Comic Book Project I'm working on


This is news, Vincenzo, NEWS!
Jan 30, 2009
I'm working on a comic/graphic project tentatively entitled 'City of Masks'
takes place in fictional Portage City Oregon
the city has totally outlawed firearms, even police. I use this as a plot device cuz one must have incredible powers (or body armor) to be immune to bullets. I want to do something more like Watchmen where no one has special powers, they're all just athletic and adventurous.

I'm writing this here partly to claim the idea. burns me to think someone else will come up with a gun-free city and get it in print first.


This is news, Vincenzo, NEWS!
Jan 30, 2009
another concept; the city has mandated electric toilets so no one uses sewers. there is an extensive network of sewer/storm drain stuff under the city. one of the characters (Black Swimmer) stumbles into them and starts using and mapping them for something to do.


This is news, Vincenzo, NEWS!
Jan 30, 2009
Lady L is Taken

Lady L was sort of a minor mask, but a mask she was. Her cafe ended up being frequented by society ladies (great salad bar!) and various mask groupies. Every hour or so she made the rounds and schmoozed a bit--when not 'on the job' (nudge wink). The first floor was mostly open with a few private and semi-private spaces, the salad bar (City's Best!) prominent. Most of the public did not know about the second floor.
Thursday night in November. Nasty cold and unseasonal snow, lots of it. L passed the word 'we're closing at eight tonight', which was fine. Not much crowd anyway.
Tad set out to close and clean what they called the Soup Lounge on the second floor. He'd started at L's as a busboy and kitchen helper and happily accepted the soup lounge gig. After two weeks he worriedly suggested to L that there might not be enough business to keep the lounge open. L, smiling cutely and twisting her light brown hair, cheerfully told him not to worry too much about and Tad eventually realized that this part of the cafe was members-only, meaning members of the mask fraternity. Tad had a gift for chatting without being too inquisitive, which served him well.
Almost done. Counter clean. Leftover soup put in the fridge. Not much paperwork this job, all done. Tad casually looked out the window--oh--
Some men were dragging L out the back through the snow into the woods beyond.
After the few seconds shock wore off he called 911. After a minute he gave up. The snow had turned traffick into a cluster and all the available cops were on that.
My boss is being taken. I'm up.
He jumped down the stairs through the door into the employee parking lot, now almost empty. Back of his truck he grabbed a hunting jacket and floppy hat. Cold. He too a face warmer.
And a crossbow. And a knife (a Kabar, not a penknife). And a few other things. And something hidden in what looked like a roll of rope.
Easy to track them in the snow. Which had finally stopped, the clouds clearing a bit.
He tracked, staying out of sight and hearing. The woods were light near the cafe, then heavier, now lighter. Much of the brush had died off in the cold.
He moved quick and caught up behind them. Two anonymous-looking toughs were dragging her. A third man, taller, was occasionally shouting orders and vocalizing something best described as cackling.
They came to a clearing, Tad still out of sight. Now he got a look at the tall guy, older with a beard. The toughs were tying L to a tree. No, wait, a pole with a cross piece.
They had done that little bit in advance.
There was a sort of table. There was a case on it. The older guy made a show of opening the case and pulling out a fancy schmancy curved knife. Old guy looked...
A little light in the sky?
Tad was close enough, and the wind had died enough, to catch some of whatever he was saying.
"...the moon rises full over the into the Bowl of Hebridesia...mine! mine!"
Must be some stupid cultist, thought Tad.
The toughs occasionally looked around, more out of boredom than awareness it looked like. Tad crept around as close as he dared.
Into his bag. Pull it out.
Deploy it. Close eyes and hold ears.
Sound like thunder and light like lightning.
Tad counted three, opened his eyes, and made his move. The tall guy and the toughs were dazed. He cuffed the toughs to each other before they realized what was going on. Good.
Now Tad stood face to face with the bearded guy. Older and crazed looking (cultist, go figure). "You will PAY for your insolence!"
Tad punched him in the nose. Dude, nobody talks like that.
Old guy got up and had something in his hand and suddenly Tad was aware of some dust being blown in his face.
He froze.
He sneezed.
He punched the old guy again and cuffed him.
L was coming around now. "Hold on, I need to make a call." She did and put the phone away.
"My people are coming.
"Didn't know you were a mask, Tad."
"A what?"
"A mask. You know. Like me." Amused smile.
"What, this?" He pulled the mask down. "That's just for the cold.
"I guess we should drag these guys back to the ranch." Tad was breathing heavily but feeling good. L was okay.
"Not necessary." L was feeling okay too. "They'll come to us in a moment."
And five minutes later they were, a squad of cops operating with military efficiency.
"Howja find us?" Tad asked casually as they bundled up the toughs and the old guy.
"Tracker in L's phone. Good job" he added.

The meeting was two days later. A tall fortyish guy came to the soup lounge. He had been there a few times, dark hair with a bit of white at the temples, muscles under the nice suit, square jaw face. Sometimes having phone conversations, always polite. "Get your outfit, Tad, we're having a meeting."
Tad was confused. "My 'outfit'?"
"Whatever you wore the other night. You know. Your costume." The older guy was patient.
"That was just my hunting gear."
Older guy stopped and looked. "You had a mask."
"It was cold."
Older guy cocked his head. "Are you a Mask or not?"
"A Mask? No." The heck..?
"Mm." Old guy was unsure. "Well we'll talk about it."

Older guy ("Call me Charles. Charles Ferrebee.") drove (black Chrysler 300, nice ride) them to a parking garage behind an anonymous-looking office building just off downtown. "In we go." Tad noticed a cop hanging out at the street entrance. Ferrebee led him to a room behind a door. "Excuse me a mo." He re-entered a minute later except
Dressed like a Greek warrior in armor with helmet. And a mask. "Recognize me now?"
Tad pondered. "Are you the one they call The Spartan?"
"The same."
Tad looked him up and down. "No weapons?"
"Little knife back here. This is my meeting kit."
"That armor looks...light."
"Breastplate, leg greaves, helmet...all fiberglass. Mostly for show. Like everything else we do. Psychological advantage, you know.
"Now. Do you understand your situation?"
"Um. No." Tad hadn't realized that there was a 'situation'. "Some idiots took my employer and I got her back."
Ferrebee / Spartan sighed. "You had a mask. And Mage blowed some magic powder on you."
"What, the sneeze powder?" Tad rolled his eyes. "Wait, what? 'Mage'?"
"Yeah, he goes by Grey Mage, and he wants a piece of you. He says you must have supernatural power to be immune to his--Samarkand Sleep Dust, whatever he called it--so he wants you identified as a Mask so he can have a feud with you."
Tad rolled his eyes. "Not interested in playing."
"What we are about to participate in will be something like a court hearing. L and I will be counseling you. Mage will oppose you. A three-mask panel will decide what to do. Probably Heart for us, Caligulus for them, and one civilian from the City who will probably help us out. Hopefully Stramezzi. Auditor for the tax division. Good guy."
"Dude...Spartan..." Tad struggled. "Do I have to do this?"
Spartan was dubious. "Well, technically, no, you don't. It's not like we can hold you against your will.
"But if you don't Mage will declare you his Arch--you know, arch-enemy--and he'll be going after you."
Tad pondered some more. "You guys have your own code or whatever, I guess."
"We do.
"And for now at least, you're a part of it."

The room was indeed set up like a sort of court. Tad, Spartan and L were at a table on the right side (of course). The tall bearded cult guy was at the left table with a guy dressed like one of the founding fathers, powdered wig and all.
("Lemuel LeGrande. He's okay.")
Front of the room, raised platform, big desk, three people. A woman in a nurse outfit with little red hearts (and a mask) on the Tad's side, a bored-looking dandy in Roman togs with blonde curls on the other. A man in a suit, older, white-haired, distinguished, bespectacled, in the middle. "Thank you, I believe we are ready to procede."
They proceded for a few minutes before they beard ('Grey Mage') took center stage.
He ranted and pointed at Tad and kept referring to the 'Holy Hunter' and it took some time before Tad realized that Tad himself was the Hunter.
Now the Spartan spoke. Tad was just trying to help his employer. The mask was just cold weather gear. Immunity to the powder? The mask filtered it. "I'd ask the tribunal to please consider him as a civilian. He did not attempt to be one of us and he is not interested in being a Mask."
The Mage guy wasn't satisfied. "What about that thunder and lightning toy?" He pointed, all drama. "Tell me that wasn't some magic!"
"It's called a flash-bang. It's designed to startle and confuse occupants of a room to make entry safer."
Murmuring. The Roman guy spoke, cultured and with a sort of Brit accent (didn't all ancient Romans talk like Brits?). "Is this flash-bang something you came up with?"
"No, it's army issue."
"How did you get it?"
"I, um, found it in my stuff when I got home."
"So you were in the army?"
"Yes. 10th Mountain."
The Roman guy frowned. "I heard you were a cook."
"I was a cook. In the 10th mountain."
Eventually the tribunal retired. Came back fifteen minutes later. the Stramezzi guy spoke. "We accept your civilian status...on condition that you don't put on the outfit and rove like that again."
No intention to.
"And we suggest The Spartan explain the firearm laws to you."
"No firearms allowed in Portage City limits. I know that."
Stramezzi hesitated. "The device might be considered a munition. Any and all munitions are outlawed. Same penalty as for a firearm, ten years no parole, no exceptions.
"You don't have any more of those I hope."
"No" Tad lied.
They adjourned and Tad and the Spartan exited, Grey Mage staring daggers at. As soon as they were out of earshot
"You'd BETTER get rid of any more of those. If they wanted they could bust you for that."
Interesting Saturday afternoon.

Two days later two cops showed up and inspected Tad's pickup. They found some interesting stuff but no flash-bangs.

Wednesday night L and Tad finally conversed. L was grateful for the rescue of course. "Was he really going to cut you with that knife?"
"Shedding the blood of a warrior, under the full moon, supposed to give magic powers. Not that I'm really any kind of warrior or anything." L rolled her eyes.
"You are what they call a mask, right? Part of the club?"
L smiled. "There's a commission that oversees us. Metro Special Volunteer Commission or something.
"They noticed a few years ago that there were no, ah, mature females among the Masks.
"I was working in the property room in Metro PD. I worked out a fair amount and wasn't too bad looking I guess." Smile.
"You're quite cute." Well he had to say something.
"Thank you.
"So they asked me to be a Mask.
"I just helped out with searches and pre-arranged busts and stuff. I did some street work but I was always backed up by the real police."
Hmm. "Well we do what we can."
"The commission pays for this cafe. Gives the public a chance to be a part of the Mask scene. Some people get eat up with that stuff so this is a sort of safety valve for them. And we can arrange special meetings with members of the public and us."
"Hence the second floor."
"Right. Masks only, occasional meetings. The Soup Lounge is for certain members to unwind. You haven't seen many of them but you will."

He met one the next night. It was cold and nasty. A young woman, athletic, short dark hair, blue eyes, cute.
Very cute.
"Bowl of Charlie Delta and hot tea please." She was dressed in sweats and looked and acted tired.
Chicken and Dumplings and hot tea were promptly served. "What kind of music you like?" Tad asked. Darn, she was cute.
"Oh, light stuff is fine." She dug into the soup and tea. Hungry.
Tad eventually recognized her. "You were the nurse woman at my hearing thing?"
She smiled. "They call me Heart."
"I'm Tad." And I'm totally in love, he thought.

(all rights reserved by the author)
Last edited:


Code Monkey
Staff member
Mar 20, 2004
another concept; the city has mandated electric toilets so no one uses sewers. there is an extensive network of sewer/storm drain stuff under the city. one of the characters (Black Swimmer) stumbles into them and starts using and mapping them for something to do.
Wait, electric toilets? How exactly is that envisioned to be working? Unless the toilets are using some kind of incineration there'll still be some "waste" that needs to be disposed off and even with incineration there'll still be some by product produced (ash).

And since you mentioned it :P.... the lack of sewage might explain a character coming across the network of former sewage tunnels, what about other wastewater like showers and washing machines?


This is news, Vincenzo, NEWS!
Jan 30, 2009
Black Swimmer

The note Janie had dreaded was in her mailbox one Tuesday afternoon three weeks into the semester. Be at the Job Assignment Office Blah Blah Tuesday (today) at three thirty pm sucks to be you ha ha. She knew better than to blow it off; she'd heard about suspensions and stuff to those who disregarded Administration Matters.
So three twenty five pm found her ascending the steps and clomping up to the second floor of the Admin building to room 212. The sign made it official. Job Assignment Office. Door open, rats.
Enter. Receptionist looks up over her glasses. "You're Miss..." looks down at calendar "Miss McNeil?" She was. "Mister Carver will be right with you. Please have a seat." Short two minutes later she was before the big desk.
Mr. Carver had the suit and loosened tie and desk of the usual office manager type. Mostly hairless, olive complexion, heavy on the chin.
Mr. Carver reviewed the partner-with-the-community stuff that Janie well knew. Portage City Metropolitan Community College ('Go Riverkats') was giving free educations to locals and the relevant students were expected to contribute to local business partners. Janie could affect the agreeing nod as well as anyone.
Now Mr. Carver was reviewing the papers on the desk. "...12th Street Civic Mortuary..."
For the first time Janie reacted, a squeal. 'Mortuary? I mean...ugh."
Mr. Carver assured her that her position would merely be clerical and somewhat janitorial. Janie would go in from four to seven in the evening and do a bit of filing and help with the paperwork and maybe a bit of light cleaning. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
"In a Mortuary?"
Not to worry, she would not be asked to deal with the, ah, remains.
Meeting over. Janie glumly headed to the cafeteria to mope with her friends. They were not unsympathetic.
"Mortuary? Sucks, girlfriend." Morty called them as he saw them.
"Well I can think of worse jobs." Kelly trying her best to be positive.
"Like what?"
"Um. I don't know. Sewer maybe."
"They don't have sewers" noted Stan (the brain). "All the toilets in the city are self-incinerating."
"What about showers and stuff?" asked Morty. "Don't they do sewer stuff for that?"
"Most of the gray water is filtered and treated on-site, in any building of any size." Stan pushed up his glasses and twirled some spaghetti on his fork. "This 'sketti's good."
"Not bad" Kelly agreed.
"School Nurse told me I needed fewer carbs and more exercise" observed Janie. "And then they take away my best exercise time."
"Couldn't you find a PE course this semester?" Kelly forked a meatball. Yum.
"Swimming 101 at eight Tuesday/Thursday. I hate the cold water." Janie sighed. "I go there tomorrow three-thirty for, what is it, indoctrination."
"This whole flipping school is one big indoctrination center" grumbled Stan. "Today Doctor Tobin spent the whole class ranting about the evils of the Bush administration."
Kelly was puzzled. "Isn't he a Geology prof?"
"Yeah. Go to Geology 201, get a political lecture."
"Shoulda volunteered early" said Morty. "Early guys got to pick and choose. Late ones like you get stuck."
"Well thank you Captain Hindsight" Janie snipped.
Morty looked up, confused. "Yeah that was a bit rough" said Stan.
"What do you think Kelly?"
"Mm...yeah that was piling on a bit." She smiled a little to take the sting out.
Morty looked genuinely sorry. "Sorry. Just kinda popped out."
Janie sighed again. "That's okay. Maybe I can get a jump next semester." She looked at her half-full plate. "I guess I'm done. See you guys."
They watched her walk, finishing their suppers. "Didn't wanna tell her" murmured Stan "but once they assign you a place they almost never change it.
"She'd probly stuck there forever."

Janie wasn't quite sure how to dress. She wanted to be presentable, especially on the first day, but if she was going to do cleaning stuff she wanted old threads. She ended up wearing one of her nicer business-casual outfits with a set of jeans and sweatshirt and old sneakers in her bike bag. 12th Street Civic Mortuary was old and grim, if conveniently located two blocks from the campus. Bike rack inside the foyer, happily.
She was greeted by a Miss Tucker, a blonde fiftyish southern belle just as nice as she could be. Here was the filing and here were the forms to review and finish. Cleaning was emptying the trash (dumpster out back) and vacuuming the floor, nothing heavy. "Most nights you'll be done in an hour or so" she assured her. "You can lock up and leave and still get your credit for the three hours." So by a few minutes after four Janie was alone.
In a mortuary.
She carefully finished the forms, not wanting to dwell on the subject matters ('Remains of John Doe Fifteen, identified as Private First Class Dmitri Polk, US Army, to be picked up by party dispatched by Fort Fremont Special Transfer Unit no later than Friday eleven o'clock a.m.'). She carefully filed what little bit of filing there was (easiest task of the night). She methodically emptied all the little trash cans (no 'medical' stuff, that was taken care of in-house) into the big can and bagged it all and put it in the dumpster, then went through all the spaces to make sure she didn't miss anything. Wait, what was in here?
Down a dead-end hall there was a door with a 'No Entry' sign. Well, if this was in the building she had to tend to it, right? Door locked, no surprise. They had given her a key ring, one of them a master key that opened. Inside it was dark. There was a light switch. Click. Not a room but a staircase heading down.
Janie descended. At the bottom was another door. The key opened. It was dark. It smelled...wet? She clicked the light switch.
There was a concrete platform surrounded by water. Like an underground pool, about half the size of a backyard pool. With a metal ladder going down.
There was a locker beside the door. No lock. Janie opened.
Swim gear. Black woman's suit, black pants, black jacket (that plastic stuff, mikrene or whatever), fins, mask, snorkel, belt, all the works. Janie got her curiosity up and examined; looked like no one had used any of it for quite a while. She checked the door; corroded and sticky and abandoned looking.
The heck?
She looked down in the water as best she could. Too dark to make anything out.
Janie turned off the light and shut the door behind her and went up the stairs and turned off that light and closed and locked that door and made the rounds once more. All done for the night, she figured. She called Kelly. "Yeah, we already ate. Let's get to at the lounge."
"Sounds good. Since I work these hours I get vouchers to get free munch there."
"Great! I can have ice cream or something. See ya then and there!"

The gang got together again for lunch Thursday. None of them had classes till two so they could take their time. Stan was wired.
"Didja see Professor X yesterday? Take down that Territorn guy?" Stan was a big Prof X fan. "Live on tv! That was great!" Big smile under the glasses and dark hair. He's got some cute under the glasses, thought Kelly, in a nerdish kind of way.
"Ah that guy was just a lab worker that cracked." Morty was not so much a Prof X fan. "Made a sort of ray gun, put on a costume, run amok, taken down."
"Stan, you're really into that stuff huh" observed Janie.
"Well, bits and pieces. I'm not one of those total fanbois, you know."
Actually you are, kinda, thought Janie. "Not too many girls do that, huh." Casual. Subtle approach.
"No, not really." Stan mused. "Heart, mostly. Avenger of wronged women. And Green Mermaid; she doesn't do much."
"And Lady L" added Kelly. "She's kinda semi-retired now I think."
Janie nodded. Maintain the casual. "Wasn't there some swimmer girl?"
"Oh yeah. Black Swimmer," Kelly jumped in. "I think she's out."
"Was she black?"
"No. Well, nobody really knows. She just dressed in black. Scuba suit or whatever."
"Interesting little character," said Stan. "Most all of them are 'good' or 'bad' but she was about the only one you could call neutral. Like, she helped recover the Warwick Estate jewelry, but she took the reward, which most of them don't."
"And she helped them catch Fire Maiden after that one robbery, but she kept the stolen money."
"Dang, Kelly, you're kind of a fan of hers, huh."
Kelly waggled her head. "Yeah, I guess I am. Did a report on her eleventh grade. I heard there were all sorts of flooded tunnels and stuff under the city."
"The old sewers. And the storm drains; we get a lot of rain here."
The conversation continued. Janie absobed it all without comment. Background.
Good to know.
Back in the dorm she logged on and did some research.

Friday night at the mortuary.
Janie got to work just before four. Ms. Tucker was closing up and complimented her on her work Wednesday. Janie was relieved that she hadn't missed anything. She started right up and finished everything in an hour.
Now grab the bike bag and down the stairs. (Make sure the doors are all locked.)
First she cleaned out the locker. The dive suit (neoprene, it was) seemed okay. She pitched the swimsuit and a few other odds and ends like hair accessories (yep, the previous user was all girl). Some kind of stiff white plastic, folded like a tablecloth, with some diagrams and writing. She saved that for later.
She undressed and put on her own swimsuit. Tried on the neoprene; stiff but it fit. There was a belt ('quick release' hopefully). She'd read about them online. She secured it on her and practice loosing it. Seemed to release just fine. She attached a knife and a little mesh bag.
Dive light in the locker. Didn't work. She tried to open it. Crud around the edges. Guess that's shot, she thought. I'm going to need one if I'm going to
Going to what? Be the Black Swimmer?
No. I'm just checking things out. It's my work place after all.
She sat on the edge of the cement and examined the fins. A little crumbly around the edges but otherwise seemed firm enough. Did they fit her feet? They did.
She breathed, a bit shakily. (What was she doing?)
She had her own goggles for her swim class. On.
Gently drop into the water.
Not bad. Cool water but the suit made it okay.
She floated face down, left hand holding the ladder. No colors, no shapes, all gray below.
A breath and she dived down.
Kind of--what was the word--anticlimactic. Just gray stone. Wait, there was a tunnel to the right. She kicked once and floated over and looked in. Dark.
And that was enough for one night. Surface, get to the platform, remove the fins and throw them up, climb the ladder. Done.
Back on the platform towelling off. Shaky breathing but a good feeling.
She'd done something.

Saturday morning after breakfast she went by the gym and found her swim instructor, Ms. Maison, a trim brunette who was known to refuse any and all excuses. A cute blonde was working on the uneven bars. Janie greeted her and cautiously mentioned the cold water. Ms. Maison was not unsympathetic. "They have the timers set to turn the heat on at eight, so it's just getting warm end of the class. They're going to turn the heat on at seven on Tuesdays and Thursdays for us, so it shouldn't be a problem."
"Oh, that's great," said Janie, and she meant it.
"Looked like you can already swim a bit."
"A little, yeah. Mostly underwater. I've always liked going underwater for some reason. I think I do that better than surface stuff."
Ms. Maison nodded knowingly. "Underwater is more instinctive. A lot of people do better underwater."
They watched the gymnast for a moment. "She's good," observed Janie.
"Jessie Carruthers. Freshman. Great arm strength. She's already probly our best girl for the bars." They chatted a bit. Janie was relieved that no conflict had ensued. Talks with teachers generally did not go well for her.

Walking back to the dorm she pondered the light. She didn't want to go in any local store and buy one ('Hey so are you a diver or something huh?'). A lot of kids took day trips to Portland on weekends and maybe she could join up but could she break away to make the purchase? And she didn't want to ride back with a Joe's Dive Shop bag or whatever.
Back online. She could maybe buy one from E-Market. Their packaging was generic so no one would know it was dive stuff.
They had a sort of flashlight with a nylon holder that would fit over her hand. Less than twenty bucks and free shipping since she was a student. She ordered it plus a cheaper waterproof flashlight for backup. She couldn't forget how dark that tunnel was. Do NOT want to get down there and have no light.
It was a good weekend. For the first time since forever she had something to look forward to. 'Human beings were meant to DO stuff' her Sunday School teacher had said long ago. 'And I don't mean video games or watching movies.' Janie had never had a real hobby or much interest in anything. Her family didn't have the money for real cool stuff. Like, a pony. She managed to steer the conversations to mask stuff and got a lot of info, mostly from Stan but also Kelly. Saturday lunch was their favorite time; they'd go in around eleven thirty and hang out til one before breaking. Stan was working on a paper on mining, Kelly was researching the Hanseatic League, and Morty wanted to watch Wisconsin-Penn State ('Badgers got GAME this year!') Janie went through the motions of looking up Wordsworth and dreamed about Monday night. Sunday at the school library she found some old scuba books. One of them advised, there are old divers, and bold divers, but no old bold divers.

Monday night finally came (who would have thought that a Monday night at a mortuary would ever hold such appeal?). Janie showed up a little early and did what she had to do and went down the stairs. Yes yes yes yes.
She'd had an idea. She got a cheap little flashlight and put it in a ziplock back and sealed it and rolled it up and put that in another bag and sealed it and wrapped the whole thing with duct tape. The only clear places were the ends, one end the bulb and the other end the button.
I'm just going in that one tunnel, she thought. Should be enough light to find my way back even if the light fails. Which I'm not putting too much faith in.
She sat on the concrete and donned her fins and slipped in, afraid and thrilled. Hold on the edge and breathe. Deep breath.
She kicked once and drifted to the tunnel opening. Turn on the light and look in. The light wasn't bright enough to do much. As far as she could tell the tunnel went for about thirty feet.
She went in. Slow steady kicks. Other end of the tunnel. Dark.
She gently placed the light on the bottom of the tunnel and slowly ascended. Not much time she'd have to go back. Was there an opening above or was the space flooded?
She broke surface, feeling more than seeing. She breathed. Air okay.
She reached around. Old stone walls with decent handholds. She held herself up and caught her breath. Gradually her eyes adjusted to the dark. She could dimly see the space, all stone, a sort of ledge on one side...was that some kind of door? Or ladder? I really need those lights.
Such research as she'd done told about a partial underground train system. Never finished; Portage City wasn't big enough for that. From what she could tell this was a sort of station.
She dove down and got the light and descended, a little air bubbling out. No sound, which was weird considering it was the middle of the city. About six feet under the tunnel was the bottom; sure enough, gravel, and eventually she found railroad ties.
The whole time she'd maintained awareness of the tunnel back. She found it and went in and back to the platform.
For several minutes she just sat there, catching her breath and enjoying the moment. (And turn the light off, save the battery). She'd done it. She was...what? An explorer?
She was very happy. Like she'd done something.

The PE department held a rummage sale one Saturday. Janie made some points with Ms. Maison by helping out. Around two they shut down. "Just pitch everything else in the dumpster," said Ms. Maison. Janie scored another set of goggles and a couple of snorkels--very useful.
The lights worked great. Janie explored more and more and got more and more comfortable.
One day arranging the locker she looked again at the folded plastic. A closer look and she realized it was a map of the underground waterway. The mortuary was right in the middle of it.
She set up a system. She would make a circle route on the map and go space to space and back to what she started thinking of her base. The map was really accurate.
The whole thing was like a dream, like a whole separate life. By day she was a bored college student; by night an Underwater Adventurer (!). She was beginning to see why 'masks' did what they did.
Her friends had mentioned that there wasn't much mask action underwater ('that's why Black Swimmer was never like a major player'). But one night in December she had an encounter.
Just two spaces from her base. She was examining the bottom of a large station-type place when she heard a splash above her.
Right away she turned off her light and drifted slowly to the surface. She heard a voice. "Bobbie?" A female voice.
There was another swimmer, a female, goggles and a green cowl. "Bobbie?"
She doesn't see me. But now there's a light. "Um, who's Bobbie?"
The light shone on her. Janie had expected that and did not react.
The light shifted around and illuminated the other girl. That was really cool of her. "I'm Heart. I'm looking for a little girl. I guess you haven't seen anyone?"
"Um. No." Awkward pause. "Did she fall in somewhere?"
"They were doing some digging by her house--they live on Church Avenue--and she got interested in underground stuff. Her parents think she might have came down here somewhere."
"Church Avenue." Janie thought. "There's a shallow pan there with a gravity dump to a big pool under Stable and 14th. She's probably there. How old is she?"
More thought. "She wouldn't be big enough to climb up the dumps. The only other way in or out would be underwater tunnels. Its raining tonight so the space is probably filling, but it won't flood completely. I'd be more worried about the cold. Can she swim?"
"Yes. Unfortunately I think that's what she had in mind. Finding some underground pool." Breathing. "Do you think you could help me there?"
"Sure. Just two jumps. You can hold your breath I guess. Otherwise you wouldn't have got this far."
"Yes, I can go under."
"Alright." Janie swam to the far corner. "Over here." Heart joined her. "Tunnel right here, about twenty seconds to the next space. About thirty feet, then another tunnel, not as long."
"Go. I'll follow."
They caught their breath. Janie went under first, down about ten feet and into the tunnel. The light made it easy. Now surface. Swim over to the next wall. Catch breath again. Heart kept up with her. Down and through and up into the next space.
Heart shone her light around the top of the water. "Bonnie?"
They heard her before they saw her, a whimper. The light showed her, hand in the foot-wide storm drain ('gravity dump') unable to climb up. "I wanna go back."
Heart took charge. "Stay right there Bonnie. I'll come over to you." She did and wrapped Bonnie up. "All right. Let's get you out of here." She worked her way around the wall back to where Janie waited.
"Only way out is underwater," said Janie. "You think she can handle that?"
"I have a spare air." Heart reviewed the spare air with Bonnie. She sniffled but seemed to understand. Heart took her underwater to make sure she could use it. They surfaced. "Let's go. Her lips are blue. I'm worried about hypothermia."
"Right. You take her, I'll follow with the light."
Tunnel, space, tunnel, space, tunnel, space. Janie's base.
"Climb up. I got a towel up there." They climbed up. Heart immediately began toweling Bonnie off, holding her to warm her.
"We need to call an ambulance. What's the address here?"
"We can use the back entrance. That'll be 13th and Shavox. I can use my cell phone."
Heart nodded, dripping and still concerned. Bonnie wasn't moving much and they weren't out of the proverbial woods yet. "I have a special number to call. Would you mind if I..?" Janie got the phone up and they switched. Heart dialed a number. "Ambulance, 13th and Shavox, code five." Ten minutes later they were on the street and it came. "Meet me in street clothes at Harding and 11th, about half hour. Okay?"
Janie had time to dry off and dress. Right about on time Heart arrived, smiling, masked, wearing green scrubs with little red hearts on the sleeve and chest. "What is that?"
"Electric scooter. Not much cool factor but nice and quiet. Saves a lot of steps." Heart grinned. "Bonnie will be fine. Hot soup and bed rest for our little adventure girl.
"Can we go somewhere? We need to talk. I mean, do you have to be anywhere? Were you at work or anything?"
"My friends are expecting me back at school but no hurry really. No, I'm done work."
"Great! Hop on."
Happily the rain had stopped and it wasn't too cold. Janie was a bit worried about being recognized--
"I'm cruising the streets at night with Heart. WTF?.."
--but the streets were pretty empty (Friday night, everybody's uptown at the mall). Heart steered them to a smallish restaurant at the edge of town. Lady L's. Ha, side entrance.
Heart led her to the second floor. Room like a mini restaurant. Cute guy at the counter. He smiled bigly. "There's my little nursie!"
Heart plopped on a stool before him and smiled back. "Charlie Delta and hot tea for two, please."
"Sure!" He looked at Janie and back at Heart. "Anything for her?"
" tea sounds good..." then realized the joke. "What's Charlie Delta?"
"Chicken and dumplings. Perfect for a chilly night like this." She removed her mask. "Okay. I'm Molly now. Tad, this is..."
"Janie." Not sure about giving full name.
"Tad is one of us. We can speak open with him."
Um. "Okay."
Heart eyed her. "So you're the new Black Swimmer?"
Oy. "Um. I'm just kind of exploring."
"I knew the other Swimmer. Low profile. She helped me with some stuff. She ended up got married and got out of the mask stuff."
Tad served the tea. "So you guys pulled that little girl out of the water tonight? Heard it on the scanner." Hi gestured to a radio behind him. "Good job."
"Yes, and we thank you, Janie. Big help. Saved me a lot of time." Sip.
"You've been down there before, I take it."
"Some. Never had time to really get familiar with.
"So do you want to be Black Swimmer?"
"Do you think I could? Could I help you guys?"
"You sure did tonight.
"Mostly the other did evidence searches and retrieval stuff. Um..." stirred tea "some...body recoveries. That stuff is no fun."
Ha, you don't know where I work. "Well I'm eighteen. I guess I can adult. I mean, somebody has to do that stuff. Right?"
"Yes. Somebody does. So why not us."
Tad served bowls of the stew. "Oh my yeah," Janie crooned. "That stuff smells like grandma's. In a good way."
The conversation continued. They shared contact info. Janie was given certain code words.
"Do you want to be in the paper?"
"Oh gosh no."
"Fair enough.
"What I will do is drop your name to a few people. One day you might get--you know--caught up in some stuff. We'll make sure you're...known."
They stayed till closing. Tad quietly dropped Janie back at school. She told her friends the next day she'd worked late, sorry I didn't get back to you. Stan praised Heart for the rescue ("It's all on the site,"). A week later Janie got a message to meet Heart at a certain intersection, a blocked off corner with an access plate to the underground.
"$500 reward for your help."
"Oh cool. I can use this."
"And a couple dive lights. These things are nice, you can charge them and they can sit for weeks and still work."
"Upgrade! Sweet."
Janie went home for Christmas and everybody observed how happy she seemed and had she lost some weight? She just smiled them off. Life was good sometimes.

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