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The Man With the Silver Arm

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There are so many lies surrounding his birth that he doesn’t unravel them all for many years. From the time he’s a small child, he’s told his name is Jacob Jensen—there is a birth certificate to prove it. Hildy Jensen, the woman who says she’s his mother, is lying about that—she engaged in an act of industrial espionage for Hydra, stealing the genetic material that grew into Jake from a lab in Alamagordo. The man listed as his father, Alexander Pierce, is no biological relation to him either, although there’s a blond, blue-eyed resemblance between the two that makes the lie plausible.

The identity of his genetic donor remains a mystery for even longer, but at first Jake has no idea about any of it. He grows up happy and precocious in a Hydra compound near Vienna, Virginia. The world outside the compound is one he knows mainly from books. He’s kept sequestered from mainstream media and taught by various instructors who have been carefully vetted. Someday, his “father” tells him, he will be their greatest asset….

At age eight, he reads at a 12th grade level. In his tech classes, he’s learned to assemble various circuits, how to crack codes and infiltrate systems. Although he’s tall for his age, he can't quite hold his own against an incoming recruit, and Brock, his hand-to-hand instructor, says it’ll probably be a few more years and a growth spurt or two before he can improve on that. Still, his hand-eye coordination is excellent, and he can throw things with remarkable accuracy.

There is no corner of the compound that Jake is a stranger to. He blithely ignores “KEEP OUT” signs; Hydra is his birthright, they certainly don’t apply to him.

He is ten years old when he first encounters the man in the iron mask. He’s familiar with the book by Dumas, so when he sees the man with the electronic device covering his face, Jake is fascinated. The man is in one of the labs, strapped down to a reclining table while the technicians throw switches.

Jake knows how to be sneaky when he wants to remain unnoticed; He waits until the techs have left the room, then stealthily prowls over to look at the man on the table. The mask has been retracted, revealing shoulder-length dark hair straggling down untidily. His eyes are dark blue and blink constantly as if the light hurts them. He’s a few years older than most of the recruits Hydra gets, but younger than Jake’s mom.

“Hey, are you okay?” Jake asks him. The man focuses on him, looking hard, as if trying to remember something familiar. “Do you want some water?”

“Water,” the man repeats, and licks his lips.

Jake takes that as a yes, finds a clean beaker in the cabinet and fills it from the tap. He holds it for the man, whose arms are still strapped down. As he drinks thirstily, Jake realizes that the man’s left arm is silvery chrome from his shoulder to his fingertips. “What happened to your arm?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” says the man when he’s finished the water. His voice is very soft, as if he doesn't use it often. “It’s always been like this.”

“Do you want to be friends?” This guy looks like he needs a friend. The techs have been so busy with all their medical stuff, he figures, that they’ve forgotten their patient is a person, too. ”My name’s Jake, what’s yours?”

His new friend looks sad. “I don’t know,” he whispers.

“Don’t worry, I’ll find out for you,” Jake reassures him. “It’ll be okay.”

The techs, when they return from their break, are disturbed to find him there. They turn a deaf ear to his questions and hustle him out of the room, but Jake doesn’t forget the blue-eyed man with the silver arm, or the promise he made to find his name.

Jake keeps his promise. It doesn’t happen right away, and in the process, he finds out a lot of other things. He and the man in the iron mask have a lot in common, including the people who have been lying to them.