....and stood, stunned, his mouth agape, fully exposed, completely oblivious to the fact that if any of the scientists moving around the room had turned in his direction, he would have been in plain sight.
The room was large, very large. It was also quite dark, a fact that made it all the more puzzling why no one seemed to notice the scrapper standing sillouetted in the open doorway, the bright lighting of the hall spilling past him onto the floor. Or perhaps that was exactly why no one turned to look at him....his face dark, the glow behind him, might have worked to dazzle the eye just enough that no one realized he didn't belong there, that he was anything other than just another lab technician.
In addition, the large open center of the room was spotted with odd-looking machinery, almost like gigantic open flowers of metal. From the center of each "flower", a heavy mist rose, obscuring sight, filling the room with humidity.
A wave of warm, damp air drifted past the scrapper, escaping into the hallway.
Around the perimeter of the room, there was a raised platform, hand-railed, with ramps leading from floor to upper levels. In the back corners, large squarish Crey devices he had seen many times before produced beacons of light from floor to ceiling, the greatest source of light in the room, but very indirect, the contrasting glare only increasing the apparent gloom.
Suited Agents and scrub-suited scientists moved back and forth across the floor, tending the metal flowers, each one intent on his or her business.
The ceiling was dark, entirely without light or light fixtures of any kind. And it was here that Jon's attention was fastened, rivetted, unable to turn away, shocked into immobility, despite the personal danger.
Hanging from the ceiling, like pregnant fruit, were huge glass canisters. Rounded on the bottom, the tops were fastened somehow to that ceiling. Frames of metal grasped most of them, for others, the framework was bent away from the glass, open as if the canister itself might be lowered to the floor.
It was the canisters that were firmly gripped in their metal frames that contained the bodies.
He could plainly see liquid inside, small bubbles rising from the equipment in that liquid. Hanging suspended in the mysterious liquid, he could see naked bodies of men and women, inert, unmoving, as lifeless as corpses.
Somehow, he doubted that they *were* corpses.
It didn't take much intelligence to put the facts together. The wires or tubes attached to the drifting bodies must have been supplying them with nutrients, with air, perhaps even with programming.
He was looking at the Revenant Hero Project itself. The cloning procedure. The birthplace, the womb, of the Paragon Protectors.
Off to the right side, he saw a man enclosed in the powered battle armor of a Crey Power Tank. That man seemed to be orchestrating the operation, standing watch over both flowers and canisters, pointing, giving orders to the men and women who moved about the floor, turning his head to talk with the Crey guard who stood beside him.
Jon stole to the left side of the doorway, glanced around to make sure that there was still no alarm....how his luck had held out this long, he had no idea, he was just grateful for it....and slipped silently to the near left-hand corner of the room.
He crept up the ramp. His luck ran out just as he reached for the scientist standing there.....the man in the Crey guard uniform standing just beyond turned and spotted him. He ran forward, also silently, as Jon clubbed the scientist to the ground, knocking him unconscious. Jon made quick work of the second man, then looked around, astonished that no one had noticed the drama being enacted on the catwalk.
The more he looked, the more womb-like the room became. He slowly began to recognize the exaggerated care that the workers took in moving slowly, quietly, in their duties. Perhaps the room was dark because the developing clones needed the darkness.....perhaps the guard was silent, because quiet was important to their development, as well.
Jon didn't care, it only made his task that much easier.
Moving to the back of the room, he climbed a second ramp to the higher level catwalk that ran along the back of the room, finished knocking the scientists and guards out, one by one. In each case, even when one of them spotted him, they ran toward him, but made no sound.
Good, he thought. Excellent.
There were no workers on the right-side catwalk, behind the man in the Power Tank suit. Even better.
Jon returned back the way he had come, along the back catwalk, then down and along the lefthand side, and then to the floor in the corner. His next task was made even easier by the rising mists, as he slunk his way across the center of the gridded floor, knocking down a scientist here, an Agent there, a guard further on.
The man in the Power Tank suit, the apparent "boss" of the activity, stood talking to his Crey guard. Apparently, neither of them had yet noticed Jon's presence, or the gradual disappearance of the rest of the workforce.
Taking a huge gamble, Jon moved to the back of the room, his eye on a crate he had spotted there. There was something odd about the low-tech box in the ultra-modern cutting-edge laboratory. He slipped along the back wall, checking the corners to be sure there were no hidden workers he hadn't seen yet, then crept up to the crate, eased the lid up, and looked inside.
What he saw was a haphazard pile of objects, what looked like personal items. Nothing very interesting, cell phones, key chains....he pulled out a wallet, flipped it open, to find it empty.
He dropped the wallet back in and was about to close the crate, when a spot of color caught his eye. He reached into the box again, grasped a bit of fabric, pulled it out.
It was a spandex mask, imitations of a bird's raised wings fastened to the sides. With a start, he realized that he recognized it, from the video he had seen in the files he'd found in a Crey facility.
It was Invisible Falcon's mask.
Possibly the only thing left of the hero.
So, here it was....the end of the line, probably the last place Falcon had seen alive. The reason he had never returned, never told anyone what he had found.
Jon turned the mask inside out, looking for clues. Inside he found a tag, neatly lettered. Crey's incessant fixation on documentation, Jon mused, even of the most insidious, most criminal of activities. He read the tag; from the date, it looked like Falcon must have been one of the first victims of the Revenant Hero project.
Jon carefully folded the mask its owner would never need again, and slipped it into one of his pouches.
You and me, Falcon, he thought. We're going to finish this....together.
Closing the crate, he turned toward the two men left standing at the side of the room. Moving closer, he could hear the guard addressing the man in the Tank suit as "Doctor".
Good, he thought. Dr. Summerfeld, I was hoping to meet you here. I have a message for you. A message from the Falcon.
With a shout, he jumped forward. Totally ignoring the now-frantic guard, the scrapper threw all his weight into his charge against the tank-suited man. Summerfeld fought back, coolly, obviously not your ordinary scientist or man of medicine, he knew how to use his suit to its best advantage. Jon also fought calmly, as if defeat were not an option.
When the guard became too much of an irritant, Jon turned and swatted him, laying him low with a single blow, then returned to the tank-suited man.
"You'll never take me alive, Jon Smith," the doctor's voice echoed hollowly through the suit's mouthpiece.
"You know me?" Jon blurted, as he blocked one of the suit's punches, surprised in spite of himself.
"I know you, and I know what you are."
"Then, tell me: ' what ' am I?" Jon dodged another blow, slashed at the man's chest plate, but narrowly missed connecting.
"Prototype!" the man in the suit spat. The word rippled with disgust and revulsion. "You pretend to be a man, but you're just an animal. A lab rat. The highest calling you could ever aspire to. The only role you could ever fulfill for the achievement that is Crey."
Shocked despite himself, Jon staggered backward, narrowly avoiding a powered haymaker that would have knocked him cold had it connected.
"And you, what are you?" he responded, struggling to regain his composure as he thrashed with his claws against the tank's armor.
"I'm Dr. Paul Summerfeld, the creator of Project Locke, and overseer of Project Revenant Hero. Dr. Friedkin never understood the potential of her work, I was the one who realized just what it could be used for. She paid the price for her incompetence.
"And you, my dear Mr. Rat, are going back to the lab where you rightfully belong."
"I don't think so," Jon growled, enraged beyond his ability to contain himself. He had no need for the energizing effect of the Inspiration drugs that sat idle in his pouches....fury and adrenaline alone drove him as he threw himself at the Power Tank and knocked its inhabitant cold with a single double-handed blow.
Gordon Stacy sat back in his desk chair, sipping his coffee from a chipped mug. "With Dr. Summerfeld behind bars, we can finally learn everything there is to know about this Revenant Hero Project. The Countess Crey is hiding behind her normal wall of denials, calling for commendations for the unknown heroes who exposed the 'rogue' Dr. Summerfeld's plot. The families of many of the mission Heroes that Crey kidnapped want to thank you for bringing closure to their loss. You did a great thing today, Jon."
Jon shook his head. "It's not enough, Gordon."
"What do you mean?"
"I can't explain it," the scrapper answered. "Just stopping the cloning and bringing the Crey records on it to light isn't enough. Not for me. Not any more.
"Somebody made Crey what it is today. It wasn't Summerfeld, he was just occupying a niche in the whole conglomeration. Someone created that niche....that, and all the others that allow people just like him to thrive and continue hurting people.....lots of people.
"I want the people responsible. The ones that made the decisions. The ones that started Crey on this path in the first place. Whoever he, she, or they are."
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012