Morbius #1

Morbius MR

Randy Lander presents
Marvel Rebooted – Morbius
Issue #1 – Michael Morbius Hits the Road
By Leta Darnell

I’ve been told I’m a brilliant scientist.

Scientist, yes. No matter where I ended up hiding, I always found myself drawn back to that calling. For as long as I’ve spent researching various viruses and conditions, I hadn’t yet realized the technology I required was the only part of the modern world I was familiar with.

As for brilliant… most of my life was a testament against that and I wasn’t doing much better. It had taken this long for me to decide to leave New York altogether, and I was barely confident I was going in the right direction. If I needed further proof I wasn’t all that bright, the truck proved it. Bluntly.

Gliding would have been faster, but there was too much risk of being spotted. I didn’t trust my ability to swim across the river. That meant I had to walk. I thought I had the advantage in the heavy rain and the dark.

The thing blasted its horn at me and I turned. I saw headlights and heard the brakes skid, and I forgot something very important: I’m not that fast.

In less time it took to blink, I was under the vehicle. I didn’t immediately know when I had stopped rolling, or how badly I was injured. It hurt to breathe, and it wasn’t easy. It hurt worse trying to breathe asphalt. I crawled out from the vehicle as best I could; one leg didn’t want to work, but at least I could feel it.

“Shit! You’re alive?” someone yelled and grabbed me under the shoulders. I wanted to scream as they pulled me out from under the vehicle, but all I could do was cough blood and struggle to keep breathing. “I’m calling an ambulance” they yelled as they knelt down and released me. “Try not to die, please.”

I grabbed their wrist as quickly as I could. I don’t know if I actually managed to speak as I pleaded ‘no’. I passed out. It was embarrassing when I realized it later. At least I didn’t die.

* * *

I was surprised to wake up. I was far more surprised at what I woke up to. I could feel whatever I was in moving. My leg was feeling better, though I could feel heavy weights strapped to it—probably a splint. I could breathe almost perfectly now. It hurt to move though. It felt just like before I ended up in The Raft—it was probably a broken rib jabbing my lung. That would take time to heal, even for me. It hurt to sit up.

My wounds were covered in layers of tough, gray tape. Worse injuries had sheets of black plastic tightly taped over them. Some sort of cloth was taped over my left eye. It wouldn’t be until much later, as I was peeling tape off what had healed that I realized the black plastic sheets were garbage bags. I was right in guessing about a splint; a prybar and a wrench were on either side of my leg, almost buried under many layers of garbage bags and tape. I had to admit that as a doctor I admired creativity when it came to medical aid.

I was alive. I had stopped bleeding, and so far, this was the most comfortable of strange places I had woken up in. I had a bad habit of doing that.

“Where am I?” I wondered out loud. And why was I on a bed with a blanket and pillow? The rest of the surroundings didn’t help me gain my bearings either. Smooth, gray, plastic walls on all but one side, a worn curtain keeping the threatening sunlight away on the remaining one… I was in some sort of vehicle, but that knowledge didn’t help me.

“Oh, hey, you’re awake,” I heard someone comment beyond the curtain. “Help yourself to the fridge if you can reach.”

I didn’t know how to respond to someone so… friendly. Occultists, overbearing magicians, egotistical maniacs, and angry soldiers and vigilantes I had dealt with many times. None of them had put me in their bedroom and offered me refreshments.

“So…sorry for hittin’ you back there. I’m not the kidnapping type, so I’m not gonna stop you if you really want, but… you wanna call the police after I finish this run? Maybe a lawyer or a friend or relative?”

“No, thank you.” I said.

“You sure?” she asked. She wasn’t angry, merely curious; a little worried, but mostly cheerful. I guess I would be too if I had no idea who I had just picked up. “You got anywhere to stay that I can take you?”

“No” I said. I had never realized how bad I was at ending conversations like this. Usually they ended much earlier with a kick in the face. Science I could discuss – battle strategies or how hopeless a situation was I was good at. Normal conversations… I don’t think I’ve had one recently.

I didn’t have a lie prepared, so I hoped she didn’t notice how much I left out when I told the truth. “I lost my job recently. I relied on that for a place to stay.”

“That sucks,” she said. Her condolences were hollow, but I appreciated the effort, as well as how she kept her eyes on the road and never saw me wince at the words.

“So, where were you headed?” she asked.

More proof of my lack of brilliance. I didn’t have many friends. Most of those I had met would only consider themselves my ally, and only depending on how I had gotten myself into trouble. Still, even some enemies I wished to spare getting tangled in my bad luck. In trying to protect them, I only knew where a few of them originated, let alone stayed these days. It didn’t help that I was still a foreigner and knew very little about this country. “Florida. Everglades.” I doubted I’d get anywhere near there, but it was my best chance not to raise suspicion from the woman.

“That’s not all that close by,” she said. The fact didn’t dampen her mood. “I can take you there, but it’ll take a few weeks for my boss to reschedule a delivery in that direction. Why don’t I pay for a shower and get you some real clothes and I’ll figure out Florida later? Would that make up for things at least?”

“I appreciate it,” I said. “But crowds make me nervous.”

“Not a problem,” she said. “But you’re showering first. You smell like a dumpster. In a sewer.” That was a pretty good summary of my life. “Just don’t get too picky. I gotta keep to my schedule and there’s not a lot of fancy stuff sold at truck stops.”

“I understand.” I didn’t try to hide my new good mood. I might as well relax before something ruins all this—most likely that will be me.

“My name’s Margo,” she said. No last name. Smart.

“Michael.” She probably already got the message of ‘Hello, I have no idea what I’m doing.’

* * *

“You don’t talk much,” Margo said. It had been hours since we had last spoken to each other.

I was almost too startled to answer. “No.”

“Funky accent you got there.”

I was too distracted to answer. We were slowing down. I wondered if this was a good thing. I could feel it, but I couldn’t see, even when I moved the curtain.

“What is it, French?” she asked.

“Greek.”

“I don’t think they sell that kind of food at pit stops.” The truck stopped.

I knew I was going to ruin this. “I’m not hungry.” In truth I was starving.

“You sure?” Margo asked. She turned off the engine and moved towards me. “Well, you’re getting out, anyway. Come on, I’ll help you.”

She was rough, almost rude as her arm smacked the curtain aside and grabbed my arm and pulled before she even had a grip on me. There was nothing else to do but follow as she pulled me along as best I could walk. Hand was almost at my shoulder. “Watch the ceiling,” She said, tugging me towards the open door. “Don’t worry, I removed the passenger seat a while ago.” I was too confused, too weak, and too focused on fighting back the urge to lean over that last few inches and latch onto her neck to resist as she dragged me. She wasn’t even looking at me. My feet could barely keep up with her, but I could tell she’d be struggling with me if my I weighed as much as I should have. My feet could barely keep up.

I realized that was her intention as she released me and leaned me against the doorway. It was awkward, it was crude, but she had helped by taking the weight off my injured leg. “Watch your step,” she cautioned, stepping out of the truck and offering me her hand.

I winced as I took her hand and tentatively stepped down. Her grip tightened as I lowered my bad leg to the sharp asphalt. It was a bad limp. I needed to feed if it was going to heal.

“Can you walk?” she asked. She was staring at my leg. I wondered if she ever looked at my face at any time during my ‘rescue’.

“I’ll manage.”

There wasn’t much to take in. The view of anything was blocked by another truck. There was a nasty smell in the air, far stronger than the scent of trash I’d picked up. It was almost overpowering, like an open abdomen wound, only with a stronger mix of bad beer.

“If you need a restroom, use it now,” she said, turning away. “Meet me back here. I gotta use one myself and see if I can get directions.”

She didn’t seem to care about me. She just didn’t want a lawsuit over nearly killing someone who decided to wander around on a highway in the dark. I was fine with that. It was better that way anyway. It made it easier to disappear. Not here, though. I wasn’t that unintelligent.

I stayed by the truck and waited. It would be dark soon. I needed a plan. Margo needed to sleep eventually. Maybe I could sneak away then. It would be better than leaving evidence everywhere or attacking her while the truck was moving. Besides, she may not care, but she didn’t deserve that. Then again, she was giving me a chance to return if I wandered off. The tuck was far better than sleeping under newspapers or in dumpsters and it smelled better than the sewers. It moved location as well and far faster than I could travel on my own. There was even the offer of regular showers and clean clothes, even better than a stolen coat and chemical showers at Horizon Labs. And it all depended on constant intimidation. All I’d have to do was become a modern monster, a creature of a different kind of darkness and fear: someone who could summon a lawyer.

It was an evil plan, but it was the most of a plan I had ever come up with ever since I had decided to play around with electricity and winged mammals.

She wasn’t surprised I hadn’t decided to abandon her. I was surprised she could pull me all the way into the doorway of the truck by herself.

“You gonna be okay for a while back there?” she asked. “It’s gonna be some time before the next stop.”

“No,” I answered.

“Hey, I’m no expert, but do those bandages need to be changed?”

“I can do that myself,” I said.

“You sure you know what you’re doing?” We started to move.

“I’m a doctor.” Ow. Tearing tape off flesh hurt.

“Are we talking Doctor Bashir or Doctor Seuss?” she asked, getting nervous. “Because I don’t want to come back there if you end up killing yourself.”

“I’m not bleeding yet,” I replied. I was starting to think I had never learned of American phrase or gesture that I kept repeating that told other people ‘please don’t be near me’ meant ‘keep poking me’ or ‘I want to be kicked in the face.’ Or was it custom to bother someone even more if they asked you to stop?

“You’re weird,” she said. She wasn’t comfortable with the idea of whoever she thought she had in her vehicle. I didn’t tell her I took it as a compliment.

 

* * *

 

Maybe I should have been paying more attention. Maybe I should have tried to have a conversation with Margo beyond a few incomplete sentences. Maybe I should have come up with a plan at the last stop. Maybe I should have run away. All I know is everything came to its inevitable disaster.

I stopped pulling at the tape on my arm, alerted by Margo loudly swearing. I moved the curtain and kept quiet.

Her words slowly changed to snarls and she seemed to be fighting with the steering wheel, shifting the vehicle wildly and smashing out her horn’s blast. It was dark outside. An ugly imitation of black, practically poisoned to a hideous brown from the city lights. It was raining heavily again. That was all I could take in: her growling at the rain-obscured darkness as the wipers vainly tried to provide a clear image of the foul, angry sky. There was nothing else out there but a bleak color and the sharp glow of the headlights shining at the windshield.

She was angry for several minutes. Even when she had quieted to concentrate, I could almost feel the frustration and anger from her until it melted away like the sickening color in the sky. While outside it became even wetter, inside the transition was much more worrisome, as even as far back as I was, I could feel the all-too familiar emotion: fear. I don’t know how long it was until she finally parked. It could have been a short hour electrified in tension and stillness, or several long draw-out minutes slowly marinating in two flavors of discomfort.

However long it lasted, she was the only one with a small, exhausted shred of hope at the end. She parked—I assumed, it was too dark to tell where she had stopped the vehicle—but left the engine running. She let her head fall forward onto the wheel with a sound loud enough for me to hear and she let out a sigh. In one long exhale, I heard emotions I had experienced too many times myself: resentment, fear, anger, frustration, self-pity, confusion, and guilt.

I stood up as quietly and as steadily as I could. Those emotions made a dangerous combination and they were best treated as large predators. Left alone, it can be comforting to destroy something, almost comforting to them to have power over it. Other times, it all just boils away into mist and even they don’t know where it went. But never try to escape them. The second they see something running, they lunge, and like a nightmare, you can never outrun their claws. It’s almost instinct, they don’t know what they chase down. It’s best to be invisible, and failing that, let them drag you wherever they want and try not to get injured. Most people turned out fine when those were all I had.

Instead, it got worse.

“Fine,” she said, turning off the engine and yanked out the key. That was the end of that internal conversation, apparently. I inched closer as she began rummaging through a backpack hurriedly. “We’re getting out here, sorry.” I did my best to not to let her know how deadly her tone of voice was. There was no indication of any sinister intentions, unless one considers horribly misplaced hope a voluntary act of evil—and sometimes I did when it came to myself. The curl of her lips, the stiffness around her eyes, the frantic speed of her grabbing objects from the pack and closing it almost with a prayer, they were all unnecessary to understand. All I needed was the pitch of her voice to know we were not where we should be.

If she had told me ‘Maybe the flesh-eating demon will be asleep when we enter the lair’ I could at least appreciate the honesty of the statement. She was hiding something from me. She was protecting me. That tended to end badly.

“Oh, hey, you’re up,” she said, throwing the backpack over her shoulders.

I didn’t respond. She didn’t expect me to as she opened the door. “Be fast,” was all she said when I refused her help out.

I stepped down, my leg was almost fully healed by now. I leaned against the side of the truck for pretense.

Margo had her back to me, even as she pushed me back gently and slammed the door closed. She held a flashlight in a shaking hand. All she could could see was the brightly lit raindrops and blackness. She was probably used to the foul scents in the air, and unaware of another. My vision wasn’t impaired by the darkness at all. The place reeked of marijuana and alcohol so strongly it was almost suffocating. The smell of harder drugs left a bitter taste in my mouth at the memory of knowing them too personally. They were all washed away from my mind as I noticed another smell. Illegal drugs involving needles littered somewhere, and needles meant blood. There were so many strewn about; it didn’t matter how old or soaked they were, it was enough to take my attention from other things.

“Let me get that,” I heard, too late to react as the light of the flashlight hit me. I cringed and held my arm up as a sudden and intense pain encircled my upper wrist. I realized she had yanked the last bit of tape from my arm in time to feel her fingernails on my face, curling around the bandage over my eye.

All I could do was mutter and hold my searing face in my hands.

“Don’t be such a baby,” she muttered, moving the light away.

Neither of us were paying attention.

I heard Margo shriek. I looked up and glimpsed a man slamming her against the door and trying to grapple her arms behind her back before someone grabbed me around the neck. I could feel sharp metal against my throat. I could feel something else too. I could feel the heat from the veins in his arms. I didn’t need to be looking in his direction to sense where the skin of his neck was thinnest or where the blood flowed closest. I could always sense things just before… accidents.

I don’t remember what happened next.

 

* * *

 

Some people describe violent events as ‘fuzzy’ or that everything was slow and surreal or too fast to take in. I never remember anything.

It can last seconds or it can last days. Sometimes I’m somewhere else when it wears off. Sometimes I’m in another state and I don’t realize until days later. I found myself in a tree once. As mysterious as everything can be, I long ago decided I never wanted to know the details. Sometimes I even prefer the nothingness leading to ignorance. Sometimes I already know too much afterwards. It can be a comforting solace of oblivion to give me a break from my misery or it can ruin what little happiness I struggled to achieve.

This time I hadn’t gotten very far. I was still in the parking lot, sitting between two bodies illuminated by the dropped flashlight. The rain was washing away the last drops of blood from the wounds.

“Michael?”

I looked up to find she was still here. Margo had dropped her pack and was wielding a collapsed shovel. She was prepared to defend herself, but she didn’t come near me. Nor did she show any intention to flee. I could see concern in her eyes. It had been too long since I had met someone who intended to deal with both sides to me.

It dawned on me that I had never managed a good look at her. Perhaps I was distracted, perhaps I wanted to be. Perhaps something about her made me ignore her. She was nothing like other women I had met since I arrived in America. They tended to flaunt their femininity in some way, long cared-for hair, clothes that accented natural curves, tight clothing, and often they had painted their faces to highlight womanly aspects. They also preferred being in my personal space.

Everything about Margo, even in the rain was… unkempt. Her hair, the men’s undershirt she wore, her loose pants, her high boots, her coat – they all resembled stuff I had once passed over while searching through discarded clothing to disguise myself. She was probably very attractive if she ever dressed well, I really shouldn’t be one to judge, though.

“Oops,” was all I could say as I stood up.

“What do you mean by ‘oops’?” She yelled. “This is not an ‘oops’! This isn’t even close to ‘oops’ like forgetting to put on pants before answering the front door! This is—This is…” All she could do was wave her hand at the bodies.

“I should go,” I said, floating above the pavement. It was sharp against my bare skin and I was probably standing on broken glass as well.

“You should explain is what—are you flying! Why are you flying?”

I didn’t have an answer. Not for myself.

I fled. It was usually the solution to my problems. At least, the best one I could ever come up with.

“Hey! Get back here!” I heard her yell after me. “You have my stuff! And I don’t know how to clean this up!”

 

* * *

 

I didn’t go very far. I didn’t need to. She could see in the darkness and she wasn’t looking for anyone on rooftops. This place gave no hint that it was any safer with the deaths of those men. What difference would it make anyway if she met the same fate at their hands than at another’s?

I followed quietly as the rain into a nearby motel. I couldn’t help but worry. It was certainly shelter from the rain, but it did not look safe. Nowhere here looked safe. Or clean, for that matter. I didn’t want to know how syringes or discarded underwear had found their way to rooftops and I didn’t want an answer. I just wanted answers to my own problems. The closest I ever got to any was resorting to blackmail because making a friend posed too much of a risk. Now I had fewer answers and more questions. I didn’t know how to leave, how to hide, or even where I was.

I went to check on the bodies. Maybe I could buy myself some time.

I landed close by and carefully walked towards the truck, careful to keep my bare feet off sharp refuse. As usual, trying to help had turned into a big waste of time. The rain had yet to let up, but that hadn’t stopped someone from removing one of the bodies. There was no trace where it had gone to, but given the environment, it was best not to contemplate it’s fate. A transient was in the middle of rooting through the other’s pockets. He smelled worse than I did on a bad day.

I took a step closer. The bum looked up at me and snarled. He yelled gibberish and threw a poorly aimed bottle at me before going back to rifling through the dead man’s clothes. I hoped that was the end of this situation.

I stood there and let the man ignore me and pondered my situation.

I was wet. I had nowhere to go, nowhere to stay, and no way to contact anyone safely. I shouldn’t be here and the only way to leave was by the highway, either walking in a random direction or very noticeably flying. I had no idea where I was. I was cold. I was alone. I was a fugitive; not just a forgotten annoyance or tool anymore, but I had managed to anger some very powerful people.

A.R.M.O.R. wouldn’t want me, and my teammates wouldn’t trust me now.

I had just betrayed my last and only real friend, a better ally and comrade than anyone who called themselves the Midnight Sons, and who gave me far more than I deserved. I didn’t even have an explanation for my actions. I couldn’t even beg his forgiveness and have the peace of knowing there was still someone who valued what little humanity I still had. He was the only person I had left who trusted me, not because he could hurt me, but because I had made a promise and I hurt him. He’d always remember me as someone who acted on selfish desires, not weakness.

He thought I’d be cured before I had a chance, or before the hunger pangs got too serious. He had faith in me and I let him have that hope. I thought it was the right thing to do, just like I always did. Now he’d find out my worst lie, and that I had told it so often I foolishly believed myself at times. Even if I buried it, it would redeem myself. At least I’d be protecting Max.

He didn’t want protection, though. He didn’t think he was the one who needed it. He thought I could do more as a scientist if I did more as a person. He thought all I needed was someone else – some that I more than just trusted in a ceasefire.

He was right.

I took the risk and hoped I was very, very lucky. Again.

I removed the last of the tape and plastic from my leg. There was no reason for pretense anymore. Besides, she wanted her tools back. Hopefully returning them would earn a few minutes of her time.

All this time I hadn’t heard a single siren. Several gunshots, despite the rain, but no sign of even an ambulance.

She had left her room’s lights on, yet she was asleep in her clothes when I approached her window and tentatively tapped on it. I worried that she couldn’t hear me over the rain, which was now worse. I didn’t think it was possible for it to rain this hard, but I wasn’t surprised I had found myself at it’s mercy.

She woke up groggily, but slightly panicked. I was surprised she calmed down when she turned and saw me. She stood up and yawned as she unlocked and opened the window. “Doesn’t anyone from your state know how to use a door?” She wasn’t happy to see me. She didn’t want to kill me either. Good enough.

“I didn’t know the room number. I just watched the light come on in this one after you made it inside safely.” I wondered if heroes sounded this perverse when they did the same thing.

“I didn’t think you were coming back,” she said, rubbing her eyes.

“I don’t know where I am,” I said, handing her the tools. “I also thought you’d want these back.”

She sighed, taking the tools. “You’re in Jessup Maryland. I was headed to Baltimore, but they suddenly closed all the truck stops there.”

The terms ‘they’ was more ominous to me than she realized.

“I didn’t think it would be safe for either of us, but I just want to talk,” I said. I still didn’t think it was safe, but I had wanted to for a long time.

“Well, I’m not handing out hugs, if you were hoping for one,” she said.

“I was more hoping for some help,” I said for starters.

“I already knew that.” She rolled her eyes at me. “Get in here,” she chided.

I slipped inside and she slammed the window closed, backing away a step. Inside wasn’t that much of an improvement. It reeked of similar odors and everything was stained from age or drugs. The carpet was sticky. At least it was dry.

“Michael, you’re from New York, half of everybody’s an alien or a robot or part…” she she gestured towards my face, searching for an appropriate word. “Piranha?”

“Vampire,” I corrected.

She sank her head into her hand and sighed, rubbing her temples. One word and I was already giving her trouble. “You’re not a vampire, Michael. You’re confused,” she said through her hand. “Those don’t exist.”

She took her hand away to wave her arm, as if to shoo away my bad idea. “It’s like elves or leprechauns or werewolves.”

I should probably leave out some things.

“It was a science experiment involving vampire bats. Very little was known about the condition I had and it was extremely rare. No one had tried anything like it before, but I was dying and desperate.”

“I take it it didn’t work,” she said, rubbing her eyes.

“It did, but no one could predict the results would be, well, what you saw in the parking lot. I’m sorry it happened. I wanted to thank you for not calling the cops about it,” I said. It was probably detrimental, but she deserved it. It was probably more dangerous for me to stay with someone with no regard for the law, merely flimsier pretenses about it than I had.

“Look, truckers try to stay on the friendly side with cops, but this is Jessup. They don’t bother, and they just tell others not to come here if you call them. You’re probably the best thing to happen to this place.

“I mean, you didn’t do anything like that while in the truck.”

“I’ve been getting better at controlling it over the years, but… sometimes there are accidents.” I bit my lip slightly, anticipating an angry reaction, but she just stared and tried to blink sleep from her eyes, waiting for more. “It’s not random, I promise.” I held up my hands, hoping she’d understand the gesture of both a promise and a plea.

She didn’t care. I hoped it wasn’t because she was tired.

“I had an accident recently, before I was wandering around on the highway. I don’t know why and… I’m wondering if there’s anyway to look at investigations… or incite some. I owe it to a good friend to explain it if I can.”

“That’s it?” she asked. She seemed bothered that I felt this was worth waking her up for.

“No,” I said. I didn’t want to admit the rest, but I knew it would catch up to me and likely things would end up worse than if I didn’t. “I’m trying to avoid The Avengers, Spiders for the most part. If you want to alert them that I’m here, I understand, but I’d rather just have the opportunity repay you for any help you’re willing to offer and avoid attracting their attention. Originally I thought your truck provided the best chance of that, but I don’t like taking advantage of people.”

I will, I thought. I just don’t like it. I know I need better moral standards, but I never stopped worrying about sleeping under soggy newspapers even in the lab. That was help I couldn’t ask for and I was very sure was impossible to get. “I can go if you want, it’s your choice,” I finished.

“Then I choose to go to bed,” she said, sitting down and barely able to keep herself up. “And you’re taking a shower. There’s probably no hot water, but feel free to use any of my stuff you need. Just don’t make a mess.” She had stopped bothering to look at me, let alone gesture at all. She let out a long yawn before topping over like a felled tree.

I started towards the bathroom. I hadn’t felt this at ease in years. It was almost unfamiliar.

“I’ll check this stuff out later. Don’t.. .I dunno, rob any banks or something before then. And turn out the lights, it’s probably safe enough with you around.”

I turned to reply and she was already asleep

 

* * *

 

A real shower. Proper soap. Towels. These weren’t luxuries I was used to anymore. Stranger still, Superheroes and police weren’t worries that would keep me up this morning.

I could feel the dawn creeping upon the horizon and realized it wasn’t safety, but propriety I had to worry about tonight.

I found a blanket and extra pillow in the closet. The blanket was too than for any chance at warmth and the pillow was freezing and uncomfortable to the touch, but I didn’t trust the carpet for its smells, gooey stains, and inconsistent texture. Besides, who was I to be picky? I hadn’t had these for ages. Not even living at Horizon labs provided me with such things.

I found a spot out of the way to lie down. I told myself not to get used to any of this. I told myself I’d probably be leaving in the morning after being yelled at and probably threatened. As usual I didn’t listen. I just drifted into unconsciousness wondering how far from New York Maryland was.

 

* * *

 

I dreamt about spiders again. The animal kingdom had never held much interest to me, but over the years I’ve become reluctant to interfere even with the smallest and most harmless of normal arachnids. I’ve never considered most dreams significant, especially these. I’ve had far worse anyway.

If bad dreams were the worst of my problems, my luck was finally changing. I didn’t have high hopes about that yet, despite the last few nights of experiencing some of the best shelter I had known in almost a decade.

At first I had forgotten how I had gotten myself here, I was so unused to sleeping in a real room, even on the floor. I grabbed the pillow as I stood up, instinctively reaching for whatever I could use as a distraction if I needed to flee.

Bright sunlight was struggling fiercely to penetrate its way into the room from around the edges of plastic curtain that had been patched with the same gray tape as I had yesterday. Margo’s pack was open. She had a laptop perched on her crossed legs and was watching it intently. The noise was too stifled for me to hear, as she had plugged small wired speakers into her ears. As focused as she was, I couldn’t decipher what emotions were running through her head.

“Oh, hey, you’re up!” I heard as I was returning the blanket and pillow to the closet. I still couldn’t tell what she thought of me.

“What time is it?” I asked, turning back to her. She kept her distance last night, I was going to keep more until I knew I was safe.

“Noonish,” she said. She was still paying attention to her laptop. “You’re definitely used to the graveyard shift. That’s gotta suck as a doctor.” I hate American slang.

I heard the sharp hiss as she sucked in air through her teeth and her expression changed dramatically. She refused to look at me straight on. She fixed her face to the laptop, but her cautious gaze kept flicking towards me. Her teeth were clench, as if preparing for something painful. I just stood there, waiting to see if how badly she thought of me. I wasn’t good at seeming harmless when people finally knew about me so I didn’t try.

“So…you’re full name is Michael…Mor-bai-yus?”

“Morbius.”

“I can’t find much about you,” she said. There was still trepidation in her voice. Just as I was ready to rip the door off it’s hinges in panic if I felt the need, she was ready to grab her weapons from wherever she had hidden them and, I trusted she knew how to use them well. Still, at least she was calmer. She continued as we both kept a careful, yet awkward eye on each other.

“I found an official criminal record for involuntary manslaughter, but it’s old. There’s also a lot of other stuff that says you went on trial and served time for that.”

“It was a better sentence than I had expected,” I said. It was. It was also odd. People weaker than me, having nothing to do with physical battles or vendettas had agreed that my crimes were far outside of my control. I could only have wished such things were true.

“You ran off on me because of that?” she asked boisterously, as if I was an idiot. I probably was. She didn’t seem to be afraid of me anymore.

I wondered if it was safe to relax.

“There’s some videos of you and Spider-Man fighting. None where I can hear what either of you is saying – no information either, just a bunch of racist comments – a couple of stupid articles, and an expired visa, but the job details are listed as confidential.”

“I guess they weren’t top secret enough to stop Spider-Man. What did you do, his mom? This fight looks pretty brutal.”

“Grave robbery.” I wondered why no article mentioned that. It would have been easier to understand from journalism than from my pathetic excuse. “It–”

“You’re a doctor, right?”she interrupted, unperturbed by the idea. In fact, she seemed excited about the idea. “I mean a people-doctor, not like plants or stuff.”

“Yes, that kind of doctor.” I shouldn’t be picky about those who were kind enough to help me, but was beginning to wonder about her.

“Was it for CSI stuff? Y’know, Criminal…Science, no, wait…”

“Not exactly. It was for DNA analysis. It was still wrong.”

“But, according to the articles, it’s not like you could have asked someone else to do it for you the right way.”

“That doesn’t make it any less illegal! Or unethical.” Why didn’t she care? Why did I care if she did? Why did I want her to?

“Okay,” she said. “Is that it?” It was all there was from her.

I hadn’t realized I had backed away from her during my outbursts. “Yes,” I admitted. “I’m sorry.” I was ashamed for what I did, and even more that I ran away from what I deserved for it. Now I was making a fool of myself when I knew she not only forgave me, but understood the circumstances better than I did. I had never felt so horrible since Jacob had helped me.

She interrupted me before I could dwell on that idea further. “Look, I’m not saying you can’t feel bad about it. You probably should—I don’t know, I’m a dumbass, you’re the smart one. But it helped, right?”

“I don’t know.” I shook my head and brushed hair out of my face. It was unusual enough speaking about my sins to another person. But I had never had the chance to admit anything to someone so… unlearned. “I have no idea if that experiment was successful. All I know is I ruined the life of a good friend.”

“You bit him?” she asked.

“Someone else,” I said, shaking my head. I didn’t know why, but I wasn’t as afraid anymore. It couldn’t have been just because she would listen. Everyone else I was still guarded around, no matter how much help they offered. “But he trusted me to keep the urge in check. He was the last person who still believed in me while the whole city wanted me evicted and he found me doing something so disgusting and horrible, and then I proved I was unsafe to be around. I couldn’t even explain myself and ran away from him.”

“You should sit down,” she said. “Bed’s big enough and you’re not that dangerous. Not now.”

I considered it. I’d spent a long time used to being a monster. The word took on a different meaning down in the sewers, but whenever I found myself alone in the shadows or unable to sleep at night I found myself hating not just the word, but the idea. Years ago, ages ago, people thought of me as human. Now I was just an oddity or something dangerous to throw at another danger. It was a silly thought that just being treated as a human changed anything. But it was enough.

I sat down on the edge of the bed, the opposite corner to her. “I’m sorry.”

She waved her hand slightly, and made an indifferent grunt. “I wouldn’t know what to do about any of that. If you figure something out, I’d like to help you—you did kinda save my life back there and I’d lose my job if you went to the police about the accident—I kinda owe you. At least a little. But it sounds expensive and…” she paused, thinking.

She continued, “I can get you some clothes easy, and I know a guy who can get you new shoes, no questions asked and it’s all legal. None of it will be that great, but it’s gotta be better than wearing shredded pants. If you talk to Dan, he might be able to help with everything else—he volunteers at a free clinic and helps homeless people stay out of psych wards; he knows a lot about staying under the radar. He’s seen a couple weird people. He won’t care. But this doctor-to-doctor investigation stuff you want is probably going to attract attention. And then there’s… I don’t know, you said you could control it sorta. I don’t know what I can do for that. I don’t even know what it means.” She drew her legs up and hugged them closely, looking at me intently.

At first I meant to draw away, but then I realized I wasn’t the cause for once. Until now she’d thought of me as something—someone—superior, better. I still had the power to frighten her, make her a victim, but not as I was used to. I made her feel small, archaic, discarded. She trusted me purely because of it and, now it was finally the only thing that made her uncomfortable letting me stay. I haunted her, probably hurt her with her own simplicity, turning what she’d never cared about into a demeaning echo: uneducated. Unintelligent. Incompetent.

“There’s nothing to do to help it,” I said. I had never imagined I’d be saying that to comfort someone. “I can’t fight it for long. I’ve tried. It’ll happen again.”

“When?”

“Days. Sooner if I’m injured. It’s a matter of inevitability, not timing.”

“It’s always like that?”

“To my knowledge,” I answered. I’d always hated this part about my condition the most, but I never thought much of this aspect. I doubt that part of me was willing to answer questions. “It’s not a choice. In fact, I’m not even aware of it until it’s over. Sometimes there will be pieces of memory in between nothing, sometimes things have just… changed.”

“There’s nothing that…” She shrugged, still uncomfortable the only way to confront something beyond her grasp. It seemed to put her at ease to know I knew little about it myself. “I don’t know, takes the edge off or helps slow down accidents or… Dan knows more about drugs like that and how they work, sorry. It’s probably some complicated thing I can’t pronounce that comes from China. Never mind, dumb question. I probably shouldn’t be curious about it.” She looked away, feeling herself at fault. I was living in a strange, cracked mirror of whatever world I had left behind.

I said, “There are ways, they’re just impossible. Unless you want to fight the Avengers about it.” One was too much for me, thank you.

“Let’s file that under ‘no’,” she said. “What about taking something before hand, like diabetics do? Needles are cheap.”

“I couldn’t ask for that,” I said. I had the most inconvenient moral standards.

“There’s a lot of people the world doesn’t need. If this can make sure you only go after them, I’d probably be doing the best thing I’d ever do in my life. I don’t know if it’d work, though. I’m female and truckers try to keep an energy spike going half the day. Besides, I’m O positive, my blood type might not match.”

“It wouldn’t matter,” I told her. My mother had managed to continue a line of full-blooded Mediterraneans through Nazi occupied Greece and managed to marry a half-Turk curing a long and bloody Communist revolution. With records destroyed and tests only brought to the country in the last few decades, it was completely unknown how they had a child AB negative. Only 15% of the world has that type and almost 3% lack factor there. It was impossible to receive blood transfusions. It should have been a clue. I’m sure Nikos was too polite to tell me. Now I’m probably something completely uncategorizable. Still an anomaly, but no longer carrying any use or intrigue to science. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why bother helping me?” There had to be some reason. The only people this interested in helping me were close friends. And dead now. Everyone else had different motivations, many of which I didn’t end up liking.

She finally loosened up, letting one leg stretch out. “Because you don’t do very well just on your own. And I’d be a dick if I kicked out you knowing that. Besides, I haven’t had anyone bother thinking I was someone worth bothering with for a long time. Other than trucking. I don’t care if you’re really quiet all the time or if you just want to hang out in my truck, and I’m not smart enough about big problems like yours, but I like that when you did need to get all that out, you didn’t regret it because I’m not good enough.” She exhaled with an exaggerated roll of her eyes, “Thanks a lot, Michael.” She smiled at me for it.

I hoped I didn’t make it obvious, but she reminded me too much of another woman who wanted to help me the same way. There hadn’t been much to her, and she tried to make up for it by just offering human comfort and wanting me to do the same, knowing I didn’t think I was capable of it. She had offered too much to help me, and she had done it knowingly. I wasn’t going to let the same fate befall this woman.

“You offer too much.”

She shrugged, not caring. It was too big, too far for her to bother reaching for an understanding, so she didn’t bother trying or caring.

I was going to protect this woman. She was more than worth it.

* * *

“I still need you to talk to Dan,” she said, taking out her phone. “He’s like some super-genius. He wants to talk to you, anyway.” She was only half paying attention to me. Something important was on her phone and she needed to find where it was hiding. “I talked to him while you were asleep.”

“I doubt it’s a wise idea for too many people to be interested in me.”

“Nah, he’s cool,” she said angrily to her phone. “He just wants to know about the accident. He can spot signs of almost anything. The only person he’s ever turned in was a guy breaking into his car who didn’t want help. That and a creepy guy–” She looked up abruptly, staring at me intensely. I had no idea what she wanted. She went back to her phone. Apparently confusion was the answer. “–who did stuff with kids.”

I couldn’t help but shudder, shaking the bed. Those were monsters I had trouble contemplating. Demons were a welcome site in comparison. I hoped the darker part of me had a craving for them.

“If he says you’re fine, we can do this, she said, her face lighting up as she found what she wanted. “Talk to him, he knows things.”

She ended the discussion there and began packing. She was hiding something from me.

I stood up from the bed, waiting for at least a hint.

“It’s not a stop, but they’re letting trucks through up North. If I can get this load dropped off by tonight, I won’t lose my job and I’ll keep my days off. If there’s time, I can grab everything for you if you know your size.” She zipped her pack closed and looked around for anything she had forgotten. “I guess you don’t really have anything to pack up. Anyway, I need you to stick with Dan. Or at least nearby. It’s not like you have a phone and–”

“Why?” I needed real help, not a sitter.”

“Because,” she said. She could tell it wasn’t enough. I could see her scrambling for a lie for a moment. Instead, she gave a resigned sigh, shoved her phone in her pocket and slung her pack over her shoulder. “Because some idiot in a costume is running around. He’s why the truck stops are closed, as well as a bunch of warehouses. It’s not on the news. I heard it from Dan. I don’t want you involved unless things get serious.”

That was something I hadn’t considered. I had no idea if anyone was actively looking for me. If someone wanted to keep that a secret, it wasn’t hard given the organizations they worked with. It didn’t even matter if they were, all they had to do was find me by accident.

“Fair enough,” I said.

“I didn’t think you wanted to hear it,” she said, heading to the door.

“I should anyway,” I said, following her out. I doubted I was telling the truth. “Are you sure it’s safe to leave this way?”

“The security camera’s a fake,” she said. She wanted to get out of the foul-smelling hallway as much as I did. “Besides, the woman at the desk is high.”

It was true, but it didn’t make me any less nervous as we left. Margo felt similarly, almost punching a man asking for money in exchange for a shoe. I hated this place.

* * *

I didn’t want to be in Baltimore either. Rather, I didn’t want to talk to anyone else and give them knowledge I existed. Not even peripherally.

She insisted she’d be back. She promised that if anything happened to me, there’d be hell to pay and more. She needed this. I still felt abandoned.

She’d taken side roads, loops, and other tricks getting here to avoid areas watched or closed by the police. It was late in the afternoon. Shadows were long and lazy and traffic was casual and sparse. The rain had stopped. At least luck had given me that.

All I had to do was turn the corner and talk to someone. I wasn’t ever going inside, it was just a conversation in an alleyway between two doctors. I wouldn’t go in. That was the rational thing to do, talk, leave, wait. I wanted to do none of those things. I stood there arguing with myself until I heard voices nearby. Now it was my only option.

Dan wasn’t looking in my direction. He wasn’t what I expected. I had seen many people like him when I stayed at the clinic in the Bronx. Nothing but muscle and scars, aggressive posture even when bored—especially when bored. Often in and out of prison, they were a nuisance until they disappeared, afraid doctors would turn them into the police.

Then he turned and saw me and everything about him changed. With one good eye he looked me over quickly, ready to drag me out of the alleyway, then he suddenly realized something and his expression changed completely. One second of suspicious glower and then a concerned attempt at amiability. He had gone from wondering where I was hiding needles to hiding the fact that he was looking me over, searching for something. I was suddenly very aware that I was wearing nothing but my pants, and barely that.

“Michael?” he asked. His tone was friendlier than his look. His voice was coaxing and hopeful, as if to lure an animal out of hiding. His look was the opposite, ready to chase off vermin.

“Yes,” I stated. It was just a fact. All I knew was that he wanted to talk. From the way Margo spoke, I doubted she knew any more than that either, despite her eagerness.

It was enough to cause him to smile, it turned out. Why, I didn’t know. “You look pretty good for getting hit by a truck,” he said. He was still looking for something. “Most of you. You heal faster than most people, don’t you?”

“Usually,” I answered. “What do you mean by ‘most?’”

“Huh. No one around here’s seen that before,” he said. He held up a hand, noticing how suspicious I was. “Margo told me everything, save your last name. She’s worried you’re still busted up from hitting you with the truck. Said you were ripped right open. She’s not the brightest, so it was pretty impressive she was concerned about bones popping organs. I talked her through it, but I doubt that bone’s set right. You seem to be breathing okay.”

I wanted to relax, but the notion that I had been lucky twice was too baffling. “The job was good enough, especially for an amateur. The bruise around them is painful, but I don’t feel anything now.”

He nodded and shoved his hands in his pockets, contemplating something for a moment. His worry, however, culminated in a shrug and he took his phone from his pocket. “You look fine from here. We don’t have anything you’d need here, but I’d say you should get your head looked at. Looks like one of those fangs of yours healed at the wrong angle. No telling if the rest of you healed right or not.”

I shook my head, remembering how it wasn’t an option at Horizon. A.R.M.O.R. didn’t care; they could spit in the face of as many laws as they wanted. But Horizon was different. It was the first time ever that my own medical information was shared with me. There were no facilities that could keep records confidential from federal organizations, let alone anything like S.H.I.E.L.D. Scanning would take too long and required an extra physician, and risk exposure—and after I was exposed, no employees wanted me near them. I never gained the courage to tell Max I hated such procedures. It seemed too silly as a doctor, and too personal, despite how often he spoke about helping me. “Too much risk. Too trackable. No one asks permission.” Most didn’t even bother putting whatever horrible machinations on record. I don’t even know what Tricorp did. All I remembered was waking up with burns from bright lights and a distant memory of the sound of machines.

“How many don’t?” he asked, oddly concerned.

“All but two.”

“Out of?”

“I forget by now.” I had. I wondered if I should be worried or relieved I no longer had to bother counting.

“Sounds illegal,” he said. “No lawyer?”

“It wasn’t an option,” I said. If it had been, I would have hired one against A.R.M.O.R. for their nonsense. How was I supposed to do my job without adequate resources? “I’m not really a legal citizen in this country, I wouldn’t know if it should have been.”

He didn’t answer. I don’t think he had one. Instead he pulled his phone from his pocket as it buzzed for his attention. It was several silent minutes before he turned his attention back to me. “How did you get on the freeway anyway?”

“I walked.” Damn. He was far too interested in legality. I was going to end up back on The Raft. It didn’t even provide a pillow to hold over my face and block out the intense light.

“From where?”

“I don’t know. I just started walking.” At least I was honest.

“Before that.” It wasn’t casual question. It wasn’t a statement. It was a demand.

I couldn’t help sighing before answering. “The Raft.”

That just earned me a half-glare, half blank look.

“It’s a maximum security prison. I… ran away.”

“You stuck around the first time,” he said. He kept pushing, but wasn’t accusing. There was no hint he wanted to call anyone in, but he wasn’t going to let me just run away, either.

“It was very different there,” I said. “Too harsh. The lights were too bright and never off. No beds. No leaving the cells.” No help.”

“That also sounds illegal,” he said, finally satisfied.

“I wouldn’t know much about legality,” I said.

“Yeah, I guess I’d rather you didn’t bring that inside,” he said, almost as if commiserating. “We specialize in mental health here, but I don’t think we can help.”

“It’s probably something you’ve never seen,” I said, ignoring the first part. “I doubt anyone knows what it is.”

“Who do you feed to it?” he asked, trying to keep his voice as flat as possible. He was trying not to scare me. He was far too late.

I didn’t answer. I didn’t know how. I had never considered it an ‘it’. To me, it was just part of me, memories I intentionally buried or broken because I could barely accept looking at the aftermath. I wasn’t ready to think of it as something separate. I didn’t even know if that was the truth.

“If you usually go after people like you did back in Jessup, I’ve got a few people in mind,” he said. “If that’s the case.”

“I try,” I said. Who in the world are these people?

“If you get a couple people on my list, I’ll put in a good word for you if you end up in court,” he said. “No one specific. People who deserve a lot worse than prison.”

“It’s a sentiment I haven’t heard in a long time, but there’s no court involved when it comes to people like me.” I didn’t know if it was people Spider-Man didn’t like in particular or those who qualified as monsters—or both—and I wasn’t inclined to ask even if I was found out.

“Still illegal.” His phone wanted his attention again. “You’re a lawsuit waiting to happen, Michael.”

“No judge would take it,” I said.

“Maybe,” he mumbled to his phone. “Margo says some idiot in a costume is bothering her. I think he’s new. Not anyone the Avengers fought, and definitely not anyone of Spider-man’s. She wants to know what to do.”

“Should I be worried?” I asked.

“She carries a wrench bout as long as your arm for when she has to deliver to New York.”

“I should go,” I said.

“She’s about five blocks that way,” he said, pointing. “And get some shoes Michael. I don’t care how you heal, ringworm’s not fun.”

* * *

No one was around. No one who cared, that is. If anyone saw me, it was only peripherally. I was just some junkie they didn’t want to associate with or even acknowledge. Or drunk. Possibly a mugging or mental illness victim they wanted to add to their reality even less. It was one of those places. It wasn’t unusual for large cities to sweep filth under proverbial rugs or shove undesirables and trash into corners where those more important wouldn’t see them. Everyone here was thrown away, hidden, not even worth tossing into a bin. No one wanted anyone else reminding them of that.

Warehouses. Nothing but streets and warehouses. I was already tired of those. The few people I saw appeared even more tired of them.

I guess trucks don’t go to many nice places, I thought.

I resorted to floating slightly. Too much sharp trash and strange hot fumes from pipes. I missed shoes.

Margo’s truck was conveniently in the shadow of a larger warehouse. It was only her and a man dressed in a costume I didn’t recognize. She was too busy arguing to hear me land on her truck.

“It’s Ramen! I’m not letting you touch my truck over a bunch of shitty dry noodles!”

“Hey! No fair inviting your friend over!” the man yelled from the roof of the warehouse. “I’m trying to steal something, that’s not how things work!”

“I didn’t say ‘come here’, I asked what to do!” Margo yelled at me. “How do you make these guys go away?”

“I’ve never had any luck with that.” I was better at attracting them than making them leave.

“Well, hit him with a rock or something, I gotta empty the truck.” She went back to doing precisely that, leaving me with whoever he was.

“Come on! Fight fair, lady!” the masked man yelled. “You can’t use rocks, you gotta call the police!”

“What are the police going to do?” she rebutted, once she was out of the truck with a large box. “Do they even come around here?”

I sat down and watched her haul the boxes into the warehouse. This was probably going to take a while.

“They’re off on the other side of the city, lookin’ for me,” the guy said, gesturing. “I told them I was going to blow up a Walmart if I didn’t get money.”

“Walmart? Why not a bank?”

“Walmart has more money than some countries, syupid! And not small ones no one can find on a map,” he said, trying to mimic her with his hands. “Get back here! I’m making fun of you!”

“Go back to New York!” she yelled.

“New York’s where all the superheroes are. They’d stop me in two seconds. Why would I go there?”

“Do you know how much paperwork is involved just talking to you people?” Margo yelled back. “Can you at least wait for me to leave before blowing something up?”

“Nothing’s going to blow up until I get into your truck!”

“That’s not a good threat,” Margo said, stopping in her work. “That’s like the opposite of one.”

“What does he want from the truck?” I asked. The sooner we got an answer, the sooner we could leave.

“Well, you seem to be a guy for long stories,” she said, pausing in her work. This was not a good sign. “Drivers don’t load the trucks, the companies that want things shipped do. Hell, most of us aren’t even allowed around when it’s loaded.

“Sometimes big companies add their junk to the load and drivers never see the paperwork. It’s cheaper to just keep making obsolete or useless crap and then dump it somewhere and forget it than to cancel the project. Military does it all the time, and now dude in the pajamas here wants it.”

“Hey, I signed for it!” The masked man shouted.

“Up yours! Don’t come near my truck!” Margo yelled, returning to her hauling and tossing him an obscene gesture. “Why do you want a piece of trash so bad, anyway?”

The strange man sat down, apparently having clued in that he wasn’t going anywhere for a while. “Once it’s off the truck, it’s not the responsibility of anyone anymore. I usually just take them apart and sell them for scrap metal. This one I actually need.”

“To blow up a cheap grocery store? Now way!” she yelled, slamming the door to the truck down.

“I concur,” I said. The last time someone tried to steal a weapon someone else wanted off their hands, it was me.

“No, I just told the cops that so I could keep checking warehouses. You’re late by the way.”

“Well, gee, maybe if someone hadn’t caused all the truck stops and heavy roads to close, I could have been here yesterday!”

“I’m talking about yesterday!” And it was back to arguing. This was probably what Jack and I looked like to most people, but with more growling. “I was looking all over for you to deliver it!”

“So I was an hour or two late. You’re the one trying to bomb produce!”

“I told you, I’m not trying to blow that up. I lied!”

“It’s still a bomb! Now get down here and fight, I’m tired of this and I gotta drop off the rest of this at the docks. As you said, I’m already late.” She grabbed a wrench that was leaning on the side of the truck. I didn’t know if she knew how to use it as intended, but she seemed at ease using it as a weapon. “What do you need a bomb for, anyway?”

“That’s where I’m going, lady. You and your friend better stay away from there, especially 16 in the east sector.” He wasn’t arguing anymore. He didn’t want us down there because we shouldn’t be there, regardless of his existence. “No offense, lady, but you’re a lady. And he’s…”

“He’s weird,” she said, finishing his sentence.

“No one looks for people like you when they go missing. And that thing’s nothing compared to a gun. You guys are just lucky you’re old enough to drive.”

“What do they do with children?” I asked. I didn’t want to be involved from the start, but this wasn’t something I could ignore if his answer was what I expected.

“Move ’em mostly,” the masked man said. “Weapons, drugs, people… all you gotta do is ask the bums around there. The ones that aren’t high and don’t disappear first. Some hear things, some help them move out or distract security not worth bribing.”

“Why?” She dropped the wrench. She’d rather fight off an unwanted image than him.

“It’s get shot or freeze to death, or you can earn 50 bucks. No one gets to make good choices when you live like that. Can you open the truck now?”

“No, I mean, why—never mind, I don’t want to know.” She pushed her hand through her short hair, ruffling it worse. “I don’t know. Isn’t this going to hurt someone?”

“Probably not. They’re smart. They only use the warehouse three days a week to look like a real business. They just leave their stuff in it. All I gotta do is get the bums to clear out and the warehouse comes down. Cops might take bribes or ignore people, but this should get the media bugging them enough for someone to find something.”

“It’s that simple?” Margo asked. She wanted him to say ‘yes.’ She knew the answer was far more complicated than ‘no.’

“Well, that’s the start. I’ve been looking’ into it for almost a year. Frankly, I’d like to set off the bomb when they’re around, but that’s too dangerous.”

Margo let out a long sigh and leaned against the truck trying to think her way out of the situation. She looked pathetic when she did, as if she were smaller and weaker for it. She was fighting something, probably herself. She grabbed the latch of the truck and threw the door open angrily. “Here!” Whatever she was fighting, she had lost. She stepped into the truck and a moment later tossed something towards the roof, not the man. “You tell anybody you even saw us, and I’ll do a lot worse to you than I could with that wrench. And get this over with soon, I gotta unload this by nine.”

And then the masked man was gone, running across rooftops and slinking down pipes. He knew exactly what he was doing. I envied him. He would be fine if the problem wasn’t fully solved, the enemy completely extinguished. He could just walk away. In fact, he could just walk right into the situation and walk right back into a normal life. I almost wanted to follow him to make sure it worked, but I couldn’t. I stayed. Just like I always do.

I hopped down as Margo closed the truck. She ignored me, licking whatever wounds she had from fighting herself. She paused, the key in the lock. She didn’t move. It was just us and the distant roar of traffic behind us. It was over. He was gone. She still didn’t move. “Did I do the right thing?” she asked the door. She wasn’t looking at me. I didn’t think she wanted to.

“They go after children, Margo.” That had always been enough for me.

“Let’s get you some shoes, then,” she said, still wounded, but her opponent seemed to have left for the while. She unlocked the door and pulled out a large box from where the second seat once was. Goodwill. At least I wasn’t the only one to take advantage of these. “Here, take whatever you want, I’m gonna drop off the rest tomorrow.” She said, setting the box down, almost hoping I’d be proud of what she had fetched like an eager dog. “There’s a place that gives shoes to homeless people to help them get jobs, so I picked some up. I hope they’re good enough. They’re kinda old school.”

“I like them like this,” I said, slipping them on. Dark, high, buckles. I had kinda become accustomed to the style. All I wanted was comfort from having to walk on the street, I hadn’t expected anything I’d actually want.

“So what–”

Gunfire. Two shots and everything froze. The silence echoed along the walls of the back alley somehow louder when nearby pigeons started arguing, proud that they were the only noise around. We both waited for the other to move, to make a sound, to tell the other it was nothing. Neither of us wanted to be first.

“Stay here and don’t follow me,” she ordered, finally moving. She grabbed her wrench from the ground in a swift, determined motion. Her tone made it clear that if I did follow her, she might take the hardware to me, too. “I’m gonna make sure it’s safe.”

A human with giant piece of metal was going to make things safe for the vampire who could easily heal wounds. She was right, she wasn’t very smart. Not that I didn’t appreciate the sentiment.

She was gone for a long time. She needed to be. She had returned in just over a minute, but stayed just around the corner, keeping out of my sight. I could hear her pacing back and forth. Sometimes her nails scraped the poorly painted brickwork. She made awful sounds from worry. Anyone could have heard her. I left her alone.

I don’t know how much time passed as I waited for her to return. She was obviously afraid to know herself when she returned.

“I was going to the east sector anyway.” She held up a strange piece of metal. I could only assume it was the same object she had tossed to the stranger a while ago. “I got the rest of the thing, too.”

“If you’re afraid—” I began.

“No!” she yelled, yanking some clothes I had set aside and throwing them into the box. “And no hooded sweatshirts, they’re stupid…sorry.” After a heartbeat she calmed. “Too noticeable. Skeezers, methheads, junkies, crackheads, white boys, wannabe-anarchists and other kinds of creeps wear them a lot. Someone’s going to try and follow you to see if you’re going to cause trouble in the wrong neighborhoods. You’ll need something like mine—thick, not too shiny or bright, simple, and you can’t hide much more than a burger in it. I can get you something online later after a paycheck or two.”

“Why do you wear it?” I asked.

“It’s really just a raincoat,” she said, not answering. “It was cheap.” That still wasn’t the truth. “Go change in the truck. Take your time, I don’t have to deliver the rest of this until tonight and I can drop these clothes off on the way.”

 

* * *

I’ve never understood people who say they want to live near the sea. Even this far from the docks, there was that bland smell of brine and heavy weather. At least the air didn’t carry the foul smells of arrogant sea-life and rotting kelp and garbage. This place smelled heavily of burnt tires, exhaust, and the homeless bums sleeping under the roofs of the warehouses.

“You should stay here,” she said, as she stepped out. “It’s just dropping off the boxes and tossing a doohickey in the right warehouse. I don’t want you getting caught.”

“You can’t dodge bullets.”

“Well you can’t dodge cops,” she retorted. “You’re a doctor, I’ll be fine. They have a military base half a mile away. You won’t.”

“I should keep an eye one you, then,” I said. It was probably less dangerous this way. She had to leave the truck for her job no matter what.

“This is a thing you do on your own, isn’t it?” she asked.

“Unfortunately,” I admitted.

“Fine. Stay close to me and try not to be seen. I’m gonna look like I’m arguing with my truck. If I’m caught, it’s a fine for vandalism or destruction of property. If you’re caught, it probably Guantanamo or some back to the Raft. Now get out and hide.”

She waited until I had disappeared into the shadows to close the door, slamming it as loudly as possible. If no one had noticed before, they would now. They’d see just her, alone, walking to the door of the warehouse to discuss the delivery. No one would care unless they were a crueler hunter than I was.

This time was different. The door opened and she spoke to the man inside. A minute passed and they signed papers. He told her to leave and started to unload the truck by himself. Another man came out to watch. No one was lazy this time. I was thankful when she walked away. Too many people were paying too much attention.

I couldn’t tell if she was lost in the dark or purposefully aimless to avoid suspicion. She had her flashlight out. She carried her wrench like she meant to use it. Whatever worry or stress that had bothered her before was gone. She didn’t walk like she was afraid. I hope none of this was my influence.

She was skilled at this. Or at something. As she got closer to the warehouse, she sped up, banging on others as she passed, pretending she wanted to be here instead of listening to the obvious echo.

Someone noticed her loud approach. “Hey!” she yelled at him.

He was just some homeless guy. There were more who wondered about the noise around the corner. The criminals were probably a sanctuary for them. Probably encouragement as well. A disguise of shoddy security guarding nothing important. And who would notice one lost soul missing from a crowd of them?

The homeless man held out his hand, palm first. Friendly. Begging. Harmless.

“I got something better,” she said as she kept walking towards him. “How about you and your friends clear outta here in thirty seconds and you all get to live. You can argue with a couple of ignition caps and a few dozen pounds of agricultural fertilizer if you don’t.”

She was loud enough that they could all hear. He didn’t have to warn them. They weren’t stupid, they were desperate. Being here had been their best option in life.

“And if anyone has a problem with this, you tell them Rita DuQuesnes doesn’t fuck around!”

Margo stepped closer to the warehouse and slammed her wrench against the side. With a sound that loud, she had to have left a significant dent. There was nothing but echo.

Almost nothing.

I heard nothing but the sound of a hammer being pulled back and a gun cocking. Margo noticed something else. Her light was on a woman’s face almost as soon as my hand was on the gun. The mystery of how I had missed this woman vanished from my mind once I saw her.

Neither of us had planned for someone like this. Her attire was disheveled, handled poorly like the rest of her –  by someone who hadn’t thought of her as a human. Probably more than one individual. Her makeup was a day old and smeared. Bruises peaked out from under the dress and around her neck – bruises made by hands. What I hated most about her look was her complexion. Dehydrated, injured, and barely illuminated, I could make out the olive tint to her skin and texture of her matted hair. She likely wasn’t Greek. Not unless something in the country had radically changed since I left. But she was from nearby and had probably passed through my old homeland before ending up here. There was a scent about her, not strong, but noticeable. It didn’t match the scents of coastal air or abandoned trash the homeless had been hoarding. Dirt. Fresh mud. Probably something used to hide her as they moved her around. Or maybe someone just tossed her on the ground and left her until they came back.

This miserable wreck of a woman looked up. The moon had barely begun to wax from it’s new phase. It was bright enough around to hide the stars, but dark enough to conceal everything else. Still—somehow—she saw me. She wasn’t looking for something she couldn’t see. There was recognition of something.

She turned back to Margo. Her face had been expressionless before then, probably something she learned from her time here in this homeless alley. She couldn’t shoot. She broke down, terrified.

“No! Not tell! You go!” she screamed in bad English. “They come back!” She started sobbing in another language. Not Greek, at least.

“Then leave!” Margo yelled, pointing.

“No, they find me!” the woman muttered.

“Leave,” I told the woman. She was small, tiny. Fragile. There was a lot I could do to her without trying. I wanted her to think I would. “Find the police. Say nothing and never return.”

The woman bolted down the row of warehouses, punching Margo in the face as she tossed the gun away. She was quiet for someone terrified and only wearing one heel. Her captors had probably taught that.

“Do you know how creepy you sounded just then?” Margo asked when the quiet had returned.

“Yes.”

“Well, here,” she said, handing me the pieces of the bomb—the entire reason we were here. “You should check inside, just in case anyone’s there. The door’s probably locked, but I think I saw a broken window on the other side near the back. You’re pretty good at using those. And a lot quieter.”

She was almost right. The window wasn’t broken. It had fallen in from neglect. The warehouse was silent. It was cold. No one was here. I tentatively landed on the floor. The only thing that moved were a few cobwebs.

There was something else here, though. Another surprise I hadn’t predicted. The smell was unmistakable. Someone had been here, then they had died. There was a light from the warehouse next door. Nothing a normal human could see by. It was enough for me, though. Hidden behind a box was the corpse. A woman. This wasn’t how these people operated as far as I knew. A dead woman wasn’t going to earn any money.

I bent down, curious. No sign of struggle, no blood, no bruises. She was perfectly unharmed. Her clothes were barely disheveled and her makeup was just worn with time. I moved her head slightly, looking for wound.

And there is was. The cause of death was two tiny puncture wounds on her neck. Her esophagus had been crushed on the side when something had bitten her. Something that wasn’t human. Something that wasn’t me. No one would be able to tell the difference—or care.

I shoved the bomb under her neck and carefully climbed out the window. I had to get as far away from here as possible. More importantly, Margo did too.

“We should go,” I said, once back outside.

“Anyone in there?”

“No.”

“Did anyone see you?” she asked. She wasn’t moving.

“No.”

“Then keep it that way. I’m going back to the truck. Don’t set it off until I get there. Leave the fuse behind the warehouse after the loader goes back in. You can sneak back in a few feet away.”

“What if someone talks?”

“They’ll mention Rita, she’s my sister. Kept the last name and the dog, didn’t care for the kids, hates her ex. I never said that was my name, and she can’t prove it was me.”

“Come on.”

I followed her back to the truck. She didn’t run, she wandered, pretending to be lost again. That was her excuse once she got back to the truck. I waited for her start for the door to set off the bomb.

There was less damage than I expected. But the noise was noticeable from here. No fire, no collapse, probably just a hole in the wall. No wonder the thing was scrapped by whatever Military group had built it.

Margo was told to get out of the area. No one wanted her around, not even for her to ask what had happened. No one heard the device clatter to the ground. No one saw that the truck had stopped a few dozen feet away and picked up a passenger. No one ever figured out how the woman had died. All they knew was that she was dead before her head was torn from her dead body.

 

To be continued next time in Issue #2 of Morbius Rebooted

email

3 Comments + Add Comment

  • Nice issue! I’d love to email Leta with some questions about the series – can I get her email?

  • Hm. I’m going to admit, I’m a bit fandom blind. I’m not exactly super big into Marvel Comics (I’ve so far only read the Alias comics), more into the MCU verse than the comics verse, but this is really interesting!

    I love your writing style, and you handle emotions very well. There is a quick, witty banter to it that I like. Adds on a nice touch to the themes you seem to be going for.

    Keep it up!