You are a retired super soldier of the future, genetically bred for war and mechanically enhanced for any contingency. With the war over, you have managed to raise a family in peace and quiet, until something about your partner sets off alarms you haven’t heard in almost a decade.
Your dreams are filled with technicolor points of light and sounds, memories of the god you tried to forget about, the files you weren’t meant to see, and the thing buried in the darkness of the desert, three bombs dropped on top of it in an excuse of testing.
Your nightmares are filled with the otherside, where man melted into pools of flesh and wriggling metal, where souls could be trapped, fixed, and figmented into half memories, locked in the great war minds of the Wounds of the world. The sword point against your chest, the feel of gunsteel against the crown of your head, and sick feelings of organs popped out of place, an ancestral memory of what came before the great wars.
But that was then.
Your eyes peer into the dim gloom, but the enhancements let you see every detail of the world in the darkness. They’re breathing in and out, and the sensors in your head idly catalogue their human exhaust for signs of any trouble.
The normal mix. You’re fine.
You’re fine, you hope. They’re all you have left. The world was loath to let you go, and you wanted nothing more to sleep forever.
How many times would the Brawler need to return from the grave before the world was safe? You’d never been sure. But here, here, all was nice. All was quiet.
You let your eyes settle closed, watching the levels of air exchange in your partner’s lungs, reading their heartbeat, their skin temperature. You listen to their quiet noises, which have always sounded so much grander than the bombs and bullets that haunted your youth.
You don’t know if you’ll ever age, not after they rebuilt you. Not after the dreams, of reaching towards a bloodied god, hands and fingers intertwined. But you’re sure she won’t either. Two boats, forever drifting in parallel, and at last, fates beside one another. Two trajectories that’ll never part.
You let your eyes settled closed. You can pretend that its real with your eyes settle closed, and if you let yourself, you’ll even forget by the morning. You’ve done it so many times before. You’ve done it so many times before.
Their eyes open, and they turn over in bed to face you.
Your eyes are open, and you beg them not to say anything. You beg the systems to lie to you again, to spread hot dopamine across your brain, to erase the demons of your past but
“The National Association of American Heroes has issued an unconditional draft order for 2019. All heroes are advised to report to their assigned housing for further instructions.”
You close your eyes. The breathing had stopped. If you keep your eyes closed, maybe, maybe, maybe you can still make it out of here. Please.
And she doesn’t say another word.
You manage to sleep again.
In the morning, your family’s gone except for them. You can barely remember them, bare figments of the place you’ve sequestered yourself in. You can’t remember when you got in, either, only that you dreamed of it once. A bloc of time stretching as far back as you can remembered, except for the dreams.
You sit, pensive, staring at a newspaper that refuses to solidify into anything except alphabet soup, and she slips a plate of eggs on the table, yolks so raw that you can still smell the life they’d once had the potential for.
You look up. You don’t recognize them. She’s in brown hair, a labcoat across her front, and you can almost make out the details of her doctorate. Your eyes are fuzzy.
“I’m sorry,” she says.
“I know,” you say. “I’m sorry too.”
“You’re not who you think you are,” she says.
“I know,” you said. “How could I be? He’s dead.”
“But you could be just as great,” she says.
“There are wounds in my mind,” you say. “You don’t want me out there.”
“I don’t have a choice,” she says. “The world’s burning again, Brawler. We need your help.”
“I’m not Brawler,” you say.
“You’re the next best thing,” she says. “You’ll do just as well. The Association is moving again, and New Orleans is burning.”
“New Orleans is burning?” you ask.
“It’s time to call on our heroes again,” she says.
You feel your heart racing. Some vague, almost forgot idea in your heart about what you had to do. From the first time you walked across the fields of Korea in search of the last remnants of the cults of war, to the last time you’d stretched yourself over a bomb to save a life.
What it meant to be strong.
“I don’t want this,” you say.
“You’re lying,” she says. “You’ve never wanted anything else but to serve.”
The world quivers like jelly, becomes as thick as porridge, and as yellow as the egg yolks that had been on the table.
And suddenly, you’re not at a kitchen table, you’re in a tube. In your worst thoughts, in the moments between the erasures of your identity, when you know your fate, and you know who you’re not, but who you remember you are, you knew what had happened.
You were just a recreation of a man who’d had that life.
You were a clone.
You were just a stand in. For a moment, you day dream about dying, about plunging yourself back into the idyllic place where your memories refuse to stay.
But that’s not what heroes do. And you may not be Brawler, but you have his brain, and you have his ideas, and you have some of his memories, and you know full well that giving up isn’t an option. There are innocents to protect.
There are monsters to fight.
Your eyes adjust to the egg yolk of stasis fluid.
The scientist stands in front of the tube, staring at you. She might even be pretty, in another time.
The red lights are blaring overhead. You can almost taste Fafnir on your breath now.
The fluid drains.
Brawler-3, ready for deployment. New Orleans is in need of more heroes.