Ten years ago, the most ruthless, violent, sociopathic criminal the world has ever seen launched a four-day reign of terror which came close to wiping out human civilization.
She was nine years old.
For the past decade, she has been locked away, the sole inmate of the refurbished Alcatraz Island Federal Prison. She's decided that's long enough...

By Chuck Miller


By Chuck Miller
Copyright 2010 Chuck Miller/Black Centipede Press

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“Today,” said Dr. Dana Unknown, “is Jessie Von Cosel’s eighteenth birthday.”

“I’m thrilled for her,” I replied absently.  I was busy, as she could
certainly see.

“Jessie Von Cosel,” she repeated.

“Right. Thrilled. To death. I mean it.”

“Jessie VON COSEL,” she said yet again. This time, it was enough to
tear my attention away from my computer monitor.

“Dana!” I snapped. “Is there some point to… Oh. Jessie Von Cosel.”

“Yeah. What are you doing over there? Looking at porno again?”

“Of course not,” I said with a great deal of indignation, as I
swiveled the monitor screen around so she couldn’t see it.

“She’s eighteen?” I said, as though Dana’s vile slander had never been
uttered. “Well. Time flies. She’s been locked up for what? Ten years?”

“More like nine. The trial took a year. Anyhow, this is her birthday.
She is legally an adult. That being the case, they were transporting
her earlier today from Alcatraz to the federal courthouse in San
for a hearing.”

“It didn’t go well, did it?”

“How did you know that?”

“Dana, I used to be a superhero. I have had a lot of experience with
super-villains. When has a transfer of a super-villain from a prison
to a courthouse, or anywhere else, ever failed to turn into an escape
on the part of said villain?”

For the past few months, I’ve been working with Doctor Dana Marie
Laveau Unknown, also known as Doctor Unknown Junior. If you’ve heard
anything to the effect that I work FOR her, please disregard it. For
some reason, probably psychological in nature, she likes to spread
that story. Honestly, I think she feels threatened by a man who
asserts himself in the workplace. She sees a strong male as a threat
to her feminity.

Dana is the daughter of Raoul Deveraux Unknown, the original
superhero-sorcerer called Doctor Unknown. What happened to him is a
story in itself, and it’s not mine to tell. Ask Dana about it
sometime. She’ll talk your ear off, and you won’t understand one tenth
of what she tells you.

The bottom line is that Raoul retired, and Dana, who is a Level Twelve
Magus—whatever the hell that is—took over his duties and
responsibilities. Being a Level Twelve Magus must be a huge deal,
judging by the fact that Dana never passes up the opportunity to
remind me that she is one. But she never goes into any detail about
it, citing mysterious mystical oaths and other nebulous security
issues. My own feeling is that she must have had to do something
really nasty to get there, though she of course hotly denies this.

“Well, today it didn’t,” Dana was saying.  “Jessie had a seizure on
the way to the courthouse. She was fine all morning. No history of any
kind of seizures since she’s been incarcerated, or even prior to

“Hmm,” I said, which summed up my entire take on the situation.

“She had this seizure, or whatever it was, at exactly 9:44 a.m.”

“Which is significant because why?”

She sailed right on past that and asked, “Do you know what I was doing
at exactly 9:44 this morning?”

“Yeah, you were out at that screwball Scudder Moran’s house helping
Vionna and Mary tie up some loose ends, whatever that meant.”

“The loose end I tied up was called the Moriarty Machine. A very nasty
piece of work it was, and it does nothing to improve my opinion of
scientists in general. Anyhow, I don’t need to go into a lot of detail
with you now, because Vionna is writing another one of her reports
about the case, which she intends to send to you to proofread, and I
don’t want to spoil the story for you.”

(NOTE: See "Vionna and the Vampires, BCP 2010:

“Thanks.” I was actually looking forward to reading it. I was very
proud of my adopted little sister. She’d come a long way since our
reunion a while back.

We all had. Shortly after Vionna had reentered my life, so had the
ghost of Jack the Ripper, or so we thought at the time. It turned out
to be something else, but proved to be every bit as nasty and
potentially lethal as the real Ripper. That whole situation led me to
seek help from Dana, who received serious psychic injuries in the
conflict with the faux Ripper ghost.

It was plain that Dana would need help at that point. She had set for
herself the task of uncovering the origins of the ectoplasmic
imposter, which would have been a daunting task at the best of times,
which this was not. I graciously offered her my expert services,
agreeing to partner with her and bring to the table my vast experience
as a crime fighter and general specialist in weird, nasty, dangerous
crap of all kinds.

She and I have had two major adventures together since then. One of
them answered a couple of questions about the faux Ripper, but not the
most important ones. The other was a harrowing encounter with
something called the Scholomance. I can’t promise I’ll ever be able to
bring myself to write about that one. Suffice it to say that it ended
with Dana regaining most of her lost magical abilities.

Even though Dana is back to peak efficiency, she has left our
partnership intact. This is obviously because she has realized that
there is simply nobody better than me to have at one’s side in the
face of danger. She might try to give you some crap about her feeling
sorry for me because I don’t have anything constructive to do, and am
pretty much unemployable. As I say, I think she has psychological

“Well,” she was saying, “the Moriarty Machine was a scary dangerous
piece of merchandise. It did something that nobody would ever have a
legitimate need to do, and it had a self-contained power source of a
completely unknown nature. It seemed to me that the best way to
dispose of it was to drop it into an empty space in between a couple
of very remote fractal dimensions, so that’s what I did.”

“Very good,” I said. “I’ve always told people that if you need
something dropped into an empty space in between a couple of very
remote fractal dimensions, then Dana Unknown is your man.”

“Shut up, Jack. I’m trying to convey some information to you. I
dropped the thing into that empty space at EXACTLY 9:44 a.m.”

“Ah,” I said. Another thing I had learned as a superhero was that
there was no such thing as coincidence, particularly when it involved
a super-villain and a piece of lethal hardware, no matter how little
connection there appeared to be between the two.

“Yeah. There’s a connection. I can’t imagine right now what it is, or
whether or not it’s of any significance. But, as your pal the Black
Centipede says, there just ain’t that much coincidence out there.”

I had just barely been aware of the whole Little Precious crisis ten
years ago. That was two years after Johnny died and I left Zenith in
something of a state.

“Little Precious," Dana said, “is a binary consciousness, half organic
and half cybernetic. The two components cannot be separated, so for
every practical purpose, it is a single mind that occupies two bodies
at the same time.

“One of the bodies is that of Jessie Van Cosel. That’s the one that’s
been locked up in Alcatraz for ten years. They never found the robot.”

“I know all that,” I said. “Everybody knows all that. It’s history.
Everybody remembers where they were and what they were doing when they
first heard about it. Except me, of course. That was two years after I
left Zenith. I’m not entirely sure where I was at the time, but
wherever it was, I was drunk.”

“You missed a real show,” she said. “This was after Captain Mercury
died and Tomorrow-Man and Commander Power vanished. Everybody who was
still active was in on it. Dad was there, and the Red Dagger… They
even issued a time-limited amnesty to the Black Centipede.”

“I was sort of aware of the whole thing,” I said, “because of the fact
that it was the ONLY thing on the news for four days. I remember
discussing it with some people in a bar. I’m pretty sure it was in the
United States. My drinking buddies thought it was the end of the
world, which sounded pretty good to me, as I recall. We were watching
the coverage. I remember seeing both of those skyscrapers in Zenith
explode. Then there was the footage from Mexico City, after the swarm
of exploding ladybugs blew through—super-miniaturized nuclear
warheads. Jesus! Even Professor Ubik would have stopped short of

In all, there had been 14 major incidents worldwide during the
four-day reign of terror of Little Precious. A time-displacement wave
in Beijing that left the city knee-deep in medieval plague victims.
The DNA Scrambler Bomb that wrought genetic havoc in Egypt. The city
of Rio De Janeiro teleported to the surface of the moon. The President
of the United States
forced to commit an act of inspired perversion on
live television with a creature nature did not design with such antics
in mind.

There are conflicting accounts of the final confrontation between
Little Precious and a veritable army of superheroes and super-villains
(none of whom wanted the world whose wealth they coveted destroyed by
this creature), the military and more than 150 different law
enforcement agencies from around the world.
The battle raged for almost 24 hours, starting just outside Zenith and
ending in the center of the mysterious Area 51. Thousands were killed,
combatants and bystanders alike. When the dust settled, Jessie Von
Cosel was comatose and in chains.

The robot whose mind and body were the other half of the Little
Precious persona was nowhere to be found. No fewer than 40 combatants
claimed to have personally destroyed the thing. None of the claims
were ever confirmed, of course. In the decade since Jessie’s arrest,
the robot has been “spotted” at various unlikely locations around the
world more often than Elvis Presley.

The fact was, nobody knew. Those who wanted to be able to sleep at
night chose to believe it had been destroyed. Those who knew how the
world really worked kept their fingers crossed for years.

Jessie came out of her coma in time to star in the most celebrated
show trial in history. The Trial of the Millennium, it was called. The
hyperbole was not exaggerated. Jessie was tried as an adult, in spite
of her age, and the fact that her speech and behavior showed
unmistakable signs of a form of autism with occasional forays into
schizophrenia. But because of everything she had done, the world
demanded she be brought before the bar of justice, her tender years
and unstable condition notwithstanding.

Since she had been captured on US soil, and was an American citizen,
she was tried at the United Nations building in New York City before a
multi-national tribunal of judges assembled at the Court of
International Justice in the Hague.

The only concession made to mercy was when the prosecution announced
that they would not seek the death penalty. There were protests, of
course, but they weren’t very persistent. I think everybody would have
felt crapty about executing a nine-year-old girl, no matter what she
had done.

Following a trial that lasted just over a year, Jessie was sentenced
to a total of seven thousand years in prison on multiple counts of
murder, assault, theft, kidnapping, mayhem, terrorism and assorted
other crimes, ranging from simple felonies to treason, attempted
genocide, sedition and crimes against humanity.

The newly-refurbished prison on Alcatraz Island would be her home for
the rest of her life.

She was taken to Alcatraz to begin serving her sentence two weeks
after her ninth birthday.

She has not aged a day since. Physically, at least, she remains a
nine-year-old girl. Nobody knows why.

Another mystery.