Logo by Luke O'Sullivan
by Michael Shirley
Editor: Dave Munch
The Man Behind The Mask
Repugnant words to be sure, yet all were still present in the early
All were still relevant.
For you see, by that time, humankind had erected fantastic, inspiring
monuments to the human spirit. Statues that exhibited the peak of
mankind’s political prowess. Buildings that alluded to status and
wealth. Even objects such as books and movies attested to the wonders of
the human imagination, both limitless in scope and boundless in
Such incredible works. One would think they would be maintained in
order to preserve not only their beauty, but though that the essence,
the power of their message. Of their testimony to the values of
humankind and the infinitely enduring quality of the human spirit.
Instead they were left to rot.
The buildings were allowed to crack, to hollow and fall to venomous
ruin. Their sidewalks, once creature comfort to the towering megaliths
of the era, were encouraged to split, and quarter deceptively green
vultures that entwined their stalks and vines around the very buildings
that were once adored for their beauty and elegance. The statues
crumbled under the weight of the ungrateful pigeons that routinely
abused them. The books were worn, ripped, tossed to the wayside. Left to
rot in the towering pits they once called garbage dumps. And the movies.
They were forgotten. Reinvented and forgotten once again.
Remakes of remakes. Parodies of third generation incarnations. Before
the drift to holographic and virtual technology, before movies and
television were remade with the values of the post-modern neo-corporate
era, the old classics bore no passing resemblance to their true
originals, their messages skewed and befouled with the passage of time.
And no one cared.
Certainly not those up in power.
No, they were awash with luxury and paradise. Their every whim
fulfilled. Their bellies grown fat with bile and greed, of ignorance and
superiority. The plight of their own species fell deaf on their ears
because there was no money to push it along. No cash to pad the message
of the inferior breed.
And so this dance continued in the early twenty-first. The rich held
the poor in a grip of despair. They never lifted a finger. Never gave an
inch. And the buildings decayed. They became living ghosts, reminders of
a time when pride in humankind was priority, not liability. When the
human spirit was shown through enduring monuments, rather than dirty
dollar bills. When quality, not quantity, mattered.
But there was still hope. The future was only a day away, as they
used to say. The poor continued to work. To push to survive. They prayed
that they could, that they would survive just another day longer. All in
the hope that one day, their plight would be realized. That those in
power would stray their vision from their safes and stare, perhaps for a
second, upon the huddled masses that Lady Liberty had invited onto her
doorstep. That the rich would help them up. That their patience would be
finally rewarded with even a sliver of the heaven that their masters
The have-nots looked toward the future, only a day away.
You would think that day has come, nine and a half centuries later.
Just ask the poor, pained, praying people of Downtown. Ask those in
the darkness who still huddle near fiery trash cans just for some
comfort from the cold. Just for some acquaintance with the light. Ask
the Docs in a Box who see the druggies go insane or explode from the
newest “gifts” from their Uptown neighbors.
You can even ask the neighbors themselves, these delightful Uptowners.
On second thought, don’t bother.
They don’t care.
Takayashi Martin strolled lazily along the long, dark corridor
towards the shining adamantium alloy double doors of the laboratory that
made Spectre Division so popular with the higher-ups.
Tonight was inspection night. Surprise inspection night. He forced
back a sadistic giggle.
As the head of Spectre Division, he was obligated to inspect the
laboratories every week and draft reports of the progress his division
So far, they’d had some promising results with some new genetic
re-sequencing and retrofitting techniques that still needed to be
officially patented by the corporation. Additionally, their
revolutionary security procedures were still unmatched by any of the
other divisions and, so far, had suffered no breaches whatsoever;
something which none of the other corporate raider programs within
Stark/Fujikawa’s massive network could claim.
Until tonight, that is.
He thought again about how much fun he’d have watching the
scientists scramble about once he’d entered the lab. As far as they
knew, their inspection would be next Friday. As far as they knew, he had
long since gone home. As far as they knew.
‘They have no idea,” he smiled. A sudden beeping from his
wristwatch brought him out from his sadistic train of thought.
“What’s this?” he said absent-mindedly as he tapped a button on
the lightning blue device, emitting a shimmering holographic image of
Darla, his secretary.
“Darla?” he questioned intently, “Who’s it this time?”
“It’s the Watchers again,” the flickering goldenrod woman said
“The Watchers?” the irritated man whined, “Jeez, not again!
Last time they came to me about a shocking indy news report that said
Stark/Fujikawa was pure evil. Like anyone evens listens to those
pointless broadcasts anyway. Downtowner rhetoric is something I need not
be bothered with.”
“Steven Rogerson takes his job very seriously,” the petite
black-haired secretary stated.
“Steven Rogerson is a pain in the shocking rear,” the trim
Takayashi countered, “Just put him through.”
Suddenly, the woman’s image flickered out of existence only to be
replaced by that of a pudgy, middle-aged man who looked quite
exasperated at the moment.
“What’s it now, Steve?” the head of Spectre sighed, “Someone
denounce the corporate raiders as evil, soulless bloodsuckers in a
“No, no,” the breathless man gasped, “it’s much worse than
that, sir! The…the transport you sent out earlier… the one with the
defective specimen abroad?”
“Yeah, what about it?” Takayashi laughed, “Pilot have a
“The pilot’s dead.” Steve responded, “The transport crashed
in the middle of Downtown three minutes ago.”
Martin was dumbfounded, “Shock me…”
“It gets worse,” the chief executive spoke with a mounting dread
in his bulging, bloodshot eyes, “The…the specimen…we believe the
specimen escaped before the ship was destroyed, sir.”
Takayashi Martin looked upon the yellow hologram in morbid fear.
“This must be kept secret at all costs,” he said without
hesitation, “Steve, get some Watchdogs out there to track that
specimen down. And tell the PR department to cease all outgoing
broadcasts concerning the ship until I can get in touch with them.”
“What about the ship itself?” Steven asked.
“Leave it. Until they can afford our protection, they’re stuck
with whatever they get.”
Takayashi clicked the wristwatch hologram off and launched himself
toward the anti-grav elevator, cursing this horrendous turn of events.
“I was really looking forward to that inspection,” he thought
aloud he receded slowly into the enveloping darkness of the elevator
Such quiet darkness.
Then there were voices.
Voices echoing, in and out of existence. Shouts. Whispers. They all
passed by so fast. He couldn’t make anything out.
He…he remembered wind whipping past his skin at hundreds of miles
an hour. He recalled the shrinking sky, the insane buildings rushing up
around him at impossible speeds. Nothing to hold on to. Everything was
going by so fast. Was he…was he falling? Had he been falling?
Or had it been just a dream?
Just another bad dream?
He didn’t know if it was a dream or not, but he knew how it ended…
It was painful. Very painful. And crimson. His eyes were blocked with
a crimson haze. He could make out a circle in the sky. A white spherical
something or other. Was it the moon?
Then there was darkness. The silent, empty darkness.
No, not just that. The voices were back. No, not voices. Shouts. Lots
of people were shouting something.
‘Clear’? ‘Clear the way’? Is that really what they were
saying? He could barely understand. They were going so fast…
He felt himself moving now. Moving up. Shakily, steadily moving up.
Was he being lifted? By whom? Where? He couldn’t…
Another voice. Slower this time. ‘You’re going…be okay…you’re
gonna be just fine…”
It was soothing. The voice was soothing.
There was light now. A vast horizon of light. It widened. He could
see some images, shapes. Undefined. Blurry. He…he couldn’t make them
The jumbled shapes started to coalesce. An oval-shaped object. Is
that a face?
Eyes, nose, ears, mouth…it’s a woman. She’s saying something….
“Rest now, stranger. You’re in good hands…” A smile…
The blurry haze cleared. Her face. He could see her face now. Her
flowing brown hair. Her soft, blue eyes. Her tender lips. He could see
the cap on her head with the red plus sign on it. A nurse. She was a
And yet, there was something else. He had never seen this woman
before in his life. And yet she reminded him of someone. She reminded
him of someone he did know. Or had known. Someone….
Her face blurred along with the grimy tiled ceiling above her. The
hospital room faded rapidly into the darkness.
Such quiet, quiet darkness…
The department head of Stark/Fujikawa’s Spectre Division stared
anxiously at the holographic digital readout before him. Although the
cushion of air within the anti-gravity elevator which he stood upon
continued to accelerate downward at an awesome speed, the journey seemed
to stretch into some palpable eternity. Seconds ticked like years. The
automated double doors on each passing floor raced by at a sloth’s
crawl. Takayashi’s stone-faced grimace seemed to sharpen even further
with a fifth glance at his azure wristwatch. Time was of the essence.
There was none to waste.
With piercing, thoughtful eyes, he stared straight ahead as his mind
began to analyze the situation at hand.
The scenario: One of Spectre Division’s failed experiments had
escaped. An, as of yet, unprecedented happenstance.
He cringed at that thought.
The stakes: Although a failed experiment, the specimen still
possessed high levels of endurance and enormous taps of powers. The
Watchdogs would be cannon fodder if the specimen knew the full extent of
his powers. But he doesn’t, meaning he will be extremely vulnerable.
Thus, if he is caught in time, his hardware can be disconnected and he
can be disposed of as a corpse. Best case scenario. But, if he isn’t
caught in time and our competitors manage to salvage his technology,
A shudder. Impossibly, his iron grimace became even more pronounced.
As the anti-grav lift reached his destination, he stormed out from
the already opening elevator doors and raced like mad down the hall
towards his sinfully lavish office.
Sprinting down the hallway, he tapped his lightning watch again and a
woman clad in goldenrod appeared alongside him, keeping his pace
exactly, even though she stood perfectly still.
“Darla! I want the CEO’s of NYFAX, Astronet and every other
reputable independent news publisher wired into my office vidphone right
now!” he yelped at his holographic secretary.
“Right away, sir,” the flickering secretary acquiesced as she
vanished from existence once again.
It would take some convincing, but by Thor, Spectre Division’s
blunder would never be made public. But if it were Alchemax’s blunder
on the other hand…
Takayashi smiled as he gripped the golden handle of his
elaborately-decorated door and slowly entered the dark, black hole of
his office suite.
He stirred. His eyelids forced themselves open after a fitful,
dreamless sleep, curious to see what predicament they were in this time.
Instead of a cargo hold or a woman’s face, it was a familiar grimy
ceiling. He must be in a hospital somewhere. Instinctively, he tensed
his torn and broken muscles in a vain attempt to get up.
There was a brisk shuffling of feet.
“Take it easy!” a woman’s voice cautioned, “You still need to
She laid a comforting hand on his chest and eased his terse,
quivering form back down into the bed.
“That was quite a nasty jump you took,” she sighed, “You’re
lucky to be alive. Judging from the crater we found you in, it looked
like you’d fallen a few hundred feet. But I’ve seen jumpers that
only fell from forty and ended up puddles in the sidewalk. You’re a
very lucky man, stranger.”
“What…whur…what are you…” he stammered, his bruised and
broken jaw not helping matters any.
“Shhh…” she whispered, “Time to rest. Take it easy. You’re
gonna be alright. Just rest….”
Her voice trailed off as her young, beautiful face suddenly vanished.
The old, slimy walls gave way to a sprawling black backdrop dotted
eloquently with a neon green grid pattern. He was no longer that frail,
broken man recovering in a local Docs in a Box. He was free of the
blistering, blinding pounding in his head and the agony of his nervous
system. He was somewhere else. Somewhere artificial. And he was standing
He glanced around his bizarre surroundings. The digital horizon
melted with the black gridlines along the jade sky. Emptiness surrounded
him on all sides. Yet, in this unending expanse, he stuck out like a
He was enveloped in some immaculate filmy, silk. A pure white
encasement along his entire body. The same encasement that formed over
him during the explosion of the ship’s engines. But this time, there
was no pain. No pinpricks on the skin. No foul, godforsaken taste in the
back of his throat. No internal hemorrhaging in the pit of his stomach.
Where on earth was he?
Suddenly, a lean, black-haired man appeared before him, dressed in
one of the best business suits that 2099 had to offer.
“Hello, specimen,” the smiling man flickered, “I am Emmanuel
Davis, the chief tech….cian of the much lauded Spectre Div…ion. Or
at least an avatar of the original. An archetype, if you will. I was
programmed ……be your guide, your interactive, digital manual, to
this wonderful gift….k/Fujikawa has extended to you.”
“Gift?” the confused man uttered, “Am I dreaming or something?”
“No such luck, specimen!” the badly-damaged program beamed, “You
see, your…enetic code has been bonded to bio-mechanical…nano-technological
armor in...hopes of creating the next-generation corporate raider. You,
dear specimen, are to be our newest post-Specialist corporate operative.
You…are an Expert.”
“Expert?” the man in the gleaming armor questioned, “I’m no
expert? What are you talking about?”
“I’m…t..lking about the next generation of corporate raider fro…m
Stark/Fujikawa Incorporated, the Expert. The Expert is a very
comprehensive, very…timistic optimistic update from the Specialist
model that endows one with extraordinary powers that far surpass the
physical cap…bilities and the interactive capacities of the previous
Specialist model. The Expert model is the perfect tool for re…nnaissance,
espionage, infiltration and deception as well as normal human
interaction but without those pesky inconveniences such as free will or
individuality. As an Expert, you will be able…to serve the corporation
of Stark/Fujikawa perfectly, efficiently and loyally.”
The flickering Emmanuel put a vicious accent on the last word.
“As part of your Expert package, you… to change between armored
form and your human form by recalling the trillions of nanites that
comprise your armor back into your body, as your missions dictate. A
capability…which I will demonstrate now”
The man shuddered uncontrollably as, without warning, the silk armor
covering his body slid across his dumbfounded body and receded with an
odd, barely audible slurping into his awaiting pores.
“What just happened?” the panicking man yelled violently.
“Relax, spec…imen,” the abomination of a man continued, “A
simple first-person automated demonstration of the capabilities that
have been programmed into your genetic armor. As I was saying, along
with the standard en…enhancements in strength, speed, and agile…agility
that the specialists enjoy, you’ve been programmed with the ability…to
fly as well as the ability to emit strong bursts of collected potential
and kinetic energy from your hands and pupils.”
Suddenly, as his heart began to beat ever faster in his chest, the
man found himself levitating above the digital construct that looked too
much like a man. He saw his arms lift up without his consent, somehow
emitting a powerful pulse of electric blue energy that jarred his
still-human body, rocketing off into the endless distance.
“In addition…nanites that make up your body are able to replicate
themselves, allowing you to create items such as guns, pulse rifles and…other
paraphernalia you may need to complete whatever missions we… assign
A giant pulse rifle appeared in the man’s shaking left hand while a
small staff appeared in his jittery right.
His panicked heart skipped a beat.
“Beyond that, you have been programmed with a 360 degree field of
vision as well…night vision, for tactical and reconnaissance purposes.”
His field of vision compressed and curved outward as more of the
digital expanse appeared before him until he could see the entire field
of vision behind him. As his eyes bulged in horror, his entire field of
vision bled into a jaded haze. His head began to wobble in total sensory
“Now, this is my favorite part. You have also been designed with an
intangibility subroutine as well as an ability to bend light around
yourself, rendering you… you invisible to the human eye.”
The man’s arm unexpectedly gripped the small staff in his hand and
struck viciously at his other arm with it. The man instinctively winced,
tensed for the inevitable surge of pain, but violently shuddered in
horror as the stick passed right through his entire left arm. As the
staff continued downward, he watched in abject fear as his entire left
hand disappeared from existence, along with the complex,
intricately-detailed pulse rifle he was holding. Yet he could still feel
the weight of the pulse rifle in his hand as well as the pulsing surge
of blood pounding through his numbing hand.
“These features will allow for greater efficiency in combat…and
espionage situations, if and when the need arises. However, be careful,
as they are…substan…substantial strains on your energy capacitors
and will cause the nanites to automatically render you tangible and
visible in order to conserve….”
“STOP!” the poor distraught man screamed in desperation, “I’ve
had enough of this psychotic little manual! Stop! Stop! Stop! End this
insane program NOW!”
“Are you sure you want….want to end this interactive manual?”
the ghostly, flickering construct blankly said in pure monotone.
“Yes!” the flailing man, now safely back on the neon gridline
ground, “A thousand times, yes!”
“Very well. Program shut...ing down,” the ghost’s voice
deadpanned as the digital tapestry around him flickered and wavered out
A surge of pain rapidly fluttered back into the terrified man’s
senses as he found himself once again back in the Docs in a Box hospital
bed staring up at that odious tile ceiling which he had grown so
And which, after that horror show of a digital manual, he was so
very, very glad to see.
He heard a familiar shuffling of feet and, within moments, his nurse
was above him once again, her concerned, yet relieved face looking down
upon his fatigued form.
“Awake so soon?” she joked as she laid a comforting hand upon his
He smiled warmly. Somehow, among the pain of his torn muscles and
sewing bones, among the constricting bandages and the young, smiling
face of the total stranger before him, he finally felt something he’d
never felt before in the few measly little hours of his life that he
“So, how much is it going to take to change that stolid mind of
yours?” Takayashi Martin smiled viciously, sizing up his steadfast
prey with wide, piercing eyes.
“NYFAX is a respectable broadcasting station,” the CEO of NYFAX
Incorporated deadpanned with a frown, “We can’t be bought off.”
“One million credits, then?” the head of Spectre pushed.
“I told you Mr. Martin, we can’t…”
“Three million credits?” the grinning sadist continued, “Or
will four do?”
“Four will, I mean, four will NOT do!” a hint of anger shot into
the CEO’s voice, “We are an independent entity! We have the freedom
to broadcast whatever we want. And nothing, not even…”
“Seven million,” his grin spread wider to cover his grimace.
“Not,” the breathless CEO stammered, “not even…seven…millon…”
“Well,” the unphased tactician confidently ceased, “I see this
is futile. Your prominent corporation, as well as its illustrious staff,
has far too much integrity to be simply bought off with a few measly
“That’s right,” the frowning CEO said with a hint of regret,
“we will not be bought off. Our freedom, our integrity is too valuable
“It is valuable to us as well, I assure you,” Takayashi Martin
said with a smirk as he reached into his pocket, feeling around for a
certain object in particular, “And that is why I offer you a token of
my undying respect to you and you colleagues.”
With that, he pulled from his pocket a shiny, blank card that gleamed
brilliantly from the flickering light of the vidscreen, enhanced by the
surrounding darkness that encased the entirety of the expansive office
“What do you think?” Takayashi smiled insidiously as he leaned
toward the glowing vidscreen.
“I..” the humble CEO stammered, “I…what exactly do you want
me to broadcast again?”
“The truth,” the victorious department head answered, “The
world should be kept apprised of Alchemax’s public affairs, successful
or otherwise. After all, that is what news broadcasts are for, correct?”
The CEO was momentarily paralyzed by the glimmering black card being
waved in front of his greedy eyes.
“Absolutely,” he gibbered, “that’s, what we’re here for.”
“I’m glad we agree,” Mr. Martin chimed, “and this little
token of my appreciation is being sent to you as we speak. Keep up the
The vidscreen clicked off.
‘So much for that little chore,’ Takayashi thought as he crossed
of NYFAX in the glowing datapad to his right listing a dozen
already-bribed independent news broadcasters. ‘Now to deal with…other
He pressed a small button on his watch and Darla flickered into view
“Darla, get the PR department,” he ordered, tilting his hovering
chair back as he lifted his heavy, booted feet up onto his immaculate
metallic desk, “tell them to go right ahead with that downed Alchemax
“Yes, sir,” she droned.
As she disappeared into the inky void of the spectacular office,
Takayashi Martin leaned back into the sweet surface comforts of his
hovering leather-bound office chair and fantasized once more about a
flawless surprise inspection. It made him smile.
“…and I still can’t remember a thing about my old life,” the
relaxed young man said as he walked along the street, his arm entwined
with that of his nurse, Gale Nocturne.
“Retrograde amnesia,” Gale said intently, “It can happen
sometimes to people who suffer severe head trauma. But, my goodness, I
can’t believe you’ve healed so quickly! I mean, just hours after
that fall, you’re up and about! And to think, Marq, I thought you were
They chuckled light-heartedly as the man repeated that word in his
He knew it wasn’t his real name. It couldn’t be. It was just an
alias that Gale had given him earlier, after he’d awakened from the
nightmarish digital world of his costume’s manual. He’d been
christened with the name of Gale’s dearly departed father. And yet,
although he wore the name of another man, it fit somehow. He couldn’t
explain it, but it felt right. This Marq alias. It was like a comforting
specter, watching over him; here, now.
Still, something about this connection to a name that was not his….it
left him weary; uneasy somehow.
His wide smile wavered.
“Don’t worry. In your shoes, I might have done the same. It’s
just…” He looked down at the cracking, weedy sidewalk, “it’s
just that, nothing human could have healed as fast as I did. What if I -
“Lets not think about that now,” she countered, “We came out
here to get you some fresh air. And by Thor, that’s what we’re going
to do!” She laughed.
“Do you give this therapy to all your patients?” Marq felt his
ominous concerns melt away as he gazed down at the beautiful young woman
beside him. He smiled.
“Just the big, tall, mysterious ones,” she chimed. They shared
another hearty laugh as they continued on their stroll through the
darkened, grimy city streets of Downtown.
“Man, it feels so good to be out of that horrible, itchy hospital
gown!” he said as he felt the comfortable cloth covering his tall,
“You were lucky to have it,” she joked, “When we found you, you
were completely naked! And surrounded by the locals, to boot!”
“I guess I should be grateful you were there to bail me out,” he
smiled as he looked longingly into her eyes. They lingered a moment,
hesitant. She pulled herself away and gazed along the end of the
“The…street lights end about a block ahead. Why don’t we head
back?” she stammered, “You, you don’t wanna be in a place like
this in the darkness, no matter how good that so-called night vision of
She let go of his arm, briskly starting back toward the Docs in a
Box. Hesitantly at first, he followed suit and proceeded to catch up to
“So I’m told,” he grimaced once he had matched her stride, “How
did this…Downtown, as you call it, get to be like this? I mean, I’ve
briefly seen the glittering buildings of, Uptown is it?, and I’ve been
in one of those massive flying vehicles. Even the cargo hold I was
trapped in was padded very elaborately, very intricately. Now, how, in a
world of flying vehicles and wealth pouring out from the buildings of
society itself, can there be a place as badly decadent, as badly abused
as this place?”
“That’s a tough question,” she said sadly, “as much to think
about as to answer.”
Gale swallowed hard, “No one knows for sure, anymore. From what we’ve
been able to piece together, the have-nots basically lost the whole rich
versus poor battle. The people in power, the rich, were able to actually
build up from the decrepit remains of the cities they let fall to ruin,
taking the wealthy elite with them leaving us commoners down in these
horrid pits. We were left here to fester and rot in this hellhole. And
now, they live up there with their flying cars and robots and luxuries
beyond comprehension while we‘re stuck in this miserable backward
place with murderers and organ leggers around every corner! I hate them!”
she screamed with passionate rage as Marq hugged her, trying to comfort
his hysterical companion.
“I hate them so much,” she sobbed collapsing into his gentle,
powerful arms, “It’s all I can do not to think about them, about the
victims that come to us for eye-washings after total reality trips,
about the drug seizures, about the suicides, about all the hellish
things in this place that make these people so desperate to escape. It’s
all I can do not…to join them.”
“Don’t worry, it’ll be okay,” he said soothingly as he
wrapped his arms around her small frame, comforting the poor, distressed
nurse, “This is a horrid, horrid place. I can’t...I can’t even
begin to imagine how horrible it must have been to live here in these
forgotten, discarded wastes of a cold blooded city. But I promise you, I’ll
always be there for you, Gale. Whenever you need me, I’ll always…”
Pain. Indescribable pain flooded through Marq’s senses as he ripped
himself from her embrace, grabbing his throbbing skull as a rather
large, bloodied brick fell to the cold, weathered pavement.
“My, my look at these two,” a beady-eyed hulk of a man toyed with
a second brick in his left hand as he stepped out of the shadows along
with two other like-dressed men, both of which were carrying identical
glowing red coolers leaking streams of icy coolant gas. Each of the
brutish apes wore traditional surgeon’s gear, only grimier, along with
surgeon’s masks and gloves. The trio and everything they carried was
covered in huge, dried stains of rancid, congealing blood.
The leader brought his front leg up and whirled his arms behind him,
assuming the traditional pitcher’s stance before he hurled the second
brick at the flailing man with an archer’s accuracy, striking the
poor, bleeding man in the forehead and dropping him to the ground.
“Street surgeons,” Gale gasped in horror as she wiped away her
tears with her shaking forearm.
“My, my,” one of the two cronies announced, “She’s looking
like a fine, healthy little specimen, eh, Tank?”
“Why yes, I think she does at that,” Tank responded viciously,
“I want you two to have a little bit of fun chasing her down. It’ll
give you an appetite for the surgery you’ll be doing. Meantime, I got
the one on the ground. Have fun.”
The two cronies inched toward the petrified woman, still crouched
over her badly injured patient.
“Run, Gale…” he started as blood seeped effortlessly from his
He shoved her away with all his might and collapsed painfully onto
the dirty pavement, sending warm, sticky liquid crimson cascading in all
“Get…get away!” she shouted as she pulled out a bottle of
antique pepper spray on the advancing duo, “I…I got a protection
plan! The Eyeballs’ll be here any second!”
“Don’t make us laugh, meat,” the second brute said as he
swatted the useless spray from her, “Docs like you don’t have enough
creds to afford a decent bottle’a pepper juice, let alone a protection
plan. Besides, dames use that juice on us so much, you could say we got
an immunity to it.”
He stepped fully into the light revealing blank cybernetic pupils.
Gale inched back toward the sticky, dirty wall in morbid fear. As her
heart began to beat furiously within her chest, she ran full speed back
toward the relative safety of the Docs in a Box facility twelve blocks
away, the two venomous predators already catching up to her with
“Cybernetic implants,” Tank bragged as he walked toward his
fallen foe, “Done wonders for our business.”
The barely conscious man lying on the ground curled up in a fetal
position, steadying himself from any further attack by his psychotic
assailant, when he felt a horribly familiar awfulness rise up from the
pit of his stomach. As his intestines knotted painfully and his mouth
dried into an acrid, sweltering desert wasteland, his immaculate white
armor suddenly exploded from his sweaty pores, encasing him in a
protective layer of finely programmed silk.
“What in --?” the surprised predator gaped in total confusion as
his prey wearily began to heave his tired, battered form up from the
worn, cracking concrete.
“Oh, shock this!” the brutish Tank cursed as ripped a large knife
out from his pocket and charged his adversary. Knife grasped tightly in
his meaty, sweaty hand, the psychotic street surgeon prepared a vicious
killing blow only to be met with a thunderous uppercut from the pristine
fist of his beaten quarry. As Tank crumpled up and collapsed to the
ground, the brick that Marq had picked up from the ground seconds
earlier now fell apart in his hand from the triumphant strike. He was
still standing. The broken surgeon was down for the count, unmoving but
still drawing breath. It was over.
A woman’s desperate shriek.
It wasn’t over. As Marq looked back toward the sound of the
screams, he could once again feel the warm liquid stream down into his
mouth as his pounding skull continued trumpeting on. He could feel his
hand aching hand, awash with agonies aplenty after its impact with Tank’s
jaw. He could feel the aching joints and the dry scratchiness behind his
bloodshot eyes. And as he took a step forward, the whole of his vision
rumbled and blurred. He could feel his consciousness desperately wanting
to slip away once again.
But Gale was in trouble. And he had a promise to keep.
Ignoring the tumultuous pain screaming along his nervous system, he
forced his bruised body to remain steady and alert as he rocketed off
toward the distressed damsel as fast as his shining white legs could
carry him. The pavement crunched noisily under his powerful, pulsing
legs as he dove toward the woman who helped save his life. Suddenly, as
he hammered toward her at full speed, everything turned to a strange
green haze as his night vision instinctively kicked in. And then he saw
The brute had it raised high above his victim, readying the fatal
blow. Gale was trapped under his partner’s bulging, muscled hands. No
way for her to escape. No way to get to her in time.
A shining light bulb went off in his mind. He thought back to his
descent. The moments right before he smashed into the hard Downtown
pavement just hours ago. His bo staff.
At that moment, his smooth, powerful bo staff melted out of his hand,
forming instantly before his eyes from the nano-tech lining his entire
body. Gripping the beloved staff tightly with his one hand, he clutched
it with his remaining hand and aimed the powerful weapon toward the
murderous street surgeon in one fluid, impossibly fast movement.
A sudden vibration.
A blinding flash.
A stabbing motion in the distance.
The enormously powerful blast hit its mark, striking the unsuspecting
surgeon square in the back just milliseconds before the scalpel’s
strike. He flew into the alley wall ahead of him, the force of the blast
potent enough to melt most of his massive form directly into the
crumbling structure. The surgical knife fell onto the ground, just
inches away from Gale’s shaking, petrified form.
The remaining brute stared in horror at the man in the still
impoverished armor stumbling towards him at an impressive speed. In the
distance, he could make out the silhouette of his unconscious leader,
who was lying completely still from the brutal knockout punch. He then
glanced at his partner, melted into a huge crater in the wall, streams
of heat and soot still billowing into the still, silent air of the
Downtown sidewalk. And then he did something he never did before in his
life, at least since his cybernetic enhancements took root.
He ran for dear life. And by the time the severely out of breath man
approached the frightened Gale, the final link in the surgeon trio was
nowhere to be seen.
“Are you alright?” Marq asked hesitantly as he tossed the
life-saving bo staff aside and slowly kneeled down to comfort the
shaking woman, already fearing the worst.
“Wow,” she stuttered in disbelief, “t-tall, white and
h-handsome, you’re...one of the most…exciting patients I’ve ever
She forced a shaky, hesitant smile. As the powerful, silky armor
encasement retreated back into his pores, he forced his
horribly-bloodied face into a kind, warm crimson grin. She stared into
her eyes. Those deep, beautiful blue eyes. Familiar, yet unfamiliar. He
knew someone who looked like her. A lot like her, in fact. Someone….
Suddenly, tsunamis of pain erupted inside his tired, fragile mind.
Pulsating, impossible torments with which he was all too familiar. His
head throbbed. His blood boiled as it coursed insanely through his veins
and arteries. His temples bulged and pulsated. His brain seared with
torrents of agony and despair. There was no escape.
“Not again,” he winced in pain as he curled up, shaking,
bleeding, writhing in agony, “flash….another flashback!”
Gale was shaking him hard, trying desperately to bring him back to
reality. No, no she wasn’t shaking anymore. She was soothing,
caressing him. She had her hand on his now. But this time, something was
on her finger. A ring? A wedding ring. It was a wedding ring! She was
holding his hand. His hand. Ring. He was wearing a wedding ring too! Was
this--? Was this his wife? Gale was his wife? No, it wasn’t her
anymore. It was someone else. Someone…else…. He couldn’t tell who.
Her face was too blurry.
A beach, now? He was at a beach. He looked over to his right. It was
her again. She was wearing a bathing suit. Purple. One piece. He could
see a blurry, tanned arm jutting out from the violet haze. He followed
it to her hand. Hand. Ring. She was wearing a ring! His wife! He was
married? Married….a vacation? Were they on a vacation? A vacation on
this bright, happy beach? Or was it their honeymoon?
They were holding hands. Watching the beach. The beach. No, it was a
lab now. A laboratory. He couldn’t move. Laying down, he couldn’t
move. Needles. Injections. He could feel his blood burning with agony.
Waves. Tsunamis of pain. Washing over him. But she was still holding his
hand. Hand. Face. Her face. Always blurry. Never clear. Wait, it began
piecing itself together. The wavy, uncertain features coalesced,
acquiescing to his thoughts, molding together before his eyes into a
coherent image. His eyes. Her eyes. Eyes, nose, mouth. It was….
Clear! He could see her. Her face was clear! That sloping, smooth
nose. Those pure, wide brown eyes. Her full, luscious lips. Her chin.
Her dark, gleaming bangs. Her shoulder-length bouncy hair, flowing
peacefully in the gentle breeze. And her smile. That lovely, lovely
And suddenly she was gone, replaced by a terrified young woman. Short
brown hair. Azure eyes. Lips, chin, shorter bangs, but the same wide,
deep, lovely eyes. If she was just a few years older. If her eyes were
just that exact shade of brown. Then Gale would be a dead giveaway for…he
couldn’t remember a name. His wife’s name. What could it --?
Wait, her lips were moving. Gale’s lips were moving. She was
screaming something. He hadn’t realized he couldn’t hear her. He
focused his ears. A low buzzing. A current of crackling, popping sounds.
And finally, he was flooded once again with reality.
“Wake up!” she screamed desperately, “Wake up! Please! You’re….you’re
brain is hemorrhaging blood! It’s bad! Real bad! We’ve gotta get you
back to the hospital. Now! Please don’t die on me. Not now. Please,
please, just shocking wake u--!”
“H-hi, Gale,” he choked, swallowing back the thick putrid bile
and mucus in the back of his drenched throat, “I..I know who she is….the
woman…in my flashbacks….I know…”
“Shhh,” she cooed, “You’re gonna be fine. Just fine. You’ve
gotta rest now. You’re gonna be just fine. I just dialed the Docs on
my pocket pager. They’ll be here within a few minutes. Save your
strength, now. You’re gonna be just—“
“She’s my…she’s my wife...” he sighed with a throaty gurgle
as he collapsed in her bruised, blood-soaked arms.
“Alchemax transport crashes in a dazzling Downtown spectacle! More
NYFAX after these—“
“A large Alchemax-run satellite fell out of orbit today, narrowly
missing a crowded apartment building before exploding in—“
“Miguel O’Hara, CEO of Alchemax, had no comment for Astronet
today, about rumors of a quote ‘giant Alchemax-made mecha-dragon
“getting back to our main story, a giant Alchemax transport fell
from the sky today when—“
The holoscreen flashed off violently as the angry young man shredded
the remote control to pieces with his tense, twitching fingers. The man
slowly lifted his aqua-blue glasses to his intense glaring eyes and
waved his angry hand through his wavy auburn hair.
‘What a horrible day,’ the deeply annoyed CEO thought through
clenched teeth and tensed brain, “First Hikaru’s little lecture, and
now this. It figures. And to top it all off, Conchata never even
bothered to call me about these insane, inaccurate newscasts.”
Suddenly, a rather loud ringing sound stirred the man from his
venomous fumings. Beside him, a flowing lemon dress appeared along with
a rather shapely young woman, who just happened to resemble a certain
twentieth century actress…
“Phone call for you Miguel,” Lyla beamed brightly, beautifully
contrasting Miguel’s stony grimace, “It’s from…”
“My mother, right?” Miguel guessed angrily.
“How did you know?” Lyla was taken aback, “Have you been
keeping psychic powers from me, Miguel?”
Miguel’s talons sunk instinctive back into his fingertips as Miguel
buried his tired, groggy face into his terse palms and shook his head
over and over again.
‘Why me?’ he thought exhaustedly as he sunk back into his plush,
Continued next crescent moon...
Until now, I have remained cloaked in the shadows. Marked only by my
writings of the digital limited series you have poured through, I have
been merely a spectator, a specter if you will, in the goings on of my
own title. Well folks, this lettercol brings that air of mystery to an
end. I, Jason McDonald, am stepping out. Out into the glaring eyes of my
audience. Out into the public scrutiny of the digital era. Out into the
public datastream of the information age. I have come here for one
single, solitary, solemn duty. I have come here, now….
….to WELCOME you, faithful reader, not only to the SECOND rip-roarin’
issue of Moon Knight 2099 UGR, but also to the brand new soapbox/lettercol
of this title, which I have deemed KNIGHT VISIONS!
Sorry, I tend to get a bit melodramatic at times. I’m Jason
McDonald, by the way, writer of Moon Knight 2099.
I’d like to talk a little bit about this title you’ve been
reading. This ain’t your daddy’s Moon Knight. In fact, this ain’t
Len Kaminski’s Moon Knight either. Y’know, the female one that
appeared in 2099: Manifest Destiny? No, no, this Moon Knight is entirely
You see, one of my favorite books of the 2099 line what Ghost Rider
2099. (Y’hear that, Chris! I dig GR! Now please keep that scary warbot
man away from me….) What struck me about that series was that GR was
never about transitioning the old occult-based, mystical Noble Kale GR
into the world of 2099. It was an entirely new concept. Kenshiro was a
GR based on cybernetics, and not on mysticism. So too is this new
incarnation of Moon Knight, created not from the gaze of an Egyptian
god, but from….ah, but that would be telling.
Still, I find it hard to believe that yet ANOTHER hero would be
mimicking his or her twencen counterpart. That even though Marc Spector
was an interesting and engaging character in and of himself, and
himself, and himself yet again, that even his legacy may not necessarily
make it to the realm of the twenty-first century. So, I’m hoping to
diverge a bit from the beaten path and creating something new, something
different, that I hope everyone enjoys just the same.
Not that I won’t have a few nods to the Moon Knight of old in here.
(If you’re good, you’ve picked them up already. If you’re REALLY
good, you’ve picked up two more I’ve let slip in this soapbox.)
However, Marq is his own character, with his own motivations for doing
what he does; namely fighting for those in the darkness who cannot fight
for themselves, the Downtowners. And the various reasons behind these
strong motivations will become very clear in the next few issues. So
keep readin’, will ya?
And, if in the course of your reading you come up with any questions,
concerns, comments, critiques you’d like to send my way, then don’t hesitate!
Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
and who knows? Maybe I’ll place them in this little digitized letter
column of mine. All I ask is that you be gentle. It IS my first
published fanfic series, after all.
Basically, I hope you enjoy what you’ve read so far, and I’d love
it if you’d stick with me (for both the limited series and the ongoing
series later this year), because it’s gonna be one hell of a ride! And
you guys get front row seats.
It’s a very exciting time indeed.
Next issue: Well, we packed everything but the kitchen sink into this
baby, so I guess we’ll give you the kitchen sink next issue. What? You
don’t want the kitchen sink? Well, I guess you’re just stuck with
more Moon Knight 2099 goodness then. Will Marq find his wife? Will he
survive long enough to do so? And will he ever, ever discover his ACTUAL
name? Well, you’ll just have to keep reading, I suppose…