Base Raiders: The Sword of Damocles
So You Want to be a Base Raider!
Hank Luna, The Astro City Rocket
Captain Zero is not the interviewee’s real name. He is not a super. He does not wear a costume or have powers. He is a base raider, or has been until recently; some even consider him the first base raider. Base raiding is a dangerous activity and a federal crime, but while we at The Astro City Rocket do not condone this practice, we realize that the public must be informed. Is Captain Zero a hero or a villain? This is not easy to say, but is ultimately for readers like yourself to decide.
The Astro City Rocket: Thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Captain Zero: I’m glad to do it. This closes a chapter in my life, and I need to do that.
The Astro City Rocket: So, why become a base raider?
Captain Zero: The same reason that some people join the Marines, only more so – I wanted to prove myself, have some thrills. Money too. I wanted to get rich.
The Astro City Rocket: You didn’t want super powers?
Captain Zero: Well, if I found a safe, way to get them that I knew wouldn’t turn me into a monster, I might have. On the other hand, we once found some Upsilon that turned out to be top of the line, really pure and high-quality. My team argued about whether or not we should take it. We probably would have if there had been enough for all of us, but we finally decided to sell it instead.
The Astro City Rocket: There’s a rumor that you turned over the Upsilon as well as other items that could empower others to federal authorities and that you provided information on other base raiders in exchange for immunity from prosecution and so that you could keep what you earned from looting bases.
Captain Zero: I was a successful base raider. Envy creates lots of rumors.
The Astro City Rocket: How long were you a base raider?
Captain Zero: Six months.
The Astro City Rocket: What do you need to become a base raider?
Captain Zero: Well, you need dedication and the right people, and you have to know how to keep a low profile. And luck. Luck helps, too.
The Astro City Rocket: Who are the right people?
Captain Zero: Well, you need people that you can trust. And they need the right skills. You have to have someone who can do research. Old books and newspapers, court records, the Internet, no one place will tell you where to find a base, but research can give you clues. The Professor was our main research expert. If you can get someone who knew the super that used the base to talk, some of them can point you in the right direction. Old henchmen and other associates may have been to or even worked in an old lair. If you can track the right people down and give them a reason to talk, that can be a good way to go.
The Astro City Rocket: Aren’t there problems with interviewing former criminals?
Captain Zero: Yes, most are going to lie. They want your money, and that’s just another way to rob you. And there was this old guy…
The Astro City Rocket:…The Scarlet Snake…
Captain Zero: …Yes, here was this old guy in a retirement home. He said that he’d been the Scarlet Snake, a real criminal mastermind, back in the day, and that he knew all kinds of stuff about black masks and their secret bases. People would come by, listen to his stories, and sneak him cigarettes he wasn’t supposed to be smoking because of his heart condition. They thought that he’d eventually get to like them and tell them everything. It turned out that he was just a lonely old man stringing them all along so they’d listen to him. He’d read lots of books about supers and could make up good stories. You have to be careful who you trust.
The Astro City Rocket: So, you need someone who is good at research…
Captain Zero: And someone who knows computers. I was that guy on our team, and the main electronics expert. I wrote code to figure out where a base could be, based on where a super was seen a lot, unusual power usage that could indicate that someone was secretly tapping the power grid, that sort of thing. If you could hack into police records, or even federal ones, you could probably find useful clues. That’s risky though. Most federal data security was designed by super brains, so it takes amazing skill and tons of preparation to even try. Local law enforcement systems can be just as bad.
The Astro City Rocket: Did you ever do that? Hack into law enforcement records?
Captain Zero: Someone on our team might have.
The Astro City Rocket: You don’t just use computer skills to find bases, do you?
Captain Zero: No, bases usually have computer-based security systems. Even a smart base can have security countermeasure programs that can be overridden by a good enough hacker or bypassed if you can cut the right wires. You’ve got to watch out though; bases can have good cyber defenses and independent systems and even hardwired security mechanisms and simple mechanical traps. Even a top hacker can only do so much.
The Astro City Rocket: What other technical expertise did you find handy?
Captain Zero: It is good to have someone who can deal with the more physical aspects of a base – a civil engineer or someone like that, maybe an explosives expert. We had a guy – Captain Nemo – who designed submarines before he got laid off. He was a mechanic and electrician too. He had a natural sense for the feel of pipes and wiring and living quarters and all that. Between me and Nemo, we could handle most security systems.
The Astro City Rocket: What about muscle?
Captain Zero: Well, like I said before, it is best if you keep a low profile. You need to notice what’s going on around you and avoid attention. Base raiding’s a federal crime, and even when it isn’t specifically illegal on a local level, trespassing and taking things from someone else’s property is against the law, even if they’re missing and and even if they’re criminals. Keeping out of trouble is best. Knowing how to talk your way out of it is good too. Running is better than fighting. Still, you can’t be defenseless. Some bases have guardians – robots and other things. Being able to guard the base while you strip it can be good, though some raiders just grab whatever they can get at first and then sell the location to someone else as fast as they can. We had Sly and Texas Bob to handle physical security.
The Astro City Rocket: What does a base raiding team need?
Captain Zero: Money, to pay sources that know about bases. Equipment, transportation, all that, cost money. Having a safe house is a big help – maybe essential. Having someone who knows a lot about supers it useful. Even the latest Jane’s Supers is no substitute for real knowledge and expertise. Everybody thinks that they know all about supers, but most people’s knowledge is terrible – spotty, shallow and full of bugs. Sly did security work for The Iron Colonel for a few years and knew a lot supers and how they operate, but even he admitted that it was usually pretty hard to separate fact from fiction.
The Astro City Rocket: Anything else?
Captain Zero: If you want to be able to hit bases that belonged to mystical types, you’d probably want an expert on the arcane. I’m a tech guy and I hate magic, so I never looked for any mystic sanctums. We had a line one one once, but I convinced the team to wait on that one, and we never got around to cracking it.
The Astro City Rocket: How about people who are not on the team?
Captain Zero: You should know someone who can keep the books and manage your budget, if you want to actually make money, and launder your funds. You should know a good attorney too, and doctor that won’t report inconvenient wounds to the authorities. And you really, really need to know where to sell what you took from a base.
The Astro City Rocket: How does a base raider sell their loot?
Captain Zero: A lot of what you haul out – computers, big screens, tools, other electronics and hardware – you can get rid of that anywhere. Sell too much in one place though, and you’ll attract attention. For alien tech, super tech, that sort of thing, there’s a superpowers black market. Some government types are very interested in that sort of thing, though dealing with that kind of contact can be very risky. There are even people who want to be supers and have their eye on getting powers and have a whole shopping list for their own bases. Selling what you recovered without attracting attention can be more work that getting it in the first place.
The Astro City Rocket: Is there anything that you ever overlooked?
Captain Zero: Well, not having a biologist or someone who knows about biohazards was a major oversight. I mean, we all accept that we were taking a big risk, but after what happened to Caveman…
The Astro City Rocket: Caveman?
Captain Zero: He was a caver – a smart guy who was great at climbing, rappelling, operating in the dark, all that sort of thing. He already had money and he didn’t care about getting superpowers. He was our crazy thrillseeker and he went in first when we found elevator shafts or air ducts or maintenance shafts. He was our face guy too. Everybody loved Caveman. He practically glowed.
The Astro City Rocket: So, what happened?
Captain Zero: Well, we were in the going into one of Bamboo’s hideouts. She was this Chinese crime lord that into contraband weapons and narcotics and Kung Fu assassins and poisons and mind control drugs and mutated reptiles. We found an elevator and cut a hole in the floor. Caveman went in first. There was water in the bottom of the shaft, but Cave-o had a wetsuit, so he dropped down to look around. It turned out that there was a big swarm, hundreds of mutated water spiders just under the surface. Maybe a big egg just hatched. I don’t know. They swarmed over him and bit into his face and hands and pumped him full of venom and he swelled up like a screaming balloon and blood sprayed out where his skin split open. If we’d pulled him up – hell, they might have swarmed us too – we didn’t know shit about mutant spiders. Everyone was expecting pressure plates and trap doors with spikes at the bottom of the shaft and poison dart traps and, I don’t know, maybe fanatical minions with butterfly swords and meteor hammers. If we’d had a biologist with us, maybe they would have known what to do.
The Astro City Rocket: That’s why you stopped raiding bases?
Captain Zero: My share of the money was enough for me and I’d had enough thrills. Too many people that I didn’t want knowing about me knew my name. Caveman was dead, and all we could do was watch it happen. Then the Menagerie Gang killed Sly when they tried to hijack our last haul. That was it for me.
The Astro City Rocket: What about the rest of your teammates?
Captain Zero: I’ve probably said too much about them already, but they’ve covered their tracks pretty well. The Professor retired. She’s probably sitting in a cafe in Paris now. Captain Nemo left the country. I hope he’s relaxing on a warm beach somewhere with a tropical drink. Texas Bob meant to buy a ranch, so I hear.
The Astro City Rocket: What was good about base raiding?
Captain Zero: Testing yourself and winning. Seeing daylight again and knowing that nothing could be as dangerous as what you just went through. Learning things that no one else knew. The money turned out to be pretty good too.
The Astro City Rocket: Thanks so much for your time.
Captain Zero: You’re welcome.