The 2099 Underground Revised

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Disclaimer: All characters are trademark of Marvel Comics, unless otherwise noted.
The Underground has been releasing stories since 1996.


Emmanuel


Desperation.

It toys with your psyche, often playing upon your worst fears come to life.

It can paralyze you with fear.

It can drive you to commit unconscionable acts.

It can cripple you, confound or destroy you in a single, horrific moment.

It can even plunge the most collected of men into the churning ocean depths of unrelenting, irreparable psychosis, if given enough time and fear to feed on.

And it all stems from the desire to solve a problem, or reach a goal. And the sickening feeling in your stomach that there may be no way in hell you will ever get there.

Take for example, Downtown New York.

Downtown, the crumbling cesspool of human suffering. The residents live in a perpetual state of despair, fearing for their lives amidst the heel of their corporate overlords.

They are peons against the neon electric system of control and conspiracy at work above them, in Uptown. They are pawns and playthings of the rich, disposed of when they are not needed. If they argue with the system, they are silenced. If they strike back, they are crushed. If they complain, they are ignored and swept under the rug like the garbage they’re perceived as. Nothing ever changes for these poor people.

The indigent denizens of Downtown, of Old New York, are hidden away. Forgotten. Left to their own devices.

They are weak. They are nothing. They will never be able to free themselves from bondage in the darkness. They will never reach their goal; that faraway heaven in the light where they are free from injustice at the hands of brutal pay cops and liberated from the indignity of living in a sprawling, unkempt ghetto of pestilence and warfare.

Never.

Hell, you’d be desperate too in that place.

Right now, Moon Knight is feeling the same kind of desperation his comrades Downtown feel on a daily basis.

His closest friend in the world has been shot in the head by a Fenris sniper. He’s several miles away from the nearest hospital. He’s got a bullet in his shoulder and can barely hold Gale’s lifeless body steady in his arms, all while hovering a dozen feet above a gang war battlefield.

And the sniper that did this is a trigger’s pull away from ending it all. For both of them.

Desperation.

It’s the order of the day.



The Fenris sniper sneered wickedly from the disheveled rooftop, watching through the cross-hairs as the floating Moon Knight held the dying nurse in his arms.

Another shot, and suddenly the floating figure clad in all-white hundreds of feet above had a new hole in his shoulder. The sniper heard the knight roar in pain, even above the raging turf war between the sect of Fenris and the wild Thorites below.

The sniper took another swig of a perfectly-preserved bottle of Jack Daniels they’d found in the wine cellar of the building.

“Wonder whut kinda high-tech gadgets this yutz has on ‘im that lets him fly like that,” he muttered idly to himself as he peered once again through the scope at the flailing couple in the sky, “Won’t hafta wonder f’r long, though….”

The sniper aimed the vintage rifle toward them once again, cocking the shell into the chamber with a click. This one, the sniper aimed at Moon Knight’s masked skull. Dead center.

There was a flash of blue light; the Fenris’ shot bounced off into thin air.

The rooftop caved in, swallowing the shooter into the upper floors of the building.

And the knight was gone long before the Fenris had time to dig himself out from the wreckage.



Marq raced; everything around him was one long, unimportant blur.

He held her tight to his chest with his one good arm, a vein popping out on his forehead from the strain. The other arm hung useless at his side, warmed with blood dripping to the tip from two fresh gunshot wounds that hurt beyond reason.

‘I’m not going into shock,” he thought, ‘Jammit, I’m not going into shock!’

A pristine white cape shot out from the nape of Marq’s neck. Within the fluttering silk, silent orders shot out amongst the microscopic nanotech robots that had formed it. The cape knowingly wrapped itself around Gale Nocturne’s dormant form, holding her up and relieving the pressure on his arm as the sparkling hero flew faster than he ever had before.

Marq whipped in-between rotted buildings and mossy alleyways. He swept up dust and light debris in his wake; his zig-zag path taking him to one all-important destination: Docs in a Box Local 189. All the while, the shockingly warm cape kept the infirm woman from freezing to death from the sheer wind resistance.

“Gale! Wake up, Gale!” He yelled at her, “WAKE THE SHOCK UP!!” Gale stirred.

Movement?

A death spasm?

The buildings rocketing past them both slowed. Marq turned his attention downward, toward the beautiful nurse cradled snug in his arm.

“Gale…?” He held his breath, eyes wide.

THUNK!

“GEEAAAAAHHHHRHRRRRRRGHHHH!!!!”

The hollow echo resounded across the alleyway they flew through. Marq brought his eyes forward and arced their bodies away from the fire escape he’d grazed with his bleeding shoulder.

He moaned in tune with the dull aches creeping up his dead arm, their flight path becoming more wobbly by the minute. He looked ahead weakly in front of him, dodging the speeding onrush of obstacles. Blackness was swimming in from the periphery.

Shit. He hadn’t been paying attention. Stupid move. Such a stupid, stupid time for a stupid move.

“M-marq…?”

“Gale?!”

Alive.

Thank God, she was still alive!

“Marq…” she murmured slowly.

“Rest, Gale, just rest…” he whispered softly to her, feeling the renewed pulsing of warmth from the wound in the back of her head. The warmth coated his good arm now, dripping along his forearm to the elbow, “We’ll be back soon. Just….just stay with me. Just, stay with me.”

“Marq...” she stammered, “…you can always…crash here at my place…only have th’couch though…only have the couch for you to sleep on….always…”

Shock.

This wasn’t good at all.

She was delirious, flashing back to the time she offered for Marq to stay at her apartment as a houseguest. They were both losing a lot of blood.

He slowed involuntarily, exhausted. He couldn’t tell which was draining the life from him faster; the energy demands of flying, or the blood loss. But they weren’t too far away now. Through the green haze of his night vision, he could already make out the familiar buildings of the neighborhood. Just a few more blocks…

“…m‘off to bed, Marq…bed…bed…..have a g’night…g’night….have….” her head rolled back onto his palm.

“Gale? GALE?!” he let the cape hold her weight as he brushed at her face, looking for a sign of life, “Hold on, Gale! Just hold on! We’re almost there, just…hold on, Gale, just… GALE!

Moon Knight somehow tripled his pace, speeding and dodging along brick husks in the night sky.



Jennifer Symes, resident electronics expert at the Docs in a Box Local 189, wiped away the rising layer of sweat from her brow. She bit her lip, intense in her quest to refine the bit-by-bit processing power of the stubborn hard drive. Not too long ago they’d discovered that the hospital’s outdated computer system was far below par. And far below par for Downtown computer software, at a hospital no less, was a very bad thing indeed.

A little extra ROM space here, a few more connections there, and presto: More storage speed and faster info-recall. Invaluable at a place such as the Docs.

As she finished re-sealing the decades-old monitor with a modified pressure sealer, Reginald Vonvargas, chief surgeon at the Docs, staggered out from the operating room. Jenny didn’t even notice his presence until he was standing right above her, soaked from head to toe in blood.

“Hey Jen, do you know where Gale is?” Vonvargas asked through wet crimson scrubs, removing his sterile mask, “Her shift starts soon and I haven’t seen her all day.”

“You’ve been in the OR, bud,” Jen smirked, “You haven’t seen much of anything all day.”

“Very funny.”

“But yeah,” Jenny paused, rapping the auto-sealer against the heavy grains of the tabletop, “Yeah, her and Marq went off to explore the city a bit. I think she said she’d be back for her shift, though.”

“Ah,” Vonvargas muttered.

“Somethin’ wrong, doc?”

“Uh, no. No, it’s nothing.”

“No, nothing is what I believe of what you just said,” Jenny raised an eyebrow, her thin lips in a half-grin, “Out with it, Reggie. You’ll feel better.”

Vonvargas rolled his eyes, “Don’t call me that.”

“Only if you tell me what’s wrong, Reggie.” She dragged the last syllable out as long as she could, reveling in joy as she watched him cringe.

“You always say that, you know.”

Jenny threw a sly smirk, “Well if you’re gonna nitpick, Reggie, we’ll never get anywhere.”

Vonvargas rubbed the bridge of his nose, chuckling quietly to himself. He knew when he was beat. “It’s just…it’s Gale’s safety I’m concerned about.”

“She knows how to take care of herself, hun,” Jenny placed the auto-sealer on the computer table, propping her legs up and folding her hands behind her head. “Besides, Marqy-boy’s there to protect her. Big ol’ buff guy like that. I mean, did you see that costume he was wearing? That was Bad-ASS!”

Vonvargas glanced down at her, frowning, “The problem with costumes is that they seem to attract more problems than they prevent, Jennifer.”

Jenny arced her eyebrows at him in protest, “You’re kidding me, right? Everything’s fine, Reggie-kins.”

Vonvargas let out a long, forlorn sigh and glanced at the freshly-sealed computer, “How’s the repair job coming along?”

“No sweat, boss. It’s already…”

KA-THUNK!

The doors clattered open, shoved aside by a speeding bullet train of a stretcher. Two of Vonvargas’s duty nurses gripped either side of the creaking, rattling monster; directing it toward the operating room.

Atop the stretcher was a lone woman, arms laid straight, her body riddled with IVs and heartbeat monitors. Her dark hair was matted to her scalp, stained with pools and streams of scarlet warmth. She wasn’t moving.

Trailing behind the speeding posse was a lone figure clad in all-white, swatting away another set of nurses who were focused on the multiple bullet wounds in his shoulder rather than the old friend in the stretcher-cart.

Jennifer did the math as quickly as Vonvargas did.

“Gale….my God…” Jenny stammered.

Vonvargas straightened up, tying his damp mask to his face. He jogged over toward the speeding duty nurses as Jenny shakily stood up from the desk, trying not to think of the horrific irony.

The doctor listened to the shouts of his nurses as they wheeled her through the double doors of the operating room with a heavy THUD. Jenny watched as the wounded knight limped after them, his entire posture bent over with the weight of a dead arm.

Vonvargas paused at the door, finally hearing the labored shuffling of footsteps behind him. Jenny’s eyes widened as Vonvargas turned about a full 180 degrees, a tensed line where his mouth used to be. She keyed in on his eyes; stony, violent things that stopped Marq in his tracks, allowing the fretful nurses behind him to catch up and steady his swaggering form.

What the doctor said next shocked Jenny and the nurses to their core, considering Dr. Reginald Vonvargas’s dogged adherence to the Hippocratic oath despite the penny-pinching and corner-cutting times they were in.

Perhaps what shocked them most was the complete sincerity of his voice.

“I should have let you die on the table, you piece of shit.”

With that, Vonvargas turned and sped off into the off-white arena, letting the swinging doors rap shut. Jennifer inhaled sharply, listening to the shaky drumbeat in her chest and hearing the faint sounds of med-carts being wheeled around in the next room.

Somewhere far away, the two nurses had sat the knight down and dressed his shoulder wound. They’d given him something for the pain and an IV for the blood loss, but like Marq, Jenny’s mind was somewhere else.



Marq sat on the gravel sidewalk outside the Docs in a Box, running his finger along the stitches in his arm. The nubs of metal sewn into his flesh reminded him of the blinding pain he went through getting the blasted pieces of metal out from his shoulder. Despite the medtechs’ skill and the pounds of morphine, it had been two hours of hell he wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Despite all that, the wounds were healing nicely; faster than any bullet wound had a right to, yet not nearly fast enough. A low-level healing factor was part of his genetic armor’s myriad capabilities.

And yet, all Marq could do was feel guilty.

Guilty his arm was healing, while Gale was laying on the table, bleeding very nearly to death.

Guilty he flew her along the path of the Fenris-Thorite battle, never realizing the crossfire could touch them in the skies above.

Guilty that their last conversation together had been a stupid argument.

Guilty that he wasn’t standing right outside the OR waiting for word on her condition, instead of outside the Docs sulking and staying out of Vonvargas’s way.

Marq felt something grab his good shoulder. Instinctively, his body tensed, his other arm craning back, ready to attack….

“Jenny?”

“Whoa, Marq. Little jumpy, are we?” Jenny breathed out, holding her hands up in peace.

Marq let his bad arm drop, barely feeling the sparks of agony jump from the stitches in his shoulder down the rest of the tensed limb. His gaze drifted back toward the empty alleyway across the street, focusing on a rusting dumpster hidden by the shadows.

“How’s Gale?” the injured knight mumbled, fearing the answer.

“She’s stable, for now.” She massaged the bridge of nose, placing her back against the wall and sliding down next to Marq in a crouch. She bit her lip, steeling herself for what was next. “She, um…..they got the bullet out. But she’s in a coma. They don’t….ah, they…they…don’t know when she’ll wake up, so…”

Jenny’s gaze fell to the ground. Marq shuddered, tears welling up behind his eyes. He didn’t let them out.

“I…I should have been able to…” he stammered.

“You did what you could, Marq.” She sighed, looking over toward his hunched frame, “We all know that.”

“Vonvargas doesn’t seem to think so.”

“Reg…he’s just known Gale longer than many of us. He got her through a tough time. He’s hurting, Marq. He’s lashing out. You didn’t do this.”

“I should’ve been able to prevent it.”

“How, Marq?” Jenny turned to face Marq, “Seriously, every other day we get people coming in with bullet wounds or laser scarring from gang wars. And most of them aren’t even in the shockin’ battle!"

Marq stared ahead at the street, silent. She continued on.

"There was one guy a year or two ago that got shot with a magnum round fifteen blocks away from the actual warzone. Had to be some kind of elephant gun to have that kind of power. But, what I’m trying to say is, there are just some things beyond our control. Nothing we can do about it.”

Jenny’s gaze slipped off towards the middle of the abandoned street, noting the slips of trash and empty cans rolling along the dusted asphalt. They were silent for a moment, feeling the wind washing over them, listening to faraway curses and the bumblebee buzzing of streetlights.

Marq pushed off of the sidewalk, lifting his mass up on barely sturdy legs, and broke the silence. “I’m going in to see her. I don’t care what Vonvargas says.”

“I’m comin’ with ya,” Jenny rose.

Out of nowhere, a horrible scream echoed above the clatter of trash can lids.

“Shocking hell,” Jenny muttered, “Always somethin’.”

“Get inside,” Marq straightened up, focusing on the source of the shouts and narrowing his eyes. “Hurry.”

“Go get ‘em, Marq,” Jenny smiled, watching the knight run off toward the darkened stretch of a nearby alleyway.



Marq’s feet slapped heavily against the asphalt, his arms pumping in tandem with his legs for more speed. There was a power line of pain screaming from his shoulder, torn muscles screaming for him to stop. But someone was in trouble. And Moon Knight wasn’t failing anyone else tonight.

His nanotech suit bubbled out from his pores. Marq gritted his teeth, letting the routine waves of nausea and the dry heat singeing his throat accompanying every single activation of his genetic armor creep over him like a muted battle cry.

White bled along his patched-up street clothes, the billions of nano-machines fully covering his frame in the familiar silk suit before he reached the other end of the street. Everything faded to a jade haze as his night vision came on automatically, the jaundiced fuzzy light of the streetlights unable to penetrate the dark alleyway beyond a few steps.

The knight ran into the darkness, searching the monochrome green alley for the source of the shouts. They were getting louder now; their sender becoming more desperate. Somewhere on the right, he could hear the rattling of metal and animal grunts laced with malice and blind anger.

Marq took a b-line through the building, feeling nothing as his nanobots made him intangible at the speed of thought. He ran through the building, past the cobwebs within, cutting between the molecules of the walls, focused solely on the whumps and the clangs somewhere in the alley ahead.

The silk-clad knight leapt out of the back wall, a blind rage welling up inside as he saw two Watchdogs stomping on some poor woman, kicking her bruised form with no restraint. Every kick from their thick military boots drove her further back into the toppled-over row of metal garbage cans in the alleyway. Spatters of saliva dripped down from her cheek to mix with the pulpy blood coating her lips. The saliva wasn’t hers.

The eyes on Marq’s mask narrowed into two thin lines, his bo staff forming in his fingers. He didn’t realize he'd been running until he struck the first Watchdog in the temple with the end of the metallic staff.

As the other pay cop turned around, Marq shoved the bo hard into his ribs. The loud crack was satisfying enough, but the extra swing into the murderous officer’s head was icing on the cake. The Watchdog slumped to the ground, his helmet driving hard into his skull.

The first Watchdog had ripped off his shattered helmet now, fumbling with his weapon at Marq’s feet.

Marq shoved his foot into the sadist’s ribcage. Blood spattered Marq’s white costume as Marq tore into the corporate drone with a fierceness he’d never thought he could muster. He kicked at the cop, shattering most of the bones in his leg.

He remembered Jeanine. He remembered the Watchdogs that had attacked him Uptown. He remembered the cell that Stark/Fujikawa had locked him in and the horror he’d felt after listening to the Specialist’s pro-corporate babble and kicked harder. He remembered Gale’s talk about needing the corps to survive and kicked even harder. The ‘dog was spitting out teeth now.

And then Marq heard labored breathing somewhere behind him. His fury slowly ebbing away, the knight turned, seeing the young woman the Watchdogs had been beating. She was wearing a blood-stained, badly-shredded Punisher T-shirt and tattered jeans, brown with dirt and liquid grime spilled out from the trash cans. She was shaky, holding up her ruined shirt with one hand, bracing against the wall with the other. She swished around the copper pulp in her mouth.

“Are you oka--?”

A thick mucous stream of blood sounded from her lips, splashing onto the unconscious Watchdogs eyelid.

She quivered, staring at the pathetic wretch below them, “Sh-shockin’ putz. Yuh…You should k-kill the bastard…kill him...”

“No,” Moon Knight breathed out, glancing back toward the broken officer and feeling a slight twinge of pity, “No, I’ve done more than enough.”

K-kILL HiM! He…he…all I did was wear a shirt…shockin’….T-shirt….! SHOCKin’ WrETCHEd….!

She broke down, sobbing as she shook in pain from her injuries. Marq grabbed her as she slipped off the wall, hugging her gently.

“Shhh, shhh. It’s okay. He’s not hurting anyone for a long while. Don’t worry.” Marq cradled her shattered frame in his arms. She couldn’t have been older than nineteen. “There’s a hospital just around the alleyway where you can…”

A warhead detonated between his legs.

The frenzied woman lowered her knee from his groin, the knight already breathless and hunched over. That’s when the true pain hit.

“Shock off, ratbag!” the woman screamed hysterically as the knight fell to his knees. “You’re c-c-crazy if you think thuh..they’ll stop! Grow a goddamn pair, freak!”

She kicked him in the crotch once again for good measure, and hobbled over to the nearest Watchdog’s firearm. Writhing on the ground in agony, Marq heard two rounds go off at close range behind him and watched the woman hobble around the bend of the alleyway, out of sight. He slowly got up, keeping himself hunched over to alleviate the pain, amazed how solid the kick was despite her injuries.

The scraping of her labored footfalls was gone by the time he was able to walk more than a few steps. Marq glanced down at the corporate soldiers on the ground below him, bodies still, smoke still swaying above pulverized brain matter spread out along the alley floor.

That’s when he heard the screams.

A woman’s screams.

Could they be hers?

Marq gazed toward the direction of the screams, looked down at the Watchdogs, and gazed back towards the source of the screaming. They sounded like they were getting more desperate by the moment.

“Aw, hell. Not again.” He cursed to himself as he lumbered off quickly toward the direction of the screams, his bo staff firmly in hand.

Moon Knight rounded a corner, sucking in more air as he continued his pace. His heart skipped a beat when the screams stopped. He glanced around the dark corridor, trying to figure out where the woman could be.

He gazed across the dark green dumpsters and lime windows, his night vision giving him no clue of where she was at. He could have sworn the shouts had come from this way…

…and then she was coming out from behind the dumpster. A pale-faced woman wearing black; short leather jacket and tattered navy blue leggings…

So pale, almost white.

That’s when he saw her eyes; glistening with some inhuman golden sheen. They were almost like a cat’s eyes, but far less inviting. Predatory eyes. Goldenrod dots atop solid black pupils, wide with desperation and hunger.

This wasn't the same girl from earlier. Nothing human had eyes like this.

She was coming at him swiftly, soundlessly; at a speed that defied the laws of physics, let alone the laws of nature. She moved with an unnatural grace; despite her shaky, unsteady gaze. She was like a crack-addict, walking towards him with a single-minded purpose. She cleared the five feet between Marq and the dumpster she’d hid behind in the bat of an eyelash, the wind whistling past them in her wake.

“What--?”

“So thirsty…so thirsty….” She stammered, eyes longing with hunger, canine teeth suddenly lengthening. A flash of movement, and she was on him, digging her teeth into the side of his neck.

“GGGAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!”

She slurped hungrily, eyes completely glazed over. The knight struggled at first, desperately trying to rip himself from her grip. But she held firm; the vampire hunger and adrenaline taking over. She was beyond resistance.

Marq’s body slackened, slumping to the ground as the vampire girl followed, taking a final healthy slurp as she straightened up. She gripped her knees, breathing in and out, letting the waves of satiation sweep over her completely. She stood up, drawing in a long breath of refreshingly cool night air. Her eyes glowed a healthy golden brown as she smiled, licking at the blood on her lips.

“Sorry. I had been hoping to draw in a street surgeon or a Watchdog, but you were right there and I couldn’t wait.”

She stretched her limbs and sighed, crouching down to the fading knight.

“You’ll be fine in a few hours or so, but I’ll move you to the roof so no one robs you or messes you up while you sleep it off. Name’s Lachryma, by the way.”



CONTINUED IN TWO MORE LUNAR CYCLES!


Next Issue: That vampiric vixen from 2099 Unlimited #4 is BACK! Lachryma has made her UGR debut, and her little love-bite this issue is going to have some serious consequences for our battered hero! In fact, it might just drive him over the edge from hero to murderer in one fell swoop! Oh, and Emmanuel makes another appearance as well! Two lunar cycles hence, you shall be privy to: “System Ghosts”. Till then, take it easy.


Jason McDonald
02.14.06




Control.

Sometimes, it’s absolutely necessary.

There are desires and urges that, if left unchecked or uncontrolled, can lead to great tragedy. That can cause great suffering and regret.

A momentary burst of jealousy left uncontrolled could lead to theft; perhaps robbery.

A momentary burst of fear left uncontrolled could lead to paranoia. To seeing ghosts and assassins where there are only shadows, and a swirling psychosis from which there may be no escape.

A momentary burst of desire left uncontrolled could lead to the perverse stalking, or brutal rape of another person.

A momentary burst of anger left uncontrolled could lead to murder.

Without control, the id runs free to do as it pleases. The superego, part of the subconscious mind designated for self-control, ceases to exist. People run rampant, doing as they please with little regard to consequence or punishment. Society, even the most powerful and lasting of societies, crumble under the weight of lawlessness and chaos.

Without self-control, there is anarchy of the body and of the mind.

There is a need to control oneself; this much is obvious.

But, what if one can’t control themselves?

And what if, whatever is controlling them, has far deadlier intentions in store than the one being controlled in the first place?

Take Moon Knight for instance.

He has just been bitten by a vampire. Further, he has just been bitten by a vampire, who was too far under the blood fever to realize she transferred the vampiric virus into Marq’s genetic framework.

Normally, vampires can control when they pass this virus on, and who they pass it on to.

And normally, this virus transforms anyone subjected to it into a vampire.

Lachryma, for one brief moment, was out of control.

Out of control, far too thirsty, far too drained to realize her mistake.

But now that she’s back in control of herself, is there anyway she can control what happens next?



The chalk white woman controlled her breathing – in and out, in and out, in and out – determined not to think about the creamy, delicious scent of blood hanging heavy in the air. Wafting up into her nostrils from the soft currents of the breeze, emanating in spades from the semi-conscious man below her feet she was trying so hard not to stare at.

She’d supped the hero’s blood out of necessity. Not too much, of course. Certainly not enough to bleed him to death. Just enough to slake her thirst for the time being. She wouldn’t kill anyone unless she absolutely had to. She’d been lucky; the Sisterhood had taught her how not to murder while feeding. And although she didn’t run with them anymore, she couldn’t thank them enough for that lesson.

She wouldn’t kill a meal unless she absolutely had to. Unless it was in self-defense. Nevertheless, that overwhelming urge not to drain every single ounce of that luscious, juicy, tasty nectar from those smooth, pulsing, sweaty arteries…

Vampire bloodlust, Lachryma knew, was a dangerous beast indeed.

She shook her head harshly; leaving the crimsons daydreams behind as she scooped up the anemic man sprawled out on the alleyway floor below them and heaved him onto her shoulder. Grunting briefly, she strode over towards the grimy wall, digging her fingers deep into the decayed brick. She began ascending the side with her night’s snack in tow, a generous helping of his life’s blood filling the cells of her body with the vigor and ecstasy she’d needed so badly.

She felt a twinge of pity, listening to the bleeding knight’s labored breathing. She’d managed to patch the bite in his neck with some scraps torn from her leggings, and was intent on getting him to a safer location than the dark alley below them. But despite this, she knew how traumatic a vampire’s bite could be. After all, she’d been on the other side once, in her “warm life”. But she’d asked for the transformation; to save her life.

But the “hero” here…he’d just been in the wrong place at the right time, lucky for her. She’d badly needed to feed. And starving in her bloodlust, she couldn’t be too choosy about who the feast would be. Best case scenario, a stupid Watchdog officer would have been on the receiving end. Severance pay for constant police brutality down in the depths of the world. Worst case scenario…

Well, she was living it. All she could do now was make the best of it.

She scaled the building quickly, her supernatural strength carrying the both of them above a blur of dark windows, creaky fire escapes and shattered brick.

Fourteen stories.

Jump the ledge.

Kick through the fine layer of trash covering the antique rooftop.

Pitter-patter, pitter-patter.

Run. Run. Run.

She sailed across the neglected ground and saw suddenly a thick entwining of thorns and weeds and ivy sailing out from what might have been a tidy rooftop garden some years ago. She raised an eyebrow at the weather-beaten bench overlooking the weed garden. Although the wood panels were slightly warped and the metal frame severely rusted, it looked downright inviting.

Lachryma brought her goldenrod eyes to the side, regarding the half-conscious man still draped across her shoulder. She tensed her body, shifting him off her shoulder and carrying him in a more dignified position with both her arms. She looked at the limp figure, biting her lip at the sight of his eyes rolled far back into his head. He was limply drawing air in and out of his lungs, the blood stains subtlety growing with each stretch of the windpipe. His arms dangled beneath him as his entire body slowly quivered from shock. She shook her head solemnly.

“I am so shockin’ sorry for this,” Lachryma ran her tongue along her canines, remembering the earlier bloodlust with no short order of guilt, “I just want you to know that. I’ll…I’ll wait with you here to keep you safe. I…can’t stay through dawn, but you ought to feel a bit better before then, anyway.”

His only response was a painful sigh from his chapped lips.

“Let’s get you comfortable.” She said, ready to lay his weak form onto the bench. She took a step towards it…

….and watched the metal supports suddenly buckle under the wet wood, a wiry creak echoing from the weathered furniture as the screws holding the boards to the frame split and disintegrated, and the wood clattered loudly to the littered ground. She closed her eyes slowly and breathed out.

“Just my luck,” She groaned, a hiss of disappointment escaping her nostrils. She sneered, wiping junk and other debris out of the way as she bent down next to the broken mass of metal and wood and laid him neatly onto the tarmac rooftop. “Looks like we’re camping out on the floor tonight.”

She leaned over to the bench and ripped out a piece of wood still hanging from the metal frame. She snapped the board in two with ease, placing one piece under the knight’s head as a makeshift pillow.

Shifting back a couple of feet, she stretched her nimble limbs in the darkness of the rooftop and hooked her hands around her raised knee, resting her head upon it and gazing gently at the hero before her.

“Y’know, I’ve never seen one of you up close before,” she began, fumbling with her leather boots absently, “Costumes, I mean. Heroes. Popping up all over the place like you own the joint. You’ve got the corporations going nuts up there. People are starting to rebel against the system all over the board, y’know. I think you’ve started something.”

She gave a defiant nod toward the warm neon glow in the distance above them. Uptown, flickering in the weightlessness of the black with a bustle of energy that seemed so far away. She shivered slightly, feeling the cool breeze sweep her toned midriff under her tattered black sports bra. She smiled at him warmly, canines proudly bared.

“Thanks for helping the little guy.”

Lachryma brought her eyes toward the soaked bandages at his neck and furrowed her brow with confusion. She sniffed at the air, and then sniffed it again to be sure.

“You’ve…stopped bleeding.” She could practically taste the blood she was smelling on the air currents surrounding them. And all of the scents she was picking up were dry, tasteless, crusty. Nothing warm, or sweet wafting over the breeze.

He’d simply stopped bleeding. But how could that be, so soon after?

She inched over to him, untying the black bandage from around the knight’s neck. Lachryma looked with wide yellow eyes at the crusty nectar surrounding the spot where the gaping wound had once been. But where there had been two holes swimming with crimson succulence, there were only two dots of dark red, clotted almost completely by thickened, hard blood.

Incredible. A few minutes, and the wounds were already in the process of sealing themselves.

“A healing factor? My, my. You are an interesting one, aren’t you?”

Suddenly, Marq’s eyes shot open.

“What the shock—?” she stammered quietly, backing away slowly, her teeth lengthening automatically in a defensive maneuver.

The vampiric vixen watched as, to her horror, the knight began to convulse and shake violently all over the dusty ground. Spittle let loose from his unmasked face and peppered the ground as his eyes and head darted and jerked about. Every appendage he had shook and rattled of its own will. Was he going into some kind of epileptic seizure?

Without warning, the glittering suit covering every part of his body save his head suddenly bulged and contorted along his writhing form, as if the silky cloth were alive. White spikes and bubbles poked and popped out of every pore. The shining suit rippled and pulsated, going into its own unique set of convulsions as Lachryma went into a defensive stance, claws slowly lengthening from her fingertips. Whatever was going on here, she doubted it was going to end well.

The hood sprang into place, covering the knight head-to-toe in the living silk. Lachryma edged away from the flailing man and the dangerous suit, tensing her muscles when the knight sprang up from the ground. He stood in front of Lachryma, slightly hunching, masked eyes watching her every move.

“Take it easy, pal,” She said to the menacing figure before her. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

No response, save for the soft clenching and unclenching of his fists; hesitantly, as if he’d never used them before this moment. Lachryma stood stock still for the next few moments, sizing him up, determining the best way to calm the man down.

“Relax.” She said, holding her hands out in a peaceful gesture, “Relax, okay?”

She took a hesitant step toward him, watching his reaction. Nothing.

“Okay. Just let me explain…” she began, taking another step toward the shimmering, still knight. “I was exhausted, and hungry. Listen, if I hadn’t been so drained by the fight I’d been in earlier, I wouldn’t have had to drain your blood. Please, listen. I didn’t mean for this to happen. I promise I...”

Moon Knight shot out his arm toward her direction. A flash of blue light, and suddenly she felt the stab of a metallic staff sail into her ribcage.

“Ugggh!”

She bent down toward the ground in pain, clutching her stomach and cursing for letting her guard down. Gritting her teeth, she brought her yellow eyes to bear on the mobile knight. He’d drawn back his bo quickly, suddenly darting to the side. He vaulted off of the metal wreckage of the bench with one foot, and did a perfect hands-free cartwheel over the reeling vampire before landing directly behind her. She could almost feel his kick coming toward her from behind as she rolled out of the way and sprang to her feet.

She glided towards him quietly, intensely. She brought her clawed fingers down toward the still knight, only to slash at the stream of air left in his wake. His dodge was fast, and perfectly timed as he brought his fist into her side with vicious precision. The next half-second, his elbow had collided with her temple. The next half-second, his other hand jabbed at her throat and recoiled only to spear at her eyes.

She shrieked, breathless, off-balance, and tearing at her throbbing eyelids. Blind, she staggered backwards, listening to his movements. Her eyes closed and bleeding, she instead tried to block out all but the sounds of his footfalls and the sounds of his succulent heartbeat.

But her efforts came moments too late, as her legs were taken out from under her with one well-placed sweep kick. As she landed hard onto the ground, something metal collided hard into her temple.

There were no more sounds or smells for some time after that.


POP!

Cecilia Indeligato smacked her canines together, popping the thick wad of caramel re-flavoring chewing gum snuggled moistly between her cheeks.

Leaning back in her cloth hoverchair, she tucked her arms neatly behind her head and sighed, closing her eyes and basking in the presence of her co-workers.

“Cecilia Indeligato – Chief Executive Surveillance Technician.” Cecilia mouthed, idly. She loved the way that sounded. And as she rested comfortably in the warm glow of a hundred security screens showcasing a hundred high-risk areas of the Stark-Fujikawa building, she smiled peacefully.

Slowly, her thoughts began to drift, and her peaceful glow began to ebb – she began focusing less on the promotion itself, and more towards how she got it.

Not one of her better memories.

She was a Watcher, a term they’d coined for Stark-Fujikawa’s top security personnel. They were the personal security force of CEO Hikaru Takeshi himself.

Cecilia used to work under Steven Rogerson; a Captain America wannabe who hid behind his rulebook whenever a situation didn’t go according to plan, always careful never to think for himself. Also working under him was Amanda Devereaux, who seemed to be much more reasonable than the by-the-book blunder. However, Amanda had also kept to herself a great deal, and seemed to side with Rogerson almost as many times as she’d sided with Cecilia, making her one very big question mark indeed.

That is, until the night that the…subject, escaped from the labs of Spectre Divison. Or, she should say, was released -- intentionally and illegally -- from the labs by a corporate spy.

And Steven Rogerson, the eternal boy scout, somehow turned out to be that spy.

The dense brick she’d thought was so harmless; the trained monkey she’d thought Stark-Fujikawa had taught to jump through its hoops had in fact recently become a spy for Alchemax Incorporated. Cecilia and Amanda had uncovered e-mails confirming his involvement with the rival corp. Rogerson was escorted away by armed security personnel one month ago, and never seen again since. Obviously, his ‘chief executive’ position was forfeit. Naturally, Amanda was next in line.

But, according to Cecilia’s superiors, her co-worker had been unable to come to terms with the fact that her direct superior was in fact, a spy and had been involved in a corporate sabotage attempt on such a vast level. Supposedly, her faith in the system was shattered. They’d told Cecilia that Amanda had suffered a nervous breakdown. Words like “paranoid schizophrenia” and “psychological re-structuring” were thrown around, until Amanda was eventually transferred to another department in a separate Stark-Fujikawa facility. Quietly buried in the system.

Cecilia had been told to try and forget about those two, being reassured that those matters were being handled to everyone’s best interests and that telling others about the matter might constitute an “unacceptable security risk”. She was simply contractually-obligated to take the information to her grave. Of course, being the only senior member of that particular group of Watchers to not be a spy or suffer a breakdown -- the higher-ups offered her the vacant position of chief and a very, very hefty pay raise.

It was all very suspicious. Very, suspicious. But she weighed the pros and cons of asking too many questions versus job security and hefty paydays. The safety of her husband and two children versus finding out the truth.

The decision was easy.

“Hey boss, lookit this guy!” Curtis said, barely containing his robust, throaty laughter.

Cecilia popped her gum, surprised; her gaze drifting toward the screen her new co-workers Penny and Curtis were centered on.

She arced her eyebrows at the flickering screen, bemused, noting the mid-level employee doing his paperwork inside his sleek cubicle. Noting the pads scattered all over the desk and the out-of-date flat-screen monitor which he was so focused on. Noting the perfect positioning of the security camera over the bright, shining bald spot on his head.

“Someone needs some Chia-Hair cream.” Cecilia remarked, leading to a delightful snicker from her two colleagues.

Suddenly, a loud ring echoed through the room. Cecilia swished the gum around in her mouth, leaning forward too late as Penny answered the phone. Cecilia towered over the still-sitting redhead in anticipation, wondering which of her important superiors was on the other end of that phone, and what they might want this time.

“Uh…this call’s for you, hun.” Penny handed the phone off behind her, biting her lip. Penny was visibly nervous. This wasn’t good.

“Thanks,” Cecilia smiled back, masking her concern as she put the digital receiver to her ear, “Cecilia Indeligato speaking.”

“Hello, Ms. Indeligato,” Takayashi Martin, the head of Spectre Division. His voice was unmistakable, his tone reminiscent of the hungry growl of a lion just before ripping the jugular out of its next tasty meal.

“Hello, Mr. Martin.” She managed to choke out. “What can I do for you today?”

“Start by taking a bow, my dear.”

“Sir?”

“Ever since your promotion, the Watchers have been doing a phenomenal job keeping up security in this place. Why, your office alone has circumvented more security invasions in the last month than your predecessor had in years. And many of those invasions came from inside the company, if I’m not mistaken?”

“Yes sir,” Cecilia breathed, easing herself back into a chair, “Unfortunately, Mr. Rogerson was, for the most part, oblivious to the possibility of traitors other than himself operating within our company. I, on the other hand, am a bit more cautious.”

“Indeed you are,” Takayashi hissed, “Well done, my darling, well done.”

“Ah, thank you sir…” Cecilia said uncomfortably.

“Which brings me to my next…request. I would be very much appreciative if you were a bit….how shall I say, less cautious in your surveillance tonight.”

“Excuse me?”

“Say, four hours from now, Spectre Division labs? There may be some…sensitive, subject matter discussed, inappropriate for viewing save for those with the highest of security clearances.”

“Excuse me, sir, but our office already has a level ten…”

“Not quite high enough, dear.”

She gasped, “Only Hikaru himself is…”

“See, that’s the thing,” Takayashi sneered, “This is actually something he doesn’t need to see either.”

Cecilia suddenly realized what the devious Spectre Division head was asking her to do. “Sir, I’m afraid I cannot…”

“Allow me to deflate your little argument for you. I understand your concerns about security, and about Hikaru’s reaction if he’d found out what you’d done. Believe me, I share them.” He said in his most convincing and reassuring voice, “What I want you to understand, Mrs. Indeligato, is that your family will definitely not be harmed if you are just a little less than cautious tonight in your surveillance of the lab.”

“What the hell do you—?”

“Nor will they be harmed if, for the next four hours, you refrain from running up a phone bill and keep this lovely little conversation we’re having to yourself. After all, going home to your loving husband and two adorable little kids must be the highlight of your night, and I wouldn’t want you to do anything to inadvertently jeopardize that.”

“You sunuva—“

“Ah, ah, ah. Your co-workers are still in the room, are they not?”

Cecilia’s bloodshot eyes darted to Penny and Curtis, who were shooting her confused and bewildered looks.

“No need to call attention to yourself, my dear. Just make sure the glitches in the laboratory monitors you’ll be having in four hours are fixed by morning, that’s all. Pleasure chatting with you, my dear.”

Cecilia heard the dull click of the line hanging up. She felt a shudder of helplessness rise from her quaking stomach and shock her into a numbed, fearful silence. Her eyes were blank with a mix of terror and hatred, and the only thing that kept the tears away was her unwavering focus on the myriad images on the screens.


Soft black eyelashes fluttered lightly in the night breeze. She batted them open slowly, coming out of her peaceful doze next to the neglected garden only to be assaulted by the white noise of Downtown at midnight and the thunderous throb of pain inside her skull. Facedown on the tarmac roof, she pushed herself up into a kneel and took in her surroundings with dilated golden hazel eyes.

Still nighttime, thank God. She’d only been out half an hour at the most.

The knight’s scent was nearly gone, scattershot amongst the winds. But there were still residue pockets of saliva, sweat and the smell of well-oiled nanotechnology left swimming in the air, pointing her toward the armored one. A scattered trail of bread crumbs -- and a decent gust of wind in the night sky could dry the trail up cold.

She had to hurry.

He’d proven himself extremely dangerous already, taking out a shocking vampire so quickly. After all, whole groups of seasoned assassins and teams of cybernetic street surgeons couldn’t even make that claim. Who knows what this armored guy would do next?

She stood up, staring between the old husks and buildings that blocked the night sky. Clenching her fangs in defiance and balling her slender white fingers into fists, she began to shape-shift.

Jean jacket and torn leggings suddenly darkened, sprouting tufts of fur. Muscles condensed and switched places under her skin. Leg and arm joints elongated, bending at otherwise impossible angles. Her soft features squished and bent themselves, smooth skin giving way to animal leather. Her crystal-clear night vision blurred, the ivy-ridden garden suddenly disappearing into hollow blackness.

She was blind as a bat.

Sniffing at the air currents and gliding on the gentle breezes of the windswept sky, Lachryma flew off into the night, no longer needing her eyes to guide her.


Dodging mossy husks and long-unfinished walkways and platforms interweaving throughout the towering city, the Moon Knight soared across the nighttime skyline, guided by some mysterious purpose known not even to himself.

‘How did I do that?’ Marq thought, ‘How did I take out that woman so easily? One moment, I was lying on the ground, convulsing – almost as if I was having some horrid flashback – only it was a weird reaction to that bite she gave me….can’t believe she bit me. Who….why would someone do that?

‘It’s just…one minute I’m on the ground, the next I feel…reborn. Again. It was as if every muscle in my body knew exactly what to do. Every muscle, every fiber of my being working in concert; my senses stretching out around me like never before. It was as if I knew every move she’d make without seeing it. As if I knew everything. Heard everything. Felt EVERYTHING!

‘It was fantastic…’

Marq’s cape spread itself wide, twinkling beautifully as it caught the ambient neon flares from the Uptown lights – twinkling like a dark, rippling pond at night reflecting thousands and thousands of fiery stars. He banked left, swinging around a shadow-cast support structure with the greatest of ease.

‘…and I’m really starting to get the hang of this flying thing,’ he realized, attempting to bring his thoughts away from the incredible barrage of sounds, smells and sights he was experiencing, ‘I’m moving so much faster. Like my body knows what to do without me telling it.’

Out of the blue, Marq suddenly did a twirl, cape flapping wildly with the wind. He arced downward toward the space between two adjacent buildings and became a blur of motion, effortlessly darting in-between the minute spaces separating the brick towers. He swooped between window ledges. He dodged in and out between raggedy T-shirts and hanging underwear, missing the web of taut clothes lines by inches. He sped around potted plants and narrowly avoided concrete balcony landings that hung precariously from their weathered perches on the walls.

He emerged heroically from the other side, rocketing out with nary a scratch to show for it, landing gracefully and quietly on a tall, off-level rooftop overlooking the towers through which he’d just passed. Incredible; he’d navigated perfectly through the downright claustrophobic space. Perfect navigation at an all-told thirty miles an hour.

Too incredible.

Too perfect.

‘Whoa. Didn’t think I could do that…OW!’ Marq thought suddenly, feeling pain shoot through his injured shoulder. Even with the fast healing and the stitches, the bullet wound from earlier was still quite tender. And between his fight with the pale lady and that unbelievable aerial he just pulled, it had started to throb. Quite intensely, at that. He went to rub at it…

Only the arm wouldn’t move.

*RECHARGE CYCLE INITIATED*

Recharge Cycle initiated? Marq hadn’t begun a recharge cycle. He didn’t even know his suit needed one yet, not that his suit ever gave him fair warning when it did. It would simply stop working or shut off one of his powers when he went to use it.

No, something wasn’t right here.


Marq’s eyes blinked, darting to and fro in the neon lime his night vision provided, searching for possible enemies.

’What’s…going on here…?’ he thought, ‘Can’t quite seem to get a good feel for…’

Marq pumped his arms for speed, running with absolutely no restraint toward the ledge of the rooftop.

’What the shocking Hel is going on?’ he thought insistently, terror ebbing through his mind.

Marq tensed his legs, ready to leap across the fifteen foot gap.

’Wait…’ his mind reeled, ’Wait a sec…don’t. Do. Not. Leap. Stop. Stoooop! Do not shocking leap, do not shocking leap!’ he pleaded with himself.

He leaped, scaling the fifteen feet between the weathered brick monoliths with the grace of an Olympic swimmer mid-dive. His twinkling-black frame cut through the air with an uncharacteristic ease, landing on the roof across without a sound. Normally bright-white, Marq’s suit shimmered eerily in an altogether different color. Utilizing a new side of the electromagnetic spectrum, the nanotech reflected all-black, blending in perfectly with the shadows all around.

Marq’s mind, however, was distracted concerns other than his appearance at the moment.

’Jesus. I…can’t move my…I can’t control my own body…’ He thought, trying in vain to force himself to stand still for just a moment. ’What the hell is going on here…?’

Marq ran across the rooftop, clearing the silent expanse in record time, pausing only to form the metallic bo-staff from thin air. Nearing the edge, Marq leapt, masterfully pole-vaulting the enormous gap between this roof and the next. He somersaulted in mid-air, the bo staff disappearing into his right arm with a soundless ‘slurp’, his aerial catapult lost entirely in the blackness surrounding him. His legs landed on the fire escape railing with mechanical perfection, his knees poised in opposing directions, gaining maximum power as his legs -- thrust -- upward in perfect synch. Without hesitance or sound, his arms shot out in their timed dance, catapulting him over the tall brownstone with a grace that would make a ballerina blush.

’How? How is this happening? How am I doing this? Who’s doing this to me?”

Marq looked out through his own eyes – bewildered as they darted to and fro in directions he had no choice in deciding. His arms, legs, stomach and sinew moved in time with pre-programmed perfection. His body was moving and gliding on perfect autopilot – yet no matter how hard Marq tried, he couldn’t seem to shut the damned thing off.

Planting himself, Marq let out a breath, and scaled the roof once more, darting to and fro between the shadows. He seemed perfectly at home, moving with a speed and grace that bordered on the impossible.

’This is insane!’ Marq thought he was going to have a heart attack as he leapt directly off the brownstone yet again, ramrod straight, gliding downward in a terrifying swan dive.

The cape shot out from his back, nanotech assemblers lengthening the twirling cloth, catching the wind beneath him as his body glided across the night sky out of his control.

‘This has got to stop. Maybe I can…’

He forced his glide toward the streetlight to his left as his body did the exact opposite – gracefully careening toward the despised right side, up toward the sleek towers. Marq was headed somewhere between Downtown and Uptown, midway between the warring sections of New York City. Marq’s autopilot knew where it was going, even if Marq couldn’t begin to guess where that was.

’Guess I can’t…..waitaminute...I know what this reminds me of…!’

As Marq’s lazy glide turned into pre-programmed flight, Marq suddenly recognized this feeling of helplessness – this feeling that his body was calling the shots instead of his brain. In his short month of existence, the confused and terrified knight knew exactly what this reminded him of.

The fresh-from-the-factory designer’s program that came with the suit. The electronic manual that was supposed to instruct Marq in becoming the killing machine Stark/Fujikawa had always wanted him to become.

’Emmanuel, you son of a bitch.’

This insanity began and ended with Emmanuel.

As Marq watched through eyes long since out of his control at the dizzying heights his body was forcing him towards, Marq forced himself to do the only thing he could do at the moment.

He accessed the manual.

Instead of completely disappearing into a backdrop of sprawling green gridlines in which the despised holographic guide would appear, the neon green city around him faded into a blurry background, and in the foreground lie the smiling, sadistic black-haired man in a shining new business suit.

“Greetings, specimen.”

“Emmanuel…”

“Quite astute of you, my wonderful little laboratory specimen. Well done.”

The night had started off so simply. A lovely tour of Downtown with his closest friend, Gale Nocturne.

Then, it got complicated. Marq and Gale had a fight. On the silent and tense trip home, she was nearly killed in his arms. He managed to make an enemy out of the doctor that saved his life. While waiting for word on Gale’s condition, he managed to stop Watchdogs from murdering a defenseless woman, almost resorting to murder himself to solve the problem. The ‘defenseless’ girl then attacked him, finished off the Watchdogs Marq spared, and ran off. In his attempt to find that girl, another one attacked him. Bit him. And ever since, his own body and his nanotech suit have been completely out of his control.

And now, even the sadistic little program who served as his suit’s guidebook wasn’t living up to expectations. When the shock would this night END?

He felt like a rat, trapped in a cage.

A very, VERY angry rat.

“What the shock have you done to me, you twisted lunatic?!”

“Nice to see you too.”

“What’s going on?”

“Careful. That vein in your head’s showing.” Emmanuel beamed maliciously, pointing casually toward Marq’s forehead. Marq went to touch the offending vein, but naturally his limbs wouldn’t let him. Emmanuel looked down at his suit smugly, straightening the coattails and neatening his tie. Amid the backdrop of Downtown passing by in the background, Emmanuel continued. “It seems that the bite you received earlier from the vampire has wreaked havoc with your DNA.”

Marq seethed, “What does that have to do with --?”

“The bite she gave you transmitted a genetic virus into your system, re-wiring your genome. A standard reproduction method for vampires, you see.”

“She’s re-wiring my genome?!”

“No, the virus re-wiring your genome. Try to keep up specimen.” The hologram yawned. “Now, as this virus moved these introns around, pushed those codons around, it disrupted many things along the way. One thing, in particular, was a dormant little test program we wrote into your system. We never actually got to activate the program at the lab before you were disposed of, and it’s been dormant in your genes ever since. Better late that never, I suppose.”

“….test…program…?”

“Well, specimen…if we’re going to build an assassin, and go to all the trouble to add weapons and nanotech recharge modules and the like…”

*RECHARGE CYCLE COMPLETE. PRIMARY POWER AT MAXIMUM CAPACITY.*

“…we ought to make sure our hardware works, right?”

Fully recharged, Marq sped off into the night, seriously disturbed that save for his mouth shouting intermittent curses at the holographic agent, he was totally unable to move.



Moon Knight was careful not to disturb the semi-solid ‘Mold-2-U’ furniture in his wake as he landed on the side of the balcony. He tiptoed quickly toward the sliding glass doors and slowly formed a metallic black staff in his right hand. A light, skillful twirl with the weapon, and the jet black clad wonder brought the tip millimeters away from the pressure-sensitive locking system.

A pulse traveled through the bo, the nanotech collectors pumping cellular energy into the staff. The tip flared, surrounding itself in a huge sphere of lightly-crackling, fiery-blue energy. The lock, and the electric current traveling through the circuit toward the alarm trigger were both incinerated at the pass, and when the ball of blue fire ceased, the balcony was as silent as it ever was.

The knight gripped the undisturbed glass door and carefully slid it to the left. He crossed the threshold purposefully, stepping through a puff of wiry smoke ebbing from the new circular hollow in the door and its frame.

Breaking and entering.

It just kept getting better.

“Standard infiltration,” Emmanuel beamed with a perverse kind of joy, his holographic image suddenly coalescing again in the foreground as it gestured toward Marq. “One of the basic personality attributes we’ve coded for you. See how deftly you handled the lock?”

“Stop this, you sick son of a bitch.” Marq growled, “Now.”

“Sorry,” Emmanuel shook his head with pride, holding out his arms to the scenery behind him – notably the images of night-vision lit hallways passing by the uncontrolled knight. “But this isn’t some manual I can turn off on a whim. This is reality, specimen. You can’t escape what you are. And what you are is a corporate-produced killing machine, designed to carry out your assignments with absolute loyalty.”

“I’m not a murderer!”

“No, you’re an assassin.” Emmanuel bowed at him pretentiously. “Try to act like one and quiet down. You’re about to meet your targets, after all.”

Marq’s vision snapped away from the ghost and turned toward his surroundings. He involuntarily pressed himself up against the wall just to the left of the open door frame, allowing him a gaze inside the apartment’s master bedroom. He was angled so that the occupants were oblivious to his position but he was privy to theirs via a well-positioned mirror adorning the top of a dresser off to the side of the room. Outlined just off-center in the shining glass was a stunning young woman clothed in nothing but a loose violet nightie. Her voluptuous frame was hugging the wooden backboard of the king size bed, bare legs pushing against the bedspread and pushing her away from the doorway. She shook her shoulder-length blonde hair from her eyes and dialed the cellular vidphone she was gripping tight. Shaky fingers made uneven bleeps on the number pad; her terrified eyes gazing up every so often at the doorway behind which the knight stood, almost as if she was staring directly at him through the wall.

“Meet our lead starlet, Mrs. Deanna Mendez.” Emmanuel waved an open palm toward the distraught young woman. “She’s attempting to call the Watchdog police force, but it may take a while. She’s clearly pushing all the wrong buttons. And even if she did, our officers would not be happy once her ident-code clears. She and her husband, it seems, are behind on some insurance payments.”

“Insurance pay…what the shock are you talking about?”

“Heads up.”

A well-toned, well-tattooed young man in a speedo with biceps the size of small delivery trucks and a chest the size of Old Manhattan barreled out from his hiding place behind the door, swatting a heavy wooden bat at the knight. Marq’s body dropped down and before anyone knew what was going on, the attacker was disarmed and up two fractured wrists. The injured man howled in pain before the snap kick knocked the wind from his lungs and the following kick to his back slammed him into the wall across the hallway headfirst. The muscled man in the speedo slumped to the floor with a heavy thud, breathing quietly.

“Silly specimen. I’m the guide program here. I’m an image transmitted through your optic nerve as well as a sound bite transmitted into your cochlea. I’m designed merely to interact with you. No one can hear me, or see me, but you. Now you….you, they can hear. Lucky for you that genetic armor enhances your otherwise mundane reflexes.”

“What--?”

“Now, the man you have just soundly disabled is a Mr. Charleston Mendez. The husband of this naughty little family. Why are they so naughty, you ask?”

Marq walked toward the shrieking young woman like a zombie, unable to stop himself, his shimmering black cape flaring behind him to block the doorway – the bedroom’s only exit. Deanna tossed her vidphone at the knight in a flash of pure hate, tears coating her cheeks as the device passed through his immaterial form with ease. She scrambled off the bed and retreated towards the corner of the room.

“The reason is simple. The Mendez family is not fully covered in the Stark-Fujikawa Life Insurance package. One, of their number, is uninsured.”

High-heeled shoes, running shoes, and a rather large lava lamp passed through the advancing black specter, Deanna’s valiant pitches having no effect. Marq could do nothing to halt his march. So he tried another method.

“Deanna, run!” he screamed at her, earning himself a momentary look of confusion, “I can’t make it stop! RUN!

“Please,” Emmanuel rolled is eyes at the yelling, “We have bottom lines to look out for. If one family is negligent, the rest may follow suit. There must be penalties to non-compliance.”

Deanna Mendez broke into a jagged run around the room as the knight approached her niche in the corner. Circling around the black bogeyman, she got within two feet of the room’s threshold before the living void of the nanotech cape spread out into a wall. She bounced off the cape, hitting the back of her head hard into the soft carpet and against the hardwood beneath.

“There must be consequences.”

Marq howled and hissed – he tried to make his leg muscles stop stepping toward her. He tried to stop focusing on her neck, tried to stop his tensing hands from touching her soft skin. With all of his willpower, he concentrated, feeling his entire body tremble and tense from the strain. He shook and trembled – fighting, raging against the machines. Shouting at it, keeping it from making him into a murderer.

His body had paused. Just for a second there, but still, it had paused. He was doing it! He was regaining control!

He had to fight harder…

The trembling continued as his fingers began caressing her throat without consent. Tried to stop as they pressed into her skin, her carotid…

No. No, he was failing.

Failing to stop a psychotic computer program from murdering a defenseless woman.

Failing to stop himself.

He inched his body closer.

He grit his teeth and struggled in vain, teary-eyed locked on her jugular. But to his surprise, the two outstretched fingers merely continued to feel along the woman’s carotid artery, checking for a pulse before the rest of him quickly stood up, and walked away.

Delayed reaction. Thank God.

“I did it…” the knight breathed out exhaustedly, “I DID IT, YOU BASTARD! I beat you. She’s still alive.”

“Of course she is. Her insurance has been paid up for some time, as is her husband’s. Therefore, we ensure that they stay living. Even if they become inconveniences to us.”

“Then, what…?”

“I believe the question you’re searching for is who.” The hologram interjected as Marq’s body took to the halls once again, casting a glance toward the still-unconscious and still-breathing husband. He turned left out the bedroom door and crept through the corridor without making a sound. “And the answer would be Cordelia Mendez. Cordelia…”

Marq crawled along toward the room on the right, methodically inching his way into the bright blue bedroom, despite his mental protests. Marq furrowed his brow at the bright yellow ducks lining sea blue wallpaper. He scanned along the neatly-folded designer blankets, tucked behind an auto-diaper changer station. Still in shock from the near-miss with the wife, his eyes centered on a small carousel hanging above the room’s ceiling fan. Gaping with sudden understanding as the unicorns danced in circles, Marq brought his gaze down, down, down…

…and saw the three-month-old baby nestled snug in the crib, fitfully tossing and turning in her sleep.

“Newest addition to the Mendez household. Slightly older than what my somewhat out-of-date files indicate. Nevertheless, the parents in the next room neglected to sign a life insurance policy for this child when it was born.”

Marq took a step towards the crib, his mind swimming in unimaginable horror.

“The neglectful parents will report the murder to Watchdog authorities later tonight. They will be informed; however, that since the child had no life insurance, Watchdog, Inc. will not be held in breach of contract for failing to protect their client. No police will investigate the crime. No suspects will be questioned. As far as Watchdog, Inc. is concerned, no murder took place. No life insurance means just that.”

Another step.

“Their next child will not be neglected. They will not make this mistake twice. Our bottom line will be protected, and other families will learn from this…unfortunate incident as well. Justice will be served.”

Another step…

“You will have to do some dirty business to see that it is, in fact, served. But you will be a hero, not only to these parents, but to many other Stark-Fujikawa-owned families whose life insurance plans are equally out-of-date. A hero, Edward. Remember that.”

The man in black could not stop himself. He took a final step as he reached the crib. A headache began pounding hard at the base of his skull, the result of his constant efforts to resist the program. Mucus and saliva trailed from his mouth. His eyes bulged, his face turned red.

He could not stop himself from reaching into the crib.



CONTINUED TWO LUNAR CYCLES HENCE!


Next Issue:

Good Lord! What a horrific cliffhanger.

Edward Somerset, AKA Marq, is unable to free himself from the grip of a mind-controlling test program which is forcing him to assassinate his first target. Can he beat the pull of the system, despite only being able to control his face?

And will Lachryma catch up to the zombified knight before he does something unforgivable? One thing’s for sure: These two will take this battle straight into the test program that’s been controlling our tortured knight throughout this issue. And the penalty for Marq’s actions may be death!

Plus, more on Jenny, Vonvargas, and Gale’s condition amid this madness. And if you’re real good, you might get to see another familiar face pop up in “Deuce Ex Machina”. Two months. See you then!


Jason McDonald
06.14.06


Thoughts, Comments, Questions?