[This little tidbit occurs during the night after the revelation that the Un-Natural Disasters want to turn St. Louis into a pile of rubble.]

Ferris tipped his head back to empty the glass, letting the amber liquid burn down his throat. He put the glass back down next to the depleted bottle of whiskey.

At this time of the night (or the morning, if one were to be that picky), there was barely anyone at the Third Rail beyond Heartless Jack behind the bar and Jade Gorgon wiping tables down. Ferris was trying to convince himself that was the main reason he didn't bother pulling his mask back down to hide his face after lifting it to drink, then gave it up as a bad job. The fact was he didn't much care anymore.

He'd spent so much of his life hiding what he could do, who he was. First for his country, then for himself, and finally for his family.

And now, with his son, daughter-in-law and grandson, the only family he had left, in the clutches of the Second Syndicate, the charade had just fallen apart.

He stiffened as a blaze of anger flashed through his brain. Dammit, boy! What in hell were you thinking? Ferris thought furiously. Destroying his career, putting himself and his family under the thumb of the Syndicate, and then having the sheer gall of blaming Ferris for it, saying he did it all to cover for his old man's indiscretions.

About the only thing that had kept him from writing the boy off entirely was the chance that the Syndicate had monkeyed with his mind after all. Maybe they'd planted some suggestion that had exploded into his paranoid delusions.

The only saving grace is that, as far as he knew, Blackheart hadn't made the connection between Jim Ferris and Full Metal Jacket. But God only knew how long that would last.

Not that the rest of his world was in better shape. He still hadn't tracked down the U-City Killer and gotten Deena off the hook. Thanks to Blitzkrieg's cheerfully sociopathic tendencies, the city of St. Louis was now facing the threat of ultra-terrorists. The local ICoMP branch was now in the hands of a man known to treat human beings as test subjects. And Archer's wife was now an unstable glowing ball of plasma, the archetypical ticking time bomb. It was too much.

It certainly does look like a complete Charlie Foxtrot from here....

Crap. I don't need this right now.

I disagree. Right now, I'm exactly what you need.

Ferris looked up to study the figure sitting across the table. The man he saw sat straight, his hands placed carefully on the table. His skin was burnished steel, covered by well-worn military fatigues with no rank tabs or badges present. Staring at the human statue, Ferris could hear the echo of explosions and screams, and his nose itched with the memory of cordite and blood.

The man's features were indistinct, hard to identify, but Ferris had no trouble recognizing that face. He'd seen it reflected on field mirrors and in soldiers' eyes enough times.

What are you doing here?

You tell me. You made the deal back then. You'd forswear your powers, and I'd willingly go on inactive duty. And I kept to it, even when that sorry excuse of a REMF decided to prove you a liar by shooting you.

That doesn't answer the question.

The metallic man turned his head slightly.

You left the war, and me behind. That was your plan. But things have changed.

How? The war's still over...

A shake of the head interrupted him.

There's a new war brewing. You know it is. And you're in the middle of it, whether you want to or not. And a war requires a soldier.

Ferris closed his eyes, trying to summon the will to argue.

It's not the same. There're too many innocents that'll get hurt.

That's always been part of the cost of war. Doesn't make it any less necessary.

But what am I supposed to do?

What you were trained to do from the beginning, soldier.

Ferris looked up, but the apparition was gone. Nevertheless, he kept staring at the spot for a long time...

Jade Gorgon looked over at their only customer. She thought to ask Jacket if he wanted another bottle, but instinct gained from dealing with folks who used alcohol to numb the soul told her what the man wanted right now was to be left alone.

"Yeah, you know when I drink alone, I prefer to be by myself."
I Drink Alone

George Thorogood

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