From the Journal of Dr. William Archer:

Friday, February 20, 2009

This is shaping up to be one hell of a homecoming.

Still no word on the word about Sharon's body being found in the rubble—no news is good news, I suppose. No direct evidence tying Flashburn to the incident, either. If it was her that did this, it makes no sense—if Blackheart wanted to make an example of me for the theft of his psi-clone, why not just kill me when I was in the lab? Or if Flashburn holds me responsible for her being rendered sterile, and for thwarting her attempted coup of the Syndicate, why didn't she attack me when SHE had the chance?

Could Professor Boleman have dropped a dime to Colonel Stern once he realized it was me Blackheart was restoring to flesh? Has Stern been dumping other hapless souls into the collision chamber—grinding out a private army of "the contained"? If he is, then it's my one consolation that this project—whatever it is—is under the command of such a singularly unimaginative individual. If all he's doing is converting people into balls of living radiation, then he still doesn't have a clue what that machine is truly capable of. And God help us all if he manages to figure that one out.

As much as I want to get the hell back there, I need to see if we can get the others in on this one, especially Koyotie. We're going to need her skills, not to mention her connections to Erica Chase and the press. Whether he's directly involved with the attack on my old house or not, now would be the time to investigate whatever it is Boleman and Stern were up to in the lab. If we can blow the lid off of that one—give the public a nice, juicy scandal about ICoMP's abuses of power, maybe ICoMP will be forced to play it safe for a while. That might take the heat off of us, and maybe even pave the way for some civilian oversight for the regulation of metahumans.

Still not sure what to make of our mysterious Mr. Takeshi. With Blackheart already dicking around with us, it's just a little too convenient that he showed up when he did. And regardless of what Heather may say, there's a world of difference between me and him—I may have given the lesser of two evils a leg up in exchange for my life back; but this Takeshi is an admitted career criminal, and even if we join forces against a common enemy there's no reason to think his crew would be any better for the city. But to hear Heather tell, he's one hell of a shot; and if the perpetrator is anything like Flashburn or me, we could really use that edge.

Archer powers down his beat-up laptop and stuffs it into a duffel bag. A half-smile crosses his face as he thinks of the times he used that bag to travel incognito, back when he was Contained.

That reminds me, he thinks to himself. It might be handy to have something to cart Flashburn back with, assuming we catch up to her.

"Leon!" Archer shouts up the stairs. "Can you bring me my spare containment suit? The one I had from before?"

No answer.

Did the kid take off somewhere? Archer thinks, as he climbs the stairs. Wish he would've said something...

When he reaches the ground floor, Archer sees Leon standing by the old brewing kettle, next to the place where the spare suit used to hang. The boy is grinning from ear to ear and holding a large box, wrapped in newsprint and tied with twine.

"Ta-daa!" Leon exclaims as he hands Archer the box with a flourish.

Archer looks puzzled as he accepts the box. "What's this?"

"Well, when you said that neither of your suits was vibratin' when you looked at it, you kinda gave me an idea. I took the other suit, the one you didn't cut up? I took it to Mr. Tranh's, and I axed them to make this for you. The ladies said they worked on it all night, and said to say thank you again."

Archer thinks back to some six months ago, soon after he arrived in St. Louis. There'd been rumors on the street of young girls—Thai and Vietnamese mostly—who were being smuggled into the country illegally, and forced to work in sweatshops, or worse. As Contained, he'd managed to track down those responsible with them, and free the women—though they were nearly as afraid of him as they were of their captors. He had heard one of the girls had an uncle who owned a shop in the garment district, and was able to provide jobs and shelter for a number of them.

"Leon, I—I don't know what to say! Thank you," Archer says as he unwraps the present and opens it. Inside the box is a jacket. It's styled a bit like a motorcycle jacket, with the reinforced, fire-retardant material giving it roughly the same bulk and feel as leather. The entire thing has been spray-painted the same obnoxious shade of purple Leon used on Archer's boots and gloves.

Leon smiles even wider, if that's physically possible. "Try it out! I wanna see if it works or not!"

Obligingly, Archer shrugs into the jacket. It fits surprisingly well, and even manages to look good with the silvery bodysuit. Tentatively, Archer slowly begins to shrink; and the jacket shrinks with him. He returns to normal size, then grows until his head nearly touches the ceiling. Again, the jacket maintains a perfect fit. Finally, Archer wills himself intangible, and the jacket follows suit.

"I didn't know what would happen if stuff was in your pockets," Leon starts to explain, "so they took some of the Velcro and made them sorta break-away..."

"It's perfect," Archer assures Leon, and gives him a hug. "I think this may be the best birthday present ever."

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