The Champions Project: The Black Knight #3
The story opens in Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers are losing to the Washington Nationals.* We jump into the stands and see, in the cheap seats, Dr. James Gates, the Black Knight. Next to him is his friend Darrell. Darrell is much better dressed than James, due to his having a regular job and a decent paycheck.
James tells Darrell that “I inherited a couple of things from my father. I got high blood pressure, bad teeth, and an undying love of the Dodgers.”
Darrell laughs and asks about the elder Mr. Gates.
Before James can answer the question, he sees a Dodger baserunner get picked off in a steal attempt. He yells “AW, COME ON!” Then he sees a man seated two rows in front of him yelling at a boy. The boy begins to cry. Gates fumes. And fumes. And fumes.
Splash page: The pipecleaner-thin physics professor leaps from his seat and tackles the yelling man. Everyone looks horrified. Gates is insane with rage. He craves to spill the man’s blood amongst the peanut shells and plastic beer bottles on the floor of Chavez Ravine.
Darrell pulls his loony friend off the yelling man and hustles him to the exit before security can arrest them both. They drive away, Darrell berating his friend. “You’ve cracked, cuz! Too much time in the lab! You were never like this in school! You need to get the hell away from here!”
James pulls out a small blue vial wrapped in twine and drinks its contents. He then calms down and admits that Darrell is right.
The ghost of Dane Whitman leans forward from the backseat of the car. “It’s not because of Los Angeles, James. You know that.” As James tries to ignore the ghost, he pulls out a pendant of strange shape and clutches it.
Darrell notices the action. "Jimmy, you gone and found Jesus?"
James opens his palm and shows the pendant. It's a ball made up of pebbles and a small coin with arcane characters scratched onto it, all fused into a single glob. "I...it's...it helps calm me down."
Darrell laughs. "A magic charm, right? Janice has one kinda like it. Lookin' into the occult now? Man, you are crackin' up, cuz. You get that from the bruja in San Dimas?"
Gates nods and changes the subject. “There’s a company in San Diego that’s been after me for a year. Thinkin' about lookin' into it.”
“San Diego! Perfect. Jimmy, you gotta at least check it out. Get away. Stop bein' a doormat for once in your life and take charge.” Darrell pauses. "Make that twice. Hoo, did you see the look on that guy's face when you jumped him? I knew it was just a matter of time 'til you snapped, Jimmy. Though I always thought you'd've flipped out back in high school."
The ghost says nothing.
We jump to San Diego, in a small office tower. It's the headquarters of Initech, a successful new high technology firm. James is in an interview with Louisa O’Donnell, head scientist. They’re walking through a massive lab, with all sorts of giant comic book doohickeys, dinguses, and thingy-mo-bobs throughout the lab. He asks her, “So…your focused plasma project, that’s—“
“Right up your alley, Mr. Gates,” she answers. “It’s based off of the same research you were pursing at Boomtown.” An anti-grav platform the size and shape of a surfboard floats by, with tiny dancing robots on it. She leads him into Conference Room A.
Conference Room A is filled with men in yellow jumpsuits and bucket helmets sitting around a long table. James's eyes grow wide. All he can manage to say is "Uh..."
One of the yellow-suited men stands and offers James his hand. "Dr. Gates! Welcome! We are all admirers of your research, particularly your recent work in Chicago." Yes, Initech is a subsidiary of everybody's favorite would-be world conquering army of scientists, Advanced Idea Mechanics (more commonly known as AIM).
Another yellow-suited man speaks up. "Look, you're not up for tenure at Caltech. The best you can hope for is to float from job to job for the rest of your life. AIM offers something better. Join us and be a part of something. Change the world."
James clenches his teeth. The bloodlust boils up in him again. "Don't you mean conquer it?"
The room bursts into laughter. James grows even more angry. O'Donnell explains that AIM is no longer interested in world conquest. "We are a place where scientists are respected and well-compensated, not cogs in an industrialist's machine or forced to teach slack-jawed teenagers.
"Why don't we let the chairman talk it over with you," she says.
The massive oak doors of the meeting room open. In floats MODOK, the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing.
"Good afternoon, Doctor Gates..."
James quakes with rage as he hears one of the AIM scientists chortle and say, "C'mon and be a buckethead! We got dental!"
We jump to that night. The Black Knight is in his full armor, complete with sword and other goodies, atop a high-rise across the street from the Initech building. "Some job interview. MODOK? AIM? Oh hell no. A secret army and its monster leader? Time to bust up whatever crazy scheme they're working on."
He aims his wrist-mounted rocket grapnel launcher at the Initech building. Before he fires, he notices the ghost of Dane Whitman on the rooftop with him. Both he and the ghost are silent. Gates turns back towards the Initech building and admits to himself, "If I don't hit somebody soon, I'm gonna explode."
With a whoosh, a clink, and a whuzzawhuzzawhuzza, he zips across the gap between the buildings. A thin wedge of energy from his photonic shield cuts open a hole in a window, and he slips inside. A silent page of the Black Knight skulking follows. He uses the jet-dart grapnel, the leaping capabilities of his armor, and the sensors in the suit to avoid security and deep into the Initech tower.
He reaches the main lab. "Enough subtlety. Let's break stuff," he thinks. The Black Knight draws the Ebony Blade and cuts open the massive steel doors in a single swing.
Inside the lab is MODOK, his eyes fixed on the Knight. "Doctor Gates, there is no need for this." A dozen AIM troopers emerge from the shadows and point their rifles at Gates.
Gates feels a rush of righteous fury build in his chest. "Oh, I think there is." He leaps towards MODOK.
Bullets ricochet off his armor and shield as he Brings the Pain to the lab and its residents. His thought balloons and behavior show that he is trying to avoid killing the bucketheads or MODOK. He's using the flat of the blade, the strength of the armor, and sundry weapons he cadged from Boomtown. How much he's in control of himself is debatable.
As the Smackdown progresses, MODOK yells that he had scanned James's mind during the interview. "I know what you are, James."
A charge of psionic energy bursts from MODOK's headband. The Black Knight bursts out of a window of the tower. He plunges five stories onto the asphalt of the building's parking lot. Due to the sword's protection, he is able to get right back up.
MODOK floats down from the building. "Doctor Gates, I can feel the righteous anger in you. You're certain that you fight for justice."
The Black Knight charges MODOK, only to be telekinetically hurled into a nearby pickup truck.
The Knight gets up and raises his sword. "You are a villain. You want to--"
MODOK interrupts. "Develop better ways to mine platinum? Create nanotech to replace damaged nerve cells? Make a great deal of money?"
Gates lowers the blade. "What?"
"We're out of the world-conquering business, James." MODOK levitates his way back into the building. "We'll keep your resume on file."
The Black Knight stands alone in the parking lot of Initech, confused. Then the ghost of the first Black Knight and the old man in the leisure suit emerge from the shadows. The ghost speaks up. "Thou'rt a coward and a weak reed shouldst thou remainest here! The blade itself sings of vengeance in your heart! Slay the monster!"
James ignores the ghost and looks at the old man. "Then what? Another fight? Another killing? Another cause I know to be just and beautiful in my heart because it lets me hit people?"
The old man speaks. "Listen to the words of your master, the sword's forger, the sorcerer Merlin. Black Knights have risen and fallen, and I have guided them all. Only I know the emptiness in your heart and the rage that can fill it. I can lead you to glory."
Gates takes off his helmet. "Fighting without end? Lost in anger forever?"
The ghost says, "Hold thy tongue! Merlin is wiser than thou knowest!"
James approaches them both. "Why me? Why did you curse me?"
Merlin replies, "That is not for you to know."
The Black Knight raises his sword before the two figures. Without a word, he plunges the blade into the asphalt of the Initech parking lot.
James Gates walks away. Merlin's own rage grows. The mightiest sorcerer on Earth will not stand for such disrespect.
To be concluded next Friday in The Black Knight #4: “The Black Knight Must Die!”
NOTE: The index to "The Champions Project" can be found here.
*Go Nats! WOOO!