Sabueso

Years later it was clear to him that his father had tried to warn them, but it was already far too late. They came not long after he arrived, already nursing a fatal wound. Long after he had confronted every individual involved in the attack and come to learn how truly small they were, his memory of that day would cast them as terrifying, overwhelming giants.

They were merciless rather than cruel; their swift efficiency ensured no suffering from their victims.They dispensed of his father first; despite being in no condition to put up a fight he still posed the greatest threat to them. Though his mother and aunts were murdered in what seemed an instant, the sound of their screams would ring in his ears for the rest of his life.

Yet fast as they were, he still slipped away. His father had trained him relentlessly for just this turn of events, had seeped the routine deep into his muscle memory. Though he was unable to save the love of his life and her sisters, the old Chari warrior’s sudden appearance had been enough of a signal; his training kicked in and he ran deep into the woods, towards the hidden grove his father had shown him.

The Chari raiders did not stop at his family or the house; they burned the entire farm to ashes. The chase began before the destruction was completed; when it became clear that their primary target had fled they formed hunting parties and split up to cover more ground. He was quick on his feet, however, and his father’s hiding place served its purpose well. He was able to stay the night there without being found.

He did not feel safe staying in one spot, however, so the next day he began walking away from where he believed they would be coming from. He was hungry, but did not know where to find food. Halfway into the day he came upon a pond, which he drank from the quench his thirst. It didn’t take long for him to start feeling sick. After a few hours, he was even more hungry, and dehydrated, than he had been to begin with.

On the third day, he spotted a family of coatimundi. He was weak, and his mouth and throat were painfully dry. But he was of the Chari, and even in his state he was a match for at least one measly little racoon creature. He waited patiently, and then scrambled over, adrenaline surging as he clasped one of the cubs. He sank his teeth into its throat as it writhed in his hands.

It was hardly the level of sustenance he was used to even in his humble Chaco home, but it gave him the strength to wander on for a few more days. He eventually came upon a stream, and this time the water did not make him sick. He lingered there for a few days, but as his strength returned so did the anxiety of being found by his family’s murderers.

He was five years old at the time. He slowly learned the terrain, the best places to hunt, the plants that did not make him sick. The Chari were relentless in those years; he narrowly escaped them many times. One of them had successfully gripped him once and he had broken his arm in order to get free.

The encounters grew increasingly violent and getting away more difficult. Three years after his family’s deaths, he decided to stop running and start fighting back. He followed a hunting party from a safe distance for months, observing their habits, eating the scraps of their kill. Heart beating wildly, he crawled what felt insanely close in the dead of night. When one of them went to relieve themselves, he sprung up and beat the hunter to death with a rock. Terrified and elated, he crawled a great distance away, then climbed up to the top of a tree.

The next day he did not move an inch, but he heard them tearing through the area, could feel their anger and frustration. Sabueso smiled to himself.

Sabueso grew quite good at picking them off one by one. As the years went by and the confrontations became more and more direct, he grew in strength and skill. Once, when he was twelve years old, a hunting party got the jump on him. He did not try to run. At the end of the confrontation, his right arm was broken, his belly had been pierced, but he was alive, and they were not. And he would heal.

As his confidence grew, he became more aggressive. He followed hunting parties back to the Chari village, gathering information on the people that lived there. He decided he would make them pay for any more action against him. The next time he was confronted by a hunting party, he left one alive, but took an arm and a leg from him and put out one of his eyes. Before the maimed hunter could return to the village, the boy snuck back and burned down his home, just as they had done to him so many years ago. The warrior would be able to tell all who was responsible. He continued to make direct assaults on the village in response to aggression against him, and in time the hunting parties became fewer and further between. The Chari children spoke of him in whispers, like a monster of legend.

He had become quite good at hunting down his food, but early on he found he could do better by trading with the scattered households of the Chaco. The households, mostly Guarani families, would trade him their crops for meat, as well as for protection. Many would-be thieves and murderers met their end when they sought to trifle with families under his protection.

It was through these families that he was eventually introduced to Manuel, the merchant. Manuel bought from Chaco farmers and many others, and then sold their wares back in Ciudad del Este. “They tell me that you protect the families around here, and bring them meat,” the older man said to him.

The boy grunted; he understood, but was not used to talking. The merchant looked him over with cold appraisal.

“Do you have a name?” at this, the boy came up short. He did have a name, he knew it—his mother had given him one. But it had been far too long since anyone had called him by it, and he had forgotten. At that point, he had almost forgotten what his own mother’s face looked like, never mind his own name.
“They call you many things here,” Manuel said after receiving no reply, “some of them not so nice. My favorite is sabueso, for your keen ability to find game.” There was a twinkle in his eye as he said the word; the idea of this lean, surly boy as a wrinkled old bloodhound clearly amused the merchant.

“Sabueso is fine,” the boy murmured, and it was.

Manuel needed a bodyguard, and while skeptical of Sabueso’s age, the villagers vouched for his strength and ruthlessness, and he came cheaply. Sabueso agreed to follow him for a time for food and lodging. As a result, at the age of sixteen, Sabueso left the Chaco for the first time. The dangers in a place like Ciudad del Este were no less real, but so long as he had an employer, they would hopefully exclude things like starving or drinking tainted water. And he would be far, far away from the Chari village.

Though now employed in the business of dealing with violent and dangerous people, Sabueso felt safer than he ever had. Surely in Ciudad del Este he need not fear Chari hunting parties ambushing him while he slept.

He would learn the hard way that the Chari were far more dedicated to his extermination to let him off because of a little distance.

Invasion of the News

It all started innocently enough. Writing about the decisions and conflicts of the powerful and famous, printing up a ton of copies on cheap paper to circulate the information as widely as possible. Many more people were illiterate in those days, and it was much harder to transmit information over large distances. So the impact of the news was very localized, but there was a sense in which, over time, we would get better at keeping people informed through this emerging mechanism.

Little did we know that it was all an elaborate plan to slowly prepare us for global conquest.

The invaders were not susceptible to the biases that so hindered their prey, so it took them longer than it might have to understand why it was the humans seemed to defeat themselves in a hundred different ways each day. They performed various psychological experiments to get to the bottom of it, and concluded that these biases could be used to their advantage. The bias towards short term thinking in particular would come in handy, as the invader’s plan would be centuries in the making.

In the beginning, they were very directly involved. Using their finest brain manipulation technology, they implanted the idea of newspapers into the minds of numerous individuals around the world. They encouraged their subjects to write in terms that appealed to the group affiliation and confirmation biases of potential readers. To cover their bases, they made sure that multiple groups were represented.

They A/B tested different versions of the same article within towns and neighborhoods and observed the effect. In this way, they were able to refine the news into a weapon to turn people into drooling, ranting, biased idiots. Over time, the human population grew and the increasingly effective news outlets turned them into a bigger and bigger pool of potential slaves for the invaders to walk right in and conquer.

In the 20th Century they kicked things into gear, introducing more and more tools through which news could be delivered in an even more potent state. First came radio, then came TV—a tool so powerful it would not be surpassed until the 21st Century, when the world wide web came along, and smartphones made it possible for people to carry the news with them everywhere they went.

When the invaders finally came, in wave after wave of spaceships, humanity barely resisted. Democrats immediately jumped to blaming Republicans, and vice versa, and they all started arguing about it rather than mobilizing a defense. Android and iPhone users conjured up reasons that the others’ choice in smartphone OS had something to do with it.

The invaders’ plan, hundreds of years in the making, finally came to fruition.

That Which is Perfect

My name is Edward Norton. Last year, I had a car accident with a vehicle that was transporting an experimental substance for the DoD, and got covered in the stuff. As a result, trillions of devices a few nanometers in length course through my bloodstream, repairing my body, healing any injuries faster than is humanly possible. The first thing they did was coat my bones with a tiny layer of a very hard, very flexible metal alloy. The second thing they did was break down all of the muscles in my body and replace them with a dense fiber, custom designed to provide more force per square inch than the original.

In short, I’ve got superpowers. I can punch through a brick wall with very little effort and no lasting harm to myself, and I can bounce back from pretty traumatic injuries quite quickly.

I have superpowers, and it has ruined my life.

Seneca the Younger once asked, “What can be added to that which is perfect?” My life may not have been perfect, exactly, but it seemed that way to me at the time. And adding superpowers to it was definitely a loss rather than a gain.

I had a beautiful, wonderful wife, and three perfect little girls. I was a product manager for a small video advertising startup in DC. I had a good relationship with my boss, the owner of the company, formerly a coworker at a previous job who had brought me over. It was not an exciting life. We had no need for it to be.

Then the damn accident happened, and everything got screwed up.

For one thing, I am terrified to hug or grasp my daughters now. I am so strong; I haven’t really been able to get my ahead around how much stronger I really am. I’m terrified that I’m going to hurt them, or Anna.

One time, Andrew—my boss—and I were at Fast Eddie’s for happy hour after work. Some frat bro asshole started hassling us. He got a little too up close and personal, so I gave him a little love tap—and it broke his jaw. I mean, fuck. I didn’t mean to hurt the guy, I just wanted him to back off!

But that isn’t the worst of it. The people who were driving the car I crashed into were not actually part of the DoD or the government at all. They were some group that was pulling off a heist on the stuff that ended up making me what I am. And now they’re after me. They want to take me, probably want to dissect me like some lab rat.

They tried to take me directly not long after the accident, but I’m too strong for them now. Bullets hurt, but don’t kill me, and I was able to make quick work of the guys they sent after me.

So they took my family hostage.

That was the worst day of my life. I have never been so terrified.

I managed to get my family out, with some help from the Department of Homeland Security. But not before I beat the everloving shit out of some of those terrorist assholes in front of my wife and kids. The sick part is, some part of me enjoyed it. I hope the kids couldn’t tell, but I think that Anna could.

She took the kids to her parents’ place for a while after that. Almost a year went by where I only got to visit once a month or less.

But she came back, bless her. She still loves me, and she wants the girls to be with their father, and DHS is providing us with protection. I don’t know if she made the right choice, but I’m still so relieved, and grateful.

People are way too quick to take a normal, boring life for granted. They don’t know what a blessing it is to have a good job and a family that loves you. I’m holding on to those at the moment, but just barely. I can only hope that my superpowers don’t screw things up for good some day.

If you have people in your life that you love, take it from me. If you see a radioactive spider, or cosmic rays, or superpower science goo—turn the other way and run as fast as you can.

The Storyteller

There was once a boy who wanted to tell stories. These were exactly the sorts of stories you would expect a little boy to tell; they involved video game and cartoon characters that he thought were cool. They spent most of their time getting into fights that the boy would contrive some reason for. Sometimes the boy could be bothered to write these stories on paper, but most of the time he simply acted them out with an ever-growing army of action figures.

As the boy grew, he aspired to write down more of these stories, but was never very dedicated to the task. Every so often he would spend a lot of energy on an idea for a story and then drop it before he was finished. Long after he had become a man—to the extent that one could call him such a thing with a straight face—the number of completed works of fiction he had seen through in his lifetime could be counted on his hands.

However, he had been far from idle as a storyteller. At some point late in his childhood, he began to tell stories about things in the world he had heard about, and read about, and talked about, particularly the things he had talked with his father about. Current events, history, philosophy, and every sort of idea filled the thousands of stories that he told. Though he had never had a trouble writing essays for a grade, still he was quite bad at telling a good story to begin with. But he enjoyed it, and he kept at it. After more than a decade of such storytelling, he began to find that the number of stories he produced that he was proud of was beginning to exceed the ones he considered duds.

Yet the fact that he never spent any of that energy telling the kinds of stories that excited him as a boy ate at him. He thought, surely, as I have been telling stories all along, it would be a simple matter to switch over and start doing the other sort. But domain dependence turns out to be far narrower than he had thought; writing fiction was hard work, while writing nonfiction came as easily to him as breathing.

Finally he came to terms with the fact that there was no shortcut for rounding out his abilities as a storyteller. If he wanted to tell the stories he had so loved growing up, he would have to start in the same place that he had started with the stories he could now tell so effortlessly. He would have to commit to stories that he could finish, no matter how small. He would have to keep at it, rather than writing one story and then not doing another for months or years. He would have to accept that it would be a long time before he was ready to write stories that he could be proud of on a regular basis.

So, afraid that he might be setting himself for another false start, he began. He began with the simple story of how he got here, because it’s a story he already knew well and knew how to tell. And that is the story you have just finished reading.

An Homage to the Wimp Turned Badass

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The eldest of the superhero icons, Superman and Batman, are badasses through and through. Superman was born stronger and faster than is humanly possible, along with having the ability to fly (among other things). Batman has no powers, but is well-rounded in his mortal badassness—not only is he fit and strong and capable of kicking your ass with ten different types of martial arts, but he’s also smart and mega-rich.

Spiderman came later than these two, and he is emblematic of a different sort of hero. Peter Parker was scrawny, a nerd, and—let’s be honest—something of a loser. How did he gain his powers? He was hanging around some boring science demonstration and pretty much got bit by it. Peter Parker was a wimp, but his powers turned him into a badass.

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Spiderman was my hero of choice growing up. It was the 90’s, and comics in general and Marvel in particular were going through a weird time. But Spiderman nevertheless remained true to Stan Lee’s original vision of a superhero that had a lot of problems. Most of them were boring, normal human problems.

Perhaps it is because I grew up on Spiderman, but I am a huge sucker for the wimp to badass genre. After my consumption of Spiderman and American (non-web) comics in general fell, my main source for these stories has been Japanese manga and Korean manhwa.

Manga has a specific genre called shounen that is targeted to teenage boys that is rife with wimp to badass stories. The most emblematic is probably Naruto, current king of the manga mountain, about a ninja who has no skills at all but manages to achieve greatness through hard work.

As my teenage years are now nearly ten years behind me, it’s a bit embarrassing how addicted I can get to this formula in these settings. My current obsession is a manhwa series called The Breaker that comes out every Friday. Come Friday morning, I am eager to wake up so I can read the next 18 or so pages of Shioon Lee’s adventures. I sometimes get so impatient waiting for the next installment that I go back and reread a few hundred pages of the earlier parts!

By far my favorite work in this genre is the manga Holyland. Holyland has a great deal to recommend it: it doesn’t use super powers to spice up the fights, the artist actually knows a great deal about boxing and martial arts and the human body, and the female characters are actually proportioned like human beings, rather than some teenage boy’s deranged idea of a sexpot.

But the real draw is the main character, Kamishiro Yuu. Yuu is not like Spiderman. He doesn’t crack jokes, and his rise isn’t what you’d call a feel good story—though it has an excellent resolution. Bullied and marginalized socially, Yuu becomes stronger purely to overcome the feeling he has of being utterly pathetic. Once he is strong, the resentment he felt from being made to feel like garbage does not simply go away.

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Mori Koji (the artist) introduces this darker element quite slowly and tactfully. At first it truly appears that Yuu is just an innocent bystandard who is defending himself from people who underestimate him. As the story progresses, however, it becomes clear that he takes a dark enjoyment in beating the shit out of people. The manga follows his character as he grows stronger, discovers this side of himself, is terrified by it, and fights against being consumed by it entirely. At the same time, the character is genuinely likable, as are the friends he makes along the way who help him resist falling into violence entirely.

I am not ashamed to say that I find it to be a masterpiece in the wimp to badass genre, and anyone who enjoys stories along this line owes it to themselves to give it a read.

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I have to say, as I get older I really wish that there were more stories in this genre that were set somewhere other than a High School. Even Spiderman started out there! But perhaps there’s something inherently juvenile about wanting to see scrawny nerds go around beating people up.

If so, my content consumption would seem to imply…a rather juvenile tendency in my tastes.

Oh well. If growing up means giving up my wimp to badass stories, then I don’t want to grow up.