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A Tarnished Mind

    It’s a relatively peaceful morning in Independence Port with a cool breeze blowing in off the water leaving a slight taste of salt in the air. The Dockworkers are on strike again as they are often doing for no real good reason, something about a sea monster; I laugh to myself and think that they watch too many movies. The heroes are doing their hero thing and people are walking and driving to the various shops that the harbor brings with it. I walk to my car with several items I had special delivered for my wife from Italy. She loved her ceramics and I was always a sucker for a pretty face, plus she deserved it; after all, today was a special day. I carefully place the ceramics in the trunk and begin to drive to work. While I was picking up the gifts, my wife was driving our son to school. They are both so beautiful and I am so very lucky to have them.

    My name is Trent Davies and I’m nothing special. I am a husband and a father; that is perhaps special to some, but there is nothing remarkable about me. I work for a newspaper in Steel Canyon as a building supervisor and we live in Kings Row. I have been married for about 7 years and have a 5 year old son. They are all the family I have left. I was an only child and both my parents have passed away a long time ago. When my son was born that was the greatest day of my life. He was just starting school and he had been so excited all summer while his mother and I had been dreading it. It’s hard to send your child off to school when he’s been home so long, like a bird kicking their young out of the nest to see if they will fly or fall. There was no doubt in my mind that he will fly and he would be someone great in this City.

    It was his first day of school and his mother and I had decided I would work a half day so we could pick him up from school together to surprise him and see how his first day had been. He is so happy to see us, we can see the joy on his face as he runs up to the car and into my arms. I hug him so tightly like it’s the last time I would and carry him around behind his mother to buckle him into the backseat. He’s talking about the teacher and all his new friends and all the activities they had done with such excitement. It’s the happiest we have been in awhile as my wife and I look at each other smiling as she lays her hand on my knee.

    While we cross the bridge headed home I am paying more attention to the backseat and less attention to the road. There are 2 vans on either side of the road. This was something that you learn living in Kings Row: if the road looks suspicious, go another way, but I miss the setup. There were two warring factions that jumped out of the vans. I don’t see them until it is too late. Suddenly there’s an eruption of gunfire and a sudden explosion. The Skulls and the Hellions have picked the worst time to start a turf war: just as we started to pass them. The explosion is so strong that it blows our car off the opposite side of the bridge as well as blowing a hole in the bridge itself. There is nothing I can do, the blast is too great. All I can do is let the blast carry us over the bridge and pray we survive. The last thing I remember hearing after the explosion are the screams and cries of my wife and son and the rattle of automatic gunfire before they all merge and become a constant ringing in my ears and then there is nothing but the sound of silence.

    I awake in a hospital bed. Looking out the window I know I’m in Steel Canyon. There are several doctors around me all talking but I don’t know what they’re saying. There is still a high pitched ringing in my ears so I can’t make out much of anything very clearly. My face is wrapped in something and it’s covering my nose and ears.  I try to cover my ears with my hands to attempt to quiet the ringing but for some reason I can’t raise my arms. I look down to see bandages around me where my shoulder and arm should have met. Either my arms are wrapped close to my body, or they are gone. They couldn’t be gone because I can still feel them, I know they are there. I call out to the doctors perhaps louder then I should.

    “Hey…could somebody tell me what’s going on? Why are my arms bound, where is my family, why is my face wrapped?”

    Two of the doctors start to talk at once excitedly before the first doctor raises his arm to usher the other doctor’s hurriedly out.

    “I apologize for our rudeness Mr. Davies; you are in the Steel University Hospital. That was a group of my students. You have been in a coma for 6 months and I was explaining a few things to them about the comatose brain. What is the last thing you remember?”

    I thought for a minute as the doctor pulled his notepad out and began to write, “I remember driving home with my family and there was an explosion…oh God…what happened to them…Doctor please tell me, are they all right?”

    The doctor begins to speak, but slowly after the words “your family is dead” I hear nothing but the ringing in my ears again. Whatever he’s saying afterwards didn’t matter. I catch a few words between the noises; he says something about the accident, about a surgery. I pass out somewhere between him saying I had been in a coma and they were able to save my life. Why should I stay awake when I have nothing else to live for? Why did they save my life? Why?

    When I wake up again I notice as I open my eyes the room is stark white and totally empty. I am in my bed but there are no doctors, no nurses, no equipment or anything, just 4 white walls. I sit up and pull my legs in front of me and attempt to stand but I have to catch myself on the wall with my hands. Once I regain my balance I start to walk toward the closed door but as I reach for the handle to exit the room I realize that the door is locked. I reach in my pocket and find a key. I test the key in the lock and think to myself, how interesting that the lock is on the inside of the door. I insert the key to find that the key fits and I open the door. As I enter I walk into my hospital room only to see myself in the bed. At least I think it’s me, the person there in the bed is covered in bandages from his head down. I look behind me and see the empty room with only my bed in it. My arms, or is that his arms, even though that is me in the bed, are gone and I’m, he’s sleeping. I try to wake myself up by yelling at the top of my lungs but there is no sound. My throat strains and burns from screaming so loud but I can’t hear my own voice. I reach to shake myself from slumber but just before I can touch my chest the ringing in my ears returns and I; he; we wake up.

    Startled I wake up in a sweat with a gasp frightening the nurse at my side. He pauses for a moment and asks if I’m OK…I nod but what a dream. I ask to speak with the doctor but my throat is scratchy and burns a little so my voice is more of a rasp then it was before. After a few minutes the same doctor from earlier walks in with the nurse.

    “What happened, exactly…I’m sorry I wasn’t more receptive with you last time, it was quite a lot to take in. Why can’t I move my arms? I feel them there, but when I look down I see only bandages.”

    “You are suffering from what Psychologists refer to as Phantom Pains,” the doctor begins. “When you arrived the police and rescue teams had to literally cut you out of your vehicle. The explosion that knocked your car off the bridge was on the right side of your car. From your wife and son’s injuries we suspect they were killed before the car actually crashed, if you didn’t have ID on your person we may still be trying to figure out who they were. You however were wrapped up in the steering console and the twisted metal of the roof of the vehicle from what I gather from the rescue reports. The rescue teams did not expect to retrieve any survivors with the condition of the vehicle, but they found a pulse in you and were able to get you out of your vehicle and air-lift you to the hospital. It was learned that there was no way to save your arms and save your life. With no surviving family the hospital has the responsibility to do whatever it takes to save lives so they took it upon themselves to amputate both arms at the rotary cuff of your shoulder. Your brain thinks your arms are still attached, but I assure you they are gone. The sensation that makes you believe they are not is called Phantom Pains; they will eventually fade away when your mind and body accept the fact that you have lost your arms, but for now I understand the disorientation can be very unsettling.”

    The doctor’s words fell like bricks as the doctor continued. “As I stated before you have been in a coma since the accident. You were brought here so we could observe you and hopefully learn a little more about the mind and the function of the human brain in a state of unconsciousness. I apologize that we did so without your permission, but we have learned quite a lot about the mind if that’s any consolation. It appears as though your mind has been active and working in overdrive for six months straight. It’s amazing that you remember so much about the attack after so long, most survivors will block out that amount of trauma.”

     I thank him for his being so blunt with me and ask when I could be released. He says I will be released into a home for the disabled until I’m able to function on my own.

    “Function on my own”. Words I never thought I would hear, especially not while I was still young. He says I will be released after my wounds have fully healed and they remove the bandages. I am terrified at what I will see when the bandages are removed. When I glance from the corner of my eye I swear all I see is charred flesh, but I won’t know for sure until the bandages are off. I fall asleep after waiting for night. I can’t turn the TV on or listen to the radio because I don’t have fingers to turn on the controls. Now that I’m awake after so long the doctors seem to be just waiting for me to leave. I guess I was more interesting unconscious.

    As soon as I shut my eyes I’m back in my car driving home after picking up my son. My wife is with me and we’re smiling, I think to myself it was all a dream for a moment just before I see the turf war start again. Again the gangs are jumping out of their vans only this time it’s in slow motion. I try to stop the car before the explosion but my foot won’t move. My God, I’m dreaming and reliving the attack. I try to steer or yell for my wife to jump from the car but I can’t. It’s like it’s my mind in someone else’s body that won’t respond to my commands. I see the explosion as it happens but it comes from under the bridge not part of the initial attack. Still my car is blown up and over the ledge of the bridge. My wife and son are screaming, the doctor was wrong, they survived the blast. As our car careens down onto the road I see the crash from the road below from a third person view. The crash is spectacular; I look up and see the gangs pause in their battle and watch as the car plummets and bursts into flames.  I see my wife attempt to crawl from the wreckage, her face streaming with blood and tears as the flames begin to burn her, but as she tries to pull herself out there is a rattle of gunfire from above and she is gunned down by the gangs. I hear them shouting again at each other saying that was their kill while a disagreement erupts and more gunfire is heard from above. Just as I hear sirens the gangs scatter to the shadows of Kings Row. I see the police and the rescuers pull my family out of the wreckage as I hear them start the Jaws of Life. The sound of the metal and bone creaking is horrendous but I can’t turn away. I see them pull my body out of the wreckage finally and hear one of the firemen shout he has a pulse as the Paramedics rush me onto a waiting helicopter. I see my family laying on the gurneys with sheets over them as I watch them carry me away. I am truly alone now and I can’t scream or cry…when will this nightmare end?

    I awake in the hospital after weeks pass and again I ask the doctor when I can leave as I have everyday since I emerged from my coma. He tells me they are going to finally remove the bandages today but wants me to take a sedative before they do so I don’t struggle with them. He wants me to sleep again so I’m not fighting to see what condition my body is in before they know how to deal with me. The nurse injects me with something and I quickly fall asleep again. Again I see the explosion and my wife being gunned down; again I hear the twisted metal and smell the burning flesh. Again I can’t turn away…after this same nightmare am I slowly going crazy already?

    When I finally come to there are several people in my room, I only recognize my doctor. None of them are looking at me. I feel air on my face again, the bandages are finally off. I try to look down but the sheet is pulled up to my neck, even so, I know the bandages are gone from my body as well because I feel the sheets on my skin.

    “Well? How bad is it?” I shout to the group gathered in the room.

    “Mr. Davies, you are severely scarred over 75 percent of your remaining body.” This doctor has told me straight what’s what since I woke up, I both respect him and hate him for that. I ask him when I can see my face. “I’d like you to speak with Ms. Karen Jennings about possibility of plastic surgery; it will be tricky due to the extensiveness of the scarring.” He’s avoiding letting me see and already knows I will not react well. A woman wearing a black dress with short blonde hair and glasses walks up with a mirror and sits at my bedside. I feel her weight at my side as the bed lightly moves. I can smell her perfume as she sits nears me, it calms me; it’s my wife’s, was my wife’s favorite scent.

    “Trent” she begins, already she’s trying to talk to me as a friend, so it must be pretty bad. “I want you to consider coming to see me as soon as you can. Before I let you see what the accident did”, she pauses and glances at the doctor, he exits the room with everyone else leaving me alone with Karen. “I will be honest with you; I know that there is little that can be done for the scarring. The doctors are hopeful, but I know better. There is something that I can do to help you with your arms however. There is someone I trust that you will want to make a fast friend with. I want you to dwell on that hope and not how you look.”

    With these words she holds up the mirror and pulls down the sheets to my waist. My skin is a yellowish color with streaks of red where the veins are nearer to the surface. I hardly look human and Karen is just standing there. My arms are gone just below the shoulder and there is hardly a nub where my arm should be. Seeing this is horrifying and I start to cry, but she doesn’t blink an eye at how I look while the doctors couldn’t stand to be in the same room with me. She walks over and wipes the tears away with a tissue. 

    “Who is your friend?” I ask with a hint of hope in my voice, swallowing the horror she must have seen in my reaction to the mirror. “His name is Michael Hunter. Contact me when you get released; he is very excited to meet you.” She places her card in a book and sets it on the table before she pulls the sheet back up to my neck. “You may want to read that sometime as well, I’m told it’s full of hope.” As she walks out she looks behind her and smiles, amazing how she seems to see me as I was and not how I am. I glance at the table, “The wonder of science and magic.” Well, not like I can reach over and read it so I guess I’ll see what tomorrow brings. Just then the cover of the book opens, I hear in my head Karen’s voice. She is reading the book to me. She talks about the beginning of magic and how technology is the new magic. I listen intently as the pages of the book continue to turn themselves. I fall asleep to the sound of her voice watching the pages turn. As I dream I continue to hear her voice. I see myself standing with mechanical arms. I appear to be under attack while all the while I hear her voice in my ears reading the book. I am causing my attackers harm, but I can’t see what I’m doing to cause it. I wave my mechanical arms and they fall in pain while others I’m able to stare stiff and they just stop in their tracks. I continue on able to fight and listen at the same time throughout the night.

    The next day I wake up for the first time since the accident relatively happy. I finally have something to look forward too. For the first time I didn’t dream of the accident or see my wife and son die again. I ask the doctor if I can leave yet and he says I can. If I choose I can leave today if I’m up to it. I say yes at once and they arrange for me to be picked up by the center that will be my new home for awhile. I’m helped out of bed by two of the nurses. Since I haven’t used my legs in so long they are weak and don’t want to work properly and I have to be helped into a wheelchair. As they wheel me out I make sure that I have my book Karen left for me with her card in it. The hospital was nice enough to give me a pair of pants and shoes and a shirt for the ride to the home they are placing me in. Once we get there I’m wheeled into a room where I meet the director of the home. Honestly he seems like a nice person. He introduces himself as Michael Hunter. I wait until we are alone in his office.

    “Are you the same Michael Hunter that Ms Jennings talked to me about?” I ask

    “One and the same; who knows what this city would do with itself if there were two of me.” He is a bald dark skinned man of about 30 years of age. He talks with a deep voice of authority yet I don’t feel at all threatened by him. “Trent, I hope you don’t mind but I took the liberty of having your things moved into storage while you were at the hospital and set up your room here with a few items from your home. You’re situation has me intrigued and I want to encourage you to listen to what I would like to do. The gangs in Kings Row are a continual thorn in the side of society and there seems to be no end to them. The heroes swoop in and arrest a boss leader only to have a war started that destroys lives so that a new gang leader can be chosen. Trent I want you to learn and train to be a force to take the fight to the gangs in Kings Row. The police can’t handle it alone and Blue Steel is too busy with his own personal issues to deal with them all. Would you be willing to let Karen teach you the ways of magic while I give you your arms back to you through technologies I have acquired?”

    It takes me a minute to respond. I’ve never been much of a fighter, always been a Quaker, so to say. Now they want me to be a savior to an entire population of the city. Not only that, but until last night I didn’t believe in magic but I can’t explain the book any other way. While I’m considering Michaels offer Karen walks in.

    “Has he decided yet?” 

    “Not yet, he’s considering his options I think” responds Michael.

    “Well I hope you don’t wait to long, I can’t wait to get started. I want to show you a new world where you can inflict the pain you have felt all this time on those that caused that pain.”

    After she phrases it that way I think to myself, what do I have to lose? I have lost my family and here’s the opportunity to not only get revenge for them but also help make my home safer. “I accept, now when can I get out of this damn chair?”

    The next day Michael and Karen help me to stand and immediately begin helping me to strengthen my legs. They work at my own pace, placing pressure against my legs as I try to push against it. This continues on for the next several weeks. My dreams are filled with Karen teaching me about the magic that would help me in my fight. She keeps my mind from returning to my nightmares. One morning I ask Karen how she is able to enter my dreams every night. She says it is a sort of dream-walking she learned when she was young. She is able to enter other people’s dreams, it’s based upon an old form of magic she learned from her grandmother that had been passed down for generations in her family. That night she shows me wondrous things to prove that she is in complete control when she dream-walks. My family doesn’t die and we are happy. She allows me to finally say goodbye to them. 

    Once I was able to walk unassisted Michael showed me his workshop. He has all sorts of devices and gadgets. He shows me the arms he is working on for me; they are only half complete but already I can not contain my excitement. Since I am finally able to walk around the home I learn it is more of a compound instead of a home. I am the only patient here and they call it Home Base. I continue to learn from Karen and train with Michael; she builds my mind and he builds my body. They have been friends for many years working together and have always helped many of Paragon’s heroes. They had taken it upon themselves to do all that they could as citizens to assist the heroes, but for some reason Kings Row was not a priority for most heroes. They heard about me through the rescue squad and did a little research on me. Once I survived and woke up they felt that they were given a golden opportunity to help make a hero for their town. Michael measures to fit the shoulder cuff of my new arms while I continue to build up the strength in my legs and back to support the new arms. He promises they will be no heavier then my arms were, but I still want to be sure that I’m in the best shape of my life before I try to clean up the streets.

    As Karen continues to train me every night Michael continues to work. It’s now been 3 months of constant training and dream sessions. My arms are ready and I can’t wait to test them out. Michael has set up a harness on the wall holding the arms in place so all I need to do is place my back against the harness and the arms should attach themselves to me automatically. I feel the left arm attach itself first, then the right. I feel the circuitry attach itself to my shoulders. He says that I’ll feel a slight pain as needles inject something called nano tech into my arm. I feel more then a slight pain, the pains is excruciating as the needles proceed to my spinal cord and attach. I can’t contain myself and I let out a sharp yell as they burrow into my spine.

    “The nano tech is following up your spine into your brain and nervous system to allow your arms to function just as your own. All you have to do is think about what you want to do and they will respond; once you get used to them they will act as soon as the impulse reaches your brain.” He tells me to let the arms adjust to me for a moment then sets a rubber ball on the table. “Think to yourself to pick up the ball, but think of each movement. Think: raise arm, bend elbow, extend arm, open hand, lower arm, etc.”
I walk up to the table and feel the weight of the arms, Michael was right, they’re no heavier then I remember my own arms being. As I walk up to the table my arms swing independently and controlled at my side as my own arms would. I reach for the ball and think to myself the steps as Michael said and before I realize it the ball is in my hand. I turn to Michael and smile as I toss the ball at him; he dodges the ball as it bounces around his workshop. Karen runs in after she hears some things fall that were knocked over by the ball. I walk up to her and raise my arms and give her a hug, making sure not to squeeze too tightly.

    “I see you have taken to the arms quickly” She says as she hugs me back, kissing me on the cheek. “When did he strap them on?” She asks Michael.

    “Just now, I had no idea they would work so well, it’s almost like the arms were waiting for him as much as he was waiting for the arms.”

    After a few more tests and a few more days I learn that they are as strong as my arms were too, just because they were robotic, did not mean I was suddenly super strong. I have been waiting a long time to try what I know, today is the anniversary of my family’s death and I need to know if my survived has a purpose.

    I look to Michael, then to Karen, “I want to walk outside, I want to test these arms out with my training on one of the Skulls.”

    I proceed to the door ignoring Michael’s calls to wait a few more days to make sure everything was working properly. Karen beats me to the door, she knows why I’m so insistent on doing this today and asks me if I’m sure I’m ready for this with concern in her eyes. I nod my head as I wrap a scarf around my face. Karen opens the door and I walk into the cool night air. It isn’t long before I hear gunfire and screams. I walk toward the sounds and before me are two Skull gang members trying to rape a young woman. I don’t speak; the Skull holding the woman down is my first target. I close my eyes for a moment and visualize him there standing still motionless, as I open my eyes there is a bright flash of light around him and both he and the other Skull are standing there motionless. I run up to the woman and tell her to get up and rush her away and tell her to call the police as I focus my rage on the other Skull. I remember all the pain and anger from my early dreams and release that anger onto the Skull. He screams in agony as I see blue flames and imaginary wounds form all over his exposed skin, the illusion is convincing enough. I attempt to do the same to the other and although he is still struck silent the wounds form again…I continue my assault until I hear the police sirens. I run from the scene back to the base before the police arrive, I’m not a registered hero so as far as they are concerned I’m a vigilante and that is not allowed in a city full of heroes. I tell Michael and Karen what happened and they are so proud of me. I can actually be a hero for the area and help those that get forgotten in this area of the city.

    Weeks pass and I continue to walk the shadows helping those that I can and leaving the villains to face justice. Michael has built a special belt that he developed for me that will shoot me with a shot of what he calls Nano-meds that will heal me quickly. I decide it’s time to choose a name and finally register so I can be a true hero in the eyes of the city. Karen drives me to City Hall. As she drives we talk about a name for me.

    “Trent, you have been through so much with your family and then the nightmares and all the training. That must do something to your mind. Knowing you as long as I have, I know it has been hard, but instead of letting your mind rot, you learned how to use it to your advantage.” Karen’s words are comforting, but I never told her of all my dreams, the dreams that made me almost believe I was indeed crazy. I just watch the road in front of us quietly as we arrive in Galaxy City. I ask her to wait for me as I walk up to the registration desk.

    “I’d like to register as a hero please.” I say to the older gentleman at the counter. He walks me into a back private room with recruiting posters on the walls of Swann and Minx with the words “I WANT YOU” on them.

    “What name will you be registering under son?” He calls me son with a smile. This was who I wanted to help, the people that needed us most.

    He hands me a clipboard with some paperwork to fill out as I tell him my name. “Tarnished Mind sir, I would like to register under the name Tarnished Mind.” With those words I was now officially a hero and I would fight the gangs that have been moving into Kings Row with a vengeance and make my family proud of me. I hand the gentleman the paper work and he enters the information into his computer system. He hands me my hero identification card and I thank him as he wishes me luck. I walk back to the car to find the car was gone; Karen has left me. I smile and think to myself, remembering one of the lessons she taught me that I hadn’t tried yet. I close my eyes and visualize myself flying. When I open my eyes I am hovering a few feet off the ground. With a smile I rise toward the sky and race to Kings Row…I bet I can beat her home.


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