"I'd like you to take out some of the Devouring Earth in Founders' Falls," Lou Pasterelli told him.
"Um...yeah, sure, Lou," Jon responded. "But, listen, I have an errand I need to run right now...can I get back to you in a bit?"
"Okay, you know where to find me," Lou agreed, amicably enough.
Jon hated to lie to the mutant. But Lou had recently shifted his attention from Crey and its misbehavior to following up on Devouring Earth attacks.
Jon didn't have time, or interest, for anything but Crey.
He made the rounds, checking with each of his contacts, both in Brickstown and in Founders' Falls, making his excuses to each, until he talked to Phillipa Meraux in FF. Phillipa Meraux used to be a hero herself. Known as Clandestine, she had specialized in infiltrating terrorist cells and other covert groups. But during the Rikti War, all that changed. Phillipa was caught in some crossfire between the alien invaders and the Circle of Thorns; though she survived the blasts, her powers had never returned. She still retained many of her contacts from her days as a hero, along with all the expertise and knowledge she acquired on the streets of Paragon City, and currently used that expertise to help other heroes continue her one-time crusade.
"Something terrible has happened over at Crey Industries," Phillipa began, and Jon immediately turned his full attention to her words. "...one of their scientists has gone mad! Apparently, this Dr. Nichols has developed some sort of genetic mutagen. He was frustrated by Crey's rigorous standards regarding the ethical treatment of human test subjects; finally, he became so frustrated that he used the mutagen on himself. According to Countess Crey, it's totally changed his personality. He's taken several of his colleagues hostage, and he's threatening to kill them unless you come to negotiate his surrender. He says you're the only person he'll trust. Will you negotiate the surrender of the mad Crey scientist? You're the only person who can help me on this one. Be ready for anything, Jon. You're not dealing with a rational human being, here."
Very interesting, Jon thought to himself. Human test subjects? And where would this Dr. Nichols have heard Jon's name? The scrapper had never heard of Nichols before.
It was a comparatively easy assignment, with few suprises. Once he had found the Doctor, however, no amount of persuasion had any effect on the man....he seemed to have no idea who Jon was, and denied having asked for him.
He was entirely unsurprised when he returned to Phillipa and questioned her about Nichols. "I'm sorry you couldn't get Nichols to come along peacefully, but at least there's some hope for him now that he's safe in custody. The Countess Crey herself is paying for his care. I tried talking to contacts I had at the hospital, to figure out exactly what he had done to his body, but they aren't sure. In fact, they tell me that he denies ever having used a mutagen on himself. It's a sad, sad thing, Jon Smith. We may never get the truth out of him."
"A bunch of Freakshow are running riot in a Crey-owned accounting office," Phillipa told the scrapper. "I guess Crey's own security forces must be spread pretty thin, because they haven't been able to respond. Those Freaks will rip that place apart unless someone stops them. Do you think you can stop that Freakshow raid?"
Jon nodded without enthusiasm. He had already made a tour of all of his contacts, but couldn't find any other assignments involving Crey Industries. He really had no interest in having anything more to do with the Freakshow than he already had...the only reason he agreed was because of the very vague Crey connection.
He was less interested in "saving" Crey employees, particularly office workers, than he was in catching the corporation red-handed doing something illegal.
But he needed the cash, and it was something to do. And there was always the possibility that he might have the chance to hack into an unguarded company computer, or rifle a file cabinet or two.
In the Crey building in Kings Row, two of the freed hostages told him that the Freakshow seemed to be looking for a particular woman, someone named Kimberly Kellerman. Jon had nearly cleared out the facility, arresting the leader of the attack, an usually large and powerful Freak named Mos Def, before he had found Ms. Kellerman. After he rescued her from the Freakshow, she told him: "Thank you so much, Jon Smith. It's so strange, but I think that those Freaks were looking for me. I was so scared until you came. I have to call my husband and tell him I'm okay."
Jon stared after her as she left, his brow wrinkled in thought.
"....what I can't figure out is why the Freaks were there in the first place," Phillipa Meraux confirmed. "From the sound of things, they specifically targeted Mrs. Kellerman. In fact, it sounds like they were hired to go after her. I'm going to see if I can find out a bit more about what they were up to."
It was a couple of days later when Jon got a call from Phillipa. "I did some checking after the Freakshow hit that Crey office. I still don't know why they were deliberately targeting Mrs. Kellerman, but I did find out that Mos Def, the leader of that raid, often works for a tank Freak called 'Saiba the Damaga.' If the Freakshow had any motivation to attack Crey accountants, then Saiba should know about it. I need you to get some answers from Saiba the Damaga. Just don't expect it to be easy. He's sure to be well protected, so be careful, Jon, don't underestimate him. He's reputed to be quite dangerous."
"We didn't have anything against that Kellerman chick," Saiba admitted, once he was in custody. "We were just doing a job. We were paid to kill her, and then rampage on the place to make it look like nothing special. We were supposed to meet the guy who hired us to get the rest of the money, but we didn't know why he wanted her dead."
"I wonder who would want a young newlywed accountant dead?" Phillipa frowned, her voice couched low enough that only Jon could hear her. Saiba glared at them through the reinforced glass. "Or, more to the point, who'd want her dead badly enough to sic the Freakshow on her entire office? Saiba mentioned that he was supposed to be paid the rest of the money shortly. I'll see if I can find out where that meeting is supposed to take place."
Jon was just about to step into the shower when his cell phone rang. He picked it up, glanced at the display, intent on returning the call later, when he saw Phillipa's number on the screen. He ran to the bathroom, shut off the water, and picked up the call.
"According to Saiba the Damaga, the Freaks are supposed to be paid today by the person who hired them to kill Mrs. Kellerman," she told him. "I don't know if that person will show; after all, you saved Mrs. Kellerman, so the Freaks didn't exactly fulfill their end of the bargain. But you should probably show up at the meeting anyway. See if you can find out why the Freaks were hired to kill Mrs. Kellerman."
Jon found Crey troops waiting for him, lead by a man who only identified himself as Operative Winslowe. The man stubbornly refused any further information, and Jon watched in baffled rage as he was led away by Paragon City police. Refusing to acknowledge defeat, Jon began a systematic search of the building where the meeting was supposed to have taken place.
A scrap of wadded paper in a trash can caught his eye when he recognized Crey Industries letterhead from a distance. Surrepticiously, he palmed the scrap, slipped it under his belt without showing it to the police officers.
He waited until he was back in his apartment before he retrieved it, smoothed it out, and read: "Remember, Winslowe, I don't want any of those Freaks to survive. We cannot trust them to stay quiet for long. Once this messy business is over and Kellerman's wife is no longer subverting his indoctrination, I think I can guarantee that your handling of this incident will be well reviewed."
"I just spoke with Kimberly Kellerman's sister, Tracy Templeton," Phillipa Meraux told him, her voice uncharacteristically strained. "She says that Kimberly went to see her husband Ken at work, and now she's disappeared. Considering the Freaks' recent attempt on Mrs. Kellerman's life, as well as Crey's probable involvement, I'm pretty concerned. Will you go find Mrs. Kellerman?"
"Yeah, sure, Phillipa, of course I will...."
"Mr. Kellerman works as a research scientist at a Crey lab in Steel Canyon. I'd question him first, if I were you. Talking to Ken is the first step toward finding his wife."
Jon nodded, activated hyperstride, and jumped into the canal he used as a highway back to the Founders' Falls gate.
As soon as he entered the Crey building, Jon began having misgivings. Something was terribly wrong, although at first he couldn't explain the feeling. He paused close to the entrance, looked at a stack of boxes by the door....they were full of hurriedly packed lab equipment. The boxes were marked with an address in Kings Row.
Jon was by now used to entering Crey facilities and being treated with hostility at best, and open violence at worst. The Countess kept issuing apology after apology, insisting either that the employees involved were renegade, or that they had mistaken Jon for an enemy of some kind. But this time things were different. Every person he met in the building seemed to be intent on taking his life. Even trying to explain why he was in the building made no difference.
It made no sense. Why were all of the employees so hostile, when Jon's presence was so easily explained?
It was with some difficulty that he managed to find his way to Ken Kellerman, a scientist working for Crey, from his attire. Kellerman himself was an entirely mild-mannered man, perfectly willing to speak with Jon once they were in the same room together.
"This is all very confusing," the scientist told the scrapper. "I'm not entirely sure what's going on. When you arrived, those guards grabbed me and told me to stay here or else. It was odd. But then, it's been an odd day.
"You say you're looking for someone named Kimberly?" Kellerman continued. "I met a Kimberly today. She said she knew me, and she seemed familiar. But I just couldn't place her. A shame, because she sure was pretty. And sweet. A couple of security guards came and took her away. If I see her again, I'll try to contact you. Well, after I get her number myself. A woman like that you don't easily forget."
Jon was still talking to Kellerman, when he received a call from Phillipa.
"Ken Kellerman doesn't even remember his wife?" she responded to Jon's hurried explanation. "Either Kimberly Kellerman and her sister are completely bonkers, or something has happened to disrupt Ken's memory. Time for me to do some more digging. But listen, we don't have time right now; I just got a call from Tracy Templeton, Kimberly Kellerman's sister. She's scared. Really scared. But before she could tell me why, she said she saw several white vans pull up outside her house. Then her phone went dead. I don't think those vans were from her phone company. Tracy's in bad trouble, I'm afraid."
Jon nodded, even though Phillipa couldn't see it. "I'll go after her. Do you have any idea where I should start looking?"
"Tracy got one last call out on her cell phone. I had Paragon Wireless trace the call; apparently it originated in a cave complex. Tracy sounded pretty scared, Jon. You've got to get her out of there."
"I'm on my way."
"Oh, Jon Smith, it's awful!" Tracy Templeton told him, when he had found her and escorted her to the nearest police station. "Those security forces told me they were going to make sure no one ever came looking for me. They were going to make sure no one even knew I existed. They said they'd erase my bank accounts, my dental records, everything! My sister's, too! I've never felt so helpless or scared."
Phillipa Meraux looked on, a pensive look on her face. She spoke quietly as the young woman was led away into the interior of the police station. "The police will be keeping Tracy Templeton in protective custody for now, but I'm afraid she'll have a hard time getting back to her normal life. I did a quick check on her story, and so far, it's all true. Her birth certificate doesn't exist in any database I can get to from here. I see no credit history, no property lease. The same thing seemd to be happening to all public records of Tracy's sister, Kimberly Kellerman. It's like someone has tried to erase them from the face of the planet. If we don't find Kimberly soon, I'm afraid we never will."
"Phillipa, there's something else I think you should know about," Jon told her, his voice couched low. "I overheard two Crey employees while I was looking for Tracy. One of them said 'once the girl's gone, there won't be any evidence.' The other one said, and I made a point of reciting this to myself so I wouldn't forget any of it: 'Dr. Giacomo thinks he can indoctrinate the wife, too.' "
They were interrupted by the ringing of Phillipa's cell phone. Her eyes opened wide in surprise as she answered the call.
"That was Ken Kellerman," she told Jon minutes later. "He says that he remembers everything. I'm glad to hear his memory's back, but I'm afraid it may have caused him some trouble. Apparently he started asking the wrong people what happened to his wife, and now he thinks that Crey security is after him. He's hiding now in an old office building, trying to avoid what he called the 'Mind Sweepers.' " She repeated the address of the building.
"I'm on it...." Jon tossed over his shoulder as he activated hyperstride and raced out of the precinct office.
But it was already too late by the time Jon got there.
A window in the back of the building was broken, Jon guessed that it was how Kellerman gained entry, but by the time the scrapper got there, the building was full of Crey troops, and Kellerman was long gone.
The only remaining clue to his whereabouts was a hastily scribbled map left on a whiteboard still fastened to an office wall at the back of the building. Jon would have passed it by, except for the letters "K.K." left in the corner of the board.
He phoned back to Phillipa, told her about the map. "Hang on, Jon, let me find out where that is...."
It was only a couple of minutes later that his phone chirped, Phillipa's number appearing on the display. "That location," she told him, "....is a Crey facility controlled by a Dr. Amadeo Giacomo, a specialist in the electro-chemical functions of the brain. Jon, you remember Kellerman's erratic memory, don't you? How he couldn't even seem to remember his own wife? Well, I think this Dr. Giacomo has developed some way of disrupting or erasing memories. You've got to rescue the Kellermans before Giacomo alters their minds!"
"I remember everything now," Ken Kellerman told him once both of the Kellermans were safe. "It was seeing Kimberly that restored my memory. Even though I couldn't clearly remember her, I knew she must be important.
"I think Crey tried to brainwash me to keep me from leaving the company. See, Kimberly wanted to move upstate, so we could be closer to her mother. I was willing to relocate, but I guess Crey figured I was too vital to their team. That must be why they tried to kill Kimberly in the first place, but when that didn't work, they told Kimberly that it was easier to change her than to kill her.
"Now that my memory's back, I can tell you where their Mind Control Center is."
"....so, the police are going to see about getting both the Kellermans into a witness protection program?" Jon asked his contact.
Phillipa nodded. "They send along their thanks.
"I wonder how many of Crey's employees have undergone mind control or memory erasure, like poor Ken Kellerman," she continued, her brow furrowed. "At least he's reunited with his wife now, and safe in protective custody. Ken's ready to come forward with everything he can about this Crey mind control process."
"Phillipa....we've got the location of that Mind Control facility." Jon took a breath. "I want to take it out. Now. I want Giacomo."
The one-time undercover agent stared at him, frowning. "You seem a bit....over eager, Jon," she commented.
He shook his head. "This is important to me....in ways I can't even explain. I have to do this, Phllipa. I need you to understand."
She stared at the scrapper, a worried look on her face. "Well..." she said slowly. "All right, but....don't make me regret this...."
Jon Smith had never been a violent man.
From his first memories, fighting had been a way of life, fighting simply to stay alive in the back alleys of Steel Canyon, in the industrial yards of Kings Row, in the sewers, fighting off zombies, Tsoo, gang members, all of the collective low-life of Paragon City's seedy side.
But he had never enjoyed it. In fact, he had hated it.
He had accepted the designation of "hero", and the work that went with it, out of the same need, the need to survive.
But he had derived no pleasure from it.
It was a new sensation, to snap his metal claws into position, and swing them with full force against a living human being....and feel, not distant, nor disgusted, but....elated.
The sensation grew as he mowed his way through the Mind Control installation. Here, he was convinced, everyone he met was involved in destroying the minds, the memories, the souls, of perfectly harmless, innocent people.
People just like himself. Perhaps at one time....it had *been* himself.
As he moved from floor to floor, he finally came to the realization that it was a kind of intoxication.
He was learning what it was like to be drunk on violence. On adrenaline. On righteous indignation and rage.
He was learning to like the taste of it.
There was a trail of blood from room to room.
Had he actually killed anyone? He wasn't even sure. He didn't bother going back to check and find out. He no longer cared.
On one scientist, he found a device that the man told him was a "mnemonic eraser", used to surpress memories. In a lab, he found a machine labeled a "synaptic re-sequencer"; its operator told him that it could be used to implant attitudes and emotions. A scientist jumped up from a terminal, neglecting to log it off in his terror....from the terminal, Jon found listed a vast complex of memory alteration programs.
Staring at the terminal monitor, he told himself that "they" would want him to take control of the installation, but leave the data alone, leave it for "them" to investigate the programs, the devices. Leave it for them to learn from.
Learn what? he asked himself. Learn to erase people's minds?
A wave of nausea washed over him. This is wrong, he told himself. I'm going to pay for this.....as he began erasing folder after folder.
He ran back to the synaptic re-sequencer, and smashed it, hammering it with metal fists and claws, then did the same with the mnemonic eraser.
He started questioning the scrub-suited men before knocking them unconscious; the question was always the same: where was the mainframe actually located in the building?
When he finally found it, he chased all the personnel in the computing center out, then moved around the perimeter of the room, pulling every electrical plug he could find. He finished by shredding everything in the room with his claws, ripping metal and plastic boxes open, ripping out circuit boards, smashing some of them over his metal knee. The monitors were the last things to suffer his wrath, showers of glass erupting through the room like a frozen rainstorm gone mad, as he shattered the delicate screens.
He left, shaking broken glass out of his hair.
"Where is Giacomo?"
If anything, the scrapper looked even worse than he usually did. Bits of broken glass still glittered in his hair, and he was covered in blood, both his own, and others'.
Terrified scientists scrambled to avoid him, so he chased them into offices and closets, making the same demand, before knocking them unconscious in frustration.
"Where is Giacomo?!"
He had only the vaguest memory of finding the scientist.
Later he would remember the man putting up a tremendous fight. Giacomo was dressed in the attire of a Crey Protector, using their powers and abilities.
It did him little good.
Jon left the memory surgeon for last, eliminating all the support personnel in the room first. Giacomo didn't wait for Jon to come to him, he attacked the scrapper.
Jon fought hard, furious, his pulse singing in his ears. It surprised him when the other man went limp.
He tried to drag the unconscious man to his feet, shouting questions at him, questions that he couldn't recall later.
But Giacomo was out cold, and stayed that way. Jon had to search for a pulse to be certain in his own mind that he hadn't killed the scientist.
"The police have tried to question Dr. Giacomo about Crey's mind control process, but it looks like he had some kind of mental failsafe in place," Phillipa Meraux commented quietly. "Most of his memory is gone."
Jon stared at his hands, clasped in front of himself.
"What happened in there, Jon?"
He shrugged, continued to stare downwards.
"Why?" She stared down at him. "It's pretty obvious you tore the whole place up. That wasn't necessary. We needed that data, Jon." She waited, when he failed to respond, she continued. "Do you have an explanation for what you did? A reason, an excuse, some motivation that I could understand?"
He merely shook his head.
She sighed. "The Kellermans are safe again, thanks to you. And Countess Crey sent along her thanks for cleaning up corruption in her company. She even offered to pay for a private detective to restore all the records Crey security erased. Now the Kellermans and Tracy Templeton can get back to their normal lives.
"But with the lab computer destroyed, there's no evidence that Countess Crey had any relationship with Dr. Giacomo, and he certainly can't tell us any differently....not now."
Jon refused to look up at her.
"I see." She turned away. "You know what this means, Jon. I can't trust you any more." She shook her head.
"I won't be giving you any more assignments."
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012