bag packed full of clothes, with a variety of smaller survival stuff stashed in there too. First aid kit, compass, that kind of thing.

Alex was never a Boy Scout, but he does believe in being prepared. For anything. :)

And now, a Special Bonus Post! :) This is the background of my M&M version of the Forbidden. (The original player OK'd it, with a couple caveats.) I wrote it up because it is conceivable that the Forbidden could make a cameo appearance or three, if SP, the player, and I ever manage to get together again.

The sheet is, like the others, in the "LA Under Shadow" thread.

I think you'll find that this background makes for some real eye-opening as to the nature of SP's campaign world...


For centuries, the world's history has included a hidden layer that never made it into the textbooks... and for good reason. Any who discovered the truth either had a vested interest in keeping it hidden, or else had the good sense to keep quiet, or else were forcibly silenced. The Council does not look kindly on meddlers save for themselves.

Governments, armies, churches, secret societies - all were but pawns in the elaborate games of the Council, as they jockeyed for position, for knowledge, for power. For they alone (to their knowledge) had perfected the secrets of honing and tuning the psionic powers that lay dormant in the minds of so many. They had learned to control the "aura", the mental field projected by all thinking beings - how to reach out with it to touch the minds and hearts of others... or to make it solid, tangible, and deadly. The greatest among them - the Masters - could use it to manipulate their bodies' aging processes and live many lifetimes.

Yet though they saw themselves as above the concerns of the unwashed, blind mortals surrounding them, there were things that even the Council feared. Among these were the Forbidden - so called because their most ancient lore warned in direst terms against ever training those rare people with unusual, reversed auras - auras that seemed to absorb life and light rather than projecting it. Untrained, the effect was so minor as to be negligible, a curiosity, no more. None knew what the threat of the Forbidden was, but one of their few ironclad laws forbade them from finding out... Until Peerless.

His chosen Council-name reflects the arrogance of the man. In his lust for power over his fellow man, Peerless acknowledged no boundaries, not even the Council's most ancient laws. It made him a dangerous man - but a foolish one. For, hoping to create an assassin that none of his fellows could face, Peerless found, manipulated, and took on one of the Forbidden as an apprentice. But in a routine training exercise, his catspaw's dark powers awoke and snuffed out his life quite accidentally - the life of one of the greatest Masters!

The others knew terror of one not of their own for the first time in centuries, perhaps longer. A man capable of destroying one of them was an unendurable threat - yet they dared not face him themselves. They sent apprentices and other agents to kill him, to no avail. He drank up their power and then drank up their lives... then fled untraceably. They still search for him frantically, the one they now call THE Forbidden - the only one with the knowledge to harm them.

When he solidifies his aura, those with eyes to see perceive him to be swallowed up in its glistening, impermeable blackness - blackness he can extend as probes to rend and tear, or to fasten like leeches in the aura of another, to drink deep of life. Probes that can tear the auric constructs of Council-trained psychics to pieces. He has not mastered the Council's techniques for altering the minds of others by aura-touch (and his reversed aura makes it difficult in any event) but he can manage some tricks with effort.

The Forbidden remembers little of his past - it is standard practice among the Council to mindwipe their apprentices to make them more loyal and dependent on their masters. He is a large man, and skilled in fighting even without the formidable edge his powers give. Yet he is a sensitive soul who loves to read the classics and walk in the mountains - one who seeks peace away from his fellow men. He hates what he must do to survive with all his being, yet he cannot bring himself to die when he knows he is the only one who can disturb the Council's peace and distract them from their grip on the world.

And so, when the Hunger is on him, he goes to the nearest city and seeks those who prey on their fellow men. There the hunters become the prey, as they give up their lives to fill his black, ragingly empty aura. On one such foray, he met another, a kindred spirit in a way: the Shadow.

The Shadow's blinding, throbbingly potent aura is usually hidden behind his thick mental shields, which is no doubt why he has never come to the attention of the Council. He has attained a raw, untutored mastery over it that even some of the Masters might envy - though none would envy the curse of his homozygosity, which makes him unable to turn the flow of power off.

Attracted to the Shadow's grim sense of purpose (and, it must be confessed, to the soothing power the man unconsciously radiates), and then later out of friendship and loyalty, the Forbidden stayed in Los Angeles longer than was really wise. (He did not burden his friend with the full knowledge of the Council, speaking only in general terms of his abilities and how he came by them.) Yet it turned out for the best in the end, for he met Rose.

Rose was what the Council calls a "natural" - someone with a blindingly bright aura, yet no training to shape it. She was like a life-battery, a sun shining in the night, and the attraction of opposites (positive and negative) spilled over into their emotions. The Forbidden could take life from her - nay, receive it freely offered - without fear of harming her. For the first time, he saw a way out of his cruel dilemma - a way to happiness and peace.

He stayed a little longer to help the Shadow rescue his son David and smash the evildoers who had kidnapped the boy. Then he bade the Shadow a fond farewell and went with Rose into the Sierra Nevada. What machinations the Council has sent after him, and how he has responded, are unknown.

But the Shadow's war goes on.

[Note that the character of the Forbidden is taken directly from a published short story, part of an award-winning anthology. But it's not plagiarism, because the character was created by the author of the story. :) Brief plug: The story is "The Fix", in the anthology "The Lives of Ghosts and Other Stories" by Loren Cooper, my best friend. It won the Eppie for best e-book anthology of the year in 2001 (IIRC) and is available in paperback as well. It's on Amazon along with other books of his, if you're interested...]

[Bizarre thought that I just now had: Are the "Forbidden" and the "mindblind" one and the same thing? Recall that the Forbidden's mental powers, such as they are, stem from direct, almost physical manipulation of auras, not from conventional telepathy... In that case, the Forbidden's Mental Protection would be of merely Psionic origin.]
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Lela said:
Hmmmm, what about David and Thanksgiving? You could invite them both. ;)

Both of who?

David and Twyla? Not a very relaxing dinner. :)

David and Carlos? Perhaps even less relaxing, though in a nicer way.

David and Legion?! Though I think that would be more of a case of a guest inviting it/them/self. :)

Alex was awakened in the night by a sudden gasp and movement from Carlos' cot. Muzzily he asked, "Wha'?" After a moment, the young man's voice responded from the dark, "I'm OK, sir. Just a dream." "All right..." Alex hesitated, trying to find a way to wish him a good night without being inane, then just decided to let him get back to sleep.

I hadn't realized the full dimensions of Carlos' problem, he mused as he settled back down. Now that he was spending most of his time at the base, he realized that Carlos' sleep time was very frequently interrupted - at least twice a night, even during the short time that their sleep cycles overlapped. But what could be done about it? Carlos was already taking an over-the-counter sleeping pill every other week or so, when his body simply couldn't go on without some extra rest. The boy had an ex-junkie's exaggerated but justified fear of using any sort of mind-affecting drug, though, and Alex was reluctant to press him to use that option more often. Perhaps I should introduce him to Grace, he thought; perhaps she can help him get at the deeper reasons behind these nightmares. Sleep reclaimed him before he continued the thought.

When he awoke, he performed his morning ablutions as usual. (Not noticing the Shadow's hat still lying on the gym mat.) Then he sat down at the computer desk to make a few calls, shooting another troubled glance at Carlos' disarrayed sleeping form as he did so. Sisters of Mercy reported that Juan was still in serious condition in the ICU. Hal reported that the gas grenades would be ready that evening. "Is the radio detector done?" "What? Oh! Right! That. Uh, it'll be done tonight too." Alex had to smile - he'd suspected that Hal would zone out that trivial, "boring" task.

Struck by a sudden thought, he fired up the computer and logged onto OmniMetal's system as "Prometheus". It's a mark of how busy I've been that I've forgotten to do the legwork on this, he chided himself. Soon he immersed himself in the file system, skimming for now, downloading for later thorough perusal.

The group-mind project data was accessible to him, and Alex's trained eye told him it was either genuine or a brilliantly-prepared fake. There had been three major rounds of tests, with different sets of subjects (none had been willing to repeat the experience). The waiver forms were all neatly scanned into the system; Alex noted that they were up to the standards of the industry, and better than some, even if they did deal with a subject as taboo as telepathy. (He also made a mental note to do some checking on the names.)

The first test-meld lasted only a few minutes, and the participants were so shaken that they fled the room at once, not speaking to each other. There were signs of increased psionic function during the existence of the group mind, however, and so more effort was focussed on the research. It was decided that personality incompatibilities were to blame, so they screened the next set of participants more carefully, and also upped the dosage of the drugs involved somewhat, particularly the will-sapping one. (Alex noted to his dismay that Christopholous had used THOUSANDS of times the recommended dosage on Legion, both with the will-sapper and the cocaine derivative.)

This second meld lasted a few minutes longer, but the aftereffects were also more extreme. There were shouting and tears and accusations, and security had to be called. Investigation showed that one of the participants was rather more of a loner than he had let on under questioning, and it was thought this was to blame for the failure of the experiment.

Rigorous precautions were taken in the third trial. The participants were subjected to exhaustive psychological profiling before being approved, and the increased dosages were also used (though not increased further). The group was certified to be as compatible, sane, and people-friendly as modern science could determine. And when the effect lapsed after ten minutes or so, they were at each other's throats at once and had to be dragged apart.

Most of the participants in the three trials refused to talk about the experience at all. Piecing things together, however, the realization came that the group-mind was simply too intimate a sharing for a sane human mind to contemplate comfortably - nobody could stand being known so well by another. Ensuring greater compatibility only meant that they were better mirrors to each other, that they knew - and loathed - each other even more. The project was discontinued at that point as a dead end.

Alex dug deeper, wondering if these drugs and methods had been tried in animals before humans. They had, in rats, and later in dogs and chimpanzees. The bizarre thing was that while the rats and chimps had certified the drugs safe for human trials, only the dogs had shown evidence of something more going on: They would all stare as one in the same direction, wag their tails in unison, and generally behave as a single unit; this was what had inspired the group-mind project in the first place. The reasons why dogs showed an apparently psionic response while chimps did not was a mystery subject to continuing research. Mention was made obliquely to a telepath on the OmniMetal payroll who claimed to be able to telepathically interact with canines, but not with other animals. (She was unique, though; no other telepaths known to the company could do the same.)

Are those "waiting" minds in the OmniMetal building maimed dogs, as Johnson implied, Alex wondered? Or are they human after all, and this research an elaborate smokescreen? One more thing to unravel... though putting dog brains in suitcases doesn't strike me as being terribly ethical either.

Turning to Christopholous' personnel file, Alex found little on a quick skim that he hadn't already known. He did print out a color copy of the man's picture, though.

Now for a moment he'd been unaccountably putting off. Taking the wireless phone from its cradle, he walked into the gym so Carlos wouldn't hear, and called David's new cell number.

"Izzat... Dad?" Alex knew his son's sleep-fuzzed voice when he heard it. "Yes, David, it's me. How are you?" "Half asleep," the candid response came back. "What time is it?" "Seven thirty," Alex informed him. Just like David to sleep in when there was no school in the morning... "Are you OK?" "Yeah. It's really the back of beyond here, though..." "Don't tell me where you are," Alex warned. "Right. Anyway, there's not much to do... is it all right if I go and buy some books and other entertainment?" "That should be all right. Just don't draw any attention to yourself." "I won't. When can I come home?"

"I'm hoping to have you back by Thanksgiving." "That's a week and a half away! Oh, you mean before then, not right then?" "Yes." "Well, OK," the boy replied in a resigned tone, then continued, "How are you doing?" "Let's just say it's better to be bored than to be in my shoes just now." "Great. Things have gotten complicated?" "You might say that. I am not only dealing with a homicidal telepathic mass-mind, but a smart homicidal telepathic mass-mind. It's actually hired my company to make something for it."

"But... you're a research chemist!" "Yes." "...It's probably better that I don't know, right?" "Probably." "Has anyone called for me?" "Not yet, you've only missed one school day, remember." "Oh... right. Well, what are you going to tell them?" "I've told your school we've had a family emergency and you had to leave on short notice." "OK, I guess that'll work for just about anyone. Reassure Twyla that I'm not running out on her or anything, OK?" Alex replied flatly, "I'll be sure to speak with her." Thankfully, David failed to notice the distinct lack of commitment to reassurance in that response. "Good."

"Is there anything else, son?" "Nah, I think that's it." "I love you. Be careful!" "You too, Dad!"

After he hung up, Alex realized he hadn't explicitly asked after David's gunshot wound. Shaking his head, he asked himself, "You trust HIS powers, when you can't wholly trust your own?"

Replacing the phone, he fired off an email asking Michael to meet him that night, then headed off to work.

Tensions there were not only still running high... they were running higher. Lunchtime showed a workforce divided into enemy camps. Mostly the two sides stuck to their own tables, but Alex managed to overhear a couple heated, if quiet, arguments. One of which proved that somebody was leaking the substance of the project; at any rate, people who shouldn't know anything about it were starting to.

Bob approached Alex later in the day to say he'd heard by word of mouth about Alex's own guarded comments about the whole thing... and to thank him, rather than reprimand him. "You took the right approach - doing your bit for morale without revealing anything important. I wish I could say everybody else was doing the same..."

The dissension even started to invade Alex's well-oiled team. One of the researchers blew up at another passing on the latest juicy tidbit, saying he didn't want to hear about it; Alex had to talk them both down. Vu, for his part, took in the whole situation with his usual aplomb: He sized up Alex's expression, then announced calmly, "You don't like this project. And I trust your judgement. I don't need to know anything more." [Now there is a true friend!]

Alex felt rather worn down when he got home. Suppressing one's emotions has its bright side at times, he thought sarcastically; more people should try it. There were two messages on his machine, both for David: One from Little Dave, one from Mary. Both wanted to know if he was OK and wished him well... Mary added there was a big test coming up in World History, so he'd better not miss too much class. That made Alex grin mirthlessly despite himself. "He'll just have to wait for his father to make sure there'll be a World Future, I guess." Chuckling slightly, he dialed Little Dave's number.

"Hello, David." "Oh hi, Mr. B! I was just wondering about Big Dave, you know? Is he OK?" "Yes, I'm returning your call. He's fine; we just have had an emergency in our family and he had to take a trip on short notice." "Oh. Sorry to hear that. Not the kind you want to talk about?" "I'm afraid not." "I know how that goes. Hope it turns out OK. When'll he be back?" "Hopefully by Thanksgiving." "Cool. Oh, and uh, Mr. B?" The boy sounded a bit uneasy. "What is it, David?" "Well, I just thought I'd let you and Dave know that there's some weird rumors going around about him." Alex suppressed a sigh, and inquired, "Oh?"

"Well... I heard two freshmen saying today that he'd been shot in the chest, then got back up and fought the guy who'd shot him." Alex put the right note of incredulity in his voice: "David, I assure you, if my son had been shot, I would have heard about it!" [SP: "Oh, artfully done!" :)] That at least is the truth, he thought glumly as he continued, "Now who's spreading this nonsense around?" [Not a lie either, even by implication. David was shot in the gut. :)] The young man's voice evinced relief as he answered, "Yeah, of course it is, Mr. B., I just thought you should know." "I thank you, David. I'd appreciate it if you could nip this sort of talk in the bud if you should hear it again." "Will do, Mr. B.! Say hi to Dave for me!" "I will," Alex promised and hung up.

Two possibilities, he thought grimly. Twyla is wagging her tongue, or else somehow a survivor from one of David's fights has started a rumor that has somehow reached his school with his identity intact. And which seems more likely?

He took a medicine bottle labelled as a headache remedy out of his pocket and deliberately swallowed a little white pill. "Yes, I think it's time Twyla and I had our little chat."

It was a little strange, striding purposefully but invisibly down the street as Alex, not the Shadow. Oh, he'd done it before plenty of times, but never "on duty" - never intending to go and confront someone. It made him a little uneasy, but he forced the feeling down as he came to Twyla's address, sweeping it with his inner sight.

There was a party in progress; not too loud, but with many adults getting somewhat dulled with alcohol. Twyla's siblings were in their rooms, but she herself was not to be found. Alex thought it over; it was too early yet for her to be at any of the gang's usual hangouts. Since they weren't at his house, most likely they'd be at Little Dave's or Shauna's. No luck at the first location, but after some extensive walking his senses reported that she was at the latter one, along with Shauna, her mother, Mary, and Miguel. He dipped quietly into the upper reaches of Twyla's mind.

It was the remains of a study session. Miguel was being teased about cramming so hard. (The lad took his schoolwork very seriously, a trait Alex approved of.) He for his part was complaining humorously about being outnumbered by those of the female persuasion. Alex waited patiently, not unused to stakeouts. Eventually, Shauna's father came home and made small talk with the kids. In response to a question, Miguel said, "Oh, Little Dave's got stuff to do tonight, and Big Dave hasn't been at school. Nah, we haven't heard why."

Twyla's response pricked Alex's ears up. She was genuinely worried about David, her mind running wildly along different scenarios... Maybe that knife wound was worse than he'd let on? Or he'd gotten into some kind of trouble? Then came the more cinematic possibilities... he'd fled to protect his secret identity, crooks were after him, and so on.

Soon it came time to leave, and Twyla decided that she definitely wasn't about to go home while her parents' party (thought of with weary contempt) was going on. She elected to head to a video arcade. Alex followed silently, wrestling with how to approach her. Now that he knew her basic position, he didn't want to scare her, at least right away. But how is a grown man supposed to approach his teenage son's girlfriend on the street to "talk" without scaring her? With a sigh, Alex returned home and dug up her cell number; David had it written down.

She answered on the third ring. "Hello?" "Hello, Twyla. This is Dr. Brighton. David's father." A pause. "Oh, hello. Is he OK? He hasn't been at school the last couple days..." "Yes, he's fine. We've had a family emergency and he had to leave on short notice. He should be back by Thanksgiving." With obvious relief, she said, "Oh, that's good! Thanks for letting me know." "You're welcome. Actually, I wanted to ask you about something else, as well..." "Yeah?"

"I heard from David - Little Dave, I mean - that there are people saying David - my son - was shot in the chest." "He's been shot?! Is he all right?!" "Twyla! I said nothing of the sort. Believe me, if my son had been shot, I'd know!" "Oh, that's a relief." "I was just wondering if you'd heard anything of that sort." Another pause. "No, I hadn't heard that." "Ah. Terrible thing, rumors. Of course, they sometimes have a grain of truth to them. After all, David was, in fact, hurt recently."

A long and very uncomfortable pause stretched out, until Alex broke it. "Did you think I wouldn't notice the bandage?" "Not every parent would notice," she replied quietly. "Perhaps not, but I did. And I suppose you noticed that he wasn't wearing it the last time you saw him." Puzzled by this comment, she said, "Ah, did you remove it?" "There was no need. The wound had healed of itself." "...Oh."

"I understand you two had an argument that day." Defensively, "People do that, you know..." "I know what you were arguing about." Another very long pause, this time. "...How much do you know about it?" "Everything."

When no reply came, Alex continued, "David is, shall we say... special." "That's one word for it, I guess." "And so I'm very concerned about the wrong sort of rumors going around. You see, there are people who wouldn't take well to David's... specialness." "I see what you mean," she replied slowly... then realized something. "I didn't start the rumor!" Then, lamely, "I guess I did say to someone that I thought he COULD be shot and get back up, but I didn't say it had actually happened." Soothingly, Alex told her, "I'm not accusing you of anything, Twyla. I'm just asking you if you can help me and David in preventing these rumors from going around."

"Well, I certainly won't say anything else about him... but I don't know what I can do if I hear something from someone else except laugh at it." "That will do quite nicely. I appreciate your help, Twyla, and so will David when I tell him." "Let him know I miss him, OK?" "Of course."

Alex left the house feeling relieved. One less thing to worry about; it's a relief to reduce the number of things on my plate for once!

[SP's response after the whole Twyla conversation was a joking, "You swine! Manipulating a poor, innocent girl that way..." Personally, I don't see anything swinish about it, in that the full truth would likely hurt her as much as Alex and David.]

[One does see another side of Alex in this episode, though... one he shares with my other characters. In addition to a chivalrous streak, they all have a way with weasel words and fast-talking. Why yes, I am of Irish descent, why do you ask? Blarney stone? Never heard of it in my life... :)]

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