Zero Level: Additional Adventures

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    Herr D

    The Forward Foreword
    Hi, everyone. TheNate has generously offered that some of us could write side stories, sequels, prequels, loose-end-wrap-ups, continuing spin-offs, etc. Besides honoring the rules of HM, I hereby request and remind that all borrowed characters be asked for from their creators, and ghost-writing be as close as can be managed, and plot-lines be double-checked for continuity. (I’m sure we can manage to be less confusing and maddening than some companies who shall remain nameless here.)

    This first one is entitled, “This Island’s YOUR Land,” in which two characters and a few items are explicitly borrowed from TheNate. I couldn’t leave this short story alone–had to be written. I couldn’t think of any reason mentioned in “The Artist Of War” for the island not just receiving an airstrike, so I knew I had to write it immediately before they had one. –Well, you know I mean. At a few points, I’m going to leave this simple notation: [pic] Anyone who submits art for those points through PM will be considered. Crediting only. *TheNate: Let me know through PM whether the dialogue for the one character is consistent enough. Something seems off about it, but I can’t put my finger on it.


    Herr D

    This Island’s YOUR Land: Chapter 1

    A twitching man in scrubs sat alone at a table in the interrogation room. His frown was twitching and his closed eyelids fluttered. The bottle of water in front of him was unopened. The piece of paper in front of him was covered with unreadable scrawls, an uncapped pen on top of it. Behind the one-way glass, two suited men with steady hands sat on stools sipping coffee. [pic]
    The one with no gray at his temples said, “Well, Jones? He seems to be done.”
    Agent Jones walked into the interrogation room and stood until the door clicked shut. He sat down across from the twitching man in scrubs. “Sorry for the wait. Is this your statement, Dr. . . . “
    “Wooks.” The twitching man’s eyes popped open. He blinked repeatedly.
    “Wooks. Sorry. Herbert Memorial Hospital. Right. You know, I think I just figured out why I’ve been distrustful of you. You don’t seem to be in a hurry to get back to your patients. Every doctor I’ve ever met in the middle of his shift always was.”
    Dr. Wooks blinked harder. “Do I look like I’m in any condition to treat patients right now?”
    Agent Jones smiled, “Good point. Lucky my training enables me to override first impressions.”
    Dr. Wooks frowned, “What?”
    “I meet people all the time. Anything that catches my eye might be a good reason to get someone medical care, ask them questions, arrest them, lie to them, or even kill them. I have to be flexible enough a thinker to not rely on the past even if the past was less than a second ago.”
    Dr. Wooks visibly relaxed. “I get it. People try to fool you. You might’ve thought I wasn’t even a real doctor, I guess.”
    “No, people DO fool me. I just don’t stay fooled long enough to get killed or fail a mission. It’s been my experience that nothing is exactly as simple as it looks, people are never just who they seem, and the stories I hear are never going to be completely accurate or even complete.”
    Dr. Wooks frowned. “Like?”
    Agent Jones slouched a little, loosened his tie. He looked down at the page on the table. “Like your statement. You have the stereotypical unreadable handwriting of a doctor. When did your writing get so bad?”
    “College, I guess. No one can write every word in a lecture as fast as it’s spoken. Lazy handwriting follows hurried handwriting. Then sign off on a few hundred forms a day?”
    “Makes sense,” Jones squinted at the page, picked it up, “Is that a ‘G,’ doc?” He pointed.
    Wooks leaned forward. “Yes.”
    “When this says, ‘Going first through littlest blue emergency room–“
    “Gang fight triage interrupted by emergency page for psych eval.”
    Agent Jones held the page an inch from his eyes for a moment. He spun it like a card onto the table. “We’ll have you type it.” He reached out, rapped on the one-way glass, and did the old charades signal for ‘movie.’ “Do you understand this is being recorded, Dr. Wooks?”
    Wooks’ eyebrows went up. “I assumed it already was.”
    Jones shrugged, “Okay, so you were called away from triage. That’s not common, I guess.”
    “Never happened before. At first it made me mad. More might’ve died because of it.”
    “More what, gang members?”
    “The ambulances brought everyone together. There wasn’t time to sort them. They just cut them free, cleared airways, and transported them.”
    “That’s the first thing I don’t understand. What were they caught in?”
    “A kind of septic gelatin. I don’t really know. Some gang called the Sewer Bats spray it during rumbles from their shoulders.”
    “They pee Jello from their shoulders?” [pic]
    “I don’t think it’s urine, Agent–“
    “Agent Jones. I think it’s sort of a reverse immune system. Anything contagious they multiply and spray through large shoulder horns like some snakes spray from their fangs or skunks spray from their tail glands. It gels quickly and tangles and sticks to people. It infects cuts rather badly and can cause suffocation, but it does keep some people from bleeding out and prevents injury aggravation by immobilizing others. You should probably circulate the treatment we discovered.”
    “There was something about putting white blood cells in the . . . stuff?”
    “Yes. Apparently the secretions can cause microorganisms to mimic white blood cells, turning the whole tangled mess into an antibiotic bandage. Lots of peoples’ lives could be saved with the samples we–“
    “Dr. Wooks, we handed that off to the CDC. They’ll look at it. I need to understand about Richard O’Brien.”
    “What’s to understand? He’s not insane, not guilty, and no longer a patient. I should obtain releases before revealing anything about his care in detail with you.”
    Jones smiled. He turned to the one-way mirror and made a ‘go-ahead’ motion. A projection appeared on the ceiling, projected through the one-way mirror. Wooks watched as a small Caucasian man covered in dried blood signed a form and turned to face someone beside the camera. He said:

    “She explained that she appeared at that point in the old storeroom because she found a ‘dead end.’ The gray thing she carried hadn’t a DROP of blood on it. She said that it’s a dend-rit-ic pho-ton-ic converter. She said that means she points it at someone, and then, anyone they look at she can ‘jump’ to them? When she’s in someone’s brain who deserves capital punishment by the standards of America, or when she thinks it’s close enough, she says she springs, full-size, out of their head, exploding their skull. She said a full analysis of their actions can take fifteen minutes ’cause she has to weed out dreams and vivid wishes and stuff. She calls herself Athena Springs ’cause the Greek goddess Athena jumped out of someone’s head.
    What? No. That was an hour ago. I’ve got this odd headache, but I’m scared to take anything ever since she disappeared with that thing pointed at me. I think I annoyed her when I asked her what happened to her foot. So . . . are you the doctor that volunteers at the prison? Just asking. No–my headache just left!”

    Wooks looked at Jones. “Where did you get this tape?”
    “We impounded it. It’s evidence in an ongoing investigation. Can you confirm that you were the one he was speaking to?”
    Wooks rolled his eyes. “You already know I was.”
    “Without going into specifics of O’Brien’s care, then, why don’t you tell me about whatever wrongdoing you can?”
    “I don’t deserve a malpractice suit. The police didn’t tell me anything except that they found him sitting in a pool of blood in the back of a restaurant he worked at.”
    “But no body.”
    “They didn’t mention one, no.”
    “What kind of eye contact did he make?”
    “He avoided it. Some people just don’t look at other peoples’ eyes.”
    Jones’ eyes flicked up to Wooks’ eyes. “Because he reads lips, right?”
    Wooks’ eyes widened. “Um–“
    Jones nodded, “You’re right. You shouldn’t tell me the answer to that. He didn’t appear to have any trouble hearing, so I couldn’t think of any reason for that. You checked his hearing on an earlier part of the tape but didn’t note hearing loss on the chart we impounded.”
    Wooks frowned, reddening, “Can you show me a warrant for having his chart?”
    Jones smiled, “Confiscation order. And technically, no, I can’t. You and O’Brien are persons of interest in a matter of national security. You can demand that your office show you a copy when you get back there, but you will not be permitted to tell them anything you haven’t already. You will be signing non-disclosure forms before you are allowed to leave. I think you’ll find the paperwork in order, doc.”
    “What do you want?”
    “I need to know how many people you’ve told.”
    “Told what?”
    “What you suspect about O’Brien and Athena Springs. What you suspect about the prison deaths.”
    “I wrote it all down in my journal. I hid it. If you let me go, I’ll turn it over to you.”
    “In your handwriting? It might be safe. Hhhhhh. Yes, we’ll need you turn that in. We’ll give you a mailer and if you send it in a timely fashion we’ll tear out what we have to and send you the rest back without bothering you again. Assuming we can decipher it. Did you tell anyone else?”
    “I hinted at it to a consulting psychiatrist.”
    “O’Brien had another shrink?”
    “Psychiatrist. And no, mine.”
    “We’ll need his name, later. Go on.”
    “I believe what O’Brien believes. I believe I carried this woman in my brain somehow to the prison, where she killed several men. She was probably the motivation for the prison break. I carried that woman like a germ to contaminate others. That killed them. On top of that, I recommended O’Brien for a psych hold. I was wrong.”
    Jones frowned. “Well, you reversed his commitment at least. Recommended that he not be given any more medications. I think we can kill any malpractice suits connected to this. O’Brien and yourself will be given free therapy on this subject should you need it. What kind of side effects will O’Brien suffer? You’ve already admitted he shouldn’t have been taking whatever you gave him. I’m pretty sure that speaking specifically to me about wrongful treatment for the patient’s good we can pretend didn’t happen.”
    Wooks frowned, “I’d rather tell his next doctor.”
    “We won’t allow that. We can, however, pretend we drew the conclusions ourselves. We employ shrinks too.”
    Wooks frowned deeper, “Psychiatrists. Withdrawal should be over by now. He wasn’t on the meds long enough for full effect. He could have night sweats, night terrors, crave carbs? An anti-anxiety program would be too much rather than enough. I mean really, a week? He might do more with yoga or cutting his caffeine for awhile.”
    Jones smiled, “Glad to hear that. You’re the first ER doctor I’ve ever heard of that’s also a PSYCHIATRIST.”
    Wooks grimaced, “I’ve been recommending more cross-training between psychologists and trauma physicians for years, but the hospital only calls me in for ER duty when the roster’s running low. The advantages are very–“
    Jones waved a hand, cutting off the doctor’s sentence. “Doc? I’ll be happy to read that opinion later, if you include it in your typed statement. I’ll give it some thought then. Right now I need to know about your headaches.”
    “I haven’t noticed any. Why is that important?”
    “Did you get one between making that film with O’Brien and visiting the prison the following Tuesday?”
    Jones pulled a post-it note out of a pocket. “Dizziness, nausea, vision trouble, forgetfulness?”
    “No. Not until Wednesday.”
    “I never have any of those unless I’m hung over, and I didn’t get drunk recently except for that Tuesday night when I heard about the prison murders.”
    “You NEVER get headaches?”
    “Not since I started the aspirin regimen last year. Heart disease runs in my family.”
    Jones nodded. “Someone will be around with those forms shortly. Then we’ll drop you off where we picked you up. Unless somewhere else is better. Just so you know, our guy checked out O’Brien already, says he reads lips to deal with attention problems. I would’ve thought he was trying to hide hearing loss.” He grinned at Wooks.
    He walked out and back around to his stool and coffee. “Adams? He’s a schmuck. I doubt he knows how easy it would be for an NSA agent to verify his schedule a week in advance. He doesn’t even realize he probably carried her out, too. With the aspirin thing he wouldn’t have known.”
    “So we have her inhabiting an ER doctor who habitually checks the eyes of patients.”
    “Yeah, we’ve pulled the records, but we’ll never catch up to her this way. Is she at least hitting targets that fit the profile?”
    “Every one of them violent multiple felons. All on death row. Of course, she missed Dr. Helgrun AND The Handler. CIA got The Handler. She may have gotten some of Helgrun’s clones.”
    Jones shook his head. “Bad luck, jumping into a guy who doesn’t make eye contact. Didn’t we arrange a recall code?”
    “How on earth would we do that? The only way to make her untraceable was to make her unreachable. We can hardly track a single electrical impulse in a human brain even if we know which brain it is–our neurologist just explained that to me this morning. Unless we WANT to leak Helgrun’s suspected whereabouts to the press, we have no way of even guessing she’s found out. And then she’ll have no way to reach the island till it’s too late. Looks like all we can do is be ready to pick her up. You all right Jones?”
    “Yeah, I just never pictured this as part of my work here.”
    Adams grinned. “Well Jones, what would you like to do for your part of the NSA cleanup?”
    Jones shook his head. “At least let’s save a little taxpayer money. I’ll see if I can talk Wooks into doing O’Brien’s therapy and solving the other mystery.”
    Adams blinked, then nodded. “You mean why she didn’t kill Mr. E.”
    Jones nodded. “He killed seventy-some people that we know of. He’s so dangerous, no one wanted to break him out. Not even the crazy ones.” He frowned, looking at Mr. E’s picture.


    Herr D

    This Island’s YOUR Land: Chapter 2

    Pete shook himself awake. He tried to sit up and noticed the restraints. “Wha–“
    A monitor blinked on in front of him. The screen said, “Hello. Speak normally.”
    “How did I get here?”
    The screen changed to read: “You landed on my submarine. We had to drop some cargo and go back for it later. You are remarkably heavy in that form. You have been unconscious till now.” A pair of black tentacles reached through the curtain and began undoing his restraints.
    “So I’m still on the island. Who are you and why are you letting me go?”
    The screen changed again. “I am Dr. Jens Tyrol Helgrun. I am making you an offer. There is plenty of food and water on this island for you. I will have my staff prepare some for you whenever you like. We only ask one thing in return. You will live on the beach, weather permitting. You will sleep where we say and walk the shore of the island for at least two hours every day. You will see me personally once a day.” The tentacles withdrew. [pic]
    The screen showed: “Because if you hurt no more of us, none of us will hurt you.”
    “I don’t remember hurting many of you. What, did I put a hole in your sub?”
    The screen showed: “It isn’t watertight–we were only transporting marine and amphibious creatures. Never mind–that’s the offer.”
    “Like a human shield.”
    The screen showed: “You’re not big enough to cover the whole island. But you will be our most visible hostage. You can’t leave, and an airstrike on the island would kill you. I’m merely assuring that anyone who attacks will do something small and precise. I care a great deal about the ocean. I understand that you probably won’t promise not to turn on us, but at least you could wait for your friends to attack us or attempt to rescue you.”
    Pete nodded, and, flabbergasted, got up and walked out to the beach. The very next day, a Tuesday, he watched Dr. Helgrun explode.


    Herr D

    This Island’s YOUR Land: Chapter 3

    Diana hummed to herself contentedly, walking down the steps to the galley. She heard Tom grumbling to himself. She allowed herself a single secret smile, then furrowed her brow and entered the galley. Tom was alternately stirring a kettle of stew with the slotted spoon in his left hand and scratching inside the cast on his right arm with the slotted spoon’s handle. He turned, hearing her, and stopped grumbling. “You get some good shots?”
    Diana nodded and hung her camera in a padded bag against a cabinet. “We’re really lucky, you know that? For a middle-aged couple?”
    Tom looked down at his arm. “Yeah, this could’ve been a lot worse. I could be back on duty in less than six weeks.”
    Diana smiled a weak smile that matched her tensed forehead, “And?”
    Tom frowned slightly, “and you got this freelance photography assignment right when I got injured during that weird prison break? Pretty good timing. We won’t have to cut back on much to get through this.”
    Diana’s attention flicked for just a moment to the odd nature of the assignment. “Study the island through a telescope?” she thought, “Special project through my editor by an anonymous client? Verify eye color of anyone you see and log it with the photographs you take?” She considered for a moment bringing it up and shook her head. Out loud she said, “And?”
    Tom stuffed the spoon handle in his cast and waved his hand around at the galley. “Your editor loaning us his old fishing boat for the assignment? Having these attachments on the stove so I can cook for you while we’re here without spilling?” He pointed at the bracket holding the pot on the stove.
    Diana gave Tom a mischievous half smile. “And?”
    Tom blinked, “We’re happily married? Despite the divorce rate being kind of high?”
    Tom frowned and shrugged.
    Diana counted on her fingers, “I may have finished my three-day assignment in two hours of good light on the first day, that stew won’t actually be ready for at least two MORE hours, and we have chilled wine, a double bed, COMPLETE privacy, and that odd headache I’ve had since we left my office?”
    “It’s completely gone! This sea air must be really good for me.”
    Tom very slowly smiled, turned the stove down low, and followed her into the master bedroom, forgetting to pull the spoon out of his cast.


    Herr D

    This Island’s YOUR Land: Chapter 4

    AND TUESDAY . . .
    Pete staggered back against the wall, covered with foul-smelling thick gray fluid. The wall cracked slightly. “Blech!” Pete tried to clear his eyes. He heard two footsteps as he opened them and saw a gray blur and a silvery flash. Pete shook his head. The computer screen was covered with various shades of gray goo along with the stand it was on. A large number of ripped, burst tentacles lay all over the room. Pete wiped off some more gray goo. “Dr. Helgrun? Is this some new way of . . . molting?” Pete slowly stepped out into the middle of the room, not even noticing the two gooey footprints, one misshapen, that he ruined. “Have you got any Tylenol, Dr. Helgrun?” Pete reached up and wiped off the camera mounted on the ceiling. He waved at it. “Excuse me? Could I have some Tylenol? Are we done here? . . . I’m just gonna go back and wade some more, okay? Like we agreed?” [pic]
    He walked out into the hallway, and a sharkman chomped on his arm, breaking several teeth. Pete reflexively smashed it’s head in, making eye contact with the sharkman behind it. The sharkman’s head exploded, pelting Pete with dozens of teeth. Pete instinctively closed his eyes again, heard the body fall with a sickening rubbery squelch, and so missed the sound of a single sliding footstep. He heard an odd squeaking noise, and turned his head to the left to see a single sharkman ducking behind a cart and rapidly running away behind what cover it afforded. “Shark-man duck-running?” Pete shook his head. “Uh, yeah! Biting me is against the RULES, guys!” Pete thought a minute. “Wait–I just looked at that sharkman and it exploded.” He frowned. “That’s what happened to Dr. Helgrun. I looked at him, and he exploded.” [pic]
    He walked to the restroom and washed up as well as he could in the sink. He heard running footsteps outside. “Hello?!” He stepped back into the hallway. On the maintenance cart was a broken pair of sunglasses, a torn pillowcase, and a brown-spotted banana. Pete frowned. They hadn’t been on the cart when the sharkman hid behind it. Faint noises were coming from around the corner. Pete heard a small thud, and an apple rolled out where he could see it. He heard odd squishy popping noises retreating. “Hello–oo?” [pic]
    He walked around the corner. He saw little sucker marks on the floor leading away and letters written in sand on the floor near the wall: “PLEZ CUVR FAS! WE GO! 1 HOR!” [pic]
    Pete blinked, “What’s a ‘fa,’ and why should I cover them?” He blinked again. “Ohhh.”
    Tears welling up in his eyes, he trotted back to the cart and put the pillowcase over his head. “It’s not that bad,” he said to himself, “I’ll still be able to HEAR my friends without hurting them.” He waited an hour and went looking for the shortwave radio. [pic]


    Herr D

    This Island’s YOUR Land: Chapter 5

    Adams stopped laughing, and, drying his eyes, said, “Are you SERIOUS?! They BOUGHT that? Huh.”
    Jones grinned, “Their boy, Rocky or whatever, was only too grateful that we had ‘seen that effect before and had some eyedrops developed by Helgrun himself.’ He didn’t even remember the headaches. M-A-B paid for a bomb disposal robot to put in the eyedrops. Where is Athena Springs?” [pic]
    “–headed back to infiltrate some more Al-Qaeda cells, apparently. She left a note saying that and that Mr. E has two brains.”
    “Two brains.”
    “Yeah, Jones. She can’t kill the guilty one without killing the innocent one.”
    “Two BRAINS?!”
    “Yeah, the split personality defense just got trumped. Now we got a split person. The neurologist is checking it out. Still no word on how she got to the island. Seeya Jones, I’m taking a long weekend.”
    Jones shook his head, walked into the restroom, and looked around quietly. He looked into the mirror. “Your retirement is acceptable; your continuing work is approved. Just don’t give me any sign you’ve left. You know I took aspirin today. I don’t know who you are and neither does anyone else. I’ve killed too, but it was for this great country that I love. I ask that if you do continue your work that you watchdog, us, here, at the NSA first. Make sure our own motives stay pure enough. You don’t have to kill us, just get us caught. I know you can figure out how while you’re just a stray thought moving around in our memories. Contact me for any help you need.” He walked out of the restroom.

    The End [pics]



    Awesome! Great job!

    And with that, I may as well make an announcement:

    Zero Level is open to everyone willing to log into the HeroMachine forums.

    Want to write backstories/sidestories/imaginary/crossover-with-your-heroes stories for the heroes/wannabe-heroes/villains/villains-who-prey-on-villains who inhabit that universe? Want to redesign some costumes? Want to illustrate some scenes?

    GO FOR IT!

    Let’s make this a community project. All I ask is that you post art for your original characters. Use whatever version of Heromachine you’re most comfortable with.

    I’m working on some short (<5000ish word) stories for the characters myself. I'll try to get a couple up each week.


    Herr D


    Thanks to TheNate; I’m glad you like it! It just struck me that of all the megalomaniacal-geniuses-versus-spy-on-an-island scenarios, I had never seen one accomplished with no guns, no buildings destroyed, no huge explosions, no mass evacuation of lackeys out of misplaced fear, and no example of the spy’s ‘assistant’ being on the same side but being completely unaware of their biggest contribution. I pictured one character as a Nemo type. I know people know I love ocean-friendliness, misunderstandings, and Gump-age. The shock here is that I wrote the whole thing in three hours while eating dinner with a four-year-old, not counting final edit, without any space travel, aliens, or anything else I’m used to. I mean used to writing about. Yeah, okay. Hoping for pic volunteers soon. AUTHORS! You have permission to add more small Zero Level stories on this thread.





    Herr D

    Very good, TheNate. Though somehow it seemed a little too real I’ve been noticing how few people I’ve ever encountered have ever made any good choices about who they recruit to do whatever they think they want done. As stereotypical as it is for good actors to go unrecognized, all modern American businesses need to become more aware of how much better they could run if the talent they HAVE is better placed and better managed and the talent they foolishly didn’t recruit were given a chance. The only man I ever met personally who went from entry-level to vice president of a company (~30 years) said that he’d been lucky to find people who were smart enough to give him the chance that he deserved. That he’d been turned away when he shouldn’t have been AND hired where he shouldn’t have been. It would appear that, as a nation, our selection processes have not improved.















    Well handled again, Nate! I’ll have to do some more research to keep everything about Amy making sense, if not completely realistic. Nice twist of her temporarily losing her powers. Also like the unflinching, Batman-like attitude of Miss X. Though I never actually wrote anything with her, that’s pretty much the personality I see her with. Overall, great story. I dig your characters, too. BTW, how did you do that group shot? Awesome! The most I’ve managed was I think 11 characters in one of my Beasts of Burden groups.

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