It was truly spooky.
Almost like looking at his own ghost.
The drawing didn't look anything like him. Nothing like the image that he saw in the mirror whenever he chose to look. And yet the police sketch artist assured him that it *was* him.
The man he would have been.
The circuitry that traced across his face was gone, as was the metal jaw plate. His cybernetic monocle was missing as well, and in its place, the artist had drawn in the reverse image of his left eye. His long, straggly blonde hair, which he kept that way to help hide his face, here was neatly trimmed short. He was surprised at how handsome the face looking at him was.
He was looking at the face of a stranger.
A stranger who was himself.
"....that's about the best we can do," the artist was telling Detective Rachel Torres. "The metal of the chin piece makes it a little hard to see his bone structure, even on x-ray, but I think we did a pretty good job. There's nothing left of the right eye socket, so I had to assume that it was the reverse of his left one. Of course, no one's face is exactly right-left symetrical, but that's the closest I could come."
"That's fine, I'm sure it'll be a great help," the detective reassured him. "Can you feed that into the computer and get me some adjusted images at various ages?"
"How far you want to go back?" the artist replied.
"Might as well go back as far as the program will allow....If Mr. Smith really is a missing persons case, we have no way of knowing if he might have gone missing as a child. Just use your best judgement as to what will come out that might be usable."
The artist nodded. "Will do. It'll take a bit...."
"No problem," Torres replied, "I'm in your debt. I appreciate you taking the time to set this up for me."
"Yes, thank you very much," Jon did his best to project his gratitude, knowing that his face would disguise much of what he was feeling.
The artist smiled. "Actually, it was kind of interesting. Not the sort of work I do normally. Mostly I work with skeletal remains." He gathered his folders into a neat bundle and picked them up.
Jon watched the man walk away, then turned to Torres, suddenly dropping his head in embarrassment. "Umm...." he started, then stopped.
"What is it, Jon?"
"I know this is going to sound kind of strange....but is there any way that I could get, like, a photocopy of that drawing, or something?" He finished with his heart pounding, feeling stupid for even asking.
Torres looked him over, then granted him one of her very infrequent smiles. "Sure, Jon, I understand. Of course you're not just curious. That's you, isn't it? Something you've never even seen yourself. If I were in your place, I'd want copies, too. In fact, I'll see about getting you the age adjusted copies, as well, when they come in."
"Would you?" he looked up shyly from under his long blonde hair.
"Consider it done."
The blonde woman was quite short, a fact that was not apparent except to the most astute observer. Somehow, she gave the impression of being unusually tall, even imposing. There was something about the way she carried herself that caused some people to step back, as if in deference. Her long hair, worn straight and loose, fell below her waist. Her face and manner of dress would convince most that she was very young, her early 20s at most....until you looked into her eyes.
Very few people could look into her eyes for long.
The man walking down the hallway beside her was wearing quite ordinary street clothes....except for the black handkerchef draped over his nose and lower face. In another situation, he would have been taken for a thief.....or a mugger.
".....this is the third trip we've made in a month, and she still isn't here...." Maggot Man was growling, making no pretence of keeping his voice low.
The blonde woman didn't speak a reply, but her expression showed her irritation quite plainly.
"......Winthrop can just send his own dogs out here from now.....Lin?" He pulled up short as the woman staggered suddenly, her expression flitting from irritation to surprise to pain. They had both stopped walking down the apartment hallway....she put her hand out to the wall to catch herself, a puzzled look on her face.
"Lin...?" he asked again, the beginnings of a worried expression working its way across his face.
He sighed heavily. "Aw, Lin....you're doing it again, aren't you?"
She smiled wanly. "I'm an empath, Chris, what do you expect me to do?"
He glowered. "Stop picking up every stray cat and dog we come across, that's what," he growled.
She laughed, although the laugh was weak and without real humor. "This is not a stray cat, Chris.....and he...or she.....is in trouble. Big trouble."
"So? So let them go to the police. Or call for a Hero. You don't have to try to save everybody we come across, you know, you've got more than enough on your plate as it is."
She shook her head. "Not this time, Chris." She straightened, dropped the hand she had rested against the wall, began turning her head from side to side, staring at the hallway wall as if she could see through it.
"Damn....." Maggot Man muttered under his breath, watching her.
She began walking forward and back along the hallway, still swinging her head like a lantern, a few steps forward, then back, to the right-hand wall, to the left. After a couple of minutes, she placed a hand against the wall, then leaned her forehead against it, closed her eyes.
"Here, Chris. We have to find the entrance to this apartment."
"That's breaking and entering, Lin...." he growled.
"We find the front door, get the apartment number from it, and we go see the building super."
"Always with the plan....." he muttered, not caring if she heard him.
This time the soft laugh was real. "Come on, Chris, the sooner we take care of this, the less time you'll be....inconvenienced."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah....."
But the inconvenience was prolonged. It took them over an hour to find the front door to the apartment she had indicated, then the manager, then convince the manager to talk to them about opening the apartment, then put calls in to the Agency for Superhero Affairs to get the proper clearance to enter a private residence "under suspicion raised by supernatural means", another way of saying that Linuial worked by means of what science today called "magic". Despite his grumbling, Maggot Man made no attempt to excuse himself, and the short blonde woman would not be dissuaded.
"....there you go....." the woman in the curlers said, pushing the door open. "....you want anything else, you get a proper warrant, like everybody else."
"No, thank you, we'll take it from here." Linuial's eyes were already squinted, trained on the gloom behind the cracked door, having already dismissed the building manager from her thoughts.
Still staring at the door, she raised a hand as a barrier when Maggot Man would have pushed the door wider. She waited until the manager had turned the corner of the hallway before she grasped the doorknob and began pushing it open slowly.
It was a one-room apartment, an efficiency. The room was almost totally dark, the flimsy curtains over the solitary window pulled shut and pinned together with a clothes pin. Some light nevertheless crept around and through them. In the near gloom, very little could be seen. Anyone trying to walk around the apartment would find himself stumbling over furniture and both hard and soft objects lying on the floor in piles. The small room reeked of alcohol, body sweat, and worse things.
"What the......?" Maggot Man exclaimed. He stood in the doorway, swinging his head from side-to-side, squinting into the darkness.
Linuial stepped forward slowly, moving her feet in a skating motion, pushing impediments out of the way before she set her weight on the floor. "See if you can find a light, Chris," she said softly.
"This is a bad idea, Lin....."
"You know you can leave, Chris." She smiled to herself in the dark.
"As if....." he responded.
He turned to his left, reached toward the clothespin holding the curtains together. "Maybe this will help...." He yanked the clothespin free and in the same motion jerked one of the curtains to one side. Sunlight poured into the tiny room.
A man lay curled up in fetal position on the bed opposite the entrance, his face to the wall, back to the door. A man.....but a most extraordinary one. He was nearly naked, wearing only a jock strap, a fact which made it very obvious that both his arms and his legs were not human at all, but machinery. And even the skin of his back was criss-crossed with what appeared to be circuitry. At the first flash of light, he cried out in pain, twisted his head face down into the mattress as he flailed wildly with his right hand, finally snatched at the pillow that had fallen to one side, clutched it over what appeared to be a camera lens set over, or imbedded in, his right eye.
A wad of fabric was resting precariously across the lower corner of the bed, draping onto the floor. Without turning over, he exchanged the hand holding the pillow against his right eye, reached down with the right again, felt around for a second, grabbed the covers, and pulled them up to his waist.
"....go 'way.....m'not decen'..."
To the right of the entranceway, a closet door stood half-open, the only things that could be seen in it were two pair of boots, black and brown, a navy suit hanging neatly on a hanger, a matching hat sitting primly on the shelf over it, two cardboard boxes next to the hat, a neatly folded stack of towels thereafter. Furniture was easy to tally, there was very little of it....to the left of the entrance, a small wooden table and chair under the window and next to the kitchenette, the table piled high with papers and refuse. The bed across from the window, a small chest of drawers that stood in the place of a night-stand, a blue-and-white-clown lamp on top of it. Opposite from the kitchenette, the bathroom door also stood half-open. Next to the bathroom stood an empty frame for a full-length mirror, shattered mirror glass lying in a pile at its base.
The apartment was thoroughly trashed out. Literally. Empty foam containers and glass bottles filled the plastic garbage can in the kitchenette, spilled over onto a large pile on the floor. More containers, bottles, and wadded up piles of fabric covered the floor, creating an obstacle course for anyone who tried to cross it. The bottles, when examined, all carried labels for various brands of cheap whiskey.
A paper cup was lying on its side on top of the night-stand, brown liquid pooled around it, the aroma of alcohol wafting from the liquid. Papers rested on top of the stand and trickled down on to the floor, brown stains on many of them.
There were several large fist-sized holes in the sheetrock.
A crumpled piece of paper was fastened lopsidedly to the wall, apparently pinned there by a pencil stuck completely through it and into the sheetrock.
"....holy hell....." Maggot Man muttered under his breath. "Lin, you sure do pick 'em."
The empathic defender began to pick her way across the floor toward the bed, when both of them were startled enough to jump as a strident ringing began. Both of them began pushing aside piles of fabric on the floor, until Linuial came up with a ringing cell phone in her hand.
Giving a quick glance to Maggot Man, she pressed a button and held the phone to her ear. "Hello?"
"Hell.....Hey, who is this?" a voice from the phone demanded.
"Who are you calling for, please?" Linuial frowned, watching the now once-again-unconscious man on the bed.
"Jon Smith, and this is his cell phone and you better have a really good reason for having it," the officious-sounding voice replied. "Where is he?" the voice demanded.
"I.....am not sure....but if you give me your name and number, I'll be sure to pass on a message if and when I find him." She skated to the only table in the tiny apartment, began pushing empty foam cartons and papers around. She turned her head and mouthed "pen and paper", Maggot Man turned and started sifting through other piles on the floor.
"This is Hero Corps, and he hasn't reported in for nearly two weeks, and if he doesn't check in in 24 hours, he can kiss his job goodbye," the voice snapped.
"Just a second, I'm trying to find a pen....." the blonde woman told him, still frantically pushing debris around.
Standing, Maggot Man swung his gaze around the room, then jumped to the pencil stuck in the wall, yanked it and the paper free, handed them to Linuial. She flipped the paper over. "Okay, give me your number, please." She jotted on the back of the sheet. "Yes, all right, I'll be sure and give him the message if I find him."
"You do that, girly....." the voice snapped, before dropping the connection.
They looked at each other, Maggot Man shrugged. "Now what?"
She turned to look at the unconscious man on the bed. "John Smith...." she said softly.
"Look, Lin, you did your good deed for the day, now just call the police out here, and let's get a move on."
She began moving slowly across the room toward the bed.
"Whoa, hold up, there, Lin, that guy looks dangerous. He's the one that's been trashing up the place."
"I don't think so. Dangerous, I mean. That's not what I'm 'getting' from him. Not anger or rage.....pain. Terrible pain. Almost unbearable."
"So leave him to the shrinks, already."
She seated herself on the edge of the bed. "In just a minute, Chris, there's a puzzle here, and I want to know what is going on."
He rolled his eyes.
She reached forward and lightly laid one hand on Jon's side. She closed her eyes. "Severe alcohol poisoning, to begin with. But more......much more." She shook her head, sighed. "I don't think I *can* walk away from this one, Chris. He needs help. He needs more help than the usual social services can bring to bear."
The masked man sighed. "So, what do you want to do, Lin?"
The woman began chanting softly, alien words in some language other than English. A soft green glow began to spread from the hand she had rested on Jon's side, gradually brightening. "I'm a healer.....I can eliminate the alcohol, and the poisoning from it, but I can't eliminate the reasons that he was doing this to himself. We can't just leave him like this."
The glow faded, and she dropped her hand, turned slightly to gaze around the room, searching for what she had no idea. She noticed the paper and pencil she had used to write down the phone number. "Chris, would you bring me that?" she asked, holding out one hand in indication.
He did so.
She looked briefly at the phone number she'd written, then turned the sheet of paper over. Closer examination of the paper revealed a hand drawing of a man's face, serious, quiet, a little distant. The pencil had been jammed through the image's right eye with enough force to drive the pencil deep into the sheetrock. Along the bottom of the paper, someone had scrawled a single word in pencil in an unsteady hand: "Karina".
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012