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Ash and Dust (IC)

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April 4, 2013

Albany Subway Station

Freedom City

The deed was done and the heroes had returned triumphant, rescuing dozens of people from extra-dimensional enslavement in a world cast like a mockery of their own planet's grim past. The Freedom League was already working to strengthen the world's magical defenses with the help of magically inclined independent heroes; and the castaway from FLSCH that Caradoc had crossed dimensional boundaries to rescue was back home with his delighted lover. Steve had gone back to Gina, told the story of exactly what had happened to his Caradoc emitter, and promised to avoid deliberately standing under showers of molten steel "to prove some kind of ridiculous point". But the job wasn't done yet.

It had been easy enough, once he borrowed Gina's computer, for Steve to look up something of Wail's history - the veteran hero who had fought alongside others in the Terminus invasion of 1993. That had been the greatest crisis in the history of this world, the public face of the horror of it all still burned into the minds of many of the Freedomians who had fought in it, lived through it, seen others die in it. Would such a man really be interested in talking with him? Steve had already been shamed enough by the open hands and welcomes of so many heroes.

Sitting alone in the subway station, his brown skin and scarred face keeping away most of the passersby, Steve was comfortable in his solitude. Fortunately, it didn't have to last forever.

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Keith LaMarr didn't have much use for public transportation, personally. Certainly he was in favour of it's availability and the general concept but given his super-dense musculature he flat out weighed too much the subway to be a practical option for him or a safe one for those around him. It was a minor annoyance and one to which he'd long since grown accustomed but tonight thinking on it was preferable to dwelling on the conversation he was about to have.

Keith LaMarr didn't have much use for hate. He'd seen time after time just how poisonous an emotion it was, what it did not just the recipient but to the owner, to entire communities. He taught his students to rise about hate, to recognize anger as a mask for fear and respond to rage with composure but Keith LaMarr hated Omegadrones. Any other word would have been an inaccuracy, a lie. Seeing that black and crimson armor in the fey city had brought righteous fury boiling up within him. It had been 1993 all over again and he'd wanted more than anything to turn the drone into a oily smear on his fists.

The drone had responded by helping him save innocent lives. That bought him a chance to state his case, at least. After that, Keith wasn't sure.

It wasn't hard to find the other man in the subway station and once he sat down next to Murdock, the metal bench creaking beneath him, the crowd gave the pair an even wider berth. "So."

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"Yes." There was the sort of silence between them that might have stretched on forever; the former drone like a statue as he looked across the station. The crowd was already thin at this time of day, and it seemed to thin further out now that the two men were sharing the same space. There was a lot of space on the platform; there was no need to too closely approach the now-overstressed bench they shared. Steve seriously considered suggesting that they move, but decided the suggestion lacked a certain gravity given the moment. He would not have understood the pun if it had been explained to him. "My name is Stephen Murdock," the former drone finally said. "I have been living among your people for nearly five years. And before that, for some two or three years as myself, elsewhere."

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"As yourself," LaMarr repeated, his voice a low rumble, as soft as his resonant bass could easily go. "Not as a drone, you mean." Hearing the other man's name made something twist in his stomach, muddying the issue. Omegadrones didn't have names, they were monsters. The man sitting next to had a name. The second point was yet to be determined. Keeping the bulk of his weight on his ankles despite his seated posture wasn't just for the sake of the straining bench. He hadn't let his guard down for a moment.
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"I have been an Omegadrone since the day I was broken within a doomforge," replied Steve, his tone flat enough that it sucked the drama a more emotional man might have put into the words. "Even your most advanced science has been unable to remove the armor enfolded beneath my skin. Nor should I ask them to. I will be what I am until I am no more." The words rang with rhythm, like spoken poetry, something turned over and over in the speaker's mind like a precious stone. A train whizzed by, fast, a flash of light in the comparative darkness of the station. "There was a battle in the Terminus," he finally said. "I was freed by a...stroke of fate. It has not been reproducible." Guilt shaded the last sentence and darkened Steve's brown complexion slightly, shading along his scars. "It was thought better to keep this reality a secret. There are those who would take the news of an Omegadrone among them with fear, and those who would learn that one had been freed...and die, trying to free others." 

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LaMarr hadn't been expecting such a flat omission, drawing a vague grumbling sound from the back of his throat. Rationalizations and excuses would have made sense; he wasn't sure what to make of defeated self-loathing so ingrained that it didn't even warrant any heat in Murdock's tone. Watching the drone armor unfold from within the man's skin had been one of the more disturbing thing the veteran hero had ever seen, making it onto a long and varied list.

"So all the ripping edge scientists and futurists with the League took a peek but you're just special, huh?" It wasn't a fair question in the least. Wail himself had been the recipient of an unrepeatable experimental treatment and he was hardly the only metahuman who had been reborn through a twist of fate. Even so, the story that this one drone was somehow exempt from everything he'd been told was difficult to believe.

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"There have been others who were freed. Juveniles removed from their indoctrination chambers. A young man rebuilt by Daedalus from near-destruction. But none like me who remember the mind of a drone; there are none who lived as drones who have been known to survive the transition. Drones are programmed to slay those that no longer hear the voice of Omega, and there are...other factors." Steve fell silent for a moment, opting not to share his personal speculation that those who were taken by the Terminus from the streets of conquered worlds went mad as their bodies and minds were torn apart by alien science - his own childhood on Nihilor had given him the frame of reference to understand his situation upon his liberation. 


"I want you to understand that you and yours are right to fear and hate Omegadrones for who they are and what they represent," he told Keith seriously. "And you were right to strike me on that other world when you saw my face. They do represent a mindless abomination of science and technology ungrasped by all but a select few of even this mighty world's great minds. If you encounter one, you will do it a profound service by its destruction." He looked at Keith, bench creaking beneath him, then back at an advertisement across the way. "There is no justice in the Terminus. Only fate." 

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  • 2 weeks later...

It took LaMarr more than a minute of silence to realize what was familiar about Murdock's words and the way he was saying them. It was something he'd heard in the voices of victims on domestic disturbance cases during the days of 1-800-JUSTICE, in the voices of students who'd showed up for school with bruises and poor excuses. It wasn't really the same, no, but once the parallel was drawn he couldn't shake it: someone who'd been hurt so deeply and for so long that eventually the only way they could find to deal with it was to decide they'd deserved it all along.

None of those people had ever been unwilling participants in genocide, however. "Hrm. Bottom line, Murdock, I don't know how to react to you. Seen a lot of things in my days. Not this." Folding one hand over a fist he rested his chin atop them. "No great believer in fate, though. That's something a man build for himself with his actions and his character. From what I'm hearing they took away your control of your actions, so that just leaves character." He turned his head enough to give Murdock a long, hard look, as though debating internally.

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"I make no claims to character," replied Murdock with that same serious tone. "I chose to live, and act for good, only because it is better to be alive than to be dead, and better to act for good than to simply be alive."  He looked back at Keith, close enough for Wail to see that the other man lacked even eyelashes, and had hairline scars along his corneas to match those on his skin. When he spoke again, it was with real emotion in that all-too-human voice. "And it has been good. I have walked the streets of a free world, and seen children at play and young people in love, and seen stars and a sun in a sky untroubled by red." He'd also gotten a job and a girlfriend, but that wasn't anything Wail necessarily needed to hear about. "Amid the depths of the multiverse, this world and those like it are a paradise. To walk its streets, and to live as other men do...I am more grateful than I can say. I am...glad you came here today."  

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