This is a series of science fiction short stories, influenced by the FOX series The X-Files (the presence of aliens – in fact, Agent Vin Scully Gibson is inspired by Agent Dana Scully, even though he’s the exact opposite, and is much more like Fox Mulder) and New Amsterdam (an immortal who solves crimes), with the imagery of the Southwest (which I’ve always been fond of) thrown in.
But the series was actually inspired by an honor society induction ceremony.
You see, this year, I played Robin the Boy Wonder in a Batman parody film. The last day featured a scene in which I was to wear a poncho (in actuality, a blanket of mine, which my mother sewed a hole in for the head) and a sombrero (my friend Kimberly, who was co-director). I left the poncho (and incidentally my lunchbox) at Kim’s house that day, and she gave it to me the next day.
I decided to wear the poncho, as it was a blustery spring day, on the Queens College campus, during Baskin-Robbins’ 31-Cent Scoop Night, and for the induction ceremony for the New York State Science Honor Society, earning compliments and a chuckle from my sophomore-year chemistry (and senior-year forensics elective) teacher Mr. Porzio (who we last saw deriding House). I remarked that there should be a superhero who wore a poncho.
Enter this story, the origin of a superhero: the myth they call Poncho Villa (not Pancho Villa, the man who escaped Gen. Pershing). Enjoy after the jump.For the past 500 years, there have been stories around these parts. Stories of great conquest, of terrible destruction, of both evil triumphing and good defeating it. Stories told around tribal fires, then around campfires, then around fireplaces. Now, very few of these stories were told, thanks to the new media and modern technology – but one story persists, not in spite of it, but because of it.
A story of a man who can perform incredible feats. A story of a man who is virtually always overlooked by society except when they need him the most. A story of a man who uses all his resources in the battle of good over evil. A story of a man who may not be a man at all.
This is one of his stories. The stories of the man they call Poncho Villa.
Los Alamos is a small, sleepy town that for a time was literally buzzing more than any other place in the world. It was there that the first nuclear bomb was tested – Trinity Point, they called it. As if Faith, Hope, and Charity could do battle with 50 megatons of explosives. While most of the scientists left after we won the War in Japan, a few stuck around, with their sights toward a different goal: not defeating the Axis, but to understanding the stars. With a budding spaceport and an array of satellites so large, they call it the Very Large Array, these men and women continue their efforts to contact alien life, not knowing what they’ll find.
(A note about the term “alien,” by the way. Alien really only has one definition – a stranger from a strange land. Yet it has two main connotations: one, immigrants from other countries, generally in the phrase “illegal aliens” and generally used when discussing plans to close the border; and the other, the little green men – whether or not they’re actually humanoid – that are said to inhabit far-flung worlds, and generally used when discussing plans to welcome them to our planet with open arms. This knowledge will come in handy later.)
Yet all was not well in the Very Large Array. A man – of bronze skin, about five foot nine, wearing a brown plaid collared shirt, blue denim jeans, and black Nike sneakers – was found, expired, exactly seven-point-two meters from satellite number five-hundred-and-seven of the VLA. No one knew how such a man got there – there were no clues, no sign of struggle, no evidence confirming or denying homicide, suicide, or anything else. “Probably just some Mexican trying to cross the border, died of heat exhaustion,” said the Los Alamos police, the New Mexico State Police, the Border Patrol, and the FBI, all simultaneously.
Now, this was the generally accepted idea – so much so that the body was simply left in the morgue for days, weeks at a time, with no further examination – but one man was not so certain.
“You crazy, Gibson? You really think that a guy – one guy, dead, in the middle of the desert, dehydrated like an empty camel hump – was murdered?” said Agent Kenneth Bontemps, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Denver bureau. Bontemps, with his partner Agent Vin Scully Gibson – originally from Los Angeles, named by his mother after the great Dodgers play-by-play man – had gone down to Los Alamos to see the dead body.
“We only went down there ’cause the guy died on federal property, Vin! It’s open-and-shut – guy died of heat exhaustion, nodoubtaboutit.”
“I’m not so sure, Bontemps,” said Gibson. “I’ve heard stories of deaths not unlike this. In fact, I’d bet even money this guy was murdered.
“And I know just the one who can find out for sure.”
Way back in the time when the white man had come to reap the riches of the New World, there were tribes of men, women and children – honest people, hard-working, who survived by farming and hunting, living a simpler life in simpler times – including some that lived in mountains of near-insurmountable height. When the other tribes started dying off from guns, smallpox, and in later generations, government bureaucracy, these tribes somehow survived. Most thought it was because the thin mountain air didn’t take to disease as easily. A few others thought that their mountain caves and tents made it difficult for the Spaniards to attack them and was land found undesirable by the American Westerners.
But a few others, generally thought of as ‘crazies,’ ‘quacks,’ ‘lunatics,’ and the like, believed that they had been there long before anyone could know, possibly before time itself. That they had even seen a few come down – with hair as white as puffy cumulus clouds, standing incredibly tall – at least six-foot-five – with skin grayer than a storm-cloud. Es un inmortal – it’s an immortal, they would say.
It seemed as though Gibson was one of those quacks.
“Gibson here.” His cell phone still inexplicably had reception in the high altitude and low population density of the Los Alamos mountains.
“Yeah, Vin, this is Bontemps, where the hell are ya?” Kenneth said in his Staten Island accent, quite out of place for Colorado.
“Not now, Bontemps, I’m in Los Alamos looking for my consultant.”
“Los Alamos again? What the hell are you doing back there? And what consultant of ours lives -”
“I’ll tell you when I get back to Denver,” said Gibson, as he hung up the phone. Bontemps couldn’t have called at a worse time, it seemed – Gibson stood with two feet and one hand in the cracks of a New Mexico mountain face, thirty-five-hundred feet up above sea level (if you could call the surface of a desert ‘sea level’), with only his black suit as protection (he had gone with the black clip-on today, so as not to get it caught in one of the crags). In other words, he would have to be squeegeed off the desert in the event of an accident. He was there to meet his ‘consultant’ – his consultant being one of los inmortales.
After a rock-climbing session so long and grueling, his training at Quantico only marginally prepared him for such an endurance, he entered a cave so deep the echos presented in return to every salutation could have just as well been uttered by a crowd of thousands. A few yards into the cave, he met a man almost seven feet tall, with tan-gray skin, wearing long black denim jeans, a black cowboy hat, and a teal poncho.
“I hear you’re one of the inmortales,” Gibson said.
“This is correct,” Poncho Villa said.
“I’m Vin Gibson from the FBI, Denver bureau. I’m here to ask you to help solve a murder for me.”
“It is my mission to fight for the weak and defeat evil.”
“Whoa, there, immortal poncho man, you’re starting to sound like Superman.”
“Well, mortal suit man, I do live forever – I must use my powers to some use. In any case, I accept, on one condition.”
“Do not reveal my identity, nor any of my tribe, to the authorities.”
“You have my word. When shall we begin?”
“Now. Hold to my poncho immediately.”
Gibson begrudgingly grabbed on, as Poncho Villa took a running start out of the cave and jumped off the mountain.
“You do realize that we are over three-thousand feet above the surface?!” Gibson said.
“And do you realize, sir, that one of the powers of my so-called inmortales is the ability to shape-shift?” Poncho Villa said, simultaneously turning into a mammoth condor, about ten feet wide, gliding toward the surface.
Now that Gibson and Poncho Villa have met, join us next week in the Tales of Poncho Villa for part two of the story, “SETI”.