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Road To Con City - Excerpt Two

Mick Clifford sat in the cafeteria of the University of Con City. He was a master's student in software engineering at the High Performance Computing Center. He was not one of the brightest students all around, but he knew how to write code. He was an average programmer in every sense of the word. In fact, he was average in just about everything. The one thing in which he excelled was his vast knowledge of comic books.

As a lifelong comic book nerd, he possessed a sizable collection, most of which he stored at his parents' house much to their displeasure. He had nowhere near enough space in the apartment where he had been staying over the course of his studies to store them all. He did have his most prized specimens in the apartment though. He needed them for inspiration to write his own comic book.

It was called The Binary Avenger and it was about a superhero who was just a programmer student in real life but every night would don a costume covered in glowing green zeros and ones and go out into the streets of Con City to clean up crime. The character aside, it wasn't very original and Mick knew it. He had been struggling to come up with ways to make it more unique, to stand out among the classic comics out there, but had made little to no progress. He had considered making the character an alien from another planet but decided it would be too boring. He had contemplated changing the setting to be inside a computer but in the end found it lacking mainstream appeal. Most of all, he had not been able to come up with a decent arch enemy for the Binary Avenger. His obvious pick had been the Hexadecimal Outlaw. He knew it was too cheesy to work.

At least he did not have any problems with the artwork. His drawings were quite good in fact, and his mother had wanted him to go to art school and become an illustrator, but young Mick had fancied computers too much to listen to her. Now, in his first year of his master's studies, he found himself regretting that decision. Although his master's project on massively parallel programming interested him quite a bit, he could not see himself working as a programmer after graduating. He wanted to earn a living making comic books and if he had an arts degree he could probably get a job as a comic illustrator. Alas, this train was long gone. He had to publish his own comics as an independent.

What he needed was a writer. Someone to come up with the story and maybe even the characters, while he would do the illustrations. He long considered telling some of his fellow students about his passion but he was afraid of their reaction. There was only one student he dared to tell about his plans: Joanna Bennett, a feisty redhead in her final year of her master's studies.

Joanna was every nerd's wet dream. She was the best programmer at the university, she dressed like a comic book heroine might, and she swore like a trooper. Mick would never admit it to himself but he was secretly in love with her. He had never dared to ask her out on a date, but one time a few weeks ago she went up to him and asked him to help her out with a bit of parallel programming. Mick had found that strange given that Joanna was such a good code writer. He thought she had simply used the code as an excuse to talk to him but he had to learn that there had been a bad call to a parallel subroutine in Joanna's code and after he had pointed that out he had not seen her again. Still, the ice had been broken and this morning he had approached her and asked her to look at some of his work at lunchtime.

She had agreed not knowing that it wasn't his master's project he wanted her to look at. She had come to the cafeteria for the meeting as promised and had looked through the first issue of The Binary Avenger. Now that she was done, Mick was eager to hear her feedback.

`So, what do you think?' he asked. Joanna flipped through the pages and replied without looking in his eyes.

`The artwork is really good. Did you draw all of it?'

`Yeah. My mother always said I had a talent for it.'

`You might. I mean, it's not perfect but it is very good.'

Mick blushed.

`What about the story?' he asked. Joanna looked up at him.

`Honestly? It sucks ass,' she said bluntly. Mick had been afraid she'd say that.

`Yes, but do you think it can be improved?'

`Improved?' Joanna asked, turning the comic around and pointing at one of the panels. `Mick, you can't improve shit. You can shape it into a castle and it's still going to be shit. Look at that. The Binary Avenger saves a bus full of dumb little brats from a tidal wave while simultaneously feeding a stray dog, singing the national anthem, and beating up a bank robber with a pogo stick. That is just fucking stupid.'

`Okay, maybe it's a little over the top but...'

`This isn't over the top. Over the top would be the Binary Avenger throwing the Hexadecimal Outlaw into a fucking volcano and frying sausages in the lava. This... is just stupid.'

Mick suddenly became very enthusiastic.

`I knew you were the person to talk to! Throw him into the volcano and fry sausages in the lava... That is brilliant! Don't stop, tell me more!'

Joanna facepalmed.

`No, it's not brilliant. It's better than what you wrote but it's still not good.'

`That's okay, improvement will be gradual. Tell me more!' Mick said with bright eyes. He already saw himself and Joanna writing the greatest comic book of all time.

`No, listen...' Joanna began. `You need two things before you start making a comic book. A good main character and a good origin story. Get these down before you start writing the adventures of the character.'

`Why? What's wrong with the Binary Avenger?'

`For starters, why does he look like you?'

Mick blushed again.

`Well...'

`And where did you get the idea for that idiotic costume?'

`Every superhero needs a costume!'

Joanna shook her head.

`Not really, but if you must put him in a costume at least make it something sensible. Like, give him some high tech gear, night vision goggles, a computer in a wrist watch, things like that. And a dark outfit or maybe a trench coat if you want it to be cool. Not a bright clown outfit that points him out to every fucking sniper in a mile wide radius!'

`Okay, okay,' Mick said, trying to be agreeable. `I'll fix the outfit. But what's wrong with his origin story?'

`Really? Do I really need to point this out?' Joanna asked with a really annoyed face. Mick smiled apologetically.

`Please?'

Joanna sighed. She turned to the first page of Mick's manuscript.

`Okay. It says here that the Binary Avenger gained his superpowers after getting his finger shocked by a radioactive supercomputer. That is just so fucking ridiculous... First of all, there's no such thing as a radioactive supercomputer, and if there was one, I'm pretty sure you'd die if you went anywhere near it. Second, I don't think you'd survive the electric shock from such an incident in the first place.'

`It's just static electricity...' Mick argued.

`Then how do you explain that it did anything to the hero at all?'

Mick ran out of answers. He rubbed his chin and tried to think of some way to fix the problems Joanna had pointed out but could not for the life of him come up with a solution.

`How would you solve it?' he asked in the end.

`It's not my comic, it's yours. You need to sort it out yourself.'

`Look, I need a co-author. Someone to... you know, give me direction.'

Joanna's eyebrows ran up to the top of her head in surprise.

`You want me to write a comic with you? Seriously?'

The lack of enthusiasm in her voice made Mick's heart sink. The part of him that was in love with Joanna wanted to cry, but that part of Mick was buried so deep in his mind that Mick hardly took notice. All he could think of was getting the story up to par with the professional comics out there.

`Yeah. Seriously,' he said. `I can't do it on my own. My writing is shit.'

Joanna shook her head.

`I can't spare time for this, Mick. I have to finish my thesis and I have this consultancy job. You'll need to find someone else.'

`I don't have anyone else to turn to,' Mick said, desperate for help from the one person to whom he had dared to show his comic.

Joanna rubbed her eyes and looked at Mick for a while in silence. Mick waited patiently for her answer.


*

For more, please proceed to the novel Road To Con City.


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