Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Dark Spiral Down by Michael Houtz

Author: Michael Houtz
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Pages: 377
Genre: Thriller/International/Action

COLE HAUFNER is a reluctant superstar in the professional mixed martial arts world. After his latest fight, his wife and child perish in a car crash. His grief deepens when his brother, BUTCH, a Delta Force operator, is absent from the funeral and reported missing by two furtive strangers who show up unannounced at the burial. Despairing, and acting on a tip, Cole travels to his childhood home in southeast China, looking for his brother.

Butch and his teammate, HAMMER, are the sole American survivors of a gun battle between their unit and North Korean commandos, both sides fighting over possession of a stolen suitcase containing a miniaturized fusion device that could either provide unlimited clean energy or be converted to an undetectable bomb seven times more powerful than a nuclear explosion. Leading the North Koreans is the sociopath, Commander PARK. Pressed into helping the Koreans is a disgraced former CIA operative, BARRETT JENNINGS.

Cole meets with the uncle who raised him, MASTER LI, and is warned to stop his search for Butch. Barrett discovers Cole’s identity (with the help of a genius computer hacker, LILLY), which opens a twenty-year-old wound when Barrett was blamed for the disappearance of Cole’s father, along with the man’s invention. Barrett enlists the 14K organized crime syndicate to help capture Cole. Hammer, separated from Butch during the fight for the device, thwarts the gang’s attempt to kidnap Cole, and the two then set off to find Butch and the device. All parties converge on the city library where Butch, now disguised as a monk, is attempting to communicate with the Pentagon. Barrett and Park capture Butch, while the 14K gang nabs Cole.

Danger mounts as Chinese authorities begin investigating foul play within their borders. Cole fights his way free of the gang and reunites with Hammer.  Both men find Barrett’s apartment and discover Lilly (the man’s stepdaughter), who divulges Barrett’s identity and plan. Cole clashes with Hammer, who is willing to sacrifice Butch in order to recover the fusion device. Lilly offers her help in exchange for her and Barrett’s rescue from Park’s grip. Meanwhile, Barrett discovers the true nature of the case the North Koreans are pursuing and, sensing he and Lilly are to be assassinated by Park once he has the device, frees Butch. Butch, trusting Barrett was sent to rescue him, leads the turncoat to the site where he hid the device. Barrett, hoping to make a quick fortune selling it, shoots Butch before escaping with the case.

Cole, along with Hammer and Lilly, arrives at the location of Butch and finds him gravely wounded. Butch fingers Barrett for shooting him and for stealing the case. Cole wants only to save his brother but Butch makes him promise to kill Barrett and recover their dad’s invention. The revelation that the device is his father’s scientific discovery propels Cole forward to fulfill his brother’s mission. Cole is forced to abandon Butch at a hospital. Cole pursues Barrett to a remote dock where the ex-CIA man is planning to escape China by boat. With the Chinese military now actively looking for Cole, Cole confronts Barrett and Park sparking a gunfight. Barrett kills Park. As Barrett turns the gun on Cole, Hammer kills Barrett. Cole, Hammer and Lilly escape via the boat, and the fusion device is safely returned.
Praise for Michael Houtz
“If you’re in the market for a fast paced, action filled, page-turning thriller, Mike Houtz delivers a must-read novel. I highly recommend this emotional rollercoaster of a book for every die-hard thriller reader…Get it ASAP!”
~Lima Charlie Review
 “…this work proves that author Houtz is undoubtedly a rising star in the publishing world.”
~Andrea Brunais, Author
 “Mike Houtz takes us on fast-pace adventure in Dark Spiral Down, a thrilling ride along the border between China and North Korea, where Cole Haufner is in pursuit of his Delta Force brother and a device that has the potential to change the world forever or destroy it.”
~Dan Grant, Author
 Dark Spiral Down is a phenomenal debut novel by Mike Houtz. This book has everything readers of the genre love: a great plot, memorable characters, and a powerful voice. It’s a must-read!”
~Ammar Habib, Bestselling & Award-Winning Author, Editor-in-Chief of Thriller Magazine



Chapter 1

Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas, Nevada Saturday night Main Event, April 21st

“Ten seconds!”

From his corner, Cole Haufner heard the cry all the way across the blood-smeared octagon. He held his opponent immobile, letting the clock run out on the second of three periods. He was well ahead in the fight, but a nasty gash over his left eye, one that opened in the late first round from a flying elbow, threatened the outcome due to the amount of blood pouring from the wound. The win was not his primary goal. A six-figure purse for a victory ensured his son’s life-saving surgery.
The referee separated both fighters while directing them to their respective corners.
Cole jumped up from the mat, fist-pumped the air for the crowd, and made his way to his corner where two men stood ready to attend to him. As he approached his team, Cole saw the fight doctor walk through the cage door opening with a look of concern. A sense of dread attacked Cole.
“Lemme take a look at that,” the physician ordered as he stepped forward to scan Cole’s injury.
“I’m good, Doc, I’m good.” Blood poured down his face, spreading across Cole’s sweat-covered chest

and pooling onto the canvas mat.

The fighter’s corner coach, Barry Liggit, and cut-man, Scott “Stitch” Bell, leaned in close to see the wound.
“I’m fine. Just get me ready,” Cole snarled. He needed the fight doctor to give him a break on the injury.
Beyond the blinding lights shining on the fight ring, more than thirteen thousand fans chanted, “Gentleman, gentleman, gentleman…”
The spectacle of the crowd embarrassed Cole. This unwanted praise railed against everything he’d been taught at the Chinese Buddhist monastery where he lived and studied as a young boy.
“You hear that?” Barry shouted over the noise of the crowd. “They want you, Cole. They know you’re the next middle-weight champion.”
The doctor repeatedly held pressure over the cut and released to see how quickly the wound bled. Each time he let go, a fountain of red erupted.
Cole saw the concern in the physician’s eyes. “Doc, you know I need this one,” he pleaded. “You know my family story. I swear I’ll finish this quick.”
“I’m giving you one minute.” the doctor shouted to Barry. “I’m not losing my medical license because of his injury.” The ER physician turned and nodded to the fight officials outside the cage that Round 3 would start.

The crowd erupted in a roar.
Stitch jumped in front of Cole with packing cream and the frozen steel plate to stem the bleeding long enough to ready the fighter.
Barry leaned close to Cole’s face. “You’ve never had a fight last more than a minute. What’s the deal?

You don’t have a lot of time! You got me?”

Cole looked to his right. An empty seat remained at ringside. His older brother, Butch, promised to attend. Cole started the headline match with some concern, but now, he worried over his brother’s absence. They hadn’t spoken in the last twenty-four hours, even though Butch was supposed to have received a special furlough from his military unit to be here. For Butch to break a promise wasn’t unusual—it came with his job. Amid one of the most important moments of his life, Cole couldn’t help but worry.
A hand jerked his head. “Are you even hearing me?” Barry yelled.
Cole shifted his gaze back to the ring, catching Stitch looking in the same direction.
“Holy shit. Are you dragging out this fight waiting for Butch?” Stitch shouted.
Busted. Cole looked away from Barry, unable to hold his coach’s gaze.
Barry put his hands on his hips, lips smashed into a line. “You gotta be kidding me! Well, that would explain why we’re in round three. You’re one lucky punch away from losing this fight. Don’t you think your son needs this win?”
You know he’s off limits. For the first time in the match, rage filled his body. The immediate image of his son’s physical struggles with a failing heart sent a powerful surge through his nervous system. He glared at his trainer, blood running down his face as the cold plate slipped from the gash. “Shut your mouth,” Cole hissed.
Barry swallowed. The corner man quickly recovered “This is it, brother. The crowd wants ‘the

Gentleman,’ but give them the ‘Beast’. Let’s see some of that monk shit and finish this fight.”

Sorry, Butch, I can’t wait any longer. I know you’ll understand. Cole opened his mouth so Barry could slide the mouthpiece into place. “Don’t blink or you two are gonna miss an old move of mine.”
Barry and Stitch grinned.
Dragging out the fight was a stupid move. Even though he’d never met his match, not even close in the ring, Cole faced a professional fighter. Barry was right. Another lucky punch like the one that cut him in round one could lose him the one hundred- thousand-dollar bonus offered for a win. His son needed him.
Focus. Breathe. For Max.
The referee made his way to the center of the octagon and motioned for the fight corners to clear the ring.
Stitch held the cold plate to Cole’s forehead cut for three more seconds then followed everyone else out with the door clanging shut.
Vision in Cole’s left eye blurred—the blood was already seeping from around the edges of the packing cream.
The ref signaled to the ringside table he was ready then waved with both hands for the fighters to approach the center.
Cole stepped forward in his usual calm manner— the source of the nickname “the Gentleman.”
The other fighter bounced on the balls of his feet, just out of reach.
“Ready.” The referee continued with a slight pause in between. “Let’s bring it!” With that, he jumped back out of the way of the combatants.

Cole ducked as his opponent unleashed a flurry of combinations, trying to finish the fight almost as quickly as it had resumed. He parried the punches and kicks, toying with the other man, aware he had less than a minute before the doctor returned to the ring. Cole only needed a fraction of a second. He searched for an opening.
The onslaught carried on for a full ten seconds before the fighter dropped back, his nostrils flaring like a bull’s.
Blood flowed freely again, saturating Cole’s chest and shorts while clouding his vision.
The opposing corner yelled to their fighter to go to a defensive position.
“I’m sorry,” Cole shouted to his opponent.
The sweating mass of muscle furrowed his forehead. “The hell you say?”
“Sorry about this.” Cole stood from his crouch and lowered his fists.
“What are you doing?” Barry screamed from just outside of the cage. “Hands up. Hands up!”
In the blink of an eye, the other man slid forward and threw a powerful right hand.
This moment was Cole’s. Rather than defend, he leaped from the canvas, performed a front somersault in mid-air, and extended his right leg, bringing his heel crashing down on top of the man’s head. A sickening thud sounded upon contact, and the other fighter collapsed to the mat, unmoving.
Cole rolled forward after the strike, coming to rest in a crouch some five feet away. Though he suspected the instant he’d made contact he’d finished off his opponent, Cole took nothing for granted. He spun in

case of a counterattack.

The ref, initially stunned, dove onto the unmoving man. The crowd’s collective gasp morphed into a deafening roar when the signal was given the fight was over.
Panting from the effort, Cole watched as the cage door opened, and medical personnel raced inside.
Barry and Stitch rushed through the portal and drew him into crushing hugs amid incredible noise. Literally lifted off his feet, Cole only felt relief in accomplishing what he’d set out to do; he’d likely saved his son’s life.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

----------Moments That Made America by Geoff Armstrong----------

Author: Geoff Armstrong
Publisher: History Publishing Company
Genre: American History

From its geological birth during the breakup of the Pangaea supercontinent millions of years ago, through the nation-shaping key events that led to its political independence from the British superpower, and other crucial, sometimes miraculous events that worked to create the nation, Moments That Made America: From the Ice Age to the Alamo explores those defining moments, both tragic and inspirational that profoundly shaped the nation and its people - crucial turning points that worked inexorably to mold and make America. These pivotal "tipping" events formed America's geographical, sociological, political and historical landscape. Part 1 culminates with the discovery of gold in California and the role it played in fulfilling America’s dream of Manifest Destiny.


Birth of a Continent
            There is something totally appropriate about the fact that North America, the continent that would someday contain the United States, was born in a cataclysm so violent it ripped apart a gigantic supercontinent.
            A little more than two hundred million years ago, the continent we know as North America did not exist. From space, our planet looked nothing like earth of the 21st century. At that distant time in our planet’s history, all the continents that exist today were joined together into one giant landmass scientists call “Pangaea”.
            Then, on the 4th of July, 200,000,000 BCE (Before the Common Era) an immense earthquake hammered Pangaea. From the extreme northernmost point to the southern end, a deep fault in the earth split open and a huge chunk of Pangaea began to separate from the rest of the supercontinent. At first, the separation was only a few inches, but North America was born at that moment. A small piece of the scar from that cataclysm can be seen in a 20-mile line of cliffs called the Hudson River Palisades that run along the west side of the lower Hudson River near New York City.
The date is highly imaginary of course. With no humans around to invent calendars, we can’t possibly know the exact date North America was born, but that date fits perfectly.
            Scientists believe that Pangaea broke apart because the solid surface we live on isn’t actually solid. It is made up of continent-sized plates that float upon what geophysicists call the “mantle”, a hot, molten rocky layer, about 1,800 miles thick that lies deep beneath our feet. The movement of these plates is called “plate tectonics” and the different conditions and effects they generate are responsible for earthquakes, volcanoes and the creation of mountains.
            Slowly, very slowly, through long eons, moving just centimeters per year, the gap between the newborn continent and what was left of old Pangaea widened as America moved west, the gap filling with salt water from the great ocean that covered most of the planet. That gap eventually become a sea, then an ocean more than two thousand miles wide we call the Atlantic.
            That slow journey continues to this day and will it do so for millennia. Someday, eons from now, people sitting on a beach near Seattle will be able to wave greetings to folks in China.
In some places, that hot mantle pushes its way through cracks or fault lines, where it can show up as volcanoes and other features such as hot springs, geysers, steam vents and lava flows. They are called “hot spots”. One well-known hot spot lying out in the Pacific Ocean is the State of Hawaii, a volcanic chain of islands almost 4,000 miles long. Another is America’s first national park, Yellowstone, a hot spot that has been around for about 15,000,000 years. The entire Yellowstone system has been described as a super volcano with the potential to erupt with enough force to destroy much of the United States and Canada and significantly damage the entire planet. It last erupted 640,000 years ago and geophysicists enjoy informing anyone who will listen that we are long overdue for another deadly eruption.
It is from that westward movement of the North American plate that the continent gets its unique physical appearance. Where the North American and Pacific Plates meet, the Pacific Plate can be forced down into the mantle under North America, where it pushes up against the North American Plate, slowly bending parts of the plate upward. If the plates actually collide, large sections of the moving plates can be thrust upward or folded. These upward-thrust or folded masses of the crust aren’t minor ridges or tiny ripples in the earth’s surface. It took many millions of years, but it was the collision of those plates that built the system of mountain ranges called the American Cordillera that dominates western North America from Alaska to Mexico, branches of which include the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada and the Cascade Range.
This is the same process that formed the Appalachian Mountains and the Canadian Shield, many millions of years earlier than the North American Cordillera. Like the great mountains to the west, the Appalachians and the Canadian Shield were once towering peaks as high or even higher than the Rockies, but millions upon millions of years of erosion from rain, wind and the ice ages have worn them down to the relatively low mountains we see today.
            From the moment America was born 200 million years ago to the present day, those two opposing forces have been competing with each other. As tectonic forces work to build mountains and volcanoes, the forces of erosion such as glaciers, wind and rain work to wear down what the tectonic forces are trying to build, each trying to put its own stamp on what America should look like. But it was that earthquake 200 million years ago and the movement of those continent-sized plates that wrote the first pages in the story of America.
An Ancient Gift for a Young Nation
            As far back as 300 million years ago, in a geological period known as the Triassic, extensive swampy areas and a warm, moist climate fostered the growth of super-sized plants that spread across continent-sized regions. With the passage of time, great forests would rise and fall and rise again, laying down deep beds of dead vegetation that sank into the ancient swamps. High acid content in the water that covered the fallen plants, and the mud and silt washed into the swamps by storms or by tectonic events, buried the vegetation and cut off the oxygen. Slowly, the mixture of partly decayed vegetation turned to a peat. As the layers deepened, the weight and pressure on the peat increased. After millions of years, the pressure would change the peat into a soft coal called “lignite”. Often, heat from deep inside the earth, and the continuous buildup of additional layers of material on the surface would work together to compress the peat and lignite, causing both physical and chemical changes, which slowly turned the peat and lignite into bituminous or anthracite coal.
The same processes that transformed plant and sometimes animal matter into coal, also created stores of gas and petroleum. Over long ages, great stores of that dirty black rock packed with energy and vital chemical fuels would accumulate, so that millions of years in the future all that stored-up energy would be available to help a struggling young nation jump-start its economy, build its industrial strength and fuel America’s rise into a world power.
An End and a Beginning: The Last Days of the Dinosaurs
            Down the long centuries and millennia and vast ages, North America continued its westward journey. On board the new continent and sailing slowly west with it, were the plants and animals of the late Triassic and early Jurassic periods.
            As the eons passed, the creatures of the Jurassic evolved into the remarkable creatures of the Cretaceous, but perhaps the most important biological development during the Cretaceous was the emergence of the flowering plants, without which, many, if not most of our food crops would not exist. At about the same time flowering plants were evolving, many insects were also beginning to change and evolve. Ants, termites, butterflies, aphids, grasshoppers and wasps began to appear and among them, perhaps the most important insect of them all made its first appearance: the highly social bee, a development that was vital to the evolution of the flowering plants and, in the far distant future, American farms and orchards.
            But it is the dinosaurs of the Cretaceous that are among the most well-known and beloved of all the life forms that ever evolved in earth’s long history. Their names alone evoke wonder: Tyrannosaurs Rex, at 40 feet long, one of the largest land-based carnivores that ever lived; Triceratops a plant eating dinosaur, thirty feet long and weighing up to 12 tons with its unmistakable three-horned head that took up almost a third of its body length; Ankylosaurus, about the size of a modern elephant, but covered with large plates of bony armor; Pteranodon, a flying reptile with a 20 foot wingspan, and countless other giants. They were amazing creatures and if nature hadn’t created them, no human imagination could have done so. Had these wonderful creatures lived to the present day, the United States of America, as we know it, could not exist because the human beings who created it almost certainly could not have evolved. Our primate ancestors, if they had evolved at all, would have been little more than dinosaur snacks.
            Living almost unnoticeable among the dinosaurs were a number of much lesser creatures – the mammals. They were tiny animals compared to the dinosaurs. They gave birth to live young, but they were insignificant, furry little things and had the dinosaurs survived, it is highly unlikely that mammals, including humans, would have risen to dominant the world. Then, about 65 million years ago, in what amounts to a geological instant that not only made America, but the entire world, the dinosaurs disappeared.
            The theory as to what drove the dinosaurs to extinction was first proposed by a famous Nobel Prize physicist and amateur paleontologist, Luis Alvarez. His son Walter, a geologist, had been studying a strange layer of clay at the boundary between the Cretaceous and the Tertiary periods, also known as the K-T boundary, the layer that seemed to mark the moment in geological time when the dinosaurs went extinct. Paleontologists noticed that no dinosaur fossil has ever been found above that boundary.
            Luis and Walter enlisted the aid of nuclear chemists Frank Asaro and Helen Michel from the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. The chemists discovered that the strange clay contained an extremely high level of a substance known as iridium, a mineral that is rare on the earth, but present in the countless micrometeorites that arrive from space and dust the planet’s surface. Eventually, they also determined that the same clay from other locations around the world contained the same high iridium levels. There could only be one explanation: that iridium did not originate on earth. It came from outer space!
            In 1980, Luis and Walter Alvarez, and the two chemists published the paper proposing that the Cretaceous extinction was caused by an extraterrestrial impact. It was greeted with skepticism at first, but is now the most widely accepted explanation of what killed off the dinosaurs.
Although there is controversy as to whether or not a single event caused the extinction of as much as three quarters of the life on earth, most paleontologists agree that an extraterrestrial impact played a key role in their demise. A number also suggest that dinosaurs were already in trouble from disease, and from a series of volcanic eruptions called the Indian Deccan Trap that occurred at roughly the same time. Whether it was that singular deathblow from space or a final volcanic nail in the Cretaceous coffin, there is little question that 65 million years ago a mountain-sized asteroid smashed into the earth near what is now the town of Chicxulub on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
            The asteroid impact is believed to have set off widespread, major earthquakes, horrific storms, world wide volcanic eruptions and forest fires that sent ash and dust high into the atmosphere where it blocked the sun's light for years, perhaps for centuries. The devastation plunged the entire world into what today would be described as “nuclear winter”. As the effects of that catastrophic collision erupted across the globe, those awe-inspiring creatures that would someday be loved by children everywhere, began to die. The irony is that had their beloved dinosaurs survived, it is almost certain that none of those children would have ever been born.
            That anything was left alive anywhere was a miracle. As it was, the impact and its aftermath is believed to have wiped out up to seventy-five percent of all species on earth. Fortunately for humans, one class of animals that managed to survive was the one to which we humans belong: the mammals.
            As time passed, the planet slowly recovered. Mammals began to thrive and to fill the niche left by the dinosaurs. They have since spread to nearly every environment on the planet. Had the asteroid not wiped out the dinosaurs, it is very likely that mammals would have been unable to compete with their oversized, hungry neighbors and we humans might never have evolved.  Without humans there would be no America. Unlikely as it may seem, a big chunk of rock from outer space helped make America.
Ages of Ice
            If the view of our planet from space 200 million years ago was far different than it is today, the Earth as seen from space 12,000 years ago was just as surprising. Although North America would have been recognizable, its appearance would have been shocking. Stretching from the Arctic across all of what is now Canada and into the United States, lay a vast sheet of ice, as much as 4 kilometers thick, and as far south as 45 degrees north latitude. Scientists call this ice sheet the “Wisconsin Glaciation”. It was only the latest of several such periods that stretch back possibly as far as 2.4 billion years ago.
            What causes them is open to speculation, but variations in the distance of the Earth from the sun, solar energy output, ocean current circulation, composition of the atmosphere are all candidates. What does seem clear is that at some point, one or more of those possibilities works to push the planet over some crucial threshold and at that moment, an ice age becomes inevitable.
            When it arrived, the ice sheet didn't just sit there. It began to move. Like a giant bulldozer, it was working, ripping away soil and topsoil from what would one day be Canada, depositing all that fertile soil onto what would later be the United States. Enormous amounts of valuable Canadian topsoil, rock and gravel rode with the ice sheets as they moved. Some of the richest farmland in the United States Midwest and Northeast arrived in this way. Windstorms helped move tremendous amounts of this soil far from where the glacier left it, to settle out of the sky as a layer of fertile soil in the Mississippi and Missouri valleys, Washington, Oregon, Oklahoma, and Texas.
The ice changed America. The Great Lakes were carved by ice gouging its way through existing valleys, carving them even deeper. Across most of the northern part of the continent, the glaciers gouged out depressions that filled with water as the glaciers melted. Many river systems were reshaped or created including the Mississippi River that formed when the water from the melting ice sheet collected in what is now Wisconsin and Minnesota, then carved its way to the Gulf of Mexico. And on the border between the Province of Ontario in Canada and the State of New York, the water from the melting ice ran into a 700 square mile limestone formation called the Niagara Escarpment and created Niagara Falls. The countless lakes in northern Canada can be attributed almost entirely to the action of the ice. And as the ice retreated, the land, once weighted down by the ice, rebounded and continues to reshape the Great Lakes and other areas formerly lying under the weight of the ice.
            Highly significant in the making of America was the fact that from about 12,000 to 17,000 years ago, a land corridor linked Eurasia to Alaska across what is now the Bering Strait. During the last ice age, water from the oceans locked up in the ice sheets, helped lower the global sea level by about 100 meters, allowing land-bridges between land masses such as the one across the Bering Strait, thus providing an access route into North America for animals and for people. America was now open and ready for human occupation.
First Americans
            According to archeologists, the first Americans arrived on the continent between 12,000 and 50,000 years ago. The figures represent a significant range, but both estimates are possibly correct in that the migration to the American continent probably went on, intermittently, for millennia. There is also controversy about the route some early Americans used. A few historians have suggested that stone age Europeans crossed the Atlantic by skirting the ice sheets during the last ice age, living off fish, seals and sea birds, or that Southeast Asians crossed the Pacific to get here, which means that America ten thousand years ago was almost as much of a “melting pot” as it is today. However, where they came from originally doesn’t change what those first pioneers contributed to the making of America.
            The most likely route for the migrations was via the land bridge across the Bering Strait. There is no way of knowing why these Asian pilgrims made the move. Were there legends about a vast land to the east that inspired the more adventurous among them? Were there conflicts, famines or natural crises that spurred them to leave their homes and head east to an unknown destination? Or were they merely doing what nomadic peoples have always done: following the animals that were their food supply?
            Did they have any inkling of the fact that they had arrived on an immense, rich, new continent, virtually empty of fellow humans? Perhaps none of these things mattered. It’s just as likely that the driving force was the compulsion that seems to be built into our human genetic code: the uncontrollable desire to see what lies over the next hill, beyond the next mountain. Whatever the reasons were that drove them to this continent, some long ago day, one of our human ancestors took a step out of Asia and became the first human being to set foot on the North American continent, thereby making that moment one of those that profoundly helped make America.
            By the time Europeans arrived, the people they mistakenly called “Indians” occupied every region on the continent from tropical rainforests to the Arctic, and they thrived there.
            Those earliest pioneers earned the epithet savage, largely because they weren’t Christian. Ironically, the name savage was given to them by people who, for centuries, had happily butchered countless thousands of their neighbors because they couldn’t agree on how religion should be practiced or how their deity should be worshipped.
            The first census in the United States was conducted in 1790 and included only 12 states. America counted white men, women, and children, slaves, cattle and billiard tables, but makes little mention of Native Americans. Any population estimates prior to that date are even more suspect. Though the population figures are highly controversial, America was not an empty land when those first Europeans arrived. The Native American population estimates range from a low of about two million to more than twenty million. Sometimes those figures go even higher. Whatever the population was when Columbus made his first voyage, by the time European diseases, conflict with white Americans, internal conflict and ill treatment exemplified by the Indian Removal Act of 1830 had taken their toll, the Native American population had plummeted. The question as to the size of the population prior to the arrival of Columbus points to a more fundamental question: was the influx of Europeans in America a great advance in the history of civilization or was it a catastrophe? There is no good answer. One can only hope that the end result makes up, in some small way, for what it took to get there.
            Despite the tribulations they suffered, the presence in America of those first Americans has added enormous depth to the nation’s history, culture, mindset, traditions and heritage. Without them, the nation we know today would be unrecognizable.
A Matter of Timing
            Vital to the making of America was the timing of those early European arrivals. The Iroquois League, later the Iroquois Confederacy, was a union of five powerful Native American tribes: the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca tribes. Their territory extended across what is today Ontario, Quebec, and upper New York state. In 1722 the Tuscarora joined the Confederacy making it a union of Six Nations that still exists today. Their name for themselves was “Haudenosaunee”, People of the Long House. The name “Iroquois” was given to them by the French who had been settling in many of the regions occupied by the Haudenosaunee.
            A number of archeologist and anthropologists place the date of the league’s formation in the middle of the 1500’s, but some research hints at a much earlier date, even as far back as the middle of the 12th century. Although many historians credit the formation of the League as a response to the growing presence of Europeans, it is more likely that what really inspired the league was the desire on the part of the Iroquois to control and dominate the entire eastern region of the continent. Eventually, they managed to reach as far south as Kentucky and as far west as the Mississippi. More than one historian has described the Iroquois as an expansionist society, determined to unite tribes across much of North America. Those tribes they couldn’t persuade peacefully, they persuaded by force.
            The Iroquois were a people bent on nationhood. Not nationhood in European terms, but nationhood in terms of power. Had Europeans arrived 100 years later, it is doubtful that the newcomers would have been strong enough to control the Iroquois Confederacy and their allies. A century later, Iroquois power might have extended as far South as Florida. With that extra century to develop their imperialist goals, Europeans might have been greeted by a large, politically sophisticated, united and powerful Iroquois nation connected with what might have been an overwhelming number of allies, making European encroachment and settlement in large regions of America impossible. Had even a portion of the Native American population been able to unite against the European invasion, American history would have been very different.
            The only thing that stopped their expansionist agenda was the untimely arrival of Europeans, which created a new set of problems for all indigenous peoples. It should be noted, however, that it wasn’t superiority of European weapons, though that helped, nor was it European tactics and it certainly wasn’t superior intellect that devastated the native population. It was the diseases carried by Europeans, diseases from which the earliest Americans had little or no immunity. Smallpox, influenza, typhoid fever, even measles wiped out many thousand, possibly millions. Some estimates place the death toll from European diseases at 90 percent. Without a sufficiently large and organized force to oppose them, Europeans were able to establish those first crucial footholds and for better or for worse made America what it is today.
Contributions of the First Americans
            The contribution of the original Americans to the world and especially to the making of America is profound. Indian guides made the exploration of America easier. Ancient Indian trails, often marked the routes used by white pioneers as they journeyed west. Eventually, these trails became roads and railroads. Indian villages, at the invitation of their occupants, were often used as trading posts, and some have grown into cities such as Albany, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Chicago.
            The fact that the powerful Iroquois allied themselves with the English during the Seven Years War between England and France was decisive to the English victory in the struggle for supremacy in North America. The North American portion of this multi nation struggle was called the “French and Indian War”.
            What we now call “American English” has adopted hundreds of Indian words and phrases making the American version of the language more colorful and uniquely American. Words such as canoe, caribou, chipmunk, mackinaw, maize, moccasin, moose, Klondike, opossum, powwow, toboggan, tomahawk, totem, wampum, wigwam, woodchuck, all entered the American English directly from various Indian languages. The word tobacco comes from the Caribbean. It is from an Arawak Indian word that essentially means “a roll of leaves”.
            Countless North American place names are Native American in origin. From “Alaska”, (an Aleut word “alaxsxaq” – the place where the sea goes) to “Wyoming”, (“xwé:wamənk," at the big river") the names of more than half of the States are derived from Native American words or phrases. A favorite is the unchanged “Mississippi” - the great water or big river. New York State alone has more than a hundred place names taken directly from Native American languages. An exact tally of all place names of Native American origin in the United States is nearly impossible, but their existence has added wonderful poetry and color to American geography.
            According to estimates from a variety of sources, more than half of the agricultural production of the United States comes from plants or animals domesticated by Native Americans. A short list includes corn, a dozen or more varieties of beans, cranberries, pumpkins and squash, maple syrup, potatoes, turkeys, peanuts, tomatoes and tobacco.
            Native American art, music, games and sports, ideas about conservation and agriculture permeates American culture, even sign language, which was a system of hand signals used to assist trade and communicate between different tribal groups and later with traders and trappers, was developed by Native Americans. The same type of system is used today for communicating with the deaf. The very concept of government as practiced in the United States, in which certain powers are held by a central government, and all other powers reserved to the states, was borrowed from the system of government employed by the Iroquois League. In 1988 the United States Congress passed a resolution to recognize the influence of the Iroquois League upon the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Without these First Americans and their enormous contributions, the United States would be an unrecognizable and faded shadow of the nation it is today.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Fid's Crusade by David H. Reiss

Author: David H. Reiss
Publisher: Atian Press
Pages: 365
Genre: Scifi/Contemporary Fantasy

Consumed by grief, rage, and self-loathing, a brilliant inventor rebuilt himself to take on a new identity: the powered-armor-wearing supervillain, Doctor Fid. For twenty violent years, Fid has continued his quest to punish heroes who he considers to be unworthy of their accolades, and the Doctor has left a long trail of blood and misery in his wake. After a personal tragedy, however, Doctor Fid investigates a crime and uncovers a conspiracy so terrible that even he is taken aback.

Haunted by painful memories and profound guilt, the veteran supervillain must risk everything to save the world that he once sought to terrorize. Every battle takes its toll…but the stakes are too high for retreat to be an option.

In the end, it may take a villain to save the entire Earth from those entrusted with the Earth’s protection.


"Fid's Crusade by David H. Reiss is one of the most refreshing and lively takes on the superhero genre I've seen in years. His title character's crusade is colorful, compelling, and takes wonderfully unexpected turns, and the novel delivers an impressive emotional punch (to go along with the super-powered ones). It stands easily alongside other character-driven superhero novels like Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible, Carrie Vaughn's After the Golden Age, and Paul Tobin's Prepare to Die!." - Hugo award-winning author Tim Pratt




THE GROUND TREMBLED and great clouds of dust were shaken from the rafters above…but the silver-clad hero’s fist was stopped cold by an invisible barrier only inches from my armored head. The impact echoed, a bass thrum that filled the chamber like a physical force.

Emotions flickered across his face: surprise first, followed swiftly by disappointment. For a moment, I knew, Titan had believed the battle won. Rage quickly followed, and further blows fell like thunderous rain as the hero explored the unseen shield’s capabilities. Despite his size and awe-inspiring strength, the man was no mere brawler; he was a well-trained and highly skilled martial-artist, yet even his fiercest attack made no progress.

Sensor readings indicated minor structural damage to the floor, but the force-field emitter hidden below was in no immediate danger. Energy levels were excellent and the increased strain continued to fall within projected tolerances. The new force-field design was a masterwork!

Already, my mind was swirling with ideas how to alter the device; to miniaturize components and improve efficiency, and to make the entire system portable. Behind my helm’s featureless faceplate, I was grinning like a fool.

Titan himself looked more-or-less human, with a complexion and features that implied a Mediterranean heritage. His eyes glowed white with raw power, wisps of energy trailing away like strange smoke, and he stood nearly seven feet tall with a broad and muscular physique that would make facing him a daunting concept even without knowing of the supernatural forces that coursed through his body. When he’d first appeared a decade ago, his charcoal-black hair seemed akin to a lion’s mane, but he now wore it cropped short in a military ‘high and tight’ style and shaved away the perpetual 5 o’clock shadow that had once practically been his trademark. It was an improvement, I thought; he looked more intense now, more serious. Truly, the nigh-indestructible hero was a worthy adversary.

“Doctor Fid! I should have known.” He backed a few steps away from the force-field and smirked. “I’d recognize your foul stench anywhere.”

Titan was also a bit of a dick.

Three years past, one of Titan’s fellow Guardians—the Red Ghost—bypassed my defenses and managed to shoot me in the abdomen. I’d required a colostomy bag for months while replacement organs were being cloned,

and the silver-unitard-wearing jerk had been teasing me about my odor ever since. It was petty and small. A schoolyard taunt! A reflexive regression, I imagined, to the childhood days when he must have victimized smaller students and stolen their lunch money.

Every once in a while, I really did consider killing him. But not today.

“Titan.” I nodded slightly in acknowledgment, carefully hiding any evidence of irritation. There were multiple news-camera-drones within range, I was certain, and it would have been unacceptable for any recording to indicate that the hurtful banter had found purchase. Fortunately, my voice was modulated electronically to maintain an emotionless tone. “I was expecting you sooner.”

The truth was that I hadn’t been expecting him at all.

There’d been a myriad of intentionally-left clues at the biotech facility that I’d robbed earlier in the day, and any competent hero would certainly have been led to this facility...but my research had indicated that this particular opponent would be in Arizona training a young hero who went by the nom de guerre of ‘Brute’. It appeared that Brute traveled to New England instead, and was now fighting alongside the Guardians as they battled their way into the auditorium-sized throne room of what they would certainly believe to be my current lair.

The force-field emitter test had originally been intended for a lesser challenge than Titan’s full strength. It was fortunate that the device had been designed to operate with a significant safety margin.

The other heroes were at the opposite end of the room still, keeping a few of my low-tier combat automatons occupied while their leader had advanced to confront me. The sounds of combat raged on even as Titan and I exchanged words: explosions and worried shouts, the shriek of tortured steel and the dull roar of growing flames. The conflict would look glorious when video was leaked to the Internet.

Brute, the visiting teen powerhouse, was acquitting himself well; he’d provided protection for both Veridian and Regrowth and even managed an impressive offensive combination-attack alongside Aeon. I planned to comb through the footage more carefully at a later date to evaluate his performance and determine any useful weaknesses. Fighting the younger hero might make for an interesting diversion someday.

I was currently sheathed within my Mk 33 light-combat powered armor. This suit—my most recent design—was the fastest flier in my current arsenal, with the best augmented-reflexes and combat programming...but it afforded less protection and overall strength than other versions. This model wasn’t particularly appropriate for a hand-to-hand battle with an entity like Titan or his current trainee.

Even so, I knew that I made for an imposing figure.

The armor was form-fitted and so thoroughly non-reflective that I seemed a silhouette, a six-and-a-half-foot man-shaped hole in the world. There were stars visible inside that blackness, pinpricks of light and color; looking upon me was gazing into the clearest night sky, entire galaxies encompassed within my being. Only at the armor’s seams were any hint of a three-dimensional form offered: from there an angry red glow seeped, as though something infernal was trapped inside. It was a disorienting effect that I’d spent years perfecting.

I summoned my scepter—a slim and deceptively-simple-appearing black rod with a round red stone at its

pommel—from its subspace storage location, and the powerful weapon’s weight felt comforting in my hand. Even as the last of my smaller combat drones were felled in the distance, I maintained a relaxed and impassive mien. Greater than the armor, more powerful even than the force-field, I was protected by Doctor Fid’s grim reputation.

Titan fell into a wary half-crouch.

“Your robots are destroyed and we have you surrounded,” he declared; the Guardians scattered to make Titan’s statement into reality. “Surrender, Doctor. You can’t hide behind your force-field forever.”

“Hide?” I motioned lazily with my scepter’s tip towards the destruction that they’d left in their wake. “It took you four and a half minutes to fight your way to me, and we both know that I could have escaped in a fraction of that time.”

Titan was steady, but several of his compatriots took a step backwards or glanced around warily. Good. Their fear had been hard-earned.

“Then why are you still here?” asked the Guardians’ leader, finally.

“I’m not,” I lied, “This is a hologram. I brought you all here so that I could watch your expressions while this base self-destructs around you. In five...four...three-”

“Maneuver seven!” Titan barked, his eyes closed to angry slits. The expression looked practiced; did he glower at a mirror every night, I wondered, attempting to hone an expression that would strike terror in the hearts of evildoers? If so, the effort had been wasted. Honestly, he just looked constipated.

The superhero team leaped into action like a well-oiled machine. Whatever Titan’s faults, he trained his people well.

Aeon’s power-set included the ability to produce force-fields more powerful even than my new design...but only for pre-set short periods and only in a sphere about nine feet in diameter. Regrowth, Veridian, and Red Ghost converged around the slender woman and she powered up her famous milky-white energy shield around them. Titan was sturdy enough that he knew he could withstand any of the explosives that I’d used in the past, so he just tackled Brute to protect the younger hero with his own body.

Feeling smug, I lifted my scepter and aimed; a blast of emerald-hued energy surged from the pommel to strike both Titan and Brute with sufficient intensity to drive them through my temporary fortress’s thick walls and out into the courtyard. The entire room shook from the thunderous impact, debris visibly shaking on the ground, and sparks flew as electrical wiring within the walls was torn asunder.

Titan had always been somewhat vulnerable to blows to the back of his head; it would be perhaps thirty seconds before I could expect him to recover.

"Alternately, this base may not have been equipped with an escape capsule, and I’m not a hologram at all," I floated towards the hole in the wall, gloating cheerfully. "In retrospect, that seems significantly more likely. Until next time, Guardians!"

(The ruse had only been successful because my prior two fake-bases had been equipped with unnecessarily

ornate self-destruct mechanisms that the Red Ghost had only barely disarmed in time to avoid catastrophe; the next one would have a built-in escape route, shaped explosive charges and a mocking hologram ready and waiting. Forcing Titan to make the wrong call under fire was one of life’s true joys.)

Laughing mockingly, I launched into the air with my armor’s flight systems shifted to maximum and stealth capabilities enabled. Any of the more esoteric technology left behind would melt itself to slag; it simply wouldn’t do

to leave any resources behind for my enemies to examine. By the time Aeon’s shield dropped, my lead would be insurmountable.


The news broadcasts, I was amused to discover, were quick to declare that the Guardians had forced the notorious Doctor Fid to escape empty-handed with all materials stolen from AH Biotech safely returned, and that— thanks to the Guardians’ valiant efforts! —the battle resulted in not even a single civilian casualty. Property damage had been restrained to the mostly-abandoned city block surrounding Doctor Fid’s secret lair and even the heroes themselves suffered no significant injuries. The event was being treated as a clear win for the Guardians, despite the fact that Doctor Fid had, once more, eluded capture.

But the footage of Titan and Brute being blasted through a wall was replayed over and over again, as well as a beautiful shot of the remaining Guardians watching helplessly as Doctor Fid flew off to safety. One camera drone captured a glorious image of the Red Ghost dropping to his knees, shoulders bowed in defeat. His red cowl hid his eyes, but his lower face was visible, and the setting sun cast deep shadows upon the lines of his face; it was an illusion, but in that moment he looked terribly old and weary.

Technically speaking, the Red Ghost was among the most dangerous of my regular opponents. Titan’s greater experience and calm under fire made him an effective leader, tactically, but the Red Ghost was a more creative thinker. He’d begun his heroic career by making a name for himself as an investigator, fighting crime while wearing a highly protective (but unpowered) crimson and black tactical armor of his own design. Over the years, he’d added to his arsenal using equipment reverse-engineered from villains who he’d fought (It’d been one of my own shaped-plasma gauss cannons that wounded me. My own invention, painted red to match the Ghost’s costume! Damn the man.) and he maintained an impressive regimen of acrobatic and combat training. But those factors weren’t what made the Red Ghost dangerous to my current plans.

Before fate granted him the power to shroud himself in blood-red mists and become incorporeal, the Red Ghost had been a forensic accountant.

Doctor Fid’s dastardly plan may have been foiled by the heroic Guardians, but Terrance Markham was (through dozens of shadow holding companies) heavily invested in construction and real-estate firms that stood to earn a fortune from the properties damaged by the combat. Also, as the founder of AH Biotech, my shares and stocks would surely gain a boost from the media coverage surrounding the supposedly ‘foiled’ crime.

Sometimes, I wasn’t certain which identity was my mask and which one was real. Or perhaps both identities were masks; if so, I wasn’t sure what lay beneath.

Doctor Fid had never before committed a crime that intersected with my civilian life, but in this case the ruse had been too tempting to discard. The success of AH Biotech was crucial for other long-term plans and the publicity was particularly beneficial at that moment. Among the media elite and policy wonks, it was accepted as fact that Doctor Fid deigned to steal only the most dangerous, most advanced technologies...and suddenly every potential customer or investor would be curious as to what wonders AHBT was hiding. There were government contracts to

be acquired, and a receptive Senator had recently been maneuvered into place. Public goodwill always served to make lobbying an easier task.

This latest incident could not, however, be labeled as a complete success; the scenario had originally been intended to test Veridian’s willingness to follow orders when Titan was absent and the Red Ghost was leading the Guardians into battle. In past confrontations, I’d seen hints that the slender, emerald costumed Veridian resented taking orders from anyone whose offensive powers did not rival his own. Confirmation of that character flaw would have opened up further avenues of attack in the future.

Titan and Brute’s unexpected presence had thrown the original plan into immediate disarray. Still…several secondary goals had been accomplished, and the new force-field design was successfully tested against a more powerful physical attack than expected. It was remarkably tempting to send the Guardians a “thank you” card.


Now and then, some reporter looking to make a name for themselves attempted to put together a dramatic expose: the True Story of Doctor Fid. The narratives all felt similar; they described the same battles, the same victories and the same defeats. One woman who was within the crowd at my first bank robbery is quoted in just about every article.

“I don’t think that he wanted us to die,” she always said, “But I don’t think that he wanted us to live, either. He just...barely noticed us. Like we were beneath him. There was this little girl screaming, so loud that we were all terrified that he was going to hurt her just to get some quiet. But the Doctor just walked past her like she wasn’t there—like she didn’t matter. I’ve never been so frightened in all my life.”

Those were the bad years, but even then I had nightmares about that little pony-tailed girl’s wails. When I’d walked into that bank my gut had roiled with so much anger that I could have set the world on fire, but those cries snaked past the rage, infected me, haunted me. I remembered forcing myself not to look at her directly; if I’d looked her in the eyes, I would have been compelled to take off my mask and comfort her and then all my plans would have fallen to pieces.

It always felt strange that none of these so-called reporters ever followed up on that portion of the story. They never looked for the girl, never tried expanding on her tale. They only cared about the tears and not the aftermath.

(Melissa Halden had grown into a talented art student at Berkeley, attending with a full scholarship that I may have quietly influenced. She was happy and well adjusted.)

The articles all failed in the same manner: when attempting to guess at my motivations. They analyzed my name, my targets, my actions. They’d harassed every family in the United States with my sobriquet’s last name while seeking clues, and psychologists who’d never met me pontificated endlessly about my pathology. The authors guessed and made up stories, each more outlandish than the last. I’d once found those fables humorous, but the amusement had long since faded.

There’d been a plan and that plan would have ended in self-immolation.

The whole play had been scripted in my imagination: I would become a villain so feared that people would

barely dare whisper my name, and, when I was sufficiently infamous, I would engage in battle with the hero named Bronze. He would gaze across the destruction that I’d wrought and ask me what could possibly have motivated me to perform such atrocities. And I would take off my mask, crying, and inform him that I was his creation.

In the theater of my mind’s eye, I would tell him what he’d done and I would watch his world collapse as he realized the gravity of his sin. In that moment, we would both get what we deserved for surely there would be no future for either of us. I dreamt of that scene for years until every morning I would wake and still taste the battle’s blood and ash and tears on my lips.

In a final and unknowing act of vicious spite, Bronze drank himself to death before I could ever confront him.

He could not have been aware of his connection to me. Doctor Fid had never mentioned Bronze in public; the eventual revelation was supposed to be epic—Shakespearean in proportion! Whatever demons drove Bronze to the bottle, it wasn’t worry regarding Fid’s actions. There was a vicious part of me that hoped that he’d fallen into despair over what he’d done to Bobby, but I would never know.

I was bereft. The hero had managed to take everything from me. My faith in humanity, my goals for the future, my sense of self. My brother. I’d given up the entirety of my being, stained my soul with violence and blood to force Bronze to feel my pain. And then Bronze had stolen even my revenge.

There was nothing left to me save for guilt and a suit of powered armor equipped with sufficient armaments to level a small city.


“Whatcha drawing?” I’d asked, years earlier. The class was over and my students had long since funneled out of the room; I’d gotten distracted grading papers and my brother had patiently remained in the area that I’d set aside for him at the front of the lecture hall. There were comics and books and an army of action figures to keep him entertained, but Bobby was currently laying on his belly surrounded by crayons and craft paper.

“An adventure!” he chirped in reply. “It’s us, but not now ’cause I need to be bigger before I’m Strongboy.”

“That’s your superhero name?” I smiled.

“Uh-huh. And this is you!”

The likeness wasn’t complimentary—a skinny chalk-white figure with long fingers, a messy scribble of hair and the beginnings of a pot belly—but I thought that the oversized head was an interesting abstraction to represent my cerebral capabilities. Although my actual skull was average in shape and size, Bobby apparently believed that my brain needed a larger container. That, at least, I thought to be flattering.

“How’d I get that hero name?” I asked, looking at the picture’s label.

“Because you’re a P-H-D doctor, and ‘P-H’ is pronounced ffffff.”

I laughed, “Well…get up, Strongboy. It’s late.”

“I’m not Strongboy yet,” he complained, piling up his drawings before pushing himself to his feet. “I need to be bigger.”

“I don’t know…you’re getting pretty big. Make a muscle!”

He complied with an impish grin, flexing dramatically; I checked his biceps and made suitably impressed sounds.

Bobby giggled.

“I think you’re almost ready,” I told him, grunting as I lifted him up and made ready to leave. With my free hand, I checked my pocket to make sure that I had my keys.

“No, wait,” he squirmed until I let him down, then hurried to the pile of toys and snatched up an action figure with yellowish metallic skin. His favorite. “Okay, we can go.”


The armor was disassembled and I moved back to Cambridge. MIT was eager to have me back; the five-year absence hadn’t even affected my tenure. I taught classes, took classes, performed research, earned a few more doctorates...It’s not that I thought it possible to put Doctor Fid behind me, it was only that I lacked motivation. In a listless malaise, I returned to that which was simple.

When I reestablished my presence in academia, many of my colleagues came to me and expressed their support. “I was so sorry to hear about Robert,” they would say, “He seemed like a great kid.” None of them approached me directly after the incident. Bobby’s middle-school friends did, trying to comfort me in the awkward, honest way that only children can manage. They hugged me and cried and touched some of Bobby’s toys and told me stories and cried some more. The adults, though, my peers and coworkers...they kept at a distance. They left me to my grief when my grief burned, but a half-decade later they finally felt comfortable offering consolation.

At some subconscious level they must have recognized that my anguish bordered on madness. Adults are flustered by those who are mad; they look the other way and keep their distance. When I returned, I imagined that my fellows breathed a sigh of relief and decided that their fears had been imagined.

(Children are more inquisitive about strangeness than they are embarrassed by it. That is, perhaps, why I’d always connected with my brother so well despite the decade of age between us. I’ve always been somewhat odd. I’d never really fit among my peers, socially; when I was a youth, I was too intellectually advanced to connect with others of my own age, and by the time I was fourteen and attending college I was too emotionally immature to relate to my fellow students. Bobby was four years old then, and there was something about his boundless enthusiasm and curiosity that delighted me. He was a normal kid, but he smiled whenever I spent time with him. Bobby listened. He cared with an intensity that was astonishing.)

Strangely, the faculty were more open to working with me when I returned to academia. I was invited to partner with researchers who had, previously, seemed standoffish due to my youth. I was still at least a decade or two younger than them, but somehow witnessing my breakdown and supposed recovery made me more

approachable. Less of a threat. I was still numb and directionless, of course, but perhaps I was also less driven and intense. Our team shared credit for a Nobel Prize and I published papers in whatever fields my peers pointed me towards.

For six years, Doctor Fid was nothing but a series of poorly labeled crates in a storage garage in Somerville. At the time, reporters postulated that the villain had been seriously injured (or died) of wounds inflicted during that last battle with Valiant on the White House lawn. Later, reporters would refer to those six years as the calm before the storm.

Not all wounds heal with time, but some do grow dull. A bearable ache, always uncomfortable but at least the pain was familiar. So it was with my own malaise. Bobby had been dead nearly as long as he’d been alive and I was somewhat surprised to find that my own life continued on. I had my studies and research, my students and my fellow professors.

A social misfit I may have been, but complete isolation had never suited me. One noted psychologist often publicly claimed that Doctor Fid’s behavior could be partially explained by childhood isolation or absentee parents, but that supposition was wholly incorrect; my parents might not always have known how to deal with their precocious and frighteningly brilliant firstborn, true, but they’d loved and supported me as best as they’d been able. They always were remarkably patient with me when I’d taken apart a vehicle or appliance to see how it worked but had gotten distracted before choosing to reassemble it. They were gentle when an experiment went awry and I required medical assistance, and they sang lullabies when I had difficulty sleeping.

I must have been a terribly difficult child. How does one comfort a youth who has developed mathematical models to accurately predict the timing and path of atmospheric electrostatic discharge, and yet still flinches and cries silently at the sound of thunder? My emotional development did not occur at the same pace as my intellectual growth. In retrospect, it seemed likely that dichotomy led to an uneven maturation.

At thirteen, I designed my first breeder reactor. I was eighteen when I received my first doctorate and accepted employment at MIT, nineteen when I became my brother’s guardian, and twenty-one when I watched my brother die.


Bobby is eleven years old today, and it is the most beautiful summer afternoon in recent memory. The warm breeze smells like freshly cut grass, healthy trees and salt blown in from the sea, and the sky is so clear and blue that it seems unnatural. We both still have sand in our hair from building castles that were swallowed by the tides, but our beach blankets and plastic buckets have been packed away back in the rental van. I’d forgotten the sunscreen and I’m sure we’ll be lobster pink in the morning, yet right now I am too happy to care.

Bobby bounces as we walk, giddy with anticipation; I hadn’t been able to keep his birthday surprise a secret any longer. After months of searching, I’d puzzled out Bronze’s secret identity and we’re on our way to surprise him at his office. I’m going to introduce my baby brother to his hero.

Arranging a meeting with Bronze’s alter-ego, Paul Riley, had been simple. Paul works in maritime research and I have patents for a submersible drone that will be invaluable. I’d told Mr. Riley’s secretary that I chose his firm

because we were relocating to the area; at the time, the statement had been subterfuge but now I’m considering moving for real. Bobby hasn’t smiled like this since before the car accident that took our parents.

Paul Riley had offered to meet us in the lobby and guide us up to his office; I see him near the entrance as we approach his building. Bronze’s counterpart is a fit man in his early thirties with black hair and dark eyes, and his ruddy complexion tells me that he probably spends most of his time working outdoors despite the well-tailored business suit that he’s wearing today.

“That’s him,” I whisper to Bobby. “Remember, don’t say anything until we’re in private.”

Bobby’s eyes widen and he grips my hand tight, trembling. His skin is warm and soft; he doesn’t have any calluses. He spends too much time indoors, too much time with me.

We’re across the street from Bronze’s office when the first missile hits. Someone starts screaming and I hear shrapnel and debris scatter along the asphalt. Reflexively, I scoop my brother up into my arms and sprint towards a park bench with concrete sides and thick wooden slats. I’m running as fast as I can, awkward and desperate and terrified.

There is a Paragon Research facility at the end of the block and the terrorist supervillain Locust is attacking. He’d assaulted the New Mexico location only a few weeks earlier; I’d seen it on the news. Being close is different from watching on a screen. Terrifying! My chest aches and my eyes sting; there’s something in the air, an acrid taste I don’t recognize, and my breath is already coming in desperate gulps.

A score of foot soldiers wearing Locust’s symbol pour out of an armored truck, firing indiscriminately to clear the road and cause chaos as they swarm towards the gate. There are more shouts, different voices and I hear a little girl cry for her mother. In my head, I’m designing better surveillance, counter weapons, heavy armor, anything that could keep Bobby safe, but my workshop is hundreds of miles away and all I have time to do is try to make sure my brother is behind the bench.

In the lobby, Paul Riley is staring right at us. I’ve researched his power set; he can transform his body, gaining nearly a foot of height and skin that appears to be made of his namesake material. Once metamorphosed, he is strong and fast and has moderately strong telekinesis that only affects metal.

Paul Riley could shift to his heroic form in a heartbeat, but he is in public among coworkers and people who know him. He could reach us, he could get Bobby to safety, could use his power to disarm all of Locust’s thugs and leave only the insectoid, acid-spitting villain as a serious threat, but doing so would certainly cost him his secret identity. The moment seems to take forever as he weighs the value of his privacy against the speed of his response. I can see him considering how many steps it will take for him to get into a private room, how many extra seconds it will take to make a clean entrance. He makes his choice.

“Ow.” Bobby looks bewildered, holding his chest. For the first time in my entire life I can’t think. I can’t calculate the angles, can’t figure out what I did wrong. I’m holding my brother, shouting for help and feeling helpless and small. There is so much blood.

I watch my brother’s eyes as he watches his favorite superhero turn away and run back into the office building.


I was twenty-six when I disassembled Doctor Fid’s armor and returned to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and I was thirty-one when I made my way back to the storage garage in Somerville where the armor had been hoarded.

Becoming completely absorbed into my work had always been a problem for me. When I was studying or constructing mathematical algorithms or designing new tools and devices it was far too easy to lose track of time and fail to pay attention to my surroundings. The symphony of creation inside my head grew too loud and the external noise faded.

My colleague, Takuma Ichiro, must have talked to me first, must have asked my permission; out of ingrained habit, I must have made an appropriately polite response. Distracted by theoretical physics, I didn’t notice an area of floor space being cleared in the protected low-energy section of our lab, didn’t notice the boxes or the small yellow bookshelf filled with colorful titles.

There was a stack of notepads under one of my arms and my other hand was holding a large mug of coffee; with my hands thus occupied, my pencil was carried between my teeth, and I gnawed thoughtfully as I pondered an annoying magnetic resonance that was polluting the results of the afternoon’s tests. A ten-year-old child was sitting in the corner, quietly playing with superhero action figures while his father worked.

The pencil fell to the floor.

“Terry, I’m so sorry,” Doctor Ichiro jumped to apologize; he must have read something strange in my expression. “I didn’t realize how much Hideki’s play area would look like—”

“It’s all right.” I smiled unsteadily and took a deep breath. “I was just surprised is all. Hey there, kiddo. Your name is Hideki?”

The boy nodded, his eyes wide.

“You like superheroes, hm?” My chest hurt, and I was torn between an aching sadness and bright nostalgia. “My brother liked superheroes. Who’s your favorite?”

Hideki reached for one large figure wearing a black costume with orange highlights and a dark bandit’s mask that covered its lower face; Takuma moved faster, snatching up the offending toy.

“Hideki!” Doctor Ichiro looked aggrieved. “I told you that you can’t play with this one anymore.”

“But Gamma is the coolest!” the boy complained, “He fought Metalstorm and Spiker at the same time!”

“Gamma is a good fighter, but he is not a good person,” Takuma tried to explain, “He has said things that are rude to women. He does not behave well.”

“Gamma is the coolest!” Hideki insisted, voice rising angrily. His small hands clenched into fists. “And if you’re twelve feet tall you don’t HAVE to behave good!”

“Everyone should behave good,” I said quietly. There must have been something odd about my voice, some truth or hint of pain that transcended mere words; Hideki stopped mid-tantrum to listen. “If someone puts on a costume, if they claim to be a superhero...they should have to be a hero. They should be good.”

“Gamma is good!” Hideki pouted. “He beats up bad guys.”

About a month later, a drunk Gamma caused a few thousand dollars’ worth of property damage in his hometown of Atlanta, and a cell-phone recording caught Gamma claiming that he didn’t need to listen to the responding police officer because he was only three-fifths of a cop.

The public relations firms and lawyers swarmed. There was the inevitable scripted public apology in which Gamma stated that he was impaired at the time and that the views expressed did not match his true feelings. A few heroes repudiated Gamma, but others repeated a statement of support for the hero and lauded his supposed ‘bravery’ and ‘honesty’ in holding his press conference. The mighty Valiant, an African-American hero who Doctor Fid had clashed with in Washington, D.C., responded to a reporter’s query with a quiet ‘No comment’. The event was twisted and spun and slipped out from media attention after a week.

Hideki continued to play with his Gamma action figure whenever his father wasn’t looking.

Even then, I recognized that so-called superheroes performed a public service that is both difficult and dangerous; they were marketed, however, as something far greater. They accepted the accolades, pretended to be righteous warriors and icons of justice and all that is good, and yet still quietly accepted a system that protected the undeserving. A thin spandex line that stood in opposition to villains like the very-deceased Locust or the monster who had been Fid but also shielded their peers from accountability.

They accepted worship from children. Didn’t they know how precious that was? How could they live with themselves if they didn’t spend every waking moment struggling to be worthy of such unconditional trust? Someone needed to remind the public that, beneath their colorful costumes and flashy powers, their idols were only human. Someone needed to remind the cape and cowl set that they could—no, should!—aspire to be something more.

Doctor Fid had never been unmasked. It would have been a relatively simple thing to build a completely different suit of powered armor and come to the public under a new persona. I could try to be the hero that children like Hideki deserved...but it would only be another lie. I’d failed my brother and caused too much heartache to ever be deserving. My inventions had, by now, saved far more lives than Fid had ever harmed, but there would be no salvation for the likes of me.

In a vacuum-sealed and UV-resistant glass case hidden away in a secret bunker, I kept my most prized possession: a series of crayon drawings on construction paper. The Adventures of Strongboy and Doctor Fid.

I smiled, long-term plans beginning to percolate through my mind. A private company, tools and devices, surgical augmentations performed by medical robots, an upgraded powered-armor suit...Doctor Fid would never be the hero who Bobby imagined, but he could at least serve the noble purpose of demonstrating the heroes’ shortcomings. He could inspire some heroes towards greatness and drag others from their pedestals back down to earth.

I could do more, too. With sufficient resources and no bureaucracy holding me back, I could design machines that could generate cleaner energy, purify sea water, grow crops more efficiently and deliver resources in a more equitable manner. I could cure diseases, build tools to protect civilians, create safer buildings and vehicles. Doctor Fid might be a supervillain, but perhaps he could save the world right out from under the fraudulent superheroes’ noses.

Also, someone really did need to punch Gamma in the face. Repeatedly.


Damn the man!

I’d been careful...studied the frequency of land acquisitions in analogous neighborhoods and applied a Bayesian scatter to add random elements to the pattern such that it should not have too-accurately reflected a pure average. The contracts were neither overbid nor underbid, and I’d even made certain to include a statistically-normal number of errors in the paperwork (with minor variances consistent between each shell company). No software or hardware-based data analysis tool in the world should have indicated a connection! Sadly, there was no consistent model that accounted for human intuition.

Miguel Espinoza (the Red Ghost’s alias) had been sniffing after records concerning the transfers of ownership of properties surrounding my ex-lair. Like all the other supposed base-of-operations to which the heroes had ever tracked Doctor Fid, it’d been chosen more for its suitability for combat than for research purposes; no hero had ever discovered the true laboratories or manufacturing facilities, only facades intended to serve as backdrop for violent encounters. This location had been no different, and yet somehow the Red Ghost thought to investigate more deeply than in the past. Some arcane bookkeeping divination had sparked his interest in property titles; it was possible that comparable voodoo might find a similar connection to the firms from which I'd planned to reap profits with reconstruction.

There was no direct link to Terry Markham’s holdings, but even so I was forced to isolate the relevant accounts...it would be years before I could safely launder those earnings! The twenty-two percent surge in AHBT’s stock price offered little consolation, nor did the company’s contract to supply field medical kits to the U.S. Army’s infantry branch. Any fortune from publicly traded stock could not so easily be funneled towards questionable purchases without raising red flags. I’d been counting on income flowing into Doctor Fid’s shadowy network in order to fund the final pieces to rebuild the massive Mk 29 heavy combat armor and replacements for my combat drones.

Conflicts with the Red Ghost always brought mixed feelings. When my research revealed his secret identity, I’d expected to uncover a few of the usual character flaws; instead, I’d found a conscientious man with no history of violence or difficulties with the law. He’d progressed in his civilian career through talent, skill and hard work rather than backstabbing or politicking. No known enemies or past disasters. Miguel was helping both of his nieces pay for college (he’d never married and had no children of his own) and volunteered at a soup kitchen on his days off.

I’d have nominated the man for sainthood if he hadn’t perforated my intestines with my own damned rifle. Also, he’d cost me seventy-three-point-one million dollars from Doctor Fid’s criminal empire, money that could have been put towards the development of a proper doomsday weapon! Defeating him always rewarded me with a spark of vicious pride and a pang of terrible guilt.

I’d purchased four Red Ghost toys over the years. Two were given to Hideki, one was incinerated in a fit of rage, and the last resided in my most treasured vacuum-sealed and UV-resistant glass case. Bobby would have loved that action figure.

Damn the man.