"You've helped me more than you know, Jon Smith. Truth is, you helped me come to terms with my past. I won't forget that." Long Jack wagged a finger vaguely in the direction of the 30-year-old whiskey.
Jon tipped the whiskey bottle, let a drop or two fall into his nearly-full shot glass, reached over and filled up Jack's glass nearly to the brim.
The craggy seaman picked up his glass, held it aloft in salute, threw it and his head back in a single motion.
"Good stuff...." he commented, returning the glass to the tabletop with a click.
Jon smiled acknowledgement. He wasn't much of a drinker. His one honeymoon with inebriation had taught him that with his drastically reduced body mass, it didn't take very much at all to become unconscious, but with his speeded up metabolism, he didn't stay that way for long. For the scrapper, it was neither satisfying, nor comforting.
He picked up his glass, saluted in return, let a few drops slide between his lips, rolled it around his mouth. These days, he largely drank for the flavor, and not much else.
Jack Long was operating under no such handicaps.
The sun had set long ago. Nothing but pitch blackness could be seen through the smeary windows of the unmarked bar. Only the ringing tones of the marker buoys drifting distantly through the thin wooden walls acted as constant reminder that they were on the docks in Striga. That and the odors of fish, and petroleum by-products, and humankind.
Sweaty, smelly men crammed the tiny room. There was very little chatter, mostly about the shipping industry, and the constant stress of dealing with both Family and Council. Every once in a while, a grey-haired man would dredge up some memory of years past when Striga was oriented more toward fishing than shipping.
Jack picked up the shot glass again, rolled it double-handed between his fists, staring into the glass. "...but look, Jon, I don't know that I can help you."
Jon shook his head. "Just anything that you can tell me, Jack. I'm not sure even what to ask."
Jack looked up, met him eye-to-eye. "Goldsmith held me prisoner for several months in '67," he said, frowning. "That was 40 years ago. The kind of technology we have today hadn't even been thought of. I've been hunting for him ever since....he's a slippery old eel, managed to keep a low profile. Everything I saw in that lab was....well, I don't like to even think about it, but it was medical experimentation, like what the Nazies were doing in the 1940s in Germany, but more sophisticated. But, Jon, I never saw anything like what was done to you. I'm not sure Goldsmith, or the Council, have anything that sophisticated. They were studying the human body....vivisection, I'm sorry to say, but nothing to do with what we call cybernetics today, machinery applied to the human body. It was about surgery.....and torture....and how the human body and mind react to pain and mutilation. There was nothing about enhancement."
Jon stared at the nearly-full glass he gripped between metal fingertips. "Jack.....I want to talk to Goldsmith. I need to ask him for myself."
"Well, good luck with that one, the police have got him sewed up tighter than a virgin's..." A coughing fit interrupted what he was going to say next.
Jon laughed softly, gave the man a few half-hearted swats on the back, poured for him again. Jack wiped his mouth on his sleeve, threw back the drink, gave Jon a jovial grin.
"You can do it, Jack," Jon told the seaman, quietly.
"Huh? What? What can I do?"
"You can talk to the police. They know you. You've been around since the '60s. They know you've been trying to find Goldsmith, and you're the man who finally tracked him down. If you talk to them, ask them for me, they'll let me talk to him."
"Well, I don't know about that...." Jack looked unconvinced.
"Would you try, Jack? Would you *try*? We've both been used. We've both been hurt....had our lives damaged....because of people like Goldsmith. I just want a chance to talk to him. Five minutes. Anything. Just a chance....to try to find out for myself. Would you do that much for me?"
Jack searched Jon's face with his eyes, sighed. "Yeah, sure, Jon, if it means that much to you." He stared at the wet-ringed table. "I guess I understand. You can't stop, can you? You can't let go. Not until you've done as much as you possibly can. I can't make any guarantees.....but I'll talk to them for you. Sure."
Dr. Goldsmith, no longer in his black, shiny Council attire, was a tall, thin grey-haired man, now bent and defeated, shabby in his orange prison fatigues.
Jon stared at him through the plate glass.
"Five minutes," the armed guard reminded him, before turning to stand at one side of the room.
"I don't know you," Goldsmith snapped. "What do you want?"
Jon held up a hand, mutely, dropped it. "Have you ever done this kind of work?"
A light sparked in the older man's eyes. He leaned toward the glass. Jon obligingly held up his hand again, pressed it against the glass so the doctor could see it better.
"Nice work," he commented, then laughed.
"Is this yours?" Jon insisted.
"Considering what I'm in jail for, I'd be a fool to admit to it even if it was, don't you think?" Goldsmith grinned nastily.
"I'm assuming that you didn't do this. I'm trying to track down the man....or men....who did. That's all. Maybe if you help me, they'll take it into consideration in your case."
"Are you with the police?" Goldsmith looked his suspicion.
"No....I'm with Hero Corps." Jon admitted, reluctantly.
Goldsmith barked his sharp laugh again. "You've got no credibility with the police or the Justice Department. I have no reason to tell you anything."
"I can talk to Jack Long. The police listen to him. He's the one that got me in here."
Goldsmith's expression soured. "The less I hear of that man, the better," he growled. "He's been making my life a living hell for decades. Never would leave me in peace to just do my work."
"So? Tell me what I want to know, and I'll be out of here, and you won't have to listen to me talk about him ever again."
Goldsmith glared at him for a long moment. "Oh, all right, I guess it can't hurt. It can't hurt to tell you that I know....exactly nothing."
Jon opened his mouth to protest, but Goldsmith raised a hand to stop him. "I'm telling you the truth. I've never seen that kind of work done before. Not in the operating room. It's pretty sophisticated....whoever did it is to be complemented....but the Council has never been interested in bionics or cybernetics. I can't help you....except to tell you you're barking up the wrong tree."
"Why did you say 'not in the operating room'?" Jon pounced. "Have you seen it elsewhere?"
Goldsmith was silent for a long moment. Out of the corner of his eye, Jon saw the guard start walking toward him.
"Please....if you've seen anything like this, anywhere, tell me where!"
"You have to leave, now," the guard told him, as a matching guard on the other side of the glass took Goldsmith by the arm, started to lead him out of the room.
Jon hung back, twisting his head to keep an eye on the doctor. As Goldsmith was about to disappear through the opposite doorway, he stopped and turned his head, locked eyes with the scrapper.
"Look to the streets of Paragon City," Jon could barely hear through the grill, the doctor's voice faint and distant. "You aren't the only one with metal claws in your arms.
"Take a good, hard look at the Paragon Protectors..."
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012