It was another gorgeous day on the islands known collectively as Striga.
Jon Smith walked through the warehouse district, between the docks on either side of the road. He kept a wary eye on the Family members that occasionally ran past.....up to no good, in all likelihood, but at the moment, whatever they were doing wasn't obvious, and he let them go their way unmolested.
The Council members were more worrisome....the Family had been around for a long time, old-time Mafia types, dangerous, but not tremendously so. The Council were newer. There was something....unsettling....in the way they had appeared in Paragon City, and the Fifth Column had disappeared. This had happened before Jon's first memories; his only knowledge of the events had come from his reading of archival copies of the Paragon Times.
Despite the occasional presence of the two criminal organizations, it felt good to be walking in the clear sunlight, shaking off the musty smell of the tramp steamer he'd taken to get to the islands.
He stopped briefly to speak a good morning to Stephanie Peebles, but didn't linger. Buy a few "inspirations", that class of drugs that could now only be dispensed to the police and registered Heroes, slip the tiny colored pills into their respective pouches on his belt.....Stephanie had long ago passed him on to her friend, Jack Long, known as "Long Jack" to friend and acquaintance alike, the ex-sailor who could usually be found down dockside.
And there he was. Standing out at the end of the dock, as always, uncharacteristically staring out to sea, a wistful expression on his face. Belatedly, he turned to face Jon as the scrapper approached him.
"Hey, there, Jonny Boy," he called out, smiling, his earlier expression vanishing like the early morning mist.
"Hi, Jack," Jon responded. "Whada ya have for me, today?"
The smile faded slowly from the ex-seaman's face, leaving behind an enigmatic expression Jon had never seen on the man before.
Jon waited patiently, puzzled, but intrigued.
The seaman dropped his eyes to the aging dock timbers, stood for a long moment, before heaving a heavy sigh, glancing back up, searching Jon's face. "I wonder if you'd be willing to help me with something kind of personal," he began, speaking slowly. "You see, after years of searching, I've finally located somebody who hurt me very badly. I've located his lab, and all I need you to do is go in and arrest him."
"Hurt....?" Jon couldn't stop himself from asking, then realized it might be a mistake.
Years seemed to suddenly fall onto the man's shoulders, weighing them down. "Yes....." he said quietly, his eyes now fixed on some object far beyond the horizon line.
"Yeah, sure, I'd be happy to help out...." Jon said quickly, wondering.
For a moment, the seaman didn't seem to hear him. Then he closed his eyes, sighed, opened them again, returned his attention to the claws scrapper. Speaking so quietly Jon had to struggle to hear, "You want the whole ugly story?" he said. "Well, ok." Another long pause, before he continued, a pained expression now replacing his usual calm demeanor. "You see....I was injured in a squall back in '67. My shipmates brought me to a new doctor on the island, a man known as Dr. Goldsmith. If we'd only known! Goldsmith was in league with a shadowy group that later materialized as the Council. He did gruesome experiments on me for months before I escaped. To tell you the truth, I haven't been the same since."
Jon stood, stunned, unable to think of anything to say in reply.
"I....I'm sorry...." he finally managed to stammer.
The seaman locked eyes with the scrapper. "Jon Smith, make sure he doesn't hurt anybody else," he said, earnestly.
It was an ordinary enough assignment, outside of Long Jack's rather startling revelation. Jack had specified Dr. Goldsmith, and Jon took him at his word, activitating his hyperstride indoors, as he rarely did, and using it to run past the intervening Council members before they realized an outsider was in their midst. It took him only minutes to run through the facility Jack had pointed out to him, so quickly that the Council members didn't have time to mount any resistance. Even their frantic phone calls to each other about an intruder only served to confuse the situation, working to Jon's benefit.
He had nearly surveyed the entire facility, when he was startled to overhear one of the Council members addressing another as "Dr. Goldsmith". He had expected a man in a lab coat, not this black-dressed mysterious figure. It was a second stroke of luck that the two men were in a corner by themselves. Jon struck the second man to the ground, knocking him unconscious before turning his attention to the doctor, cuffing the cell phone that he had been frantically keying from his hand.
"Please come with me, and you won't be hurt, Dr. Goldsmith," Jon told him quietly, popping his metal claws into view, the threat obvious. "You're under arrest."
"Who the hell are you working for?" Goldsmith demanded.
"The authorities," Jon replied. "Long Jack is the one who directed me to you."
Goldsmith's eyes bulged as a look of panic stampeded across his face. "....Jack...." He staggered, caught himself. "Is he here? Is Jack here?" he demanded, his eyes now darting frantically around the room.
Puzzled, "No, I'm alone," Jon responded.
"Oh....thank goodness." Suddenly, all the fight seemed to have poured out of the erst-while physician. His shoulders slumped. "All right....I guess I have no choice...."
"Words can't express my gratitude, Jon Smith. Maybe now I can finally make my peace with the past."
Standing back on the dock, Jon couldn't resist asking why Goldsmith had seemed to be so frightened when Jon mentioned Jack's name.
Jack laughed in reply, real humor in his voice. "You may not have noticed, but I cultivate a reputation as sort of a tough guy. Always knew it would come in handy some day. Goldsmith is singing like a canary, all about the location of his boss's hidden base. Seems to think I'll hurt him if he doesn't give up the goods." He gave Jon a sly wink.
Jon smiled in return.
Later that afternoon, after returning to his apartment in Steel Canyon and showering, he found himself sitting by the window, gazing out at the passing figures hurrying by on their unknown business.
He could see Kyle Peck across the street, standing under a tree for shade, scribbling away on a clipboard, as always. Kyle was another contact of Jon's who had become a good friend. Jon knew that he could always hit him up for a few inspirations, or a bit of conversation, and it gave him a certain feeling of security knowing that Kyle could see Jon's only window from his favorite post.
Seeing Kyle outside his window didn't make the unsettling feelings go away, this time.
There had been something....chilling....about Jack's unexpected revelation. Something that left the scrapper feeling off balance. He thought about the incident, running it over and over in his mind, trying to eek any sliver of understanding out of it that he could find, but couldn't track down the source of his unease.
Gruesome experiments. Those were Jack's exact words.
Jon stood, took the four steps it took to cross the tiny efficiency. He stopped in front of the now-repaired full-length mirror.
When Jon had taken the apartment, he had asked the manager to remove the mirror from the bathroom. He'd bought an electric razor to shave with, depended on touch to take care of shaving. His hair had a permanently tousled look; he kept it roughly trimmed to shoulder length to help hide his face, and had taken to combing it out with his fingers. He'd bought the mirror for one reason and one reason only....on the few occasions when he wore the dark blue suit Serge had fitted for him, he wanted it to be as perfect as he could make it.
He never looked at himself otherwise, if there was any way to avoid it.
He looked at himself now, long and hard.
He returned to the window, pulled the curtains over it, pinned them shut with a clothes pin.
Pulling off boots and socks, he then pulled off his ubiquitous jeans, finally the jock strap he had to wear all the time.
And stood in front of the mirror again.
He studied his image in a way he hadn't since the old days when he was living on the street.
What he saw was a man who, when wearing Serge's suit, appeared to be fairly tall, with almost freakishly overdeveloped chest and shoulders, tiny waist, hips no wider than his waist, thin, pipe-stem legs. Blonde hair, amateurishly and raggedly cut close to his shoulders. What might have been taken for a camera's telephoto lens where his right eye should have been. The remaining eye was deeply sunken under its brow, giving a hollow, almost wasted look. Metal of different colors wrapped around his lower jaw from one ear to the other.
Flesh ended at his shoulders, which were also capped with metal. Fastened into the caps were skeletal arms of grey and silver metal, wires, hinged joints. "Prostheses" is how the doctors referred to them. Replacements. Replacements for the natural flesh-and-blood arms that a normal man has.
He raised one hand, turned it this way and that, flexing the fingers, watching the wires and pulleys controlling the action at a thought from his mind. If he held one close to his ear, he could just barely hear the soft whispering of the micro-motors that drove them. Balling his metal hand into a fist, he tensed his forearm, watched the metal knives slide from the hollow forearm tubes, lock in place.
Retracting the metal knives, he looked into the mirror again. Like his shoulders, there were metal caps where his hips should have been. Metal legs that matched his arms extended from those rotating sockets. Fleshless metal skeleton, the reason that his legs appeared to be so thin.
All of the skin that he had left had fine grey and silver circuitry imbedded in it, completely visible to the naked eye. Some of it was sensory wiring, but most, he had been told, helped him to control his prostheses, and orient them in space.
Gruesome experiments, indeed.
Someone had done this to him. Hurt? He didn't remember. With a shudder, it dawned on him that he had probably blanked it all out, he probably didn't want to remember.
Maybe it would be best if he never did. Perhaps his subconscious was right, after all.
Best, that is.....as long as none of his machinery broke, or stopped working.
Is that what his nightmares were about? The ones he could never remember? The ones that brought him to terror-filled wakefulness, shaking and dripping with sweat, once or twice a week?
He stared hard, looking, searching, for some shred of evidence of what had happened to him, who might have done this, and why. Jack had said that Dr. Goldsmith had experimented on him, and had somehow worked with the Council. Jack showed no signs of such extreme mutilation. Was there any possibility Jack, Goldsmith, or the Council might hold some clues to Jon's past?
He had to find out.
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012