My newly superhuman senses would often cause me pain by bombarding me with more stimulus than I could handle. And when I was overwhelmed, the old screams were at their loudest. The nurses tried their best to accommodate my condition. The poor women...I was a terror to them. I would yell at them, call them fools, and even throw the few things I could reach at their heads. I was particularly nasty to one young nurse named Katherine. She was the one brave enough to give me my injections and I rewarded her kindness by spitting on her and calling her a whore.
A few years back, I tracked Katherine down to the Waters of Life hospital here in Mainline. Fate, I suppose, sometimes works to the benefit of both man and monster. I paid her a visit as Lee Walker and she remembered me not as a terror but as a poor suffering soldier who she prayed for every night and had kept in her prayers well after the war.
She laughed when I apologized for how I behaved. She said it was not me that thrashed about and cursed but my sickness. She smiled and told me that she was glad to see that I was functioning in civilian life.
I cried. I cried because of how much she truly believed what she said. How I wish I could have been just Lee Walker home from the war, just once, just to keep such a noble a person from having to tell a lie of ignorance!
I asked Katherine to keep praying for me and she told me she would.
Later, I had George Douglas slip a wallet full of money into her purse with a note attached saying to keep it and that it was a gift. I wanted some good to come to Katherine from my life, but all I could think of was to give her money.
What else could I have done?
I hope it brought her some good, what little I could do for her.
Bedridden in the field hospital, I discovered I could blunt the pain of my superhuman senses through the exertion of my will. When I willed it so, my senses focused on or ignored certain stimulus. I could listen to two nurses talking in the hall and choose to hear only one voice or the other. I could smell my dinner and smell only my meat ration or my bread. But no matter how hard I tried, I could not completely control my senses. Invariably, some stimulus would intrude upon my mind with such suddenness and such power as to overwhelm me with pain. And with the pain came the old screams. And I would scream, cry, bang on the walls, and poor Katherine and the other nurses would do their best to comfort me.
Morphine was the usual solution. I do not mean to imply that the nurses hold any blame for the choices I would later make, but the great deal of opiates I was administered must have contributed to the addiction I would later develop in Shanghai. But what else could the nurses have done?
I found only one thing that would completely stop the pain and the old screams besides opiate-induced slumber. I found only one thing that would vanish the screams and pain for hours and make me feel whole.
Whenever the old screams dragged out my own to join them, I was plunged into terror. But in that terror I found salvation...of a sorts. When my heart thundered with the force of a piston driver and my lungs worked like a steam engine, I was filled with an anxious clarity that drove all pain and screams from my mind until I was only myself. My senses became my plaything. I could hear every drop of a rainstorm hitting the tin roof of the field hospital and it was the most beautiful and calming thing I had ever heard. I could pick apart fresh sunlight into a vivid rainbow with my eyes. I could feel all the arteries in my body tighten and relax.
I could feel peace at last.
But when I calmed down, the adrenaline would leave me, and I would again be exposed to the pain and the old screams and worse--the anxiety of waiting for those afflictions to find me.
I was trapped in a hellish cycle. I was hounded by pain and anxiety, and yet to be truly free of them--if only for a time--I needed to take my pain and anxiety to the utmost. To find peace, I had to seek pain. My ordeal taught me to associate peace with pain. And I fear the association corroded my very soul like an acid until I was left with something like a bramble of razors where other men have a heart.
The need for danger, for violence, for peril was born within me.
The bloodlust was born within me.
What I did next...was the action of a desperate and confused man. It was the action of a man that no longer exists, a man that killed himself slowly in a Shanghai opium den.
I offered to rejoin the air service under the lie that I wanted to use my superpowers in the service of my country despite my schizophrenia. I was accepted. Superhumans were far rarer during the Great War in the Air than they are now, and the air marshals figured correctly that my superhuman senses would make me an excellent gabriel operator.
My involvement with the air service was kept strictly off the record. In a war in which dishonors were committed on all sides, the air service was not keen on adding the dishonor of fielding a schizophrenic man. I have a purple heart, but I am probably due an entire ribbon of honors for all the unacknowledged kills.
Oh, the kills. The murders. I do not know how many men I murdered. I did not care to keep score. But they were innocent men. They were men that did not deserve to die. They were condemned not by their sins but by their uniform. They were drafted, and lied to, and told where to stand and where to shoot and they did not deserve to die. They did not deserve to die.
But I killed them nonetheless. I slaughtered them. I fed them lustfully to my bloodlust.
I never felt so alive or so whole.
I turned airships into black clouds of fire and I felt peace.
I strafed trenches and watched my bullets riddle men until they jerked like ragdolls and I felt peace.
I grappled with enemy gabriel operators, felt my glove-mounted knives pierce their bodies, and I felt peace.
I grew bloated on human suffering. I threw myself at my missions. I exceeded my orders. I never retreated. I attacked like a starving wolf and I did not relent until I was satiated. Looking back, it is clear that part of me wanted to be stopped either by an enemy bullet or a court martial. But my powers made me too skilled. I was a true son of Mars, and Mars cared for his own within his dominion. I was too fast for bullets and too valuable to be punished for breaking military discipline.
I hunted like a tiger. I hunted where I pleased.
When Hugo Danner won the war for our side, I was suddenly left a tiger in a barren jungle. There were no more battles to fight. There were no more men to kill. I had to finally confront what I had become. I had to confront that I had become a blood addict. I had fought at first to ease my pain and drown out the old screams, but it quickly grew beyond that. I fought for the rush, for the sense of power, for the high.
I killed for the pleasure of killing.
Seeing myself for what I was, I fled in terror across the world and become human flotsam washing up at ports of ill repute looking for a hole to make myself comfortable in and die.
In Shanghai, the Great Whore of the Orient, Ram tracked me down. Ram whose bloodline is a thousand year mystery. Ram who is of the untouchable caste. Ram who worships a god with many arms. Ram the Shivan.
With Ram came meditation, clarity, and purpose. I took the darkness inside me and put it to use against its own kind. Now, I feed my bloodlust only men that deserve to die and the pleasure I feel in doing so is almost unmarred by guilt and remorse.
But an aberration that has made himself less of an aberration is still an aberration.
Humanity does not come in degrees, it is a state one has or one does not have.
It is important that I remind myself that.
If I do not, I fear that I might begin to consider myself the same as Dr. Stone, Blue Defender, and others heroes undeservedly.
For some years, I had in the back of my mind the idea that I was not wholly to blame for becoming an aberration. I, in some faint way, held on to the hope that my empowerment was to blame for the man I had become. But my encounter a few years back with Dr. Stone shattered that delusion.
I know now that my empowerment did not create an aberration within me but fed off one already existent.
Will Philip accept that my darkness goes all the way to my heart?
Realities hidden and supernal have worked upon man since at least 13,000 BCE as proven by the horned and winged skeleton called the “Prince of Dawn” exhumed from a cave in Montesquieu-Avantès. But it is only in the past few decades that their workings have been subjected to scientific methodology. In Miracles and Curses, a seminal work by Dr. Stone and Dr. Charles Fort, this working is called hyperstasis. When hyperstasis occurs in a harmful way, it is called metapathology. When it occurs in a harmless way, it is called a superpower. It is a common misconception that superpowers must take the form of some kind of physical ability that places the hyperstatic above basic men, but this is not true. Being harmless to the hyperstatic is the sole commonality of superpowers. A man whose thoughts cause him to burst into flames has a metapathology. A man whose thoughts cause him burst into flames and not be harmed has a superpower.
For some time I wondered if I was metapathologic instead of superhuman. My powers rattled my sanity. They played the old screams over and over again in my head like a wax cylinder. They gave me pain from the slightest of sensations. But as I acquainted myself with the latest in scientific literature I realized that I couldn’t be metapathologic.
Most metapathologies are chaotic in manifestation. For instance, Miracles and Curses recorded the case of Harold Summers around whom strange phenomena took place. Balls of light would fly through the air. Water would boil and freeze. Objects would suddenly develop adhesive properties. Often he would be injured by these manifestations. Every day brought another hazard to face and the poor man’s body was a mass of cuts and bruises until Dr. Stone constructed a kinetic “aura shirt” to protect Summers from his metapathology.
My hyperstasis manifested itself in far too orderly a pattern to be a metapathology. It was only sensations outside my immediate understanding that caused me pain. Hearing a phonograph in the room did not harm me, but hearing a phonograph several yards away did. And my hyperstasis did seem to protect me from its other manifestations as if it were a superpower. My muscles could exert incredible force. I ripped the propellers off of fighter planes and punched holes in airships, but my body never hurt itself under the strain. Though my senses would theoretically necessitate incredible and harmful changes to the physiology of my brain--my vision alone implies that I should have a much larger visual cortex than what my skull allows for--there are no harmful abnormalities in my brain. My hyperstasis worked miracles to protect me just like a superpower.
But then why the pain? Why the old screams?
It felt less like my hyperstatis was a metapathology and more that it was a superpower with something wrong with its functioning. It felt as if its normal functioning was hijacked somehow like how a virus hijacks the functions of a cell. It felt as if I had a superpower that was sick with an illness.
And as it turned out, I was that illness.
Early into my haunting of Mainline City, I entertained the idea of seeking out the world’s greatest superhuman anthropologist to diagnose my condition. But I was leery of personally encountering Dr. Stone. He, like the Blue Defender, was public in his condemnation of me. And if our meeting resulted in a physical confrontation I doubted my chances. His father had named him Hercules for a very good reason. He was bred to have the perfect brain in the perfect body and did not disappoint.
But he, like me, kept a network of agents. I thought that if I could perhaps get my agents to interact with his own that I could eventually negotiate a truce where he would examine me but make no attempt at capturing me. But fate intervened before i could formulate a proper strategy.
We ran into each other, almost literally, in Paris.
I had ventured outside of Mainline to hunt a group of human traffickers employed by Mal Gideon. I choked their secrets from the traffickers I caught and learned that their organization was based in Paris. I dislike having to leave the city. But I promised one trafficker that he would see his friends in Hell as I ripped his throat out, and I always kept my promises.
Dr. Stone was also pursuing the traffickers. Though he preferred to be a writer and a scientist, with the world being what it is he often found a need to use his physical gifts. The traffickers had kidnapped the daughter of a superhuman he was treating named Larry Swan. Swan suffered from the all-too common metapathology of telekinesis. Things around him vanished and reappeared--sometimes miles from where he stood. Sometimes things vanished forever. When his daughter Dorothy was kidnapped, the poor man nearly killed himself thinking he had made her vanish before he found the ransom note. The traffickers wanted to use Dorothy as leverage to convince Swan to take the blame for several missing persons cases they were responsible for. They wanted him to tell the press that he had “felt” them vanish through his abilities and so close the police investigations.
Dr. Stone promised to personally see that Swan’s daughter was returned to him unharmed and her kidnappers punished to the extent of the law. And Dr. Stone, like myself, always kept his promises.
We met on the Paris rooftops. Fate had seen to it that we simultaneously attacked a den of ill repute which the traffickers used to sell the bodies of their victims as prostitutes. I chased the three animals in charge of the den up to the roof and to the edge and approached them slowly. I wanted to see if they would choose to face me or the pavement. They chose the pavement, but a strong hand reached out and grabbed the lot of them by their shirts and lifted them up as if they were children.
That moment rather illustrated the tension to come in our brief partnership.
On the rooftop, we managed to strike up a truce. Time was of the essence. Dorothy stood better odds at returning to her father alive if we worked together. Dr. Stone gave me his word that he would not try and arrest me, and I gave him my word that I would not kill unless absolutely necessary.
It took a few days for Dr. Stone’s genius mind to decode a ledger found in the den’s office which pointed the way to the headquarters of the traffickers--a secret basement in a Gothic cathedral built during the Revolution. The basement connected to the catacombs of Paris and was used to smuggle aristos out of the city. Now it was being put toward a dark and evil purpose. Unknown to the clergy and congregation above, the traffickers had built a rat’s den to hide their goods be they objects or people.