He sat bolt upright, eye wide and staring. It took a couple of seconds before the shaking hit.
The blue glow creeping around the flimsy curtain over the solitary window was the only illumination in the tiny efficiency apartment, a ghostly reminder of the zone wall a quarter mile away. Even the skyscrapers of Steel Canyon couldn't block it entirely.
Steel Canyon was the financial district of Paragon City. Many national banks, insurance companies, and investment firms had their headquarters in this zone. In fact, so much money flows through Steel Canyon that Paragon City ranks among America's richest cities. Success spurred the construction of so many skyscrapers that the place looked like a canyon made of concrete, glass and metal.
The zone wasn't without its dangers, though. The Outcasts have claimed the area as their own, and they've recruited a lot of kids with mutant powers related to the elements. That's what the Outcasts love best - beating down their enemies with the power of the elements.
After Kip Cantorum had activated his hyperstride capability, Jon Smith had found it easier and easier to get around Steel Canyon safely. He found himself attracted, not only to the glorious Canyon itself, the metal-and-glass skyscrapers set down below ground level that gave it its name, almost as spectacular as any naturally occuring canyon, but to the back alleys as well. He had wanted to escape his earliest memories. But now, as he began to manuever around the canyon at all hours of the day and night, he was reminded of the stunning beauty of moonrise over the canyon. The earliest clear memory he had, clear enough that he now knew where it was in geographical space, had been of one of those magnificent moonrises.
For the first time, he began to believe that maybe some of his memories were worth keeping, after all.
With that realization, he had gone hunting for another apartment, one that would allow him to look out over the canyon, without staring straight into the glow of the zone walls. Since he had no eyelid to close over his cybernetic monocle, he needed to be able to block light out of his sleeping area when it was time to rest. It wasn't easy finding the right apartment, but he finally suceeded, a one-room efficiency with a single window in set in the side of the building, on the south side of the canyon, facing north and away from the zone wall.
Jon twisted on the mattress, dropped his metal legs over the side, both hands clutching the sheet on either side of his hips, his head deeply bowed. He wanted to brace his elbows on his knees, drop his head into his hands, but he was denied even that most human of all gestures of grief and despair. Had he done so, flesh would not have met flesh, instead hard, cold aluminum and stainless steel would have been the only thing that would have cradled his forehead, painfully pinching instead of comforting.
He lifted his head, heaved himself to his feet, scuffed his way to the bathroom.
On his return, he tossed and turned for a while, before sitting up in bed again, turning on the child's lamp that sat on top of the small dresser-slash-bedside table. He'd found the lamp in a dumpster and rewired it....it worked well. It was the only artificial light in the apartment, besides the ceiling light in the kitchenette. He was blissfully unaware of the incongruity of the pastel-blue-and-white-clown base in a man's bachelor apartment.
Opening a drawer, he pulled the pocket watch out of its pouch on his belt. 2 am, slightly after. He put the watch back in its place, turned off the light. As his eye readapted to the darkness, he stared at the faintly glowing curtain for a while, before standing up again.
Another bad night. They were coming closer and closer together.
The nightmare had slipped from his grasp as before, leaving behind only the memory of some terrible dread, something too awful to be born without tears. That and a child's laugh. What child, he couldn't remember. Was it even a real child, someone he had known? Or was it just an echo of the laughter that he sometimes heard as he passed by a school yard or playground? It might have even been his own laugh, many years ago when he was a child himself, he had no way of knowing, no memory of the sound of his own voice.
He already knew that sleep would not come, not now. That, at least, he had learned.
He dressed quickly in the dark, supporter, underwear, and jeans. He didn't bother with socks and boots this time, nor with the belt with its pouches. No point in getting them wet, and he would need the boots when he reported for work in the morning.
His key shot the bolt in the lock with a soft click.
It took only seconds to hyperstride the distance to the Independence Port tunnel.
Independence Port was where many brave heroes defended the city against an invading space armada back in the 50's. Paragon City renamed the area in honour of the heroes who died in that epic battle. If you looked, you could see the big statue of Cassiopeia by the bridge; she was one of the famous heroes who died in that fight. Organized crime ran the docks nowadays. The Family pulled all the strings here, despite the best efforts of law enforcement.
Passing through the tunnel, Jon began running....running until he reached a zone wall, then turning and running in another direction. He paid little or no attention to where he was going, what he was passing or even running over. Where there was land, he ran. Where he couldn't find a way around water, he swam. Then he ran again.
Startled sailors looked up as he dashed along the waterfront. He gave them no mind.
Occasionally he would pause, looking up into the night sky, watching the moon in her frantic rush across the heavens from glowing zone wall to zone wall. Once, for a second, he smiled as he wondered what nightmare she was running from.
The sophisticated nano-processors and micro-motors of his legs handled everything, all he had to do was turn in a particular direction, think what he wanted, lean forward, and his prosthetic legs did the rest. Despite that, they were still grown into his hips, and the muscles of his torso still had to support his body over the thrashing movement of the legs, keep his balance, fight against the torque brought against his center of gravity by the running action. Just staying with the cybernetic running motion left his head, neck, and torso bathed in sweat after a couple of hours. He ran on.
Finally exhausted, he dropped to a sitting position on one of the many tiny islets in the port basin, then stood again and plunged into the deeper water further out in the channel, now icy in the morning chill.
He was shivering by the time he returned to the apartment.
Maybe he should just call Hero Corps and tell them he couldn't come in for an assignment today. But the bad nights were starting to add up, the number of days he missed worried him. He'd have to just go ahead, he told himself, pretend to himself and everyone else that he was okay, that everything was normal.
Whatever "normal" was.
It was hard to use the word "normal" when he could remember less than a year of his life. Everything before that was a complete mystery, and the time he could remember, up until about three months ago, had been spent living on the streets, not knowing who he was or why he was there, eating out of garbage cans and running for his life from every human being he ran across.
Things were better now, he told himself. And looked to continue getting better. He was beginning to build a network of contacts, people who would pay him to do things others wouldn't, or couldn't, and he didn't mind the work, it was better than living on the street. He was even making a friend or two, here and there. People who were nice to him, even if they didn't have anything to gain from doing so.
He could keep the headaches at bay with the pills that the Hero Affairs doctors prescribed for him. But it seemed that the more his life calmed down, the more time he had at peace, the worse the nightmares became. And there were no pills for that, they told him.
Somehow, it just didn't seem fair.
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012