Manning paced in the
waiting area ignoring the comfortable leather chairs and sofa. He
and again at the flat display monitor that cast dim reflections at him.
shadow of his smooth face was trapped therein, his square jawed
recognizable, even handsome by most standards.
He hated it.
He hated the soft vulnerable skin that covered his all too inefficient tendons and weak, merely mortal, musculature. Sylvester loathed the all too fragile bone and marrow that went deeper still. Still, at least there was no hair. God, how he hated the hair; it jutted forth anew each day, a testament to mammalian primitive nature.
That’s why he shaved it off; All of it.
From his bald pate to his feet, he’d done his level best to remove the itchy stuff. The products he’d paid for had helped, but not enough. He had considered follicle surgery, but … if this worked, that would be redundant.
Then the monitor flicked on.
An image, hardly a precise one shifting in dots and electronic after effects, formed on the screen.
“It’s about #$#$ing time!” Sylvester cursed at the monitor.
A woman’s voice, crystalline and honed in a fashion only decades of expertise could bring replied, “If you continue to curse, Mr. Manning, it will be much longer. Shall I wait until you can compose yourself?”
“No, Godda…” He caught himself, once, he could have done as he pleased, to whom he pleased, and few would have the power to stop him. Once he could have punched his spikes through oh too soft flesh, and torn it like the meat it was. That was then, this was now. He was merely mortal, and he was petitioning a higher power to ascend Olympus again. Well, that and he wanted to kill things, screw the metaphors.
“No,” He bit down on his anger, “I’m paying good money. Can you do it?”
On the other side of the screen, she sat, perhaps just a room away, perhaps miles. The woman steepled her fingers in silent contemplation of the request. The man had been a brutal killer, seeking to live up to his name and yes, even surpass it. He was clearly mad, his level of Darwinist psychosis was the stuff fiction thrillers were made of. Still, if he was a killer, he’d been a successful one. The funds he’d offered were considerable. Besides, it never hurt to have a contact and even mad dogs could be useful…if one had the wit to install the right fences. Besides, her operations needed the cash.
“Yes,” She replied to her client, who now was rubbing at his wrist as if his own skin was an irritant, most likely, to him it was, “I can make you Manslaughter again, Mr. Manning. It will be painful, and will take some time, but I can assure you, you will be just as deadly as before, more so in fact. Are you sure you don’t wish to look more human on the outside? It might make your work easier.”
Sylvester had to stifle a bark of a laugh, “Are you crazy?” His eyes darted constantly, as if trying to compensate for the limited spectrum they could perceive now. “Lady, I’ve had it up to here with being one, why would you think I’d even want to PRETEND to be one? Give me the steel, give me the plastic, and give me the upgrade. Make me Manslaughter, not some pansy norm look alike.”
“As you wish,” Necessity nodded, any expression she wore blurred to him by the screen, “As for your other request, I’m sorry, but our initial tests show nothing.”
Sylvester hit the wall with a balled up fist hard, no longer caring if he broke a bone or not. He was about to get improved anyways. Break it down, break it all down.
“I’m NOT imagining it! There’s the music… in my head!” He snarled at the screen, “It plays over and over again. It took my metal, it still does sometimes. It sings how I should embrace my “a sneer curled across his lips, “humanity, it’s the music that made me THIS.”
“I don’t doubt you, “She lied, doubting the maniac very much indeed, “But there is no sign of it I can detect. You are clearly ‘normal’ again, “Physically, at any rate, she thought, “however, scans indicate no external source for music you claim to hear, or claim did this to you when you were in Ireland.”
Manning pressed his palm to his forehead, “Screw this… I don’t care if you believe it or not. Just help me drown it out. Let me hear the whirl of gears inside, the pulse of electricity in my arms… the sound of metal. That’ll drown it out. Steel White Noise…”
He was almost lost in the beauty of the thought.
Her response was simple, and indeed, almost a trademark “Necessity will provide.”
The process was slow, and thorough. Flesh was cut open, invaded, and quite often, simply removed. For a man obsessed with Progress, Manning seemed to have a touch of nostalgia regarding his choice of armaments and even appearance. He wanted the reinforced endo-skeleton. He wanted the spikes and razors ready for instant protrusion. He wanted his eyes capable of infrared perceptions, and he wanted to be strong. He wanted it all, and the only real change was he wanted it better.
So, true to her word, Necessity provided. Stronger plastics, tougher polymers, sharper metals, new conductive neuron grafts; all were installed under her personal direction. It didn’t matter that he was an oaf, or a killer. This was her work, and she took pride in that always.
The work wasn’t done in a single day, of course. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and monsters are rarely made overnight. They sealed the patient in his cyrosleep, ready to pick up again on the morrow. His internal clock would soon let him know just how long he’d been out when he awoke after they were done.
“You realize he’ll kill again?” MOBIUS buzzed as Necessity removed her lab coat entering her private quarters.
“And salutations to you as well, MOBIUS.” She sardonically replied to the computer, “Yes, I am aware of that. Any other reports?”
The computer’s voice paused, perhaps the closest it could get to a sigh, then continued, “Rumors of Elite technology in Iceland seem to have come up empty.”
“I was afraid of as much.” She placed her coat up, leaving the closet to automatically shut when she turned from it.
“The computer searches on Purgatory technology have stopped.”
“Really? Did you ever trace it?” She allowed a small note of curiosity to escape.
“Negative,” MOBIUS sounded almost apologetic, “Too many reroutes.”
“Well, I hope that hacker is good. He and or she did not sense our own operations?”
“Unlikely. I estimate a 83.4% chance our own taps were undetected.”
“Mmm… so close, yet so far. I wouldn’t mind learning more myself.” She sighed, and touched a wall panel. It opened, and the coffee was ready.
“I can try a direct hack myself if you wish.” MOBIUS offered.
“Certainly not. The chances of it being reversed are too great.” She took her cup, and a seat, propping her feet up.
“Is Caffeine wise?” the Machine asked.
She shifted her eyes at the main console, “Carry on with the reports.” Then, she sipped her drink; her defiance of her overprotective program adding a slightly sweeter taste still to the beverage.
“The Superhero Bellaphon was defeated, and his antigrav sled stolen. No doubt, he will seek to reclaim it.”
She nodded, “See if we can get our hands on it first, pay the gentlemen who stole it handsomely, have my contacts in Houston get the specs, and then make contact with Bellaphon to return it. See if anything can be done to place him in our debt, finically or otherwise.”
“Affirmative, and already sending message.”
Excellent, a new customer, the design of a new product that would be at least different, if not as good as what she had now, and ties on this Belaphon fellow. “Continue,” She asked.
“SNAFU is still at large, but further study shows it increasingly unlikely they escaped on their own.”
“Very odd,” Necessity considered, “They’re hardly the most formidable force, really most useful as distraction or saboteurs.” She tapped the side of her mug as her eyes grew thoughtful, “Has Surge pursued them further?”
“FBI taps indicate he has made inquiry and been informed of their escape. Probability indicates a cover up.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” she said wryly.
“The two young ladies put in the reality show The Simple Life were originally scheduled for two months, but apparently could not tolerate the farm that long. The producers salvaged enough tape to put on the show anyways.”
“I beg your pardon?” She said, startled.
“I assumed you were unaware of that particular bit of data.” MOBIUS replied.
“You were… correct, but let’s leave that particular pit of cultural wasteland off our resource material.” She replied loftily. At times; she could swear MOBIUS had developed humor. She wasn’t sure if that was a progress, or a most unfortunate glitch.
“What of my own theories on Surge?” Necessity returned to the matters at hand.
“Recorded performance since the Ireland Incident does not concur with past levels of expertise. There is indication of slight upgrade in armor, but weaker levels of proficiency with it. More research required for certainty.”
“He’s not the same man.” Necessity stated calmly, more to herself than to her aide. “I am almost certain of it.”
“This data could be very worthwhile to the right purchaser.” MOBIUS declared.
“Yes.” She tapped her glass, “especially if further research confirms my…theory, on who the first one was.” An uncharacteristically troubled look crossed her features.
“Shall I calculate a price before we set up the auction for the information?” the machine intoned.
“No.” She shook her head, “Not yet. As you say, further research is required.” She sat her empty mug down, “Besides, I may not choose to sell this.”
“That is, of course, your prerogative.”
“Some things are necessary to keep to yourself. End Report and carry on.” She moved off to take a bath, perhaps oblivious that MOBIUS had not asked for the explanation she’d given.
The concrete broke between steel fingers like papier-mâché. The left arm swung backwards, and embedded the deadly spikes into the next target smoothly. The dust swung around Manslaughter, and he smiled for the first time in a long time. Of course, it was the first time he’d allowed himself to do so since Ireland. The damnable white peals that had been restored were all too human, but his steel incisors were a sign of distinction for him.
“Damn lady.” He spoke to the monitor, “You do good work.”
“So glad you approve, Mr. Manning.” The blurred image replied.
“Manslaughter!!” He snapped, now that he was steel, now that he was polymer, now that he felt real again; he never wanted to hear that name again.
“Very well, Manslaughter.” She appeased him, “Your funds have been put into my own private account, and you’ll find everything as it was, with a few extra options. I do hope the laser proves useful. My assistant will see you out.”
Manslaughter eyed the portly gentleman who seemed ready to escort him. “One last test.” His grey grin returned, wider this time. He pointed his arm at the hapless man, “Flesh is fragile, but it is what I hit most…”
The target’s eyes widened as well. His fear, and the feel of power running through him was more arousing to Manslaughter than any woman’s touch could ever be.
Then it was gone. The energy, the power; the same metals and plastics that allowed him to rise above fleshy mortality now bore Manslaughter down to the earth by their weight. He could not move his limbs, and his words escaped heavily with effort, “What the #$#$?”
Necessity’s response was cutting, “I said our business was concluded, Mr. Manslaughter. My assistants are under my protection, and as you can see, I have ways of making sure my work is not used against my own, or myself. You will comport yourself with a bit more dignity as a customer if you wish to walk out of here on your own power. Or shall I remove what has been given, and return most of your assets to you… minus of course, labor fees?”
Manslaughter cursed, damn the bitch. Damn her to hell. If he ever got his hands on her… but he knew that she might just do it. She might take it all away. “Fine. You win. I can kill any fleshbag I want once I get outside in the world, what’s one fat techie to me?”
“Much better, Mr. Manslaughter,” Necessity said, “Mr. Tomson will escort you now.”
The nervous looking man recovered his courage, and did just that.
“He’s gone, Mr. Tomson?” She asked, watching his face through the screen. To his credit, Mr. Tomson had handled the moment with professionalism. She made a note of that.
“Yes, Ma’am,” The technician answered, “We can track him at anytime with the GPS if need be.” He wiped his brow, “Thank you.”
“For what, Mr. Tomson? Saving you? I’m called Necessity for a reason, Mr. Tomson. I can’t very well let my customers get away with killing my valued employees. You shall find a bonus for your troubles in your next payment. If there is nothing else?”
Tomson smiled, but stopped himself from saying thanks again, and shook his head, “No, Necessity. Nothing beyond the tasks you’ve already assigned. I’ll get to work on the recon drones right away.”
“Good. Necessity out.”
The contact was broken, and Necessity turned to the other monitors before her. Monitors chiefly filled with taped footage of a blue and gold armored figure. Old and new, with options that would make most intelligence services green with envy; the various analysis programs were ready to run and compare.
There was one low tech item, a rather plain bit of newspaper clipped…. It was hardly new, going back months ago.She never did care for obituaries.