This story is the majority of a draft of a graphic novel I plan to do in the future (which is why it starts abruptly and contains occasional descriptions of how scenes/illustrations should look). Be warned that it touches on some disturbing subjects, such as mental illness, obsession, addiction, abuse, injury, death, and blood. No maliciousness is meant toward any of the celebrities mentioned in this story.
In Indiana, private detective Kayla Dimera was meeting with superheroines Ultra Kate and Karate Kate. After they’d exchanged greetings, Ultra Kate noted, “That’s an interesting scent. Is that one of your new perfumes?”
“Yes,” Kayla replied. One of her hobbies was making her own perfumes. She took out a small red and white spray bottle from a bag she was carrying. “This is my Pete Rose perfume. It smells like wet cotton, infield dirt, pine tar, and roses.”
“I like how you listed roses last like it were an afterthought,” responded Karate Kate.
“Yep! I also made a José Canseco perfume for you.”
“What?” the heroines asked.
“It smells like wet cotton, pine tar, and citrus juices.”
“Naw, that’s okay.”
She removed a small, clear box containing two green and white spray bottles from her bag. “What if it came in a twin pack?”
“You know how to get me!” They thanked Kayla as they accepted it, and Ultra Kate tucked the box into her cape pouch.
The three friends walked for a while and conversed. After a while, however, they came across an unwelcome figure. It was reporter/photographer Damien Sunn. Damien considered himself a reporter who exposed the truth, but in reality he was what they called a rag reporter- someone who wrote sensational and often dishonest stories for tabloids. The superheroines had had numerous run-ins with the arrogant journalist over the years.
Ultra Kate sighed and told him, “Hello, Damien. What brings you out here?”
“I’m just taking a break and seeing if I came across anything interesting.” He looked over Kayla, admiring her curvy form. “Who’s your friend?”
“I’m Detective Kalika Chiquita Dimera, but people call me Kayla. I’m just visiting.”
“The Kates have told me about you.”
“Oh, have they?” He looked mildly irritated because he knew they wouldn’t have many positive things to say.
“I have to say I don’t like your style of…journalism at all, but I know you do have potential.”
The last comment seemed to put Damien at ease. “Well, good!”
The Kates and Damien talked for a bit. All of a sudden, however, a strange voice piped up, “You should watch out.”
They turned to see who had spoken, and they started to feel alarmed when they saw it was an alien clad in a black leather jacket. He was slender to the point he almost seemed frail, but he had an air of confidence which made him seem threatening. He had pale blue skin, a pair of antenna, and a row of curved spikes running down the back of his head and neck. A spur jutted from the back of each heel, and his tail was tipped with spikes. Each of his fingers and toes was clawed. His eyes gleamed with intelligence and madness, and his beak bore a menacing grin. They recognized the figure as the supervillain/anti-hero known as Renegade. He pointed a clawed finger at Damien and cracked, “I was warning you because it looks like you’re encountering some kind of lowlife.”
Kayla, who wasn’t at all fazed by Renegade’s appearance due to her immunity to weirdness, replied, “Yes, you called that accurately.”
Damien snapped out of his surprise long enough to give Kayla a look, but Renegade chuckled at her directness. “Who might you be, miss?”
“I’m Detective Kalika Chiquita Dimera, but feel free to call me Kayla. I’m a friend of Ultra Kate and Karate Kate and sometimes help them on cases. I’m normally in Pennsylvania, but we thought we’d have a get-together.”
“I’m guessing you’re the famous Renegade. I mean, there aren’t many other people you could be mistaken for.”
He laughed. “Right you are!” He sniffed. “So, that nice scent is coming from you. Is that some Great American Ball Park-themed perfume or something?”
“You’re close. It’s Pete Rose-themed perfume that I made myself.”
“Oh, that’s neat! I’m a fan of his, you know. You have good taste.”
“Likewise. So, what are you doing here?”
“Basically a day-trip like you.”
Ultra Kate responded, “Well, if you don’t mean any trouble…”
“I don’t plan to get into trouble, if I can help it. I’m not looking for trouble, but I won’t run from it either.”
“You didn’t come to start anything is what you’re saying.”
“Mmm-hmm. I didn’t come to cause any commotion. I should note, though, that while I didn’t set out to meet with you two face to face, it is nice to see you.”
“Thank you,” both Kates replied.
Damien had been taking pictures during the exchange between The Mega Madman and the superheroines. Renegade finally asked him, “Getting good shots?”
“Yes, I think so.” He tipped his hat. “My name is Damien Sunn. I’m a freelance reporter and photographer.”
“Is that so?”
Damien started to reply, but then he noticed Renegade’s demeanor hardening. It seemed like the alien was staring daggers into him. The atmosphere seemed to change as his factors of intimidation and resentment felt palpable. The three heroines felt it and moved closer to form protective stances around the reporter. However, Renegade gave an odd smile which was followed by an unsettling yet gleeful laugh. The Super Kates and Damien felt a chill.
“Hey, I don’t mind if you take pictures! Go ahead and take another one. I won’t make any fancy poses so it’ll still feel natural.”
Damien snapped one more photo. It captured Renegade with a confident grin, similar to a fighter who was utterly sure of victory in an upcoming bout. However, it also had an air of intimidation exuding from it like heat radiating from a lightbulb.
“May I see?”
“Sure, of course.”
He showed Renegade the pictures on the digital camera. “Very nice. I think you really captured me.”
“That’s good to hear!”
“I get the feeling you don’t share the photos you take with your subjects every often, so it feels like I’m getting special treatment.”
“Well, you are a unique figure.”
“True, true.” He gave a laugh which was partly amused and partly maniacal. “You know, since this opportunity has arisen, I have a proposal. How would you like to interview me?”
Damien froze. “Are…Are you serious?!”
“I am. I wouldn’t deceive you. I really do want to do this. Not here and now, though. I’ll tell you what. I’ll contact you sometime in the next few days. If you decide you’re up for it, I can tell you where to meet me and we’ll do it, okay?”
“Yes, of course!”
“Do you have a card or anything?” Damien reached into his pocket so forcefully and so abruptly that the others worried that he might dislocate his wrist. He pulled out a business card, wrote his personal phone numbers on it, and handed it to the gaunt maniac, who looked it over before tucking it into one of his jacket pockets. “Much obliged. Just think- this’ll be a story no one else will have. I hope you’ll agree to this because I’m sure it’ll be entertaining.”
“Michael J. Schmidt!” exclaimed Kayla
Renegade turned to her, his quietly insane and menacing demeanor turning to an excitedly curious one. “You mean Michael Jackson Schmidt? The great third baseman?”
“Yep! I like to use Mike Schmidt’s name as an oath. I’m a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies as well as the Reds.”
“Then you have good taste and a sense of history, but your stomach must hurt a lot.”
“I’m sure you’d know. They’ve told me about you before. You’re a fan of the Reds and the Phils because of all the great players they’ve had, right?”
“Mmm-hmm. We mentioned Pete Rose earlier. I’m a hustler, so you could compare me to him.”
She jokingly replied, “Compare you to Rose? Well, cripes, that may be the worst thing anyone’s said about Pete.”
Damien gaped at her nerve and Ultra Kate & Karate Kate looked at her stunned. Before they could say anything, however, they heard an expelling of air followed by giggling. They looked at Renegade, whose laughing fit became stronger. His fit of genuine laughter lasted over a minute, and toward the end he managed to tell her, “Okay, that was good! You got me!”
When he had settled down, Kayla added, “You actually remind me of Billy Martin.”
Renegade’s fit of laughter at that comment was even more intense, causing him to clutch his stomach and eventually kneel down. The Super Kates and Damien were amazed to see light amber fluid trickle from Renegade’s body. With just two comments, Kayla had made the super-powered figure overcome with laughter to the point of wetting himself.
When this laughing fit finally ended, Renegade arose back to his full height and told Kayla, with an air of amusement and respect, “Well, you should be proud. You did something rare.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’m going back to my ship.”
“Take me with you; that guy bothers me. I won’t make trouble. We can hang out, listen to Logan and Jake Paul, etc.”
Karate Kate thought, “Did she really just bring those two into this?”
“What have you done to us, Kayla?” thought Ultra Kate.
“Who are Logan and Jake Paul?” asked Renegade.
“You’ve probably heard of them, but don’t remember from where,” replied Kayla. “They’re Internet personalities, brothers, who have also done some singing and acting.” She sang, “…England is my city…”
Renegade snorted and remarked, “I’m sure Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr would be surprised to learn England is a city. So…you’re free to hang out?”
“Luckily I am. I think the Kates can entertain themselves for a little while.”
“Well, then, sure, I’ll take you to my ship to chat some, if it’s okay with your colleagues.”
“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Ultra Kate and Karate Kate replied.
“Cool.” He added, “Just think- you’ll be the first to talk with me. You’re getting an exclusive.”
This comment was said to Kayla, but it was also meant to aggravate Damien. He was irritated by this remark, but tried not to show it, instead looking away. Rather than rub salt in the wound or act superior, Kayla simply and graciously replied, “It sounds fun, thank you.”
The two started to leave. After a few seconds, they both started whistling “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”. Renegade stopped. “Wait, how did you know I was going to whistle that?!”
“You had mentioned there being good and bad moments in Reds history, and we’re both fans of Pete Rose. I figured your mind might have drifted to his hitting streak being ended by a pitcher from the Atlanta Braves, and since we had also touched on the subject of music, I thought you might think of a song related to Georgia.”
“You could have observed me for any subtle clues I was going to start whistling so you could join in, but knowing the exact song? There’s more than one song related to Georgia.”
“There was some luck involved.”
“True. Luck plays a big factor in a lot of things. Then again, you may have also influenced my song choice subtly by mentioning pop culture things. You could have influenced me without me realizing it so you could impress me.”
“Anything wrong with that?”
His smirk turned to a grin. “Not at all. I don’t think that was luck. I think your skills of deduction and guidance are preternatural.”
“Thank you. We all have our gifts.”
The two left. After watching them, Damien told the superheroines, “That was impressive, what your friend just did.”
“It sure is. She’s remarkable.”
As impressive as Kayla’s skills were, Damien soon became enveloped in his thoughts about the interview. Ultra and Karate Kate looked at him in concern.
“Damien?” asked Ultra Kate.
“I take it you’re thinking of accepting his offer?”
His mind seemed to be elsewhere, yet he was quick to reply, “You know I am.”
Karate Kate noted, “Just so you know, Renegade has issues with a lot of people. He also has a number of poisons & chemicals and isn’t shy about using them if he feels someone is antagonizing him. If I were you, I wouldn’t meet with him unless I was in a full hazmat suit.”
Damien reflected for a moment and then absent-mindedly replied, “Yeah.”
“Did you catch what I just... Did you catch what I said?”
“Yes, you said he has poisons he likes to use and so I shouldn’t interview him with anything less than a hazmat suit. Precautions are to be taken if I meet with him because he’s dangerous is what you mean, right?”
“Yeah. I’ll…I’ll see you later, okay?”
He walked off distractedly without bothering to wait for an answer. The two reflected that trouble was brewing before flying off.
Renegade and Kayla entered his ship and he led her to a dining area. Kayla noted, “I heard that while someone else designed it, you built this yourself.”
“You heard right.”
“Thank you. I consider myself that, but I don’t get told that often.” They both sat down. “Have you eaten?”
“I have snacks, and I can eat with Kate later.”
“Okay. So, tell me about these Paul Brothers.”
Kayla told him everything, every up and down. Afterward Renegade observed, “We live and die by the choices we make.” He stirred his drink thoughtfully. “You’re a detective. I bet someone of your ability has been called for all kinds of cases.”
“Mmm-hmm. Some of them have been sad and gruesome.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I’ve seen things too. For one thing, where I’m from there’s something called ‘the petal syndrome’. Occasionally there are gamblers who gamble for so long and get so excited that their hearts can’t take the strain. They drop to the floor like a dry petal falling from a dying flower.” He stopped stirring his drink. “I saw it happen one time. This poor guy was just trying to get money for his family. Luckily, he scored a jackpot. As he was celebrating, however, he collapsed. A couple workers attended to him while he lay on the ground. I think he was praying. They tried, but their efforts weren’t enough and he passed away right there on the casino floor. His family got the money, though. Someone guarded it to make sure no one stole it before a relative could get there.”
Kayla realized that Renegade was being humble. “Whoever that was, that was a good thing they did.”
“It was the right thing to do. Well, let’s move on, shall we? Like the song says, canta y no llores [sing and don’t cry]. Let’s hear some of their music.”
“Okay. The two I have in mind are ‘The Rise of the Pauls’ and ‘I Love You Bro’.”
She took out her smart phone and started playing the first one. When it got to the part about still having a Disney contract, Renegade somewhat sarcastically remarked, “Well, good for him!”
Kayla paused the video to report, “He lost it something like two months after this.”
Renegade had another laughing fit. “Well, this is entertaining on multiple levels now!”
After the video was over, Renegade noted that while he had heard better, it was still a fun little flexing song. Kayla then played the next song and he said he liked it better than the first one. They talked for a while afterward. Kayla asked questions that were subtle, yet calculated to gather information. Renegade obliged by answering them all freely, even if it meant revealing things about his life. He really did have a tragic past. Kayla shared her past as well, and quoted a popular poem by saying neither one’s life had been a crystal stair. He admired her ability to analyze people and situations. The two got along well and actually had a number of things in common, and at the end they agreed that they’d like to communicate and hang out with each other more often. Renegade escorted her off his ship and then departed. Kayla called the Super Kates and they came to pick her up.
“I’ve made a new friend,” Kayla told them.
“That’s good,” the heroines noted.
“The poor guy’s lived a tragic life.”
“He told you a lot, huh?”
“Mmm-hmm.” She shared how the visit had gone and then asked, “How did Damien do?”
“Not too well,” replied Ultra Kate. “I can tell that he wants to go through with it regardless of how dangerous it is.”
“I’m not surprised. I’m on the case with you, though. I may not like his kind of so-called reporting, but I’ll help make sure he comes out of this as safely as possible.”
Damien had returned to his office long before. He hung his hat on a hook, set down his camera and other equipment on his desk, and sat down, but instead of working, he drummed his fingers and stared ahead. He reflected on what had happened, such as the look Renegade had given him and the warning Karate Kate had given. After a while, he looked back at his camera. He grabbed it and brought it into his work area. His office had both a darkroom & photo lab for developing traditional film and an area with a printer & computer for editing & printing digital photos. He turned on the photo printer, removed the memory card from the camera, and inserted it into the proper slot. He selected to print all the pictures he had taken that day and watched as each picture landed in the holding area. He felt anxiousness grow as the stack of pictures grew taller; his pulse quickened more as he saw the pictures he had taken of Renegade. He found himself rubbing his face and whispering, “Dang it, Damien, get it together!” Finally the last photo printed and the device went quiet. Damien picked up the final picture of Renegade and stared at it for several moments. He gulped and started to leave, then remembered the other photographs and got them too before leaving the room. He put the pictures of Renegade at the bottom of the stack and set them on the corner of the desk. He booted up his computer and started working on a story he had previously begun. As he typed, however, he kept thinking about the creature and emotion he had captured in those pictures.
That evening he went home and then went about his nightly routine. However, his feeling of apprehension didn’t fade. It was like eating a large meal that, instead of digesting easily, weighed more on the stomach as time passed, or like a drinking a caffeinated beverage that, instead of losing effectiveness, made the drinker more jittery. He eventually went to bed, but his sleep was uneasy.
He was still uneasy when he woke up the next morning. He tried to go about his day like he normally would, but the thought of the yet-to-be scheduled interview haunted him. Whenever he went through photographs or worked on photographs, he thought of that one at the bottom of the stack, and whenever he went about writing a story, he started to speculate about the interview. His anticipation was gradually consuming him like a fever. Each phone call he got was jarring, but the long periods of silence between calls were distressing as well. He also found himself looking over his cameras and other equipment multiple times throughout the day. After several hours of distracted work, he returned home. He tried to unwind, but it was trying to put spilled milk back into a bottle. Finally he went to bed, but his sleep was even more fretful. He had heard old legends about demons causing nightmares by squatting menacingly, sadistically, on men’s chests as they slept. His anxiety caused him to feel like that was happening to him. (Show vision of a fiend standing on Damien’s chest & abdomen while it looks at him with a hungry smile)
If Damien had been awake and decided to go to his front door & look out into the night, he might have seen a sight that would have left him chilled to his marrow. Near his house was a street lamp, and on that street lamp was a slender figure sitting in an alarmingly casual way. The alien grinned as he thought, “As low as you are, Sunn, we have things in common. That’s how I know what you’re going through. I can picture you lying in bed, your nerves practically sizzling like sausages on a grill. How does that feel, huh? It’s not a good feeling when you’re the one consumed with dread and forced to wait to see what darkness comes, is it? I’ll just let you continue to blister for a while longer before I summon you. Then we’ll have some fun, won’t we? Vincerò! Vincerò!” [I will win! I will win!] He effortlessly slid down the pole and departed.
As Damien prepared for work the following morning, he tried not to mull over how his sheets looked more crumpled than they had the previous morning. That day went much like the previous two. That evening, he went to a local café he had visited a number of times before. He took a seat in a more private section. The atmosphere was nice, but his mind was still consumed by thoughts about the upcoming interview.
“Damien?” a female voice called.
He looked to see Monica, a waitress he had gotten very close to. “Oh, hello! Yes, it’s me.”
“You looked kind of down.”
“Yeah…I have a lot on my mind.” He found himself staring down at the table again. “I thought I’d stop here for a while.”
“Well, if you want a distraction, you came to the right place.” She ran a finger down his chest. “You’ve seen before what good company I can be.”
She licked his ear and then nibbled on the lobe. When Damien didn’t give any sort of verbal reaction, she looked at his face to see how he was liking the attention she was giving him; she froze at what she saw. There was no reaction whatsoever in his eyes; he instead continued to stare ahead blankly. It wasn’t a matter of him giving her the cold shoulder or anything like that. Instead his mind was a thousand miles away and barely concerned with any external stimuli. She had never seen him so absorbed in his own thoughts before. Even when his mind was preoccupied with some project or filled with some emotion, she had never seen him this detached from the world around him. It was like looking at the glass eyes of a stuffed animal instead of living human eyes. She experienced a feeling of fright creeping over her like frost covering a window. “D-Damien…” He didn’t give a response, so she softly gripped his jaw and called, “Damien?”
She moved his head so he was now facing her. Even then there was barely any acknowledgement of her reflected in his eyes, but at least they now seemed somewhat human. “Are you okay? You’re not sick or anything?”
“No, I’m fine. I’ll be fine.”
“Okay. If…If you need a ride home, I can take you.”
Her words finally touched him. He blinked a couple times and then pulled loose from her touch so he could rub his face. “I don’t think that’ll be necessary. I’ll have a cold brewed coffee with milk and chocolate, over ice. Even though it’s getting late, I’ll have a mochachino with dark chocolate too.”
She brought him his coffee drinks when they were ready and the two conversed on and off as her duties allowed. After finishing the beverages and making a couple bathroom trips, he gave her enough money for the bill and an ample tip. The two gave their farewells and he departed. She was glad that he was more alert, but still concerned. She was relieved when he called her later to let her know he’d made it home all right. He had trouble getting to sleep due to all the caffeine he had ingested, but then again, he hadn’t slept well the previous two nights either.
He spent the next morning doing some writing and office inspection as well as looking over his recent work. That afternoon a press conference for a state politician was scheduled to be held, so he attended the event to see what he could capture on film. He arrived forty minutes before it was scheduled to begin, as had a number of other photographers and reporters. Damien was already irritated due to his restlessness and other factors. He brooded as he looked over his equipment.
Another photographer came up beside him. “Hoping to get some good pics?”
“Mmm-hmm,” replied Damien curtly, not bothering to look up.
“Well, let me tell you, I’m going to get some great ones.”
“Good for you; I really don’t give a flying fig.”
The other photographer laughed. “Sure, you say that now, but you’ll be jealous of my pics! Everybody will be.”
“Mmm-hmm. Everyone should just go home now, huh?”
The other photographer seemed to be unaware of the dirty looks he was starting to get from many of the people in earshot. “Probably. Of course, if none of you have anything better to do-”
Damien gave him a glare that stopped him cold. “What was that?!”
“H-Hey, I was just-”
He pointed his finger underneath the man’s chin like a gun and snapped, “Look, you arrogant jerk, you don’t know a thing about anything, okay?! I have every right to be here, and furthermore, I can take better pictures than you could ever dream of! The thing is, I don’t need to prove anything to you! Soon I’ll have a story bigger than anything a punk like you could ever hope to get! You’re not any more special than anyone else here! We can go right here if you think you are!”
The formerly arrogant man stared in stunned silence. Numerous people stared at the outburst. Two guards, having spotted the situation, came over to investigate. They brought the two photographers inside one of the buildings and escorted them into separate rooms. The room Damien was brought to had a table which sat below a window opening into the hallway. The rag reporter took one of the chairs, moved it so it was against the wall, and sat down.
“Okay, what happened out there?” the guard asked.
“That jerk ticked me off and I started to lose my head. I have enough things to handle without schmucks like him.”
The guard almost smiled as he mused that even tabloid reporters didn’t like tabloid reporters. “I understand that, sir, but I’ll have to bar you from this press conference if you make any more trouble.”
“To be honest, I could just make it easy for you and leave. I don’t need to be here…not with the story I have in the works.”
“Mmm-hmm. Go ahead and let that jerk do whatever. It won’t affect me any, and I’m sure whatever he gets out of this won’t do anything to make him any less of a worm than he is.” He brooded for another moment before asking, “Do you have anything I could drink?”
“We have some sodas and some water.”
“A soda sounds good, if you could. I’ll pay you for it too. You think that jerk would bother reimbursing you for a soda? I doubt it!”
The guard found himself amused by the reporter basically flexing by saying he could buy soda. A little extra money never hurt, though. “All right, then.” He left to get the soda.
Damien sighed, rested his head on his fists, and tried to get ahold of himself. After a minute or so, he heard a soft yet somewhat sharp sound near to him. He turned to see a cup of soda on the table. He looked forth and back, but whoever had delivered it was already out of sight. He shrugged and took a couple gulps from the cup. The guard came back and was surprised to see he already had a cup. “Someone brought one while I was gone?”
“Yeah. I didn’t see them, but they dropped it off. They must have overheard what we were saying. I can afford two sodas, though. Thanks.”
He gave the guard the money and took the second cup of soda. He drank both while he and the guard chatted a little. After some time cooling down, the reporter asked if he were free to leave. Upon being told he could as long as he didn’t cause any more trouble, he thanked the guard, threw away the now empty cups, and left. True to his word, he didn’t rejoin the other photographers, instead returning to his office and working on other projects. Afterward he visited the café again and talked some with Monica. While his mind was still somewhat disjointed and preoccupied, she was glad he seemed more “with it” during that visit. He promised to see her again when he was feeling better. When he went to bed that night, the excitement of that afternoon’s altercation caused him to lie awake for a while, but he eventually sank into another unsettled sleep.
The following afternoon, when he went in for his regularly scheduled session with hypnotherapist Conrad Bartlet, Bartlet could tell right away that he was anxious about something. He mumbled a greeting to Conrad, sat in the chair, and, as was his habit, took off his hat & placed it in his lap. Instead of making himself comfortable, however, he drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair and stared at the floor.
“What’s happened?” asked Conrad.
“For one thing, I just about got into a fight with another photographer yesterday.”
“What prompted that?”
“The guy was a jerk and I let him know it. I’ve got more important things to do than deal with lowlifes like him. See, I understand I need to tell you because I’m not so deluded I think everyone knows everything I did. Soon, though…soon I’m going to make headlines!”
“You have a big story in the works?”
“Indeed I do.” He let out a sigh. “You know that supervillain, Renegade, that’s fought with Super Creature? The one Lois Crane has done articles about?”
Bartlet’s mouth opened slightly in surprise, but then he regained his composure. “Yes, I’ve read about him.”
“I met him a few days ago.”
“How did that come about? Were you with the Kates?”
“Mmm-hmm. I was with them when they and one of their friends happened to meet with him. He’s…He’s really something else. He stared holes right through me.” He rubbed his face with his free hand. “Karate Kate commented that I shouldn’t meet with him unless I was in a full hazmat suit.”
“Was this prior to this meeting, or was she referring to a separate meeting?”
“It’s-It’s separate. I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I?”
“You’re simply arranging the story the way you feel is best.”
“He said he wanted me to do an interview with him. He told me he’d call me. If you don’t believe me-”
“No, I do. Why did she make that comment?”
“Renegade has a penchant for poisoning or drugging people he considers enemies.”
“You all have reason to believe he considers you one?”
“He was very interested in an interview, but he definitely seemed to have an issue with me. In fact, I think that’s why he wants me to interview him. I could feel resentment radiating from him. I don’t think he likes…I don’t think he likes reporters.” He continued to drum his fingers. Staring at nothing in particular, he noted, “I have one, you know. I have a hazmat suit.”
Conrad thought, “Damien, I know what this means to you. I may even know what it means to you more than you yourself do. I definitely know that nothing I say will convince you not to go through with this. Even if you were under, you’d reject any attempts I made to convince you. You’re determined to do this, and trying to stop you would be like trying to stop you from drawing a breath.” Out loud he said, “I wish you had told me about this sooner, my friend.”
Damien leaned forward, rested his head on one hand, and admitted, “This interview has been the only thought on my brain since he proposed it. It’s hard to concentrate on anything else. You remember Monica, at the café? I barely paid attention to her the other night. It’s been so long since I’ve felt this…this obsessed.” He looked up at Conrad. “I haven’t relapsed, though. I would have called you if I’d come close.”
“That’s good to hear. How are you sleeping?”
The reporter chuckled. “You’re not the first to ask me that and you won’t be the last. I am sleeping, but it’s uneasy.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I really should have called you earlier, shouldn’t I?”
“I think so. I think it would have helped. I also think that, when the interview does happen, you should have the Kates or somebody on standby. Renegade didn’t say you had to come alone, did he?”
“No…no, he didn’t.”
“I don’t think it would detract from anything to have somebody there just in case. In fact, there’s a certain romanticism in saying you had people on standby just in case.”
Damien thought about it. “I think you’re right. I’ll see what I can arrange as far as that’s concerned.”
“Wise decision. I’m glad we were able to discuss this.”
“Yeah. That’s the silver lining in having to wait like this.” He leaned back in the chair and folded his hands across his abdomen. “My nerves are still on edge, though.”
“With the state you are in, I expect you’d need a shot of sodium thiopental to go under. I think for today’s session it might be best if we forego the hypnotism and just talk. Are you up for that?”
He nodded. “Just talking is fine with me.”
“Good. Let’s continue, then.”
Damien felt a lot better after their conversation. After he returned to his office, he left a message for Ultra and Karate Kate. That evening, they came to see him.
“You said you had something important to discuss?”
“Yes, please sit down.” They did so and he explained, “It was suggested that I should have somebody on standby when I interview Renegade, just in case there are issues that arise.”
“Whoever suggested that is smart.”
“He certainly is. I hate to ask…”
Ultra Kate took out a small device and gave it to him. “When he calls you to meet him, press this button to contact us, then put it in your car. It should allow us to track you.”
The journalist sighed in relief. “Thank you.” He took it and put it in his pocket. “Just…Just know I appreciate this.”
“It’s not often you’re this…this personable.”
“Well…you know… Hey, if you ever need a story written…”
“Don’t worry about it. Besides, the story I’d like to read is that you improve from this whole experience.” There was a pause, then she asked, “Was that all you wanted?”
“Yes, you can go on about your day.”
“Okay.” They arose to leave. “Have a blessed day.”
“Thanks, you too.”
When he went home, he put the communication and tracking device near his hazmat suit so he wouldn’t forget it. While he was still on edge that night, he slept more easily than he had in days.
He got up the next morning and, as encouraged by Bartlet, tried to take better care of himself. He drank water and juice throughout the day, ate more substantial meals, and tried to take more breaks. He still had some anxiety, but the events of the previous day had helped ease the stress he’d been feeling.
That night, at two minutes until eleven, he got a phone call. He looked at the caller ID, saw it was an unfamiliar local number, and answered, “Hello?”
“Is this Damien Sunn?” a familiar voice asked.
Damien’s mouth started to feel dry and his heart started to pound, but he replied, “Yes, it is!”
“Hello, Damien,” Renegade replied. “I think I’ve held off long enough. I’m ready for the interview if you are.”
“Yes, of course!”
“Good. I’ll send you a map.”
Damien soon got an email with a map and directions. “Got it!”
“Oh, by the way, Ultra Kate and Karate Kate will be escorting me.”
“That’s fine. See you soon.”
Damien’s head started to reel from emotion, but he got hold of himself. He slipped into a fresh outfit, gathered his equipment, and went to get his hazmat suit. As instructed, he got the device given to him by Ultra Kate and pressed the button. He brought it out to his car and began his trip.
The location wasn’t too far away, so it didn’t take him long to get there. Ultra and Karate Kate arrived shortly after, along with Kayla. There were two buildings. One had light coming from inside while the other had a different male Neublarsan standing by it. “Hello, I’m Giorki. Are you the reporter?”
“Yes,” replied Damien.
Giorki pointed to the other building. “He’s in there when you’re ready.” He turned to Kayla. “You must be that girl he talked with a few days ago.”
“Yes, that’s me.” She approached him and took out a small red and white spray bottle. “He liked this perfume I’d made, so I made him a bottle too. Be careful not to spray any on yourself.”
“Oh, that’s nice of you.” He took the perfume, put it away, and took out a cassette tape. “He made this mixtape to give you in case you came.”
“He thought of me, huh? That’s good.” She put the tape safely in a pocket. “Thank you.”
Damien left his hat in the car and took out his hazmat suit. After putting it on and getting his equipment, he sighed and then entered the building. Renegade was sitting at a table with two chairs. He grinned and said, “I’m glad you could make it.” He gestured to the suit. “I see you’re taking me seriously.”
“Of course. Karate Kate suggested that I shouldn’t meet with you without one of these.”
“You’re smart to listen to her.” He gestured to a tray containing a pitcher of water and two glasses. “There’s ample water here. I see that mask has a hydration port. Don’t worry- I swear on Double Fantasy that it’s not poisoned or anything. You can drink as much as you like. I even encourage you to.”
He was hesitant at first, but Renegade convinced him of his sincerity. “That’s nice of you.”
“You’re certainly welcome. If you need to go to the bathroom-”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Good to know. Take a seat.”
“Thank you.” He sat, took out a recorder, two cameras (one for video and one for photographs), and a notebook & pencil, and began testing the electronic equipment.
“By the way, are you planning on putting Jake’s name in the title?”
Damien stared in confusion, then realized what he meant. Irritated, he looked to the side and then back at Renegade. “Why in blazes would I put Jake’s name in the title?!”
“So you could pay this month’s rent, obviously.”
“I don’t need to do that.”
“Is that so? Well, good for you. I’m sure a reporter of your position doesn’t need to do something like that. No, I’m sure there are so very many things you don’t need to do.”
Damien recognized the comment as an accusation that he did unnecessary things in the name of getting a story. He stayed unresponsive under the excuse of checking the recorder and the cameras. Renegade savored Damien’s nervousness for a bit and then spoke again.
“Have you realized that the only ones who do what it says in that line are A) critics who think they’re slick, B) critics poking fun at that line, and C) the guy who sang that line?”
“I try to think about the Paul Brothers’ lyrics as little as possible.”
Renegade laughed. “Okay, that’s good!”
“You’re a unique figure, which is why this interview means so much.”
Damien finished testing the equipment. He gathered himself, his arm trembling with anxiety, before speaking. “If you’re ready…”
“I definitely am.”
Damien pressed the record buttons on the recorder and one of the cameras. “Where would you like to start?”
“I suppose I should do a recap. I’m sure a number of people know about me, so I’ll make it brief. I call myself ‘Renegade’, and I’m from the city of Barsor on the planet Neublars. I’ve had interactions, good and bad, with the Super League of Justice. I have a variety of powers and abilities. I’m smart, athletic, stealthy, flexible, and good at chemistry, fighting, and building & repairing machines. I’m also immune to poison gas and most forms of mind control, and I heal three times more quickly than the average Neublarsan. I’d say my most famous ability is shooting energy blasts from my hands.” His pupils glowed blue as blue energy surrounded his hand. He let the energy fade and his eyes returned to normal. “I can also fire energy darts from my fingertips and use my energy in other ways. This leads to my other signature ability. If I focus all my energy, I can cloud someone’s mind. Basically I can hack someone’s senses so they experience things that aren’t there or don’t experience things that are there, or so they’re compelled to do things. There’s also a more strenuous version called ‘prison without bars’, in which I use my thought-clouding power to torment someone.”
“The name is a reference to Pete Rose’s memoir My Prison Without Bars, correct?”
“Yeah. I just know you’re just dying to say something hateful.”
“No, about Justin Bieber. Yes, about Rose. Of course, I guess now that I’ve brought the Biebs up, you’ll think he’s fair game too.”
“I’m here to hear about you, not talk trash.”
“Good to hear.”
“By ‘more strenuous’, do you mean it takes a greater toll on you?”
“That’s right. I can only do it for a maximum of five minutes, and…like I said, it places a greater strain on me. Moving on, I can also generate an energy forcefield which melts incoming projectiles. I can choose to be injected with medicine or operated on in a hospital setting, but the forcefield kicks in otherwise.” He unzipped his jacket, pulled out a dart gun and a switchblade knife, and slid them over to within the reporter’s reach. “Go ahead and give it a go, bang bang boy.”
Damien questioned Renegade’s choice of nickname for a moment before snapping back to the present. It was hard for him to grip the dart gun properly with the gloves of the protective suit, but he managed to fire a dart. Renegade became shrouded in glowing, fluorescent blue energy that melted the dart into nothingness. The same result occurred when he fired the rest of the darts. Damien slid the dart gun back over and flicked open the knife. He worried what would happen to the sleeve of his suit if he tried to stab Renegade, so he threw the blade at him instead. The knife melted away just like the darts.
“That’s a handy ability!”
“Indeed it is! You’re smart to throw that knife instead of trying to come at me. This forcefield only dissolves objects, but, as you realized, there’s a chance that your sleeve would have been dissolved along with the knife, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want that.”
“What would happen if someone tried to attack you with your forcefield up? Like if they tried to punch you or kick you, or if you attacked them while it was up?”
“They’d feel a mild stinging or burning sensation, but otherwise they’d be unaffected. That is, unaffected by the forcefield.” He made a cracking motion with his fist. “Non inultus premor- I cannot be touched unavenged. Anyone stupid enough to attack me like that will find themselves in serious trouble.”
“I can imagine.”
“A lot of my fellow prisoners avoided starting anything with me because of how frightening I can be, but it wasn’t just my intimidation factor that made people know not to mess with me. Anyone foolish enough to try something learned a painful lesson. Someone tried to steal from me and I broke both his wrists.” He made a forceful twisting and squeezing motion with his hands, showing how easily he had cracked the thief’s wrist bones. “In retrospect, one would have gotten the point across, but…”
“…there’s a tendency to get carried away sometimes.”
“Mmm-hmm. Incidentally, here’s a thought I’ve had. Most people, when they hear about one person injuring another, get scared. I think there are three main reasons why. One- they fear that they or someone they care about could get hurt too. Two- they have a great sense of compassion and care about both parties, not wanting anyone to hurt or get hurt anymore. Three- they struggle with a desire to hurt others too, and they wonder if they would or should hurt someone too. All three feelings are valid, I think.”
“I’ve seen that too. That is, I’ve seen different people react in different ways to a situation.”
“That makes sense. It’s good to remember that some people react to things differently. Incidentally, you know what’s a very common and very understandable fear? The fear of surgery. It’s not an ignorant fear; it’s a fear caused by knowing all sorts of things could happen. Be reassuring to someone who’s afraid, but don’t be dismissive and give some pat ‘Oh, there’s nothing to worry about!’ answer. Also, do your research first and be aware of any complications there might be.”
“That’s very good advice.”
“Do you yourself have that fear?”
“Not really, no.”
“There’s not a lot that could make me worse than I have been.” The comment was made almost casually, but there was still sadness to it. He added, “I’ve also had physical health issues in the past, so I’ve had surgeries before. Luckily I haven’t had any in a while.”
“Yeah. Back to what we were talking about, Super Creature even recognizes what a formidable opponent I am. When it comes to facing me in battle, he’s issued a ‘flee on sight’ order for most non-powered superheroes.”
“Really?! That’s amazing!”
“Thank you. That really and truly means something coming from him because what he and I consider powerful is different from what a lot of people would consider powerful.” He pointed and bragged, “You can tell everybody- go ahead and tell everybody- yeah, you can tell everybody- that I am one dude who’s not to be messed with!”
“I’ll certainly do that.”
“Don’t mess with the best, boy, it’s that simple. Never mind that now, though. I can be cunning & calculating, or I can be a raving beast. I’m also a mentally ill, recovering gambling addict.”
“You’re certainly candid.”
“Of course. I’m not some dishonest punk. Tell me, have you been honest in your reporting?”
“Yes.” Renegade’s pupils glowed blue. Damien felt odd and then blurted out, “No, I haven’t always. I’ve said things to get attention or get back at people.”
He sat there for several seconds, stunned and fearful about what had just happened. Renegade smirked. “That’s one of my techniques- sound of your soul. I use my thought-clouding power to compel someone to tell the truth. Of course, a professional seeker of the truth such as yourself should be completely honest, so I won’t have to use it, right?”
“Being dishonest in the past won’t mean you are now, after all.”
Damien took his first drink of water. “You won’t have to worry about that, I swear.”
Renegade continued, “Good. Let’s move on. I gained my powers due to an incident involving experimental energy & bacteria, and I seek to take revenge on the Council of Barsor.”
Damien realized something. “You said Barsor was your hometown.”
“So what is this Council of Barsor you’ve sworn revenge on?”
“I think you’re figuring it out. It’s the city council of where I’m from.”
“How big is this place?”
“About 31 square miles, and last time there was a survey, the population was about 24,500. It’s not New York City or San Francisco, but it’s not a bad place.”
Damien blinked. “So this whole mission of yours…battling the SLJ and all that…is about getting revenge on your city council?”
“Mmm-hmm. I know it sounds extreme, but hey, I am extreme. I figured the Super League of Justice was the only thing that could stand in my way. That’s how that started.”
“That…well, it’s not the first time I’ve heard of people taking extreme measures against the local government.”
“Are you referring to the Killdozer incident?”
“Yes. So you’ve heard about that.”
“Mmm-hmm. If it hadn’t ended so tragically, and caused so much destruction, it would be a funny story.”
“Mmm-hmm. It’s certainly an interesting story. So now the golden question is, ‘Why?’ Why do you hate the Council?”
Renegade chuckled. “That member I kidnapped asked the same thing. He’s now the leader of the Council, by the way, and he deserves the honor. To answer why, I blame a lot of my problems on them. I have two main issues. One, they’ve failed to help a lot of people, including-” He pointed toward his head. “-gambling addicts who have lost nearly everything. I’ve raved about the need for programs to help people. Then there’s another thing. My late father, who abused me and my siblings, was a member.”
The reporter wasn’t expecting that. “That explains some things.”
“Indeed it does. The trauma and abuse I experienced caused me so many problems. That’s how I got involved in gambling. As I noted to Super Creature, it was never about money. It was a way of escaping my problems and getting a thrill. I couldn’t admit for a long time I had a problem.” He stared at the table for a few moments and then looked back at Damien. “By the way, I read some of your articles.”
“Of course. I had to know more about you before speaking with you like this.”
His heart skipped a beat. “What did you think?”
“The short answer is you have potential. A number of your early stories, and a few of your more recent ones, were excellent and emotional, and at times you can be very good behind the lens. A lot of the stories I’ve read, however…well, let’s just say you’ve gotten off-track, and I’m being as charitable as possible to use that mild a term for it. One early story of yours that really stood out was the series about the fellow recovering from painkiller addiction. Darvon, I believe it was.”
“You read that one?”
“Yes, and it was excellent. You really captured what he was going through. It was well-written and emotional. I think it might help some people too.”
“Thank you, that means a lot.”
He sincerely appreciated the praise for the series that was so personal for him. There was also a slight feeling of dread because he got the suspicion that Renegade had figured out that he was actually the subject of his series, documenting his own addiction and recovery while pretending he was writing about a separate person. However, Renegade didn’t make an issue of it, merely asking, “Any idea how the subject is doing now?”
“I’m happy to say he’s still sober.”
“Good, good! I’m glad to hear that. Addiction is a terrible thing.”
“Yes, it is.”
“The human interest stories, the stories of emotion, are good. What most of your work has turned into, though…I have a question for you. I am allowed to ask you questions as well, right?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Hmph! Okay, here’s what I wanted to ask. Why did you decide to become a photojournalist?”
He wasn’t expecting that, but he answered freely. “When I was a teenager, I learned about a figure known as the Saint of Photographers.”
“That’s an impressive title.”
“He was an impressive man. That man had ice water flowing through his veins. If you don’t know that expression, it means someone stays calm even in tense and frightening situations.”
“I’d heard it, but I still appreciate you explaining it.”
“His most famous moment was when he was covering a car race. A speeding car went out of control and skidded right at him.” He held his thumb and forefinger close together. “It only missed him by that much. Most people would have panicked, but he didn’t bat an eye. I swear he didn’t even turn pale. He calmly took pictures of the car and driver, then stepped aside to a safer position and continued to take pictures of the race.”
“That is impressive. What about his photojournalism?”
“It was great. He always did an excellent job with telling stories. He really captured his subjects, and his works were always poignant. One time he did a piece about an apple on a windowsill and it was meaningful.”
“It sounds like he made the most of his talent. I’m glad he did such good work. He got his nickname not just from his supernatural calmness in tense situations, but also for the humanity displayed in his work?”
“Exactly. You should see some of his work.”
“I’ll check it out. He sounds like quite a guy. You would do well to imitate him.”
Damien felt a sinking feeling since the remark was a condemnation of how he had strayed from his ideals. However, there was a note of hope he could improve. He was also glad that he had introduced his idol to someone new.
Renegade reflected, “I feel there are a lot of things we could talk about.”
“Well, I came to do a story on you, so let’s continue with the interview.”
Renegade shot Damien a glare. The corrupt reporter immediately realized he had erred, and that realization began to make him feel sick. His sick feeling increased as Renegade’s mouth twisted into a creepy smile and he let out an unsettling chuckle. “We could have had a nice chat, but you wanted to keep down this path. Fine, let’s continue as we wanted.”
Damien felt a shiver run down his trunk and into his limbs, but he tried to regain his composure. After a long, careful drink of water and a moment of thought, he said, “I looked up the definition of ‘renegade’ recently.”
“Makes sense. I’d honestly be disappointed if you hadn’t.”
He felt some relief that the interview seemed to be going back on track. “A renegade is a term used for someone who leaves a group, or rejects his own principles, and joins an opposing group, or someone who rejects lawful and conventional behavior. It can also be a verb meaning to become a renegade. Why did you decide to call yourself that? Is it simply because of your rebellious image, or did you look at what you were doing as traitorous in some way?”
“There’s a good question. A lot of it is simply to convey an image of rebelliousness and radicalness, but it’s also symbolic of me turning my back on things from my past. I never did anything dramatic or concrete like renouncing ties or joining an enemy force, but I did decide I wasn’t going to hold back against a group I had issue with because of things like family ties or what society considered appropriate.”
“So it’s not so much an out-and-out betrayal of anything as much as it is you deciding you weren’t going to care anymore.”
“That’s right. I’ve been described as having a rock star attitude; I’ve also been described as being off my rocker. You can judge which description is the most fair. Speaking of rock and roll, you’ve probably learned that long ago, I had a music career. Just so you know, my band wasn’t- and still isn’t- one of those stereotypical wild and crazy lifestyle, days and nights of debauchery kinds of bands. It’s a shame some people are obsessed with stories like that. I’m sure you have a bunch of hedonistic stories already.”
Damien admitted, “Yes, I do.” Suspecting that Renegade knew his meaning exactly, and not wanting to dwell on it, he cleared his throat and continued. “Now, speaking of musicians and celebrities, you’ve mentioned the John Lennon album Double Fantasy as well as Pete Rose and Justin Bieber.”
“You also referenced Logan & Jake Paul earlier.”
“Who?” asked Renegade dryly.
Damien’s eye twitched from irritation and Renegade snickered. He decided to shrug it off and keep going. “In any case, I’ve heard you make a number of pop culture references, especially musical references, at this point, either in conversation or as names of techniques.”
“Yes. Just a reminder, my planet gets your radio signals, and that’s how I know a lot of things. Super Creature has also given me books over the years.”
“That’s very nice of him.”
“Yes, it is. I’m glad you said that. I’m a fan of a number of Earth celebrities. I like anyone who’s good at what they do, as long as what they do isn’t awful.”
“Could you name some of your favorites?”
“The big ones are Edgar Allan Poe, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, and Pete Rose. I know they’re not perfect. I know their pasts aren’t white. Are people freaking perfect? You ever think about how people who look down on others often have things going on in their own lives? Dark, shameful things?”
“Yes, I’ve seen it.”
“There’s condemning bad behavior, and then there’s acting hateful and superior.” His hand formed a fist. “There’s so much focus on bad things. Have you ever heard Pete Rose’s quote about headlines?”
“I’m not sure.”
“He once noted that a player could go 4-for-4 and then run a red light on the way home, and the next day the headline would be about the player running the red light.”
“That reminds me of a story about José Canseco. After the 1989 World Series earthquake, he was seen at a gas station and his wife was pumping gas. Apparently someone made an issue about his wife pumping gas.”
Renegade snorted. “Sure, let’s make that the story because it’s not like there was just an earthquake that cost lives and property! I bet they’d have said something if he had pumped the gas.”
“That’s why she pumped it- they knew people would say things.”
“Condemned if you do, condemned if you don’t.” His hand relaxed again. “I like Pete’s philosophy about not being so negative. Life’s too short, you know?”
“Mmm-hmm. You admire the ones you mentioned for their talents, for what they’ve produced, for their words, and for their attitudes, correct?”
“Yes. Those things speak to me in some way. There are a lot of other writers and performers I like, Neublarsan and human. I listen to a variety of music, from Jackie Wilson to those humble brothers, Logan and Jake.”
“Oh, so now you do know the goofy brothers!” thought Damien as he took notes.
He was surprised to hear Renegade echo his thought by saying, “‘Oh, so now you do know the goofy brothers!’” He looked up at the grinning alien. “You were thinking something along those lines, right?”
“Like that detective we met, I can be good at examining and predicting.” He pointed to his eyes. “My mind may be damaged, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t sharp. I can see a lot of things clearly.” He lowered his hand. “By the way, when you tell this, don’t mention that detective.”
“What? Why? You got along so well.”
“Yes, we get along very well. That’s why I don’t want you bringing her into this.”
“You talk like you’d think I’d slander her. What reason would I have to be negative about her?” There was a pause. The journalist offered, “You admitted that I have the potential for good stories. What if I ask her permission and run the drafts by her before publishing anything?”
Renegade mulled this. “I guess that’d be fine.” He took a drink of water. “Pardon me while I stop for a bite.”
Renegade took out a coconut and set it on the table. He swung his tail down powerfully and gave the coconut a strong blow, puncturing its hard shell with one of his tail spikes as easily as opening a can of soda. After wiping his tail spike, he guzzled down the coconut milk. He then held the coconut with one hand, stuck a claw into it, and rotated it. The claw sliced into the shell like a fingernail cutting into the wax of a candle. A couple full rotations resulted in a significant trench. He squeezed the trench forcefully and caused the coconut to snap open like a plastic Easter egg.
Damien continued to stare as Renegade ate the coconut meat. He recognized that this was a small demonstration of his power, and a way of conveying that the message that if he decided to do something, his protective suit wouldn’t stop him.
He thought, “I see you, Renegade. It’s impressive, but really, you’re just confirming what I knew all along. I knew from the beginning that this suit would do jack if you wanted to come at me, and that… (show an image of Damien with a sick grin on his face) …that’s part of the thrill!”
After finishing his meal, Renegade asked, “Don’t you think opening a coconut is symbolic of being a reporter in a way? It may be hard, and it may take skill and effort, but the reporter breaks open the situation to reveal the truth.”
“Another similarity, I think, is medical equipment- heart monitors, brainwave monitors, and the like. Someone could seem calm on the outside, but inside it can be a different story. You understand what I mean?”
“Yes, I do. I know exactly what you mean.”
“I figured as much. Medical equipment can detect what most of us can’t. It’s very valuable in uncovering and displaying things. However, if it’s faulty and gives incorrect information, such as claiming someone has a condition when they don’t, then it’s less than worthless.” He threw the coconut shell in the rubbish bin. “Don’t you agree that reporters who show the truth can be valuable?”
“Yes, I’ve always said that.”
“Oh, by the way, speaking of bites, there are a couple interesting things about my bite.”
“What are they?”
“First off, those I bite experience a slightly elevated pulse and temperature for a few days afterward. It’s usually about five-ten extra beats per minute and two-three degrees above normal. The subject’s body needs a recovery period to recover from bacteria and energy, to say nothing about any fear or other emotion. The second one is more interesting. Somehow, my bite can cure fits of drug-induced psychosis. If someone hyped on stimulants, hallucinogens, some performance-enhancing drugs, and the like has a fit, my bite will end it.”
“It neutralizes the drug’s effects?”
“As far as rampages go. The drugs are still in their system causing damage, but they settle down. My bite must affect their central nervous system somehow. It’s funny. I was often called upon to handle inmates who came in high on something and making trouble. Someone as fearsome and dangerous as me could still do some good.”
“That’s a good quote.”
“Go ahead and use it. Everyone loves good quotes and sound bites.”
Damien wrote in his notebook. Renegade’s pupils glowed blue again, but the reporter didn’t notice because an odd feeling came over him. He looked at his recording equipment and saw it at a completely different area of the table. As he looked more closely, he saw that the reels of the recorder weren’t moving, showing that it wasn’t recording. His heart leapt into his throat as he wondered if it had recorded anything. He grabbed it so he could inspect it.
“Is there something wrong?” a voice behind him asked.
He turned to look only to see blue rain clouds and what appeared to be a hand with a staring eye in the center. He stared at the surreal sight and had a realization. “You’re using your power on me!”
The surreal imagery faded, allowing Damien to see properly again. His other senses went back to normal too, causing him to realize he had never picked up the recorder after all. He turned back around, looked down at the table, and saw, to his relief, that all his recording equipment was there where he’d set it and was working properly.
Renegade mockingly saluted him before genuinely asking, “It felt real, didn’t it?”
“Yes, it did.”
“In any case, even if someone knows it’s a hallucination, that doesn’t mean they can just snap out of it. Sometimes I’ll make it so someone can snap out of it with enough determination, but usually it lasts until I decide to end it. So far the only one to snap out of it on his own is Super Creature. He broke out of it in seconds. He’s amazing.”
“That he is.” He took another long drink of water. “There are so many ways you can strike terror into someone.”
“Another great quote! I’m not a terrorist or anything like that, but I have to admit I do enjoy intimidating my foes. I also tend to flip out when I get the chance to overpower them. When you’ve felt powerless and afraid in the past, it’s quite a feeling to have others find you intimidating and to overpower others.”
“I can understand that. You’ve had some dark times in your life.”
“What was the darkest it got?”
Renegade smirked in amusement and irritation. “Sweet Lennon’s ashes, you’re pretentious. You’re not on the same level as the SLJ. Why would I bare my sick soul to you?”
“You’ve been open about other things.”
“True. I’m not going to talk about anything unless I want to, though.”
“We can move on, then.”
“That’s the smart choice. When it comes to pressing issues I don’t want to talk about, you need do that like Logan Paul needs more holes in his brain.”
The sheer bluntness of the comment made Damien look up from his notes and stare. Renegade noticed this and told him sincerely, “If this is how you found out, I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s not…it’s not that.”
“I see. Where I’m from, if you want to say someone is blunt, you say they’re sharpening a hammer. I’ve been told a number of times that I do that.”
“I can imagine.”
“Yeah. I feel I can comment on his condition, though, since I have brain damage myself.” He pointed to his head. “It’s now known that abuse can affect a child’s development. I had a brain scan years ago, years before I became Renegade.”
“It’s showed something?”
“Good deduction. According to that, my brain looks like the ten of blossoms, the equivalent of your ten of clubs.”
“It is what it is. The nurse was shaken up, so I comforted her.”
“That was good of you.”
“It was the right thing to do, but thanks. You ever look at Logan Paul and think, ‘Some guys have all the luck!’? Then again, why am I asking, right? You didn’t come here to talk about some small little hollow; you came for me.”
“Right. How do you think that issue- I’m going to call it the ‘ten of blossoms’ issue.”
“Might as well.”
“How do you think this ten of blossoms issue has affected you?”
“How would I know? That’s something only the Lord could tell you. Ask for Him to send you a dream like Joseph or Daniel.” He arose from his chair. “I can tell you one thing about my health, though.”
He walked behind Damien and placed his left hand on his shoulder. “This is how often I’m in pain.”
He took his right hand and made a definite yet not forceful motion partway down his back using the knuckle of his right forefinger. When he made three more strokes, Damien realized he was tracing a letter. Renegade ended up spelling a single word letter by letter.
“Get the message?”
“Yes, very clearly.”
“What kind of pain?”
“Some physical, some psychological. I’m sure a lot of it is psychosomatic.” He returned to his seat and then noted, “You know how important words can be, and how it’s better to word things one way or another.”
“I think if you see someone have a problem and want to sympathize, you should say something like, ‘I know what that’s like,’ or, ‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.’ What you should never say is, ‘I know just how you feel.’” He paused due to growing irritation before continuing. “Let’s say you’re at a casino at three or four in the morning, and you’ve just lost on the slot machine. One guy sees this and tells you, ‘Tough break, man,’ and another sees it and tells you, ‘I know just how you feel!’ The ‘tough break’ guy was much better because he showed sympathy and meant it! ‘I know just how you feel!’ Oh, do you!? Do you really, or do you simply know what it is to lose? Are you telling me that you know what it’s like to have slept only four hours, if that, during the past two nights because the demons of your past traumas have been haunting you, and you came here to find some distraction hoping it would provide some relief, and now you’re contemplating the long walk home you’re going to have because you spent and lost every dollar you had in your pockets, even the bus fare back, while you’re also dying to get back and do it all again because you want to try to win back what you lost, and, more importantly, you’re still hoping that wasting your time there will keep your demons at bay!? You know what that’s like!? Are you seriously trying to tell me that losing your pocket change at a machine a few times makes you know ‘just what’ I feel and what I’m going through!?”
He expelled a breath which was haggard from his aggravation and exertion. When he spoke again, it was in a near whisper. “Like I said, the ‘tough break’ guy was better.”
Damien noticed that Renegade had started foaming at the mouth. He pointed and asked, “Is foaming at the mouth normal?”
“If you mean for my species, no; it’s just me.” His voice returned to a normal volume. “This is something that happens to me if I get carried away about something.”
“That was a good question to ask.” He took a handkerchief from his pocket and began cleaning his face. “One thing I’ve noticed is using the term ‘alien’ to mean something strange and unfamiliar. I don’t have any issue with that. You look at the two of us and there’s no doubt we’re very different physically. What I would object to is thinking my kind is incapable of emotion or whatever just because I’m different. That’s not cool. Someone alien to you may actually be more like you than someone close to you.” The alien finished cleaning his beak, but left the handkerchief on the table instead of putting it away. “So anyway, the ‘tough break’ guy conveyed sympathy; he didn’t express some clichéd, insincere comment made just so he could seem sympathetic when he really didn’t even try to understand. A well-meaning person who struggles with empathy and emotion, but tries, is better than someone who claims to be sympathetic, but isn’t.” He glanced toward the door. “My boy out there, Giorki, is a good soul. He has some issues that make some things hard for him, but he tries.” He looked back at Damien. “I don’t want you talking about him. I just wanted to bring up how someone might have issues dealing with people, but still mean well.”
“I understand. I can bring up that point while not talking about him specifically.”
“Good. See to that.”
“I can tell you’re protective of him.”
“Mmm-hmm. There are some people I’m close to.”
“You’ve mentioned the SLJ already, which isn’t surprising since you’re an opponent of theirs. However, not too long ago you told me you weren’t going to bare your soul to me because I wasn’t on the same level as the SLJ.”
“That seems to indicate that you have trust in them despite your often adversarial relationship.”
“That’s fair to say. It can be hard to say I trust people because sometimes I feel that there are two sides- me and everyone else- but…yeah, it’s fair to say that.”
They talked about the SLJ for a while. Renegade had a number of nice things to say about the team and its various members. After a while, however, he became morose and irritated.
“Is there something wrong?” asked Damien.
“What is it?”
“How do I know you’re not going to turn around and say something terrible about the SLJ?”
Damien was surprised by this, but he responded, “That’s the second time you’ve suspected I’d do something like that. I have no reason to do that.”
“I didn’t suspect you’d have a reason to do it; I only suspected you’d do it.”
“I swear I’m not here to besmirch that detective or the SLJ or anything like that. I understand you’re distrustful-”
“I’m glad you grasped that, but do you know why, though? Sure, I’m distrustful of just about everybody, but I feel I have reason to be in this case especially. I know the stories. Don’t think I don’t know. A reporter interviewed cast members of a show, acted like he was a friendly, trustworthy guy, and then stabbed them in their backs by writing a bad story about them. A reporter was supposed to cover a lighthearted sporting event, but dug into an athlete like a cat digging into a rat simply to act like he was some big shot who was going to expose some big story. Some people will say anything to feed their egos.”
“So that’s why you have issues with…some reporters.”
“Mmm-hmm. That’s one question answered, though one that still remains is why it took you so long to address that. You knew I had issues, but you waited this long to address them. You had chances, and you weren’t shy about asking about other things. You asked how dark things got in my life, as if you had earned that right, and yet you seemingly didn’t take any thought for trying to reach understandings that would help both of us. I’ve seen how you are, Damien. Like a fire is only concerned with what it can or cannot consume as fuel, you’re concerned with whether something will or won’t satisfy your lust for attention.” He paused and then started, “I know this won’t be a good question.”
“They say there-”
“Oh, stifle yourself, you- you know what? I’ll overlook that. My question is, ‘Have you ever thought about how you’d like to die?’” Damien stared at him in uneasy silence. “Don’t be nervous. There’s no shame in being afraid of death. It’s when you’re afraid of living that you have a problem.”
“That’s very true.”
“I’d personally prefer a blood clot to someplace- the heart, brain, lungs, whatever. It’s okay if you don’t answer. I’ll give you the courtesy of not having to answer a question if you don’t want to. I won’t pry into your own dang business. I only asked because a thought came to mind. Want to know what it was? Well, I’ll grant you an exclusive and tell you. It was simply me musing that whenever you do pass, I hope you’re not discovered by someone like you.”
The comment was blunt, but oddly devoid of bitterness or anger. It was delivered almost casually, yet it was still impactful to the reporter. He started to open his mouth as if to offer some rebuttal or complaint, but then he immediately closed it tight because he suddenly got the feeling that if he didn’t, his teeth would erupt into a fit of chattering. A sense of fear, and maybe some sting of the conscience he had previously claimed not to have, kept him from saying anything. He got a sick feeling that saying something at that moment would make the situation worse, and just the thought of speaking up made him feel that blades were about to scrape against his neck.
The skinny alien continued, “I did some reading about photojournalism awards, and one adjective I saw used more than once was ‘sensitive’. People have won for ‘sensitive photographs’ or a ‘sensitive photo essay’. You’re not sensitive, Damien. You have the potential to be, but you decide not to be. It’s not to shield yourself so you can do the job, but simply to indulge your own ego and act superior. If you criticize others for that same attitude, you tell yourself at the same time that it’s okay for you to have it.”
As a result of his anger bubbling to the surface, his claws dug into the wood of the table. The piercing, cracking sound made Damien look down at the lunatic’s hand. He then looked back up at the lunatic’s face and saw something strange. He thought his eyes were playing tricks on him at first, but then he realized Renegade’s pupils, now gleaming with an unsettling intensity, were turning blood red.
“It’s different when reporters do things, isn’t it? If someone breaks the law, they’re a criminal, but if a reporter does it, they’re committed to their cause! If someone is insensitive and exploits tragedy, they’re a monster, but if a reporter does it, they’re unflinching and deserve praise! If someone lies, and slanders, and gossips, they’re terrible, but if a reporter does it, it’s fine because they just want a good story! If someone is hateful and two-faced, they’re disgusting, but if a reporter does it, they’re standing up for themselves! They can treat people like garbage, and demean them, and dehumanize them, even if they themselves are far worse, and that’s okay, isn’t it!?” His mouth dripped foam.
The wide-eyed reporter sat still and tried not to show his fright, but he felt cold sweat trickling down his body. Normally he would be on the offensive when confronted with comments like these, but a feeling of terror prevented him. He had been in disturbing situations before, but this…this was something else. It wasn’t just the feeling that Renegade was venting his fury at corrupt reporters at him; it was also that, when it got down to it, he felt he truly had no defense for his own misdeeds. He felt tightness in his neck and throat.
Renegade continued, speaking in a harsh whisper. “This could have all been avoided, but you wanted something dramatic instead of a nice chat! Well, you got something!” He smiled oddly as he showed his menacing claws and sharp fangs, and his voice increased in volume again. “Now you’re feeling cold sweat trickle down your body and trying not to imagine that it could just as well be your warm blood! We live and die by the choices we make, and you chose this! YOU CHOSE THIS!” He started chuckling, and the chuckling all too soon erupted into a flood of insane, unhinged laughter that seemed to fill the whole room.
Finally Damien managed to tell Renegade, “You-You forget all the good reporters out there!”
“True. I know there are so many good reporters.” He started to calm down. “I even talked about good reporters earlier, and how valuable they are. I’m sure this Saint of Photographers was one of them.”
“Yes, one of the best.”
“Good for him. Don’t think I don’t value people like him because really, I do.” He rubbed his head. “I just get enraged sometimes. I’m just thankful that I’m not worse than I am. It’s a great thing, a blessed thing, that my girlfriend caused me to take a vow against killing and caused me to keep the Sixth Commandment in mind.” He started to quiver. “If I were to get started, who knows when my bloodlust would ever be quenched? They talk about people being dramatic for show. Even if I am, I can assure you I’m as sincere as can be!” He laughed maniacally with glowing red pupils and a foaming mouth.
Finally he settled down. He noted, “You’re a man who lives by his words. I’m sure a lot of words are running through your mind right now. ‘Insane.’ ‘Maniacal.’ ‘Psychopathic.’ ‘Psychotic.’ ‘Lunatic.’ ‘Crazy.’ ‘Mad.’ ‘Crazed.’ Go ahead and use whichever ones you like. After all, if you use those words to describe me, you’re only telling what’s true!” He gave another insane laugh, though thankfully it wasn’t as long or intense.
An odd feeling had come over Damien due to the feelings of intimidation, alarm, and dread coursing through his system. He’d somehow been able to keep it together, but he finally became overcome. He hallucinated that as he sat there, his neck suddenly developed gashes which gushed blood freely (Depict this with a fake pixilation effect). After this vision ended, his head bowed as he experienced a grayout, a transient loss of vision which is a precursor to fainting or a blackout and caused by a low brain oxygen level. About two minutes later, he woke up on the floor. He looked around in confusion and saw Renegade crouching by him. The psychopath’s mouth was now clean of foam and he held the handkerchief in his clawed hand. Ultra Kate, having entered the room, was crouching by as well. Damien’s head felt cooler, and he realized that someone had removed his protective hood and mask in order to apply an oxygen mask.
“Are you back with us?” asked Renegade.
Damien slowly sat up and rubbed his neck. “Yeah.”
“For the record, you never passed out. You looked like you were feeling faint, so I decided to lay you down. I can’t have the interviewer passing out, can I? I used my thought-clouding power, so that’s why you didn’t notice when I came over and set you down, or when she came in and removed the mask to begin first aid.”
“That’s one of the classic reporter questions, but what’s it in relation to?”
“Why help me?”
“A little bit ago, I talked about words you could use to describe me. You recall that?”
“Yes, very well.”
“You can call me things like insane, maniacal, psychopathic, etc. At times I could even be described as fiendish or sadistic. What you can’t call me, however, is ‘heartless’. I still have morals.” He tucked his handkerchief back into a jacket pocket. “Incidentally, I hope you’re not sore at Ultra Kate for unmasking you.”
“No…she was trying to help.”
“I’m glad you understand that. For the record, as good an idea as the suit was, it and that mask didn’t matter in the end.”
“There’s something I have to confess. It’s a good thing you’ve been taking water breaks. Despite your precautions, I did manage to poison you. Relax, it’s not bad. It’ll just make you uncomfortable when it kicks in, and it won’t last long.” He glanced toward the superheroine, who had looked surprised at first, but quickly regained her composure. “I’m sure Kalika figured everything out long ago.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” Ultra Kate agreed. “It’s not hard to figure out what happened.”
“It really isn’t,” agreed Damien. “You knew I’d take precautions, so you did it before.”
“Exactly. It was after you and that other paparazzo nearly got into a scrap.” (Show Renegade discreetly leaving the tainted cup of soda for Damien)
“That long ago?!”
“Mmm-hmm. It’s been established that I’m good at chemistry, hasn’t it? I have a skill at making chemicals that do what I want around the time I want for as long as I want. I calculated that it would kick in during or after our interview, preferably after. There's a factor involved.” Damien followed his gaze to the water pitcher. “It takes effect when the body temperature and pulse become elevated above a certain level, similar to heatstroke. You having enough sense to believe me and accept the water has delayed the poison’s effect. If you had accused me of lying by refusing it, you would have succumbed already.”
Damien reflected on how he had felt better and less anxious after each water break he had taken. “What…What would have happened then?”
“I wouldn’t have done anything else to you or allowed anything else to happen, just watched as the fit ran its course. Still, it’s best that they’re here.”
“I won’t make fun of you for such a simple answer. Sometimes those are the best.”
He returned to his seat. Ultra Kate stood up and continued to observe Damien. Damien spent a couple minutes recovering and reflecting before removing the oxygen mask, arising, and going back to the table as well. “Thank you, both of you.”
“Good recovery,” stated Renegade.
“Thanks.” He took a few gulps of water and then poured more into his glass. He felt better afterwards. He admitted, “I felt something strange before I grayed out. I had a hallucination.”
“It happens. I’ve learned there’s a Japanese word, ‘sakki’, which means ‘thirst for blood’ or ‘killing intent’. Being exposed to intense sakki can really have an effect on people.”
“Tell me about it,” thought Damien. Out loud he noted, “Having experienced them both, I notice there’s a difference between your sakki and your thought-clouding power. How much do you think they overlap?”
“Oh, that’s a good question! It depends, but sometimes there definitely is an overlap. Most notably, my prison without bars technique usually contains a great deal of sakki. That’s probably why it takes a toll on me. A lot of times, however, there’s little or none.”
“I see. That’s not surprising considering, well, you’re quite an emotional figure.”
Renegade jokingly snapped, “The frick you say to me, you little snot!?” He then chuckled and replied, “That I am.”
“You really are becoming a fan of a number of people.”
“I suppose I am, maybe.”
The reporter took another drink of water and then spent a minute in thought. Gripping one hand with the other, he observed, “I might as well take this suit off.”
“It wouldn’t hurt.” Damien stood back up and began removing the suit. “It may not have protected you in the end, but it makes for a great story, doesn’t it?”
Damien managed a smile. “It sure does.”
Renegade watched as Damien removed the suit, folded it, and retrieved the mask to put back with it. Finally he admitted, “Despite everything, I do want you to be all right.”
“I’ll be fine.” He nodded to Ultra Kate. “They’re accompanying me, so whatever happens, I’ll be fine.”
“That’s very good. That’s not what I was referring to, though.”
“Nothing involving this interview/photo session. You’re familiar with the four conflict photographers somehow grouped together and called The Bang-Bang Club?”
“Yes, of course. So you’ve read about them too.”
“Mmm-hmm. Sadly, the media later did them dirty.”
“They were good at what they did, and they also had questions about their work. If you’re familiar with them, then you know what they’ve gone though, and how only two members survive. One was killed by accident while he was covering a firefight, and the other, well, he was a casualty in a different way.” His speech now had concern underlying it. “I understand you might take risks as a photojournalist, but more importantly, I know you might encounter some terrible things. Do you have a support system?”
Damien realized Renegade didn’t want him succumbing to any inner demons he might encounter as a result of his work. This creature, who had poisoned him and delighted in intimidating him, also genuinely cared about his life and didn’t want him to succumb to despair. He wasn’t sure how to react at first, but then he became moved. “Y-Yes, I do.”
“I believe you. That’s a relief to hear!”
“Thank you for asking.”
Showing some humility, he replied, “It was just the right thing for me to do, but thanks.”
Damien took another drink of water and then took hold of his hazmat suit. “I’ll be right back; I’m going to take this back to my car.”
“Why come back? You don’t have to stay here anymore. You got enough for a good story, right? I had Giorki slip Kalika an antidote earlier. You can just walk out, ask her for the antidote nicely, take it, sleep it off while you recover, and write your story in good health.”
“Hmm? Why not?”
“I…I haven’t finished what I set out to do. This is something I need to finish.”
Renegade gave another smile. “Well, look who finally showed up! Someone actually worth being interviewed by! Take as much time as you need and I’ll be here.”
Damien returned to his car. As she, Karate Kate, and Giorki watched him, Kayla reflected that he looked ready to lose his sweet words. His body trembled as he set the hazmat suit in the backseat, but he enjoyed the refreshing feeling of the cooler air. He took a bottle of water, poured it over his face, and blotted his face dry with a handkerchief. He then retrieved his hat, set it on his head, and re-entered the building. He sat down and drew a breath.
“If you’re ready…”
“I definitely am.”
“Since you mentioned the prison without bars technique again, I have a follow-up question. You could have named that technique after any aspect of Rose’s career, but you chose a reference to My Prison Without Bars. Is that due to the more serious nature of that book, or simply because you liked the title?”
“Another good question. While I think it is appropriate given the subject matter, it really is the title that grabbed my attention. I think it has great symbolism. A lot of people have their own prisons. I’m sure you know what I mean.”
“Yes, I do.”
“It’s no secret that I have issues. My history of abuse and the madness, self-mutilation, and gambling addiction that it caused…There are times I’ve said that I die every day, and times I’ve said I feel as dead as celebrities who have passed on decades ago. That’s honestly how I’ve felt at times.”
He sat for a few seconds and then, apparently having decided something, the slender alien arose from his chair. “You ready to see something?”
“Yes.” He picked up one of the cameras.
He removed his leather jacket. Ultra Kate, realizing what was coming, looked away. Renegade then removed his clothing underneath. This allowed Damien to see the significant scar tissue on his naked trunk and arms, the result of both parental abuse and self-harm. As the reporter took it in, Renegade gave a sad smile and told him, “It’s worse inside. Then again, I looked even worse during my rehab.”
Damien took a number of pictures. Afterward he noted, “That’s definitely going to be the inside picture for the article.”
“Makes sense to me.”
They talked for a while. Eventually, however, Damien started to feel ill again. Seeing this, Renegade arose, propped the door open, and told him, “Someday, when you decide not to crawl in the dirt and stir it up, we can do another one. Your car will be safe here, so just let them take care of you and don’t think about driving back until you’ve recovered.”
“Yeah.” He took one last drink of water.
“You all have a safe night,” the maniac replied sincerely.
Ultra Kate escorted the photojournalist outside. Using a pair of teleportation devices, she and Karate Kate transported Damien & Kayla to a clinic in their hideout. He thanked them and then made use of the clinic bathroom. After emptying his bladder, flushing the toilet, and washing his hands, he removed his shirt and used a washcloth to give his face and upper body a sponge bath. Afterward he leaned on the sink and then completely froze. It felt like every joint in his body had become locked as a result of numerous emotions suddenly hitting him. The intense mixture of emotions caused him to stand quivering, tears leaking from his eyes, for a number of minutes.
Karate Kate came to the door. “Damien? Are you okay?”
“We have an IV and some beverages here to replenish fluids.”
“Good. Thank you.”
He sunk to his knees and rested a bit. Then he gathered himself, left the bathroom, and sat down in a chair next to a tray table. As he set his equipment on the nearby bed, Kayla took out the mixtape Giorki had given her and opened the case. She removed a small packet that had been tucked discreetly between the cassette tape and the paper lining the case. “Here’s the antidote. You just mix it with water and drink it.”
“No…not yet.” It seemed like he was becoming entranced. “I want to do this now, while everything is fresh in my mind.”
Ultra Kate saw his determination and reluctantly nodded. “I can understand being compelled to do something. I’ll let you have your way for now, but if I think you’re becoming too sick, I won’t hesitate to stop you and give you the antidote.”
He allowed the IV needle to be inserted into his left arm, then set his notebook on the table. He set his recorder to replay and then began writing furiously. While he was writing mainly from memory & emotion and was using the recording mostly as a way to make sure he didn’t miss anything important, he still chilled in places. The heroines felt a chill during some parts as they listened as well. It felt at times like the Mega Madman was actually there in the room with them. When it got to the part in which he had warned Damien not to talk about Kayla without her permission, the detective smiled at her new friend trying to protect her. The reporter paused for a drink of water or juice now and then, keeping his symptoms at bay.
The frenzied writing continued for nearly an hour. Finally Damien set down the pencil. He sighed in relief and let out an uneasy laugh. Then the feelings of illness came on again. As he still chuckled, he began fiddling with his collar. Ultra Kate looked over at Kayla, who handed Karate Kate the antidote packet. As Karate Kate poured the powder from the packet into a glass of water and stirred it, Ultra Kate went to the stricken reporter’s side. He had begun scratching and growing agitated. “It-It feels like…I’m being pricked…all over my body!”
He began to suffer a fit, but Ultra Kate tended to him and prevented him from falling out of the chair. Karate Kate brought the antidote mixture to him and he drank it eagerly. Within seconds his symptoms began to ease. Soon they had vanished, and he softly sunk into sleep.
Kayla took the notebook and read what Damien had written in his notebook. The draft was rough and somewhat disjointed in places, but still well-written. The three heroines were impressed. Kayla told Ultra and Karate Kate, “He can write a great story when he wants to. Other than polishing it some and making it more organized, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
“Yes,” agreed Ultra Kate. “Like Renegade said, he has potential.”
She looked over at the recovering reporter. “I hope you take this whole experience to heart, Damien. Here’s hoping you change and improve yourself.”
- I removed three parts from this draft because while they would be fine in the actual graphic novel, they would distract from the main story posted here. These were a scene in which a supervillain attacks one of his own henchmen (to show how evil he can be), a scene in which Ultra Kate and Karate Kate meet a friend of two of their allies, and a scene in which Damien flashes back to his reckless partying days.
- This story quotes or otherwise references a number of songs.
- “I’m not looking for trouble, but I won’t run from it either,” is similar to the line “I’ve never looked for trouble, but I’ve never ran,” from “Trouble” by Elvis Presley.
- “England is my city” is from “It’s Everyday Bro” by Jake Paul feat. Team 10. Kayla attributing it to Jake Paul would seem like an error since it was actually Nick Crompton who sang the line, but it’s actually not since A) the song is credited to Jake and B) Jake has said he wrote that line.
- The most infamous part of “The Rise of the Pauls” by Logan Paul feat. Jake Paul is repeatedly mentioned. “Put Jake’s name in your title and you can pay this month’s rent/We know you’re calling your lawyers. Yeah, that’s money well spent/‘Cause, yeah, my brother messed up, but he still got his Disney contract!/See me in person, I guarantee you won’t make eye contact!” Renegade also quotes the line, “Don’t mess with the best, boy, it’s that simple!” before immediately changing the subject since Damien said he wasn’t interested in their lyrics.
- The comment about living and dying with the choices one makes is reminiscent of the country song “Choices” by Billy Yates, famously covered by George Jones.
- “Canta y no llores” comes from the Mexican folk song “Cielito Lindo”.
- “Vincerò! Vincerò!” is a quote from the aria “Nessun Dorma” from the opera Turandot (famously performed by both Luciano Pavarotti and Aretha Franklin).
- Monica the barmaid is named from “Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit Of…)” by Lou Bega (“A little bit of Monica in my life…”). Ironically Logan Paul performed this song on the fifth season of the American version of The Masked Singer months after this story was posted.
- “You can tell everybody- go ahead and tell everybody- yeah, you can tell everybody” comes from “The Man” by Aloe Blacc.
- The “Sound of Your Soul” technique is named after a lyric from “True” by Spandau Ballet.
- Great American Ball Park is the current stadium of the Cincinnati Reds, a Major League Baseball team. Their Hall of Fame and Museum includes a rose garden to mark the spot where Pete Rose’s record-breaking 4,192nd hit landed. It also has natural turf as opposed to Riverfront Stadium, which had artificial turf.
- Billy Martin was a Major League Baseball manager for a number of years, most notably for the New York Yankees. He was famous for being fired and then rehired by Yankees owner George Steinbrenner a number of times. He also had at least two altercations with his own players (nearly getting into a fight in the dugout on one occasion and punching a player out during a bar fight on another). However, he also reportedly had a softer side as well.
- The poem Kayla alludes to (the one saying life hasn’t been a crystal stair) is “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes.
- Kayla shows her thoughtfulness by warning Giorki not to spray any perfume on himself, understanding that he might have sensory issues that could be aggravated by strong scents.
- While this is intended as a psychological thriller and not a comedy, I thought the scenes with Renegade trolling Damien by talking about the Paul Brothers (particularly the one in which Damien’s eye twitched) were funny and I enjoyed writing them.
- I used statistics of my hometown of Trotwood, Ohio (30.5 square miles and an estimated population of 24,403) to decide how big to make Barsor.
- I made Damien a recovering Darvon addict after reading in a textbook about its addictiveness. I learned later that there was even a doctor who called it “the worst drug in history” due to its high addictiveness compared to its low effectiveness.
- The Saint of Photographers was inspired by a clip I saw in which a photographer covering a race was nearly hit by a racing car, but didn’t bat an eye, instead continuing to take pictures.
- Renegade calling The Paul Brothers “those humble brothers” is both A) a joke on how they’re generally considered the opposite of humble and B) a play on how the name Paul can mean “humble”. Likewise, calling Logan “a small little hollow” is a play on the name “Logan” meaning “hollow” and how the name “Paul” can mean “small or little”. There was no purpose to this other than Renegade showing off his knowledge of name meanings and ability to do wordplay. “The goofy brothers” is the name my aunt has given the duo.
- The rest of Damien’s tape recorder hallucination was originally even worse. Originally when he turned around, he was going to see a coffin resting atop a stack of other coffins, a reference to the country song “I’d Be Better Off (In a Pine Box)” by Doug Stone. However, given the song’s subject matter, I decided that would be too morbid. Luckily I had recently listened to the song “Epic” by Faith No More, so I decided to base the rest of the hallucination on the surreal imagery from the music video. The part in which the lead singer salutes is also when the line, “You want it all, but you can’t have it,” first appears, meaning Renegade’s salute could be meant to convey that message.
- Renegade commenting, "You ever look at Logan Paul and think, ‘Some guys have all the luck!’?" can be interpreted three different ways.
- He could be asking if Damien is jealous of his success, wealth, and popularity.
- He could be asking sarcastically since he had mentioned his health issues shortly before asking the question.
- Most darkly, he could be asking Damien if he is jealous of his scandals (since Damien wants attention).
- I had Renegade trace the letters on Damien’s back because A) I thought it would be more dramatic and B) I had trouble trusting myself not to do an “It’s Everyday Bro” reference.
- A couple of the reporter misdeeds Renegade mentions are referring to actual instances of reporter misconduct (For instance, sometime in the 1990s a reporter acted in a friendly way to cast members of Saturday Night Live, then wrote an article trashing them).
- Kayla notes that Damien looks ready to lose his sweet words. This is a reference to Proverbs 23:8- "The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words." In other words, she thinks Damien looks sick enough to vomit.
- The comment Renegade uses to joke about being emotional is a sanitized version of an infamous outburst by professional gamer & streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins.