That didn’t go well.
Sewage sprayed everywhere as Splice trudged through the subterranean tunnels, wending his way back to the junction he’d begun to call “home.” He should have known better than to assume the police would welcome him with open arms. This wasn’t the comic books. This was real life. Besides, when had his encounters with cops ever gone well? At least this time he was reasonably sure their guns couldn’t hurt him. But he had to assume he still had nerves, and their stun guns would hurt him. And he sure as hell didn’t want to risk them finding out who he’d been before. At best, they’d lock him back up, likely in a cell he couldn’t escape from. So, for once, he played it smart. He fled.
At least the captives were safe now. That’s what it had all been about, ultimately, right? What started as a lust for vengeance became a rescue mission. And even as he melted through a sewer grate into the conduits below the police station, he realized he was happy with the outcome. A dozen people spared the fate he’d suffered, able to give first-hand testimony against the mastermind of those biological horrors. Yes, the mastermind was still alive, contrary to his original plan… but that man was now in police custody. It was quite possibly the best conclusion he could have hoped for, without adding homicide to his criminal record.
The question now was—what next? Taking stock of his situation did little to answer that question. He was an ex-con who barely resembled a human being now, with no home, no income, no ties to anything anymore. But did he even need these things? No one would charge him rent in the sewers. He hadn’t felt hunger since his transformation. And who would want to associate with the monstrosity that stared back at him from every reflective surface he happened upon?
Maybe that was what he needed: a way to truly blend in aboveground, something more convincing than sunglasses and a medical mask. An idea that had tickled the back of his mind for the last day or so bubbled to the surface now. As hideous as he was, he recalled looking even worse when he’d first escaped captivity and fled underground. His eyespots were a little more defined now, his mouth less of a ragged hole and more of a… well, a mouth? He wondered whether, with hard work and patience, he could learn to mold himself into the image of a man again, though perhaps not the one he used to be. Wouldn’t want to end up back in jail. And he wondered whether learning more about what had been done to him would help speed up the process. Arriving at his sewer junction abode, he snatched up his hat, coat, mask, and sunglasses, and headed back to the surface for more research.
This isn’t going well either.
Splice sat back on his stool, distancing himself from the phrases the library computer monitor barraged him with: “homologous recombination” and “silent chromatin” and “epigenetic regulation.” Who talked like this? If he had his original eyes, he was certain they’d burn from strain and dryness by now. What little he gleaned from the technical jargon told him he no longer had dedicated “eye cells,” or permanent cells for any biological function, for that matter. He’d been “de-differentiated,” his cells in a constant state of physiological flux in order to perform a multitude of roles, depending on what his body needed at a given moment. His DNA had been rendered hyper-adaptive, no gene permanently deactivated anymore. So, he assumed, as his eyespots tired, new cells “became” eye cells and moved in to replace the exhausted ones.
If he was right, it might explain why he hadn’t felt fatigued, hadn’t wanted to sleep or eat, since recovering control of himself after the transformation. His body was constantly swapping out its worn parts, without any thought or effort from him. Interesting, and useful, but not helpful for learning to manipulate his appearance. After hours of research, he had no more notion of how to mimic a human face than when he’d entered the library. Maybe he was reading the wrong sources. Or maybe there was no shortcut for practice, for hard work. He was no scholar, neither now nor before his rebirth, but he chose to accept the latter anyway. No amount of book-learning could replace patience in his quest to refamiliarize himself with his own body. Besides, the library was closing.
The last staff member shut half the lights off before Splice had even crossed the threshold. Stepping into a bone-chilling night, he felt a momentary sluggishness in his movements before his flesh relaxed. An adjustment to the lower temperature? he wondered. Maybe he could learn to control that too, in time, or his perception of heat and cold… or pain. All curious prospects that he could entertain after he’d reached his subterranean dwelling.
One silver lining of the arctic weather: the streets were just about deserted. It was nice to move about without feeling eyes on him all of the time. A siren wailed somewhere in the distance; car horns exchanged blares; a dog barked from inside an apartment somewhere nearby. But no one watching him, trying to peer past his shoddy disguise and figure out what was up that weird guy. The sewers afforded that sort of privacy too, but had their own drawbacks. Cramped, smelled awful, and of course the vermin. Couldn’t beat the never-ending space and fresh air of being aboveground… even if he didn’t need to breathe that air anymore.
He’d just about decided to find a manhole to drop into when shouting disturbed the frigid night. “Help! Somebody, help me!”
A man. Weak voice. Sounded old. Nearby. Scuffles and grunts of struggle accompanied the plea. Splice broke into a run, following the noises to a dark alley. His eyespots widened instantly, collecting enough light to let him discern two men in the corridor, one young and one old. The younger shoved the elder to the ground, prompting Splice to stalk forward. “Hey! Back off!”
The younger man—thug, Splice decided—spun around. A metal blade glinted in his hand. “None o’ your business, weirdo. Keep walkin’.”
“I’m making it my business,” Splice said, not breaking stride. “Leave him alone.”
The thug sneered at him, then snapped the knife in his direction. The blade struck true, piercing the waist of Splice’s trench coat.
Now Splice halted his approach. He glanced down at the knife hilt protruding from him, then looked back up at the thug, wrenched the weapon out of himself, and tossed it into the shadows. It clattered off brick and asphalt.
A moment of angry confusion flickered across the thug’s face, but he shook it off, sneered at Splice, and cracked his knuckles. “You picked the wrong night to play hero, pal.”
He started forward himself, clearly of the mind that he’d make short work of the interloper and get back to the night’s mugging. Splice let him hold onto that delusion—for a few seconds. He stood still as the thug brought himself to within arm’s reach, then let reflex take over as the man jabbed a fist into his midsection. His fluid flesh yielded immediately, as it had for the knife. The thug’s arm sank to the wrist into Splice’s abdomen, the trench coat a barrier between. Splice watched a victorious grin dissolve into a confused grimace as the thug stared at his submerged fist. Eyes met sunglass lenses, and Splice tilted his head to one side, as if reflecting his would-be attacker’s disbelief. Too bad the medical mask hid his mocking grin; he hoped his lack of visible emotion was sufficient to unnerve the man. After a few-second staring match, his body extruded the thug’s hand inch by inch. Then, before he could react with more than indignant disgust, Splice reciprocated the punch. A jet of organic material shot from his chest, hardening to concrete before connecting with the man’s face. Orbital bone shattered, and the thug spun backwards in a cyclone of limp limbs, collapsing in a pile of trash bags.
Silence fell on the scene, disturbed only by soft whimpering from the thug’s victim. Splice resorbed his organic piston and took a moment to bask in the satisfaction of having halted the mugging. It felt good to help someone overpowered by injustice, but it was more than that, deeper and baser. He relished the ability to give that low-life what was coming to him, to mete out eye-for-an-eye vengeance. The rush was familiar, a long-lost old friend from before his stint in prison.
The reason for his landing in prison.
He took a few cautious steps toward the old man trembling on the ground. “Are you okay? Can you stand?”
Even in the dim light, fear shone in the man’s eyes. “Stay back! Don’t… don’t hurt me!”
“I’m here to help, I promise—“
A siren’s wail cut him off, piercing the lull in the alley and followed a few seconds later by the red and blue strobing of a police car. He slunk back into the nearest shadows, hoping stillness would attract less attention than attempting an escape. Two cops emerged from the idling cruiser and walked with calm purpose toward the old man. One of them spoke into the radio on his uniform as the other knelt before the mugging victim. Splice didn’t even pay attention to what was being said; he only wanted to find an opportune moment to slip away—
The old man raised a shaking arm and pointed, not at his unconscious attacker lying in a garbage heap, but at Splice.
So much for going unnoticed.
The kneeling cop sprang up and they both spun around, hands dropping to their holstered firearms. “Step into the light where we can see you,” one of them barked. “Slowly.”
He didn’t see any other options, aside from neutralizing them and fleeing the scene. As he moved into a brighter patch of asphalt, he watched a flash of recognition narrow one officer’s eyes despite the sunglasses and medical mask. The other tightened his grip on his gun. “Identify yourself.”
“I’m the one who took out the trash,” Splice said. “You might want to concern yourselves with the actual criminal.”
He raised a gloved hand to point at the mugger he’d incapacitated, prompting one officer to draw his gun. The other, the one who’d recognized Splice, immediately called him off. “Go check on the other one,” he said, then approached Splice as his partner grumbled over to the unconscious thug. “Officer Greely,” he introduced himself. “You’re the… guy who brought those people back from the lab.”
Shit, here it was. The persuasion to come to the precinct to discuss “working” with the police, then be IDed as a felon and arrested again. He’d refuse the initial invite, things would escalate, and if he was lucky, he’d escape without having to kill or seriously injury one of them. His body tensed…
The cop glanced over his shoulder to his partner examining the motionless mugger. “You took care o’ that guy?”
He turned back to Splice, a curious grin on his face. “Listen, we’ll handle everything from here, but, um… I think maybe I could use your help, if you’re interested.”
Splice stayed still. “Your chief didn’t seem too thrilled with a partnership of any official capacity.”
He waved the comment away. “Wouldn’t be official. There are some problems around town the higher-ups won’t let us touch, but I know they need to be taken care of. Seems you like to cut through red tape and do things your own way. Our interests might align.”
Was this a trap? It felt like a trap. “What kinds of problems?”
“Not here,” he said, then reached into a pocket on his uniform and produced a notepad and pen. He scribbled something on the top sheet, tore it off, and offered it to Splice. “Come by this address around eleven tonight. I’ll be waiting.”
Splice took it, trying to decide which question to ask next. But Officer Greely didn’t seem in the mood to chat just then. He was already on his way back to his partner’s side to deal with the botched mugging. Ignored once more, Splice melted back into the shadows of the alley. As he went off in search of a sewer grate or manhole, he wondered whether he would need to start carrying a watch to keep appointments like Greely’s invitation. More importantly, he wondered whether Greely’s invitation really was a trap.
Only one way to find out.
To be continued…