From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: Under the Shadow by Seraphym (Tuesday, April 24, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Falling by John Murdock (Sunday, April 29, 2007)

(posted Tuesday, April 24, 2007)

"Nec spe, nec metu." Without hope or fear.

It'd almost been an entire month. Even with every expert he could muster, from his own people and from outside of the CCCP, not a single one of them had found anything. No name for the terrorist, no employer, no destination for the portal that his family had traveled through. They hadn't found his family.

The first week, John was nervous as all hell, but he was maintaining. He kept going on patrol, kept up with his duties, kept a good public face. The second week, he'd been unable to sleep. By the end of the third week, he had taken to drinking in order to pass out, to silence his thoughts. He'd stopped patrolling, and stayed exclusively either at his desk in CCCP HQ, or at the reserve barracks on the Sanctuary. After his trip into the Heart of All Time, he couldn't bear to go back home. Everything reminded him of his family, and he couldn't help but think of them, constantly. Since he'd been with Sera, this was the absolute longest that he had been away from her. He'd never been away from the children this long. Even when he wasn't with them, he still had the "family channel", and his connection to Sera. It felt like he'd had part of himself amputated. In the twenty subjective years that he had experienced as a father, he'd never felt so isolated and alone. Every moment of it was awful, and became worse as more and more days passed without any encouraging news.

Still, the drinking helped, if only to block it out for a little while. As a metahuman, it took a lot of booze to do the job, but there was a lot of booze stashed all over CCCP HQ and the ship. And there was more in bars dotted all over King's Row.

Something needed to happen. And soon. Otherwise, he was going to lose it.

John's comm beeped, on the private freq. "This is Murdock. What's goin' on?"

"I have a priority call from Agn, Commissar," Waitron said, gravely. "I did not want to put it through without your approval. Shall I patch it in?"

"Hit it." John pressed his hand over his ear bud, listening closely.

"If you can be coming to the FBI lab, Commissar," Agn grated, "There might be...something. We have perhaps found some evidence on a circuit board."

"Call in Ivan. I'm on my way." John rushed around the barracks room, kicking around empty bottles and cans as he got dressed. A few minutes later, and he was on his way through the Sanctuary's teleportation unit and back to CCCP HQ.

John was met at the door by a tall, bronzed, Native American man in an impeccable black "standard issue" FBI suit. "Hosteen Stormdance," the man said, holding out his hand--with an ID badge in it. "You're already signed in, just remember to leave the badge at the door." John nodded, pulling down his red scarf and taking the badge, clipping it to one of the lapels of his vest.

"Right. Where to?"

Stormdance led the way down into a sub-sub-sub basement. The corridors were full of the hum of machinery, the lighting was fluorescent, and harsh, and the corridors themselves were as spare and sterile as a 50s era hospital. Everything was painted in an institutional green or blue color, to give the impression that the building wasn't harsh and lifeless. "We only wish things looked like CSI on television," Hosteen commented. It was hard to tell if he was joking or serious. "But then, we don't have to solve crimes in forty five minutes with commercial breaks." John didn't bother to fake a chuckle; he was too eager to see what Agn had found. No one had bothered him with too many updates after the second week, since there hadn't been anything really to report. This---this had urgency. This was something, finally.

The door Hosteen opened led into a lab crowded with equipment, much of it old. In fact, Petro--he was already here; damn, but if he couldn't fly fast-- looked right at home here, and not surprising. It looked as if the FBI followed Petro's credo of "Use what you can find, borrow, requisition, or steal. And if you can pry it up, you can steal it." There were not a few things that had half-obliterated "Property of Crey Industries" plaques on the side. Just now all of the people in the lab were huddled around one of the few new and shiny bits of equipment, something with a 36-inch LCD screen attached to it.

"Electron scanning microscope, Commissar," Petro called from somewhere inside that suit. "Come see if you can be makink anything of this." John strode forward, leaning down to look at the screen.

"Just looks like a circuit board or a microchip to me, Ivan." He turned to face both Petrograd and Agn. "What am I lookin' for 'ere?" One of the technicians held up a gloved finger, then pressed his face to the actual microscope's controls. He slowly and carefully turned a nob on the side of the piece of lab equipment; the image on the LCD magnified, closing in quickly on a specific spot. Underneath one of the relays, there was some sort of circular marking.

Agn spoke up. "This was the first piece of evidence from the attack on Portal Corps that we were able to find this inscribed image upon. So far, the nekulturny lab assistants here have found 23 of them, on various bits. Almost all of them have come from what was left of the stealth device that the perpetrator used in the attack. They are still searching for more, and are continuing to find them."

"I have seen these before. Designers will often leave a signature of sorts on hardware components, such as microchips and processors. Sometimes it is a simple drawing, their name, or some Capitalistic advertising slogan. People make hobbies of hunting for such things." Petrograd leaned in closer, paying attention so that his ponderous suit wouldn't knock into the table. "Govno, I dont' know what to make of this one, though. John?"

John's eyes were wide and his jaw was clamped shut, almost hard enough to break some of his teeth. His face was so tight, it looked like it were about to crack. Methodically, almost as if he were running on automatic, he lifted his left hand and pulled the glove off of it, balling his fist. He turned his hand so that the back of it was facing Agn and Petro. On it, there was a tattoo of a snake eating its own tail--an ouroboros-- with the number "248" in military font in the middle. It was an exact match for the inscription on the microchip. "It's Garvey," he snarled. "It's been him all along, just like Mandy an' Garent said."

Before anyone else could utter a word, John stalked out of the lab room.

More time passed. John had retasked everyone that would listen to him; those with the aptitude to looking for where his family had gone at Portal Corp, and the rest with doing anything and everything they could to find Garvey. He'd called in every favor he had left, even going so far as to contact people in the Isles. Belladonna Nova, Bella's clone-turned-information broker, had been professional after she had received her retainer payment, despite not having been able to find anything. "This is just the dossier I have, and it's out of date, Murdock. Garvey's gone to ground somewhere. If anything else turns up, I'll ping you, and it'll be the same standard rate if I go over your retainer."

He'd gone to Sister Joanna, but her contact within the Parliament wasn't any more helpful; the information in Nova's dossier was fairly much the same as what he'd received from her in the initial intelligence about the Parliament months ago, back when Garvey had an association with them. The only thing new in Nova's file was that he had quit Parliament and joined another group--Nova called it LSI--and then quit that as well. Even his most recent suspected associates were unable to divulge his whereabouts; John had been in touch with Shadow Talon, supposedly a well-connected contract killer that was a member of the group that Garvey was. Garvey had used their resources, contributed his share for the profits, and then dropped out of contact.

Everything was coming up as a dead end. Garent had attempted to ascertain Garvey's whereabouts using that strange water-magic that he had been born with; the only thing he was able to determine was that Garvey was somewhere in the Isles, and that he had some powerful protections of mystical, mental, and technological varieties surrounding him. Hardly surprising. By now his paranoia must be of epic proportions.

John's last card to play was Rancor; he wasn't sure as to what sort of plan Ranc was working; John knew that there was more to him than it seemed. He'd tried calling him, but hadn't received any answer; after that, he tried Red Djinni, since he had been told that they associated sometimes, for some odd reason. Vickie had been anxious when she told him that Red was unavailable and "on a job". She'd kept shut after that, and John knew better than to press the issue; besides, he didn't have time to waste chasing Red down. John had contracted Rancor to find some information before, and hadn't been able to get anything out of him.

It was all adding up to drive John absolutely mad. No one could find Garvey, with any means. Compound that along with the lack of any good news from those working on the Portal angle, and things were getting desperate for John. He was rudderless, now moreso than before; he knew whom he had to go after, but couldn't, because he didn't have a direction to start running towards. The Infinite wouldn't help him, his friends and comrades couldn't help him, despite their earnest and dearest efforts, and he couldn't help himself. He drank more.

All of his hopes were pinned on just one thing. If he could get his hands on Garvey, Garvey alone knew where his family was. He would beat it out of the man, if it cost him everything, if only he could find him.

His PDA beeped. Sitting up on his bunk in the Sanctuary's barracks, John rubbed his eyes and took a quick drink from an opened bottle; it burned, but helped to steady him. The PDA's screen blinked on, informing him that he had a new email message on his "public" email account. Opening the email, John took his time trying to get the words to make sense. It took longer than it should have; the booze had been having its effect, if even for only a short while before he metabolized it. Once he was coherent, spikes of ice swept through his stomach. It was a message from Garvey.

Murdock: I presume by now you have found my signature. You've also exhausted your resources attempting to locate me, and such efforts have been fruitless at best, if not false leads altogether. You won't be able to find me using the labors of others; that much, I'm certain of. I have been planning this for a very long time; ever since I heard that you were still alive, and even more, thriving in Paragon City. You are acquainted with my manner, so you know that what I say in this matter is true. Put simply, I have ensured that your family is extinguished. Several years ago, you took something very important away from me. Everything my life had been devoted towards, everything I had ever cared about. My future contributions to mankind. In turn, I have taken the same away from you. We are even, you and I. I consider this matter settled.

Be confident in the knowledge that you were the cause of your family's demise.

--Dr. Jacob Garvey

John read through the email for the next half hour, making sure that he understood every single word of it.

It...simply couldn't be true. It mustn't be. But John knew that it was. It was perfect, and that's what Garvey sought in his plans. Perfection. Cold and calculating, insanely detailed perfection. Knowing this about Garvey, he knew that what he had said was true. And it killed something inside of him.


He broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. He threw his PDA with all of his might against the bulkhead of the ship, smashing it to pieces. He screamed at the walls, clawing at himself in his misery. John Murdock, Commissar of the CCCP, Hero of the City, husband and father of 5, was broken, as smashed as his PDA.