Monday, September 30, 2013

The War Lover

'Lady, I'm part of the most destructive group of men the world has ever known. That's my work!' - Buzz Rickson (Steve McQueen)

The primary thing I took from The War Lover was to wonder if Steve McQueen ever played a serial killer. He usually has that charm, half-boyish, half-roguish, but he also tends to have a lot of intensity. Depending on where that intensity is directed, it can be pretty terrifying, or creepy.

McQueen plays Buzz Rickson, a hotshot bomber pilot, and guess what? He's doesn't play by the rules! I know, a real stretch for McQueen, but the movie does try to avoid glorifying him too much. His bomber crew loves him, and his co-pilot admires his skill, but the longer the movie goes the more you see the other side of it. That total confidence in his superiority in every facet of his life could make him kind of a pill to deal with. He's always trying to prove something, so nothing is off limits to him, which is where the shift to creepy comes in. As his co-pilot, Bolland (Robert Wagner), starts to see Buzz more clearly, Buzz starts trying to prove his superiority over Bolland, and that turns especially creepy when he tries to woo Daphne (Shirley Anne Field), the young Englishwoman Bo's smitten with. There are more and more shots of Buzz standing in the background, watching them intently, either gauging something, or silently challenging Bo.

The movie is pretty predictable overall. You can see most of the specific beats and the ending coming a ways off. There is an effective scene in a tavern midway through the movie, probably the point where the bad side of Buzz' personality starts coming through. There's an air raid, the rest of the flight crew has gone to find a shelter, but Buzz stays, helping himself to free booze, and regaling the one member of the crew who stayed with a story of his childhood (a story of a 13 year old Buzz' very eventful 72 hours with a woman old enough to be his mother, as he put it). The bombs start falling, but Buzz ignores them. He's in his own world, and they might as well not even be falling. At that point, it's kind of impressive, admirable even, the refusal to let them dictate how he lives his life. Doesn't excuse the abominable way he treated the serving girl just before it, but it at least seems like a positive quality. Then he barges outside and shouts at the sky, telling them to come back when they have a bomb big enough to kill him. Which is the point the confidence becomes bravado, and it's just ugly. But it's good to have, because it keeps the audience from liking or admiring Buzz as much, which is key because it makes more certain that our sympathies lie with Bo and Daphne later.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Burn Notice 6.7 - Reunion

Plot: Anson's dead, Nate's dead, Fiona's out of prison. Now what? Now Michael finds the person responsible for Nate's death, and when it turns out Rebecca has flown the coop (the coop in this case being a room at Elsa's hotel), Mike's after her. Well, it'll give him something to do other than wonder why his mother won't return his calls.

In the midst of that, Sam is called away on a request from Elsa herself. Her son, Evan, stole a diamond tennis bracelet, which she wants back, and Sam agrees to retrieve it, with Jesse's help. As it turns out, evan wanted to use it to pay off some debt he owed to Morris. Morris would prefer Evan pay those debts by heisting a truck full of expensive champagne from a nightclub. As it turns out, the truck is actually a rolling drug lab, and the owner would like it back, which is less of a problem, and more of a resource.

After a foul-up at the fake id place, Mike and Fiona find Rebecca at . . . Mike's loft! Where she bleeds on his floor as she explains she didn't kill Nate. And Michael ultimately believes her and lets her leave. He does not offer to patch up her shoulder, which is kind of a dick move since he's the one who shot her. Then again, she shot him in the chest and it's just fortunate he was wearing Kevlar.

The Players: Elsa (Sam's Lady Friend), Evan (Spoiled Punk), Morris (Not A Decent Guy)

Quote of the Episode: Michael - 'Honey, it's gonna be all right. He has doughnuts!'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No, but give her time. She's still at the stage where she's enjoying the little things she missed in prison. Like the sound of chambering a round.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 2 (12 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 1 (5 overall).

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (0 overall).

Other: Michael doesn't use any fake names, but he does introduce himself as 'Internal Affairs' at one point.

Do you think it's hard to lie in a coffin, pretending to be dead, while people come up and do all the stuff people do when they approach coffins?

I enjoyed Jesse's scowly face as he drove up to Sam and Evan in a shot up Mustang.

I see that time in prison didn't blunt any of Fiona's edges. She was quite excited that Michael was leaving the non-lethal ordinance at home, and she didn't seem to have any qualms about threatening to harm that print shop owner. Fine, he was an odious little guy who tries to extort a man who needs some food for his wife's diabetes, but still. I just found myself contrasting it with how Michael played two episodes ago, when he was supposed to have spent time in prison. You know, eyes down, shoes without laces, waiting for permission. Those aren't very Fiona things, and it's good to see she wasn't broken down by her stay in prison, but I wouldn't mind if she'd come out of her incarceration a little less OK with hurting people.

It was nice to get to meet Elsa. I've been wondering about her for awhile, given the fact she seems completely unfazed when Sam asks if they can borrow a nice car or a big house. I still don't entirely understand how he met a classy lady like her, or what exactly she see in him, but she seems pretty cool.

I'm trying to decide if Michael was so quick to help Sam with his problem because he wants to keep busy, or because his instinct to protect people is shifting into high gear. He tried keeping Fiona out of the line of fire more than once in this episode. It's interesting he's not using the tactic of distancing himself from his friends. He's keeping them close, but trying to do that without letting them near danger. Which is pretty hard considering how close he is to danger. Every time Michael has to stop and wait, his mind drifts, typically into places he'd rather not go. Nate, his mother, which also seems to trigger that urge to keep his friends shielded. I guess you could say one part of him knows he needs his friends if he's going to survive, but the part that overthinks things, that get scared, it urges him to shove them into a hidey hole every chance it gets.

Communication seems to be the big deal in this episode. Mike not being able to reach Rebecca, and each of them going to guns when they finally meet. Elsa not being able to talk to Evan, but Sam eventually finding some common ground, which enables him to get mother and son together for a chat. Michael not being able to reach Madeline. Michael does seem to be communicating well with Fiona, though. Having accepted how much he needs her and leans on her, he seems more willing to share his struggles and confide in her.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Ballad of John Marston

If Red Dead Redemption were a Peckinpah movie, I doubt it would be The Ballad of Cable Hogue, but I like that movie, but John Marston is betrayed by his former comrades, and he does have to wait many long years for revenge. Except Marston doesn't want revenge, he'd just as soon live on his ranch with his wife and son. But the government men say he's got to pay for all those crimes he committed in the past, and the best way to do that is commit a whole lot more murders on the government's behalf.

So the player's left guiding John through an early 20th Century West, seeking his former mates, and failing that, seeking people who might be able to find them. Naturally, they all want many, many favors in return before they'll help, which is probably why there's hardly one person you have to work with in the game I didn't want to shoot at least once. The Marshall of Armadillo might be the exception, but he had those two nitwit deputies, who I did want to shoot, so he was irritating by proxy. Other than that, every other person I had to work for drove me up the wall at least once with their hypocrisy, flimflammery, or general moral repugnance.

Not that Marston is any kind of winner, himself. I was relatively restrained in terms of the mayhem I carried out. No riding around, randomly shooting or robbing people, I wound up with the highest levels possible for both good and honor. Even so, I killed a lot of people, and Marston didn't much seem to care. They were in his way. If the option had existed for some of these guys to surrender or step aside, I'd have taken it (usually). But that's not really how it goes. I did shoot De Santa in the head repeatedly, but he betrayed me without a moment's compunction (which was plain as day as the game lead up to it), so my rules are a little different there.

The whole thing about the honor gauge was screwy anyway. At times, as you ride through the countryside, there'll be a blue dot on your mini-map. Usually it's someone in danger. Wagon stolen, pursued by wolves, that sort of thing. You can help or not as you wish. Sometimes it's a set-up. A bunch of armed men leap out and demand money, or someone who claims to be stranded will dash up, throw you off your horse and ride off. If you shoot them as they flee, that counts as dishonorable. It makes no sense to me that killing a man who stole your horse is dishonorable, but killing a man who caught you cheating at cards and challenged you to a duel is kosher.

The whole Mexican Revolution part of the game wasn't much better. Law officers would ask you to capture escaping prisoners. if you did (rather than killing them), he'd shoot them in the head. You were told you did a good deed. If you saw three soldiers about to execute a guy by the side of the road and you opened up on them, that's bad. Even though the game isn't shy about telling you the government in Mexico at that time is massively corrupt, jailing and executing people, burning and pillaging homes. Oh, and don't forget the rapes. Naturally. I don't know if the designers meant that as a commentary - that whether you're a hero or a villain depends on the perspective of others - or if it's just some glitch in the system that didn't think through clearly enough. My guess is the former, since the Bureau agents were a bunch of murdering scumbags as well. I'd have rather shot them and dealt with the consequences in game, but it wasn't allowed. Marston would aim his gun up every time I tried.

The time in Mexico felt interminable. The scenery was beautiful - that's true of much of the game - and the background music had this trumpet fanfare I liked, but the story. It would have helped if I thought Reyes actually believed in the revolution, rather than using it as a means to power (and a way to woo ladies). he could be committed to the idea of revolution, while also being willing to do awful things in pursuit of it. Instead, he's the sort who mostly lets others do the work, while he reaps the glory. No different from the Army fellows I worked for down there. Big surprise, Rockstar made a cynical game, right? Marston at least questions the Army on whether they ought to be handling things as they do, but whatever doubts he has, they don't stop him from continuing to murder for the Army.

Also, the guys at Rockstar have peculiar ideas about the density of large predators. I've had my horse felled by a bear (one downside to the game is you can't enjoy the scenery as much because you have to keep your eyes peeled for things that will kill your horse), popped up, killed the bear, turned to face another magically appearing full-grown bear, killed that, then been killed by yet another magically appearing full-grown bear. I wasn't even at a salmon stream, I was out in the middle of the damn woods.

I have a love-hate situation with horse riding. When I can let the horse trot at a steady speed and watch my surroundings, it's fine. But having to tap A repeatedly to speed up got old, especially if you're on a mission that requires you to speed up and slow down a lot. That's what broke the A button on my primary controller. Compared to using a trigger button to accelerate a vehicle in a GTA game, it's awkward. Also, the horse has a stamina meter which - due to my screen's dimensions or something - I could not always see. I could see the very top of it, and the very bottom. Everything in between was off the edge of the screen. This happened a lot with explanatory text in the upper left corner. Those were not helpful developments, but most of the controls are pretty simple, given a few opportunities to use them. At first, I did not enjoy the enhanced Red Dead mode picked up in Mexico - where you can tap the right bumper and place an X over a specific location, then move to the next place you want to shoot - but once I got used to it, no problems. It's handy to be able to place shots more precisely.

One thing I didn't like at all: Any mission that involved lassoing, especially horses. It seemed like I always let go of the wrong button at the wrong time, or held a button down too long, and it was a pain. If I wanted to herd horses, I'd play Harvest Moon. Also, if you're going to let me lasso things, really let me do it. I tried a few times to lasso wolves or mountain lion (makes it easier to kill them with a hunting knife), but it never seemed to take.

The ending was a bit of a surprise, though I suppose it shouldn't have been. This is very much a '70s Western, and that's not really a compliment. The relentless cynicism, that idealists are always going to die, fools will remain fools, people in power will never learn anything, and keep creating new messes for themselves. At least the game highlighted some of its points early on when Marston told the Marshall he didn't believe the Marshall's method would solve anything. Punishing criminals doesn't address why they became criminals.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Artists In Crime - Ngaio Marsh

I'm familiar with Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Alleyn series through the set of DVDs my dad owns. British detective shows, at least the ones he owns - are a hit or miss prospect. I loved Foyle's War, but Campion felt as though it tried too hard to be cute or charming, and came off as annoying. Inspector Alleyn was in the middle, but more towards the Foyle end of things. I think I prefer for the detective to be fairly straight-laced and serious, and then it can be the suspects and supporting cast that are the oddballs bouncing off him.

I don't know if Marsh wrote the books in chronological order, but Artists in Crime takes place before any of the series that were on the DVDs. At this point, Alleyn's just returning from some work in New Zealand, and meets a painter he knows of by the name of Agatha Troy on the boat. They don't exactly hit it off well - Troy dislikes intrusions on her work, and Alleyn's a little too stiff and proper to roll with the initial brush off - but privately, they both like each other more than the other is aware.

Their next opportunity to meet comes all too soon, as Sonia Gluck, serving as a model at Troy's studio, winds up dead from a knife jammed into the piece of furniture she was meant to posing on. As Sonia was rather difficult to work with, there are no shortage of suspects, from a moody, odd, current lover known as Garcia, to a brief former lover (the son of a lord), to said son-of-a-lord's fiancee, to a plagiarist she'd found out, and any number of people she'd irritated with her attitude. That Alleyn has to consider Troy a suspect doesn't make things any easier for him, not that Troy is all that thrilled with it either.

One thing I've mentioned before with certain detective stories is that the explanations the detectives come up with are so fantastic, I feel the killer could get away with it if they merely bluffed their way through. Poirot was guilty of this more than once. Marsh put my fears at ease by having a) having the killer try to bluff their way through, only for the attempt to be blown by someone else, and b) having Alleyn admit later it would have been tough to prove otherwise. That was appreciated. Beyond that, Marsh laid things out pretty well. I had a pretty good idea who did, but that was more because their alibi seemed the least verifiable, and because everything was pointing at someone else. Which is a meta way of solving it, following the genre rules rather than the story clues.

Acknowledging that it's been two years since I watched those shows, Alleyn is a bit different here than I remember. More cheeky I think. I don't know if that's down to the actor, to the directing, or if Marsh shifted Alleyn's characterization in later stories. it's not a problem, Alleyn's reactions are always understandable, and in many cases, are much the same one I would have had. Marsh manages a large cast well, giving all the suspects, Alleyn's partners, and several of the minor characters enough fleshing out to make them feel real. Even Troy's help staff, who only appear for a page or two, get enough spotlight to give some idea of the kind of people they are, and in a way that makes them seem interesting. It was pretty impressive.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

What's Your Most Quotable Movie?

Well, whatever was causing the image uploading problem seems to have resolved itself. Not that I post many images on here, but it's nice to be able to when I want. Break up the monotony of text every once and awhile.

I feel as though I'm running behind today, so a quick post for you to discuss among yourself: What's the most quotable movie?

You can approach that in a number of ways. Most quotable for you, most quotable in general, most quotable in the sense of having a lot of memorable lines, or in having a lot of lines you can work into everyday conversation. That allows for a lot of variability. I can quote a lot of In Bruges, but I doubt that's true of most people, and most of those lines are not ones that can be repeated in mixed company.

I know Monty Python and the Holy Grail gets quoted a lot, but I'm not sure how much of it is being used in situations where it fits, as opposed to fans just reciting lines to show off. My mom has told me she and her coworkers trade Blazing Saddles lines, and even with them not using all the ones with racist or sexist slurs, or just profanity in general, there's a couple of dozen they can work in. So maybe that's a good choice.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What I Bought 9/21/2013

I may not have done any comic buying at the convention, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't do a little while Alex was working. And since I figured my comic guy wouldn't be sending these two earlier issues of Daredevil any time soon, I grabbed them while I had the chance.

Speaking of my comic guy, he ought to be sending September's books this week. Hopefully today. Not that it'll be much of a haul. With no DC books, and then you throw in Hawkeye #13 not shipping (for the 2nd consecutive month), Rocketeer/Spirit #2 not shipping (for the second consecutive month), and Atomic Robo: Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur #3 not shipping, and the field is down to 6 books, assuming Diamond didn't stiff him on anything, and he remembers everything.

Daredevil #28, by Mark Waid (writer), Javier Rodriguez (penciler/colorist), Alvaro Lopez (inker), Joe Caramagna (letterer), and Daredevil #30, by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee (storytellers), Javier Rodriguez (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Never mind. No cover discussion because Blogger/Google's being a worthless asshole right now about uploading pictures. I don't want to upload something from my online account because the fucking image is on my desktop, you jackasses! {Edit, Thursday afternoon: The issue seems to have resolved itself. Not at all sure why. Perhaps a temporary problem on their end, I don't know. Anyway, the cover. Do you think Young Nate's head blocking the "without" in Daredevil's tagline is intentional? Since the kids all believed Young Matt was chicken, and therefore was very much with fear.}

Issue 28 adds some context to issue 29, which I already had, by outlining Matt's history with Nate Hackett, and Nate's dilemma. Nate was a jerk as a kid, but also one who inadvertently created Daredevil, which he figures sort of cancels it out. Besides that, Young Matt was kind of a mouthy, aloof brat, which you could understand certain kids finding irritating. Frankly, if you're going to talk a lot of smack about how great your dad is, and how you're going to be a rich lawyer when you grow up, I'm not really surprised other kids would decide to beat you up. Doesn't make it right, but you can understand it. Matt, despite his misgivings, recognizes Nate really does have a case, and makes the right choice. I like the two aspects of their past separately, but together I'm not as big a fan. I suppose the revelation of Matt's childhood attitude was necessary, and I actually like it. There are elements of that kid in Matt even now, the bragging, the cockiness, the part of himself he holds in reserve. I kind of wish Nate had just been an unrepentant jerk, so I'd feel more confident Matt was really helping him because he had a case, and not out of any slight case of guilt over how Nate's life turned out.

The bit with Foggy at the beginning was really good., but that's about the bond of friendship, so I was an easy mark there. Page 3 looked good. Matt staring at himself in the dark mirror of a bathroom, then the middle of the page, where Matt gradually composes himself, then walks back into that room. The shift in the colors from that dark bathroom, where Matt's alone with his problems, to the hallway, where he has to set all that aside and be Foggy's support. And Foggy's room is the same shadowy colors as the bathroom, where Matt can't hide from the problem.

Issue 30 is more slight, Matt trying to adjust to former Assistant D.A. McDuffie taking Foggy's place in the office. Then matt's approached by an alien on the run, who cam seeking him because a) Daredevil knows the avengers, and b) Matt Murdock once argued that the laws should be adjusted to include protection from discrimination for people from other worlds. Which sounds exactly like something Matt would do, even if it was just a lark. Someone bets him he can't make a convincing argument for it, he smirks and goes out and does it. As it turns out, the alien is some sentient lie and the Silver Surfer is on his tail before he can wreck Earth's defenses. Is that some stealth Infinity reference? Eh, probably not. Matt and the Surfer team up to take down the alien, but not before it tells Matt McDuffie will never love him. Which might be a lie, might be the truth. It'll say whatever it senses will be most effective. Which makes me wonder if this isn't part of some long game, because it sure didn't seem effective at stopping Daredevil.

I kind of think this whole issue was just so Samnee could draw Matt steering the Surfer's board for a few pages. Which look pretty good. The contrast between Matt, who is having the time of his life, leaning into the wind, grinning like an idiot, and the Surfer, who looks completely bored, maybe even a little sour. This is one of the things I enjoy about the book, Matt's constant attempts to take his joy where he can. His life isn't one where he can always look on the bright side, always be upbeat. It would be dangerous to do so. But, there are still opportunities here and there, and Matt is making it a point to seize them, rather than stay wrapped up in his troubles.

There's another panel, where Matt catches the alien, where the panel is just Matt pulling the line in his billy club tight. Which doesn't sound like much, but the previous panel showed him tossing a length of the line in the general direction of the alien (who is hard for even Matt's senses to pinpoint). Matt can't really be sure he got his target, he has to tighten the line and hope.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The End Of The Year Is Gonna Bring Some Turnover To The Pull List

There's quite a bit of flux in the pull list in December, all of it at Marvel. I already dropped Captain America last month. Captain Marvel is entering its second month absent from the solicits. I read something about a possible relaunch, which, I appreciate the idea, and Marvel making a real push for Carol Danvers, but I thought they got this out of their system a couple of years ago. Remember back around '09-'10, when they'd cancel a series and then restart it again five seconds later, only for it to be canceled again? Claremont's New Exiles ends, Jeff Parker's Exiles starts 2 months later, dies in 6 issues. Moon Knight gets canceled after 30 issues, new series starts three months later, ends in about a year.

Like I said, it's nice to see one of Marvel's female heroes get a shot like that. Spider-Girl had it, though that was more there being just enough fan outcry to pull it back from the brink repeatedly, but unless they've got something brilliant planned to differentiate it from the current series, its sales will end up right back where they are now in a hot minute*.

Beyond the, Avengers Arena is also on a hiatus/break/something before the next "season". I don't know if that'll mean they start the numbering over or pick up at #19. Probably start from 1 again. Avengers Arena's sales aren't quite as low as Captain Marvel's (I'm talking about when the latter's aren't inflated by some event tie-in), but they're down there, so again, I question whether a brief break will help much there. And I wonder if they shouldn't change the title. I feel like there was such a backlash against the book initially - for the concept, for the open admittance of cribbing from Hunger Games - that there's always going to be some inherent resistance to a book with that title, even if they change it otherwise.

Maybe I'm giving comic fans too much credit for sticking to principles. Or not enough in terms of discretion.

Plus, I'm not sure where you take the concept, unless they're going to change up the villain and the heroes, but otherwise keep the same core idea. Honestly, I wouldn't mind seeing them follow the survivors and look at how they deal with coming out the other side of this mess, but I doubt that's the plan.

So that's two titles absent, plus the way things are going they ought to list Hawkeye #16's December release as theoretical until it actually happens. However, December is going to mark the point when I start buying Superior Foes of Spider-Man, and Deadpool. The latter is going to double-ship that month. Naturally. I guess it compensates for the books that can't manage to stick to a monthly schedule. Hawkeye. As for Superior Foes, I've heard nothing but good things about, and I'm hoping waiting until the issues that will go into the first trade (which I'll buy as soon as I can) ended to start buying it monthly, won't be a bad decision.

So that's two books off, and two books on. Beyond that, there's the final two issues of Longshot Saves the Marvel Universe, and I'm debating picking up some of those Amazing Spider-Man issues. Jen van Meter and Emma Rios are going to have Spidey team-up with the Black Cat. I was hoping that would just be one issue, but they spread it out across 700.3 and 700.4, so I don't know, each one is 4 bucks a pop. But, they're longer than the standard issues (40 pages, though I don't know how much is ads), and of the other stories in those two issues, one is Joe Casey and Javier Rodriguez, and the other is drawn by Timothy Green II. Decisions, decisions.

Outside of Marvel, there isn't much happening for me. Katana isn't dead yet, and I'll see what happens with Harley Quinn, questionable decision on that fan drawn page content or not. Honestly, the idea doesn't sound so bad with the context, which they failed to provide initially, which was the big problem, I think. Rocketeer/Spirit Pulp Friction #4 is listed, but as with Hawkeye, I'll believe it when I see it.

* A general comment on the current Captain Marvel series: I know she agreed to move out of her apartment, but I hope Carol, whether in this book or a future one, maintains the supporting cast DeConnick built up for her. Supporting casts of non-costumed types are always a nice bit of flavor for a story, and it helps to show different facets of the main character.

Monday, September 23, 2013

I Need A Weekend From My Weekend

Long weekend. It was Alex' birthday, so I went to visit, and you know how that goes: Lots of people, lots of music, lots of people drinking. The music was fine, I like most of it, and it's very cool to watch a room packed with people start enthusiastically jumping around when he picks a song they really like.

Thursday night we skirted the edge of pretty serious storm front. I saw more lightning than I have ever have, and that went on for the entire 90 mile drive. Then he played at the club, and one of his drunk coworkers started knocking cups off the bar, then hurled a drink over the two of us because she, 'always wanted to throw a drink on someone.' And Alex wonders why I don't drink. Who wants to act like that kind of asshole?

Alex wasn't happy about working on his birthday, so he ended up claiming it was his birthday from Friday through Sunday. Eh, it was my fault. I tried to raise his spirits by suggesting he make his birthday a three-day event, and he jumped at it. He drank quite a lot Saturday (well, early Sunday morning, technically), but that is his birthday, so it's appropriate. I just wish he'd give up this quest to find some alcoholic beverage I'd like. Or at least not pick things loaded with cinnamon. Blech.

Sunday we went to Project Comic-Con. It was pretty relaxed. Not empty, but not packed to that point where I feel the crush. I would have liked to get there earlier than 12:30, but considering Alex stayed up drinking until after 4:30 in the morning, I'm lucky he actually woke up at 10 (with some prodding from me) like he said he would. I think I've decided to stop back issue hunting at conventions, at least until I can get to one early and get any artwork considerations covered at the start. I picked up some nice artwork, found a couple of artists to look into in the future. Turns out Alex knows Jim Mahfood's brother through DJ circles, which I didn't know (neither did Alex, since he didn't know who Jim Mahfood was), but is somehow unsurprising. Alex' ability to meet and befriend people is staggering.

End of the day, though, it felt like a lot of missed opportunities. I had an idea about getting Fabian Nicieza to sign my New Warriors #1, and tell him how much I enjoyed Cable/Deadpool, but I guess he was only there Saturday, or something came up. I seem to have missed Chris Samnee, too, and I waited too long getting to Rick Burchett to ask for a sketch. I was gonna go for Night Thrasher, because I thought there was over an hour left, but there was really only 20 minutes. Maybe in the future. I did watch him draw an Old Man Bruce Wayne for someone. Observing the whole process was really impressive.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Burn Notice 6.6 - Shock Wave

Plot: Fiona's almost out of prison! Michael just needs to catch Anson, and thanks to Rebecca he knows exactly where to look: A crappy motel in Atlantic City. Unfortunately, the Brits aren't too happy about someone - an Irish someone, no less - who blew up their consulate not being executed. They've arranged to get custody of Fi for a few hours so they can interrogate her themselves. Personally, I'd be worried they were going to shackle and poison her, but their actual plan is bring her in through the front door not as a prisoner, but like an asset, on camera. Once word of that hits Ireland, her family will be under fire, literally.

At least, I think that's the implication. it's the best explanation I've come up with. Anyway, Fi needs to avoid this just long enough for Michael to take care of business. Which doesn't mean fleeing prison, only making them think she did. It's time for one more deal with Ayn, an arrangement that gets them both an early release. All Fi has to do is hide in a hole in a wall until the Brits get fed up and leave. Ayn gets a recommendation for parole from the warden in exchange for finding Fi (who Ayn hid in the first place), everybody wins. Except the Brits, but they won enough from about 1588 through 1945.

Michael is aware of none of this, which is for the best. He's not handling the stress he has well as it is. He's gotten his information to Pearce, who immediately deduces that Mike's informant is the missing Rebecca. That Michael's hid a traitor to the Agency from them honks Pearce off enough that she lays down the law about who will be running this op (her), and who won't be coming along (Sam). Nate, however, will be attending, as transportation and to keep the number of people in the loop small. Don't feel too bad for Sam. He ends up helping Barry stay alive, as some of the weapons' dealers Fi turned in are out for blood, and barry was a little slow to accept the FBI's offer of protection in exchange for his books. Which leaves Sam fending off an armed assault team with only Barry, a shotgun with 5 shells, and whatever he can find in an isolated palatial estate as help. Actually, go ahead and feel bad for Sam.

But save some of that pity for Nate, who can't stop trying to be helpful, and Mike can't stop biting his head off for it, eventually telling Nate to leave for the unforgivable act of ordering four pizzas delivered to a single motel room, apparently a huge tip off there's a sting in progress. Nate almost breaks down crying, but sucks it up and departs. As it turns out, that may have saved the day, because Anson sent a streetwalker to pick up the package in his place, and was talking to her through a cellphone whose calls were being forwarded through another cell. So when Mike and Co. storm in they find two phones on a bed, and the only one near enough to stop Anson's escape is. . . Nate. And he does. Go Nate! Up yours, Michael!

Oh, that's a cruel way to end it. Takes all the fun out of it.Everybody was doing a slow-mo job of victory towards Nate and his prisoner, then someone shot Anson, and the bullet passed through and hit Nate, and they both died. What the hell, Burn Notice?

The Players: Arthur Meyers (British Spy/Not At All Pleased), Ayn (Inmate Who Can Get Things), Barry (The Client), Garrett Hartley (Cold-Blooded Sonofabitch)

Quote of the Episode: Nate - 'Hey asshole, Michael Westen says hello.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No, she's still in prison. Sam however, destroys an entire building, so he's keeping the spirit alive.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 6 (10 overall). It took a third of the season, but Sam's drink per episode average is finally over 1.

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (4 overall).

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (0 overall). If you thought he wasn't laughing before. . .

Other: Michael is briefly "Manny", when Nate pretends to work at the hotel to get rid of noisy party people.

I may have overestimated Sam's drinks. But he said his family doesn't waste beer. Figure one for the fake badge, one for the improvised mortar, it looked like at least three for the smoke bombs, and then the regular beer. That one had a surprisingly dark comment from Sam. 'No, this is a regular beer. Just takes the sting off the fact I'm going to die. Most days, it feels a little less immediate.'

Wow. I hadn't ever pictured Sam as drinking to avoid contemplating his own mortality. The ladies' man stuff (which has been toned down as he's been with Elsa for the last season plus), sure, but not the drinking so much. I figured he enjoyed it, and maybe it helped forget some of the ugly missions. But the ugly missions for Sam probably all involve people dying. Either his friends, or innocent people that got caught up.

That being said, I like the Sam and Barry subplot. I like that the show will occasionally throw just two of the characters together and let them play off each other. Last week we got a little Jesse and Nate, this week it's Barry and Sam. They're very different (Sam asking if Barry had been an all-state QB, and Barry responding he played Nathan Detroit), but they have some similarities. Both a little vain, very confident in their looks and prowess with the ladies, both sometimes considered disgusting by Fiona, both fond of mojitos. There's enough compare and contrast there to make for something interesting.

The Ayn and Fiona relationship's been a nice build as well. Ayn's gradually become more willing to listen to Fi's requests, and not dismiss them, because Fi has demonstrated that if Ayn requests something, Fiona will come through. Fiona's a straight shooter, and so is Ayn in her way (she has rules, she stick to them), and so each knows they can deal with the other. I'm not sure they're friends exactly, but trusted associates sounds about right.

I'm not sure I'm right about why Fi's concerned either, but it was the explanation that made the most sense. It took me three viewings just to come to that conclusion. I think because I couldn't picture the British bringing her in without her being cuffed. And if she's cuffed, no one would think she was an asset, because she's obviously a prisoner. So for awhile I thought she was worried the British government would retaliate against her family, but if they believe she blew up their consulate, they could have done that already.

I love just about everything about this episode. Sam got to do some cool stuff solo. Fiona got to outsmart some Brit spy who thought he was hot stuff. Anson got punched in the face, captured, and then shot. Unfortunately, Nate also died, and that kind of ruined the whole thing. Damn it, I wanted to enjoy Anson's ultimate defeat unambiguously. How can I do that when Nate dies? Though, that wound seemed kind of far to the side to be that swiftly fatal. It was pretty far to the side, so I'm not sure what it hit. It would have missed his lungs, kidneys, and liver, I'm pretty sure.

I've been thinking about the responsibility for it, and the different outcomes. Pearce vetoed Sam coming along, not out of any dislike for him personally, but because she knows her bosses hate his guts, and that would be bad if Anson slipped away again. I'm not sure it's advisable to be that worried about failure before you've even begun, but given Anson's track record, it's understandable. But Pearce vetoed Sam I think also because she wanted to rap Michael on the nose for hiding Rebecca from her. He tried all this two-faced stuff last season, and that went pretty bad. And now it looks like he hasn't learned anything. He's hiding things again when Anson's on the loose. I get his reasons. Rebecca was his only link to Anson, and she wanted no part of the Agency. And it worked out, they found Anson. But I also get why Pearce is pissed, because he's pulling the same crap and if it blows up, that's going to be twice she wishes she kept him under her thumb.

So I was thinking if Sam had been allowed to go, how things turn out. Barry dies, obviously. Even if you figure that Nate stays home because they have Sam, that means Barry has to rely on Nate and/or Maddy to protect him from Hartley. All that would ensure is more dead bodies next to Barry's. If Nate goes anyway, because he's a low key option for transport, does Sam keep Nate reined in, or keep Mike from going overboard on Nate? If not, then the end result is the same. Mike runs Nate off, then has to call him to save the day, and Nate dies. If Sam can exert an influence, then no one is anywhere near Anson, and he gets away. Unless the shooter was waiting the whole time, in which case Anson dies alone. Maybe. Anson said he knew where a lot of bodies were buried, and that's why they'd never keep him locked up. True, better to silence him (Confession: I know how this plotline ends already). But if he was going to get away clean, then he might not have been shot. No need to silence him.

Two things I noticed when Michael called Nate that made me sad. One, when Nate responds to Michael's questions with hostility, Michael promises he will apologize later. The other thing is that when Mike calls him, Nate's sitting at a slot machine, pumping in coins. He's supposed to be avoiding gambling, that was why he moved back to Miami last season. 'Family helps', and all that. And sometimes, family hurts.

One last thought. Mike told Nate to find Anson, but stay away from him. Nate ignored him. This led to Anson being punched in the face - always satisfying - but also Nate dying. But it hasn't exactly been subtle this season about Nate not understanding the risks, but not really being trained enough to get away with it. His comment to Sam about busting in on Sharif's ass, and Sam asking him to say it like he understands how dangerous it is. Getting sloppy with the cattle prod last week while he was helping Jesse. Nate was always game, but he didn't have enough game, if that makes sense. Maybe Mike should have realized that, and he probably did. That's probably why he told Nate to observe, but did he really think Nate would listen, with a chance for redemption after that ass-chewing Michael gave him?

Friday, September 20, 2013

As Fall Takes It's Sweet Time Arriving, Heroclix

Around this time every year - for the last three or four years - I take a look at DC characters I'd like to see made into Heroclix that haven't had a chance yet. Looking back over the prior posts, the actual date has slipped around a lot, mostly because I forget, or get preoccupied.

Last year was a busier year for DC 'Clix. There was a Batman set, then Streets of Gotham, a big Teen Titans set, and a Man of Steel based release. That last one didn't do much for me, but I figured I'd mention it. One thing that's starting to happen is the inclusion of Wildstorm properties and of characters in their New 52 designs. The Teen Titans set was especially notable for that, but the Batman set had Katana in both her pre and post-relaunch looks, for example. At least the new Harley Quinns we got were her classic look.

One game mechanic they've added this year is Team bases. It's a large base that you fit other, specific characters onto, and then it works like a single massively powerful figure, getting stronger the more of the team you place on there, though you aren't forced to put them on there if you don't want. I don't really care about that, much like Duo figures, it feels like something that limits the mobility of my pieces. I prefer to be able to scatter or regroup at my discretion. But that's a player's choice issue, no biggie. The concern is that in terms of rarity, some figures are listed as Team base figures (which is somehow above even Super Rare), and that makes them expensive as hell to get. Which is really irritating when it's someone like say, Raven, who hasn't had a new figure since the Icons set from about 9 years ago. Gee, tough luck, player who just wanted a new, more playable version of one of the core Wolfman/Perez Titans! You'll have to shell out the big bucks now! Maybe if I wait five years it'll get cheaper, when Team Bases fall by the wayside like 95% of the other mechanics they've tossed out there in the last 4 years.

They do this as well with their Marvel 'clix, but I won't get to that until next month, so I figured deal with it at the first opportunity.

When I did last year's post, none of my Top 5 had been made. To recap, those were:

1. Sand
2. Terra (the one that was friends with Power Girl)
3. The Haunted Tank
4. Enemy Ace
5. the Unknown Soldier

Of those, the only winner is the Haunted Tank, albeit with none of Jeb, Rick, Arch, or Slim coming along. Basically anyone can use it, though you receive certain bonuses if they have "Soldier" as a keyword. Not quite what I envisioned. Hey, at least one its powers was listed as "Clankety-Clankety-Clankety".

Outside of that, the closest we got otherwise was a Terra in the Tenn Titans set, but it's the new 52 version, which I think means it's basically the original Terra, more or less. We did get Thunder, which brings me a little closer to that Chuck Dixon Outsiders team I mentioned last year. They even gave us a new Katana and Metamorpho to add in (also a new Black Lightning and Geo-Force), but they all have earlier versions. Still no Grace, though, which seems silly. The dial designers have really gotten into adding special powers that trigger when two particular characters are working together. You know, Fire and Ice, Booster and Beetle, stuff like that. Grace and Thunder seem like a natural pairing, and isn't like Grace's dial would be hard to come up with. She's a Brick clix. High damage, no range, damage reducers, lots of Charge, Super Strength, Close Combat Expert, stuff like that. There's only about a hundred of them already they can use as a framework.

I feel like the chance was missed, though. The farther we get away from her actually appearing in comics, the less likely I think it is we'll see her. Or any of those other characters up there, none of whom have shown up in the new 52 to my knowledge.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Elegy Beach - Steven R. Boyett

Elegy Beach is a sequel of sorts to an earlier book Boyett wrote set in a world after the Change. The Change being some odd thing that happened that made technology shut down around the world, and made most of the people in the world disappear, I guess. There are a lot fewer people around at any rate, but there is magic, though people mostly fumble about in the dark, trying different things until something works without killing them.

Fred and Yan are a couple of teenagers with a fair amount of ability to cast, and the curiosity to push the boundaries. Fred seems mostly curious for the heck of it, while Yan is in it for more power. The power to return the world to the way it was, and he's not concerned about hurting others along the way. So it falls to Fred, along with his father, Yan's father, and a unicorn named Ariel that knows Fred's father from the earlier book.

The biggest problem I had with the story was the seemingly arbitrary nature of the Change. Fire is still possible, but gunpowder in a bullet won't ignite so firearms are useless. Why? Who knows. I understand electrical devices not working, but even hand-powered coffee grinders don't work, because it relies on gears. Boyett tries to lampshade it by having the characters discuss it, but the best explanation any of them can come up with is something about intent. So that's usually in the back of my mind throughout.

That issue aside, it's a good book. There's one section about a wild party that drags on for 30 pages I hated, but the rest of its good. Boyett works in a quick recap of the events of the earlier book, and also what happened to Ariel and Peter (Fred's dad) in between these two books. He's very good at providing these hints of the wider world and what's happened in the years since the Change. For the most part, it's not pretty. People reacted pretty much how you expect when all the physical stuff society's built on becomes dead weight. But some people rebuild, and the conflict between the ones who remember the world as it was before and those who don't is pretty key. Some of the longing is nostalgia or rose-colored glasses, because it always is, but some of it is a genuine recognition of things that made the world better that are lost, that the kids won't have ever, unless they can devise a magic equivalent.

I'd probably end up like Peter. The idea of moving to a new house when your current one develops a leak in the roof (because there are so many empty ones to choose from), just sounds odd. Ideally, I would have picked that house because I liked it, why would I want to abandon it at the first little difficulty? I don't know if it means that humans will always take it for granted that they don't need to conserve resources, or just that when life becomes more challenging you learn to save your energy where you can.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

And Lo, Security Deposits Shall Be Lost!

[Last time, Clever Adolescent Panda was stymied by the hideous monotony of the Predator Drone. Cassanee, the Lady in Orange, tried to force UnCalvin to call off the attack, only to find herself in battle against the shapeshifting corporate mogul. In the running battle that followed, Cass found herself on the defensive before the array of traps and mad science gimmicks UnCalvin had at her disposal. Ultimately, they wound up in the same room as CAP, and all three were nearly destroyed when Dr. Pennington's ambition led him to turn the Predator Drone against his boss. The three set aside their differences long enough to kill the nattering monstrosity, and Dr. Pennington was escorted out of the building. Leaving two dazed and battered heroes to contend with one very put out foe.]

UnCalvin: Ah, my youngest old foe, our long association is at an end. *Notices the package strapped to CAP's back* And just what is that? Another gag pie?

CAP: *still a bit groggy* No.

UnCalvin: Oh, so it's a bomb is it? You couldn't trick me into destroying my base again, so you're going to do it yourself? Is that what you've become in your adolescence?

CAP: No! It's not that!

UnCalvin: *In full rant* Do you understand how much important work we do here? We're working on clean energy solutions, like our solar powered fans.

CAP: Oh, because it's sunny on the days you need a fan the most.

UnCalvin:  *blinks* Hmm, I hadn't considered that. We're using them to power 500-foot high fans that generate massive winds to make our wind turbines move and generate electricity we can sell.

CAP: What? That makes no sense! You could just sell the solar power!

UnCalvin: Then what would I do with all those wind turbines?

Cassanee: You're an idiot.

CAP: That is such a scam!

UnCalvin: No, us receiving government oil subsidies even though we have nothing to do with oil is a scam.

{A collective gasp from nearby causes UnCalvin to look up and notice that Dr. Lakshmi chose that moment to lead the tour group into the Bio-Psycho Ward. She had meant to show them their work on pest control through exposure to high sodium diets. namely, corn chips. It had the added bonus of serving as diet control for the client, since the pest would be eating the chips before they could. Instead they walked into a mess, with one person bound in a putty like substance, an indignant panda, and a ranting redhead waving a sword. Dr. Lakshmi begins mentally updating her resume.}

UnCalvin: *quickly* Look, I can explain the oil subsidies. *pause* We needed them to fund the new break rooms. Just look at that!

{UnCalvin gestures across the hall, to a room fill with soft lighting. A fountain near the back sprays water in wonderful patterns as songbirds flutter around. A string quartet sits across from the coffee maker, playing gentle soaring music. The table set in the middle of the exquisitely comfortable couches is stocked with neatly cut cheeses and breads. UnCalvin also shifts slightly, adding an inch or two of height, altering her vocal cords to add a little more bass and authority.}

UnCalvin: It's not just the initial construction, you know. Fancy cheeses don't come cheap. Between the mist from the fountain and the bird poop, the cleaning bills for the quartets' suits are extraordinary! But our employees are worth it because they make great things! And now our competitors sent a panda to conduct industrial espionage! Can you imagine the callousness. *Sympathetic murmurs from the tour group*

CAP: It's not industrial espionage. I'm just bringing you the Blender Furby Calvin and I tried to give you months ago as a gift! You ran off without it, remember?

UnCalvin: *blinks rapidly* What?

Person in the tour group: Excuse me, what's a Blender Furby?

CAP: *always eager to help* It's a blender in the shape of a cute little critter that learns to talk from listening to conversations around you.

Blender Furby: Potluck on war! Popcorn the Fire Nation euchre shuffle! 

Different person in the tour group: Oh, well that's just adorable! Where can I get one?

CAP: I really just have the one.

First tour person: And this company isn't interested in supporting such a great invention? I'm not sure they have the vision I'm looking to throw my money away recklessly on! I'm out of here! *Murmurs of agreement, tour group begins to leave*

UnCalvin: No, wait, you don't understand! The panda and his friends have destroyed at least four of my operations already! I had good reason to be suspicious! Come baaaack!

{It's to no avail. The investors leave, though a few pause in the break room to swipe some cheeses.}

UnCalvin: *eyes burning, teeth gritted, sword clenched until the knuckles whiten* Again, and again, and again, you cast me into ruin! We were this close to be publicly traded, and the things I could have done with those resources! This kind of bad word of mouth can be a death sentence for a company just starting out! What is your problem?!

CAP: *genuinely contrite* I didn't mean to. It was just supposed to be a joke. The gag gift, funny, you know?

UnCalvin: A joke? A JOKE?! Here's a funny one for you: After I finish decapitating the two of you, I'm going to sew your heads on that drone's body and use it for target practice! Does that tickle your funny bone!?

CAP: *uncertainly* Not really.

UnCalvin: *shrugs, raises sword* Ah well, humor's a subjective thing.

{CAP had originally been trying to free Cassanee from the polymer she was wrapped up in, only to be distracted with all the talking. So she's still trapped, but able to raise her legs sharply enough to launch the panda sitting on them into the air. CAP grasps the intent immediately and lashes out with its right leg, sending UnCalvin reeling, and the sword flying from her hand. Before UnCalvin can recover, CAP's frayed the bindings enough that it and Cass are able to get her free of it.}

UnCalvin: * mumbling to self* It never ends. *Louder* Fine, we'll handle this in a more messy fashion. *Reaches into a nearby cabinet and withdraws a small yellow object* We've been working on explosive fruit, to create weapons that are also emergency rations. Care for a mango?

{UnCalvin pulls a pin from the mango and hurls it at the two. They each leap to opposite sides of the room, but underestimate the concussive force. It hurls CAP against a wall, and Cass out the still open window, as she only narrowly grabs the edge of the glass. CAP rises, slowly, to a vicious kick to the midsection, sending it smashing through the wall and into the hallway. UnCalvin smirks satisfactorily, and turns to see Cassanee pulling herself back into the room.}

Blender Furby: Kratos needs to worry less about upper body strength, and take some gymnastics classes.

UnCalvin: *haughty* Idiot, eh?

Cassanee: Yes. Also crazy.

UnCalvin: *glaring daggers, picks up her sword from where CAP dropped it* I don't like you. You don't say much, but what you do is ugly. *over her shoulder through the hole in the wall* Where's your old partner? I always liked him.

CAP: Then tell Calvin to hurry up and start buying Deadpool.

UnCalvin: *grinning* After I've finished here, perhaps I shall.

{UnCalvin abruptly leaps backwards through the hole, spinning as she does so to slash at CAP. The panda rolls out of the way, but receives another kick for its trouble as UnCalvin followed the sword with her foot. The panda skids down the hall. UnCalvin brings the leg back to the ground and pushes off starting a full charge towards the dazed foe. Before she can reach her target, Cassanee hurls the headless body of the Predator Drone through the door between them. UnCalvin slices through it cleanly, but this leaves her side exposed to a sharp jab from Cassanee that staggers UnCalvin. CAP rises to its feet, then has to leap back - pulling Cassanee out of range by her cloak as it does - as UnCalvin lobs another exploding fruit. All three are thrown against walls roughly, but it does buy UnCalvin some space.}

CAP: That wasn't even a mango. Just a grenade you painted yellow.

UnCalvin: True. We've had some difficulties with converting the citric acid to thermite on a controlled basis. The whole point is you can eat if you don't need it to kill someone else. We may need to re-engineer human digestive systems, honestly, but I'm hopeful that modifying plants to respond to music will be the first step in making them produce different chemical agents on command. So the fruit grenade will require a musical trigger. Perhaps something easily whistled?

Cassanee: *doubtful* You think you can manage that?

UnCalvin: I don't know. But the idea struck me one day, and I thought, "Why not?" There's always someone willing to try something if you can provide the funds. Which may not be happening now, thank you very much.

CAP: *grumbling* I already apologized.

UnCalvin: So what now? The two of you team up to beat me to a pulp?

CAP: No.

Cassanee: Yes.

CAP: What? I just want to deliver the Furby and leave.

Cassanee: She's dangerous, and tried to kill us.

UnCalvin: Don't take it personally. I was really only trying to kill the panda. You were in the way, that's all.

CAP: *pinches bridge of nose* Not helping.

Androzier: Step away from the Commandant!

{Androzier has leveled a fairly large, sleek looking handgun at them.}

CAP: *stifling grin* What's that? Another gun that shoots boxing gloves?

{Androzier aims at the wall and depresses the trigger. A section of the wall large enough to drive a small car through disappears.}

CAP: *gulps loudly*

Androzier: I'm not interested in those sorts of weapons. I prefer ones that eliminate security risks, not humiliate them.

Cassanee: *scoffs* It's not enough. You're still outclassed.

Androzier: You think so? The panda doesn't seem so sure.

CAP: I really just want to give you the Blender Furby and go, OK?

Loud Voice from the Elevator: What in the Sam Hell has happened here?

{Everyone turns to regard an older woman as she stands by the elevators, gaping open-mouthed at the scene before. Her eyes survey everything, then narrow as them lock onto the players. UnCalvin has shifted back to the older male form he was in earlier.}

UnCalvin: Ms. Granglin! I can explain.

Ms. Granglin: You can explain why I've got cops cordoning off my building because of glass raining down on the sidewalks? You can explain why none of my tenants can come inside, because the police keep hearing explosions and can't decide whether it's a gas leak or a terrorist attack? You can explain your goons marching into the middle of all that and hurling some poor guy in a lab coat out into the street? They all got detained because the cops think this might be a hostage situation!

UnCalvin: *looks at Androzier* Hurled in the street?

Androzier: You said he could walk out the door on his own two feet. You didn't say anything about after.

UnCalvin: *pinches bridge of nose* Not helping.

Ms. Granglin: Then I manage to make my way up here, and look what you've done to the place! I knew I should have thrown you out after the noise complaints from the Rosenbergs!

UnCalvin: Now Ms. Granglin, I explained to you then that wasn't us, it was those college students in 37C, who I'm also quite certain are meth dealers, so. . .

Ms. Granglin: I don't want to hear it! Look at all this damage! You're chucking explosives around, removing walls, I told you not modifying the existing floorplan without clearing it with me first!

UnCalvin: Well you see - what?

Ms. Granglin: And you've brought a pet in here! That is against the rules, and I'm going to have you evicted for violating your lease! And you'll be paying for these damages, you can be sure of that!

UnCalvin: *voice rising* Oh really? Perhaps I should point out you assured me those sprinklers in our greenhouse were perfectly fit for watering plants, when they were, in fact, tied into the fire system, and could only be triggered by the fire alarm! You also swore the wiring was sufficient for our work, but it could barely handle the load of our security monitors. And your heating and cooling system is inadequate and prone to breaking down, damaging our servers!

Androzier: Also, you said there were five bathrooms per floor, but there are only three with working sinks, at best. And the mirrors were covered over with scum, when you said they were in perfect condition. *Everyone looks at Androzier* It makes the bathrooms crowded. I hate waiting in line, and I like a little privacy.

UnCalvin: *stares at Androzier a moment, then shakes head and fixes gaze on Ms. Granglin* I will pay for all the damages, because this is still my space, and if we leave it will be because I have come to my senses about dealing with such a scheming, screeching skinflint as yourself on a daily basis. Now leave immediately before I hurl you down the elevator shaft myself. And then whatever of you survives, I'll sue for failure to maintain your property in the promised condition until your grave plot is sold to pay off the debt and your body dumped in a ditch somewhere. Are we clear?

Ms. Granglin: *nods, departs as quickly as possible*

CAP: Wow, that was terrifying. I really don't want to fight you now.

UnCalvin: *takes deep breath, holds it for a moment, releases, and shifts back to her redheaded lady form* Do you still have the Blender Furby?

CAP: *blinks* Oh, yes. It's in the other room! *darts back into what used to be Dr. Pennington's lab* Noooo!

{The other three rush into the room to see the panda cradling the Blender Furby. It had been hurled against a table by the second explosion. The glass cup for the ingredients was shattered, one of its eyes had fallen out. It babbles quietly, a stream of English, Japanese, Chinese, German, sometimes the same word in all four languages, sometimes not.}

Blender Furby: It's so cold.

CAP: Not after all this! I'm sorry! You almost had the cadence for the "Ma Na Na Na" song!

{UnCalvin walks up slowly, different emotions playing across her face. Then she sheathes the sword and kneels next to CAP. She reaches out for the Blender Furby.}

UnCalvin: I'll have it fixed up.

CAP: *sniffs* Really?

UnCalvin: Sure. I have an entire lab of scientists. It can't be that difficult a task.

CAP: You won't wipe its memory of Calvin and I?

UnCalvin: I promise it will still retain whatever profanity and sports trivia it picked up from Calvin.

CAP: Mostly profanity.

UnCalvin: I assumed as much.

CAP: Well, OK then. Job done. Sorry about the mess.

UnCalvin: Not a problem. I'm going to make it look worse, then claim it was an entire animal stampede that did it. I'm fairly sure I can file a claim on my disaster insurance for that with the number of witnesses who will admit to seeing a panda running around.

CAP: That sounds like a scam.

UnCalvin: *places free hand on her sword hilt* Must we start all that again? I took your gift, after you destroyed my business. Again. That, while a typically magnanimous gesture on my part, is hardly something to be cast away so lightly.

CAP: OK, OK, don't get huffy. Let's go Cassanee. I'll give you a lift back home.

Cassanee: *shakes head, follows* You're all crazy.

CAP: I know, but you'll get used to it.

UnCalvin: *calls after them* Bring Deadpool next time instead!

CAP: *shouts back* I told you, talk to Calvin about it! *pats Cassanee on the back* Don't worry, UnCalvin doesn't really hate you.

{After they've departed.}

Androzier: Commandant, are you truly going to fix it?

UnCalvin: *stares at the murmuring culinary device thoughfully* Yes, I am. I have a thought that something which can be taught to speak or sing might be useful for providing vocal cues to plant life. And could always be regifted, perhaps along with some fruit, at a later date. In the meantime, I could use a smoothie.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Now's When The Punching Starts

[Yesterday, Clever Adolescent Panda found UnCalvin's hideout, a company known as Smile Time Alternative Solutions. After some difficulty with a doorman, CAP made it inside just after a tour group of potential dupes, er, investors. Too bad UnCalvin's been expecting our panda friend for some time. . .]

CAP: Where are you? Ugh, everything in here smells like plastic and disinfectant.

{At that moment, the panda hears the sounds of heavy treads rushing in its direction.}

CAP: I wondered when I'd meet a security patrol. No problem, I'll just in hide in the shadows above the pipes running along. . . the . . . ceiling.

{The ceilings, though painted a pleasant sky blue, are solid, and present no pipes or shadows to in. The security force rounds the corner, the lead man shouting as he spots his quarry. In the Operations Room, two figures observe the proceedings.}

UnCalvin: It certainly was a good idea to keep all the pipes inside the walls and ceilings, though I miss the rugged industrial atmosphere they provided.

Androzier: At least Ms. Granglin let you repaint the ceilings.

UnCalvin: Yes, our harridan of a landlord. So little respect for her tenants needs. Can't she understand this place must appear professional, with a hint of mad science?

Androzier: I suppose not.

{Back in the hallway, the security teams have blocked off both ends of the hall, but make no attempt to move closer.}

CAP: Well if you aren't gonna move, I will.

{Clever Adolescent Panda charges ahead, following its original course. As it grows closer, the guards close ranks, leaving no spaces between themselves and the walls, or each other. Which is of no matter when their opponent leaps onto the wall on its left, then springs off the wall into the face of one of the guards. As the first punch lands, the guards react as one.}

Guards: Containment broken! Retreat!

CAP: What?

{In the Operations Room}

UnCalvin: What?

Androzier: Uh, it appears the men took my orders to contain but not engage too literally.

UnCalvin: I miss Sargent Johansson.

Androzier: I know sir, but she was very happy running that okra farm.

UnCalvin: Yes, well, I daresay I don't understand thinking of okra as a calling, but her passion for it was undeniable. Which does not solve our current problem. Is this anywhere near the tour?

Androzier: No, sir. Dr. Lakshmi is currently in the Cosmic Wave Beam Manipulation Lab on the 53rd floor.

UnCalvin: Good, good. And our research staff?

Androzier: We've told them to stay in their labs, but otherwise to continue as normal. Commandant, I'll handle this.

UnCalvin: No, Androzier. I do want you to head down there, but simply get your forces organized. Tell them to reestablish containment on the 49th floor, near the Bio-Psycho Ward. Tell them they should not instigate a fight, but if the panda strikes them first, to feel free to hold their ground and fight back!

Androzier: Yes, Commandant!

{Androzier departs, quickly, but without appearing rushed. UnCalvin briefly observes his departure, then picks up a phone while observing the quarry one the monitors.}

UnCalvin: Dr. Pennington? Is that new weapon you've been working on for ready? Very good. We have an intruder we're guiding your way, I'd like you to use it for a test run. Oh, you'll know it when you see it. Hard to miss a panda. Yes, a panda. I know it's hardly an ideal test subject, but as my entire security force is inadequate to stop it, I'm forced to more drastic measures. *pause* No, I'm not joking, Dr. Pennington. Now prepare to unleash. . . THE PREDATOR DRONE! You have roughly 5 minutes, 10 at the most.

{With that, UnCalvin hangs up and turns full attention to the panda on the screens. CAP has continued to barrel through the halls. The guards have still not fought back, but they are herding it, walling off sections with shock nets and file cabinets. CAP knows it's being herded, and it knows this is meant to force it into a trap. It remembers the pirate penguins well, but doesn't sense any similar presence. Most of the labs have been locked, but none of them carry any recent scent traces of UnCalvin, though the 49th floor has some curious animal odors CAP can't place. One of them in particular is very strong. It's a sweaty, musty smell, of something practically radiating heat. CAP swivels to and fro as the scent goes stronger, but sees nothing. Then the panda catches some flicker in the corner of its eye, and in the next moment has hurled itself into the air, unleashing a powerful spinning kick. It was meant for the head, but the target is taller than expected, so there's a rush of air as the foot connects with its gut. The target stumbles back, but doesn't fall. CAP moves into a defensive stance, front paws up.}

CAP: Using a cloaking device to sneak up on your targets is pretty cheap.

{The figure shimmers for a moment, then becomes fully visible as the cloak drops. It's a Predator, sort of. Over 7 feet tall, broad head, odd, crisscrossed diagonal teeth at the front of its mouth. But it carries no obvious weapons, and it wears a pair of freshly pressed slacks and a sweater vest.}

Predator Drone: *in a cordial, but strangely dull, tone of voice* So, funny story about the cloaking device. I came up with it back in high school, right? Now I know what you're thinking. I used it so I could spy on the girls in the locker room. Not at all. I used it to change in private in the boys locker room! All the other guys are walking around  in their loincloths, their mesh t-shirts, necklaces of skulls, and here I was in a bow tie! Well, I felt so self-conscious I just wanted to disappear. And then I thought to myself, "Why not?" A little time in Shop Class, and voila! Cloaking Device!

CAP: What?

UnCalvin: *watching on monitors* What?

Predator Drone: So yeah, funny story. I'm in shop class, trying to weld some components together for the cloaking device, when my friend K'rraka comes over and asks me for some help. He was trying to build an auto-targeting swivel into his shoulder cannon, but it just kept following the direction his head turned. Guess what the problem was?

CAP: *confused, slightly disoriented* Uh, I don't know?

Predator Drone: He was using a 3.7x polybdenum chip wargle, when he needed a 3.9y polybdenum circuit? *chuckles* Oh, can you imagine that?

CAP: * developing a severe headache* Not really. Listen can you start fighting now?

Predator Drone: *oblivious* Funny story, I'm on my first hunting trip with my parents. My dad's says the same thing while he's being mauled by a Xenothian tuskslug because I was trying to pick just the right weapon. He wound getting his right arm dissolved.

CAP: *on all fours holding ears* Just shut up!

{UnCalvin has picked up the phone again and dialed Dr. Pennington.}

UnCalvin : What in the hell is this? It's standing there jabbering!

Dr. Pennington: *bright, cheerful, very excited* Exactly, sir! The Predator Drone is designed to incapacitate its opponent with a hidden sub-harmonic in its voice. It's designed to be naturally talkative at the drop of a hat - it has over 500 hundred stories about dropped hats - and its nonthreatening conversation keep the target from fleeing until they're too disoriented to even try.

UnCalvin: Oh. Wow, that's actually quite scary. Good work, Pennington. Is it lethal?

Dr. Pennington: Well, we are pretty  high up. I suppose the panda could drag itself to a window and try hurling itself out to get away.

UnCalvin: Well, no need to trouble it so. Why don't you go ahead and open a window nearby? Make things easier.

{UnCalvin hangs up again. His eyes return to the monitors, but are focused on the reflection he sees in them behind him. A small young woman, pale, fairly thin, with a look of quiet determination on her face. What of it is visible beneath the orange cloak and hood she wears.}

UnCalvin: *calmly* And just how did you get in here?

{Cassanee says nothing. In flashback, we see her standing on a nearby rooftop overlooking the building they stand in. She's listening to CAP assure he it will get inside. She sighs, part exasperation, part amusement. Then she rises, steps away from the ledge of the building, and starts her deceptively slow run towards it. She reaches the edge and leaps, arcing through the air, her arms holding the cloak tightly against her until the moment gravity starts her descent. Then she spreads it wide, using the wind resistance to glide still further until she lands impossibly lightly in the narrow rooftop. She leans over glancing down through the slanted windows, watching silently. All seems normal at first, people in long white coats, sometimes with goggles or glasses moving to and fro through the halls. Then a flurry of activity. People in different uniforms, security garb scrambling down the stairs. Recognizing this as a reaction to her partner, she slips in through the roof access and makes her through the now silent halls. Three floors down, she finds UnCalvin's office, and from there access to the Operations Room next door. Then a matter of patience until UnCalvin's angry shouting indicated he was preoccupied. UnCalvin knows none of this, though, because Cassanee utters only one sentence.}

Cassanee: Call it off.

UnCalvin: *turns nonchalantly, ambles closer, swinging his legs in a wide arc on each step* No, I won't be doing that. This is going to be my crowning victory over that panda. When all the time and resources finally pay off. But for you, a more personal touch!

{UnCalvin has moved within range and unleashes a sharp jab. Cassanee calmly lets her head drift slightly to the right while her hands seize UnCalvin's wrist. One quick spin later and UnCalvin is flying headfirst through the wooden door to land on his desk, skidding across it. UnCalvin manages to turn his momentum into a roll and lands on his feet as he reaches the end of the desk. Cassanee moves through the doorway, that eerily smooth and weightless stride making determining her speed difficult. UnCalvin reaches over and pulls a sword from its mount on the wall, and shifts appearance. Where once stood a man of slightly above average height with greying hair slicked back, now stands a red-headed woman of slightly smaller stature but a lean muscular form.}

UnCalvin: Impressive moves.

{UnCalvin slashes out with the sword, and each time Cassanee drifts out of the way. But each time as she shifts from defense to offense, she finds her opponent likewise sliding past her attacks or gently deflecting them. The two move in an almost dance around each other.}

UnCalvin: But I know a bit of that "flow like water" stuff myself.

{Cassanee makes no verbal response, attacking less, seeking the less obvious openings, but UnCalvin's current form was chosen for quickness and agility, and still neither's strikes get through. Then UnCalvin chooses to turn her back and leap for her desk. Cassanee rushes forward, trying to take advantage, only to see UnCalvin land with one foot pressed against what appears to be a stress ball. When squeezed, it makes a silly "poot" noise, and the desk shoots across the floor, UnCalvin riding atop it. It's a very large, very wide desk with a solid front. Cassanee can't sidestep it, and trying to jump over it would place her helpless before the sword. So she's slammed against the far wall and pinned by the desk. UnCalvin grins smugly, and spins her sword lightly in her hand.}

UnCalvin: The panda would have just smashed through it. Something to consider in your next life.

{As UnCalvin begins the downswing, Cassanee shoves with all her strength, which is more than UnCalvin counted on. With her legs tucked back against the wall, she can use them to push off with considerable force. The desk slides back a few feet, UnCalvin pitches forward, falling behind Cass as the force of her shove drives her forward in the opposite direction. Both combatants turn their ungainly stumbles into tuck and rolls, but as Cassanee turns to attack, UnCalvin bolts from the office. The Lady in Orange pursues as UnCalvin dashes into the stairwell at the end of the hall and leaps down entire flights of stairs in one bound. Cass opts to slide the railings, twisting so that she follows its curve around the turns, down to the 54th floor, where UnCalvin darts into the Web Lab.}

UnCalvin: Hello Chad, Maria. Is the wide dispersed polymer ready?

Chad: The impact webbing? Yes sir!

Maria: Don't call it that! You know the boss doesn't like those silly names! It's right over here sir. We haven't devised a launcher that won't trigger it on firing, so it'll have to be hand deployed.

Chad: But if you use this casing, then pressing this button will make it work on a proximity circuit after you throw it.

UnCalvin: *hurriedly* Excellent, that'll work fine. And Chad, I don't mind those sorts of code names in the lab, or even to investors who are easily impressed, but don't use it out in the world.

Chad: Yes sir.

{Cassanee enters and eyes the two scientists for a moment before dismissing them. Maria and Chad both dive behind a work station as UnCalvin presses the rubber button on the packaging and hurls it towards Cassanee. She twists to dodge, but the package bursts open and she's quickly wrapped up in a bright pink plastic clay. It quickly hardens, binding her arms and legs to her body. UnCalvin glances at his tow employees.}

UnCalvin: Pink?

Chad: We thought bright colors would sell better?

UnCalvin: Hmm, not a bad point. As long as it can be in more than one color. Except a larger than usual Christmas bonus, you two!

Chad and Maria: All right! *high five*

UnCalvin: And now for you.

{Cassanee's legs might be bound together, but they still had a little mobility, and she managed to roll to her stomach, flex her way onto her knees, then hop to her feet. At which point she flipped towards to window and kicked her way through. Fortunately, the window was on the slanted side, so she didn't plummet to her death. She did begin to roll down the side of the building, though, so she'd plummet to her death in another six floors or so. However, she saw an open window below, and angled her roll towards it, taking advantage of the fact that her upper body was wider than her lower, was thus rolling slower, and angling her descent. As she rolled, she went right past Dr. Lakshmi, now on the 51st floor.}

Dr. Lakshmi: *a few minutes before* Here we're working on using musical cues to trigger specific events in plants, such as flowering or reproduction. It's required some genetic modification of the plants, which has resulted in larger, stronger strains. Careful, that Venus fly trap could remove your fingers if the random play of "Break Stuff" kicks in. We're thinking it might work as a cheaper guard dog. Mostly, we've found it possible to make flowers emerge in perfect full bloom on cue, for maximum romantic effect. We hope to use it to make crops that will grow just when we need them, so that planting can be handled strictly as nece-

{Cassanee rolls past, everyone gawks, then turns to Dr. Lakshmi}

Dr. Lakshmi: *speaking quickly* It's a sleeping bag that unfurls into glider wings. For the extreme outdoorsperson.

{The tour group murmurs appreciatively, then sees UnCalvin sliding down the window in pursuit, one hand steadied against the glass, the other holding the sword aloft. They turn to her again. She's sweating and looking a bit flustered.}

Dr. Lakshmi: Ah, uh, oh yes, it's a new extremely thin filament climbing wire. Lightweight, almost invisible, strong, yet designed not to chafe or cut your hands. Moving on. . .

{Back on the 49th floor, Clever Adolescent Panda has no thrown itself out the opened window. Given the wind coming in, even if it tried, it might be hurled back in. Instead, the panda has been crawling slowly towards the Predator Drone, all the while debating gouging its eardrums out. The Predator Drone chatters on. It wouldn't be hard to subdue the panda, if anyone could get close enough. But while Dr. Pennington was smart enough to tell Androzier to keep his security forces well back, he neglected to hand out any sets of hearing protection that would block out the maddening sub-harmonics. Pennington is the only one with any - the Predator Drone is immune to the effects, something about how it reverberates inside its own skull - and he's a doctor, not an exterminator, UnCalvin.}

Predator Drone: So he said, I bet I can do that thing Bruce WIllis does with his hat in Hudson Hawk, only with a sombrero! And guess what happened? he didn't adjust for the brim width, it smacked him in the forehead, and he dropped his hat. Can you beat that?

CAP: I'm. . . gonna. . . beat. . .something. . . here in a minute.

{CAP reaches the Predator Drone, and grabs its ankle, but can't muster the strength or concentration to topple it. About then Cassanee tumbles past, narrowly hooking her legs on the open window sill. She folds herself up and in just before UnCalvin can slide by and decapitate her. UnCalvin's trailing hand catches hold of the sill, and after a moment to groan with the force of the abrupt stop, hauls herself in as well.}

Predator Drone: So funny story. I was waiting at the train station for a friend to arrive. I'm waiting there for hours and this horrible storm comes through. Ruins my umbrella, because it was a storm of highly ionized particles. My friend never showed up. Turns out I had the wrong day.

UnCalvin: *Glances at the scene, winces* Pennington? Why isn't that panda hurled to its death yet?

Pennington: Uh well, uh, sir, ma'am, the panda's showing more resistance than I expected.

UnCalvin: Then why haven't you done it?

Pennington: I thought this was a test. If I throw the test subject out, we can't determine if it can be driven to kill itself.

UnCalvin: Blithering idiot! I told you I was doing this because my entire security force couldn't stop the panda! How does that sound like an experiment, rather than a severe risk to the entire company?!

Predator Drone: So funny story. In college, we tried dropping a watermelon off the highest building on campus. But a tornado hit right then and the watermelon got whisked off somewhere. My friend Carl's hat nearly did, but he caught it at the last second. Then when the storm was over, he tried to toss it up on his head, but put too much force on it and it fell over the edge. We never saw it again, either. True story.

UnCalvin: Pennington, enough, shut it down!

{UnCalvin staggers and slumps to one knee. Cassanee is rolling on the ground, making a distressed, keening sound. Pennington does nothing.}

Pennington: I don't know. Maybe a 50% increase in my budget and an executive parking space would get me to work on that faster.

Predator Drone: Funny story. Once, after I parallel parked my car and went to run errands, two other cars parked so closely on either end of me I couldn't get out. And both of them belonged to guys who went to a nearby sports bar and stayed until closing time. I used up so much loose change.

UnCalvin: *eyes narrowed* You insolent worm.

{UnCalvin's ears vanish, she rises unsteadily, balance not quite there since she removed the inner ear just to be safe.}

UnCalvin: I was making a polite offer as your employer. Now I'll dispose of it myself!

{UnCalvin swings, not the smoothest of strokes, but normally sufficient. But the Predator Drone, in the midst of story, swings his arm in a gross over-exaggeration  of some minor detail and inadvertently deflects it with the cloaking device on his wrist. UnCalvin reels back from the surprising force of the deflection, and her impaired balance. Pennington looks deeply satisfied. Until CAP bites into the Predator Drone's ankle and manages to roll away, dragging it off its feet. As the drone lands on his back, Cass draws herself together sufficiently to roll over the arm with the cloak. UnCalvin raises the sword again.}

Predator Drone: So, funny story. I wrestled with my cousin like this once. Turns out he had lice. So I had to use this - *sching*

{Silence returns, finally. UnCalvin's ears reappear, and she glares at Pennington as she advances on him. Cassanee's eyes clear, and CAP stops biting that ankle.}

UnCalvin: Dr. Pennington, there are many things I will tolerate, but attempts to extort or kill me are not among them. Your contract is terminated for a breach - if you'll check it expressly forbids extorting me - and you will leave now, with none of your research. Whether you do so willingly, on foot, out the front door, or unwillingly, out the window, at Androzier's hands, is up to you.

Dr. Pennington: I'll go willingly.

UnCalvin: Excellent choice. Do not expect a recommendation. Androzier, you and your men escort him off the premises.

{They depart, Pennington's shoulders slumped, Androzier looking back towards his Commandant worriedly. UnCalvin turns to her two foes, CAP in the midst of trying to extract Cass from the impact web- er, polymer.}

UnCalvin: And now for you two. . .

Monday, September 16, 2013

After Months Of Sporadic Buildup

Clever Adolescent Panda (CAP, for short): I've finally found you.

{CAP is speaking to no one in particular. If the passerbys find anything strange about a panda standing alone on the sidewalk, staring at a building across the street and talking to itself while holding a small package, they give no sign. A few people glance in CAP's direction, and some even double take. For most, however, the panda is some vaguely defined object for them to avoid in their progress to wherever it is they're going. A dreary and unlamented death, most likely.}

CAP: Hey, don't say that. It's mean, and it clashes with the tone of the story.

CalvinPitt (Calvin, for short): Sorry.

CAP: Well, who's telling this?

Calvin: You are.

CAP: Darn tootin'.

{CAP's gaze stayed fixed on a building across the street. The lower three-quarters of the building was a standard concrete and steel construction, ordinary residential windowpanes, some with flowerpots on the sills. The upper quarter showed a marked shift, the exterior consisting of nothing but large windows, with the side facing CAP slanting away until it met the other side at the top. It most resembled a massive triangular prism, bisected at right angles with lines delineating separate rooms and floors. People entered and exited irregularly, their clothing a mixture of professional and casual. CAP took a deep breath, readjusted the package's straps, and dashed across the street. Only one car was rear-ended due to the panda's willful refusal to use crosswalks.}

CAP: Cut that out!

Calvin: Learn to type yourself then.

CAP: That keyboard is too small!

Calvin: I can't argue with that.

{CAP pushed the door open easily and stepped inside. The lobby was cool, quiet except for shoes scuffling over the tiles. CAP moved casually to the directory on the wall and began searching. It didn't take long to locate the target, Smile Time Alternative Solutions, starting on the 47th floor and continuing to the top. As CAP turned, a shadow. CAP looked up into the eyes of a man in early middle age. Hairline that had long ago finished receding, dark eyes, rounded cheeks, slight chin waddle hanging down. The nametag said "Mr. Peterson"}

Mr. Peterson: *nasal monotone* No pets allowed.

CAP: *indignant* I'm not a pet!

Mr. Peterson: *disinterested* You are a panda, correct?

CAP: Obviously I'm a panda. And who ever heard of someone having a panda as a pet?

Mr. Peterson: *still nasal montone* I haven't, but I have seen a woman with an ocelot and a wallaby, so I cannot rule out the possibility.

CAP: But I'm not anyone's pet! I'm just a panda here to deliver a package!

Mr. Peterson: *hasn't broken the monotone yet* While I believe you are a panda, and an adorable one at that, so much so I would like to pick you up and hug you to see if you made adorable squeaking noises, I cannot let you stay in here. Now good day.

CAP: *wheedling* I'll let you pick me up and hug me until I squeak.

Mr. Peterson: Good. Day.

{Grumbling, the panda exits the building and crosses the street to its original position. It disappears into the mouth of an alley, where the shadows obscure it.}

CAP: *to no one visible* No, there's a doorman. Or a concierge. I don't know which, it doesn't matter. Look, I will get in, just go ahead and start on your end. No, I'm not wasting your time, I'm being discreet. Patience! Sheesh.

{A short time later, a small delivery person backs through the door into the lobby, brown cap pulled down tightly over their face, a large package. The delivery person strides quickly past Mr. Peterson, acknowledging him with only a brief nod and pull on the cap brim. Mr. Peterson's brow creases briefly.}

Mr. Peterson: A moment please. *the delivery person stops* Where are you going?

Delivery Person: *muffled voice* Smile Time Alternative Solutions. Got a package for them.

Mr. Peterson: *bars the path to the elevators* Yes, well, I believe I already explained that no pets are allowed.

{Mr. Peterson rips the delivery person's cap off, only to see a short woman with a squat nose and light green eyes regarding him angrily.}

Delivery Woman: What are you talkin' about, Mac? I ain't carryin' an animal, I got a package. *Takes cap back furiously* And another thing: You ever try somethin' like that with me again, I'll make you eat that stoopid nametag. Got it?

{Mr. Peterson, flushed and stammering apologies, moves aside, pressing the button for the elevator as he does. The delivery woman - Rhonda, her shirt says - storms past without giving him a second glance. The only recognition a barked command to push the button for 47, which Peterson hops to comply with. Once the elevator doors close, a smile breaks out on her face, and she sets her box down. Opening it, CAP hops out, the smaller package still strapped on its back.}

CAP: Thanks a lot, ma'am. Do I owe you any extra for him being rude?

Rhonda: Nah, pushy guys like him are part of the job. I make it a point to give it back better than I get it. You sure you don't want me to deliver that thing? They won't think twice about it.

CAP: No thanks. I have the best chance of getting it directly to the boss, and I don't want it getting tossed by a protective receptionist.

Rhonda: It ain't a bomb, is it?

CAP: No, no, nothing dangerous. More like a gag gift. It's been a lot of trouble to get this far, I'm seeing it through to the end.

{Rhonda pushes the button for 46, and a few moments later, the elevator slides to a stop.}

Rhonda: Well, alright then. I'll get out here. Good luck with that.

CAP: *as doors close* Thank you!

{On the 47th floor, a few minutes earlier. . .}

Cheery Receptionist: Welcome to Smile Time Alternative Solutions! My name's Janet, but it will be Dr. Lakshmi here guiding you on the tour of our research facilities. She's our senior researcher, and head of the Energy Division.

{Dr. Lakshmi, in a lab coat wearing thick-rimmed glasses, a dark complexion, and long, straight dark hair tied back, nods slightly.}

Dr. Lakshmi: Thank you, Janet. I wanted to lead this tour personally, because I want those of you considering investing in our company to see how invested we are in it. Also because it makes it easier for me to keep you from touching things you shouldn't. That way we don't lose months, perhaps years of work, and you don't lose any limbs. *The crowd laughs* I'm serious. *Laughter stops, silent pause* Now if you'll follow me, we'll start with Weather D. . .

{Dr. Lakshmi leads the tour through a set of clear plastic doors to the right. As the doors slide closed behind them, the phone rings at Janet's desk.}

Janet: Hello, Smile Time Alternative Solutions? Oh, Mr. Peterson, hello. Yes. Well, I don't know of any specifically, but it could be a personal thing. Really? That's odd. Well, thank you for letting me know.

{At that moment, the elevator arrives. The door opens, and Janet looks up expectantly. No one steps out. She waits a moment more, then shrugs, and returns to the Minesweeper game on her computer. She doesn't notice a blur dart between the closing elevator doors and slide up against the front of her desk.}

A Voice Behind Janet: Working hard, I see.

Janet: Eep! Uh, Mr. Androzier! Um, sorry.

Androzier: *shrugs, sits on the edge of the desk, back to the elevator* I don't really care, I'm Head of Security, not Efficiency. So long as the Commandant and the investors don't notice.

Janet: "Commandant"?

Androzier: Old war joke. What was Peterson wanting?

Janet: He said there was a delivery person on the way up. The elevator opened, but no one came out.

Androzier: *glances towards elevator, misses CAP darting past his feet through a wooden door on the left Androzier came through* Probably had the wrong floor.

Janet: But she mentioned us by name.

Androzier: *rubs chin thoughtfully* Why would Peterson even bother to let you know?

Janet: He said she might be rude, because he aggravated her by accusing her of being a panda.

Androzier: *suddenly very alert* A panda?

Janet: *cheerfully oblivious* Yeah. He said a panda had come in earlier claiming it wanted to deliver a package. he shooed it away, and the the delivery lady was short and hiding her face, so he thought the panda might be in disguise. Isn't that the silliest thing?

Androzier: *Grim* No, it really isn't. *Grabs Janet's phone, taps a number quickly* It's Androzier. We have a problem. It's -

{On the other end of the line}

UnCalvinPitt (UnCalvin, for short): The panda. Yes, I've been expecting this. Actually, I expected it quite some time ago. Must be getting dumber from prolonged exposure to Calvin.

Calvin: *interrupting* Hey!

CAP: Not so funny now, is it?

Calvin: How do you even know UnCalvin was saying that?

CAP: It's exactly what UnCalvin would say.

Calvin: . . .

UnCalvin: As I was saying. Alert security, tell them to contain the panda if they can, but do not try and fight it. Medical bills from combat in the workplace related injuries will be the death of this company. Then meet me in the Operations Room.

Androzier: What about the investor tour?

UnCalvin: Is that happening now? Damn the timing! I'd swear the universe hated me, if I didn't already know it for a fact. Keep the patrols as low key as possible. If need be, I think I can handle the investors, but better not to put it to the test.

Androzier: Yes, Commandant. *speaking into hand radio* All security, be on the lookout for a panda with a package. Try to contain it, but do not engage. Protect the labs, and the staff.

Janet: *confused* What is going on?

Androzier: *Already running back the way he came* Old war. Stay here, deflect all calls, and keep your head down.