Bright white light burning, ebbing, swaying over all things; exposing otherwise unseen truths, livening up the skyline and creating a haven; a safe zone, for humanity.
The light shining down from the heavens gives the world form. It’s warm, caressing rays cascade over the planet entire, making the harsh predator-prey landscape seem not so bad.
The predators can be spotted over the horizon. The secrets of the pack are laid bare for the prey to see. In a world obsessed with fairness and equality, the light levels the stacked playing field of the food chain.
Millennia pass and the light still serves the same purpose. Ladies and gentlemen of prestige come and go as they please, protected by broad daylight. The robbers and thieves hide away, their covert operations made public.
The truths of the world are open to all, not just to those who can see in the dark.
The darkness breeds deception. Secrets. Lies.
The darkness is full of places to hide. Shadows sweep over the just and consume them. Hope is lost. The dark dominion of nightfall breeds fear and uncertainty in all things.
For it is in the darkness that nothing is certain. That the world once composed of light and dark, black and white melts into an unending grey haze where anything is possible. Where wolves can hide safely in sheep’s clothing and there are plenty of niches for the evil of the world to hide…
It is in the future that Edward finds himself. A future where the light only saves the chosen ones. The rest are consigned to perpetual darkness. The rest are fated to pick each other off, in high-tech gang warfare and Red Market cannibalism that threatens to consume an entire culture of shadowed surplus population.
And it is in this future that the darkness which mankind has feared for millennia plagues him. It eats at his mind, holding hostage his past and his memories. It keeps his shackled, taunting him with painful flashbacks and a vast emptiness that Edward cannot fill.
A vast, dark emptiness. A canyon of despair that may never be filled.
Thor knows he’s tried.
He’s called himself the pseudonym Marq in an effort to cement an identity amidst his unending uncertainty. He’s queried about the bizarre landscape he’s found himself in, only to find those around him trapped in a palpable darkness that torments each of the Downtowners in a unique and devastating way.
He’s gone on a quest to find his past. He’s gone Uptown, towards the light, in a desperate attempt to sear out the unyielding shadow that binds his mind and find the precious answers he’s been looking for.
He’s been beaten.
Led on and betrayed.
Still, despite it all, he’s found the past that had evaded him for so long. He’s found the life he never should have forgotten. He’s found his family. He’s gotten his answers.
And when he wakes up, he’s going to discover it was all a lie.
Gale walked along the rows of creaky, dusty hospital beds.
She gazed along the sea of broken bodies, of shattered souls, of hazy eyes and drug-induced mumbling.
Her soles scuffed along the cracked tile floor, her tired eyes looking over the shoddy hospital beds. A dozen or so people had come in just this night. A dozen people after Marq had left for Uptown.
Gale had done her best to immerse herself in her work. She’d dragged shower curtains over to give dying Red Market victims privacy in their final moments. She’d set nutrient IVs into long-gone TR addicts. She’d mopped up the blood and saliva pouring out from Rapture addicts that were in final withdraws. She’d helped Reg perform surgery on a bystander they’d found amongst a Fenris-Thorist battlefield.
Through it all, her mind never drifted far away from Marq.
She had cared for him after he’d survived a hundred foot drop from a transport ship. He had saved her life from an organ-hungry gang of cybernetically-enhanced street surgeons just hours later.
She’d watched in horror as a memory flashback had made him hemorrhage blood from the nose and mouth; wept in anguish as they wheeled his convulsing form into the operating room, too hysterical to help as surgeons she’d known and trusted long before she’d ever met Marq cut and sutured and healed the dying man.
She’d watched him do things no normal human could do. She’d watched him come back from more things than any human had a right to come back from.
Despite watching this strange man do the impossible, she prayed that he would come back to this Docs in a Box a third time, safe and sound, no worse for the wear.
And as she looked out the window, gazing out along shadowed, haunting buildings and dimly-lit cratered streets below, she prayed to Thor that Marq was safe.
“You’re worried about him again, aren’t you?”
His voice rung out behind her. Doctor Reginald Vonvargas. A man she’d known for years. The man who’d saved her soul long after he’d saved her life. The man who’d become a mentor, a father to her. The man who could read her like a book. She forced a smile.
“Yeah,” she sighed, exhausted.
Reg lowered his eyes. She knew what he was going to say. She knew he was going to warn her yet again about this stranger. He was going to tense, and rub the bridge of his nose in muted concern for her well-being. He was going to say that no human being could survive what he had; that there was more to him than meets the eye and that it would be dangerous to hang around with a man like that. From behind his glasses, he would look directly into her sky-blue eyes and say that it was better for all of them if Marq never came back again.
“So am I,” he said as he leaned against the wall with his right hand, looking inquisitively into the heavens.
Gale looked at Reg; eyes wide, agape with utter shock. She looked into his eyes and didn’t have to force the smile.
She was looking down lovingly at him, smiling slightly with those gorgeous hazel eyes of hers.
Jeanine Marlo Benedict, Edward’s wife.
She was looking down at him, calmly studying the lines and textures that dotted his face. Behind her lay metallic walls and shadowed machines suspended from the high ceiling above. They were in a laboratory. A Stark-Fujikawa laboratory.
Oh no….that meant that the battle with the Watchdogs….with that horrible man and his sword…
That hadn’t been a dream. That had all been real.
He squirmed, trying desperately to move, but his arms and legs; even his chest and back wouldn’t budge. Something was pinning down his arms and legs. Something heavy. Something that wouldn’t give an inch.
But Jeanine was still smiling down at him, whispering gentle nothings into his ear.
Odd…he couldn’t hear anything she was saying at the moment.
However, he could take a guess at why she was here: to bail him out. She must’ve seen him strapped to this freezing examination table after she escaped from the guards. That’s what she’s probably saying. That’s what she came here to do…
Then he saw that strange glint in her eye.
She was still smiling, but there was an air of malice now. Of sadistic intent. She wanted to do something very bad to him right now. Something vicious….
This wasn’t his Jeanine…
As she glared hatefully at her poor prisoner, her eyes turned deep red; pupils shrinking to two small crescents. She eyed him with her evil cat’s eyes, spelling out the hatred within her soul. Edward’s heart began to pound as he wiggled and forced against whatever restraints were holding him down, but nothing was working. He couldn’t budge and she was changing, melting, contorting at a horrifically fast rate now.
The Jeanine that was not Jeanine smiled with diseased lips, heavy crease lines ripping against the leather of her skin. Laughing wildly, her cheeks sharpened to jagged, unnatural angles. Acid drool singed the floor and the tabletop near his left arm as it poured thick from her sharp chin. Her entire face was suddenly consumed by yellowing daggers. Criss-crossing lemon machetes.
She smiled, wider and wider. Edward’s heart thundered and trumpeted in tune with the pulsing violet veins etched all over her once-beauteous features. Her face bloated and stretched, saturated with some strange, poisonous liquid, as it filled the entire room. Her distorted features grew and blotted out the machines in the background with its sheer size. She opened her mouth, bleating and screaming in glee like a terrible hyena. Her crimson eyes were bowling balls, looking down upon him with an overwhelming, almost cosmic contempt.
Her cheeks stretched and cracked and snapped as she opened the machetes and bit down, engulfing his entire body in pain and liquid blackness…
And then his eyes shot open, blood screaming and yelping inside his beet-red face.
It had been a dream. Thank Thor, it had been all been a dream.
He was in a Stark-Fujikawa laboratory; a real one this time, with the same shiny-clean pristine metal walls and the strange equipment suspended not-quite-as-high above the ceiling. Unknown instruments and panels were all around him, connected to him, monitoring his every breath. His every movement.
That, and he was naked. Like in the dream, he was completely nude. Every hair on his body stood up, frigid cold from the air-conditioned air of the sterile room and the freezing metal-plastic of the laboratory table he was restrained upon. The restraints themselves were made of the same material; clamping his tactile liberties all for the benefit of science.
He was in hostile territory, that was for sure. Edward couldn’t even begin to guess what kinds of twisted things the two shadowed figures standing on either side of him had in store for him today as they fitfully tended to their instruments. He had no idea what kinds of drugs had been pumped into him to keep him groggy, to keep his vision blurred and off-center. But he was awake. And that simple fact gave him, at least, a little bit of hope.
That didn’t keep him from being terrified when he saw her again. She’d just appeared out of nowhere. But her calm countenance eased his tense memories of a dream that had become a horrid nightmare.
Shimmering brown bangs. Soft, hazelnut eyes. Full, luscious lips. It was his Jeanine, alright. No doubt about it.
And she was looking down at him once again, this time with a look of deep concern on her face. And confusion. With all the crazy things that had happened to them today, he wasn’t surprised. With his eyes, he gave her a look of total sympathy. He was still groggy and disoriented, no doubt drugged. He could barely move his tongue inside his mouth, let alone try to assure her that it would be okay, and to follow the instructions of the two shadow beings above him until he could escape and get to her.
Strange. Other than Jeanine, there was now only one shadowed figure in the room.
She looked on at him as he began to read something else that was betrayed by her blurry features. Something that just seemed…out of place. Some emotion within her that seemed…wrong, somehow. Something like….detachment…?
“J-j-jeanine…?” Edward slurred out through chemical hangover.
“Shockin’ hel. Those neural readings were off the scale. Must have been one of those flashbacks he was talking about. We’re just lucky he isn’t bleeding all over himself yet. Increase the sedative; I want him unconscious for this.”
“We can’t.” It was a familiar voice. Was that Arne? “Somerset’s cortex is already flooded with tranqs. If we sedate the son of a glitch any more, we’ll be neuroscanning his shocking slow-ass cortex all night!”
Neuro-scanning cortex? Somerset….?
“Fine,” Jeanine sneered, irritated as she pulled her face away to a panel on the side, “We’ll scan the shocking thing while he’s awake then. Pain in the shocking ass.”
“Quiet, Mr. Somerset,” she sighed, impatient, “I’m trying to concentrate here. You wouldn’t want me to accidentally slip and cauterize something terribly important in that irritating little cranium of yours, would you? Now keep quiet.”
His wife….Edward’s wife, she….what the HEL was going on here?
“You’ll have to forgive Jeanie, Mr. Somerset,” Arne smirked, leaning into Edward’s field of vision, letting the dim light from above cast sinister shadows along his features, “She gets annoyed when she pretends to be someone else’s wife.”
“You’re just lucky I can think on my feet, Arnhold.” Jeanine locked a vicious glare on Arne’s smiling face, “Lucky that Stark-Fuji was nice enough to inform me that this lunatic had escaped and attacked three Watchdogs. Lucky that the son of a glitch was too shocking stupid to scroll the entire data file he’d pulled up on me. Lucky that he was soooo utterly naïve and damned trusting of every little word I said to him. And if I hadn’t lured him away from our home to that dumpy little restaurant when the clean-up crew I called earlier arrived, we’d probably be homeless right now. Ever think of that?”
There was a horrible, tense silence as digital keyboards bleeped, frustrated keystrokes echoing up along the laboratory walls. Edward sat on the table, amidst the couple, dumbstruck.
“Jen…you mean Jeanine….isn’t…isn’t my…”
Her sharp, hazel eyes stared at him a moment, conveying to Edward all the emotions he never thought he’d see in her. She rolled her eyes in frustration and went back to work, green glare from her computer screen outlining hard lines along her smooth face.
“No, she’s not your long-lost wife, Mr. Somerset,” Arne spoke once again, coolly this time. Ominious, living black shadows flickered about his face as a sneer became visible, outlined by the tumbling jade from his own computer monitor, “She’s married to me. Imagine my shock when I came into my own home after a hard day’s work and had to watch my own laboratory project make nice-nice with my Jeanie over there.”
“Our project, Arne,” she growled through clenched teeth, “And I’m surprised you even noticed. You were enraptured half the time.”
Arne glared angrily at her. She’d struck a nerve. Edward looked up at the ceiling, trying very hard to work out the more major bits through chemical jet lag, “This…this is impossible….my memories…I saw her there in my…”
Jeanine’s stern gaze shot angrily towards Arne, then rolled over Edward and finally settled back on the screen; terse countenance outlined harshly in flickering jade.
“Yeah…you must mean those flashbacks you told Jeanie about. We’re still trying to figure out why you’ve got those.”
“Somerset…why do you keep calling me Somerset…?”
“S’yer name, Eddie-boy,” Arne leered down at him, enjoying every horrid second of Edward’s confusion.
“But…I thought my name was Edward Bened - -”
“Wrong,” Jeanine finally broke her angry silence. She whipped away from the monitor and turned toward Edward with her arms crossed harshly over her white lab coat. “Our last name is Benedict. Your last name is Somerset. And the only reason I made you think otherwise was because you’d already knew my name. And you didn’t know yours. I had to tell you your last name was Benedict; otherwise you might see right through my little string of lies. As if Arne and I would disgrace ourselves sharing anything with a degenerate wretch like yourself. Even a name.”
“Even a name…” Edward muttered, holding back the tears and gazing toward the ceiling, finally understanding the horrible truth to his existence, “Is there anything you mothershockers haven’t lied to me about yet?”
“Well…I really am on the Rapture rebound,” Arne said, waving a synth-rapture pad in front of Edward and smiling that impossibly evil smile of his, “Never lied about that…”
Jeanine’s full lips curled up into a smile, “Well, now that we’re on the subject, I did miss you. Working with your shoddy genome these past few weeks has been a joy.”
Edward shut his eyes, feeling the frosty air throughout the lengths of his body. Shame and embarrassment contorted his face into a pained grimace. He bit his lip, cursing himself for not seeing through their sick ruse from day one. He concentrated on breathing. In and out, over and over, trying very hard to take his mind off his failures. But all that kept showing through his aching mind were images of a life that were never his, and of a lover that had betrayed him.
He had to do something.
He called out to the nanotech swimming under his skin. He began shaking in anticipation as his pores began to dilate, his throat became sore and dry, his stomach began toppling and turning as it always did. But something was holding it back. Something was keeping the silky white protective suit from escaping and giving him the strength he needed right now. Something was keeping the nanites dormant.
“Trying to activate that suit we gave you?” Arne laughed, “Don’t bother. Drugs an’ sedatives we gave you earlier’ll keep that nano-tech asleep for the next five hours….at the very least.”
Edward stared at Arne for a second, his eyes wide with shock and hatred. He slammed his head back on the metal-plastic table in frustration. A tear ran the length of his cheek.
“Cheer up, Mr. Somerset,” Arne smiled, “You may be stuck here, alone, helpless…but we have some good news. We figured out what was causing that genetic weakness to sunlight. Y’see, you’ve got nanite energy collectors that sweep in light and convert it to raw power. Ordinarily, they have a limit on how much they can absorb at a time. Once the energy supply reaches a certain maximum, the collectors shut off and maintain what energy has been gained until it drops to a minimum, and the energy collection starts all over again. Course, the thing with sunlight is…because it’s so intense and radiates on so many levels; ultra-violet, visible light, what have you, turns out that the intensity of sunlight overloads the friggin’ things. Since we programmed the collectors to be so perfectly efficient, they just keep absorbing and absorbing the light from the sun, which is so intense that the pre-set limit is maxed out and in the red long before the nanites can even think about shutting off, so that by the time they do…”
“I’d die,” Edward finished in hopeless monotone.
“You’d explode is what you’d do…” Arne mocked, “You’re just lucky it was only dawn. If you’d been out in that suit in the full-on sunlight of mid-day…”
“Then we’d have to start all over again,” Jeanine muttered, cutting Arne off, “Now, as much as I love watching you torment the subjects and as much as I’d love to finish re-coding the collectors to handle sunlight more effectively, we have a brain-scan to finish. Or have you forgotten why we’re here in the middle of the night?”
“Ah yes,” Arne sighed, “the flashbacks….”
“Exactly,” Jeanine said, “Let’s start up the sequence.”
“Wait…” Edward mumbled, “…you mean you haven’t been scanning me this whole time?”
Jeanine held back a laugh while Arne smiled wide, “Nope. Trust me…you’ll know it when it begins…”
There was a whirring of machinery behind the bound knight. Electricity crackled through the dry air while the table began to rise on an incline, Edward’s upper body rising as the horizontal surface began shifting up, meeting with a device lowering from the ceiling. Clattering keystrokes forced the shining device to begin emitting a light blue strobe pulse from its tip. The strobe shined a thin beam toward his forehead; a targeting laser. Edward looked back and forth, searching for an escape as clamps rose from somewhere deep within the table and strapped themselves across his forehead. He couldn’t move at all now.
“It cost a lot of money to drain you of your memories, Mr. Somerset,” Jeanine spoke sternly above the whirring clatter of machinery, “It cost a lot of man hours to make sure you wouldn’t remember a THING about your old life. To make sure that there would be no resistance when we implanted our own home-grown, corporate-minded, fiercely loyal personality onto your neural network. To make sure that, in case of escape, you’d remember nothing of the procedure. To make sure you’d have no hideouts or familiar places to run while we picked you up again. We spent a lot of time developing procedures like this…to protect ourselves and our families from any silly acts of vengeance any escapees might harbor towards their captors. It’s time we figured out why it failed with you...and how we might rectify that mistake in the future…”
There was a final keystroke. And suddenly, Edward’s world was aflame with pulsing, white-hot agony and banshee wails. Fiery light came in from the sides, blinding him under clenched eyelids. His skin, his hair, his teeth….every nerve ending along his body was suddenly yelping and howling in pain and confusion. Electric cattle pods dented the insides of his skull. Bright sounds galloped along his eardrum, blotting out the screams that echoed along the laboratory walls and carried out hauntingly throughout the adjacent rooms and hallways surrounding the almost sound-proof laboratory.
For the next few hours, he wouldn’t be able to hear himself screaming.
Jeanine and Arne Benedict laid back peacefully on the plush leather couch adorning their flying limousine, which was currently taking them back to their apartment. She laid contently in his arms, exhausted but excited at the new prospects now open to them.
“You know, you didn’t have to turn the probe on such a high frequency. We probably could’ve gotten what we needed with a lower setting,” Arne sighed, “I can still hear his shockin’ screaming ringing in my ears, babe.”
“He had it coming,” she said with a steely gaze, “He singed the wall above our door with that damn staff of his.”
“Too true,” Arne exclaimed.
“I still can’t believe we couldn’t find out just what exactly was causing those flashbacks of his, though. With all the funding and the technology at our disposal, we ought to at least stumble across something that seemed out of place.”
“At least we managed to find the micro-sutures inside his cerebrum, right Jeanine?” Arne smiled down at his wife, “Crappy stitch job, but I’m guessing those flashbacks are much easier on him now. From the placements and size of the knitting, I’d have to guess he’d been stuck with some major cerebral hemorrhaging and blood spurting out from his mouth.”
“It was actually his nose mostly, but,” Jeanine paused, a slight smile forming on her lips, “yes….that’s exactly what he was suffering from.”
Arne was shocked. “How the shock’dja know that?”
Jeanine smiled, “Because he told me, stupid.”
The couple sat up, looking out through the tinted windows as the sky was lit up by a single thunderbolt.
“Whoa, what the shock was that?” Arne gasped.
“Lightning, I’d gather,” Jeanine stated, a visage of calm masking the surging adrenaline buzzing under her skin, “I suppose even the satellite weather control has its off days.”
“Figures,” Arne muttered, “I shockin’ hate thunderstorms.”
It was dark. That was the first thing Edward noticed.
There was no light here. No blinding, fiery white light screaming and screeching everywhere at once, no psychotic jackhammers and divine mjolnirs slapping heavily alongside his skull as there had been in the lab. There was just the darkness, and the silence.
Edward Somerset let out a horrible moan. He could still feel the numb, lingering aching from the neuro-scanner’s vicious probe session. Combined with the washy wave of nausea and numbness he still felt from the sedatives they pumped into him before that flashback/nightmare earlier, it was a wonder he had still kept his lunch down.
Edward could feel his eyeballs pulsing and twitching. Nerves, he figured. That neuro-scan pretty much danced along all of them. He was lucky he’d passed out after the first hour or so. Or was it the first decade, because that’s what it had felt like.
Breathing, in and out, Edward worked very hard on sitting up. But even that was making him dizzy. Edward blinked hard a few times, resting heavily on the thick padding below him. He could only guess he was in a padded holding cell. And still naked, of course. The mega-corps had absolutely no decency whatsoever.
Suddenly, there was pain flooding in from the periphery.
Whatever shock-induced, paralytic, neural hangover he’d been feeling up until now suddenly went screaming for the hills as his brain flooded with wild imagery. Another flashback.
He was looking down at his hands. He was signing something. He glanced at the digital readout above his moving fingers. “Wedding permit”? What on Earth…"
He wasn’t signing anymore. He was driving. His fingers curled confidently over the U-shaped steering wheel of some expensive hover-car. Some red/orange vehicle. The word “Whisper” suddenly entered his fractured mind for some reason. He could feel the tuxedo clinging to his arms and legs. Was someone in the passenger seat with him? Someone wearing a dress…?
He glanced at his side-view mirror. He saw an image of the beach. And suddenly, there he was, walking amongst the endless waves of beach-goers with their bizarre outfits and waterproof VR headgear. He could feel his wedding ring pressing up against someone’s hand. A woman. A woman with a blurred face wearing a purple one-piece swimsuit. The word “honeymoon” sailed through his mind’s eye.
He was looking at that very same woman, only now she was wearing a gorgeous, elaborately-decorated wedding dress now. She was smiling. He could tell she was smiling, but all he saw in her face was an inky blackness. Jeanine? Was this Jeanine? It couldn’t be….could it? She was Arne’s wife, not his. Not his….nothing was making sense….
“I do...I do…I now pronounce you….”
A low buzzing. Blurs of sound were suddenly everywhere. The once perfectly mute flashbacks now came with their own soundtracks. How strange. Before today, every flashback had been mute. He had heard nothing….or maybe….maybe he just hadn’t been ready to hear the truth.
Suddenly he was in a laboratory. THE laboratory. Needles feeding some unknown poisons into his arms, those same heavy clasps weighing down his arms and legs. A woman was smiling down at him. She was smiling, but he could feel the malice now. The selfish intent. He was a rat in a cage to her. A test tube specimen to advance her career. He could feel it. He could feel it all, even before he realized it was Jeanine’s face.
Something clicked. Edward realized that with every flashback he’d had since he’d survived the crash of the transport, the only time he’d EVER seen the face of his “wife” was right before he’d realized he was in the lab; always naked and alone and at the mercies of the corps. He’d just never made the connection before.
Edward finally realized what the visions were trying to tell him. Jeanine had NEVER been his wife. She’d just been the one that created him. The one that was responsible for his suffering and torment in this psychotic, upside-down world. His real beloved was out there, of course. Somewhere.
She just wasn’t Jeanine.
Wait…she was saying something now. The sounds kept fluctuating, coming in and out of pitch and focus with a will of their own. A choppy whisper, like the skipping of an antique audio tape recorder. He listened, watching her calm smile and feeling a boiling, seething rage for the woman he’d once thought was his soulmate.
“This…..ight hurt just a little…bit….omerset,” she muttered and skipped, picking up a long, thin needle filled with some kind of moving gray matter, “….nanites….be bonding to your DNA...superstructure….on’t worry….worry about that. Once the…once the targeted memory erasures….effect…won’t remember anything….we don’t want you to….doesn’t that….at sound lovely?
He felt her push the plunger into a vein in his left forearm. He yelled, louder than he thought he ever could, remembering the hundreds of flavors of pain he had felt during the initial procedure. All the agony he felt as billions of tiny nano-machines burrowed into his genetic code and started re-writing with a purpose all their own. His teeth chattered violently. He almost mistook the fiery flashback for lucid reality. He glared at the woman from his metal cage, rocking with leagues of pain and foaming wildly at the mouth.
“….finally we’ll replace….obsolete Specialist model-l-l…..n’put an….an Expert...in the field…”
Slowly…steadily…the electric steel gray horror-show bled away into a hollow black room.
Edward could feel himself tense with muscles that were no longer under his control. The suit swept up around him as dim light flooded in through the sides. He could feel wires leading out from unseen connections in his back.
This was another bizarre memory; a flashback. It had to be. He was still laying in a darkened prison cell naked as the day he was born. He knew that. He could have sworn to Thor himself that was the case. And yet, every sense and every fiber of his being were telling him different. Valhalla help him…
He heard the humming of the unseen wires connected along his back. Connected to the silvery, silky suit that encased his being. He could just make out a couple figures to his far right, standing a good twenty yards away. They were holding audio datapads and electronic neon clipboards for quick note-taking.
His eyes moving under unknown orders, he once again looked at the source of the dim light flooding the room. It seemed to be coming from the far side of the expanse, it’s dim rays casting indigo hues over everything in the immediate vicinity, letting everything in the periphery fade to black. It was surreal, almost. Peaceful. It was then, that Edward heard the dim mumbles of voices. Whispers. Echoes. They started getting louder.
“…a test….of nanotechnological recon…stitution of light energy into…viable power supply. He seems to be converting…the energy with peak efficiency. Excellent. His power conversion levels… exceeding our maximum expectations. His ultra-violet radiation conversion levels are a bit high, though, but we…well within tolerable range. At least now we know he can recharge…power levels when necessary by converting reflected sunlight into…nanites’ power conversion matrices.”
“…works in moonlight, Arne.” A female voice. Her voice. “No need to….overly technical. Howev…n…need to see if those ultra-violet spikes in the conversion levels are a concern or not. Everyone…safety goggles on. I want a simulation…direct sunlight. Negative heat levels, just give…controlled ten-second burst of…ultra-violet light spectrum. Minimal visible, inf…-red, gamma emissions. Light levels of that spectrum should beg….gin equivalent to those levels present at dawn, gradually increasing over…ten-second window to levels equivalent to mid-day sunlight….”
Edward felt a warm, tingling from all over his entire body. He felt good. Better than good, in fact. He felt completely energized. He felt like he could take on an entire fleet of Watchdogs. If only he could move…
Wait…the dim light source in the distance was flickering now. His eyes started feeling very warm.
“…wait fo… m-my signal...now!”
There was a fiery twinkle in the still-dim light. The room started getting very hot. Edward’s eyes bulged, inexplicably dry and bloodshot. His throat was a raw inferno. He could feel the sloshy liquid suit bulging and burping inside his pores, bubbling to the surface. A liquid lava pit beneath his cracking, blistering skin.
Sunlight. The horrible, horrible sunlight felt like this.
“…ammit, no! Off….shut off the…!”
“…an’t…pr—gram’s still….can’t override…!”
“Shockin’ sunuva….get him out of…!”
“...he’s going to…!”
Edward’s body convulsed; screaming, shaking, heaving, begging for release. But all he could do was ride it out, despite the sledgehammers pounding against his eyeballs. He arced his back, popping out several wires attached to his suit. The silvery white began to give way to smoking charcoal, the boiling bubbles severing several more cables along his shoulder blades and spine. A tongue of acid spat out smoke, his lips cracked, his insides heaved out. Vomit and blood soaked the floor his head was shaking on. His vision began to fade, consumed by an unseen fire. The shadows of the room turned to bright white light as he heard the final sounds.
“P-p-posssssible impossible……can’t be just can’t be….a failure….”
Edward’s eyes shot open, the bright white replaced by endless darkness. A thick, unending darkness. He could feel the wet spots beneath his nose and the hammering behind his temples. His face was soaked with sweat. There was a sour, bitter taste in his mouth. Blood. Probably from clenching his teeth so damned hard.
He breathed out, trying to calm himself down. It had been a flashback. A memory coming to the surface. A good thing.
Shock it. He couldn’t even lie to himself.
He was dizzy, something made far worse by the darkness. He couldn’t even get his bearings. His concepts of up and down were skewed beyond repair. If he even tried to stand, he knew he’d start throwing up all over himself.
Edward decided to give the night-vision a shot. He squinted his twitching eyeballs as hard as he could, peering intently into the darkness, hoping that everything would bleed to that lovely shade of jade he’d remembered in that cargo hold so long ago…
But there was nothing. He could tell the suit was still laying dormant inside him, tranquilized. Heavily tranquilized.
Just like him. Just like…
He couldn’t hold on. He couldn’t hear himself breathing now. He couldn’t feel his heartbeat. Couldn’t feel himself…think…
The darkness of the padded cell gave way to an entirely different type of darkness, as Edward slipped again into unconsciousness, his cheek soaking in a tiny puddle of blood…
Long blonde hair flowed past her shoulders, shimmering brightly in the room’s fluorescence as she tapped at the keyboard amongst the array of monitors, logging in for the first time with a passcode that was not her own.
Amanda Deveraux glanced bemusedly at Steve and Cecilia, who were busy discussing issues of corporate loyalty and personal hypocrisy.
“I just don’t see why I should have to deal with your flack when I try to go to the bathroom, and now here you are doing the exact same damn thing! You’re such a hypocrite, Steven!”
“I schedule my washroom breaks, Ms. Indeligato,” Steve impatiently spoke to the fuming Cecilia, “I draw up timetables and e-mail them to the higher-ups for approval. That goes for everything I do. Whenever I need to eat something, to drink something, to take a break for my psychological well-being. I take care to inform our superiors about every single lapse in concentration I take from my duties and deduct those from my salary. It’s the patriotic thing to do. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” Steven stepped outside into the hall, “I’ve already wasted five minutes of this corporation’s time. I must take care not to waste any more.”
Amanda and Cecilia watched as the door slowly fell shut, freeing Amanda from the threat of Steven for another ten minutes. Not that he was much of a threat to her plans. Even the most transparent lie was quite enough to string him along. He was dense like that. She turned her attention back to the corporation documents she was sloppily hacking into and away from the clueless brick in the chair across the room.
“Jeez….can you believe that guy?” Cecilia vented, sighing in frustration.
“Yeah, yeah, he’s a real pain in the ass, alright,” Amanda droned, her perfect monotone answer clearly showing she wasn’t paying any attention to her co-worker.
“He sure is,” Cecilia stated, the room growing wide with a strange, uneasy silence save for the furious tapping of Amanda’s workstation keyboard. Cecilia resumed her position at the monitors, looking closely at the row of blinking satellite images as she tried very hard to ignore the tapping keys.
“Sooo…..” Cecilia began, nervous, “…what are you working on over there?”
Amanda gritted her teeth in frustration. She did not need this right now. “Just an…hourly report for the boss-man.”
“Mm-hmm…” Cecilia muttered as Amanda let out a small sigh of relief, “Bullshit. What are you really working on?”
Steve had mail. Ignoring the question, Amanda waded through Steve’s mailbox and pulled up the newly-loaded e-mail onto the screen. Apparently it was a message from Takayashi Martin himself. She continued scrolling down. Apparently, they were to pay extra special attention to a newly-captured prisoner. She read his name and almost had her eyes bulge out of her skull.
“Holy shockin’ crap. Cecilia! Pull up Cameras #103 to #109, Sector #27 Alpha! Now!”
“Sector twenty….shock me, that’s Spectre Division’s laboratory securi-cams!” Cecilia gasped in shock as she tapped furiously at her workstation panel, pulling up an array of images just as Amanda pulled up the same camera footage from her side of the darkened room.
Two rows of seven images, all showing the same thing. A person crawled up in the fetal position from seven different angles. He was in one of the laboratory’s padded holding cells; re-enforced, five-foot-thick plasti-steel lining four walls. From the vantage points, the securi-cams seemed to be situated all over the room, recording everything inside on a standard night-vision setting, as opposed to the oft-used visible light option.
Nevertheless, Amanda and Cecilia both recognized the solitary prisoner lying there, shaking and unconscious from fatigue.
“Shock me…” Cecilia gasped, “…the escapee. They caught him…they actually caught him….”
“That they did,” Amanda gazed at the display in amazement, a self-serving grin forming along the sides of her face, “That they did….”
There was a twinkle in her eye. She knew what she had to do.
When Edward woke up from his restless sleep, his heart was pounding. The veins in his head were threatening to expand and blow out most of his skull. And behind the stampede of echoing pain in his ears, he could hear a faint hissing sound coming from the padded chambers walls.
“GGGGGaaaaaaHHHHHRRRRRRGGGHHHH!!!!!” Edward screamed, the desperate yell echoing back at him from all sides.
Everything hurt. Everything was pounding. Nothing was right.
He forced himself to a kneel, his thumping skull nearly driving him to complete vertigo. Beads of sweat dripped freely off his head as he forced himself to not vomit…
As he failed forcing himself not to vomit. He took a deep breath of air and felt the same, queasy bit of artificial energy enter his lungs. The same bit of manufactured electric that woke him up sweaty and dehydrated just seconds ago. He threw up one more time.
His whole body was shaking. He couldn’t tell whether it was from his stomach up-turning with every breath or just from the primal anger seething somewhere behind his eyes.
Was it some kind of stimulant they were pumping into the air? He could feel the airborne toxin work itself deep into his body. Whatever it was, it was strong enough to wake a horse up proper from a coma. But why would they do that? Why would anyone do that? They were trying to keep him prisoner, weren’t they? They had to keep him sedated. Otherwise he might….
Or maybe they were toying with him. Playing hopscotch with his emotions, giving him false hopes only to snatch them away and laugh at his misfortune? Were they doing this again? Yet again??
He decided he was too angry to care.
Stark/Fujikawa. They had made him into whatever he was now. Their technicians had drugged him, experimented on him, tortured him, and tossed him out with the garbage…
Just like they did to everyone Downtown.
Hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe millions of people. The huddled many, cloaked in shadow and clinging to brick walls for warmth and comfort. Crying themselves to sleep every night, denied even the most base comforts, driven neurotic with worry over whatever corporate-sponsored street surgeon or cybernetically-enhanced bounty hunter with a craving for blood would come for them that day. The so-called “Great Unwashed” of New York City, wondering which feuding gang member might take their life or the lives of their loved ones that day or the next.
When there were policemen ready and able to combat and take down all of the blood-lusting Fenris or Freakers, but who wouldn’t lift a finger until the Downtowners paid up their subscription plans. Downtowners with nothing but rags to wear and trash to scrounge through for food while their Uptown brothers and sisters basked in unstable molecular fabric, guaranteed to never rip or tear with age, and synthesized foods, custom-made to satiate the individual taste-buds of whoever placed the order.
The Megacorporations of America were bleeding the underclass dry. They kept the cursed ones in the darkness, keeping from them all hope of a better future and dousing all promises of freedom. They murdered vicariously and watched with unbridled glee. They routinely stole away the futures of so many souls who were trapped Downtown without concern or consequence. Just like they’d stolen away his own past. His sacred memories…
He felt his stomach clench and his mouth go dry, and he started thinking very angry thoughts at the ones in charge of it all.
As he did, he made a singular promise to the frightened souls of Downtown. He vowed to be their knight in shining armor. He vowed to become the moonlit savior of the masses. He swore to be the only savior the Downtowners could count on, short of fallen heroes and the silent gods of an age long dead.
He’d make the corporations pay for the routine trafficking of human lives and their voyeuristic pleasure in goading the masses to consume themselves. And for everything else they’d ever done, to him and to everyone else on the face of this sick, twisted planet.
Behind emerald eyes, he swore to a long dead thunder god that he’d tear it all to the ground.
The blood in Cecilia’s veins ran cold as she watched the prisoner shoot up from unconsciousness, vomiting some dark liquid, cursing his creators and disappearing through the thick, padded plastisteel floor.
She gaped in horror. Those walls were insulated to deal with the most powerful creations the Spectre Division labs at Stark/Fujikawa had to offer. Five-foot thick walls, insulated with heavy synth-gel padding that could cushion an elephant with ease. Soundproof, with a constant influx of tranquilizer-laced oxygen through the air vents. They were state-of-the-art; designed to make sure that once something went in, it wouldn’t come out. The prisoner should be in a coma now.
Instead, he was somehow phasing through the floor, seeming to have the wrath of God pent up deep inside him somewhere by the fact of his mere body language alone. That, and his eyes were glowing. What color, she couldn’t begin to guess, but they were glowing with some kind of violent, electric energy.
What the shock was Spectre Division doing down there?
She watched in abject fear as the cell was suddenly empty. She didn’t hear the perimeter alarms going off. She didn’t hear Steven Rogerson coming through the doorway, demanding to know what was going on. Didn’t see the flashing crimson neon of the alarms or hear the tapping of Amanda Deveraux’s keyboard as she backtracked quickly out of a system that wasn’t hers.
All she knew was that she was praying to whoever would listen at the moment that the creature not come after her, and take her away from her husband and family.
Good Thor, it felt good to have the air breezing past his face again.
He was running; like a lineman to the end-zone, Edward was a blur through the flashing scarlet hallways, hoping the defense would never catch up with him.
He rounded another corner, searching angrily for the office of this horrific company’s president. He had some things to discuss with whoever was in charge of the rotting hellhole that’d stolen his entire life.
It never really registered to him how empty and quiet the hallways were. He didn’t really understand that it was almost four in the morning, that a mere skeleton crew was manning the building. He didn’t even think that the corporate CEO might be sleeping the night away at home now, ready to awake at the crack of dawn like the disciplined warrior he thought himself to be.
All Edward knew was that right now, he had been manipulated, treated like a piece of meat, thrown in a cell and sedated like a shocking animal. All Edward knew right now was white-hot fury screaming through his bloodstream like some sacred primordial fireball.
Stark-Fujikawa had to be stopped. And anyone who worked for an institution such as this had to pay. Not just pay, but burn. They’d have to burn for making so many people suffer.
Fueled by the pounding rage behind his ears, Edward screamed down another hallway, the slick-gray automated doors passing him by in a blur, alarm panels of blinking scarlet light lighting his angry journey.
In the electric green haze of hatred, he almost missed the neon red horizon line of an industrial laser, searing hot and eager to decapitate.
He slid on the thick plastic floor, slapping the ground hard, his staff at the ready. It had been some kind of bulbous, sphere-shaped plastic battle droid, visors and cameras clicking and adjusting with haste. Another laser shot out of nanite-projections coming out its sides. The tunneling fireball singed Edward’s right shoulder.
He cried out, gritting his teeth and firing at the securi-droid, who swiftly dodged the blue beam and began a volley of scattershot laser blasts. Edward dodged the volleys as best he could, rolling and tumbling out of the way. Smoke rose from the scattered points of impact on his armor as the droid hummed, charging up for another burst.
Edward ran for the robot, ducking and rolling at the last second as the heat of scattered lasers seared the wall behind him. The gray globe spent precious seconds scanning the area for its prey as Edward slammed the end of his stick into the robot and fired.
The bottom half of the securi-droid popped and sizzled with heat as the top melted into ash. The dying robot tried to fire another volley, it’s do-or-die program never giving an inch, despite melted targeting laser arrays and fried targeting scanners.
The battle droid exploded from the laser backwash.
Edward fell to the floor, letting out a sigh of relief before hearing the sounds of nearby whisper engines and a familiar hostile humming. And then the air crackled with laser fire.
Edward was surrounded by three more securi-droids, visors flashing with red fire. Edward put his back to the wall, making a stand and firing furiously at the moving spheres with his nano-tech bo staff.
One of the gleaming metal demons was hit, its singed corpse slapping the side wall, ripping its hard shell off and slapping the plastic hallway in a heap of twisted metal and steaming circuitry. One of the remaining robots kept weaving around the other one, laying down a wild pattern of laser fire as it’s brother robot hummed. Not a good sign.
Edward aimed at the humming globe when a laser shot hit him right in the eyes. He reeled, clutching his face as the scattered laser fire continued to disorient, searing away at his armor. If his eyes hadn’t been protected by the durable silk…
He caught his breath, blocking the laser fire and bringing himself up for another round as something slapped onto his frame like a web, electrocuting him. Thunderbolts and lightning rods lit up the saliva on his tongue, burning eyes went bloodshot as the laser net used up its charge, finally powering down to mere cables. They’d ensnared him in a netting of some kind. A net with one hell of an electric shock.
Edward coughed, muscles still aching and twitching from the electric assault, when he looked up and noticed that two more fresh battle droids had joined their undamaged cousins, all four humming with the promise of pain.
The air sizzled with four laser bolts designed and coordinated specifically to knock him out cold. Edward fell backwards through the wall he’d been pressed up against, finally having the precious moments he needed to concentrate. Stumbling blindly backwards, he fell into another hallway, very much similar to the one he’d been in.
He tripped over something fairly large, noticing the same flashing lights lighting up the hall and hearing a shout of surprise behind him. Edward stood up…
…and stared down the glowing laser-chamber of a Stark-Fujikawa street-pacifier, Mark Nine.
“Freeze, lice-bag,” the Watchdog growled, “You’re under arrest.”
There were two Watchdogs in front of him. One was picking himself up after Edward had landed on top of him. The other was burrowing the charged laser-pistol deeper into his skull.
“At this range, it’s a fatal shot,” the Watchdog said, countenance as stolid as ever, “Hands go up, NOW.”
Edward shakily complied, aching heart thumping wildly as his hands slowly climbed up.
Thigh-level. Waistline. Climbing towards stomach height….
And then the hand with the bo staff in it started to vibrate loudly in the silent hallway.
“What the shock do you think--?” the armored soldier choked out in surprise, the laser pistol finding a new target in Edward’s arm as the staff screamed electric blue, slamming into the wall behind the Watchdog’s partner. As Edward howled in pain, the wall behind crumbled.
“Jammed pain in the shockin’…”
The broken wall began to collapse on top of the second Watchdog. The corporate soldier screamed in surprise as a piece of dense plasti-steel fell on top of him, knocking him out cold.
“Stupid sunuva…!” the first Watchdog muttered, glancing back at his fallen comrade.
That was all Edward needed. He shoved his silk-covered boot into the Watchdog’s chest as hard as he could, knocking the corporate minuteman back towards the collapsing wall. Out of breath, he fell atop the semi-lightweight debris. The final pieces of the wall collapsed, burying him from the waist-up. Beyond the settling bits of snapped plastic and steamy discharge stood a gaping hole, sharp cracks jutting out from the hollow center. He’d blasted clear into the next room.
“Shockin’ hell. I did it,” Edward sighed in relief.
Another jolt of pain rocketed up to his brain, “SHOCK!”
It was his forearm, singed from the Watchdog’s pacifier. The laser had burned a few layers of skin and blood away, cauterizing as it went. Edward had been lucky. It was just a painful scrape. Had the Watchdog actually aimed, his entire arm might be paralyzed right now. Or severed. Shock, he didn’t know how hot those pacifier lasers could get.
Still, he’d been fortunate thus far. He’d counted on some resistance when he escaped, but certainly not to this intensity. He’d have to regroup, maybe even scrap the vengeance quest entirely. He was sure that if Stark-Fujikawa were to capture him once again, they’d make sure he’d never be seeing the light of day again. At least, see the light of day with his current load of memories and personality intact. They’d probably slap some kinda ready-made loyal persona into his head and coax him into following whatever orders they felt like giving. He wouldn’t even try to resist then.
The thought of losing the very will to fight back sent a horrible shiver down the trunk of his spine.
No. They had to pay. They had to be held accountable for their crimes. And the policemen who could bring them to justice were on their payroll. No, he’d have to be the instrument of vengeance. For the sake of the Downtowners. For the sake of Gale. Hell, for the sake of himself….the corps had to pay. Starting with Stark.
Edward picked up the bo staff. His muscles shuddered under the laser burn as he heard a humming sound.
The hole. It led back into the room where….aaah shock.
Five spheres were coming into view from the dark pit of the whole, leagues of humming sounds behind the hostile quintet. He could see the glowing lasers already primed and targeting to strike. Clicking of audiovisual targeting sensors and the crackle of industrial lasers filled the air. Edward clutched the bo staff, faking left…
…and jumped clean through the wall on his right, hitting the ground running. They couldn’t go through walls. They’d have to circle around to get him….he hoped.
Edward took a few seconds to shake off the jarring effects of the sudden shift in light from the hallway. Stumbling slightly, he ran into the center, where the “L”-shaped lounge opened up. He paused for a moment, noting the synth-gel comfort padding of each sleek waiting room chair and thinking of the dirty, shattered pavement the homeless of Downtown had instead. Then he heard, felt and saw the door to the room explode and shatter in a billion pieces toward its center; humming and clicking joined with the revving of Watchdog hovercycles.
Edward thundered forward, not waiting to play catch-up as he leapt through another wall, this time taking him into a dark office cache. Dozens, if not hundreds, of strange connecting cubicle-booths, each adorned with overhanging VR equipment. They were conference booths, where the many businessman of the corporation would trade and track stocks through the corporate ethernet on a daily basis. By the time the wall he’d entered through shattered from laser-fire, he was smack-dab in the middle of the gigantic room, although he knew the cubicles would be no match for robots who could sail right over them.
Between a rock and a hard place, Edward chose up. He jumped as high as he possibly could, shoving his bo staff into the ceiling above him and making the staff tangible. Suspended above the room, he looked back as the robots sent white-hot laser-fire toward him from across the room. With his newfound leverage and adrenaline screeching and yelping along his senses, he pulled himself up through to the next floor. Crouching and taking only the briefest of moments to concentrate, he forced the suit’s advanced nano-technology to bend light around his quaking, breathless form; rendering him fully invisible to the naked eye.
He clutched at the floor as a chunk of floor beside him fell away, seared through by industrial laser. Two…no five robots screamed upwards into the blackened room. Their sensors probed the dark break room as Edward shuddered under silk nanotech; sweating and shaking and trying like hell to keep himself from either screaming in blind fear or panting heavily from sheer exertion.
That, and he prayed he was also invisible to robotic sensors.
He choked down a yelp as they came rushing toward him, until he realized they had merely flown over him in a standard perimeter sweep. They circled the room and slowed, splitting up to cover more ground. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, they finally funneled down the hole they’d created to report to their Watchdog allies.
Edward crawled through to the next room; still intangible, still cloaked, and only let out a small whimper of relief after the pounding of his heart finally slowed to a dull lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub….
The blonde-haired vixen had never seen the dashing rogue in action. But as the security cameras showcased him running through walls and taking out a Watchdog squad, Amanda Devereaux wished very hard that Steven Rogerson had not forced them to take this graveyard shift. She was wishing that she was in her jet-stream bubble bath right now, woozy from the overwhelming fumes of the scented bubbles and dreaming this jailbreak scenario in the soft heat. She opened her eyes.
Nope, not a dream.
“We’ve guh-guh-got to remain calm,” the sputtering Steven spoke as he tried in vain to choke down his fear.
Every camera inside the tiny room was now visually recording the knight’s progress through the blacked-out building, the lights shutting off in response to the alert-trigger on Edward’s specific cell room. Pure darkness meant no ambient light energy for Edward to draw from. It meant no recharges for him as long as he was inside the building, the intermittent scarlet of the alert lights too meager for the specimen to draw power from. The Watchdogs, or the droids, or the Watchdogs in SIEGE armor would be on him long before he could gather any scraps of energy from the blinking lights.
Of course, failing those, the active Specialist on patrol at this hour would mostly likely beat them all there and drag the inexperienced mess back to his cell yet again. After all, he had so much difficulty already escaping the securi-droids. And the Specialist was a whole other monster, indeed.
Amanda knew all of these things. She knew things even Steve wasn’t privy to about the limitations of the escaped creature. She knew that the knight wouldn’t be a threat for long. Regardless of this fact, she was just a little creeped out that she’d been the one to let him out of his cage. Granted it was all to frame Steve for the escape of a beloved specimen, but that didn’t seem important now. The way he’d left his cell…whatever he was, he wanted blood. And Amanda was fairly certain the specimen didn’t care whose it was.
She bit down on her fingernails again, engrossed in the carnage of the screen as Cecilia paced the room behind her, occasionally glancing at a night-vision monitor and then glancing back again at the floor. Steven Rogerson held out his hands, trying to calm himself more than setting at ease the nerves of the two women.
“The…the W-watchdogs are t-t--trained for this sort of thing,” Steven exclaimed, stuttering, “Our c-corporate superiors are always concerned for our s-s-safety….after all, we’re….”
Amanda sneered. Concerned for our safety? Sh-yeah, right. As if mucking with people’s genomes wasn’t dangerous enough.
She’d knew better. After all, she'd hacked some of their most secure data-files. If that pompous windbag had ANY idea some of the things his “beloved corporation” was up to in the dead of night…
Suddenly, there was a flash on the screens as the droids tunneled to the upper floor, searching for the escapee…only to find a room of empty blackness. They all fell silent and watched as the robots broke off pursuit.
Invisibility. Jesus, he’s figured out the invisibility.
Amanda bit her lip and was suddenly afraid that she wouldn’t survive long enough to become the senior surveillance technician. She was certain that the angry man was headed directly for her for releasing him from that prison. That he was out for her blood and her blood alone.
She didn’t move.
No one did.
Edward had been running for a good five minutes straight; slapping the floor and running through unknown rooms and walls blindly in rabid panic. He decided that he would resume his crusade to bring Stark-Fujikawa down again. Just after his eardrums weren’t bursting from the pounding rush of blood behind his ears. And maybe after he could catch his breath for half a second. He’d be ready by Christmas, definitely.
He hunched over, finally taking a breather and letting aching sinew rest for only a moment. He gasped in lungfuls of breath, arcing his spine with each lungful. After the ninth deep breath, he suddenly realized he could see his own arms. And they weren’t phasing through anything. He heard a female’s voice. A gentle, yet stern voice calmly stating the same words that were scrolling across his vision in neon blue:
*PRIMARY POWER RESERVES EXHAUSTED. SWITCHING TO ENERGY CONSERVATION MODE. EMERGENCY RESERVE BATTERY POWER AVAILABLE. MINIMUM POWER...MINIMUM POWER LEVELS ARE TO BE MAINTAINED FOR MAXIMUM ENERGY CONSERVATION*
No energy. No real power for the suit. No power for the intangibility or the invisibility. Shock! SHOCK!
He’d screwed himself over, big time. Edward tried once again to phase.
*POWER RESERVES INEFFICIENT. RESUBMIT QUERY*
He was shocked over. Big time.
Edward Somerset continued on, trying very hard to silence the sound of his rapid footfalls and trying very hard not to think about how exposed he was in this hall surrounded by transparent, shatter-safe plexiglass.
At the end of the strange plexiglass walkway, he forced his fingertips into the locked-down automated doorway, and forced the metal apart as he’d done before. Straining, flexing, praying that his forcing of the doors would be quiet and would attract no attention whatsoever from sensors and tracking devices, he finally pried the doors apart only to discover…
It was some kind of plexiglass atrium. A greenhouse of sorts, housing everything from the tallest bamboo trees to the bushels of bonsais that covered the forest floor. Below the transparent platform that lined the entirety of the circular chamber, exotic birds and insects sang in the peaceful tranquility of the preserve. Chameleon bullfrogs leapt to and fro among rainbow leaves. Spider and lightning-bug crossbreeds lit up the flora under the semi-porous dome encasing the reserve as they weaved invisible webs along the tall trees.
Sitting along the platform above the semi-porous greenhouse dome was a bevy of Japenese-style tables, surrounded on all sides by cushions and gel-seats. And above it all was a massive skylight, lined with mirrors whose purpose was to selectively reflect the sun’s rays in the daytime, giving the room the optimum amount of sunlight at any one time. Fully re-programmable, of course, to conform to the specifications of the room’s occupants. Odin’s bones, this was a rec room. A place for company employee’s to wine and dine while on break.
Edward stood in awe above the massive expanse of genetically-altered wildlife and vegetation below when he heard a noise that didn’t belong in a greenhouse this size, at this time at night.
The unmistakable revving of hovercycle engines.
He turned around in alarm as the airbike slammed into him hard, picking him right off the ground and carrying him off the platform. Edward practically felt the rider’s sneer as he dug his fingers into the bike’s hood, holding on for dear life. He clenched his teeth and resisted the urge to spit out blood beneath his mask. Edward’s hostile gaze drifted upward toward his attacker as he sunk his fingers deeper inside the plastic coating the hoverbike’s engine assembly, desperately trying not to fall toward the dome below. He watched as his attacker smiled at him.
The Specialist. Edward’s spine smacked against the side wall at fifty miles an hour, shattering the plastic wall and sending the pair careening into the darkness of the adjacent office.
The Specialist jumped off his airbike, rising and landing in a graceful arc. Edward lost his grip and rolled out from under the airbike, hitting the floor hard as the vehicle crashed into the far wall behind him and exploded in a glorious blaze.
Edward coughed, shaking the soot off his face. He felt fractured bone and torn sinew shift inside his chest as he pulled himself up to a kneel beside the flaming wreck. His mask subsided, letting him spit out the bulge of bile and blood crawling up his esophagus before he choked to death under his mask. Coughing, he stood up, feeling every nerve ending in his thighs and abdomen light up like hellfire. Slightly hunched from the pain, he faced his enemy.
Instead, he saw an armada.
Outlined in the dim light of a huge oriental window lining an entire wall of the room, he saw the shapes of seven Watchdogs entering from the still-smoking hole in tandem with over a dozen securi-droids, buzzing and clicking with mechanical satisfaction. Edward heard a resounding crack, turning to the room’s double-door entrance only to see a SIEGE units fly in, with two others in close pursuit. Surrounded, Edward finally located the shadowed form of the Specialist, whose icy gaze made Edward’s heart turn to ice.
He was completely surrounded.
Edward looked on at the armada surrounding him, sighing as he listened dejectedly to the cacophony of thunder booming from on-high and the heavy sounds of unrestrained rainwater pelting the windows. He heard the cocking of pulse rifles and street pacifiers aimed directly at his head; felt the humming and whirring of robotic targeting lasers and SIEGE cannons armed with infra-red sights. He breathed in and out and tried to force the ebbing pains inside his chest to go away. The flash of a lightning bolt dwarfed the mere flickers coming from the booming alarm lights throughout the building, sending sinister shadows emanating from the Specialist. Amidst the targeting weapons, the Specialist unsheathed his sword and began to speak.
“You have brought great dishonor to this company, Edward Somerset,” the Specialist’s said, sword pointed at the battered man, “Be glad that I have been ordered to capture you alive.”
Edward looked on, breathless, “What do you want from me? What the HELL do you want from me??”
“You are the legal property of Stark/Fujikawa, Edward Somerset,” the stone-cold swordsman answered, “That is reason enough.”
“What the SHOCK are you TALKING about!” Edward screamed, eyes bulging wide as he coughed up more blood.
“Pathetic. You were so lauded by Spectre Division mere months ago. Now look at you.”
“A highly-decorated department of Stark/Fujikawa Incorporated. They were the ones responsible for crafting the newest brand of corporate warrior…the Expert model, as they were once responsible for creating the Specialist model. You were supposed to be an update to my design. Were that true, I would NEVER have been able to find you. If you were HALF the infiltrator you were designed to be, you would not be coughing up your own bile right now. You would have escaped. You are pitiful.”
“Sonuva…*kaff! kaff!* You hit me through a wall with a goddamned hoverbike! Jeez, what the shock do you….expect?”
“Better, actually. Far better. You are a disappointment to this corporation. And only a death befitting a warrior would restore honor to both yourself, and this company,” His sword glinted in the crimson alarm lights, “Instead, I will drag you back to your cell in disgrace. Your personality and memories will be overridden. You will not be allowed to die with honor.”
“That will not happen either,” the Specialist grimaced, walking toward Edward with malevolent intent.
Edward shook with rage. He almost didn’t feel his fractured ribcage. Thunder boomed mightily overheard as Edward returned the Specialist’s frosty gaze with one of utter contempt. He glared at the corporate puppet with a look that could shear flesh from bone. As he did, there was a flash of blue light and suddenly, Edward was gripping a fiery bo staff, pulsating with energy.
The Watchdogs around him re-trained their weapons on him, all watching the steely weapon form from nothingness. The Specialist’s eyes glinted with a tiny hint of respect.
“A warrior’s spirit. Perhaps there is hope for you yet.” He addressed the Watchdogs’ leader, not taking his eyes from the battered knight, “Leave us.”
“Sorry, sir,” Captain Tyerus responded forcefully, “But this is Mr. Sama’s office, and we’re ordered to make sure that you – “
Edward blinked, and the Specialist’s sword was pressed up against the captain’s throat. The SIEGE and Watchdogs’ responses were slow by comparision, re-training their weapons upon the sputtering captain and the deadly swordsman.
“First of all, you will address him as HIKARU-sama. “Sama” is a term of respect, not a surname; regardless of what the ignorant many would have you believe.”
With all their attention drawn to the Specialist, this was Edward’s one and only chance to escape. He clutched the staff and took a step towards the window only to watch a searing laser beam slice the air inches away from his face. He looked up toward the securi-droids surrounding above, fiery crimson lasers still trained on his every movement.
Shock. He was made. Edward looked back at the tense exchange, barely hearing the captain’s meager response.
“Suh, sorry….I didn’t kno—“
“Second of all, this corporation honors traditional Japanese values. Aside from the American perversion of our cultural linguistics, it would be dishonorable to battle this man in such great numbers. I refuse to allow such disgrace to befall myself or the company to which I have pledged my life. I alone will fight him, and you will not intervene until I am dead. Understood?”
The Specialist stared at the Watchdog intently as the petrified man looked back in abject fear, “F-fall back. Fall…back...”
The Specialist removed the edge of the deadly sword from Captain Tyerus’s throat, staring once again toward Edward as the Watchdogs, SIEGE units and securi-droids retreated outside the room.
“We’ll be watching with our thermal equipment, Specialist,” the captain slurred out, holding his sore throat, “We’ll be right outside.”
“Fair enough,” the Specialist muttered. A single thunderclap shook the plexiglass window frame, “Now, Edward. I believe you were in the middle of almost impressing me.”
Edward gripped the staff tightly, holding it out in front of him in a defensive position as his gleaming mask slid quietly out from his pores.
Suddenly, the staff was pointed towards the advancing Specialist, bright beam of energy screaming out of the tip. The swordsman jumped above the beam, rolling into a ball and drop-kicking the shining knight across the room. Edward’s body slapped the wall hard, making even the Watchdogs standing vigil outside cringe.
Edward eased his way out of the cracked plastic wall, jade eyes blazing, “How can you work for them? They don’t give a shock about you! They don’t give a shock about anyone but themselves!” He took his staff and struck at the Specialist.
The corporate soldier parried the blow with his sword, pressing it against Edward’s staff and staring deep into his eyes, “Without them, I would be NOTHING. I owe them my life.”
“You’re…life?” Edward balked through clenched teeth, bracing himself against the wall and pressing his staff against the Specialist’s sword, “What life? You do what they say, when they say it. You’re their lap-dog! You’re….ughhnn…..not even allowed to kill me if you want to! What….kind of a life is that?”
“An honorable life,” the Specialist smiled, forcing Edward back even further against the wall, “One such as you will never understand.”
The Specialist lunged at Edward’s throat. The beleaguered knight went with the momentum, bringing his own feet off the ground and digging them into the Specialist’s sternum as the sword came within inches of his jugular. Edward pushed, sending the swordsman careening back into the office table around which had sat some of the most powerful men in the world many times over. It shattered like cheap glass.
Edward fell to his knees, gasping as his sparring partner pushed off from his back out of the splintered remains of the tabletop to stand directly in front of the window. The Specialist watched on as Edward pulled himself up off the ground.
“See the dim rays of light coming through the window now?” the Specialist asked simply as Edward brought his tired gaze up to face his shadowed enemy. Only, everything was much brighter now. The glimmering knight shut off his night vision and saw the dim rays of twilight amidst the black storm clouds.
“It’s almost dawn. Once the sun rises, your suit will kill you.”
“Better my suit than you, you shocking lunatic.”
The Specialist grimaced, “Ignorant wretch. To die at the hands of this corporation’s greatest warrior class is a high honor. You should be so lucky.”
Edward laughed, “Ha! This corporation knows nothing about honor. You take advantage of those weaker than you. You send people to their deaths in industrial quantities. You deny people their very lives just to serve your own ends. How on Earth is that HONORABLE?”
The Specialist pointed his sword towards his opponent, “Stark/Fujikawa graciously remakes those with potential into honorable warriors fit to share the world with honorable men. Those who are deemed dishonorable die in disgrace. It is as simple as that.”
Edward spat towards the Specialist, “You think those corporate psychos will keep you around after they capture me again? I’m the next-generation model of corporate warrior. Once they’ve got me leaping through their hoops, they’ll toss you out like yesterday’s garbage. Highest warrior class, my ass!”
The Specialist closed his eyes, “I am their humble servant. They will do with me as they wish.”
“Would you listen to yourself??” Edward yelled in frustration, “You’re a person, dammit! You have just as much right to exist as I do! Stop this. Stop this and help me fight them. Help me take them down and make them PAY for what they’ve done!”
The swordsman brought his steel eyes back up towards the pleading hero, “I cannot. I am a servant and a warrior. Not a traitor. Stark/Fujikawa has done nothing to warrant this ridiculous crusade of yours. It’s time to end this.”
As the Specialist jumped high toward the knight, metallic sword gleaming in dim twilight, the knight instinctively fired at the broken tabletop, sending a huge cloud of wooden ash and sawdust surging out in all directions. Edward ran toward the side, around what had once been a table as the Specialist swiped blindly at his last position.
He only had seconds until the Specialist was able to find him through the dust he’d kicked up. Edward ran full speed at the window. He knew there was no way that he was going to beat a master swordsman with the meager amount of battle experience he had. And there was no way he could take out Stark/Fujikawa with his energy reserves all but depleted. He had to escape and pray that he had enough energy left to fly back to Downtown.
Edward leapt up the stairs that divided the south end of the room from the window and began to dive when he heard an ear-splitting battle cry.
Everything turned to slow-mo as he glanced behind him only to see the Specialist, trailing clouds of dust from his kimono and only seconds away from slicing Edward’s head in two. He ducked and rolled, narrowly missing the bloodthirsty swipe. As he rolled, he stabbed his staff into the Specialist’s kimono and used the swordsman’s own momentum to slam him into the huge plexiglass window. It shattered, carrying the Specialist headfirst out into the dark storm.
The armored hero heard shuffling outside the door as he felt a heavy tug on his leg. Edward skidded along the floor, being pulled out through the broken window by some unknown force. He barely stopped his descent, gripping onto the jutted glass on the bottom of the window frame.
Blood poured from his shredded fingers as he looked down to the Specialist below and realized that the corporate stooge must have grabbed his leg as he feel out the window. The storm raged, hitting the dangling pair with a deluge of waterworks. Edward thought he could hear faint footsteps in the room above in-between resounding crackles of thunder.
And then he saw the faint outline of the crescent moon peeking in through the thunderclouds.
Suddenly, there was a bellow from below, “Edward Somerset! I will not dishonor myself by allowing you to escape! I would see you dead first!”
Edward looked down at the Specialist, who grasped Edward’s armored leg with one arm as he clutched his sword with the other. The soldier drew it back, aiming the business end at Edward’s heart. The bo staff laid in the room above. No way to recall it in time.
“Are you crazy??” Edward shouted above the storm, “You’ll kill us both!!”
“We’ll die as warriors then,” the Specialist yelled, “with honor!”
Edward felt his grip slipping along the wet surface of the building’s edge. He sensed the bo staff speeding across the floor towards his bloodied hands, knowing the futility of the effort as the Specialist plunged the sword into his body…only it didn’t hit anything.
“…what…?” the Specialist gasped as his hand suddenly fell through the knight’s insubstantial foot, sending him falling into the soaking darkness below.
The moonlight. It had recharged him somehow. Recharged the cellular energy caches enough to power his intangibility.
Good Thor, the moon! It’d saved his…
*RECHARGE CYCLE INCOMPLETE. PRIMARY POWER IS AVAILABLE FOR TWO MINUTES, TWENTY –SEVEN SECONDS AT CURRENT POWER OUTPUT*
As Edward read the neon blue warning, he suddenly found himself unable to grip anything. He was falling into the darkness, just as the Specialist had. He fell backwards, looking up towards the room above as shadowed figures and drones began appearing at the window.
Grasping the returning staff, Edward dived toward the ground. He flew around to the side of the building and switched from phasing to cloaking, praying the primary power would hold out long enough for him to evade the cavalry.
Securi-droids and SIEGE units leaped out the window, flying on thrusters. Along with the airbike-clad Watchdog units, they combed the darkened façade of the building, all aided by infra-red and night-vision.
By the time they searched the other sides of the building, the prisoner was long gone. The only thing they found was a fine Japanese sword firmly jabbed into the side of the building as well as a kneeling man perfectly balanced on the flat side of the blade. He was looking toward the horizon with intense eyes, cursing in Japanese.
None of them realized he was looking at the moon, shining through the parting clouds.
She stirred from a restless sleep, only to see a shining knight standing over her. It was Marq.
“Oh my God, MARQ!”
Gale wrapped her arms around him tightly.
“Vonvargas told me you were worried about me. I wanted to see if you were okay.” Edward said, feeling the bandages on his hands tighten as he held her, “I was hoping that…that I still could stay here for a little while longer.”
“You can stay as long as you want,” she smiled, getting up from the vacant hospital bed. She had only intended to rest her eyes. She hadn’t even realized she’d nodded off.
She rubbed at her eyes, “What time is it?”
“Morning.” He answered quietly, “Look, I’m…I’m sorry I worried you. Vonvargas told me you were up all night….”
“Don’t worry about it,” she sighed, stretching her arms, “I’m night shift, remember? It’s my job to stay up all night.”
She cracked a smile. He smiled back.
“So…” she began, her beautiful countenance suddenly turning serious, “…did you find her? Your wife, I mean…”
Edward looked at the ground.
“Oh,” she said, seeing the crushed look in his eyes, “…did you at least find out something about your life?”
Edward paused, glancing up into the distance, “My life…all I know of my life is that my real name is Edward Somerset. That, and the only reason the corporations gave me any these powers so that I could abuse them by hurting, kidnapping or murdering people all in the name of an “honorable” corporation. They screwed with my mind and stole my memories so I would be easier to control. They manipulated me and took away my entire life to make me one of their shocking puppets. Well, SHOCK THEM!”
Gale took a step back, surprised by his sudden outburst, “Odin’s eyes, what --?”
Edward looked at her apologetically, “I’m…sorry I scared you. I just wanted to say that,” he looked deep into her eyes, “...that I’m dedicating my life to fighting against these people. Against lunatics that keep us huddled in the dark. They gave me some incredible powers, true. But that doesn’t mean I have to use them as they’d intended.
“I’m going to go out there, and I’m going to expose the massive web of lies the corporations perpetuate. I’m going to help them fight back against the corps that routinely use people as their own personal slaves and then just toss them out with the trash when they’re done with them. I’m going to quit worrying about myself and I’m going to free this place from the grip of the megacorps. Or die trying.”
She looked up into his eyes, speechless. He smiled down at her, his arms caressing her shoulders.
“I’ll watch over you. Over Downtown. I’ll be a hero to the people. The proverbial “knight in shining armor”. A knight powered by moonlight. I’ll be their…I’ll be their Moon Knight.”
Gale smiled, desperately trying to hold back the laughter.
“What? What’s the…?”
“That is perhaps the most RIDICULOUS thing I’ve ever heard,” Gale laughed light-heartedly.
Edward stood there, perplexed, looking at the gorgeous woman in front of him that was laughing in his face.
“Ridiculous,” she curled her arms around his frame, “but sweet. Thank you, Edward Somerset.”
He looked at her for a minute, gazing into her eyes and smiling.
“…call me Marq,” he said.
“I have greatly shamed myself, and this company, my master. I ask permission to commit seppuku, so that I may cleanse my shame from this corporation I have taken as my family and that I may die with honor and dignity.”
Hikaru-Sama sat at the head of the freshly re-made table, finely decorated with elaborate designs akin to traditional Japanese culture. After the Specialist’s shameful failure to recapture the Expert model and the resulting destruction of his office, the various maintenance robots housed in the plastic walls throughout the building had immediately been sent to clean up the wreckage.
They had long ago finished re-polishing each surface of the extravagant office and retreated back within their respective compartments. Still, the memory of seeing his battle-ravaged office burned brightly in his mind as he looked upon the newly-synthesized bonsai tree upon the table before him.
Hikaru shifted his stern gaze toward the kneeling Specialist directly across from him at the other end of the table. He glared at the fallen warrior with the deepest contempt, but said nothing.
“From your silence, I take it that my merest presence brings you great shame. Allow me to rectify this. It was the greatest honor serving you, Hikaru-sama.”
The Specialist shed his costume, revealing a garment of all white beneath. Folding his suit up and placing it on the ground beside him, he unfolded a white blanket and placed it down calmly on the floor. He took out his sword as he lowered himself onto the blanket, sitting on his heels and holding his sword out as a sign of deepest respect. He sat on his heels, tucking his outer garment around himself so as not to fall in a dishonorable position following this traditional suicide.
He held out the sword, its metal gleaming in the fluorescent light as he bowed his head respectfully toward his master. If Hikaru saw him do this, he did not acknowledge it.
The Specialist slowly pulled his head back up. He took the sword and held it to his left side, preparing for the ritualistic disembowelment that would restore honor to his family company and to himself upon death. Targeting a major organ, the Specialist plunged the sword deep inside himself. Hikaru watched as his most decorated soldier shook from the pain, bringing the sword’s blade through his own stomach.
The CEO looked over to the Specialist’s side, where a second ought to be to decapitate the Specialist following the disembowelment. But there was none. The fact that the Specialist chose to endure the horrible pain of bleeding to death rather than be beheaded immediately after the ritual was done proved to be a source of great pride for the man. It showed that the Specialist was willing to endure the punishment for his failure up to the final moments. It showed that he had respect to the onsets of the tradition of seppuku, before seconds had come to be used.
Hikaru watched as the Specialist made the final cut, shaking in agony as he placed the bloodied sword in front of him through sheer force of will. The Specialist quaked and gurgled, but he did not scream. Right until the final moments he knelt in place, bowing towards his master. His tensed body finally stopped quivering. He sagged forward, stopped by his outer garment.
He tapped a button on the console and watched the maintenance robots filter into the room, programmed to clean up the fallen soldier’s remains. The Specialist’s clothes and sword would be destroyed, as per tradition, and the body dealt with in a way that begat a warrior of his stature.
As they did this, the president of Stark/Fujikawa Incorporated looked upon the Specialist’s body with renewed respect. The corporate soldier’s slate of failure had been wiped clean. Honor had been restored.
Now, there was simply the matter of vengeance.
F I N
There you have it.
The Final Chapter in the Moon Knight 2099UGR Limited Series! I sincerely hope you enjoyed every pulse-pounding second of it!
Of course, there is more to the story. Like what’s going to happen to our fine cast now that Edward Somerset has become the heroic Moon Knight, protecting the streets of Downtown with a bo staff and a kick-ass suit of genetic armor? What’s going to happen with Gale and Marq now that he’s vowed to take up this battle against the corps? What’s Hikaru going to do about a prisoner who was responsible for his most-respected warrior’s suicide? What’s going to happen to our fine Watcher friends now that Amanda's framed Steven for Moon Knight's escape?
And the question you’ve all been asking….will Vonvargas buy the lumpy brand of peanut butter or the smooth brand? You’ll have to hit up the new Moon Knight ongoing series, coming out soon enough, to find out the long-awaited answers to these pressing questions!
As always, let me know how I'm doing. Send your thoughts on over to firstname.lastname@example.org and they might just show up here.
Now, with the close of this limited series that has been more than a year in the making, I've got quite a few people to thank properly, in no particular order:
For making this all possible. Were it not for Mike, the Underground'd probably have died three years ago. Toast a cup'a fine wine to him right now, dammit!
Incidentally, Mike's also the man who went through the original concept of the Moon Knight mini with a fine tooth comb and helped re-make it into what it is now. And trust me, you DON'T wanna see what it was before. So thanks, Mike, for helping me come up with this wild cast of characters. For taking the time to help me out when I had writer's block or when I was dumbstruck for ideas. Thanks for helping me push ahead and letting me run wild with my ideas.
Thanks a lot, Mike. You kick ridiculous amounts of ass.
Thank you so shocking much, dude. Thanks for putting up with my caffiene-drunk self. For making me Assistant Editor and letting me gleefully run rampant on Tripod. For stepping up as EiC and continuing the fine tradition of the Underground. For always being there to discuss story ideas, plotlines, what have you.
Thanks a lot, Dave. You, also kick ridiculous amounts of ass.
Dave Ellis, Jae Lizhini, James Stovall, Ryan May, John Bush; the current incarnation of the 2099 Underground:
Thanks for taking up the torch and perpetuating the proud tradition of the 2099 Underground as the current staff of the 2099 Underground REVISED! You all ROCK! And thank you all for bringing back some familiar faces from the world of 2099 as well as one from the world of the original 2099 Underground!
Mike Shirley, Dave Munch, Jason Smith, Doomscribe, and EVERYONE who ever wrote for the original 2099 Underground:
You gave us all some of the most imaginative fanfiction about 2099 anyone's ever seen! Not only that, but picked up where the original creators of the 2099-o-verse left off! You carried the torch and keep 2099 alive when things in the four-color-world looked most grim. My sincerest thanks, to ALL of you.
Joey Cavalieri, Tom Defalco, Stan Lee, Mark Gruenwald, Bob Harras, Ralph Macchio, Fabian Nicieza, Peter David, Rick Leonardi, John Francis Moore, Ron Lim, Warren Ellis, Pat Broderick, Pat Mills, Tony Skinner, Tom Morgan, Len Kaminsky, Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham, and EVERYONE who has EVER worked on a 2099 title:
You guys BEGAN this insane world of high-flying hovercars, black carder immunity, and Public Eye omnipresence. You gave us futuristic legends like Miguel O'Hara, Victor Von Doom (present and future), Jake Gallows, Paul-Phillip Ravage, the X-Men of 2099, Metalscream, Ravage, Lachryma, Galahad, Litany Kirkpatrick and the rest. Without you guys, there would BE no 2099. Every single one of you made it possible. From the bottom of my twisted charcoal heart, thank you.
And all the FANS of the 2099 print comics, the 2099 Underground and the 2099 Underground Revised:
What can I say? You guys are the true heroes of 2099. Kudos to you all.