Bill Archer walks slowly down the stairs into the basement storeroom of the "Beer Cave", a bright orange bundle tucked under one arm. Below he can hear the sounds intergalactic warfare being waged on the video game console in the sparsely decorated living area. He sees the back of Leon's head, bobbing and weaving in time to the action on the TV screen. Archer picks the remote off the floor and says, "What are you still doing up? It's after midnight," as he turns the TV off.
"SHIT!!!" The boy half-leaps, half-falls off the couch from the sudden noise. He scrabbles to his feet, clutching the game's control pad like he's getting ready to throw it. "Who the fuck are you?" he demands.
"Hey! What did I tell you about that cussing?" Archer snaps back. He pauses for a second. Slow down, Bill—you half-scared the kid out of his skin. Slowly, Archer pulls the bundle out from under his arm and lets it unfurl, revealing a familiar orange-and-yellow radiation suit. "It's me, Leon... it's the Space Man."
"Space Man?" Leon looks the stranger up and down, his eyes widening. "Whoa.... you're really VIN DIESEL?!?!"
"Vin... what are you talking about, son?" Then Archer catches sight of his reflection in the TV's darkened picture tube. The bald head, the bodybuilder's physique, obvious even under the baggy clothes—he could see where the boy's overactive imagination was coming from...
Archer regards his reflection a moment longer—the pale blue eyes, the aquiline nose, the skin of his new body free of any scars or blemishes. Not Vin Diesel. Maybe Hugh Jackman. Or the guy who fakes his own death in that movie, and then frames Ashley Judd for murder...
He turns back to Leon and smiles. "No, Leon... just me. And you can call me Bill from now on." Archer walks around the couch to the boy and, with his free arm, gives him a hug. "It's good to be back, son."
Leon sits up on the back of the couch, and asks, "So, what happened? How'd they change you back? Did it hurt? Did they try to double-cross you?"
Archer smiles weakly. "Leon... I promise I'll tell you all about it in the morning. I'm really tired, and I've got a lot to do tomorrow. I've got to talk to FMJ's doctor friend, to make sure I'm alright. And I'm going to have to see about getting a job. And I've gotta get hold of Mikey Torino—you know, the one who makes the fake I.D.'s? I'm going to need a new cover identity, at least for the time being...'
"Torino?" Leon sounds incredulous. "You don' wanna talk to that fool. His paper ain' worth shi.... uh, I mean it ain't any good."
Archer smirks for a moment. "Look, kid; I don't care HOW good that driver's license he sold you was—you weren't going to convince ANYbody that you're really 25... Anyhow, it's time for bed."
Leon climbs into his cot as Archer gets an extra blanket for him. He can feel the boy's eyes following him as he walks around the room. "What is it, Leon?"
Leon raises up on one elbow. "I dunno. It's just...."
"Well... I didn't know you'd be white."
"Well, nobody's perfect," Archer shrugs. "And anyway, at least it's better than being Day-Glo orange.... or glow-in-the-dark..." Archer stretches out on the couch. "Good night, Leon."
"Good night.... Bill."
* * * * *
from The Personal Journal of Dr. William Archer
Day 1, 12:17 AM:
Something is wrong. I'm sure of it. I don't want to alarm the others until I've got a handle on what's going on. They've done enough for me as it is—going along with making a back-alley deal with the Syndicate, allowing me to trade the Psi-Clone supply for a new body. I don't want them to think Blackheart sold me a lemon—that all this sacrifice has been for nothing.
I've got to analyze this rationally—understand the facts before I can form a hypothesis,and find a way to prove or disprove my suspicions.
1.) There's no trace of radiation emanating from this new physical form. In fact, no trace of ANY of my old powers, or any of the powers Flashburn has demonstrated. No powers, period—except for that brief moment of intangibility when I fell through the side of that life support unit my body was contained in. That, and... something that happened when I tried to resolidify myself. Have to explore that further later.
2.) I was unable to keep down any of the food I ate at the Third Rail. Not enough to draw a conclusion from a single incident, though. It could be a delayed effect of the stress of the evening. It could be a health inspector needs close down Heartless Jack's grill, permanently. It could be a side effect—Sam's blood contaminating my own DNA sample and causing some error in the replication of my body. Got to take it slow and careful. I still have time—it will take a couple of weeks for me to completely starve to death. If things get dicey, hopefully I can convince Dr. Tompkins to set me up with a glucose drip to buy me a few extra days. Have to remember to contact her in the morning.
3.) There's something wrong with my eyesight. Everything is... fuzzy. Hazy around the edges, like it was vibrating at high speed. It could be a side effect of genetic contamination, or simply that my optic nerve and brain are brand new, and still learning how to interpret the signals. Except the effect isn't uniform. Living things seem to be vibrating more than inanimate objects, and people more than plants or animals. And—strangest of all—I'm not vibrating at all.
Too tired to think things through. Leon keeps watching me from his bed. Time to turn off the lights. We both need some sleep—maybe things will be clearer in the morning.
(to be continued...)
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