12-10-2004

Words: 5766

Awakening

Where am I?

That light… it's so bright. I've seen that light before…

A bright white light – no, a ring of smaller lights. So bright that he had to squint. Except that he couldn't; his eyes were held open. A head intruded upon his field of vision, bemasked, a surgeon maybe.

"This one already had those impulses," a voice said clinically. "Very strong. No more than a little augmentation needed."

The head was joined by another. "What do you expect? This is the one we saved from death row."

"True." The heads disappeared. Then there was nothing but pain, and a voice screaming in the background.

What was that? A memory? Am I going crazy? What's happening to me?

Pain… where? My head. It's my head that's hurting. Is that my arm? It must be. It's holding my head. I think it's coming from my shoulder. It must be my arm… But… where am I?

Sit up. That's the first step. Am I lying down? So sit up. Good… I'm up. My head… the world is spinning. Breathe. Breathe. Calm. Calm. Just breathe. Wait for the world to stand still. Breathe. Good. Now where am I…? Look around – do I recognize this place?

Dirty streets, grimy buildings. Trash piled against the walls. A fire escape, wet and rusty. Slimy bricks, slimy pavement. No good. Could be any dank alley on any nameless street in any anonymous city in the country. In any of several countries. How do I know that? Do I travel a lot? What's going on?

Stop. Back up. I don't know where I am, but how did I get here? Do I know that, at least? No – if I don't know where I am, I don't know the how or why. Of course. So it's a mystery. Where I am, how I got here… who I am. Wait – who am I? What do I remember?

Blackness. Nothing. There's nothing there.

Oh, god… who am I?

A young man, tanned, with nondescript brown hair and skittish eyes of a similar color, scanning his surroundings warily, stepped onto the sidewalk. A dirty food wrapper stuck to his plain black shoe, and his clothes, a short-sleeved black shirt and similarly colored pants, were spotted and coated with the mix of melting city snow, old dirt, and garbage water that covered the alley floor. He could almost have been one of the countless shiftless mendicants that inhabited such places all over the city, country, and globe – except for his bearing. He held himself erect despite his apparent unfamiliarity with his situation, and his step was quick and sure. A guarded expression controlled his handsome features as he stepped out into the watery sunlight.

He scuffed his foot on the grimy pavement to dislodge the offending piece of trash, an expression of mild distaste apparent on his face. The chill breeze blew it away, skipping merrily down the sidewalk. Despite his coatlessness and thin shirt, the man seemed unfazed by the cold. His eyes darted around his without moving his head, taking in his surroundings completely with one sweeping glance. His expression of wary apprehension showed no change.

A stray newspaper page tried to flutter past him, but he halted it with a decisive downward step. His expression still blank, he bent at the knees to pick it up. 'FOUR HUNDRED DEAD IN GERMAN ATTACK', the headline yelled in its bold type.

Harsh words in a language he shouldn't have understood but somehow did, translated instantly in his mind. Dark silhouettes, unaware of his presence.

"London," one silhouette said. "Next we strike London."

There was a frown in the other's voice. "A very bad idea. We know what kind of defenses they have."

"Exactly. They won't be expecting us to attack there, the most well-guarded city in the entire League. Of course, they also don't know about L-91, either." His voice held a triumphant grin.

Now, before they could go through with it. Before they could give the order. He knew about L-91, he would warn London. In the time it would take to replace these two and carry out the order, London would be fully prepared.

He dashed silently from hiding. There was a flurry of movement, grasping fingers, terrified eyes, a single strangled cry. Then silence, darkness. He wasn't even breathing hard.

He dropped the newspaper, immediately snatched by the wind and taken away, dancing cheerfully with itself. He pressed his long-fingered hands to his temples as if to drown out a pounding headache. He stumbled, but kept his feet, leaning against the nearly blacked wall of the building beside him, silently gasping for air. Eventually, he straightened again, apparently having recovered from his sudden illness, and glanced quickly around him. Fortunately, there was no one around to observe his momentary lapse.

He strode off purposefully, disguising his lack of destination.

He had a family. He remembered them, in flickers of random faces, accompanied by a vague feeling, a momentary flash of insight. He knew that they were his family, his loved ones. There was a little girl, a cheerful brunette with big green eyes. A warm woman who must have been his mother. An imposing but kind man who was his father. He could see them in his mind, flashes of disassociated action, disembodied voices, like a home video badly spliced together. Who they were – who he was – these were still mysteries he had no answers to, but now he felt as though he had a link to his past, some sort of anchor for his free-floating present. Almost as though he had a purpose.

With no names, though – his own or his family's – he had no way of locating them, of knowing even whether they still existed anywhere but in his own imagination, and the illusion of purpose was nothing more. He still had nowhere to go, nothing to do but dwell upon all the question marks in his life, the question mark that was his life. Aimlessness was his byword.

Dwelling upon the question marks was exactly what he was doing as he wandered purposefully down a cold, slushy street. The sky overhead had darkened until the stars appeared, veiled behind wispy clouds and dimmed by a thin layer of air pollution. There was no moon.

He strode from streetlight to streetlight, yellowish pools of harsh, glaring liveliness in the monotony of silent darkness. Nowhere to go, he kept moving, feeling that he ought to keep on his feet and not knowing why. Faraway cars grated upon his ears, comfortably distant. All day he had actively avoided people, again without knowing why, and had managed to keep from having to talk to anyone. The silence he had lived in had almost made him wonder what his own voice sounded like.

There were footsteps near him. He quickly faded back into the alley, pressed against the wall and peering around the edge of the building. The runner – for he could be sure now that it was a runner, footsteps pounding the cold pavement in an unmistakable rhythm – was invisible to him, but drawing nearer. Then, there – under a streetlight a block down. Sounds were certainly carrying far tonight.

The runner looked back over his shoulder as he ran, searching for someone who was following him. He suddenly heard it, too – a police siren, warbling as the car drew nearer. The revolving red and blue lights washed the buildings and street, the police around the corner behind the runner.

He ran.

He pulled himself away from the wall and flung himself down the alley, his feet pounding the pavement.

His feet pounded the pavement down the dark alley, away from the sound of the sirens, nearly keeping time with his galloping heartbeat. His eyes searched desperately for signs of pursuit, but he had lost them.

In seconds he was over the six-foot chain link fence, into an even darker, more garbage-strewn alley, lit only by the dim stars above through their film of smog.

Laughter. He gave the other young man, a mere silhouette in the darkness, a high five as they laughed.

"Awesome," the other said. "We're the perfect team." He collapsed, laughing, in a pile of unbroken garbage bags. One of them popped, disgorging its load of refuse out onto the pavement, making them double over with another attack of laughter.

"Heron and Kingfisher," he said. "Eric Carlyle and – "

Running, he found himself lost. Not that it mattered much; he'd had no idea where he was anyway, even what city he was in. He stopped and pressed himself against a wall, not yet breathing hard, wary of pursuit. Why had he run from the police? His actions puzzled him. If there were anyone that should have been able to help him, wouldn't the police have been more likely to have been them? But it had been a reflex, almost an instinct. The urge to run had been overpowering, undeniable.

What about that memory? Had he been a criminal? Eric Carlyle – him or his friend? The unanswered questions were eating at him, begging for resolution he knew he was unable to provide.

The alley almost seemed familiar, though. His feet moved without his permission, carrying him further along its length, almost as though they knew where they were going. He let them go, lacking anywhere better to go than where his errant appendages saw fit to take him, mildly curious. Could be that he could find some answers.

The alley seemed more familiar as he went on, and he began to feel nearly excited. Something was here, this way, something for him to find. He knew it. He could feel it, the shadow of a memory, trying to resurface and lead him to his own past. Something had to be here.

There was a door, metal, glinting feebly in the dim light of the stars above. He touched it lightly; it seemed so familiar, the flash of déjà vu in his foggy waking dream. He knew this door; he had been through this door, had been intimately familiar with what was on the other side, unless his overloaded mind was deceiving him, searching so desperately for a link to his past that it was inventing them from the nothingness around him. There was nothing to make him think that the memory, if it was, had had anything to do with this place. He had no way of knowing if he had ever even been in this city before in his life.

And yet, he thought it was so. He was so sure that he had known this place, and none of his logic could dissuade him from the idea. Cautiously, he pushed it open.

The interior was nearly as dark as the moonless night outside. The only illumination came from a dim orangish glow reflecting around a corner, the exact color of an arc sodium streetlight. It barely showed him the obstacles in his way enough to help him avoid tripping on them as he weaved through the room, into the orange-lit hall. Looking down toward the source of the light, raising a hand to shade his eyes from the suddenly harsh brightness, he could barely make out a vague shape. Even more cautiously, he moved toward it, sideways to make himself less visible, brushing quietly against the wall as he walked. The whisper of his clothes on the crumbling drywall seemed deafening in his silence, but he was perfectly aware that it would be completely inaudible at the end of the hall.

He peered into the room around the edge of the hall, trying to take in the entire thing. It was utterly hopeless; the room was like an underground cave, long and low and dimly lit, shadowy recesses stretching out before him beyond a maze of unrecognizable machinery. He did, however, manage to see what appeared to be the sole occupant of the room, perhaps the building, a man about his age sprawling on what looked like a dentist's chair, an arm thrown over his eyes, possibly sleeping. He stepped silently into the room, never taking his eyes from the resting figure but constantly aware, on the lookout for movement elsewhere in the room.

Beside the other man, he swiftly grabbed both of his arms and pinned him to the chair, immobilizing him. The man had been asleep, and he awoke now, startled, his eyes opened wide in fearful apprehension. They open wider when they saw his face, though he didn't struggle at all.

"Johnny –!" he said, slack-jawed with surprise. He looked down into his face, searching for anything he would recognize, any clue as to who this man was, who he knew him as.

"Eric Carlyle?" he asked finally, his voice rough with the disuse of who-knows-how many days.

"Yeah, man," the other guy said, still looking up at him. "Don't you remember me? Man, I haven't seen you for years. Not since Harris took you. I thought you were still in prison."

He slowly let the man up. "Was I?" His voice was returning to a more normal sound with the scant use, smoother.

He stood up, looking warily at him. "Yeah, remember? You –"

His head suddenly exploded in a macabre fountain of blood and brain matter. He looked up and crouched simultaneously, ducking behind the chair as bullets rained down around him, dinging off the metal of the machinery on three sides of him, accompanied by the whispered whistle of the silencer-equipped weapons. The body of a man he assumed to have been a childhood friend of his fell slowly to the ground, bloody and gore-splattered. His face remained stoically unresponsive, his eyes searching for the shooters somewhere above him. Catwalks, he now saw. Somehow he had missed seeing them, probably because they had been hidden in the shadows.

There was no way out, as far as he could tell. He was trapped, but at least they couldn't shoot him, given their relative positions and the shelter of the chair between them. The chair was the only real cover available to him, but it was skimpy at best. With very little trouble a sniper could reposition himself to get a shot at him, and he'd have few options available to himself at that point.

He pushed back into the cold metal of the machinery behind him, making himself as small as possible, and felt a small indentation that moved as he pressed against it. With sudden insight possibly spawned from desperation, he shoved himself back against it, feeling it give under his weight. He scrambled through the small opening as the entire mechanical monstrosity lost its fight with gravity and crashed to earth behind him, cutting off the bullets of the unknown shooters. He heard their shouts and the faint ricocheting of bullets behind him as he ran through building, searching for an exit. Fortunately, they were cut off from him by the wreckage of the apparatus.

He ran through the halls, not wasting any time. Yes, they were separated from him, but for how long? He needed a head start, and any second squandered was precious, time he could have used to expand his lead, time they had certainly used to lessen it. Before many of those seconds had passed, a few minutes later, he found a door out of the labyrinthine structure.

Now he was breathing hard, as he leaned against the outside of the door. Who were these people shooting at him – and why? Or had they been after the other man, this Eric Carlyle person, and he had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time? Were coincidences even possible in such a situation?

He took off at a medium jog, heedless of the direction he was heading in, no destination in mind, his intent only to increase the distance between him and the enigmatic snipers. Wrong place at the wrong time? He doubted it. They had been after him. How could they not have been? They had been after him, and he had barely escaped. Somehow, he doubted that they had been police – he didn't know why, but they had seemed more ordered than that. More unquestioningly structured. Military, in other words. And why would the military be after him? Well, that was just another question mark to add to the ever-growing list. He had come here, albeit not entirely by design, with the intention of clearing up a few of those question marks, and had instead only added more mysteries.

Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the situation, however, he had gotten a few answers, or if not answers, then at least clues. A name, for one. Johnny. His name was John, or at least that was the name the late Eric Carlyle had known him under. John, no last name, no history. Just a name, but something to go by. Maybe something that would trigger something bigger in his memory, something more important, that he could actually use. But it was at least nice to know that he wasn't a complete nonentity, that others had known that he existed. John Doe – that was him.

Another name, as well. Harris. Another unknown quantity in the equation of John, no last name. Who was Harris? Someone who had "taken" him, apparently. Taken him to prison? Possible. Very possible. A cop, then. The very people he felt the instinctive urge to avoid. Maybe he had escaped from prison. That would explain Carlyle thinking that he was still in prison, and his unreasoning fear of the cops. If so, he must have had an accident of some sort. This theory would explain the shooters fairly well, in addition. Perhaps they had been cops, not military, as he'd so densely assumed. If he really had escaped from prison, they would have know that he would go back to see Carlyle. They seemed to have been fairly good friends. If so, that meant that Carlyle's death was his fault. Somehow, though he recognized that probability, it failed to affect him. The idea of being directly responsible for a friend's death meant nothing to him.

Harris, Harris, Harris… His feet pounded the name on the street. Harris, Harris, Harris… Who was he? If he could find him, would he find answers? Harris, Harris, Harris… Did he want to find answers that much, that he'd go to someone who was most likely a police officer? Who most likely wanted to put him in prison? Harris, Harris, Harris… Did he have any choice?

He found Harris.

Ed Harris, to be exact. A police officer. At any rate, the directory said that he was a police officer, though he thought otherwise, especially seeing the building where the directory said he could be found. It didn't look like a police station. There was something about the imposing figure of the towering dark structure rising into the night above the street, above him, no windows lit in its entire face. He couldn't even tell if there were windows on its face. It was a distinctly ominous setting for the next stage of his search.

After a short moment spent looking at it, he pulled open the double doors – strangely unlocked – and took his first step inside. His footsteps echoed down the long, empty hallway, fading, overlapping, playing harmonies in the dead silence. It was eerie and he took pains to quiet his footsteps, to no avail. They still rang out, preceding him down the corridor, following in his wake.

This was another building his unreliable memory insisted he knew, but whereas he had felt a sense of almost peace with the other, happy memories just below the surface, as though it were a place he had spent many contented days, here he felt something entirely different. Almost… fear. Loathing. A hatred of this place, as though he had to force his body to take the next step, overcoming a bone-deep reluctance.

Again, his feet took him on their own, wandering grudgingly to a particular place he wasn't at all sure that he wanted to reach. He didn't halt, though, and uneasily followed his feet, pacifying himself with the promise of, if not answers, further clues. Perhaps, eventually, something that would lead him to his family. Something inside of him was reaching a point of fevered desperation, desperation to see his family. The darling little sister, nurturing mother, silent father. There was a bad feeling attached to their fragmented memories, a premonition of something bad that was going to happen to them if he failed to find them in time. He could almost hear the screams of the little girl echoing in the dark recesses of his mind. For their sake, and their sake alone, he forced himself forward, through the miasma that seemed to surround the entire place.

Up a darkened flight of stairs, past darkened hallways, closed doors fronting lifeless rooms. He looked into a few of them at random, and, seeing nothing of interest, moved on. He seemed to know where he was going, somewhere deep in his subconscious, and trusted his unconscious to lead him.

On the third floor he left the shadowy stairwell, venturing self-assuredly out into the grey hallway. This was different from the rest of the building thus far, though. A few of these doors, closed though they remained, had small slivers of light showing beneath them, indications of life unaware of his presence. Knowing that he could slip so easily past people who should have been on their guard awakened a primal sort of pride inside of him, a feral "I'm better than you, and I aim to prove it" response.

The door he stopped in front of was one of these with the light shining beneath it, illuminating a thin section of the floor stretching hopelessly toward the opposite wall. His feet eclipsed wide sections of the emaciated beam of light, restoring the pristine darkness. Slowly, he pushed the door silently open on oiled hinges.

A bald old man, not infirm with age but seeming to have merely ripened and grown stronger, was sitting behind the desk, staring moodily at a stack of papers in front of him. He looked up as the door opened behind him.

His eyes grew wide as Carlyle's had. "You–" he said, his hand nervously jerking downward and slamming against the desk.

"You know, I've been getting that response a lot," he told him. "Everyone seems to know who I am – except me."

The bald man regained his composure almost instantaneously. "How sad," Harris said, though he certainly didn't sound as though his soul were overflowing with sympathy. "However, there's nothing I can do to help you."

"Then I'll kill you." The voice coming from his mouth was hard and unfamiliar. "Somehow, I know I can, and I have no compunctions about doing so."

"I know that," Harris said. "I taught you that. And frankly, I don't think you'll do it, somehow."

"Why's that?" he asked coldly. Harris just smiled very slightly, then looked away from him, out the door. He jerked his head that direction, searching. The end of the hall was filled with police in body armor, coming inexorably toward him. He understood; when Harris had slammed his hand onto the desk, it hadn't been a nervous reflex. He had been setting off an alarm.

He considered his options with lightning fast calculation: he could dash into the room and take Harris hostage, threaten to kill him if the police didn't let him go free. On the surface, this seemed like the better option, but it was deceptive. He would only be trapping himself in the dead end of the room, and something told him that the cops might not have any compunctions with killing Harris either. They seemed to want him very badly.

His only other viable option seemed to be to run for it. With a quick glance down the hallway, away from the rapidly approaching police, he did so, letting Harris' door stand open. His feet pounded their tattoo on the floor again, playing harmonies now not only with each other but with the deafening thunder of the police behind him. They were closing on him, fast.

He ducked into a door without noticing the light streaming beneath it, slamming it open and shooting his glance around the room, a lab, it turned out, then ducking through another door. It led only into a closet, but he didn't dare find a better hiding place.

The footsteps thundered past him within a minute. A few seconds later, the closet door was pulled open, and he grabbed the throat of the person who had opened it with lightning fast reflexes.

It was a young man in his mid to late twenties, wearing a plain white lab coat over a casual tee shirt and blue jeans. His expression held no fear whatsoever.

"If you don't mind," he said, his head tilted back so that he could breathe, "you might let me go. After all, I did just throw those men off your scent."

He slowly let him go, warily, circling around him out into the room.

"Why did you do that?" His voice was still cold, still apprehensive.

"Because I know you." The man was a total enigma, seeming sure of himself, putting him off his guard. "Better than you know yourself, I would think."

"What do you know about me?" he demanded, trying to seem intimidating, but the man would not be intimidated. He retained his self-possession and somehow managed to talk down to him, though he was at least three inches shorter than him.

"Everything," he said simply. "I know everything about you, while you know… nothing. And I can tell you everything, if you want me to." The smirk on his face struck him as ominous.

"Tell me."

The other man smirked again. "What do you want to know?"

"A name. My name."

"Jonathan Mercutio, also known as Kilroy. What else?"

"Everything. Why the police, or the military, or whoever, are after me."

"Good, so you realize that they aren't actually police." He seemed pleased. "Your training hasn't deserted you, despite the memory wipe."

"'Memory wipe'?"

"When you were dumped, your memory was wiped to protect your former employers. It was the next best thing to killing you outright – which, as I told them, would have been the much better course of action. Your training, after all, isn't stored in your memory; it's an instinct, heightened ferality. You're a born killer, my friend, with all the impulses thereof, and merely wiping your memory banks like a computer is not going to change your programming."

"Explain." His eyes bored into the other man, this person who seemed to know so much and reveal so little of any practical application, any real use.

The man smiled. "My name is Dominic Montero, and you were my responsibility, from the very moment we recruited you from a federal prison. Death row, in fact, where you were awaiting execution for several counts of first-degree murder. We gave you a choice: die for your sins, or pay back Uncle Sam by doing something you already seemed overly inclined to do anyway. You, of course, accepted our offer."

"You're government. And the 'police' after me – also government." It wasn't a question, merely pieces falling into place out loud.

The man, Dominic Montero, nodded anyway. "And what you were recruited to do–"

He interrupted. "Kill."

Montero inclined his head. "But of course. You had already displayed an incredible predisposition toward homicide – why waste such a distinguished criminal? Your unique gifts promised that you'd be useful." He paused. "And you were. You were the best assassin the government had never employed, officially. You were Kilroy, an honorary name given to our best since the time of World War II when it was used fictitiously to confound the Germans, the mysterious assassin that was everywhere at once, who could kill a man in Berlin one day and foil an assassination attempt in London the next. You infiltrated the deepest levels of the German government and military, killing anyone who held the merest potential of causing us trouble, generally wreaking havoc with their plans. The writing on the wall, those three words, 'Kilroy was here' – they struck terror in to the hearts of our enemies. You were undeniably good at what you did. Too good. You had to be gotten rid of."

"Why didn't they kill me, then?"

"They thought they might need you again, one day. After all, this war if basically over, despite what the papers say; Germany will surrender within a month, thanks largely in part to you, and a few others like you, who have also been retired. So I say that this war is over, but there will be more. There will always be more wars, more people who need to be killed for the sake of the free world. I told them that the risks inherent in keeping you alive in case of such a possibility were too great, but they discarded my advice. What do I know? I only created you."

"I though I was a natural killer."

He waved his hand, dismissing the statement. "You didn't start that way; you merely had a natural aptitude for murder. I am the one who supervised the augmentation of those instincts inside of you, those instincts that every human being possesses but very few give full reign. You were an exception; they were already very strong in you, and you were very receptive to the conditioning. It was easy to turn you into a natural killer."

"This one already had those impulses," a voice said clinically. "Very strong. No more than a little augmentation needed."

He stumbled backward a step, hands on his head. That same memory again… This time, the voice was recognizable, as the voice of the young man in front of him. He realized it was true.

Montero looked at him with something bordering on contempt. "The memories pain you? I thought you would have been stronger than that. Apparently, some of your conditioning was lost with your memories."

He straightened up and looked down at him. "Why the memory wipe, why drop my services at all, if I was so useful?"

"Because you were too good at what you did. You were becoming a threat to this government, not just our enemies. If you had ever decided that you no longer wanted to be used, you wanted to be your own master – and I was convinced that you were too intelligent to keep letting us use you – there would have been no stopping you. You could have done nearly anything you wanted, and no one could have stopped you."

"So why are they after me?"

"On my orders. I knew you wouldn't be tamed so easily, just by erasing your software. The hardware's still there, and I knew that you'd start to remember. Once you started to remember, I knew you'd start trying to figure it all out. Once you started trying to figure it all out, I knew you'd be more of a threat than you ever were while you were under our direct control, working for us, no matter how grudgingly or tenuously. And the plan I laid out worked admirably, the pieces coming together like clockwork. Now, here you are, right where I wanted you."

"Where you–" He took a step backward. Montero smiled, and the armored police impersonators streamed through the doors as his eyes darted around. No good; he was too slow. He was surrounded, escape an impossibility.

Three of the burly government men grabbed him and began hauling him off. He pulled against them, resisting, and yelled a question to Montero.

"My family– " he yelled in desperate torment. "What happened to my family?"

Montero smirked slightly and tilted his head to one side. "That's why you were on death row. You killed them all."

He stopped struggling, shocked by the truth, the realization that it was the truth. "No!" he yelled, as they pulled him from the room, into the unknown depths of the building. "No!"

Big green eyes, staring at him in fear from the innocent face of a crying eight year old. Tears coursing down her cheeks. She was screaming, immobilized by shock and terror and pain, screaming over the bloody body of her mother. Her hands were stained red, her clothes covered with it, her mind filled with it. He could see it in her eyes, that all she would see for the rest of her life was the blood. Everywhere she looked, in the back of her mind, blood, pooling around her dead parents, staining her hands the color of guilt, for not being able to save them. For not being able to save them from him, though their deaths were in no way her fault. They'd had it coming. For years he had dreamed of ridding himself of their cloying righteousness, and he finally had. He'd finally gone though with it.

He saw it in her eyes, and he took pity on her, choosing to spare her that life, and killed her as he had killed them, with less malice but no less cruelty. Her voice was silenced in mid-scream as her throat was cut, and her blood pooled with theirs. There was a question in her eyes as she stared at him in perplexity, innocent confusion. Why? she asked silently. Why did you do this?

He had no answer to give her as her coldly watched her life slip away, watching until he was sure that she was dead, as dead as they, though killing her had never been a part of his plan. When he was certain she was dead, he ran, savoring the blissful freedom his deed had granted him.

And then there was nothing but darkness, and somewhere far away, a voice screaming.

"…no…"