From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
Staysis... that was the name given to me by the person who rescued me. I don't know who they are or why they chose to save me.. but they did.. and sent me to Paragon City .. to see Statesman ... but I'm getting way ahead of myself.
I grew up in a small town outside of San Antonio Texas. My dad was in the military and my mom was a teacher at the local high school. I was in 4H and raised a steer every year for the local stock show. I led the flag raising ceremony at my junior high school every morning and my mom was my Girl Scout leader. When I reached high school I couldn’t wait to join the ROTC so I could follow in my father’s footsteps and serve my country with pride.
But the thing I remember the most were the midnight picnics. On Saturday nights in the summer, Mom would pack some snacks and a couple of blankets and we'd head out to one of the freshly plowed fields. We'd lay there on the blankets, sipping cokes and munching cookies while Dad pointed out the constellations and told us stories about the stars.
I always wanted to go to the stars.
A few years later, my commanding officer told us about a joint project between the military and Crey Industries. It was called the Deep Space Exploration Program - DSEP. They were working on augmenting humans for the harsh world of deep space travel. The goal of the program was to send us out to find new planets suitable for human habitation and then terraform them. These new worlds would serve as emergency escape places in case the war with the Rikti went bad.
We were stunned. They'd been telling us for the past year how we were winning the war against those insane droids. Seems maybe we hadn’t been told the entire truth.
Then they asked for volunteers for the program. Save humanity AND get to travel to those stars? I volunteered immediately and so did five others; Reid, Kastner, Thompson, Gibney and Jacowski.
They took us to a private Crey research facility outside a tiny town in West Texas. Of course, it didn’t actually *say* Crey Industries. It actually said “Morecomb Feed and Seed” and looked like a grain co-op. We quietly moved into town under the guise of being employees of the co-op. Didn't really matter, tho as no one ever saw us. We spent most our time at the facility, leaving home before dawn and coming back late at night.
Once into the program, we discovered that their idea of "augmenting" included many experimental (and usually gawd-awfully painful) medical procedures. Sometimes, if we were lucky, they used the usual anesthesia but mostly, they just strapped us down and put us in some sort of electronically induced stasis. Waking up from that was a bitch.
Anyway, the first work wasn't so bad. The enhanced speed, the night vision - we all sort of expected that. Then after a few months they started getting into the exotic stuff.
Kastner and Reid were outfitted for defense, shooting beams of energy from their eyes and things. Thompson and GIbney were fitted for medical support, able to draw energy from the surrounding atmosphere to heal. Jacowski was set up for heavy defense – with chemically hardened skin and bones. Me - I was outfitted for the heavy lifting. By manipulating gravity I was able to lift and hold things weighing up to 15 tons. Pretty amazing stuff.
But after a few months, they told all of us they were going to have to work on our hearts. According to them, our hearts would never survive the g-forces needed to get out of our galaxy and even if they did, they would not have the power to pump enough blood to keep our brains alive. So they replaced our hearts with nukes. Yeah, my very own private Chernobyl right in my chest.
For the first month, we all leaked radiation and had to be kept in the facility in lead-lined rooms. They said they had adjusted our metabolism to account for it, but you wouldn't know it by the hair loss, continual vomiting and other lovely symptoms that showed up. But it wasn't until we lost Kastner that they finally decided they had to do something.
They brought us all down to the surgical suite. The real anesthetic machines where there so we knew it was going to be serious. When we woke up several hours later, there were attendants in bunny suits carrying radiation meters. The lead doctor walked over to check the readings and then walked to the foot of my bed and pulled the head and face covering off his suit. His thinning brown hair stuck out around his head like a weedy crown.
"How you feeling?" he asked.
"Like someone split me open with a hatchet," I rasped.
The doctor nodded. "Well, that's not far from the truth," he said. "Let me just take a look at the surgery site." He walked over and, carefully lifted the sheet from my body.
I glanced down to see several long thick suture lines crisscrossing my chest. "Wow, I look like a jigsaw puzzle, Doc. What did you do to me?"
"We installed a device which produces a electronic containment field. By calculating the resonance field and...” The look on my face stopped him. He paused and took a deep breath. “OK, it keeps the radiation contained within the pump unit in your chest. Should fix that little 'radiation' problem.”
I smiled. "Well, thanks Doc. Seems to be working pretty well." I stuck out my hand to thank him.
He jerked back like I was offering him a flaming turd. My smile faded from my face. "What? What is it?"
The doctor looked at my hand and then back to me. He licked his lips nervously and ran a hand over his thinning hair, plastering it flat to his head. "There's just one small...complication."
A brilliant flash of white light and a jarring crash rattled the room. Someone screamed as all sorts of alarms and buzzers went off. An attendant with a crash cart careened down the row of beds to the end of the room. I sat up enough to see someone in a white lab coat sprawled on the floor. Reid was sitting up in his bed, a horrified expression on his face as he looked from his hands to the body on the floor and back to his hands. He glanced over at me and his terrified eyes held mine until the crash cart, attendants and doctors obscured him from view.
“What the... Reid!“ I cried. My doctor squeezed his eyes shut and scrubbed at his face with his free hand. “The containment field has not functioned quite like we expected. It seems it has also turned all of you into high energy field generators. Anyone who touches you will be electrocuted.”
Over the next couple of weeks they worked on fine tuning the fields but nothing really worked. Oh they might have turned it down a bit, but we still delivered enough juice to knock the snot out of anyone who touched us. They finally resorted to using bio-feedback to teach us to damp the field by using our mind. Yah, right.
We were in one of those bio-feedback sessions when we were all called to a meeting. This wasn't unusual, we'd had plenty of meetings before but this one felt different. There was a tension in the air beyond just the zillion volts of electricity we five generated. The leading Crey researcher and our commanding officer came to the desk. They read from a prepared statement.
"The new administration has deemed this program no longer necessary. All funding for the DSEP has been cut. All operations will be ceased immediately. You are requested to return here at 0700 tomorrow morning for your official debrief."
The words pounded in my head. Ending the program? They couldn't be ending the program! We were still being debugged, for Chris'sake!
The drive home seemed to take forever as I tried to figure out why in the world they would shut the program down. Maybe the end of the war was imminent and we didn’t need an escape route. Yah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt. I walked into the house and absently snapped on the television.
It was a crappy old CRT set, which meant it imploded in a lovely shower of white hot sparks at my touch. I spent the next hour cleaning up the shattered plastic and glass and then attempted to turn on my computer. It died in an only slightly less dramatic fashion. After that I gave up. I got a Guinness out of the fridge and went out to porch where I sat and watched the stars until the moon set.
The next day was Thursday. I know that because the sound of the trash truck on the street in front of my house woke me up. I stumbled out of the bedroom and into the kitchen, grabbed up the trash bags and rushed out the door. Didn't matter, though, I still missed them.
I turned to head back into the house, still carrying the two bags of garbage when I saw my car. It was a Corvette C6 convertible, yellow with a black top, 400 horsepower and a flat beast on a road course. It was my pride and joy. I didn’t spend much on clothes, shoes, makeup or other “girl” things, but I *loved* a good sports car. The ‘Vette was a low slung beauty but today it seemed to sit lower than usual. In fact, it sat so low it was nearly on the ground. As I looked closer I realized that was because all four tires were flat.
Perfect. First I missed the trash truck, now I was going to be late for the debriefing. I walked to the car, set the bags on the ground and peered at the tires. They weren't just flat, they'd been slashed. All four of them. Well crap. Those Kuhmos cost me a couple hundred bucks and of course I didn't buy the road hazard insurance. I guess it could have been worse. They could have taken them and my Kodiak wheels. I sighed and went inside to call AAA.
It took ‘em almost four hours but they finally managed to get my tires back from the repair place and back on my car. I had called in to the base, but had not gotten an answer. That struck me as odd, but I figured everyone was in the meeting. I shook my head. The Commander was so gonna have my ass for being this late.
I fired up the car and the titanium exhaust roared satisfyingly I headed toward the facility. I hadn't gone far when I saw the dust plume. It was like a huge beige tornado and was directly over the facility's location. I raced toward the site expecting the worst.. one of our hearts gone critical, sabotage or even outright Rikti attack.
But I didn't expect what I found… or what I didn’t find. The facility was gone. Completely gone. No buildings, no parking lots, no power plant.., nothing. It was as if nothing had ever been there but the two tractors working the land into rows for planting cotton. I pulled up to the edge of the field and got out of the car. There was nothing... just.. nothing. I stumbled out into the field, waving my arms like a crazed fool, trying to get the attention of one of the tractor drivers. The nearest one slowed to a stop and rolled down a window.
"Yes Ma'am, can I help you?" He was a heavy set fellow in a John Deere gimme cap who looked out at me with cow-like placid brown eyes.
"Yes! I... ,"
What could I say? "Excuse me, I seem to have misplaced a major top secret research facility, have you seen it?" Maybe not. I looked up at the farmer, my mind stumbling. "I .. uh.. I'm lost. Can you tell me how to get to the Co-op?"
The fellow pushed his cap back and wiped a flannel clad arm across his forehead. "Sorry, ma’am. Nearest co-op is about 75 miles away, In Muleshoe. There isn’t one here. Sorry. Now, if you’ll excuse me. I’ve gotta have this field done today." He put his iPod ear buds back into his ears, rolled up his window and continued planting his cotton.
I stood in the field as the tractor moved away from me, its blades drawing straight even lines in the West Texas dirt. My face grew hot and I started to shake. It had been here, right here. Where was it? A cold realization ran over me. Where was everyone? Reid? Thompson? Gibney? What had happened to them?
I ran into the field toward the tractor again, waving my arms. The tractor slowed. This time I climbed up onto the step rail by his door. He rolled the window down one more time and pulled one ear bud out.
"But, it was here, the facility, the co-op.. I was here yesterday. " I was babbling now.
"Ma'am," he interrupted me. "It's not safe being around this equipment like this. I'd really hate for you to get.. hurt." He spit into an empty coke cane and then smiled, showing tobacco-stained teeth. "Now, if you'll excuse me.." He rolled up his window and the tractor lurched forward. I jumped into the soft dirt and watched as it lumbered away.
I made my way back to my car, started it up and headed back toward my house. I hadn't gone far when a fire truck roared up behind me. I pulled to the right to let it by and then the tears threatened to fall. What was going on? Where was everyone? Was I just crazy? My head hurt just trying to figure it out. Another emergency vehicle tore past me, sirens wailing. I scrubbed at my face. No good to cry now, I thought. I gotta get back to the house and call someone... find out what's going on.
I pulled around the corner onto my street and right into a nightmare of lights, noise and activity. In the middle of it all was my house.. or.. what was left of it. Flames roared through the roof as the firefighters swarmed around it like ants. The acrid smell of burning lumber, asphalt and my stuff filled the air. I pulled up as close as I could and jumped out of my car towards the scene.
Someone stepped into my way, blocking me. "Sorry, ma'am. You need to stay back for your own safety"
A young, handsome police officer stood in front of me. He shoved at a a stray wisp of blond hair that had escaped from under his uniform cap. I looked up at him.
"But.. but.." I stammered. No coherent thoughts would come to my brain.
Then, as I watched over the police officer's shoulder, three EMTs brought something from the house, loaded it onto a gurney and covered it with a sheet. I blinked. As they rolled the gurney toward the waiting ambulance, something black and charred slipped out from under the sheet. One of them reached over and hastily pushed it back. It was a woman's hand, or what was left of it.
I looked back at the officer, his pale blue eyes full of sympathy. "I'm sorry. Did you know her?"
"I.. I... " my mouth refused to work. I swallowed.
"No one seems to know much about her," he shoved his hat back on his head and watched the ambulance pull away. "I hear they tried to notify her next of kin, but they've all vanished." He turned his attention back to him. "Now I'm sorry, but you're gonna have to step back." He moved into my space to encourage me to step back. I stumbled backwards toward my car, yanked the door open and collapsed into the seat. Something terrible was going on and I was involved.. but I didn't know why or how. I leaned forward to put the keys in the ignition and something crackled under my butt. I froze.. then slid to the side and looked down at the seat. A folded piece of paper, now crumpled from where I'd sat on it lay smashed against the center console of the car. I picked it up and opened it.
The note was neatly printed on yellow, lined legal pad paper.
Everyone thinks you are dead. If you wish to keep yourself, your friends and your family safe, you will leave it like that. Go to Paragon City and find Statesman. Tell him you are “Staysis”. He will know what to do.
I stopped at the first truck stop I came to on the way out of town. I needed to get rid of my uniform and get into something a bit less conspicuous. Unfortunately, the only thing I could find for sale there were some VERY short shorts and a white tank top. It would have to do. I made my way to the restroom where I quickly changed and then headed for the door, tossing my uniform in the trash as I left.
As I pushed out the door, I nearly ran over a sandy haired young man who was standing, looking into the beer cooler.
"Excuse me," I said. He stepped aside and glanced up at me. "Sorr..." his eyes widened. "Whoa!" he said. "What are YOU?"
I blinked at him and looked down. "I... I've gotta go.." I mumbled. He stared as I pushed by him and made my way to the front. I avoided the clerk's eyes as I dropped some money on the counter. "Keep the change," I muttered and headed out to my car.
"Damn it." I collapsed into the driver's seat and pulled the door shut behind me. "Damn it damn it, damn it." I looked down at my arms and legs. Blue lines just under the skin glowed faintly as the circuitry that kept my heart from causing a radiation incident larger than Hiroshima pulsed and glittered. I pulled down the visor and looked into the mirror. The circuitry was visible under the skin of my face as well, fainter than on my arms and legs, but it was there. I guess I did look like some sort of cyborg, and maybe I was. But, whatever I was, I needed to not be here. I fired up the car and headed north toward Paragon City.
Paragon City is in Rhode Island. It took me about 24 hours to get there, stopping only to relieve myself and pick up the occasional hamburger – in a drive through of course. I didn’t want to shock anyone else with my looks.
The good thing about Paragon City was I wasn’t going to have to worry about looking out of place. I stopped at a convenience store inside the city limits of Atlas Park and found myself buying gas from a young woman with blue horns sprouting from her forehead. She blinked at me with pale yellow goat eyes and cracked her gum loudly. “Two twenty six is your change. Thank you for stopping” she said in a bored voice. I took my change and tried not to stare. I’d heard that the burgeoning population of superheroes was found in Paragon City because Statesman, the best known of them all, was there but I hadn’t expected this.
As I walked back to my car a man in shining silver armor flew just over my head and something I guessed was human sped past me, leaving only sparks behind. I shook my head. I was going to blend in nicely here and I wasn’t exactly happy about that.
It didn’t take me long to find Statesman’s headquarters. The shining white walls and huge star emblem on the front beneath two gigantic American flags were sort of a dead give away. I walked through the doors and to the front desk. A young man with brilliant green skin and lavender hair looked up at me. He was dressed in an assortment of armor pieces that looked straight out of a comic book. The re-breather on his face obscured his mouth. “May I..” the rebreather made a distinct clicking sound when he took a breath. “.. help you?” His voice was oddly hollow and metallic.
“Uh.. yah, I need to see Statesman, please.” I looked at him. “Tell him Staysis is here.”
“Do you have an appointment?” he asked as his rebreather clicked.
“No, but it is very important.”
The young man eyes looked at me coolly. “Yes, it always is. And what is your security clearance level?”
I blinked. Security Clearance? That was not something you were supposed to ask about nor talk about. But, I figured this was important. “I’m TS/SCI.” I answered.
“No no, “ he said impatiently, “Not your military clearances, your Paragon City security level.” He sighed and cocked his head. “You’re new here, yes?”
I nodded, confused. Paragon City Security Level? I’d never heard of anything like that. “Yes, I was told to..”
“Yes, you were told to find Statesman. The new ones always are. Well, I’m afraid Mr. Statesman is very very busy. He can only make time for those with a Security lvl 50. I suggest that you go see one of the contacts in the Atlas Park city hall. I’m sure they can help you..”
”But… I’m supposed to come see him. My name is STAYSIS.” I enunciated it carefully.
At that moment a young woman in a red white blue costume, dark mask and a flowing white cape rushed up to the desk. She placed her palm on the pad by the security door and smiled at the clerk. As she stood there it was as if the very air around her swirled with energy.
“Hello Miss Liberty. Your grandfather has been waiting for you. “
“Thank you, Aquafist.” The doors slid open with a quiet woosh. I caught a quick glimpse of a swirling blue portal flanked on either side by Longbow officers then the doors closed behind Miss Liberty.
Aquafist looked up at me. “I’m sorry, but you’ll need to move along.” The rebreather clicked again.
I nodded numbly and headed back out the door.
(to be continued)