Friday, August 26, 2011

Issue 2.7 - Dealing with Nova

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"What the hell were you thinking?"

I'm in the passenger seat of Agent Duncan's car, checking Marlowe's gun to see how much ammo I've got. Turns out it was fully loaded.


"You didn't give me a lot of room to improvise," I tell her.

"You blew up your apartment," she says, and then she gets angry. "You laced your own apartment with explosives. Are you fucking insane?! What if--the fire--"

"Taken care of. I've been setting up bombs since I was 12. With the right explosives, I could scramble an egg without cracking the shell."

"Thought you said you don't remember anything back from when you were a killer."

"I still remember the trade." I look back behind us, down the street. Fire engines in the distance. They won't find much to clean up; just the charred, thoroughly drenched remains of my apartment. "You can slow down now. Unless he bugged your car, Marlowe won't find us."

She struggles between staring at me and keeping her eyes on the road. "How do you live like this?"

"I make time between explosions. I need your Agency badge."

"Excuse me?"

"I need it to fix this."

"Just because you saved my life doesn't make us friends."

"You blew my cover. Now I've got to come at this from a different angle. Give me your Agency badge."

"Goddamn it, no. I'm not part of this--this thing you're doing," she says. "I'm just the woman who's turning you in."

"You made yourself part of it when you decided to snoop around my place to see what I was really up to. If it comes up later, tell them I stole it from you."

"I need to report a missing badge immediately."

"I've still got 24 hours before you report me to the Agency, right? Do it then."

"Goddamn it."

Before she can make a decision, my phone starts ringing. Probably Marlowe. I flip it open and bring it to my ear.

"Hello, Marlowe. Liking my place so far?"

A woman laughs on the other end. "Did I interrupt something?"

That's not Marlowe.

"Who is this?" I look at Agent Duncan, then do a quick scan of the road. Is someone following us?

"I'm hurt. You've already forgotten what my voice sounds like?"

Every muscle in my body seizes up all at once. Nerve endings fire up warning flares. A flock of goosebumps flutter down my back.

"Miss July," I say.

Agent Duncan stiffens besides me. "What?" she asks.

"I've been observing your little situation from afar. I hope you don't mind; we like to keep an eye on our valued assets," July says.

"The Miss July? As in, 'member of the Administration' Miss July?" Agent Duncan asks.

I ignore Agent Duncan and focus on the phone. "I'm not an asset anymore."

"Come on, Jack. We both know better," July says. "It's only a matter of time before you get over this whole 'mid-life crisis' of yours and come back in out of the cold."

"Not interested."

"Then I'll make it interesting," she says. "All it takes is one phone-call, and Marlowe will know exactly where to find Jessica. I wouldn't even have to call--a text message would do."

I'm good when it comes to picking up survelliance, but the Administration's got a network of informants that outnumbers the population of some small countries. On top of that, they've got entire satellites on their side.

"This isn't your business," I tell her.

"You're always our business. We want you to do a job."

"I'm not killing anyone."

"This one's easy," she says. "In fact, I'm doing you a favor. It's related to your current case. We want you to kill the man responsible for hiring Marlowe to take out Nova."

Alright. That's different.

"And who would that be?" I ask.

"You already know."

"What, Jimmy Rico?"



"He has his reasons."

"So," I say, trying to get a grasp on all of this. "You want me to kill the guy who's trying to kill Nova. If I don't do it, you'll let his people kill Nova. If I do do it, you'll let Nova live. Is that about the size of it?"


If Jim Rico is responsible for this--for trying to kill Nova, for the hotel bombing, for everything--then he's one slimey son of a bitch, and killing him is very tempting. But that's not my style, not anymore.

"So what's your gameplan here?" I ask. "Going to keep feeding me morally reasonable targets to kill?"

"Oh, no," she says. "Eventually, I'll work you back up to the puppy-stomping."

"You know, when you're trying to seduce someone to the dark side, it helps if you don't actually tell them."

"That's boring," she says. "Besides, we both know you're an addict."

Agent Duncan spares another glance at me. She's been quiet since the beginning of this exchange, just listening. I'm thankful for that, but I'm also worried she's mulling over the wisdom of turning me in right now.

"I'm done with that," I tell July.

"Tell it to your therapist," she says. "What was the line you fed Agent Duncan, again? 'I don't remember any of it'? But you do, don't you? You remember every glorious moment. After our little experiment, you just had a... 'moral lapse'."

My grip on the phone tightens. July doesn't let up.

"It's hard, isn't it? Not killing. Particularly when you're surrounded by so many amateurs. Like whoever did that hotel bombing. Sloppy. Stupid. Unprofessional. That sort of incompetence--it makes you want to hurt someone, doesn't it, Jack?"

"I'm done with that," I repeat. Like a mantra.

"The world's full of morons," she says. "All of them dousing themselves with gasoline. And you? You've got yourself a pack of matches. What's one more sociopath to the fire?"

"Shut up."

"You've got a day to take out the trash. We'll be in touch."

She hangs up. I suck in a long breath, then turn to Agent Duncan.

"I need your badge," I tell her. "And some explosives."


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  1. Awesome story, as always.

    I wonder though. Does he know how to make pocket nukes? Once you get past the rarity of the materials, making something like the W72 warhead (20 kilos weight, kiloton-range) would be fairly easy. The tech is over half a century old after all.

  2. I doubt it. Even when he was a killer, Jack preferred precise, surgical explosions rather than the wildly powerful high-end stuff. Part of his rage at the hotel bombing is because of all the innocents killed--but there's also some part of him that feels contempt at the sheer brutal imprecision.

    Also, thanks!

  3. Heh. Precision over brute force is an argument as old as war itself. Though with the kind of tech comic universes have, it can be a moot point.

    For example, a laser warhead is a nuke surrounded by lasing rods that harness the power of the nuclear explosion into terawatt-class lasers for a couple milliseconds. With laser warhead technology you can actually target and control the energy of a nuclear weapon. And the power you channel into those lasers it's still the energy of an atomic detonation. Would even a guy like Sovereign (your world's version of Superman, right?) survive something like that without serious wounds?

  4. Sovereign's more Captain Marvel than Superman (his origins are, like Marvel's, magic-based); as to whether or not he'd survive a laser-beam powered by a nuclear blast, I honestly have no clue!

  5. Speaking as a comics fan who is also a physicist, to compare events, powers and effects, I use energy.

    The energy a human-sized target would take from a kiloton-level atomic detonation if they were standing right next to the bomb itself is about the same to the energy needed to hurl a locomotive into orbit or jump the same weight across a continent - something Superman and other such superheroes have been shown as able to do in a single action. So, a punch from Superman would do more damage because that kind of energy is concentrated on a fist-sized area rather than spread out over the entire body though. Thus a kiloton-level nuke can cause pain but not any kind of lasting harm to Superman-level guys.
    A megaton-level nuke delivers a thousand times more energy. So if Superman is standing right next to it when it blows, it would feel to him like he's punched by his own strength all across his body.
    The Tsar Bomba could go up to 100 megatons for its variable yield warhead. That kind of nuclear weapon could potentially kill Superman outright if he's standing right next to it. It can crush railway cars like a 200-pound man stepping on beercans up to five miles away from ground zero and it can obliterate 99% of all buildings up to 15 miles from ground zero. It's the kind of weapon you use when you want to level mt. Everest in a single blow.

  6. @ Belial
    Yes indeed, Tsar Bomba could do Superman some harm....but, for a little more finesse, how about combining the detonation with a magnetic focussing system, similar to the nuclear mines in David Drake's RCN series? Concentrating that much power (or at least a portion of it), should make for a messier kill....and the expected look of shock on his face as he realises someone has managed to burn a whacking great hole through his chest satisfies my need for comedic effect........

    (for readers not familiar with the concept, the mine in question is a static anti-spacecraft weapon - large nuke inside a magnetic containment shell. Mine trips, nuke detonates, and in the fraction of a second before the shell is consumed, it harnesses a portion [~20%] of the output into a focussed beam of toasty nuclear death....)

  7. Sadly, magnetic containment won't work for full-blown nuclear explosions, as opposed to a slow fusion reactor. 90% of the blast's energy escapes as gamma radiation which the magshield won't stop and another 6% is neutrons and neutrinos, which are electrically neutral and again won't be stopped. And because the gamma rays are a lot faster than even electrons, let alone heavier charged particles, they're going to seriously fry your magshield generator before it works on whatever energy the field would affect.
    However, three ways exist to harness nuclear explosions; the lasing rods I mentioned above, a paragravity generator producing gravitic lenses, and a shaped nuclear charge - i.e. shaping the explosion itself so it mostly goes the way you want it to.

    There are, of course, more complex and exotic ways to shape a thermonuclear detonation in fantasy such as parachronic fields, nuclear dampers, or a big cylinder made of unbreakable material that works as a cannon. By the time however you learn to shape the Strong and Weak fundamental forces or are capable of temporal manipulation, nuclear weapons strart to look like second-rate firecrackers.

  8. You know it's serious when the pyro runs out of explosions ;)

  9. Is there an update schedule so I don't have to check every day?

  10. Aww, it's always sad when I catch up to the latest chapter.

    Great story, will definitely be waiting on the edge of my seat for the next one.

  11. Hippo? Is this one done?

  12. R.I.P. Notorious?

  13. Aw man, I just discovered this!

  14. Oh man, it stopped there? Fuck!