It’s something almost everyone takes for granted.
Although not everyone has a crystal clear recollection of every single moment that comprises the tapestry of their lives, most people at least have some recollection of what’s gone on before. Some vague or fleeting thought of time’s past.
These thoughts give us balance and definition.
They give us such simple, yet such absolutely necessary things, like meaning and purpose.
They are the building blocks, the semi-concrete foundations from which we may build a new, hopefully better tomorrow upon.
And although we may never realize it, they make us feel safe, these memories. They make us feel comfortable. They let us know, just by existing, that there was something that has come before.
We understand why the world is the way it is.
This remains true even in the harsh age of 2099, when the world has changed so much from the fabled Age of Heroes. When cameras look upon the populace from every street corner. When Public Eye flyboys and Watchdog storm troopers run the world, enforcing the law with publicized beatings and making criminals disappear completely from the eyes of the public. No trial, no second chances.
In an age where Uptowners cast a blind, ignorant eye to the plight of a surplus population it has deemed no longer useful, it helps in some small way to at least know why the world is the way it is. To have some semblance of a clue as to its origins by being able to draw from the thoughts of the past; the thoughts of the world always being the way it is.
It helps to have some semblance of constancy in the face of such insanity.
A man who has come to know himself as Edward Benedict has had no such comforts.
He has no memories to take for granted.
All he has are some pieces to a puzzle. Scattered flashbacks to a life that he never knew. Concrete memories that only stretch back a couple nights. All he knows of the world are what has been shown to him over these past nights.
The sights of a suffering, dying people.
The smiles from a kind nurse and the battles with desperate madmen, scurrying about with their own trivial, selfish wants and needs.
The legends and lore of a world above the hell in which Edward has found himself. A world with endless wealth, a paradise the dirty of Downtown will never know.
A paradise which may hold the clues to the past Edward does not have.
Edward Benedict now sits peacefully in an apartment he does not remember, clutching the wife he does not know. He holds onto her, hoping, pleading with his mind to remember the immaculate world around him.
He fears he may never fully recall the world that has left him behind.
He fears he may never truly discover his past.
This, he will soon find, ought to be the least of his concerns.
He rolled the syllables around in his mind over and over, trying the name on as if it were a new type of leather jacket. He was getting a feel for the name he’d forgotten. Coming to grips with a person he never knew.
He beamed with joy. He finally knew his name. Not an alias. Not a pseudonym. Not a nickname.
His real name.
And here he was, sitting in this fabulous deluxe apartment with the plush leather couch and the hovering coffee table, holding the lovely, delicate little hand of the wife he’d so desperately wanted to find for so long. Here he was gazing into her endless, soft, hazel eyes; holding her close in a tender, loving embrace. Finally, he was home.
“My name is Edward Benedict,” he repeated with bemusement as Jeanine smiled warmly.
“That’s right, honey,” she spoke softly, “Don’t you remember?”
Suddenly his heaven was shattered. He winced.
“No,” he muttered as his pained eyes drifted toward the ground, “Not yet. I just…I can’t remember anything! Even this apartment we live in looks strange and unfamiliar to me. Thor, it’s so painful…not to be able to remember you….to remember us. There are only bits and pieces, but….”
He gazed longingly into her soulful, teary eyes.
“…it’s just not enough.” He closed his eyes and tried in vain to shut out the pain and humiliation swirling madly in his amnesiac mind.
Sighing heavily, he opened his eyes and stared out along the brightly-lit apartment, rolling his eyes along all the expensive furniture, the rugs, the porcelain, and the dazzling high tech devices that displayed the opulence of Uptown life. He arched his eyebrows in a distraught grimace, trying desperately to put a memory behind the glamour. But his valiant effort ended only in failure.
“Jeanine?” he asked quietly.
“Tell me about us,” he murmured, “About the beach. About our lives. Please….please help me remember…”
“Of course,” she replied, caressing his blank, pained face; pulling his depressed gaze away from the life he could not remember, “but only if you do something for me first…”
“Tell me what’s happened to you,” she said simply.
Takayashi’s jaws began to grind as he glared angrily at the Watchdog before him.
“Invincible, you say?” he growled furiously through clenched teeth.
“That’s right, sir,” the well-trained corporate soldier replied, strutting his most disciplined, polished behavior to his superior, praying to Thor that the boiling pile of rage sitting in front of him would put in a good word with Mr. Sama and e-mail some nice, padded overtime pay to his Stark/Fujikawa account. A long shot for sure. But with a little sweet-talking, perhaps he could make the department head see things his way.
“Permission to speak freely?”
“Provided something intelligent escapes from that maw of yours.”
“Sir,” the all-too-eager-to-please man began, “This…this guy you sent us after. He ain’t just a guy. He’s…he’s gotta be a ghost of some kind. An apparition. Sir, we fired everything we had at him. Everything. And…and he just stood there and took it. He took it all and he didn’t….he didn’t have a mark on him. Not a scratch….”
“Let me ask you something,” Takayashi hissed as he leaned forward, leveling his fiery gaze at the lowly piece of human flotsam before him, “Can a ghost blow a shocking hole through a heavily-armored cargo ship? Can an apparition do that? Because that is what he did, lieutenant! He blew a hole through a cargo ship. The resulting crash killed everyone aboard. The resulting crash was very humiliating to Stark/Fujikawa, or would have been if I hadn’t put a different spin on that particular…incident...”
Takayashi heard the distinct sound of a pair of twinkling metal scissors going SNIP in his mind’s eye.
“Anyway, the point I’m trying very hard to drive into that useless little globule BURIED inside that shockingly dense skull of yours is that he is a MAN. Simply a specimen that I….”
“…that this corporation needs returned…now. No excuses. No “he’s too invincible”. None of that “he didn’t have a scratch on him” garbage. He’s a SHOCKING MAN for shock’s sake. One man. A man who should barely be able to velcro his own SHOES, let ALONE master our top-of-the-line Expert model GENETIC ARMOR!!”
The Watchdog stepped back, heart thumping wildly in his chest as Takayashi shot up from his plush floating chair and slammed his fist directly into his smooth metallic desk; a sickening THUD echoing throughout the shadowy office around them.
The reddening Takayashi didn’t feel the needles and pinpricks rising from his rapidly bruising fist. He could only feel the blood rushing behind his ears and the faint sound of a small bonsai tree branch lightly crashing into expensive decorative carpet.
“He’s just a shocking USELESS little man and you are a highly-trained LIEUTENANT in the Watchdog ranks! And YOU’RE telling me that you are completely IMPOTENT against this PATHETIC LABORATORY EXPERIMENT?!”
Lieutenant Henrold Jamison tried in vain to gulp down the palpable, rapidly-swelling globule of fear he held for the fuming department head before him, managing only to chirp out a weak gurgle that sounded more like a desperate plea for mercy than a rational response, ”Well….sir, well….it was just that he was…that he…”
Takayashi stood in silence for several moments, staring at the lieutenant before him in lucid contempt. Jamison trembled as time slowed down to a crawl, his pounding heartbeat the only sound in the silent cavern that was his superior’s luscious office.
…and finally, the furious head of Spectre Division collapsed heavily into the hollow comforts of his soft, warm, hovering office chair, turning his hateful gaze away from the terrified pup before him and eventually settling an even stare upon the darkened wall across the silent, endless cave.
“I’m sending some SIEGE troops after the specimen,” he muttered in a numb, cold monotone, “I’m suspending you for your wretched excuse of dealing with a very important and very volatile situation. I would fire you but…” he trailed off; a slight twitch of a smile hitting his lips as his tired eyes looked beyond the wall, reveling in some recent, happy memory, “…I’ve reached my quota for the month. Goodbye, Mr. Jamison.”
The Watchdog somehow found the strength to lift his heavy body out from under the shattered remains of his dignity and sheepishly inched himself out of Takayashi’s gloomy office, pausing only to open the door before shutting the grimacing department head in with his own thoughts.
‘So much for long shots,’ he sighed in defeat amongst the humming fluorescence of the hallway.
“Hmm….” Amanda pondered quietly as she sat comfortably in the plush hover chair of her deluxe suite, nervously biting on her synthi-pen and resting comfortably in full recline mode, “stealing office supplies? No, they’d never fire him for that…”
She scribbled the pixels out as quickly as she’d written them, the liquid nanoid display of her pocket-size personal data directory smoothly etching out the unwanted words under the laser-electromagnetic pulses of the new-age writing utensil. Y’see, Amanda was quite fond of living well beyond her means. And one fat, pudgy, irritating little employee was all that stood between her and a paycheck big enough to solve all her monetary problems.
She had managed to convince the debit carders and the repo men not to recollect until the end of next week. Still, that left her with less than two weeks to give the proverbial boot to the pompous son of a glitch that was her boss and squeeze her petite frame into the faded office chair that read “Chief Executive Surveillance Technician of Stark/Fujikawa Incorporated.” Figuratively speaking, of course.
Fourteen simple days to get Steven Rogerson out of the comfy seat. Easy goal. But how do you get the most loyal shocking employee ever to hit the neon walkways of the big city fired? Without suspicion from the higher-ups, no less? Needless to say, it was a task that was proving quite daunting.
Money, however, has always been a very powerful motivator.
“Bribery! He’s trying to bribe one of the higher-ups!” she exclaimed, pausing, “No, wait. No one gets arrested for that. ‘Sides, he’s not even rich enough to turn an eyebrow. What else, what else….”
“Well…” she began, flopping onto her delightful hovering easy chair once again and fiddling happily with one of the many glistening jeweled rings adorning her perfectly-manicured fingers, “how about if he let one of the prisoners escape? Captain America told him to do it or something. That could work, but….but if Stark/Fuji were to find out he did that, I doubt they’d pay too much attention to it. Probably slap him on the wrist or something. After all, those degens are expendable commodities…easily replaced.”
Suddenly, there was a twinkle in her eye.
“What about that new Elite or Expert model specimen that escaped a few days ago? I mean, on the off-chance that they even catch the bit-head, if Steve were to release him….oh, they’d definitely kick his ass to the curb, no questions asked.
“But there’s no chance of that happening. I’ve hacked the data-files on that guy before. Dry reading, but anything’s better than listening to that stupid putz drone on about corporate etiquette for an hour. Still, that specimen’s got invisibility, intangibility, super speed, super strength….he could take anything the corps could dish out, and then some. No way our dog’s’ll catch him…still, it was a primo hack, though. One for the ages…”
She stared anxiously at the wall; her team had the graveyard shift tonight, and she had to get ready soon. She rolled the words around in her mind again and again, desperate to find the solution to this irritating little nuisance. So close, and yet…
“Hack…hack….that’s it! Stevie-boy hacked into the most uber-secure datacores of the company. Brilliant! Shocking brilliant! ….but why would he do something like that? He’s the poster boy for the Stark Watchers. The painfully patriotic team mascot that nobody wanted. Why on earth would this guy betray his company like that? It’s the last thing he’d do….
“Which is why no one’d see it coming. No one would ever suspect Steve of corporate espionage….but Steve’s too stupid to think that all up on his own. He’d need a backer; a puppeteer behind his silly little strings. Someone to call the shots, someone like…
“With our little spin control stunt with the crashed transport ship, I’m sure they’d be looking for some serious payback…
“And what better way than to spy on the company that royally screwed them over in the PR department and one-up Stark/Fuji by stealing their own designs right out from under their noses? With their most trusted employee, no less. Talk about public embarrassment!
“All it’d really take is one simple little e-mail I could manufacture and innocently leak into the corporate files. Encode it, make it look totally real. Send it out into the ether of the corporate net for the digital security to find and bingo, instant proof that Alchemax is secretly in contact with the most disgusting little troll ever to suck air.
“From there, I just need to do a very sloppy hack job around the system using Steve’s own personal access codes. A little bit of corporate security and digital backtracking later, and Steven Rogerson is sucking down pink slip. I love it!
“But his access codes. How oh how do I get…”
And then she could feel the synthi-pen between her fingers. Top of the line model. A waterproof pen that could do everything from write on any type of surface imaginable, to playing music direct broadband feed from a veritable ether of cyberspace tunes, to even taking crystal-clear digital photographs. Zoom in, zoom out, touch up, resize, sharpen; all automatic, all in the blink of an eye. There was even a feature that let it vid-record short movies.
With the push of a button.
Without anyone else’s knowledge but her own.
“Ah, I love the way I think…”
Edward velcroed the shirt over and watched as the two straps automatically contracted, neatly folding the beige T-shirt closed across his chest.
Gods, even the clothes were high-tech up here.
Still, at least he was out of those rags Gale had gotten him after the crash. Between Docs-In-The-Box leftovers and his very own birthday suit, it was nice to have something nice to wear other than the gleaming armor that Stark-Fuji forcibly bonded to his body.
And it really did feel good to be wearing his own clothes again.
“Micro-nanotech polymer. It’s one of your favorite. Automatically adjusts size to fit whoever’s wearing it,” Jeanine smiled, her hand resting lightly on his chest as she inspected the automated handiwork.
“Perfect fit,” she beamed, “After all you’ve been through, it must feel great to be in your own clothes once again!”
“Feels perfect,” he happily gripped her hand in his, “So…now that I’ve told you all that I can remember…”
He looked into her gorgeous hazel orbs, smiling.
“…why don’t you fill me in on what I can’t?”
She grinned warily. It must be hard on her…to almost lose her husband, only to find he can’t even remember the life he’d left behind. Guilt swept over him like an ocean tide crashing over the shoreline, his mounting hatred for Stark-Fujikawa boiling and bubbling over the water’s surface.
They held hands, the two lovers, inching back toward the floating sofa in solemn silence, so she could catch him up to speed on a life he never should’ve forgotten.
Easing into the couch, she lifted her eyes toward her husband, a slight nervous smile adorning her lips.
“We were researchers,” she said nervously, “for Stark-Fujikawa….”
Edward was stunned, “….w-w-what did you say…?”
“We work for Stark. At least…we did, “ she looked down at his hands, gripping them tightly in muted despair, “You…you and I…we invented this marvelous new invention. It was a type of armor. An armor that could be affixed to the human genome and called at the user’s whim. An…an armor that ordinary people could carry with them, like laser pistols or personal defense systems. One that could keep people safe and free up the heavy expenses of maintaining the Watchdogs or Public Eye. It…it was an armor that could help so many….
Edward blinked. He peered down at his own hand and realized just what exactly it was that was swimming beneath, hidden and dormant, nestled snugly within the inconceivable complexities of his own genetic code.
“But all Hikaru thought about were the military aspects. How many weapons and how much firepower could it be loaded with? I guess that must’ve been the only reason they let us work on it. Thor, how could I have been so naïve? Personal defense isn’t cost-efficient as far as the ‘corps are concerned. Their subscribers-only protection coverage is one of their highest-grossing gates of cash flow.
“At least…that what the Watchdogs said. What they said went they burst into our home and….and…and they….you were screaming….you were screaming and they told me that if I moved they’d kill me and make you watch….they’d make you watch and kill you too….they…they said they…they had guns they said….they….”
Her voice cracked. She screamed and sobbed, shaking with rage as Edward hugged her, caressing her in his muscled frame.
“I’m here, honey,” he said softly while she shook in his arms, “Let it all out. They can’t hurt you anymore. I won’t let them. I won’t let them hurt you ever again.”
She grabbed his shoulders, her hair becoming a wild, tangled mess against his chest. He laid his head atop her warm, soft, pink cheek. He didn’t feel the pain of her head lying against the bruised ribs in his chest. All he felt was love. Love and sympathy. His teary eyes stared out into the distance.
A heavy metallic knock sounded from the doorway.
“Gods, they’ve found us!” Edward gasped, dry heat searing his throat as the sparkling white armor slurped smoothly out of his pores. The staff was in his hands even before he stood up, muscles tensing as he aimed single-mindedly at the opening door.
“Eddie!” Jeanine screamed, leaping up from her seat. A small bolt of blue energy crackled from the smooth staff, cracking the wall above the door as the trespasser fell into the doorway, terrified. He stood up quickly, arms open in surrender.
“I don’t have anything on me, please don’t…!”
The tall, thin, lanky man stared at the armored knight; mouth agape, eyes wide in blind animal panic.
“Arne! Thank goodness you’re back so soon! Arne, you remember your brother, my husband, Eddie over here, right?” Jeanine said in a hurried panic, small eddies of smoke still billowing up from above the ajar doorway.
The man named Arne stood shaking, perplexed and sweating buckets. He soon regained himself, eyes hollow as he took a deep breath, and let it out, “Jeez, oh yeah, yeah, of course. God, y’scared me there…Edward….*whew*…”
Arne braced himself, putting both arms on his knees and taking some more deep breaths as his brother Edward absorbed the immaculate white back into his being, also calming down from the fright, “My….my brother…?”
Jeanine took Edward’s hand in hers, looking into his eyes, and smiled, “Yes, Eddie. Your brother. We’re a family again.”
He clutched her warmly as he smiled back, lost in her eyes. His brother! He couldn’t believe it.
Jeanine turned away as the door snapped closed behind them. Edward looked on and saw Arne leaning against it, slapping something small and thin onto his right arm. His eyes sunk out of focus as he began to smile in a way that made Ed very uncomfortable.
“What--?” Edward began.
“It’s the Rapture,” Jeanine muttered, eyes drifting to the floor as she went on, “Arne used to be an employee for Alchemax Incorporated. And, in order to keep their employees happy, they often slip them a designer drug called Rapture. It makes you feel…happy, and it’s one hundred percent addictive. Of course, Alchemax has full market control of the drug, so if you ever need a fix of the stuff, you’ll need to stay on the payroll. It discourages most people from quitting the corporation. Your…brother, however….is an exception.”
“So how does he…?”
“It’s the bootleg black market variety,” she said simply, “He could only quit the job, not the addiction. Of course, the black market stuff’s not all that pure, quality-wise. He hasn’t been the same since before Alchemax.”
She looked on wistfully as Arne’s blissful daze ended, his attention snapping toward the two lovers.
“So, Jeanie….got any beer?”
“It’s in the fridge,” Jeanine sighed, the pair watching as the frail man made his way to the kitchen, dark circles under his eyes.
Edward looked on. He watched the man leave the room and started to remember Gale and Vonvargas. He remembered the Watchdogs and how Gale had broken down on that dirty sidewalk so far below where he was now. He remembered the dozens of dirty, malnourished people he’d seen down there, who were wearing nothing but rags while shaking softly among the scattered remains of their dignity. He remembered the squeaky-clean Uptowners, the ludicrous expense of clothes that automatically sealed themselves to fit their personal profiles. And then he remembered meeting his brother again and watching in horror as he got high on megacorp drugs.
Edward remembered these things and suddenly remembered once again why he hated this new world, and how he hated the megacorps for making it that way.
Steven Rogerson watched the network of monitors intently, scanning the digital tapestry of spy-satellite feedback expertly intermixed with lightwave spy-cams and AI nano-tech enhanced fiber-optic surveillance and reconnaissance platforms for anything that could publicly harm the company he loved.
After all, he was the company’s knight in shining armor. He was their last line of defense against data pirates and digital thieves. He was the Chief Executive Surveillance Technician of Stark/Fujikawa Incorporated, a title he wore proudly amongst all.
He had a right to be proud. His parents had named him Steven Rogerson Walker, after a famous champion of the twencen who proudly wore the banner of his country as a sturdy uniform and fought bravely for the American way.
Bearing the responsibility of continuing such a legacy would surely topple a normal man, but not Steven Rogerson. Steven continued to fight the good fight against those who would oppose the corporations that comprised his country. Perhaps his battles were not with other colorful titans and gods of a golden age long since tarnished and stained. Perhaps his battles weren’t the stuff of legends, the kinds of unforgettable clashes that resounded throughout the ages. But still, his bouts were no less significant. After all, we couldn’t let some flea-bitten techno-junkies bad-mouthing the corps in cyberspace. It would be the Domino effect all over again. Everybody would be doing it. The patriotic thing to do would just be to nip this bad kind of free speech in the bud before it snowballs into some public relations nightmare.
After all, it’s what Steve Rogers would do. He said it himself on national television.
Others said that he was simply a pretender, but Steven knew. Steven Rogerson knew that the titan of his namesake had come back to America. Back to slay the costumed pretenders who fought for such heretical and obscene values such as free speech and justice for all, even those without a subscription plan.
Yes, Captain America was back. And by Thor, Steven Rogerson would make him proud.
“Steve?” a voice called out, jarring Steven out of his musings.
“Amanda, please,” Steven responded as his eyes snapped back into focus and scanned along the monitors before him once again, “Don’t interrupt me when I’m on duty. Our mother corporation pays us handsomely to observe these monitors and alert them immediately if we see any potential threats. It is not a duty you should be taking lightly.”
“I don’t. It’s just…” Amanda trailed off as she looked down at the computer terminal in front of her, “I can’t log into the system. I dunno why, but my password’s not working. Do you know what’s causing it?”
“That’s strange,” Steven paused, looking down at the terminal before him, “Mine’s working just fine. Cecilia, is the system letting you in?”
“Yep,” the third member of the alpha shift surveillance team called back, “System’s working just fine.”
“Try it again, Amanda,” Steven said as he turned his attention back to the array of monitors before him.
How ridiculous. A member of his staff unable to get into the system. He figured that Stark/Fujikawa sent such incompetence under his command to test him. To see if he was ready for the awesome responsibility of maintaining the safety of the corporation. After all, if he couldn’t handle watching out for one lackluster employee, how could he handle watching out for an infallible corporation? It was a test, and by the Captain himself, he would not let his corporation down.
There was some tapping on a flat-screen keypad, and then the voice called out; as annoying and as shrill as before.
“It’s still not working. Can you log me onto your network?”
“Are you asking me to give you my password to the system?” Steven asked incredulously.
“I know, I know. It’s a big security breach but I just need to get into the network long enough to type this report and e-mail it to – “
“Uh-uh. No can do, Ms. Deveraux,” Steven stated firmly, leveling his eyes at her slender frame, “This company gives out passcodes for a very important reason. And if I compromise the security of these passcodes in any way…”
“Look, I know all about the passcodes and how we’re not supposed to give them out. But I have this important surveillance report due. A report that has to be in Mr. Sama’s e-mail bin within the hour. Now when he sees it’s not there, do you really want me to have to explain to him that it’s your fault I couldn’t put it into his e-bin in time?”
Steven gulped down hard. A document such as this was obviously of the highest level of importance. If he didn’t allow his insipid employee access to the system, he could be to blame for any problems or setbacks this would cause the company. And far be it for him to interfere with highest-tier company matters.
He had no choice.
He let out a sigh and lifted his hefty form out of the chair, making his way toward Amanda’s monitor in a stride that would’ve made the Captain proud.
“Here, I’ll just get you into the system from your terminal,” he stated with authority in his voice, easing himself into her now-vacant hoverchair, “After all, I wouldn’t want to impede the matters of the company now would I?”
“Certainly not,” she muttered as she clung to her pen, clicking it rapidly.
Nerves, he figured. Not everyone could handle the trials and obligations the mother corporation bestowed upon them with the kind of ease and undeniable grace that Steven did.
“Now turn around,” Steven commanded, “I’m entering my passcode.”
He heard her feet shuffle in compliance. But the clicking continued as he tapped his five-letter code into the console.
But he could take the clicking. It was simply a test of his strength. A test of his will and leadership and character. It was a test he was destined to pass with flying colors. After all….
He was Steven Rogerson.
“Now Jeanie, if you don’t mind,” a heavy sigh escaped his lips as he eased his bruised frame onto the plush, soft bed adorning the bright, pristine Uptown bedroom that Jeanine and her husband had shared in the days before Edward was thrown from the cold clutches of a dead cargo transport. Before Downtown, before the flashbacks and the battles and the armor that he would never be able to escape from. Before Gale… “I’m…just gonna take a rest. It’s been a very, very long day.”
Jeanine crossed the deluxe bedroom suite and sat down gingerly alongside her resting husband, easing her tender hand comfortably inside his, “Honey, I think we should go out and celebrate.”
He half-opened his groggy eyes and looked up at her radiant, glowing smile.
“We will, beautiful,” he grinned up at her, “first thing in the morning, we will.”
“Why not now?” she suggested with a smirk.
Edward blinked slowly up at his adoring wife, “Now? You mean right now? Are you serious?”
“Of course. After all, it’s not every day my missing husband returns to me, safe and sound, after being gone for so long. We could use a night of fun after what those lunatics at Stark did to you..”
Edward sat up; blinding, unwelcome clarity sweeping in from all sides as the memories of the past forty-eight hours surged in his wracked, tired brain.
“They’re still looking for me, you know,” he stated, staring at the tapestry of wrinkles he had made in the once pristine bed.
“I know someplace quiet. A nice small little restaurant around the block. Remember Pagelli’s? We used to go there all the time for our late night cravings. “
He slowly shook his head.
“You will. I’ll get you a cut of fresh Banner steak. Come on. It’s the biggest steak in all of New Yooork…” she held out the last syllable in a flirty, yet innocent tone; a sweet melody of times past, persuading him, beckoning him to come hither and join the celebration.
He hesitantly drew a breath, as if to say something…
“Don’t worry, Eddie,” she stroked his arm, soothing his worried mind, “We’ll leave this awful city first thing in the morning like we agreed and never look back. We’ll be safe. Let’s…let’s just have this night. This one night…..”
She gazed into Edward’s tired, dreary eyes; silently pleading with him to celebrate with her. She obviously needed the release. Hour after nerve-wracking hour, worrying and praying for her Eddie’s safety. The endless counting of the hours on the clock, ticking away like the heartless, unfeeling machine it was.
She needed something to calm her, to soothe her nerves and wind down the night with warm laughter and chilled drinks instead of a simple numb, shaky relief after days of perpetual panic.
But Stark/Fuji. They were still out there; searching, hunting….preying…
He blinked sleepily, exhausted beyond comprehension, taking in a deep, knowing breath. He forced his broken body up; solemnly leveling his baggy, groggy, bloodshot orbs at Jeanine…
“You know, I’m not sure….but I don’t think I could ever say ‘no’ to you.”
Edward scanned the burning electric neon and flashing fluorescent fire that decorated the Uptown New York night life with intense, worried eyes. His troubled orbs rolled along the crowd of faceless souls walking to and fro along the pristine walkways, searching desperately for the minions of Stark-Fujikawa that he knew were coming to get him. The vicious hounds of a corporation gone insane that would drag him from his newfound paradise and waltz him and his long lost love right back into the darkness. Thor help her, she’d been so scared of the Watchdogs when they’d come and taken him away. If they came for him now….
True, he had been able to take them down before. But there was Gale to consider. And Arne. What if the Watchdogs held them hostage and forced him to surrender? They’d all be prisoners, like he had been. And not just figurative prisoners either, like everyone here in this twisted little world; the megacorps free to play chess with their lives as they saw fit. No, they’d be actual test subjects for the corps to enact their demented, psychopathic war games upon….
If they were lucky, the Watchdogs would merely kill them. If they weren’t…..
He suddenly remembered the flashbacks of a cold, stainless steel laboratory; the pinpricks of liquid fire under his skin. Burning radiation, electroshock, old-school sterilized needles injecting unseen poisons into his boiling bloodstream. And the screams….endless, ear-splitting screams. Screams that would resonate throughout the soulless steel expanse of a massive corporate laboratory.
They were his screams.
He looked down once again at her slim profile, picture-perfect auburn hair glistening and shining in the endless neon twilight.
Jeanine Marlo Benedict. His long lost wife.
How would she scream when they tampered with her genetic make-up, creating another brand-name monster to fight their corporate wars?
No. He wouldn’t…he couldn’t allow it. He had to keep her safe. No matter the cost.
No matter the cost.
“Eddie, are you alright?” she whispered gently in his ear as she nestled closer to the restless Edward, his brother trailing closely behind the two. Edward gazed ahead, trying very hard to let go of his mounting worry.
“I’ll be fine,” he sighed, exhausted as he scanned the crowded walkway once again in vain, “I’m just…I’m just worried about Stark-Fuji…”
“Don’t bother,” Arne smirked as he took a black-market synth-rapture pad and slapped it onto his forearm, sucking in all the biochemical bliss, “Fujikawa may talk a good game, but they don’t have the stones to back up their bark.”
“Jammit, Arne!” Jeanine sneered, looking back angrily at her brother-in-law, “Do you hafta get jacked up in pubic?”
“No place better, babe,” Arne slurred through synthetic high, “No place better.”
Jeanine rolled her eyes and laid her head upon the increasingly uncomfortable knight’s shoulder, “I…apologize for your brother here. You may not remember all his antics yet, but when you do, you’ll wish you didn’t.”
She sighed with a giggle. Edward smiled. Little brothers will be little brothers, he supposed. Arne was probably that foolhardy before the addiction. It must be comforting in a way, not to have to be afraid of anything like that.
But, if Arne was wrong about Stark-Fujikawa….they were all dead. All three of them. One way or another, they were all dead.
Edward’s dark train of thought careened off the tracks as the trio reached their destination. He stared up at the blinding bright façade, searing suns dancing above the stylish double doors, spelling out a single name over and over in scrolling holographic light.
Around the block, just like she’d said.
Is this what she meant by “someplace quiet”? He could hear the blaring techno from all the way outside.
Still, it seemed like a good place to hole up. A defensible position. Through the clear plexiglass that lined the front, he could see that it was an expansive, wide-open restaurant. Hardly the wee little place around the block that Jeanine thought it was but, he’d probably be able to see any S-F agents before they could see him, giving them plenty of time to escape through the kitchen or a back door. He’d just hafta keep a good lookout, was all.
And if he could get them to funnel through the front and maneuver through the leagues of hovering tables and padded recline-while-you-eat chairs in the way, that’d give them even more time.
Maybe this wasn’t so bad after all…
“Who’s up for some Banner steak?” Edward asked semi-cheerily, his tactical thoughts finally calming his morbid daydreams.
“That’s the spirit, ya big lug!” his brother enthused behind him, mock-punching Edward in the shoulder, “Now let’s get in there and have some good eats!”
“I was thinking of trying out the Crescent Knight casserole myself,” Jeanine pressed her warm body against his arm, “The great thing about this place, is that it preserves so many of the great legends of the heroic era. The Hulk. Spider-man. The X-Men. Crescent….crescent knight, or something. I think that’s what his name was. They came up with some of the strangest names in those days. And the menu reflects that, let me tell you! Still, the corps can’t stand places like this. They wouldn’t be caught dead here.”
“That’s good,” Edward sighed with relief, the furrows in his brow almost completely gone.
Then the train whistles started up again.
‘…so many great legends of the heroic era…the oppression of the megacorps….wouldn’t be caught dead here…can’t stand places like this…’
...minimal collateral damage…
And then something hard slammed into his skull at a hundred and fifty miles an hour. Edward flew out of his wife’s arms and slammed back into dense plastic walkway, light streams of nano-tech electric burrowing into his scalp.
Ambush, jammit! This place was the perfect place for an ambush!
The device tattooed into his skull was sending spasmic jolts of electricity coursing throughout his body. Non-lethal. Not even enough juice to render him unconscious.
He fought the electric tremors in his arms, gritting his teeth as he ripped the stun bolt from his forehead, feeling the same dry heat in his throat as the shimmering armor oozed out from his pores.
Odd. Stark-Fuji could’ve knocked them all out with stun bolts by now. And yet there were Arne and Jeanine, standing right before him looking up at something…
Two somethings, in fact. Armored up in some wild high-tech gear. Bulky, glittering, pristine white all over. Heavy helmets and plexiglass visors encased both of their smirking faces. He could hear the twin jet engines and the fading hiss of a repressurizing arm cannon in-between the shrieks and shouts of a busybody neo-metropolis nightlife suddenly disrupted. Even before the intros, he knew who they were.
Upgraded Watchdogs. Just for him.
“Hey good buddy, how’re ya doing?” the Watchdog enthused, beaming a wide smile behind his plexiglass facemask, the sound of his voice dancing rhythmically on Edward’s auditory nerve, “You wouldn’t know us, so allow us to introduce ourselves. I am Lieutenant Malcolm Gruthergates…”
“And my name’s Mallory Radcliff, in case you were wonderin’,” the second armored Watchdog spoke in heavy Texan drawl, “M’partner and I are just here t’escort ya back ta headquarters.”
“Strangest thing. It just seems like the higher-ups don’t like you that much,” Malcolm chimed in, beaming with practiced enthusiasm.
“I reckon it’s kinda strange, myself,” Mallory finished his partner’s thought, “You seem like a fine enough fella.”
Edward glared up at his enemies, feeling strangely sublime despite the impending danger. He knew he had to fight back against these Watchdogs; to bring his family to safety. But, for some unknown reason, he couldn’t bring himself to do much of anything at the moment.
‘There’s no need to fight,’ his mind droned at him, ‘The SIEGE are my friends…’
The next thing Edward knew, his skin was on fire, rods of lightning and thunder dancing to and fro up and down his nervous system, his eyes vomiting summer heat. He tried very hard not to swallow his tongue as a second stun bolt burrowed deeper into his scalp.
“Sorry. Your attention seemed to be waning a bit, and we thought we’d keep ya focused. Besides, there’s no need to worry. Your pals aren’t in any real danger over there, right Arne?”
Edward’s brother grinned, “Nope. Me and the wife are just fine over here. You boys just keep up the good work.”
“Will do, bud,” Malcolm grinned as he turned the voltage up a bit, drowning Edward in his own screams. Jeanine glared angrily at her brother-in-law.
“What?” Arne replied cockily as Jeanine slapped him across the face.
“That’s my husband they’re killing over there!” Jeanine gritted her teeth, not bothering to stop the tears, “Leave him alone!!”
“No can do, ma’am,” The Texan sputtered as his partner heightened the voltage yet again, nearly sending the convulsing man into an electric neon coma, “We take our orders from a higher authority. ‘Sides, the company considers this man t’be an armed’n’dangerous vigilante. S’one of the reasons why they advanced the SIEGE armor production rate. T’keep up with these super-powers poppin’ up outta the woodwork. Got nothin’ personal against this fella, but I also got m’orders. We’ll be outta y’hair in just a second. And tell Arne over there he’s goin’ down in the office Poker game next week.”
“Heh, funny guys, those two,” Arne grinned as he went to comfort his trembling sister-in-law, “Now calm down, honey. It’ll all be over soon.
“Get away from me,” Jeanine shoved his caring embrace away, looking on towards the fallen hero and tensing with unimaginable anger.
Edward watched his wife look on helplessly as electric thunderbolts filled his eardrums. The liquid fire in his veins suddenly reached a fever pitch as his armor began to bubble and flow along his shaking frame, both he and the armor screaming, pleading to be free from the unending agony. His spine arced; mind racing toward complete mental implosion.
Blue energy cackled wildly within his cells, bo staff forming and dissolving in short spasms along his hand. Bloodshot eyes rolled back into pounding skull. Teeth chattered wildly between swashes of white foam. His upper thigh disappeared while his head sank painlessly into the plasti-steel walkway.
Then the pain stopped.
Edward’s armor began to sizzle and calm, smoke billowing from the electric strain. The knight laid still, shaking hands still clasped tightly around the now fully-formed bo staff.
“A shame, really. He seemed like such a nice guy,” Malcolm said lightly to his partner, turning toward Mallory just in time to watch in horror as his fellow SIEGE was swallowed up in blinding, blistering blue light, the burnt husk dropping toward the walkway below.
“What the--?” Malcolm gaped, bo staff slapping against his trachea before he could even utter a subliminal-laced word. He fell as the bo left his throat, the ear-splitting shriek of shattered plexiglass facemask reverberating out along cool summer winds.
Edward loved intangibility.
As Edward caught the returning staff in his still-shaky left hand, he glanced down at the stun bolt below. It had actually fallen through his head and merged into the battle-damaged walkway.
He stumbled about as he made his way to the terrified Jeanine, head still shaking and ringing from the attack. He had been lucky. Lucky that the intangibility kicked in when it did, even if it was completely involuntary. Lucky that his power had held out as long as it had; that the stun bolt had not become lodged in his skull when he re-materialized.
Lucky that the first stun bolt had not been as intense as that last one had. He had been holding on to Jeanine at the time. Could she have survived such an attack? Could he have helped her if the Watchdogs had actually decided to go after her and Arne?
Perhaps the megacorps did understand chivalry and honor after all.
Wait…didn’t he see Arne talking to one of the Watchdogs just before he’d…?
The handle of a fine Japanese sword slapped heavily against his right temple.
Edward collapsed, barely conscious as he instinctively clutched his staff for dear life. He watched as the blurry sword returned to the shadowed man in the alleyway, reality sliding and tilting about in his eyes.
“Imbeciles,” the figure spoke with overt disdain as he stepped out into view, “So much money spent on the units, so much of a waste.”
“Who--?” Edward groaned as he rolled onto his side, desperately trying to separate up from down.
“I have been named ‘The Specialist,’” he strode toward the kneeling man, “Now please, at least try to put up a fight. You wouldn’t want me to be disappointed in you too.”
“P-p-please….” The choking Malcolm cried out in a mangled whisper among shattered plexiglass, “M-m…throat…help…”
There was a light swish along the air as the Specialist permanently relieved the Watchdog of his problematic throat.
“As I said, you wouldn’t want me to be disappointed in you.” His sharp gaze screamed murder as he wiped the decorated sword clean and began again towards the battered man.
Edward rose unsteadily, the ground toppling beneath him as he aimed the bo staff at his unwavering foe, it’s complementary vibration giving the dazed hero renewed confidence…
…just as the master swordsman slapped the stick aside with merely a flicker of fluidic movement, the staff rapping along the ground before it rolled to a stop.
The Specialist pressed the sword against Edward’s throat.
“Anything else?” the Asian man sneered, steady eyes trained on Edward’s fluttery gaze.
Edward thought of Jeanine.
He had to save her. He couldn’t lose her now.
Wait…the manufacturer’s program. The lunatic in black. Emmanuel, was it?
Didn’t he say the suit was designed to emit energy from the hands and from the pupils?
Could it be that he’d channeled this power through the bo staff all those times? It had been instinct; he’d never really thought about it. The staff was a part of him. It’d freed him from the transport, traveled with him into the depths of Downtown, saved Gale, saved himself…
Was it possible that he didn’t need the staff? That he’d never needed it?
Edward was suddenly very thankful his suit’s creator had been kind enough to install a manual; the very same manual he had despised and feared with all his being. The program he once thought would end his life was now saving him; helping him save her. He thanked the designer and laughed inside at the irony of it all.
“One…more thing….” The gleaming knight mumbled, the sword digging into his jugular, “Don’t shock with my family.”
Edward held out his palm, shining white hand beginning to glow with electric blue energy. He screamed with lucid napalm fury as he willed the fiery energy in his hand at the Specialist, praying for this final gambit to take the head off this psychotic shocker and end this game of cat-and-mouse once and for all.
Instead, his hand continued to glow harmlessly in the murderous swordsman’s face.
The Specialist smirked, “It seems your creators left a few things unfinished. Pity they didn’t give you the memo. By the way, the eyebeams won’t work either.”
Edward looked on in abject horror, the sword digging deeper and deeper into his clenched jugular. He could barely focus and there was no way in Hel he could recall the staff fast enough to do anything about the sword waiting to spill his insides along the shiny Uptown walkway. Not with the world topsy-turvy as it was. He stared helplessly at this blurry predator; the Specialist had him completely at his mercy
He never saw the right snap kick to his temple.
And then, all there was was nothing.
“Thor damn you!” Jeanine screamed as the Specialist looked on at her, seemingly perplexed.
“Honey,” Arne smiled lovingly, wrapping his arms around the distraught woman, “You can drop the act now. Our boy’s down and out cold.”
Jeanine glanced over at Edward, shining armor slowly slurping back into his unconscious frame.
“Finally,” she grumbled, wiping the crocodile tears from her dark brown eyes and glaring accusingly at Arnhold Benedict, her husband, “Y’know, you shouldn’t have broken character so early. We’ve got more memories to purge now.”
“Aww, who the shock cares?” Arne sneered, arms wide open in a sarcastic shrug. Behind them, the Specialist hefted the downed Edward onto his shoulder. “We’ve gotta do a full mindwipe anyway. Those flashbacks shouldn’t be happening.”
“Those flashbacks are probably your fault anyway, ‘honey,’” Jeanine yelled at the grimacing Arne, “Shock, do you realize that if he’d remembered me correctly…that I was the one responsible for his bondage to the the armor and not his stupid, long-lost wifey-poo, y’know what you’d be right now? A widow, that’s what!”
Jeanine Benedict slapped her lanky husband across the face, forcefully breaking his condescending embrace. Looking on as the Specialist started his hover bike, she watched intently as the shadowy displays lit up, turning the darkened alleyway into a strip of artificial daylight.
“Make sure he gets back in my lab.” She called out to the swordsman, the slumbering Edward tied down to the synthesized leather backseat, “Tell my assistants I’ll want a full work-up of his blood, some DNA samples…standard stuff. We’ll be up later tonight to see what kinds of operations need to be done on him. He’s still salvageable, apparently. Anything that can survive what he’s been through can still be put to use as a good field agent, at the very least.”
“Understood,” the Specialist muttered, flying off into the dark starless sky.
“Thanks!” Arne’s yell was drowned out by the roaring bike as the two figures faded quickly into the night. Arne looked back at his wife, who was still staring heatedly off into the distance, “Y’know, it wouldn’t kill you to show the man a little gratitude once in a while.”
“It’s programmed to be a civil servant. Just because it serves me doesn’t mean I have to be civil about it,” Jeanine glanced back harshly at her better half, “Seriously, would you take special care to say “please” and “thank you” to your furry little white lab rats? Oh no, that’s right. You program your rats with faulty code so that once they have a tiny little aversion to sunlight, Spectre Division decides to pull the project and nearly wastes a few billion company credits and a dueceload of my time on a perfectly good experiment!”
“Hey!” Arne shouted, “My coding was perfect! It was you’re stupid bitmapped schematics that were at fault…!”
“Did I give you permission to even mention my work?” She turned around; wild, merciless eyes trained on the speechless researcher she was ashamed at the moment to call a husband, “Did I? No? Good. Then shut your shocking mouth about it.”
Arne could see she was on the defensive at this point. Knowing deep down that arguing was useless at this point, he simply rolled his eyes and stared off into the distance, tired and defeated.
“No mistakes this time, do you hear me?”
“Yeah, yeah I hear ya.”
“Good,” she started, marching back to their apartment, “Now hurry up; we’ve got some work to do.”
The two head scientists for Spectre Division made their way home in tense silence, pondering all that was to come.
Next Issue: My, my. The beloved wife that Edward thought he was running to was actually the very woman that slapped the cursed armor onto his genetic mainframe in the first place! And I finally answered the questions about that defective genes crack in the first ish! See, I told you I would…
So, Jeanine and Arne are the head researchers for Spectre Division. The murderous Specialist is taking our hero back to the lab for testing and dissection, the researchers hoping to get the new Expert project right this time around! What does this mean for our beleaguered hero? Only the worst, I’m afraid. The “Eclipse” has certainly passed over the moon’s light. Come back next time for “Shining Crescent”, the FINAL, SENSES-SHATTERING chapter in the Moon Knight 2099 UGR Limited Series!
Or you could go out and watch the pretty clouds in the sky instead and miss all the fun. I mean, it’s up to you.
The sky is falling! The sky is-- oh, wait, that's just the Moon. Or at least Moon Knight. One of the third-tier twencen heroes gets a really cool 2099 makeover, courtesy of Jason McDonald, and the hero is introduced to Downtown New York the proper way: by plummeting into at full speed.
Seriously, the first issue is a fast-paced, detailed account of how an amnesiac ends up in a decaying environment that needs him the most, and the second issue starts to explore who this guy is through the memory glimpses and the explanation of the Stark-Fujikawa-made armor technology. Thanks, Jason, for using my idea to give him an interim name until he can find out what his real one was.
And I seriously dug Miguel O'Hara's cameo. After all, the guy's Alchemax's CEO, so it just makes sense that something like this would end up dumped into his lap. If Moon Knight 2099 doesn't meet Spider-Man 2099 at some point, I'd be really disappointed.
Well, thanks for the name suggestion, Dave! Somehow, calling him “The Man” for the next 2-3 issues was just a wee bit repetitive.
Moon Knight 2099 #2-This series is probably my favorite on the site. The use of imagery is nice, and not at all cluttered. There's a bit I find confusing about 'marq' but I think its mostly just how the mystery of this character is unfolded. The relationship between the Nurse and the hero is definitely a step in the right direction, and it should be interesting how this pans out especially after the realization he had in the issue. The holo-owners manual made me laugh with glee by the way it was a great touch. Now if only we can be given the straight up skinny on this Specter Division this series will definitely get to rocking.
Wow. Thank you VERY much for the kind praise, Jae! And I'm glad you picked up on the relationship b/w Gale and (now) Edward. She's going to serve in the capacity to acclimate our illustrious hero to the world of 2099. And there will be many interests playing off of this, as well. The bit I just wrote in issue #5 exemplifies that very well, which'll be out in about a month or so. So keep reading, this is just the beginning!
Emmanuel Davis. I LOVE that guy. Who knows….maybe we’ll see him again…. And you'll get your answers about Spectre Division veeery soon, if you guys haven't figured it out already.
Again, thanks to everyone for all the e-mails!
And now, I must bid thee adieu. Don't forget to come back in a month for the SENSES-SHATTERING conclusion to this thunderous thrill ride of a miniseries! And soon afterwards, the ongoing!