Friday, April 15, 2011

STARDUST #6 "Stardust vs. BP" - pt. 3

“Just think how it is for the people cleaning the beaches!” someone else said.
“Look! Look! A coast guard boat!” someone else shouted.

Everyone looked at that. Sure enough, a patrol boat was approaching the derelict oil rig. Just in case they were not noticed, most of the party-goers abandoned their clearing efforts and ran to the side of the pad, jumping up and down or waving excitedly to the patrol boat.

“You are trespassing on private property!” someone said over a megaphone from the boat.

“We’re not trespassing! This is my property!” Tony Hayward shouted at them angrily. “Get us down from up here!”

Tony kept shouting at them, but they could not hear until some of the Coast Guard actually came aboard the rig and made their way to the bottom of the stairs. They too were aghast at the bodies clogging the stairs. “How many people are up there?” one of them called up.

“Twenty, I think, but I’m Tony Hayward!” Tony called back. “It’s very important that you get up here! A crazy man is holding us hostage!”

“Are you responsible for all this blockage on the staircase?” the man called up.

“No! It was that…that man…” Tony said, trying to think how to make it sound believable. “It was all an accident!” he said, changing his story.

“No one is supposed to be up here,” the man said. “Can you get down?”

“No, you moron! If we could get down, we wouldn’t be stuck up here on the top of a bloody oil rig surrounded by bloody dead things!” Tony shouted.

There were a few moments of silence while the men on the bottom conferred before the first one called back up. “Just stay where you are, don’t touch anything, and we’ll see what we can do about getting a helicopter out here.”

“Wait! I've got two, but he won't let them land!” Tony shouted, but the Coast Guard were heading back to their boat to report what they had seen.

Stardust had been standing idly by and watching during all this, but now he said loudly, “I'm not holding anyone prisoner here. The problem you're facing is the same as the one BP has forced everyone living along the Gulf Coast to deal with. You've got oil and dead sea life to deal with. You've got the food and drink you came with and then, after that, things are going to get tougher for you, just like all the fishermen and other people whose livelihoods are endangered. The difference now is, you people can't ignore these problems because you're too rich or too self-important to think you should have to deal with this. You're going to deal with this, just like the tens of thousands of people poorer than you who are already having to deal with your mistakes.”

There was more complaining and protesting and some people refused to do anything, but Tony Hayward was the first to rally some of the party-goers and the staff under him. They even came up with a fairly clever plan, or so Stardust thought. Using one of the folding tables as a plow, they managed to clear quite a bit of the staircase with it. It was slow going, though, to do it safely.

In the next hour, oil-drenched men and women had cleared most of the way down the stairs. The Coast Guard had come up the rig again twice to explain the delays on their end from the bottom of the stairs. Each time they came they tossed some bottled water up to the work crews, offered words of encouragement, and tried to discourage those who were thinking they had come far enough down now that they could just jump the rest of the way.

“It's really much farther down to the water from here than you think,” the Coast Guard warned them.

Up at the top of the stairs, taking a breather, Tony Hayward sat down. His face rested in his hands. “It’s all my fault,” he said quietly, murmuring into his palms. “I never thought about the dangers…the damage our rigs cause…It was all just bottom lines to me. But there was so much more to it than that…”

“You remember that when you leave here,” Stardust said.

Tony looked up with a start, not having realized Stardust was standing so close and heard everything. He looked up at Stardust, not defiantly, but nodding with comprehension.

It was less than another hour when the path was cleared enough that the party-goers could start descending to the Coast Guard boat safely. Cries of “we’re saved!” soon woke up the few people who had already fallen to sleep up top, wrapped up in table clothes and tarps.

“Mr. Hayward,” a Coast Guard officer said as Tony came down. “The man who was keeping you prisoner here -- where is he?”

Tony looked back up the stairs, but there was no sign of Stardust up there. He turned back to the officer and shook his head vigorously. “No, no, never mind him. Just get us out of here!”

June 12, 2010.

Tony Hayward had not announced any press conferences for today, but when the reporter had called, asked to see him, and mentioned Stardust, Tony told him to come around at 1:30. Mark Kirkham showed up at 1:29 and only had to wait three minutes before Tony’s secretary told him that Mr. Hayward would see him now.

The CEO looked tired and stressed and rightly so, if rumors about what the last few board meetings of the company had been like. He wore a suit, though with the suit coat thrown over the chair behind him. His desk was covered in reports, left open to various pages with paperweights holding them open, while his partially visible computer screen showed more online reports were open. It could have been all for show, of course, but Mark thought Tony’s bleary eyes suggested otherwise.

After a brief exchange of pleasantries, Tony went straight for the point. “Who was that man? Who called himself Stardust?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Hayward,” Mark said. “But I’ve talked to him enough to know that I think we have an honest-to-God superhero walking among us now. Would you like to make a statement about him?”

“Me? No…” Tony said, staring off into space. “But I do have a statement to make. You can announce that, henceforth, our offshore drill sites will be the safest in the world. We will never put pressure on our workers to cut corners again. My experience on Deep Horizon made me really understand just what we had done. And if you ever talk to this Stardust again, tell him I said that. And…thank you.”

NEXT ISH: Stardust returns home to Elgin, Illinois, for some R&R and to catch up with his friends and family! But he’s not the only one to come to Elgin. Who is stalking him, and why? And what does it have to do with SHROUD? Find out, next time, in “Home Is for the Hunted!”

Sadly, issue #7 never happened. I hope someone enjoys the six-issue run of Stardust!

Monday, April 11, 2011

STARDUST #6 "Stardust vs. BP" - pt. 2

“Now don't let them come back down!” Stardust shouted at Tony Hayward. “I'll be right back!” He stressed those last two words with an accusatory finger jabbed in Tony's direction at each word. Then he leaped again off of the side of the pad, this time lower into the oil rig.

For the short time he was gone, the more sober party-goers debated what to do. Tony Hayward was thinking that to himself, but was not about to admit to anyone that he was not in control of the situation. He was considering whether he could convince everyone this was just a show put on for the party when he heard Stardust shout something from below.

“Incoming!” Stardust shouted and, in the next moment, something big and metallic came sailing over the edge of the pad and landed up there. It looked like part of a crane at first, but its shape was more humanoid than that. After a longer look, it looked more like a robot from out of some science fiction movie. It was missing its head, an arm, and a leg, but if it could stand it would have been eight feet tall.

“Recognize your toy, Tony?” Stardust asked as he clambered over the side of the pad. He was still dressed in the nice clothes of the caterers – white dress shirt, clip-on bow tie, and black slacks – but the robot had been dirty and oily and Stardust's clothes were now in the same condition. “It's one of those robots you keep hearing about on the news. The BP robots that are repairing the oil leak. Only nobody knows that they're this big or that they're programmed to attack anyone else who gets too close to the oil leak. Of course, I know about it because I took a swim down there myself to see if I could help. Protecting your interests, even if it slows down ending the crisis? This thing tried to kill me before I put it out of commission. Would it have attacked a U.S. submarine if it had got too close, I wonder?”

“I don't know what you're talking about,” Tony said, “but you're not welcome here. You're trespassing on private property!”

“Yeah, and I had to do it before too,” Stardust said. “I spent a whole day up here on the rig recovering from that fight. I dredged some other things out of the water when I was here. Why don't you take a look on the stairs and see for yourself?” He asked it loudly so that it was clearly intended for all the guests and not just to Tony Hayward.

Several people followed Tony to the stairs and they were equally repulsed by what they saw. “Bloody 'ell!” Tony hollered in surprise. The staircase was littered with dead sea turtles, pelicans, big fish of several species, and even a dolphin – all of them filthy with oil. There were dozens and dozens of corpses blocking anyone's way down from the pad via the stairs.

“Like your handiwork, Tony?” Stardust asked. “I noticed your underwater cams trained on the leak didn't show the real harm it was causing and I heard how BP workers are keeping the media away from dead animals on the beaches. So I figured I'd gather more evidence here.”

“There’s another way down!” Tony Hayward shouted at the others. “I can’t believe I almost forgot. There should be a trap door – over there!”

Everyone scrambled over to the corner of the helicopter pad where Tony had pointed and, sure enough, there was a trap door there. The hinges looked rusty, but the strongest man amongst the partygoers bent down, took hold of the handle, and tugged. He pulled on it again and again, but the door would not budge. Others insisted on trying it, but the result was the same each time.

“Nice job keeping the equipment here in working order, Tony!” someone said, dripping with angry sarcasm.

“Just shut up, okay?” Tony asked him, but the request had the opposite effect and the man lunged at Tony with his hands balled in fists instead. It took two other people to separate them.

“Did you cut corners on everything here?” demanded one of the very people who had just spared him from a pummeling.

Tony looked around from angry face to angry face. He was angry too, but he was not willing to let them see him loose his cool. “Look, let’s go back to the stairs. We don’t need to move everything out of our way, just enough to get down.”

The carcasses were so thick on the stairs that Tony and the other, braver guests had to wade down into them. A man lifted a dead pelican, but was overcome by the smell and dropped it again. The dead dolphin was the biggest problem, as there was no room at all to move around it. Tony Hayward and another man tried rolling it over the railing, but the other man slipped on some oily fish and would have gone over the railing himself if Tony had not grabbed him in time.

“Hurry, try again!” someone said impatiently from the top of the stairs.

“Ugh, it’s so awful! How can anyone do this?” Tony Hayward vented.

Friday, April 8, 2011

STARDUST #6 "Stardust vs. BP" - pt. 1

And now, the never-before published 6th and final issue of Stardust...

Thanks to Jerry Siegel for Action Comics #3

Even by the sixth of June, 2010, it was still all over the media what BP oil's CEO Tony Hayward said. “I want my life back,” he had complained about the intense media scrutiny. Then people who knew nothing else about him all over started criticizing him for his selfishness in the middle of an oil spill disaster. Well, Tony Hayward knew what to do to answer his critiques.

He'd throw a party. And screw his critiques.

His secretary handled the basics – renting the convention hall in New Orleans, hiring the caterers, and inviting the usual rich socialites who gravitated to fancy parties thrown for no good reason other than to be seen at a party. What had thrown him and necessitated Tony's intervention was the shortage of guests.

“Fer Crissakes!” Tony Hayward hollered at his secretary in private. “Only eleven bloody people! I'll be a laughing stock when word gets out about this.” He fumed silently for a moment with his arms crossed in front of him, thinking it out. “I'll show them. This is going to be the most bloody amazing party and everyone's going to so regret not coming when they hear about it. Get me two company helicopters. Big ones.”

His secretary, a pleasant-looking Indian woman in her 20s, normally kept her face focused on a clipboard when Tony was ranting, but she looked at at that request and asked him to clarify.

“Helicopters?” she repeated.

“You know, those big ones we use for airlifting people. We're going to load all of the guests into one and the caterers and food into the other. I know just where to take this party to make it really special.”

An hour and twenty minutes later, the party was being transported by helicopter over the Gulf of Mexico. The guests had not been told where they were heading and none guessed until the abandoned oil rig was in sight. Everyone stared, slack-jawed, out the helicopter windows until one guest turned to Tony and said, “You are crazy. This is...this is the ballsy-est thing anyone has ever done, ever.”

“Yeah, well, nothing but the best for my guests!” Tony said with a grin as their helicopter cast its shadow over the helicopter pad atop the Deep Horizon oil rig.

The oil rig was a broad, squat skeleton of metal pipes, scaffolding, catwalks, and connected rooms sitting over the gulf waters atop giant leg-like pilings. The helicopter pad sat atop all of it as if balanced precariously there. It was on this surface that both helicopters touched down.

“Welcome to the most exclusive party site in the world!” Tony bragged to his guests as they exited the craft one at a time. His secretary raced across to the other helicopter and began instructing the caterers to set up their tables and food right on the pad once the blades stopped spinning.

The guests were all impressed, either because of Tony's daring or because they had already drank too much at the party and would have been impressed by anything. Tony Hayward, for his part, was just happy to be surrounded by no one but people who appreciated him or people who worked for him and knew better than to criticize him.

The food was soon set up again and Tony helped himself to some caviar.

“Hey,” one of the caterers said to Tony. “Can I ask you something?”

“No, you cannot,” Tony said. He gave the man a second glance and saw he looked like he was still about to ask something. “Bloody 'ell, you're not a reporter, are you?”

“No, I'm not a reporter,” the caterer said, “but one did help me slip in with the real caterers. No, what I was wondering was, what's it like not having a conscience?”

“Who are you?” Tony Hayward asked him angrily.

“I'll get to that. Hold on,” the man said. Then, amazingly, he ran to the edge of the helicopter pad and leaped off of it. The man sailed over 20 feet through the air and landed on a tower of pipes that stood just slightly taller than the pad. He yanked on the pipe until he found one that was looser than the others and he pulled on it with both hands until he pulled it completely free. It was a huge section of pipe, easily weighing over 200 lbs. The man leaped back to the pad, swinging the pipe in both hands like a bat. “Tell your pilots to take off,” the man said.

“What?” Tony asked indignantly. Everyone was watching them. He was not going to back down now no matter what this magician could do. “Tell me who you are?”

“I’m Stardust!” Stardust answered. People backed out of his way as he came over to the nearest helicopter. “And I said get these 'copters in the air!”

No one knew what to say and the pilots just sat in their helicopters. What few were not stunned speechless tried to ask how he did what they just saw him do. It was not until Stardust cracked the windshield with a one-handed swing of the big pipe that the pilots stopped waiting for orders from their boss and started switching on their rotors. The wind picked up and threw the party into chaos, blowing table clothes off of the folding tables and the clothes pulling the food bowls off with them. The female guests held down their dresses and some of the men laughed. Stardust walked back and forth, like a batter warming up before going up to the plate, practicing with the pipe until the helicopters were in the air.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

STARDUST #5 "Stardust and the Top Kill" - pt. 4

“Sure do,” Stardust said, glad he had not said his last thoughts out loud.

“How is visibility?”

Stardust turned his body so the light shining from on top of his helmet would pierce more of the gloom. “A little murky…I can see a few hundred feet, though.”

“Good, well, you have 5,000 feet to go down to the oil leak, but you should see the oil plume much sooner than that. Just follow it down, but take it slow and easy. As soon as the pressure starts to hurt, come back up.”

Okay, I can do this… Sean thought. Indeed, he had already broken the record for withstanding pressure in tests, but now was going to have to more than double the record.

Murky shapes floating in the water came into focus as Stardust moved deeper and further from the boat. “Oh geez…” he blurted out as he identified the nearest objects as dead turtles.

“Everything okay?” Barbara asked.

“Just fine…” You can handle this, Sean thought to reassure himself, at the same time he reassured Barbara. All around him, further than the eye could see, the gulf had become a floating graveyard. Dozens of mackerals and sea bass hovered around him in unnatural stillness as he slowly descended past them. Wishing to pass them faster, he tried swimming downwards as much as his suit allowed. I am never eating fish again.... Oh, I think I had one of those before. Ew.

After the initial shock, the hardest part of the dive was the sheer monotony of it. The feeling of isolation inside the confines of the diving suit, the sameness of everything around him in every direction – what if I've stopped sinking entirely? Gah, I never thought I'd trade above-average strength and limited hypnotism for Aquaman's powers before! Or Sub-Mariner. At least I've read more Sub-Mariner.... Sean had read neither in a long time, but his mind drifted back to comic books he had read in his youth, comic books from his older brother's collection. That time Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Namor all crossed over in each other's titles. Michael was so mad when those issues were missing and turned up in Sean’s room. Heh, good times…

The descent was becoming uncomfortable and Stardust realized he had been deep and reminiscing longer than he realized. That don’t feel good… wonder how deep I am? Sean pushed away thoughts about the discomfort, choosing instead to think about those cardboard boxes of comic books in Michael’s closet and how tempting they were to a younger brother. He should have known better. Oh no… he thought, as that direction of thought led him to think about how those boxes came into his possession, though for years they never left that closet, as if it were a shrine to Michael’s love for those comic books. Pangs of sadness struck him as he recalled being 11 and digging into those boxes again. The loneliness was still there, as fresh a hurt as it was that day when he realized there was no longer reason to be afraid of being caught and yelled at and wishing there were. And that sadness seemed to intensify the feeling of pressure in the suit he had been ignoring until then. It was becoming unbearable. He should give up and signal the ship, he knew. No, remember… Sean reminded himself. Remember what Michael said…

Sean was only seven when he asked Michael the question that changed his life, but he still remembered it so clearly. It was summer. They were outside at a park. Michael had to watch Sean play until their mother came home from work back in those days. Michael would sit on his bicycle for the last half-hour, ready to take off the moment he saw Mom’s car. Sean was pretending to be Spider-Man before he asked, “Is there such a thing as Spider-Man?”

“No,” Michael said, dismissively at first, but then he added, “but anyone can be like Spider-Man.”

Sean never forgot that. At first he thought Michael meant anyone could get powers like Spider-Man’s, but when he was 15, Sean was reading one of Michael’s Marvel Tales issues reprinting the Lee-Ditko classics. It was Amazing Spider-Man #33. Spider-Man trapped under that heavy machinery with water flooding in all around him; Spider-Man pushing himself and looking deeper for the strength to go on. It was then that Sean understood that anyone could be like Spider-Man as an example. Sean went through every comic book in Michael’s boxes that night, until past midnight, and inventoried them. Every story had a hero in it, each striving to overcome adversity and make a difference. It was like Michael had collected a blueprint for what kind of person Sean should try to be.

Stardust pushed harder, dug deeper, and descended deeper, just like Spider-Man would do, he thought with a smile. A smile that faded as shapes emerged in the murky darkness below him and he had his first look at the oil plume at its source...

NEXT: What does Stardust see at the source of the spill? What will he do about it? And how far will he go to bring justice? It all comes to a head in "Stardust vs. BP!"