“I want to go outside and look around, is all, Yokito,” Mitch Shelley said, looking at the artificial sky in the advanced training facility. “It’s not anything you or anyone else has done. Everyone I have met here has been very nice, or at least interesting.”
“I am just concerned about you, Mitch,” said Yokito Oka. “After all, your personal memories haven’t returned yet.”
“I need to see a real sky and smell fresh air for some reason I can’t explain. Should I consider myself a prisoner?” Mitch turned to look at Yokito.
Yokito raised her hands in protest. “No. You are free to leave any time you wish. I just want you to stay here with us… with me.”
“Don’t take it personally, Yokito. I am fond of you, and so far I am impressed with your organization. Not that I have decided to accept or decline the offer as of yet.” Mitch took one of Yokito’s hands and kissed it gently.
“Here’s your I.D. and some credit cards in your name. Just be careful when you leave.” Yokito handed Mitch a wallet with reluctance.
“Thanks, darling. It might be a couple of days before I come back.” Mitch gave Yokito an impulsive hug before walking toward the door. He stopped and looked back somewhat sheepishly. “Um… just how do I get out of here?”
Yokito laughed at Mitch’s look and walked over to grab his hand. “Come on, and I will show you how to get out of here.”
She escorted him through the base to a set of glass tubes and directed him to go inside one. “This is another experimental prototype called a matter transmitter. It sends you outside of the base to a warehouse. You can use the green card to come back by placing it in the slot next to the machine you will find yourself in. See you later, Mitch.”
Yokito activated the machine, and a flash of light enveloped Mitch Shelley. When the light faded away, he found himself in an empty warehouse in a square metal box with a slot on the inside. He exited the box and the warehouse to find himself in a rundown neighborhood. He started walking in a random direction, looking around with curiosity. “The effects of this Crisis must have been more dire than I was led to believe.”
Several young men dressed in ragged clothes with emblems started to surround the still-walking Shelley. Catcalls and profanities were slung as more of the boys emerged. Shelley walked on, ignoring the insults. Finally, one of the gang members tried to grab Shelley’s jacket. Shelley moved in a subtle pattern, slipping away from the clumsy grab and continuing his walk.
“Hey, you — there’s a toll for walking down our streets, so pay up, rich man,” one of the bolder gang members said, pulling a wicked switchblade out of his pocket. Other gang members pulled out handmade clubs, chains, and other hand weapons and moved in.
“A toll? How very interesting. What happens if I am unable or unwilling to pay you fine young gentlemen this toll?” Shelley said with a slight smile on his face as he looked at the gang members.
“Everyone pays for the toll — in some way or another,” the gang member said with menace. Others in the gang growled as they all glared, threatening the strange white man.
“I do believe you are threatening to cause me bodily harm if I do not give you money,” Mitch Shelley replied, still smiling.
“Did ya hear that, guys? This funny man thinks we are threatening to hurt him if he doesn’t give us cash.” Several of the gang’s members laughed at the mocking tones of the gang leader.
The gang member growled at Shelley, brandishing his switchblade. “Tell ya what, funny man — hand over your money first, then we’ll beat the damn hell out of ya.”
“There’s no reason to be so rude, young man. Didn’t your mother teach you to respect your elders? I am afraid I’m going to have give you a lesson in manners now,” Shelley said politely as he punched the surprised gang member in the stomach.
The other gang members howled and moved in to kill the person who had defied them. Several of the gang members looked shocked when the stranger took blows that would kill anyone else and kept on fighting.
Several minutes later the street was silent as Mitch Shelley finished off the last of the gang members. He looked extremely pleased at the outcome of the fight. “Next time I will have to be rough on you if you continue to be so rude.”
Mitch Shelley started walking again, whistling as he strolled down the street. The attack slipped from his mind as he examined the broken-down neighborhoods with a keen gaze. Several times he caught glimpses of people peering out from their windows. A small frown appeared on his face as he realized the people here were too afraid to be out on the streets during the day.
He stopped walking when he saw a bright collection of flowers in a small apartment box. Despite the rundown conditions of the neighborhood, this building’s outside was well maintained and kept very neat. The other places seemed to radiate despair and fear, but this building had an aura of hope and potential. Shelley walked up to the door and knocked firmly but politely. “Excuse me. I was admiring your flowers and wondered if you could tell me what they are.”
A man opened the door and looked out with caution but not fear in his eyes. “I haven’t seen you around here before, mister, but since you expressed admiration for my flowers, at least I know you have good taste.”
He gave the man an elegant little bow. “My name is Mitch Shelley. I am new in the city, sir, and am trying to discover all that’s interesting here.”
The man gave Shelley a skeptical look. “A crazy white man with good taste in flowers. I’m surprised that Carl and his gang haven’t already robbed and beaten you.”
Mitch Shelley thought about it for a minute and then snapped his fingers. “Is this Carl a rather obnoxious fellow with a switchblade? I have already had the pleasure of meeting him and his associates. Perhaps in the future they will treat people with a little more kindness.”
The man looked at Shelley with a sort of cross between shock and wonder after examining him for holes or bruises. “Come in, Mr. Shelley. My name is Theodore McKensie, but the folks around here call me Mac. It will be a pleasure to talk with such a fine guy as yourself.” Mac opened the door widely and gestured Shelley to enter.
Shelley looked at the eclectic collection of art on the wall. “I see you like to mix all sorts of different cultures into your art collection, Mr. McKensie.”
“Call me Mac, and I’ll call you Mitch.” Mac looked at his art collection with a touch of pride. “I’ve got pieces from all over the world up there, Mitch. It took me a while, but I finally found the best place where every piece stands out the best. When I buy a new piece of art, I have to move everything around until I get each one in the place it seems to belong.”
“I think it looks most excellent, Mac,” Mitch said, admiring the artwork.
“Enough about my little hobby. Come on in to the living room, and I will make us some nice tea.” Mac gestured for Mitch to precede him into the living room before slipping into the small kitchen to get some iced tea. The two men sipped their iced tea for several minutes, watching each other with curiosity.
“So tell me about yourself, Mitch,” Mac said after smacking his lips from the sweet iced tea.
Mitch sighed softly as he put down the glass. “It’s sort of a complicated story.”
Mac’s eyes lit up as he leaned back in his chair. “Complicated stories, eh? I’d like to hear all that you feel comfortable in telling me.”
“I’ll tell you all the bits that I was told, leaving out the more confidential parts. I was a research scientist before the Second World War started, working on a project designed to create a super-healing factor. Our project captured a man who fell from the stars, and used his blood to try to accelerate the process. It didn’t work, and my project was in danger of losing its funding, so I modified the serum and used it on myself.”
Mac interjected, “If that’s not the confidential part, I would hate to hear the parts that you can’t tell me.”
Mitch smiled before resuming his story. “The serum worked and created a link between the man and me. I felt compelled to free him, and went with him through a hole in the sky. Something went wrong, and I absorbed his memories. I fell back to Earth, believing that I had just arrived on Earth. I became a reluctant mystery-man until I chose to fight a group of monsters in another dimension to protect Earth. A few decades later, I came back to Earth. One of those secret sort of organizations tried to captured me and wound up erasing my memories and put me in a coma for months. Another group saved me from the first group and kept me alive until I came out of my coma. Now I am trying to decide what to do.”
Mac’s mouth opened wide as he listened to the story. “You are one crazy white man, like I thought, but for some reason your story sounds like the truth. I spent time fighting in the Vietnam War back when I was a youngster. It was a bloody place where good and evil got all twisted up, so just remember that the ends can never justify the means.”
“What if some of the means would be considered illegal?” Shelley asked.
“This country was founded on a treasonous act because a certain amount of the people felt strongly enough about independence. If they had lost the war, instead of being heroes today, they would be villains. Sometimes the moral and ethical path must outweigh what is considered legal.” Mac stopped talking to give Mitch a wink.
“My neighbors consider me a radical because I don’t believe in accepting the government handouts or the so-called leadership of the black community. Sure, back in the ’60s and early ’70s, those outfits did a lot of good in promoting racial equality, and even I will admit there is racism still going on today, but they have become political instead of leading because of their morality and ethics.” Mac grimaced at his own words as he looked down in his empty tea glass.
“Why do your neighbors think you are a radical, then? Your reasoning seems sound to me so far,” Mitch Shelley said as he sat perfectly motionless.
“If they solve the problems, then they put themselves out of a job. Meanwhile, gangs are growing more prevalent, education continues to decline in quality, reporters become increasingly less objective in what they report, and people grow increasingly dependent on the government programs instead of standing on their own. It all makes me sick to my stomach when I think about it, Mitch.” Mac clenched his fist in anger.
“That all sounds quite terrible, Mac. I wonder how I could help,” Mitch said with perfect sincerity.
Mac took several deep breaths as he tried to calm down. Finally, his fist unclenched, and his eyes wandered across the room. His eyes stopped at a simple Celtic cross hanging on his wall. The image of the cross seemed to console Mac, as he then smiled apologetically at Mitch. “Sorry about the little tirade, Mitch. Sometimes I get started and can’t seem to stop my ranting.”
“No reason to apologize for saying what you believe. In fact, I find it quite admirable that you are willing to stand up for what you believe in. Some people wouldn’t be willing to go against the popular beliefs because of the possible repercussions.” Mitch gave Mac an admiring smile.
“The name-calling doesn’t bother me much. Some people in our community secretly admire me but are afraid of what their friends will say or do. Others just blindly hate me because of what I think. It’s not going to stop me from doing what I think is right, though.” Mac spoke those last words with stubborn conviction.
Mac looked at the clock on the wall and then at Mitch. “I would invite you to stay, but some of the young sisters are bringing their children over for me to babysit. It’s nothing personal on my part, but they would be a little nervous with you here. Maybe if I catch them while they are young enough I can make them into radicals like me. If you come back by here in the future, you’ll be welcome at my place at least.”
Mitch Shelley stood up and offered his hand. Mac rose more stiffly from his chair and shook Mitch’s hand with genuine pleasure. Mac escorted Mitch to the door and watched him walk back down the street without fear. Mac made a short prayer to the heavens to keep that crazy white man safe as he waved farewell.