After getting Minos into the car, the cops came over to take our statement. Which meant we told them why we were there and what we were doing when the attack took place. We told them what happened. They looked me up and down as if they weren’t quite sure of what they were seeing, as if I was someone, something, new that they needed to reconcile within their own minds. Something that doesn’t quite fit in their own experiences. One of the cops, an officer Anderson, patted me on the head and said, “That was a good thing you did.” They walked away but not before flashing a look to each other that said, a Gimp actually did that?
The cops left and the days went on. I lived in the hospital, trying to reacquaint myself with my physicality. It was hard. I felt like a child learning to walk again, except I couldn’t walk. That small technical detail bothered me. I struggled not to let my dark feelings overcome the optimism I’d started to gain in the park but it was difficult. I felt like a Ying yang. Positive and negative feelings roared in my soul like roaring Lions. I spent my afternoons in the hospital therapy room in attempts to define my new limits, and sometimes pushing beyond them. When I wasn’t in the therapy room I was with Jessica. We spoke often of how well I was doing in therapy and of my plans for the future. I couldn’t be a cop anymore, but I had more skills than that. Pop used to read me bedtime stories that captivated me and fired my mind with dreams. Perhaps I could write stories like that. I wasn’t sure, but it was something worth considering.
I watched holocasts everyday on the receiver in my hospital room. What I saw disturbed me. The Animen were gaining strength. One night. I watched disturbing news footage of Simbano, frightening a group of school children as they were walking to school. The police couldn’t find them. It was as if the creatures were one step ahead of them. It made me wonder if the assertions I’d hear about a mole in the police force were true.
One day, during a therapy session I was visited by someone unexpected, the lady from the park. “I am Doctor Julianna McKenna”, she introduced herself.
“My name’s Jack, I said as I reached up from my wheelchair to shake her hand.
“ Just Jack?” She asked with a curious lilt to her voice.
I shrugged as looked at her. In truth, even though I’d started regaining my soul, there were still times when I felt like a ghost of my former self, a disembodied spirit full of pain and longing for a life that was forever behind him. I didn’t feel any connection to names. They were only labels. “Just Jack.” I confirmed for her. What may I do for you?”
‘I think I can help you walk again.”
That got my attention.
She produced a small holocube from her pocket. The flowing blue light it produced showed a machine, about my size. “The X-1 Exho-Skeleton,” she said.
“Wow, that’s the greatest um, one of those I’ve ever seen.”
“It’s an Exho-Skeleton.” She said.
“How’s it work?” I asked her.
The wire-frame of the Exho -Skeleton was replaced with a scan of my body. Specifically of my spinal cord and brain. “As you may know” She said, “your body moves using electrical signals sent from your brain, specifically, your cerebellum, down your spinal-cord. Your spinal-cord controls muscles, which are attached to ligaments, which are attached to bones which make movement possible.”
“Sure, I knew that.”
She smiled tolerantly, “Your brain still transmits signals that your spinal cord can’t receive. But the exoskeleton can directly stimulate your muscles with electrodes.”
“Interesting.” I said. Outwardly, I tried to keep my voice impassive. Inwardly my heart was doing backflips over my stomach. The thought of regaining my mobility, of walking, again. It stopped my heart “Why”, a dry throat stopped the words, “Why are you doing this?”
“Because you saved my life Jack, because you deserve a chance to reclaim what was taken from you. Because you helped me, and I want to help you.”
“You’ve given me a lot to think about doctor.”
“I’m sure I have. Here’s how you can reach me.” She wrote down her phone number and put on the table in front of me.
“Why was Minos after you?”
“He wanted to steal the plans for my Exho-skeleton and turn them into androids that Chimera can use to subjugate humans. I want my work to help people not hurt them.”
She got up and walked toward me and gave my shoulder a companionable squeeze and walked toward the door. On impulse, I grabbed her hand as she moved toward the door. We looked in to each other’s eyes taking each other’s measure for a timeless moment. I saw hope in her eyes. That hope scared me. I was struggling accept myself as I was now. Did I really want to put myself through the emotional ringer of what could be a false hope?
I self-consciously released her hand, “We’ll talk again doctor.”
She smiled and said “I hope so.” She smiled and left the room.
What do you do when confronted with the impossible? What do you do when confronted with a possibility you won’t let yourself think about? I did what pop and Silverwolf would do: Investigate very, very carefully.
I found it exceptionally gratifying that everything was kept on computers these days. It made it easier to be curious. I spent many an hour in the hospital computer room trying to see what I could learn. Doctor Julianna McKenna was in good standing in the medical community, often considered brilliant by her peers. She was a cyberneticist with degrees in neurology and physiology, and quite a lovely woman to top it all. The memory of our meeting rose up in my mind at unexpected times like light in a fog bank. I sat back lost in thought.
Finally! Exactly one month after I entered the hospital I was being sent home! I had an apartment on Capitol Hill. I was grateful it had an elevator. Getting released from the hospital was the highpoint of my life, or, it should have been the highpoint. But I was so wrapped up in Dr. McKenna’s visit, I barely noticed it. I was preoccupied by the promise of Doctor McKenna’s machine. Could it truly work? I didn’t know. I knew that if it wasn’t true, it would push me into a well of depression from which I might never recover. Yet, if it worked
I put those thoughts as Jessica pulled up in a special van “Where did you get that?” I asked.
“Crowd funding is a wonderful thing.
“I told the holonet about your story and set up an account. Donations came pouring in.”
Check this out the van even has an auto pilot. It will respond to your voice.”
How?” I asked.
“Say ‘Autopilot’ and state a destination.”
“Autopilot”, I said with as much conviction as I could muster, “Home.”
“Understood,” said the van, in a flat monotone.
For a moment I was speechless. I gently kissed her cheeked as I thanked whatever gods, spirits, or agents of Destiny that called to the human soul, that I should have a friend like her.
I entered my apartment. Memories haunted me like phantoms. This place reminded me of someone else’s life. I suddenly felt grateful, I didn’t have any stairs in the place but the doorways were a bit narrow for my new chair, funny how I didn’t notice before. The rooms were painted in soothing gray tones. They reminded me of an overcast cloudy day. I wandered into the living room, almost but not quite scraping my chair on the too narrow doorways. I turned on the holovision, old style television was replaced by in home hologram projectors in 2018. I changed the channel to a baseball game. I watched as three dimensional holograms of the Seattle Mariners were projected on the walls of my living room. It was difficult to pay attention. I felt like I was drowning in a pool filled with the detritus of memories and wishes. I was in a fog of the past melding with the light of the future. I kept hearing Doctor McKenna’s voice in my head. “I hope so.” she said, echoing her wish in the hospital. “Okay, Okay.” I told my restless mind testily, “I’m doing it, I’m doing it.”
Hope warred with reason as I wheeled over to the telephone and called my ex-partner. I struggled to look in his holographic eyes as I said, “Hello Jake.”
“Hi rookie. Sorry I didn’t make it to the hospital.”
I looked at him and shrugged “I wasn’t in a real mood for visitors anyway.”
“Getting along okay?”
“Yup” After an awkward pause I said, “I’d appreciate your help.”
“What can you tell me about Doctor Julianna Mckenna?”
“Not much. She seems to be a highly competent woman.”
“Mmhmm. Wanna get together tonight at Starbucks?”
“Sure I’ll bring Jessica.”
“See you at seven.”
I couldn’t get Doctor McKenna out of my head. I decided to look her up on the Holonet. Once again, I was confronted with her exemplary medical record. I found videos of her making prosthetics for happy, grateful children. Her biography said that her father was a police officer who was hurt in the line of duty. His attitude and demeanor deteriorated after his incident; changed and darkened. Her father died from an overdose of his pain meds. After finding her father’s lifeless body, young Julianna dedicated her life to improving the quality of life for quadriplegics. I sat back and reflected. Perhaps, I was being too cynical of her. I resolved to listen to Jake’s report tonight with an open mind.
Time passed in an eye blink and seven o’clock arrived. Jessica at a Starbucks on Broadway. I hadn’t really been outside much lately. I was surprised by how little room there was for my chair. I had to constantly look out for tables too close together and running into people who couldn’t see me because I wasn’t at eye level. The situation saddled me with a low level feeling of claustrophobia that made me irritable, tense, and nervous. Fortunately, there was an open round table near the door that sparkled its cleanliness. Jessica grabbed it while I went up to the counter to order. I parked my chair parallel to the counter. I could barely make eye contact with the barista. My head could barely be seen above the counter.
“Hello.” I said.
He made eye contact with the gentleman behind me. “What would you like?” He asked.
“Excuse me,” I said.
He couldn’t hear me for all the noise, “Excuse me”, I said.
“I’ll have an Iced Mocha,” said the gentleman
“Excuse me.” Was I invisible? “Excuse me” I said. My voice was suddenly hoarse with frustration. Suddenly I felt feminine hands settle on my shoulders as gently as snowflakes. “Hi,” Jessica said to the barista, could I get an iced Mocha for my friend?”
“Your friend?” The server asked.
She nodded and tapped my shoulder. “I would like an Iced Mocha” I said, with ice in my voice.
He sheepishly filled my order.
Jake had arrived by the time we returned to the table with our drinks. We asked if he wanted anything but he declined. He looked at me with an open questioning expression. He reminded me of a confused dog, head tilted in bewilderment. I could tell I was a reflection of the person he knew, but something wasn’t right. I spoke to end the unbearable silence. “Can you tell me anything new about Doctor McKenna?”
“Nothing really. What’s your interest in her?”
“She said she could help me walk again.”
Jessica and Jake looked at me. They looked shocked, their expressions the very picture of awe.
“Yup,” I told them, “That was my reaction too.”
“Are you going to do it?” they asked in unison.
“I don’t know.” I told them.
“What’s stopping you?” Asked Jessica, “if it could make your life better...”
“That’s just it. I’ve been struggling to accept my life the way it is now. I can’t take false hope. What if it doesn’t work?”
“What if it does?” They asked.
I allowed myself a self-deprecating chuckle, “Yeah, okay I’ll talk with her. I must be getting paranoid. What with getting shot, my adjustment, and the mole in the police department.”
Jake choked on his drink, “Who told you that?” Jake’s breath quickened. My instincts told me something was wrong. “Just rumors,” I said cautiously.
Jake finished his coffee in one long draught. “I have to go.” He said, with offense, frosting his voice, “I have night duty.”
“Jake …” I called after him as he stalked angrily through the door. The door slammed shut.
“That went well,” Jessica said.
“I can’t leave things like that. Come on,” I told her.
Jessica gathered up her coat and quickly palmed something from Jake’s seat. “He forgot his badge,” she said.
Jake’s car was pulling out of the parking lot by the time we put our van in gear. Jessica struggled to pace him as he drove away. It struck me that we weren’t headed to the police station. ‘Jessica” I said, with suspicion coloring my voice, “We’re not headed to the station. Maybe…”
“Don’t worry, he’s probably going home to find his badge. We’ll save him a trip.”
I sighed. When her mind was made up nothing swayed her from her course. Still, something didn’t feel right about this. We followed him to an alley on Broadway. I saw Animen everywhere; birdmen, bearmen, even half men, half-horses, centaurs for God’s sake! As we followed him further down the street, I became more apprehensive. Jake stopped at a convergence of alleyways, cloaked in menace and shadow. He got out and entered an abandoned building.
Jessica slowed the van “what are you doing?” I asked. ”We need to see what’s going on.”
Jessica extracted a small robotic probe from her pocket. It was a gleaming silver ball. Antennae studded the ball at forty-five degree angles from the sphere’s center. These antennae recorded audio, video even air samples. It reminded me of a hi-tech porcupine.
“How the hell did you get that?” I asked her. I looked at her as if I didn’t know her, “How the hell?”--
“Shh—“ She spat me, “People have to know about this.”
The ball flew into the building.
Jessica pulled a small receiver from her purse and turned it on.
“What do you want from me?” Jake’s voice was saying.
“We need more components for the formula,” said Simbano’s voice.
“If we help you find them, will you make us like you?”
Make us like you I wondered, what was going on?
“Does that thing have video?” I hissed at Jessica?
She nodded and turned it on. Jake was speaking to Simbano. I could scarcely believe it. Jake was the mole?
“Jake, Why?” I all but screamed. They heard me. Guns blazed and what happened next would bring me pain for the rest of my life.
“Probe return” Jessica screamed as the bullets thumped hard into her chest.
“Autopilot: Hospital go now!”
The van leapt into gear as the probe reached my hand.
I hated hospitals. I hated almost everything about them. Tonight, Overlake Hospital had gloomy subdued everything was cloaked in uncertain shadows. People were mumbling. I felt small and alone. Jessica had taken three in the chest. Her life was hanging in the balance and I felt despair and hope warring in my soul. I sat like a lump in my chair walling off my heart with pain. I felt numb. I felt like Sisyphus pushing his boulder, desperate to escape his pain with no relief to be found at the top of the hill.
A full moon cast its light through the windows of the lonely hospital. I sat within it the pool of light it cast on the floor and bathed in misery. A hand yanked me out from within myself. “Hello Jack said Doctor McKenna. I hadn’t known she was here.
“How is She Doctor McKenna?”
“The Doctors are working on her now. Try to calm down. When you are rested...”
Even through a fog of fear and pain, I could tell I was being handled. I spoke in a low angry voice. I spit out the words like a snake pausing angrily between each word. “How. Is. She?”
“I’m sorry. She’s gone.”
The room swayed around me as I remembered I hadn’t eaten in the two days I’d waited here. My head pounded in agony. Drops of bloody sweat trickled down my cheeks. Moans escaped my clenched teeth. I swooned and fell from the chair to the floor.