Last weekend I went on assignment to Rose City Comic Con for Panda Mony Toys. We are releasing our first action figure line next year and we are looking for cool shows to visit. Rose City was pretty great! Here’s a video of my adventures:
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I don’t think that this is any kind of real surprise to anyone who reads this blog or knows me, but it’s not something that I bring up that often for public consumption. Working in toys has really activated my geekery gene and since that is what I’ve been spending so much time on turning it into content for the internet seemed like the next natural choice. But as I’ve gotten back into my geekier pursuits I’ve noticed that I’m not feeling particularly connected to “geek” as a community – and I don’t know how I feel about that.
Why do we care?
In all likelihood you probably don’t, but it’s very possible that we are about to see a change to geek culture and since geek culture has been mainstreamed any changes that come are likely going to affect the entertainment industry in a massive way. I think my identity crisis is just a symptom of something bigger… maybe.
Being a geek is nothing new and we are somehow still in a geek culture golden age. If you were to tell me twenty-five years ago that some of the most popular things on YouTube, videos that were getting MILLIONS of views, were of people playing Dungeons and Dragons and other role playing games I’d laugh until I passed out. Put on top of that the fact that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the most popular, profitable and unstoppable franchise factories making household names out of characters that no one knew of merely a decade ago? And the fact that Star Wars as a universe is still chugging along in mainstream media? And that I can find Iron Man action figures in just about every single armor that he has ever worn both on screen and in the comics? I tell you my little teenage heart would burst.
But it was not always this way.
I like to frame myself as a “proud geek,” but if I’m being honest that hasn’t always been true. Even in times as geek popular as now I tend to hold that part back from the spotlight. In the past I have justified this hiding because of my “brand.” On this blog and on social media I preferred to be an actor first, focus on career related things… and every once in a while toss in an obscure movie reference, mention that I need to go play D&D, or talk about Iron Man. But that was not very authentic in how much of my private identity can be tied back to what are considered geeky (sometimes VERY geeky) things.
Although some of the geeky things have gained a hip status, the fact of the matter is that all the cool popular people playing or involved in this stuff are a very small, niche part of the people who play and participate in the core of geekery. The core audience still carries the stigma that was turned into stereotypes used in TV and movies, especially in the late 70’s through the 90’s. Hell, that was my bread and butter for most of my young acting career.
I think that Simon Pegg has presented the best definition of the modern geek:
As he points out, this doesn’t just apply to things like superhero fans and Warhammer 40,000 players but sports fanatics and people who love cars too. But the stigma doesn’t follow the latter the way it does the former. Jocks and nerds may be satisfying the same itch deep down, but society in general views them in very different ways and always at odds.
I was at Rose City Comic Con this year. It’s the first con that I’ve been to since San Diego ComiCon back in either 2012 or 2014 (I can’t remember) and even longer than that since I went to a convention of any size that wasn’t related to the entertainment industry in some way shape or form. This year felt different than what I remember.
Some of my favorite childhood memories are of my dad and I going to comic cons all over Southern California (mostly the Shrine Shows in L.A.) looking for old Iron Man back issues, checking out old toys and collectables, and doing our best to bargain down a price with the dealers. At these shows I built a very impressive collection of Yoda memorabilia, got my first Iron Man action figure from the defunct Secret Wars line, and completed a volume 1 collection of Iron Man comics.
I would spend my days reading comics and coming up with adventures for all my favorite characters in my head. The reading material came in handy for auditions as well since I was merely a passengers for nearly a decade. I was proud to know as much about the Marvel Universe as I did. I knew Doctor Who lore and stories that would surprise adult fans. I knew Star Wars down to the Tonnika sisters. But I had very few people that I could share all this with.
Junior High School, the worst of all the “schools” in my opinion, was when I met my core group of friends, people I still know and love to this day. Jeff Garvin was my entry point to the group. He and I met doing Annie with a community theater group (another thing that is generally considered pretty geeky, but that’s another blog post altogether). We shared mutual interests, Star Wars and comic books in a general sense, and he introduced me to his Dungeons and Dragons group. Jeff, Dan and Scott became my best friends through school.
In addition to D&D we shared other common interests in movies and music. Star Wars and Indiana Jones were big favorites and we spent way too much playing the original X-Wing and TIE Fighter computer games. We tried some other RPGs and Dan, Scott and I all started playing Warhammer 40k. We had each other’s backs. We were our own little community and we could run in the circles of other geek communities without effort.
At Rose City Comic Con I was the outsider. Even though I’m an over 40-bearded-beer-gut-guy (a description that has come to be the standard archetype for the stereotypical geek) I saw the distrustful looks that came from the cosplayers and gamers and comic book fans. I imagine I must’ve looked like a dad who was missing his kid, especially since I was there by myself. There was a part of me that wanted to say, “Don’t worry I’m totally one of you.” But even writing that seems condescending and pointless, especially since geekdom and fandom are plagued by toxic jerks right now. I can’t find fault with the suspicious looks. If you didn’t know any better I could be one of those entitled, angry and anonymous man-children screaming about The Last Jedi. Toxic Fandom is the culmination of people who felt powerless finding a voice and, in most circumstances, trying to claim ownership on a fictional world that should be open to everyone. When that kind of “fandom” finds other people who feel the same we get things like what we saw with recent Star Wars stars leaving social media.
But that’s not what I want to see. Sure there will always be jerks, but in general the community is at its best when it is supportive of each other and when people who want to learn about and participate in the geekery are welcomed. Even though I got a lot of side-eye yesterday, the folks at the convention we all very polite and super excited about what they were doing there. That’s the part I like. That’s what I’d like to see more of.
To that point I’m going to start talking about my geekier pursuits here on the blog more. I may not feel like I’m directly linked into the community like I used to be, but I still D&D like a boss, build and paint 40k armies competently, and can still throw down in Supernaturalcontinuity conversations with the best of them. The old saying goes “be the change you’d like to see” and I’d like to help put some positivity back into the geeky stuff that I love.
Please join me! Tell me about the geeky stuff you love in the comments. Introduce me to that thing you like that maybe you’re self conscious about. Let’s build a better community without entitlement and toxicity.
The new Avengers: Age of Ultron trailers are pretty great! I can’t wait until May! And the stand out star so far has been the Hulk-Buster armor that Iron Man fights the Hulk in. Let’s check the tape:
Pretty cool, right? There’s something about two big things beating the crap out of each other that just says “blockbuster!” Is there anything else that can explain the success of the Bay-former movies? But I don’t want to get distracted.
The Hulkbuster first appeared in 1994 during a series of stories written by Len Kaminski and penciled by Kev Hopgood where Iron Man was trying to clean up old Stane factories that were polluting the environment or working on hazardous projects. Each issue had a different guest star including Venom (he was being positioned as a hero at the time), Deathlok and Smart Hulk (when the Hulk had the strength of the hulk, the mind of Bruce Banner and the attitude of the grey Hulk… ask a comic geek, they’ll tell you what that all mean. It was the 90’s). The technical first appearance of the Hulkbuster is in Iron Man 304, but it’s just the final page as a teaser for the next month.
Photo from ComicVine.com
All the actual Hulkbuster action is in Iron Man 305 “Green Politics.”
Photo from Marvel.Wikia.com
The original Hulkbuster was actual a series of add on bits for the armor that Iron Man used at the time called, believe it or not, the Modular Armor which switched out systems and weapons on a mission specific basis. A lot of different bits and bobs were created and used, but the Hulkbuster stands out and the only truly memorable one.
Since then there have been many versions of the Hulkbuster in both art and action figure form. I was going to post some of those images here but it’s actually worth seeing how much has been created so HERE’S A LINK TO A GOOGLE IMAGES SEARCH.
Film wise, we all thought we were getting a Hulkbuster in Iron Man 3, but instead we got “Igor”:
Photo from MarvelToyNews.com
It was a little disappointing.
Then we got this concept art from Age of Ultron:
Photo from Marvel.Wikia.com
And all Iron Man geek hearts were a-flutter!
Seeing the Hulkbuster in action is just whetting my appetite even more and you know I’ll be first in line when Avengers 2 comes out in May!
Well, first in line at a reasonable hour, I’m too old for midnight shows anymore.
Are you excited for Avengers: Age of Ultron? Hit the comments!
After having such a connected experience to the last issue, I hit the polar opposite with this issue. I have no memory of of Iron Man #26 Death (or Dual depending on whether you’re reading the cover or front page) in a Dark Dimension. However, looking at the cover, seeing the barbarian-like hero and his weapon being The Solar Sword, I am reminded of Thundarr the Barbarian:
That aside, this is a stand alone issue that tried to cram a lot of stuff into 22 pages. We open with Happy Hogan trying to beat up Tony as he armors up. This happens quite a bit over the course of the series.
As I mentioned above, the villain in this issue is The Collector in his second comic book appearance. The Collector you may recognize from the Guardians of the Galaxy movie:
Photo from Screenrant.com
Here he makes a deal with Iron Man, bring him The Solar Sword or he turns Happy into The Freak and adds him to his zoo. Very basic, kind of a cartoon plot. Just an excuse to get everyone fighting. Definitely designed for younger minds from a more naive time.
So Shellhead is taken to the Dark Dimension where he is immediately set upon by shadow demons.
I think they kinda’ look like the weeping angels from Doctor Who:
But Iron Man is rescued by Thor! Wait, no, that’s Val-Larr Champion of Light! He just looks like Thor with a big “V” on his chest.
Together they fight off the shadow demons and the issue starts to feel like a backdoor pilot for this new hero. He’s in the Dark Dimension, which is a Marvel Mystic realm often visited by Dr. Strange. I wondered while reading this if Val-Larr ever showed up in Dr. Strange or any of the other Marvel Mystic books. A quick Google search showed that he does not seem to. He’s referenced again in Iron Man #33, but we’ll see that later. We get a quick history of the realm, the battle between light and shadow, and the origins of the Solar Sword that Val-Larr uses.
Comic Book Science: The Solar Sword is a weapon that can collect the ambient light and then use it to perform feats and powers including strobes of bright light that burns shadow demons and blasts of power. The full powers and limits of the Solar Sword are not known.
Then Iron Man is taken to the last Citadel of Light – LUMINIA!
And now, after having fought alongside Val-Larr (like, his name is, literally “valor”) and making friends, Tony suddenly remembers, “oh yeah, kinda’ need to grab that sword because The Collector is coming” and he picks a fight.
My favorite part of that is Val-Larr’s response, “Wha?!?” If it were written today he’d be like, “Da faq?!!” Also this gave me a feeling of foreshadowing to a certain storyline in the future where Tony makes a dubious decision because he feels it’s the right thing to do…
Photo from villians.wikia.com
…but we’ll get to that later.
Tony does get the sword back to The Collector and, surprise surprise, The Collector decides to keep the sword and abandon Tony, Pepper and Happy in the Dark Dimension… that is until the Solar Sword starts acting funny. Remember the comic book science thing? The Solar Sword was created in the Dark Dimension, where light is scarce. Suddenly brought into a place where light is prevalent the sword begins to overload – and it’s going to explode! So Shellhead picks up The Collector and flies him back into the Dark Dimension.
Fortunately for Val-Larr and the residents of Luminia this coincides with Shar-Khan’s attack on Luminia.
I actually really like the design of Shar-Khan. I would have liked to have seen more of him. Just look at that creepy face!
So, as you may have guessed, the good guys win. The bad guys lose. Happy and Pepper go off to live without Happy discovering that he was ever The Freak. It’s a stand alone issue and it’s interesting to think that this issue is very similar to the issue that features the first appearance of Thanos… but that’s still to come. I think that these were pretty typical issues in the 60’s through the early 70’s. New characters were always being introduced, just like the Golden Age. Some stuck, some didn’t, and Val-Larr was one of the latter. The next issue features the first appearance of Firebrand and dips a toe in how Iron Man as a comic book starts to look at social issues. That’s a character we see a bit more often.
Bit of a non sequitur: this issue’s Stan’s Soapbox, the “newsletter” section of the comic, includes an audience survey. It asks about what kinds of stories you like and what you don’t. It uses some fantastic 70’s vernacular. It gave me the impression of how fandom used to work before the internet. Everything still happened: surveys, complaints, discussions; but they all worked via the mail or telephones or conventions/meet-ups. Just another example of ‘the more things change…”
In a one-on-one conversation with Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) President Gary Shapiro on January 7th, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (sometimes referred to as a dingo) has implied that rules governing broadband communications will be based on Title II of the Communications Act – which is what most Net Neutrality activists and I have been hoping for.
But for the TL;DR crowd here are some sound bytes:
“…it became obvious that commercially reasonable could be interpreted as what is reasonable for the ISPs, not what is reasonable for consumers or innovators,” Wheeler said. “And that’s the wrong question and the wrong answer because the issue here is how do we make sure that consumers and innovators have open access to networks. That led us to a more robust investigation of the well established concept of just and reasonable, which is a Title II concept. And as I said, Title II has always been something that was on the table. So last summer we began investigating various approaches using title II as a way to get to just and reasonable because it has the best protections.”
”What’s interesting also is that other ISPs, smaller ISPs, like the rural carriers, competitive ISPs, have all come in and said, ‘we like Title II, we hope you’ll do Title II,'” Wheeler added.
“It just so happens that 20 years ago I was the guy that negotiated on behalf of the wireless industry to establish Section 332,” Wheeler said. “Section 332 says that wireless should be regulated under Title II as a common carrier, except that the FCC is instructed to forbear from onerous provisions and inappropriate provisions of Title II, except for section 201 and 202, which is just and reasonable, and Section 208, which is consumer protection,” he added.
Shapiro summed up, saying, “what I heard you say is, without totally confirming it, is you’re going down the Title II path, [and] that the wireless model is a good model, and the wireless model said forbear by law except for a couple of sections.” Wheeler did not dispute that assessment.
I say readers because today I would like to introduce you to a friend of mine. His name is Dan and he writes about the books that he reads.
A little back story…
Getting to Know is something new that I’m trying so that I can introduce you to other things that I like beyond the videos that I shared on Fun Video Friday. This might include people, websites, books, movies, TV shows, whatever. I’m not sure if it will have a set schedule or just be a thing that I put out as I find things I want to share, I’m playing it very fast and loose. I’m a wild man.
A little back story about Dan…
Dan and I have been friends since junior high – over 20 years. He has always been a good writer, but rarely done enough with it. He wrote a spec script for “Seinfeld” that was so good that our mutual friend, Jeff, used to reference it as if it were a real episode. If Dan drank a bit more he might be the very perfect model of the modern American novelist. Or the classic American novelist? My desire to make an Pirates of Penzance reference may have clouded that description. Regardless, Dan is a good writer who writes about what he reads. His website, Bookthump.com, is a series of book reviews that are both a comment on the book and his personal relationship to the experience of reading that book.
Unlike other reviews, the personal reflections offer a way for you, as the reader, to get a better feel for the story. I find that his reviews tend to be more persuasive when I think about what I want to add to my reading list. I’ll admit that there is a certain amount of bias; he and I have known each other a long time and we share similar interests, but I feel that his authentic approach and honest thoughts on what he reads will appeal to a wide audience.
This issue is a perfect example of why I wanted to do this project! I have such strong memories associated with this issue and, surprisingly, there are elements of this issue that affected my beliefs on our environment and corporate policies.
The opening page, for me, is some of the best evidence that the more things change the more they stay the same. It’s been known that pollution is a problem for decades and, while big strides have truly been made (the air and water now are far better off than they were in 1970 when this was written) there’s still so much farther to go. When I was a kid I remember being struck by this notion that “saving the Earth’ wasn’t a new idea and here it was, subtle as a hammer, on page one of this issue of Iron Man.
So, there’s Shellhead, carrying the corpse of a young woman poisoned by the very air she breathed. We are relieved to discover that this is just a film created by Tony to help convince other business owners to take environmental protection seriously. They respond in a stereotypical “businessman” fashion… which leads Tony to tell of a recent adventure he had with Iron Man.
We move to Namor the Submariner swimming through the ocean angry and brooding. He comes on a pipe spewing pollution – look at the plumes of black and deep purple – killing all the local fish. This, naturally, sends him into a rage and, like any good Silver/Bronze Age comic book character, he destroys the object of his anger… and then follows the pipe back to kick the ass of the surface dweller that put it there.
Now we flash to the surface, where the pipe originated from, where Tony Stark is visiting the supervisor of the Meridian Island facility, Blaine. Blaine is a douche. Archie Goodman leaves very little room for negotiation on this fact. He’s overly casual with the CEO of his company, cuts corners on safety and environmental equipment and siphoned budgeted funds to pay for his off-the-books pet project, a solar generator, that has some pretty gnarly side effects. Blaine’s fiance, June, comes running in to tell him that all of filters and pumping equipment are shutting down and that the island is starting to fill up with toxic gas. (Point of note, Mr. Goodwin makes sure that we know that Tony is a responsible business owner by having him mention that there should be special filtration units that should be taking care of these fumes.)
Tony is just getting his head wrapped around all of this when Namor shows up to beat things with his fists – which includes a building or two. Stark sends Blaine to get his employees to safety and then Namor and Iron Man fight for, like, a long time.
It’s pages of punches, but those are not as important as the core of the story so let’s jump right to the end where Iron Man wins (natch) and we get back to Blaine the douche denying that there’s any trouble even though all the air around them is inky with noxious fumes. Turns out Blaine’s solar generator is helping to cause this smog (fuzzy late 60’s pseudoscience here) and needs to be destroyed. Well, Blaine just won’t have that and puts up a fight until his fiance passes out from lack of oxygen.
With June down Blaine is suddenly willing to listen to Iron Man and ol’ Shellhead lands a verbal bitchslap.
Then we get the “team-up” section of the book where Iron Man helps Submariner escape and then they work together to destroy the solar converter…
…By dropping a giant rock in the ocean and tidal waving the island clean. Oh, and Blaine the Douche died trying to fix his mistake – TOO LITTLE TOO LATE, DOUCHE!
In the end the businessmen that Tony was trying to convince to join him in better environmental practices blow him off saying that changes cost money and that they have stock holders to answer to. They leave and we’re left with much the same reaction you’d see in modern business.
The funny thing is, Tony quotes that, “…the same thing could happen on a global scale in ten to thirty years!” And it kind of is. Maybe not to the extreme of this story, but it is over thirty years later and climate change is constantly in the news, animals are constantly threatened with extinction, and rainforest is still being cut down by the hundreds of acres a day… If nothing had changed Archie Goodwin probably wouldn’t have been wrong.
The nice thing is the effects of the Clean Air Act of 1963 were starting to show effects and the Clean Water Act of 1972 helped to clean up and save some of the most important waterways. The combination of the two have definitely kept us from the kind of apocalyptic scenario presented on page one of this comic. The conversations generated in the 70’s also helped to change the culture as far as the popularity of environmentalism. I grew up in the late 80’s/early 90’s and I remember the environment being part of the core conversation in school and in general. Earth Day was recognized at school and we’d do events to prep for and celebrate it, Star Trek 4 had a “save the whales” message and was a big hit, and recycling became such a thing in california that suddenly there were different trash cans depending on whether what you were throwing out was recyclable or not.
So when I read this in 19… something-or-other I was really surprised that these ideas, that felt really young, were actually much older than I was – as was the corporate attitude of “money before responsibility” that is the stale cliche/truth of big business.
It’s funny how things like this can stick with you. Having read this again, decades after reading it the first time, my memory of it was very accurate and it’s amazing to me that the message can still be relevant.
Has anything stuck with you like that? Let me know in the comments.
CurtisAndersen.com is officially back up and, although there’s still some tweeking to do, it’s time to post again!
The big thing I want to focus on is the launch of Fun Size Horror which is NEXT MONDAY! Not familiar with Fun Size Horror? It’s 31 micro-short horror films playing the week of Halloween done by over a dozen up-and-coming filmmakers, including yours truly. Follow the links to the WEBSITE and FACEBOOK PAGE. It’s been a hell of a thing getting this together this year, but the projects that I’ve seen come through are really good and cover the spectrum of horror sub-genres. Go check things out and look for Bloody Mary on Wednesday October 29th on Shock Till You Drop.
The last thing I want to touch on is the new Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer – omfg.
This week’s story is an old idea that has been sitting in my head for years. I think it requires just a little bit of set-up for context. It takes place in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Warhammer 40,000 (or 40k for short) a table top war game that I used to actively play. It has a very rich background and has been the setting for dozens and dozens of best selling paperbacks. When I was in my late twenties I played one of the spin-off games, Inquisitor. Unfortunately this game is no longer supported by Games Workshop so I don’t have a link to it specifically. In that game you get to create a variety of characters and the subject of this week’s story was one of those characters, Sergio Malik. He, along with his boss, Inquisitor Guildenstern, and Judge Regina Burgun would race around the galaxy hunting mutants, aliens and demons. It was a really cool, really geeky game. In fact, here’s a picture of them that I took for a campaign we were running:
Regina’s a bit out of focus, but that’s OK, she’s not in this story.
Anyway, this story is written assuming that you are familiar with the universe. For those who aren’t I’ve included THIS LINK to the 40k wiki so you can look up anything you have questions about. For those of you who just want to get to the story know this: it is the far future, the 41st millennium, humanity is on the downslide and fighting wars on every front. Humanity worships it’s greatest leader, the God Emperor who’s body is kept barely alive by a machine called The Golden Throne. Technology is no longer understood and treated like magic. In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war.
A Tale of Sergio Malik
The ferrocrete of the partition began to crumble under the punishment of stubber slugs and laser blasts. The echo of the impacts rattled Sergio’s head and made him dizzy with a staccato repetition of beats as each shot aspired to find a chink in the wall. Each blast wanted to kill Sergio Malik as much as his attackers wanted him dead. It was not the first time he had faced death, and it was most certainly not the last time he would either. It was also not the first time he had fought alone, although he never liked to; its so much better to have someone watching your back, or at least someone – anyone – who could take a bullet in your place. He had managed to hide himself in this little cubby, a small box of ferrocrete that once must have contained some artifact of the Adeptus Mechanicus that could have maintained this section of the hive or heated water or whatever those things do. Now it was just a four-foot square of wires and empty tubes three feet above the floor and one foot below it, with a dash of Sergio’s blood for color, and while it was providing his only protection it could just as easily become his final resting place. They knew where he was; that much was plain, and it was only a matter of time before they figured out that he wasn’t shooting back. Sergio’s stubber was empty, the three clicks he heard, actually felt more than heard, were evidence of that. His revolver, Tania the Angle of Salvation, had only three full chambers; each one was loaded with a simple slug, none of them were explosive or ‘smart’ or filled with an acid that might cover the whole of the area. Nope, just a three simple dum dums. Dum dum, that’s how he felt now.
The shooting had stopped. Footfalls and scuffles along the floor; they were moving! Maybe they thought he was dead? More likely they were closing in for the kill. Kill? More like slaughter. Instincts honed by decades of running in low circles kicked back in. Without the distraction of the swarm of bullets he felt much more like himself.
The footsteps stopped and there was some hesitant shuffling. “He might be dead.”
Another voice called out, “I didn’t see him go down.”
The first voice, closer than the others, called back, “I got ‘im I know it!”
Another voice called, it was coming from Sergio’s left, “You never get ‘em!” Laughter erupted from the men he was fighting. It sounded like four altogether.
“Quiet!” a voice commanded. That made five of them left, but only one of them sounded like he knew what he was doing. Still, five was two too many for three bullets. “Gersh, go look; make sure Tygon really did get ‘im!” Another burst of laughter. Good they were distracted! The walls of the cubby suddenly felt cavernous as Sergio prepped to leap up. This was a gamble, a horrible gamble. There was no way to guarantee he would get out of here alive, but maybe dying was a lot better than definitely dying. The quilted flack armor that Sergio wore was now tattered and had a few more holes than he was comfortable with; the plate of ablative armor that he had attached that very morning was now dented and useless. The blue of his vest was now crimson and purple in some places where he was dripping life, although thankfully that was abating. Everything was sore, even through his rising adrenalin, and Sergio knew that, if he lived, tomorrow he might be sorry that he had. The metal of the hive’s decking betrayed Gersh’s location as he closed in on Sergio’s cube. Sloppy, just plain sloppy; it was a wonder that any of these weird cults ever got anything done, ‘course usually all they want to do is raise a menace and try to sew the roots of dissent among the populace, things like that were simple with a gun in your hand. A gun in his hand, that was actually essential to Sergio’s plan. Surely they wouldn’t send someone with an empty weapon to investigate? Actually they might, but he needed to believe that they wouldn’t. He would use one precious shot as Gersh leaned over the rim. One shot that would kill him and then he would pull the body, and his weapon, into the cubby so that Sergio could use it. As Gersh got closer, Sergio got ready and the pain that he had been feeling lifted.
Gersh got closer and confidence seemed to fill each of his steps. A shadow, both deadly and hopeful, hesitantly peered over the edge into the cubby. First a beefy arm that ended in a gun barrel, which was then followed by a hooded head that eclipsed the light directly above Sergio’s head. As Sergio’s eye’s adjusted to the new dimness he could see the moment of realization come over Gersh’s face that Sergio wasn’t dead and then the moment of horror as Gersh saw Tania, the Angel of Salvation, pointed at him. Time rubber banded as the hammer fell in Tania and a chemical explosion pushed a slug of soft, dense metal forward at super sonic speed. It spun down the barrel of Tania and escaped in a cloud of heat and residue. Gersh’s face didn’t even have time to change expression before it was cratered and torn apart. Sergio reached up with his right hand and grabbed the cultist by the robe under his chin. He gave one sharp tug and the body, complete with rifle, fell into the cubby next to him. Then the rubber band snapped and things felt almost too fast to handle.
Sergio’s hand wrapped around Gersh’s rifle as the sound of yelling and feet came running at his cubby. A las gun, Guard issue and with a healthy charge; these dissidents were well equipped for a bunch of cultist scum – maybe the boss was right to check them out. Sergio grabbed it and clicked it to burst fire with his right hand while his left put Tania back in her holster. This wasn’t how he was supposed to spend his day. This wasn’t even how this investigation was supposed to go. The plan was to integrate into the hive, see what the locals could tell him about the dissidents in the Under Hive, and then report back to the boss whether it was worth further investigation. The las gun in his hands was proof enough that there would need to be a full Inquisitorial investigation. Now he just needed to escape.
Before this all began, before he was seconds away from dying in a hive city thousands of thousands of light years away from where he started, Sergio Malik was enjoying the benefits that went along with being in the personal entourage of an Inquisitor of the Ordo Hereticus. Of all of the people in the God-Emperor’s galaxy no one was granted more respect or freedom than a member of His Inquisition. They lived in lavish homes with full support staffs of servitors and serfs. Sergio had access to some of the most impressive weaponry in the universe, although he preferred his own guns since they had never let him down. He was given medical care that some worlds in the Imperium hadn’t even imagined, much less had ever seen. And the food, oh the food! He had access to things he didn’t even know could be cooked, and they were all delicious! But these kinds of perks don’t come without earning them and as a gunfighter employed by one of the most dangerous men in the galaxy investigating some of the most hostile forces in the galaxy you never knew if the last meal you ate would be your last meal period. The last thing he had eaten in the hive before getting pinning in the cubby was a bowl of noodles with a protein paste broth. Definitely not as nice as the seared Rotan game bird with a lactic bean salad and a bottle of wine that was near impossible to pronounce. When he got out of here the first thing he was going to do was learn how to pronounce that wine!
His boss is Inquisitor Balthazar Guildenstern of the Ordo Hereticus. He is a tall man with sharp features, a lean body and no hair whose mission is to root out and destroy the cancer of political and religious heresy in the God Emperor’s Imperium. It’s a grand job and not for the faint hearted. Sergio had met the Inquisitor when he was employed by one of the navigator houses as a body guard. He had been assigned to one of the children of a prominent house, an adult child with a terrible gambling problem. During a particularly expensive game where the boy had gambled away nearly all he had except for his warp eye, the gambling den was raided by Inquisitorial storm troopers. The den was in a particularly seedy part of a city that was known itself as being particularly seedy on a planet that was thought of as seedy in the first place, so when the troopers burst in the response from the gamblers inside was immediate. Weapons of all types were drawn and used. Tables were over turned to create cover. The den itself wasn’t very large, about the size of an average hab unit with two sleep spaces, so the amount of cross fire was thick and deadly. The boy panicked so Sergio, doing his job, shot and fought his way past three of the troopers, aiming for the few vulnerable spots in their armor, and dodged past and under the shooting. He grabbed the boy and dragged him into a back room where, during his earlier scouting, he had spotted a “rat hole” exit that the proprietors probably expected to use on just this sort of occasion. The proprietors didn’t make it. Sergio tossed the boy through the hole and then followed after. They made it out, he tossed a grenade back down the hole and they were just about home free when they were stopped by a squad of storm troopers lead by Inquisitor Guildenstern. The grenade went off shortly after, only the boy reacted.
Sergio holstered his weapons and the boy pissed himself. “I am Sergio Malik, body guard of the Navigator House Shantoom and this is my charge. I understand, as a citizen of the Imperium, that it is my responsibility to surrender to the will of an Inquisitor, but I am also bound by the laws governing the safety of the Navigator Houses to return this boy to his family before allowing him or myself to be taken by any acknowledged authority.” The speech was practiced and relaxed, almost blasé. Sergio knew they had been caught and wasn’t going to be able to fight his way past a squad of anyone out in the open, much less highly trained storm troopers and an Inquisitor.
Inquisitor Guildenstern smiled a small smile that looked like it almost cracked his face, “You managed to escape a gambling den full of miscreants and criminals as they were being raided by some of the best trained soldiers in the Emperor’s galaxy?”
“I did. It was surprisingly easy.” Sergio made firm eye contact with the Inquisitor, but inside he was nervous. “I should also apologize; I had to shoot a few of your troopers to do it.” The storm troopers grimaced and aimed at Sergio for that.
Inquisitor Guildenstern raised his hand to stop them, “That’s all right; you do have a duty to your house and the boy. Even he, with his degenerate habits, is more valuable than the whole of this storm trooper platoon. My question for you is could you do it again?”
Sergio was surprised, “Yes, provided there was time to scout and prepare.”
The Inquisitor nodded to himself, “Let these men go. See that they make it safely back to their transport. You, boy, curb your habits. I will speak to your elders about how I found you here. And you, Malik, inform the House of Shantoom that Inquisitor Balthazar Guildenstern wishes to retain your services for an indeterminate amount of time. I will send for you once this ruckus is cleaned up.” And then he walked away. Sergio didn’t know at the time, nor would he learn until well after, that the Inquisitor had actually had him under surveillance for over a decade. During that time he had watched how Sergio had fought his way out of a hive city, much like the one he was trapped in now, as part of the planetary defense force when it was attacked by Eldar pirates. He saw that after his discharge the only jobs he was good at were related to violence. Sergio had been an enforcer, money collector, and gun fighter for whomever could afford his price. What the Inquisitor liked about him was that, even as a mercenary, he had integrity and actually did care about the future of humanity. That was rare, especially in a universe wrought with so much temptation. The House of Shantoom released Sergio and it was immediately apparent that he had traded up.
That is, until you get stuck in a box with four well-armed cultists of the Dark Gods bearing down on you. Grabbing the body of Gersh as a shield, he stood and shot at the four cultists as they approached. Las shots snapped off sounding like repetitive whip cracks. Sergio had sent short bursts of fire in the general directions of the attackers as he popped up, mostly as cover and for the shock. He didn’t hit anyone, though. Now that he had clear sight, at least as clear as his sight could be around the lolling head of Gersh, he was able to place his shots better. Impacts hit Gersh’s body making sounds like popping over-ripe fruit. The stink of flash burned robes and flesh filled Sergio’s nostrils. His shots, better aimed now, downed three of the cultists quickly, their red robes flapping as they fell looking like flames that were burning out. Sergio felt a burn on his left shoulder, it was the leader. He was a better shot and in a better position. After trading shots back and forth he could feel the wet of Gersh’s viscera starting to spill on his legs. This shield wasn’t going to be good for much longer. He dropped with the body as he heard shots slap into the cubby again. The power pack on the las gun was low, only a few shots left. He was still stuck!
“You’re not getting out of this!” The cultist shouted, “I’m sending you to your corpse god and then feasting on your heart!” Then he laughed a deep guttural laugh. Sergio frowned hard and looked around at what he had: a nearly empty las gun, two slugs left in Tania, a dead shot up body, and a series of hoses and tubes in the cubby hole, none of them big enough for him to slip through…
The leader stopped laughing and noticed that, besides the hum of the machines this deep in the hive, there was no noise. He took a quick peek around the corner, no motion by the cubby hole. He swung around with his rifle and popped off a couple shots. No response. “Hey, gun fighter, lost your nerve?” No response. The leader got brave and dashed to a bit of cover closer to the cubby. No shots were fired. “I’m coming to get you, gun fighter! I won’t go down like Gersh!” No response. He dashed to a bit of cover much closer to the cubby, no shots; no movement at in, in fact. Steeling up his nerve the cult leader popped up and ran yelling at the cubby, shooting blindly over the lip into the center of the box! Nothing, only Gersh’s body and a lot of blood all over the floor, a lot of blood; a body’s worth of blood. The leader rushed to the other side of the cubby, maybe the gun fighter had crawled out while he was hiding behind cover? But there was no blood trail, no body and no real escape route that wouldn’t have been visible. He spun in place, checking all the angles, even above. The gun fighter had vanished! Not sure what had happened, but satisfied that he was no longer in danger, the leader went and checked on the bodies of his fallen team. The three on the deck were dead. He collected the guns and power packs to take back with him. The rats and milipods will take care of the bodies. Then he headed to the cubby, Gersh was still there. He wondered how much of the blood in the cubby was from Gersh and how much was from the gun fighter. The leader jumped into the cubby and grabbed the discarded las gun, leaning it against the side of the cubby. Then he flipped over the body…
It wasn’t Gersh, what was left of Gersh after all the shots the body had taken was stuffed down between the pipes and tubes. Sergio had thrown on the robe and laid over the mess to wait for a chance to escape or kill. He said, “The Emperor Protects” and pulled the trigger. Tania spit one of her last two shots right between the cult leader’s eyes and he fell, limp, to the floor of the cubby. Sergio was quick to stand and throw off the robe. The stink of cultist blood was all over him. He grabbed the las guns, used the straps to hold them over his shoulder and made his way to the nearest Adeptus Arbites precinct to report. There were cultists on Muldavia, and the boss was going to have to do something about it.