Jon was talking to Carson in Icon when his cell phone went off.
"I just got word that Crey is ransacking my lab," Janet told him breathlessly. "I don't understand this at all. I've worked so hard to keep that lab's location a secret. Only a few of my most trusted associates know where it is, like you, Jon. I've got a lot of important data about various villain groups in that lab. I'd hate to see what Crey could do with that info."
"I'm on my way, Janet. And don't worry."
She laughed, bitterly and without real humor. "Easy for you to say....."
Jon was thinking to himself once again that attracting the attention of Crey Industries was a great way to become one of its victims, as he eased his way through the door into Janet's lab.
He could hear the rustle of paper, the movement of a large number of bodies, a rough laugh, murmured comments. They must be in Janet's files, he told himself. They certainly seemed to have no fear of discovery.
Janet had made use of all the FBSA facilities available to her, and her own pocketbook, to set up this lab and office, one that would have done credit to any number of small companies. This was nothing like Kip Cantorum's tiny home-built electronics lab; it was the fully operational criminal lab of a Federal Agent in the top tier of the FBSA.
Jon moved quietly across the entryway to the first corner, listening carefully to the sounds around him, trying to discern from sound alone where each Crey employee must be, as he mapped out the next room in his mind from memory.
A voice remarked, "Jon Smith always liked this place."
He stopped, shocked. The speaker spoke with authority, as if he knew the truth of his statement. It was true, certainly, that Jon had visited Janet here a number of times, and been quite impressed with the equipment and with what Janet was capable of doing on her own. But how would this person know that? Unless it was someone he knew.
He shook his head. No one who knew him that well, certainly since he had been introduced to Janet, did or would work for Crey. Unless there was a traitor in Hero Corps. Or in Starfire.
"This place is a gold mine," a second voice responded.
A third voice, lower than the other two, responded: "Yeah, Jon Smith's memories have been pretty useful."
About to make his rush around the corner, Jon froze a second time. He reached up and touched the side of his neck where he had been stung by a Crey scientist.
Janet was wrong. It did make a difference. Crey might have had his DNA recorded from back when he was a test subject in the H.E. Lab Beta section, but back then he had not met Janet Kellum, nor seen her lab.
Memories are not encoded in DNA. Somehow they had figured out a way to read his memories without him realizing it had been done, while he was in that Crey lab, the one where they had scratched his neck. Maybe the narcotic they gave him, that left him feeling weak and ill, had slowed him down enough that they could use some device he had walked through, or under, to scan his mind, his brain. Or perhaps things were not as they had seemed....it was even possible that he had been knocked out, however briefly, and not realized it had happened, while they took his readings.
They had his memories.
They knew everything.
Everything he knew.
He was the traitor. It was his own memories that had led Crey to Janet's lab.
Still shaken, he fought grimly, silently, careful to avoid any unnecessary noise that might alarm anyone else in the adjoining rooms. It was lucky indeed that Janet's lab was as large and sprawling as it was, it worked to Jon's advantage. They were mostly scientists, although there seem to be an almost endless supply of them. Just the sheer numbers indicated how seriously they had wanted the contents of Janet's lab. She had been right about that, at least.
He was about to enter the last room in Janet's lab when he heard a voice musing, "I remember this place so well!" Bracing himself, he made his leap, straight at the location the voice had come from.
And found himself face-to-helmeted-face with a male Paragon Protector.
And finally realized exactly why it was that all, *all*, of the Paragon Protectors wore those identity-hiding full-head helmets.
Was the hair under the helmet blonde, like his own? Would he have recognized the man's face from Rachel Torres' computer recreations?
And what powers had been given him, and from whom? Jon had been born without any superpowers. He was just an ordinary person. There was no telling what quality it was that he possessed that Crey had found "useful" to add to their Revenant Hero project.
Could this man have powers stolen from the dead Invisible Falcon?
Jon found himself flinching, withdrawing, completely horrified, totally at a loss.
The Paragon Protector was operating under no such handicap. He lifted his hands, and a blast of pure energy threw Jon across the room.
Jon picked himself up, lept at the helmeted man, and found himself fighting for his life, thrown on the defensive for the first time in a long time. Almost too late, he realized the danger, firmly thrust his feelings aside, and threw all of his strength at the Protector that carried his memories.
The battle was long and hard. This wasn't one of the Protectors that bore the metal claws, the devices that must have been tested out on Jon and people like him and lovingly perfected before they were given to Crey's darlings, the Paragon Protectors. This was an energy wielder. Jon gritted his teeth, and fought, holding nothing back, tiring himself rapidly, knowing what was to come. At last the Protector staggered, fatigue finally revealing itself in his movements. As Jon had known would happen, his adversary suddenly straightened his back, squared his shoulders, and thrust one clenched fist toward the ceiling, thowing his head back, letting out an eerie cry, a cry of triumph, a cry that sounded as if it came from beyond the grave.
It was the Paragon Protector cry of defiance. Their moment of glory.
Jon called up the last dredges of energy he had left, and attacked the man again, knowing that for a minute or two, the Protector would be invincible. Invincible, and terribly dangerous. The Protectors, being artificial constructs, and totally devoted to their makers, were more than ready to die for them. They were willing to burn themselves out, even die, just to forward their makers' desires.
The Protector could afford to drain himself to the point of exhaustion and death. Jon couldn't. He had to survive.
He began holding back, just a little. Hit, back up, circle, run in and hit again. It was a dance of death....a dance *with* death....with death incarnate in the form of his mind-twin, juiced on andrenaline and no telling what other Crey technology that Jon didn't possess.
He had to keep the Protector occupied, without taking the full brunt of what he was capable of dishing out, until fatigue and time wore him out. It was the only way to survive.
And then, for a second, he saw it....the slight tremor of one of the Protector's hands. His moment had passed....Jon had won.
Without hesitation, Jon lept at the Protector, and delivered the fatal blow. The Protector dropped like a rock, his reserves spent.
Jon stood over him, exhausted beyond his ability to feel it, panting, shaking with combined fatigue and emotional reaction. One part of him wanted to tear the man's helmet off, look at his face, see if he was wearing the impossible face that Jon himself would never be able to wear, which belonged to him but had been taken away from him by Crey.
Another part was filled with revulsion at the very thought.
He dropped to the floor, still shaking, staring at the body in front of him, caught between conflicting needs.
Or would he perhaps see the face of Invisible Falcon recreated, unmasked, his eyes closed in death?
Jon closed his one eye, cupped his hand over his monocle, sat breathing. He was about to get up again, having decided that looking at the man's face would solve nothing, when another thought occured to him.
How many Ezekiel Norman clones were there? How many clones with Jon Smith's memories?
"Thanks for rescuing my lab from those Crey goons, Jon."
He sat on the steps, his metal elbows on his metal knees, his hands clasped in front of himself, staring at the ground. He said nothing in reply.....he could think of nothing to say.
"Look, Jon....I can understand if you're a little shaken by what you've learned. What you saw in my lab."
"There was at least one Paragon Protector that knew everything I know, Janet. I have no way of knowing if there might be others. Not that it matters....if Crey thinks they see an advantage to it, they can always recreate the one I killed. They don't even have to wait to grow a Jon Smith clone. With Friedkin's technology, they can take a fully grown Protector body, any body, and load my memories into it."
The FBSA agent nodded understanding. "In a way, they're kind of like copies of yourself. Except that they're totally devoted to the Countess."
"Totally devoted..." He stood, turned to face her. "And I am totally devoted to bringing her down.
"Janet....we've got to find a way. There has to be a way to bring this nightmare to an end."
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012