The Vengeance

By Peyton F

Chapter One: The Scientific Method

“Are you a hero, Vengeance?” 

Professor Mentality looked me in the eyes. I was chained up, my strength diminished, and it was dark. He grabbed a light fixture and shined it in front of me. I caught a glimpse of his face, the crazed look in his eyes. The inquisitive look.

“Who’s under that mask?” He asked, “I’ve been wondering this for years. Who is it?” 

“If you pull this mask off, I’ll break out of these chains and make sure you won’t be functioning to tell the tale.” I grumbled through gritted teeth.

“I’m a scientist first and foremost, Vengeance. You’ve been the savior of Furvus City since I was a boy. Your identity is not something I care about. It’s what’s inside your mind that I want to know.”

I couldn’t get out of the grip he had me in. 

“Did you go to college?” 

“I don’t remember.” I said.

“Surely you know about the scientific method, though.” Professor Mentality licked his lips, grabbed a hold of my mask, and said, “Step One – you pose a research question.” I started to struggle, grunting and screaming, “Here’s my research question: What makes the Vengeance tick?”

I felt the scruff of my face, the five o’clock shadow had formed. How many days have passed? When did this start? 

“Thomas Marston?” Professor Mentality said, “I did not expect this.” He started to laugh, “I honestly did not expect the Vengeance to be the international philanthropist. Second step – conduct a literature review. I know you, Thomas. In fact, a simple search yields a nice little Wikipedia article. Quickly skimming – born of two homeless parents, don’t even know your birthday. How sad. How does that make you feel?”

“I don’t have to answer you.” I spat at him. He recoiled back.

“You’re international. You have homeless centers all over the world. I mean, even when I was homeless and could barely scrape by in my research, I myself used a Marston soup kitchen. But that doesn’t answer the question ‘why?’ Why are you this vigilante of the night?”

I was silent. I know why, but I want to block it out. I want to forget. He was looking down at his computer screen, “ohoho… ‘When asked about what brought him to his service, Marston said ‘I lost someone very important to me in this crime filled town. She was a mentor, a helper, and she encouraged me to help others.’ Who was it, Mr. Marston?”

My mind was trying to not focus on it, I was trying to ignore what he said, “You’re not going to reveal my identity to the world, right?” Sheepish. I sounded like a scared puppy.

Professor Mentality smirked, “Okay, ignore that, go ahead. Step Three – Form a Hypothesis. Here’s my hypothesis, Vengeance,” He said, his breath reeking of vomit and coffee, he leaned up against my ear and whispered, “Thomas Marston lost a loved one and is so upset he fights crime dressed in pure purple and black clothes, making himself a fool. Step Four and Five go hand and hand, you know. Design a study, and then conduct it. I’ve been working on this product for a long, long time. I tell you what, let’s fix that circadian rhythm, shall we? It’s actually ten AM outside… or is it?”

He turned the lights on and I got a look at where exactly I was. The memories rushed back to me. 

Professor Mentality had declared a chokehold on Furvus city with a Bomb Threat. I was sitting alone in my apartment when I saw the hijacking.

“Citizens of Furvus City,” Professor Mentality always spoke with this air of superiority and with a distinct New England accent, like John F. Kennedy had become an evil dictator. “I, Professor Mentality, come to you today with a demand. Ten Bombs are placed evenly throughout the city, I have deemed these bombs ‘Chomsky Destroyers.’ Furvus city, you are all uneducated fools. You elect Politicians that have barely half a brain, you fear the criminals that roam the street, and you pray for someone to wreak Vengeance on these criminals. But I tell you, Vengeance will not win this time. I know it. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering what the Chomsky destroyers are, allow me to give a background on it.” 

He went on this tangent, explaining Noam Chomsky, a linguist that believed in “universal grammar,” where all language is based on human’s knowledge of universal and linguistic elements.

“The Chomsky Destroyers remove that innate ability. Take for example my wonderful hostage guest, Furvus City missing person number one thousand and twenty four, Miss Vivian Montana.” 

Vivian sits, like I am right now, wrapped up and with a rag in her mouth. “She’s one of my pupils, you see. She agreed to this little experiment to see the effectiveness of the Chomsky Destroyer. My Institutional Review Board agreed that this is humane.”

Professor Mentality removes the gag and immediately Vivian Montana, age twenty four, starts to scream and beg for mercy, she looks at the camera, and through tears says, “There’s no Review Board, please-” She’s cut off by a backhand. 

“As you can see, her language functions are intact, but when I spray some of the gas that is found in the Chomsky Destroyer…”

He takes out a gas canister, spraying it at her, “What are you doing? What’s in that?”

Professor Mentality smiles at the camera, “She’s been blinded for this test.” He says. Vivian starts to speak normally, and then her words become complete jargon, her fear as she speaks gibberish comes forward. It’s almost as though, in the gibberish, you can understand “What happened? What did you do?”

“As you can see, her ability to speak has been rendered essentially null. She can’t understand what I’m even saying, her ability to comprehend language is void. This city is now under ransom. If the Vengeance isn’t brought to me in the next twenty four hour hours, these ten bombs will be erupted, and the gaseous fumes will make Furvus City the reverse of a Tower of Babel. Time’s-a-ticking.”

It was all a blur. This city is mine. I know the ins-and-outs of every building, I’ve stopped Professor Mentality before, and this site wasn’t as far from the previous. But he had goons, followers, people that trusted him.  I slid into the room through the window, shattering glass and leaving an enemy or two incapacitated.

Professor Mentality came forward and injected me with something, and then I was out like a light.

And now I’m here, at his control. All of my gear was stripped from me, and I’m so… frail.

He hooked the machine up to me, placing a helmet up over my face, “I can’t really explain what this is, I don’t want to confound the results. Essentially, it will be telling me your memories, every little nook and cranny will be looked at.” And then, he had a realization, “Crap. We need to do an MRI and an fMRI. It could help me explain some stuff, so I can truly understand what my greatest enemy is made up of. Who knows, maybe you have some brain damage?” He laughed, and disconnected the helmet. It was then that I realized I was in a wheelchair, as he wheeled me to his dirty machines. “Igor, why don’t you do me a favor and administer the anaesthetic?”

I felt Igor grab my shoulder and inject an anaesthetic into my side. 

“We’ll look into what you’re made up of, and then I’ll explain the results. Nighty night…”

And then I was out.

Chapter Two: The Brain of the Hero

I awoke on a red chaise longue, my legs strapped in and my arms Bounded. I couldn’t leave or escape.

Professor Mentality swivelled around in the chair, his leg crossed over the other. He scooted up closer to me, “Mr. Marston, do you ever get angry or irrational?”

I looked at him and furrowed my eyebrows, “Excuse me?”

“I said, ‘do?’”

“Of course I can.” I said. 

“But, like, the MRI and fMRI showed damage to the frontal lobe, more specifically, the prefrontal cortex.” I gritted my teeth at him.

“You act like I’m supposed to know what that means, Mentality.” 

“Oh, you don’t? Well, it’s simple: the Prefrontal Cortex is important for maintaining attention and making rational decisions. When damaged, the person can be a bit more aggressive than usual. Don’t worry, sometimes I think mine is damaged too.”

“I… I guess I can be a bit hard to approach.” I said. Professor Mentality removed his goggles.

“Do you know my name, Thomas?”

I thought back to it, the many times that I’ve stopped him, the many times I’ve kicked him over or hurt his arm. I’ve never gotten this guy’s name, no matter how often he claimed to be my Arch-nemesis. I shook my head.

“Joseph Gage Smith. That middle name is funny, it was not my mother’s maiden name. Her’s was Mae. You see, my father was a funny guy with a psychology degree, and he thought it would be a humorous idea to give me the middle name of Gage because of one freak accident case that has been the subject of research for years. Phineas Gage was that person’s name. One day, Mr. Gage was working on the railroad, all the live-long day.” He said the last part in a sing-song. “He bends down to get something, and an Iron Rod shoots right through his skull. He acts relatively fine when he walks to the hospital, cracks a joke that I can’t recall, and he’s in and out of a coma.

“When he wakes up and makes a recovery, he goes right back to work, but his friends notice he’s not the same Gage as before. Something has happened to his brain, messed him all up. Some Psychologists show up and realize that there was damage to his prefrontal cortex. Makes him more agitated, sometimes his movement is wonky, disjointed.”

“Sounds like a wild time.” 

“Yeah. He lived a normal life, angry and hard to react to things, but he died, like everyone else does.” 

“Dang. That’s sad.”

“I guess. But the reason I’m telling you this story is because I want you to think for a while, what was your Gage moment?”

It was the night before Christmas last year, and I was jumping between rooftops on my nightly patrol for crime. There’s always a spike in Crime on Christmas Eve in Furvus City. I make an effort, however, to stop and give a gift to any homeless child I might see along the way, or I make the effort to light a trash can to give a family some warmth. Homelessness is so common here. There’s more vacant apartments in Furvus, but nobody can afford them, so there’s so many people out on the rotten streets.

I’m running around and looking out for everyone, but it’s impossible to be in two places at once. I’m not Duplicant, protector of Doppiosville. 

There’s a family alone, freezing. Five people – a father, a mother, and their three children. I jump down and they’re startled. The youngest lets out a scream.

“I’m not here to hurt any of you.” I say. I reach into my satchel and I take out a box. It’s a compact blanket, something that keeps me warm if I was to find myself in an eternal winter, or some freak, world changing event. I press the button on the box and out pops a large blanket. I hand it to them, along with the remote for heat control.

I then hand them a card for the nearest homeless shelter, one of mine that I recently opened.

“Have a merry Christmas.” I say.

The youngest boy shivers, “Thank you.” He says as he huddles next to his family under the blanket.

I encourage them to head to the shelter, it’s only going to get colder as the night goes on.

I activate my dash boots and I start running up the wall and back onto the roof. Suddenly, I’m knocked back and I find myself sitting on a roof across from where I was. The creature that had knocked me back lands in front of me.

The over extended, colorful beak, the harsh teeth and grotesquely long tongue. It’s buff body of a pro-wrestler could easily destroy any weak person in a crunch. He opens his mouth and lets out a squawk-roar. 

It’s the Toucan, this freakish accident created by a mad scientist to bring back his dead son. The details of his origin does not matter.

“Jimmy,” I plead, “We can talk this through. Please, just listen to my voice and we can get through this, together. You can rest easy.”

Toucan lets out yet another squawk and goes in for a kick. I roll to dodge.

I stand back up and start to activate the shockers on my suit. It’s best to knock this creature out with electricity. Toucan takes a swing at me. It will take a while to charge, so I duck and punch him in the chest. It’s a small thud.

Toucan grabs an electric generator from the roof and lunges it at me. I fall over and barely miss the attack. Sixty percent now.

I make a roll and I try punching him around. Each punch is ineffective to him. He lets out a screech and I cup my ears. 

Fully Charged. 

I feel the electricity in my knuckles as I dash at him to punch. In that same instant, Toucan opens its mouth and the sharpest part of his beak pierces through my helmet and into my head. I let out a scream of my own as I punched him. The electricity proceeds to flow between us, and I’m left out and cold. It would be a while before I awoke in one of my hidden bases underneath one of the homeless shelters. I had been through surgery, but the doctors on staff refused to tell me what happened. They know how I feel about being unmasked.

I told this to Professor Mentality. He nodded his head and looked away from me for a moment, then back down. “I hate the Toucan, by the way. He comes in at the most inopportune times.”

“You and I both know it.” I joke.

Professor Mentality pulled down a projector and started playing footage.

It was from my battle from a couple nights ago. I was weak in my movements, stumbling over and could barely make quick moves with my left side of my body. I never really had footage to review, but upon seeing this, I’m realizing now that I’m not just weak, my motor skills are delayed, and my reaction times were… crap, to say the least.

“Damage to the prefrontal cortex does this.” He said to me.

“Well, how can I fix it?” I asked.

“You can’t.”

I started to fume, I started to get angry and ready to snap this man’s neck. I wanted to break out of my binds.

“What do you mean I can’t?! We have technology now that can heal parts of the body in an instant, I had a superhero friend who lost a leg in a battle and was able to grow a new one just by stopping at that place. What do you mean that I can’t fix brain damage like this?”

“I-We- The scientific community doesn’t know how to fix it. We could remove half of your brain, but who’s to say that that would fix anything?”

I felt myself start to rage, the binds started to break. Professor Mentality began to panic, I saw it in his eyes.

“IGOR! Play the sound!” 

Cycling through the course of sounds, I heard the sound of a swingset, moving back and forth, the creak and crack repeating over and over. I immediately bursted into tears, reverting into a weak child of a man.

Chapter 3 – Classical Conditioning

“Separate your mind from the trauma.” The Sensei told me, “Thomas, that’s the first task you need to learn before learning anything about us or our skills in fighting. Do you think we didn’t hear the whimpers and sobs for your family? You’ve been here for three days and the pain we’ve heard nightly is unbearable.”

I nodded, kneeling on the ground. “Yes, sensei.”

“Hypnotizing is a farce, the concept that you can be hypnotized is something that magicians use. We’re not magicians, the Shadowed Sector is not interested in mysticism. We prefer reality and scientific data.” He walked out of the room and left me alone after saying this. He then returned with a book in his hand.

He opened it up, pictures and portraits of my family, pictures that he managed to gather from somewhere.

“Where’d you get these?” Was my first question. 

“We have eyes everywhere, we keep records of everything.” The Sensei said, “We didn’t know who we should train, but we watched from the shadows.”

I looked at the pictures, flipping through the pages. I saw pictures of us asleep, huddled together for warmth, and I saw pictures of me at school, pictures of my family picking us up to go huddle back down.

I saw pictures of the helping hand, that friendly woman. 

Pain struck through me. It was as though each image of my family and her brought back memories and the pain of losing them. I started to cry.

“Lesson number one is complete, you may go back to your room.”

I laid in bed and was confused as to what happened.

The next day, I was brought in and handed the book again. The Sensei pulled out some parchment and began reading me something.

“Thomas, life will get you down.” I immediately knew he was quoting the friendly woman that lended the helping hand, “I mean, look at me. I’ve told you so much. We’re in a world of heroes and powers, but sometimes the normal people can do just as much to help out. It’s my mission to try and lift you up, out of these dumps. That’s what I want to teach you, too. I may not have the most money, but I have a place for you and your family to stay.”

I broke down, starting to rock back and forth. 

“Lesson number two is complete, you can leave now.” The Sensei told me. 

“Sensei, what does this mean, why do you continue to tear me up like this?”

“You’ll understand one day.”

The next day, The Sensei brought me in and sat me down, and we sat in silence as I listened to the sound of a swingset moving back and forth. We were there for an hour.

The day after that, The Sensei did the same thing again: he handed me the book, made me flip through and remember what happened, and he read a passage. Before I started crying, I heard the sound of that swingset moving back and forth.

The process continued like this. I didn’t understand it.

I came in again, after six days had passed. 

He didn’t hand me the book or read to me transcriptions. The swingset started up again, and I broke down.

“Vengeance, do you know what happened?” Professor Mentality asked me, “I found your records, it’s so easy to find who you met and when. The Shadowed Sector? That was a group I didn’t expect to hear from. I’m close with the daughter of that Sensei, but I myself never learned her name. It was simple, though. I got in contact with her, she gave me your documents, and boom, I learned something: you’ve been conditioned to break down at the sound of a swingset moving. I would hate to be your child, if you ever had any.” 

“… Conditioned?”

“Yes, Conditioned. So, it says here in the notes that there was an unconditioned stimulus in the form of photos of your family and the words of that one woman, and then an unconditioned response of crying and sobbing.”

“Huh? I don’t understand.”

Professor Mentality’s eyebrows furrowed, “You would cry whenever you’d see images of your family and hear words from your mentor lady.”

I nodded, that made sense.

“Well, You heard a swing moving back and forth. No response there, right?”

“Just confusion. I didn’t remember a swing set at the dojo before then.”

“So that’s a Neutral stimulus. It didn’t incite a necessary response. Then, that neutral stimulus was added in conjunction with the unconditioned stimulus for a while, and then the unconditioned stimulus was removed, leaving you crying and breaking down at the sound of the conditioned stimulus of a swingset.”

“But I forgot about this, I haven’t experienced anything like this in a while.”

“Yeah, you probably experienced extinction, where a conditioned response goes away. But due to the tension of you almost escaping and all of that, ‘spontaneous recovery’ occurred and you were left a coward and a broken man for a while.”

“So it’s like when I teach my dog to sit by giving it a treat, right?”

“That’s operant conditioning, in which by doing the right things, the dog receives a reward. Classical conditioning is something else entirely – you react to something entirely different, usually without your knowledge that it’s happened.”

So that’s why I get melancholy around swing sets. That Sensei Shmuck had made me sad for an object. 

“What memories were you trying to block out?” Professor Mentality asked.

“I don’t… well, I do remember. I just hate discussing it.”

“I may be a villain, Vengeance, but I’m also a licensed therapist, although I’m banned from practicing in forty nine states.” He sat back with a clipboard in his hand, “Do tell.”

Chapter 4 – The Persistence of the Origin Story

“I was never rich as a child. We never had order, we never had safety. It was just me, my mom, and my dad out on the streets. I was born behind a dumpster of a fast food joint.” Professor Mentality was silent, no witty responses or commentary, so I continued, “I try to forget everything, really. I try to forget the pain and the suffering and the tragedies. I think that’s why I put myself through perilous dangers, I’m hoping to just forget my past.”

“Why do you want that? Why are you trying to give yourself self-inflicted Retrograde Amnesia?”

“Sometimes I think that the life I live,  the soup kitchen owner by day, the vigilante by night, it’s hard, and I wish that if I could forget my past but continue to run the soup kitchen, I’d be a happier man with a family and stuff. I think I could make Furvus City less dark. Maybe I do more harm than good as the Vengeance.”

“I don’t think that.” Professor Mentality admitted, “I don’t think that at all. I mean, maybe it’s because I’m the bad guy and we just go hand-in-hand, but I don’t want you thinking that. We need you, it lets us criminals have a motive to do more evil.”

“See, that’s exactly my point. If I just forgot and was no longer the vengeance, then the next homeless person or rich fool would probably not turn villainous because they see my example. Then again, maybe it’s just nature for some people to be bad, and others to be good.”

“I disagree with that idea. It’s both nature and nurture that lead to development of these beliefs. My parents ignored me and tossed me around as a child. That was my environment. But it’s also in my nature to survive, I come from a lineage of survivors and warriors that fought to live. It’s just in my genetic code.”

“That makes zero sense, just let me speak.” I told him.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, “I just get really passionate about the nature vs nurture debate.”

“Anyways, I think of living on the streets and how much pain it was to go through that. Whenever I smell the stench of sewage, I remember how it feels.”

“So sewage is a retrieval cue.” Professor Mentality said as he scribbled on his paper.

“Whatever.” I said, “Then along came that woman. She was pale and blonde, and she was really sweet and friendly. She’d take me to the park with my family, rent hotel rooms for us. She was a helping hand, but I never got her name.”

“Are you sure?”

I thought about it, dug through the recesses of my mind, “Patty. Her name was Patricia, but she wanted to be called Patty. She was really nice, she smelled of roses. Her apartment smelled like roses too. She helped my parents get on their feet, and I was sixteen when… when it happened.”

“What happened, Vengeance?”

The memory persisted, came through. Every detail, every single portion of it came forward in my brain, like I was watching a movie from the comfort of my own bedroom, “I was sleeping in my room in her apartment when there was a loud banging on the door. I woke up and peaked outside of my room as my mom opened the door and was knocked back by someone, a big, burly guy. I heard the sound of a gunshot, followed by screaming. ‘Is this what you’re doing, Patty?’ the man yelled as I peaked out to see my mother, dead and being cradled by my father, ‘Helping the homeless with our money? They’re the scum of this place, they’re useless to this society.’ Patty begged for it to stop, then I heard another gunshot. Dad was gone.” I felt my emotions peak, getting more and more intense, “Then Patty was pushed into my room and I hid under the bed. When she collapsed to the floor and mouthed ‘Be better.’ only to be killed, I vowed that from this day onwards I’d avenge and work to make this city safer. Patty taught me so much – that it’s wrong to kill, you should help others, all of this stuff. But in that moment, when I saw everything that meant something to me die, I relive this episode in my brain over and over again. Every day I trained and learned, I’d remember it.”

“I’m… I’m so sorry, Vengeance. I didn’t know.” 

I looked at Professor Mentality. This guy has been a nuisance to me and this city, but in this moment he looked like he genuinely cared. He stifled a cough before saying, “Listen, just answer one more question and then I’ll let you go.”

Freedom. That’s what he was offering, a freedom from these chains that bind me.

I nodded, “Sure. Absolutely.”

“Tell me about what happened with the Peace Coalition.”

Chapter 5 – The Peace Coalition

“We were that Superhero group everyone wanted to be a part of. Our motto was “Preserving Altruism.” It was started by that one hero of Soleil City, a couple towns over. We never knew our real identities, so I only knew him as Neighborhood, and he knew me as Vengeance.  

“Neighborhood was funny. When we first met up, it was in his warm island base, called ‘Neighborhood’s Neighborhood. It was like a vacation hotspot with people living on it. He explained that they were refugees from a war-torn country that he brought on the island to live together. He’s not their mayor or anything, it’s a purely democratic island, his base is just there. It was beautiful. The other members were Wicked Speed, Achillusa, Pixel Art, and the DragonFly. It was like Wicked Speed was stuck in the eighties. He had, of course, Wicked Speed. You probably remember seeing the stunts he’d pull – running around the world in mere minutes, stuff like that. I had his first album on vinyl. Achillusa was thousands of years old, at least that’s what he told me. He was the sole protector of Greece, and I mean, the records proved his existence. He had one weakness – his heel, but his snake hair could turn people to stone, like a cross between Medusa and Achilles. Pixel Art was a bit younger than me. She had this really unique ability, like, she could tap into technology and turn anything pixelated. On secret missions, she’s been known to pixelate herself and become censored. She could also fire these pixels out of her hands and stuff, like, building objects out of them. And then there was DragonFly, the hero of New Orleans.” I laughed, “I hated that guy. Then again, they all hated me. I think.”

“Why is that, Vengeance?” 

“The group was around for five years. I never fit in, I was lonely. Everyone else started out so… different. Dragonfly was really out there, he was the most hillbilly of us. But as he was with the group, he became more in line with the group’s ideas. It was hard, we weren’t individuals working together, we were working together as one cohesive unit with no difference between one another.”

“Deindividuation.” 

“What does that mean?”

“Your team lost their self awareness.” 

“I guess. Do you remember when we had that massive alien invasion? The Motivationatorgs?”

“Oh yes, I remember that vividly. You guys came in to stop it, right?”

“Yeah, It was in the middle of Kansas, farmland of the country, and I was so scared of messing up. We were the Peace Coalition, they were the enemy.”

“You were an ingroup and they were an outgroup.”

“We believed that they were evil and they were here to destroy us.”

“Outgroup Homogeneity effect.”

“But I was fighting one and he stopped me and begged me to please have mercy – these people were refugees. They came here for peace. They apologized and were like ‘We don’t want to hurt anyone, please, we’re here to just start a new life.’ They were bugs-like creatures with a motivation to survive, they were hungry and we showed up with the Army and hurt others. We were prejudiced, and I demanded the team to stop fighting. Only Neighborhood stopped.”

“Jeez, man.”

“I think about it a lot. We were awful, we were terrible and I’m still beating myself up over it to this day. I was reprimanded by the rest of the group for stopping. Neighborhood stood still with me. ‘We’re heroes,’ Achillusa told me, ‘We save the world and we fight for good. We should be proud that we’re stopping illegal monsters like this.’ 

“Neighborhood looked him in the eyes and said ‘We need to care for these people because they’re in need. We’re helpers, too.’ Quickly, me and Neighborhood decided to leave the group. After that, I became really lonely. I sat around and did nothing, and then I saw the news: Wicked Speed had died.”

“I remember that too.” Professor Mentality said.

“The reason given was that he was fighting a villain and things took a turn for the worse so he ran through time to fight him in the past without any destruction to anyone else. His skeleton was found a couple of months later in a cave, still in tattered costume. He couldn’t come back to the future. I find it so confusing, it’s not in his personality to do stuff like that. He was always really funny and willing to do cool crap, but we’d talk about his potential to time travel and he always refused. Why now?”

“The situation, Vengeance. You’re falling into the Fundamental Attribution Error. You’re emphasizing those cool, swaggy aspects of him and not the fact that this enemy probably would have destroyed the world and everything in it. I don’t know who that could be, but he’s probably someone awful.”

I nodded and sighed, “I guess you make a good point.”

“Vengeance, Thomas, whatever you’re called, of course I make a good point. But thank you, you’ve explained it all to me. I understand now. I understand what motivates and makes the Vengeance fight at night.”

Chapter 6 – Motivation creates a Drive

“Truth is, there were never a set of bombs. That was just to bring you here. And I understand now, I posed the research question, conducted the study, and I have my answers. You’re free to go.”

For some reason, I was doubtful as his partner, Igor, untied the braces. I stood up and started making my way out. My arousal was up, the flight-or-fight responses ticking. Then I heard the gun click and Professor Mentality started unloading a round at me. 

“In the heat of arousal, we tend to perform better, Vengeance.”

I dodged and swerved around, missing, “That’s called the Yerkes-Dodson Law, but you wouldn’t know that, Vengeance!”

“I don’t know that because I’m not a psychologist!” I said through gritted teeth and agitated eyes.

Professor Mentality continued to fire at me, and I continued to dodge and weave to fight back. “You’re feeling a lot right now, I’m sure. You’re probably feeling a negative aroused emotion, judging by the way your breathing is, you’re nervous and tense. You really thought that I’d let you leave, you’re my arch nemesis, Vengeance, I can’t let you leave, you’re my perfect study, you’re the one I must learn more about. And once I’m done, I’ll kill you!”

“I’ve learned a lot too. I know what motivates me, you reminded me as to why I care about this life I live. Try and stop me, I dare you.”

I heard a squawk. Toucan. He always shows up at the most inopportune moments. I smiled as Toucan swung through the window behind Professor Mentality, shattering the glass and attacking him. I made a rush towards the window, realizing that my brain damage has affected me. I struggled to dive and I started to fall out the window. Suddenly, in a foul swoop, I felt a kind, caring hand grab my leg. The buff, read cardigan wearing, floating man known as Neighborhood grabbed me.

“Hello neighbor. I was wondering where you went.” 

“Hi there, Neighborhood.”

“You’ve been gone for a long time. I was getting worried, and, honestly, quite stressed protecting two cities.”

“I’m sorry. If I’m honest, I think I need a while alone. I have some things I need to worry about first.”

I directed him back to my base as I stood alone, “Thanks for dropping me off, Neighborhood.” 

“It was no issue at all.” He said, “Let’s stay in contact, though, I missed you, old friend.”

“I miss myself too. Who I was. Y’know, I have been through a life full of struggles, but I think I need to take a while to study what makes my brain work. Do you think Professor Mentality will be fine?”

“That Toucan thing was really… tough… I don’t know, honestly.”

I sighed as I took off my helmet, “I understand.”

Neighborhood crossed his arms, “So, what’s the plan?”

“I’m hanging up the helmet and the costume for a while. It’s time I do some work as Thomas Marston for a while, and less as the Vengeance. I can be more altruistic as Thomas anyways.”

“Well, thank you for being such a great Neighbor, Thomas.”

“No problem. I’ll see you again, someday.”

With that, Neighborhood flew away, and it was time for me to take care of my own struggles.