The Salem Author Trials

salem author trials

There’s been an epidemic in the writing world lately, one that I knew about but ignored because, quite frankly, I didn’t give a damn. That was until a longtime reader of mine emailed me about it. When me, a mid tier author type guy, is getting emails about this, I guess it’s time to deal with it. I’ll let reader Cal introduce you to the issue:

Jeremy,

A number of authors I follow recently on their blogs have complained about other authors “buying their rank.” What do they mean by that? I’ve asked a few others, but no one has taken the time to email me back with some sort of explanation. To me, it looks like they are jealous of other people’s success.

Cal

The funny thing is, this is a hot button issue in the author community thanks David Gaughran and his latest blog (which you can find here) calling out people he’s deemed spammers for getting high rankings. I’ll let you read his accusations for yourself, I’m here today to rally against them.

I’m not naïve to realize we live in a world where everyone is guilty. Hell, even when they prove their innocence, they are still labeled guilty. The books Gaughran has personally called out are now flooded with terrible reviews from people who never bought the book. Those authors reputations are in the trash can, all on a hunch from an internet Amazon detective. And what happens if/when those authors prove their innocence? Not a damn thing. There’s no chance Gaughran goes back on his blog and issues an apology. Those seekers of justice who went out of their way to leave 2 to 3 word 1 star reviews? They are already on to their next target.

Could some of these authors have used nefarious means to make gains? Sure, but we have no way of proving it (and if you say you can, you’re just fooling either yourself or the readers for follow you). Even the trumpeted ‘Customers also bought’ people like to use as proof isn’t fool proof. I emailed Amazon on the issue and if enough people search for the same titles in a row, those titles will appear was the representative’s official answer. What do blogs like Gaughran’s do? They cause people to search for those titles back to back to back, etc…

I apologize if I got a bit soap box-y today. I’m just sick and tired of ‘experts’ with nothing better to do going out of their way to hurt others. Being an author is an absolute joy for me and for a lot of readers. Let’s keep it that way for crying out loud. I  just worry that this issue is going to be like the actual Salem Witch Trials, a lot of innocent authors are going to get burned at the stake without a shred of credible proof against them.

-Jeremy

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Release Day Special! The Negative Man: Prelude to Chaos (The Conclusion)

Whoa! You’re still here. Well, we made it through Prelude to Chaos today and now you should be all set to read Legends Can Die. Thank you to everyone who has been with me from the start of this journey, as it wouldn’t mean much without great readers.

On today of all days, let’s end this with a bang! Happy 4th everyone!

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Chapter 15 –

Christmas Day; Alameda Apartment Complex

I flicked the power on the old goggles and this time, they came to life. A nice radiant yellow color shined through, looking very intimidating. I pushed them over my eyes and saw the world in a whole new way. Maybe one day I’d have to work myself up a pair of these.

I fixed up the dings and scratches, too. They looked almost brand new. Figuring if I was going to do this, I’d do it right, I dropped them into a brown paper bag and wrote Merry Christmas in black pen on the bag. Planning to drop these off later, I had one other stop to make today.

I pulled up to the Cieslik house. I’m not sure why, I felt really bad about having to kill him the way I did. My guilt had spurred me to go out and buy a six pack and come over on Christmas. I knocked on the door and waited to see what would happen.

Danielle, Erin’s wife opened the door. “Jericho?” Her eyes were red and puffy, obviously from crying. “What’re you doing here?”

The real reason was something I’d have to keep to myself. Instead, “I figured you could use a drink and a friend today.”

She let me in and I saw the kids playing with some toys by a fully decked out Christmas tree. “Erin loved Christmas, that’s for sure.”

I plucked two beers from pack and handed her one. “Erin was a pretty decent guy. You think he’s still out there?”

She took a long sip before shaking her head no. “He loved his kids too much. No, he’s dead, that I know for sure.”

Yeah, I did too. We didn’t really say much more as we finished the six pack together. It was getting a bit later in the afternoon, so I got up to give the family some time. “Merry Christmas, Danielle. I’m sorry things have unfolded the way they did.”

“After the New Year, me and the kids are moving back east. It was Erin who wanted to live out here, not me.”

I bowed my head a bit. “Good luck. I hope everything works out.”

**Phil Jenkins**

I was sitting with Owen Walker at the bar, the only two people in the place on Christmas. “I know that charger was defective. I purposefully miss-wired it so it wouldn’t work.”

Walker tipped his whiskey at me. “Don’t worry about it, Phil. It would’ve been nice to keep that technology with us, but I have another plan in place.”

I finished my beer and another one immediately showed up. I started downing that one, too. “Is the group still in place? The plutonium core incident doesn’t change anything?”

“Phil,” he said as he placed his hand on my shoulder. “You’re such a worrier. Yes, as soon as we recruit a fourth member, our little group will be immobilized. There is a power vacuum in this city that we can very much take advantage of.”

I wondered how long it would take to get that fourth member. Either way, “Well, I’m out, Owen. Thanks for the Christmas beer.”

Another man walked through the bar door even before I put my money down to pay for my tab. It was Jeff Trelewicz. “Walker, Jenkins – I think I found the perfect guy to take up the Diamonds mask.”

The Cast –

Jericho Staley – The Negative Man

John Wonderton – The Dark Lion

Erin Cieslik – IT; Wonder-Tech

Dave Whisant – General; United States Army

Channel Esposito – Captain; Army Rangers

Joshua Pabon – Captain; Army Rangers

Valiant – Masters of Magic

Hilda – Masters of Magic

Danielle Cieslik – Erin’s Wife

Heather Adams – Lawyer; Wonder-Tech

Owen Walker – CEO of gl-O-bal

Phil Jenkins – R and D; Wonder-Tech

PJ Douglas – Massacre

Jeff Trelewicz – Security; gl-O-bal

Present Day…

I felt like shit. I opened my eyes and the light burned them. And the headache, oh my God it was killing me. A voice startled me. “It seems you’re finally awake, Mr. Cieslik.”

Awake, if you want to call it that. “Where – am – I?” My voice was hoarse, cracking with each word.

Two men entered my line of sight as my eyes adjusted to everything. “Mr. Cieslik, I’m the Secretary of Defense, Ronald Victory. You might remember the man to my left, General Dave Whisant. You worked for him previously.”

It was like a bad dream coming back to haunt me. “You’re the guy the hired me to steal the power charger.” My throat felt a bit better this time.

He stepped forward. In a friendly tone, “That I am. I’m sorry that things didn’t work out in that situation.”

“What do you –” Then a memory flooded back to me. My friend Jericho found out I betrayed the company. No wait, Jericho was The Negative Man! He killed me! Or at least I think he did…

Seeing me thinking over all of this, “You were dead, for about twenty-six minutes. But we saved you. You’re currently being held in a top secret facility underneath Dungeon Bay, outside of Pacific Station.”

What this Victory guy said made no sense. “How did you bring me back to life?”

“We needed a test subject,” Victory went on. “When General Whisant discovered your body in the water, we couldn’t believe what we found. Proof that The Negative Man was still in play here.”

My headache was starting to come back. “What did you do to me? Why do I feel so different?”

“In a minute.” Victory walked over and freed the restraints holding my arms. “It took the better part of five years, but we’ve perfected the serum just in time. Congratulations Mr. Cieslik. You’ve been promoted to my security detail.”

I stumbled forward, my body feeling like it didn’t belong to me. Through gritted teeth, “Tell me what you’ve done!”

Whisant answered for him. “Like Secretary Victory said, it took five years, but you’re the perfect specimen. We think because you have some residual power from The Negative Man flowing in your veins, the serum worked better. You my friend, well you’re Omega, the most powerful sentinel alive!”

“It is an honor, Erin. The ones we’ve released to various police departments are nothing compared to the power that is fully harnessed inside of you,” Whisant added.

“And with The Negative Man off the playing field, trapped in some coma over at Black Lagoon, it’s time we finish what we once started here in Pacific Station. And you my sentinel friend, you’ll lead the charge,” Victory said as he was laughing like a maniac.

I didn’t know what a sentinel was, but a cold, almost robotic presence was welling up inside me. It was starting to take over and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to stop it. “Nooooo!”

-Jeremy

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Release Day Special! The Negative Man: Prelude to Chaos (Chapter 14)

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Chapter 14 –

Tuesday Night; Ray’s Storage

“What did they just take?” That was Massacre complaining about something. I didn’t have time to keep checking in on them. They were supers and these two guys were just guys – special ops guys, but still. I had a freaking nuke to disarm!

I heard something hit the wall behind me. To my surprise, Pabon had just thrown Massacre into it. There was something strange about the ranger, too. Whatever they took, it seemed to level the playing field.

Again, not my concern. I had wires to start snipping. I couldn’t look at the wires I just spliced from the timer to the core. I opened up the panel just under the harness where I installed the charger and found what I needed. There were so many wires going into the core, I didn’t even know where to start.

Great, gun fire was added to the mix behind me. As if these idiots couldn’t make a deadly situation even worse. With that threat, I probably didn’t even have the twelve minutes that were on the timer. Or actually the nine minutes and fifty-three seconds it was flashing. C’mon Jericho, think! I looked over the wires again – it was time to make some decisions.

I immediately discounted the three red wires going to different circuits. Red was always bad. I was left with green, blue, black, and white. There were two white wires, so I reached in with my knife and cut them. There wasn’t a giant, life ending explosion, so I figured we were good. That just left the green, blue and black.

Pain hit me in the shoulder. I dropped my knife and hit the cement floor. Pabon had shot me. “I can’t let you do that, Jericho.”

The bullet hit bone or else it would’ve gone clean through and mushroom clouded this city. That did little for me though, as I was in excruciating pain. Pabon walked over to me and pointed the gun at my head. “Nothing personal; I just can’t let you ruin our plans.”

And so this is how The Negative Man was going to die, by trying to do the right thing. I was too close to the core to use my power, as that would’ve been a death sentence for us all. Either way, I was SOL. Until A clawed hand grabbed Pabon by the neck and snapped it. The ranger went down in a heap.

DL was standing over me. “Jericho, are you okay?”

“Besides a bullet in my shoulder, I’m doing fantastic!” Yeah, my sarcastic charm never goes away. Still, I was grateful… to my enemy of all people. “Thanks, I appreciate still being alive.”

Esposito was laying a beating on Massacre. “I can handle him if you can finish disarming that.”

I grabbed my knife with my working left hand and pulled myself up. “Go, I got this.” I sounded a bit more confident than I actually was.

We were under five minutes. Seeing as how there were more black wires than any other color, I went with them. I cut all five black wires, and as I cut the last one, the timer switched from five minutes to a critical one minute countdown.

Over the punching, “Jericho, I hope that’s a good thing!”

Blue or green, there were two wires for each one. It was a simple guess at this point, so I grabbed green as it was my favorite color and cut the remaining two wires. With twenty-eight seconds to spare, the timer froze in place.

At the same time behind me, DL smashed Esposito in the face with a huge overhand punch. Wonderton looked pretty damn beat up, too. I missed one hell of a fight.

**** 

General Whisant placed Esposito under arrest personally. It was a shame we weren’t there to see it, but we were back at Wonder-Tech Tower as DL was digging the bullet out of my shoulder. I’ll go ahead and admit it, I screamed. Never being shot before, it wasn’t something I’d ever want to do again.

“Jericho,” he sounded solemn. “From here on out, this control room is your home. I put you in harm’s way and for that I’m sorry.”

He was referring to the gunshot, but we were in so much more danger if I hadn’t been there to disarm that bomb. “You know what? I could use a quiet spell. Being the eyes behind the scene is just fine by me.”

“I need to go check on PJ, but in the meantime, take the rest of the week off. You’ve earned it.”

He was walking away, yet I had one last question. “You think this is all over, with the shady government connections and everything?”

DL sighed. “It’s as over as it is going to be for us. The core is out of the city and the corrupt captain has been arrested. Sometimes they don’t come any more gift wrapped than that.”

A blasted Christmas pun. “You know what? Christmas is next week. I’m taking vacation through the twenty-sixth.”

“Fair enough. Just turn out the light when you are able to get on out of here.”

About an hour later, my shoulder was feeling a tad better and I was ready to head back to my apartment. I looked back at the control room one last time. “Yeah, I think this is where I need to be, for the time being.”

-Jeremy

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Release Day Special! The Negative Man: Prelude to Chaos (Chapter 13)

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Chapter 13 –

Tuesday Night; Ray’s Storage

Of course they were keeping a potential nuke at a storage facility. I mean, that just screamed common sense, naturally. I arrived fifteen minutes early with the charger prototype. Earlier in the day, Jenkins seemed almost pissed that the last test went off perfectly. I was surprised by that; I was expecting him to jump through the roof. I mean, he’d been working on it for the better part of the month I’d been there.

Stealing the prototype when you have the boss’s approval to do such things was easy. Again, once everyone was gone, it was a matter of overriding the locks and stealing it. Wonderton then went back in and erased the entry codes, making it none the wiser who stole the prototype. So that’s how it got here, in my car, while I waited for Esposito and Pabon to show up.

Not too far away were Massacre and DL. We went without comms just in case they patted me down or something. This had to look as authentic as possible or the two army rangers would try to kill me. I mean, they’d try and fail, and then the world would know The Negative Man was still alive. We couldn’t have that, at least right now.

I was listening to some good old classic rock, trying to keep the mood light. No sooner did a favorite song of mine pop on the radio than a black van rolled into the parking lot. I could see Pabon driving from here, but I stayed in my car until I was summoned. They parked and just sat there for a few minutes without moving. This was probably part of their training to make sure they weren’t being ambushed. When everything checked out to them, Esposito and Pabon got out.

They didn’t stray far. Esposito flashed a small light over at me, which must’ve been my signal. I got out of the car and opened the back driver’s door. Pulling out the charger prototype, I slowly walked over to the men. I stopped at about five feet away and set it on the ground. “Well, here it is, hot and ready just like you ordered.”

Pabon walked over and inspected it. “This is it and its running. As soon as we connect it to the plutonium core, we’ll have a way to detonate that thing.”

Detonate, that was a pretty cool word. I’d have to remember that if I ever got back into supervillain pursuits. Meanwhile, “So how much time do I have to get the hell out of here?”

“We’re going to set the charger to a timer that will go off in exactly twelve hours. If I was you, I’d stay making haste right now.”

Esposito had another idea. “No, we need him for one more task. Jericho, can you hook this into the core? We can, but it’d take a lot longer.”

Of course I could. Why would I want to though? Oh yeah, I was the diversion. “Something tells me this really isn’t a choice.”

“It is, but consider this a request. You do this for us and we’ll see whenever you land on your feet, you’re compensated.”

As he was yapping, I was wondering where the hell Massacre and DL were. What the hell were they waiting for?! “I like money. Let’s do this.”

Pabon picked up the charger and I followed the two of them into the air conditioned storage facility. Smart, keeping it a steady temperature kept the core stable.

We walked down the second hallway and Esposito unlocked the garage door and lifted it up. Sure enough, right in the middle of the storage locker was a freaking plutonium core from way back in the day. The casing around the radioactive material seemed to be in good order and there was a place prepared to set the charger in. The only thing that needed to be done was splice the wires from the core and the charger together.

The only thing missing was the timer. “I need to install the timer into the charger first before connecting it.”

Esposito reached into his pocket and pulled out a standard issue missile timer. Once I connected it to the charger, it’d go live for a time to be entered. That only took about a minute and we had a functioning timer. Trying to delay things, “We’ll add the countdown once it is in place. Let’s do the complicated stuff first.”

Neither ranger disagreed and I got to work. Splicing wires is tedious, especially when it is connected a charger to a nuke. One wrong move and the entire place goes to hell in a handbasket. The first three lines were pretty simple; it was the last one giving me some problems.

As I finished getting the last one set, my backup finally showed up. The problem is I didn’t see them right away and I set the charger into the prewired harness. Pabon did and immediately pushed me out of the way.

DL was charging forward but stopped. “Listen ranger, you don’t want to do that.”

“I’m not taking orders from a freak like you.” I’d just set the timer for twelve hours but Pabon changed the denomination from hours to minutes and hit the start. “Sorry suckers, you’re not walking out of here alive tonight.”

Esposito pulled a long, dangerous knife from his boot. “Rumor has it guns won’t work on either of you, but I bet you bleed like any other man.”

A rumble was about to go down but we had bigger problems. In less than twelve minutes, Pacific Station was going to be a crater, unless I disarmed this bomb. So while the two rangers began stalking the vigilantes, I pulled out my own smaller pocket knife and began to sweat. “Damnit Jericho, one wrong move and this thing goes off.”

Check please, I was ready to go back to being a villain.

-Jeremy

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Release Day Special! The Negative Man: Prelude to Chaos (Chapter 12)

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Chapter 12 –

Monday Evening; Wonder-Tech Tower

DL had even called in Massacre for this. I wasn’t a fan of that choice, but it wasn’t my show, either. After I had laid out everything I knew, “I’m to bring the prototype for the charger to this address. I’m guessing that’s where they are keeping the core.”

John was leaning up against his workbench. “Do you think this is two dissenters from the army going AWOL or do you think the general is in the know, too?”

It was tough to say. My gut told me the government was always involved in such things, yet General Whisant seemed too level to get involved with a plan to blow up an entire city. Haphazardly, “If I was to make an educated guess, I think Esposito and Pabon are rogues on their own. This feels too much like an extremist attack, not a government sanctioned op.”

“I agree.” Wonderton turned to PJ, “We’re going to let Jericho steal and deliver the prototype to them. You and I will act as his backup. As soon as he delivers it, we pull him out and take the rangers head on.”

“These two are just regular soldiers, so it shouldn’t be too much trouble, right?”

He shrugged at my question. “It is tough to say, Jericho. I get the feeling there’s more to Esposito and Pabon than we realize.”

“John,” PJ spoke up. “Not to add to this, but we should probably go out and see if we can find that Cieslik kid. The local Leo’s aren’t having any luck.”

Wonderton rubbed his temples. “You’re right. Plus he was my employee and a good guy. Let’s suit up. Jericho, you sticking around to stay on comms?”

I had nothing else really to do and secretly, I was beginning to enjoy the work. “Yeah why not? Plus, if you don’t mind, I’ll look at some of your other gear and see what I can do.”

He picked up the Lion Claw. “I don’t think that’s a bad idea. This turned out fantastic.”

It didn’t take long for the two of them to get ready and hit the streets. The moment they were gone, I routed everything to my tablet and took the elevator to R and D. I wanted to see this charger that had everyone so jazzed up. The offices were locked, but that was no problem. A quick burst of polarity quickly unlocked the floor, giving me access to everything.

I figured Jenkins kept his most top secret work in the back lab and sure enough the charger prototype was there, under a glass housing. I was quite surprised to see a man like Jenkins come up with something so advanced. He didn’t seem capable. I manipulated the key lock pad and the housing lifted up, giving me access to the prototype.

Upon inspecting it, “Phil, how could you overlook that?” He had crossed the positive and negative intake wires. I grabbed the stabilized tweezers from the table and made the change. When he fired that thing up tomorrow, it was going to work like a dream.

My eyes drifted around the room, seeing all the exotic trinkets Jenkins was up to. Wonder-Tech was mostly a cell phone manufacturer with dabbling in other ventures. Some of the things Jenkins was developing seemed way off base. But before I could investigate, I got buzzed in by DL. “Jericho, we have a potential lead.”

How could that be? Acting cool, “What’s up? Do you need me to look into something?”

“Can you pull up a residential security camera that is adjacent to the Cieslik residence? Police didn’t notice the owner of the house had one, but I did.”

Swallowing hard, “Yeah, send me the address.”

A few seconds later, the address popped up on my phone and I entered it in. The security company had a pretty flimsy firewall to keep hackers out, so I was in without a problem. I scrolled through the footage on my tablet to the night in question. You could clearly see Cieslik get out of his car with his wife and then stumble around as she entered the house. A figured then rushed him and subdued him. From the vantage point I had, you could almost say it looked as if Cieslik got tased.

And that’s the story I was going to go with. “An unknown assailant appears to surprise him and used a taser on him.”

“A taser,” DL mumbled. “That reeks of military. Why would Esposito or Pabon abduct the guy that was working for them? Maybe Erin had a change of heart?”

There was a change all right, from living to dead. “The only way to find out is to confront them. Maybe we should go to the address tonight?”

“No.” He sounded sure in his answer. “They might not even be there. We have a plan and it’s a solid one. Even though I don’t like the idea of you going into the field, let’s not deviate this late in the game.”

With nothing left to do, we shut down the comms. I went back upstairs and was getting ready to call it a night when I got the hankering to do something. There was a pair of old goggles setting on a shelf above the workbench. They’d look as if they’d seen a lot of battles; scratches and chipped paint covered them.

I flicked the toggle switch to on and the eyes flashed for a minute before shutting off. I figured these weren’t going to be getting any use, so I put them in my bag. I kept a pretty bare bones apartment, but I had enough tools to mess around with these and see if I could bring them back to life. Plus, it’d keep my mind going until tomorrow. With a new project in hand, I flicked the power switch to the secret room off and headed on home.

-Jeremy

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Release Day Special! The Negative Man: Prelude to Chaos (Chapter 11)

We did it everyone! First and foremost, a happy Fourth of July to all who celebrate it. May your day be full of brats, beer, and Negative Man. Yep, Legends Can Die is officially out on the Kindle and the paperback version is available at most major retailers’ websites. This book is the culmination of a year of planning, writing, and putting together one of the coolest plots I think I’ve come up with. I really hope you enjoy it.

As the day goes on, the rest of Prelude to Chaos will pop up on the blog. We’re going to start here with Chapter 11 and keep coming back as we plow through to the finish!

Want the books? http://www.amazon.com/author/jeremycroston

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Chapter 11 –

Friday Night; Cieslik Residence

I followed Erin and his wife home. When they pulled into the driveway, she got out and went inside to check on the kids and babysitter. Erin, a bit drunk, stumbled out of the driver’s door and stretched out. This was my opportunity. I rushed forward and using my powers, subdued him. I dragged him to my car, loaded him into the trunk and left. Sorry Mrs. Cieslik, you’re about to become a widow.

I stopped driving once we got out to the secluded area known as Dungeon Cove. It was well outside the town and the rocky terrain made the cove almost inaccessible to regular old Joes. It was here where I dumped area and slapped him a few times, waking him up.

Erin didn’t fully realize what was happening right away, that is until he really saw who it was. “Jericho? What’re you doing, man?”

“We were friends. I tried to live a good and decent life and then I find out my one friend is working with those two crooked captains, Esposito and Pabon.”

He put his hands up. “Listen I can explain. They’re paying me a lot of money to steal Wonder-Tech prototypes.” He tried to stand up, but slipped on the wet rock. “I was going to warn you before it went off, give you time to leave.”

I honestly believed he was going to do that. Unfortunately, there was something he didn’t know about me. I grabbed my mask from my jacket and put it on. “Why would I want to leave the city I’ve chosen to reshape?”

“No…” Surprise always seemed to be the reaction. “Jericho dude, tell me you’re not The Negative Man.”

The time for charades was over. “Where are Pabon and Esposito? Tell me, because it’s only going to get worse if you don’t.”

He was trying to get away from me, but the rocks were just too damn slippery. “I don’t know! I was supposed to deliver the charger to them once Jenkins finished it. They were going to text me the address.”

Erin knew too much. I hated the idea that he had to die; it just was the way of the world. “Thanks for being a good friend. Maybe in the afterlife, if there is one, drinks can be on you.”

Like I did to Valiant, I was quick and efficient, not prolonging the suffering needlessly. When he was dead, I kicked his body into the water, letting Mother Nature do away with the evidence.

**** 

When I turned on the news the next morning, the top story was the abduction of local man, Erin Cieslik. Police Chief Harvey Grimes wasn’t all that positive, basically telling the viewing audience that this was probably going to end up being a homicide case. Granted, he was right, but man, he was a terrible interview.

I sat down with my bowl of cereal in hand and was getting ready to turn the television to the West Coast Sports Network when my door was rather rudely kicked in. The owner of said foot, Captain Channel Esposito, stormed in with his partner, Captain Joshua Pabon right behind him. Both men had assault rifles strapped to their backs, like they were getting ready for a war.

It was surreal to watch them calmly take seats in my living room, not even breaking character for the fact they just kicked in my door. “You’ve been drafted to support the army,” Esposito said calmly. “As such, the nature of this non-voluntary assignment is extremely classified.”

“We need you to deliver us the prototype that Erin Cieslik was supposed to get,” Pabon added in.

I played dumb. Giving away my hand in this situation wasn’t going to get me anywhere except for more dead bodies. “What in bloody hell are you talking about?”

Esposito smiled. “I told you Cieslik kept his mouth shut. Jericho here is in the dark.”

Pabon leaned in, “You’re familiar with the prototype charger that a man named Phil Jenkins is developing for your company, correct?” I was. “Erin was going to steal it for us, that way we could complete assembly for the plutonium core. This crooked town needs a nuclear cleansing.”

“Wait, so you two are the ones who bought the core from that super?” I knew all of this, but it was fun to watch them squirm a little. “Channel, not just a few days ago you were here telling me you weren’t involved.”

“A necessary lie to keep you off the path until we were ready.” He stood up, getting ready to launch his villain speech. I knew this move, as I had perfected it myself. “My wife was killed by one of these freaks. Supers… they are a blight to our society and the west coast, especially Pacific Station, embraces them. Well, no more. With that plutonium core, we’re going to make a mark that will act as a beacon to the rest of the nation.”

And people thought I (or rather The Negative Man) was extreme. “What about all the innocent people you’ll kill?”

“No one here is innocent. Go to an elementary school and the kids worship The Dark Lion. Not our soldiers, they worship a monster.”

I was going to get through with reason. The ideal plan would be to go along with this and find the core. “Obviously I have no choice, so when and where do I need to get this charger to you?”

Pabon pulled out a scrap piece of paper with an address written down on it. “Erin was going to make the delivery Tuesday night, once Jenkins ran his last field test. You’ll be expected to do the same.”

There was really nothing left to say. I took the paper and the two of them left. Before Channel completely disappeared from view, he added, “You’re a good man for accepting this mission. Sometimes you need to burn Rome to save it.”

-Jeremy

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The Negative Man: Prelude to Chaos (Chapter 10)

We’re getting pretty close to the end. We’ll have this story wrapped up by Monday next week, I believe.

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Chapter 10 –

Friday Evening; Beaches Boat Club

The dreaded Christmas party was here. Erin mostly did everything to get this shindig off the ground and, believe it or not, the place looked pretty good. In the middle of the hall was a huge Christmas tree decorated from top to bottom. Along the back wall was a massive spread of Italian food, with the open bar right beside it. I was one of the first people here and I was glad no one was around to see my kind of enjoying myself.

No one that is until Erin showed up. “Is that some Christmas cheer I see on that Scrooge-like face?” He was holding a cup of spiked apple cider. “Can’t blame you though, this place looks rockin’!”

Another voice joined in the agreement. “I do say, for two IT guys, you sure brought this together very nicely.” John Wonderton was dressed in a suit and tie. Man did he make Erin and I look underdressed for the occasion. “I think I’ve earned a night of relaxation. I’m going to grab a beer and enjoy the music.”

Not long after Wonderton hit up the bar did most of the employees of Wonder-Tech and their dates arrive. Erin left me hanging once his wife showed up, so I kind of stuck to myself along the far wall. Heather Adams showed up, too, looking amazing. Unfortunately, her boyfriend was with her, not that I would’ve said anything anyways.

A few people came up at different moments and chatted me up here and there. Most of it was pity, but some were generally interested. Still, the night started to wear on me, so I ducked out and got some fresh air close to the beach.

My mind immediately went back to the plutonium core and the two ranger captains. Knowing what I did about Channel’s past, it was safe to assume he got Pabon in on this to help him. The two of them then ‘stole’ the funds without Whisant knowing and made the deal themselves. No offense to the men, but what would the two of them be able to do with a core that must’ve not been working.

I came to that conclusion because if it had been working, I can’t imagine they would’ve sat on it this long. I pulled out my phone and did a cursory search for doctors and engineers in the area that would be able to help them do anything with the core. Only one name popped up – Owen Walker, the head of gl-O-bal.

There was no news of Walker being kidnapped or anything, but it was worth looking into. Suffice to say if they hadn’t reached out to Walker, then I really had no idea what their plans were. The only other person in the city who could arm that thing was me, and they had no idea who I truly was.

I knew now wasn’t the time and if I didn’t go back to the party soon, Wonderton would wonder (say that three times fast) where I went to. Resigned, I made my way back towards the festivities.

 

****

 

Have you ever watched grown ass people play Pin the Tail on the Reindeer? It was a nightmare. The only redeeming part was the free drinks. Most of the ones playing were three sheets to the wind. All I could do was shake my head in despair as Erin stumbled towards the reindeer in question and fell face first into its backside.

“This is quite the entertaining affair.”

Wonderton’s sense of entertainment was about to be called into question. “There is so much else we could be doing. We have a solid lead and could be getting information from them.”

“Consider this a lesson.” He was my teacher now? “One must always retain a bit of their humanity even in the darkest of times. That humanity allowed me to defeat The Negative Man.”

That was a stretch. More like my exceedingly questionable judgement. “What does humanity have to do with it?”

He spread his arms wide. “The enjoyment these people are having tonight is the reason we fight in the shadows. If there wasn’t good people like this to keep safe, then why bother?”

Damnit, I hated myself for actually taking in what he said. This was beginning to remind me a bit about my dad, Ellison Staley’s outlook on life. Well before a certain jerk named Cooper stole that from both of us. “So I’m guessing there’s nothing else to do but drink and be merry?”

“You could mingle with your co-workers.”

“Sage advice from the guy who avoids human contact even more than I do.”

With that said, the two of us went our separate ways. Me, I went over to the bar and ordered another beer as Wonderton walked around and pretended to be a boss that cared. Chances were he was also handing out Christmas bonuses. I had received mine the day before.

Deciding not to be a Debbie Downer, I began looking for Erin. He seemed to know how to let loose, so I figured I’d give it a shot, too. But she was nowhere to be found. I spotted his wife however, so I made my way to her. “Mrs. Cieslik, have you seen Erin?”

“Jericho,” she hiccupped. She’d been drinking quite a bit, too. “He stepped outside to take a phone call. He’ll be right back, I think?”

The idea of heading back outside for just even a minute was appealing, so I went out there to give my buddy crap for taking a phone call during a party. When I stepped outside, there he was on the phone like she said, but I froze in place.

“They have no idea I’m your man on the inside, Channel. As soon as R and D gets that prototype charging station complete, we’ll be able arm that core.” Esposito answered him, but I couldn’t hear. “You’re damn right. We’ll show this hippie loving town what happens when you give those super freaks too much leniency.”

Until tomorrow!

-Jeremy

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