Jon Smith had just finished an assignment for his undercover contact, Flux.
Jon liked Flux, a lot. He felt comfortable around him in a way that he rarely did around people in general. He felt a kind of kinship with the rough-looking man, living in the shadows, always playing a part, never quite sure who he was, and yet unfailingly loyal, and utterly dedicated to the welfare of Paragon City, its citizens, and especially its Heroes. Jon felt like he understood the undercover operative.
After Jon rousted a bunch of Hollows gangbangers under his orders, Flux had entrusted him with the secret location of one of the many gang hideouts in The Hollows. It was early in the evening, and Jon was feeling strong and rested. He decided to hit another contact, police Lt. David Wincott, for meds, and then take a shot at the gang hideout.
He was running at his usual cybernetic speed, prosthetic legs churning, heading back to the Atlas Park gate where Wincott was usually posted, skirting the broken edges of Grendel's Gulch.
Next thing he knew, he had slammed into the broken pavement, moving at something approximating automobile speeds without benefit of an automobile for protection. As his velocity scraped him across the concrete, he grunted and threw his metal arms around his head, then cried out reflexively as he felt himself become airborne.
Oh, shit, he thought to himself.
It was with no surprise that he found himself a second later lying crumpled at the bottom of the Gulch.
Dazed, he started to lift his head, and cried out again. Damn it all. A broken rib. Cautiously, he tried to take a deep breath, and regretted it immediately. Yeah, a broken rib...or maybe two.
What had happened? There were always dangers in The Hollows, but he wasn't aware of any gang members that had that kind of knockback power, not powerful enough to knock him off his feet while he was running. He'd heard about other superadine addicts who did, but they all circulated in other parts of the city.
Slowly, gingerly, he began gathering himself, flinching and grunting with each stab of pain in his side. He managed to reach his belt pouch, the one he kept his meds in. He pulled out the last of the pain medication that the doctors with Hero Affairs had prescribed for his headaches, swallowed it down dry.
It would help a little, for a short while, anyway.
But he needed more help. Now.
He found himself almost wishing he had "died". Had his lifesigns dropped dangerously close to termination, his Medicom transponder would have kicked in and activated the auto-teleport system, whisking him to the nearest hospital, the one in Atlas Park, and clear of The Hollows, the Gulch, and all their attendant dangers.
He managed to raise himself to a sitting position, looked around. It was even worse than he had feared. He could see one of the ramp-like broken and tilted roadbed slabs that were his only way out of the Gulch itself, but between himself and the slab were rounded whitish-colored boulders, grouped together. Ignaeous, he thought. They might look like big rocks, but he knew from hard experience that they were actually a strange form of life, and were aggressive enough that they would wake and demonstrate that if he even walked near them.
Jon hated Rocks.
Breathing shallowly, he became aware that something in his left metal leg was sending impulses to his brain, signals that he was beginning to interpret as pain, despite the lack of any real nerves. Grunting, he folded himself, tried to pull his left leg up into his line of sight, inspected it. After a few seconds, his probing metal fingers found the cause....a strip of metal in the knee joint was snapped.
He tried to bend it back into position, his brain insisted to him that doing so hurt. It was a futile move anyway, as he had no way to fasten the broken ends back together.
Gritting his teeth, he levered himself into a standing position. Keeping one eye on the sleeping Rocks, he tried to step forward on his left foot, and nearly fell.
Cautious experimentation proved that he could, with effort, manage to walk on it by locking the knee, but it was patently obvious that he was going to be doing no running until that metal blade was repaired.
It looked to be a long night.
No telling how far he would have to limp to find another way out of the Gulch, and then there would still be the walk back to the Gate. And if he met with any gangs, Rocks, or mages along the way, he would be completely unable to outrun them. He wasn't sure he could even fight, with his leg and ribs sending telegraphic messages of pain when he moved incautiously.
Perhaps it was inevitable that he take that automated trip to the hospital, he thought grimly.
Without hope, he activated his Hero Corps comm unit, keying it to the Hollows request channel. "Any Taxibots on duty tonight?" he called. Taxibots were one of the more amazing phenomena of Paragon City; a group of civic-minded investors had created the teleporting robots and ran them, often free of charge, in some of the hazard zones, but Taxibot coverage in The Hollows had been spotty of late, and he hadn't seen one on duty when he arrived earlier this afternoon.
"Need an assist, Hero?" His comm came to life on the private channel.
"Yeah, I'm in the Gulch, and I've had an accident, I don't think I can get out. I'm hoping someone can teleport me to the gate, at least."
"Hang on...." He kept a wary eye on the Ignaeous, just in case. "Okay, I can tp you to the gate."
When it came a couple of seconds later, the whistle and hum that he associated with hero teleportation was the most beautiful sound he could remember.
His benefactor, another Hero, took one look at him as he materialized, and whistled loudly. "You do need help," he commented.
Jon was about to tell him that he always looked this way, when the bright red of blood caught his eye, and he glanced down at himself, suddenly realized that much of the skin on the left side of his chest had been abraded away by his slide across the concrete, raw flesh covered only by the wiring that had been imbedded in the now missing skin. He hadn't even noticed, between the broken ribs and the break in his knee. He was suddenly aware of a similar sting on the left side of his face, and realized that his face, like his chest, must be a half mask of blood, raw flesh, gravel, and wires.
"You need me to see you to the hospital?" the other Hero asked him.
Jon smiled lopsidedly. "No, I'll be okay, I heal fast. But thank you for getting me this far. Can I offer you a tip or something?"
The Hero shook his head. "My pleasure. Anybody that beat up probably needs all the INF he's got. The hospital is going to have fun with your bank account tonight."
Jon grimaced, nodded in rueful acknowledgement of the other's observation, waved a grateful good-bye, and began his slow, painful hobble to the Gate, and on to the hospital in Atlas Park.
"Okay, Jon, that should do it." The technician laid the pliers to one side, turned to him, held the calf of his leg up to his knee, and began connecting the two together, working with practiced skill. Jon waited for the moment when the tech reached for the sensory wiring, gritted his teeth and held his breath. Fortunately, the electric fire that seared his nervous system only lasted a fraction of a second as the final connections were made.
Jon stood, gingerly at first, then gradually put more weight on his newly repaired left leg, finally stomping a bit as he circled around the office. "Feels good," he commented.
The tech nodded in satisfaction. "You're good to go, Jon." He began clearing the work bench of tools and parts, sweeping them into bins.
"Thanks. I owe you."
The tech looked up, grinned evilly. "Yeah, you do, and you'll have my bill in the morning." He chuckled.
Jon smiled ruefully, nodded, left the office heading for his apartment.
All of which, he told himself, is proof that I need to find out more about how my machinery works. I'm utterly dependent on it. No one really understands how it works....they can do some minor mechanical repairs, but the electronics are another matter, and if they break.....
He didn't like to think about that scenario. Where would he get replacement parts? Who invented the technology that made his prosthetic legs and arms possible?
Would he one day wind up a permanent cripple, unable to walk or even feed himself, because no one knew how his prosthetics worked, how to repair them when they malfunctioned or were damaged?
That thought scared him....badly.
It was time, he told himself.....time that he start trying to find some answers.
Like who he was....and where he came from. How he became what he was today. Who had invented his cybernetic prosthetics, his arms and legs, and the internal devices that he had been told sped up his metabolism and enabled the man-machine interface that made it possible for him function like a normal, even supernormal, human being.
No one was standing in line to bring him those answers.
He was going to have to go out and get them for himself.
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012