By Allegiance 16 Comments
Charlie Hudson. Born in the same hospital, lived across the street. Died in the trenches.
Sammy Baretta. Stepped on a mine. Sniper round through the skull.
They kept dying. Everyone he knew and loved. A heart can only take so much before it starts to crumble. The soul begins to wither with age, and the passage of time just keeps marching on.
James Palmer, one of the last of his kind. The mark of a generation, the brand of rebellious youth. Protest songs. Love instead of war. Topple the corrupt government. Burning Man. Woodstock. Acoustic guitar. Mary Jane. Artillery shells. Rolling Thunder. Tear gas in the streets. Kent State.
Bring our soldiers home.
For God's sake, bring them home. No one deserves this. No one wanted this.
But they kept dying. Recycled visions of the past, haunting him. Nightmares made real. Prying his eyes open for the next phase of the terror, and it would always get worse. Sammy's brains splashing on his face. Bennett's punctured lung filling up with fluid. Benny's guts dragging on the ground. Make it stop.
Jack and John. They were almost perfect twins, born into the world by only a second difference. Jack was the older, and John always knew that. They were inseparable. So when Jack was shot in the leg, John operated on instinct and went back for him.
James heard himself screaming. He felt the sound emerge from his throat, but nothing escaped the muffled thud of North Vietnamese artillery chasing after them.
"Are you okay? Mr. Palmer, are you okay?"
The bandages were fresh, but already flecked red. Shrapnel in his skull that, upon removal, would threaten the structural integrity of the bone it had demolished. It took a delicate facial surgery to alleviate the bone fragments from causing any further damage. As a result of the explosion that caused the shrapnel, he had no right eye to speak of. Scars would mark his face forever. His left arm, mangled to the point of necrosis setting in, was amputated.
The regenerative healing factor he had relied on for this long couldn't keep up when that happened.
"Mr. Palmer, we have something for you. It is a generous donation from a friend of yours,"
Tony? No, he's dead. Malcolm? ...No.
"There's a letter, too. I'll let you read it yourself when you get a chance."
The nurse left the box and parchment near James' bed on the table. It took him a few minutes to even care about the gift. He kept trying to think of people it might have been from. Crimson Vigilante? Dead. Kurt? Haven't heard from him in months. A long sigh escaped him. Might as well find out instead of siphoning through a list of mostly dead and missing friends and family members.
A cold shiver strangled his spine.
At the bottom of the letter was the royal insignia of Elysia. He recognized it anywhere.
All that remained now rested inside of the box. He left it there, staring at the metal contraption for a good hour. No tape or glue holding it together. Doom would be more intelligent than that. What if the entire thing was a bomb? He wouldn't take the steps to deliver it or write the letter himself. An elevated platform seemed to be the only blemish on its surface. Reaching for it, James stopped himself.
Doom knew many things. Did he really know where James had gone for the past few months? Where he was taken, and tortured? For that entire time, it seemed like he had finally died and gone to Hell like all those university students wanted him to. Swallowing his pride, James put his hand on the device's only readable blemish. In a flash, the process was over.
But James felt it to be more complicated than that.
Reading James' input, the box erupted into unprecedented activity, crawling across his chest and stabbing through the stump on his left side. Implanting itself through the exposed nerves and fresh surgery wounds, the many wires and attachments became his new veins, arteries, and flesh. He grunted in a minor effort of biting down the pain. Closing the fingers on his new metal arm, he tried to ignore the fact that he had just accepted something like this from someone like Doom.
It really was time, however.
Time for James to stop sulking around and be someone. Time for him to live up to the sacrifices of his fallen comrades. Time for him to be a hero again.
But how could he with Doom's help? The man was a bonafide tyrant, a step away from putting undesirable people into ovens or sending criminals in his prisons into death traps. This new arm - was it really his?
Or did it carry the banner of Elysia no matter how many times he confirmed to himself that he controlled it?
One way to find out.
Get up out of the damn bed. Get up out of the damn bed and walk. Walk until you can run. The people don't have a symbol anymore. James' shield was broken during his absence. They thought he had been broken too. If he could thank Doom for one thing, it was that the human spirit existed even in his cold metal chest. He gave him a reason to fight again.
The inspiration of vengeance coursed through his veins.