From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: Interlude--Belladonna Aura by Dr. Bella Dawn Parker (Monday, April 02, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Detour by Seraphym (Tuesday, April 10, 2007)

(posted Tuesday, April 10, 2007)

Mors ultima ratio -- "Death is the final accounting"

There wasn't anything particularly special about today. John had made his usual flight to CCCP HQ from Atlas Park, following the route that he always took. Once he was inside HQ, he made his rounds; checking in at the CIC with Waitron, reviewing who was coming off of the "graveyard shift" for patrols, who was arriving. After he had a sense of where everyone was, he made his way down to the mess hall for some coffee. Kremlin Gremlin was on duty when he arrived, already cooking steaming heaps of some sort of food whose name John couldn't pronounce. Despite that, it was good, and helped to wake him up and get his wits about him; he wasn't a morning person, anymore.

Finishing his chat with Gremlin, who threw in the obligatory dirty jokes followed by a throaty chuckle, John took a fresh cup of coffee with him as he wound his way up the stairs to get to the communal office shared by all four of the Commissars. They needed more space. The room that had been sufficient for Saviour was awfully cramped for the four of them--five, if you counted Ivan, the enormous brown Maine Coon Cat that Petro had given Bella after Zach's death. Ivan came with Bella every day, making himself useful by being Death From Above on the mice, and otherwise parking under Bella's desk on her feet. Bella was always casting wistful eyes at a broom closet once used by Communard in the basement, but Social Medicine would give her a stern look and remind her that the implements of cleaning that lived there now would trip Petro if they were left out.

Finally sitting down at his desk, John removed his PDA from its belt pouch, checking over messages and other bits of information, while Ivan, looking as if he was making a patrol of his own, wound around the ankles of both of them before settling in for the day under her desk. The PDA showed that Petrograd was up; John wasn't entirely sure that Ivan--the human Ivan, not the cat Ivan--ever really slept, since he always seemed to be on duty in some form whenever John came on. His morning routine complete, John set about the administrative side of the job. There was already a mound of papers on his desk, almost all of them fresh since the last batch he had finished. Sighing with resignation, John took a leaf from the top, and began filling it out.

After about fifteen minutes, Bella took pity on him. Her desk was already cleared, but then, she had the benefit of some arcane program that Waitron and Captain Hackatron had set up--a thing that John still hadn't gotten the hang of, which was allegedly supposed to make it possible to do all the paperwork in about a quarter of the time. She got up, confiscated the remaining pile and looked down at him. "Go. Hunt. Kill Skulz," she said, sternly. John gave her a thumbs-up, wasting no time to jog out of the office.

From behind him he heard her chuckle. "I never asked you to be a Commissar because you were good with paperwork, bonehead!" she called after him. "And you know what, Ivan?" he heard her add to that cat, "I think you're better at it than he is."

A few hours later, John was lounging on the rooftop of one of the warehouses in Kings Row, enjoying a simple lunch. He'd spent the morning working his way through the Row, hitting trouble spots as they came up on the police scanner or through alerts from back at HQ. Following that, he'd decided to head over to City Hall in Atlas, to work with some new heroes. It'd been interesting, to say the least; misconceptions about hero-work, as construed by popular media, led to quite a bit of hilarity on the part of the new metas. Perhaps it wasn't quite so hilarious for the new lot; a couple of them--or so John got the impression--were waiting for some kind of fan club to spontaneously generate around them. They were all new to their powers and hadn't quite gotten the hang of things yet; it made for a fair number of...well...trips to the hospital. John was polite about it, and didn't say anything, but once or twice he wondered if he had ever acted that green...and if he had...how the senior heroes around him had kept straight faces. Still, when everything was said and done, John felt that they were capable and confident enough to progress on their own without breaking any laws or inadvertently hurting civilians.

John finished up lunch, sweeping the jerky wrappers, apple cores, and other trash into an empty potato chip bag, a habit from his days in the military and when he was laying low. No "two-piecing", he never made more than one tear in any wrapper, and always compacted whatever trash he did create. He looked around a moment, and was struck by one of those memories that was not quite his own. This was one of the places he and the freshly-human Sera had met...when he hadn't known who and what she was, after his Kheldian fusion. He'd been called "Blaze Phoenyx" then, although to himself, he'd still been John Murdock, a severely puzzled John Murdock, with no memories past that moment in the jungle when his patrol had been ambushed. But he'd felt sorry for the strange young woman, who claimed she had been an angel--she seemed even more lost than he was, and she certainly wasn't faking being unfamiliar with even the most basic tasks of everyday living. And...he'd been oddly attracted to her. He had taken it upon himself to make sure she ate at least one real meal a day--after figuring out that she didn't know she was supposed to eat at all. She had been so...sad, so heartbroken, and he hadn't known why. The memory was actually Blaze's, but John had inherited it when they had joined together in the Heart of All Time. It was awkward at first, being flooded with the remembrances and sensations that weren't from his own perspective, but he'd grown accustomed to it, and actually enjoyed it at times. Like this one. He'd managed to make her smile that day. They'd played air-tag. He was just beginning to master flying, while she was an expert at it. He'd lumbered along like a bee, and she'd been everywhere, like a swallow, or a falcon.

John was forced from his reverie when his PDA chirped. He hit the talk button, placing a free hand to the earbud/microphone headset he wore. "John here. What's up?"

"We have a situation in the Row, and no one to cover it, Commissar," came the crisp voice of Waitron. "A break-in in progress. Vahzilok we believe, Harley's Pawn Shop."

"Roger. Patch in the coordinates to my PDA; I'm en route." Pulling up his scarf, John took off into the air, a flow of Kheldian energy projecting him along. Vahzilok weren't that much trouble, so long as you stayed out of reach of their projectile vomiting; John hated their zombies. It was the stench they exuded. It engendered feelings of disgust for decay and death, of corruption. Still, he'd deal with the threat; it was his job, after all. John swooped down to street-level, flying just above the roof-tops of the cars parked in front of tenements and small businesses. He'd get this break-in taken care of, then he'd head back to HQ for some---

It hit John like a giant hand slapping him out of the sky, a psychic and emotional strike that wrenched him inside out. He tumbled out of his flight-path and barely managed to keep from hitting the pavement with his face. Landing clumsily, he doubled over, feeling immediately sick to his stomach and disoriented. He was staggered, kneeling in the middle of the street, so completely out of it he didn't even register the Skulls walking away from him backwards, frightened out of their wits without knowing why. It only took him a few moments to register the cause of his sudden and unexpected pain. His mind scrambled, racing towards his connection to Sera and his family. It was silent---no, not even silent. Non-existent.

Gone. Leaving behind a gaping, bleeding psychic wound where it had been.