Bargain Basement
by Brad Patten and Paul Cocker


Tween awoke, his memory ensconced with images of hellfire, his ears still panging from the explosion. He tried to sit up, but the pain was a bit too much. He looked at his confines - a barren cell of stainless steel, with a single cot and a two-way mirror. He considered breaking the plexiglas mirror, but fatigue poisoned his every muscle. A florescent light bathed everything in a soft glow, and it only helped to relax him more.

Old Glory stood in the observation chamber with a few cookie-cutter specialists. He paid little attention to how they monitored and gauged their subject, his eyes piercing through the viewing panel.

"Subject: Tween," a doctor spoke into his palm recorder. "Observation on second day of incarceration. His physical improvements are quite marked. Study indicates that his physiology is biomechanical, a cellular make-up of nano-technology that saturates his entirety. Exterior is scaly and super-dense; interior is reinforced with a sort of skeletal chassis and organs are fed nanite-enriched blood. Hypothesis is that Subject: Tween is a symbiote, the hybrid synergy of a humanoid and advanced technology."

"Heart patterns are guiding him to human levels," another doctor said.

"That's because he is human," Old Glory remarked. "Trust me, he's about as alien as a Cuban refugee."

"We're going to follow another battery of tests, just to be certain," a third doctor offered.

Old Glory sighed. "Uh - no. I already know he pisses liquid microchips and burps out zeroes and ones. I want a face-to-face meeting with Tween."

"Should we call for security?" one of the doctors asked.

Old Glory smiled. "What, an egghead armed with a keyboard? Nah, I think I can handle this myself."

With that, the veteran patriot marched out of the chamber, and the faint sound of Tween's cell hissed open moments later.

The opening of the door startled Tween awake. He sent a mental command to Wedge to transport him, but there was no reply. His body still bruised and battered, he rolled over on the cot to see who was going to annoy him. To his surprise it was Old Glory himself. Tween tried to get up but, again, the pain was a too much.

"Did it work?" was all Tween could say, and it came out more as a pathetic croak than words.

"If your plan was to turn an entire city block into a blast furnace - yeah," Old Glory replied. "We're still sifting through the burning ashes looking for evidence of that suit's technology."

Tween made a note not to blow up gas trucks in the near future. Sure, the front row seat was spectacular, and would be a warm fuzzy memory for years to come. He chuckled at his brash tactics. There was no point beating himself up, especially since the result of his actions already did that for him. Taking in a gentle breath helped alleviate some of the pain that constantly jabbed his sides.

"Where am I?" Tween intoned as he got his bearings. This time he managed to sit up by using his antigravity power.

"Well, I'm not St. Peter and this isn't Heaven," Old Glory said flatly. "So, tell me, who do you work for?"

"Huh, what do you mean who do I work for? I don't work for anyone." Tween knew that Old Glory was sometimes bad-mouthed in the press as a senile old man, but this, this was downright funny. The truth was Tween had been on disability since his accident at home. "Who do you work for? And where the hell am I?"

"I work for Uncle Sam and you're currently in a holding cell," Old Glory answered. "You see, this is what generally happens to people who steal federally protected fissionables from a very powerful energy firm. Make it easy on yourself - who do you work for?"

"I don't work for anyone," Tween insisted. "Fissionables? What are you talking about?"

Old Glory's gaze was stone. "I have several incident reports from a Powerdyne security crew stating that a meta stole uranium rods from their convoy. I have surveillance feeds that place you at this incident. Under the Special Crimes Law that makes you an armed robber. So, I'll ask my question again: who do you working for?"

"No one. What part of 'no one' don't you understand? Because I can explain it in even smaller words, if you want." Tween was beginning to question if it was a good idea to goad America's premiere super-soldier. Old Glory stood tall, his body as imposing as a tactical nuke. But for some odd reason Tween thought that a merciless tragedy filtered through the war veteran, like an NFL quarterback who wouldn't retire long past his prime, a man who survived a life that was beyond his control.

"Fine, I'll take that as your answer," Old Glory replied. "Didn't peg the Powerdyne hit as a lone-wolf operation, that's all. It's just that a job like that would have to take some serious intelligence or some serious insanity. And I'm starting to doubt your intelligence, Bubba."

There was a short pause, a flash of anger went through Tween. He would get Old Glory for that remark. Tween then thought back to the fight. "Who was that other guy that looked just like you?"

"It was a guy that looked like me," Old Glory deadpanned.

"Why did he attack me?"

"I have no idea."

Tween shifted and put his feet on the floor, then leaned against the wall. The pain in his fingertips let him know he was touching the wall. "So, am I free to go?"

"Oh, we're the class clown now? - sit down!" Old Glory piped.

Tween sat down. "Ow. Did the truck driver get far enough away? Was anyone injured? Besides myself, that is."

"Lucky for you, no one else was injured. But you're still looking at a laundry list of crimes."

Old Glory flipped Tween a quarter. He looked at the peculiar being. Beneath the reptilian black hide, behind the glowing eyes and static electrical aura, he knew sat a human man.

"You might want to phone home," the super-soldier said. "You know, let your loved ones know you won't be seeing them again."

Tween looked over the door and the mirrored glass. If only he could contact Wedge, he wouldn't be in this predicament. But for the moment he had to either stall or play stupid. Eventually Wedge would find him, he hoped.

"Uh huh, I don't see a phone around here? Besides, where am I going, Mr. Glory?"

Old Glory smiled. "A little place called Purgatory."

"You obviously know more about what's going on than I do. How about you tell me what's going on?" Tween said completely deadpan.

"Fine." Old Glory's expression still seemed cast in granite "You can play the moron if you want - that's your God-given right. But it's not gonna help you any. So, you better think about the situation you're in right now. Armed robbery, vandalism, criminal negligence - you're looking at serious time here."

"As opposed to what, play time? So you're going to blame the mailbox your carbon copy squashed on me. I see how it is - blame me, it's easier. Typical government conspiracy, easier to blame someone when shit happens than figure out what the deal is or was." Tween crossed his arms over his chest.

"I've got you all wrong, have I?" Old Glory said wryly. "You want to conjure up fairy-tales - fine by me. You want to evade the fact that you stole uranium - again, fine by me. You might be some smart-ass jacked up on cybernetics right now. But pretty soon you'll just be another bare bum in the jailhouse shower."

"Shows how much you know," Tween said. "Cybernetics augment - nanotech infuses."

"Semantics." Old Glory sighed. "You'll have lots of time explaining the difference when you're getting sodomized by some beefed-up con with a mutant dick."

Tween laughed, his synthesized voice making it echo somewhat. "So when does the bus leave?"

"In due time," Old Glory said without flinching. "Oh, and if you think you're gonna pull the vanishing act you did at the Powerdyne hit - think again. You're a mile underground, in a facility that's layered in six feet of concrete and three feet of galvanized steel, and your particular cell is shielded by a displacement field. It was nice talking to you, Tween. Maybe your family will read about you in the funny papers."

Old Glory started walking towards the cell's door.

"So for sake of argument, let's say I did take the uranium," Tween offers. "What's the big deal? It's not like they were going to use it. Just drop it in a hole in the ground and forget about it. It's also not like it was weapons grade."

Old Glory returned his attention to Tween. "Go on," he said.

"I love how you assume that I'm working for someone, like one person couldn't do everything I've done," Tween continued. "Seems to me you're covering up something about the incident with your double. Either that, or you're too stupid to explain it."

Old Glory studied Tween, lines forming at his brow and eyes. "First off, I don't have to explain anything to you. Second, what's 'stupid' is a ball-breaker like you trying to justify the armed robbery of uranium. You broke and entered, you stole property that didn't belong to you - it's that cut and dried." Old Glory shook his head. "I'm starting to think there's a child beneath all that micro-machinery. It would definitely explain why you're being ridiculous."

The super-soldier turned and faced the door, and it hissed open. Without even looking at Tween, he added, "It's too bad, kid. If you played your cards right, we could've arranged some kind of deal."

Tween laughed a deep laugh. "I don't have to justify anything to you or your noble sense of morality. I did what I did, what I had to do. Sure, I took the uranium, it's being used for something better than sitting in a hole - at least I hope it is. I have no idea what happened since your double decided I was a blasting target. Go ahead, play your coy games, you seem to think you have all the answers." Tween relaxed back onto the cot.

Old Glory laughed in return. "My noble sense of morality? You're not ridiculous - you're delirious."

The cell door hissed closed and Old Glory was gone. Delirious or not, Tween thought the room grew dimmer and colder upon the veteran hero's exit.

******

"I say we let the prick stew." Old Glory's smile was unnerving.

General Gardner shook his head. He seemed handsome enough, with wiry gray hair and a tanned face. His most striking feature was his blue eyes, which were right now studying the reports on Tween.

"It seems," Gardner started. "It seems we're not dealing with a simple metahuman criminal here."

"We're looking at a simple idealist," Old Glory replied. "Think about it. He wants to know more about the Potemkin incident, an incident that he only became involved in by sheer coincidence. He even risked his life to stop that rampaging power-suit. He also admitted that he stole the spent uranium, then tried to justify it with some kind of Green Peace slant. We're looking at a guy that probably doesn't have that much of a love life. It would explain his hyper-sensitive need to feel important."

The general pursed his lips. "Then let's make him feel important. We need access to his teleportation capabilities and maybe even his nano-tech."

Old Glory nodded. "Let's have him cooped up a bit longer. The solitary confinement will help him reevaluate things."

******

Tween sat in the slightly darkened blue room. He reviewed the dialog with Old Glory. Perhaps it had been the discomfort of the wounds, or the unfamiliar surroundings, but it was apparent that his conversation didn't go as well as it could have.

The nanotech that coated Tween's body concealed his watch, but it did nothing to muffle the chimes from it. His watch alarm went off every hour; he realized he had been cooped up for almost a full day before Old Glory came back in.

"Are you ready to tell me who you're working for?" Old Glory asked again.

Tween, still on the cot, had not gotten up when Old Glory came in. "Look, I said before, I'm working for no one. You want to know if I took the fissionables - well, I did. If you're worried that I am planning or planned to use them in some type of weapon, that's not the case. I converted them into a useful power source. Not to long ago, I had an accident it left me crippled. I developed a number of technologies to repair that affliction."

Old Glory stared at Tween. "And this is supposed to explain your reckless actions. You're a danger to others, and that alone is enough to lock you up."

Tween slowly sat up with an audible sigh. "Yes, I can see where you would make that assessment. I supposed that if I have to trust anyone it would be you. You said yesterday that you had some kind of 'deal' in mind."

Old Glory smiled, his craggy features did little to make the expression comforting. "It seems Uncle Sam is in need of a few good men. You're a plucky sort, Tween, and we just might have use for that given our current state of affairs."

Tween listened to the short deal Old Glory proposed, Tween still wasn't convinced, but he had one request before accepting anything. "Fine, under one condition".

"You're in no position to dictate conditions"

"Its rather simple really, Leave my family out of this 'deal', I don't want my wife to know what has happened, other than I am working for the US government."

"No promises, but I'll see what can be arranged"Old Glory began to walk out of the cell. I'll be talking to you soon enough. Inwardly the super-soldier smiled. Indeed, he had Tween right where he wanted him.
 

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