Artifice Comics Presents…
BENTO BOX #20
[Adrian J. Turner, Gregory Hernandez, *]and[ Jacob Milnestein*]
The moral rights of Gregory Hernandez, Adrian J. Turner, and Jacob Milnestein to be identified as the Authors of this Work have been asserted in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in 2017 by
This version published by smashwords
Editor-in-Chief Jason S. Kenney
Cover design © Adrian J. Turner 2017
Libre Para Luchar: Everybody Needs a Vacation, ¿Am I Right? © Gregory Hernandez
[_Dual: Origin Final _]© Adrian J. Turner 2017
[_from laughing and not being normal _]& [_A _]© Jacob Milnestein 2017
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used factiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
&From Laughing and Not Being Normal& by Jacob Milnestein
&Dual: Origin Final& by Adrian J. Turner
&Libre Para Luchar: Everybody Needs a Vacation, Am I Right?& by Gregory Hernandez [_ _]
&A& by Jacob Milnestein
North London, date of publication: _]May, 2016, [_author unknown –
The old man who runs the stall doesn’t like me. That’s the impression I get. Despite the fact that Millennials are kinda his target audience, he doesn’t know what to say whenever I see him down by the market. It’s his fault really. He’s the one selling all of that old superhero junk, the stuff you can get in places like Escapade and other fancy dress shops but costs like a bomb. His stuff is like cheap Chinese or Korean knock-offs, and the material is really bad, but it’s affordable, and I think that he was betting it would be a good way to make some money before word got out and he actually met a Millennial.
I’ve been there a few times now. I mean, I’m always in Camden, so it’s not a big deal. I used to live in Holloway. I don’t really go home anymore though – there’s no point.
Anyway, this old guy, I really don’t think he likes me because he always gives me like the nastiest glare, and I can’t help but think, what, are you stupid, because I can’t be the only person like me who comes here; because if you sell this stuff, then we’re going to come here, so seriously, stop being a dick about it.
It’s the Millennium Man stuff, the costumes they make in like Guangzhou or something, they always get me. Not that I ever really liked Millennium Man, I was never into that kind of stuff; hero worship.
Some kids become superheroes because they see something traumatic when they’re young involving supers. They say that Magenta the Magician—the old one, but not the really old one—joined the New Mages because he saw Millennium Man—the old, old one, not the other one—fighting outside of his bedroom window when he was kid. Stuff like that didn’t happen on Holloway Road. Living in N7, you could be forgiven for thinking that the whole superhero thing was something that happened somewhere else; something that happened to other people. When I was a kid, I was more interested in My Little Pony—oh, and [_Crash Bandicoot _]on the PS1. I really liked that. My older brother had a copy of that. I didn’t think about superheroes though, because I didn’t really have time. We all grew up in a tiny house just behind Morrisons, in that weird space that is like the furthest part of Holloway and almost Seven Sisters. I went to school at Holloway School on Hilldrop Road, which is Tuffers, as far as I’m concerned. I like that about Holloway though, it’s always pointing towards over places; Arch in one direction, Tuffers in another, and Seven Sisters and Finsbury Park creeping up behind like a spooky ghost.
I wasn’t interested in being a superhero because I was already off the rails before I was 12-years-old. Kids like me, kids who couldn’t get comfortable in their own skin, they didn’t become superheroes, because being a superhero kind of meant not only being okay with who you were but also being okay with hiding that away.
I was terrible at hiding away who I was. I wanted to scream every time I had to dress a certain way, act a certain way. It was horrible. You could be forgiven for thinking that maybe my family were really horrible about this, but they were actually really, really lovely, really supportive, so I feel a bit guilty about the fact that I never go home anymore. But you’ve got to fly the nest sometime, right? And when I flew the nest, my feet literally left the ground.
So, anyway, the old man who runs the stall in Camden with all of these knock-off superhero costumes, he really doesn’t like me. I think at first he didn’t like me because he didn’t know what I was, pearls and fake leopard print coat, flat chest and skinny jeans. After that, when I was out as a Millennial, he didn’t like me because he knew exactly what I was and it scared the shit out of him.
Adrian J. Turner
It would be months before scientists would be able to determine why the moon dimmed that night. In a hidden laboratory, half-flooded with water, blood and the floating organs of dozens of vivisected young people, Kye Prentice recoiled from the purple fish-faced monster called Thunder Salmon—but he did not recoil from the silver and white tendrils that flicked through the air to latch onto his body, ensconcing him in a glaring cocoon.
He looked around him and saw the walls and ceiling awash with ripples which he knew he had seen once before, when Thunder Salmon marched unimpeded through the walls of Kye’s own bedroom. It was through those bizarre apertures that the tendrils protruded in their mission to reach Kye. He welcomed their touch—something inside him told him that he should not be afraid.
With a sudden flash the tendrils disappeared, and the cocoon that surrounded him crumbled into nothingness. He knew something about him had drastically changed but, watching Thunder Salmon carefully in case the misshapen beast struck out at him again, Kye did not have the chance to see what it was.
“It worked!” he heard a woman’s voice ejaculate behind him. “I don’t know how, but it
“Impossible,” a man’s voice, also behind him, stated simply. “We did not complete the process. The implant was not deposited.”
“Never mind that!” the woman said. As they spoke, Thunder Salmon stopped moving and eyed Kye bemusedly. “Thunder Salmon, your services will not be required tonight.”
The fish-monster shrugged. “Your call.”
“Oh, boy boy boy!” the woman exclaimed. She rushed forward and embraced Kye. He pulled forward and she loosened her grip. He finally had the chance to look down at his own transformed body. He was clad from neck to feet in silver armor, marked only at the joins with black plates. At his left hip was a long, sharp, curved blade—a scimitar, he believed it was called.
“My darling boy!” the woman exclaimed again. “There is something special about you.”
It was more a physical sensation than a thought, but Kye knew that something was seriously wrong. It wasn’t the existence of Thunder Salmon, a purple man-beast that should not ever exist. It wasn’t the ecstatic-but-mysterious cloaked woman, or the man in the blood-spattered lab coat. It wasn’t the slowly-receding floodwaters that had seemingly been conjured out of nothingness. It wasn’t even the mutilated corpses on the metal tables all around him. It was something more… ethereal.
“Project: Beamer Ultra is a success,” the man was now speaking into a Dictaphone. “We will cast—hey!”
Kye hadn’t even realized he’d moved… but as the man was speaking, Kye had bolted forward and taken the Dictaphone in his hand, crushing it with one easy squeeze.
“What did you people do to me?” Kye asked. He barely recognized his own voice. It was deeper, and more menacing.
The man shook his head. “We improved you. We took you from nothing, and made you a champion of our cause.”
“What cause?” Kye asked.
“You’ll find out soon enough,” the woman answered. “And you will love it.” She raised a hand, her palm facing Kye. “Giin maga.”
Kye felt a strange sensation wash over him. It was neither pleasant nor unpleasant. It was numbing, but not in a physical way. He felt his mind clouding over, all his fear and anger being washed away. Somehow, though, he knew the effect was bad.
He stumbled forward, groping for the wall… and in moments his mind was clear. Once his senses were regained he looked around him and realized he was outside. He turned back and could see a brightly-lit building behind him. He guessed that that was where he had just come from, but how he got outside he did not know.
“Look how easily the powers come to him,” he heard the woman say. “It’s remarkable. But we may need to restrain him before I can complete the mental processing.”
Kye faced forward again and saw the man, woman and Thunder Salmon standing calmly ahead of him. With a gesture from the man, Thunder Salmon began stalking forward. As the space between him and Kye closed, one of Thunder Salmon’s purple, human-like arms crackled with white and silver lightning; the other foamed with small crests of lapping water, like the flesh itself was rippling with waves.
“Hurt him if you must,” the man said. “Just don’t cripple him.”
Thunder Salmon smiled—or, at least, that’s what Kye thought the monster was doing as the scales in its fish-face parted to reveal rows of sharp teeth. Instinctively, Kye reached for the curved blade at his side.
“Lunar Crescent!” he shouted, swinging the blade forward.
There was a bright flash, and Kye was sure he was dead. He was certain that Thunder Salmon had struck—that in an instant he’d feel the crackle of the beast’s electricity coursing through him, rendering him at least unconscious, but more likely much worse, despite what the man had told his minion. But no such fate came. Instead, Thunder Salmon collapsed—and more, as the beast hit the ground it exploded in a mighty eruption of sparks and flame.
Beyond the flame, both the man and woman were thrown backwards, striking the grassy ground several feet behind where they had been standing. The woman’s face remained largely obscured by her cloak, but as the pair scrambled back to their feet Kye could clearly distinguish concern from the man’s features.
“Sister, cast your sp— !”
“Are you mad, Brother?!” the woman shouted. “We underestimated his power. We must retreat, and plan.” She pulled back her cloak to reveal soft white skin, gentle features and a mane of hip-length blonde hair. “But we will return, Ultra! Count on that!”
With a gesture, the air itself began to ripple as the walls had only minutes earlier. The ripples grew to envelop the man and woman, then shrank to pinpoints and ultimately vanished, taking the man and woman with them.
Kye was alone. And very confused.
It was shortly after dawn before Kye finally made his way home. The strange armor that had cloaked him in the early morning had abruptly disappeared as the sun began to peek over the horizon. But the sun was not the only light changing his life—outside his house were a pair of alternating lights, one red, one blue.
He looked to his front door and saw his parents. His father held his mother close as a police officer made her way down the driveway, tucking a notebook into her pocket. By the time he reached the house the police officer had returned to her car and driven away.
“Mum! Dad!” he called out as his parents began to turn back into their house. His mother rushed inside, ignoring his outcry, but his father turned back and looked at him curiously.
“Dad!” Kye called again as he ran up the driveway towards his father. “You won’t believe—”
“Who are you?” Kye’s father asked.
“You heard me. Who are you? Is this a joke?”
Kye shook his head. “Dad, what are you talking about? It’s me, Kye!”
Kye’s father reached out with an open hand and slapped his son hard across the face. “I don’t know who the hell you are, but this isn’t funny. You’re not my son.”
As Kye’s father finished speaking, Kye could see his mother hurrying down the corridor towards them.
“Go away, you monster!” she shouted. “You’re not our son! Our son is dead!”
Libre Para Luchar
Everybody Needs a Vacation, Am I Right?
It’s not just that they look like weird little bald hairless puppies when they’re small, it’s that smell, my God, who knew we were that smelly when we were kids. Am I right? Do you have kids of your own? Oh yeah? Right!
But it’s also the fact that you have to keep taking off their little wrapping and putting powder and lotion on so they don’t chafe. So it’s down below and up top. And at the rate they grow—I though keeping up with baby shoes was bad, those little hoodies or facies or whatever-you-call-ems. Am I right? I know, right?
I’m not complaining at all, though. No, sir. I know luck when I see it, and I’m a lucky man. And junior, he’s a good kid, and after a while the smell ain’t so bad. It was like when I met my wife. I could tell right away she was classy. From far away. I could just tell. We help and support each other. I was real lucky to meet her. And I know it. Especially it turns out that her father is in the same industry I was looking to get into. He had some really good connections in the business. And she and I, we’ve done really good for ourselves. And I realize that, I do. I’m not complaining.
It’s not that things are bad, don’t get me wrong. I’d be a fool to think that, am I right? … Right! I’m not saying that. It’s just that sometimes you need to get away from it all. Unwind, stop having to show the same face so the world all the time. Or even the same faces. After a while they all seem grey and tired. Like they accumulate dust just from time passing. Like electronics. You can dust and dust and it’s like they never come clean. Unless you stop using them.
All I’m saying is that it’s nice to come to a place like this, unwind, and just be myself. Get comfortable. Still, I guess it’s time to face reality once again. Am I right?
What’s that? Yeah, sure, I’ll lock up, no problem. Soon as I’m done here. Like I say, it feels good to get away once a year, relax unwind, let the world see your true face. Relaxing. But it also feels good when it’s all over. When it’s time to pack it in. Good to do it once a year, but it also feels good when it’s time to put away the vacation face. Fold it up and put it away for another year. Get back to the real me underneath.
by[* Jacob Milnestein*]
“Do you remember when we first met?”
The sound of the elevator resounded in the small space in which they stood, Sam with their blue eyes like the neighboring ocean, their cropped blonde hair and tight-fitting uniform, and Nix, a contrast in their own uniform, dark hair cut close to the scalp into a Mohican, hazel eyes full of intensity.
They nodded, smiling slightly despite themself.
“It was in Atlanta,” they said, as if it was a test, as if their place on the island depended on being able to recall the facts as they had happened. The smile widened. “G-d, what the hell were you doing in Atlanta, Sam?”
The other shrugged, and Nix became aware of how well-toned their young body was, the suggestion of muscle beneath the costume, and, in their loins, they felt a stirring, a desire to ride out their passion on top of them until they were both sweating and sated.
“Looking for you, I guess,” Sam answered, smiling playfully.
Nix shook their head.
“Well, you found me,” they answered.
“Yeah, you and a bunch of angry truckers. Jeez, the trouble you got yourself into, I never understood how you did it.”
“Still do,” they answered, sneaking another furtive glance at the firmness of the other’s physique.
“It’s a talent,” Sam laughed, as the elevator continued to rise, steel and iron surrounding them, open to the air, carrying them up to the landing platform and affording a view of the bright blue Pacific Ocean.
Bright blue, they thought, just like Sam’s eyes.
How could something so beautiful exist in a place where so many people had died?
As if sensing their doubt, Sam reached out, fingertips gently touching their own.
“You having second thoughts?”
“For a moment, I did,” they convinced, “after Atlantic City, and all that stuff that Team B pulled. But I have to keep telling myself it was for the greater good. If anyone knew what we were, I mean what we really were—”
“They’d shut us down faster than you could say gee willerkers.”
Nix laughed out loud, reaching out and wrapping their fingers around Sam’s.
“That’s because no one says gee willerkers anymore, Sam.”
The other grinned sheepishly and laughed.
“Oh yeah, I guess not.”
Nix liked that about Sam, liked the fact that they were so unabashedly old-fashioned. They liked the fact that Sam could have been a quarterback in high school, probably had been a quarterback; they liked the strength and the compassion, the curve of their butt in the tight-fitting costume. And they liked to think about the other’s cock, liked to imagine it hard and erect, aching and ready; ready to enter them, to push through into the space where every day Nix shaved to keep their body as free of hair as possible.
They liked the idea of possessing Sam’s cock, of owning it, of drawing it deep inside, they liked how different it made Sam’s body despite their similarities. Secretly, Nix celebrated these little differences between them, the little things that made them individuals, free of the roles that would have been imposed upon before the island, before Atlantic City.
In some ways, they knew something like Atlantic City had to happen. For them to be free, for them to be who they had to be, there had to be a revolution, and like old Winters had said in that book, the only true revolution existed in the complete deconstruction of the previous model.
People needed to understand. And when they did, then they could stop. But until then—
The elevator panel pinged softly and the doors opened before them, revealing in fuller detail the brightness of the sun before them and the ocean that stretched out for as far as the eye could see.
Sam tightened their grip about Nix’s hand.
“You ready for this?” they asked.
Nix smiled, calm and gentle.
“I’ve been ready all my life.”
The other nodded.
“Then this is it,” they said, “this is our debut.”
On the platform ahead, Nix could make out the figures of the others, each of them dressed in their own uniform; Alex, Courtney, Aoi.
“For this day onwards, this is who we are,” Sam continued.
They nodded, feeling the sun warming the dark complexion of their face.
“New Mages,” they said proudly. “New Mages Team A.”
A[*drian J. Turner *]is an author from Melbourne, Australia. Primarily writing tokusatsu-themed fiction, Adrian has also dabbled in more general superhero fiction, as well as crime and non-fiction. Adrian loves [_Super Sentai _]and [_Kamen Rider _]and thinks AkaRed is the greatest guy ever.
The author of the novels The Burning Lands and The Infinite Eye, Gregory Hernandez has also been a soldier, poet, musician, graphic artist, and programmer. As a writer, his work has appeared in anthologies from Pro Se, Artifice Comics, and Space Buggy Press, among others.
J[*acob Milnestein *]hates you.
[_“Loco rides with loco,” Virgil chided. “You could have hung back in Tombstone, Jim. Or ridden onto Tucson with Stillwell.” _]
Filled to the brim with tales both wild and weird, PSYCHOBILLY is a homage to the genre tropes of the Western as depicted on television and in print. Collecting together stories of wandering national deities, corrupt mansions, unspeakable underground horrors, and pacts with the Devil himself, this volume celebrates the stoic steadfastness of lawmen and outlaws in the face of the arcane and the obscene.
Featuring the work of Greg Rosa (Dreamer’s Syndrome: New World Navigation), Adrian J. Watts (Guardian Force Roboman), Matthew Cavazos (Ars Magna: Talisman), Tommy Hancock (YesterYear), Jason S. Kenney (Bush43 Vol. 1: Oh, the Lameity) and PSYCHOPOMP stalwarts, C.S. Roberts (Faux Past) and John Brown, this collection is the latest in a series of speculative works from Mysteria Press recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison.
Do you, as Nada Surf once sung, wanna know what it's like on the inside of love? Well here at Artifice Comics, we can't promise you that, no matter how close to Valentine's Day we are, but we can promise you a vacation without a mask and an understanding of what it's like on the inside... of a lunar power infused suit of armour! We're good like that! Featuring the work of Gregory Hernandez (Dreamer’s Syndrome: New World Navigation), and Adrian J. Turner (Guardian Force Roboman), this collection is the latest in a series of mini-anthologies from Artifice Comics recommended for fans of lucha libre wrestling and tokusatsu metal heroes!