"Gordon, I'm not making this up."
Jon frowned, frustration apparent even on his disfigured face.
Gordon Stacy sighed. "I believe you, Jon. The sad thing is, we can't prove anything."
They were locked in Stacy's office, the blinds over the interior glass closed against curiousity.
"The file is blank," Stacy continued. "The only thing I can think of is that it had a self-installing virus imbedded in it. The first time someone accesses the document, it deletes itself unless they know how to deactivate the virus."
Jon balled one fist, raised it into the air over the police captain's desk, hesitated, and thought better of it.
"Okay, Jon, tell me again. Tell me everything you remember, and I'll type it up. We have no proof, but at least we can use the information ourselves."
"You are the one who told me that your disgruntled friend with the SEC said he got Invisible Falcon to do some snooping around on his behalf," Jon reminded him. "The file I found in that Crey office contained some security camera footage that did show Falcon sneaking through what is obviously a Crey installation, so I think that's been confirmed. There were some photos that he had apparently taken, and were confiscated when he was caught. And there was a single memo ordering the transfer of a prisoner, I'm assuming it was Falcon, to something called the Revenant Hero Project."
"Anything else you can remember about the deleted folder?"
"Nothing that makes any sense, out of context. I'm drawing some conclusions, here.....I wish to high heaven that you could have looked at the material and told me what you thought, or that I could have had more time to look at it further, but I was in a hurry to get out of there myself. It's just lucky that I took the time to verify what was in the folder before I copied it off the computer."
"Revenant.....revenant....hang on a second...." Stacy turned and pulled a worn paperback dictionary from a shelf behind his desk. "Spell it."
Jon did so, slowly and deliberately.
"Hmmm....not in here. Revelation, revenge, revenue......I could have sworn...."
Jon sat forward suddenly. "You have Internet access here, don't you?"
"Let me try something...." the scrapper replied, getting up and circling behind the police captain's desk. He took over Stacy's vacated chair, tapped the keyboard briefly, stared at the screen, stood up again, waving the Captain back into his seat. "Look."
Stacy stared at the monitor, a growing look of horror on his face.
Displayed on the screen:
"rev·e·nant n. [French, from present participle of revenir, to return, from Old French.]
"1. One that returns after a lengthy absence.
"2. One who returns after death."
"Jon, I just got an email from The Doctor, addressed specifically to you by name."
Jon sat up in bed, the cell phone clutched to the side of his head. "What time is it, Gordon?"
"What on earth are you doing at your office at this time of the night?"
"We have a murder investigation going on, and half of my office is working through the night tonight. That's not relevant. When I saw this email arrive, I thought you'd want to know about it immediately."
"Yeah....you're right. Hang on...." He got up, padded across the efficiency, pulled open a drawer and grabbed a pencil and a pad of paper. "Okay, go ahead...."
" 'Jon Smith: I didn't know how to contact you directly, so I sent this to your contact instead,' " Stacy read verbatim over the cell phone. " 'I hope you get it. I have stumbled onto something in the Crey database that I cannot unlock or decipher. It's called 'Project: Locke' and the file is stored on a computer at a Crey office. If this is what I think it might be, it's imperative that you get to the facility in Skyway City and find the source file. It may be the evidence we need to take down Crey once and for all.' And there's an address."
"Leave it to me, Gordon," the scrapper said, jotting down the address before ending the call and reaching for his jeans.
"Let's not mess this one up, Jon," Stacy had told him.
On the police captain's advice, Jon had copied the file he found onto a disk and taken it directly to the android Hero, Citadel, letting him work on breaking the high-level encryption.
Once cracked, the file was revealed to be a summary of some program called Project Locke, a radical transgenic cloning procedure that used advanced retro-viruses to insert new DNA into a fully-grown "template" body, allowing the fully formed body to take on all attributes of the donor DNA.
"Good God....." Stacy muttered, as he read over the file.
Jon stared at the screen over Stacy's shoulder. "Revenant Hero Project.....revenant, returned from the dead. Stolen DNA from dead heroes....injected into adult clones? Is that what it's all about? Recreating dead heroes? But, why? What would Crey stand to gain from that?"
"I have no idea....."
"There's no connection to Crey, either, other than the fact that I found it on a computer at a Crey facility," Jon pointed out. "There are any number of ways they could disclaim responsibility for it, not the least of which would be the fact that it'd be my word against theirs as to where I found it. You can be sure that if we try to show this to anyone, the original file will simply disappear."
"There are a bunch of hyperlinks, referencing a file on another server," Stacy mused. "What I want to know is what all the hyperlinks point to. This is obviously one part of a larger project. I know a hacker, maybe you met him? Mark Freeman. He's over in Skyway City. He should be able to trace those hyperlinks, and get you an IP address to check out." He pick up a pen, jotted an address, handed it to the scrapper.
Jon picked up the disk, nodded to the police Captain. "I'm on my way."
"Okay, I traced these IP addresses in these hyperlinks," Freeman told the scrapper, after a half day's worth of work, with Jon sweating the entire time. "It was pretty tough, too. They used an archaic addressing system that has fallen out of use, but I think I know why. They all link to a former Crey facility in Crey's Folly. The place was destroyed in the Rikti invasion and then abandoned, so this might be a dead end."
"I'll check it out, just to be sure," Jon told him, thanking the hacker profusely before he left.
He was getting close. He knew it. He could taste it.
If this lab was destroyed in the Rikti War, it had since been repaired to like-new condition.
Jon stood in the entryway, puzzled that his presence hadn't been noticed as yet.
Crey Security wasn't usually this sloppy. On the other hand, they might have become complacent, thinking that they were secure in the building that was supposed to be uninhabitable. Presumably, no one outside Crey had tried to enter the building since it was rebuilt.
Jon intended that it be a costly mistake on Crey's part.
Crey wasn't even supposed to be in Crey's Folly, by law, although Crey employees constantly flaunted their presence in the Hazard Zone.
Jon keyed his cell phone, requesting backup from Captain Stacy's office.
This was going to be nasty.
The facility was spotless, as were all Crey installations.
However, there was no sign that it was recently renovated. There was no fresh paint smell, for one thing, and even in the cleanest rooms, if you looked hard enough, you might find a stray scrap of paper behind file cabinet, a bit of dust under a desk.
This building must have been restored almost as soon as the Rikti walked out.
As soon as the facility was secured, Jon set about scouring it for information, asking some of Stacy's men to stay and help him. They spent a day and a half going over both paper documents and the computer network for anything relevant, or for that matter, anything incriminating.
When they stumbled over an encrypted folder, Jon wasted no time contacting Citadel a second time.
The folder contained everything Jon hoped for. A PDF file began with the bold title: Project: Revenant Hero.
It described template bodies being injected with the DNA from genetic samples taken from heroes, giving them the powers the hero had in life. The sources for their genetic samples included heroes who'd fallen in the Rikti war, DNA harvested from unsuspecting heroes, and an ominous sounding 'Captive Sources'. Late in the document it was recorded that the orginal Revenant Heroes had little or no control over their powers because their minds had not developed.
Technology to fix that defect was 'secured' by Dr. Paul Summerfeld, who based his research off of the deceased Dr. Friedken's mind uploading work. Using the technology from Project: Locke they were then able to implant the knowledge of how to use a hero's powers directly into the template body's mind, giving them full control over their powers, but without any lingering personality "defects" from the hero whose memories and DNA had been harvested.
The final stunning revelation: the Revenant Hero Project was on its 9th generation of the technology, currently being field-tested by Crey as the Paragon Protectors.
"Clones. Clones of dead heroes taken without their knowledge, or the knowledge of their kin."
"No wonder Crey had to keep this a secret," Jon replied. "The legal ramifications alone....if any of the families of the dead heroes ever found out, they could keep Crey tied up in court until hell froze over. Or until Crey went broke, whichever came first."
"The finest security team ever.....ever.....manufactured," Stacy stumbled over the word.
"I particularly like the part about the personality defects," Jon pointed out. "Presumably, the worst defect of all would have been independence of will. Heroes are probably some of the most independent people on the planet. I imagine that must have been a real concern to Crey. They couldn't afford their expensive and oh-so-powerful security force suddenly turning on them out of a sense of ethics or morality."
"I wonder if they have any....feelings." Stacy stared down at the half-empty coffee cup. "I wonder if they are self-aware at all. Are they just organic robots? Programmed to serve Crey without question?"
"I think 'programmed to serve' goes without saying. Nothing else would suit Crey's purposes. Why else would they spend the millions of dollars it must cost to research and implement such a program at all? They already have a deeply loyal human work force. The Protectors must have been programmed to a degree not possible by any other method.....starting with a blank slate, adding only what Crey wanted them to think and feel. No doubts. No suspicions. Crey couldn't trust anyone else with the kind of powers that the Protectors have.
"No wonder they're so incredibly powerful. Crey could afford to pull out all the stops in giving them those powers, knowing they would never turn on their masters."
Stacy shook his head. "It's insane....."
".....or crazy like a fox, if you look at it that way."
"Jon, this is just too volatile. If we're going to bring this to court, we're going to have to have rock-solid evidence. If there are any missteps, Crey will eat us alive."
"I have to wonder if The Doctor knew this was going to happen when she started all of this."
"My guess is that she knew exactly where she was pointing us. That's why she was being so cagey.....probably figured that if she'd just told us the whole story, we'd never believe it. She had to lead us into finding it for ourselves."
Jon Smith stood in front of the closed door, took a deep breath.
Gordon Stacy had sent him to talk to a homeless man who would only identify himself as The Can Man. Speaking only in rhyme, he pointed out to the scrapper an entrance through the sewers into a deeply hidden installation, the secret headquarters of the Paragon Protectors.
He had never seen so many Protectors in one place at one time. The entire installation was full of them. There must have been hundreds of them.
It was with great difficulty, and resorting to quite a few Inspiration drugs, that Jon was able to find his way to a file cabinet deep in the building where he found a dusty file discussing the lab where the Protectors were created.
Crossing Paragon City to the lab, he'd found the same situation.....one Paragon Protector after another, a veritable army of superpowered fighters, all with only one thought in mind....to obey the orders of their creators.
From the layout of the interior, it was obvious that he had explored every possible room in the building except one....the room whose door stood closed in front of him.
This is it, he thought to himself, this is where I find my answers, as he reached for the door to slide it carefully, and, he hoped, silently, open.
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012