"Jon, I'm sorry, but I just can't be any more specific than that." Dr. Worthen looked his frustration.
Looking just as frustrated, Jon Smith tapped the fingers of his right hand on the wooden chair arm, looked startled, glanced down, and stopped.
"Surely you can tell me something. Anything. I don't care. Just something more than 'between 15 and 50.' It's important.....I don't know where to begin, and I *have* to try to figure out.....what my past is. It may become a matter of life and death for me....or at least the difference between functioning and disability. Surely you can understand that."
"Yes, I do, Jon, but I can't tell you more than I know."
"Look....." The blonde man stared down at his metal hands. "Why do you say 15 as a lower limit?"
Worthen took a long, deep breath, let it out. "The lack of wear on your teeth would tend to indicate someone quite young, probably not over 20 years of age. You're one of those people without wisdom teeth, so we can't tell anything more than that. And you don't have any fillings, so we can't even look up dental charts on record."
Jon's eye widened. He looked down again, brow knitted, for a long moment.
"And a high figure of 50?"
"The wear on the bones and cartilage in your back show the beginnings of advanced arthritis. You don't appear to have juvenile arthritis, and the extent of the changes looks like the kind of aging I would expect in a man of around 50 years old."
Jon slumped in his chair.
"I'm sorry, Jon, really I am, but I just can't tell you much more than that. As you know, some of your internal prosthetics alter your metabolism. It causes completely inconsistant results in any set of tests that we run. Maybe it's your speeded up metabolism that is causing the arthritic changes. Maybe, for some reason, you were not putting the usual amount of stress on your teeth that we would see in a normal person. There's just no way to tell.
"Forensics isn't an exact science, Jon, we can't just hold a ruler up to you and say that you are x number of years old," he continued. "It's rather like a murder mystery....you collect clues, and keep adding them up, until a pattern emerges. With you, the results are all over the board, there is no pattern, at least that we recognize by comparing you to our bank of information taken from other people. I wish I could tell you more, Jon. Maybe one day you will find out what your history is, and then those same discrepancies will start to make sense. I certainly hope so."
The blonde man didn't look up. Quietly: "Okay. I understand. Thank you anyway for trying."
"Be sure and let me know if there is anything else I can do for you, Jon. You're an interesting case. I'd be almost as curious as you are about anything that you learn about your history. And if you do learn more, maybe I can make more sense out of your test results, as well. So keep me posted if you learn anything."
"Okay." There was resignation in his voice. He stood and shook hands with Worthen without looking him in the eye, walked out without saying more, his shoulders slumped.
Worthen watched him leave, worry creasing his forehead.
"You again!" The fat man in the dirty apron wielded his broom with enthusiasm. "I thought I told you to get out of here!"
Jon looked up at him, started, then almost smiled. For an odd moment, he seemed to be looking on the scene with two sets of eyes, then the disorienting effect subsided, and he realized that he actually recognized the man.
Last time he saw him, he had been waving a knife instead of a broom, but he was almost sure it was the same person. And, certainly, the fat man seemed to recognize him.
"Hello," he said calmly.
The fat man interrupted his forward charge, his eyes going wide, took a step back. "I told you to get out of here, you, you......"
"Yes, I remember," Jon said quietly.
"HELP!" The fat man turned his head to shout over his shoulder. "I NEED A HERO HERE!" He stood with the broomhandle crossways, as if to block Jon's exit from the alleyway.
"It's all right," Jon told him, "I am a Hero."
The fat man began sputtering, suddenly speechless with rage.
Jon pulled out his Hero Corps comm link and showed it to him. As the sputtering changed to a strangled gurgle, he pulled out his wallet and his Hero Corps ID card, held the card up, then tossed it across the intervening space.
The sputtering went on for some time, but after a few choice curse words, the fat man finally lowered the broom, bent over, and picked up the card, looked at it, and turned even redder, if that were possible.
"It's a fake!" he finally managed to spew.
Jon shook his head, and then smiled very slightly, if a little sadly. "If you think so, you're welcome to call that number on the back and check me out. Or look it up in the phone book. Call Hero Corps...they'll vouch for me."
"You....you....you're an animal!" the fat man finally spat. He clutched the ID card in one meaty fist.
"I was having some.....difficulty, yes," Jon told him. "Things are different, now. I'm working for Hero Corps, I have an apartment.....it's all right, I'm not here to hurt anyone. In fact," he allowed himself another small smile, "I could use *your* help, if you would be so kind."
The fat man's sputtering began all over again. Jon waited for him to settle down, then held out his hand in a mute request, palm up. The fat man slapped the ID card into his palm, then jerked his hand back, rubbing it back and forth against the hip of his dirty apron. Then he resumed his double-handed grip of the broom, raising it chest-high.
"You obviously remember me," Jon began.
"You better believe it, you....you...."
Jon held up one hand, palm outward. "I told you, I was having some difficulty. I was....sick. That's where you could help me. I don't remember much about that time.....maybe you could tell me something I can't remember."
After a long moment, the man's breathing began to slow, the bright color of his face began to fade. "What, you some kind of druggie? You deserve whatever happens to you....."
Jon winced. "I don't know what was going on with me back then. The doctors can't tell me, they don't even know. And I don't remember. I don't remember anything. I remember this alley, and I remember you, but that's all. That's why I came back here...trying to figure out what happened to me that night. Why I was here....how I got here."
The fat man's eyes widened again, then narrowed. He squinted at Jon, looking him up and down minutely. "Well, you still look like a druggie to me...."
"I assure you.....whatever was happening back then, I don't remember it, and I don't do drugs now. Except what my doctors prescribe for me."
The man took a step closer, still squinting. "What's the matter with you, anyway?" he asked bluntly.
"Uh....." This was turning a lot more personal than he had intended, but Jon decided that the only way he'd get any answers that this man might possess would be to try to make friends with him. "I don't know what happened to me, all I know is that I woke up like this. The doctors with Hero Affairs say that someone did a lot of surgery on me, we don't know who or why." He shrugged. "I'm just as dismayed about the way I look as you are. And I'm trying to find some answers for myself."
The fat man thought for a few seconds, then lowered the broom. He stepped closer still, and peered at Jon as if he were a side of beef. He started to reach up to touch Jon's chin piece, but Jon moved his head back and to the side. As if suddenly realizing his mistake, the fat man withdrew as well.
They stared at each other.
At last the fat man sighed. "Okay, maybe you're all right. And maybe not. Now, don't you start gettin' the idea that I trust you, cause I don't, I still think you're a druggie. Or handin' me a load of bull, which amounts to the same thing."
Jon couldn't help smiling.
Apparently satisfied at last, the fat man relaxed, his shoulders drooping. "Well, I guess you're actin' civilized enough, now, anyway. And at least you're polite about askin', I'll give you that." He paused, musing. "Okay, so what do you want to know?"
Jon relaxed as well, hope beginning to reappear. "As I told you, I don't remember much of anything from that time period. I remembered this alleyway, and I didn't remember you until you spoke to me, and I realized that you recognized me. Then I was able to connect you to a vague memory I have of being here. Beyond that, I just don't know anything at all. Any bit of information you could give me might help immensely. Anything at all, no matter how insignificant."
"Like what?" The fat man looked unconvinced.
"Well, I don't really even know what to ask. Anything you can remember about me. About the night you saw me here. About anything else that you saw that was....unusual. Anything that sticks out in your mind."
"Hmmmph." He pursed his lips. "Well, I remember you, all right, and a fine mess you were, too, scared me out of a year's growth."
Jon refrained from commenting that the man looked like he might be better off losing a year's growth, or any other interval of time.
"Let me see......yeah, you looked pretty much like you do now. No, wait, I remember.....it was dark, you know, the moon was up, but this old back alley....you looked like the bellringer, that's it."
"Bellringer?" Jon felt totally lost.
"Yeah, you know, that guy in the old movie, the one that liked to ring the bells...cause he was deaf....in the church, or somethin'...."
An image suddenly formed in Jon's mind. "Oh, are you talking about the Hunchback of Notre Dame?"
"Yeah, somethin' like that. I saw it on the late night movie...."
Jon frowned. "You mean I looked like a hunchback?"
"No, no....well, yeah, sort of. But not really." Jon looked his puzzlement. "You were all hunched over like he was, but you didn't have that hump on your back, not really, but you......you had this mess of....I don't know.....like a torn up shirt or somethin'. It was sort of hangin' all over you, and....I think....it was dark, remember....but the thing that scared me so much about you was that it looked like it was covered with blood."
"Oh...." Jon's faced cleared, understanding finally coming. Well, at least that agreed with some of those memories that he had tried to avoid. "I see. Thank you. Is that all?"
The fat man looked uncomfortable. "Well, yeah.....except for one other thing. Maybe I shouldn't be tellin' you this...."
"Please, if you know something else, tell me, it's really important," Jon pleaded.
"Well.....wait here a minute." The fat man turned and vanished through the doorway behind him.
Jon stood, perplexed, not sure what to expect.
A couple of minutes later, the fat man pushed the door open, stuck his head out. "Here," he said, thrusting out one hand.
Jon held out a metallic palm, the fat man placed some small object in it, withdrew. "I found that in the alleyway the next morning. Wouldn't have noticed it if the sun hadn't caught it just right. Never could make any sense out of it, but I thought I'd better keep it. I tried showin' it to the police, but they didn't have any interest in it. Case closed, they said. I don't know if it had anything to do with you..."
"Thank you," Jon told him.
"Just you don't be comin' around here any more, you hear me? You don't got no more business with me, so get lost and stay lost. I can't have someone lookin' like you hangin' around the back of my butcher shop, people will stop comin'."
Jon nodded. "I hear you. I understand." He closed his fingers around the precious tiny object, nodded his head to the fat man, and began walking back where he came from as he heard the door slam behind him and the lock click into place.
He walked a good block away before he stopped to look at the item in his hand. He couldn't make out what it was....just some small piece of metal, perhaps vaguely cylindrical in shape, irregular, perhaps one end could have been broken. It didn't tell him anything right now....but at least it was a start.
"Who do I see to talk about missing persons?"
The social worker looked nonplussed. "That.....is an odd question, Jon. You'd go to the police, of course."
"No, what I mean is...." He thought. "I don't want to report a missing person, I want to talk to somebody about old missing person files. For me. I must have been a 'missing person' at one time....I need to try to find out if anyone might have been looking for me."
"Same answer, Jon. You go to the police."
"I've already been there. They don't want to talk to me. Unless I want to report a missing person, or have information on one, they don't want to take the time to fool with me. They say it'd take too much time to go through the archives.....'needle in a haystack' and all that. They aren't willing to do that for me, say it'd cost too much in man-hours, and they won't let me have access to the archives so I could search them.
"They say it'd be different if I even knew how old I was, at least that would allow them to narrow down the number of years that would have to be searched, but the doctors couldn't even tell me that.
"Look, as a card-carrying Hero, I have some rights, some law-enforcement rights. I just need to know where I can go, who I can talk to, who might help me, take an interest in my case, or failing that, give me even limited access to police missing persons reports." He paused, scanned her face carefully. "There must be someone. Someone who would bend the rules, or at least wouldn't be worried about following the letter of the law, if it was for a good cause. Somebody who would treat me like a fellow law enforcement officer....professional courtesy, and all that. The missing persons bureau doesn't normally deal with Heroes that much, and everyone I've been able to get an audience with hasn't been helpful. I've tried asking for a supervisor, but I just get the runaround. I need to know if you, or anyone you know, knows someone higher up, someone who will at least talk to me for five minutes, just five minutes, and let me tell them my story." His voice was pleading. "You've got to know somebody. Somebody who is friendly to Heroes. Somebody who lost someone. Somebody who owes you a favor. Anyone at all."
She stared at the wall. "I don't know of anyone off the top of my head, but, yes, I promise I'll think about it and see if I can come up with any ideas for you."
He slouched back into his chair, relief washing over his face. "That's all I'm asking. Just that you try."
David Wincott scowled at the pavement, batted distractedly at a bit of paper swirling around his head in the light breeze that always seemed to be blowing around the Gate.
"Yes, Jon, I do know what it's like. I'll never forget that awful time when I wasn't sure if Sam would ever be found alive." The frown deepened. "....and you were one of the ones who helped track him down and get him back." He sighed. "Listen, I don't know if she'll be willing to help you but...." He walked the few feet to the fenceline, bent over and picked a crumpled and torn bit of paper out of the bottom edge of the wire, carried it back to his post, smoothed it out with his hands while using the stacked sandbags as a makeshift desk, pulled out a pen, and jotted quickly on it, folded it and handed it to Jon.
"Take that to Rachel Torres over at Precinct 16. She's hasn't been on the force more than a handful of years, but has become a good friend in a short period of time. She came to Sam's last birthday party, the one right before he was kidnapped. Tell her what you need, and why. Be up front with her, Jon, you won't get her help any other way. She's a tough cookie....but she's 'good people', and that's why she became a detective. She really does want to help, even if it may seem like she's going to refuse at first. Trust her.....tell her everything you can. I think she'll help you."
Jon clutched the scrap of paper tightly. "Thanks, Lt. I owe you one."
Wincott allowed himself the luxury of a small smile. "Let's just call it 'even', shall we?"
"Not much to go on, Jon. Mostly negatives. You know how old you aren't, but you don't know how old you are. That means no birthdate. You have no name, not even a first one. No friends, no relatives. No one who has recognized you in the past several months you've been working the streets. Except...." she raised one finger in response to Jon taking a breath as if to interrupt, "....for a butcher shop owner, and he only saw you after.....whatever happened to you."
Jon slumped in his chair again.
"You assume that you were a missing person case, but we have nothing to indicate that. If you did go missing, we don't have any idea around what date, and since we don't know your age, even if it were true, it could range from 50 years ago right up to 10 months ago.
"That's a lot of time, Jon."
"Yeah, I know." He looked his despair.
"No fingerprints. No DNA or retinal scan on record. Have you been type-matched?"
He looked up. "What? What do you mean?"
"Have you been type-matched? Your blood typing."
"Oh!" The light dawned. "Well, no one said so specifically, but I would imagine so. I'm sure the hospital would have records of that...."
"All right, we'll start there. I'll get a friendly judge I know to run through the paperwork so we can get all your medical records."
"There's one more thing...." Jon shifted in his chair, dug in his back jeans pocket, pulled out the tiny scrap of metal. "That butcher gave me this....he said he found it in his alleyway the morning after he saw me there." He handed over the tiny object.
Torres looked askance at the bit of metal. "Hmmm......Well, I'll see if I can interest anyone in looking at it, but you know it's a long-shot, Jon, there's no real reason to connect it to you in any way."
"Yeah, I know." He hung his head, then looked up. He smiled. "But at the moment, long-shots are all I've got. I've just got to figure out a way to turn them into something more concrete."
She looked as if her face might crack, before finally allowing her lips to curve upward ever so slightly. "Okay, Jon, I don't usually recommend optimism, but if it will keep you looking for more information, maybe it is a good idea."
"Things can't get too much worse, can they?" he answered, sourly.
"And I'll look up the police report that butcher turned in. At least we can pin down one date that you remember, which will give us an ending point to work with." She turned and began typing on the keyboard on her desk.
Jon nodded and stood, the interview obviously over.
He looked down at the list he'd written on a piece of paper.
between 15 and 50 years old
no wisdom teeth
no fillings (how was that possible? he thought) therefore, dental records unlikely
no DNA record, which meant no military service, no prison record, and no major surgery, at least in a legitimate facility
no retinal scan record (well, that leaves out any form of governmental service, as well as a lot of large corporations)
no ear piercings....but that might be due to his rapid healing, as well
no tattoos (or other form of body modification)
no scars (and now he wished he didn't heal so thoroughly)
no super powers (he picked up the pencil and changed that to "apparent")
speaks English as his native language
doesn't speak any other languages (that he knew about)
speaks with upper New England accent (didn't just about everyone in Paragon City? But at least that hinted that he might have been born, or at least grew up, in the area)
no known diseases beyond a mild case of arthritis, and some unexplained headaches
no known allergies
He threw the pencil across the room with enough force for it to dent the sheetrock.
"Dammit all.....there *has* to be something, something I'm missing!"
Rachel Torres looked unusually grim.
Jon slid into the wooden chair across from her desk, wondering what was going on.
"Jon, the first thing I want to tell you is that I don't want you jumping to conclusions. We have absolutely no proof whatsoever, and just because two things happen close together in location and time doesn't mean that they have any relationship at all. Do you understand me?"
Jon looked as mystified as he felt, but he nodded. "Yes, I understand. What's up, Detective?"
The young Hispanic woman looked unconvinced. She stared him down, until he wanted to squirm uncomfortably. He tried to sit still instead, wait patiently.
At last she sighed, began shuffling papers, her brows still knitted. "All right. I'll pass on to you what I've found out. You are NOT to take any action based on this....it is informational only, I probably shouldn't even be telling you this at this stage of the investigation, but I don't want to hamper your efforts, either. However, Mr. Smith," she glared at him again, "....I want it made very clear that if you attempt to approach anyone about this, I will remove myself from your case, and you will have to go back to square one. I think you will find it very hard to get anyone else to accept your case after that."
He felt panicky, as if he were a small boy being scolded for stealing money from his mother's purse, or worse. He couldn't understand why Torres suddenly seemed so hostile. He nodded again, suddenly afraid to even speak to her.
"All right." She sat back in her chair, idly tapped a pencil on the desk top. "We pulled the butcher's report, and we did a search of other reports made in the same area, within a week's time period, and within a month's. I repeat, there is no reason to believe that there is anything connecting these reports, one with another. It is most likely nothing more than coincidence. It is up to the police department.....not you, I emphasize.....to determine if there *is* any relationship, and if so, what it is, and what will be done about it. I will not condone anyone, and this means you specifically, taking the law into their own hands. I do not hold with vigilantes. Even card-carrying Hero vigilantes. And I have serious questions in my own mind as to whether or not you might be emotionally involved enough to do something stupid, something that would endanger our investigation. Do I have your solemn promise that you will take no steps until we know more about what is going on?"
"Yes, yes, of course....." he managed to choke out.
"I will hold you to that promise, Mr. Smith. It is not an idle threat to say that I will shelve your file if you do anything untoward."
"I understand," he said softly.
"Very well." She picked up the papers again, began sorting through them, settled on one, and began reciting from it, turning pages as she went.
"For several days prior to the butcher's report, there were a series of reports made to the police of vandalism in the Steel Canyon area. Most was the usual grafitti art, a statue had its head knocked off, a woman's purse was stolen, someone roughed up a shopkeeper, the usual sort of thing. The only thing I am interested in is the reports of garbage cans being knocked over, and the contents scattered. There was a short investigation to find out if a local pack of dogs might be responsible, but no conclusion was made. After a while, the reports died off, and no action was taken."
".....me?" Jon said quietly, a stricken look on his face.
"I repeat, Mr. Smith, there is nothing to connect any of that with you."
He dropped his eyes, nodded mutely.
"I traced the increased garbage can raid reports back for a little less than a month. Around that time, there were two totally unrelated incidents reported. There is no reason to connect them, other than by location and date. Do you understand?"
"Yes," he said quietly, afraid to look up.
"The first incident involves the report of an auto accident. A man ran his car into a light pole. A pedestrian insisted that a bloody man left the scene of the accident, but that he wasn't in the car when it crashed. The driver passed a sobriety test; he insisted that he'd lost control of his car when a man covered in blood ran in front of his car, and he swerved to avoid hitting him."
Jon nodded without looking up.
"The second incident took place a few hours before the car accident I mentioned. A call was placed to 911 from a Crey office building in Steel Canyon, and then a second call was placed saying that the first had been a mistake."
"....Crey....?" He jerked his head up, his eye wide. He couldn't repress a shudder, and found himself wondering why. He knew nothing about Crey Industries, only what he'd read in archival copies of the Paragon Times. Huge industrial conglomerate, began as Crey Biotech, known for their charity work. Despite that, every time he ran across the name, he found himself filled with panic.
Rachel misread his reaction. "What did I tell you, Jon?"
He looked back down, clenched his metal hands on the chair's arms, mouthed the words she was waiting for. "There might be nothing connecting those incidents to me."
"Yes, and I want you to remember it. Don't go after Crey, Jon. They might have nothing whatsoever to do with you. And if you try, not only will you jeopardize our investigation, you might get yourself in real trouble, and for nothing. Crey has a sterling reputation in public.....but the Justice Department has had their eye on them for over a decade. We'd like nothing more than to catch them redhanded at something illegal, but for now they are out of our reach. And of yours, Jon."
He sighed, unclenched his fists. "I understand," he said, resignation plain in his voice. He had no problem with staying away from Crey....no problem at all. The name alone terrified him, and he didn't know why.
"Just remember it. If you want me to continue to help you."
He nodded, still looking down. "I'll do as you say, Detective." He raised his eye without raising his head, peeked at her from under his hair. "Why are you telling me this, Detective? If you're so worried that I might do something wrong?"
She sighed, dropped the sheaf of paper onto her desk. "Because, Jon, just in case we find out that there is a connection, I want you to be on your guard. Behind the scenes, we know that Crey plays rough. We suspect them of everything leading up to, and including, kidnapping and murder. I don't want you to be another mysterious death. We're already working one missing person's case on you....I don't want to have to open a second."
He nodded. "All right. I'll be careful."
"See that you do, Jon. And stay away from Crey. As far as you possibly can. Just don't even get near them. Let me do my job, Jon, that's why they pay me. Don't get tangled up in something that is beyond you. Even if you are a Hero. You're still new at this, Jon. There are many Heroes who have been around far longer, learned a lot more than you have, have better control over their abilities. Crey is beyond you right now even if you did decide to ignore me and go it alone. I don't want to see you killed. And Crey is capable of doing it."
She watched as the disfigured man got up slowly, nodded to her, and walked out of her office, a sober look etched across what remained of his face.
She had no proof that Crey was involved. None at all. But she'd had her eye on them for years, almost as long as she had been on the force, and she was frankly scared of them. And, much as she hated to admit it, even to herself.....she found she was developing a soft spot for Jon Smith. If there was *any* possibility, no matter how small, that Jon might have been running through the streets of Steel Canyon covered in blood because of something that happened in a Crey-controlled building....she was afraid that if she continued the investigation, Crey might try to eliminate Jon just to shut him up. It'd happened before with other witnesses she'd worked with.
Witness protection would be utterly pointless in Jon's case. There was no way to hide his prosthetics.
Which was the only reason she told him about it at all......she wanted to be sure that if Crey learned of her investigation and went after Jon, he at least had a fighting chance of surviving.
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012