It’s been almost three years since I became aware of my role in the world, since I officially died in a bank bobbing in Detroit, since I began the Mission. In those three years, I’ve helped maybe a dozen mutants, lost twenty-three that I know of to DARWIN, and seen dozens of flats die in the process.
Flats. Even I’m starting to call base-line humans by the derogatory term. Maybe I’ve spent too much time alone in my studies, too much time hunting for more of my kind. But it can’t be helped.
Tonight I have two more sleeping in my hideout, two mutants that I was able to get to before DARWIN was able to.
Well, one that is a definite positive. The other… I’m not so sure about. He exhibits the abilities of someone with the mutated genes, but he claims he’s something else. And, even more strangely, I didn’t find him. He found me.
But I should go back to the beginning, to yesterday afternoon, when I met with one of my contacts, Doctor Miller, a good man who did work for the CDC in tracking down Plague victims, and cataloging their symptoms.
Miller knew he wasn’t really doing any good, that he was just copying down names, examining genetic code and forwarding his results further up the line, which is why he made contact with me. I had put out my name in the underground, small though it was, as someone who helped people with unusual abilities, or people with symptoms of the Plague, and somehow that reputation made it to Miller.
Miller called me in, and gave me a name. Mark Strong. He didn’t have anything more than an address for him, and I agreed to look into it. I turned, and with a word of thanks, left his office.
I had taken no more than three steps when I was thrown from my feet by a blast and propelled into the side of a parked car. Pain lanced through my side as the metal crumpled around me. I looked up at the office, and saw that there was a hole in the side of the building, flame forming a perfect outline of Miller’s office. I dashed inside, through the flames and out to the waiting room. Fortunately, it had been largely empty, and the injuries seemed to be largely light burns.
I rushed past, grabbed a fire extinguisher, and proceeded to lay down a wall of foam, keeping the flames at bay until the injured could get out of the room. As soon as they were safe, I dropped the extinguisher, and as I made my way out, I noticed a drawer on his desk was ajar, and inside was a stack of files. The same files that he had given me Strong’s name from.
Feeling only slightly guilty, I grabbed the files and fled the scene. Shortly after, I made my way to my nearest hideout, a simple apartment in a low rent tenement.
By this point I knew that DARWIN was on the move. The explosion was far too precise in killing only Dr. Miller for it to be an accident, and the timing with me leaving the scene was no coincidence. The killer didn’t want me dead, they wanted me as witness, or maybe…
But I didn’t have time to chase down theories. This Strong guy was no doubt being targeted now, and I needed all the intel I could get before bringing him in. So I flipped open the files, and began to pour through the information. Most of it was useless to me, various other cases that simply seemed to be high priority, or maybe collected because he was supposed to be dealing with them today. It wasn’t until I had gotten to one GLASS, ELTON that I found something interesting.
Male, single, late-twenties… and positive for the Gene Plague. Why hadn’t Miller given me this name as well? I looked through the file more carefully, and found something that really caught my eye. “Mark Strong” scribbled in the margins of one of the pages. I dropped the file, headed to a computer, and ran a few cursory searches. I looked up anything relating to Mark Strong, Elton Glass, and both of them, but very little came up. Nothing for Mark Strong at the address I had been given turned up, while Elton Glass just seemed to be a construction worker that worked in Manhattan.
I called Glass’ employer, found what site he was working at, and grabbed a taxi.
And this was my first conundrum: should I track down Strong first, going to an address that very well might have been a complete fiction to begin with, or find Glass, who was probably being watched already. I cursed, and made the choice. Glass would have to wait an additional hour or so, Strong was the target I was given, and if it was a trap it was better if I tripped it on my own, rather than with some guy that wasn’t even aware of his powers yet tagging along.
I checked out Strong’s supposed apartment, talked to the neighbors, and the apartment building’s management only to discover that the room had been empty for some time now, and nobody named Strong had ever lived there. A dead end, but not a trap. So I had taken the bait, and lost time tracking down a false lead. Without wasting any more time, I got back in the taxi and headed to the construction site that Glass was working at.
The work day had finished by the time I arrived, and I almost missed the construction crew heading across the street from the site and into a local tavern. This was no time to rush in and spook the guy, so I took my time and followed them in, finding a spot close enough to listen in on their conversation, keeping an ear open for Glass’ name.
I’ve been doing this for a while now, and in the years since I had started tracking down Mutants I like to think I had gotten pretty good at remaining inconspicuous, despite my size. This Glass guy, though, spotted me right away. Not ten minutes had passed before he decided he needed to get home, and excused himself from the group. As he left I sighed, payed the bartender, and followed after him.
Again, he was better than me, and despite my best efforts knew I was on his tail. I almost lost him when he ducked into an alleyway after rounding a corner. I knew that I was spotted, and decided to just bite the bullet. I followed him, slowly, into the alleyway.
“What do you want?” he asked, quickly sizing me up to see whether I was a threat or not. He was a good head shorter than me, but that still put him at six two or so, and had an athletic build. I figured I was stronger than him even in without shifting forms, but he seemed to naturally stay on the balls of his feet, perfectly balanced at all times. He looked like he knew how to fight.
“Elton Glass, we need to talk. If it makes you feel better, let’s go somewhere public. I’ll buy you a drink.”
He hesitated, but to my surprised he nodded and motioned for me to lead the way. A minute later we were sitting at a table in a surprisingly nice bar, the waitress leaving two drinks on the table.
“So what’s this all about? Who are you?” Glass began as soon as the girl was out of hearing range.
“First off, my name is Roger Armstrong. To answer your first question… well, let me answer with a question of my own.
Would you consider your life up to this point as one that could be considered as ‘normal’? Or have you been plagued by odd things happening, either tragic or simply strange?"
Glass paused, and seemed to drift off for a moment. “I guess that would depend on what you would call a ‘normal’ childhood.”
“You last saw a doctor on January 12 of this year. At that appointment, they took a blood sample. As has become common practice in the last several years, they ran the sample through a gauntlet of tests, looking for everything from cancer to specific genetic markers. Markers such as a mutation, a mutation that, according to the CDC, is caused by the Gene Plague,” I paused, and let him take that in. “You, Mr. Glass, tested positive for the Plague.”
“Wait, just wait a second. You’re saying I have a Plague?” he replied, incredulous.
“That’s what the CDC is saying. What I’M saying is that you have a mutation in your genetic code, a mutation that has unlocked some sort of… special ability, something that normal people can’t do.” I leaned forward. “I’m saying that you’re a Mutant, just like me.”
Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a bum, his forehead pressed against the glass of the bar’s front window. He stared in, eyes searching left and right. Then, the lights suddenly went out. Only for a second, but when they came back on there he was, standing at the table next to us.
“Roger Armstrong?” he asked, eyeing both of us, his eyes wild with anticipation.
“Who are you?” I asked, trying to mask the surprise in my voice.
“Roger Armstrong! Good, good. I’m here to help you… or, maybe I need your help,” he trailed off, his gaze wandering before snapping back to me. “I’ve been sent to you, and can help.”
I eyed him carefully. The outfit didn’t look like a costume, the dirt was too engrained in his clothing, the clothing was too worn, his hands too callused. Though, now that I looked, the clothes looked… out of place here, somehow. Like he was from a different climate.
“Sit down, have a drink,” I said, finally. After he sat, I continued. “Who are you, and how do you know my name?”
“I’m not important, but this whole thing is very important,” he smiled, and began to sip at my beer. “I am on a mission, one from the very mother of the Earth…” he began, but Glass suddenly perked up.
I looked at him, then heard it myself. Sirens. A lot of them. “I think they’re headed this way. Coming from all directions,” Glass said, his head tilted slightly, listening carefully. I could hear sirens, but that was all I could gain from the sound.
I looked at Glass, and nodded. Enhanced hearing, perhaps all of his senses were enhanced. Interesting.
“Let’s go,” I said, and grabbed the homeless man by the arm, dragging him behind me after leaving a generous tip on the table.
“Wait, the cops are after you?” Glass asked, taking a last gulp of his drink and hurrying after.
“Not as far as I know, but something’s not right. Too much of a coincidence for them to be heading here while I’m meeting with you.” I looked at the bum, accusations coming to mind, but I quickly dismissed them. He looked crazy, and why speak to us if was just leading the cops to us? It wouldn’t delay us, if anything it almost caused me to leave.
“Don’t worry!” he cried, laughing a bit to himself. “I will take care of myself! Be careful, Roger!” and with a burst of glass and a sudden static shock, he disappeared in a flash. I looked up, and saw that the street lamp above me had exploded. Teleportation via electric fields? More questions.
“My apartment’s nearby,” Glass shouted to me as he ducked into an alleyway. I followed suit, and no sooner had I passed into the alley than almost a dozen police cruisers screamed past, lights flashing. That is, all but one flashed past. The last one seemed to have spotted me, screeching to a halt and then turning into the alley.
“Halt! You there!” a voice came from over a loudspeaker. I ducked into a doorway, and somehow hid myself in the shadows there. The cruiser slowly pulled forward, and Glass casually walked up to the window.
“Problem, officers?” he asked, his hands in his coat pocket.
“We’re looking for a large man, about six five or so, same build as the guy you were walking with,” the officer said, showing what looked like a photograph to Glass.
Glass took the picture, shook his head, and handed it back. “Kind of looks like him, but to be honest I didn’t actually know the guy. He was actually asking me for cash for a taxi. Sorry, officer.”
The policeman looked at him, then shone a light down the alleyway. “Alright, but be careful. He’s wanted for questioning in a possible terrorist bombing.”
“Of course, officers. Thanks.” He said, and continued back down the alley.
As soon as the cruiser made its way out of the alley, I joined Glass and thanked him. “What was the picture?”
“Looked like a picture of you in front of a burning building,” he said, accusation in his eyes for a moment before he turned back to the street. “That the bombing you were talking about earlier?”
I sighed. “Yeah, Dr. Miller’s office. Damn, it must’ve been a frame job. I didn’t even think about that.”
“Yeah, well, sounds like they’ve got half the precinct out looking for you,” he said, and picked up the pace. “C’mon, we’re almost there. I want to at least change out of my work gear before I’m arrested as an accomplice or something.”
We made it to his apartment, and almost immediately Glass noticed things were wrong. He began to comb through his possessions, anxious.
“I think I’ve been robbed,” he said, outraged. I looked around, and followed him.
“It doesn’t look ransacked…” I said, then realization hit me. “Wait, has anything actually been taken?”
“Not that I can find yet…” he stopped, his gaze on an envelope laying on the center of his bed. “What’s this?” He picked it up, and pulled a letter out. “Weird.”
I snatched the note from him, and my dread became fully realized. At the bottom of the letter was an embossed “D”, for DARWIN. I read the letter again. He wanted Glass to meet him, leaving a phone number and an address. I handed it back to Glass, and began to pace.
“What? Who’s ‘D’?” he asked, confused.
“We need to get out of here. Get your stuff, we have to leave.”
He paused, unsure, then nodded. “Yeah, alright, whatever. Let me shower and change real quick then we can go.”
I almost protested, but another two minutes or so wouldn’t make too much of a difference. So I agreed, then walked into his living room.
I didn’t know it at the time, but in the hallway a man in black combat gear was preparing to knock down the door to Glass’ apartment. That was the exact moment that our homeless friend decided to materialize, and asked the soldier for my location.
Not surprisingly, the soldier answered by attacking the man.
Through the door, I heard a crash and the breaking of wood as what sounded like a body struck the floor. I rushed to the door and threw it open.
The man in black, armed with an array of grenades, pistols, and a submachine gun, was throwing the homeless man from before into the floor.
Before I could act, he reversed direction and threw an uppercut at me. I dodged, and threw my own punch. He weaved, and as my fist struck the carpeted floor he came up behind me, pulling a length of garrote wire from his sleeve and looped it around my neck.
Just barely I reached up and braced my arm in time for it to rip the skin of my forearm, and not my throat.
Just then, the homeless man with what I had theorized to have abilities based in electricity proved my theory by pointing at my combatant, and with a flash of lightning that stretched from his finger to the Man’s vest everything went to hell.
Instinctively I knew what had happened, and sprang into action. With a thought I transformed my body to pure organic steel, and without hesitating spun around and wrapped the soldier in a tight embrace. Before I had even completed the action the grenades on his bandolier exploded, flame and shrapnel rebounding from my own body and shredding him into flaming ribbons.
I had changed form not only to protect myself from harm, but to protect Glass’ neighbors. Unfortunately, to my great sorrow I had miscalculated, and had directed the blast downward. We crashed through the burning floor into the apartment below, and to my horror I saw two still forms, burnt and crushed under rubble.
Before I had even reached the ground I reverted to my much lighter form, to avoid crashing any farther and hurting more innocents.
I grunted with the impact, and threw the attacker off of me. Before my eyes, his organic tissue, or what was left of it, melted into a black sludge.
“His DNA actually unraveled,” I thought, astounded. But there wasn’t time to investigate further. “Glass! Stranger! We have to get out of here before others show up!” I shouted into the hole over my head. A confused and horrified Elton Glass peeked over the edge, nodded, and disappeared.
That brings us to where I sit now. One of my safe houses, where the three of us sat and tried to wrap our heads around the day’s events.
It wasn’t easy. I explained my past, my Mission, and my battle against DARWIN. The stranger revealed his name to be Woedin, and began to rant about his possible origins as somewhere besides Earth. It was confusing, and deserves an entry of its own, suffice to say that I believe him to be slightly mad, though well intentioned.
Though madness does not explain how he knew of me, or how he found me. Again, that is a mystery for another day.
Tonight we rest, recuperate, and plan. Tomorrow, well, I don’t know what it could bring, but I can only hope that it brings me on step closer to shutting DARWIN down.