Monday, November 29, 2010

Spanner Chapter 8: Better Living Through Chemistry

I only got around to outlining this chapter before I burned out on AugNoWriMo for the third consecutive year. The name is one of the first I came up with for the original Spanner comic, back in the late 1990s; the final scene (before the Interlude) is one of the first scenarios I scripted for the proposed manga back in the early ’00s. (Another scene I wrote during that period is the one in which she wakes up with Dexter.) As I ended up actually writing it, it’s bookended by two of the series’ biggest turning points. Like Chapter 7, it turned out to be a “theme” episode, though still entirely within the plot. Of course, I had to throw Shira’s birthday into the mix, with a surprise new character...

Stick around as the plot darkens...

...from previous

Chaos Angel Spanner — Book 1: Rock City Blues
Chapter 8: Better Living Through Chemistry

If you’ve got a problem, we’ve got the pill.
pharmco ad slogan

Die young, die strong, Dianabol.
locker room joke

9 September 2014
Fifteen years ago today, a baby girl with cinnamon skin and red hair was born to flame-haired rocker Ric Thomas and black activist lawyer Hope Reston, who married two years earlier. They planned her birth; when Hope went off birth control and she and Ric made love intensely for the month following, this little girl resulted, and they were overjoyed. They still disagree on whether or not it was a coincidence that she was born on 9/9/1999, the fiftieth birthday of American ninja master Stephen K. Hayes. As soon as they found out their still unborn child would be female, they named her Shira Miranda. They debated whose family name they would give her, but eventually settled on the father’s, partly because the mother wanted to distance her daughter from her own already distant aristocratic origins and partly because the compound name the child’s aunts and uncle use represents the fusion of two families with long revolutionary traditions. Cedric Anthony Thomas III doesn’t use the combined name Richter-Thomas only because he’s a namesake.

Today, the extended Richter-Thomas family assemble at the Rocky Point fixer-upper mansion that Ric shares with his daughters Charlie and Desiree to celebrate more than just the day Shira Miranda Richter-Thomas was born back in 1999. In Cascadia, fifteen is the voting age, the age of eligibility for driver’s education, and the age of sexual consent. The Confederacy, of course, recognizes none of this, so any birthday party for someone like Shira held by a family like the Richter-Thomases necessarily doubles as an underground political meeting.

Charlie and Desiree actually own the house; Ric lives with them because it has enough room for the recording studio he helped them build. Though the sisters’ primary lovers are each other, their father shares their bed at their request. Hope brings Shira straight here from the Team Bremelo meeting at Pizza Mafia. They come early not because it’s absolutely required — they arrive shortly past 5 p.m., and the party does not start till 7 — but because Charlie and Desiree want to spend some time alone with their young half-sister in their extra-large bathtub for a long hot bubble bath. Ric and Hope decorate the huge chocolate pudding cake, arrange presents, and make calls to arrange rides.

As the time approaches, the family and friends arrive and the gathering begins with the usual enthusiastic hugs and kisses. This family is extended enough that it resembles a closely knit tribe. The clans of the tribe go by the names Shears, Angel, De Lacey, and Richter-Thomas, the names of the members (including Willa as well as Ric) of a rock band that went on hiatus (or into hiding) when President Palin decreed the death of rock ’n’ roll. Shira makes sure those members and associates of Team Bremelo who aren’t family members and childhood friends (i.e., Polly, Cory, and Kio) also get to come; those who do: Dexter Conway, Brandi Quinn, and Seika and Harumi Tachibana. Rob Shelley comes without Leila, who’s feeling ill enough that she didn’t come to school today. All the food disappears quickly, especially the cake.

Shira gets a synthesizer keyboard from Charlie, a new high-definition video camera from Desiree, movies and books and jewelry and other interesting things from the others. From Dexter, she will get a special night of movies, dining, and love on Friday. From her parents, she will get a movie in the theatre, an expensive Native American salmon dinner in Tillicum Village on Blake Island, and a weekend on the town in downtown Seattle. From her cousin (Jennifer’s 29-year-old half-sister) Alex de Lacey and her husband Nick Cyphers, she gets a Furby.

This is no ordinary talking vintage toy. This particular Furby is powered by the near-supercomputer guts of a cutting-edge smartphone and its mind is an artificial intelligence programmed in Python by a programmer with a wicked sense of humor (i.e., Nick). Its name is Freddy Freakbeak.

Freddy’s first word to Shira is “Hi.”

“Oh my god, I’m in love.” Shira picks Freddy up and twirls it around. She throws herself at Alex and Nick, showers them with kisses, and squeals, “Thank you! I love you!” This new couple, a girl and her supercharged new Furby are the hit of the whole party.

14 September 2014
Stan Green is taking a leak in the lower-level men’s restroom of the ferry terminal when Shira bursts in, her Furby perched on her shoulder. “Yeek!” he squeaks as he hastes to hide his small and still-dripping penis. Shira laughs.

What the hell are you doing here?!

“I thought you guys were straightedge, Stan.”

What? Are you stupid? We just say No!”

“I’m talking about steroids.

Stan looks at her funny, then smugly smirks at her. “That’s no ‘drug,’ if that’s what you’re talking about. It’s the very essence of manhood itself!”

Shira gives him her “gotcha” smile. “Well, I caught you selling this ‘man essence.’ Take a look.” She whips out her Droid Mega, holds it in front of Stan’s face, and plays the surveillance video of him and Falconer. Stan’s jaw drops and his eyes go wide.

“You bitch!” he screams. He tries to knock the phone out of her hand with his huge fist. She pulls it back; he punches air.

Shira skips out of the men’s room laughing. “Die young, die strong, Dianabol®!” she taunts.

“See ya!” adds Freddy as she leaves. “Wouldn’t wanna be ya!”

15 September 2014
Shira takes Freddy to school with her the following Monday. Freddy is an extremely exotic character and becomes hugely popular among her fellow students. But not everybody likes Freddy. Bart and Charmian put a contract out on it. Jocks and mean girls try to destroy it while Shira’s not looking, only to find that somebody’s always looking.

The Principal summons Shira to his office. “I want you to get that thing out of here at once.”

“You mean you can’t take being insulted by a toy? I so feel sorry for you.” She leaves with her Furby.

“Loser,” says Freddy.

16 September 2014
The school nurse summons Shira to the clinic. As soon as Shira sits down, the smiling nurse shows her some packages of Ritalin and says, “It looks like the pharmaceutical company’s sent us a bunch of extras yet again. Could you, like, take ’em off our hands? You can always jew me down if you like.” She winks.

Annoyed, Shira sighs. “You should know, I’ve got so much adrenaline in my system, I don’t need that kind of stuff. So I’d probably sell it for a big markup on the black market.”

The nurse keeps her smile, but she can’t hide her disappointment. “Oh,” she says weakly.

“Lame,” says Freddy.

17 September 2014
Leila doesn’t join the others for lunch today. She’s not hungry. In fact, she hardly feels a thing.

She looks in the mirror in the girls’ restroom in the library. She does not see herself as beautiful. She can no longer see beauty at all.

She looks down at the antidepressant pill. If she takes it, it will make her a dull blur and she will want to kill herself again. If she doesn’t take it, she will descend into black despair so that she will want to kill herself again. She sees no way out of the hell that her life has become.

What’s the use? she thinks. She takes the pill.

18 September 2014
After school, Shira sneaks past the security of the special locker room built only for the football team in order to spy on the players and coaches before practice. Deactivating the flash and camera sounds on her Droid Mega, she takes pictures of what she finds. The coaches are feeding the linemen steroid pills like candy and shooting them up with growth hormone. She wonders if there’s more potent and dangerous black market stuff in those drugs. She notices that Bart isn’t taking any of the drugs. Might he be the connection?

“Shhh.” Dexter puts his hand on Shira’s shoulder.

“Dexter,” she whispers, “it’s you.” They kiss. She sneaks him outside and away from security so they can have a quiet private talk.

“They’re not supposed to be doing that,” says Shira.

“I know, darlin’. But nobody can do anything about it. There’s too many people betting too big. Something bad’s gonna happen, I know it.”

“Seems the big sport’s not the sport but the betting anymore.”

“Shira, we gotta find a way to stop this before it’s too late...”

“It’s already too late. It’s always too late. And we can’t say anything the godfathers can come down on us for.”

Dexter sighs in despair. “Is there anything we can do about it?”

Shira kisses him and holds him tight. “Don’t worry, Dex. I’ll find a way.”

19 September 2014
Dexter sits up suddenly in the early morning, drenched in cold sweat, awakened by a nightmare. Shira rolls over toward him, carelessly bare-breasted. “What’s wrong, lover?”

“I’ve got a really bad feeling about tonight.”

Shira sits up and hugs Dexter from the side. “About our night tonight?”

“No. The game. I’ve been gettin’ bad vibes in the locker room for the last month, but it’s gotten really bad this week. Somethin’ bad’s goin’ down on the field tonight, and it’s all ’cuz of those drugs Coach has been tryin’ to force down our throats.”

Shira slowly lowers Dexter back to his pillow; she gets on top of him and gives him a long kiss. “Should we do something?”

Dexter nods. Then he rolls her onto her back, squeezes and kisses her breasts, sucks and nibbles them, making her moan...

school. Before class, in the library, Polly nervously points out to Shira one of the misfit kids angrily scribbling on a piece of paper. Shira recognizes Kenny Partridge from the Ranking Tournament. He was forced into it for the prestige of his rich and vain Corporate father; he lost so badly that he didn’t even make it into the ranks of Valiant Team. The Valiants like to persecute him for being emo.

Shira knows Kenny likes to hang out in the library, where “real men” refuse to go out of fear for their “manhood”. She has Jennifer stand watch while she sneaks into the library boys’ lavatory while it’s empty. Carefully, she digs through the paper towels in the trash bin until she finds the paper. It’s a list of all the members of the Council and of Valiant and Pretty Teams. Before she leaves, she folds it up and sticks it into the label of her shirt.

Charmian confronts Shira in the hall. “What’s this rumor you’re spreading about steroids?”

Shira flashes a cockeyed smirk. “Your Highness, it’s [gestures “quote-unquote”] ‘man essence.’ Don’t you know your Social Darwinism? A man’s gotta get every advantage in the blood-red Tournament of Nature.” She winks wickedly.

Charmian harrumphs contemptuously, turns on her heel, and flounces away.

“You suck!” taunts Freddy.

game. Another Friday night high-school football game, and the Bremerton Knights are continuing their long tradition of losing. In the summer, the creaky old stands of Memorial Stadium light up with the victories of another team in another kind of football, the Bremerton Pumas of the Kitsap Soccer Club, as they continue their quixotic quest to join Major League Soccer. On weekend afternoons during the first semester of the school year, the high school soccer teams own their competition even as Dorian’s new lacrosse team struggles for wins on Saturday mornings. But on Friday nights in the fall, it becomes home to the latest in a long tradition of losing teams. After three hard quarters, after which the Knights fall behind the Peninsula Seahawks 30-7 (a typical Bremerton score, with the one score resulting from Dexter’s 55-yard TD run), team captain Bart Green complains to his defense: “What the hell are you guys doing? I came here to win! I didn’t wanna be saddled with a bunch of losers!” Hoping for a last-quarter comeback, Bart pushes his defensive teammates (and bullies the coaches into pushing them) to the breaking point.

Peninsula still score two touchdowns on them. The biggest defender on the field breaks.

Injured on the play, 350-pound defensive tackle Joey Brown goes on a rampage. The offensive lineman who hurt him insults him again, but Joey is no longer in any condition to handle it; the two fight viciously, and Joey ends up killing him accidentally. In his blind fury, he beats his way through an army of players trying to stop him, injuring several on not just the opposing team but his own, killing an official. The line coach runs onto the field to scream at him; Joey strangles him to death. Not even police in riot gear can handle him. He has to be put down with an elephant tranquillizer. The students in the stands can only watch in horror. Some of the cheerleaders have to be put under sedation and sent to the hospital to recover.

Head cheerleader Karen collapses into Shira’s arms. “I knew this would happen eventually!” she sobs. “I knew it!” Dexter runs over from his place near the coach on the home team sideline to hug Shira and Karen as tight as possible; they put their arms around him. Dexter cannot keep himself from crying with Karen, and his tears make Shira cry. Their night together will have to wait.

Darkly, Shira quips, “Die Young, Die Strong, Dianabol®...”

principal’s office, post-game. Vice Principal Falconer locks the door to her private office and turns to leave when she sees Shira. She jumps in shock.

“What the hell are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be here!”

Shira is not smiling. “Have you seen what just transpired down on the field tonight?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“As in player berserk, three dead, game forfeit? More egg on this school’s collective proverbial face? This time it stinks.”

Falconer storms up into Shira’s face and barks, “We have to win any way we can, just like any other team. That’s the way it is, Miss Thomas, whether you like it or not.”

“Anything it takes, yeah. Such as driving football players into complete... steroid... psychosis... just to get even the slightest edge over the competition, all for the sake of the all-important bettors. This was ’roid rage, Major. And it just lost us the game and the last shreds of your potential prestige. Think about it, Major.”

“Get out of my office right this—”

Steroids! Do you know where you get ’em? Of course you do.” Shira leans closer to the vice principal and flashes her a “gotcha” smirk. “Of course, you can’t get ’em through legal channels. After all, they’re banned from sports worldwide. I’d like to know who you got the stuff from. Who knows, I might even know ’em.” She winks.

Falconer gnashes her teeth. “Even if I did anything ‘wrong,’ no one will ever believe you. You simply don’t have the standing.”

“The pull, you mean. Anyway, I’ve done what I came here for, so now I’ll leave.”

Shira spins on her heel. Slowly she strolls to the door. She turns back to smile at Falconer and fire one last Parthian shot. “Consider yourself lucky you were able to keep this in the dark this long. But you’d better hope now that this remains between us.” The smile vanishes. Shira exits the door and slams it.

Honey, be extra careful with Shira Thomas, Alan Fleer had told her. She’s more dangerous than you think. Especially if she finds out about us. She had laughed then. She believed their secret was safe. But for the first time, Honey Sue Falconer realizes the full import of his words. For the first time since she came to Bremerton, she truly knows fear. She takes her iPhone out of her purse and calls him.

outside school. As Shira walks down Thirteenth Street toward downtown, away from the high school, a dark van stops beside her. The window rolls down to reveal a familiar face framed by a familiar shock of bleached blond hair. “Yo! Shira!” shouts a young Japanese woman with a Brazilian accent.

The shock of recognition hits Shira hard. “Arisa?!

Brandi Quinn, still in her blue school uniform, sits behind the driver. “You know ’er?”

“I know her from Japan.”

The van’s sliding door opens. Shira jumps in and sits in the empty seat that Brandi has reserved next to her. In the back seat are two large men in black leather jackets and glasses too dark for the night. “So what’s goin’ on here?”

Brandi answers, “Ever ’eard o’ the Slasher ’Unters?”

“‘Slasher Hunters’? You mean as in, catch psycho killers for money?”

“That’s us.”

Arisa says, “We thought you might wanna join us.”

“Ohhh,” says Shira, “you’ve been scouting me all this time.”

The driver says, “Why don’t we try her out.” English: excellent; accent: Israeli? Lansky? she thinks. “If she can pull of the job, we can let her have the whole bounty.”

“Hmmm... So what do you have in mind?”

“Have you heard of Johnny-Johnny Johnson?” asks the black man in the back seat. And that must be Peck, their leader.

“You mean the ‘Sleeping Beauty Slasher’? Goes through open window or unlocked door, stabs his sleeping victim a bajillion times? Him?”

“That’s the one.”

“Oh, that’s easy.”

Arisa: “Huh?” Lansky: “How’s that?”

Shira grins. “He doesn’t know it, but he’s got one big weakness. What if his intended victim isn’t sleeping?”

20 September 2014
Shira lies in bed in a strange dark room late at night. The night is still warm. The window is open, but not because of the warmth.

She’s expecting someone to arrive. He’s coming for her, and he’s coming through the window. But she doesn’t feel afraid. He doesn’t, either, but he should. She pulls the covers over her head. She doesn’t want him to know what she has in store for him.

The target arrives on schedule. Johnny-Johnny Johnson climbs through the window with the expertise of the professional burglar he wants the cops to think he is. His MO is to enter an open window and stab his sleeping victim till his urge subsides. His signature: he cuts off the victim’s head and takes it as a souvenir. Slowly, silently, he stalks his intended prey. Thinking she’s asleep and can’t hear him, he mutters to himself in a vain attempt to relieve his excitement.

Inside Shira’s head, her brain is working overtime. She likes to outthink her opponent. A strong intuition tells her that this one is comfortable in his killing routine. Patiently she waits for the target to make his move. The bait is the trap, and the trap is set.

As he’s about to jump his prey, Shira flings the covers over him, then kicks him in the chest with both her feet, sending him stumbling backwards toward a collision with the opposite wall. He struggles to tear himself out of the bedcovers. When at last he frees himself, he opens his eyes, only to see that the lights are on and he’s surrounded by three scary-looking men, a black woman in dreadlocks, and a punked-out Japanese kogal, all pointing semiautomatic pistols at him. The chill he feels is not coming from the open window nearby.

Sitting cross-legged on the bed, wearing baby tee and short-shorts, Shira grins at him. “Hiya, Johnny-Johnny! We’re the Slasher Hunters, and you’re our meal ticket!”

21 September 2014
Sunday morning is casual time at the flat which Hope Reston shares with her daughter Shira on the top floor of a downtown Bremerton waterfront condominium. In code, that means they don’t bother to wear any clothes at home, and neither do the people they let in. All the pious Americans are in church worshipping America the Christ, so they are pretty much left to themselves. This morning, Hope and Shira are alone while Aira gets ready to bathe.

Shira comes out of the bathroom drying her hair with a towel, not bothering to wear a towel around her body. She says to Aira back in the bathroom, “Please tell me when you’re done, Ai-chan, so I can come and dry you off.”

“Okay!” says Aira.

Shira strolls by the kitchen where her mother, wearing only a “Piyo Piyo” apron, is frying three bacon and cheese omelettes. She looks into the kitchen and is overwhelmed by the smell. “Mmmmm...” Hope looks at her and smiles. She flings the towel behind her, right into the hamper by the bathroom door, without looking or thinking. Then she turns into the kitchen. Hope suddenly gestures her to stop in the middle of the doorway. She flashes her mother a quizzical look.

Hope smiles. “I want to have a good look at you.” Shira giggles. “You’ve grown so beautiful. I’ll never get tired of looking at you.”

Shira smiles wide and blushes. “I love you, Mom.”

That afternoon, Willa calls and asks them if they can dress up fancy, go out with her and Jennifer, and see a play at the Community Theatre, just across the Warren Avenue Bridge on the east side of town. Karen agrees to drive Shira and Jennifer, and pick up Aira from the Tachibanas’ house. Shira sits Aira on her lap and holds her tight. She also brings Freddy Freakbeak in case the play is bad and the Furby can ruin it with its commentary. As it turns out, that night’ play is bad, and Freddy steals the show.

As Karen drives back toward the bridge, Jennifer says, “I wonder why everybody’s been running so many bad plays lately.”

Shira says, “I don’t think the Confederate government even allows good plays anymore. Distracts from the all-important anvil dropping.” Jennifer groans.

Aira cuddles Freddy in her lap. “Wow” coos the Furby. Aira giggles.

As they drive down the bridge on their way home, Shira spots a familiar figure in a black dress, on the sidewalk mid-span. Leila is looking sad, looking down at the water. Then she puts one leg over the railing...

Shira gasps in horror. “Stop the car NOW!

Karen slams down on the brake pedal. The car skids and spins half sideways. Aira screams. When it stops, Shira bursts out the door and runs out toward Leila as she jumps off the bridge. She leaps over the Jersey barrier, catches the bridge railing between her feet, and reaches her arm out as far as she can — and catches Leila by the hand. They slam against the side of the bridge.

Leila wails, “Let me die! Please let me die!

Shira shouts, “No! I can’t!

Karen and Jennifer pull Shira back up by the legs. Aira, terrified, stares over the railing and holds her breath. When Shira is back up, her cousins take a sobbing Leila by the arm and pull her up and onto the bridge. Shira embraces Leila violently and holds her as tight as she can. Karen and Jennifer let out a massive sigh of relief. Aira jumps and shouts for joy.

The five stunned girls go back to the car and get in, Aira joining Karen in the front seat. Only when Karen gets back behind the wheel does she notice that her car’s blocking southbound traffic and that it’s been running all this time. Jennifer checks the time: it all happened in less than a minute and a half. Leila collapses into Shira’s arms and cries.

“Shira?” sobs Leila.


“Please don’t leave me.”

“Can you stay with me tonight?” Leila nods.

Shira holds her close and kisses her as Karen drives them home.

Interlude: Super Gang Wars
Before the coup of 2012, the voters of several American states chose to legalize marijuana and start putting an end to the Drug Wars that had been ravaging the US for decades. After the coup, President Palin decreed a total and “eternal” ban on illegal drugs, and that the sole penalty for dealing would be death.

This turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to the Mafias. The Imperial Confederate government gave them everything they ever wanted, and then some.

Soon, crime syndicates took control over not just the drug trade, but the alcohol and tobacco industries as well. The draconian censorship régime allowed them to seize control of those parts of the media industry not under direct government control. They built a huge network of slave factories and brothels manned by poor foreigners, war captives, and political prisoners. They created a massive gambling network with which they took control of high-school and college sports altogether and extended their tentacles into even Little League baseball. They developed new and dangerous kinds of recreational drugs and unleashed them onto a jaded and decadent underground counterculture.

Since the Cold War, Dictel Research has been developing drugs for the American military, drugs intended to turn soldiers into supermen. Now the Mafias want to steal Dictel’s secret formulas in the hope that military superdrugs will make them invincible...

on to the next...

Copyright © 2010 Dennis Jernberg. Some rights reserved.
Creative Commons License

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