previous: Rise of Hellion ch13
I landed hard on my already sore shoulder. My body was in pain, but I needed to find my baby. Flames licked the walls threatening to destroy the building. I could barely see, but somehow, I knew where to go. This was a single floor building, maybe a cargo container of some kind? No that was just wishful thinking. This room was too big to be a temporary facility. Over the roar of flames and the sound of breaking glass, and cracking wood, I could hear my son’s cries. turning in the direction of the sound, I kicked my fake legs in front of me, letting my feet explore before my hands could get injured. I quickly found a metal table pressed against a wall. At its current angle, it created a perfect mini-shelter. sitting on the floor, I felt around for my son, easily locating his shivering body. I picked him up, rocking him in my arms.
There had to be a way out. I couldn’t let my child die here. An odd thought passed through my mind; where was Faust, why did he leave us alive?
Suddenly there was a crash, followed by a massive gust of wind. The table felt red hot, even from where I sat. Just beyond the flames I could see what looked like sunlight. With all the strength in my body I kicked the table away and made a run for it.
Looking up I could see Faust was fighting someone in midair. I could see his teleportation flash over and over as the two exchanged blows. Whoever it was just tore off the roof, I needed to make sure their effort was not in vain.
The exit had to be someplace. With the newfound light I could see the glimmer of a broken window, about twenty feet away. I moved my baby under my shirt, holding him close to my chest. I would need to call upon my inner gymnast and attempt to vault. I ran as fast as my prosthetic legs could carry me. In lieu of a springboard I launched myself off the highest piece of debris, launching myself head first through the window giving myself a nasty gash (not that i noticed.) After landing on the wet green grass, I ran until I was safely behind a massive green dumpster. it was far enough to be free of the blaze but close enough to keep Faust and his opponent in my sights. (Not that it would do much good if he decided to teleport in front of me.) my hope was to give myself at least a fighting chance. Looking through the nearby trash i found a broken bottle. I created a handle using a plastic bag, allowing me to clutch the glass blade like a typical knife. ‘God, I miss my knife.’
I heard the sound of pounding footsteps; armored boots heading in my direction. Clearly this was not Faust. He was still in the air; if he wanted me dead, I’d be dead. Still, I couldn’t risk yelling for help. There was no guarantee this person was an ally. I sprang up, cutting a massive gash in Axel’s chest.
“I guess I had that coming,” he said in a comical tone. The wound was, thankfully, superficial; a decent amount of bleeding but not deep enough to be life-threatening.
“Axel!” I immediately covered my mouth with my hand. even if Faust was distracted, I didn’t want to chance him finding our location.
Axel took my hand, cupping it in his own in a gesture of comfort. “I’m getting us out of here.”
“Where is here? How did you find me?”
Axel looked towards the fire. “The sick bastard; he wanted to take you home.”
I looked in the same direction, hoping to see what he was seeing. There was the remains of a sign. “This was my gym. did Faust kill my coach?”
“No, from what I know via your background check, the man who hurt you has been dead for nearly a year. If I was to guess, Faust camped here to be able to screw with your head while still being close enough to be found.”
His words caused a realization. We were about to be found. I felt the cold barrel of a gun pressed to my head.
“Hello Nicki, long time no see.” The deadpan tone of Kitsune’s voice cut like a knife.
“Hi,” I squeaked. “How’ve you been?”
That was the wrong thing to say. Kitsune grabbed my shoulder forcing me to my feet. “How have I been?” She grabbed me by my shirt ripping it just enough to reveal my son’s tiny, badly bruised face. “You killed my tech-general, so I’ll just be taking the one in your arms.”
“You’re kidding right?” I knew she wasn’t. I gripped my son closer, if only to feel the warmth of his tiny breath.
“Does that make you nervous? With any luck he’ll know me as Mommy.” Kitsune reached for Abby’s hand, causing my child to recoil. “If not, children ruled by fear make the ideal soldiers.”
“Unless your TAC bodyguard would be so kind as to hand over the battery, so I can build a super soldier of my own.”
“No.” I said out loud. I needed her focus to stay on me. I could already see that Axel had a weapon strapped to his lower leg. This battle was going to come down to a draw.
I locked eyes with Axel, matching him blink for blink, ‘3, 2, 1.’
Axel fired a single shot, hitting Kitsune’s hand. Within the half second opening I dropped down for a sweep kick, knocking her on her ass.
“This way.” Axel grabbed my arm quickly pulling me in a particular direction. “We’re going to have to make a run for it.”
I had to assume Dr Toki and the medevac was on its way. We ran in the direction of a hotel. There were people at the desk and even customers waiting to check in, but with a flash of Axel’s badge no one stopped us. Running up the stairs, we made it to the roof. By the time we finally paused for breath I was covered in sweat. I shifted my baby in my arms, looking around for the evac. In the distance I could see a small plane, approaching at the speed of a typical news helicopter.
“We’re only going to get one chance!” Axel shouted over the roar of the wind. “Do you want me to hold the baby?”
“No,” I said with all the confidence I could muster. I put my arms around Axel, holding little Abby between us. I knew he was going to grab for the rope and I needed to hold on for my life. I gripped Axel, burying my face in his shoulder as we took to the sky.
After a few moments we were forcibly pulled inside. Axel landed hard on his back. He held on to me until the sound of the door’s closing was completed. “Hellion?” he asked in a whisper.
“I’m here, I’m ok.” I moved Abby in my arms to get a view of his face. He was breathing, crying. His little arms flailing with stress and agony.
Looking around I could see Baron was flying the plane while Dr. Toki tended to Tony’s badly injured body. From where I landed, I could see there were bandages on his chest, and a wide variety of monitors.
I assumed he had broken ribs, and was under observation for other injuries. So, I came closer. “Tony?”
“Hey,” his voice was soft, weak. There were at least three PICC lines in his neck, just above a gory ribbon of exposed flesh. My heart dropped. Tony had no skin on his chest. He was being held together by bandages. “Is he here?”
Tony nodded; he was visibly weak, his head barely able to move. “Dr. Toki said our baby was safe?”
“Yeah,” I made a point to shift the baby in my arms. “He’s safe.”
Tony reached out his trembling hand. “I’m so sorry.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for.”
“I allowed you to get kidnapped by that…monster…terrorist.” Tony’s heartrate started to spike. It was clear, he was emotionally affected by Maverick’s traitorous turn. “She cut into you, stole our baby.”
“I know he’s not mine, but I fell in love with the idea of raising a child with you.” Tony paused, catching his breath as he blinked tears from his bruised eyes. “Would you have married me?”
“I’ll still marry you.” Reaching for his hand I could see exposed muscle and bone. “What do you remember?”
“I caught up to your location at around the same time as Baron and Anya. We worked together to take down Maverick, unfortunately giving Faust a chance to escape with the contents of your womb inside a carrying case. That was why I had to ask Axel for help.” Tony started to sob uncontrollably.
I held Abby between us, letting our son’s little hand caress his bandages. That was when I noticed Tony was burning with fever. His eyes flickered, as he struggled for breath.
“That’s enough,” Dr. Toki said, as she attached an oxygen mask, along with a tube that went down Tony’s throat. He was coughing up blood, but eventually his airway was clear enough for him to breathe comfortably.
I removed Abby from his arms, rocking back and forth as I silently cried.
“Tony is very sick,” Dr. Toki explained. “His mind is still strong, but his body is holding on by a thread. As time goes on it will become more difficult for him to function.”
“What’s going to happen to him?”
“Once we land in Vancouver, I’ll begin the process of harvesting his data before his final execution.”
Execution? “Why? That doesn’t make any sense. He’s a human being!”
“His mind is,” Dr. Toki explained in her same rational deadpan tone. “And we will be able to harvest that data for further use as well.”
“He’ll live on a computer?” The idea brought me a small level of comfort. Either that or I watched too many sci-fi movies.
“Tony’s intellect will exist on a network system the size of a small apartment.”
“Makes sense.” I shifted Abby in my arms, resting his head on my shoulder. I really just needed a hug.
“Right now, he’s dying. we’re doing all we can to keep his brain alive but once his body is too weak to sustain him, there’s nothing we can do to salvage Tony’s human form.
“How long will it take for his brain to die?”
Dr. Toki turned to me, with a look of compassion. “I can stretch the process out to a week maybe two.”
“When he’s in the computer. Will he remember me?”
“I don’t know. it will be the first time such a transfer was ever attempted.”
“So, he might not even make it in to a computer.” Ok, that’s fine. I went back to my seat, strapping in and hoping to God this was all a bad dream.
When we landed in Vancouver Dr. Toki was already in contact with her team. Tony was taken off the plane on a stretcher, escorted to a plain white sterile room. I was, of course, forced to watch the set up behind a window. Every part of me ached to be by his side. And Dr. Toki gave me her word that I would be able to stay with him for every step.
Tony’s broken body was placed in a large plastic coffin (like an infant resting in a neonatal intensive care unit.) The box had holes for medical staff to insert their gloved hands. This was to allow them to attach PIC lines, heart monitors and other devices meant to track just how far gone he was. Suddenly his eyes shot open and heartrate spiked. “Nicki! Nicki, where are you?”
I looked to Dr. Toki with a look of desperation. “Please let me in.”
Dr. Toki raised a finger giving the international, ‘Just a second’ gesture before returning to my side. “You will be allowed in after my team administers a sedative.”
“Ok.” Not like I had much of a choice. I watched as Tony was given an injection into his PICC line. He was calmed for all of ten seconds, before suffering a horrifying seizure. The medical team did nothing but allow him to finish. Then the automatic door opened and I was invited in.
With my baby in my arms, I ran straight to his side.
Tony had been paralyzed and when he blinked his eyes, it was clear he had been stripped of his sight. He blinked his white eyes, as tears streamed down his face. “Nicki, are you there?”
Seeing his hand quiver, I reached inside the glove hole. “It’s me, I’m here.”
“It’s so cold.”
I could see why. Dr. Toki’s team was treating Tony’s body like a high-end computer. The purpose of the plastic coffin was to preserve his cells, to better harvest the data from his organic and inorganic parts.
Tony was clearly in a great deal of pain. His body was not numb, but his body was frozen in place. The first thing to go was his legs. They were part bionic, with electrodes interlaced with his natural muscle tissue.
I stayed by Tony’s side, stroking his face. It was the only part of him not inside the plastic coffin (which, after some augmentation, looked more like a high-tech iron lung.)
“You know what really sucks?” Tony said in a weak gasp. “All the next gen gaming consoles I’m never going to see. You know I never even tried VR? I mean, I heard it sucked, but you never know what the future will bring. The future of gaming is going to be fire, and I won’t get to see any of it.”
I let him ramble, carefully watching his oxygen levels. The lower his oxygen dipped, the more insane he stared to sound. “Dr. Toki said she’s going to try to put your mind in a computer.”
That caused a laugh. “Yeah, and human to monkey head transplants are also medically possible.”
“I think I’d like you better as a computer than a monkey.”
“Dr. Toki can do whatever the hell she wants, I’ll be long gone.”
Tony remained in good spirits for the next few days. I wasn’t allowed to stay with him at night, since his body tended to suffer horrific seizures. That was also when the medical team did most of their work, in terms of removing parts.
Baron became my new roommate, sleeping in Tony’s old bed. When he wasn’t training, or attempting to locate Anya (and by connection, Kitsune) he took joy in watching Abby to allow me time to sleep. But I had yet to see Axel. In fact, no one (on base) had seen him since we landed.
One day, after my usual routine of getting kicked out of Tony’s room, I left Abby with Baron and went to search for Axel. There was the possibility he was gone; out on a new mission, with a new team, that would have been logical. That wasn’t Axel’s heart. He had been around for Tony since the beginning; since the little boy with the terminal illness was brought in for life saving surgery that created a superhero.
“This is what, your sixth night searching for him?” Baron asked with a sigh. He flopped down on Tony’s bed, with the baby resting on his chest. “Maybe he just doesn’t want to be found.”
“Doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be.”
“What makes you think you can find him?
“I can’t,” I said sweetly, as I laid beside him. “Not alone. And there’s one place I haven’t checked.”
Baron chuckled as he tickled the baby’s cheek. “Just one? Your mommy is a liar.”
I turned to him with a defeated sigh. “I need your hover boots to check the roofs.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
“You said it yourself, it’s like riding a bike.”
That was a lie, he had never and would never say that about his most valuable means of transportation. “And just like a bike you can go out of control and smash your head into the pavement.”
“Fine, will you take me to search the roofs in a safe, responsible manner?”
“Yes, I will take you to search the roofs, but once we find Axel I’m going to bed.”
“You really think we’ll find him?”
Baron laughed, as he lifted the baby in his arms. “I’ll see you topside in ten.”
True to his word, in ten minutes he was dressed in full armor, with the baby on his shoulder. “Here.” Baron affixed the chest facing carrier on me, so the baby would be safely held between us.
Like Superman and Lois Lane, we took to the sky, making sure to stay out of military airspace. It actually didn’t take long to find what we were looking for. Axel was sitting on the roof of the farthest building; an old dilapidated office space that was set for demolition. It was a place so far north I had not thought it was part of the base. (I still don’t believe it was.)
Baron dropped me off just close enough to see a figure standing at the edge. I walked closer, not wanting to let go of Baron’s hand in case we were mistaken.
“Julian?” I said out loud.
Axel turned looking at me with stunned eyes. “What did you call me?”
“Tony once told me that real names are only for friends.”
“Because he hated the fact you called Noah by his real name?”
“How did you know that?” I already knew the answer, Tony was like a son to him.
“I know Tony. I was there the day Tony was brought in. I remember his little face; this innocent child looking to someone for help, for hope.”
“So, where have you been all this time?”
“I’ve been here,” he said as he took a seat, staring off into the sky. “I’ve been around. During the daylight hours I walk the city; shop, eat, mostly I’d find a nice comfortable bench and people watch.”
“See anything nice?”
“What?” he asked with a chuckle.
“You know, on your walks.” I took a seat beside him, resting my head on his shoulder. “Did you see anything nice; a graffiti mural, a garden with a unique flower that reminds you of times long ago, an old couple walking hand-in-hand, or the smile of a precious baby who just saw the sunlight.” The words fell from my lips before I realized what I’d said. I cupped my hands over my mouth but it was too late. My mentor and friend was sobbing. “Oh, Julian, I’m so sorry.”
He laughed as he wiped his tears with the back of his hand. “Just when I think I’ve cried every last tear…”
“Sorry.” I reached for his hand, giving his fingers a tender squeeze. “Can I stay with you?”
Julian turned, looking down at my son. “No, you need to get someplace safe. If not for your own safety than at least for the safety of your child.”
“I need you to be someplace safe, too.” I held his hand to my chest, close enough to allow Abby to touch Julian’s skin. “What was Tony like as a kid? I mean, he’s still a kid, but when he was an actual child.”
Julian smiled, looking at Abby’s innocent face. “He was a tiny little guy. When I first laid eyes on him, I would have sworn he was no older than two, maybe three years old. Then we had a chance to talk. He spoke like a little bad-ass; knew about life, death, heaven and Hell. He believed in God and if it was God’s will for him to become a hero, he would be the greatest superhero of all time.”
“Will you come see him, with me?”
“Yes, I think I’m ready.”
Julian and I walked along the main road, it would have taken well over an hour but thankfully a base security patrol car saw us and was more than happy to escort the high-ranking leader (and his little teenage sidekick). This allowed us to get back to the lab in less than ten minutes.
Standing outside the door of the main building, I checked the time it was 2:36 in the morning. “do you have a security clearance for Dr. Toki’s lab?”
“I have a no-king clearance.”
Julian proceeded to knock on the door.
“Funny,” I muttered as a female in a lab coat came to the door.
“Oh, hello, we’re currently running a data extraction on the subject.” She seemed young, sweet, so the next part seemed a little awkward. “It might just be a little, um… uncomfortable. For lack of a better word.” She opened the door just enough to allow us to see the current state of Tony’s body.
The plastic coffin was wide open, with cords and wires drawing from his chest, and arms. I held Abby close, turning his face towards my chest. I knew as a baby he couldn’t see very well, but I still wanted to shield him from what lay before me.
“Please put on some personal protective equipment before entering.”
I turned to see a male Labtech holding out disposable scrubs and a head covering. “Thanks, sorry.” I took the gown, putting it on loosely over my chest carrier keeping it loose enough for my baby to breathe. dressed appropriately, I took a seat next to Tony at my usual spot. “Hey, Tony.”
Tony turned to me and smiled. He was looking over my shoulder where Julian stood. “Axel, is that you?”
“Call me Julian.”
Tony laughed. “I can’t even remember the last time I used your civilian name. Or the last time you called me anything other than Tony.”
I forced a smile, as I knew that was not true. Was his mind already gone? “You have to admit, Agent Death Stroke is kind of a mouthful.”
“That’s a stupid name,” Tony said with a giggle. His eyes rolled back in his head. “I don’t know why you ever let me pick that, Julian.” Tony started to laugh uncontrollably. “Julian is the name of the dancing lemur in that movie… what was it…Madagascar!”
I turned to look at Julian. He pursed his lips and nodded. He placed his gloved hand to Tony’s shoulder. There was a moment of silence as if he couldn’t think of the right words to say. Not that I could blame him. Was this goodbye? There was no way to know for sure. All we could do was be grateful for the time we had with Tony.
When Julian finally spoke, his voice was breaking with emotion, “I should go.” He gave Tony’s shoulder a comforting squeeze before turning to leave.
I immediately stood up. “Axel, wait!”
Julian turned around. “I’ve said my peace.”
“Lt. Col!” I wasn’t even sure if that was his correct rank, it just sounded more official than calling him by a code name.
“What!” The way he glared caused me to slink down in my seat, like a guilty child.
“If you leave, I’m probably going to get kicked out,” I muttered under my breath.
“Perhaps that is for the best. We should leave these professionals to their assignment. Tony will still be there in the morning.”
“Yeah, ok,” I replied nervously.
Tony suddenly reached for my hand, grabbing my wrist with more strength than I thought possible. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my soul to keep.” His grip moved down to my hand, slipping me a cold metal object the size of a coin. “If I die before I wake I pray the lord my soul to take.”
Somehow, I knew it was not a coin. I bent forward to kiss his cheek, discreetly hiding the object in my chest carrier. I placed the mystery item in Abby’s tiny hands. Hopefully, he wouldn’t end up swallowing it.
next: Rise of Hellion ch 15