April 29, 2013
Ashes of Genosha: Chapter 4

I must be insane. I thought as the real estate agent handed me the keys to the house. 

The ad had said: “Forest Hills, Queens: Lovely single family home, priced to sell.”

Something had to be wrong with it. I called. It was definitely not cheap. But, it was priced to sell relative to the places around it.

It was small, a two bedroom wood frame home with a small yard, bracketed by similar homes. After a series of ill-defined tragedies (Research… god I loved this tele-computy thingie…revealed that the previous owner’s husband had been murdered in the home, and she had been… kidnapped, and declared dead several times. I wanted to buy into this?). The previous owner had remarried and after the latest super disaster visited on the New York City city, decided to leave. After I toured the house, I knew I wanted it.

 I knew the decision was a reaction to being cut completely loose from home. After a month in extended stay hotels, I went crazy. I wanted my own damned walls. A reasonable person would have gotten an apartment, but I was a soul eating, face shifting golem… I wanted real estate.

Rather than belabor the negotiation, I made a flat cash offer. There was no way in hell any bank would approve a loan from me, let alone sourcing from so many off shore accounts. I wasn’t poor. Mother wasn’t stupid. Neither was I. Before Magneto officially took power, many Genoshans put their money in European banks. Magneto regime did not last long enough to attempt to find the funds. Therese Cardinal’s last phone call was to give me the numbers and passcodes of all of the bank accounts she had access to. She told me to move the money somewhere safe. I complied. 

“Get me a ticket out of Johannesburg in a week.” She said. “I will see you soon.” I flew there myself and stayed a month waiting for her. I found Grandfather instead. He told me he saw her die.

 He personally saw me off that same day. “Do not think of Genosha. Genosha is dead.” He did not feel that way for long.

My face was starting to itch. I was holding the facade of normalcy too long, but I had a sneaking suspicion that the agent would not even take a meeting with a white mohawked, blued escapee from bad 1980’s post-apocalyptic thriller. However, the nice clean cut former professor who is exploring new opportunities in the big city was something else. I had to look the part and that was an effort. Contact lenses looked extremely fake, and the hair was a particular problem. It always grew back. It only went away when I face-shifted… stupid pony hair.

I ignored the itching and paid more attention to the paperwork I was signing.

 I can’t afford to fuck this up.

And then it was all over. I was alone in an empty house that still smelled faintly of pie, but also of… anxiety… fear. My vision smeared over, to high relief, vari-intensity greyscale, which showed extensive, emotional driven spiritual artifacts, and even… magical ones, a veritable storm of them around the second bedroom that had a window over the backyard. I wrinkled my nose, “magic.” Another set of physics to get a handle on.

There was some furniture left behind… old lady furniture. Given how much I just spent, I was willing to deal with old lady furniture. I’d buy mattresses for the beds. One of those bedrooms smelled strongly of “boy.” I did not want to know what was in that mattress. I had lifted the thing when the doorbell rang, unfamiliar and shockingly loud. The mask let go and hypervelocity overlay snapped on. Damn, I was jumpy.

From the base of the stairs I called, “Who is it?”

Agent Felix’s voice came through the door. “It’s me.”

I called out. “How do I know you aren’t a weird shapeshifting dog thingie?”

His voice whispered in the back of my mind. “Open the door dummy.”

The door clicked and swung open. He was wearing a nice blue suit and he had several shiny chrome plated trunks behind him. “Don’t just stand there, help me get these in.”

“How did you get them there in the first place?” I replied. “I don’t see a crew with you.”

“A cab dropped me off. The ‘driver’ helped me with my bags.” He said. “Come on… be normal.”

I frowned, concentrated, and the hair went away. “Why are you here anyway?”

“House warming?” He offered lamely.

I helped him to get his terribly shiny luggage into the foyer.  He looked around, “I can’t believe you bought a house.”

“I can’t believe I bought a house.” I echoed him. “So… why are you here?”

“I wanted to talk to you about… things.” He said hesitantly. “Magic things.”

“Okay.” I closed the door.

“Can we go to the basement?” He asked.

“How did you know this house has a basement?” I replied.

“It’s a common enough feature.” He said. “Please.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Sure.”

The basement was empty except for a washer and dryer.  Felix began pacing, “I was not able to implant the knowledge I wanted to give you, even with Agent Figment replicating Skrull imprint technology we recovered after the war… you were too alien. So, I cheated.”

He paused. I said. “Thanks. Although I really don’t know why I was worth the effort.”

“Agent Brand agrees with you.” Felix said. “Agent Figment was the primary motivator. He was so appalled such a mutilated member of his species existed, he wanted to euthanize you, so, he was willing to try and recreate the device and try to recalibrate it for a non Skrull subject.

 It wasn’t working, but, I met someone in your headspace.”  He looked me in the eye, “”While in your mind… I met your Goddess, the one you called ‘Bright Lady: a lush bodied human woman with dark skin infused with stars, and eyes and hair of white plasma fire. Figment could not see her… but I could. We walked through the fields of your mind. She showed me where I could sow my knowledge where it would not be lost to the predators and weeds living there.”

“It must have been ugly.” I said carefully.

“You believe in things very hard.” He said.

“Is there anything left of belief?” I replied. “Most of the things I’ve believed in turned out to have flimsy foundations.”

“No, you believed in the work you were doing, that you kept all to yourself.” Now Felix sounded like he was trying to choose his words carefully.  “But now all of that is done… you’re adrift and you’re looking for something else to believe in. I wanted to warn you to not believe in her.”

“What?” That came out of nowhere.

“What do you know about Yoruba mythology?” He asked.

“Nothing.” I replied.

“It’s West African… which is not the greatest way to approach this given that Kenya is on the Eastern part of the continent.” He frowned, starting to pace. “I talked to someone… we can go talk to them if you want after this… the Bright Lady is Ashake’s aspect as High Priestess of Ma’at, a guise the elder goddess Oshtur. Ashake taught by the Elder Goddess herself thousands of years ago. The Bright Lady is balanced and human in her appearance. The being I met, is more… primal. I believe that it is the Petra aspect of The Bright Lady, maybe even a new aspect.

 I saw… fury within her coupled with a driving curiosity. No malevolence, but she does not mean you well. I don’t know what but she doesn’t have your best interest at heart.”  He paused, and this time I did not fill in the spaces. I was thinking. “Please tell me you’re hearing me?” Felix asked.

“I hear you.” I frowned. “I do.  This stuff is out of my experience… out of my conception of reality really.”

“That’s because you are your mother’s son.” The flaming haired visage of The Bright Lady said. “You came into Ashake’s legacy through unsought, but no less arcane means. Ashake brought light and understanding of Ma’at’s power and legacy. She was of the Earth and the Sky.  She brought light and understanding.

 You do embody understanding, but not light. You… consume, but you consume to create and there is value in that as well. I can sense the legacy within you. It is not much, but it is enough for me to put something into motion. I wish to ensure that she who embodies the true flower of Ma’at’s priestess is not snuffed out by the sea changes in time and space. But I need someone to experiment on and my power is greatest in those of the blood.”

Felix gestured.  The flaming figure said. “No.”

Electricity flared from unoccupied light fixtures and sockets, wreathing him in blue suffering. Simultaneously, she slammed him in the chest wish a tiny ember of white fire. It happened so quickly and so fluidly, I was left blinking.  When I did react, it was to throw a protective wall of shadow in front of Felix. “Bright Lady, what are you doing?”

“If this works, you will thank me. If not, you will no longer exist to hate me.”  Her fists clenched and for a moment, I felt like I was being crushed between two mountains. An eternity of pain passed in moments and the pressure stopped abruptly. “There… we will see what happens.” She looked to Felix, “I am sorry child. You should be honest as well.”

 She disappeared. I ran over to Felix. He was sprawled on the floor, the lower left side of his suit had been burned away, revealing a flame butchered torso where mangled organs and jutting bones fluttered and spasmed. He was alive.

“Felix,” I whispered. “Just… give me a moment. I’ll give you some of my glow.”

“J… just hold my hand.” His face was a rictus of pain, but worry joined the agony mask. “Please, don’t be afraid. Please.”

I held his hand, locking in his fingers. “Even if I’m afraid, I won’t let go.”

He nodded, and he relaxed. For a moment, I thought he had died. His blood shifted from red… to green, the color seemed to flow up his body, Caucasoid pink replaced with green. His jaw swelled with rolling, repeating round ridges forming neat vertical rows at his jawline. His ears elongated to points. The brown hair was the same. The earnest expression was the same. Outside of being green with what looked like strange beard… it still looked like Felix. The wounds immediately began to heal, organs repairing, even as they were re-concealed by rapidly forming dermal layers. I kept hold of the hand, which sprouted tiny vestigial claws. He was healed, but he did not look well.

“Just stay still. You’re still in shock.” I said. “Your pupils are uneven, you’re clammy.”

“I… I need…” he stammered.

“I don’t care if you’re green, you’re not well yet. Dammit, I wish, I had time to buy blankets.”

“I… went shopping for you.” His voice was fading. “The trunk is labeled.”

I fed him a gout of my own lifeforce. I still had a fairly substantial amount socked away. It wasn’t the most pleasant feeling, but the thought of feeling pleasant did not matter at the moment. I lifted Felix in my arms, floating up from the basement. As I passed, the metal trunks levitated and lined up, following me to the master bedroom. Indeed, one contained bed clothes. I dressed the bed and I stripped Felix of the remains of his jacket, shirt, and shoes and I put him to bed.

And then the doorbell rang.

“Shit.” I muttered. I started to leave the room, but my pants shirt and jacket were soaked with Felix’s blood.

The doorbell rang again.

“I’m not letting you go.” I told Felix. “I’ll be right back.” I undressed to my skivvies and grabbed an unused sheet. I wrapped myself up and half ran, half flew to the door way. At the last minute I remembered.. mohawk. It pulled into my head.

Out of the peephole, I saw an older woman, with sprout cut hair, dyed a deep auburn. I opened the door. “Hello?”

“I heard a commotion and wanted to see if everything was alright.” She began carefully, her green eyes rapidly taking in bare chest, and sheet.

“Oh, just plugged in something in the basement without the proper current adapter.” I replied. “I’ll have to go into the city tomorrow to go shopping… or just do without the toy.”  Dammit, Henri you’re forgetting undercover terrorist 101.  Keep it simple. “Probably just a short though.”

“Well…” She paused, obviously choosing her words carefully. “The previous owner did not spend much time down there, but she and her nephew kept the house in immaculate condition…”

“Well I hope to keep that fine tradition.” I smiled.

“You’re the owner?” She did not mask her surprise.

“Henri Cardinal,” I said extending a hand and letting a brief hint of the Genoshan accent out of the linguistic straightjacket I kept it in.

“Anna Watson.” She said, still leery. “I live next door.”

I didn’t have time to make her feel comfortable. Her eyes shifted looking past me and I heard footsteps and smelled Felix. I turned around. He was wearing his confed, farmboy complexion and was just wearing underwear. He looked tired. “Henri, come back to bed.”
 
“I’m sorry Mrs. Watson.” I said unable to hide a shit-eating grin. “I have to go.”

She was blushing, but she did not stop looking. “I say that you do. We can talk later over tea and pie.” She was still looking when I closed the door.

Felix wrapped an arm around my shoulder and we walked back up the stairs. He sagged as soon as we got to the top of the stairs and reverted to his green, skinned, pointy eared ridgy self. “Oh I should not have done that.”

I picked him back up. He was actually only wearing underwear. “God, you’re beautiful.” I muttered. “No matter the shade.”

“Even though I’m a Skrull?” He asked.

“Yeah, even though you’re a Skrull,” I replied. “Although, honestly, I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean beyond being not from around here.”

“What about the war?” He asked. “My people invaded your planet.”

“In Mississippi, the rest of the world may as well be another planet.” I snarked. “Seriously though, the fighting was all done by costumed types. There was more local interest about that fracas with Asgard in Oklahoma.”

I put him back in bed. “Does, S.W.O.R.D. know?”

“Some do, Agent Brand, Willa, Doctore, Illeana and Figment do.” He said. “And now you.”

I climbed into bed, “You’re still in shock, positively chilly. Why did you come down stairs?”

He was quiet for a bit.

“I can get out of bed if you want.”

Felix was lying on his back, carefully looking at the ceiling. “You… it’s fine.” He scooted closer. “I don’t know how to say it… I thought… I thought you were.”

“Running down the street like that guy at the end of ‘Invasion of The Body Snatchers? Shouldn’t you at least have had a gun or something?”

The sheets vibrated with a rueful chuckle.

“I mean it.” I said. “It’s okay. Hell after meeting Figment you’re positively normal.”

“He is scary right?” Felix paused. “I’m sorry I kissed you in New Orleans. It was unprofessional.”

“And this is?”

“I’m in shock and you’re trying to keep me warm.” Aplomb bubbled in his voice. “It’s perfectly acceptable.”

“Are you seeing anyone?” I asked.

“No, but…”

“Wanna go out on a date?” I asked.

“But… that would be fraternizing.” He stammered.

“No one has approached me about working with you guys.” I said. “The only business I’m knowingly involved with is the development and image licensing deal I signed with Prod.”

“Prod?” he rolled over to face me.

“That Executive Producer guy,” I replied. I explained the details. The entire time, a giddy energy ran through him and he scooter closer and closer.

Felix laughed. “Oh my god, no wonder Agent Brand was bitching about you bringing more work for S.W.O.R.D.”

“I’m not starring in anything.” I replied.

“What’s your stage name?” He asked excitedly.

“What?”

He wheedled “Stage name?”

I sighed, “Synnerman.” I spelled it. “Prod said it had a ‘Middle English’ thing going on.”

“You’re an adventurer now!” Felix enthused. “You have the name, the love interest with shadowy connections and secret past, and you have the costumes!”

A slow flush was rising up his neck.

“Is this turning you on?” I asked archly.

“A little,” he admitted. “Can I call you ‘Synne’ or ‘Synner’ when we’re in the field?”

I sighed. “Yes. But…wait… did you come here to offer me a job?”

“Maybe… ” he said. “I wanted to talk to you about it, see how you feel working in a mixed-species environment.”
 
“I’m fine with it, I guess.” I replied. “I’ve had to digest a lot in the last month I’ve been awake. But… honestly, I’m not like you or Willa, I’m useless. And I have… hairy connections now.” I blinked. “I have to admit… I’ve never been in a relationship before. I’m going to mess up a lot.”

“I have my own peccadilloes.” He said. “I also have a lot of baggage. Some affects you directly now.”

“Sounds exposition heavy.” I replied. “Go ahead.”

“You first.” He said. “No relationships. You weren’t… ugly… before, although you’re far more interesting now.”

“I established my orientation and preferences in college, but” I frowned. “I internalized my Grandfather’s disapproval and I channeled everything into not being special and into the tech-tk harness. Plus, I didn’t want to involve anyone. I had an entirely unsharable life. I didn’t want to be selfish and get someone killed. Plus I never knew if they liked me or were infiltrating the organization.” I shrugged. “That’s it.”
 
“No tragic lost love?” He replied.

“Losing my family taught me not to love.” I said. “I couldn’t stop, of course, so I limited my exposure.”

“Hence, the now extinct massive porn collection,” he replied.

“Yes.” I laughed.

“My turn,” Felix said. “Abigail Brand knows. She recruited me.” He took a deep breath, and a brief, dome, laced through with glowing red strands of light appeared. “Sorry. Need more privacy. I was a soldier.”

I interrupted. “There was a lot of chatter on the web about Skrulls replacing superheroes, but how would their powers be replicated?”

Felix took another deep breath. “It took a long time, but we developed a genetic imprinting technology along with personality and skill templating. We just needed access to those who had certain traits and the High Command made sure we had enough to mix and match. While we could not match or fully replicate raw mystic potential, we could turn out mystics who were competent enough, especially in teams, to aid in assaults on Mythic Space.”

“So, you were infantry?” I offered.

“Infiltration,” he said. “I wanted to come here so badly. I knew about the heroes, the villains, the food. I just wanted to come and live here. I was so happy when I got accepted into the infiltration program. I got here, and all I had to do was replace Dr. Druid and wait for the invasion… except Dr. Druid was dead.”

“Who?” I replied.

“Exactly!” Felix foamed. “The bastard died in 1995! Worse, he was never that well known! Even worse, he went crazy and was killed by someone much cooler.”

I wasn’t sure if I was talking to a soldier, spy, or a fanboy. “Who killed, ah, Dr. Druid?”

“The Son of Satan! Daimon Hellstrom, an actual Hell Lord!  Do you know who I’m imprinted with? Dr. Druid, Jenifer Kale, The Gargoyle, Kro, and Wolverine!”

“Um… the only one I’ve heard of is Wolverine.” I replied.

“I know right?”  He sighed. “Magic is physically and psychically intensive if you don’t have a lot of mystic pacts in place. My ‘print lets me do things that would kill me out otherwise… but one of those things was not a solo knock down drag out fight with Daimon Helstrom! He’d see me and know I was an imposter.

 So, I went AWOL. I could have reported for reassignment, I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to go back. I want to believe that I knew that the invasion wasn’t going to work. We don’t really get humans. That’s why we lost… always underestimating you.

 I hid during the war… mostly in extra-dimensional spaces outside of the fighting. But what was the point of staying if I couldn’t be on Earth? When the war was pretty much over… I came back. Brand found me ridiculously fast. She said if she could find me, any of HAMMER’s Skrull Kill Crews could too. She offered me a job.” He sobered we made eye contact. “Henri, I’m an assassain; a spy; an alien saboteur who betrayed his planet, his civilization. I’m a cape chaser. Although super villains are more accessible that super heroes.” He blushed. “I shape shifted into a woman for nearly all of them.”

I found myself frowning. ““You know, it surprises, me, but you’re a shapeshifter. It shouldn’t surprise me at all, if you can be what you want and can have fun doing it.”

He nodded, “Yeah… most of my relationships have been like that… closeted secret. Only seeing what I want and what they want.”

“So… why show me?” I asked.

“My regeneration doesn’t work as well when I’m not in my native shape.” He replied. He grew quiet. “I wonder if she knew.”
“Who?” I prompted.

"Petra-Bright Lady," he mused. "She could have killed me… but she did not follow up. The electricity was a distraction. The plasma ember… just hurt. Do you really think you could have reacted fast enough to stop her."

I frowned.

“I think I’ll send her a sacrifice or two; just to smooth things out.” Felix turned to look at me. “As to why I’m here now instead of having someone come pick me up. I’ll be blunt. You look like Storm. There is no way in hell I’m going to manage to get close enough to talk to her let alone flirt.” He paused. I guess he was waiting for me to bolt.

“I’m still here.” I smiled.

“Against any good sense, you are interested in me. I know you are. I… peeked at the patch in the garden in the memory. It’s taken me this long to be… able to.” He lost the thread of conversation. He started again. “I’ve never been in that kind of interaction with a human. And you still have a human mind and spirit. The technomancy that made you was exquisite. ”

“You said you were guided through the process.” I replied. “What did she say when you saw that particular patch?”

“Be honest, with him and yourself.” Felix admitted. “That’s all: no rants, no threats, no nothing.”
 
“Well, what’s your honest assessment?” I asked.

“I can’t be wherever you settle all the time.” He said. “And… I could meet someone else. I could get bored…”

I nodded. “So… it’ll be like any other relationship.  We make sure to communicate when we can. Negotiate what our personal limits are and find equilibrium.” I stretched. “And if we can’t. Hopefully we can stay friends. I can only change my face, hair, and skin color. You’re a rolodex of possibilities”

“Hah, Rolodex.” He laughed. “What an outdated reference.”

“I’m just saying… ” I half smiled. “I’m at a disadvantage in the interesting department.”

He kissed me… green skin and all. He drew back to study my face. “You didn’t flinch.”

“I like you.” I said. “Not ‘you’ the spy; not ‘you’ the whatever; I like you the goofball who argued with me about not knowing who my famous cousin. You who didn’t let an over piteous Figment euthanize me. I like the you who carried me away from Cafe Dumond when everything became too much. What happened in that alley afterwards… was because I thought… I don’t think I read you wrong.”

“You didn’t.” He said. “But… it’s the sum of you I like. If you lose your powers, I don’t know if I could hold interest.”

“Is that possible?” I replied. “If I can’t be cured… has a technarch ever been de-narched?”

He frowned. “No… that  I’ve researched.”

“Well then, maybe you just have to worry about me dying.” I replied.

“Or being kidnapped,” he replied.

 It was my turn to laugh. “Wouldn’t that go for you too. I have enemies: terrorists, rival interdimensional tv executives.”

“Synnerman.” He smiled. “I like that.”

That makes one of us. "What was it you said about costumes?"

His eyes flicked to the cases. “We can talk about that later.”

“If I have a cape, it had better be cool.” I replied.

The doorbell rang again.

“Goddammnt!” I didn’t bother taking the sheet. I flew downstairs, stuck the landing and opened the door.

An impossibly handsome, over-muscled man with golden-skin, three fingers and a thumb on each hand, short, stylishly messy red hair and green eyes was leaning against the door frame. He wore a far too tight white t-shirt, skinny jeans, and canvas tennis shoes.

 He smirked and said, “Face it Tiger…” The smirking confidence faded, replaced by concentration. “Uh. Face it Tiger, you’ve just…” He rolled his eyes and said. “Line!”

A tiny hologram of Prod appeared next to his head. “The line is. ‘Face it Tiger, you just hit the jackpot!.’”

I smelled Felix behind me. I glanced over my shoulder and he was doing a good imitation of “Mr. Jackpot.”

“Shove off!” Felix growled with surprisingly assertive possessiveness. “He already has his jackpot!”

The man in the doorframe was crushed. “But… I was told the role hadn’t been filled.”

I gave Prod a very hard look.

“What?” the image of the producer replied. Both of them vanished. I looked around to see if anyone had caught the shenanigans. If they had, they weren’t immediately in evidence.

I closed the door, and Felix wilted.

“I could have gotten rid of him on my own.” I said, carrying him back up the stairs.”

“Maybe, I’m not nearly as interesting as you think I am.” He muttered. “I’m just a junior grade agent. Brand says I don’t have it in me for hard wetwork.”

“Come on, let’s go to bed.” I chuckled. “I’ll order us some pizza.”

“My hotel has television.” He wheedled. “And room-service.”

“I don’t think you’re up for teleportation.” I replied.

“You can.” He said a little too enthusiastically. “I can show you.”

“Fine.”

“If you can do the shadow tricks, the Darkforce Dimension should be an easy thing to access…”

I kissed him. “More rest, no work.”

“Face it Synner,” he said in a fatigue slurred imitation of the actor at the door. “I just hit the jackpot.”

“I’m putting you to bed.”

Felix laughed and snuggled closer. 

The End, until next time.

 

 

 

April 26, 2013
Ashes Of Genosha: Chapter 3

Sleeping probably saved me from reacting to what happened next. They put me in secure isolation.

When I made the stupid mistake of asking about Agent Felix. Agent Illeana’s response was brief, unemotional. “Agent Felix is in secure decontamination due to intimate contact with you.”

"Oh. Thank you." I should have known better. "What happens next?"

"We monitor you and make certain you are not infectious." She said.

"Why not just draw blood or something?" I replied.

She continued, tone still professional. “You don’t have blood, and it will take some time to requisition a sterile adamantium hypodermic needle.”

"Can I at least have something to read?" I asked.

"The room has a holographic visual interface and limited digital video, music, and literature, library." Illeana continued. "The verbal interface is clumsy, but the phrasing should begin: ‘Library’ and you state your request as clearly as possible."

"Alright," I acknowledged. "Library: ‘Sinnerman’ by Nina Simone, full version, 1960’s era arrangement."  The familiar piano strains filled the room. "Thank you Agent Djukovega."  I lay back down and went to sleep… until the song ended.

No more sulking. Okay no more sulking at this immediate moment.  I chose to believe my internal systems… I am not contagious. I sat up.

"Library: ‘Blue Danube’ Strauss." 

Slowly… controlled, I pushed off of the floor, floating at walking speed to the ceiling, slowly somersaulting the whole way, and gently landing on my feet to rebound the other way. I added other angles, in my head chanting “Boing, boing, boing.”

The music stopped and a new, unfamiliar male voice asked. “What are you doing?”

"Exercising." I replied.

"Why?"

"It’s something to do." I was failing to sound nonchalant. "Plus I can start getting used to these powers."

"You seem to have fine control." The voice replied.

I accelerated slightly… moving to a “jog.” “Horses can walk within minutes of being born. I’m looking at it like that. Just because I can act and not do harm, doesn’t mean I’m trained.”

"Well what does it mean?" The voice asked.

"That I’m talented." I said.

"And you weren’t before?"

"Not like this." I said. "Definitely not like this."

"How were you talented?" the interviewer continued.

"A little smarter at most." I replied. "I studied very hard. I was used to being alone and self motivated."

"Agent Felix tells me you are experiencing some amnesia."

"I am. How is he doing?"

The newcomer’s voice softened. “His tests have come up negative. We will keep him in isolation for another day or so. Techno organic viruses are extraterrestrial in origin generally pose a large scale threat. I hope you understand.”

"That’s why I’m just doing calisthenics instead of acting like an idiot from a horror movie." I replied. "I’m not going to invoke ‘freedom’ and crap and spread doom about two states."

"There has not been an outbreak in either Mississippi or Louisiana." The voice assured. "This is just a precaution."

"Sure. Do you want me to wear electrodes or something to help you gather telemetry?"

"I assure you, the room has the latest passive and active detection apparatus for light years." The unknown observer said stiffly.

"Don’t get huffy, I was trying to help." I replied.

"I was not getting huffy."

"Fine, you were strongly asserting the efficacy of your scanners." I mock acceded. "Maybe we should look at my transcripts and arrange skills assessments so we know just what parts of my mind have been overwritten with the control ware for my powers. It may give you a better idea of what… if any… pathology is there to be found."

"You do not consider yourself to be sick?" He asked.

"No." I replied. "Considering Dill ripped out part of my spine before he left, I think I’m doing pretty damn good."

"But you were distraught over losing your memories." The mysterious interrogator continued to probe.

I frowned. “Doctor… ah, okay I’m assuming you’re a some sort of doctor…”

"I am." He replied.

"Do you know how I came to be here?" I replied.

"I’ve read the reports." He said.

"Have a seat. You’re going to get it from the horse’s mouth and I’m certain your most excellent sensors will be able to tell when I’m lying."

After I finished relating my recollection of events, there was an hour of rather intense questioning involving the still unnamed doctor, Illeana, Willa, and another woman they all just called “Agent Brand.” The questions often veered to the absurd, and they asked questions about someone named “Mojo” and would periodically ask “Who is your producer team?” or some strange television related questions.

Willa asked the last question. “Do you you usually run around kissing strange men?”

"Felix wasn’t strange." I replied. "We’d already met the day before. You’re a fine one to talk, hanging out on stealthed aircraft lobbing EMP missiles at naked joggers."

The unnamed doctor broke in. “Mr. Cardinal… do you want to be a superhero?”

I closed my eyes, hoping that this would not harm me. “Not really… I don’t think I have the temperament for it. Plus the Super Hero Registration Act is still on the books. Congress or the Supreme Court have not removed it or rendered it unconstitutional. The President just isn’t enforcing it after SHIELD and HAMMER abused it.”

"You need to be trained in your abilities," the doctor said. "Particularly in understanding the magical aspects. I’m happy to say that you aren’t infectious. Your hybrid technarch/magical construction is a sterile mule. You don’t even manifest transmode particles for feeding purposes, you just convert what you eat into sustenance."

A door opened in the wall. “Shall we speak face to face Mr. Cardinal?”

I padded out of the room, passing through a some sort of field effect that cast a faint distortion that played against the edge of my vision.

"You think you’re going to fight Magneto now?" Willa’s voice came out of the wall.

"It was a fanciful thought, but if I were that dedicated to the idea, I would have built out my telekinetic projector as a suit, like the Beetle, or Shocker, and get myself killed by one of his Acolytes because there is no way I could get close to him."

"The X-Men are not his Acolytes." She said. "If anything, he follows their lead. Will you war against them?"

"The life I built died on the floor of my mother’s house." I said. "I’m just running away carrying the pieces with the most material value. Besides, I think G.U.L.F. died a long time ago. Now it’s just a clearing house for cheap henchmen for low rent criminal bias groups." I paused. "I might be a bit bitter and vindictive right now."

"Hey!"  Willa called from the end of the hallway. "I’m quite expensive thank you very much."

"Considering that speed trick you pulled in New Orleans, I’d say you’re positively black market."

Willa’s voice came from the walls of the hallway again. “Yeah… Henri, I’m a mutant.”

"That little speech in New Orleans must’ve taken some effort." I replied.

"It did." She said. "So much I fucked it up, gave you an opening. Felix was teasing me about it until we caught him making out with you. Now he’s the one blushing."

She was waiting for me at the end of the hallway. “The techno-organic sterilizing field didn’t seem to phase you.”

"Was it supposed to?" I asked.

"Make you feel nauseous at least?" She replied

"No… that is something bad isn’t it?" I replied.

"Only from Dr. Locke’s point of view."  She said.

"Who is Dr. Locke?" I asked.

"A specialist our commander managed to call upon." Willa said, taking my hand to lead me out of the room and into a sparsely populated hallway. "We needed to know what germ the virus that shifted you came from."

"And it’s…"

"Technarch," she said. "Just as Spiral told you but… well… with Mojo involved… never mind. Anyway, you’ve retained your individuality. If it were Phalanx, you’d either have been wiped or plugged into a hive mind."

"Is there a cure?" I asked.

She shook her head. “For the techorchy virus? No. Phalanx depends on the strain, maybe. Phalanx is bad though… hive mind.”

I shuddered. “That is bad.”

"You’re taking all of this awfully well." She said warily.

"No I’m not." I said. "I’m going along with what’s happening. It can’t be too much worse than the life of seclusion and secrets I’ve lived in since we came of age."

"It can get much worse." Willa said. "I hope you’ve been paying attention to what’s happening. You haven’t walked through the looking glass."

I frowned adding a little indignantly… she hit close to the coping mechanism. “Wonderland was very dangerous. So was Oz, at least in the books.”

Willa considered. “True. Then it goes double. I really hope you’ve been paying attention.”

"I’m sorry." I said suddenly.

"For what?" She replied.

"You’re a mutant… and I…"

"Dummy, do you think I liked being a mutant?" She replied. "I only… I only came to terms when we were nearly rendered extinct. Everything I believed told me that this was a good thing. That I should have been happy, that now was the time to seize our destiny."  She shook her head. "I locked myself away for a month waiting for whatever happened to them to happen to me. I am good without my powers. I’m astounding with them."

I nodded, not sure what to say next.

"Don’t you want to know what they are?" She asked. "My powers."

"I don’t know. I feel like I’m in all sorts of strange intimate territory here." I gesticulated. "I don’t want to sound nosy or prurient or anything, and I’m scared that if I know what you can do, if one of the people from G.U.L. F. ever mange to subdue me, then they’ll know too and I don’t want that. Especially after learning that Dill’s cell used to do with mutants they caught."

"Would you have done it?" She asked. "For the edge? To do the work?"

"I didn’t even have the courage to take my act on the road." I replied. "It was all academic. All I saw were the horrors from my mothers clinic. Horrors she said that we caused and I shut it all out in my hate for Magneto. I can’t say that I’m suddenly not afraid… I can’t even say that I’m done acting on fear. But, I’m trying… I’m trying to have a little faith… and not let the last few days destroy my trust in all men. Then… then I’ll become the monster I’m afraid of most."

We entered a conference moon where a screen took up most of the wall depicting an animated picture of Earth from space.

There were four people present. I recognized Illeana, Felix, a muscular round faced woman with green hair, and a tall, reedy, dark skinned man with a wild white hair who began purposefully walking towards me.

I actually stepped behind Willa, who said. “Dr. Locke…”

"He is crippled!" Locke said. "He will not survive like this!"

"You can’t help him." She said. "You tried."

"He was not conscious. Will try again. Any passing member of his species will destroy him. They can fly through hyperspace, teleport, grow as large as buildings and he just has parlor tricks! Let me help him unlock his true potential."

"I don’t think it will work." I said.

"What?" He replied. I realized that he was not the person I was talking to in the lab.

"Spiral was…"

"Trickster she is!"  And his hand was on my face, fingers dissolving into an animate fluid of black semi-solid circuitry suffused with gold light. Willa blurred out of the way before he touched me.

"Yeah, I totally need training." I muttered under the goo, rather frozen in fear.

Dr. Locke’s hand reformed and he stepped back, face a mask of disgust. “Magic! She fused germ with magic. Cannot alter with new transmode infection. If self were less compassionate, self would recommend euthanasia.”

The still nameless Doctor’s voice coughed from a hidden speaker. “Ahem… what was that in English Dr. Locke?”

"Germ no longer exists as such." The still agitated scientist replied. "The traces are there, but there are… extrapolations and they have the ‘dark energy’ of magic." He eyed me. "No offense. Dark not evil, but self… I… cannot directly perceive it, so I see the blank places in your quantum structure where it works where the science ends. He needs training to fight inevitable challenges. He could survive but must be ready to fight dirty."

"Dirty how?" Illeana asked.

"Dive into center of enemy and eat it to death." Dr. Locke said. "That would work. Open mouth please."

I cracked my teeth and a line of black slipped in.

"Ow!" it drew back a smoking nub. "Yes, total conversion system. What he eats is very dead."

"That tasted kind of good." I said.

"Lifeglow, I mean lifeforce." He replied. "You don’t need to consume it, but you can. Be careful, it may be addictive."

Now I looked disgusted.

"Must go, presence of one so cripple, stunted, and riddled with darkness saddens me." He almost ran out of the room.

The doctor’s sigh was very bitter. “Magic always makes things harder. Agent Djukovega, contact…”

"I can teach him." Felix said.

"You are emotionally involved." The doctor said immediately.

"True… but I have the… widest range of study. I can help him. Plus… in certain schools, there is a value to close ties."

"He will be the Nimue to your Merlin?"

Felix blushed furiously. “Hopefully not. I don’t fancy being imprisoned in a tree. I also don’t know how his talents actually work. He could wind up just being a big battery.” His head snapped in my direction. “We won’t shirk anything though. I promise.”

"Are you willing to do some field work for us?" Illeana asked.

"Who is us?"

The doctor said. “We are S.W.O.R.D.: Sentient World Observation and Response Department. You are on our quarantine and detention space station, affectionately known as The Block. You will live here and be taught by operatives while we determine if you’re fit for service.”

"Then why bother with the training?" I replied.

"I… have… am… in communication with Dr. Locke and…"

"Condemning him to death you are unless you teach him to survive in inventive and creative ways!" Dr. Locke bellowed from the hallway. "Either you do it or I do it! X-Men or no X-Men!"
 
"We need your help to do it Doctor Locke," the nameless Doctor replied.

"Good!" Doctor Locke bellowed. "Self prepare now!" He stomped back into the room.

"Fucking specialists." the nameless doctor grumbled.

"Who are you?" I replied.

"Oh… my name is Doctor Sidney Doctore." the voice said. "You heard our expert, you have to be taught… and you do not have much time. So…"

I felt a brief tremor and absolute stillness. The room was now empty. Doctor Doctore’s voice returned. “There, that wasn’t too traumatic was it?”

"What wasn’t too traumatic?" I snapped

"You have been kept asleep for a couple of months by our good friend Doctor Locke. With Agent Felix’s help and Locke’s talents, you’ve been given a basic memory imprint to help you contain your more… dangerous aspects. Felix did the heavy lifting, you should talk to him later."

"How will I know that when I am ‘awake?’ This doesn’t feel like sleep." I replied.

"Have you actually tried to wake up?" Doctore asked. "Maybe the last few moments have just been… pre-wake up after a deep sleep."

"I’ve been asleep… the entire time?" The hair on the back of my neck was at attention.

"Yes." He replied.

The invocation required no thought really. “Bright Lady.”  The room was gone. The image of Earth gone. I was standing on the grassy veldt again. This time the sun was high in the sky. And then, I woke up, entombed in black goo traced with blue light.

"Self and Self: allies did the best we could with the time and resources available, but…"

"Agent Figment," A deep, brusque, British tinged woman’s voice. "This is Agent Brand drop him… now!"

"Make for home in New Orleans, but things are in city… do not tarry too long though. Remember all self and self: allies have taught!"  The goo retracted. I saw dark, angry clouds. Lightning danced between their peaks. I watched the goo flow back into a closing orifice in the bottom of a sleek, stub winged craft that climbed away cracking the sound barrier, creating its own thunder to herald its passing.

No time for self pity, or questions. Adaptive coloration kicked in and I dove, for the clouds, eager to see what was beneath, rewarded with the warrens of the French Quarter beneath me drenched in a thunderstorm. I entered my apartment through a window. Ghosting just above the floor, I inspected the apartment. It was empty, but it smelled of people. In the windowless bathroom, a folded bundle sat on the lowered toilet lid, on top was a note.

"Get dressed first. A sensor caught you as you passed the door frame. On the way out a hologram will trigger. It will be loud enough to alert anyone who has been watching your house." The note was signed, "Agent S’ral Felix."

The clothes were… problematic. Leather trousers, with a high crotch and low waist with a thick steel tooth-buckle, belt. Knee-high boots, with interlocking leather plates on an elastic foundation with straps to tighten them, at the leg calf, arch and forefoot.

The shirt was similar, leather plates over a flexible underlayer giving the impression of a nehru collared muscle shirt. With the eyes and the mohawk… it all looked a bit much. But that wasn’t all… a long sleeved jacket. Thin leatherette upper, more leather plates over stretchy, but thicker lining.  I dressed. In the pockets were my wallet, id, unfamiliar cash cards… lots of them. A phone. I fastened everything. I tried to visualize the apartment, aiming for the window I entered through. The world slowed down, sped out out of the bathroom, only to be held fast by an ugly green-gold web of frighteningly tangible light. Only when I stopped struggling to asses the situation that I realized I wasn’t stuck to the “web,” it just wasn’t letting me pass.

"Here he is." Agent Brand’s voice echoed in the room. "SWORD honors its deals. Keeping him is your problem."

"Oh, I have brought my own Talent Management Team," a familiar oily voice joined hers. "They know how to blend in and wait until called. Initiate Starchilde Protocol. Retrieve subject… with prejudice."

The pile of rubble that used to be my futon, melted and shifted, the colors of the aluminum and polyester mattress covering and synthetic fluff fill all became deep black, suffused with silvery circuitry, a featureless boxer sized cross of canine and snake taking shape and prowling towards the door.
 
My breath caught. I felt something faint, push at the heels of my boots, looking down to see water flowing towards the door.

The world slowed down. The toilet bowl had already retreated, letting the water out, the rest of the commode was leaping up, silver streaked black tentacles reaching for me.

A visible semi-transparent spheroid pulse of fear wrought telekinesis the room around me, harmlessly passing over the attacking toilet which drove me to the floor under its momentum and weight. I screamed once before it flowed over me.

"Come on Henri." Felix’s voice whispered at the back of my mind. "Remember."

I tried to get myself under control. The thing crushed down on me. Telekinesis had no effect on its substance. I needed something for the telekinesis to act upon.

Concentrate… no…  not concentrate. I remembered the tongue of darkness that snared the soul of the assassin who shot me in the face. It was invisible, purely spirit. But… the thought cut off abruptly.

There were things floating around in my head: disparate concepts, names, and ideas, but they had no context, no grounding and made little sense.  As I began obsessing about how to make the spiritual physical, the linkages of logic and inspiration aligned, jury rigging a memetic chain that told how to tap some of my life force and shunt it  into… an expanding sphere of shadow that ruptured the ebon, light streaked goo-sack holding me.

The shadow absorbed back into me, replacing what I used to make it. Implications played through my mind as the hypervelocity overlay slapped into place. The horror of the creatures coming at me was slightly blunted by the digital overlay. One launched itself towards me, while its companion rebounded not even bothering to reconstitute out of an amorphous blob.

I raised my hands. The thought formed, the sky answered. The facility that let me hear radio networks became a white hot ember in my mind, and focused upward, the tight coherent radiowaves, ionizing the air above me. Electrons responded, streaming down the inviting grounding path.  Electrons streamed out of the sky air becoming superheated plasma in their wake.

I dodged, swinging out down, bending at the in a solo motive Pamchenko twist that only worked because I could fly. The creatures met under the column of skyfire and a shrill squeal shattered windows as they were bathed briefly in eerie blue light.

"Idiot." The blob said, assuming the same shape as its partner. Its words sounded cobbled together from a welter of vari-pitched scrambled noise coming from its mouth. "We eat electricity."

The overlay over my sight receded and the black tongue lashed from my mouth, a shadow in the driving rain. I punched through the thing’s skin, and tasted… lifeglow… life force. The creature stilled, the light gone from its structure, the leftover matter greying and turning into semi-metallic dust. 

I looked at the other one. I smiled. “Still hungry.” I wasn’t. I was still “digesting.” I felt fevered, frightened. Was I bluffing? I hoped I was bluffing. I hoped that I had kept all of it off of my face. And then the food hit my system, and I felt good… really, good.

A brace light traced cables leapt out of its flesh. I moved, missing most and I caught the rest. Shadow coated my hands, spearing into the pseudo pods.

The beast shrieked, amputating the cables I held with massive, desperately grown jaws and then it grew into a bipedal six armed figure.

I leaned forward and it held up an arm. “Peace.” It repeated the word. “Peace.”

It executed an astoundingly graceful pique turn, while each pair arms, executed complicated, distinct, hand and finger movement. It vanished.

I shot into the sky. But I caught sight of something that made me slow down, and drape myself in shadow that was, surprisingly, transparent to me from the inside.

A tall, familiar yellow-skinned elegant figure in a blue business suit, with a flexible metal tail attached to his head appeared, hand under his chin, in a pose of concern.

"Well," I muttered. I sped up and over gathering water as I arced up, over and I dove down onto the suited figure. When the shadow cast by my gathered ball of water, fell over him, he looked up into the deluge which drove him to his hands and knees choking and panicked, tail whipping back and forth. I folded the shadow that covered me over him, so that only his head was visible.

"Go ahead and kill me again savage!" He spat in the rain. "You cannot escape The Executive Producer."

I almost crushed him, but his mentioning his previous death prompted a question. “When you died the first time… you did not leave a soul. Why is that?”

"What are you babbling about?" He retorted.

I leaned in, approaching from the side of his head, hopefully in the shadow if his peripheral vision. The high had me fully now. As I stared at him, the bits and pieces in my head connected into working memetic tools and my perceptions drifted and skinned over, smearing to a high relief, high detail greyscale kaleidoscope. Where the tail entered his head, there was something connected to his soul… something that lead… elsewhere, out this present… this moment.

"If…" I leaned in until could bite his ear if I chose. "If I cut the connection between your soul and your tail and then removed your tail, would you die? I mean, would your soul stay here?”

“You… you’re a superhero!” He stammered. “Superheroes don’t do that! Not real ones!”

“I’m no kind of hero.” I growled. “I am a sinnerman, with no where to run to.”

Something shifted in his face. “You… you do not want to be affiliated with the X-Men IP owned by the Most High Executive Producer/Creator/Director Mojo?”

“I am apparently related to an X-Man, but I have never wanted to be one and I do not want to be one now.” I growled.

“But… you studied them. Coveted their power.” He replied.

“I don’t know how you know that, but I studied them because they beat Magneto. And I did not covet their power. I wanted a way to technologically replicate their power, namely telekinesis… technology I don’t posses or even understand anymore thanks to you and Spiral. I don’t want anything to do with the X-Men or my so called relative. Do you understand?”

“But… you look so much like her.” He replied. “Surely.”

“I am my own goddamned IP.” I snarled. “If you want to do something. You partner with me. No one owns me! Understand?”

“If I say yes, will you not kill me?” He squeaked.

I touched his face. “You won’t mean it. Spiral released any claim to me, why can’t you?”

“She what?” He blurted eyes suddenly wild. Activity in his spirit increased immensely for a moment and and then he relaxed. “I… can do that. We can make it more binding by entering into a shared producing contract, I ah but…” His eyes became wide, bright animated. “Sinnerman… no no no, to traditional, to judgey. Let me check the registry. No ‘sinnerman’ is taken for another show.”

“Then use a ‘y’.” I replied tiredly. “S-y-n-n-e-r-m-a-n.”

He paused and said. “License secured. I just got it. Someone was angling around it. Bastards. I put it in your name by the way if there is an eventual conflict, but you’ll have no problem killing them anyone who wants to contest your claim.” His face plastic face became tragically earnest for a moment. “I’m just an agent in this.” And then he surged back into manic animation. “This is wonderful! Mojo won’t get turned into an amoeba!” He paused and looked around. “And… would you let me go now? I think we’re the best of friends… at least business partners.”

Purely out of curiosity, I let him go.

“You are a man of your word.” He said. “I will be of mine…” He paused, and added a conspiratorial side-palm whisper. “Just in this case. Don’t tell to many people how this happened. They may think I’m some sort of pushover or fair dealer. Let’s go over the contracts.”

“In the rain?” I asked.

“Sure, the faster we work the faster we’re both out of the sights of… well… everyone.”

I just wanted it done, but I did pay attention, with lots of “What does this obligate me to do?” questions.

Show-business  turned out to be a lot about image, and licensing said image. He said the X-Men were popular in his master’s programming. He did not use the actual X-Men… too dangerous.  He used constructs: genetic, cybernetic… whatever was necessary… to make their programming.”

As long as those constructs did not show up to cause me trouble, I was willing to deal with it and so was he.”

“What’s your name anyway?” I asked.

“My clone father had high hopes for me.” He replied. “He named me Producer, but you can call me Prod  since we’re business partners and soon to be tightest allies and friend. You should start using your code name. Your origin special will go live in a few hours. Don’t be angry, I’m editing my appearance. The management should never appear on screen.”

“Synnerman.” I said trying it out. I didn’t like it. I tried it again a couple of times.

“Yes!” He almost did a twirl, but  he caught himself. “I must go. This contract will take a lot of stress off of my dear wife. See you in the movies Mr. Synnerman.” 

He fiddled with his watch and he stepped into a doorway of light. “The police will be here any moment. You should leave.”

As an afterthought, I vacuumed of the remains of the critters and ate them. I flew out of New Orleans, headed to New York City. It probably wasn’t the best decision, but everything seems to happen in New York. When I came down from the high (hopefully I would come down) I will want to start trying to build a new life. Why not New York.

April 25, 2013
Ashes of Genosha: Chapter 2

"Henri Cardinal, did you know that your paternal grandfather is your father?” Spiral asked. Her voice seemed far away, like I was hearing it through a wall.  “Hrm… by the spike in brain functions, I would say that no, you didn’t know. Dill did though. According to his memories, lots of people in G.U.L.F. knew.”

I was submerged in a tank of cold goo… goo that I was breathing. I could feel the effort, but it did not hurt.

“Don’t try to talk.” She said. “Your systems are rebooting.”

“I’m not a cyborg!” The sound came from speakers on the outside of the tank.

Spiral’s voice purred. “Of course you are. How else do you think you’d recover from having your spine ripped out?”

The memory of pain and complete helplessness combined with vivid consciousness rushed to sudden, vicious prominence. I inhaled too quickly and the current of my sudden exhale was visible in the goo. When I got myself together, I concentrated again. This time I could feel something at the edge of my perception along the edges of my consciousness, in the ‘back’ of my mind… working. I regained a thoroughly fear based semblance of control.  “Dill… my… I… thank you. Thank you for saving me.”

Satisfaction threaded her voice. “It is refreshing to work with someone with a quick uptake of the situation.”

The fluid I was breathing became a metaphor for the conflict I felt building in my head. “Am I… am I like Dill now?” I asked.

“Oh no,” she replied. “’Dill’ wanted to blend in, to be able to strike with speed and power from an unassuming pose. He had already been dipped in blood, death layered on his soul like beeswax on a fine candle.”

Spiral’s voice faded a moment, returning derisively amused. “You… you don’t know what you want. You have spent years working on your little weapon, but you hid it, you didn’t share it. You let G.U.L.F. use your mother’s inheritance to hide terrorists, knowing that she would have never agreed. You want the approval of a man who has come to despise you, but you do not reveal something you know he would take and use. You finished your studies and then retreated to a backwater to toil in quiet obscurity and to operate a waystation for so called freedom fighters, who turned into mere criminals.  When not tinkering with your toy, you sat around nursing your inner racism on the internet while adding to your rather prodigious pornography collection.” She laughed. “You have no idea what you want.”

She stopped talking. I guess she was waiting for a reply, but I did not know what to say. I agreed with her… or maybe it was shock. I held my breath, waiting for Spiral to start talking again and fill up the unnerving silence.

She continued.  “So, within reason…  well, more like within this facility’s abilities.” She digressed. “You see, I don’t just hand out power. I issue prosthetics… damn good prosthetics. I work in everything from genes to adamantium. I don’t work in raw power. That’s… someone else’s department. But like a good customer who wants something special, you brought me the technology necessary to help you: your little toy palm guns, and the transmode virus dear Dill tried to kill himself with.

By the way that ‘virus’ is a nasty piece of bastardized technology, based on the Technarch genome, which means nothing to you but trust me, it’s bad. Whoever put this on the market needs to have their entrails chrome plated and mounted on a tower as a deterrent to future stupidity.”

Another long silence came and went. I realized I was actually floating in and out of consciousness. Spiral’s voice came back. “’Helping” you, was really a matter of time spent. I reprogrammed the viral agent giving it the support of my wondrous facilities and I used it for you surgery. The process did not go perfectly. I told you transmode viruses are terribly dangerous… terribly. If you had died, I would have been absolutely mortified. You did not, and you have most of your facilities intact. So… success.

Anyway, I destroyed the rest of the infernal stuff. I traced the signals from Dill’s infection and I know who’s been meddling in my business, but the pawns are still in play. I sent the virus’ schematics and acquisition information to where it will certainly come under the notice of SHIELD.”

She paused, redirecting. “So your question was, ‘Are you like Dill?’  No, you are not like Dill. You have your technological telekinesis… and as you can tell, some associated abilities.

“But what am I? What do I eat?” I stammered. “How do I survive?”

“Well from what I can tell… stone, rock, electricity, light, radiation, anything you can choke down really.” She said. “I wouldn’t go getting into any pissing matches with Technarch or Phalanx. You’re not a mass exchanging metamorph, it seems like your precious telekinesis had some structural requirements so you can, you know, use it. By techno-organic organism standards, you’re rather… ah… stunted… yes, that’s putting it kindly. I abuse a metaphor, the Technarch have an average metamorphic IQ of 200, while you are… maybe an 50.”

“Which means?” I replied.

“You can change your face, hair, and skin color.” She said. “You can try to change something else but it will hurt… a lot… and not happen. Despite all of those changes, that is not the interesting thing about this little interaction. I’ve gotten to know you fairly well. It was a one way conversation that you don’t remember, but I assure you that it was lovely. I know you would not cling to your old appearance and try to go back to your useless, dreary, decision free, life. So, I’ve put you in a position where you have to use it. I had the virus bring out some recessive traits from your genome. You will probably want to keep them hidden, especially if you go to Kenya and visit your dear Father/Grandfather.”

“Wait!” I replied. “How can the same man be my mother’s father and mine? And how do you know?”

“Colonel Shetani is a very coarse, brutal man.” She said. “After M-Day, he began killing depowered mutants out of spite. It is not outside of his character to seduce a young woman and twenty something years later, rape another. As to how I know. Violent despots who like working in the field often like to have replacement organs on standby.”

“That’s what Dill said… wait… wouldn’t that throw up flags somewhere?” The voice coming through the speaker conveyed all of the horror and self-loathing I felt.

"Oh yes, someone knows you’re an exact genetic match for him… well you were until I gave you a make over," Spiral continued. “Plus, like you are guessing, Dill knew. Your ‘Grandfather’ knows. Nearly everyone in G.U.L.F. knows.”

I roused fully, ready to rant and rave. “You have nothing to gain by making this up.”

“And everything to gain by watching you decide what to do.” She replied. “You will have knowledge of your basic functions, it’s up to you to develop them or wallow in self…”

She fell dead silent and then cackling laughter erupted around me, multiplying until it was a thunderous chorus of cutting, unnerving mirth. I wanted to ask, what was so funny, I decided to hope that she would tell me.

“It’s so delicious!” She trilled. “One couldn’t have asked for better drama to be delivered on a plate. I think you should try to stay in the closet as far as your little G.U.L.F. friends are concerned. You may be, in the most extreme technicality, a cyborg. But really, you are a mutant technarch, built by an altered genome before being ‘born’. You are a mutant… baby.”

“N…” before I completed the sentence, I felt myself sucked into a featureless light and dumped unceremoniously in the bathtub of my apartment in Greenville, Mississippi. Thunder heralded my arrival, and I heard rain lashing the window. I sat, bathed in the sound of rainstorm and empty apartment… afraid to act, afraid to speak.

"Get up." It was my own voice, urging. My mind started working. How long was I gone? I left the stove on… food in the oven, and on the top. Fuck. I got up out of the tub, and then got back in. I was covered slimy goo that was rapidly evaporating leaving an intensely strong, sweet alcohol smell in its wake.

Satisfied I wasn’t going to leave slimy footprints on the run, I ran to the bedroom and turned on my computer: Shit. I had been missing three days. It was Saturday. Fuck! I went back to the bathroom and turned on the shower and went to hunt up towels… and that’s when I caught a look at my face. I had blue eyes. My pupils were, narrowed at their vertical poles.  and all of the hair on my face, eyebrows, head, five o’clock shadow, was white. Worse, my hair was cut in a high mohawk. I looked like a goddamned pony.

I always was proud that whenever I looked into the mirror, I saw my mother’s brown eyes. These were a stranger’s eyes. “No! Goddammit no!”

A heavy, forceful knock shook the front door and the windows. I jumped, and then winced, a tightening sensation wreathed my head and I saw my pupils relax into circles. The white hair retreated into my skin… except for my eyebrows, they turned my natural black. I wrapped myself in a towel and bolted for the door as another heavy knock came.

"Who is it?" I called out.

"FBI!" A female voice responded.

The fuck?

I opened the door, carefully. There was indeed a medium height armed, athletic woman in a grey business suit and a blue FBI jacket. I could make out Greenville Police Department cars in the parking lot of my open face apartment complex.

"Mr. John Henri Cardinal?" She asked.

"Yes, I’m Henri Cardinal." I replied.

"Where have you been for the last two days?" She asked.

"I don’t know." I said. "I woke up naked, here maybe five minutes ago."

"You don’t remember anything?" She asked.

"Nothing." I said.

She was sniffing the air, “Where is your car?”

"It’s not in the parking lot?" I temporized.

"No." she replied.

"I don’t know." I said.

"What do you remember?" She asked.

"I… was… entertaining a stranger, someone I met online. We had sat down to eat. It started to rain. There was a knock at the door… I was knocked out. That’s all I remembered."

"Met online, as in meet up for sexual congress?" She replied.

"I did believe it would eventually lead to that yes," I replied. .    

"Have you been sexually violated?" She asked bluntly.

A flush crept up my neck, “No… no… I don’t feel like I have. I don’t taste anything either except alcohol.”

"Do you have a house in Rosedale, Mississippi?" She asked.

"Yes, it was my great great grandmother’s." I replied.

"The remains of a truck that was stolen by a wanted individual was found near the burned wreckage of the house." She shifted slightly. "Your car was not found. Are you certain you don’t remember anything about that night?"

"No," I said, my voice growing distant with shock.. "Is it all gone? It’s all I had left from my mother…"

"No," she said. "Where is your mother?"

"She died a long time ago." I replied. "She was overseas, a physician on a never ending mission of mercy."

"Where did she die?" she was rather relentless.

"Genosha," I replied.

"Oh," her attitude changed immediately. "I think you may have been targeted because of your Genoshan heritage. Dill Mikelson is a member of the terrorist group that has killed many mutants. I guess that you aren’t a mutant, so he only drugged you and robbed you instead of killing you. We’ll keep an eye out for your car. Do you have your wallet? Keys?"

“I doubt it,” I replied. “I haven’t checked, although since I was naked, I am guessing not.”

"Change your locks, cancel your credit cards." She said. "I’d think about moving. You never know with these types. I think you just escaped a very dangerous situation.."

I groused. “At this point, I have to give my hookups background checks.”

"Remember when meeting new people, always do it in an open, public place." She said. "Good day Mr. Cardinal."

As she left, I realized that she had never given me her name.

"Agent," I called out. "Who are you?"

"Illena Djukovega," she said. Her voice slipping  into something vaguely Eastern European. Her previous non-accent reasserted itself. "Get some rest. Good day sir." 

Shit. I locked the door and I showered. I smelled like a still. I went back to my computer, but before I started up the VPN so I could reach my G.U.L.F. contact, I heard something whispering in my room. I strained to listen, and I was surrounded by “voices.”  It was gibberish initially, but it resolved into a chorus of overlapping strings of numbers. I put my hands over my ears. I felt something ephemeral in my head, accompanied by vague recognition, and the sounds went away… except for the whispering in my room, stalked the sound until I found where it was coming from… my cable modem.  I retrieved some tools from the kitchen and carefully opened it up. Admittedly, engineering student or no, I was not familiar with the inner workings of a cable modem, but knew that what I had was not supposed to broadcast anything. Since I was alone, I didn’t use a wireless router. Inside, wedged between the plug and the innards, was a black cylinder the size of a AA battery inside an improvised buss that connected it to the jack where the modem cable went out to the wall connection.

The device disconnected easy enough. Once unplugged, the noises stopped. The areas it bridged reconnected easily and I put it back together again. I worked quickly, activating the VPN and placing a call to my grandfather.

"When were you going to tell me?" He asked with no preamble. "Your apartment is being watched."

"I just got home." I replied. "I called you as soon as I was able."

"I just said your apartment is being watched, every window, every door." His voice was growing more strident, the Afrikaner influenced Genoshan accent growing more strident, sharpening his consonants to a machine gun staccato. “Do not even attempt to play the fool with me!"

He sent me a small video file. It was a short video of me appearing in the tub, white hair visible. When I turned my head for whatever reason, the video zoomed in catching my face fully. The video jumped forward to where I was standing in front of the mirror. The knock came, and I saw the white hair pull into my skull. Where the camera caught my face again, my eyes were normal.

"I’m not a mutant," I said automatically.

"Considering who your father is, of course you are," he spat.

"Who is my father?" I asked him.

"Colonel Shetani a prince of a tribe that has its origins in the Serengeti near the Spine of the World. He is also your grandfather."

I lost my voice for a moment. “How… how is that possible?”

"Your grandmother… before we met… she was on assignment in Kenya. She met him, he was very young, handsome, charming, exotic. Things happened. I understood. I had children before we met as well. Your mother was very young, when we met. We felt it best she did not know. But… when she had just finished her medical studies, she wanted to help people and volunteered to go to Kenya as part of an NGO mission. Your mother… told her who her biological father was. She went to see him and… something happened. She did not talk about it, but she immediately came home to Genosha… a month or so later the morning sickness began. She told her mother what happened. Her mother told me. If I knew what I knew now, had the connections I had now, I would have sent people to visit death upon him. But I did not, I was just a bureaucrat.

Therese refused to have an abortion. She said she would not let her rapist make her do something she felt was wrong. So we made her leave Genosha, we did not want her… stain… known. When you returned, we submitted a dummy sample for assaying for mutant traits and we hoped that you stayed out of the hospital. That’s why your mother kept you with her. She was scared. You see mutation may be random in some families, but not in others. Your father’s family regularly throws a physical mutation where women are born with white hair and blue eyes. It is even a local legend. Your mother was scared, rightfully so, that the close inbreeding could cause those traits to come out. But I need to know, have you betrayed us? Are you working with the X-Men or any other pro-mutant forces?”

My face was crumpling, my explanation, my truth seemed pale and tattered next to the reality of my parental origins. “I’m not a mutant, I’m a cyborg. I was converted by a woman named Spiral, after Dill ripped my spine out.”

"That isn’t possible." He said. "Dill Mikelson reported in Thursday night from San Antonio, TX that he bypassed your safehouse and is making for Mexico." A gunshot shattered a window. "I told you not to test me. Now tell me have you betrayed us?"

"I haven’t." I replied. "I have been here, working in obscurity, maintaining the safehouse in anonymity."

"Your carelessness has…"

"The FBI is here. They knocked on the door shortly after I woke up. I actually don’t think they’re the FBI. So I need to get this out. Listen: Dill’s cell was hired by Wakandans to kill Atlantean sleeper cells. I guess this is because of that war the Avengers touched off with the mutant nation of Utopia and some religious crap about a Phoenix or something. Anyway, they got set up and he was the only survivor. Depending on who put him onto that job, all of G.U.L.F. is in trouble and we’re being fucked with. I’m not a mutant! But it’s being made to seem so to make you paranoid and vulnerable. You won’t believe me though. You expected me to become a fucking freak! Iswear to you grandfather. I’m not lying. We’re in trouble, caught between two technologically advanced powers. G.U.L.F. made some strange friends after Genosha was destroyed by the Sentinels. Just… be careful be ready to run."

Another gunshot entered the window, missing me. “You’re no blood of mine.” Grandfather’s voice was tremulous.

"Family isn’t always blood. " I said carefully. "I’m still the same person."

"Soft, weak, perverted, born of perversion. I can’t believe I let you live this long. I guess is because you reminded me of Therese… but some things you have to let go of."  He ended the call.

I unplugged the network cable. There was something final in Grandfather’s tone. I dressed. Black sweats, black, long sleeved henley, black hiking boots, black leather jacket for the pockets. I pulled back the baseboard at the back of my bedroom closet, revealing a small safe was there. I prayed it hadn’t been tampered with. Inside, under a false bottom under several bundles of cash was a key. I took the cash and key and computer, I left the apartment. Jogging away. I was thirty seconds out of the door when a missile splintered through my front door to explode in the parking lot. The smoke trail led from the open window in my bedroom.

“Damn Grandfather.” I muttered. I broke into a run. It was time to quit Greenville, Mississippi. I cut through yards and parking lots, cutting laterally south towards a storage lot just off of Martin Luther King Boulevard. I let myself into my unit where plan B was waiting for me: a motorcycle and a go bag, with my passport, a copy of my driver’s license, phone and mobile enabled tablet. I moved my money, changed passwords and closed accounts. I was planning to head South eventually into Mexico, but something was bothering me. I was taking a lot this experience on credit. Yes, I saw face change in the mirror, but… what about the other things.

I held out my hand, the algorithms flared, flitting through my mind, familiar from years of obsession and failure, the equations were complete now, artificial telekinesis with full control. A semi-transparent, amorphus ionization affect appeared around my helmet. It lifted a few feet from where it rested. In my head, I could feel its heft, smooth contours, the hardness of its shell, the soft cushion of its lining. I put the helmet down. And I started picking other things up… but really, I just wanted to feel them. I was like a boy who had just discovered masturbation and had no one to to smack his hands. I should have been long gone but no, I wanted to play with things and when I finally had the courage to play with myself, the rest of the day was lost. I spent my time floating around the storage unit grinning like an idiot before dissolving into a wreck of nerves and anxiety ridden tears. For all intents and purposes, I was a mutant. It’s not as if the general public has bothered to find out if there’s a fucking difference between people who were born with their powers versus people who gain them later like the Fantastic Four and the non mutant members of the Avengers, which I only knew about because of their previous associations and public statements. The newest Avengers could be all mutants for all I knew.

I hated mutants… because they were given my homeland.

"It isn’t just your homeland."  My mother had said over the phone. "The mutants we genetically modified into slaves…. we took away their minds, took away their self-determination, and shortened their lives. They are Genoshans too… and the American mutants… the X-Men … came because we attacked them first. It is our fault, for enslaving our own people. I don’t know how my mother could have condoned it. Her own ancestors were slaves int he United States." 

I remembered her clinic. Mutates sick with some mutant disease, dying,  their powers going haywire, me with no empathy, just fear. I hid in my studies. I remembered hearing my mother scream and I ran into the hall… there was fire. One of the mutates had died, their powers going out of control in their last moments.

I wanted to hide, but I went to her instead. Her arm was blackened, but she was spraying it with bactine while her staff dealt with the burning corpse. I helped her to her quarters, but… she was scared… but she didn’t let it… or Grandfather stop her from doing her work when one of the former mutates healed her arm. I was still afraid. No one could stop me from being afraid.

My Grandfather used that fear. I let him. After my mother died… I let him.

Now I’m not even human. The more I gave in to my state, accepted the situation, the more centered I became. The more able to focus, think and ask question. Suddenly, I was utterly suspicious. Why did Spiral do this? What’s her game? What does she get in return?

"What do you want Spiral?" I asked the air. I was hoping she’d reply.

I slung the go bag across my back and donned the helmet. The bike roared to life and I headed out to the safehouse house. I wanted confirmation… and closure. If this life was over, I would at least see its grave before I was done.

The house had been burned flat, along with the garage, the outbuildings, even the utility room. It really did not look like I’d left the stove running. Even the grass and trees were scorched down to ash. The place looked… cleansed. There was no trace of Dill’s truck and no tracks indicating recent traffic… unlike what the FBI woman had said.

"That six-armed cow!" The exclamation came from a dapper figure; a tall, lemon-yellow skinned, thin man in a dark green twill suit with three fingers and a thumb on each hand and hair that was a writhing mass of cables feeding into an animate chrome "tail" that extended from the base of his skull to the floor. Anger and disbelief raced across his thin animated features. "Not only did she take my talent, she replaced it with a knock off with a melodramatic backstory rooted in a pre-existing property."

Oh, a crazy person. Time to run.  

"The talent does not leave until the Executive Producer gives them permission!" His tail moved slightly and a slick, greenish yellow beam lashed out from the tip, briefly bathing my motorcycle. The vehichle collapsed on itself in a fall of mingled metallic, and plastic dust.

"That could be you, if you don’t come with…."

My fear focused, telekinetic punch, caught him in the jaw. I felt face fracture under the strike, however his neck, hyper extended, the tail whipped around and the crack that occurred a moment after the meaty thud of the impact had a certain sound of finality. I can’t say that I was too upset. I grabbed his head and removed it just to be certain. This was an entirely new level of crazy.

"Well done." Spiral’s voice was next to me, beside me, in front and behind all at once, but she was standing over the corpse of the man in the twill suit. "I’ll take care of things from here. Your debt’s paid."

I opened my mouth to ask a multitude of questions but survival said… “Right then… thank you for my legs… and my future.”

She raised an eyebrow, “No outrage. No knee jerk self moralizing castigation, or projective accusation? No talk that I ‘ruined your life?’”

I shook my head, realized that I probably should talk, and I said, “No… none of it. I was born to be a freak. You just brought it out. Although I’m sure there’s some shock involved as well.”

Two of her arms made a series of intricate gestures over the body and it vanished in a brief ripple of reality. “Executive Producers should stay out of the field unless they are prepared to direct.”

"Is he the one who gave Dill the virus?" I asked.

"Yes." She replied. "He had the ‘local’ patent on the programming for that particular strain. It was crap work considering where he derived it from, but it was useful enough. He was trying to steal my more solid state design methodology. I can’t have that. My position at home is precarious enough without every new idea man thinking they can piggy back off of my previous successes."  She glanced at me. "It seems like the decision to cast your new base form in the image of your famous cousin worked."

"It seems like everyone knows this ‘famous cousin’ except for me; my grandfather, my so called colleagues, you.” I shook my head. “I think I will prefer to remain in the dark. I have too much to process as is and I have no intention to try and live up to a figment of other people’s experiences."

"This is why I chose you to kill him." Spiral said. "I knew you would not have the… restraint… a so called ‘hero’ would have, but this producer would have would have expected otherwise because you look like her."

"We should go." I said. "It wouldn’t surprise me if the FBI and GULF aren’t keeping this spot under surveillance…. I do have one question though… what do I do for… maintenance?"

"Technarch conversions don’t need maintenance." She said. "They’re like energizer bunnies. I would be careful. Technoorganic beings have varying reputations. Even though you’re fixed… that is you can’t infect and reproduce… it’s an IP protection thing. Some will see you as the genesis of something malevolent, so be aware. Can I drop you anywhere?"

"New Orleans please." I replied. "I can get lost there and the white hair and blue eyes will be an idiosyncracy, not a red flag."

"What? You’re not going to dress in black and become a superhero?" Spiral asked with arched amusement, somehow managing to put all six hands on her hip in an arrangement that looked utterly natural but still summoned and image of a hyper articulated Christmas ornament.

I shrugged. “I don’t know if I have it in me. I’ve become what I feared… and I lost everything. I don’t see anything to gain by putting myself in danger for people I don’t know or care about.”

"Is this the first time you’ve killed someone?" She asked.

"Directly… yes… but you have to accept some responsibility for the actions of those you associate with, especially if you know what they’re doing out in the world and you encourage them." I said. "So… I guess my sacrifices for Genosha are done."

Spiral did not reply. She executed a perfect pirouette, I recognized a transparent sphere of… something… surround us and it began turning as Spiral spun. The mess of the yard smeared away, replaced by familiar homes of the residential end of the French Quarter  near where the Quarter ended and the Fauburg Marigny began. I knew I was presenting a new face to the world… the tense sensation of holding onto the details of my old face had faded.

"Are you going to kill yourself?" Spiral asked suddenly. Sometime during the tranisition, she conjured a fashionable shawl to drape over her shoulders and cover her arms.

"I hadn’t planned on it." I said. "I am in the middle of a bit of crisis… world turned upside down. This… transformation… was just a social prosthetic  that enabled long held fears and ill feeling about a heritage, everyone but me seemed to know about, to come out into the open. People I trusted were betraying me and the one person I could say I loved shot a missile at me."

"Two missiles actually." Spiral corrected. "When the first one missed, he fired another. Torched the complex. He really wanted you dead."

"He can’t risk alienating the others." I said. "They have power now. God knows what they’re into: drugs, assassinations, that’s probably the least of it. They don’t care about Genosha… otherwise we’d have heard more about them helping to try and clean it up. The things Dill told me… I don’t know if I could have done it. Then again, if I had their needs and motivations… maybe I could have." Unsaid, I thought. I don’t know how much I can thank my mother for allowing me to come here and have a normal coming of age…relatively normal.  "I don’t mean to sound effusive, but thank you."

"I’m more used to fear and suspicion." She said. "Is it so easy to trust."

"Yes and no." I replied. "I figured you had your reasons for not letting me die. If it was to kill that ‘Executive Producer’ then so be it.  He destroyed… well he made sure that the ties I had to that land were gone along with the ties with my family."

She gave me a narrow look and rattled off some syllables. “Don’t make me regret that.” She turned, pivoting on the ball of one foot and was gone, like she walked down a hall with walls the same color and texture of reality.

"Behavioral interlocks overridden. Back doors closed, autonomous unit functionality enabled." As the commands threaded through my co-consciousness, I found that even seeing this… I couldn’t get angry. I understood it. I probably would have done it. Did that make me a bad person?

She gave me autonomy. Is it bad that I never knew that I did not have it? I really wasn’t willing to execute some sort of Kubrickian moment of violence to “test” if I had free will. Still couldn’t summon guilt for killing that “producer.”

“Producer of fucking what?” I frowned.

I began walking towards Canal. I needed to find a place to crash for a bit. I ducked into a neighborhood bar with a name. I ordered two beers and because hunting online ad boards for vacancies. I had money, from my mother, and I lived frugally, socking away my paychecks for emergencies. My vice was the telekinesis machine where I sunk my anger, hate, and guilt.  Now…

I’m sorry mama. Even when she died, I doubt she hated the mutates on Genosha. She probably hated my father, who she never spoke of. Her lack of acknowledgment erased him from my world. I guess that is the ultimate revenge… nullification.

What to do now? 

"Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?" The refrain came over the jukebox, the rippling strains of the piano accompanied by Nina Simone’s questioning alto, "Sinnerman where you gonna run to? Where’re you’re gonna run to, all on that day."

Riddled with sin you are. I thought. Unfortunately, I don’t really have many regrets.

There it was… the self hate that that so silently sunk itself in. I was raised in love. I used to wonder who my father was, but my grandfather was there… so it didn’t matter. Then… the death… the gay… the distance and now this.

He didn’t have to miss.  I thought. Your grandfather knew damn well that the missile would have to hit something harder than a cheap door to explode. He did it to get you to go. And the fired the other one for verisimilitude. Until he tries to put a bullet in you point blank… it isn’t a reasonable assumption that he did it save you and himself. He could have shot you any time he wanted. He waited until you had left and then destroyed the evidence… and probably killed a few people. Although the evacuation caused by the first shot may have forestalled that.

Where are you going to run to?

Here seemed like a good place to hide. I found several listings and went to find something that would suit me. 

A second-story walk up near the intersection of Burgundy and St. Anne turned out to be the best combination of price and difficulty of access. It required trekking through a gated alley way to get to the rear entrance. I was not going to get a couch through there, but I could get a futon, a decently decadent television and other things in over the next couple of days.

I was not subtle in decorating my new place. I didn’t have a car. So I shopped online and only used local companies that delivered. It was also a way to stay occupied and focused. The cable company installed television and internet and I could finally consider the space livable.

Of course once I was back on the grid, not that I was off, but the sim card number I was using was now in multiple commercial databases. So, of course it rang.

"Mr. Cardinal."

"Hello Agent Djukovega." I replied.

"It’s good to see you’re alive." She said.

"Well, having missiles shot at you gives one impetus to leave." I said. "

"Do you know why missiles are being shot at you?" She asked.

"My best guess is that Wakanda is sponsoring freelance wetwork operations against clandestine Atlantean infiltration teams using Genoshan nationalists to do the dirty work. I mean, the non-mutant Genoshans, the ones who are still pissed that Magneto was given their country, not the ones who barely escaped being curb stomped into oblivion by the Sentinels and M-Day.

This has been complicated by the presence of a yellow-skinned humanoid with an animated metallic scorpion tail growing out of the back of his skull and three fingers and a thumb, but that element may have been taken off of the board. I killed him when he tried to kidnap me and his corpse vanished into thin air. He was responsible for the flattening of my house.

"Why the cover up?" She asked.

"There is someone in New York offering techno organic viral kill pills to people who are difficult to kill but very suicidal, but apparently they don’t always kill they transmit information about the target and their whereabouts." I replied. "Considering a teleporting yellow skinned beings who sounds like a psychotic television executive is involved, I know I do not want to be anywhere near that insanity. So I left. By the way, there were no tracks at my house and no sign of truck wreckage being towed away. Anything else?"

There was a long silence on the other end of the line.

"Thank you for your candor." She came back on the line. "Were you involved in any of these operations?"

"No." I replied. "Do you really think I would be talking to you right now if I were a terrorist?"

"Those who aid terrorists are terrorists." She said.

"By that logic, the United Nations is now culpable for Magneto since inviting him to their club; and the United States is culpable for the Sentinels and Canada is apparently being run under the table by the devil." I replied. "Look, I never talked shop. These are all Genoshans who remember when…" I had to stop. "Fuck… who remembered the so called good old days when we were enslaving fucks. No wonder the Wakandans chose them to fight their shadow war with Atlantis… no one would miss them."

"There haven’t been any recorded activities by Human Genoshan nationals in over a decade," she responded.

"Because once Genoshan became synonymous with mutant… there was nothing left to fight for." I said quietly.

"And now you are a mutant." She said.

"Apparently of special pedigree." I replied.

There was a knock on my door.

"It’s me." She said on the phone.

From the other side of the room, I opened the door. Illeana Djukovega entered with a fresh faced brown haired, brown eyed, corn fed young man built like a wall. Both were armed, but their weapons weren’t drawn and they were wearing dark blue jumpsuits with SHIELD emblems, under blue light trench coats. “I figured we shouldn’t be having this conversation on open lines.”

"I think I’ve said the most hair raising stuff already." I replied from the futon in the living room. "Close the door behind you and have a seat."

"So… the white hair and blue eyes are natural?" She asked shutting off the phone while her partner closed the door. They were both accompanied by intense chatter. My phone grew warm in my hand and… I could interpret what was happening. Their comlinks were online and they appeared to be actual SHIELD agents.

"It’s my default state," I replied. "And you aren’t an FBI agent?"

"Technically I still am." She said. "This is Agent Felix." Illeana said with a cant of her head before giving me her full attention. "You are in a lot of trouble."

"For what?" I replied. "Teaching community college."

"Aiding and abetting a fugitive from the law." She replied.

"What fugitive from the law?" I asked.

"Dill Mikelson." She replied.

Someone in G.U.L.F. must have talked.

"Dill ripped out my spine." I replied. "I did not have the chance to be a good citizen. It was only because of a passing complication that I am alive at all."

"Spiral." Agent Felix said.

"One and done." I replied. "It turns out that Dill joined William Stryker’s Purifiers after M-Day and was converted into cyborgs at the Body Shoppe prior to Stryker declaring war on former mutants. The techno organic virus tried to hack the limbs… that let Spiral know something was up and she investigated and made an appearnce to collect Dill, but not before explaining why she was there. Which made Dill… who apparently had been abusing a variety of substance prior to become a cyborg and had become more imbalaced… even more imbalanced. I asked him to think of Genosha and why he put himself in these situations. He said "Fuck Genosha and fuck you… and he ripped my spine out. Spiral took the leavings and here I am. So… I did not harbor anyone… I didn’t even get a chance to. And I did think I was going to get laid… before the crazy set in. But that’s the case in any online hookup it seems."

I raised an eyebrow and chuckled ruefully. “Hell, I could be a robot programmed to think that he’s me and I could actually be dead… which would suck so many balls.”

Of course the co-consciousness sanity retention process kicked in and began listing all the reasons and tests that could prove I wasn’t a robot or a… Life Model Decoy?

"It isn’t Spiral’s style… or Mojo’s." Agent Felix said.

"Who’s Mojo?" I asked.

"Spiral’s employer and long term frenemy." Agent Djukovega said carefully before sighing. "He runs a massive interdimensional television network. He caused some severe waves in the United Kingdom about ten years ago. They take reality television to whole new extremes.  And Felix is right. Spiral prefers delivering the real thing… it makes for better television than duplicates."

"You two know a lot." I said carefully. "I’m surprised you’re allowed to share it with a suspect."

"The laws for killing extraterrestrial aliens, especially in self-defense, have been kept intentionally vague." Lt. Felix said. "I think it’s because of the fear that there are more Skrull infiltrators left after that mess a few years ago and the global governments wanted to make sure that stragglers could be removed expediently."

I think my eyes were a little bit too wide. “I think you went too far Felix.” Djukovega said.

"He’s a techno-organic cyborg."  Felix shrugged. "I thought we were going to have to argue with him that he was a cyborg thingie and not a ‘mutant’ as his old ‘running buddies are screaming."

"They’re not my buddies." I replied. "They’re just friends of my grandfather. And he’s not too happy with me either."

"Because you’re a mutant?" Felix asked.

"Actually it’s because I’m gay." I said. "Apparently he’s been expecting me manifest mutancy since I was a teenager. My… father… is a member of a tribe in Kenya who throws sex-linked physical mutant traits regularly. But one member is supposed to be famous."

"Who’s your father?" Djukovega asked.

"Colonel Shetani," I replied.

Felix erupted in a brief spasm, “I knew it!” 

"Leave it alone." Djukovega said evenly. "The less he knows… "

"King T’Challa has forbidden vengeance on his former wife." Felix said forcefully. "But a relative… there are lots of hard feelings."

"We should go." Illeana said rushing Felix out of the door. "We’ll be in touch."

"Who is she?" I asked.

Felix rounded, “How could you not know? She’s the most famous black superhero on the damned planet!”

"Storm?" I replied. "She’s not Kenyan, she’s from New York. That’s what her birth records say. I just figured she was raised somewhere posh."

Felix was making strangled sounds.

"You are such a cape chaser." Illeana muttered, before giving me full attention. "How did you come to know this?"

"I was… obsessed with the X-Men after Magneto took Genosha, they seemed to be the only people who beat him regularly… of course they were also the downfall of Genosha’s mutate culture." I caught Felix’s look and amended. "Slave culture." 

"I can’t believe you." He snapped.

"Why not?" I asked.

"You’re black!" His arms became animated again. "Your mother’s relatives were chattel and you support bringing that back!"

" The mutate conversion process was never going to come back!" I retorted. "It shortened their lives… weakened their immune systems. My mother helped to treat them. I saw what happened to mutates who got sick and died consumed by the very powers the state coveted for its use! It would never have come back no matter how much some of the hardliners wanted! And that’s not why G.U.L.F. existed! We think we deserved the chance to rebuild our country! Us! Genoshans! The U.N. wanted a quick solution and sold us out!"

"Your mother didn’t leave." Felix bore down, abandoning all pretense of professionalism. "You didn’t have to."

"I was accepted to engineering school at 16!" I thundered. "I wasn’t going to waste away in the air polluted by dying mutates! I was tired of smelling rotting or burning flesh and wondering if I was going to see my mother walk stumble into view with the skin of her arms charred, or frost bitten! She let me go. And two years later she died! Killed by a mutate for the glory of Magneto!"

Felix said. “So.” 

The apartment blacked out.  Every electrical appliance stopped working. “Get out!”

"No!" Felix. "You’re going to listen a…"

I stopped seeing the world in terms of reflected light, My vision… simplified, objects becoming icons with exact dimensions.

Across my vision printed: “Hypervelocity mode enabled.” 

I moved, I wasn’t dressed, but was the French Quarter. I could get away with shorts with no shirt or shoes. I just needed money and id. I grabbed my wallet and I made for the open door. Djukovega and Felix were moving in slow motion. I moved past them, telekinetically forcing myself down the stairs, avoiding smashing into the wall of the stairwell and I was outside, out of the alley, over the fence and in the street.

Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
All along that day?

Above the street, two flying cars became visible.  Red sports cars, wheel wells turned down, blue energy pulsing, as their camouflage falling away. I felt my co-consciousness whirring away.

Across my vision printed: “Initiating adaptive camouflage. Recommend removing pants to facilitate full coverage.”

I managed a strange semi-levitated long jump. The pants came off, my skin color shifted, and landed, blazing up the street. Surprisingly the flying cars were not issuing any command to “halt” or anything along those lines, they were just following me. I crossed St. Louis street, only a couple of blocks from Canal street and a stub-winged VTOL craft dropped its digital cloaking, training on me something that looked very much like a gun… which served as a distraction from rocket that struck the street in front of me.

"Electromagnetic Pulse." Flashed in my head, accompanied by prickling, painful, partial paralysis, I stumbled, my momentum pulling me until I tripped, flipping onto my back, digging a furrow into the street as I skided to a stop. The craft spun to turn the gun on me, in turn it was struck by two missiles, and it began to fall. Who’s idea was it to shoot down an aircraft in a residential neighborhood?

I should let fall.

Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?

Exotic field forces fluxed around me on a scale I never calculated before. I never expected the tk projector to be anything but a sidearm at best.

Lift…

I caught the smoking craft in an irregular field of semi-transparent field psionic ionization. The weight made me nauseous, the momentum… dizzy. My systems revved up higher and higher. I heard glass shatter, I heard screams…. there had to have been screaming before, must’ve been the road burn covering the sound.

Lift…

Sinnerman where you gonna run to?

I cry power!

The craft’s fall reversed. I dragged myself upright, modesty forcibly asserting itself. I pulled my shorts back on, stuffed the wallet in my pocket and I rose into the air along with the levitating smoking wreck.

“Okay… lifting achieved. Where am I going to put this… ah… Louis Armstrong Park. It was either that or Rampart Street and the park was very very close. Ten seconds and a two blocks north and over, I let the craft settle to the ground.

Hungry. 

I looked over the craft. It had SHIELD markings. Oh that’s just great.

"Die you fucking mutie shit!" I knew that voice. A very ugly gun was rushing around to point in my face.

The world slowed down again. I grabbed the gun and kneed her in the abdomen so she let it go. And then I bit into the barrel. The metal and plastic was a feast to my senses.

"Filthy…"

Willa Kathryn Kather was part of the same refugee flotilla that sailed from Genosha to Johannesburg South Africa that Dill was on. She was anger incarnate. She was also talent incarnate. She stayed with me a couple of times. I knew she didn’t think much of me, but… I don’t think I cared. I was in awe of her though. The was an infiltrator par-excellence, having served stints in conspiracy groups like Advanced Idea Mechanics, Hydra, The Secret Empire and now… SHIELD. Ew. Oh… and she was a childhood friend of Dill.

I swallowed, my violent urge subsided. “Why did you let Dill get hooked on doctored MGH?” I asked her cooly.

"Don’t you fucking dare!" She was blond this time, small heartshaped face make up free, rage adding dimension to her face. "His body washed up on a fucking beach in Galveston!"

"Really," I replied. "Which parts were artificial?"

She blinked at me.

"When he joined the Purifiers he had cybernetics installed, what- cybernetics- did- you- find on his body? Was it whole? Or mutilated?"

Her lips were thinning. I kept talking. “What about evidence of MGH abuse? What about extreme stimulant abuse? Why didn’t you help him?”

She lunged at me with astonishing speed. A knife in her hand, the blade plunged into my sternum. No, would have plunged into my sternum, but it broke. She started at me, I stared at the knife. “You have no idea how much I want to kill you right now Willa, but for fucks sake, take your head out of your ass… and… wait a second… you knew I wasn’t a mutant. You lead off with electromagnetic pulse.”

Her eyes narrowed.

"You’re a good actress." I replied. "You know where he is. I should have saw through your anti mutant bullshit before… you know he’s alive… and he’s with SHIELD isn’t he?" I frowned. "And you’ve had work done… damn you’re fast."

She could also fight and like the knife strike she really wasn’t fucking around.  I found that I really wanted to kill her. “You sacrificed your cover… and your career. For him?”

She began speeding up… significantly and I had no training. She shifted her weight popping me airborne. I was saved. A white, coruscating sphere struck Willa in the head, knocking her against the hull of the downed craft.

Illeana and Felix were approaching, guns drawn. “Are you alright?” Felix asked?

"Physically," I replied. "This is a bit of a clusterfuck though."

"You have no idea." Illeana said. "You should leave…"

The color matching camoflage kicked in and I rose into the air, only then did I get naked and fly back to my new apartment. 

"This is bullshit." I muttered stomping through the apartment. "Bullshit! Blatant manipulation! Bullshit. Bullshit!

My computer turned on. It was me, I felt myself doing it. Still watching the appliance activate without touching, watching it respond to the old longing to validate my existence through my obsessions.

I opened the folder with my files on technology telekinesis. Even though I now had it, the need to look at the schematic, to play with the math, to reassure myself it worked, to reassure myself that it… the engineering classes I suffered through… were worth it. I wasn’t brilliant, I was just intelligent enough, and very dedicated. I graduated in the middle, the sabbaticals did not help. I squeaked through my Masters. But, in the end, I did it all for this, so I could fantasize about destroying Magneto but not feel useless because I was always “Working towards the solution.” I told myself I was helping anyway by manning the safehouse. “Not everyone could be in the field.”

I read over the documents, zooming in on the juicy realization parts where theory was mathed into reality.

I frowned. It wasn’t the same. The intimate, inclusion I felt with the work was not present. The conscious understanding built up over a decade, gone. I could feel my pupils contact amidst rippling psychological shock that found an outlet on as the futon nearby levitated and the frame crumpled.

I opened my Master’s thesis, the prosaically titled, “Practical Applications for Energy Conversion Thrusters.” It was a complete punt of a work. Between Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Stane Enterprises, and Roxxon Incorporated, the reality of non-propellant power/thrust conversion technology was already realized… just not common.

I opened the document… and it was all gibberish. Well not gibberish. It was English, and the summary passages I understood. The areas that required study, the areas that required actually having an education; that was just so many numbers and symbols.

I spent the next hour reading everything I brought with me. It was all junk. The “core” stuff: literature, languages, basic math, etc, I remembered that. But the meat… the major… the Master… was gone. It was as if I’d never went to engineering school.

Irrationally, desperate, I ripped out the hard drive and ate it. My notepad computer floated to my hand and I downloaded and decrypted my notes from a cloud drive. No understanding. It was gone.

"Diagnostic?" I thought.

The subprocess went to work. “All systems nominal.”

My eyes widened. “Then explain why I can’t do math anymore!”

"Regions of consciousness were co-opted into telekinetic expression matrix during conversion." It replied. "Conscious mathematic conversion deemed problematic for regular expression of powers, sub division of consciousness rendered irretrievable due to autonomic nature of process."

"So… I have to do it all over again?" I asked.

"Yes. Abilty to learn is unimpaired. Theory applied to transmode process, proprietary to customer, did not exist in the Body Shoppe to be applied. Examples of technology worn during conversion process. Recommend return to learning environment to reacquire information."

I slumped to the floor among the wreckage of the futon speechless. “Why didn’t it just copy it?”

"You would not allow it." The co-consciousness said. "Subconscious fear reflex would have impeded smooth conversion. Information was integrated, subject agreed."

I broke the notepad and swallowed its drive and fell into a fuge.

Am I a success because I finally achieved what I wanted at the cost of being able to replicate it… or am I a failure because I lost the education I left my mother alone on Genosha for. If I had not left her alone maybe I could have gotten her to leave sooner.

"You were born of pain, son of the demon." That was no voice in my head.

The room was empty, but… the windows did not have sunlight flowing in. It was night.

"Demon?" I replied.

“‘Shetani,’ is a Swahili word for ‘malevolent, or selfish spirit.’” The voice continued.

"Why the disembodied voice routine?" I asked. "Who sent you?"

"I sent myself, actually." The voice replied. "You are unusual, child of Ashake."

"And who are you?" I asked.

"An enemy.” It said. “Your Goddess does not have many friends."

Now I was getting angry. “I have no goddess! No… no more tricks. No more manipulation… no more lies!”

An amorphous blob of animate shadow congealed in the room and struck me in the face forcing its way down my throat. Sunlight was streaming through the windows again. 

"Status?" I queried the system.

"Assailant has been completely digested." My system responded.

"No posession?" I asked.

"Psychic, spiritual and magical constructs and entities are valid sources of sustenance."

I sighed, briefly closing my eyes. I need to stop talking to myself. I always learn the worst things about myself.

 I stacked the wreckage of the futon frame in a corner with the husk of my notebook, unfolded the mattress and lay down..I’d been sitting around for an hour and the New Orleans Police Department isn’t far from here. If they were going to come for me, they would have been here.

I locked the front door and drifted off to sleep.

I dreamed of a flat plain with waist high grass, under twilight sky. Sparse trees turned shadow under the light of a setting sun. A figure stands from the grass, broad shouldered with lush curves, wide hips and a conservative bosom. Her hair was a halo of bright white fire, her eyes, smoldering white flames. She was also completely nude, skin the color of richest earth. “You disposed of my of the cat god’s emisarry.”

"It flew into my mouth and to its death." I replied. "It committed suicide in its assault of me. Was it a friend of your?”

“No, the ways I am not a friend of the allies of the Panther God are many.” I could feel the weight of her gaze. “You do not know your people’s beliefs.”

"Why the sudden interest?" I replied. "If you can enter my dreams, where have you been?"

"You were… your mother’s son… tied into your mother’s people, people of many lands." The apparition explained. "Only now… only now you are a man who has no home. So now… now is when the Bright Lady can whisper to your soul… and make no mistake, you do have a soul, how else can you devour the spiritual as well as the physical?" She waited… "Do you want to hear more?"

"Yes." I said, adding. "Please."

"It is… interesting that a man wears the Mask of Ashake." She said.

I held up my hands, “Ma’am you should know, this wasn’t my idea… I was not born looking like this. I…”

"You were awakened." She said. "And it was an awakening, when the servant of the Tyrant of a Million Eyes activated Ashake’s seed within I knew and as I have done before, no matter what The Insane Red Witch has re-ordered history to say, have appeared to offer guidance."

I nodded, and I waited.

"You… are a selfish man." She said. "However… there is no inherent evil in selfishness. Evil lies in the execution of desire. It can take the open hearted man as well as the closed. Recognize that, and you will always have a choice. Sometime the choice is your death, or the death of others. You find yourself at a peculiar crossroads of freedom. Your benefactor sets you adrift, promising that you are free of her. But she is really putting distance between herself and you because you killed a member of her adversary’s faction in the land of the Tyrant of A Million Eyes."

The sun was almost gone, the very edge visible at the horizon.

She was starting to fade, her substance becoming suffused with stars. “Do you really want to be free?”

"Yes." I truly meant it.

"Then be free." She said. "Embrace yourself. Embrace that you are the creation of the sum of the choices you have made. Now you move forward, as a golem of technology and magic. When you are ready to learn, the chance for the choice to begin your education will present itself. Be open to it."

She was almost gone and I felt myself sliding into sleep. “Beware your father.”

"I had no intention of ever contacting him. He can continue to know I don’t exist."

"But he is your father, you must accept that too." She said.

"I do accept it. I don’t have to like him."

And I went to sleep. The next day I felt like a brand new man. I was still depressed, but damn if I did not feel good. I got dressed and strolled over to Cafe Dumond on Decatur St, to greet the day with excessive amounts of sugar and caffeine.

I gorged for half an hour, eating multiple orders fried pillows of dough blanketed with powdered sugar; and chased with chicory infused coffee loaded with cream and sugar. I was considering another order when someone shot me.

I guess they wanted me to see who ended me, because the assassin boldly stopped on the sidewalk in eye-shot, blew a whistle and shot me. The bullet flattened against my forehead and fell onto the table. The shooter and I locked eyes, his were ark, and he looked very scared, face determined. He raised the pistol again, put it in his mouth and fired. The entire back of his skull exploded and he slumped forward, leaving his spirit standing where he stood.

Then and only then I felt free to act. It was familiar angry and bitter instinct. A strand of darkness traced through with lines of light extended from my tongue, streaking down the street to seize the newly released spirit and drag him into my mouth. He tasted like steak crusted with a chocolate infused blackening spiced with with a warm bloody center.

I took a bite of beignet. No one seemed to have seen what just happened, all attention and chatter was on the man who made a very big mess of himself on the street. I picked up the flattened bullet and ate it, chasing it with the last of the coffee.

"Not going to do that too often." I muttered. I did not feel guilty… just creeped out.

I picked at the remaining beignets, waiting for my server to return so I could pay.

"Are you alright?"

Felix was standing nearby, he was dressed normally, in a blue t-shirt with a white dreamcatcher print t-shirt, orange shorts and black trainers. With his short brown hair and plain features, he would have been unremarkable except he was big. His uniform made him seem less impressive.

I had not realized how much interest the shooting caused, the area around me was empty. “Physically, I am fine.” I replied.

"Diplomatic," he replied. "Would you mind if I sat?"

"Go ahead." I said. "When the restaurant recovers, I’ll order more food."

"I do not mean to pry." He said carefully. "But you seem lost. I know your former comrades’ commitment to your end has been… enthusiastic, but…"

"I’ve lost my education." I said carefully. "Years of… life… gone. The arts, the narrative base of science, it’s there… but… the genius… the spark that made me learn, that sent me to pursue the knowledge, as it was brought to fruition, the seed and the world and path it spawned, is gone. It’s been taken transmuted into a tree of project maturity. It’s floam and xylem surge with mystery.  The fruit of that old life still lives and it comes for me, even as I float painless but riven. Hope, the memory of hope, the genesis of focus, the blueprint, all gone. If this is success… it is hollow."

Felix was quiet. The servers came back, faces tense, many people used the confusion as an opportunity to skip out on their tabs. She was surprised when I stayed. I have her two-hundred dollars. Guilt was finally settling in. The horrible, self serving thought brought even more guilt because I was thinking about the effect I have had on the lives of normal people, is the same thing I hated in mutants.

"I am truly what I hate, just by existing." I whispered.

"He’s tired." Felix explained to the server. "Come on Henri." He said taking my hand. "Let’s get back to the hotel."

I let him lead me away from the French Market cafe, down familiar streets, made unfamiliar by a mounting weight threatening to topple me from…

"Wait…" I was hoarse. "I need a moment."

"They want your head." Felix whispered urgently. "It’s not far."

"What do they think I have done?" I whispered. "I gave them years of service. Years. I gave them my… time… my glory… my future… teaching community college, working in silence in hiding."

Felix looked around, frowned and led me to a nearby alley. He reached under his shirt and I heard a faint hiss. He lifted me by my upper arms, my weight as nothing. He brought me so close, I could smell minted almonds on his breath. “Willa… is one of ours.” He said, voice a whisper. “She told us… everything.”

I felt my mouth working. Embers of anger drowning out until I could finally speak. “What?”

"The attack was supposed to, earn your gratitude, but… things went wrong… we did not tell the cars the plan… they saw you as… they wanted to help. They were not wrong, we were."

The damn broke. But it did not release violence, or hunger, or even hate. Confusion and sorrow riddled me and I sagged..

"It’s alright, the privacy field hides us." Felix whispered. "It’s alright. Illena will be here soon. We’ll be out of the city."

My weight fell forward, limp. Felix pulled me close, turning to shield me from the mouth of the alleyway. I clung to him and I realized… he was a very big man. I pulled back he was looking down at me. “It’s going to be alright.”

It seemed possible in that moment. I saw something in his face. I wasn’t reading him wrong. I reached up and I kissed him full on the mouth, inhaling the mint. He kissed me back and I felt the break of his tongue against my lips. And he held me away at arms length.

"No… no." He said. "I can’t… this is completely unprofessional."

"I don’t care!" I said.

"I can’t… you don’t understand. I’m sorry… but no."

"It’s because of what I am?"

"Yes." He said adding lamely. "But… it’s going to be alright. I promise."

"It’s never going to be alright again."

I heard the bark of tires on asphalt behind him. He gathered me up in his arms and rushed to a red sports sedan. Illeana Djukovega sat in the driver’s seat. She checked the street and nodded once and Felix bundled me into the back seat.

"Stay back there with him." Djukovega said. "Keep him calm."

"But…" he sputtered.

"Felix!" she snapped.

He did as she asked. The engine revved and was joined by the whine of turbines. The car rapidly rose into the air, accelerating over the river and began climbing.

"It’s going to be an hour or so until we reach the base Mr. Cardinal." Agent Djukovega said. "Try to rest if you can."

Leaning against Agent Felix, I went to sleep.

April 25, 2013

Chapter 2’s theme song.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinner_Man

April 24, 2013
Ashes of Genosha: Chapter 1

"Mr. Henri?"

I did not know what to expect. The Genoshan Underground Liberation Front rarely sent the same operative twice and they were usually women. All of them needed a place to hide and my small house near the rural Mississippi Delta town of Rosedale was a perfect place to wait out an unfortunate change in circumstance. My maternal great grandmother’s home had been where my mother’s American relatives came to rest after emancipation. It welcomed people who wanted to be free. 

I regarded my new guest. This young man was tall, bald, brown-eyed, nondescript. “White and male” were his defining factors along with an accent with harsh vibrated r’s, round flat vowels, and abrupt consonants.

"I’m Henri." I said. "How was your trip?"

"I wasn’t followed." He said.

Thunder rolled in the sky.  I glanced up. He didn’t, he always kept an eye on me. I inhaled the wet dusty smell of the coming rain. The wind began to pick up. We’d have rain soon. “Come on in friend. I’ll cook you something to eat before I head back to Greenville. Do you have any food allergies? What about preferences?” I gave him my back. If he was going to kill me, he was going to kill me.

"I just want a bath." He said. "I need to get the stink of the road off. Will my truck be safe out there?"

"The garage entrance can’t be seen from the road or driveway. Unless you raise the blackout curtains at night, no one would know anyone is home. There are cameras." I stopped at a picture and lifted it off the wall, revealing a bank of monitors. "They’re hardwired here and have solar batteries and uninterpretable power supplies, so even if the power goes out, you can keep an eye out. Let me show you the house and the bolt holes and then you can shower."

The house was quiet, a fine dust over everything. Housekeeping was as sporadic as my visits. Well before my mother died in the riots that accompanied the Magneto’s inheritance of our island nation in 1999, I spent the bulk of my time in school.

When my maternal grandfather approached me to ask my help in helping our exiled countrymen fight back after the United Nations betrayed us by capitulating to Magneto, I offered him the house to use as a way-station for freedom fighters and operatives. It was the least I could do. He and my mother were not related by blood. But he raised her since she was a baby, and never treated me like I was anything but his blood relative. My aunts and uncles were not so generous. So when he asked something of me, I did it.

Thunder rolled over us, vibrating down to the house, making the wood rattle. In the silence of its wake, I heard a telltale rhythmic whine and moving in time with my new house guest’s foot steps.

 I broached the question at the end of the tour. “Stark prosthetics?” 

He looked startled and then immediately wary. “No. They are… custom made.”

"They look good, at least through your clothes," I said, my eyes chasing briefly over him. "I’ve seen cybemodified men and women come through who sacrificed too much for functionality and their clothes looked like they were worn on erector sets. Loud too, gave off a lot of heat."

"I’m all man in all the right places." He said a bit defensively.

"Really?" I smiled.

"Yeah," he said frowning. "If you aren’t careful, you may find out."

"Or I could just take a shower with you and we could cut past the hetronormative posturing." I replied.

"Cole said you didn’t play the role well." He said, scowl softening slightly. "You a ‘borg chaser?"

"I didn’t come on to Cole." I replied. "He read the cache on the computer I used to keep here and decided to get his rocks off. When I started to get more women after he left, I figured he opened his big mouth. Some agent."

"Cole’s just muscle." My still nameless house guest said. "At least he’s out there doing something."

"Without us, most of you would be rotting in a SHIELD facility or stuck in whatever secret society of the moment you’d infiltrated to get tech for the cause." I replied. "We may not get shot immediately, but if these covers go pits up then we’re well and truly fucked."

He frowned. “Isn’t the saying ‘toes up?’”

"I think that ‘toes up’ is actually a good thing when it comes to fucking." I said with a wary edge. He started the volley, but the birdie seemed a trifle bit explosive. "There are other euphemisms enough for things going to hell." I shrugged. "Alright, mood ruined. Go shower. There’re sweat clothes that should fit you in the bed room. I’ll go cook."

He nodded. “You armed?”

"Yeah."

"Pistol?"

"No," I replied. "You fight monsters like monsters not like people. Guns aren’t good enough. I’ve got it handled."  He nodded and padded off to the bathroom. I guess his cybernetics were waterproof. I wasn’t going to ask.

The storm was in full cry by the time my house-guest emerged from the bathroom and guest room. “Is there anywhere I can plug in?”

"Take one of the UPS’ from the hall way closet. They’re fully charged. They’ll clean up the power for you. The country grid can get a bit ornery." I said. "I’m sorry if I got pushy before. I don’t do the camaraderie thing well."

"I wasn’t much better… do I just call you Henri? You got a first name?"

"It is my middle name, but I prefer to use it." I said. "To me, you’re ‘house-guest.’"

He smiled, the gesture giving his bland face character. “Dill… you can call me Dill.”

"I’ve used Henri since my mother died." I replied. "I used to give her such shit about my middle name, but she said it belonged to her great great Grandmother. Short for Henrietta. There used to be a community a few miles from here. She ran Henri’s General Store. Got all of us away from here, except to visit."

"I was told your Mother was Genoshan," Dill said, no accusation, just curiosity.

"My mother held dual Genoshan American citizenship. Her father was Kenyan some ‘prince’ named Shetani. Last I heard he was some sort of militia leader. Her mother was Genoshan American." said, stirring the soup once and covering it before going to start work on cornbread.

"Did you know your father?" He asked out of the blue.

"We don’t talk about my father." I replied.

"Shamesh says he was a member of the Press Gang." He said. "Says that you tested positive for the mutant gene. That’s why your mother took you here to be born."

I said through tensed teeth. “I am not a mutant! Next time Shamesh needs a place to go, he won’t be coming here!” I took my anger out on the cornbread batter, beating it viciously. “I was born here to ensure my American citizenship. As soon as I was a year old, she brought me back to Genosha and I wasn’t earmarked to be turned into a mutate.

I have no idea who my father is. My mother said it wasn’t important. She always became afraid and sad when I mentioned him, so I stopped. I’m pretty okay with that. A therapist told me her strong avoidance behavior probably means my mother was raped. If I ever met my father, I’d kill him.”

"You can find him you know," Dill replied. "Find out for sure he is who he is."

"How’s that?" I replied. "I did not figments contributed to international DNA databases."

"Well, if they have money, they do." He replied. "If they lead dissipate or dangerous lifestyles and they need organ transplants. They go into black market databases so matches can be found and bids made on replacement organs. I’m not saying I know who he is, but you could start there."

"Ah, no thanks," I replied. "The last place an adjunct community college instructor’s DNA needs to be found is in a black market organ database." I poured the batter into two floured trays and put them in the oven and set the timer.  "I need to get back to town. Call me if something comes up."

"Thanks Henri." Dill said. "You sure you don’t want to stay."

No I don’t want to stay. “Are you alright?” I asked.

"Not really," he sad. "I lost all of my men. They weren’t G.U.L.F. but…. I was with them for a while. Those… they tore through us. All of our mods, they meant nothing."

"Who were you fighting?" I asked.

"Department H, Canadian Special Operations.  We thought that we’d take out some of their mutant assets." He sighed. "Our cell of Purifiers were flattened. My Body Shoppe mods were the only reason I made it out alive."

"Body Shoppe?" I replied. "Is that a new black market vendor? I haven’t heard or read anything about it."

"Please… eat with me, I’ll tell you about it." He replied, desperate. It wasn’t an energetic desperation but the reaching out was real, needful on a human level.  That was the whole point of this static lifestyle, helping fellow humans from what used to be the great island nation of Genosha.  Dill continued. "I need to tell someone about it."

I retrieved plates and silverware. “I don’t know what cell or organization you were with. You sound like the infiltration wasn’t worth it.”

"I only got… these." He said waving his arms around. "I think I was actually lucky. I was with a West Coast G.U.L.F. cell that joined up with William Stryker’s Purifiers.  When the East coasters formed up under that idiot and went for the Xavier Institute in upstate New York, they were annihilated. We thought that was it, but someone else took charge and started calling us in so we could get revenge on the mutants who killed Stryker. I and a bunch of other recruits were taken to this dark, empty-looking warehouse near one of the piers in Manhattan. Inside was carnival, bright lights, big tents, chirpy music, everything.

This silver haired, golden skinned woman comes out and chats with our handler, he gave her some money. She turned to all of us and said “Right this way please ladies and gentlemen. Please don’t stray. It’s all too easy to get lost in the Body Shoppe.” He put his head in his hands. “It was a nightmare. I was lucky though… infiltration modifications, no external weaponry. Some of the folks came out looking like anime robots or something.”

"Why the Body Shoppe?" I asked. "I’ve read about black and grey market cybernetics outfits in the U.S., Canada. Russia, Madripoor, Japan, Hong Kong and such."

"How… " He smile-frowned. "How does a community college instructor know so much about the illegal body parts trade?"

"I was 18 when Magneto was given control of Genosha in 1999. It had been getting bad ever since the mutates were freed in 1989." I I began carefully. "My mother was a physician. As things grew worse, she kept me with her all the time. I saw the type of damage that mutant powers could inflict on flesh. When I was sixteen, I was accepted to a college here. I was so proud… all I could do was study and help my mom at the clinic. She looked so grave when I begged to be allowed to go. She let me."

"Was that the last time you saw her?" Dill asked.

I pulled cheese and out of the refrigerator and put it on the table and cut some slices. “We met in Johannesburg for the summer and Christmas during my first year away. We didn’t see each other at all the next. I got a phone call from her… that was the last I heard of her. Grandfather told me one of her patients killed her.

Instead of grieving, I grew obsessed with Magneto. Hated him really. Mama said things were finally started to stabilize. Then he came it all went back to shit. I scoured libraries and the internet. I read as much about him and his enemies as I could, which, which brought me to the X-Men which led me to the work of two engineers Ramon Lipschitz and Tadashi Fujita who were obsessed with one of the X-Men: Marvel Girl and that obsession had an outcome: technologically replicated telekinesis.

Apparently, it wasn’t profitable, or controllable, or efficient or something and they lost funding. For a while, all of their research was on Usenet, It was a small community. The science was really rarefied, but I saved it and kept moving it from disk to disk, drive to drive. I went back to the newsgroups one day to see if any of the other readers had added more, and it was all gone. No sign of it.  It was the scariest scrub job I’d ever seen. After that I actually put the disks with the stuff on it in a safety deposit box.”

"You wanted to be a mutant?" Dill asked.

I played with a slice of cheese. “The X-Men fought Magneto before they teamed up with him. Psionics and plastic were supposed to be his blind spots. So I kept the research and plans. When we went after Magneto, we’d be ready, or so the fantasy went. I went to school, studied electrical engineering, fancied myself going to work for for the U.S. Government maybe work for the organization or company that builds those giant mutant hunting robots. I also wanted to know what I was doing with Lipschitz and Fujita’s work.” 

I took a bite of cheese. “And then in 2001 Genosha was flattened by those giant mutant hunting robots, and turned into a giant radioactive shit pit. We were deprived of our target and our home in one fell swoop. Someone beat us to it. No one seemed to know who did it. Governments rampantly disavowed any knowledge or participation. Aid was flowing in to the few survivors.”

"Suddenly the world forgot about us." Dill said. "Suddenly being Genoshan meant ‘mutant.’ "

"I had to take a semester off," I said. "I…  got very depressed. That semester turned into a year. I hadn’t talked to my grandfather in a while. Before everything went to hell, Cole apparently told everyone he could I was gay. Apparently he was doing it to shame my Grandfather or something. After that my Grandfather and I didn’t speak. He didn’t want to deal with it. Nearly all of my wayfarers since then were women. That’s why I was surprised when you came."

"I’m desperate." He said. "No one else will take me because of the cybernetics." He actually flushed. "That’s why I didn’t tell you. I need to hide… but go on."

I ate a piece of cheese. “Mutants were everywhere. Fuck they were mainstream. The X-Men set up their X-Corporations to help freaks world wide. And they took mutant kids to their school in upstate New York.” I frowned. “I just lost all hope. And then Jean Grey died,again. Again! Fucking mutants can’t even stay dead.

Fugita and Lipschitz’s research popped up again. They set up a Jean Grey memorial page and detailed all they had done to ‘honor’ her memory.

I swallowed my hate and my disillusionment and I became their fan. I had years with their old research and I had the language to talk about it. I learned more about telekinesis from them than I had in my enitre time in G.U.L.F.. We worked, chatted… and outside of never meeting in person, we seemed to have a good idea exchange going, until one day they emailed me a virus that burned out my hard drive. I tried to reach them again and again and came up with… nothing.”

"You had back ups though?" Dill asked.

"Hell yes. I even had hard copy backups. But they and their webpage vanished off the face of the earth. At least for a little while. I read an article that mentioned a Tadeshi Fugita who now worked for The former Fugikawa Industries. I did some digging and it seems that Lipshitz works there too. I guess they needed to scrub their online life before stepping up the big time."

"Any threatening notes?" Dill asked.

"Nope." I grinned. "Anyway turns out, Magneto was alive. He wasn’t killed on Genosha. G.U.L.F. lit back up, but it wasn’t the same. I bypassed grandfather and reached out to other operatives offering to shelter people. I usually don’t talk this much, probably because they usually aren’t Genoshan, they’re mercenaries, or just criminals going from point A to point B. But.. you have the accent…"

"I can usually make it pass for Afrikaans." Dill said. "But yeah, I’m Genoshan, was on the refugee flotilla that landed in Johannesburg. ."

"Jesus… you should have just told me to shut up!" I replied. "You guys had some dire times. While I…"

"Did your research pay off?" He interrupted my self indulgent self flegellation before it went over the top.

"Yeah… weaponized, but not completely controlled… definitely not energy efficient." I muttered.

"You needed to know Magneto could be beaten." Dill said. "You came across a non mutant expression of those defeating agents. You did not want to feel completely helpless." He flexed his hands. "First operation I was part of was taking down a mutie drug gang operating out of Seattle. We almost died. Those who weren’t bulletproof, were super strong, or super fast, or sometimes all three. This was back in 2000 right before the big take off of MGH."

"MGH?" I interrupted

 ”Mutant Growth Hormone,” he said. “Filtered from the blood of mutants, stabilized and mixed with other drugs to give a high… and sometimes powers of the mutant it came from.” He paused licking his lips. “Which was the only way we won.” He looked at the table. “We injected the MGH. We were trained soldiers. They were just kids. We kicked their asses… killed them all… took their stash.” He looked up at me… I don’t know what he was expecting, but his plain, brown eyes were searching my face. “Our cell made a name for ourselves. Kicking ass, taking names, killing muties, bleeding them for the stuff to help us keep our edge. And then came M-Day.”

"When nearly all of the mutants lost their powers." I replied. "That was what… five years ago?”

"More than that,” Dill replied. “It was 2005. I remember it clearly. According to our intelligence contacts, one mutant wiped out all the rest. There were only a few hundred and all of them powerful and connected… we were desperate. That’s when we signed up for the Purifiers, Stryker’s group was strong enough to strike at them. We… we just wanted to make more MGH. But… they got the shit kicked out of them before we even got there and all they did was kill a whole bunch of mutant kids who lost their powers. A big fucking waste.”

Dill wrung his hands. “No Magneto, No Mutants, no Genosha, we stayed with the Purifiers and when they hooked up with this Body Shoppe to gear up to take down the X-Men, my cell volunteered to be altered. We were so tired of being weak.”

“You went through withdrawal?” I asked.

His face twisted. “I told you the MGH was usually mixed with something else to stabilize it. Since we were using it to fight… we used cocaine or methamphetamine. We kept using… it took the edge off, but it never gave us the real edge we needed. Just made us stupid and reckless, perfect really for the Purifiers.”

“And when you became a cyborg?” I asked.

“I’m not human anymore,” He stated flatly. “You see, that’s the Body Shoppe’s claim to fame: no rejection, complete integration. Makes you superhuman. I kind of got off easy. I lost my original face, but I still look human. I have my senses, I can even eat a little… but… well…”

“You couldn’t do the drugs.” I interjected.

“None of us could. The withdrawal… seemed magnified because we had no way to get through it. No placebos even. We became the monsters we wanted to kill. Killing became our drug. We became reavers in truth and… we did our new job well.”

“So it was… eight years ago.” I said.

“Yeah… eight years until we made a mistake. We contracted out with a Wakandan organization. They had obtained list of Atlantean sleeper agents. After what the King of Atlantis did to their country, they wanted revenge. They said the King of Wakanda was not seeking revenge fast enough because he was busy divesting himself of his mutie X-Men wife and saving the planet from a top secret threat. So we were sent to hit these people.

It was going fine at first. Killed about ten families. Then we walked into a trap. Everyone dead… except me. During the fight, something grokked in my head. I wasn’t killing for Genosha anymore. I was just doing it for the money. I used to want to be an airline pilot and now I was an assassin. I did not want to die an assassin. So I pulled the pins on all of my grenades and made a run for it.”

“Why are you telling me this?” I asked quietly.

“When I took my shower, I took something I got on the U.S. black market, supposed to be able to kill anyone.” He said.

“If that were the case there’d be no Avengers, X-Men, or Magneto… at the very least.” I said archly.

He laughed, a rueful expression spreading across his face, “I guess that’s true. Shit… still stupid.”

“Can we call someone?” I replied. “The Body Shoppe has to have a number or something for repairs.”   

“The cybernetics repair themselves.” He said. “The poison… it’s a virus… techno organic, supposed to shut down the cybernetic and biological processes in my organs.”

“A virus?” All of the blood drained out of my face.

“It’s not contagious.” He said. “At least that’s what the guy said.”

“Where’d you buy it?” I asked. “What’s it called. Maybe I can find something online?”

“Don’t worry about it.” He said. “If you want to go… I understand.”

“Did Shamesh know you were coming here to die?” I asked.

He smiled. “Yeah, that’s why he sent me to you. He doesn’t like you. He probably is trying to set you up for something. Shamesh really went skeezy when Genosha was turned to ash. He has contacts with Hydra and Fenris and Canada, by the way, you want to stay the fuck away from Canada.”

“Why?” I asked.

“They do some fucked up shit up there.” He said. “Had an extraction mission once, ran into…” He shuddered. “If you hear of any cyber clinics affiliated with Weapon Plus, Weapon X, or Department H. If you know about them, they’ll come get you. Canada is fucked up.”

It was hard to maintain my composure, but all I was thinking of is having to dispose of the body when he’s dead. “Well, if this is airborne, I’ve already been exposed. So… do you need anything?”

“No… I.” His mouth worked. “Don’t go. There’s food. Television… I don’t want to die alone.”

“I’ll cancel my classes tonight.”

“Thank you.” He said. “I can already feel it working… my vision is getting blurry. It doesn’t hurt though.”

Thunder rattled the house again.

“I…” I began. There was a shockingly loud thunderclap, but the house did not register its presence, but the windows went pitch black for a moment, when the light came back, it had a languid, golden quality to it that sunlight definitely lacked.

 I reached under my shirt sleeves and adjusted the emitter cuffs I always wore under a long sleeved, collared shirt . The psychokinetic control netting was part of the wig I wore. The power supply, black market Stark pods, strapped to my lower back, out of sight.

Music drifted in, growing louder, something I could only describe as “disco-carnivale.” I pushed away from the table walking slowly towards the front door. At the windows, I saw no place of the yard, just golden light.

There was a single knock on the door, and then it opened. A silver haired, golden skinned woman in a voluminous chocolate colored robe with gold braid at the sleeves, collar and hem, stood in the doorway.

"Come along Dill Mikelson, lets get that nasty little bug out of you.” She said.

“Stay back.” I said.

She laughed, I heard Dill’s steps behind me. “I want to die.”

“You aren’t dying. You’re being hacked.” Derision dripped from her voice. “That little bug you took into yourself is assaying your functions and broadcasting information to someone by co-opting your internal transmitter. I have no problems with my customers dying. The tech dies with them. I do have a problem with industrial espionage. I have a certain cachet to maintain and I can’t have my tech floating about in the world. So, let me get that stuff out of you. I don’t want to kill you though, what do you want?”

Dill’s eyes glittered with unholy hope and desperation. “I… I want to be a superhero. I’m tired of this life. I want to be someone to be looked up to. Someone good.”

I kept my eye on the silver haired woman. “What are you talking about Dill?”

“If I can’t die… then I need a new life.” His face was haggard. “The memories of this old life gone. All of the death, the murder, the addiction and hate, For what, a splotch of land that isn’t even worth the rock it’s built on.”

“Dill, no. What about your home? What about the cause? What about Genosha!” I pleaded.

“Fuck Genosha!” He snapped. I felt a brief sharp pain in the middle of my back. My limbs went numb, sudden, unresistable momentum carried me to the ground. “Fuck Genosha!” Dill reiterated, eyes glittering and insane. “And fuck you!”  He looked up to the silver haired woman. “I’ll do anything.” He said plaintively to the silver haired figure. “Kill me, or give me a new life.”

She stepped into my house and over me. From the angle I lay, I could see her clearly.

She made a grand gesture. “Step into the Body Shoppe, child of Genosha, a new, heroic life awaits.”

He ran into the light, which closed around him like a curtain of water. .

She bent over me and smiled. “Betrayed, even after you took such a liking to him. Sorry, but I’ve been listening since he took that nasty little techno organic worm. I wanted to find out why one of Stryker’s little soldiers would try to double cross me. However it turns out that he… and you… were the ones being double crossed.” Hands came up to the collar of her robe and opened it revealing a silvery gray sleeveless top, matching pants, fur topped boots… and six arms. “Now, I think you do not want to die. Tell Spiral what is is you want. Don’t speak to me of G.U.L.F, or Genosha, your Grandfather, or ‘The Cause. What do you want?  The Body Shoppe is open and most assuredly our prices are reasonable, but remember, you get what you are willing to pay for.”

Invisible bugs entered my mind, seemingly crawling in from her smile. She wrapped me in her robe, cradling me in those terrible arms and she bore me into the light.

April 24, 2013
Ashes of Genosha: Introduction

This is my first work of fan-fiction, it uses the Marvel Comics milieu, but it should not require that you be a fan. The Marvel Universe is a wondrous environment. You don’t need to know it to enjoy its pockets of abject oddness and horror.

I’ve tried to limit the appearance of marquee characters, and took the liberty of making my own. Sometimes though, the touch of an established character is necessary.

I hope the spelling, grammar, and punctuation aren’t too horrid, and most of all, I hope it’s an enjoyable read.

Thanks,
Hank T. Cannon