New Beginnings.

The Darkman lay in his hospital bed, healing. The doctor, Campion, visited him often, and the police officer occasionally stopped by as well. He felt no pain, but found that if he concentrated hard, he could sense where he was injured. Once, he thought he could even feel the wounds close, could feel the new cells grow. It didn't last long, and he had to practically stopped breathing. He did, however, feel calmer than he had since...before. His ability to improve his vision, hearing, and sense of smell got better every day. And his revenge would be that much sweeter and swifter for it. Let Murphy think his intention was to fight crime in the city. It didn't matter. Nothing else did.

Todd Murphy returned to his work, but found he could not concentrate. He desperately wanted to help this Darkman, but knew that it was really only so that he could see justice done. Well, mostly. There was still a little apprehension though; and he had not plucked up the courage to ask who 'Julie' was. He started hatching plans, ways to expose his chief, but knew that they needed hard evidence, evidence of all the various pies in which Bellisarius had his fingers buried. An idea was forming in his mind, as he remembered the first night he had met the Darkman, and what he had been told about that night by the Darkman himself. But he would need the Darkman's help if it was to work. So Murphy waited.

Sally Campion went around in a state of perpetual excitement. She had found the Darkman's stash easily, and had bought all the equipment he had asked for. As per instructions, she had set it all up in another part of the industrial plant - underground, below the warehouse that had been the lab's home until the Darkman had blown it up himself. She understood some of the technology, marvelled at the innovative techniques, but admitted to herself that only the 'Darkman' (What was his real name? she often wondered) knew how it really worked. And it could make all her work, her life's pursuit, viable and even better. Not only did she have the chance to study a patient of her old clinic at close range - she knew of his plans to become a crime-fighter, thanks to the irrepressible Todd Murphy - she also had the added bonus of the possibility of synthetic skin. The stage was set.

"I'm ready to leave, aren't I?"

The question caught her by surprise. "That's what you came to tell me, yes?" She nodded.

"Yes. How did you know?"

"I can feel it. I know my wounds have healed. How long has it been? That I'm not sure of."

"Just under three weeks. Your powers of recuperation are astounding. Conscious effort?" She knew what the answer would be, but wasn't quite sure she could believe it. All this with the power of a mind deprived of pain? Theoretically the 'everything-else-as-a-mental-substitute' idea was interesting and possible, but it wasn't scientifically quantifiable. And pain was useful, every biologist knew that. So where were the drawbacks? There had to be some, there...

"Yes. I can do more than I imagined would be possible. Not bad for a freak."

Campion never knew when he was being serious, when he was mocking himself, or when he would fly into a rage. I guess the state of his mental health could be put down as a drawback, she thought wryly to herself. Out loud she said, "You should go. Murphy is waiting."

His head snapped up. "Murphy? What does he want?"

"He has an idea for your first act as the newest crime fighter in the city," she said, amused.

"You know about that?"

She nodded again. "If you need any help..."

He inclined his head toward her, and walked past her and out of the room. She stood, slightly surprised at the suddenness of his departure. She shook her head and smiled. This was going to be interesting. And unpredictable.

It was a dark night. No light shined through the thick layers of cloud over the city. But Peyton Westlake could see just fine. He was the Darkman. He moved silently through the back alleys, searching for the one that he had visited that night, three weeks ago. He found it. And his target was standing outside, alone. Foolish. He smiled grimly and made his way down the alley, creeping up behind his victim. "Remember me?" he whispered.

Jenny turned, saw - no, it couldn't be - "You!" She had no time to react as he grabbed her, placed his hand over her mouth, and wrapped his free arm around her, pinning her arms to her side. He physically lifted her and carried her into the shadows.

"Yes, me. And if you make a move for the knife I know you have concealed away, I'll break your neck. I just came to give you a message: it's over. Bellisarius' little secret - well, one of them - is out of the bag. Namely, you. The fool kept business records of all his dealings with you."

Jenny mentally cursed Bellisarius, for screwing up that and for not finishing this creature off permanently. She tried to speak, and the Darkman removed his hand from her mouth, warning her to be quiet.

"He will hunt you down and he will kill you!" she spat. "He runs this city, and he runs its muscle. He doesn't always go out in the middle of the night to beat up prostitutes himself. You don't stand a chance, you're just a man in a big coat, an old hat, and some head bandages!"

Westlake spun her around to face him, his eyes narrowed, gleaming. "I am the Darkman!" he exclaimed. He whipped his coat up in front of her face and she threw her hands in front of her eyes, a reflex reaction.

When she could see again, the Darkman had vanished.

Bellisarius was in his office the next day when the call came. "Bellisarius," he said, answering it. It was Jenny. "You fool, what are you doing calling me here?" he hissed at her.

"I'm a fool, am I? Well, I'm not the one who thought it'd be a good idea to not only keep a record of my illegal dealings and racketeering, but also to leave them lying around for some freak with a severe skin condition to find!"

"Jenny, what the hell are you talking about? Nobody knows about my dealings with you and your little whorehouse, and I certainly don't keep records condition? That damnable Darkman's back?!"

"Yes, you couldn't even kill him could you? No wonder you couldn't keep your records from him!"

"I don't keep any records, woman! I'm not that stupid. I know exactly what you owe me." He paused. "Wait a minute - he told you this? What did he say?" A sinking feeling descended on the police chief.

"He said that it was over, that he had your private records, or something."

"Did he say where he'd gotten them?"

"No! And you just said you didn't keep any!"

"I don't," Bellisarius said thoughtfully. Then his voice took on a tone of finality. "Maybe he was just trying to scare you. Get off this line and don't call me here again. I'll contact you shortly for your next payment toward your protection." He slammed the phone down hard enough to knock the it off the desk. He cursed, and bent to pick it up. That was when he noticed the small piece of metal attached to the bottom of it. A police-issue phone-tapping device. The bit of paper stuck next to it read, 'I heard you. And I'm not going to go away. DM.' Darkman!

Murphy, who was walking past the door to the police chief's office, heard Bellisarius' cry of fury, and smiled with satisfaction.

It was evening, and the sun had set when Murphy and Campion arrived at the agreed meeting place. The sky was a deep, dark blue, nearly black, and there was very little light - only a sliver of moonlight shone through the clouds. The shadows were deep; this was not a good time to be on the streets in this part of the city. The dirty buildings loomed up around the pair.

"Maybe he isn't coming after all," said Campion, shivering at the cold.

"No, he'll be here. I know it," Murphy assured her, and looked around. He jumped back as Westlake melted out of the shadows.

"Here. Take it, he growled from under the brim of his hat. His coat was wrapped tightly around him, the bottom flapping in the breeze. He held out a hand with a cassette tape in. "Your little gadget worked." Murphy grinned.

"That's great!"

"Why is she here?" The dark figure nodded at Campion. The doctor stepped forward.

"I wanted to see how you were doing."

"I'm fine," was the reply, although it was clear from his tone that he was not fine in the least.

Murphy, oblivious, was still bubbling. "This is great! We've started bringing justice to this city..." he broke off, unsure what to call him. "Er...what should I call you?"

Murphy felt uncomfortable addressing this man; he seemed indifferent, even annoyed with their success.

The figure looked up slightly, and Murphy could see two eyes, narrow and yellow, underneath the brim of the hat. The rest of the face was in shadow, but he could see the corner of a malformed mouth, bare, lipless teeth glinted a little, the skin around them charred. When the words came, the voice was hard, cold, guttural, and so vicious that Murphy physically stepped back.

"My name was Peyton Westlake. But you can call me Darkman. And I know nothing of justice. That word is yours, not mine. Deceive yourself all you wish, but I will not -  I call it what it is: revenge. And I will have mine. I will have my revenge!"

With that, the Darkman spun on his heel. He stalked off into the night, and the darkness swallowed him.

O.M. 8-6-01