Artifice Comics Presents…
BENTO BOX #19
[Jason S. Kenney, Steve Carr, Gregory Hernandez, Adrian J. Watts, *]and[ Jacob Milnestein*]
The moral rights of Jason S. Kenney, Steve Carr, Gregory Hernandez, Adrian J. Watts, 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 2016 by
This version published by Shakespir
Editor-in-Chief Jason S. Kenney
Cover design © Adrian J. Watts 2016
Carrie Fisher portrait © Allstar/Lucasfilm/Sportsphoto Ltd. 1977
[_Post Modern: Millennial Lad _]&[_Post Modern: Millennium Man _]© Jason S. Kenney 2016
Artifacts © Steve Carr 2016
Libre Para Luchar: Sancificado y El Enmanscarado en “El Castillo del Profesor Sin Cara” © Gregory Hernandez
[_Stellar Guardian Southern Cross _]© Adrian J. Watts 2013 – 2016
Pink Ranger © Jacob Milnestein 2016
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.
&Post Modern: Millennial Lad& by Jason S. Kenney
&Artifacts& by Steve Carr
&Libre Para Luchar: Sancificado y El Enmanscarado en “El Castillo del Profesor Sin Cara”& by Gregory Hernandez [_ _]
&Stellar Guardian Southern Cross &by Adrian J. Watts
&Post Modern: Millennium Man& by Jason S. Kenney
&Pink Ranger& by Jacob Milnestein
In memory of Carrie Fisher
October 21, 1956 – December 27, 2016
Jason S. Kenney
Alex Custer stared at himself in the full-length mirror and sighed. It didn’t look the way he had imagined it. The strap that held the domino mask to his face was too lose, his t-shirt was too tight over the long sleeve shirt underneath, the iron-on logo was crooked by just a tad. He felt awkward and looked like a fool.
“Damn it,” he muttered to himself, tearing the mask off his head and throwing it to the floor.
His mother’s voice came up from downstairs. Dinner was ready, had been ready, and wasn’t getting any more ready.
He took the t-shirt off and pushed up his sleeves as he left his bedroom and went downstairs. The house wasn’t much, a row house well past its prime. A two bedroom not big enough for the three people that lived there in addition to his mom’s craft projects that supplemented their government issued checks.
Alex dodged one of the cats and slunk past his mom’s craft table to get to the dining room where dinner was waiting.
“Now it’s cold,” his mom said as he reached the table and sat across from his little brother Kevin who fidgeted in his seat.
“I’m sure it’s still good, Mom,” he said.
His mom held out her hands and he took one, his brother taking the other. Kevin and Alex rested their hands on the table, grasping at the air toward the fourth, empty chair where a place had been set. They all prayed at once.
“Bless us oh Lord and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ, our Lord, amen.”
Kevin picked up his silverware and went to town as Alex glanced at the empty chair and sighed before turning to his meal.
“How was school today?”
“We studied the plague,” Kevin said before stuffing a forkful of potatoes in his mouth. “Black death!”
“Don’t talk with food in your mouth,” Alex said as he cut at his chicken.
“Alex, I need you to pick up a few things for me tomorrow afternoon from Wilkins.”
“Tomorrow? Mom, I kinda had plans…”
“Well, they can wait until after you come home with some fabric.”
“It’s a study group, Mom. Right after school. Algebra’s kicking my tail so I need the help.”
“How long is it going to go on?”
“As long as I need to be there to feel like I can pass Mr. Miller’s test.”
“You might be there all night.” His mom smiled at him and he smirked.
“Yeah, yeah. But I’m trying.”
“I know you are. Then Wednesday.”
“Okay, I can get it on Wednesday.”
“And your grandfather needs help clearing out the attic still.”
“I’m sorry, I forgot…”
“It’s okay, but he didn’t. Maybe this weekend?”
“Good. Kevin, elbows off the table.”
“Can I go to Mark’s after dinner,” Alex asked, working on his food.
“Is his mother home?”
“I think so.”
“If I call over there and ask to speak with her will I get her?”
“Okay, but I want you home by ten.”
“And not a minute later.”
“And I want your elbows off the table, Kevin!”
Alex was sure to help clean up after dinner, partly to be a good son, mainly to not give his mother any reason to suspect anything. Not that she would, she trusted him when he said he’d be somewhere and he was sure to be home when he had to be. But better safe than sorry.
“Be back at ten!” she shouted after him when he was headed out the door.
“Okay, Mom. Love ya!”
He knew she’d shout it back but didn’t hear her through the closing door.
He pulled the hood up on his sweatshirt and huddled down as he walked down the block. The streets were busy as he expected them to be, but he tried to go unnoticed as he put distance between himself and home.
A few blocks away he turned down an alley and walked halfway down before ducking between a couple dumpsters. He stuck his head out to look both ways and make sure no one else was in the alley, that no one was looking, and he found he was clear.
He flipped his hood back and looked up to find a clear view of the sky.
He took a deep breath, nodded to himself, then lifted off and straight into the air.
“9:55 on the dot.”
Alex froze at the voice, his hands just inches from removing the goggles on his face.
“Three to four nights a week, just about every week, for how long now?”
He slowly turned to see a smiling man walking toward him from the other side of the rooftop.
“I mean, I’ve only been watching for about five months, but I’m betting you’ve been active a lot longer than that.”
“Can I help you?” Alex asked, straightening up, tightening his fists at his side, trying not to let his nerves show as he silently cursed himself.
Twelve months. A whole year he’d been doing this. He’d gotten lazy. That’s the only thing that could put this man up here, on top of his home, putting his identity at risk.
“How old are you? Sixteen? Seventeen?”
“That’s none of your business,” Alex said as the man stopped just a few feet from him.
“Could even be fifteen.” The man continued to smile as he studied Alex. “You’ve probably shat yourself by now, eh?” Alex didn’t answer. “I mean, here I am, on your roof, saying hello like we’re old friends. Do I know who you really are? Do I know how big of a family you’ve got downstairs? Do I know where you go to school? If you have a girlfriend? A boyfriend?”
The man laughed once, short, loud, and shook his head. “Not yet. But I could if I wanted to. And that’s your problem, kiddo. Because if I could, you can be sure as hell some other folks would if they really, really wanted to.”
“I can handle it.”
“The look in your eyes right now is saying otherwise. Unless ‘oh, shit’ is how you’d handle it.”
A pause where neither budged, the man still smiling, Alex still tense.
“Relax, kid, I’m here to help.” The man held out a hand. “I’m Jeffery Carter, your new sensei.”
The man chuckled. “You really do have a lot to learn.”
“Hey, Mrs. C.”
Alex rushed past her as he entered the house and made a straight line to the kitchen.
“Hello, Alex,” she called after him but he was already gone. She turned back to the open door and the sheepish looking man standing there.
“Sorry,” Jeffery said with a smirk and a shrug.
“You boys been getting into trouble?”
Jeffery shook his head as he stepped in and closed the door. “He showed up a bit after five but all we did was food and talk.”
“Well, as much as a seventeen-year-old talks. I think it’s trouble at school.”
“Lois know he’s here?”
Jeffery nodded and reached out to take his wife’s hand, pulling it up to his lips and kissing it.
“You didn’t have to stay up, Molly,” he said, his free hand moving to her pregnant stomach.
“You know I can’t sleep when—”
“I know.” Jeffery leaned in and kissed her on the forehead.
“Showed up around five?” she asked, getting an affirmative grunt from Jeffery. “When did he leave New York?”
“Said he left at about three thirty.” He was looking past Molly now, to the kitchen and the sound of a fridge being raided.
“An hour and a half to here?” Here being the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. “He’s faster.”
“He is,” Jeffery said. She reached up and touched his cheek, getting his attention back to her.
“What’s wrong, Jeffery?”
“Lois is worried about him. I’m worried about him. He’s not just a kid anymore, Moll, but he’s got so much left to learn.”
“Hey, come on. He’s got you.”
“No,” Jeffery said. “This,” he touched her face, “and this,” he touched her stomach.
“There’s plenty of you to go around,” she said, kissing him on the forehead. “I’m going to bed. You boys don’t stay up too late.”
Alex watched as Jeffery hugged his sobbing wife tight, their house burning in the background, the remains of a corpse smoking on their front lawn.
“Never again,” Jeffery said as she clutched him back.
“Good work, son,” said a suit that stepped up next to Alex.
“Yeah,” was all Alex could muster.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t important.”
Jeffery looked back to his wife holding their daughter.
Alex looked over Johann Weisz’s shoulder to Molly then looked away from her glare.
He was against this. Alex and Ashley had voted to leave Jeffery alone.
But the rest of the group, the older heroes, they insisted.
“You’re going to go, aren’t you?” Molly said, less a question, more an accusation.
Jeffery turned back to Weisz and Alex.
“I need a moment,” he said, and he closed the door.
The plane shook through a patch of turbulence, the rattling inside the only sound as the passengers sat silent.
Alex’s eyes were locked on Jeffery who sat away from the group, hunched over, staring into his hands.
Emmett Porter looked around at the rest of the team’s sour faces and shook his head.
“What the hell, guys?” Emmet shouted, getting everyone’s attention except Jeffery’s. “We won!”
“Emmett, c’mon,” said Weisz, glancing to Jeffery before turning back to Emmett. “Not now.”
“Jeffery!” Emmett said, getting no response. “Jeffery!” he shouted louder. Jeffery slowly looked up to him. “You were the unstoppable force, man!”
“Emmett,” Weisz said again, but he was ignored.
“That guy, that guy was an immovable object. And you clobbered him!”
Cassandra Trellis stood up and stepped into Emmett’s face. “Stop it,” she snarled.
Emmett looked from her to Jeffery who had gone back to studying his hands then around to the rest of the passengers who wouldn’t meet his gaze. Weisz reached up and held Cassandra’s hand, getting her attention and gently pulling her back her seat.
“Goddamn it, guys,” he shouted, “this was a win! We’re acting like someone died.”
“Someone did die,” Eldritch said, staring at Jeffery.
“Yeah, the bad guy!” Emmett looked for back up and couldn’t find it. “Shit, Jeffery, c’mon, how often does someone get to kill a clone?”
“Damn it, Emmett,” said Weisz, now standing to face him, “not now.”
“He wasn’t a clone,” said Ashley Benson, the youngest of the group, getting everyone’s attention, even Jeffery’s. “You guys heard him.”
“Bad guys say shit,” said Emmett.
“Sometimes they say truthful shit.” Weisz hadn’t sat down but turned his attention back to Jeffery. “How many more do you think the IM brought?”
Jeffery shrugged and took a deep breath.
“However many she brought,” he finally spoke, clenching his blood-soaked hands, “we’ll have to take care of them.”
“That’s my man!” said Emmett, pushing past Weisz and slapping Jeffery on the back. “This is a win, damnit!”
“It’s not a win, Emmy,” said Jeffery with a sigh. “It’s just necessary.”
Alex was the first one off the plane, not even waiting for the ramp to finish lowering. The whole situation was too much. The tension from start to finish. They should never have bothered Jeffery, should never have forced him into that situation. Because now he was back. Because now he wanted more.
Alex froze as he noticed a suit was waiting for them across the tarmac, standing alone with his hands behind his back. Alex recognized Mr. Hines and his presence didn’t bode well.
The rest of the team quietly exiting the aircraft, Jeffery taking up the rear, head hung low, looking exhausted.
“Mission accomplished!” shouted Emmett to Hines, holding up a hand for a high five that was never given. “Alright, alright…” Emmett lowered his hand and walked past Hines, waiving off the rest of the group. “I’ll let the gloom patrol here tell you all about how we saved the day.”
Hines cleared his throat and looked past the team to Jeffery.
“Jeffery,” he said, the sound of his voice catching everyone’s attention, the cracking, the sorrow.
Jeffery looked up to Hines and saw something in his face. His exhaustion was gone.
Hines swallowed hard.
I mostly listened as Bob spun the tale that made up his life, his eyes darting from side to side, watching everyone around him. His favorite color was brown, he was always dressed in some variation of it, and always wore a brown fedora.
Seeing other patients from the psych ward for any reason was frowned upon. However, this Dim Sum restaurant was the only place we met after he had been discharged from the hospital so I saw no harm in it.
When he did tell me about the secret he claimed he had told no one else there was a certain gravity in his voice that I had not heard before.
“My two friends and I traveled up the Mindanao River by ferry where we met a man who was able to take us further up the river by a small motor boat to where the river turned into the Pulangi River. There on a muddy river bank along a flying insect infested and crocodile filled stretch of the Pulangi we met up with a retired Philippine Army Colonel, a man with the last name Bugarin, who wanted only a portion of what the treasure we sought would bring on an international market. Colonel Bugarin led us inland for many miles down a barely recognizable path through thick brush until we came to a large clearing in the middle of which was a stone marker with a figure of a snake etched into it.”
As Bob talked he had been scrawling something on a napkin, using a felt tip pen and drawing a precise map to where he had gone on the river about 140 miles up the Mindanao and Pulangi, marking on the napkin key landmarks. He drew a circle and inside the circle he made an x, placed the cap on the pen and tapped the circle to be certain that I knew its significance.
“The Colonel told us this was where to dig and we did so, shoveling aside a few feet of dirt before we unearthed a large metal box. We all huddled around the box as the Colonel opened it. The contents were religious artifacts, antiquities, pure gold with inlaid precious stones. I knew it would bring us an amazing degree of wealth, and we shook the Colonel’s hand, closed the box and buried it where it had been. The plan was made to return in a month once the deal was made with interested buyers to sell the precious artifacts.
We returned to the Philippines a month later with the large sum of money to be paid to Colonel Bugarin. As before we hired a boat and headed up the river and once again met Colonel Bugarin who took us the rest of the way to the site. Once we arrived at the site it was there that Colonel Bugarin turned his gun on us and demanded we give him the money we had brought along. It was obvious he had no intention of giving up the treasure, or letting us leave alive.
One of my companions was shot as he attempted to jump Colonel Bugarin and died instantly. As Colonel Bugarin raised his gun and aimed it at me, my other companion attacked him, and, in the fight, my other companion turned Colonel Bugarin’s gun on him and shot and killed him, but not before also sustaining a gunshot to the abdomen that was certainly going to lead to his death. In the rain, I quickly built a lean-to near the treasure marker and attempted to ease my companion’s pain during that stormy night, but he died in terrible pain. Unable to carry the box of treasure myself I bundled up the money and made my way back to the boat and guided it as best I could downriver through what had become treacherous waters. It overturned and sank about fifty miles upriver from where those terrible events had taken place. The money was lost as was everything else I needed for survival.
I was lucky enough to make it to shore where I was found unconscious by some locals, but sick with fatigue and shock, and over a period of a few weeks was nursed back to health. It was there I learned that associates of Colonel Bugarin were looking for him, and that my own life was in danger, me being the last person known to have seen him. I escaped from the Philippines with knowledge of the treasure and what had happened. Colonel Bugarin’s associates have been looking for me ever since, I’m sure of it.”
Two men sat at the table next to ours. Bob abruptly stood and said that we couldn’t be seen together ever again, that both our lives were now in danger. He then fled the diner leaving me with the napkin. I picked it up and stuffed it in my pocket and left.
On the Mindanao River, I sit in the bow of a small boat and listen to the cries of the birds in the trees and the hum of the motor at the stern of the boat that propels us forward. The air is thick with insects making a quick feast of my blood. My two companions, the driver and a guide, seem immune to the bugs and sit quietly, one in the middle of the boat and the other maneuvering the motor, staring forward past me.
Wearing a brown shirt Bob that had given me, with the wrinkled and sweat stained napkin in a shirt pocket, I am looking for the place to disembark that would lead to the treasure. But I keep it a secret. I have to be very careful.
But you will have to excuse me now, the nurse, Mrs. Bugarin, is handing out the medications. If I am not at the desk on time to receive mine, she will take away my brown fedora.
Libre Para Luchar
Sancificado y El Enmanscarado en “El Castillo del Profesor Sin Cara”
OMBRA, SANCTIFICADO, RELAMPAGODA SE ENCUENTRORARON FUERA DEL CASTILLO DEL PROFESOR SINCARA.
Each had suffered a loss at the hands of the Professor. The only one conspicuous in his absence was El Enmascarado, who typically battled the villain.
Relampagoda’s ornate costume looked out of place amidst all that unadorned male muscularity, and she looked small, but there was not a one of them who didn’t know that she was the most powerful of them all.
It was deceptively easy to get on to the estate grounds. There were no dogs, no silent alarms to be discovered on their multiband scanners, no guard in hidden or open locations.
The professor’s home was an old converted Victorian building. Out of one of its peaked roofs a hole had been cut to make egress for a contraption of the professor’s invention. It looked like a combination telescope and machine gun turret.
It was when the heroes reached to top floor that was when they encountered resistance. In a courtyard of the manor appeared a number of the Professor’s guards. Men all with that smooth faceplate like he wore. There was a balcony overlooking the courtyard on which the Professor appeared.
“Meet my new brand of elite guard. Replaceable. Unidentifiable. Faceless. Unmasked. Like me.”
“MIREN SU IDOLO!”
And that was when the heroes realized why El Enmascarado wasn’t with them. The Professor had him trussed up, stretched between some wires. Hung up like a trophy a warning a plaything all in one.
“AHORA VAN A PAGAR!”
A long telescoped cylinder jutting from a mass of arcane machinery at the base of which was a set of handles. This was all set on a rotating platform onto which was molded a seat surrounded by a variety of different gears and levers. The Professor sat on the seat. He began to angle the cylinder towards the town in the valley below. There was a separate tower on which was set a number of different buttons, and set apart, a single red switch.
Relampagoda stepped nimbly on the shoulders of one of her nearest attackers. While the would-be assassin reached for her, she used her momentum to punish him with a crushing knee thrust to his larynx, while at the same time aiming forward with her arms and unleashing a powerful attack on the professor and his deadly machine. Electricity extended along her arms and arched towards the Professor in a careening sizzle of sharp white sparks.
CREES QUE NO ESTOY PREPARADO PARA TI, HERMANITA? DESAFORTUNADAMENTE, NO ES ASI.
As expected, the Professor’s armor took the deadly barrage without pause or problem. The machine also did not seem the worse for wear.
“There is nothing electrical for you to disrupt with your bolts, querida. Everything is gears and pulleys. And the force I will unleash is best thought of as being stored in like sponge. I will merely… squeeze.”
“NO VAN A SABER QUIENES SON!”
“This machine will erase everyone’s identity. And then you will all live as I have lived!” he yelled.
Professor Sincara moved toward the switch that would wake the machine to its intended purpose. And each hero knew with a dread certainty that they would all be too late to stop him.
Professor Sincara flipped the switch.
The slit where a human mouth once was opened in surprise. Closed again. Open. Closed. No sounds escaped from his throat.
Sanctificado began to laugh. They all did, understanding the joke before the professor.
Stellar Guardian Southern Cross
Adrian J. Watts
What is Stellar Guardian Southern Cross[*?*]
S[tellar Guardian Southern Cross _]originated as a prequel to _Guardian Force Roboman, detailing the origin of the villains and a prominent artifact from that series. The series never saw a full release, and the sole extant published piece of SGSC fiction, Midnight Rex (included here in Bento Box #19) was published in 2013 to protect the copyright to the concept and characters. Midnight Rex is itself a prequel to the first volume of Stellar Guardian Southern Cross.
What is Stellar Guardian Southern Cross[* about?*]
Stellar Guardian Southern Cross features a space cop with the explosive power of a distant star – Acrux – investigating an interstellar missing-persons case. When the clues lead him to Earth, he uncovers a threat to the entire cosmos. Later joined by his fellow space cops – and siblings – Becrux and Gacrux, the Stellar Guardians are drawn into a conflict unlike any the universe has faced before.
It is set in the 1990s of the Artifice Comics Universe, so there will also be many gaudy references to 1990s American “culture”.
The Artifice Comics Universe is still alive and well today, so the team obviously wins. Where are the stakes?
You said they win, not me.
When can we expect the first release of *][*Stellar Guardian Southern Cross[*?*]
Right here, in this very issue of Bento Box! The first prose collection will be released in March 2017 by Artifice Comics.
Midnight Rex © 2013-2016 Particle Surge Productions. © 2016 Artifice Comics.
Jason S. Kenney
The ground shook beneath Alex Custer’s feet as he looked to the sky to see fire and two figures in a silhouetted tangle of a fight.
“Come on, Alex,” he heard as a felt a tug on his arm.
“We have to help him,” Alex said, keeping his eyes locked above, clenching his fists.
“Alex. Alex!” Her hands were on his face, pulling the flight goggles off, bringing him back down to earth. He locked eyes with Ashley Benson. Her domino mask had fallen off a while ago, her blond hair fallen loose from the ponytail that held it back. Blood was trickling down her left temple and across her cheek, cutting through the soot on her face. He hadn’t realized she was hurt. “There are people who need your help here.”
“We can stop this.” Alex, Millennial Lad, needed to be up there. Needed to be in the fight.
She shook her head. “This is his fight. Let him have it. We have to help down here.”
A boom drew his attention back up to the sky, one figure now alone for a moment before streaking away across the sky, another boom, the fight moving elsewhere.
Somewhere he heard a cry.
“Alex.” She was pleading with him.
“Okay, Ash,” he said, unclenching his fists, looking to her and nodding. “Let’s go.”
“9:55 on the dot.”
Alex Custer froze at the voice, clenched his fists and closed his eyes. Deep breaths. Silent count to ten.
“Just like old times. Look at you, all grown up.”
“What do you want?” Alex asked of the man on the rooftop, not turning to face him, trying to keep his composure.
“I take it you saw what happened in Atlantic City this morning.” Alex didn’t answer. Of course he had seen it. Everyone had. It was on every channel. Social media was covered with it. It took everything in him not to rush down there to try and help, but what can one person do about a crater?
“I came to make sure you’re okay, Alex…”
“No!” Alex turned and flew to the man, face to face, noses nearly touching. “Not in the mask, damn it. Your rules!” He accentuated his last words with pokes into the man’s chest.
Jeffery Carter held his hands up and took a step back. “Fair enough. Millennial Lad. Or is it Millennium Man these days?”
“What do you want, Jeffery?” Alex asked, settling onto the rooftop.
“No more Mr. C?”
Alex hoped his glare would be all of the response Jeffery would need but it just made the man smile.
“Need to work on that scary look,” Jeffery said with a smirk. “It’s been a while, kiddo.”
Alex snorted and turned away. “Are you here to shoot the shit or do you have something to say?”
Jeffery sighed. The old times were gone.
“What do you know about the Millennials?”
“They leave me alone; I leave them alone.”
“So you’ve met some of them?”
“Were they responsible for Atlantic City?”
“Some of them were. Others visited me. Near DC. Ashley was with them.”
Jeffery saw Alex stiffen.
“Did you know she joined them?” Jeffery asked. Alex turned back to him, his glare through the domino mask better this time. “I know you guys were close…”
“No,” said Alex, going for a jab again, but Jeffery held a hand up and Alex’s poke landed in his palm. Alex just continued to poke the palm. “You don’t get to do that; you gave that up.”
“NOT WHILE I’M WEARING THE GODDAMN MASK!” His eyes lit up like lightning in a bottle and Jeffery held up his hands and backed away again.
Alex closed his eyes and shook his head, took a deep breath then started to hover off the rooftop.
“Was that it?” he asked.
“The Millennials are a threat. Hines and the suits want to make sure you’re on our side if this should escalate.”
“They leave me alone. I leave them alone.”
“It may not be that simple.”
The new voice got both of their attentions.
She hovered off the edge of the rooftop, arms crossed as if hugging herself. The blonde hair was gone, her head bald and polished. So was any shape to her body, her figure seemingly carved to an androgynous form.
But her eyes were still there. And her voice.
Alex would know those anywhere.
“They’re just getting started,” Ashley Benson said.
Being a superhero wasn’t that much different from roller derby, Alex thought as they pulled at the Velcro straps of their wrist guards with their teeth.
In roller derby, you got to pick a different name, you got to be someone else—and you got to fight anyone who got too close to you. It wasn’t like a fight fight, there were rules of course—no tit-punching, no between the legs, not the face etc. —but it was enough that you could feel conflict and you could feel that you were actually doing something with your own body to resolve that conflict.
It was enough to feel that you were in control of your body, that you had a say in the things that happened to it, even the ridiculously stupid things.
Alex had been a member of the Hampstead Haman Haters, a team of former Haredi Jews who had all come to roller derby because there wasn’t anything else now they were outside the community they grew up in.
Their name had been Kimberley HURT; a reference to a girl in a TV series about superheroes that they had never seen but that an older kid had assured them was a really funny pun. They liked the fact that all the names in roller derby were puns. By their bedside table, they kept a notebook in which they wrote down the names of all the funniest players she encountered; gangly girls with names like Ram!-Own-Her Flowers.
Being called Kimberley was fine with them, after all, it wasn’t as if they were born Alex either.
Even though they had left the community when their parents divorced, Alex had at first panicked that the uniform they wore as a member of the Hampstead Haman Haters was immodest. Their team didn’t wear shorts alone, just a skirt and long socks, but the vest revealed a lot of their shoulders and forearms, and it made Alex panic that they were revealing more than was suitable in public.
They never thought about the violence of it all, though, the violence was always fine, it was a mitzvah even, a way of toughening up kids who weren’t considered Haredi anymore but didn’t have the people skills to fit in with their secular peers.
Whilst they had played derby, Alex had been fine considering themself a girl, even when they came out as non-binary, it didn’t really change anything about how they thought of themself or how they played. What had changed all that had been the realization that they not only had a superhero stage name, but that they actually had superhero powers too. As they hit puberty, Alex realized that they were considerably stronger than other kids on the track, and that when they knocked someone down, they took a lot longer to get back up again, always looking considerably more shaken.
And so they had stopped playing, if only because they started worrying more and more about the possibility that they might actually hurt someone with their heavy-handedness—and then they had met Sam, and later Aoi and Courtney and Nix too, and they had seen the island for the first time, and they had had to tell their mum and their sister that they were moving away.
Their mother, a small woman, insecure at the best of times, had cried when Alex had made their announcement, but Alex didn’t really think too much about it. Going to the island was important for them, it was what they needed to do, and just because they wouldn’t be seeing their family didn’t mean it was a bad thing. They needed to not see their family, they had explained, other people—bad people—would find out if they stayed at home and sooner or later it would cause problems.
Alex told everyone they knew not to call them Kimberley anymore, not to call them Esther even; they told their mum to tell people she knew that they had gone back to live with their father. It was safer that way, they explained, if people hated them for being Haredi that was fine because it would never hurt them, they’d never get to them, but if they knew they were a superhero? That they would use against them.
And yet there were still things they couldn’t give up from their old life. Even when they first got their costume, they were quick to combine it with the padding and protective gear they had worn in matches and in practices. It made sense, they had told Sam, because they couldn’t trust bad people to play by the rules; they couldn’t trust bad people not to tit-punch, to kick between the legs, to hit the face etc.
Sam didn’t really like it and said it made them look like a target because their uniform was personalized, but they had argued that people were always going to distinguish between them, just as they were always going to view them as either a boy or a girl, regardless of the truth of the matter. For Alex, it didn’t really matter whether people believed they were who they said they were, they had already been told they weren’t Jewish anymore, but leaving the Haredi community didn’t make them feel any less Jewish. Even when they were offered the freedom of doing whatever they wanted on a Saturday, it didn’t really make them want to do those things.
If anyone had asked them, they still would have told them that they were Jewish, even on the island where there were no creeds, no races, just faith in the Sol Invictus, faith in the eventual return.
To Alex, a person was more than the sum of their parts, and they believed that being a contradiction was definitely an okay thing to be.
As far as they were concerned, they never stopped being Jewish, and they never forgot the experience of growing up as a girl—and they definitely never forgot roller derby.
A[*drian J. Watts *]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.
S[*teve Carr *]began his writing career as a military journalist and has had short stories published in Double Feature, Tigershark Magazine, The Wagon Magazine, CultureCult Magazine, Fictive Dream, Sick Lit Magazine, Literally Stories, The Spotty Mirror _]and in the [_Dystopia/Utopia Anthology by Flame Tree Publishing, among others. His stories are scheduled for publication in Door is A Jar, and in anthologies by Centum Press and Fantasia Divinity Publications, to name a few. His plays have been produced in several states including Arizona, Missouri and Ohio. He is a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee.
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[*ason S. Kenney *]writes stories that sometimes amuse and entertain. He is based in Richmond, Virginia with his wife, son, dog and cat. His wallet is brown.
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.
In the wake of Atlantic City's destruction by the youth cult of Millennium Man, Jeffery Carter searches for his one-time apprentice, Alex Custer, in a bid to discover more and the mysterious faction of rogue super-beings. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, there is treasure and rewards waiting to be had for the brave, the evil Professor Sin Cara seeks to rob heroes of their secret identities in Libre Para Luchar, and in the '90s, space sheriff Acrux seeks to track down Midnight Rex. Oh, and there's roller derby too. Hasidic Jewish roller derby. Featuring the work of Steve Carr (Double Feature, Tigershark Magazine), Gregory Hernandez (Dreamerâ€™s Syndrome: New World Navigation), Adrian J. Watts (Guardian Force Roboman), and Jason S. Kenney (Love Amongst Strangers: Twisted), this collection is the latest in a series of mini-anthologies from Artifice Comics recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison.