Sometimes, it’s absolutely necessary.
There are desires and urges that, if left unchecked or uncontrolled, can lead to great tragedy. That can cause great suffering and regret.
A momentary burst of jealousy left uncontrolled could lead to theft; perhaps robbery. A momentary burst of fear left uncontrolled could lead to paranoia. To seeing ghosts and assassins where there are only shadows, and a swirling psychosis from which there may be no escape.
A momentary burst of desire left uncontrolled could lead to the perverse stalking, or brutal rape of another person. A momentary burst of anger left uncontrolled could lead to murder.
Without control, the id runs free to do as it pleases. The superego, part of the subconscious mind designated for self-control, ceases to exist. People run rampant, doing as they please with little regard to consequence or punishment. Society, even the most powerful and lasting of societies, crumble under the weight of lawlessness and chaos. Without self-control, there is anarchy of the body and of the mind.
There is a need to control oneself; this much is obvious.
But, what if one can’t control themselves?
And what if, whatever is controlling them, has far deadlier intentions in store than the one being controlled in the first place? Take Moon Knight for instance.
He has just been bitten by a vampire. Further, he has just been bitten by a vampire, who was too far under the blood fever to realize she transferred the vampiric virus into Marq’s genetic framework.
Normally, vampires can control when they pass this virus on, and who they pass it on to.
And normally, this virus transforms anyone subjected to it into a vampire.
Lachryma, for one brief moment, was out of control.
Out of control, far too thirsty, far too drained to realize her mistake.
But now that she’s back in control of herself, is there anyway she can control what happens next?
The chalk white woman controlled her breathing – in and out, in and out, in and out – determined not to think about the creamy, delicious scent of blood hanging heavy in the air. Wafting up into her nostrils from the soft currents of the breeze, emanating in spades from the semi-conscious man below her feet she was trying so hard not to stare at.
She’d supped the hero’s blood out of necessity. Not too much, of course. Certainly not enough to bleed him to death. Just enough to slake her thirst for the time being. She wouldn’t kill anyone unless she absolutely had to. She’d been lucky; the Sisterhood had taught her how not to murder while feeding. And although she didn’t run with them anymore, she couldn’t thank them enough for that lesson.
She wouldn’t kill a meal unless she absolutely had to. Unless it was in self-defense. Nevertheless, that overwhelming urge not to drain every single ounce of that luscious, juicy, tasty nectar from those smooth, pulsing, sweaty arteries…
Vampire bloodlust, Lachryma knew, was a dangerous beast indeed.
She shook her head harshly; leaving the crimsons daydreams behind as she scooped up the anemic man sprawled out on the alleyway floor below them and heaved him onto her shoulder. Grunting briefly, she strode over towards the grimy wall, digging her fingers deep into the decayed brick. She began ascending the side with her night’s snack in tow, a generous helping of his life’s blood filling the cells of her body with the vigor and ecstasy she’d needed so badly.
She felt a twinge of pity, listening to the bleeding knight’s labored breathing. She’d managed to patch the bite in his neck with some scraps torn from her leggings, and was intent on getting him to a safer location than the dark alley below them. But despite this, she knew how traumatic a vampire’s bite could be. After all, she’d been on the other side once, in her “warm life”. But she’d asked for the transformation; to save her life.
But the “hero” here…he’d just been in the wrong place at the right time, lucky for her. She’d badly needed to feed. And starving in her bloodlust, she couldn’t be too choosy about who the feast would be. Best case scenario, a stupid Watchdog officer would have been on the receiving end. Severance pay for constant police brutality down in the depths of the world. Worst case scenario…
Well, she was living it. All she could do now was make the best of it.
She scaled the building quickly, her supernatural strength carrying the both of them above a blur of dark windows, creaky fire escapes and shattered brick.
Jump the ledge.
Kick through the fine layer of trash covering the antique rooftop.
Run. Run. Run.
She sailed across the neglected ground and saw suddenly a thick entwining of thorns and weeds and ivy sailing out from what might have been a tidy rooftop garden some years ago. She raised an eyebrow at the weather-beaten bench overlooking the weed garden. Although the wood panels were slightly warped and the metal frame severely rusted, it looked downright inviting.
Lachryma brought her goldenrod eyes to the side, regarding the half-conscious man still draped across her shoulder. She tensed her body, shifting him off her shoulder and carrying him in a more dignified position with both her arms. She looked at the limp figure, biting her lip at the sight of his eyes rolled far back into his head. He was limply drawing air in and out of his lungs, the blood stains subtlety growing with each stretch of the windpipe. His arms dangled beneath him as his entire body slowly quivered from shock. She shook her head solemnly.
“I am so shockin’ sorry for this,” Lachryma ran her tongue along her canines, remembering the earlier bloodlust with no short order of guilt, “I just want you to know that. I’ll…I’ll wait with you here to keep you safe. I…can’t stay through dawn, but you ought to feel a bit better before then, anyway.”
His only response was a painful sigh from his chapped lips.
“Let’s get you comfortable.” She said, ready to lay his weak form onto the bench. She took a step towards it…
….and watched the metal supports suddenly buckle under the wet wood, a wiry creak echoing from the weathered furniture as the screws holding the boards to the frame split and disintegrated, and the wood clattered loudly to the littered ground. She closed her eyes slowly and breathed out.
“Just my luck,” She groaned, a hiss of disappointment escaping her nostrils. She sneered, wiping junk and other debris out of the way as she bent down next to the broken mass of metal and wood and laid him neatly onto the tarmac rooftop. “Looks like we’re camping out on the floor tonight.”
She leaned over to the bench and ripped out a piece of wood still hanging from the metal frame. She snapped the board in two with ease, placing one piece under the knight’s head as a makeshift pillow.
Shifting back a couple of feet, she stretched her nimble limbs in the darkness of the rooftop and hooked her hands around her raised knee, resting her head upon it and gazing gently at the hero before her.
“Y’know, I’ve never seen one of you up close before,” she began, fumbling with her leather boots absently, “Costumes, I mean. Heroes. Popping up all over the place like you own the joint. You’ve got the corporations going nuts up there. People are starting to rebel against the system all over the board, y’know. I think you’ve started something.”
She gave a defiant nod toward the warm neon glow in the distance above them. Uptown, flickering in the weightlessness of the black with a bustle of energy that seemed so far away. She shivered slightly, feeling the cool breeze sweep her toned midriff under her tattered black sports bra. She smiled at him warmly, canines proudly bared.
“Thanks for helping the little guy.”
Lachryma brought her eyes toward the soaked bandages at his neck and furrowed her brow with confusion. She sniffed at the air, and then sniffed it again to be sure.
“You’ve…stopped bleeding.” She could practically taste the blood she was smelling on the air currents surrounding them. And all of the scents she was picking up were dry, tasteless, crusty. Nothing warm, or sweet wafting over the breeze.
He’d simply stopped bleeding. But how could that be, so soon after?
She inched over to him, untying the black bandage from around the knight’s neck. Lachryma looked with wide yellow eyes at the crusty nectar surrounding the spot where the gaping wound had once been. But where there had been two holes swimming with crimson succulence, there were only two dots of dark red, clotted almost completely by thickened, hard blood.
Incredible. A few minutes, and the wounds were already in the process of sealing themselves.
“A healing factor? My, my. You are an interesting one, aren’t you?”
Suddenly, Marq’s eyes shot open.
“What the shock—?” she stammered quietly, backing away slowly, her teeth lengthening automatically in a defensive maneuver.
The vampiric vixen watched as, to her horror, the knight began to convulse and shake violently all over the dusty ground. Spittle let loose from his unmasked face and peppered the ground as his eyes and head darted and jerked about. Every appendage he had shook and rattled of its own will. Was he going into some kind of epileptic seizure?
Without warning, the glittering suit covering every part of his body save his head suddenly bulged and contorted along his writhing form, as if the silky cloth were alive. White spikes and bubbles poked and popped out of every pore. The shining suit rippled and pulsated, going into its own unique set of convulsions as Lachryma went into a defensive stance, claws slowly lengthening from her fingertips. Whatever was going on here, she doubted it was going to end well.
The hood sprang into place, covering the knight head-to-toe in the living silk. Lachryma edged away from the flailing man and the dangerous suit, tensing her muscles when the knight sprang up from the ground. He stood in front of Lachryma, slightly hunching, masked eyes watching her every move.
“Take it easy, pal,” She said to the menacing figure before her. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
No response, save for the soft clenching and unclenching of his fists; hesitantly, as if he’d never used them before this moment. Lachryma stood stock still for the next few moments, sizing him up, determining the best way to calm the man down.
“Relax.” She said, holding her hands out in a peaceful gesture, “Relax, okay?”
She took a hesitant step toward him, watching his reaction. Nothing.
“Okay. Just let me explain…” she began, taking another step toward the shimmering, still knight. “I was exhausted, and hungry. Listen, if I hadn’t been so drained by the fight I’d been in earlier, I wouldn’t have had to drain your blood. Please, listen. I didn’t mean for this to happen. I promise I...”
Moon Knight shot out his arm toward her direction. A flash of blue light, and suddenly she felt the stab of a metallic staff sail into her ribcage.
She bent down toward the ground in pain, clutching her stomach and cursing for letting her guard down. Gritting her teeth, she brought her yellow eyes to bear on the mobile knight. He’d drawn back his bo quickly, suddenly darting to the side. He vaulted off of the metal wreckage of the bench with one foot, and did a perfect hands-free cartwheel over the reeling vampire before landing directly behind her. She could almost feel his kick coming toward her from behind as she rolled out of the way and sprang to her feet.
She glided towards him quietly, intensely. She brought her clawed fingers down toward the still knight, only to slash at the stream of air left in his wake. His dodge was fast, and perfectly timed as he brought his fist into her side with vicious precision. The next half-second, his elbow had collided with her temple. The next half-second, his other hand jabbed at her throat and recoiled only to spear at her eyes.
She shrieked, breathless, off-balance, and tearing at her throbbing eyelids. Blind, she staggered backwards, listening to his movements. Her eyes closed and bleeding, she instead tried to block out all but the sounds of his footfalls and the sounds of his succulent heartbeat.
But her efforts came moments too late, as her legs were taken out from under her with one well-placed sweep kick. As she landed hard onto the ground, something metal collided hard into her temple.
There were no more sounds or smells for some time after that.
Cecilia Indeligato smacked her canines together, popping the thick wad of caramel re-flavoring chewing gum snuggled moistly between her cheeks. Leaning back in her cloth hoverchair, she tucked her arms neatly behind her head and sighed, closing her eyes and basking in the presence of her co-workers.
“Cecilia Indeligato – Chief Executive Surveillance Technician.” Cecilia mouthed, idly. She loved the way that sounded. And as she rested comfortably in the warm glow of a hundred security screens showcasing a hundred high-risk areas of the Stark-Fujikawa building, she smiled peacefully.
Slowly, her thoughts began to drift, and her peaceful glow began to ebb – she began focusing less on the promotion itself, and more towards how she got it.
Not one of her better memories.
She was a Watcher, a term they’d coined for Stark-Fujikawa’s top security personnel. They were the personal security force of CEO Hikaru Takeshi himself.
Cecilia used to work under Steven Rogerson; a Captain America wannabe who hid behind his rulebook whenever a situation didn’t go according to plan, always careful never to think for himself. Also working under him was Amanda Devereaux, who seemed to be much more reasonable than the by-the-book blunder. However, Amanda had also kept to herself a great deal, and seemed to side with Rogerson almost as many times as she’d sided with Cecilia, making her one very big question mark indeed.
That is, until the night that the…subject, escaped from the labs of Spectre Divison. Or, she should say, was released -- intentionally and illegally -- from the labs by a corporate spy.
And Steven Rogerson, the eternal boy scout, somehow turned out to be that spy.
The dense brick she’d thought was so harmless; the trained monkey she’d thought Stark-Fujikawa had taught to jump through its hoops had in fact recently become a spy for Alchemax Incorporated. Cecilia and Amanda had uncovered e-mails confirming his involvement with the rival corp. Rogerson was escorted away by armed security personnel one month ago, and never seen again since. Obviously, his ‘chief executive’ position was forfeit. Naturally, Amanda was next in line.
But, according to Cecilia’s superiors, her co-worker had been unable to come to terms with the fact that her direct superior was in fact, a spy and had been involved in a corporate sabotage attempt on such a vast level. Supposedly, her faith in the system was shattered. They’d told Cecilia that Amanda had suffered a nervous breakdown. Words like “paranoid schizophrenia” and “psychological re-structuring” were thrown around, until Amanda was eventually transferred to another department in a separate Stark-Fujikawa facility.
Quietly buried in the system.
Cecilia had been told to try and forget about those two, being reassured that those matters were being handled to everyone’s best interests and that telling others about the matter might constitute an “unacceptable security risk”. She was simply contractually-obligated to take the information to her grave. Of course, being the only senior member of that particular group of Watchers to not be a spy or suffer a breakdown -- the higher-ups offered her the vacant position of chief and a very, very hefty pay raise.
It was all very suspicious. Very, suspicious. But she weighed the pros and cons of asking too many questions versus job security and hefty paydays. The safety of her husband and two children versus finding out the truth.
The decision was easy.
“Hey boss, lookit this guy!” Curtis said, barely containing his robust, throaty laughter.
Cecilia popped her gum, surprised; her gaze drifting toward the screen her new co-workers Penny and Curtis were centered on.
She arced her eyebrows at the flickering screen, bemused, noting the mid-level employee doing his paperwork inside his sleek cubicle. Noting the pads scattered all over the desk and the out-of-date flat-screen monitor which he was so focused on. Noting the perfect positioning of the security camera over the bright, shining bald spot on his head.
“Someone needs some Chia-Hair cream.” Cecilia remarked, leading to a delightful snicker from her two colleagues.
Suddenly, a loud ring echoed through the room. Cecilia swished the gum around in her mouth, leaning forward too late as Penny answered the phone. Cecilia towered over the still-sitting redhead in anticipation, wondering which of her important superiors was on the other end of that phone, and what they might want this time.
“Uh…this call’s for you, hun.” Penny handed the phone off behind her, biting her lip. Penny was visibly nervous. This wasn’t good.
“Thanks,” Cecilia smiled back, masking her concern as she put the digital receiver to her ear, “Cecilia Indeligato speaking.”
“Hello, Ms. Indeligato,” Takayashi Martin, the head of Spectre Division. His voice was unmistakable, his tone reminiscent of the hungry growl of a lion just before ripping the jugular out of its next tasty meal.
“Hello, Mr. Martin.” She managed to choke out. “What can I do for you today?”
“Start by taking a bow, my dear.”
“Ever since your promotion, the Watchers have been doing a phenomenal job keeping up security in this place. Why, your office alone has circumvented more security invasions in the last month than your predecessor had in years. And many of those invasions came from inside the company, if I’m not mistaken?”
“Yes sir,” Cecilia breathed, easing herself back into a chair, “Unfortunately, Mr. Rogerson was, for the most part, oblivious to the possibility of traitors other than himself operating within our company. I, on the other hand, am a bit more cautious.”
“Indeed you are,” Takayashi hissed, “Well done, my darling, well done.”
“Ah, thank you sir…” Cecilia said uncomfortably.
“Which brings me to my next…request. I would be very much appreciative if you were a bit….how shall I say, less cautious in your surveillance tonight.”
“Say, four hours from now, Spectre Division labs? There may be some…sensitive, subject matter discussed, inappropriate for viewing save for those with the highest of security clearances.”
“Excuse me, sir, but our office already has a level ten…”
“Not quite high enough, dear.”
She gasped, “Only Hikaru himself is…”
“See, that’s the thing,” Takayashi sneered, “This is actually something he doesn’t need to see either.”
Cecilia suddenly realized what the devious Spectre Division head was asking her to do. “Sir, I’m afraid I cannot…”
“Allow me to deflate your little argument for you. I understand your concerns about security, and about Hikaru’s reaction if he’d found out what you’d done. Believe me, I share them.” He said in his most convincing and reassuring voice, “What I want you to understand, Mrs. Indeligato, is that your family will definitely not be harmed if you are just a little less than cautious tonight in your surveillance of the lab.”
“What the hell do you—?”
“Nor will they be harmed if, for the next four hours, you refrain from running up a phone bill and keep this lovely little conversation we’re having to yourself. After all, going home to your loving husband and two adorable little kids must be the highlight of your night, and I wouldn’t want you to do anything to inadvertently jeopardize that.”
“Ah, ah, ah. Your co-workers are still in the room, are they not?”
Cecilia’s bloodshot eyes darted to Penny and Curtis, who were shooting her confused and bewildered looks.
“No need to call attention to yourself, my dear. Just make sure the glitches in the laboratory monitors you’ll be having in four hours are fixed by morning, that’s all. Pleasure chatting with you, my dear.”
Cecilia heard the dull click of the line hanging up. She felt a shudder of helplessness rise from her quaking stomach and shock her into a numbed, fearful silence. Her eyes were blank with a mix of terror and hatred, and the only thing that kept the tears away was her unwavering focus on the myriad images on the screens.
Soft black eyelashes fluttered lightly in the night breeze. She batted them open slowly, coming out of her peaceful doze next to the neglected garden only to be assaulted by the white noise of Downtown at midnight and the thunderous throb of pain inside her skull. Face down on the tarmac roof, she pushed herself up into a kneel and took in her surroundings with dilated golden hazel eyes.
Still nighttime, thank God. She’d only been out half an hour at the most.
The knight’s scent was nearly gone, scattershot amongst the winds. But there were still residue pockets of saliva, sweat and the smell of well-oiled nanotechnology left swimming in the air, pointing her toward the armored one. A scattered trail of bread crumbs -- and a decent gust of wind in the night sky could dry the trail up cold.
She had to hurry.
He’d proven himself extremely dangerous already, taking out a shocking vampire so quickly. After all, whole groups of seasoned assassins and teams of cybernetic street surgeons couldn’t even make that claim. Who knows what this armored guy would do next?
She stood up, staring between the old husks and buildings that blocked the night sky. Clenching her fangs in defiance and balling her slender white fingers into fists, she began to shape-shift.
Jean jacket and torn leggings suddenly darkened, sprouting tufts of fur. Muscles condensed and switched places under her skin. Leg and arm joints elongated, bending at otherwise impossible angles. Her soft features squished and bent themselves, smooth skin giving way to animal leather. Her crystal-clear night vision blurred, the ivy-ridden garden suddenly disappearing into hollow blackness.
She was blind as a bat.
Sniffing at the air currents and gliding on the gentle breezes of the windswept sky, Lachryma flew off into the night, no longer needing her eyes to guide her.
Dodging mossy husks and long-unfinished walkways and platforms interweaving throughout the towering city, the Moon Knight soared across the nighttime skyline, guided by some mysterious purpose known not even to himself.
‘How did I do that?’ Marq thought, ‘How did I take out that woman so easily? One moment, I was lying on the ground, convulsing – almost as if I was having some horrid flashback – only it was a weird reaction to that bite she gave me….can’t believe she bit me. Who….why would someone do that?
‘It’s just…one minute I’m on the ground, the next I feel…reborn. Again. It was as if every muscle in my body knew exactly what to do. Every muscle, every fiber of my being working in concert; my senses stretching out around me like never before. It was as if I knew every move she’d make without seeing it. As if I knew everything. Heard everything. Felt EVERYTHING!
‘It was fantastic…’
Marq’s cape spread itself wide, twinkling beautifully as it caught the ambient neon flares from the Uptown lights – twinkling like a dark, rippling pond at night reflecting thousands and thousands of fiery stars. He banked left, swinging around a shadow-cast support structure with the greatest of ease.
‘…and I’m really starting to get the hang of this flying thing,’ he realized, attempting to bring his thoughts away from the incredible barrage of sounds, smells and sights he was experiencing, ‘I’m moving so much faster. Like my body knows what to do without me telling it.’
Out of the blue, Marq suddenly did a twirl, cape flapping wildly with the wind. He arced downward toward the space between two adjacent buildings and became a blur of motion, effortlessly darting in-between the minute spaces separating the brick towers. He swooped between window ledges. He dodged in and out between raggedy T-shirts and hanging underwear, missing the web of taut clothes lines by inches. He sped around potted plants and narrowly avoided concrete balcony landings that hung precariously from their weathered perches on the walls.
He emerged heroically from the other side, rocketing out with nary a scratch to show for it, landing gracefully and quietly on a tall, off-level rooftop overlooking the towers through which he’d just passed. Incredible; he’d navigated perfectly through the downright claustrophobic space. Perfect navigation at an all-told thirty miles an hour.
‘Whoa. Didn’t think I could do that…OW!’ Marq thought suddenly, feeling pain shoot through his injured shoulder. Even with the fast healing and the stitches, the bullet wound from earlier was still quite tender. And between his fight with the pale lady and that unbelievable aerial he just pulled, it had started to throb. Quite intensely, at that. He went to rub at it…
Only the arm wouldn’t move.
*RECHARGE CYCLE INITIATED*
Recharge Cycle initiated? Marq hadn’t begun a recharge cycle. He didn’t even know his suit needed one yet, not that his suit ever gave him fair warning when it did. It would simply stop working or shut off one of his powers when he went to use it.
No, something wasn’t right here.
Marq’s eyes blinked, darting to and fro in the neon lime his night vision provided, searching for possible enemies.
’What’s…going on here…?’ he thought, ‘Can’t quite seem to get a good feel for…’
Marq pumped his arms for speed, running with absolutely no restraint toward the ledge of the rooftop.
’What the shocking Hel is going on?’ he thought insistently, terror ebbing through his mind.
Marq tensed his legs, ready to leap across the fifteen foot gap.
’Wait…’ his mind reeled, ’Wait a sec…don’t. Do. Not. Leap. Stop. Stoooop! Do not shocking leap, do not shocking leap!’ he pleaded with himself.
He leaped, scaling the fifteen feet between the weathered brick monoliths with the grace of an Olympic swimmer mid-dive. His twinkling-black frame cut through the air with an uncharacteristic ease, landing on the roof across without a sound. Normally bright-white, Marq’s suit shimmered eerily in an altogether different color. Utilizing a new side of the electromagnetic spectrum, the nanotech reflected all-black, blending in perfectly with the shadows all around.
Marq’s mind, however, was distracted concerns other than his appearance at the moment.
’Jesus. I…can’t move my…I can’t control my own body…’ He thought, trying in vain to force himself to stand still for just a moment. ’What the hell is going on here…?’
Marq ran across the rooftop, clearing the silent expanse in record time, pausing only to form the metallic bo-staff from thin air. Nearing the edge, Marq leapt, masterfully pole-vaulting the enormous gap between this roof and the next. He somersaulted in mid-air, the bo staff disappearing into his right arm with a soundless ‘slurp’, his aerial catapult lost entirely in the blackness surrounding him. His legs landed on the fire escape railing with mechanical perfection, his knees poised in opposing directions, gaining maximum power as his legs -- thrust -- upward in perfect synch. Without hesitance or sound, his arms shot out in their timed dance, catapulting him over the tall brownstone with a grace that would make a ballerina blush.
’How? How is this happening? How am I doing this? Who’s doing this to me?”
Marq looked out through his own eyes – bewildered as they darted to and fro in directions he had no choice in deciding. His arms, legs, stomach and sinew moved in time with pre-programmed perfection. His body was moving and gliding on perfect autopilot – yet no matter how hard Marq tried, he couldn’t seem to shut the damned thing off.
Planting himself, Marq let out a breath, and scaled the roof once more, darting to and fro between the shadows. He seemed perfectly at home, moving with a speed and grace that bordered on the impossible.
’This is insane!’ Marq thought he was going to have a heart attack as he leapt directly off the brownstone yet again, ramrod straight, gliding downward in a terrifying swan dive.
The cape shot out from his back, nanotech assemblers lengthening the twirling cloth, catching the wind beneath him as his body glided across the night sky out of his control.
‘This has got to stop. Maybe I can…’
He forced his glide toward the streetlight to his left as his body did the exact opposite – gracefully careening toward the despised right side, up toward the sleek towers. Marq was headed somewhere between Downtown and Uptown, midway between the warring sections of New York City. Marq’s autopilot knew where it was going, even if Marq couldn’t begin to guess where that was.
’Guess I can’t…..waitaminute...I know what this reminds me of…!’
As Marq’s lazy glide turned into pre-programmed flight, Marq suddenly recognized this feeling of helplessness – this feeling that his body was calling the shots instead of his brain. In his short month of existence, the confused and terrified knight knew exactly what this reminded him of.
The fresh-from-the-factory designer’s program that came with the suit. The electronic manual that was supposed to instruct Marq in becoming the killing machine Stark/Fujikawa had always wanted him to become.
’Emmanuel, you son of a bitch.’
This insanity began and ended with Emmanuel.
As Marq watched through eyes long since out of his control at the dizzying heights his body was forcing him towards, Marq forced himself to do the only thing he could do at the moment.
He accessed the manual.
Instead of completely disappearing into a backdrop of sprawling green gridlines in which the despised holographic guide would appear, the neon green city around him faded into a blurry background, and in the foreground lie the smiling, sadistic black-haired man in a shining new business suit.
“Quite astute of you, my wonderful little laboratory specimen. Well done.”
The night had started off so simply. A lovely tour of Downtown with his closest friend, Gale Nocturne.
Then, it got complicated. Marq and Gale had a fight. On the silent and tense trip home, she was nearly killed in his arms. He managed to make an enemy out of the doctor that saved his life. While waiting for word on Gale’s condition, he managed to stop Watchdogs from murdering a defenseless woman, almost resorting to murder himself to solve the problem. The ‘defenseless’ girl then attacked him, finished off the Watchdogs Marq spared, and ran off. In his attempt to find that girl, another one attacked him. Bit him. And ever since, his own body and his nanotech suit have been completely out of his control.
And now, even the sadistic little program who served as his suit’s guidebook wasn’t living up to expectations. When the shock would this night END?
He felt like a rat, trapped in a cage. A very, very angry rat.
“What the shock have you done to me, you twisted lunatic?!”
“Nice to see you too.”
“What’s going on?”
“Careful. That vein in your head’s showing.” Emmanuel beamed maliciously, pointing casually toward Marq’s forehead. Marq went to touch the offending vein, but naturally his limbs wouldn’t let him. Emmanuel looked down at his suit smugly, straightening the coattails and neatening his tie. Amid the backdrop of Downtown passing by in the background, Emmanuel continued. “It seems that the bite you received earlier from the vampire has wreaked havoc with your DNA.”
Marq seethed, “What does that have to do with --?”
“The bite she gave you transmitted a genetic virus into your system, re-wiring your genome. A standard reproduction method for vampires, you see.”
“She’s re-wiring my genome?!”
“No, the virus re-wiring your genome. Try to keep up specimen.” The hologram yawned. “Now, as this virus moved these introns around, pushed those codons around, it disrupted many things along the way. One thing, in particular, was a dormant little test program we wrote into your system. We never actually got to activate the program at the lab before you were disposed of, and it’s been dormant in your genes ever since. Better late that never, I suppose.”
“Well, specimen…if we’re going to build an assassin, and go to all the trouble to add weapons and nanotech recharge modules and the like…”
*RECHARGE CYCLE COMPLETE. PRIMARY POWER AT MAXIMUM CAPACITY.*
“…we ought to make sure our hardware works, right?”
Fully recharged, Marq sped off into the night, seriously disturbed that save for his mouth shouting intermittent curses at the holographic agent, he was totally unable to move.
Moon Knight was careful not to disturb the semi-solid ‘Mold-2-U’ furniture in his wake as he landed on the side of the balcony. He tiptoed quickly toward the sliding glass doors and slowly formed a metallic black staff in his right hand. A light, skillful twirl with the weapon, and the jet black clad wonder brought the tip millimeters away from the pressure-sensitive locking system.
A pulse traveled through the bo, the nanotech collectors pumping cellular energy into the staff. The tip flared, surrounding itself in a huge sphere of lightly-crackling, fiery-blue energy. The lock, and the electric current traveling through the circuit toward the alarm trigger were both incinerated at the pass, and when the ball of blue fire ceased, the balcony was as silent as it ever was.
The knight gripped the undisturbed glass door and carefully slid it to the left. He crossed the threshold purposefully, stepping through a puff of wiry smoke ebbing from the new circular hollow in the door and its frame.
Breaking and entering.
It just kept getting better.
“Standard infiltration,” Emmanuel beamed with a perverse kind of joy, his holographic image suddenly coalescing again in the foreground as it gestured toward Marq. “One of the basic personality attributes we’ve coded for you. See how deftly you handled the lock?”
“Stop this, you sick son of a bitch.” Marq growled, “Now.”
“Sorry,” Emmanuel shook his head with pride, holding out his arms to the scenery behind him – notably the images of night-vision lit hallways passing by the uncontrolled knight. “But this isn’t some manual I can turn off on a whim. This is reality, specimen. You can’t escape what you are. And what you are is a corporate-produced killing machine, designed to carry out your assignments with absolute loyalty.”
“I’m not a murderer!”
“No, you’re an assassin.” Emmanuel bowed at him pretentiously. “Try to act like one and quiet down. You’re about to meet your targets, after all.”
Marq’s vision snapped away from the ghost and turned toward his surroundings. He involuntarily pressed himself up against the wall just to the left of the open door frame, allowing him a gaze inside the apartment’s master bedroom. He was angled so that the occupants were oblivious to his position but he was privy to theirs via a well-positioned mirror adorning the top of a dresser off to the side of the room. Outlined just off-center in the shining glass was a stunning young woman clothed in nothing but a loose violet nightie. Her voluptuous frame was hugging the wooden backboard of the king size bed, bare legs pushing against the bedspread and pushing her away from the doorway. She shook her shoulder-length blonde hair from her eyes and dialed the cellular vidphone she was gripping tight. Shaky fingers made uneven bleeps on the number pad; her terrified eyes gazing up every so often at the doorway behind which the knight stood, almost as if she was staring directly at him through the wall.
“Meet our lead starlet, Mrs. Deanna Mendez.” Emmanuel waved an open palm toward the distraught young woman. “She’s attempting to call the Watchdog police force, but it may take a while. She’s clearly pushing all the wrong buttons. And even if she did, our officers would not be happy once her ident-code clears. She and her husband, it seems, are behind on some insurance payments.”
“Insurance pay…what the shock are you talking about?”
A well-toned, well-tattooed young man in a speedo with biceps the size of small delivery trucks and a chest the size of Old Manhattan barreled out from his hiding place behind the door, swatting a heavy wooden bat at the knight. Marq’s body dropped down and before anyone knew what was going on, the attacker was disarmed and up two fractured wrists. The injured man howled in pain before the snap kick knocked the wind from his lungs and the following kick to his back slammed him into the wall across the hallway headfirst. The muscled man in the speedo slumped to the floor with a heavy thud, breathing quietly.
“Silly specimen. I’m the guide program here. I’m an image transmitted through your optic nerve as well as a sound bite transmitted into your cochlea. I’m designed merely to interact with you. No one can hear me, or see me, but you. Now you….you, they can hear. Lucky for you that genetic armor enhances your otherwise mundane reflexes.”
“Now, the man you have just soundly disabled is a Mr. Charleston Mendez. The husband of this naughty little family. Why are they so naughty, you ask?”
Marq walked toward the shrieking young woman like a zombie, unable to stop himself, his shimmering black cape flaring behind him to block the doorway – the bedroom’s only exit. Deanna tossed her vidphone at the knight in a flash of pure hate, tears coating her cheeks as the device passed through his immaterial form with ease. She scrambled off the bed and retreated towards the corner of the room.
“The reason is simple. The Mendez family is not fully covered in the Stark-Fujikawa Life Insurance package. One, of their number, is uninsured.”
High-heeled shoes, running shoes, and a rather large lava lamp passed through the advancing black specter, Deanna’s valiant pitches having no effect. Marq could do nothing to halt his march. So he tried another method.
“Deanna, run!” he screamed at her, earning himself a momentary look of confusion, “I can’t make it stop! RUN!”
“Please,” Emmanuel rolled is eyes at the yelling, “We have bottom lines to look out for. If one family is negligent, the rest may follow suit. There must be penalties to non-compliance.”
Deanna Mendez broke into a jagged run around the room as the knight approached her niche in the corner. Circling around the black bogeyman, she got within two feet of the room’s threshold before the living void of the nanotech cape spread out into a wall. She bounced off the cape, hitting the back of her head hard into the soft carpet and against the hardwood beneath.
“There must be consequences.”
Marq howled and hissed – he tried to make his leg muscles stop stepping toward her. He tried to stop focusing on her neck, tried to stop his tensing hands from touching her soft skin. With all of his willpower, he concentrated, feeling his entire body tremble and tense from the strain. He shook and trembled – fighting, raging against the machines. Shouting at it, keeping it from making him into a murderer.
His body had paused. Just for a second there, but still, it had paused. He was doing it! He was regaining control!
He had to fight harder…
The trembling continued as his fingers began caressing her throat without consent. Tried to stop as they pressed into her skin, her carotid…
No. No, he was failing.
Failing to stop a psychotic computer program from murdering a defenseless woman.
Failing to stop himself.
He inched his body closer.
He grit his teeth and struggled in vain, teary-eyed locked on her jugular. But to his surprise, the two outstretched fingers merely continued to feel along the woman’s carotid artery, checking for a pulse before the rest of him quickly stood up, and walked away.
Delayed reaction. Thank God.
“I did it…” the knight breathed out exhaustedly, “I DID IT, YOU BASTARD! I beat you. She’s still alive.”
“Of course she is. Her insurance has been paid up for some time, as is her husband’s. Therefore, we ensure that they stay living. Even if they become inconveniences to us.”
“I believe the question you’re searching for is who.” The hologram interjected as Marq’s body took to the halls once again, casting a glance toward the still-unconscious and still-breathing husband. He turned left out the bedroom door and crept through the corridor without making a sound. “And the answer would be Cordelia Mendez.
Marq crawled along toward the room on the right, methodically inching his way into the bright blue bedroom, despite his mental protests. Marq furrowed his brow at the bright yellow ducks lining sea blue wallpaper. He scanned along the neatly-folded designer blankets, tucked behind an auto-diaper changer station. Still in shock from the near-miss with the wife, his eyes centered on a small carousel hanging above the room’s ceiling fan. Gaping with sudden understanding as the unicorns danced in circles, Marq brought his gaze down, down, down…
…and saw the three-month-old baby nestled snug in the crib, fitfully tossing and turning in her sleep.
“Newest addition to the Mendez household. Slightly older than what my somewhat out-of-date files indicate. Nevertheless, the parents in the next room neglected to sign a life insurance policy for this child when it was born.”
Marq took a step towards the crib, his mind swimming in unimaginable horror.
“The neglectful parents will report the murder to Watchdog authorities later tonight. They will be informed; however, that since the child had no life insurance, Watchdog, Inc. will not be held in breach of contract for failing to protect their client. No police will investigate the crime. No suspects will be questioned. As far as Watchdog, Inc. is concerned, no murder took place. No life insurance means just that.”
“Their next child will not be neglected. They will not make this mistake twice. Our bottom line will be protected, and other families will learn from this…unfortunate incident as well. Justice will be served.”
“You will have to do some dirty business to see that it is, in fact, served. But you will be a hero, not only to these parents, but to many other Stark-Fujikawa-owned families whose life insurance plans are equally out-of-date. A hero, Edward. Remember that.”
The man in black could not stop himself. He took a final step as he reached the crib. A headache began pounding hard at the base of his skull, the result of his constant efforts to resist the program. Mucus and saliva trailed from his mouth. His eyes bulged, his face turned red.
He could not stop himself from reaching into the crib.
CONTINUED TWO LUNAR CYCLES HENCE!
Next Issue: Good Lord! What a horrific cliffhanger.
Edward Somerset, AKA Marq, is unable to free himself from the grip of a mind-controlling test program which is forcing him to assassinate his first target. Can he beat the pull of the system, despite only being able to control his face?
And will Lachryma catch up to the zombified knight before he does something unforgivable? One thing’s for sure: These two will take this battle straight into the test program that’s been controlling our tortured knight throughout this issue. And the penalty for Marq’s actions may be death!
Plus, more on Jenny, Vonvargas, and Gale’s condition amid this madness. And if you’re real good, you might get to see another familiar face pop up in “Deuce Ex Machina”. Two months. See you then!
Jason McDonald 06.14.06