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Burdens of a Legacy (IC)

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Saturday, March 24

3:45 PM

The lightly overcast sky did little to cheer up the sparse scrub and rocks where John lie prone, sighting down one of his augmented weapons. He held is breath and lightly pulled the trigger causing a can around 150 meters downrange split open. His watch beeped in alarm which was quickly silenced. Five minutes until the meeting. He had been dreading this ever since he had answered the call from Fulcrum. She had wanted to meet him alone without any of the other Irregulars. He had chosen this location due to small chance of witnesses and the fact that recording devices would pick up mostly wind if there were any.

It wasn't hard for him to figure out what she wanted to meet him about. The Proteus incident had caused numerous people both civilian and hero to run into SHADOW operatives. As a result he had cut back on his excursions outside Claremont aside from essential matters, so he had used the opportunity to get some range practice in. One of the other empty cans downrange blew over as the the wind started to pick up a bit. Looks like rain, John thought as he looked to the darker clouds on the horizon.

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The same face appeared again and again in her mind's eye. A face on virtually every SHADOW operative she entered during the mutagen attack. Which immediately synchronized with the polite, young man from Claremont. Her suspicions were piqued the more she reviewed the visage. Compared the bone structure, the eyes, the way the face moved and the voice produced. No doubts remained in her mind.

Part of her felt guilty about prying. Mr. Summers was a very intelligent man and would see through such an obvious plant. But why would he otherwise be at Claremont? Surprisingly, Mr. Summers himself suggested speaking with John privately. A therapeutic experience for John no less. She did decline to read his file however. Like Wander, Fulcrum wanted him to reveal what he was comfortable.

Fulcrum appeared on the horizon, a golden sparkle that materialized before him. One moment over the city, the next she landed with a wave. She smiled, "Good afternoon, John. How are you?'

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The first mental warning that he was not alone was followed by the voice of that most did not expect to come from the towering titaness. Picking himself off the ground, he dusted off his pants and turned to face his questioner. John blithely pondered exactly what role she would be playing in this tete-a-tete: the judge, the jury, or perhaps even the executioner?

His stance easily slipped into an at ease position, meeting her gaze directly. "Barring circumstances outside of my control, I am fine Ma'am. Yourself?" The other Irregulars had joked that John was going stir crazy cooped up at Claremont ever since the Hot Zone incident. But it only took a few adverse reactions from the citizens of Freedom to his presence that reinforced the need for him to stay under the radar. He just had not expected Fulcrum to be the incarnation of the Sword of Damocles in this situation.

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"Excellent, thank you. Enjoying the peace and quiet after that horrible plague," replied Fulcrum. Looking about, she pulled over a small boulder and sat as she spoke. Now they were roughly at eye level.

"I heard you had a difficult time during the plague. No one really knows what you were up to, other than you came home beaten up pretty badly. Good to see you've recovered." She looked him in the eye, gauging his intent. So much about his behavior made sense with this new information, as little as Mr. Summers had directly revealed.

"John, do you know why I'm here?" No sense beating around the bush.

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John removed his sunglasses, tossing them onto his nearby backpack. "I helped where I could Ma'am. I had to operate covertly the entire week, which often precluded seeking medical attention."

Not surprised by her request he rattled off the details. "You are here per Paragraph 5, Subsection 11a of the agreement for allowing my integration into society. It stipulates that if I were to show signs of rampancy or pose a threat to others, that my rights and freedoms can be revoked and termination protocols enacted if necessary."

John looked down at his feet, then faced the heroine again. "If I may Ma'am, I would like the record to state that I would prefer death to incarceration." She could sense only complete honesty from him.

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Fulcrum blinked, her expression deadpanned. Between blinks, she mentally reviewed everything Mr. Summers said concerning John. An agreement did come up, as well as a Paragraph 5, although he didn't elaborate. Apparently the situation was a bit more sensitive then first imagined.

More salient to the present, his passive acceptance of, and anticipation toward, some negative fate left her heart broken. If not interpreted in a poor light, or as an attack, she'd pull him into a giant hug and tell him everything was alright. Patronizing, to be sure, but a comfort she wanted to provide nonetheless.

Instead she nodded at his preference and replied evenly, "Duly noted, John. I appreciate your honesty. Nothing bad is going to happen to you. You're done nothing wrong. From what I read, your actions during the outbreak were not only commendable, but above and beyond the call of duty. I'm quite proud of you."

"I'm here to talk about you, not SHADOW," she continued, "I know, I know. It's all in the file...and I didn't read it. You are free to talk or not, about any subject you wish, or end this meeting at any time. I'm here for any questions or concerns you have of any kind, and everything here will be held in the strictest confidence. Even from Mr. Summers."

About the storm clouds on the horizon, she remarked, "Looks like a good rain."

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The clone heros' expression landed somewhere on the line between incredulity and confusion. "I am afraid I do not follow Ma'am." That statement was followed by a quick frown as he mentally parsed what information he knew about Fulcrum and her preceding statements. "Or maybe you were misinformed, Ma'am."

Things just did not add together as he further tried to ascertain what the tall heroine was exactly here for, not to mention he still had occasional trouble with social dialogue. She said that she had not read his dossier, but in addition she tried placating him with words of approval of his actions. Not to mention that he was free to talk freely and and even leave. The largest thing that threw him for a proverbial loop was that any information would be withheld from Headmaster Summers. It had been almost a year since he had arrived on campus and...oh. The gears clicked, his eyes narrowing in realization. This was a test. A psychiatric test to gauge him. Headmaster Summers and Mister Daedalus were very crafty individuals indeed to have someone he knew proctor this test.

"I wish to redact my previous statement. I will not withhold or conceal any information, from you or Headmaster Summers. Doing so would render this psychiatric evaluation void. What would you like to know?"

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"Life isn't a war, John," replied Fulcrum patiently, "No matter how much Overshadow or experience suggest otherwise. Nor is this a test of any kind. Nothing you have to prepare or succeed against." She tried her best not to sound patronizing while still communicating that nothing official or important was involved in the conversation.

Tapping her fingers against the rock, she added, "Mr. Summers may try to read something into this meeting, but it is more about a search for truth. And to see how you are faring. You were originally a clone of Overshadow, yes?" she asked as a matter to keep the conversation on track.

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Now John looked really confused, baffled you might say. He chose his next words carefully. "Yes. Project Myrmidon was an offshoot of Project: Mimir which was researching engineering psionic capabilities into clones via eugenics and genetic manipulation. Project: Myrmidon itself was an attempt to mass produce psionic field commanders to coordinate SHADOW forces in the field and to act as a force multiplier. While much of my genome is a identical copy to Overshadow, it has been modified in such a manner that grants meta-human abilities. I was the last surviving clone after surviving the training, testing, and experimentation."

He held up a hand. "However, I am confused, Ma'am. You say that this is a search for truth and not an interrogation. Then you want for me to voice my concerns and say that it is not an evaluation. What exactly is the purpose of this meeting then?" John was entirely lost.

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"Well, I for one am glad to have you here," replied Fulcrum after listening carefully to John's case history. A sad case, to be sure, but not one on which to pity. Things were looking up!

"What do you think this meeting is about?" came the rhetorical reply.

Mentally, she compared this new information to existing. Indeed, as she previously suspected, much of his behavior came into stark focus. A good approach then was to put him outside of his comfort zone. To think in new ways, and perhaps, get to the bigger picture.

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This. This was why John got mixed up in social situations. It was so open-ended and...he couldn't plan ahead or even begin to understand the nuances going on here. So like any sane soldier would do in a situation where he was outgunned, out maneuvered, and out-manned...he capitulated.

"I do not know Ma'am. I have problems with understanding a large number social conventions especially when it comes to dialogue. Would you please rephrase the question so that I may better understand what information you seek?" There was a faint undertone of exasperation.

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"Okay, okay," replied Fulcrum. She knew he was baiting her, trying in his military mindset to reorganize the conversation in a comprehensible way. Still he looked genuinely anxious, and so she said, "You've already answered my only pressing question."

"I am here to confirm whether or not you are related to SHADOW, and your current condition. Which you have been quite forthcoming, thank you. That's all I need to know. The rest is your privacy." She nodded once.

"That's official business. Now I am here to provide any assistance you need, answer any questions, and listen. About anything. Unrelated to Claremont, psych evaluations or reports to Summers." She smiled warmly, "I offer not because I feel sorry for you, or I'm monitoring you, but because I can sympathize with your difficulties and you're a good kid."

"So this isn't an interrogation. Just fact finding. Not an evaluation, just an offer a friendship. Something I do every day because being a hero means more than beating up the bad guys."

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John blinked twice as the realization of what she was here for dawned on him. "I see." The tenseness in his body evaporated and his shoulders slumped a fraction of an inch.

"Thank you, Miss Mona for your kind offer." John made eye contact with the heroine with weight that made him look far older and world weary than his youthful features showed. "Please do not take this the wrong way. I do not want pity, or sympathy, or consolation. My only request is understanding." He sat finally, on a larger rock that put him basically at eye level with the taller heroine.

"No matter my actions however well intended, can even begin to repay the wages of sin that have been caused by Wilhelm Kantor. He is me, and I am him in some fashion. Besides the genetic similarity. All SHADOW clones also have implanted memories of the original donor, roughly 10-20%. This allows for a level of autonomy that would otherwise require intensive training such as walking, talking, and the like. Project: Myrmidon clones started at 80%. So while I appreciate your assertion that I am a good person, please recognize that I possess the memories of a sociopath. I have to lie to my friends and constantly not acknowledge that side of me that wants to do what I was intended to do. The weapon. The assassin. The murderer." He quickly glanced around the area.

"There are twenty-two improvised weapons within reach. While I know that none of them would do little to stop you, I surmise that tactics similar to how I would engage Glowstar would be most effective." John looked sickened at himself. "You see Miss Mona? Every time I step into a room with others or meet somebody I instantly think about how to best incapacitate and kill them. Or how to infiltrate a building. The list goes on. That is why I accept the terms of the agreement."

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Mona parsed the information quietly, letting John speak his piece. When he fell silent, she replied slowly, "John, no offense intended, but... so the hell what?" followed by a shrug and wait for the message to home.

"Yes, John, I have no idea what that feels like. But. You're not the only one that walks a thin line. AEGIS has neutralization files on every major hero and a lot of the minor ones with unusual abilities. People can and do give in to darker aspects of their personalities. All the time," she said while slicing her hand through the air. "I can say without ego that I have the capability of annihilating all life on this planet, and that terrifies me."

"I bet Mr. Summers has a file for neutralizing himself," she added offhandedly.

"But...and this is a big but...you feel really bad about those thoughts and memories. Obvious looking at your face," the giantess continued, leaning over and cupping one side of his face with her hand, "You do your best to deny those instincts, and if not to make yourself more comfortable, those you care about. To try your best to do the right thing. That is why you're a good man. You may not believe it, but that's okay. This Old Testament crap people throw at you is their problem, not yours."

Leaning back, she sighed, "'Sympathy' wasn't a good word choice. You want understanding. Fine. Talk. See where this goes. Because 22 improvised weapons is a little on the low end."

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John nearly flinched when she reached for him but only managed a small shudder thanks into no small part from his time at Claremont and his friends predilection for physical contact. Namely Morgan or Brian slapping him on the shoulder, or using him as an impromptu armrest, or poking him for whatever reason...

He gave her a sheepish grin. "The actual number was sixty-three, but most of those would do little hinder you. I would question my sanity if I thought that a mere rock would pose a significant threat."

She wanted his actual opinion it seemed, a lingering doubt still in the back of his mind kept his tongue in check. "Permission to speak freely?"

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"Sorry, John. Didn't consider how you're feel about being touched," replied Fulcrum a bit sheepishly. She recovered quickly enough, chuckling at mention of being thumped with a rock.

"Absolutely, speak freely. That was sort of an assumed condition on my part, and I apologize for that. Say whatever is on your mind." Again she made a sweeping gesture.

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"No apology necessary. It is an artificial defensive response, similar to a knee-jerk." Except that a knee jerk response isn't meant to dislocate an arm, he darkly noted.

"It is...difficult for me to disassociate myself from my roots. I acknowledge them, but to abandon them would be to abandon a large part of who I am. They may not be my memories but they shape my actions and thoughts. But there are times where I sincerely wish that I could just have a life like my friends without the constant reminders." He sighed. "You obviously ran into SHADOW operatives in the field, which is what led to this. Many people did. Now I see fear and hatred directed at me from more citizens then ever. The people I am supposed to be helping. As result, this is the first time I have been outside of Claremont for any length duration since the incident."

He kicked a small rock, sending it skittering across the desolate landscape. "You are familiar with Doctor Victor Archville, yes? John had memories of Kantor of working with one of the super-scientists ancestors. "How does he deal with the burden of his legacy?"

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"One day at a time," came the plain reply. "He is two generations removed, but as I'm sure you're aware, he too looks a lot like his grandfather."

Leaning on her knees, she continued, "I know the going has been very difficult for him at times. Every decision he made, no matter how well intended, was- or is - scrutinized and over-analyzed. So initially he was very timid and neurotic about making mistakes. Trying to please everyone all the time. Which, I can assure you, is really impossible."

"Now? Well, you learn about public relations very fast with that kind of history. Or being a hero in general. Now...now he just focuses on what he was out there for in the first place: helping people. The rest is spin, sad to say." Looking up at the gathering clouds, she said, "It's not easy, having a private side and a very public side, but you compartmentalize and enjoy your solitude. I do."

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He listened intently, wanting to make sure that he did not miss any of the intent behind the heroines' advice.

"I really cannot be a public hero, however. It is part of the reason I wear armor and a helmet. If my identity were to become know to SHADOW at large I would put at risk my friends, the school, and many other innocents. To avoid the limelight as much as possible, and deflect my accomplishments to my teammates. While some may think that is humility it is more about surviving." John glared at the ocean like it was an enemy. "A large majority of the reason that I have adopted the social overtones and niceties of the John Smith persona is to provide a larger disconnect if someone did find my roots." John looked at her out of his peripheral vision. "I am sure you expressed confusion when you saw my brothers in the field, after all, who would suspect that 'John Smith' is a clone of a madman?" He laughed joylessly at the point. "I just loathe the lies and lifestyle I must perpetuate to ensure my safety and that of my friends, acquaintances, and the people I have sworn to protect."

He gave her a resolute look, before deciding something and standing. "Hello, Mona. My name is John. Thank you for listening to me." He extended his hand as if greeting her for the first time.

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"A pleasure to meet you, John," replied Mona with a smile and handshake as she too stood. "And you're welcome. I will listen any time you want to talk."

She stood silently for a few moments, looking out over the ocean as well. Her expression was more tranquil, contemplative.

"Although," she wondered aloud, "is that your real name? What name would you prefer?"

"Considering you wear a helmet, you have the secret identity thing down pretty well," she said momentarily, "I'm surprised anyone would recognize you. Myself included to be honest."

Beyond that, she just enjoyed the peace and quiet, letting him speak if he so chose.

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"I do not possess what you would call a name, something more akin to a designation. The faculty and overseers at the SHADOW laboratory referred to me as 07, or Zed-Seven. That was because I was clone number seven of the fifty clones that were created in that lot." The breeze kicked up, bringing the refreshing smell of an oncoming storm inland. "As for how I acquired my current ID, that was the result of Mister Daedalus thinking that the name 'John Doe' was amusing since I did not have any identification. The other Freedom League members decided that while John was fine for a first name that I looked more like a 'Smith'. I did not find out until later that 'John Smith' is one of most common names for men. Though the name on my passport is Johann, as an attempt to explain my obviously German heritage."

"I prefer to be called John, but not in the field." It was nice he decided, to be able to talk freely. "You would be surprised how easily it is to identify people if you take note of other things besides physical features and appearance. For example, I find fighting style to be a much more unique signature. How a person fights is just as unique and identifiable as a signature, except you are marking your name across the battlefield instead of a document." He took a deep breath, noting the salty smell of the ocean as the breeze kicked the whitecaps higher.

"But then again, I do not exactly have a normal perspective of things."

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"Maybe not, but you're not alone in that aspect," replied Fulcrum after a pause. "I'm surprised more of the highly trained heroes haven't been identified using that method."

"I read an article years ago from a U.S. Army veteran with a similar perspective," she continued, looking up at the sky in thought. Her memory had improved over the years, but some items were still a touch fuzzy. "He studied a lot of martial arts styles. I can't recall them, and he was highly ranked in several. Anyway he said pretty much the same thing. That a fighting style, training technique, or just athletic mannerism, was as identifiable as a fingerprint."

"I also recall a couple of items this gentlemen mentioned. First, he left the army because he was becoming cynical. He was a military policemen, and found connecting to people without constant suspicion or paranoia was becoming a barrier to his social life. Second, combined with this perspective, he found himself instinctively constructing tactical scenarios wherever he went."

Looking back out over the ocean, her brow furrowed as she tried to recall the man's name. The kernel of an idea was forming in her mind.

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John shrugged. "I do not think of what I have as a burden. While I admit I have trouble with the various minutiae of social interaction, but I am learning rapidly and as long as I have someone to help me interpret I think I am making progress. I certainly do not get as many bewildered looks compared to a year ago." He paused, watching a trio of gulls in the distance.

"In any case, re-purposing the intent of my my abilities to defend others more than makes up for any minor inconveniences that I may suffer. I am learning to deal with and endure my own complications, but I welcome them as giving me an unique perspective and understanding that not many have." He glanced over to the thoughtful-looking Fulcrum. "I do not wish to change who I am, Mona."

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"I should hope not," replied Fulcrum. Lifting up, she hovered to John's other side and landed. "And good. Who are you and what you are capable of should not be a burden. That is a very positive outlook on life. I'd punch you in the shoulder, like I do my sister, but I don't want to invade your personal space." She smiled.

"One day at a time, eh?" she added while looking out over the ocean.

"Carl Jung once stated that, quote, 'knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people'. What do you make of that?"

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"Do not concern yourself. If you want to punch me in a friendly manner, I do not mind. Just do not 'surprise' me by doing such things when I am unaware of your presence." His flight or fight responses had been modified so the needle was pegged all the way on the 'fight' side, as his friends and acquaintances found out. Mona could make out something that sounded suspiciously like 'mage with a death wish' that John said under his breath.

"I cannot vouch for the accuracy of that quotation in my case. I can extrapolate my own knowledge and experience into attempting to discern how a person will respond to an action, but I will not understand the reasons behind their actions. To paraphrase a saying, 'I am a soldier not a psychologist'." John looked over to Fulcrum.

"I am a simple man to understand once you know my true history," he said without preamble. "Soldiers: do not give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel, who drill you, diet you, treat you as cattle, as cannon fodder. Do not give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines. You are not cattle. You are men. You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You do not hate, only the unloved hate. Only the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers: do not fight for slavery, fight for liberty." The words came out as a mantra, an almost physical talisman to which the heroine could tell that he clung to. "Headmaster gave me that motion picture, The Great Dictator, as a gift when I was at the Academy over the winter break." He was quiet for a few minutes afterwords.

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