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Origin Stories


Greywind
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Origin Stories

 

The SUV rolled to a stop. Charley put it in park. Turning the engine off, she smiled to herself. It was hard for her to believe how far she had some in such a relative short time. She mentioned to Ash that she had an appointment to keep. Ash tossed her the keys.

 

The gray SUV. It's been adjusted for you.” Ash was right. The seat had been adjusted so that it sat halfway into the backseat to accommodate her required legroom. Getting in and out of it was easy for her. She dropped the keys into her purse.

 

Getting out, she tapped the door locks. A biker rode by and let out a long whistle. She smiled and closed the door. Another time she might have waved, but that could lead to unwanted attention from the rider. She slung her purse over her shoulder.

 

Catching her reflection in the glass door, she smiled. She couldn't help herself. It had been one of those days. When she opened the inner door Charley was hit by the sound of pinball, pool, glass, music and chatter. When she ducked down and entered the place went silent save for the pinball machines and the jukebox. It was a reaction she was used to. Standing over seven feet tall, Charley was used to being noticed.

 

Walking to the bar, the tender lifted his chin in greeting. “Hey, Charley. What will it be?”

 

Beer. Whatever you have on tap will do,” she answered.

 

Your booth has a bug in it.”

 

Charley smiled again. “I was expecting it. 'Shroom and Swiss burger with fries, please.”

 

Coming up,” he said, placing an over-sized beer mug on the counter. Charley took it and headed to the back.

 

Hey, Archie. How have you been?”

 

Archie waved. Charley noticed the bug zapper under the sleeve of the sweater he was wearing. “All good,” he said smiling. “You get all sexy'd up for me? And carrying a purse? What's happened to you?”

 

Charley grinned. “Do you realize how many years it has been since I've honestly been able to get all girly? I had one chance last year. This is the second time I've been able to this year.” She slid into the booth. “Chances don't seem to come as often as they used to. I missed it and I like it.”

 

You got the legs for it. Do I start calling you “Legs” now?” he teased.

 

Thanks. And if you do, I will hurt you.”

 

Ooh, gonna get me all excited with talk like that. Heard you been doing good.” Charley smiled. She fished a card out of her purse and slid it across the table. Archie looked at it. It was a medium blue, almost like denim, with a capital T in silver. “Serifs are a nice touch. I take it you're a full on member now?”

 

Nodding, Charley said, “Yeah. I guess I am. Why'd you want to meet, Arch?”

 

I've been doing a lot of thinking. About who I am. About where I am. About dreams I had. None of them included being a freak. I'm probably going away for a while. I've done some bad things in my life, but I'm not a bad man.”

 

What do you mean going away?” Charley asked.

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I don't have a lot of time, Archie. What's on your mind?”

 

I realize this goes beyond what you meant about paying me back, Mr. Scott, and I really appreciate you taking the time to see me. I want a lawyer.”

 

I see,” Jason said. “I can arrange one. What do you need one for?”

 

I don't need one. I want one.” Even without turning his head to look at her, Archie could see the Doctor smile. “I want to change my life. I can't do that without dealing with my past. I would much rather do it on my terms than having it forced on me. I plan on turning myself in. After that, I'll need a lawyer. I want one now to kinda get ahead of the situation.”

 

Archie watched Jason's eye shift from him to Dr. Tyler. Jason picked up his phone and pressed a button. “Get me Tom Abernathy and Trese, Sarah. My office.” He hung up. “Abernathy leads the legal team. He can decide who can best represent you once he knows what he needs to know. Kris, may I have a word in private?” Kris uncrossed her legs and stood up. She walked over to the window. “Archie, feel free to get a drink,” Jason said indicating a small bar. He met Kris by the window.

 

Turning to the bar, Archie could still see the two at the window. He gave them as much privacy as his eyesight allowed. At times like this he was glad he wasn't a lipreader. He opened the refrigerator under the bar to find it mostly stocked with water bottles and fruit juices. “Apple it is,” he said, pulling the bottle out.

 

The office door opened and a red haired woman stepped in. Archie stared. She returned his gaze with an amused smile. “You,” he finally said.

 

Me,” Trese said. “I understand that I have you to thank.”

 

I... I... It was nothing,” he finally got out.

 

Stepping closer, Trese said, “That isn't how I understand it.” Trese slipped her arms around Archie. For the longest time he stood there not knowing what to do with himself. Slowly, his arms folded around her and he held her close.

 

Apple juice is a bit chilly on my back,” she said.

 

Sorry.” He let her go.

 

I thought you'd be taller with all the heavy lifting you did,” Trese said.

 

I... I'm stronger than I look.” He flipped a glass over.

 

Trese smiled at him. “My undue attention is making you nervous. Pour me one, too.”

 

Archie flipped a second glass. “I'm not used to attention from women. Unless they're cops with guns pointed at me.”

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That's a big step,” Charley said. “What made you decide to take it?” Archie's gaze dropped to the table. Charley thought she saw him blush. “Kris got to you?”

 

Archie nodded. “Maybe someday I'll be worthy of saying her name,” he said quietly. “So, on my last night of freedom, I thought I'd sit down with one of the few women I thought would sit down with me.”

 

Archie...”

 

He waved it off. “Self-confidence has never been a strong point for me. If it was I wouldn't be the way I am.” A girl brought Charley's burger to her. “I'll have one of those,” Archie told her. “And bring me another,” he said, putting his bottle where she could easily get it.

 

Jason has kept his word?”

 

Nodding, Archie said, “Everything I've asked for he's delivered on. He seems an honorable sort, so I didn't push too hard. I've got a place to hole up. I try not to be seen coming and going. Kind of hard to hide myself with these eyes.”

 

How did you get them, anyway?”

 

Long story.” Charley dropped her chin, cocked her head, and raised an eyebrow. “Well, we did say we'd tell our stories at some point.” Charley nodded. “I'd been sixteen and running with a bad crowd. The guys got it in their heads to break into a place where they had done some kind of research. No one was really sure what...”

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...The hell they do with all this stuff?”

 

It's like a warehouse,” one boy answered.

 

That's because it is a warehouse, moron. We need to find out how they got stuff organized. That way we can find what'll be good for the taking.”

 

We shouldn't be in here,” Archie said.

 

Relax, Arch. They don't have security guards. We been scoping this place for weeks. Hey, Bobby! This one reads 'prototype'.”

 

Sure, Chad, but a prototype of what?” Bobby responded.

 

Andy, give me a hand and we'll pop it open,” Chad said. They popped the clasps and flipped the lid over. “What is it?”

 

Looks like some kind of armor,” Andy said.

 

Cool!” Chad rummaged in the crate. “Is this a blaster?”

 

Andy shoved it out of his face. “Don't go waving shit around that you got no idea what it is or how it works! Especially not in my face!”

 

Looking around, Archie asked, “Did you hear that?”

 

Ain't nothing to hear, Baldy,” Bobby responded with a much despised nickname. “We're the only ones in here. There's no security and no one home.”

 

A boy named Jer popped open another case. “Check this helmet out! It looks like a skull!”

 

Lemme see that,” Bobby ordered.

 

Up yours,” Jer said. “I found it.” He pulled it on his own head. “Cool.”

 

There was a clang in the distance followed by the sound of a pot lid spinning down before coming to a stop. “What was that?” Archie asked louder than he should have.

 

Quiet down!” Bobby ordered. Jer screamed and blood poured out from under the helmet. He fell to his knees. “Jesus.”

 

Archie ran. Something moved ahead of him. He yanked a door open and ducked inside. He was out of breath and shaking. He tried to calm himself. There was a whining sound coupled with a flash of light and screams. The whine and flash came again and again. Each time the screams lessened. Until finally there was silence.

 

In time, Archie stood and looked through the window on the door. The skull helmet looked back. “You will do.”

 

The door lock clicked. Machinery hummed. Archie turned and tentacles grabbed him, wrists and ankles. His clothing was cut away. The tentacles pulled him to an uprighted table with a body form that adapted to him. The table tilted downward until it was horizontal. Moving up from the base of his spine, needles made a series of injections. Archie screamed until he passed out from the pain.

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Jesus, Archie. Any idea whose lab it was?”

 

It was SciTech. The helmet Jer found belonged to one of Destroyer's robot minions.” He pushed a fry through ketchup.

 

Charley wiped her mouth with a napkin. “Arch, you are one of the bravest men I know or a damned fool.”

 

Why you say that?”

 

SciTech was David Wainwright's playground until Charles Scott yanked it out from under him.”

 

Yeah. I know that,” Archie said. “Now.”

 

Wainwright was also Destroyer.” Archie raised his head to look at her. “When he was ready for the big leagues he designed a new armor and took a new name. Warmonger. That tropic vacation we took last year was on his island.”

 

Below the implanted bug eyes, Archie's face registered shock. “I think I just wet myself.” He stared at his plate. “When I woke up I had these,” he pointed at his face. “There's a series of connectors on my back. Hookups for the wing shell.”

 

What happened with your playmates?”

 

Never saw them again. It was months before the machines were done with me. I woke up. All my gear was laid out on a table with instructions on how to hook it up. My costume was the only clothing in the room. I got dressed. Learned how the shell went on and how I got the wings to work. The zappers hook up to the shell. The wings help charge the energy cells.” Archie took a swig from his bottle. “Hardest thing was getting used to these,” he pointed at his face.

 

After I learned how to fly and became proficient with the zappers one day the door was open and I could just leave.”

 

Charley regarded Archie. “Zappers connect to the shell. You aren't wearing the shell, but you do have your zappers.”

 

Smirking, Archie said, “Would you come into a place like this unarmed?” Charley laughed. “Not fair. You're never really unarmed. The energy cells are in me. Not the wing shell. There's a direct connect for the zappers. Not sure I was supposed to be one of his soldiers or just an experiment or what,” Archie shrugged. “He's never come looking. Did some work for myself. Hired myself out to others. When... When I was offered a slot with the Guard I thought it might be somewhere I could belong. Wasn't a lot different than before. Just instead of belonging I turned into a belonging.”

 

What is it about Kris?” Charley asked.

 

Looking at his plate, lost in thought for a moment, Archie smiled. “She makes me want to be better.” Archie took a bite of his burger.

 

She does seem to have that effect.” Archie nodded in agreement.

 

So,” he said around his burger, “that's my origin story. What I know of it, anyway. What about you?”

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My girlfriend and I were between semesters. We took a road trip. Got to Vegas. Rachel saw an ad looking for dancers. Thought we'd give it a shot. Turned out that dancing was only part of the job. Dance, strip, escort, the works. All the girls that applied that had family connections failed the first interview. None of us knew that at the time.

 

So, there were eight of us that no one would miss that were all hired. Then we found out what the job actually was. One of the girls, I never knew her name, refused. There was a guy there next to our manager. He preferred that to pimp. The guy next to the manager pulled out a gun and shot her in the head right in front of all of us.

 

The manager told us we work or we die.”

 

Archie stared at Charley. “They couldn't have watched you all the time. When you were out working. Why not run then? Call the cops?”

 

When it got to work or die, each of us was injected with a locator. We would have to be far outside of Vegas not to be found. Or so we were told. As for calling the cops, the shooter was a cop. He made sure we all saw his badge when he holstered his gun. It makes you question if the cop you did call would be his buddy or just as bent.

 

We were in Vegas almost two years. Easy to lose track of time. Rachel and I held on to each other and the hope that we'd get free. One day all of the girls got called into the manager's office. We lined up and a man walked up and down. He considered each of us. Whatever his conditions of selection were, we never knew.

 

His first pass he pushed all the black women back. The really dark skinned ones, anyway. The second pass he was a bit more discriminant. Brunette there. Redhead next. One girl had mismatched eyes. He pushed her back. Rachel didn't make the cut.

 

By the time he was done there was three of us standing there. He told us to strip. One look at the manager and we did. Turn around. Pose like this. Walk over here. Do this. Do that.

 

When he was done he talked to he manager. What they said, I have no idea. He walked back over to us, looked us all over very carefully. He pointed at me and said, 'This one.' He looked at one of the other girls still standing there and said, 'Send this one to my room.'”

 

Charley took a drink and moved her plate out of her way. “I was told that I was being hired out for a long term contract. I was to dress professionally. Office professional. Not street-walker. The manager made it clear that Rachel was a hostage against my good behavior.”

 

The guy that picked you out, that was Bauer. Wasn't it?” Charley nodded.

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The next morning I was loaded into a van. I was lucky enough to get to see Rachel before I left. No one spoke to me. From the van we moved to an airplane. We spent several hours on the plane. When the plane landed I was hustled into a hangar. I was taken into an office suite and ordered to strip. There were three women with me. They measured me and took clothes off different racks. Blouses, suits, skirts, shoes, lingerie. They had me outfitted and several suitcases packed.

 

The cases were taken and loaded on another plane. I was ushered along.” Charlie raised her nearly empty mug and got a server's attention. “That flight was a lot longer. Wherever we landed, it was hot and dry with sand blowing.” The server brought her another mug. “Thanks.”

 

Archie watched Charley, trying to find any clues in her expression. “Everything was transferred to a black Hummer with the Nova Research logo on it. Spent a couple hours in that watching the landscape when you could see through the blowing sand. Altogether the trip from Vegas to wherever was about 3 days.”

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Charley drank. “Part of me wonders...”

 

Wonders what?”

 

Archie shrugged. “I don't want to get ahead of your tale.”

 

The building was luxurious. We pulled into the roundabout and...”

 

* * * * *

This is where you get out.” The first time anyone had spoken to her since they had left Vegas. One of the other passengers opened the door and held it for her. He even went so far as to offer her his hand. She was escorted into the building.

 

Miss Bascomb, come with me, please.” The woman was of middling height. Her hair was severely pulled back. She wore black except for the white dress blouse. Suit, heels, skirt, and sheer hose. All were black. Even the frames of her narrow glasses were black. A silver lapel pin of the Nova Research logo was the only piece of jewelry Charley saw.

 

The woman led her to an elevator. She pushed the button for the twelfth floor. They rode up in silence. When the doors opened, the woman stepped out. She didn't look back to see if Charley followed.

 

A door was opened. The woman stepped back and indicated that Charley should precede her. It was a richly appointed apartment. “This is your sitting room. A television is in this cabinet,” she opened it, revealing the screen. She closed it. “There is a large selection of movies you can call up.”

 

She headed to a door and pushed it open. “This is your bedroom. Your clothes will be brought up shortly. They will be put away for you. Through there is the bathroom. There are no phones in your room. I am the only one aside from the maid allowed entry. Any questions?”

 

Charley looked at her. “What do I call you?”

 

My name is Amanda.”

 

Am I a prisoner, Amanda?”

 

Amanda stared pointedly at her for a moment. “Will there be anything else?”

 

I guess not.”

 

I will return for you in ninety-three minutes. Clean yourself up. Be dressed.” Amanda turned towards the door.

 

And what if I don't?”

 

Then you will be washed and dressed as if you were a child, Miss Bascomb.”

 

After Amanda departed, Charley checked the door and was surprised to find it unlocked. But where would she go? Rachel was still being held a hostage. She was several hours from wherever the plane landed. And she had no idea what continent she was on.

 

She explored her rooms, seeing what was in the closet (empty) and the drawers (equally empty). There was no clock she could see. Charley started stripping. Tossing her clothes on the floor on her way into the bathroom.

 

Faced with the choice of a deep tub or a multi-head shower, Charley opted for the shower. The falling water hid her tears.

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When she was done, the clothes she had scattered were gone and she found the dresser and closet had been filled. She opted for a simple skirt and blouse combo with tan hose. Her makeup she did demurely. Light, natural tones. The shoes she chose were modest heels.

 

Amanda retrieved her and led her to the penthouse.

 

Ah, Miss Bascomb. A pleasure to meet you finally. May I call you Charlemagne?” Charley nodded. “Interesting name. How did you come by it?” His full head and facial hair were white. There were a few lines around his eyes. What belied his age were his hands.

 

My father was a history buff.”

 

That will be all, Amanda.” Amanda retreated. “Please, have a seat. I would seat you myself, but as you can see,” he said indicating his wheelchair.

 

It's alright,” Charley said slipping into a seat.

 

Dinner will be served shortly. I suppose you are wondering who I am?” Charley nodded. “I am Ulysses Madacar. This,” he lifted his hands expansively, “is the heart of my kingdom.” He signaled to a server to pour wine.

 

Am I a prisoner?”

 

Unfortunately, yes.” He waved the server off. “But you don't have to be.” That piqued Charley's curiosity. “Do you have any interest in power, Charlemagne?” He lifted his wine glass, swirled it, and took in the bouquet. “Your namesake forged an empire in Europe. I offer you the power to never be a victim again.”

 

What kind of power?”

 

Ulysses smiled. “I will have a dossier on the project delivered to you so you may read it. What we plan. How we expect to carry it out.”

 

Charley reached for her own glass. “Why negotiate with me if I'm your prisoner?”

 

Ulysses smiled wider. “I am a businessman. I made a deal with a man. Someone would be brought to me to undergo a change. That person is you. You are not my prisoner.”

 

Why me?”

 

You would have to ask that other man, I'm afraid. I was not made privy to his reasons.” Ulysses drank. “Ah, dinner comes.” A server pushed a trolley up to the table. He lifted covered dishes off and set them before each. He removed the lids and retreated. Steak made Charley's stomach rumble.

 

How do I know you're telling the truth?”

 

Cutting into his own steak, Ulysses said, “I will not lie to you, Charlemagne. I have little reason to. Once you read the project file, I hope that you will be completely willing to participate.”

 

Charley toyed with her fork. “Before I agree to anything, there's something I want,” she said.

 

If I can.”

 

There's another girl where you got me. Her name is Rachel Adams. Bring her here and I will do whatever you want.”

 

Ulysses smiled. He made Charley think he was someone's grandfather. “I will see what I can do.”

 

Their meal passed with friendly conversation.

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You had dinner with him?”

 

Several times during my stay. I don't get what the big deal is. I've had dinner cooked for me by Jason Scott, too.”

 

Wow.”

 

Charley grinned. “That's the best you can do?”

 

With a mouthful of burger, Archie said, “Well, excuse me that I don't sit at dinner with the rich and powerful!”

 

I'm sitting right here,” Charley bantered back.

 

You're rich?”

 

No, but I could be if I wanted to be. Rob a bank here. Rob a crooked cop there.” Charley waved it off. “Anyway, I read through the file. It was intriguing, to say the least. We were into the second week of the process when...”

 

* * * * *

Ulysses wheeled himself into the lab. “Status!”

 

Systems are nominal. So far she's stable. We're unsure what caused the growth, but it seems to be continuing. We don't know how big she'll be by the time we're done,” a scientist answered.

 

Is there anything that will need any of your attentions in the next fifteen minutes?”

 

No, sir. Only if there's a failure of some type. I don't expect any with the built in redundancies.”

 

Nodding, Ulysses said, “Then everyone out. Now.” The scientists and attendant technicians filed for the doors. He wheeled himself in front of the tank that held Charley. From a compartment in his chair, he took out an earpiece and put it in place. “Charlemagne, can you hear me?” She nodded. “Good. I have some bad news for you, girl. I cannot complete our agreement. Your friend in dead. From what my people tell me, she died of a heroin overdose. They are digging deeper. Do you want them to take any actions on your behalf?” Charley shook her head violently. “Don't hurt yourself, my dear. We will continue. When you are done you can seek your vengeance.”

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