It’s what you get when the morals and ethics of a greedy, spoiled society go AWOL.
When the top ten percent get richer and the lower ninety become nothing but cattle and cannon fodder to the bottomless gullets of the wealthy. Of the corrupt. Of the powerful. Of those who would trade their collective conscience for a plush couch, empty extravagance and worthless delusions of grandeur. Of those who choose a slow suicide over a wonderful life.
They sit high atop their buildings in accumulated riches and spoils no battlefield victory left them. They drink in amorality and swim in money and wealth. And they flaunt it like a badge of honor to all those below them; below not only in terms of both status and power, but below them on the economic food chain, as well.
And yet, with all these riches, with all these spoils, they still desire more. More penthouse apartments. More Malibu homes. More oceanfront manors. More limos, more statues, more buildings, more, more, more….
Greedy, hungry, spoiled little children who believe they are at the top of the food chain crying to their mothers for more than they could ever hope to use. Even presidential suites designed for the leaders of a nation are up for auction to the highest bidders.
And yet, even as they acquire, they coagulate. They become complacent. Nested in their high patios, their neon high-rises, their fifty-seven room mansions flashing a beacon of unadulterated pride and excess. Comforted by the fact that they rule the world. That the rules need not apply to them, so long as the book of law is padded with enough donations, enough bribes and enough plain old corrupt and rancid dollar bills to keep the local law enforcement off their front lawns. They are secure in their status, and grow lazy and fat from it’s perks and pleasures.
But money isn’t everything, and although it can protect them from the decency of the law, it cannot protect them from the passage of time. For time is the great equalizer. Young or old, good or bad, rich or poor. Even living or non-living. It doesn’t matter. Times spares none. And so the lethargic, gluttonous bellies of the rich age and wither. Their riches petrify and lose their luster. Their bodies age and wither in their elegant comforts. And eventually, not even status or power in their respective societies can save them from their slow, self-inflicted demise.
Tainted money and ill-gotten wealth is collected, sorted, counted, and given to the next generation. And so again, the cycle starts anew. Vicious circles of avarice, opulence, waste and lethargy. Over and over again. Turn the page…
The insane tapestry weaves throughout 2099 as it did through 2004. Sure, perhaps the mob enforcers and protection rackets have fallen to Public Eyeballs and Stark’s Watchdogs. The politicians have evolved into the venomous predatory CEOs of corporations spanning nations. Even the assassins have become lab-grown, corporate-owned puppets whose only function is to follow orders and serve the vast corporate entities that have created them.
Everyone else is but a surplus population. Cogs and gears in the tapestry of the heartless, unfeeling machine of the world of tomorrow. A futuristic world that is on the verge of total suicide. A future that has no future.
Welcome to Uptown 2099.
Tensed, angry fingers gripped the slick, shiny datapad. However, besides his sharp, vicious eyes, no other part of his body betrayed the utter disdain and contempt rising from the pit of his stomach as he glanced over the repugnant device.
Beneath his calm, still chest, his heart pounded wildly, like the thundering gallop of a massive steed in mid-stampede. His blood burped and boiled beneath skin turned lava; the fiery torrent singing a murderous symphony below his loose traditional kimono. His teeth clenched behind sealed, calm lips. His wise, narrowed eyes were transfixed about the object before him, burning with the passion of a thousand forest fires. And yet, nothing -- from his blank face to the crossed legs beneath his still, unmoving form -- betrayed any of the wild, violent torrents of rage exploding and erupting within his deceptively thin frame to the outside world.
He skimmed over the contents of the digital letter with his intense, probing eyes once more, feeding the fires of his mind one more time.
He dragged his eyes across every word, seething, writhing in total, impossible anger until he reached the final, repugnant last words.
‘Sincerely, you backstabbing pusbag, Miguel O’Hara.’
His insane rage finally reached a thunderous crescendo as his silent, stiff countenance fell apart. Restraint and control fell to emotion as a guttural sigh left the terse throat of Hikaru Sama.
A blink of his violent, powerful eyes and he was back in control. He cursed himself for this repugnant display and with a word, his vidphone blinked on, showing the blank, ever ready face of his secretary.
“I would have words with Mr. Martin of Spectre Division,” he calmly stated, as if to make up for his momentary loss of control.
“Yes, sir,” she dutifully complied, “I’ll patch him through to your office right away…”
“No, Kyisha,” he interjected, “I would have words with him in my office. Face to face.”
A shudder crept up the secretary’s spine. She remembered previous employees who rated a face-to-face with the CEO of Stark/Fujikawa. If they were lucky, they were simply being fired from the monolithic megacorp. If not…
“Right away, sir,” she calmly stated, masking the tumultuous anxiety and dread building up behind her ears with her typical, calm demeanor.
With a wave of his hand, the vidscreen blinked off and Hikaru Sama was alone with his thoughts once again.
‘We will have words indeed, Mr. Martin,’ Hikaru thought as he laid the datapad calmly on the floor and began to meditate, focusing his violent temperament into the meeting ahead.
Doctor Reginald Vonvargas had once been a well respected surgeon in the sprawling paradise of Uptown. He practiced medicine with skills beyond his thirty-seven odd years. His prognoses were always on the mark. His treatments were the manifestations of pure genius. His surgeries were without flaw. Never in his two years as an Uptown surgeon did he ever misinterpret a symptom, mishandle a neuroscalpel, or lose a patient on the operating table. Never.
At least, he never lost a patient that could pay for life insurance. Never misinterpreted a symptom of a black carder while a nobody off the street was forced to bleed to death in the emergency room. Never mishandled a top-of-the-line precision neuro-scalpel while the unsung heroes of medicine were force-fed faulty equipment and greasy hospital rooms due to unneeded pay cuts and black card embezzlement by the higher-ups.
Never. All the while, his colleagues, some of the most respectable, honest, considerate doctors of all time, were sabotaged by the hospital administration to make way for the bribed, penny-pinching bureaucratic abominations of everything the Hippocratic oath ever stood for. And eventually, he decided to do something that he thought he’d never do.
He left the cold, pristine test tube of Uptown for the sprawling, endless wasteland of human misery and suffering so very far below. He journeyed into the pit of post-modern civilization, into the darkest reaches of Uptown memory in which life is at a premium and hope is a luxury that no one can afford.
He went Downtown.
And as he watched the bloodied being hemorrhaging something very warm into the dusty cloth of an ancient hospital gurney noisily enter his awaiting operating room; Doctor Vonvargas realized that he had never made a better choice.
Takayashi Martin strolled down the long neon corridor to Hikaru Sama’s office, smirking smugly in disgusting self-satisfaction.
The inspection had gone flawlessly. The scientists were terrified out of their minds, completely taken aback by his unexpected presence in their neck of the Spectre Division.
He had determined, with a great deal of pride, that they had remained well ahead of schedule. The research was solid, the techniques sound. Their specimens had progressed along quite nicely. And the discipline was as brutish as he ever could have hoped. He liked that.
But still, he had fired three of the less useful scientists. After all, he had to keep the masses sufficiently motivated to do good work. That, and, Murphy kept parking in his parking spot. That was just not acceptable.
He’d almost hoped he could have fired one more, but that would be pushing it, considering the vast progress the current staff had been enjoying. And besides, the looks on their faces as he passed out the proverbial pink slips more than made up for his failed quota. He smiled.
Yes, today had been a good day. And, although he knew that being called to Hikaru’s office during his meditation hour was perhaps the worst possible occurrence ever during his tenure at Stark/Fujikawa, he was in high spirits. Nothing could get him down now.
Glancing cockily at the visibly worried secretary, he calmly cracked open the door and slid silently into the eerie black hole within, arrogantly steeling himself against the pain of a slapped wrist.
Takayashi looked about the darkened room, watching as the shadows danced about the walls, playing their bizarre tricks upon the eyes and carrying the ends of the walls along into the vast, endless expanse of infinity. He listened intently as his footsteps echoed off the cavernous ceiling, filling the stadium that passed for an office with a haunting rhythm that reverberated off the walls, nearly piercing the armor surrounding his blackened soul.
Throughout the sounding air, he could make out a lone figure resting calmly on the floor, shadows draped over his form like a concealing shroud, merging the meditating man into the inky void around him.
Takayashi’s armor was finally pierced. His heart skipped a beat.
“Mr. Martin,” Hikaru spoke slowly, legs crossed and head bowed in quiet, calm contemplation, “I have been expecting you.”
Takayashi Martin ventured a bit closer, nearly overwhelmed with a sense of foreboding.
“Yes, sir?” he said with feigned respect.
“I trust you have heard of the…incident with the failed Expert model.”
“Yes, I have, sir.” Takayashi confidently replied, “The situation is already well in hand.”
“Is it now?” Hikaru countered, eyes still lightly closed, “Perhaps you would consult this datapad, then.”
Takayashi stepped forward, intrigued as he plucked the bright neon datapad from the CEO’s outstretched hand. Glancing down at the warm, soft glowing of the smooth shiny device, he began to pour over what looked to be the beginnings of a letter.
His eyebrows arced in muted delight as he read over every expletive, every obscenity, every explosive outburst and every single bit of outrage and disgust that flowed throughout the shimmering screen. Takayashi took exquisite pleasure in watching this man insult his quietly meditating boss; from the vicious introduction to the jarring final words, always careful never to let his sickly delight show to the calm, calculating man sitting before him now. If only he could have seen the gaunt windbag’s face when he had read this letter.
His composure steady, Takayashi drew in a breath, “My, my. Such blatant…disrespect. I assume, sir, that you will wish to respond to the instigator of such an affront?”
Hikaru Sama’s eyes slowly crept open, wide with pure, focused hatred and cutthroat fury. His lips tensed and he leveled his gaze at Takayashi, eyes narrowing ever so slightly.
“Excellent,” Takayashi complied, relieved his employer would only be using him as a vessel of vengeance rather than as target practice, “I will contact the Watchdogs and…”
“That will not be necessary.”
Suddenly, Takayashi found himself in the air, a distant, yet distinct throbbing engulfing his right cheek. A groan emanated from the airborne division head as his tensed body crashed and tumbled about the ground before finally coming to a sore, pained stop amongst the shadows. As he rolled over onto his side, he tasted something sweet in his mouth. A profoundly, lumpy, tart flavor; one that he rarely experienced.
It was the taste of blood.
He looked up at his meditating boss only to discover that he wasn’t meditating anymore. The menacing Hikaru Sama towered above the downed Takayashi, darkness cascading along his thin yet powerful structure. It was as if Takayashi were gazing along the heavens above toward some omnipotent god; staring as that same god gazed back down, nothing but contempt and fury burning in his immortal eyes. A chill fled up Takayashi’s spine as he spat a heavy, lumpy mixture of mucus and liquid crimson onto the plush oriental rug, tensing himself for the blows ahead.
But they did not come.
Hikaru instead descended toward the ground, gracefully folding his legs under him as he came to rest upon the floor once again. As Takayashi held his hot, pulpy mouth in confusion, the kimono-clad tyrant slowly leaned over into the shadows and pulled out what looked to be a tiny bonsai tree. It rustled gently as he placed it on the ground before him, leaves and twigs haphazardly falling to the ground with the disturbance.
Metal scissors gleamed brilliantly against the faint light of a far-away window as a thin tree branch fell to the floor. Hikaru narrowed his eyes at Takayashi.
“Do you know anything about trees, Mr. Martin?” Hikaru spoke calmly to the shaking man on the floor, “Bonsai trees. They need constant maintenance, constant discipline in order to grow up strong and healthy. In order to flourish and thrive. In order to survive.”
A single drop of sweat slid smoothly down Takayashi’s pale face.
“Most of the branches are healthy and strong. They bring honor to the tree. However, there are those which are weak. Those that wither and die for no reason, bringing great disgrace to the tree. These weak branches not only bring shame to themselves; they also bring shame to the entire tree. And that is why they must be cut away. In order to preserve the honor of the tree itself…”
“Do you understand me, Mr. Martin?”
The trembling puppy dog nodded his head.
“Excellent,” Hikaru Sama smiled triumphantly, “I would have liked to maintain a friendly preface toward O’Hara and his corporation; however, I suppose that is impossible now. However, I would like to be kept apprised of all your...decisions in the future. Otherwise, I might be forced to take inventory and see whether or not our branches are communicating effectively. And if not, I might be forced to…take steps.”
Another branch dropped quietly to the lavish carpet.
“Now, Mr. Martin,” the stalwart CEO began, burning eyes still steadily trained upon the petrified man before him, “It would be prudent to leave now.”
“Yes, sir,” Takayashi murmured fearfully through blood-soaked teeth as he scrambled up from his shaking kneel and cut through the darkened room, pausing only to give a respectful bow outlined in the wild fluorescence of the hallway outside before quietly closing the door to his Hikaru’s chambers.
As Takayashi squinted from the beaming bright of the fluorescent corridor before him, he glanced at Kyishi, still perched in her usual desk directly outside Hikaru Sama’s office. As she gazed at Takayashi, he could almost feel the waves of nauseating pity emanating from the disturbed secretary. Heavy lines formed on her forehead as she noted the warm, sticky goo dripping lightly out of Takayashi’s mouth. He watched as she opened her mouth in utter shock.
Suddenly, Kyishi noticed the glaring anger building behind the injured division head’s pupils and quickly buried her face back into her desk. Takayashi blinked angrily and focused back on the winding twists of the hallway before him.
The verdict was in. This had been a bad day. This had been a very bad day, indeed.
Marq opened his eyes and peered cautiously around the familiar room. He was back in the emergency room, laden with those grimy tiles and dusty wooden benches that housed the Docs’ primitive, yet very much needed medical equipment. A far cry from the oily, reeking stench of the sidewalk he had passed out on, but, considering the circumstances, he wasn’t complaining.
He sat up, somehow feeling more in control with the heightened altitude, when he noticed the pressure on the top of his skull. He started to pull his right arm up to examine this new sensation when he suddenly felt a slight tug in his forearm, followed by a great deal of pain throughout the length of his bruised limb. He quickly straightened his arm out on the stained sheets of the bed, giving the intravenous line in his arm some much needed slack. The pain subsided. But even without his tactile reconnaissance, he could easily hazard a guess as to what the pressure could be around the surface of his crown.
“Bandages?” he asked no one in particular, “More bandages? Did…did they operate on me? What…what on earth happened?”
As he trailed off, lost in groggy speculation and tired thought, the solitary door connecting the tiny bedroom to the rest of the downtrodden hospital painfully creaked ajar, revealing the figure of the man who had saved his life.
“Ah. Awake, I see,” Doctor Reginald Vonvargas said as he stepped confidently toward the bed, “Y’know, you are a very lucky man. That’s twice we’ve had to patch you up. How or why you’re still alive is anyone’s guess.”
“What happened?” the resting man choked out tiredly.
“Well,” the doctor began, “it seems that you’ve had some brain trauma. When Gale brought you in, you were hemorrhaging blood through both your oral and nasal orifices, your blood pressure and heartbeat were erratic and you were fading in and out of consciousness, all of which led me to conclude that you were suffering from some sort of arterial blockage in your brain, which we discovered was the case in your left hemisphere, and…”
“Doc,” Marq stared, fatigued, “Layman’s terms, please. I’m not ready to be thinking that hard right about now.”
The doctor glanced warily at the blood-stained bandages adorning his patient patient’s cranium and nodded in acquiescence.
“Of course,” he began again, “Basically, you had major blood clotting in the arteries leading to and from your brain. We did our best to dissolve them and thin out your bloodstream, but only time will tell if we were completely successful or not. Tell me, have you been suffering severe headaches before now?”
“Flashbacks,” he responded, “Intense flashbacks from a life I don’t remember.”
Taking a moment to muse a bit, he continued, “Now that you mention it, they were quite severe.”
“Must have been,” the doctor said steadily as he began to examine the many glowing monitors at his patient’s bedside, “You bled a lake in the OR. Touch and go there for awhile, but,” he paused, scanning the readouts of the elderly machines, “you seem fine now. Any residual pain, discomfort; any ill effects at all from the surgery?”
“I’m…I’m just kinda tired,” he sighed, reclining back onto the oddly comfortable hospital bed, “I had a bit of a headache when I woke up but, it’s gone now.”
“Remarkable,” the doctor exclaimed, eyes gleaming with a spark long since dulled by the squalid glamour of Downtown, “Absolutely remarkable.”
“Is he okay?”
A woman’s voice. They both turned toward the opened door, gazing upon the silhouette of a distraught young woman leaning hesitantly against the door frame.
“She’s been very worried about you, stranger,” the doctor stated, turning back toward his rapidly recovering patient, “Couldn’t even let her into the OR, she was so upset.”
He turned toward the worried nurse, who had quickly made her way to her newfound friend’s bedside, “He’s fine, Gale. More than ship-shape. You needn’t worry about that.”
Gazing back toward the bedridden hero, he narrowed his soft, blue eyes with concern and determination, his voice lowering to a guttural warning, “But if you break this lady’s heart, you’d better worry. Gale’s really warmed up to you over the past few hours, and I’ve learned to trust her instincts. But if I find that trust has been misplaced…”
“Reg!” Gale interjected forcefully, beet red with embarrassment.
“Sorry, Gale,” he sighed, “I guess I’ve been down in this…place a bit too long.”
He gently laid a sympathetic hand on her small, tensed shoulder, “But please, be careful.”
Glancing back swiftly at his patient, he continued, “That goes for both of you. I don’t want you in that OR a third time.”
Doctor Vonvargas slowly made his way to the exit, outlined in blinking white fluorescent, hesitating a moment to gaze back at the couple before heading back out into the bright lights of the ward.
In the moody shade of the darkened room, Gale smiled warmly at the recuperating Marq, shadows cascading calmly across her face, outlining her smooth, youthful features and her wide, twinkling eyes. She caressed his face warmly.
“You gave us quite a scare there,” Gale admitted, her kind, shaky grin betraying her badly frayed nerves.
“I’m sorry if I scared you,” he stammered apologetically, his face racked with guilt and shame, “it’s just, those flashbacks were so intense. So violent. I…I couldn’t control them.”
“Shhh…” she cooed, “Calm down, there. Wouldn’t want to pop those bandages so soon after the surgery, now would we?”
“How long has it been?” Marq asked apprehensively, “Since I went under, I mean.”
“Only a few hours,” she stammered, “I…thank you for saving my life.”
“My pleasure, Gale,” he said, dazing into her lovely cinnamon eyes, “How are you doing?”
“Just a little shaken up,” she sighed as she pulled an antique chair up to the bed and slowly collapsed into the worn structure, finally letting the adrenaline buzz that had filled her every cell of her body since the confrontation in the streets subside into a dull roar, “I’m so glad you were there. I…I dunno what I would’ve done…”
“You’d’ve been fine,” he smiled warmly, his kind, hazel eyes lost in hers, “I just softened ‘em up for ya.”
They laughed half-heartedly, the stress and tension of the last few hours having taken its toll. They lingered for just a moment, transfixed. Unmoving. Speechless. Statuesque in their dual gaze. Marq suddenly tore himself away from her deep, brown eyes to the door, closed yet still sending cascading fragments of fluorescent careening into the dusky room.
“Um…” he stammered about, trying to grasp some memory that seemed misplaced at the moment, “who…who was that doctor that came in here earlier?”
“Oh, him? That was Doctor Reginald Vonvargas,” she answered, regaining her professional countenance, “He is the head doctor at our Doc in the Box. Mainly because, he’s the most experienced physician on staff. And being a real doctor helps, too.”
“Are you two…?” he trailed off, somehow compelled to ask this question he so feared.
“Reg and me? No, no, no,” she dismissed, shaking her head, “He’s kind of like a mentor to me. Very protective over me, though. Kind of like how a father is protective of his own daughter. Other than that, we’re just really good friends.”
She bent her right arm up from the dusty armrest of the chair and showed him her ring finger, “See? No ring.”
No wedding ring.
Ring. On finger. Ring.
His wedding ring!
He glanced quickly at his finger and sure enough, it was still very much there.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe I forgot!” Marq sat up wildly, the IV line in his arm shifting to a very painful angle. Ignoring the network of nerves yelping out along the length of his arm, he yanked the IV out, along with all the various plugs and tubes that connected him to the array of equipment beside him.
“What’s wrong?” Gale gasped as she stood up, heart pounding as this kind; caring stranger suddenly tore himself from the comforting bed for reasons unknown.
“My wife! I’ve seen her face! I know who she is!” he exclaimed excitedly as he stood up, addressing the blood dripping out from his right forearm with some pressure from his left hand.
“Good Thor, your arm!” she gaped, running toward a musky supply cabinet, “Wait, lemme fix that up,” she poked around the packed cabinet, eventually palming some fresh gauze containers and some bandages and laying them out among the strewn covers of the hospital bed. She gently placed the gauze on his small, trickling wound and applied some pressure, following up with a few wraps of the long bandages around his bruised forearm.
“There, that’s better,” she said calmly, “Now, what’s all this about your wife?”
“I guess, sometime in the life I can’t remember, I was married. That’s gotta be why I have this ring. And the flashbacks…I’ve seen us together on the beach, on a vacation together. She was smiling. I could almost smell the salty air. My God, she looked just like you.”
Her eyes floated to the ground as her shoulders slumped slightly, “Why…do you have to find her?”
“What?” he asked, completely taken aback.
“I mean, you can’t remember her, right?” she questioned hopefully, “So forget about her. Stay with us. I mean, at least for a little while.”
“Don’t you see?” Marq replied quickly, “Finding her is a chance to find out about my life. As far as I know, I was born in a cargo hold! Twenty years of my life are completely gone! I…I need to find them. And my wife. I need to find her too. Because when I find her….I’ll be closer to finding myself.”
Gale slowly brought her eyes to meet those of the very strange man before her. She looked into his eyes with determination, steeling herself for the road ahead.
“Be careful,” she said staunchly.
“I will,” he returned, lightly kissing her on the cheek, “I always keep my promises.”
As Marq strode quickly out the door, something wet trickled down Gale’s cheek.
Amanda Deveraux closed her eyes and sunk gently into the warm, popping, steamy bubble bath; a long, soothing sigh echoing throughout her lavish washroom.
Amanda was a Watcher. In other words, she was paid about five figures a month to watch a few monitors and report to the big kahuna if she saw something the parent company didn’t like. It was an easy job, really. Even a monkey could do it.
But still, as far as wealth and prestige went, Amanda was one of the richest monkeys in the city. At least, she could’ve been, had she not forgotten one little fact:
Unlike bananas, money doesn’t grow on trees.
As she curled her toes gleefully in the warm water, she dreamed lazily about her deluxe entertainment system, a dazed smile slowly spreading over her smooth, gleaming lips.
VR surround sound, fully-interactive digital interface with every pre-programmed adventure that money could buy, from widescreen fantasy adventures to bootleg, real world pleasures. She could be a CEO, a princess, a new-age, meta-human super heroine or a take-no-prisoners cybermesh warrior with more hardcore bandwidth than reality itself. And best of all, this system could link up to the Ethernet. Billions of data-surfers could jack into her cybernetic hook-up anytime she wanted. Highly-compressed, multi-player simulated existence. The real world hooked up to a monitor. The tech didn’t get much better than this.
Nor did it get more expensive. She shelled out quite a few credits for a taste of the electronic high life.
And then, of course, there were her holograms. Broadband servants of every size and shape, born and bred to serve her every whim, satiate her every desire and cater to her every need. And real down to the finest detail. High-precision solidogram technology, state-of-the-art wavelength manipulation, highly-adaptable individualized personality protocols. Gone were the standard goldenrod-hued, translucent drones. These next-generation cyber-servants were rendered down to the finest detail, digitally re-mastered with quasi-realistic gradations of real-time color and governed by complex software that simulated real-time lighting effects. And those were just the basics.
Full-tactile interaction. Multi-topic conversation algorithms and multi-task functioning protocols. Hair follicles, eye lashes, real-time breath that could fog windows. Hell, these things even got colds from time to time.
But Amanda worked every day at a mindless, pointless, never-ending job. She deserved nothing but the very best when she can home from a rough day at the office. At least, that’s what she kept telling herself. And so the endless spending continued.
“This vintage Disinterred poster would look great on my bedroom wall.”
EebDOTcom bid. Minus two hundred credits.
“A perfectly preserved statuette of Khonshu, a god from ancient Egypt. Pretty expensive for some dusty twencen relic. Still should be a lovely addition to my bedroom bureau.”
Antique shop purchase. Minus ten thousand, one hundred credits.
“You know what? I’m sick of orange. I’ll get a periwinkle car this month. Orange is out of style now, anyway.”
Dealership visit. Minus twenty-seven thousand credits.
When the overage charge from the company bank streamed into her e-mail, Amanda had never really thought about why an eCheck might bounce. After all, she’d always had the funds to cover it. She was a high-priced, well-paid corporate data-monkey. Why shouldn’t she?
But when she finally went online to check her online bank statement, she realized that for the first time since landing this cushy Watcher position in one of the leading megacorps in the world, her bank account was completely empty.
Caput. Devoid of funds. Or, according to her corporate bank, just plain void.
Amazing; a five-figure monthly salary wage-earner like herself, and she was completely and utterly broke. The worst part was, she didn’t even know why.
But, after a few visits from the repo men, the truth had slowly begun to dawn on her. Perhaps she had not been quite as…selective as she should have been with her monetary pursuits. Perhaps she should have spent her wealth a tad more wisely.
But that didn’t matter now, though. She found the way out. The solution to her newfound debts.
A throaty giggle escaped her lips as she felt the soothing pressure jets within the bathtub ease her tired joints and muscles. After all, it had been a long day at work. Eight hours of staring at the monitors, dumbfounded at the inactivity around her. Cecilia being a brick with two legs and Stevie-boy being a corporate puppet, typical mindless boy scout with Hikaru Sama passing out the badges. He was like a sickening, pudgy Captain America wannabe. It was quite pitiful, really. And twice as painful to watch.
He would have to go.
And of course, with his…absence, there would be an open spot on the primate roster. A void that would have to be filled.
“I’d still have to pull in a few favors; keep the repo men at bay for a week or two. Maybe a rudimentary hack job or two to keep the overage charges from piling up. But still, if I can pull this off, well…”
She trailed off as she sank deeper and deeper into the soothing jetstream, a slight grin forming across her warm, moist lips.
“Amanda Deveraux, Chief Executive Surveillance Technician,” the bubbly words rolled off her tongue with ease, “I just love the way that sounds.”
Marq stared across the vast neon expanse of Uptown.
Neon and fluorescent danced among his eyes as the imperceptible buzz of hover-engines and maglev trains sung symphonies along his unconscious mind. He watched intently as the many thousands of people made their way throughout the dazzling city by maglev, hover-car, and early-model land vehicle. There were even those who dared cross the smooth, shining walkways running between each phenomenal sky-scraper on foot. Seas and seas of people going to work, to school, or just simply enjoying an early morning romp in the glittering city after a hard night’s partying and cruising.
He tore his eyes away from the amazing spectacle below and glanced toward the silver twilight of the morning sky. Hints of red and gold danced among the sky, harbinger to the rise of the Monday morning sun already peeking out from the sparkling horizon.
Standing amongst this dazzling twilight visage, the man now christened as Marq could feel the gentle tug atop his broad shoulders as his massive white cape flowed majestically in the cool autumn breeze. He could hear the rustling of his cloak as, through his snug, form-fitting silky white armor, the whistling wind of the futuristic city laid a fine network of goose bumps along the warm skin underneath.
With a heavy sigh, he peered once again down at the waking city.
“I hate this place,” he exhaled angrily, “All this technology. All these massive buildings. All these lights, the flying cars, the pristine walkways. There are even people in the alleyways with strange glasses that seem to take them to another world entirely. All this, and still they don’t lift a finger to help those poor people under them. Thousands of people eking out miserable lives, surviving on table scraps and living in wrecked, weather-worn hovels. And these pampered little brats sit atop the shoulders of the poor, crushing them. Using them and spitting them out. These…Uptowners.”
Marq paused as he watched a young, carefree teenager whizzing by, surfing the walkway below with his brand new, top-of-the-line hover board. Listening to the loud hum of the noisy, obstinate device, he watched as the boy finished off the last of his Mega-Gulp soda and tossed the rather large plastic cup off the immaculate walkway into the darkness. The cup tipped into the darkness, spilling out the remainder of the unfinished soda within as the green and pink haired boy continued along the walkway, jamming to the screaming, blaring sound of the heavy metal spewing from his headphones and playing an imaginary air guitar in synch with the cacophony in his ears.
“Deplorable,” Marq narrowed his eyes in contempt, “Utterly deplorable. Downtown is just another garbage dump to them.”
As the repugnant teenager surfed out of view below the building, the man in shining white armor lifted his eyes to the brightening horizon.
“But still, my wife may be up here,” he resolved steadily, “Somewhere. Out amongst this endless extravagance. And no matter what it takes,” he added as he concentrated his mind on levitating ever higher into the Autumn twilight of the Uptown sky, “I’ll find her.”
“Freeze!” a loud, booming force exploded out from somewhere behind the floating man.
Marq’s heart quickened to a deafening thunder as he slowly peered around his shoulder and saw three menacing figures perched solemnly atop three smooth, sleek hoverbikes, glimmering faintly in the morning dawn. The bright white haze of the hoverbike headlights along with the diminished light of the twilight above hid the identities of the three silhouettes before him, commandeering light itself it seemed with their very countenance.
Suddenly, the monochrome trio before him began to quickly fade into a revealing jade, peeling back the shadows that cloaked these menacing specters and exposing every last detail of their outlandish uniforms.
Powerful, protective domed helmets. Smooth armor plates concealing loose, billowy cloth. Form-fitting gloves and boots. Aside from the eyes; those intense, probing eyes, everything else was covered, protected from the elements and sheathed in duraplastic armor.
In his stay in the pits of the Downtown decadence., he’d never seen anything so bizarre, so expensive as the strange garb of these ravenous corporate drones. And yet, in some vague, ominous way, they were still so very familiar.
So very familiar.
“Who are you guys?” the floating man stammered nervously, holding up a glittering white arm to shield his eyes from the ambient light surrounding their hover cycles.
“You mean you don’t remember?” the lead biker defiantly sneered, “That’s good. The labtechs’ll be happy. As for us, well…”he paused, tapping a few buttons on his hovercycle’s computer console, “we would be the ones who are taking you back to said labtechs. Compliance,” he added as the headlights suddenly darted up toward the silky, white eyes of the shining armored man and widened to full intensity, “is mandatory.”
Marq let out a yelp of agony as his jade world lit up to a searing, blinding white. His eyeballs seemed to burst into flame beneath his useless eyelids as his pupils shriveled up into two tiny, microscopic dots. The inferno in his eyes continued as he doubled over in pain, his vision consumed in a blinding white light as he fell hard into the smooth ground sending shockwaves of pain exploding up along his elbows and knees.
But those appendages didn’t matter right now. His eyes….
“My, my,” the arrogant Watchdog smirked as he stepped off his hoverbike, headlights still centered on the small, squirming little man, “It seems you have a little aversion to light. Especially bright light in particular.”
The smiling drone strolled over to the flailing man on the ground, night vision burning from the all-too-sudden change from dark to light. Taking refuge in the fetal position, he cringed at the grating sound of the Watchdog’s voice, still seeing nothing but impossibly bright white behind tightly-clenched eyelids.
“Don’t worry son,” the voice of twisting metal and sliding granite chuckled, “you’ll be seeing soon enough.”
Something hard hit the thrashing man’s abdomen. Wet, runny liquid squirted from clenched teeth as Marq rolled violently onto his spine, his head coming to rest at the foot of the Watchdog’s malicious vehicle. He could hear two sets of snickers in the distance as he squinted at the harsh rays of the hoverbike, still badly blinded from their oppressive onslaught.
The laughter became slower somehow. Deeper. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as the unending white haze slowly coalesced into a huge, glaring circle of white. White circle surrounded on all sides by a rapidly-darkening jade. Now it was forest green. Deep, dark, shadowy green. And all the while, the white circle remained, poised in the center. Unmoving. Unyielding. The circle. Or was it a sphere?
No. Neither. It was a moon. It had become a moon.
And as the moon faded into a familiar jaded haze, the blackness behind it disappeared into the stark harshness of reality. He could see the silhouettes on their bikes, laughing it up in the distance as they pointed to something beside him. Marq peered over to look upon the object of their hilarity only to see the tall, dark leader of the hyenas behind him, leg raised behind his back for one final kick to the head. His head. And the man in the shimmering armor was quite protective of his head.
As the clumsy, clunky boot slowly carved a path through the still morning air, Marq rolled out of the way, ignoring the stabbing in his ribs and kneeling beside the slow Watchdog, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.
“Stars, little birdies. Yup, you’ll be seeing those alright. Just one more kick and…” the grinning man choked out as his foot connected with nothing.
“Doubtful,” Marq said as he leaped headfirst into the Watchdog, tackling the sadist to the ground and knocking him out cold.
As he slowly hauled himself up off the cool poly plasti-steel alloy rooftop, he could hear the rushed, frantic clattering off what sounded like guns being lifted from their unseen holsters. He stood up, surveying the rest of his surroundings only to see what seemed to be the business ends of two outlandish pistols, both aimed straight at his glittering chest. Marq, clearly outnumbered and outgunned by the lime green soldiers, did the only thing that made sense at the time.
He held out his two gloved hands in surrender.
“That’s better,” one of the gun-toting corporate puppets smirked with scornful satisfaction as he eased his terse countenance.
“The little shocker might still be armed,” the other one warned, slowly, but steadily advancing toward their quarry, “Careful.”
“Gotcha,” he responded as he cautiously followed his partner’s lead, all the while keeping the gun expertly trained on the shining white target.
“You should listen to him,” Marq advised as a he tensed his hands, sending streams of nanotech robots scurrying from his outstretched hands, forming the matrix of something immaculate and smooth between his softly glowing palms, “He might be on to something.”
“Onto what? The guest list for your funeral?” the lead man laughed as he squeezed the plastic trigger in his terse, iron grip, sending shockwaves of pyrotechnic fury into the heart of the armor-clad Marq. His cape rattled furiously as the impromptu fireworks continued without pause, the second participant doubling the stakes as he followed the lead of his headstrong leader. Thunder echoed throughout the Uptown twilight as the sky lit up with infernal plumes of smoke and flame, searing the cool, cloudless sky with black, endless dust and white hot flame that covering what was surely the melting corpse of the tragic hero.
Satisfied with their complete victory, they sheathed their warm, smoking weapons, contemplating a decent excuse as to why they were forced to liquefy the wanted fugitive. But as the smoke began to subside, the tender autumn winds sweeping away the billowing dust cloud, the shape of a lone human figure remained, outlined against the sweeping hazel of the sizable plumes of smoke surrounding it. And as the last traces of the smoke wafted into the night breeze, it became all to clear as to who the true victor of the cowardly exchange really was.
“He’s…he’s….what is he?” the gibbering hyena stuttered, gasping as he realized how powerless he really was against his armored foe.
The glittering man, now free from the choking soot, tensed his fingers around something smooth and shiny, feeling a strange kinship with the familiar object. Marq slowly looked up at the emerald duo, eyes glinting with something mischievous, almost sardonic, beneath his somehow pristine mask.
“Me?” the white knight beamed, “Just a man. I highly doubt you could say the same.”
As he finished, he could feel a familiar vibration in his fully-formed bo staff, almost sensing the phenomenal fury within the strong, lengthy object; something carnal, vengeful, waiting to be released.
He leveled his stick at the two shaking Watchdogs, taking a moment to smirk beneath his silky mask as he fired, lighting up the settled sky once again with a devastating light show. He watched as the flailing bodies of the shaking men were hurled into the sky, the concussion from the burning lime impact of the blast between them sending tsunamis of energy and dust rippling outward in all directions.
Their airborne humiliation was cut off by a pair of resounding thuds echoing into the endless sky that was, even now, sweeping up the dusty mess that the shining knight had created. Marq let out a final sigh of relief as he saw his attackers’ bodies strewn opposite from one another across the expansive rooftop; silent, unmoving save the rhythmic rise and fall of their bruised, battled lungs and the mute wisps of air cruising in and out of their dusty, bloodied lips.
He yawned, somehow quite exhausted now, as the bo staff he held slowly shrunk, condensing into smaller and smaller frames as it went along on its unseen journey. Curious, he glanced down at his hands, which were instinctively recalling the billions of nano-bots currently comprising his diminutive staff back into the body that had created them.
And yet, there was no pain. No stinging flesh. No knotted stomach. Not even a mild warmth in his mouth. There was just a silky calm cascading throughout his fingers and palms, as if the pieces of some cosmic puzzle had finally come together, and all was right with the world.
He felt an all-pervasive calm sweep throughout his frame as the last of the nanotechnology was recalled, leaving him whole again. He smiled, his white armor sparkling wildly in the light of the coming day as he took in the cool morning air.
“My God,” he thought aloud, a narcotic mix of both confidence and dread adding up to a senses-shattering post-victory nirvana in his adrenaline-soaked flesh, “Self-replicating nanite robots. Phenomenal energy blasts. Intangiblity….I’m totally loaded. But that, of course begs the question, if I am some advanced corporate raider, whatever that is, then what exactly was I created for?”
He glanced about the roof, noticing something bulky and undoubtedly heavy lying overturned on the far end. As Marq strode confidently towards the intricate jade machinery, slightly damaged from his earlier blast, he noticed some odd fluctuations in his otherwise green monochrome night vision. The elaborate skybike began to melt into some sort of strange color. Something like a yellowy, goldenrod tone. He saw the Stark Watchdogs strewn about the rooftop, their green armor slowly coalescing into some browner hue. Even the rooftop itself looked different, its jade elegance suddenly giving way to some sparkling, silvery mirror-like surface, reflecting the dark blue sky around him.
These were colors. Realtime, daylight colors. And yet, he’d only seen these things in the fuzzy, fluorescent glow of the hospital and the flickering of the streetlights beyond. In Downtown.
In the light.
Something clicked as he gazed toward the heavens, peering along the sky until he found his quarry. It was the sun, rising high beyond the neon landscape. Yet, even now, at the start of its mighty daytime reign over the earth, it remained hidden behind the vast spires that littered the Uptown landscape, a sight almost symbolic of the aggression and contempt this current incarnation of mankind had for the beauteous tapestry that was nature’s will. And yet, as if in defiance, the dazzling rays of the morning sunrise peeked out from the massive building, lighting up the vast city with something else besides neon and incandescence. In light of these few, impossibly brilliant rays, Marq finally realized that his night vision had simply clicked off, favoring to use the ambient light from the ancient fireball rather than his own nano-technological power supply.
He glanced once again at the overturned vehicle before him, tearing his eyes away from the fiery morning sun.
“I wonder,” Marq pondered absent-mindedly as he picked up the damaged bike and pulled it right-side up, “Maybe there’s some kind of link-up to a network or database of my creators. What were they….Stark/Fujikawa, or something like that? Maybe they have some files that could tell me what I am. Who I am…and maybe even who my wife is. If anything, it should give me somewhere to start from…”
He trailed off as he began tapping away at the vehicle’s control panel. Finally finding a login screen, he quickly realized that, not only did he not have a password; he’d just knocked out the only guys that did. And hacking was certainly out of the question; for his skills in that area were simply non-existent. All of which leaving him right back where he started.
“Figures,” he muttered, sighing in contempt at the stalwart vidscreen before him, “I survive falling from a flying transport hundreds of feet in the air, an attack by a trio of cybernetically-enhanced street surgeons, and another attack from a triad of armored lunatics only to be stopped by a glowing square box with a keypad attached to it. Just figures.”
Marq lowered his eyes to the keypad below and sighed heavily in defeat. As the heavy breath blew hot out of his lips, he felt a strange tingling sensation in his hands. Looking down, he saw what appeared to be a few small, thin strands of his armor beginning to slide closer toward the keyboard; tendrils, almost, that moved with a mind of their own. As these bright tendrils slid across the keypad, they suddenly ducked inside the keyboard and the bizarre tingling that was once confined to his digits expanded to encompass his entire body. His heart leapt, his eyes pulsated and the hairs along his arms and legs rose as a small, yet gentle static electricity surged through his frame. He felt connected to something, somehow. Connected to something larger than himself.
Curious, he slowly drew his calm, yet vibrating eyes to the vidscreen only to see the despised login screen vanish, replaced by dozens of security lock-out screens, fingerprint touch-pad pop-ups and retinal scan boxes. He watched with absolute amazement as these security screens and dialogue boxes suddenly filled with asterisks disguising unknown passwords and outlined at random in glorious green light. A moment later, they were all flashing green, granting the deeply confused, yet completely amazed man access into the system that he thought had beaten him.
“A hack job,” he exclaimed, smiling as the wave of digitized static swept again through his body, “My armor just pulled a hack job. Incredible….”
He trailed off as he saw a flurry of screens flicker through the elaborate interface, almost as if the nanotechnology infecting the system was searching for some kind of unknown, unseen quarry amongst all the biographical files, the intelligence reports, the scientific journals and all the other pure, uncoded data swimming around inside Stark’s vast database. The images flickered by, blinking in and out of sight at a speed beyond reason, until finally one biographical file ended the incessant epileptic flashing of the new age monitor as suddenly as it began.
It was her lips. Those lovely, voluptuous lips, turned slightly upward in a natural crimson smile. He made his way up her long, smooth, sloping nose, noticing her gorgeous pink cheeks. He moved beyond the dimples, crossed over the bridge and darted above her long, sensual eyelashes into the windows of infinity. An unending hazel nirvana. A mahogany horizon as vast as the open shore on a cool summer’s night. A wide, endless expanse as peaceful as the heavens and twice as timeless. He looked into her eyes and saw the whole of creation. He saw the vast tapestry of existence and reveled in the grace of time and destiny. He swam in forever. And he knew that he had found everything he had been searching for.
He had found his wife.
He scanned the words in her biological file, but they were meaningless. Words could not hope to capture the essence of this elegant goddess among mortals. He only needed a select few in order to discover everything about this woman he knew he had loved in the years before his resurrection. And as he dragged his eyes over her listed address, he knew the journey was nearly over.
Jeanine Marlo Benedict. 13 Crimson Way. Apartment #586.
That was where his long search would finally end.
Marq stood tall and averted his gaze once again toward the shimmering lights of the waking city, breathing a sigh of content and unparalleled calm as he felt every muscle, every bone, every last drop of blood inside his massive frame lit up with boundless currents of electric energy and power, almost palpable in their fiery intensity. He could feel fathoms of energy abounding beneath his skin, raising the hairs on his arms, tensing his muscles, bringing an almost angelic glow about his glittering white costume. He could feel everything; the wind along his skin, the vibrations within his eyes, the pounding of cardiac exhilaration inside his powerful chest. Such wild, uncontrolled excitement. Such impossible power and energy. And yet, such peace. Such happiness.
And yet, something was wrong.
The burning within his veins wouldn’t stop. His eyes bulged as he began to feel the searing heat of white hot flame erupt beneath his arms. He could feel the blisters popping along his skin as his blood began to bubble with white hot steam. There was boiling within his battered brain, coupled with earth-shattering pounding and throbbing between his bloodshot eyes. His temples ached. His arms and legs surged with unbearable agony as his muscles expanded in tune with his thunderous heartbeat. He could feel the inevitable surging along his glowing, fiery white body.
Thrashing about in wild, desperate agony, he watched in horror as huge, glowing spheres bubbled up along his shimmering white armor, fiery with uncontainable energies and ghastly wells of bulbous, brimming fury that was moments away from ripping the poor, frightened man apart at the seams. Even the armored suit bonded to his genetic frame began pulsating and thrashing wildly, flaring vast bodies of flowing, liquid tendrils and tentacles about in pure digital insanity in a final, desperately attempting to escape the impending cataclysmic inferno. Stumbling about, senses and sanity lost in raging seas of desperation and adrenaline, he caught a final glimpse of a glowing hot orb in the sky, finally released from the technological eclipse of the massive building that had blocked its ever-reaching rays just moments ago. He watched as he felt the flames surge behind his eyes, his pupils shrinking back in defeat and despair.
“….why..?” his swelled, dry tongue choked out as he fell off the massive glittering spire that had been his battlefield, “…what…have I done to deserve….this…I just wanted to….find…..”
He barely felt the explosion and the crack in his ribs as his body slammed against the shiny, dense dumpster’s edge and whipped onto the grimy alley floor, snapping something very important as he came to rest in a slump against a wall. With an inaudible slurp, the glowing white armor wildly retreated back into the body which it had come to call home, peaceably becoming dormant once again.
His eyes fluttered beneath his dusty hazel visor. A labored groan escaped from his wet sticky lips as he spat something scarlet onto the rooftop beneath him. He coughed away the rising throbs of pain from his esophagus and leaned on his side, wincing from the strain. He drew his tired eyes to the rooftop edge before him. Apparently, the blast had blown him to the one side of the roof. He’d been lucky. Just another few feet and…
His eye twitched slightly as he peered over the edge of the massive building, staring down at the walkway so very far below. He cringed, thinking of what might have been.
Tensing his sore, broken muscles, he forced his heavy frame off the ground and stood atop the expansive rooftop, angry and quite fatigued. He squinted at the sheer white brightness filtering through his dilated pupils. It was daylight. But, how could that be? They’d engaged the prey at just after dawn. So, the question was, how long had he been out?
He glanced at his watch. It was noon.
“Five hours?” he stared at the ticking clock in total disbelief, “I’ve been out for five hours? So, that would make me about…five hours late for the shift change. Five hours. Ugh. They’d better give me some shockin’ overtime for this.”
He grimaced as he looked out along the shining bright rooftop. Spotting an overturned skybike to his right, he stumbled toward the damaged machine, eager to escape this miserable battlefield.
As he neared the battle-worn vehicle, he heard a sound that had nearly been drowned out by the hustle and bustle of the glittering daylight atrium of New York. It was an odd, almost inaudible clanging along the side of the tall building, echoing up from the alley below. He carefully gazed over the side of the glittering rooftop, seeing something in the alley below.
It was a man. And he was convulsing wildly.
The weary Watchdog watched on as he saw the shaking man banging against a large plastisteel dumpster, sending echoes of rhythmic clanging up through the alleyway below. He narrowed his eyes at the poor, unconscious man shaking wildly below him.
“Lousy shockin’ chain addicts,” the Watchdog muttered as he activated the cracked sky-cycle and rode the sputtering, wounded vehicle far above the rooftop carnage towards what he hoped was a fatter paycheck, never realizing how close he had come to capturing his elusive quarry.
He had remembered the fall. At least, he thought it was a fall.
Wind whipping up at his stomach. The sun; burning, screaming bile and hatred into his lungs. He could smell the putrid stench of boiled flesh. His flesh. For he could feel the stream bubbling up from his blood.
There had been a crash. A final cacophony that ended the adrenaline high of the fall.
A loud, jarring crack sounded from beneath his still-armored white chest. Something inside. Something important. A rib, perhaps?
But now, that was all over. For now, he was at the beach, listening to the lapping of wild, endless waves kissing the calm blanket of golden sand covering the coast. He was watching the tumbling clouds in the sky, wafting about on warm, lazy winds that, even now, rustled the damp cloth of his favorite bathing suit.
He could feel the pleasant, soothing rays of the mid-afternoon sun, calmly looking down upon the whole of creation.
This sun was a calmer, gentler sun. It shone brightly in his eyes, even through the dulled sheath of the jet black sunglasses. For a moment, he wondered why it had been different before. Why it had burned him. Why it had cooked him. Had it killed him? Was this the next life? Was this…heaven?
He looked to his right and saw a figure. Clearly a woman’s body, but somehow blurred. Her image somehow paled in comparison to the veritable landscape of beauty and peace surrounding her. It was as if she had been smudged into obscurity. As if she was slightly out of synch with this universe.
He could make out the one-piece bathing suit she wore. Blue. With yellow ducks draped all over. He smiled.
And yet, her face….
Even as he tried to sift through the darkened, hazy void that was this woman’s face, he felt his wedding ring press heavily into his ring finger, weighing down on his fragile appendage. It was as if there was a pressure on it, forcing it down. Forcing him down. A burden, perhaps. A puzzle that still needed to be solved.
He stared into her inky eyes, searching desperately for a clue, an answer to the question that had plagued his thoughts since his rebirth. He peered into the black static, looking for himself.
All at once, the fractured, blurred images of her face coalesced; shaping, reforming into a solid image. A picture. Her face. He could see her now. He could see his wife.
She was talking, her demeanor calm and content. He watched as her lips moved calmly, comfortably along every word, every syllable. He watched with delight, reveling in her beauty. And yet, there was something missing. Yes, something was definitely missing. It was the words. There were no words. He could not hear anything she was saying.
He watched her talk at him, confidently, coolly. There were twinges of a smile forming on her lips.
He stared at her, smiling warmly, when he noticed what was behind her.
The same, smudgy nothing that had filled her shapely form just moments ago. An inky black haze. He could only assume that he was still at the beach.
And yet, he could not feel the sun.
All he felt was a coldness. A sterile, manufactured type of coldness showering his throbbing skin, erupting goosebumps throughout his entire body. There was something hard beneath him. Hard and flat. And smooth.
That and, he couldn’t move.
The inky void behind his lover scribbled out the lovely face smiling down on him and he found himself in another room. A small, hard, metal place he didn’t like. A jail cell.
Something heavy weighed down his arms. Something very heavy. Weighing him down. Restraining him. Binding him to the metallic floor below.
But they were nothing. He could escape. All he had to do was—AAARRRRRRRR!!!!
Veins. Burning, itching, searing veins. Liquid agony traveling up his arms, lighting up his temples with an electric scream that only got louder with time. More intense. More painful.
For a split second, he thought he could feel something traveling up into his arms. His veins. Something that felt suspiciously like a great many intravenous wires crawling up from the restraints and directly into the blue tributaries in his forearms.
He thought of how helpful this information might have been a few seconds ago. He thought of how, maybe if he’d just not tried to initialize the suit, he could have--
But these were pointless thoughts. Now, there was just the pain. Screaming, searing, wrenching pain. Thunderbolts of palpable insanity stabbing at him, over and over, like a sadistic megalomaniac. A monkey with a shotgun. And there was nothing he could do about it.
Screaming. Yelling. Crying. Dying.
A groan. A thud. A final sigh escaping effortlessly from his quivering lips.
And then he remembered nothing.
Sweat collected steadily upon his trembling palms as he inched his way down the plush, carpeted hall; heart fluttering nervously as he searched desperately for the one particular door that would lead him home.
It had been only a few hours since his brutal rooftop encounter. Hours since the fall, the pain, the broken bones and the horrid flurry of endless, painful images of a life he did not know. Of a life he didn’t remember living. But now, hopefully, she would be able to change all that.
Marq felt a dull roar along the bottoms of his ribcage. Whatever he had broken under there during the fall was healing up quite nicely. The white suit was gone now, of course. Otherwise, he’d have a lot more to fight back that just the pain of a few broken ribs. He watched as a securi-droid rounded a corner ahead, metal gleaming from the light of the omnipresence fluorescence above.
But the suit…That burning, searing suit. Such pain….
And yet, it was only in the sunlight that this silky armor, now quietly nestled deep inside his body, became an inescapable deathtrap. He could still feel the warmth of that glowing celestial orb magnified a thousand fold inside his veins. He stumbled on the thick, heavy carpet as a fresh wave of nausea cascaded throughout his stomach. Such a vivid memory.
Thankfully, the armor had retreated back inside once he hit the cooling shade of the alleyway below. Automatic; like a natural, inborn survival instinct. Except, this armor was most definitely not natural. It was manufactured, alright. By all the wrong kinds of men. But that still didn’t explain the sensitivity to sunlight.
Could this be a defect of some kind? A deficiency that…
A shiver rolled along his spine. He felt naked, strolling along the chilled hallway. The armor; this impersonal, insane thing completely bonded to his genetic make-up, was more comfortable to him than his own flesh and blood. It was as if his own body was the costume and the glittery white fabric below his warm, pulsing skin was his true self. Another shiver met his spine. This one; however, wasn’t from the cold.
Marq continued nervously along the winding corridor, checking each digitized readout at the top of each passing doorway for that one specific number….
Fifty-eighth floor. Room #10.
His heart leapt in joy. He gasped wildly, a small tear forming in his right eye. He batted it away. Finally, after the two longest days of his life….he’d found her.
Room #586. Sixth room on the fifty-eighth floor. Presidential suite.
Marq stood in front of the gold-plated door, a smile forming on his face. The weary bags under his eyes seemed to lift as he took it all in. The shiny, glittering doorknob. The immaculate gold frame encasing the wood-coated, plasti-steel doorway. Even the digital room number was outlined in gold, an elaborate design encasing the glowing red readout.
His hand shook slightly in excitement and anticipation as he tapped on the door. A strong knock echoed along the bright corridor. There was a quick shuffling on the other side as the doorknob turned every so slightly…
And there she was. That beautiful goddess that filled his every waking thought; that danced about his troubled mind as a symbol of hope, a bringer of peace, his only connection to his past life. He loved her more than anything in the world. And now he’d found her.
Dream girl. Soul mate. Lover. Wife.
“Hello, who is…?” Jeanine’s eyes widened, a muted gasp escaping her trembling lips.
“It’s me, Jeanine,” Marq spoke softly as he looked lovingly into her glittering eyes, “I’ve finally found my way home. I’ve finally found you once again.”
Total shock was replaced by endless relief as a crimson smile formed on Jeanine’s lips.
“Oh, Eddie!” she sobbed happily as she embraced him lovingly, clutching tightly onto his strong, broad chest.
As she nestled her head deeply into his massive shoulder, she breathed a sigh of relief. She closed her eyes tightly as teary streams dripped haphazardly across her lovely face.
The man once called Marq clenched his teeth in pain as his knitting ribs pressed again her frame. He winced.
“I was so worried! I didn’t know if you were alive or…” She trailed off.
“Not even death…could stop me from seeing you again,” he smiled, “Ouch! Careful with the ribs, there.”
“Sorry,” she sniffled slightly, “I’m just so glad you’re back! I thought I’d never see you again.”
“Don’t worry,” he sighed happily as he returned her deep, passionate embrace, “I promise, I’ll never leave you again. Everything’s gonna be just fine, my love. Everything’s gonna be just fine…”
And finally, after the two longest nights of his life, the man now known as Edward Benedict had come home.
Continued next new moon!
Our hero has FINALLY come home! The journey is finally over! But will it be a reunion for the ages, or a rather bittersweet victory? Will his wife be able to give him the answers he has sought out for so long? Or will she only give him more questions?
And what of this Amanda girl? Quite ambitious, but does she have what it takes to become the top dog? Not to mention Takayashi! What’s he gonna do now that he’s been knocked down a few pegs and backed into a corner? And how does ANY of this relate to our amnesiac hero? As you know, there’s only one way to find out. So go. GO! Delve deeper into the mysterious saga of Moon Knight 2099! And who knows, maybe next ish will be SHORTER than this one. Hah! Shorter. That’s rich…
Hey folks, I’m back! (No! Not groans! Applause! APPLAUSE!)
Anyway, I’ve gotten a few responses back, so I’d thought I’d share them with you here.
This is the first fan-mail I ever got. It’s from Dominic L.:
Hey Jason, just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed the first two issues of your series,"Moon Knight 2099", I have been a fan of Moon Knight since he debuted, and I like the new takes you have brought to the character, the 'nano' ideal fits right in with 2099, I am looking forward to more, oh I do have to disagree with Brent, I didn't think that you went ,"over board", I wanted to read the second issue, and wasn't over whelmed with info, I like your style, this is just my opinion, so until the next issue, keep up the good work, and thanks
Thanks for the kind words, Nick! Glad you like the “nanotechnology” angle! Since the world of 2099 is more technologically-based than anything else, it makes sense for most of these heroes to employ a technological basis rather than a mystical or spiritual dimension to their origins and functions, especially since everything’s so radically advanced. So, much like Len Kaminsky did with GR, turning the supernatural into technological, I’m taking the mystical Moon Knight and giving him that techno-edge you need to survive in this hard-wired world of tomorrow!
I’m glad to see you’re enjoying this book despite the stray from the Egyptian god angle. Sit tight, Nick. Lots more good stuff coming up!
Brent posted a few reviews of all the new releases a little while ago on the Ghostworks Mailing List. As Nick referred to above, this is Brent’s perspective:
Moon Knight 2099 #1 by Jason MacDonald
THE GOOD: Man you can definitely tell Shirley's influence in this guy's work. The detail of this issue is high above most fanfic issues and it is a delight to see as lack of detail is often a syndrome amongst the titles I review. Jason definitely has the future feel down. He never once got technical or preachy with an explanation of how positrons work, but I still felt like I was reading a future tale.
THE BAD: Jason most definitely hooks you in for the next issue, but there is so much stuff left unanswered this would have probably served better as a zero issue rather than a first issue. I can understand leaving mystery abound and that's cool. But besides for the staff thing nothing else was given for the reader to really chew on.
OVERALL: Oh man I can tell this is going to be an awesome series. The style of this writer is really something I like and I will definitely look for future issues.
Wow. Yeah, Mike and I took a LONG time getting that first ish up to specs. Looks like it was worth the effort. Thanks a bunch, Brent!
Heh. Yeah, there were a LOT of loose ends in that first ish. Hopefully, #2, and now #3 have served to place a few knots in this wild tapestry I’ve gotten started here. Answered some questions everyone’s had and, certainly, made brand new ones!
Good t’have you aboard, Brent!
And thanks guys, so much for the words of encouragement. I was kinda hesistant at first with the angle which I took this futuristic version of Moon Knight, but I'm glad to see the positive responses to this new take.
As always, you can send any and all questions, complaints, concerns, compliments and the like to email@example.com.
An item! For all of you fine folks who like the twencen version of Moon Knight, it seems that the Ultimatized version will be appearing for the first time in Ultimate Spider-man #79. According to my many highly-trained, very, very reliable sources (Wizard Mag) Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley plan to bring him back with costume and alternate personalities intact. So if you want to see the resurrection of this cool dude, check it out. It ought to be interesting.
And so wraps up another issue of Moon Knight 2099UGR. Hope I'll be seeing you for issue #4, due out very, very soon.
Trust me, it's brutal.