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Lord Fell

The Delicate Art of Thunder

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May 25th, 2009

The posh little beemer slipped into a curbside parking stall smoothly, and it's driver exited the vehicle; her stiletto heals clicking on the pavement. Amanda (Mandy) Karlson lifted her sunglasses to take a closer look at the wide brick building. Then she checked an address on a slip of paper and pursed her lips. Walking around the building, she finally spotted a doorway at the far side. Once Mandy walked over to it, she didn't see a doorbell, but the door was open about a third. Shrugging, Mandy just poked her head inside "Hello?"

While walking along the sidewalk, she had heard the sounds of someone punching, kicking or otherwise murdering a heavy bag. That sound had stopped the second she stepped from the sidewalk up to the doorway. After the bright afternoon sun, the interior of the building seemed dim. Her eyes could make out a figure, standing towards the center of the dojo. "Are you Alicia 'Thunderstanding' Whitling? I want to ask you about training..."

As the business woman takes a step inside the dojo, Thunderstanding is able to assess her in less than a glance. Mid 30s and fit, but with absolutely no balance to indicate she has any combat experience... a basic self defense class would probably be more beneficial... she is just about to tell the interloper exactly this, when she speaks again. "I represent a client that would very much like to train with you."

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Thunderstanding sauntered across the practice floor, her bare feet softly padding against its battered concrete surface. An occasional impact crater dotted that surfce, which was part of a room populated with a heavily dented steel version of a wooden dummy, stacks of tumbling mats, punching bags in all sizes, and other well-used martial arts equipment. Targets were placed all about its two stories, including the ceiling. At the far end, a staircase led up to what appeared to be a loft that served as Thunder's living space. Some kind of long-leafed dangling plant hung from the nearest edge.

Dabbing at her face with a towel, Alicia asked, "Who's this client of yours, and why exactly can't he, you know, pick up a phone?"

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"It wasn't exactly easy getting your address, and I wasn't able to get a phone number at all." The business woman remained in the doorway, perhaps aware of the difference between entering an open door and being invited inside a residence. She wore a fitted, black knee-length skirt, and a bright pink blouse with ruffles at the waist and bodice. "My client doesn't know I'm here. I think he'd get all pouty if I told him he would get a chance to train with you, and then it fell through. I thought it would be better to talk to you myself, first. Besides, we might have business of our own to discuss."

The confidant professional woman smoothly produced a slim black case out of her purse, snapped it open, and slid a card out of it, all with one hand -sort of a boardroom iajutsu. The card reads: Mandy Karlson Public Relations & Career Consulting. "My client is Brett Mason, more commonly known as Pompadour. He's an up and coming musician and super hero. I think that he really needs some training in unarmed combat. But, Pompadour can pick up a car... I can't send him to Temple Kung Fu or something like that. I mean, it's not my area of expertise either, but I would assume that a normal human, even an expert martial artist, could be seriously hurt trying to train a superhuman fighter."

Mandy's eyes sparkle as she continues. "My client is probably not the only superhuman that needs the kind of training that you can provide. That puts you in a very interesting, unique, and potentially lucrative position... and I would be delighted to help you explore it."

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"It wasn't exactly easy getting your address, and I wasn't able to get a phone number at all."

"Fair enough," the heroine admitted.

The business woman remained in the doorway, perhaps aware of the difference between entering an open door and being invited inside a residence. She wore a fitted, black knee-length skirt, and a bright pink blouse with ruffles at the waist and bodice. "My client doesn't know I'm here. I think he'd get all pouty if I told him he would get a chance to train with you, and then it fell through. I thought it would be better to talk to you myself, first. Besides, we might have business of our own to discuss."

Thunder raised an eyebrow skeptically, but she let the other woman continue.

The confident professional woman smoothly produced a slim black case out of her purse, snapped it open, and slid a card out of it, all with one hand -sort of a boardroom iaijutsu. The card reads: Mandy Karlson Public Relations & Career Consulting. "My client is Brett Mason, more commonly known as Pompadour. He's an up and coming musician and super hero. I think that he really needs some training in unarmed combat. But, Pompadour can pick up a car... I can't send him to Temple Kung Fu or something like that. I mean, it's not my area of expertise either, but I would assume that a normal human, even an expert martial artist, could be seriously hurt trying to train a superhuman fighter."

Nodding slightly, Thunder took the card. She had to admit, Mandy Karlson was a smooth operator. Immediately, the old Sade song came to mind, and she gave a mental groan. Who knew how long she'd have it stuck in her head?

Mandy's eyes sparkled as she continued. "My client is probably not the only superhuman that needs the kind of training that you can provide. That puts you in a very interesting, unique, and potentially lucrative position... and I would be delighted to help you explore it."

The muscular heroine studied Mandy's card for a while, muttering, "coast to coast, LA to Chicago...". Finally, she raised her head abruptly to look the business woman directly in the eye.

"Come on in. Take a load off." She gestured to a chair placed against the nearest load-bearing post. As Mandy smiled and made for the seat, a rushing noise caused her to look back at Thunder. The heroine had already crossed the dojo, and was literally kicking another chair through the air. Impossibly, she was also using the chair to keep herself aloft as her feet struck it. With a heavy clunk, Thunderstanding landed sitting in the chair, giving her guest a lopsided smile.

"Okay, tell me about... Pompadour, was it? And talk to me about this training gig."

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Mandy paused a moment, to slip off her stilettos (perhaps she knows a little something about dojo etiquette) and wait for the furniture to stop flying. Then she padded barefoot over to the offered chair.

She doesn't seem to grasp that you're unfamiliar with Pompadour. "Well, he got his powers about a year ago. With the America's Top Model fiasco, and the fallout from that he's only just getting a chance to think about putting his powers to good use. It takes a lot more than super strength or powers to go toe-to-toe with a supervillain though. He's got a lot of raw potential, but needs to learn application. Or, another way of looking at it... Consider how powerful a champion the Centurion would have been, if he had all the fighting skills of someone like Raven."

The 'smooth operator' pauses for a moment. "So that's my duty to my client; to arrange the kind of training he will need to actually succeed as a hero. Now, my proposal to you as a potential client is entirely different. We will want to enhance your mystique as a superhuman warrior. Your client base will be exclusive; fewer clients, less work, more money. All the supers will want to be able to say they train with you. Or, they will once the word gets out that you're the preeminent superhuman sensei in Freedom City." The briefest of pauses. "Everything I've learned about you makes me sure that's the truth, we just need to get the word out."

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Alicia considered Mandy's words for a while. The woman certainly could sell an idea--the whole "superhuman warrior" angle was bad-ass--but something didn't sit right about it all. Eventually, Thunder put her finger on it. What Mandy was describing sounded so very professional.

"I don't mind the idea of training folks, and I'd love to be recognized for it. Recognition is definitely gangsta. But my time has to be my own. I refuse to be trapped into some kind of, I dunno, tour schedule or whatever." She rubbed her head. "Ugh. Life was so easy back in the ring. All I had to do was leave my opponent lying on the mat at the end of the fight and let the good times roll. Now, there's detective work and cops and the press and everything else thrown in the mix. Don't expect me to put up with things getting any more complicated than they are now."

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Mandy pursed her lips in thought for a moment, and Thunder could practically hear the clicking of mighty wheels turning. "Let's lay it down plain what we're each bringing to the table. You need to be able to set some time in your schedule aside for training." A brief pause for emphasis. "And that's it. You already train, continuously it looks like, you'd just need to be ready for guests a few times a week. You won't need to go touring to train people, they will come to you."

"For my part, I arrange the details. If you need more or better press, I make that happen. Training with you has to be prestigeous -no empty pockets or nobodies. My office can vet applicants, handle the appointments, and even sort out the bookkeeping for you. We can start with a little Quid Pro Quo, I'll send you Pompadour and you can see how you like training a superhuman fighter, while I have a look at raising your profile."

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"Okay. I'll train Pompadude and see how it goes. But I get final say over who I train. Period. I see some ghetto boy with mad talent, I'ma train him, prestige or no prestige. Long as you're cool with that, we got a deal."

Thunder extended a long, heavily muscled arm toward Mandy to offer a handshake.

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"Abso-" [sound of a car backfiring] "-lutely! Your dojo, your rules." Mandy shook the offered hand enthusiastically.

The Super Agent reached into her purse, and produced a large leather-bound day-timer. "Alright... as far as I'm concerned this is just foreplay. No need for contracts or any of that yet. I do want you to have extra copies of my card, although I'll probably arrange for you to have your own -card that is. You can give out my office number as a contact for anyone you don't want having direct access to you -fanbois, press, whoever." She jotted down a phone-number on the back of one of her cards, "That's my personal cell number. Please don't pass that out to anyone, but definitely feel free to call me whenever you have an idea, question, whatever. I'll get your digits too, if you don't mind..."

"Ok! Last bit of business... Pompadour has a bunch of meetings in New York next week and I'll be with him, but perhaps we can schedule a first meeting for you two in the first week of June?" After sorting out all the last few notes and cards, Mandy tucks her day-timer away, and fetches forth her purse. Then she allows herself to be lead to the door. As she is putting her shoes back on, she asks oh-so-casually, "do you have any problems with me sending my tame news-hounds to have another sniff around that Greenbank Warehouse?"

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"Abso-" [sound of a car backfiring] "-lutely! Your dojo, your rules." Mandy shook the offered hand enthusiastically.

Alicia returned the handshake and politely smiled. What the heck have I just gotten myself into?

The Super Agent reached into her purse, and produced a large leather-bound day-timer. "Alright... as far as I'm concerned this is just foreplay. No need for contracts or any of that yet. I do want you to have extra copies of my card, although I'll probably arrange for you to have your own -card that is. You can give out my office number as a contact for anyone you don't want having direct access to you -fanbois, press, whoever." She jotted down a phone-number on the back of one of her cards, "That's my personal cell number. Please don't pass that out to anyone, but definitely feel free to call me whenever you have an idea, question, whatever. I'll get your digits too, if you don't mind..."

"Sure thing." Thunder took the offered pen and scribbled her contact info in Mandy's book.

"Ok! Last bit of business... Pompadour has a bunch of meetings in New York next week and I'll be with him, but perhaps we can schedule a first meeting for you two in the first week of June?"

"Works for me," Alicia replied with a lopsided smile. "I'll clear my calendar."

After sorting out all the last few notes and cards, Mandy tucks her day-timer away, and fetches forth her purse. Then she allows herself to be lead to the door. As she is putting her shoes back on, she asks oh-so-casually, "do you have any problems with me sending my tame news-hounds to have another sniff around that Greenbank Warehouse?"

The taller woman blinked in surprise, then stared at Mandy through narrowed eyes. Ms. Karlson certainly did her homework. After a second, Thunderstanding shrugged.

"Go ahead. If they find something the cops missed, let me know."

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Mandy blinks. "Oh, they missed plenty. I don't mean the cops, I mean the press. They had a chance to do a crime-beat, community-interest piece on a woman that singlehandedly took down something like three-dozen thugs. Extra bonus that she's a celebrity that's been on the cover of magazines, and built like a brick house to boot. It's shameful what the press misses, they need to be lead around by the nose sometimes. I know some guys who'll appreciate the 'pop' factor of a story like this."

She turns to go, but then stops. "You might get a call for an interview, don't worry too much about that. Just be polite, a little humble... I'll get a chance to 'touch up' the report before it hits the press. You know, for professional courtesy."

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Thunder snorted. "Humble. Yeah, right. But I can do interviews. Been through plenty." The tall heroine started to turn away, but caught herself. "What d'you mean by touching up? I'm not up for lying, or being lied about."

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"Oh hell no." Mandy seems somewhat offended. "Amateurs lie, then they get caught, and then their names get synonymous with jokes. Reporting is pretty much always slanted, even when it's not intentional. Two reporters interviewing the same people will have different results. A person one reporter describes as intense and focused, another reporter describes as obsessed and single-minded."

Mandy glances at her watch. "I need to run, but trust me; I won't work with a reporter that's willing to bend the truth. If one of my clients does something great, I generally know someone I can call to make sure that the story gets out there and emphasizes the success. If one of my clients has a bad day, that same reporter will still report it. The difference is, they'll probably just report the facts, without using a lot of words like: incompetent, reckless or menace. To be honest, I'm as likely to call a reporter when my clients screw up as I am when they do good -because it's all about controlling the press."

Glancing at her watch again, Mandy waves. Her stilettos click-clacking as she makes her way back to her car.

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Alicia rubbed the back of her neck and watched Mandy drive away. When the business woman had disappeared from sight, Thunder turned and stepped back into the dojo.

What the heck just happened? she asked herself. Hoping she hadn't just made a huge mistake, the heroine returned to abusing her gym's furniture. That, at least, didn't make her brain hurt.

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[post reserved for a press release]

Mandy's tame reporters will be re-visiting the events of Thunder's memorial weekend adventure. This report will emphasize Thunder's blend of incredible fighting skill and superhuman strength and toughness. The reporter will make a point of mentioning Thunder's interest in training other superhumans in unarmed combat.

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Erin hadn't really expected her first trip into the city to be in the bright yellow and blue combat uniform of the Claremont Academy, but she had to admit that the outfit fit well and was very comfortable to move in. And she had to admit that she really could use the training that she was supposedly starting today. Mr. Archer, the gym teacher, was a nice guy and could train her in running and jumping, but he didn't have quite the strength or agility to really work her fighting style and teach her to use it. So when Thunderstanding, who was supposedly a big deal metapowered fighter type, started offering lessons, he'd been the one to press the school to make an arrangement. They couldn't pay top dollar for training, but working with the Claremont Academy would boost just about anyone's reputation. Claremont only employed the best. Mr. Archer was with her today, giving her a ride and coming in to watch the session and make sure it was the sort of combat training that was necessary and appropriate.

Erin was nervous, but excited too. This was what she'd come to school for, after all, to learn to be a real hero, with control of her own strength. She followed Mr. Archer into the nondescript building, balancing on the balls of her feet and looking around as she went. She wasn't as nervous about simply moving around in the city as she'd once been, but all the noise and activity made sure she was very much on her toes.

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The building was the size of a small warehouse, and the vast majority of it was dedicated to a huge gymnasium. Parts of the floor were concrete, pockmarked with several dozen impact craters. Others were covered with mats or hard wood. Practice dummies and targets were scattered about the area, many of them dented steel. They hung from walls, dangled from chains attached to the distant ceiling, stood on poles in the middle of the floor, and so on. The walls were mostly bare concrete, though one small section was covered with dozens of pictures of fighters in action. A case filled with trophies stood next to the pictures. The end farthest from the door contained a wrought iron spiral staircase leading to a loft that overlooked the floor below. Long, leafy plants dangled from the loft's edge. Sunlight filtered in through a series of heavily barred skylights in the roof, along with some windows set high in the walls. The place smelled of sweat and incense.

Padding lithely on bare feet towards Erin and Mr. Archer was a statuesque brown-skinned woman dressed in a black sports bra and baggy knee-length shorts. As she approached, she smiled and shook hands with Mr. Archer, then offered her hand to Erin. Her palm and knuckles were heavily calloused and her grip was quite firm.

"Hello. I'm Thunderstanding. Welcome to my home. It's a pleasure to meet you." She looked at Mr. Archer and gestured to a couch near the door. "You can sit over there while we do our thing. There's a fridge behind that screen; feel free to raid it if you get thirsty. Any questions?"

"No, no questions right now," replied the teacher. "I'll probably have some later, though."

"Okay, then I suppose we'll get started." Thunder turned to Erin and adopted a more serious demeanor. "So, Wander was it? Before we get started, I've got some questions of my own. The first is, what is it that you want out of me?"

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Erin shook Thunderstanding's hand, looking from her to the gym all around them with a considering eye. Her grip was firm, but her hands were soft, no callouses at all. "It's a pleasure to meet you, too" she said politely. She unconsciously mirrored the trainer's pose as they spoke, looking up and meeting her eyes. "I need to learn how to use my strength responsibly," she said carefully. "I learned how to fight without any lessons, and without learning how to pull my punches. I'm too dangerous to be a hero, but that's what I want to be. Mr. Archer says that you can teach me control, and to only use as much force as is appropriate. That's what I want."

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Thunder pursed her lips and nodded. "No lessons, huh? So you're a street fighter?"

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Erin ducked her head and broke eye contact at that, rubbing the back of her neck uncomfortably. "Sort of," she said, "but not exactly. I'm from a different world," she blurted, deciding that she'd better spill something, if she wanted to be taught effectively. "There was a plague, and some other stuff, and almost everyone turned into zombies. And I fought them. But when you fight them, you have to destroy them, or they just... they just keep getting up. So I learned how to do that, with weapons or barehanded if I had to. But now, here, it's not like that. I don't want to kill living people, but I don't know how to fight not to."

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Thunder blinked, obviously a little surprised. Zombies?! Wow. Just... wow. The superhero gig sure was a weird way to live.

After a beat, the tall heroine said, "Well then, I'll do my best to teach you how. In return, you'll be the best student you can be. Deal?" She extended her hand again, her face friendly but quite serious.

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Wander nodded soberly, extending her hand and shaking the teacher's. She was glad not to have to talk more about where she'd come from, and more than eager to move on. "I work hard," she promised. "I won't waste your time." She looked around the gym, at all the incomprehensible equipment and odd targets. It didn't look much at all like the gym at school. "Where do we start?"

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Thunder walked past Wander and stood in the middle of a clear area of floor. "First, let's see what you've got. Step on out here and go a few rounds with me."

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Wander stepped up obediently and balanced on the balls of her feet, ready to fight, but still seemed very uncertain. She looked over to Mr. Archer for reassurance that this was the right thing to be doing, then back to her substantially larger and more experienced opponent. It was hard to say if she was more worried about being hit or hitting.

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When Erin looked back from her glance at Mr. Archer, Thunderstanding was nowhere to be seen. The faintest of footfalls and the rustle of fabric triggered the zombie fighter's hard-won instincts, and Erin dropped low in time to see Thunder's foot stop just shy of where her head had been.

"Well, there's nothing wrong with your reflexes," the older fighter noted appreciatively, dropping back into a typical MMA fighting stance.

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