Seven year old Dusty Irwin, five year old Kimber Allison, and six year old Chuckie Brand were being forced to watch a bad anti-drug play.
It involved people in various costumes made to look like over-sized drugs trying to tempt children, and their leader was "Smackie The Smackman".
Smackie had been doing this shtick since 1980, and he was dead inside.
Smackie was asking a little girl "c'mon, what do you got to lose?".
Anticipating the next hacky line, Chuckie shouted out "your life!!".
The teachers, and the lame little white-bread children didn't appreciate the audience participation.
Dusty and Kimber certainly did though.
And they were about to take things up a notch.
Kimber smiled at Dusty, then, stricken by sudden inspiration, said "hey! Watch this!".
She got up out of her seat, ran up on stage, shouted "I'll save you, little girl!!"...and punched Smackie in the nuts as hard as she possibly could.
He went down, and she started kicking him.
The various joint-persons and pill-persons, and a pack-of-cigarette-person and booze-person rushed to help.
Dusty, who at first was just laughing his ass off, ran in to join the fray.
He tripped booze-person who knocked over cigarette-person, who in turn knocked over a pill-person.
The other pill-persons and the joint-persons were now half-distracted, and split up to try to help their other friends instead of just Smackie.
Then, Chuckie Brand joined the fray.
The other kids in the audience were so stupid, they thought it was part of the show.
The teachers were stunned like deer.
Kimber, Dusty, and Chuckie were punching and kicking gonads, kicking knees, tripping, shoving, and having a grand old time knocking down these idiot adults in their cumbersome costumes.
Smacky rolled off the stage, and slammed to the floor.
Something broke on him, and he wailed.
The teachers finally reacted, and bolted to the stage.
Dusty sat in detention.
It wasn't the first time, it wouldn't be the last.
He took all the blame, and since they already thought he was "a troublemaker", they let Kimber and Chuckie go.
If Elisa Jack had been alive, she would have let them all go, and probably given Dusty some subversive comics.
Or, maybe a remaindered copy of "Combatant".
But, alas, she passed two years prior.
Kimber, as always, was outside in the playground waiting for Dusty.
Chuckie moved away the following year, just before the Green Monster incident.
But, he never forgot Kimber and Dusty, and he never forgot the lessons he learned from that play.
They weren't the ones the teachers had intended.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
Twenty two year old Chuck Brand was back at Lentilville, and now worked at Lovely's VHS Video, a nostalgia video, video game, and VCR rental/repair shop.
He worked there with the manager and founder, Steve Ellicott.
Between doing their jobs, shooting the shit, and watching movies, they worked on what they called "projects", but which were really inventions.
None of them so far had worked, most had exploded when they plugged them in.
But this new thing had potential.
They'd taken an old Betamax player, and combined it with blue laser diodes, modern circuit boards, a couple old PC CPUs on overclock as far as they could go with crazy fan rigs to keep them from melting themselves, and as the end result, made a tape player that could digitally store an image as crisp as Blu-Ray.
But because it was reeled tape, had massively more storage.
Chuck dubbed it Sigmamax.
Why build this?
They got a kick out of topping modern technology with detritus of the old.
It was just to prove a point.
Next, to hammer that point home all the way, they tested the capacity by copying every VHS tape in the store onto it with plenty of room to spare.
Finally, Chuck and Steve rigged it up as a PC external hard-drive.
It was a bit slow on retrieval, but it worked.
And with some hacking, they got into the movie collection too.
"If we could rig this up to battery power, either of us could literally be a walking video store", Steve said.
Chuck's mental gears started turning, and he smiled at the thought.
Hunter Haggard popped into the shop one day to return a tape.
The tape was "The Castigater".
A bloody revenge picture from 1985.
"Nostalgia", he said, "it...inspired me as a kid".
Hunter saw Chuck tinkering with a small handheld Betamax camera stripped down to just the player part.
It was going to be Sigmamax Mark 2.
"Whatcha got there?", Hunter said to Chuck.
Popping in the "Whole Video Store", tape from the original player, and booting it up, he said back "nunya".
Hunter shrugged, and left.
Chuck finished his shift, said goodbye to Steve, and drove home.
On his way, he saw a yard sale, and at the yard sale, he saw a painting that jumped out at him.
He pulled right over, and bought it for five bucks.
He didn't even bother haggling it down.
It was of a strange robot man standing on an alien planet with no atmosphere with two weird orange lightning bolts cracking behind him.
The robot man was almost faceless, except for two starburst-y glowing blue diodes for eyes.
There was a date on it.
He took it home, and hung it on his wall, and stared at it.
It combined with his mental image of what Steve had said.
"Walking video store".
The TV was on in the background, and he half-noticed a news story about The Jade-Shade.
Images starting assembling in his mind like puzzle pieces.
He got out a pad of paper, and started making drawings and diagrams.
On their way out of The Excruciationizer's apartment, he told Jade-Shade and Commander Continuum "I know a guy".
They headed out to Commander's black pickup truck.
Commander checked his internet watch, and Omneron had already downloaded chapter 5 of Quantum Dissolve into his memory from Shmegalamonga.
On the ride over to where Excruciationizer said his guy was, he revealed to Commander the final fate of Ms. Whitesmith and Mr. Pacer.
Ms. Whitesmith made horrible homemade soups that for some reason smelled of vomit and piss.
If Commander closed his eyes and focused, he could still smell it.
One day, she got hold of some tainted kale, and put it in her puke soup, and got horribly sick.
But, she didn't realize this until after school, and she was out shopping.
She was shopping at B.B. Lentil, a clothing and outdoor recreation equipment store founded by one of the descendants of the guy that founded the bean factory that Lentilville was named for.
Mr. Pacer had been fired for incompetence a year before, and worked there now.
Ms. Whitesmith bumped into him, just as the food poisoning kicked in, and she blasted him with puke like a compressed air cannon.
They both slipped around on the puke coated tile floor.
Ms. Whitesmith more-so, because she kept blasting more and more puke.
Mr. Pacer glided along flailing his arms like a novice roller-skater, and crashed into into a display that set off a Rube Goldberg-ian chain reaction that completed itself in a giant wall mounted moose head falling down, and impaling him on an antler.
He bled out within minutes.
It was better than he deserved.
Ms. Whitesmith fell backwards, cracked her skull on the floor, went into a coma, and strangled to death on one last spurt of puke.
They died the way they lived.
Ridiculously, and leaving a toxic mess behind for others to clean up.
Commander thought this tale was too fanciful to be true, but he had Omneron look it up, and it was true.
Two very carefully and gracefully worded obituaries attested to it.
They were gone.
"Good", he said with no guilt.
Just then, Excruciationizer instructed Commander to pull into the bad part of town.
They pulled over and parked, and waited.
Once the sun fully went away 45 minutes later, the sounds of crime kicked up.
One of those crimes got interrupted.
Commander started the truck, and floored it to the sounds.
There, in an alleyway, foiling some muggers, was Excruciationizer's guy.
He was clad in black armor that made him look like a blocky robot.
The eyes of the otherwise faceless helmet looked like two bright blue LEDs.
The wearer saw past these via two pinhole video cameras beside the lights, fed into an HUD inside the helmet.
Over the armor, he wore a baby blue silk suit, and a white t-shirt.
A rectangle hole was cut in the center of the t-shirt to expose what looked like a video cassette sized tape deck.
Beta to be exact.
On the tape deck, it said "Sigma-Max".
It was airbrush stenciled on in an imitation of the dramatic pointy font a real electronics company would print onto their merchandise.
Very classy work.
The sleeves of the suit were rolled up, to reveal gauntlets with 80's style video game controllers embedded in them.
They were for operating the HUD menus.
Sigma-Max reached into his jacket, and pulled out what looked like an old price checker gun.
On its side, in the same electronics font, it said "Scrutinizer".
He flicked a switch that turned on a green laser sight, and aimed the beam at the crotch of one of the muggers.
He pulled the trigger, an electronic hum filled the air, metal objects in the immediate vicinity of the target sparked, and the guy fell to his knees, and puked.
It was a magnetron from a microwave oven boosted in power a couple more notches.
The guy would never have kids now.
Sigma-Max pulled out his next gadget.
This one looked like a toaster oven, and was labeled "Interpreter".
He turned a dial on the front, pressed a button, and strobe lights came out of the open front of it.
The victim of this went into a paralyzed semi-seizure state.
Then, Sigma smashed the guy over the head with the "Interpreter".
He plopped like a sack of potatoes.
The outer shell was in fact a toaster oven.
He pulled out his final gadget.
This one, labeled "Nullifier".
It had a radar gun shell, but what it was, was just a butane flamethrower.
Primitive, but effective.
He set the final guy alight, and he ran off flailing and screaming, leaving a receding sickening orange glow down the alleyway behind him.
JS spoke up first.
Sigma spun around, and aimed the Nullifier at JS.
Then, he jerked his head back, paused, and said in a stereophonic altered voice "oh, hey, you're the guy from the news, I owe you a lot".
He relaxed, and put the weapon away.
"I'm The Jade Shade, this is Commander Continuum, this is The Excruciationizer, and we're recruiting. Wanna join our team?".
"About time someone finally asked", Sigma replied.
He looked at Excruciationizer, and said "hey, you look familiar, don't I know you?".
Excruciationizer smiled, and said "yeah, man, I borrow tapes from your store".
Sigma-Max flinched, and tensed with worry that his secret might be out already.
"I put it together from that you were building that..", and with that he indicated his Sigmamax tape drive "...at the store, and details from your exploits on the police scanner. That, and I tailed you one night, and saw you change. Don't worry, we're all friends here, no one knows but us".
"All right then".
JS stepped forward and asked "you got USB in that getup?".
Sigma said "sure".
JS uncoiled a USB plug from his Omneron watch, and handed one end to Sigma.
Sigma plugged it onto his left gauntlet, and worked some buttons.
Omneron hacked in, and gave him the identity files on JS, Commander, and Excruciationizer, their origin chapters from Quantum Dissolve, and the WiFi password to the Omneron server.
Now, his helmet HUD display would be an Omneron uplink.
"Oh, hey", Commander asked "I don't suppose you could turn this..", and with that, he held up the "Corey's trap", cassette "..into an MP3 could you?".
Sigma took it, popped it into a slot in is hip, pressed some more buttons on his gauntlet, and out popped a USB key from his wrist at the same time the tape ejected.
"There you go", he said as he handed him the USB key and the cassette.
"That it? can we go?", he asked all three.
"Um...yep", JS said, and they headed to Commander's truck.
"I'll ride in the back", Excruciationizer offered.
"Wanna buy some weed?", Sigma offered JS.
"Um....no..not right now", he answered.
"I will!", answered Excruciationizer.
And with a quick exchange of some bills, and a baggie, they were in the truck, and away.
Sigma told JS once they were mobile "you still recruiting? I know a guy".
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