Dr. Stone would sometimes turn over the task of decoding the ledger to one of his agents, a mathematician named Dr. Angelo Giuseppe, and in what counted as “free time” for a superhuman scientist like himself examine my body. For the sake of his diagnosis, I related to him my symptoms and history--though I was careful to omit certain details. Our truce was to last until Dorothy was rescued, but after that I had no assurance that he wouldn’t use all that I had told him against me. So I made no mention of Shanghai or Ram or rejoining the air service. But I believe I told him enough for him to make an accurate diagnosis. Throughout his storied career, he had treated men so afflicted by metapathologies that they had forgotten their very names. Compared to that, I told him plenty.
Dr. Stone told me that his diagnosis was inconclusive. He could not tell if I had a metapathology or a new kind of superpower whose protective qualities were deficient. All he could tell was that I was indeed an exceptional case and that once I was treated he looked forward to writing about me in the then-upcoming Princes of Dawn book.
Without even knowing what was wrong with me, he promised that I would be treated. That was the kind of man Dr. Stone was.
People often speak of the man’s virtue. Even the most hostile anti-superhuman will admit that Dr. Hercules Stone shoulders the burden of hope as his namesake shouldered the sky. Of the depths of anger I drove him to I am truly, truly sorry. It seems my nature is an acid that will tarnish even hearts of gold.
I recall one time he looked at me, and his old, wise eyes held genuine pity. “Don’t you worry friend.” He said. “I will help you. I have helped many men plagued by hyperstasis. You are not the worst I have seen and you are not beyond help. It will take a lot of work and a lot of time to understand your condition, but once we do we’ll not only make your hyperstasis harmless but useful. Some good will come of all this. I promise.”
I replied that I had already put my metapathology to good use crippling Mal Gideon’s criminal empire.
His reply to that was a sad, knowing smile.
I didn’t understand why he made such an expression until days after we dismantled the trafficker ring--and I was picking stained glass out of my shoulders.
Dr. Stone and Dr. Giuseppe broke the ledger’s code in three days. Though the ledger was encoded by a photon brain the traffickers had to break into the Sorbonne to use, it was no match for two superhuman minds working together. We descended on the traffickers’ cathedral hideout and fate smiled. We found all the head rats huddled together in their dark nest. They knew we were coming for them and they knew our reputations--particularly mine. They naturally feared us like rats feared cats and joined together where they felt the safest.
They would have been far more difficult to hunt down had they gone their separate ways. But animals will do as animals are wont to do.
The fighting was fierce owing to their desperation and flowed up from the basement caverns into the cathedral proper. Evening worshippers ran screaming or huddled behind cover and prayed. Machine gun fire blasted silver crosses and wooden pews and we made them pay for every hole.
I fought true to my word. I gave only light wounds. I dipped only my fingertips into their flesh and avoided arteries with a surgeon’s precision. Such restraint made me sickeningly anxious. I scraped my claws together expecting to feel the familiar slipperiness of blood and struck sparks instead.
When the fighting was over and the traffickers bound in chains for the coming police, my superhuman hearing found the soft fluttering of a lost child’s heart coming from far below the floorboards. That whimpering heart led us better than a lamp through the darkness, through the caverns, to Dorothy.
We found the child in a filthy room with stone walls and a dirty floor. She was alive, but the traffickers had brutalized her in unspeakable ways and the sight of her condition filled me with white hot anger. I knew that she would never forget what had happened to her and it made my soul ache for blood like a starving tiger.
And animals will do as animals are wont to do.
I left Dr. Stone to comfort Dorothy and took my leave. I told him that children should not suffer the sight of me and he agreed.
But I stopped to see to the men on my way out through the cathedral.
True, I had promised Dr. Stone that I would not kill unnecessarily.
But I had promised their friends back in Mainline that they would see each other in hell first.
Beneath the eyes of a wooden Christ, I punished them as if I were the Devil.
I could not help but take me time with them and that was my mistake. It gave Dr. Stone plenty of time to entrust Dorothy to the care of a nearby priest.
Then he was free to deal with me.
Dr. Stone came upon me before the men were dead, but not before I had ensured that they soon would be.
I had betrayed his trust. I had forced him to see me in a different light. Before, he had thought of me as a patient. He had thought of me with pity. But now, with my bloodlust on full display, he thought of me with disgust--and he let me know it.
The good doctor’s words were no doubt heated by the moment. There I stood above mangled bodies, gore dripping from my claws. The sight was gruesome enough to rattle anyone, even a mind as organized and calm as that which belonged to Dr. Hercules Stone.
But he spoke the truth.
He told me that he had formed a hypothesis about my hyperstasis in the brief time he had known me but kept silent out of fear that I would react badly to hearing it. He truly did want to help me. But now, he just wanted to hurt me, and so he let the entire truth fall upon me like a bolt of lightning.
There was nothing wrong with my hyperstasis. I did not have a metapathology. I had a superpower, and it was not some new kind of defective superpower. My superpower followed the protective law all superpowers followed and did not cause the old screams to echo in my mind and haunt my life.
It was me.
I caused the old screams.
I projected my own insanity onto my powers, an insanity born of survivor’s guilt and a need to exert control over deep feelings of powerlessness. I believed I belonged with the dead and so I not only heard the screams of the dead but surrounded myself with the dead with every life I took as the Trespasser. My tortuous survival made me feel powerless and so I transformed myself into a living image of war to feel powerful. Like war, I killed men under the pretense of a higher purpose but really to satisfy my own inhuman needs. War killed to grease the wheels of nations, and I killed to grease the wheels of my heart.
Dr. Stone told me that a better and stronger man would have come out of no-man’s land with a desire to help, not harm. A better man would have been given my powers, heard the screams among the silent dead, and would have taken it as a challenge to ensure that men would not die in pain and terror.
He would have become someone like Katherine.
He would not have been haunted by old screams. His ghosts would have stayed silent out of respect for the person he was.
I could have been this man. I could have been a surgeon, a doctor, a fireman--so many things. Eyes that can watch bullets coast through the air and muscles that feel them like raindrops could do much more than kill.
I could have made use of hands instead of claws.
I could have.
If I had been a good man at the start.
Dr. Stone explained all of this to me in the frankest of terms. And then he ordered me, in that voice of near divine authority he used on criminals, to surrender myself to him. He said that if I chose to be a monster, I could also choose to be human. I could be treated. He knew the greatest techniques of the greatest alienists. He studied under Freud and Jung. He could help me.
I had only to want to be helped.
I stood there in silence. I stood there a rebuked goblin against one of the greatest superheroes of all time.
I thought about what he said. Ever since no-man’s land, I thought of myself as a man making the most of a terrible fate. The bloodlust was forced upon me by my bad stars, but I put it to use destroying evil. Under this interpretation, I was allowed a degree of self-pity. I even had nobility in a small way. But now I was disillusioned, and the pity and nobility were gone.
Through some defect in my character, I had chosen to be an aberration. I had chosen not to shoulder my bloodlust but to court it.
And now, I was told that I could be cured. Never in my life did I think of the bloodlust as something within my power to control, only to direct. Until that instant, I had never considered that I would die as anything but an aberration. I was what I would always be.
I thought about what Dr. Stone said.
And I realized that I was an aberration down to my bones, down to my soul.
And I would never change.
And then I cut him with my claws.
Or rather, I tried to cut him just to have my claws shatter on his skin--as I thought they would.
Impulse has always been my familiar weakness and wrath my typical vice. I knew I couldn’t hurt Dr. Stone but wanted to strike him anyway. My claws are rhecite--flowing metal. Against a superhuman that studies Reichenbachian physics by standing inside continual atomic explosions, I might as well have had claws made of chalk.
I got the worst of our exchange and I deserved it. I found myself, as my agent Renard “Captain” Bisclavret would say, slapped silly. The only luck I had in the brawl was being thrown through stained glass rather than stone wall. I wish it had been the wall though. It was a beautiful gothic rose window that I destroyed. That rose window had seen countless sunsets. It had survived the Revolution and the Great War in the Air just to be destroyed by a violent little ghoul being thrown through it.
I was able to pick myself off the ground and scramble away through the gathering crowd of onlookers and policemen before Dr. Stone could give chase. Realizing that I was leaving a trail of blood and remembering that tracking was one of Dr. Stone’s many, many talents that he honed in the subterranean jungles of Pellucidar, I tore through twisting back-alleys until I found the dockside. I plunged into the cold waters of the Seine and allowed the current to wash me away like a lump of trash.
Being able to live and function without air is one of the powers of my superhuman body. As such, I have often used waterways as escape routes. I am even able to sleep comfortably within water by using a meditative technique Ram taught me which shuts off the sensation of drowning even as my lungs fill with water.
Feeling overwhelmed physically and emotionally, I closed my eyes, breathed water into my lungs, and went to sleep. I awoke when I flowed into Le Havre and brackish water set my wounds afire. Emerging in the port city, I found a freighter bound for America and stowed away. I would later send George Douglas and Claude Marceau to Paris ostensibly to recover the cache of supplies I left behind but really to give two of my hardest-working agents a well-deserved vacation. Claude hadn’t returned to his home country in years and George deserved to see the world while he was young.
They visited the cathedral, blending seamlessly with the hundreds of tourists come to see where Dr. Hercules Stone put a stop to an international gang of human traffickers and knocked the bloody phantom of Mainline City through a window.
George sketched the window. By the size of the hole no one would have guessed that something as small as a man was thrown through it.
I never saw Dr. Stone again after Paris. What he wrote about me in Princes of Dawn took up a few pages in a chapter that covered several superhumans whose psychological issues impacted the manifestation of their powers. In a life as colorful as Dr. Stone’s I amounted to a single adventure.
Dr. Stone wrote that he deeply regretted how our encounter resolved. He condemned my actions, but wrote that he had pity for me nonetheless. After everything I had done, he still saw me ultimately as a sick man in need of his help.
In an aside addressed to me, he offered me his services anytime I wanted. I could, on his word of honor, travel to his famous science-tower in New York City, the Ralston building, without fear of capture. He promised again to use the latest in alienist techniques to treat my mental sickness.
But I have not gone and will never go. I learned all I needed from Dr. Stone in Paris.
I learned that subconsciously, I had chosen animal bloodlust over human reason. But what did it matter if it was not misfortune but weakness that set the bloodlust upon me? The bloodlust was always the strongest part of my being. How it came about did not change its strength. The bloodlust had controlled me like the hand of God for years.
But in consciously reaffirming my choice I make the hand of God my own.
And I become a monster, yes, but a monster true to his nature.
Dr. Stone, for all his intellect, misidentifies what I am.
He believes that I am a sick man.
He is wrong.
I am monstrous. But being monstrous is not being sick. It is to be inhuman as a tiger is inhuman. But a tiger is not sick when he prowls his jungle and eats lustfully the flesh and drinks greedily the blood of his prey. He is only sick when he does not hunt, when he lies down, rejects his nature, and wastes away.
In offering me help, Dr. Stone offers a rejection of my nature. He offers me sickness. But I can not afford to ingest poison, not when there is so much prey to hunt.
If I am to be starved it will be when there is no more prey to hunt in the human jungle.