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Mutants & Masterminds: Future Imperfect - Little Wooden Boy [Complete]

z-Tyler Morgan

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Tyler's living area, Mumbia, India

June 15, 2010, 7:44 p.m., Indian Standard Time

Tyler’s head dropped back as he heaved a great sigh of relief. The emails were all sent. His mystery contact had been paid. His contact report had been filed. He was done.

Only he wasn’t really done. It was just starting; part of him wasn’t sure how it’d been so easy. Just a few emails and he was shipping off money and plans. Of course, this might be a hoax; that was the risk you took in this business. The number-machine-person on the other end could take the money and run. Tyler wasn’t worried. So UNISON would lose some cash and Tyler would have to start over with a new contact. Big whoop.

His eyes settled on the framed picture of Disney’s Pinocchio hanging over his desk. He stared at the image, blinking slowly. His computer screen flickered and went black, the light dying with a soft pop. Tyler sighed again and checked the time: 7:44 p.m. It was 9:15 p.m. in Bangkok.

Tyler enjoyed living in Mumbai most days. It was a bustling city, full of people and glutted with amenities – almost all amenities. One of India’s great lacks was the state of the strip clubs. They were usually for the upper class; they were basically exclusive clubs that required wealth, status and the right blood in your veins. One of Tyler’s bosses had taken him to one, as a reward for making a ground-breaking discovery. Tyler had not seen the attraction; the girls were fully clothed.

Fortunately, when you were able to teleport, issues like being in the wrong country for easy access to naked women wasn’t a big deal. Tyler rose and went into his bedroom, stripping off the tee-shirt he had been wearing. His pants followed before he stopped in front of his closet, picking out their replacements. He finally settled on some black jeans and a collared shirt that stretched over his torso nicely. The next stop was the bathroom to check his appearance and do a pit/breath/hair check. Satisfied, he closed his eyes and readied himself for the suck.

The first step was easy. He reached into himself, in that hollow of light within himself. He wasn’t sure how to describe it, but that’s what he saw in himself: a cored out spot under his heart that was full of light. He’d never told anyone that; it seemed silly.

Of course, he had a framed picture of Pinocchio on his living room wall, so perhaps silly was relative.

When he opened his eyes, a formless blur of light stared back at him. Tyler smiled and the face of the form seemed to move a little. His features were there but obscured by the light he was now emitting. He closed his eyes again, mostly for his own sake, and reached for a spot of light he knew in Port Blair, on the Nicobar Islands. There was the sensation of lots of movement and none at all while being one with the light.

To the outside viewer, Tyler appeared to change color and brightness until he just faded into the light in the room. To Tyler, it was like the light steamed past him; he may have merged with it, but he didn’t lose that sense of himself. He saw the golden luminescence of his bathroom lights, then the white light of everything and then a reedy, orange-ish light. The weirdness stopped and the smell of the sea assaulted his nostrils.

Tyler looked around. He was outside a warehouse, abandoned at this hour. It was his halfway point; not literally so in the geographic sense, but he couldn’t make it to Bangkok in one hop without making himself sick; as it was, he was racked with nausea and vertigo from the exertion of pushing himself this hard. Panting, he waited, leaning against the warehouse wall. It would pass soon. It always did.

True to form, soon the only thing making him gag was the stink of the fish cannery one building over. Standing straight, the living beam of light focused again, seeking out another familiar light, this time in Bangkok. He felt himself, without moving, merge into the sickly orange light coming from the bulb above. The white light flared around him again, only to give way to a dull, reddish color.

Tyler reappeared, sick and dizzy, in the light cast off of a sign advertising a Thai strip club. He released the light inside of him and felt his body return to normal. Hearing someone murmuring in Thai, he glanced up to see two young women shrink back against a wall. In Thailand, most of the mutants belonged in various criminal syndicates. “Hi,” he said in American-accented English, straightening enough to wave at them. His smile was friendly enough, despite the greenish pallor to his cheeks.

They edged away from him and he nodded, expecting this. Slowly, his stomach quieted and he was able to move normally. Smiling a little to himself, he headed toward Pac’s. It was his preferred strip club in Bangkok – upscale enough to be reasonably clean, cheap enough that he could afford to frequent it.

It was time to unwind.

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Pad’s was busy already, despite being a Tuesday. Still, Tamarine took the time to wave at him as he came in through the door. He angled toward the pretty bartender, leaning on the counter. She was classically beautiful for a Thai woman, with an oval face and soft features. She was not dressed classically; her black shorts and skin-tight midriff tee-shirt were American-decedent. “I see you’re packed tonight,” he shouted over the ear-splitting music.

“Yeah, a party,” she said, her eyes darting toward the stage. Her dark eyes were scared as they met his again.

Casually, Tyler turned, looking over his shoulder. There were a number of men pushing against the stage; they weren’t Thai and it took Tyler a moment to sort out their features and label them as Chinese, or perhaps Korean. Same thing, as far as he was concerned. He turned back to Tamarine. “Tsing,” he ordered, pulling out the correct number of baht for the cost of the Chinese beer.

Tamarine put the bottle in front of him and took his money, but her hands shook – subtly, but Tyler saw it. “Bartending jitters?” he asked, raising his beer for a drink.

“The men,” she said softly, her eyes darting back over to the party. “Some of them are mutants.”

“You don’t say,” Tyler drawled. “You know… they could just be tourists.” She mutely shook her head. “No? Some people call that racial profiling – you know, being afraid of mutants because they’re mutants.”

“No,” she whispered; he had to lean in to hear her whispered, “They are Triad.”

Tyler’s eyebrows jumped and he scanned them again, seeing if any of them were familiar. None of the faces popped out at him and he relaxed a little more. “Okkkay, I’m still not getting it,” he told Tamarine softly. “You’ve had rough guys in here before; just last month you had some Yaks in here.”

The Thai girl just shook her head again. “They’re looking for girls,” she hissed, “and we can’t make them leave.”

“Well, I’m sure you can ask them to leave, but that seems a little odd for a strip club, to ask men to leave,” Tyler noted. "Usually, they go the other way."

Tamarine stared at him sharply, her expression calling him an utter idiot. “Not looking for girls to watch dance,” she told him in her rough English. “Looking for girls to dupe into prostitution.”

Tyler stared at her. “Oh,” he finally managed, taking another drink of his beer. “How do you know that?” he asked.

“Because I know woman who had it happen,” Tamarine replied. Her eyes were angry as her gaze dropped to the bar. “My friend, she went to Beijing, thinking she going to work as a housemaid. Only once there, she was forced to sleep with men. They take her money because she owes them money for her VISA and trip to China. She keep owing them more money until she escape and come home.”

“You probably shouldn’t tell me, as I’m not their type,” the mutant pointed out. “I think that warning the victims is probably a much better idea.”

“I tell them. They don’t believe,” she said. Suddenly she leaned over the counter, flashing him a nice view down the front of her shirt as she whispered, “You are mutant. Man of light. You could stop them.”

Tyler looked at the men again. One of them was talking to one of the waitresses; she was leaning toward him, her young face hopeful. Her forehead practically had “Whatever you’re selling, I’m buying” stamped on it. Standing, Tyler said, “Thanks for the beer, Tamarine.” As the hope faded from her eyes, he left the bar.

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Tyler tried not to take the look on her face with him to Paradise. This bar was a step up for him, in that it was an actual place to pick up women instead of buying some cheap thrills. It was one of Bangkok’s more popular tourist bars; the women to be found here offered only the normal dangers for a one-night stand. The atmosphere was much more welcoming than Pad’s; most of the people here were happily drunk already.

Tyler had only started to mill around, looking for a likely target when someone picked him out. Since his book, this had happened occasionally; his photo had been on the jacket. The first time it had both startled him and gotten him laid. The latter had done much to offset his unease about being so easily spotted.

“Hi!” The girl that had grabbed his arm was Afro-something. He was guessing that she was Afro-Australian from her accent.

“Hi!” he shouted back to her. One quick, sweeping gaze took in all the details he needed to know: she was young enough and pretty enough.

“I know you! Are you Mindy’s American friend? Mindy Cantrell?” she shouted. Before he could reply, she dragged him away from the bar and the dance floor, pulling him out into the muggy Thai night. “Oh, now we can talk! So… I met you at Mindy flat in Brisbane, right?”

“No, sorry,” Tyler said, smiling at her, enjoying the way the exterior lights reflected off her skin. “Though I now wish I knew Mindy and her Brisbane flat.”

“So how do I know you?” she said, swaying lightly. “Cause I know that I do.”

“Hint: you’ve read about me,” Tyler said with a smile, taking a drink from his pint.

“Ooo,” she cooed, “you’re famous?”

“Well,” Tyler hedged, “that depends on who you ask. Like if you ask me – then yes, I’m famous.”

“Sounds like a bit o’ bias to me,” she replied.

“Could be,” he acknowledged, then offered his hand. “I’m Tyler, by the way.”

“Jackie,” she said. “So come on, tell me who you are.”

“You don’t want to guess?”

“I’m drunk,” she stated emphatically. “I’m not going to be able to guess… uh, like even easy stuff.”

“Mmm, alright,” Tyler said. He studied her for a moment. “I wrote a book called My Life as a Laser.”

“Wow, that’s awesome,” Jackie giggled. She paused a moment and then said, “What’s the name mean?”

“It means I’m a mutant who can manipulate light,” he said, knowing that sooner or later, she’d find out. Better before the sex, in all honesty.

That earned him a long moment of silence as she stared at him. “Light, like… light bulbs?” she asked.

Tyler felt a bit of hope. She hadn’t pulled away yet. “Light, like light,” he said, holding out a hand. “Can I have your hand?”

Jackie only hesitated a moment before holding her hand out. Tyler set his drink on the railing and cupped his hands around hers. Trailing a finger over her palm, he murmured, “And behold, he said, let there be light…”

A number flared into existence on her palm; she broke into a delighted smile as the blue light began a slow shift to red. “It isn’t hot and doesn’t even hurt… what’s this number mean?”

“Its measurements,” he told her, smiling a little at the startled look she gave him. Then she was giggling again but this time when she swayed against him, she didn’t move away.

Twenty minutes of banter later, they’d talked each other into going back to her room. As they were about to leave, she said, “Oh, I need to tell Natalie where I’m going.”

“I’ll be right here,” Tyler assured her, leaning against the wall by the door. He was only kept cooling his heels about five minutes before Jackie came back, a gangly red-headed woman in tow. “Tyler, I’m sorry… I’d forgotten but Nat and I have an agreement.”

“I’m not following, probably because you’ve left out some parts,” he said, quirking an eyebrow and trying not to get irritated.

“See, Jackie always gets laid and I don’t,” Nat said softly, “so she promised that if I didn’t get a guy, she wouldn’t.”

Tyler studied the girl; she was too bony for his tastes and had a horsey face but Jackie was more than compensation. “There’s a guy right here,” he pointed out. “Unless you ladies aren’t good enough friends to do a little sharing.”

Both looked surprised; then Natalie said, “Ok!” With a drunken giggle, Jackie nodded her agreement.

There was only one moment of hesitation for Tyler; his conscience made an attempt to poke at him one more time. Ignoring that poke in favor of some of his own pokes, Tyler escorted the two ladies into their hotel room and shut the door firmly.

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2:00 a.m. IST

Tyler popped back into his bathroom, releasing the light immediately. He reverted to his physical form more from exhaustion than a desire to release. The nausea of transport doubled with the vertigo from intoxication and he staggered over to his toilet, bowing before it. This time, his liquid dinner stayed where he’d left it. After he was sure that was the case, Tyler flopped onto his butt, leaning against the door of his shower.

“Great night,” he muttered, but his heart wasn’t in it. Yeah, he’d picked up two women for the price of one; yeah, he’d partied and had fun, but right now, it felt rather empty. “All flash,” he muttered drunkenly, then giggled as he realized the irony in the “Man of Light” griping about something being all flash and no physical substance.

Too bad he was programmed this way. He’d been modeled after Kincaid and this was all he knew – fucking and drinking. “Stupid asshole,” he growled. It wasn’t Kincaid’s fault, really – he hadn’t asked to be the model for Tyler. But when he was this drunk, Ronnie’s dead partner was a good scapegoat.

“Hez a goat. And I’m a puppet,” Tyler said, thumping his head against the shower door again. “Little wooden boy. Wants ta be a real boy. Except my Geppetto is dead.”

Also, sorry about your parents.

Tyler pressed his hands against his head. He could remember the funeral; he could remember the flight from Stanford, totally in shock. He’d identified his father’s body at the morgue; the shock morphing into grief as the truth set into his mind. He could evoke the sympathy in the detective’s eyes when the woman hadn’t let him see his mother’s body – “Trust me, you won’t be able to tell us its her.” He recalled going to the house after the funeral and weeping like a baby at how empty and dark it was. And none of it had really happened.

Once again, Tyler sat and loathed the system that had created him. He’d been inserted into a life seamlessly and told that he was working for the government. They’d created a loving family, a life and something he remembered enjoying. Then they’d told him the only family he knew was dead and insisted he protect the people who’d done it. Why did you make me care?

If only he couldn’t care. If only he were as empty inside as Lena and Celeste. UNISON had gotten better at creating the Et-als – Tyler, the last to be made, had been told he was one of the best they’d crafted. They’d constructed a beautiful lie; such a beautiful one that Tyler wanted it to be true. The bitch of it was, even if his parents were alive, they wouldn’t claim him as their son. He was a stranger to them, even if he wore their name and mourned them fiercely and quietly.

“You’re drunk,” he told himself. He was always like this when he got drunk. “Maybe you should get drunk less often.” With effort, he dragged himself to his feet and stumbled toward his bedroom. He stripped and flopped into bed, making a mental note that he should censor his drunken musings when he went down. Celeste or Lena would probably tattle on him and land him another psych eval if they knew his feelings toward UNISON. Celeste because she was a cold bitch, and Lena because she was a sadistic bitch.

His last consideration before sleep took him was to wonder if Ronnie or Rebecca shared his thoughts.

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