I got off of the elevator on the ground floor, and went straight back to the infirmary, thinking I’d check in on Eagle, but the infirmary was deserted.  Of course, it was Saturday night… even Doctor Hyde took weekends off.

I wondered what he did with his free time… then I wondered if I really wanted to know.

So I went up to the lounge.  Yeah, we have one of those too… it’s on the first floor (that is, the one above the ground floor; I know some people call that the second floor, but that’s how the elevator is marked at GHQSF, so it must be right).  I thought I might find Thunder there, but actually Micron was sitting on one of the long couches, watching TV.  He was out of uniform, wearing jeans and a bright blue San Francisco tourist T-shirt.

“Hey, Mystery Woman,” he said as I came in.  He picked up the remote and muted the TV, so I assumed he wanted to talk.

“Hey,” I replied.  “How are you doing?”

“About as good as you’d expect, for someone who just lost twenty years.”

“I’m sorry that happened to you,” I said, sitting down on the couch with him.  “It must really suck.”

“It does.  My wife got remarried, and has a kid with her new husband.  A teenage daughter.  And my son is grown up now and in college.  They think I’m dead.”

“What are you going to do?”

He leaned back and put his hands over his face.  “I don’t know,” he said, after a long moment.  He lowered his hands and looked at me.  “What do you think I should do?”

“Micron, I…”

“Shawn.  Call me Shawn.”

“Shawn.  I don’t think I’m the right person to ask.  I can only imagine how hard this must be.  Have you talked to Robin yet?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “She’s nice and all, but she’s not much help.  She keeps asking me what I want.”

“Well, what do you want?”

He grunted, disgustedly.  “To me it’s yesterday, y’know?  Avenger picked me up in St. Louis and we flew to Montana, and went through that freaky hole in space or whatever, and tried to get in to the big alien wizard’s fortress.  I never even saw him, y’know?  I was opening the door, and I heard him behind me and I shrank as fast as I could and then I woke up on that ship with sick naked people piled all over me.  Now it’s the twenty-first century, and my wife is with some other dude.  I can remember her kiss, when I left.  I told her I’d be right back.”

Tears were running down his cheeks.  I slid over beside him and put my arm around his shoulders; the funny thing about Micron is that he’s actually kind of a big guy, over six feet, when he’s not doing the shrinking thing.  So I tucked my knee under me and put my arm around him, and I said, “Hey, it’s okay.  I know it sucks right now, but you’ll get through it.  I’ll help you if I can.”

“Thanks,” he said.  “Really.  But I’m not sure anyone can help me.”

“You asked for my opinion,” I said.  “Go home.  See your wife.  It’s going to hurt, but you’ve got to face it sometime… do it, and then it will be done and you can try to move on.”

“What if she wants to leave her husband and be with me?” he asked.  Before I could answer, he said, “What if she doesn’t?”

“One or the other is going to happen,” I replied.  “You won’t know which until you talk to her.  But I wouldn’t call her, if I were you… I’d go.  See her in person, and see your son too.”  He seemed to be thinking about it.  After a little bit I said, “Are you angry with her, for moving on?”

“No.  Yes, but no.  She had to.  I never wanted anything for Dodie but happiness.  She had to move on.  I’m just going to have to find a way to be cool with it, y’know?”

“I do know,” I said.  He broke down then, face in hands, crying; I sat with him a while longer, just being there for him.  It felt a little odd, me sitting there in my mask and him in civvies, but it was what he needed.

After a while I guess he cried himself out… he leaned back, wiping his face with his shirt.  Then he looked at me and said, “Come with me.”

“Me?” I said.  “Shawn, I… I don’t know.”

“Please,” he said.  “You’re the closest thing I have now to a friend.  It would mean a lot to me.”

I’m ashamed to say, I sat there for a moment trying hard to think of some way out of it.  It was a situation I didn’t think I was prepared for, not at all.  But in the end, I couldn’t turn him down.

“Yes,” I said at last.  “I’ll go with you.”

“Thanks,” he said, and he hugged me.

I didn’t run into any other Guardians at GHQ, which honestly was fine with me… I didn’t think I could take another uncomfortable encounter.  I left at dusk, zig-zagging over the Tenderloin looking for Troll.

Instead of Troll, I found something else.  Something inexplicable.

It all started with a woman’s scream.  It sounded like a long, drawn-out “No!” and it seemed to be coming from an alley near a hotel; I knew there was a popular, somewhat wild bar there, so I thought I might be hearing a woman being raped.

I crossed the street, jumping down from the rooftop to a balcony on the other side, then dropped to street level and ran into the alley.  It was poorly lit by a single bulb over a doorway; a good way past the door, I saw what appeared to be two struggling figures.  “Hey, stop!” I yelled, running toward them.

The larger figure, who I assumed was a man (though I really couldn’t see), appeared to be strangling the smaller figure with his hands.  When he saw me coming, he let go, and his victim fell to the ground as he ran away.

For a moment, I didn’t know what to do… then I realized that, of course, I had to see to the victim.  I hated letting a bad guy go, but there are priorities to these things.  So I dropped to one knee beside the victim.

She (again, an assumption, but one that turned out to be true) was wearing a long, dusty pink coat and black pumps.  She was lying face down, so I gently laid my hand on her shoulder.  “Are you okay?”  She didn’t answer, so I rolled her over, which was much easier than I expected as she seemed to weigh nothing.

Then I screamed, or at least squealed.  I wasn’t looking at a woman, but a mummy… her skin was dried out, her eye sockets empty, and the face that looked back at me was little more than a skull framed by a full head of platinum blond hair.

There was nothing I could do for her.  I jumped up and looked for the man, but he seemed to have disappeared.  Of course, there were a lot of places he could hide, and if I found him, how would I recognize him?  All I saw was a shadowy figure apparently strangling this long-dead woman.

Who had screamed, I wondered, as I pushed the button on my earpiece.  “Gina, this is Mystery Woman.  I have a strange situation here.”  I gave her the address, and she sent police and the coroner’s office out.

Looking around, I saw a purse lying nearby.  I picked it up, opened it, and pulled out a wallet… I was wondering if the “man” I had seen had been a woman (or someone dressed as a woman, or identifying as a woman, or whatever, it’s San Francisco, we have to be aware of these things).  If so, this might be her purse.  I walked over near the light to get a better look, and saw that the woman in the driver’s license photo had a full head of platinum blond hair.  It didn’t prove anything, but a chill still went up my spine.

Troll showed up while I was still talking with the police.  I turned over the purse, of course, and then we left on patrol.  “Oh, Troll, I have your new G-comm,” I said, handing it to him.

“Thanks,” he said, and he pushed the button and had Gina activate his earbuds.  “Okay, ready.  Tag?”

“Yeah,” I said, slapping his butt, “and you’re it.”

We ran for a while, and the bad guys must have been on their best behavior (or hiding really well) since we didn’t run into any of them.  We took a break for a snack just after midnight, hitting the Jack in the Box on Geary.  We walked to Union Square and took a seat on the black marble… whatever you call them, I don’t know, not an architect.  We sat down, relaxed, ate and talked.  Troll, of course, would just unwrap a sandwich and toss it in his mouth… he had carried three bags out of the restaurant, and he was making short work of them.

“So how are you doing?”

“Fine,” he said, taking a sip of soda to wash down a chicken sandwich.  “I guess.  I feel kind of… different, you know?”

“You look different, but I don’t think I can explain how,” I replied.  “I was just hoping you were okay.”

“Yeah, I think so.”  He ate another sandwich, then said quietly, “I learned something, though.  This person,” he said, pointing at his chest, “isn’t Michael.  This person is his memories, his interests, his whatever, layered on top of a different brain.  When I was just Michael, I felt different.  Everything looked different, and I don’t just mean that everything looked bigger.  I told you once, I think, that I was on the spectrum… Asperger’s, you know?  Michael was.  Troll isn’t.  This is a better brain, and I’m better at being a person with it.”

“I guess I kind of understand,” I replied.

“Good, then you can explain it to me,” he said, laughing ruefully.  “But you know what?  I still want to be him again.  I want to look human, more than I want to feel human.  Is that wrong?”

“I don’t think so,” I said.  “I’m sure all of those others would like their lives back as well.”

“Yeah, probably,” he said.  “Someday, maybe.  But MW, there’s one thing that worries me.”

“What’s that?”

“Sophie.  I think she’s waking up.”

“Waking up,” I said.  “What… what does that mean, for you?”

“I don’t know,” he said.  “But I thought you should know.  I may change, in ways I can’t really predict.  Sophie is a good person, a little bitchy sometimes, but she’s okay.  I don’t know if I’ll suddenly be her, or if we’ll be arguing about who gets to drive the body, or what.  I just thought, if you knew, it’d make things better if I suddenly change.”

“Thanks for trusting me,” I said, and I hugged his arm.

“Who else can I trust?” he said.  “I mean, the other Guardians are okay, but you’re my friend.”

“Oh,” I said.  “Micron said something like that, too.  Troll, he asked me to go with him, back to his home in St. Louis.  I said yes, but if you think I need to stay, I will.”

“No, you go.  It surely won’t be long, will it?”

“I don’t think so.  You know, if you need anything, you can call on Zoe.  I’m sure she’d be happy to help you.”

“I’d hate to bother her,” he said.

“Eh, she owes me,” I said.  “Call her, if you need anything the Guardians can’t do for you.”  I stuck my hand in his pocket, pulled out his phone and put her number in it.  “There, now you have no excuse.”

Later that night, I wondered how he worked the tiny buttons on his phone, but by then he had gone home so it was too late to ask.  Something to remember later, I promised myself.