Washington DC, 1963
President Lyndon Baines Johnson walks down a dim corridor in a hidden basement underneath the White House with a team of aides and secret service men following in a V-formation. His face is set to a grim scowl and there is a bit of butter crusted at the corner of his mouth from the Manske Rolls he’d just been stress eating in the Oval Office.
“Sir, the President never meant for them to see the light of day.”
The cool basement air freezes over as LBJ stops. The clap of his last step echoes down the long, windowless hallway as he turns slowly and faces the group, his lip twitching and eyes narrowed.
“I AM the President!” Johnson snaps.
“F-forgive me, sir,” the aide stutters. “I meant President Kennedy. He decided they were a mistake. He was meaning to take care of it, only he didn’t know how.”
“I know exactly what he was planning to do with them,” Johnson says coldly. “And I couldn’t let that happen.”
The team of aides pauses for the briefest moment as the President’s statement sinks in. They exchange looks once the President has turned his back, as if to say Who is this madman? The secret service men nudge them forward.
“What, you think Kennedy finally developed some sense of morals?” LBJ asks, although not anyone in particular. He addresses the air in front of him as he walks, quickening his pace. “Fat chance! He was scared, that’s all. Scared enough he was willing to throw out our way to victory in Vietnam. Hell no! I did what I had to do to save this country. Just what do you think would happen to us if the Soviets realized we'd thrown out all our superpowered freaks? They'd plow right through us with their own, that's what! But as long as we have them, we are safe. I don't care if they spend all of eternity down here in this dungeon, we cannot afford to get rid of them!"
The group had reached the far end of the hallway and armored doors framed them on either side. Small bronze plaques fastened to the steel doors held codenames like Strong, K. and Smart, K., Flying, K., and Stealth, K. And through the reinforced windows at the center of each door, the young freaks were visible. A huge, monstrosity of a man in Strong, K. A mere child in Smart, K.
“And who are you?” Johnson asks the bulletproof glass at another door. His posse falls in behind him as Johnson looks through the window at a young woman sitting on the floor in the middle of her cell, clutching her forehead in her hands and rocking gently.
“Open it, I want to talk to her,” LBJ commands.
“Not advisable, sir.”
“As the President of the United States I demand you open the goddamn door!”
The moment the door is opened, the girl vanishes as if she has become a puff of air. The door swings on its hinges, the name Swift, K. hammered into the plaque.
The Bananafish first rose to power as a band of Sybil loyalists following the Sybil 3’s appearance on President Judge Trump and their subsequent banishment to Trump’s Wall. In the months after Occupy Wall, membership and influence increased dramatically as they joined forces with Bessie’s communist fleet as well as other groups they met at the protest.
Once Occupy Wall finally came to an end and the protesters were forced to scatter, the Wall was rebuilt and the Sybil 3 became wanted fugitives. The Bananafish were able to not only offer sanctuary, but keep the publication going thanks, in no small part, to their commitment to The People’s Fiber, a black market project for unrestricted internet connection put in place after the end of net neutrality.
Stephen elected to stay aboard Captain DM Rice's new ship and, together with Bessie's fleet, scour the Caribbean for those loyal to their cause and offer help where needed. Meanwhile, Jake and Rudy went with Bessie to a Bananafish safehouse in San Antonio in order to help establish a new headquarters, but Bessie, distraught over the death of Franny and her loss to Trump and his “Merry band of Fascists” (as Martinez refers to them) sunk into a deep depression and could hardly leave her room.
“They are simply too strong, and we are too weak. What was I thinking?” she begged one night a few weeks into their stay. “How could three boys take on an empire? Boys! Children!”
Rudy, insulted, stormed out of the house and Jake chased after him.
"I can't do it, man. I can't live in hiding like this!" They were out on the street and the sun was still shining.
"Come on. We can't be out here!" Jake pleaded, eyes jumping all around, waiting for Agents of the Office of Unspecified Services to show up and drag them back to The Wall.
"I can't go back in there," Rudy repeated.
"Well," Jake said, spotting a run down bar just down the street. "Let's get a drink then, yeah?" he asked, desperate to get out of the open. Rudy agreed, but Jake insisted on some sort of disguise, so they swap clothes in a secluded alley before going inside.
Jake, wearing a Miami Heat t-shirt and struggling to move in skin-tight black denim, sipped sulkily at a beer. Meanwhile, Rudy, in an over-sized pair of shorts and drowning in a billowy pearl snap, took a gulp from his Jack and Coke. The place had a name like Lone Star Saloon or something. Green lamp shades swung precariously over dingy pool tables and pop country played from the stereo. At least it was all but empty at this time of day.
"The fuck is this place?" Rudy asked.
"We're supposed to be in hiding," Jake reminded him. "We can't just go anywhere."
"Should have just stayed home," he said as he finished his drink in another go.
"Home," Jake echoed as Rudy hopped off the stool and made his way to get another round. Suddenly, a wave of depression washed over him and tears formed in his eyes as memories of home and all its meanings flashed through his mind. He thought first of San Marcos and his home before The Wall. And then he saw his childhood home on a summer night, mom drinking a margarita, dad at the grill, and he barefoot in the spiny grass, fireflies blinking as his sisters try to catch them, and the sun going down over the oak forest. Had that night ever happened? It felt more like a conglomeration of many different memories, but, even so, he physically ached for it. He didn't even care when Rudy began to walk back his way. He was crying like he hadn't in years. Absolutely wallowing. And then, just like that, it passed.
Jake looked around as if awakening from a dream. He blew his nose in one of the small, square bar napkins that had begun to disintegrate wrapped around his glass. Rudy watched him as he rubbed his eyes on the dark sleeves of the Heat shirt.
"You okay, man?" he asked, sitting down.
"Yeah," Jake answered distantly. "I don't know what just came over me."
They sat with their drinks for a while, staring discontentedly at this and that, until Rudy pointed out a woman in a back booth, writing in a notebook.
"What do you think her story is?" he asked.
"Doesn't it seem strange she'd be in a place like this?"
"Not particularly." Jake excused himself, saying he had to pee, and Rudy continued looking over at the woman. She must have noticed though because the next time he glanced her way, she was staring straight at him, and then it was his turn to bawl.
Rudy had his head down on the table when Jake returned, crying into his hands. Jake stared down at his friend and thought briefly they might both have PTSD or something from the recent events. He placed a hand on his back and then Rudy shot up and looked around.
He jumped out of his chair and stormed across the bar to where the woman was sitting.
"What did you just do?" he demanded as Jake watched, shocked.
The woman glanced up at Rudy, smiled a little, and then returned her focus to her journal.
"Sit down, hun," she said softly, and Rudy did, seeming suddenly calmed. "I know you two," she continued, looking over at Jake.
Jake walked quickly over and joined them in the booth.
Rudy, in a hushed voice, told her to be cool.
The woman glanced at him and chuckled lightly to herself, as if to say he was the one who needed to play it cool; obviously, she was always cool.
"Who are you?" he growled and Jake elbowed him softly, trying to get him to lighten up.
“Someone who knows you need help."
"Pfft, you don't know anything," Rudy said. He turned away from the woman and looked at Jake. "Let's go," he said, but suddenly they were both overtaken by a powerful wave of sadness and unable to even stand.
“Would you just listen to me for a moment?” the woman asked. She released her melancholic grip and the boys composed themselves.
"How are you doing that?" Rudy demanded.
"Some super power, huh? I can make people sad," she laughed sharply.
“But it is a power. It’s completely debilitating,” Jake said, almost in awe, “but why do you want to help us?”
“Because I saw how poorly you fared without me.”
“And what do you want from us?” Rudy asked.
“Sorry for my friend,” Jake apologized. “We have been through a lot lately, but he is right. Why should we trust you?”
The woman shrugged.
“Trust me; don’t trust me, whatever. If you two want to try and take on the evil empire all by yourselves again, that’s fine by me.”
The two boys turned and looked at each other for a moment, trying to communicate telepathically.
“Tell me something, if you can make people sad, can you also take away someone’s sadness?”
“In certain cases.”
Both thinking of Bessie: “Will you come with us?”
“I just have to close my tab.”
All three went to the bar. Jake and Rudy closed out using the fake cards the Bananafish had supplied.
“Name?” the bartender asked the mysterious woman, and Jake and Rudy both turned with interest, realizing there'd been no introductions.
He eyed her suspiciously. “Last name?” he asked to which she just shook her head. Jake and Rudy exchanged glances, but the bartender seemed to understand. He picked a card out of his box, ran it, and handed it over. The woman thanked him and the three left, heading across the street, back to the safehouse.
It was like a magic spell! The Bessie of yore came rushing out of the room, Sad Girl limping heavily behind, and she was full of energy and plans and ready to take on the world. Meanwhile, Sad Girl no last name took a seat, looking glum and exhausted. One of the Bananafish guards rushed to bring her some water.
"Ma'am," Alyssa Franks, another of the Bananafish guards on duty, stepped forward. "It is great to see you feeling better. I think there is something you ought to know."
"What is it?"
"We received word this morning. They have found something."
“Stephen and Captain Rice.”
"What do you mean?"
"Another Department of Interior Entertainment park. It's going in off the coast of Florida. Bikini Bottom-themed," Franks continued.
"Good god," Jake gasped.
"Ma’am, there's more. We received these transmissions this afternoon," she explained, handing over a file. "Apparently there is some sort of super weapon at the park.”
"A super weapon, like a bomb?" Bessie asked, opening the file and leafing through the pages.
“Not exactly. Uh, ma’am, how familiar are you with Spongebob lore?”
“What is a Spongebob?” Bessie asked.
“I am quite learned,” Jake said, stepping forward.
“Do you recall the season two episode entitled Frankendoodle?”
“It’s the Doodlebob episode.”
Jake’s face went grey and very still and he nodded slightly, terrified of what came next.
“It seems they have developed some sort of weaponized 3D Printer, very similar to the magic pencil Spongebob uses to create Doodlebob. It is already on location at the park and it is clearly not meant just for entertainment. They don’t want to have another incident like they did at Castle Black. From now on, they are going to be prepared.”
Bessie continued to stare blankly.
“What do we do?”
“The park is still top secret,” Franks continued. “Spencer and Rice only happened to stumble across it. It is not yet complete and scarcely guarded. If we strike now, we could get that pencil and maybe just turn the odds in our favor.”
“If it gets me out of hiding, I am in,” Rudy volunteered.
“We just escaped and now you want to go running back in?” Jake asked, sitting down in order to better absorb all this new information.
“I will never stop running back in. Are you with me?”
“Yeah,” Jake sighed. “I am with you.”
“Me too,” Sad Girl said.
“What’s the plan?” Bessie asked the lead Banana.
“We can get all of you to the coast where Captain Rice will be waiting and they can get you out there. Now, we can't send the whole fleet or they will detect us, but Captain Rice's small vessel should be fine. Stephen and Captain Rice can offer help from topside, but we are going to have to move fast. They won’t be able to hold back any reinforcements for long. It would be best to get in and out without anyone ever noticing, so a small team is necessary. You three, myself, and a few of my best people will go down in diving gear and enter the facility. We are not going to be able to bring any firearms because of the diving, but according to Stephen's information, the guards do not have any either. The facility has not yet been reinforced enough to allow them, but don't expect the guards to be completely unarmed.”
“I still remember my Night’s Watch training,” Rudy said. “I will bring a sword.”
“And I don’t need a gun,” Sad Girl added.
“Yes, Sad Girl, you are going to have to debilitate and hold down as many of the guards as you can handle while everyone else goes for the pencil.”
“Where is it?”
“It is hidden in the back office of the Krusty Krab.”
Jake laughed excitedly. “Just like the secret formula! Sorry,” he excused himself. “Um, what do I do?”
“There is one more catch. The pencil is somehow protected. It can only be lifted by a worthy artist.”
“What is this, Thor?”
“So that’ll be you.”
“Me?” Jake choked. “But what if I am not worthy?”
“You are one of the original Sybil 3. If not you, then who? Besides, we will be protecting you the whole way.”
“But what if I can’t lift it?”
“You are going to have to lift it.”
Somewhere Off the Coast of Florida, 2018
Jake, Rudy, Sad Girl no last name, Alyssa Franks, and a few other Bananas suited up in their diving gear as Stephen gave a few last minute directions. They were closing in on the new park.
“They send a surveillance drone over every two hours,” Stephen warned, “so you need to get in and out as fast as you can.”
“I wish you were coming with us,” Jake said.
“Me too, man, but someone has to watch your guys’ ass from up here.”
They hugged and then Stephen turned to Rudy.
“Be safe,” Stephen told him and they clasped hands and Rudy nodded.
“Alright,” Captain Rice announced. "We are directly overhead.”
The divers shuffled to the side of the boat and were lowered into the water. It was a nice day and the sea was smooth. The small team dropped below the surface and began their descent. They were able to communicate with the ship via radio and Stephen directed them towards the park’s entrance.
Once inside, they stashed their air tanks and suits and waited for Stephen who was topside with a map pulled up on his computer screen, on which each member of the heist team was represented by a different colored dot.
“Alright,” Stephen said. “I am only detecting about a dozen guards. Sad Girl, can you bring them all down?”
“It doesn’t quite work like that. I have to be able to see them.”
“Shit, alright. Stay low; try to get a visual.”
The park was huge. The entire town of Bikini Bottom spread out before them. Soft sand coated the floor in gently rolling dunes. Off on the horizon, the large roller coaster at Glove World marked the highest point of the cityscape and to the west there were workers constructing Sandy’s dome. A huge pineapple sat beside an Easter Island Head and a large boulder. Our team emerged among the low frequency buzz of Jellyfish Fields. A gently floating jellyfish moved through the air, a silent bell, taking in the current, reverberating emptiness. A system of strings, full of poison, and lightning. They crept towards the town which looked, other than the distant construction crew, to be rather desolate.
“Where’s the Krusty Krab?”
Stephen consulted his map, but Jake was quicker.
“There!” he pointed, and there it was, standing adjacent to The Chum Bucket.
“Where are all the guards?”
“Um, guys,” Stephen said over the radio, “they’re coming up behind you! You must have tripped some kind of alarm.”
They turned just in time to see a cloud of sand and twelve charging men with billy clubs and tasers.
“You guys, go!” Sad Girl hissed. She turned to Rudy. “We will hold them off!” Rudy drew his sword as Jake and the Bananafish took off for the Krusty Krab.
“Don’t get used to this,” Sad Girl warned Rudy who, before understanding what she meant, felt all his insecurities, doubts, regrets, fears, and dread stripped away. He felt so good he could hardly suppress a shout as he brandished his sword, but Sad Girl looked sick.
“Sadness cannot be created or destroyed,” she managed before waving her hands towards the charging men, shooting a long stream of sorrow into them. “It can only be redistributed,” she finished, looking far healthier. Across the sand, several of the men were groveling on the ground. The others looked terrified and slowed their charge.
Jake and the Bananafish reached the Krusty Krab and entered the vacant dining room.
“I can’t hold them forever,” Sad Girl warned over the channel and Jake rushed into the back office, followed by the Bananafish.
Back on the ship, the computers suddenly went haywire for a moment and then showed a new, blinking blip flying all across the map, as if searching for something.
“Guys, I don’t know what’s going on, but you may have company,” Stephen warned.
Jake burst into the back office and there was the pencil!
"It's huge," he gasped, staring at the weapon, nearly three feet long, and held up on a sort of podium. He approached it slowly, trying to convince himself that he was worthy of lifting it. Sad Girl and Stephen’s warnings urged him on. He put two hands on it and lifted up, but the pencil didn’t budge. He tried again, this time putting some real muscle into it, but it was locked in place. He felt sick to his stomach.
“I can’t lift it!” he yelled in a panic over the radio.
“Okay, now you definitely have company,” Stephen said as the blinking dot flashed into the Krusty Krab.
“What the hell was that?!” Jake demanded.
“What did you see?”
“Nothing! But the pencil is gone!”
“I don’t know, but there is something heading towards the exit. Coming up on you, Sad Girl, and fast.”
“I don’t see anything!”
“It’s almost to the exit.”
Sad Girl took a deep breath, inhaling all the sadness, taking it back from the guards who began to stand and come at Rudy with their clubs, taking it from the Bananafish and absorbing the deep feelings of inadequacy that had just surfaced in Jake, summoning her own, and reaching out over the radio waves, taking it from Stephen and DM and the crew on the ship, taking in so much she could hardly stand it, her eyes streaming with tears, she continued to feel, out into the waters, the sadness of a passing whale, which nearly crushed her, and then like an atom splitting in two, she could no longer hold it, and an immensely powerful shock wave of misery exploded from her and everything in Bikini Bottom collapsed, including the escaping stranger. The fleeing woman fell and her new pencil rolled across the sand. Sad Girl walked her way, both hands up, focusing her powers on the stranger, who had an exceptional ability to fight through the strain of sadness and continued to crawl slowly towards the pencil. Rudy did his best to keep the guards back as Jake and the Bananafish rushed out of the Krusty Krab to join the action
The pencil was on the sand, about equidistince between the stranger and Sad Girl, but Sad Girl had very little sadness left to level at her. The stranger's crawling was speeding up.
Jake was closing in, but there was nothing he could do. He couldn't pick up the pencil. Sad Girl couldn't break contact or the stranger would disappear with her lightning speed. Rudy had his hands full with the guards. It seemed nothing would stop the stranger from escaping with the weapon, but then one of the Bananafish reached the scene and scooped the pencil off the sand with ease just before the stranger reached it.
Everyone froze as Alyssa Franks held the weapon aloft. “Everyone calm down!” she demanded. “Everyone calm down or I will erase this wall!” she said, realizing they had reached the edge of the park. “I will erase this wall and let the ocean swallow us all.”
That did the trick.
"Drop your weapons," she demanded of the guards who did right away. Jake and Rudy gathered them up and they and the remaining Bananafish stood around them. Sad Girl put her hands down and knelt in the sand, completely exhausted. All the loose sadness in the park began to return to its original owner.
“Who are you?” Alyssa demanded of the stranger.
“I’m no one,” she answered calmly.
Alyssa pointed the eraser at her. “No one, huh? I can make that happen!”
“What the hell is going on down there?!” Stephen demanded.
“Do you work for him, huh? For Trump?”
K-Swift spat in disgust. “I work for myself,” she said.
“How were you doing that? You were invisible.”
“Not invisible. Just really fast,” K-Swift answered, almost jokingly. She was sprawled in the sand, half delirious from the strain she'd just been under. "Wanna see me run to that mountain and back? Wanna see me do it again?"
“What is her name?” a new voice demanded over the radio, Bessie’s voice.
“What is your name?” Sad Girl asked softly.
“K-Swift,” she answered and Bessie gulped audibly over the radio.
“Let me talk to her,” she said.
Alyssa took out her earpiece and handed it over. “Uh, it’s for you,” she said awkwardly.
“You don’t know me, but I knew your sister. She took the name Franny, but once she had the codename K-Strategist. She died recently. Died fighting for the same thing I think you are fighting for; it’s what we are all fighting for. We are on the same side here. Let's work together.”
K-Swift’s face betrayed a look of heartbreak for a moment and then she recovered. “Why should I believe you?”
Sad Girl seemed to go very far away for a moment, as if she was sorting through all of the individual sadnesses that had just passed through her.
“It’s true,” she said. “Your sadnesses are the same.” And she let K-Swift feel both her own and Rudy’s. “You've both been held captive and turned into weapons by the government."
Alyssa lowered the pencil, propping herself up with it as if it were a cane and Sad Girl extended a hand to help K-Swift up. After a moment of consideration, K-Swift accepted.
“We are going now. No one has to be hurt,” Jake addressed the guards as the group returned to where they stashed their gear only to find that it had been smashed and destroyed. One of the guards grinned.
“You aren’t going anywhere. Obadiah is on his way.”
Suddenly Stephen confirmed that threat over the radio.
“Incoming! Incoming! Get your asses back up here, we got to go!”
“Alyssa, a submarine!” Rudy yelled. Alyssa began drawing a submarine large enough to fit everyone inside. She looked at the guards as Rudy urged her to erase the wall and get them out of there. She drew a small bubble over them.
"That ought to hold you bumwipes until your boss arrives," she said, and then she boarded the submarine and erased the wall. The park began to flood as Alyssa maneuvered the submarine into open waters and towards the surface where they clambered aboard the ship.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here!” Rudy told DM as they could see Obadiah’s ship closing in. DM hit the throttle and took off towards the rest of the fleet as everyone celebrated. Things were looking up for Sybil now that they had these three superpowered women on their side.
Alyssa Franks, Sad Girl no last name, and K-Swift clustered together near the back of the boat. Sad Girl and K-Swift were slumped over and exhausted. The sun was setting over the water and Obadiah's boat was shrinking to nothing on the horizon.
"The beautiful storm has gone to sleep and the clouds have stopped spreading," K-Swift whispered before falling into a deep sleep herself. Alyssa drew a huge, soft bed for her and another for Sad Girl and tucked them both in and stood guard over them all night, making sure no one disturbed their much deserved rest.