Sunday, January 20, 2008

Part 29: 1937

I had stayed in my bedroom at Pemiscot Hall for three days. Two of them I slept with only the occasional interruption of Festus checking in on me. The third day I spent with Frank. After a delicious breakfast courtesy of Festus, Frank returned to work. He was going to research Archon Bishop, the name on the partial note we’d found in the office where we were ambushed. Feeling rested I felt a need to read something my Nonna had shown me as a child. I didn’t know if it meant anything but the questions came up and I felt a need to reach into my family’s past.

“Festus,the family collection wasn’t packed up and put into storage was it?”

“Why no Ms. Cambridge, specific orders in your grandmother’s will.”

“Good I think I’m going to make some coffee and go read for a while.” I said with a slight smile.

“I’ll make the coffee……”

“But Festus, you’ve done enough, really. I’m perfectly capable of…….”

“Of making a terrible cup of coffee. I’ve had yours before ma’am. Let me, I insist.” He interrupted laughing.

“Fair enough.” I said and went to the third floor where the family’s collection sat amongst the many books and volumes owned by the family over the years.

The smell so familiar jogged memories of my childhood running around the many stacks as my father and mother read together. There was an ancient mustiness, not unpleasant mind you, that just reminded me of my parents warmest moments together. They would sit quietly next to each other, her reading classic works or literature and him studying some scientific text or journal. I would play or read a children’s book or sometimes just watch the two peacefully enjoy each other.

I went to the glass shelf that housed all of the diaries of the Cambridge women since Genevieve Pemiscot Cambridge. My hand brushed over the spines of the many volumes. All of different sizes and materials each reflecting the taste and style of the women who wrote in them. Some were several volumes containing the minute details of the family life. Some were short either due to a brevity of writing style or a life stopped too short, as Hank Steels first love, Anna. The volume I wanted belonged to his second wife, Amanda, my namesake. She wrote delightful almost poetic pieces on their time together and kept all public records and press clippings about the family and bound them in between passages. This was the largest collection each embossed with the dates they contained. Some contained two or three years, most about 18 months. The volume I grabbed was simply titled 1937. Festus brought me my coffee (it was much better than mine I must confess) and I sat in the leather sofa my parents lounged in so many years ago. I superficially glanced at some of the passages: some detailing social events and those that attended, others on family gatherings and even a report card from Branson Military Academy for my grandfather. Straight A’s in all things academic and a C in conduct and discipline. I laughed and sipped the bitter but lovely liquid in my mug as I came across the transcript I sought.

The following is a transcript taken from the February 1937 town hall meeting discussing the proposal of the Citizens Crime Fighting Act of 1937 and the testimony of local business magnate Henry Stanton Oakes Cambridge.

H.S.O. Cambridge: I’d like to thank the council for letting me come and speak with you my concerns for this proposal and for the presence of these “super powered” vigilantes that have made enforcement of the law their self appointed duty.

As many of you know my family has been a part of this community since its founding. While some of us, myself included, spent time away we have always called Paragon City our home. I myself love this city very deeply. Yet I am concerned about what it is you are proposing. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what it is these strange and unusual people are trying to do. I do indeed. It’s not that I don’t see the kindness and selflessness in their actions. I see that as well. No, my concerns are the unanswered questions and concerns for the unknown that lie ahead and the implications of a city government’s acceptance of these people.

Let me first lay out my questions. First how many are there and how many will there be in the future? It started with this States Man (Statesman) now we hear of names like the Dark Watcher, Maiden Justice and even the Dream Doctor. Every day articles mention how someone unknown thwarted a bank heist or saved someone from a burglar. It seems their numbers are growing and how are we going to curtail it if the numbers get out of control? These people ask for no money. They do it out of a need for justice, well we have a police force of hard working men with families. How long before they are put out of work? These men in blue are trained and give their time and lives and we give them a salary in exchange. Are they soon to be extinct? Will these self titled heroes later ask for compensation? Will they hold our peace and justice for ransom? At what point will we decide, ‘Ok, we have enough heroes you don’t need to help us.’ And how long will it take for one of them to take exception to the fact they are being pushed away? These people have powers that astound and personally frighten. I hear rumor that this States Man claims to have powers of ancient gods of mythology. Does that only frighten me? Gentlemen, I have seen war and watched men die. I have seen famine in the darkest corners of the world. I’ve seen the death of my first wife and an unborn child. I have seen enough to make one quite callus and this….this scares me. What you are proposing is having some kind of city of heroes running around unregulated numbers only determined by the whims of someone seeking justice on their own terms. While on paper that can make you feel safe and protected lets look at the other side.

I am but a man of industry. I have grown up with privilege that is true but my core manner of thinking has always been that of the working man. This privilege has though allowed me to see and learn things that many without such blessings of upbringing can know. I’ve read philosophy but my mind becomes twisted by the many schools of thought. I’m sure someone much wiser and smarter in the ways of philosophy could debate me until I surrendered on this topic. I like to think of myself as more a student of the physical sciences. While I didn’t study them much in my days at Brown I have been known in my later years to read the workings of physicists and chemists and find there is a beautiful world of thought in science. Concrete thinking. Real. Finite. Newton said, ‘All forces occur in pairs and these two forces are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction.’ Now one would argue that he was talking about the physical world and not something as complex as the human condition but I find that this statement to be universally true in most things in life. Balance of all things. My travels to the orient introduced me to the concept of yin and yang. Similar in principal are the writings of a young thinker Carl Jung.

What I’m saying is if we foresee a city of heroes running in our city one must also buckle to the thought we could likewise have a city of villains as well. We are seeing men and women gaining powers of myth and legend in our time and I think it na├»ve and foolish to think they will all have our best interests at heart. For although they are enhanced with powers only talked about in tales of myth they are at their essence human beings and the human heart while capable of great things is at times weak and selfish. What is next, street hoodlums on every corner terrorizing our citizens? Magical beings conducting pagan rituals in our parks? Beasts of fantasy wreaking havoc? The very forces of nature turning on mankind? Or even more folly: invasion from space aliens?


I know, I know it all sounds fanciful, but if 7 years ago I would have told you that a man with the power of Zeus would save the city from organized crime you would have laughed even harder. Am I correct? I have a beautiful and brilliant 16 year old son at home. I want nothing more for him than a safe and happy life. Things in Europe are becoming more unstable by the day and I’m sure he’ll be over there fighting as I did in Cuba. This does not concern me near as much as the thoughts of allowing this Act to pass giving a general-government sponsored approval of the freakish, fanciful and extra-human powered. We don’t know what is happening but allowing it to go unfettered may dawn a time of chaos that we cannot imagine. I for one don’t think we are ready. What if by allowing this we serve as the harbingers of these frightening examples? What if by saying no now we halt or at least retard this seeming evolution of our world? What if groups like organized crime or entities like the Left Handers get a hold of super powered beings……. [interruption]

Councilman O’ Brian: Mr. Cambridge I have sat by and allowed you to talk of gods and magical beings, even space alien invasions because I see the direction of your argument. But lets not get into paranoid ramblings about non existent entities like the Left Handers. This very council have made several probes into such entities and find them to be the figment of paranoid imaginations convinced there are secret societies running the world. I think you do yourself a disservice for your reputation and your argument by such ramblings.

Councilman Peters: Now, hear hear, Mr. O’ Brian I will not stand by as you smear the name of this man and his reputation. Mr. Cambridge is a war hero and very generous member of our highest society. And I don’t even think I have to mention his contributions to the war efforts during the Great War to his country and its soldiers. Why most of the steel used in that war was from the Cambridge family and practically donated I might add. His family has been an unparalleled part of this city since its inception. Any attempt of you to brand him as paranoid are insulting and unnecessary.

H.S.O. Cambridge: Thank you Councilman for coming to my defense. It is appreciated but also unnecessary. I will let my name and my families speak for itself and will ask that my thoughts on the Left Handers be disregarded when deliberating on my testimony. It was merely an example and while I think there is some merit……

Councilman O’ Brian: There is no merit! I will not allow this meeting to be the breeding ground for this. The case of the existence of the Left Handers or any secret group of puppeteers pulling our strings is ridiculous.

H.S.O Cambridge: Fair enough, you are correct it has been disproved and was only used as an example in my statement. This isn’t about that anyway, this is about the nature of man and the corruption that great power has over them. If someone gets these kind of powers but doesn’t have the selfless heart of someone like this States Man what will it bring to our great city. What do these changes occurring mean to our world and what can we do to stop a disaster from happening. I say we don’t sit by and just welcome it into our streets. I say we study and learn first then make a more educated decision.

I won’t take up anymore of your valuable time but leave you with this question. Who is this States Man [Statesman]? Can he be trusted? And what is next? Thank you for your time and attention. I hope you give my words some weight and thought. If the city decides to allow this Act to be passed I promise my energy and resources will be put to use to answer those questions even if the city chooses not to.

With that statement and with the passing of the Citizens Crime Fighting Act, Hero Watch was born.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Part 28: Enemies List (Part 2)

Frozen Passion spoke first. “I hope you understand why we did this. You looked over the CD-Rom, right?”

I nodded. “You could have asked me, you know.” my voice was cold. I just hoped the hurt didn't show through.

“If you were an impostor you would have denied it, true?” Grace interjected.

“I suppose so. But that doesn't make up for the fact that I am your friend. All of you. We've fought so many battles together......cheated death.....saved countless lives and helped the city.”

Frozen Passion answered “Look, suspicions were high. What happened to you was strange...suspicious even. We all gave you the benefit of the doubt. We did. Until that disk ended up on my doorstep. My doorstep.” She looked at me eyebrows aloft, waiting for me to get it. I didn't.

“I'm sorry, maybe the coffee hasn't kicked in yet, but where are you two going with this?”

“Mental, we believe you now. We really do.”

“Why thank you very much.” my voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Ok, I guess we deserve that. Look for my part in this I apologize....” said Frozen contritely.

“....and I do not.” Grace said defiantly. She was after all an absolutest. The universe was very white and very black. In her world gray did not exist. I became annoyed.

“Grace, I know how you work, and I have always looked up to that part of you. You act with a steel will and you have the strongest of convictions. I get it. But give it a rest, will you? I mean seriously you all acted on impulse without even checking if the source material was valid. Did you think of that?”

“You WERE in the Rogue Islands correct?”

“Yes. I was. Trying to figure out what happened to me. Turned out to be a big dead end anyway....”

Frozen interrupted what was soon to be a heated argument. “Let's not do this. Let's talk brass tax. The truth is Mental, we do believe you and I will speak for the Spartan Guard and say, 'I....we... are sorry.' But we did what we thought was right given the situation. Anyway, Grace and I got talking last night about things. Once it was ruled out that you were in fact yourself, other questions started popping up.”

Frozen and Princess Grace are well know strategists. They often lead our attacks on villains due to their complete understanding of statistics and tactics. They are number crunchers. They analyze previous battles, break them down, and build new strategies around their findings. They see the details, all of them.

“It doesn't make sense." I frowned and rolled my eyes. She obviously noticed. "No, no, not like it is unbelievable. You see we talked and tried to draw conclusions with what we know. Unless it's one enormous coincidence there IS someone behind all of this. Someone went to a lot of trouble to make you look guilty. I mean your powers could have changed and someone could be taking advantage of that fact, but it seems unlikely when paired with your anmesia and the burglary of your apartment. The question is who and why. As a hero it could really be anyone you've fought. Do you really have an arch enemy?"

I shook my head no.

"Right! For the most part you don't do much solo work. You haven't personally annoyed, bothered, captured, fought, whatever....anyone that we haven't. That would mean that your enemies are our enemies too. And nothing has happened to anyone else. What concerns us is the level of access they seem to have. Medical records, transcripts, they even seemed to know when we all were preoccupied enough to pull this off. Notice how hardly any of us were available? We were all conveniently away from the situation."

I nodded in agreement.

"Also the villain groups and contacts so far have been pretty low rung. Someone is using them. The Vahz were obviously hired by Council operatives and my guess is this isn't their doing either. Did you ever follow up on the Council lead?"

"Well actually right when we learned of a possible connection to them I learned of the doctor in the Rogue Islands, der Schepper. Thinking he could help me I'll be honest I just dropped the Council information. I'm sorry I thought it would help and it turned out worthless."

"We need to get on that lead right away." Princess Grace finally interjected.

"Then the question exists: Why you?" Frozen continued, " What is it you have done to make someone want to turn us against you? What benefit would anyone get from altering your powers or even your body? You are for the most part a defensive hero. You protect other people more than you harm. I'd find it hard to believe that you have done anything so horrible even to a villain that would warrant this level of attention. True?"

"Yeah, you would think, but dealing with villains you know sometimes their actions don't make a whole heck of a lot of sense." I said.

"I think we need to start looking away from metas and villain groups, Mental." her tone now softer. She paused, uncomfortable silence then looked away. There is an unspoken law among the heroing community to respect the secret identity. Many heroes nowdays don't really hide behind their masks, now that hero work has become legitimate. There are still many like myself that hide their true identities and live separate lives. Many of my hero collegues do not know who I am and some (those I'm closest to) do know who I am. My father went through great lengths hiding my existance even as a child. Our family was rather influential with the local and world press and as far as the world knew I was never born to one of the wealthiest families of the Northeast. I have since kept the same anonymity chosing to attend only one board meeting a year. Festus serves as my proxy for all other business and consults me for my voting preference when needed. To the world I'm just a PhD that teaches a few classes a semester and studies childhood cancers in a state of the art laboratory. (One funded of course by an "anonymous" donation from a major U.S. corporation.) I have never really felt a need to tell anyone that did know my identity not to tell anyone. The hero world is very tight lipped but they are still human and I'm sure there is gossip.

"My family? Is that what you want to know?"

Grace looked around. "Well you can't really rule it out."

"Mental," Frozen added "You come from a very wealthy and powerful family. I'm sure it's probably pretty certain that the family has it's share of enemies and they are probably capable of obtaining the information on you. Look, I'm sorry to go here I know it's generally frowned upon but...."

"No, don't think anything of it Frozen. I don't blame you it's a very strong point. But the truth is the family is merely a ghost in the history of Paragon City. An almost mythical family that disappeared when my dad left. With it our enemies, or rivals, pretty much disappeared as well. Besides ethics were beaten into the heads of the business by prior generations. Honesty and integrity were vital....the family reputation was more important than the money." I could see the disbelief in their eyes. "Look the 'company' is merely a large trust now anyway. It gives out charitable donations and research grants. The actual businesses were sold off to other interests and conglomerate in my fathers years anyway. By the time he disappeared all that was left was his research company. And when we found out he was, know, dead. It was sold. I would find it hard to believe we even have any family enemies still alive." Then I paused as an image hit my memory. Well one family enemy was still alive. But he was the good guy. THE good guy.

Princess Grace spoke, "Your family does have a rather checkered past with the meta community. I'm sure there are still grudges."

"My father rebuilt many of those bridges that were burnt by prior generations of my family.He didn't hold the same beliefs as the rest of my family. He respected the heroing community. He was a very tolerant man. It is widely known his contributions to a lot of the technology that is being used today to save hero lives."

"I can't rule out my family's past. But if it were about the money why hasn't any been taken? And if its about the meta community then why am I still standing here talking to you?"

"That's exactly what we came up with and why we were so confused." Grace said. "Just try to think of someone that could want to bring you harm. We are here for you. But we need to get out of your way; it is awful early and you are probably beat. I know I am."

"We'll start looking into the Council's connection immediately, if you want."

"Thank you, yes I would. Thank you."

They spent the next few minutes flirting with Festus and praising his culinary skills (two things the old man didn't mind at all)before I showed my two friends to the door.


"Yes ma'am?"

"No calls. No one. I need to sleep." And I slept for two days straight.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Part 28: Enemies List (Part 1)

My eyes opened and I saw nothing but small slits of light surrounding me. My torso and other exposed body parts itched terribly. I felt a weight upon me ever so slight. Something was on me….burying me. I lay there frozen not from what was on me. Slight movement proved that it wasn’t anything that was going to trap me. I took a few moments to collect my thoughts. Had Festus added more blankets while I slept? When did I get to sleep? The haze of my exhaustion from the trip, the kidnapping, the rescue, the conversation with Smitty , the confusion of the file and what now appeared to be a quart of scotch I’d sucked down after reading it may have something to do with it. Then I heard the scream. It wasn’t human….more animal…pitiful. I began to move…easier than I originally would have thought and got to my knees. My eyes had yet to focus. The itching increased as the items softly fell off me onto the floor. Feathers. I was covered with feathers. I shook my head, half to remove the remnants that stuck to my hair and half to catch my wits. The single sad scream became multiple shrieks as my eyes began to pick up my surroundings. Bars. I was behind bars. Thin bars though that looked weak and easily bent. I felt a wave of nausea as I realized the ground beneath me was moving rhythmically side to side. Feathers blew around me in a slight whirlwind as the volume of the screams grew louder. I spun around in the confusion wiping my eyes to get a better look. Then as the last of the feathers touched ground and my eyes were back to 20/20 the screams ended abruptly. I looked around to realize that I was in a bird cage swinging from the ceiling in what looked to be a little girl’s bedroom. As I stood confused I saw the source of the screaming. At my feet were dozens of dead birds. Dead canaries to be exact.

Flash! I sat up quickly in bed covered with sweat. Another damn dream.

I looked at the alarm clock on the nightstand: 3:33 am. I needed some air….needed to clear my head. I threw on a pair of jeans and just tucked my nightshirt into the waste, opened the French doors to the balcony, and jumped.

Flying always helps me catch my bearings. It’s also a sure fire way to sober up…..well that and nightmares about screaming dead birds. That will work too. I flew around Founder’s Falls drinking in the late night sights and smells. I saw heroes zipping to and fro. The ones that tend to go out late night always make me laugh. They tend to be the anti-heroes. The dark brooding kind that are either reformed villains, dark magic mystics or monsters. Most of them though are just wannabe’s fed on a steady diet of emo and old horror movies.

After a few laps of my surrounding neighborhoods I shot straight up. (I love this part the most) I climbed to just where the air gets a little thin and hover in place, close my eyes and lean back. The ideal air mattress. I have to be careful here; I have fallen asleep a time or two and yes it’s the falling weightless dream come true. But over the years I’ve been able to find and almost meditative state where I can just think or not think. Just catch my bearings. I let my mind go blank….all anxiety gone. I stayed there weight free, thought free until sunrise and flew back home.

As I approached Pemiscott Hall I saw two figures lurking out front. I stopped mid-flight just out of their line of sight using the corner of one of the neighboring high rise apartment buildings and watched as the figures seemed to be casing the area. Well I wasn’t prepared for a fight but my head was clear now and I was feeling a little jumpy. I triggered the part in my brain that encased me in a bubble of sonic energy and flew full speed toward the stalkers. Surprise was my ally in this situation. The cool morning air felt good on my face. They had their backs to me. Maybe I’ll just scramble their thoughts long enough to call for back up. No too early in the morning. Maybe one of the emo types will be around. No daylight: their kryptonite. The two figures were costumed; I could see the capes. As I approached I realized they were familiar…friendly. Or were they?

I stopped about thirty feet in the air and hovered with them still oblivious to me. They were approaching the front door.

“Dear god, what now?” I called to them. Princess Grace and Frozen Passion. “What the hell did I do now? Seriously!” I asked as I floated down to meet the sidewalk in front of them.

Holding her hands up (a “I mean you no harm” kind of gesture) “Mental, we need to talk.”

These two were friends- good friends- but after the previous night I wasn’t really in the mood for girl talk. I like to pride myself on being proper. When raised in society you are bred to always be polite, even when angry or betrayed. It’s your best weapon. But it was early morning and my feelings were a little more than hurt. (I’d just realized that too, seeing them here at my family home.)

“You can apologize later, I don’t have time for this.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t come here to apologize.” Said Grace with the same proper tone that I had been raised with. “I did what I thought was right for the safety of our city and country.”

Looking a bit uncomfortable Frozen Passion looked at me, “Look, Mental, we believe you. Grace called me. She wanted to talk to you….. we wanted to talk to you. Please?”

“Why? What now?”

“Ms. Cambridge?” Festus said as he opened the door.

“Oh, I was out on a morning flight and these two were coming up…”

“Should I call someone?” he said. After all they’d kidnapped him too. Can’t say I blame him.

“No, Festus, they are friends.” I said in a way almost surprised. (I learned that tone from Nonna.) “Could you maybe put on some coffee? And a little breakfast?”

“Of course.” He said with a sudden spring in his voice. He was actually getting to be a butler for a change. He enjoyed that. “Ladies please come in.”

We sat at the breakfast table silent until we’d gotten our first swallow of coffee. Apparently none of us had gotten much sleep. The breakfast smells were intoxicating as we made small talk. (The quality of the coffee, what china pattern was this, beautiful day) Then an awkward silence that I had to break.

“What did you want to say?” Time to get to the point.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Part 27: Three questions over scotch

The next few hours were not easy. Friendships were damaged; alliances strained. No one had been hurt....physically but many egos had been bruised. Medistar and Stellar Knight, longtime friends, helped tremendously. They saw through the confusion and misinformation and helped remind us all that there is a greater good. They reminded everyone that their duty is to protect the people of Paragon City and that was all that Grace and the others were trying to do. They likewise pointed out that the Spartans were acting out of loyalty and the truth; something we all find invaluable. It seemed to calm tempers except for the two princesses: Grace and Troll. They are very similar those two: proud, strong and with a very black&white world view. Altruistic by nature the stain of a betrayal of this nature will be hard to shake for Grace and the words said about Troll's heritage will stay with her for a good while. The others seemed able to move on but I worry about these two. I worry greatly.

As the two groups talked and the tension led to friendly chatter which led to old war stories and even some laughter I drifted into my own thoughts. I thought of how I met each one of them in my early days of adventuring. How each of them saved me several times and how I'd done the same for them. Some would feel hurt even angry at the Altairs move on me, but strangely I understood. These were good people; all of them. Being a masked hero takes a toll on ones psyche. Paranoia runs rampant especially when talks of Praetorians start. The conversations continued even after Troll and Grace both decided it best to retire and calm themselves. I remained quiet and to myself; I noticed that Solar was standing alone as well. I went over to reassure that everything was fine but she was somewhere else, in her mind, she looked up and smiled and kissed my cheek. But she was distracted, even muttering under her breath about something. This was a conversation to be handled another time. She is a very powerful witch; gifted beyond measure in her control of fire and kinetic energy. She very well may be one of the most powerful heroes I've known, but there has always been something unsteady about her . It's nothing that is readily apparent on the surface (she is pleasant and sweet with a sharp mind) but if you watch her long enough you start to see slight ticks in her body or whispering things to herself. She sometimes will not speak for hours to anyone then manically ramble on about vast conspiracies.. OCD, bipolar, schizophrenia: I just don't know, but something is there and I worry for her especially now.

Per my request, Festus took Frank home after dropping Smitty and me off at Pemiscott Hall. I needed some time alone with my foster father.

“You really should think of moving back in now. It is after all yours.” he smiled trying to deflect all the drama of the past few hours. He went to the bar and poured himself a glass of Scotch. He looked at me and I nodded and he poured me a glass as well. “Funny, your dad and I used to have a few drinks and talk about life out on that very porch.”

I smiled “Well then lets do that.” It was a put-on smile of course. I was confused and exhausted. I grabbed his elbow as we opened the French doors to the back patio and had a seat.

“Frank seems to be a good man, Mandy. Do you see a future for you two?”

I thought for a second, “Sure, yeah, I think so.” I took a long sip from the glass and almost vomited. (My god, how did they drink this stuff?) Smiity began laughing as he saw me gag on the very expensive yet very nasty liquor.

“Not to your tastes? Heh, you'll get used to it. Usually by the second glass.” he paused looking at the boats on the water of Founder's Falls.

“Your dad wasn't much of a drinker either...... You are so much like both of them. You know?”

I nodded, fighting the tears as they came to the surface. “What's happening? My world is coming unraveled. My friends, Smitty, my own friends think I'm a monster.”

“They do not Mandy, you're just tired. Finish your drink and have Festus draw you a bath and make your bed for you.”

“I can do that myself.”

“You do pay him for those things you know.”

“I pay him, yes, but not to make baths and beds. I hate that and you know it.”

“Yes. Yes I do. And that is all your mother.” he looked at me with pride and love. My mother was a fiercely indepenent spirit completely absent were the pretensions of being a wealthy woman. My father was an academic, but also a good son, and knew how to navigate the world of the affluent quite well, but deep down he related to my mothers separation from it.

I took another long drink and paused, “Well it's definitely not my grandmother.”

We both laughed at my attempt at breaking the tension. Exhaustion and stressed made it the funniest joke in the world and we sat for what seemed minutes laughing at my Nonna's expense. Then there was an awkward pause.

“Smitty I want you to ask me the questions.”

Without hesitation he looked at me, “That isn't necessary, Amanda, I know its you. You know that.”

“I know, but I want to know you know.”

“I do.”

“Just ask the questions, please, for me.”

He looked down uneasy. We had planned this since the day I decided to become a hero. A code, some questions in case there was ever a question about my identity. We'd worked out a complex system of questions and answers that changed depending on time, date and year. Praetorians were the boogie men to the masked hero. Someone that could ruin a reputation and cost lives. They were a menace to us, brought on by the portals. Portals my father helped build.

“Question number one: What is the number directly after 1638?”

“That is the wrong question.”

“Correct. Question number two: What is the thing you want most in the world?”


“Ok. Third question: What is the most beautiful thing in the world?”

“The purple and orange glow of Founder's Falls at sunset.”

We both smiled and took a long drink together and sat silently for the next thirty minutes.

“Doctor would you like me to take you home now?” Festus said after making my bed like I'd insisted he didn't.

“Please, Festus, thank you.”he reached into his pocket as he stood and handed me a CD-Rom. “Frozen Passion gave me this to give to you. It's the evidence from this so called informant. She said you may want to look it over.”

“Do you want to stay and look at it too?”

“No, just fill me in later.” he said as he kissed the top of my head.

I sat for a few minutes as they took off in the town car and enjoyed what was now my third Scotch. (They were getting better) I grabbed the disk and my empty glass and headed to the study to see what this “informant had on me”.

On the disk was a single folder labeled Mental Maden Mental Maden2 evidence. In the folder was a series of numerically ordered files. The early files were scans of newspaper articles and video files of TV news casts telling the history of the Praetorian threat. Nothing new but a nice compilation. Next was a .pdf transcript of the CHII hearing about me. I did notice some clever editing of the content removing any positive things said about me. Still nothing too compelling in the argument so far: circumstantial....silly. Next were copies of my medical records and details of the changes in my brain and tumor. Including the radiographs. Then came a series of digital photos that made my heart sink. File #105 Me shaking hands with the Arachnos liaison. Then a picture of me with Mr. Wolfe captioned (with known spy and criminal). I quickly went through the series of photos realizing that this did in fact look horrible. There was an article on a break in at the Longbow base and the kidnapping of Dr. dier Schepper. The next photo while out of chronological sequence sealed my fate a picture of me walking out of the secret lab from the day I first met the doctor. It was titled (Seen leaving the doctors lab few days prior to kidnapping). Circumstantial but damning. I ejected the CD-ROM and placed it back in its case when I noticed a note written on the back of the cover.

Someone in your circle is NOT who they say they are.
Here are some files that I'm sure will cause you concern.
It has come to my attention that this person is in fact a Praetorian spy sent to infiltrate your organization to head a full on invasion of our wonderful city.
Please look over this evidence with diligence and do what you feel prudent.
You may call me,

Dead Canary

What the hell.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Part 26: Conflict resolution and the conflicted

“Traitor!” she yelled as she came to consciousness, “Traitorous Troll scum! I knew better than to ever trust one of your kind. Some of your green monsters killed my Earthly mother. I knew it!” She fought the stone restraints that the Troll Princess had put on her and the others. She was agitated the most……there is a history of Princess Grace and Trolls. Her Super Group, the Altair Guardians, was also infiltrated by some type of doppelganger making them all very untrustworthy of suspicious situations like mine. But something set them off. Why now? What caused them, my friends, and peers to attack me now.

Troll stood proudly, arms crossed, calm like she usually is under pressure. “First of all, none of my people were responsible for your mothers demise I assure you of that. There are many untruths to be said about my people. Many in the science community want people to believe we are all monsters; a by product of the human synthesized Superdine. The truth is we were here way before man’s discovery and distortion of a common plant that we have been using for centuries. No, those are not my people. Those are a bastardization of our bloodline, brought on by man’s encroachment on our lands and misuse of our horticulture. I know Dr. St. John-Smythe and his Institute did much research in the 80s on the Trolls, but I’m afraid many of his conclusions are just wrong. He is an honest man, one I owe my life to, but I’m afraid he and his scientific peers have done irreparable damage to the proud children of Grendel.”

“I don’t want to hear your propaganda, Troll.”

Voice only slightly raised, “Secondly, this was no double cross I assure you and my other friends. I sincerely apologize for the way we stopped the raid but I was given last minute information that could not be confirmed in time. I tried to stall but you….YOU…insisted.”

Grace looked me in the eye. “Praetorian! Let me go and I’ll apprehend her.”

Speeding forward was the much overmatched teenager, Winterflux. “You won’t lay a hand on her space woman! Not if I have anything to say about it!”

“Enough little one” boomed the voice of the alien Tellania, one of my oldest and dearest friends. She grabbed Winter’s shoulder gently. Onceti May, Hoard of Souls and Medistar stood in the background on guard but silent. “Look, I apologize that we have you restrained and I hate that you feel betrayed. I understand your being upset but time would not allow us to explain things we had to act swiftly so you wouldn’t harm Mental. She is innocent of your charges.”

“Explain the missing fingerprint and DNA identification. Explain the differing medical information.” She stopped when she noticed the surprise on our faces. “Yes, you see we have inside information as well. Privileged information that you were suppressing” she pointed at me. She continued, “What I don’t understand is how you all can actually believe that she is not a Praetorian? I mean….”

“Let me say something,” Frozen Passion interrupted her cohort “Ever since I got word of this ‘thing’ that happened to you I have had my suspicions. You aren’t the same…..”

“I’m quite aware of the changes. I’m living them and trying to figure this thing out as well but I assure you that I AM ME!” I began to sob heavily.

“Let me finish, please.” She looked at her captors, the Spartan Guard, her team members and closest friends. “Mental Maden has always been a friend to the Guard and to Graces group, but I am convinced this isn’t her. In my gut I know it and I’m not going to let us get infiltrated by one of them. She is not one of us…never has been. Sure she’s teamed with us and all but she is not a Spartan. Why protect her? Why?”

The normally quiet Medistar walked forward. He is a man of few words and what he says usually carries weight with those who know him. “I’ve known this woman longer than any of you. We have fought many battles against the worse foes this city has known. Praetorians being just one of those groups. We all know her; show her some respect. I too am not affiliated with either of your groups but I think all of you trust me. She is Mental Maden, leave her be please. At least hear her out.”

“Leave it to an empath to be swayed too heavily by his emotions.” Frozen Passion said with venom. “She is not Mental Maden.”

“She…..” we were all knocked back by a precise explosion that broke their stony shackles and sent shrapnel flying in all directions. Stellar Knight, traps and munitions specialist. Tricky. Tricky.

Stunned but unharmed the two groups looked at each other for what seemed an eternity. They assumed defensive positions and waited for the first person to strike. I stood in between the groups face full of tears and I did something unexpected. The fear, pain and anger all bubbled to the surface as that little part of my brain that was once a tumor violently began vibrating sending a shockwave to the ground. I screamed in terror and agony as the floor became liquid from the harsh oscillations emanating from inside my head. Everyone fell to the ground stunned unable to move.

“Stop this now! Stop fighting! NOW! I have been your friend…your colleague. I am not what you say I am .”

“Prove it then” Frozen Passions said as she stood.

“I can’t, I don’t know whats happened……”

“We can.” Tellania said confidently, my head whipped in her direction in disbelief.

“And how do you plan to prove that?”

“If we can talk privately away from Mental I can explain.”

“Away from her??? Why can’t you say it in front of her? Shouldn’t she already know this great proof of yours?”

Now I was even more confused.

“It’s a sensitive matter. I think it best we tell her separately….not under these circumstances. You don’t understand.”

“Oh, I understand completely. Stop with the lies and trickery and just hand her over…”

“Wait. Wait. If we can prove that she is not a Praetorian can we put an end to this conflict and move on?” Tellania said in near desperation.

“If you have proof I will apologize and beg you for my forgiveness.”

Frozen Passion interrupted, “How can you prove that she is not the Praetorian Mental Maden? How do you know that?”

“Because I killed her. That’s how” said a voice from the shadows. “I killed her Praetorian myself.” The statuesque figure of Solar Mistress walked into the room. She seemed somber her head down as she walked.

She looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said to me in her sweet Irish voice “I watched her die myself… flames…a horrible death…I can still hear her…your screams. I can still see her….your face in agony. I can still see her…your dead, charred body.” She fell to her knees in grief. “I’m sorry Mental…I’m so sorry.”

(To be continued)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Part 25: Confronted

I was halfway back to Paragon City when I excused the steward to give me some time to myself. The moment he disappeared to his area I broke down and began to cry. What was I doing and what was happening? A lifetime of tragedy had built me into a rather stoic woman. I didn’t cry much at all and really didn’t think much about my emotions. I’d been to more funerals and memorials in my childhood than most people do in a lifetime. Death and sickness seemed to follow me and my loved ones. But it had strengthened me. I was unflappable. But I was breaking down.

Thoughts of the years of cancer treatments rushed into my head. The unknown and potential to die as a little girl. Learning of not only of the death of my aunt and uncle, my cousins, my dearest mother and my father; all by the age of 18. I made it through all of that. Went to college and received a PhD by the age of 25. I was majority owner in a major technology conglomerate, taught college, watched the love of my life leave me with no good reason and finally buried my mentor and my grandmother within weeks of each other. All of this with very few tears shed. Sure I did cry a bit; I was a normal person emotionally but things tended to not bother me. I took pride in my strength and was praised by my new friends and surrogate family. But this, this thing that was happening to me was stirring a whirlwind of despair in me I hadn’t felt. It was out of my control. I didn’t know what had happened, what was happening and what would happen to me. I searched for answers and found nothing but a dead end. I knew less than I did before the trip. What to do now? Was it worth doing anything for that matter?

The jet began its approach into Paragon City and I quickly cleaned myself up erasing all signs that I had been crying. Frank was meeting me at the airport and I didn’t want him to see me upset. I just wanted to rest in his arms in bed after a hot bath and sleep for days. I hadn’t felt comfort and love like this in years and it was the balm that I so longed for for so long.

Walking slowly down the stairs toward the tarmac I hadn’t realized how tired I was. I ached everywhere thanks to the Longbow and their interrogation techniques and I was still in the same clothes I came in. It was a breezy night and a small drizzle hit my face and helped me catch my senses. It woke me like a shot of espresso. I looked to the limousine waiting for me and saw Festus coming toward me to get my bags. He smiled and said nothing but a brief hello. He could see I was tired. Or he knew what I was in for. Then I saw the two figures standing by the towncar and realized myself what I was in for. Two outlines in the night but I knew exactly who it was: Frank and Smithie. I was about to get lectured by the two men in my life and I don’t think after my little meltdown in the jet that I could handle that tonight. As I approached the car the lights of the airport showed their faces. Serious. Business-like. Unhappy. Worried.

“Amanda, I hope you don’t mind I came along with Frank?”

Head down in shame I just shook it no. I looked up, “I’m sorry I know you want to lecture me but please not right now I’ve had a bad night and I just want to…….”

A sudden chill in the air hit me harder than the drizzle of rain. I was awakened and hyper aware. Then I heard a voice.

“Stand aside Dr. St. John-Smythe, Detective. We want to talk to her.” I knew the voice but couldn’t see where it was coming from. A wall of earth erupted in front of me, separating me from my ride home and my loved ones. I heard struggling behind that wall and new someone was restraining the three men that came to take me home. As I turned to see where the assault was coming from I saw a fist glowing red with energy just as it hit me in the temple. All went black for a few seconds.

I came to looking up from the tarmac at faces I was familiar with unsure of what just happened. They were friends, they must have saved me, but who attacked me? A ring of friends and acquaintances stared down at me. To my left was Princess Grace, an almost invulnerable martial artist. The armored gadget specialist, Stellar Knight, stood next to her holding onto something metallic. To my right was a very familiar face, the Troll Princess, fierce and serious staring at me. My thoughts became clearer and I felt nervous as my mind started putting things together. As I looked to the person in front of me I realized these people didn’t save me, they attacked me. A walking block of ice stood before me hands still glowing red with energy. The coldness….the stunning energy punch. They came from Frozen Passion, someone I had fought crime with, talked with as a friend. All of them, they all knew me. What? What was going on?

“Praetorian! Stand up!” she ordered to me.

“What? What the hell…..Frozen? What are you talking about?”

“We all gave you the benefit of the doubt after your little ‘power change’ and your ‘memory loss’” she said using those annoying finger quotation marks indicating she didn’t think the words true, “but after finding out you had gone to the Rogue Islands I couldn’t stand around any longer and let one of you infiltrate our circle of heroes."

“Frozen, this is insane. You know me. You all know me.” I looked at each face and saw the dead eyes of people who didn’t believe me. Suzannah Stonehands, the Troll Princess, radioactive controller of earth and stone grabbed my arm and helped me stand.

“You have a lot of explaning to do….”

“Mental Maden, are you ok?” Smithie said in a calm voice. I looked in their direction and saw the wall of earth had gone and they stood on guard but respectful of the powerful people that had attacked us. I shook my head and looked at Frank as he started to slowly put his hand behind his back.

Calmly I said, “Frank, I beg you not to pull your gun. Please, honey.” A blue blur zoomed past me frictionless in air.

“I would suggest the same Detective.” Said the almost robot-like Stellar Knight. “I’m holding a rather nasty explosive device. If my thumb should happen to come off this button, well, lets just say it wouldn’t be pretty.”

They were serious. They did NOT believe I was who I said I was. Who I know I am. This situation just became complicated and the two most beloved people in the world were now in danger. Frank’s hands immediately went up.

“Ok, ok Hero.” He said with a voice dripping with venom and sarcasm. “You do realize you are endangering a decorated hero of Paragon, a PPD Detective and a rather influential member of the city government all for some paranoid theory. She is not who you think she is….”

“We are the only ones acting for the safety of the people of this city and this country, while you blindly fall for her Praetorian lies. I have fought her people Detective, have you?” The question was rhetorical and insulting. He was reminding Frank who really had the power. Many heroes viewed the police as weak and helpless against the real problems that the city faced. He was drawing a clear line. You could feel it.

Troll was still holding onto my arm and I felt it tighten on my arm. I felt her warm breath as she whispered in my ear, “Duck, in three seconds.” One. Two. Three. I ducked and looked up as a yellow electromagnetic pulse radiated out from the Troll Princess. The bodies of my captors and my loved ones dropped to the ground as the lights and machinery around us went black.

“The bomb!” I yelled as the metallic orb rolled away from Stellar Knights now limp body.

“Don’t worry, the EMP will have fried its circuits long enough” she said as she motioned to the object which became encrusted with several feet of rock. “There, completely safe.”

“What is going on Suzanna?”

“I’ll explain later,” she said before letting out a loud whistle.

From the shadows appeared more familiar faces. My closest friends, the ones I’ve needed since this all happened. The empathic Medistar and the powerful alien Tellania walked toward me. The katana wielding Hoard of Souls came out from the shadows of the G-4. Speeding toward me was the smiling face of Winterflux, tears were in her eyes as she hugged me. I felt a gust of wind hit my face as Onceti May landed on the ground with a mist of clouds covering her.

“Quickly restrain them and take them all to the base. They are not going to be happy with us when they come to.” Tellania ordered as an unmarked van approached. “Good work, Spartan Guard. Medistar, revive her people and meet us back at headquarters.”

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Part 24: Codename-Pox, In her words (Part 4)

The mysterious woman removed her coat and hat and I was repelled at first sight. Battle torn, she was nothing short of Frankenstein’s Monster: Codename-Strike. Her face bore three long scars: pink and raised ruining the landscape of a once beautiful face. Her left arm was prosthetic from the elbow down and she walked with a decided limp. She wore a set of plain black tights with a white band around her right bicep. She handed us each a similar set of tights. Mine had a green band and Glimpse’s band was pink. We trained 6 days a weeks for three months on hand to hand combat (Glimpse was surprisingly good, but not a threat) and defensive techniques. When we weren’t doing physical training we were in a classroom learning about world politics, justice, and law. We also were taught demolition, first aid and even taught some basic skills in various languages.

We had been selected to be part of a covert government unit. We would deal with really bad people that the government couldn’t get to either politically or logistically. In our young age even after weeks of training we really didn’t realize what it was they wanted us to do: Assassination. Glimpse was not a strong or valuable fighter as would be obvious but she could protect herself. Her abilities were vital to our future operations and I was amazed by them. She was what they called a seeker/locator. She could sense the location of any human being on the planet and locate them simply by pointing and giving precise distances to the person. If you gave her a map or globe and traced the mileage conversion key with her finger she could point to the person’s exact location on the map/globe. And all she needed to do this was prior contact with the person or an item that the person had handled or wore. The more contact she had with someone the stronger her abilities were. She was not psychic but she could pick up sensory input of the target. If she had enough physical contact with the person she could literally hear what they heard and could mimic those sounds to the point of fooling even sophisticated audio software. She was a human bug and GPS rolled into one. It was her job to find our targets, track their movements and make sure we had the right person. It was my job to “pass on” to them. We were the perfect assassins. Young girls who could literally walk up to someone in a public setting and I could touch them and in a few days or weeks the person would die of an exotic communicable disease that doctors wouldn’t be able to cure and no one would ever know how, when or who. We attended a victory parade after a military coup put a socialist dictator into power in a Central American country. He was a known drug trafficker and sold homeless children to the drug cartels for slave labor. He was so proud as he shook my hand and took Glimpse’s victory bouquet. He died of Cholera within a week. An arms dealer in Thailand died mysteriously of Swine Flu. A pederast pornographer was so glad to meet me in a fast food restaurant but didn’t know that he would die from tertiary syphilis after I left the building as he went to the restroom. An African dictator and committer of the genocide of 300,000 people died of Dengue Fever after visiting Germany; very unpleasant. A CIA agent selling arms secrets to China passed away from small pox.

We worked as a duo for three years and were very effective. Each mission presented a different hurdle that we could usually handle but some missions were scrubbed when we couldn’t make contact. Luckily they brought in another to our group. He was a skinny pimply faced boy with jet black hair. He wasn’t cute in the traditional sense but he was mercurial and charming and a constant flirt and practical joker. He was Codename-Figment. Father lit up when he explained his powers to us. He was able to warp reality. If a door was locked he could unlock it. If something was broken he could “unbreak” it. His powers were impressive but limited to relatively small objects. What he was very useful at doing was making someone invisible for a few minutes. (The only thing he seemed to be able to do to living objects) While mine and Glimpse’s powers seemed more natural to us his seemed to be grounded in a small ritual. He would have to concentrate (usually with eyes closed) and touch his palms together as if in prayer. He would usually site a change he wanted, “The door is locked” open his palms which produced a brilliant yellow flash “The door is unlocked”. He made missions much easier as we could get to much harder to reach people. We loved our jobs and performed above Codename-Strike’s and Father’s expectations. We worked together for three more years as a trio. They moved us in together in a renovated section of the lab complex called the Dorm. We each had our own suite and a common dining hall. We enjoyed each others company and while it was not my nature I made two friends. The twins were thriving in their environment and coming into their own. Soon they would begin their training and joining the team.

Our record of mission completions was impressive and it seems the government was interested in giving us more funding and training. Strike was joined by Codename-Blaze and Codename-Amp both retired heroes. They began training us in more advanced combat techniques. I learned that I had range abilities as well as my “passing on” skills. While they weren’t full on diseases they were effective at making the targets weaker and dealing decent damage. They may not have had the same end result they were instant and could be needed if we were ambushed or attacked. They also brought in an empathy to help me improve my healing skills. Glimpse began honing her bugging skills and even had success in tracking multiple targets. Figment grew exponentially more powerful. He learned to teleport objects and the object his powers could work on became much larger. He really no longer needed to unlock doors. He would just create one in a solid wall. While we were more effective the jobs became much more difficult. I usually had to engage the occasional security guard and at times we’d come back a bit bruised and battered. It was time to bring in some firepower. Just after my 18th birthday I met Codename-Shrapnel.

He had to leave college and the prospect of an NFL career when he discovered he could make solid objects explode by making their particles expand quickly. He had great control over his abilities with just a short time having them. He could be in contact with a piece of stone and just by touching it turn it into a devastating weapon and not have a scratch on him. It seemed he innately expanded the air around himself in such a way his explosions couldn’t cause himself harm. He could also delay the explosion of an object for a few seconds which allowed him to turn anything he could throw into a grenade. He was the firepower we needed and did his job well. It seems the government was becoming more interested in instant results compared to my techniques and Shrapnel was very helpful in those aspects. He was brash, obnoxious and cocky. The stereotypical jock and I instantly hated him but could not deny a burning physical attraction to his Adonis like appearance. While the team was made much better with his addition we usually spent trips home arguing with each other, which fueled a growing sexual tension between the two of us. Luckily Figment was always on hand to quell my desires with his typical hi jinx. After a year of teaming together and fighting constantly in the Dorm and on the job we gave in to our passions. Neither of us was interested in anything more than the physical and did not share any intimate time with each other. No one knew of the relationship although there were times I worried that Glimpse would figure it out as she had grown a bit of a crush on Shrapnel. But she never used her spying skills on anyone but a target. She was ethical that way……I wasn’t. Then again I was a bit of a sociopath anyway. You had to be to kill people with diseases. I had no real regard for humanity with the exception of my sisters and my surrogate father. I did have somewhat of an affection for Glimpse and Figment but I would deny it if you asked me. The three of us became quite close and usually stuck together while Shrapnel usually spent time watching his jock-sports or working out. He had a penchant for bully like behavior and giving demeaning nicknames. He was especially tough on Figment often questioning his manhood but always in typical jock fashion hugging the skinny boy’s neck and saying “just kidding.” Figment eventually admitted to me that he “liked” me and it actually hurt me to turn him down. But he continued to joke and flirt and be himself asking me every few months if I’d changed my mind and every few months I’d turn him down yet again.

Our missions became much more difficult and we became battle hardened and even my antisocial heart grew quite close to the unit. Figment and Shrapnel began to become close friends and would spend more time together. I felt a tinge of jealousy on nights when he would rather stay up with Figment and play video games instead of our usual “games.” But I wouldn’t admit it to anyone even myself. After a near disaster of a mission, one that almost seriously injured Glimpse, we were given orders to get permanent identification in case we were ever captured by other unknowing, friendly government agencies or police forces. At the base of our necks a red barcode would be tattooed that would give us amnesty if ever captured by friendly forces. We were a covert group: black ops we existed but didn’t exist. This was our only get out of jail free card. And damn it…… involved another freaking needle.

On our way to a target in the Philippines Figment told us to look out the window. He had a new trick to show us. The landscape was tropical and beautiful palm trees lined the roads. He made his prayer motion and filled the van with his bright yellow light and almost as if made of spaghetti five palm trees went limp. Later, down the road he turned a dog into a bright orange turkey. (The first thing I’d seen him do to a living object outside invisibility) After we’d filed the report of the operation we were met by our trainers and Father and lectured for several hours regarding proper protocol on a black mission. Figment was devastated and apologized to us for days. We next went to a former Soviet State to take care of a potential threat to a US ally. It was cold and Figment wanted to get the mission over with quickly. Instead of going by our carefully practiced plans he merely teleported the target to our location for me to “pass on” to him. He also teleported the prostitute in bed with the man who naturally began screaming when she awoke in a bank of snow. Shrapnel told us all to run as he dropped three solid iron balls (his weapon of choice) between the two. The woman died instantly but the General was only wounded and produced a revolver and shot Shrapnel in the leg before a carefully thrown iron ball exploded next to his head. When it seemed clear I ran to Shrapnel and helped heal his wound enough until we could get back home. We all fought on the way home but it was nothing compared to what we received when we returned to the Dorm. Again Figment apologized profusely to us and our superiors explaining he was merely cold and wanted to get the mission over with. Shrapnel ended the session dressing Figment down not for getting him shot but for disobeying orders. He then went on to give a speech about teamwork and obeying the orders of superiors. For a brainless jock, he was a fierce, loyal soldier.

Missions went off without a hitch and around my 20th birthday my sisters began their training. I taught a few of their classes and was promoted within the organization and given the title of team leader. I was busy but almost happy for the first time in my life. My relationship with Shrapnel continued without anyone knowing. Glimpse and Figment at this point gave up their crushes and began their own little fling. One I wasn’t to approve of as team leader but one I allowed without acknowledging. I never liked hypocrisy. Shrapnel and Figment became very close friends enjoying the rough housing and idiot play that male friends are prone to partake in. One day as they engaged in a food fight in the Cafeteria. (Shrapnel had the edge since all the food became edible yet safe grenades in his hands) Figment made his motions and turned himself into a polar bear and swatted Shrapnel across the room. True to his jockboy nature he laughed haughtily after Figment changed back and threw an exploding cherry pie perfectly in Figments face.

We were sent on a mission to Afghanistan where the conditions were terrible and extremely dangerous. We were to simply take out a terrorist cell leader and come home. The mountain compound was heavily guarded and booby trapped. We staked out the area for days but had a difficult game plan. Stealthing it would be difficult because of the mines and IEDs. The target was deep in the compound and based on what we could translate from Glimpse’s bugging/mimicry heavily guarded. We spent days trying to decide a game plan to no avail. Finally Figment put his hands together and said “This compound exists.” FLASH “This compound doe not exist” Everything on the mountain disappeared: the buildings, fortifications, machinery, artillery and even the people. Pulling this trick severely weakened Figment. I had to speed up his metabolism and even heal him as he went into seizures. On the way home when asked where everything went, he merely replied, “To unreality.” We didn’t’ know what it meant. Expecting a verbal lashing when returning instead we found a very nervous staff when we arrived at the Dorm. We were told by Blaze that a very dangerous arch villain was in the area and Strike and Amp need us immediately. Before we left the Doctor wanted to brief each of us individually. This mission was different, much more difficult. I went in first and was told to keep the team together, we would meet up with Amp and Strike and to follow their orders to the letter. The villain would be in a long grey cloak and must be stopped. Shrapnel went in next and came out nervous. Figment was given his orders next and came out laughing as he and the Doctor often liked to tell each other dirty jokes. Glimpse was told she needed to stay in the Dorm that the mission was too dangerous and we already had confirmation of the location since Amp and Strike were serving recon. We all wore our black uniforms. (Something we never did outside of training) Me with the green band, Figment with royal blue and Shrapnel with silver. Blaze was taking us to the location. When we arrived he looked at us and told us to be careful and efficient and obey all given orders. Figment would approach with invisibility on himself and Shrapnel and release it only when they were ready to engage. (His invisibility tended to knock your perception down and make any attacks completely inaccurate.)

We arrived at an abandoned warehouse in a decaying part of town. We entered the building and saw the mysterious cloaked figure standing alone in the middle of the enormous main room. It appeared that the figure was performing some type or rite or spell unaware of our presence. We were told to stop what they were doing that it could potentially bring on great devastation to the world. I hid behind a support column as told and Figment and Shrapnel approached unseen until their designated location. Although the plans were last minute we were a seasoned team. I thought back to the words of encouragement Father had given me and felt the excitement of the mission. As Figment dropped the stealth and Shrapnel prepared for his attack the figure turned to their direction. A familiar voice shouted, “Now!” as their cloak fell to the ground and I saw a black figure with a white armband on the right arm.

“Oh my God, it’s Strike, Strike is the target!” Figment exclaimed as he began to put his hands together.

“I’m afraid not, Figment. .” She said as Shrapnel grabbed the skinny boy’s right arm in a hammerlock and placed his left hand on Figment's raven black hair. "You are."

“I’m sorry buddy,” Shrapnel whispered. Figment was helpless. I stepped out from the column and screamed just as Figment was vaporized by his best friend and my lover. A warm spray of crimson liquid washed across my face even though I was 10 yards away.

I ran towards Shrapnel ready to strike. What had just happened? A blood soaked Strike looked my direction. “Stand down Pox. Stand down. He had his orders.” Amp came out from the shadows and positioned himself between me and Shrapnel. I stood shaking as they lead me to our van. The ride back to the Dorm was dead silent. Father was waiting in the briefing room looking very concerned. I sat in my seat completely mute for a few minutes until my shock boiled over into rage. I exploded with a barrage of epithets and curses overtaken by hysterics. The Doctor let me finish. When I was done and had exhausted myself he spoke very calmly.

“Figment was becoming too powerful. He was a danger to the team, to himself and to the world. We don’t know the potential of what he could do but we couldn’t risk it. We completely underestimated his powers and what he was able to do in Afghanistan quite frankly bordered on god-like potential. We had to stop him before something terrible could happen. We feared he could gain the power to stop reality globally maybe universally and that kind of power can corrupt someone’s judgment. You all were at risk………..we all were……humanity was. And we had to stop him from getting more powerful. I am sorry but it was my decision and one I take full credit for. Do not be angry at Shrapnel, Pox, he did as he was ordered.”

“And what if he didn’t do as planned, Father? What then?”

“Well Shrapnel has always proven a faithful soldier and I knew that he would do as asked”

“How could you!” I screamed at Shrapnel tears filling my eyes.

“He’s right Pox and you know it.”

“It didn’t have to be this way.”

“It had to.”

“No it didn’t!” he then stood up with his own tears flowing and looked at me.

“Yes I did! They said that if I didn’t finish Figment, that they would kill you. Amp was there to kill you if I didn’t comply.” I lost my breath and almost fainted when my train of though was broken from a voice at the doorway. A sweet mouse-like voice: Glimpse.

“Where’s Figment, I can’t find him.” And then I watched as her innocent face saw the world for what it truly was. Ugly and black stained with the presence of humanity. She couldn’t find his trace out in the world anymore. She fell to her knees. I left the room for the med lab. The sounds of her cries echoed down the halls as I walked but they didn't seem to lessen even with distance. I still hear them in my nightmares.

I locked the door behind me. I looked in the mirror and saw the slash of coagulating blood on face. I reached into a drawer and pulled out the tattoo needle and the red ink and permanently marked my face where the remains of my friend landed. It was my Scarlett Letter, my self punishment, my protest, and my resignation letter. I heard Father and the staff consoling Glimpse and saw that Shrapnel was in his room staring blankly at the wall. His innate power made it so he didn’t have blood on his hands. He was clean. And while I know he would have done it without the threat on my life it stopped him from hesitating.

“You will do one last thing for me. I demand it.” I stated. His head shook while staring at the floor; afraid to look me in the eyes.

I went to the older section grabbed the twins from their beds and met him at the locked entrance to the facility. I knew they would put us in lockdown. Still looking at the ground he touched the door as we hid around the corner and he blew it open. Holding my sisters hands I walked past him without looking and stopped. “Stay here” I told them.

I turned back to him and he raised his head and our eyes met for the last time. I saw the sorrow in them. I could see the regret in them. I could feel the love in them. I reached up and touched his cheek. A tear went down his face and he told me he loved me. I said nothing and walked away with my sisters into the world. A new start. Some day we would return to kill our father.

She finished talking and stared at me for a moment then reached for something on the table in front of her.

She threw down a series of surveillance photos of the Doctor dated the week I lost time and my powers. "They are accurate I assure you. There isn't a person alive I hate more than that man but I assure you he had nothing to do with what is happening to you. I'm afraid you followed a cold lead. And he told me to tell you something before I killed him. He said to tell Mental Maden it wasn't her. He was sure it wasn't her. So he was just a confused old man when he first met you." She looked at me with cold eyes. "Don't come back here, don't pursue me for the death of that man, my father. "

"It doesn't have to be this way. You don't have to be this way." I said.

"I am who I am, Maden. I'm the daughter of a dead drug dealer and a common whore and I was adopted by a complete monster and used as a weapon for his and others political agendas. Which I did with faithful loyalty and commitment until they betrayed me and my team proving at that moment that they were no different than the people we were fighting. Good and bad don't exist. Humanity does not know good anymore. I tried the 'hero thing' and it just didn't take. This is my destiny." she paused in careful thought " I hope my willingness to help you with your quest (although you didn't get the answers you wanted) and my providing proof and giving you priveleged information is enough to insure a level of trust and respect between us. I do like you, but if I see you again and you compromise that respect by trying to 'take me down' or apprehend me or my associates, I will kill you."

With that she escorted me out and I left the Rogue Islands.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Part 24: Codename-Pox, In her words (Part 3)

The doctor asked the nice woman to leave us alone and we talked. I was amused by his voice and his eyes were kind. He talked to me with no pretense or condescension. He told me that he thought my sisters and I were special and he was an expert with “special” people. He then told me that there was no record of any living family and the state would be placing us with foster families. That word “families” scared me. They were going to separate us and I could not let that happen. He then told me that I was the oldest and asked if we may want to go live with him. He could test us and see what made us special and see if he could fix us. If we wanted to be fixed. I quickly accepted. I had to keep us together.

We were kept in isolation even from each other. We had no human contact except through biological suits and rubber gloves. Our foods and any personal items were passed through hermetically sealed drawers. The facility was obviously some type of laboratory but apparently he lived there as well. We were fed well and I was given school lessons by various nurses and even the Doctor himself. For the most part it was not unpleasant, until they started testing us. More needles. I hate needles and there seemed to be an endless supply of them. After nine months they reduced our quarantine and a suite was set up for the three of us to live in. We had school at regular hours and were allowed to play, but there were always needles and tests. But for the most part we were happy because we were together.

It seemed I had the ability to pass on pathological symptoms to other people without the actual pathogens. It was a unique ability one they had never seemed. They would bring various animals in for me to touch and “pass it on”. When they took the animals away they told me that they had to “go make them better”. Anytime I asked them to see them though they made excuses. It didn’t take me long to realize that they weren’t making them feel better. I began to imagine the fates of the rats, rabbits and cats they brought me and I cried. It was only after I cut my finger on a broken dinner plate and healed the wound that they saw the true nature of my powers. I was able to manipulate the metabolism of living cells (mammalian cells) to the point of pathology or accelerated growth. My powers they said had great potential. I was a very special girl. My sister’s power remained very immature; as they were so young and it would take years before they really manifested them.

I accelerated in my studies and was given my high school equivalency by age thirteen. At that point the Doctor asked me what I’d like to learn about. While I graduated at an accelerated pace I was far from a prodigy. Any child given the opportunity to learn with no outside distractions would do the same. I had high reading comprehension and enjoyed philosophy and the humanities. He gave me all the reading and study materials and we would have weekly one-on-one discussions about all aspects of philosophy. He would always try to steer me toward the classic concepts of truth, liberty and justice. While interesting I gravitated toward the more esoteric and radical ideologies. This made for long debates that were both frustrating and invigorating. After one very long session about Neitze , Satre and Camus he told me that he found my fathers name. Excited I asked if he wanted to come take us home, the Doctor reluctantly told me he had died years ago. And true to his honest nature and willingness to talk to me like an adult he told me he had died during a drug bust just after my sisters were born. I asked him to leave my room and I didn’t talk to anyone for a week. Even my sisters. Knowing I was angry the staff workers were told to wear bio suits until I calmed down.

He came to me a few weeks later excited and anxious. He talked to me about the outside world and what was happening. He realized that we had been kept in isolation but assured us it was for our own good. And to be honest I didn’t miss it. After living the hell that was our life I enjoyed the separation from the exterior world. He asked me if I wanted to be truly special to really make a difference in the world. To which I answered “of course”. After all doesn’t everyone want to be special? He said that people in the government needed people like me to do things to make the world better. That there were people out there that made the world a bad place and we needed more girls like me to take care of things. He said that there were other children (a term I didn’t care for because even at 13 I didn’t feel like a child) that were special too that may come help us some day and would I like to join a team to help the world. “Why can’t I do it alone”, I asked. “Or with my sisters?” He explained they were too young but someday if they wanted to maybe we could. I agreed.

He was thrilled and then asked, “Would you like to call me father?” I jumped into his arms and cried as he held me. He pulled away from me after a while beaming with pride and took a moment to think. “We need to train you. You and your new partner. I think you will like her. She’s very special.”

I was very nervous about our meeting. I hadn’t seen another person my age, besides my sisters in almost three years. I waited in the conference room both anxious with delight and apprehension. I had been used to my solitary life and had grown accustomed to the situation. My sisters and the doctor were all I needed. The lab workers were merely employees…. needle bearing nuiscenses. But I could see they feared me and that was good enough to know I had that edge on them. The thought of a friend, a real life friend, was exciting and scary. Would she accept me for what I could do or would she think of me as a freak?

A shadowy figure in an overcoat and fedora walked in the room. I recoiled for a moment. It was an adult. I began to regret my decision; this wasn’t what I signed up for. Who was this person? How am I going to work with them? Then I saw a skinny hand reach out from behind and grasp the persons arm.

“She’s a little shy.” The voice told me. It was a woman’s voice which seemed odd, but it was a pleasant voice. Walking around the figure was a skinny girl roughly my age. She had straight dirty blonde hair pulled back by butterfly shaped barrettes. Her clothes were bright colored (not my taste, I was currently going through a bit of a Goth stage) and hung on her like they were hand me downs from a much bigger sibling. She didn’t look directly at me. In fact she seemed to look around at everything except me. Her head seemed to pivot against normal patterns. Something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t place what it was. She inhaled a deep breath and seemed to look straight at me and smiled her eyes still not looking directly at me but just above me.

“Oh there you are!” She said in her squeaky mouse like voice. And as I fixed on her wandering eyes I realized that this girl was blind. She then walked directly up to me dodging the occasional chair and stopped directly in front of me and held out her hand. “I’m Codename-Glimpse, what is your name?”

I stuttered. What the hell was this, I thought. A blind girl, what could she possibly do? What good is this?

“Oh goodie the doctor is coming down the hall I can’t wait to see him again!” She said with her back to the door and blind no less. Silly girl what was she talking about? And at that moment Father walked into the room smile on his face, eyes lit up with great pride.

“Hello Doctor dier Schepper!”

“Why hello Glimpse, good to see you.”

“And it’s good to see you!” she laughed in a cute girly laugh. The kind of life I could never have yet wished I could. She focused back on me. “What was your name again?” Her blind eyes looking off in the distance unfocused on me. I moved a bit to my left and her hand followed.

Embarrassed I stuttered again.

“That’s right, dear; we never gave you your codename. What would you like it to be?” he asked with enthusiasm.

I hadn’t thought of a name before and I was ready to rid myself of my given name. I paused for several moments and then it just came out.

“Pox, call me Codename-Pox” I said with new found pride. A new name. A new start.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Part 24: Codename-Pox, In her words (Part 2)

Despite the many requests by the doctors at the hospital for my mother and us to be tested, she insisted there was nothing wrong with any of us. “Look,” she screamed as she showed them she didn’t have any black marks on her arms and neck. We were fine and we were going home. And it was true she didn’t have any black marks on her body. She admitted she didn’t look well but considering she had just lost Stan it was understandable. I stood by her nodding in agreement because she was right; she didn’t have “any Plague”. What she would find later is that she was a little feverish with a general sense of malaise. Again she just figured she was upset by the series of events and needed some rest. The malaise was followed by fever, chills and horrible headaches. She locked herself in her room for days leaving me to tend to the twins. We could here her moans of pain and would only see her when she went for another failed attempt at using the rest room. She asked me to go to the store to get us some food and a laxative for her. I was more than able to handle the task, as I’d been raising the three of us for years to allow my mother her irresponsible, selfish lifestyle.

As I walked to the store to do my duties I thought briefly that maybe I should just run away. It would only be a matter of time before the doctors realized that I caused Stan’s death. And as soon as Mother died they would definitely be on to me. I felt bad that I had hurt someone and I even cried in my few quiet moments alone since we came back from the hospital, but another part of me was glad to be rid of Stan. But something told me they wouldn’t understand and I would be taken away from my sisters and they needed me. No, I couldn’t run. I can’t tell anyone what I’d done. My sisters needed their big sister to take care of them and they were too young to run with me.

I didn’t see the smoke until I walked into the front door. Damn it, which one of them had gotten into the matches. The fire alarm batteries had been drained for months. I had told mother but she told me to change them. Of course even on a chair I was too small to reach it, so they just went unchanged. I heard my sisters both crying in the living room. I dropped the grocery sacks and ran to the room which was now full of smoke. My mouth dropped when I saw what was happening. Standing in the middle of the room were the shapes of two men completely covered in leafy vines. The figures gyrated as they tried to break free. Their muffled voices were saying something about Stan, a package, where were they. Between them and the source of the fire was one sister blazing in flames. My first reaction was to get some water or the extinguisher under the kitchen sink. Then I noticed while she seemed to be on fire she was actually unhurt. It seemed she was the actual source of the fire. She looked up at me and put a finger to her mouth telling me to be quiet. She then looked down at the floor and concentrated as if stoking the flames around her to light the green vines encasing the strangers. As the men began to scream with pain I quickly snatched up the twins and ran to the front door. They began to cry for our mother. I told them she would be out soon enough. I didn’t go back in to try and save her. I had to look after the twins. A neighbor had seen the smoke when I first entered the house and had called 911. I heard the sirens as I sat the girls down in the front yard. The left side of the house began to glow bright orange as the firemen ran into the house to try to save the others. We were put into an ambulance with our mother who in her current state didn’t even now there had been a fire. Another ambulance carried the burned bodies of the strangers covered with a strange burnt plant matter. I had overheard one of the paramedics explaining to another that they were both alive but one probably wouldn’t make it to the hospital and the other might make it through the night.

Since we seemed fine a very nice nurse, I can’t remember her name today, said she’d stay a while after her shift to watch us as they tended to our mother. How long before the doctors or police figured out what had happened? And what would they do to us? Who were those men and why did they want Stan and that box?

When the doctors had realized my mother had Typhoid Fever they immediately quarantined us all. While I felt fine and the twins showed no signs of illness either I could here the doctors talk in the hallway about our household. Plague and Typhoid affecting two people in the same household was unprecedented. Apparently the two strange men, both now dead, were low level mob hit men that were carrying enough firepower to start a small war. They couldn’t understand how the men were covered in so much burnt plant matter (which the coroner had noted) and a “specialist” was coming in the morning. My mother died just after 2:00 am of complications from typhoid after she didn’t respond to antibiotic treatment. I was informed by a nicely dressed woman wearing a surgical mask and latex gloves when I woke up in the morning. I cried and she held me tightly like my mother did so few times. Even though I knew I was responsible, my young mind could not handle the unknown prospect of my future and the future of my sisters. While not as powerful I did feel guilt as well. I was a good girl after all. I wanted to be good.

The woman sat there and stroked my back and dried my tears and cradled me for an eternity. She told me we would tell my sisters together when I felt strong enough. A voice came from the doorway behind the woman. It was a man’s voice with a heavy accent, “Well hello there little lady. May I have a word with you?” I looked up to see a wild haired bespectacled man in an old brown suit standing in the doorway. He too had on a mask and gloves. I unburied my head from the woman’s shoulder and looked up at him with tear filled eyes. Even though he was masked I could see his smile in his eyes.

“May I?” He asked again. I nodded. I had just met the man who would become our father.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Part 24: Codename-Pox, In her words (Part 1)

I have chosen in my adulthood not to dwell too often on the events of my early childhood. While one can not deny the impact that one's early years plays on their development; I feel that far too often it is used as an excuse for weakness. I don't talk of these events to illicit feelings of pity or to make excuses for the path I have taken in life, for I am very aware of the things I (we) do. I understand the weight of these actions and accept any punishment or recourse brought on by them. Freudian psychoanalysts, sociologists, or others may think they can pinpoint why it is what I do; and that is fine. I don't care. It doesn't matter, because I am me and I am here right now.

My mother was 20 when I was born. She'd dropped out of high school at 16 when her mother died of emphysema and spent the next three years traveling the country to find a purpose in life. Then I came along. While she did seem to have affection for me at times she seemed more interested in the behaviors that left her a poor single mother in a poor town in the first place. The house not only filthy was also cold in the winter and scorching hot in summers. Meals consisted of whatever was laying around the house or bought at the convenience store around the corner. Mother seemed to go there quite often to buy the bottles of cheap wine from the creepy long haired man behind the counter. Sometimes she'd have me sit and wait on the counter while they "looked for something in the back". This seemed to happen when she "forgot to bring her purse." She did try to work but never seemed to work longer than two or three weeks at the same job. We got by on government assistance, running from landlords and the kindness of her men friends that would come and visit her late at night. She would lock me in my room when they came over. I always worried that they hurt her; why else would she lock me in my room

I had no friends and my babysitters were usually old shut-ins that chainsmoked and hit me if I made a noise or touched things. When I was old enough to take care of myself (in my mothers opinion that meant out of diapers) she would leave me alone in the house to fend for myself. I spent most of the time in a corner crying.......hungry. As I grew older I learned to take care of myself and even the house. I still cried. Often. I would sometimes go days without speaking to another person. School came as a huge relief to my mother because to her it was a free babysitter and I would be out of the house. She seemed to be out of work a lot more when I started school and there seemed to be more "male friends" stopping by even during the day. While I did well in school (reading was a favorite subject) I didn't socialize well with other children. I wasn't used to being around them, until my sisters came when I was seven. Mother had called them Her "other happy accidents" and seemed thrilled when they came. Of course I was left to take care of them.

After a few more years of unemployment and many "male friends" mother introduced us to a "special" friend, Stan. They had met at Mom's new job and we were going to move into a big house with Stan. Times were good for a while. We ate better and the conditions in the new house were much more comfortable. I still took care of the twins as they would go off for days at a time or stay locked up in their bedroom after nights out with their friends. Stan was a petty criminal on the side but didn't prove to be very good at it. He had several visits from policemen and detectives. He would even spend weeks away from us. Mother would always say "Stan, had to go away for a little while, but he'll be back." Like I cared. It turned out Stan had a penchant for overdrinking and his drunkenness usually led him to beat my mother or me or both.

At ten my mother beat me for the first time. The school was suspending me until they had proper immunization records. She had plans this week and didn't really have time to take me to the doctor. I had never seen a needle before and I was ten years old. It was torture and I screamed all the way home and locked myself in my room. Stan came home in a great mood, he had finally made the right connection with the right people. He came in a kissed mother and explained he had a courier job that was going to make them great money. Why was the old one crying, he asked. The door shattered open when he realized it was locked and he drug me still screaming and hurting from the doctor into the living room. "Get the twins, stupid, bring them to the living room." We gather in the living room. Mother and I sat on the couch and the twins sat on the floor under a hanging fern. Stan stood in front of us with mania in his eyes. He explained that a very important man is paying him a lot of money to carry a small box to another very important man. He held the small cardboard box carefully as if it were an egg. He went on to explain that under no circumstances are we to touch the box it was dangerous (or at least the men who wanted him to carry it were dangerous). He would be taking it in the morning to the man and he would get his money. He lit a cigarette and poured himself three fingers of bourbon. He grabbed my mother and groped her as they went down the hall to their bedroom. "And stop crying you little baby!" He screamed as he carried my laughing mother down the hallway. Tears filled my eyes and rage filled my heart. I walked over to the box and picked it up. It was light and whatever was inside contained a liquid. I rubbed my throbbing injection site, picked the box up over my head and threw in to my feet. It made a sickly crunching noise, much louder than I expected. I had just barely seen the bright green liquid seep out of the box when the vapors overtook me. I would have passed out from the fumes had Stan not heard the breaking glass, run down the hall and literally punt me across the living room. In his screaming tirade he beat me like no other time before and probably would have killed me if not for the fire that was now blazing two feet from the twins. He had spit out his cigarette as he was screaming about what I did and what the people he works for will do to him. And in his anger he put out the fire by smashing the fern and pot onto the fire. One ran away as the other lay entangled in the fronds. Bruised and bleeding I limped over, removed the plant from my screaming sister and picked her up. I grabbed the other twin and went to their room and locked the door. I listened as the coward alternated screaming at my mother about her worthless children and crying like a child at the thought of what they would do to him. I heard my mom cleaning the living room. I felt ill......feverish...I broke out in a rash. My throat was soar and swollen. I could not sleep for the aches and pains I felt. Red dots would appear on my body and vanish almost as soon as I discovered them. I itched, coughed, sneezed, vomited and cried through the night. In the morning I felt better.

I walked into the kitchen where Stan was having his morning coffee. He looked at me with contempt and hatred. I touched him on his cheek and smiled. He pushed me away but I still smiled. Later that day Stan noticed a black patch forming on his right forearm and small red bumps with white centers on his neck. At 5:00 my mother's screams rattled the house. I walked into their room as my mother cried over his body desperately trying to dial 911. . She begged them to send an ambulance in a hurry as her husband wasn't breathing. Stan was dead.........Bubonic Plague. (Something that would baffle the doctors at the hospital)

We waited for the ambulance to arrive even though it was obvious Stan was gone. My mother lit a cigarette and sat on the front steps of the house waiting for the authorities to arrive. I sat with her and watched her as she began to break down. I touched her hand and she looked down with pride in her tear soaked eyes and took me in her arms and embraced me........I just smiled.