The Origin of Antipathy (long)




Antipathy made her way to the top of the hill, careful to avoid the thorn wielders and gang thugs. It wasn’t that she feared them; they were little more than a passing annoyance she could have easily dealt with had she chosen to. No, today, she simply had greater issues on her mind, and wanted some time to sort things out. There was no better place for it, in her opinion, than here on the hill by the hospital in Steel Canyon. It provided an adequate view of the surrounds to prevent anyone sneaking up on her, and if a citizen was in real trouble, she could jump down to aid them easily enough.

She did a scout of the area to be sure she was alone, and took up a lotus position facing the hospital, forcing herself to ignore the soft metallic sound her ankles made as they came to rest upon her upper thighs. It was of no real consequence, just another part of the endless questions that tormented her.

There had been a time, not so long ago, when her life was rigid, defined, structured … logical. There had been no questions then, only duty, and she had thrived on the military lifestyle. As a Captain in the Army, she’d served with honor, earning the respect of her company of elite swordsmen. She had loved her job and never thought for even a second of doing anything else. Neither had she given any thought to splitting her time between her work and a husband or children. For Andrea Leonard, as she had once been known, success was a long career in the service of her country, and if she made her way to the top of the ranks, so much the better, but she would have been happy enough to stay a Captain as well.

Of course, her family might well have disagreed. Her mother had been a housewife all her adult life, faithfully caring for her husband and asking for little else, a lifestyle Andrea had once thought completely devoid of any real satisfaction. Her father was old-school, and accepted his wife’s occupation as exactly what she should be doing, but neither was he chauvinistic; he simply came from a generation in which the roles were clearly defined and accepted. He worked as an engineer for a plastics company, and had done well with his investments so he could easily provide for his wife and two daughters. It simply was not acceptable to him that his eldest daughter should become a soldier. A nurse perhaps, or a secretary, if she insisted on working.. but not a soldier. Andrea’s mother tried her best to be supportive but the two women had never really bonded once Andrea became an adult. How could they with such disparate lifestyles?

Andrea sighed softly. Even now, the thought of her parents brought an unbidden well of pain to the fore. She almost envied them that they, at least, had been given the gift of closure and could grieve her death. For her, there was no such closure. Her family and her few surviving friends were simply off limits to her now, and would remain so.

She pictured her sister Kelley, just a few months before the accident. It had been her younger sister’s senior prom, and Andrea had managed some time at home to share in the preparations. Kelley had been so excited, so .. giddy .. and Andrea had wondered if she had ever felt that young. Looking back, she realized she’d missed something then. Kelley had been in love. Andrea couldn’t possibly have understood then, something she’d never experienced. In fact, it startled her now to recognize the signs.

She shook her head, as if to evade the troubling thought pressing at the edges of her mind. Not yet. Not time to think of that just now. There are other things. She wondered how Kelley was doing. Had she gone to college as she’d planned, or married some young man her father thought acceptable? Was she, even now, rocking a child in her arms?

Gunfire interrupted her thoughts and she half rose to attend the civilian victim, but saw that another superhero had things well in hand. Amazing, she marveled, all these superheroes and still the criminals keep coming. Returning to her lotus, she tried to focus her thoughts on the reason she was here.

Her memories were clear up to the night of the accident, and there things got sketchy. For some reason, perhaps a side effect of the explosion, she’d only had minute glimpses of what had happened since then, something like freeze frames in time, none of it making a whole lot of sense. In fact, looking back, she knew she’d spent the first few weeks after the accident in a kind of stupor, barely aware of her surroundings. Gradually, ever so gradually, a sense of self had returned, and with it she’d begun to compose an intelligible sequence of events. The odd thing was that since she’d met Taro, the flashbacks were coming more frequently, and the memories fitting into place at a much more rapid pace. Perhaps his healing abilities worked on a more molecular level than he realized.

She thought back over what she knew so far, a habit she had accustomed herself to over the past few months. Each time, some piece of the puzzle locked in place and she was that much closer to understanding the whole. It had been a routine night at the base, absolutely nothing remarkable about it. Her company had performed admirably and even General Mulroy had been pleased, and had offered her a rare but well-earned compliment. After the afternoon exercises, she had retired to her rooms to shower and fix a simple dinner. The evening hours were spent as any other, reading a good book, sipping her customary half glass of wine, having a few quality moments with her beagle Shotz, and seeking out her bed at a fairly early hour.

That much was all still clear to Andrea. It was after she’d gone to sleep that the oddness began. The first “frame” that she could recall was awakening suddenly, aware only that something was out of place. She strained to hear any sounds out of the ordinary, but there was nothing. After a moment or two, she realized that the nothingness itself was what was out of place. A jolt of fear raced along her spine, and that in itself was so out of character for her that she sat bolt upright in bed. Then.. all of a sudden, her mind had grown hazy and she couldn’t keep her eyes open… she had fought to stay awake, feeling as though she was trying to climb a high wall and only sliding down it in increments. Slowly falling, and a soft, heavy darkness enveloping her, embracing her, suffocating her.

Later, she knew not how long, she had woken naturally. It was just before sunrise, she knew without a glance at the clock. She’d been rising an hour before now for as long as she could recall. She called for Shotz, and knew a moment of sheer terror when he didn’t come at her call. Something was very definitely out of whack. She dressed quickly and started for the door but a wave of dizziness hit her that almost sent her reeling. What the hell is the matter with me?! She cursed under her breath. She abhorred being out of control in any sense of the word, and this current weakness was debilitating to her spirit perhaps more than her body.

Forcing herself forward at a much slower pace, she left her rooms and started a slow search of the base. She could recall little of that beyond a sickening sense of dread as each new room she entered was found as all the others: empty, completely empty. There was not another soul on the entire base. There were no signs of struggle, not a drop of blood, not a thing out of place. Days or weeks may have passed in that search, she couldn’t say. She knew she frequently blacked out, and each time she came to, she found herself having to struggle to recall what ground she had covered already.

After what seemed an eternity of slow, staggering steps, she reached the last building she hadn’t searched, a small laboratory on the perimeter of the base. It was a top secret facility, a place she would have given no thought to approaching under any other circumstances. But these were definitely not ordinary circumstances.

As she neared the building, she noticed an odor on the air she couldn’t identify: somewhat sulfurous in nature but .. heavier. She found it increasingly harder to breath and her movement forward seemed to be thwarted by some invisible force. She fought against it, her breath coming heavier with the effort, and with each step she took, the more certain she became that the answers she sought were here.. somewhere.

Finally reaching the door, Andrea was surprised to find it standing slightly ajar. Cautiously, she crossed the threshold and stepped into a laboratory of some kind. The place was brilliantly lit; a speck of dust could not have hidden successfully under such bright light. She scanned the large room slowly, a dagger of fear caressing the small of her back. Then her eyes met his.

He was an older civilian scientist she recognized from having seen him around the base, but she didn’t know his name. He stared back at her, almost challengingly, but remained silent. In fact, it was too silent in here. Suddenly Andrea knew without any comprehension of why or how, that if she spoke, she would shatter into a thousand shards. Get a grip! she admonished herself. She opened her mouth to speak, and at the same moment it registered that the scientist had spotted something behind her and his eyes had widened as though in fear or recognition, possibly both.

The explosion was a difficult memory for her. All she could really remember with any clarity was a sensation of her corporeal form being separated, as though her mind existed in several places at once. Contrary to what might be expected, she had heard no sound, and the only thing she had seen was a blanket of white rolling toward her, a cumulous form too dense to be smoke. She had been paralyzed in that moment, which might have taken the fraction of a second, but seemed to go on for several minutes. There certainly wasn’t enough time to understand what was happening, let alone react. As the cloud reached her, there was nothing but blackness, a void she floated weightless through.

She had a clear recollection of a day maybe weeks after the explosion, of being in a dingy, unfamiliar apartment. She was sitting on a couch, listening to several unfamiliar men talk about a mission of some sort. She couldn’t recall the content of the conversation, or even the faces of the men present, but she recalled Lodestone being there. His eyes seemed to bore into hers, forcing her to drop her own, and still he continued to stare at her. Perhaps sensing her discomfort (or was it her lucidity?), he took the empty glass from her trembling hands and refilled it, smiling benignly at her as she sipped it… and darkness returned.

There were other intermittent memories of those months, each only a fraction of a time, none that made any sense to her. The one constant was Lodestone. She had no idea who he was, or why she was with him, but over time it became evident that he at least cared enough to see that no further harm had come to her after the explosion. Or maybe he had some other agenda? Regardless, he was there in her moments of clarity, and doubtless in the other moments as well.

As time passed, her lucid moments lengthened, enough so that she could recall conversations with Lodestone.. frustrating conversations because the more questions she asked him, the fewer answers were forthcoming. He seemed harmless enough, yet he was apparently unwilling to share whatever knowledge he possessed with her. After a while, she resigned herself to not questioning, but willed herself to simply return to a place of total awareness. It was a struggle, and she fought the enveloping darkness at every turn, but it inevitably reclaimed her for days at a time.

One day that stood out with jarring clarity was the day she had first encountered her reflection. Nothing could have prepared her for the changes… where her hair had once been a strawberry blonde, it was now a dull shade of blue. Her eyes were slightly disfigured, the eyes of someone who had not slept in many, many weeks. Her skin.. her skin! was a bluish color as well, and metallic to the touch. At first, she had been unable to do anything but stare agape at the reflection she saw in the mirror, but then she tentatively ran a finger along her forearm, shivering despite herself when she felt the cool metal. She tapped a fingernail against it and a soft ***** emanated. She could even feel the minute reverberation echo along that side of her body. The blackness had reclaimed her quickly and without apology that day.

Only slightly less shocking to her was the day she encountered a newspaper clipping left on the coffee table in the apartment she had come to know as Lodestone’s. It was old, or she assumed it so, and had been deliberately opened and folded to display an obituary in the center: her own. She remembered marveling at the concept of being dead .. until it occurred to her that perhaps she wasn’t.. perhaps she was just missing.. perhaps her parents just… and then she realized she could never return home, never let them see their daughter as she had become. The grief hit her hard, and surprised her with its viciousness, but it was the first emotion of any kind she’d experienced since the accident, and was made that much more vivid for the fact. She had held the clipping to her heart, or where she supposed a heart might still beat, and had wept hysterically. When Lodestone had found her that day, he had carefully pried her fingers open and taken the clipping away, caressing it a moment as he placed it back on the table. As if he took pleasure in my pain, she thought.

Andrea sighed. There were other memories, many harsh and disturbing, and even spliced together they could not have told a full story of her existence, let alone what had happened to bring her to that point. But Lodestone knew. She KNEW he knew. For a time, she had apparently worked for him, odd jobs that she recalled as some sort of secret operative missions. The details were sketchy of course, but she recalled doing nothing that would have given her any insight into Lodestone’s character or lack thereof. The harder she searched for understanding, the more it eluded her.

As her grasp on reality slowly returned, she learned to accept the physical changes of her own body. She was apparently metal now, or sheathed in some metal alloy that made her skin highly resistant to injury. In fact, impervious. She was considerably taller, and her musculature felt twice as rigid as any exercise regimen could have created. She found she could jump incredible distances without the slightest exertion. For all of this, she gladly would have traded it for her life before the explosion.

Andrea paused in her thoughts, gazing out toward the hospital. She had been wounded recently, not badly, but enough to hurt, and Taro had saved her. She could distinctly hear his voice as he said, “I’m not going to let you die again.” The reassurance, the softening of the hard edges that had become her life, was a blessing and she would have loved him for that if nothing else. She wondered would I still trade it all to go back? She returned to the mental recitation of events, searching out any new clue.

After a time, she had struck out on her own, and Lodestone had not prevented her, though he had followed her and was never far off. He asked nothing of her, and quite often acted in a protective capacity as she found herself fighting various forms of evil on the streets. With little else driving her, and a complete loss of the military life she had thrived on, she wandered aimlessly until she found herself in Paragon City. She had heard of it of course, the city where evil flourished in a hundred forms, and was battled by great superheroes. At least she could put these new abilities to some honorable challenge, if not considering herself to be among the league of such giants.

For a time, she did just that. She fought the evils of Paragon City, while she slowly recuperated her mind, if not her spirit. The more self returned, the more rage came with it. Rage at the loss of her family, her friends, her whole life. Rage at the lack of any intelligible reason why. Rage that of all the people at her base, she had apparently been chosen to go on, while the others… were they dead?

What had happened to General Mulroy? Six months between him and retirement, and he’d been planning a long trip to Portugal with his wife, their first real vacation in years. Or Michael Benoit, one of her superior swordsmen, who had just become a father for the first time, to twins no less. Or Tawny Wilson, the young girl from Alabama who had only come into her own recently, and was developing into an outstanding soldier and future officer, a girl that had often reminded Andrea of herself a few years younger. Or .. or.. or.. so many and all of them gone. Just GONE.

She had funneled all her rage toward her fight against evil, and found it relatively easy to keep all other emotions at bay. In fact, the more she fought, the harder she worked, the stronger she became, the more she felt destined to be here, doing just what she was doing.

When she’d discovered KILLSEEKERS, she’d been on a routine mission in Perez Park. The mission leader was Taro. Due to her background, Andrea couldn’t help but be impressed by his leadership qualities. A good leader was indeed hard to find, and harder to keep. She decided this KILLSEEKERS organization must be one in which he was appreciated and rewarded well, and was likely one she would not mind allying herself with.

Since then, there had been several missions that had been completed successfully, and she’d gotten to know the other members of the organization, and begun, for the first time in a long time, to feel a sense of belonging again. There was Automator, who was always able to make her laugh, with his tales of how his charm had won over this woman or that, how the feminine race simply couldn’t resist him, a gentle soul in the body of a dangerously competent superhero. There was Taro, of course, a man she’d come to know as being one of the world’s few purely altruistic people. Again, her thoughts wandered off.. just remembering moments with Taro .. and Auto. She found herself smiling and marveled at how easy that had become of late, and how welcome it was.

There were others who had impressed themselves on her, and who, with the KILLSEEKERS, had become her new family. There was Wogman, who had been instrumental in helping her find her footing in Paragon, and had worked with her or a time. There was Kandi, a hero she admired greatly for his courage, always willing to take on any foe. There had been moments her breath was caught watching him go against foes she thought there was no chance of winning against, and win he had. There was Doc Beret, a man who, in the past, Andrea would have considered a traitor for how he left the service, but who she now admired as a trailblazer of sorts, remaking his service to his country in a form he could accept and excel in. These and others were her family now, the people she needed and loved, the ones who gave her purpose and the drive to even look for the answers at all.

She took a deep breath and allowed herself to focus on the one thing she’d been pushing aside for so long, the one thing she had not been willing to confront. Despite all the lost time, despite losing her family, friends and colleagues, despite remaining to some extent under the control of the unknown quantity that was Lodestone, despite all the good that she accomplished through KILLSEEKERS, somehow she had allowed herself to feel again. And it was not a familiar emotion, or even necessarily one she welcomed. Taro had breached the wall of rage, and touched something within her that up to now, had always been her own; that up to now she’d not known how to share, even had she wished to.

The thought made Andrea uncomfortable but she wouldn’t push it aside again; that was not her way when there was a choice. So what if I love him? What could possibly come of it? I’m metal for crying out loud.. what man would want that? And he, above all, deserves far more than I have to give. Not like I can even tell him who I am, when I don’t know myself .. anymore. Be happy with being his bodyguard and nothing else. She shook her head, fighting against the hard lump that rose in her throat. Damnit, this can’t be happening. If things had only been different. If this hadn’t been done to me. If I only knew what happened and if I could fix it.. If .. if .. if..

With a rush, the rage came back. Time to vent. Time to killseek.