Life used to be so much simpler. “Born” in a genetics laboratory, Kane’s first memories had been of his “father,” Dr. Richard Caufield. The Doctor was a kindly old man, obsessed with his research into developing a soldier who could withstand a nuclear holocaust and carry the ol’ Stars-n-Stripes into a new age if needed. The project had bogged down until a significant find was made in the polar ice caps north of Greenland.
Satellite photos had warranted an exploration team, who then called for experts to document their find. Dr. Caufield, one of the leaders in Parahuman Genetics for the U.S. at that time, was sent out with the team. There, perfectly preserved, they found the body of a man. A man who had been frozen for over 3, 000 years and yet was still alive, albeit in a hibernation comma! “Adam,” as the project dubbed him, possessed an incredible regenerative ability that had allowed his body to survive all this time. Added to the mystery was the fact that he wore some sort of futuristic clothing, something not yet developed even by military R&D labs.
Adam’s body revived over a period of time, under the watchful care of Dr. Caufield. The Doctor began running tests on Adam’s genes, combining them with the various super-soldier tests he had created, and found that in every case, Adam’s regenerative abilities raised the hypothetical chance of surviving the test by at least 50%! The best results came from a particularly brutal regimen; combining a chemical cocktail with a lethal dose of radiation, enough to kill a healthy man many times over. However, Adam’s cells not only withstood the treatment, they provided a 40% chance of positive mutation! This was enough for Doc Caufield’s superiors to give a green light to “Project: Sunburst”, all funds needed were provided.
However, they were still hesitant to provide U.S. soldiers for the experiment, and the chance that a forced prisoner might actually gain paranormal abilities and escape was to great a security risk. Therefore, the board of directors were more than willing to accept Doctor Caufield’s next suggestion; the implemantation of his pet project, human cloning. Morality aside, it would provide the necessary test subjects, blank slates on whom the necessary training could be written, loyalty insured. And if they died in the test, no one was hurt and no one the wiser for it. The board voted unanimously to approve the project.
The necessary facility for Project: Sunburst would take a year to build, and in that time the Doctor perfected his serum as far as he could. Adam never did awaken: he never made it past rudimentary life functions. However, his living cells were harvested, and forty clones were created. The clones grew rapidly, a side effect that was unexpected, but very welcome. Within six months they had reached physical and mental maturity, and were turned over to drill instructors from the military’s most elite organizations. By the time the facility was ready for the clones, they were ready for their final test.
Twenty-five clones died instantly upon exposure to the radiation. Seven mutated into something too horrible for words and disappeared from the Project. Three remained whole, but went insane from various psychic abilities they could not control. Five clones emerged physically and mentally intact, gaining a variety of super powers, and were ready to further their training. One of them died in the next week from cellular decomposition. None the less, Project: Sunburst was named a success by its board of directors.
Kane tossed restlessly, fever producing a sheen of sweat over his entire body. His eyes opened briefly to gaze unfocused at the white figure sitting on the side of his bed. A damp, cool cloth dabbed at his forehead, providing a measure of relief from the burning pain he felt. He heard a musical voice murmur soothing words, though he could not make them out. He tried to speak, and his throat burned. A cup of water was brought to his lips, and he swallowed a mouthful before coughing the rest back up. The cloth cleaned his face, and feeling a bit better, he drifted back into unconsciousness.
Swan looked over her shoulder to Manticore. “Justin, he’s going to die if his body can’t adjust to whatever Crey did to him. We should really be bringing him in to a doctor, not holding him here.”
Her partner glared briefly, before his eyes softened. He couldn’t be angry at her, she was right after all. Still, when had he ever abided by the rules? “Lena, we need that information. Crey’s been funneling too much in finances and equipment into that facility. I know they are running something illegal out of there, and this poor sap’s the first break we have received. We can’t stop now.”
Swan sighed softly. Manticore’s hatred of Countess Crey and her multi-national conglomerate, Crey Biotech, was a palpable thing. If she had not seen the atrocities the company was capable of firsthand, and witnessed the amazing coverups they could perform at a moments notice; she would call him obsessed, but that would be incorrect. Justin “Manticore” Sinclair reserved obsession for the 5th Column; neo-fascist descendants of the original super soldiers from the Third Reich. Still, his naturally brooding personality lent itself well to solving mysteries, and Countess Crey was one of the mysteries he wished to see unraveled.
Justin’s gaze faltered, and he began to pace the room. Lena watched him, considering just how different they were.
Lena “Swan” Elliot owed her life to Manticore, and she assisted him gladly in combating evil, but she was a much kinder, gentler soul. Statesman had once confided in her that he believed that Lena was the one thing that kept Justin from falling into a dark abyss from which there would be no return. She had come into her own psychic powers when caught between rival assault teams from the 5th Column and the arcane Circle of Thorns who were attempting to loot her parent’s home for a pair of mystical heirlooms. Now she used her abilities to help Manticore uncover the truth behind the many secrets held in Paragon City. Mysteries like the man sleeping in this safe house of theirs.
Lena was too intelligent to leap into a stranger’s mind, she knew what dangers could lie in the dark recesses of the psyche. So far she had been proven correct; this man… Kane, he seemed to think of himself as, had a psychic bomb of such intricacy that it could only have been planted by a master psionic, someone with real power, and real desire to harm others. She had never seen its like. Most traps of this sort were meant to be short term assaults on an unwary team psychic, resulting in the death of the carrier and usually the psychic as well. Not so with this one. Someone had taken the time to carefully weave the psionic energy into Kane’s mind. Kane’s powers seemed to trigger by psionic activation, and so they were woven into the bomb, fueling it in fact. This trap would not be fading with time. No, it would be there as long as he was alive, or until someone very powerful, and very skilled was able to remove it. Worse yet, it was self-regenerating, capable of multiple attacks without harming its host… She had explained it to Manticore as a psionic bomb that had the plus side of protecting Kane from mental probes, but cut him off from any true telepathic contact. He was a (hopefully) unwilling assassin for mentalists. All of this she had learned with extremely careful probing of the bomb itself, warned immediately upon making contact with Kane by the image of blazing emerald eyes turning to view her. The bomb seemed to have something close to an intelligence of its own, forcing her to wonder if the psychic responsible for this atrocity had not implanted a piece of herself (it felt female to Lena for some reason) into Kane’s mind. If that was true then whoever “she” was must be hurting now that Kane was in a different reality.
“Can’t you hurry this up?” Manticore finally huffed after pacing the room a dozen times. Patience was missing from his nature unless he was actually on a hunt.
Swan looked to him with a smile she reserved for impatient children and her partner. “Justin, I have already explained to you, I cannot plunge into his psyche and pull the answers you want out of him. I have to remain empathic, allow his mind to respond to gentle suggestions in the form of dreams. Its up to him then what information is given. Why don’t you run out and get us some dinner at La Fiesta Brava? I could go for some taquitos…” Her eyes implored him to find somewhere else to vent his frustrations.
“Huh?” Manticore paused in mid-stride. He looked with confusion at Swan for a moment, then chuckled as he realized how bad his behavior was for the delicate work she was performing. “Sure, La Fiesta Brava, it is. Should take me about an hour to get there and back. ” Seeing the look on Lena’s face he quickly amended himself, “..and, uhh, there’s that report that State’s has been after me to drop off… I should stop by HQ and get that filed. Say, three hours round trip?”
Swan smiled and nodded. “That should be good. I can’t imagine it will take me much longer thasn that to get the info you want.” She watched him snatch up his mask, bow, and quiver and head for the door. “Drive safely, Justin,” she called after him.
A snort was all she heard as he hit the door already increasing his pace. Grinning she turned back to her patient. The smile faded a bit as she reached a hand back to Kane’s forehead. Softly she murmured, “C’mon Kane, tell me more.”
Kane received his name from the lab techs because at the exact time he opened his eyes, Adam died. The others were named for various traits expressed during their training or in honor of someone’s family, ect. The name seemed more apropos the longer he existed. Like his Biblical counterpart, he always had a different way of accomplishing goals given to him. Also, like his namesake, he was the first amongst the clones to kill someone. Though an accident in the development of his strength, it was not missed by the other trainers who responded with typical aggression through the rest of his schooling.
It is unknown what might have become of this relationship. Three months after Project: Sunburst had its successful run, the locale was raided by paranormal agents from an unknown source. The facility was destroyed, and in a act of kindness, Dr. Caufield freed Kane and sent him into the world to attempt a life free of governmental interference.
The next five years passed in a blur for Kane. Possessed of monumental strength, super speed, an incredibly dense hide, and a mastery of martial combat that surpassed the best human fighters in the world, finding a job was quite easy. What wouldn’t have been easy was avoiding the Project team hunting him. As luck would have it, Kane met a mercenary who would change his life.
Rick “Monetary” Hazard was a super-mercenary selling his, and his team’s, skills to the highest bidder. Finding a blank slate in Kane, he began to impress his world view upon this young pupil. Kane learned his lessons well, and was a valuable member of the team until the day that his mentor died, killed by another super a little faster and slightly stronger than he. Kane absorbed this lesson too, as, leaderless, the team fell apart, each going their own way. In honor of his one-time mentor and friend, Kane took in Rick’s son, Hazard Jr, and set off to become his own man for the first time in his life.
Freelance mercenary work would have continued until that one fatal mistake made it all fade to black if a particularly lucrative, and quite intriguing offer had not crossed his path. A woman named Sable hired Kane to join a super group called “The Stand.” It seemed the group had come up against a run of nasty villians and lost several members, and the current team “brick” had been relegated to the hospital for several months of recovery and rehabilitation. It was unknown if they would ever be able to don their uniform again. As Sable owed the team leader, one Fleer Ishimano, a favor, she arranged for Kane to fill the roll for the next three months time. The money was very good, so Kane packed a bag and was off to a small town in Colorado; the team maintained a ranch as a base there far from major civilization.
Kane had no sooner stepped onto the ranch then the team’s collective surprise was made known. He didn’t have to ask what was so shocking: standing looking at him was Adam, complete with the costume he had been found frozen in! The next few moments witnessed heated questions, many of which neither side could answer. Adam, or Jakob Green as his name turned out to be, decided to be happy with finding a “brother,” and Kane was welcome into the team. The question of how Jakob ended up frozen in ice was one that was never completely understood.
Heroic life was quite a change of pace for Kane. At first he did his job with the same cold, methodical ruthlessness he had been taught. His first battle came against a team of super-mercs who had been controlled via bio-tech slave modules implanted in their necks. While the other heroes fought delicately to save the mercs, Kane shattered the spine of one and killed another. This lead to a severe lesson in what it meant to be a hero. Making things more strained was the fact that the merc team’s leader, Zaiphod Shimizu, was Fleer’s brother-in-law.
The team continued its investigation and learned that an uber supervillian named The Adversary was behind the slave modules. Several other teams had to be subdued, much more carefully this time, as the Stand moved closer to this archvillian. The team used their ranch base as a place of refuge for those recovering from the slave modules. One of those saved was a young heroine named Dana Barret, healer and telepath.
The final confrontation with the Adversary was bittersweet. His base of operations was destroyed, but he managed to escape through a portal created by an ally, a necromantic demon known as the Deadbringer. Still, the day was saved, and Kane discovered that doing good just for the sake of good had its perks too. Healthy emotions like gratitude, love, and respect for life were introduced into his life.
Swan pulled back from her empathic meld with Kane. Wiping the sweat from her brow, she reached for a nearby glass of water while pondering the next few years of Kane’s life. He had continued as a hero with the team for a few years. After his mercenary contract expired, he continued, finding camaraderie amongst this team of heroes. Still, he was not completely a hero, there were times where he pushed his mercenary dark side into a closet and left it for months at a time, and then there were times when the darkness roared out of its chains and brought about great chaos in Kane and those around him’s lives. He never reached the dedication to goodness and morality that those like Statesman swore by… in many ways he reminded Swan of Manticore, forever balanced on the precipice, staring into the darkness below. Kane had seen the darkness look back and it forever molded him. She was determined that Manticore would never reach that point.
The Stand went the way of all super groups. New alliances formed, members laid to rest in loving memory, and others forced by fate to leave their uniforms behind. A new team sprung up, calling themselves Crossroads. It was the only name that made sense with the heroes assembled. From Kane’s darker view ranging up to the team leader, Jack’s dyed-in-the-wool heroic nature, the team represented the moral compass in all its extremes, and was extremely effective because of it.
It was also during this time that Kane began dating Dana Barret; and from the feelings she received surrounding his memories of this woman, Swan began to understand that this psychic bomb was placed to hurt Kane in the most malicious of ways. The memories of the bomb’s implantation were hidden, as were many other memories. It seemed the more emotional the memory, the tighter the bomb hugged to it.
She saw that he had been to multiple other dimensions, seen beings who called themselves gods, and in a bid to save his failing body (the cloned genes giving out from the constant stress placed on them), had won immortality from them. This event seemed extremely dramatic, but fuzzed out in all of the most important moments.
There was an alien invasion in their dimension as well, but the villians were not the Rikti. Instead they called them Distri-Sitrans, and they were extremely devious in their methods of conquering. Appearing as human, they could steal a super being’s powers and use them for themselves. Combining this with advanced reconstructive surgery, they had managed to replace more than 50% of the Earth’s heroes and villians before they were caught. The battle for Earth had been long and fraught with many loses. In the end, the remaining heroes and villians were forced to combine forces and launch a desperate assault across space to the Distri home world, a rock burned out of all resources and used only as a prison now. The combined assault was successful, and the invasion was thwarted. Again, frustration rose as the most important parts of the story were blotted out.
The last images Swan received were of a call to an alternate Earth, one where a militaristic religious order served an ancient Evil, a being of such immense power that no super could hope to stand against it. Each of the team were given a piece of a sacred elemental power, known collectively as “the Flame,” the very energy from which the universe was derived if one believed the stories. All Crossroads knew was it made them into godlings, beings of such amazing power that they rapidly shot through the ranks of this Old One’s followers and readied themselves for the final battle.
Here Swan was amazed that the bomb could not follow. It was as if the Flame-use protected, or perhaps seared, these memories onto Kane’s mind. An epic battle, one that should be written in history books, if historians had survived it, destroyed that reality’s earth. The Old One too used the Flame, albeit the destructive mirror of the positive energies wielded by the heroes, and used it to destroy the world they had come to free. One by one the heroes fell, but did not die. Each joined the Flame, making the others stronger till only Kane remained, standing tall atop a floating piece of what was once the world they had come to save. Drawing all of the energy available to him, he met the Old One in one last explosion, and in doing so they rent the very building blocks of reality, expunging the Evil from all time, and leaving the team as formless spirits in the void of their own making, with a choice before them. They could remain the sole holders of the Flame, play at gods and recreate a universe in their own image, or they could return the Flame to its Source, and give up their existences, to allow Fate to guide the revolution of this reality. They chose the later, and upon giving up their all, they were reborn, forever cut off from their own home; strangers, but witnesses of the rebirth of a universe. Also, these Flametouched beings were blessed (cursed?) with memory of everything they had been before, but scattered throughout the megaverse, not knowing where the others were.
This last image had been too much for Swan to handle, and she had pulled away before the death and rebirth could pull her down with them. She stared at the man sleeping peacefully now. To have done so much and then be lying there so helpless now… it staggered the imagination.
Rubbing her forehead, she walked to the bathroom and took several Tylenol from the medicine cabinet, swallowing them with help of water from the leaky faucet. Staring into the mirror she considered all she had seen. Did she really want to go back in to Kane’s mind? Could she was a better question. She was nowhere closer to gaining the information that Manticore wanted, but if Kane had any more surprises like the last one for her, she didn’t know if she could handle them without threatening her sanity.
She didn’t have to make that decision. The door to the safe house slammed open, and Manticore’s voice yelled, “Crey assault team, less than 30 seconds out! Its time to GO!”