Electromancer (A Martian Pants Man Story)
Created by Phil Adams & Ed Jowett
A heist, in particular a super-powered heist, is a machine with many moving parts. Every member of the crew is a cog in the greater machine, and if any one of them falters, the entire enterprise fails.
“Electromancer” had learned this lesson well. It had bounced back and forth inside her head, just as she had bounced back and forth between the rubberised walls of her prison cell for six long months until her – now tragically electrocuted – lawyer had finally managed to get a mistrial declared due to the “hostile public position on Empowered individuals at the time of jury trial.”
Supervillains and super-crimes had been big news back then, rather than just another part of daily life, and Electromancer’s unique modus operandi had been impressive enough to draw attention. That was only exacerbated when, despite all of the doctor’s poking and prodding before she was turned over to civilian authorities, no-one had any clue as to how she had pulled off her more impressive tricks.
That version of Electromancer’s machine had been a prototype. It had overloaded, burning down the safehouse where the crew would have retreated to with their ill-gotten gains – an unattended cog chewing up the perfect machinery of the heist.
This new machine was not a prototype. It was unique in the world, but it had been refined and perfected from her first attempt to reproduce the design bequeathed to her. Power fed into the device could be directed through Terra’s magnetic core to resurface anywhere on the planet.
Originally, it had been intended as a means to deliver electrical power to the masses, when optimists and inventors still believed in sharing the universal bounty. Soon, it was relegated to the history books – it was impossible to bill people for power generation and distribution through such a service. The design had never been perfected anyway; the power was spread over too dispersed an area to do much more than light a bulb plugged into the earth. The power demands of an industrialised society would soon have outstripped its capacity, even if the blueprints hadn’t been buried in some long-forgotten safe.
It was a useless device, unless you happened to be somebody who could harness ambient electricity in your vicinity and direct it to do your bidding.
This time, there were only two moving parts: Electromancer and her device. She had rented out a room in a dive apartment seven streets away from the bank, quietly rewired the domestic power supply in that room into a high-power transformer, checked all of the angles and calculations half a dozen times and powered everything up an hour early to make sure that there was no stress on the circuit. The bank tellers kept giving each other little shocks when they brushed against one another and their nasty polyester uniforms seemed to crackle more than usual, but otherwise everything was perfect.
At exactly eleven, she left the apartment, travelling by foot to the nearest underground station, where she gorged herself on the ambient charge from the centre rail in case of any unpredictable encounters with security outside of the bank.
She was seen by no less than seven different closed-circuit security cameras on her route, in addition to twelve webcams. All of them failed to capture sufficient detail due to the ionisation of the air around her. Technology, and the police’s reliance upon it, had not progressed since her last attempt at a bank job. It seemed that like many geniuses, she was ahead of her time with her first piece of art.
At exactly eleven o’clock, the students who were unwittingly sharing an apartment with the Electromancer realised that their electric meter was rapidly running out of prepaid credit when it started beeping at them. Luckily, their new sub-letting tenant had handed them a crisp note – a fifty, no less – to pay for power when she’d first arrived.
After a rousing game of rock-paper-scissors to decide who had to take the walk of shame to the shops, Bennet was elected, due to his unfortunate over-reliance on scissors, and set off promptly at five past eleven, since the beeping was getting increasingly insistent.
At exactly eleven o’clock, the superhero known as Martian Pants Man – Dave to himself – was hung over and regretting getting out of his bed. Or whoever’s bed that was. He hadn’t hung around to ask questions.
It took him a good while wandering around to work out what city he was in, what day it was and that what he really needed right now was a bacon sandwich, which he reached into his trouser pocket and retrieved. It did not have brown sauce, which was a cardinal sin in his book, but needs must.
“Must be nice having magic pockets.” He hadn’t even noticed the homeless man, more greasy hair than face, tucked into the alley.
Dave gave it some more thought, then shrugged. “More trouble than they’re worth most days.”
“Got a sandwich in there for me?”
“I can have a go.”
There was no sandwich forthcoming from Martian Pants Man’s pocket. The trousers instead elected to spit out a crisp note, which, upon inspection, was a fifty.
That was not ideal. Technically, he’d just stolen from somebody that he’d passed in the street by means of his unusual leg-wear. He handed the greasy hairball the money, because he wasn’t enough of a bastard not to, then he beat a hasty retreat before a nice gesture could turn into a mugging.
He was going to have to balance things out somehow. He figured it was possible he still had about fifty in his bank account. All he had to do was hand it in to the local police as lost and found, then the owner of the original fifty could come claim it, no harm done.
There was a bank from the chain he used just a few streets over, he’d cross his fingers and hope enough money was in there.
The Electromancer arrived at the bank at twenty-five minutes past eleven, pulled on her pointed cowl and walked right in, amid a thunderclap that knocked the bank’s customers to their knees.
Security guards received a low amperage arc of lightning each, equivalent to the Tasers they were attempting to deploy against her. Security cameras were neutralised by the ever-increasing ionisation of the air. The computers – her real target – received some far more complex electronic stimuli.
At the corner shop, Bennet handed over the relevant card, then patted at his wallet for the fifty. It was nowhere to be found. More than a little embarrassed. He went back to the apartment, only to find that he had not left it behind. The next time he walked to the shop, it was in slow motion, carefully studying every inch of the street in search for the missing money. Finally, he gave up and went home to beg for cash from the others. He arrived just in time for the power to cut out and leave them all scrabbling in the dark. It was eleven twenty-six.
Everything was going according to plan, right up until the moment that the power supply bouncing back through the planet’s core abruptly cut out.
All at once, the security guards seemed to leap back to life, the complex demands that she was sending to the computers were cut off and the cameras started recording… just in time to record Forethought strolling in the door and laying a hand on her shoulder.
“Never goes to plan for you, does it?”
Created by John H. Bookwalter Jr. & Ed Jowett
The problem with the phrase “the Kraken wakes”, Databurst reflected, was that it implied there was only one Kraken, and that the waking would only happen once.
He turned his hooded face to the horizon, reflexively closing his eyes as the salt spray hit his face. The summer sun leapt and sparkled on the green water, and the air was heavy with the smell of the ocean. The rest of the Aegis team were gathered at the edge of the surf, but Databurst had stepped to the end of the jetty, watching the waves furl and unfurl, ready to spring back to his teammates in the nanosecond that the creature revealed itself.
What it might be was anyone’s guess. They’d only got a warning, not a description. They’d seen giant crabs, giant squid, giant octopuses – there was a difference between them, as he kept on explaining – so it was quite conceivable that the next creature the Atlanteans threw at them could be a giant jellyfish. A giant anemone. A giant shark. A shark that could walk on land.
“Are you thinking about giant sharks again?” Penumbra’s steps on the slippery jetty had been muffled by the waves’ roaring.
“I mentioned giant sharks as a possibility once.”
“And I remembered. You’re not the only one with a good memory.”
Databurst rolled his eyes.
“Anyway, I think–” Penumbra began.
“That it’ll be a giant dolphin next. I know. You said that last week. Or a giant piece of sentient seaweed.”
“I never said that about seaweed.”
“Yes you did,” answered Databurst, turning towards her. “It was the twenty-fifth of January, and you’d had five tequilas because you said Christmas should happen every month, especially if the world was going to end. And if it was going to be because of giant sentient seaweed, we might as well enjoy the ride.” He grinned behind his mask as Penumbra laughed.
“Wow, D, calm down. It’s not a competition.”
“Of course it’s not, because you’re losing.”
The waves crashed against the jetty, sending white spray flying into the air as Databurst listened to what he’d just said. He swore internally. Great turn of phrase there, Seth, way to go. Exactly what a teammate needed to hear moments before battling an enormous jellyfish sent from Atlantis to take over the world.
“I didn’t mean that.”
He knew Penumbra was too savvy not to understand what he meant. She shook her head. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I’m sorry, though.”
“Don’t worry about it. Really.”
They both listened to the waves for a long moment. Databurst’s eyes followed the wheeling path of a white gull overhead as it rode a billowing current. The hot wind tossed it up and down like a yoyo, but the gull didn’t fight. Instead, it just spread its wings and held on tight. He could make out the minute adjustments the gull made to keep itself on track, a wing dip here, a tail flare there. It was a strange kind of power, acknowledging one’s own lack of strength as a way of capturing something bigger than yourself. Seeing weakness as potential. Vulnerability as opportunity.
“You don’t worry about it, do you?” Penumbra’s voice was light, like the question didn’t matter. “You’ve got so many more important things to use that big brain of yours for.”
Honesty and the need to reassure fought on Databurst’s tongue. “No,” he said finally. “I don’t worry.”
The images of battles fought and lost and won flashed through his memory, relentless as machine gun fire. The agony of his skin tearing under spear blades. The heat of blood running down his body, scorching even through his suit. The sickness of adrenaline leaving him trembling for hours after the doctor had stitched and bandaged him up.
But everything left its mark, and Databurst could remember everything. He closed his eyes again, and was glad that Penumbra couldn’t see through his hood. “I don’t worry,” he said again. “We’re winning, anyway.”
“Sure we are,” she said sardonically, and grinned when he looked at her quickly. “Come on, man. You can say you’re scared we’re losing. That doesn’t make it real.”
He’d have thought Penumbra of all people would know how quickly something as nebulous as a thought could take a stranglehold on reality.
When something black loomed beneath the waves, Databurst was almost glad. Seeing the shape of something strange and alien rushing through the sea toward the beach meant he didn’t have to continue this conversation. “It’s here,” he said, and grabbed Penumbra’s hand.
“I don’t see anything–”
Before she could protest, he threw her onto his back and ran to the beach at super speed, dropping her to her feet on the sand before she had even finished her sentence.
“Hey!” she yelled, then went wide-eyed and silent as she stared behind him.
Databurst spun around, sand flying about his feet. An enormous blue and purple claw was rising out of the ocean, followed by two black stalk eyes that swivelled and spun like telescopes.
The water broke and swirled away from its massive shell, bloated and mottled like old meat, and a choking smell of old fish and stagnant water rolled through the air. A huge wave rolled away as the creature broke the surface and slapped green and broken white onto the sand.
“Not another crab…” Databurst sighed.