It's that time of the week when I post one post from one blog on all my blogs. Today's is the first installment of The Dysprosians, a new story I'm starting up on Afterdark.
"I mean, really, Fish Man?" Tom frowned at his fingernails, which needed to be cut.
"Look, Tom..." but at a warning glance, Chet corrected himself. Above all, Higgs had warned him, Tom likes the rules of The Dysprosians. Especially...and Higgs had paused for dramatic effect... the one about using only code names in the Skylab.
"Look, Whatever's Handyman, I gave a lot of thought to a bunch of different names. Aqua, I thought, and liked that but it's too close to that comic book guy"
**AQUA IS ALSO THE NAME OF A POPULAR BAND THAT SANG THE SONG 'BARBIE GIRL'**
interrupted a blaring voice that echoed around them. Tom stopped inspecting his fingernails and leaned forward, tapping the touchscreen.
"Soul Destroyer leaves the volume way too loud," he muttered.
"And I thought about Aquarius because that also would fit but it's too hippyish, and I considered a couple others but..."
The silence hung between them in the hot, still air of the Skylab. Tom leaned forward and turned a knob a little, feeling the vents blow cool air on him.
Outside, the tree branches skriiittched on the roof of the satellite as a squirrel ran along them.
"But what?" Tom sighed.
"But then Anthony looked at my costume and said Fish Man and, well, I don't like to disappoint him, so I decided to go with that."
Tom looked appraisingly at the costume in question.
"It does have fins," he said.
"And scales," he added after a second, still looking. Then he considered, and asked "Why scales?"
"They're bulletproof," Chet said proudly, and he figured that the interest Tom was showing would keep building. Just keep him hooked. "I found this..." Chet paused and kind of chuckled to himself. Keep him hooked. Got to remember that. "I found this place on line, out of Syria, they sell bulletproof metal stuff, and you can buy little plates for it, and so I got it and we cut it into scales and managed to sew each one onto the suit itself."
He struck a pose, a fighting stance somewhere between Muhammad Ali coming out of the corner and Bruce Lee coming out of retirement, and tried to suck in his stomach a little. "I've been working out," he said. "At the Y. I take the Zumba classes and some yoga, and I got this DVD of Tae Bo."
Tom listened to the scales tinkle and clink, and shrugged.
"It's not really up to me."
He tapped a box on the touch screen and it lit up with options. "Voice control," he said.
**VOICE CONTROL ACTIVATED** came the voice again.
"Computeratrons, Fish Man wants in. Calculate."
There were no lights flashing, no whirring sounds, no panels of blinking bulbs or anything. This was 2012. The touch screen he carried with him linked in wirelessly to the Computeratrons, which were simply two small servers at the back of the only air-conditioned room in the Skylab.
The screen lit up.
"Says here," Tom leaned over so Chet could see, "That your powers provide a compliment to us, and that in at least three recent adventures your presence would have added at 5-10% improvement in the odds of a successful outcome."
"So I'm in?" Chet couldn't believe it -- Anthony would be so happy!
"When Higgs Boson wanted to join, the Computeratrons calculated that he would improve the odds of success by 90-98%, even with the uncontrollable nature of his power. Neon was 70%. Soul Destroyer, 100%."
The Skylab grew quiet, and Chet slumped over. I'm not telling Anthony I didn't make it in.
"Even Smiley added 20% to our odds of success." Tom said quietly.
Chet put his hands over his face.
"I've got nothing, T... Whatever's Handyman. Nothing. I go to work, every day, and I come home every day. Poor Anthony, he mostly just sits around the house, with our neighbor watching him since Lorrie..."
Tom filled in the words Chet couldn't bring himself to say: "Tried to reverse the fusion reaction that powers the sun using ordinary household chemicals she had rearranged on an elemental level and then launched using a rocket she unwittingly got your sun to create as part of his Scouts' project, all because she thought you were having an affair with your secretary."
"I don't even have a secretary," Chet added. Tears filled his eyes. "And now she's serving 300,000 consecutive life sentences in that Belarussian prison and Anthony misses her. He doesn't even know what she did. Every day, I come home and he says where's Mom? and every day I say she's working and we'll go visit her soon and then we eat dinner and we watch some of the movies he likes and he goes to bed and I sit up, drinking and watching Conan O' Brien, of all things, and that's how it was for weeks and weeks and months and months until I realized that there could be more to it than that."
Tom tried not to meet Chet's eye. Everyone these days tried not to meet Chet's eye. Granted, Lorrie's plan had not worked but it had come awfully close and while most people in the world didn't hold that against Chet, it also made meeting him awkward. Tom couldn't imagine how Chet's food cart even stayed in business, let alone earned enough money to support him and Anthony.
He wondered if Lorrie gave them money.
"The thing is, too, um... Fish Man, how would it look if we let a guy who is still married to one of the world's most notorious criminal masterminds join The Dysprosians?"
"I have to stay married to her. She's got the health insurance. And Anthony..."
There was a flicker.
Tom knew the flicker.
Chet did not.
Tom looked down at the touch-screen.
"So he was listening," he whispered.
"Who?" Chet asked.
Tom watched as the touchscreen numbers changed and glanced up at Chet.
"Do you feel different?"
Chet flexed his muscles a little, looked at his hands, rubbed his head where his mask would ordinarily sit. "Maybe a little."
Tom held up the touchscreen, which now was filled with numbers. Chet couldn't make heads or tails of it.
"It says that you would improve our odds of success by 80% on our most recent three adventures."
"How...?" Chet asked.
"He did it."
"Who?" Chet looked around.
"I can't tell you yet. We've got to get you sworn in," Tom said. He pulled his own mask up over his head, and tapped the touch screen again. "We'll have to get you your own one of these, too." Tap-tap-tap, and a bunch of little windows opened, each showing rooms where webcams were looking at people at computers, or empty rooms, or in the case of one window, a television tuned to Jersey Shore.
"Everyone: We've got a swearing-in to do."
A little alert-box popped up on the touchscreen.
it read, and below that:
CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS.
"And we've got to hurry," Tom said. He frowned at Fish Man. "Hope your neighbor can stay late. You're going to see some action, fast."