Authors: Nick Kelly
Eva drew in a breath. “No.”
“I’m not kidding.”
“Neither am I, Catwalk. You can’t run after him in this condition. There are still a number of areas the nanobots haven’t completed yet.”
“Listen, lady,” the hitman replied, the tension rising within him reflected in the increased pain throughout his back. “If you keep me here, your father may not be alive when I find him.”
She nodded. “I know.”
“Shockit, Eva, I can’t let your father down. Let me up.” His voice sounded mechanical inside of his head, less human than machine.
“Catwalk, my father and I have discussed this exact situation countless times. I’m not freeing you until I have an indication that you’re in a condition indicative of your rehabilitation.”
Cat wrestled against the restraints, his anger growing even more. “Eva, let me out of here. Delambre needs me.”
The anger was contagious, and the brown-eyed medic raised her tone to match his own. “Is that how it is, Catwalk? Or is it in fact the other way around? You don’t have a damned care about my father beyond what he means to your operations and your bank accounts.”
“That’s a load an’ you know it,” he snapped back.
“Is it? Tell me about my father? Tell me about how you interact, for starters.”
“That’s easy. He gets on my ass every day about smokin’ and drinkin’. He’s like an annoyin’ teacher tellin’ me I’m poisoning myself with toxins every time we meet.”
Eva darted forward, leaning over him so close their breath shared the same space. “You self-absorbed, goddamned lunatic. You really don’t even see anything if it isn’t about you, do you? My father has smoked a pack a day for the last decade. He loves a good Scotch, and I’ve seen him drink military veterans under the table.” She stood back up with full eyes. “You just don’t get it.”
Cat was completely taken aback. How had he missed so much about the man with whom he trusted his very life? “Shockit, Eva, I had no idea. You’re right. I’ve made it all about me, an’ I still do. He came to me to help protect you, an’ if I let him down, we’re both gonna lose someone we need.”
Her eyes moved away from him, her response barely audible, “You’re not going to lose anything.”
“What are you talking about?”
It was years before she spoke. “My father has never been your caretaker. His expertise is on a cellular level. His doctorate is in microbiology and immunology. His passion is research, solving puzzles, finding a cure. He never had more than an actor’s part in your treatment and development.”
Cat dropped his head back against the bed, the new awareness striking him like a tidal wave. “Christ, it was you…”
She nodded, staring absently through him rather than directly at him. “When you first used that name for me, I nearly broke down the door frames to get at you. I was so insulted, so angered at you. Then, when I calmed down, I realized how appropriate it was. I’d been the one masquerading, putting one face forward while playing a different role the entire time. I’d been the one healing you, while lying every step of the way.”
She sighed. “As it turns out, it describes me perfectly.”
Cat opened his mouth to protest but the chirp of his comm interrupted him. Eva stepped away, deciding to read the latest stats on the nanobots rebuilding his torn tissue. Unable to answer the call, Catwalk merely laid on the table, pissed at himself for being played the fool. The more he thought about it, the angrier he was for dragging Delambre and Eva into his world. They were safer when they were out there openly in danger. Through him, they’d become active targets, no different than the poor little girl who died in his arms last night.
Cat exhaled sharply and focused on his breathing. Eva wasn’t going to let him move and fighting the healing process would only prolong it, likely costing Delambre his life. Instead, he concentrated on returning to harmony with his body. He’d need to heal to be worth anything to the geneticist and his brilliant daughter.
He swore inside his mind. The moment the restraints were lifted, nothing would keep him from revenge on the scientist and his creations. There was blood to spill, and it was calling him with every precious moment.
The words he’d studied in his early cop years rose to his consciousness. His surgery had come with no anesthesia or pain dampening biotech programs. The only thing that kept him sane and effective was the training he’d learned for himself, mental balance and fluidity. What were the master’s words? “Empty your mind. Be formless…Be water, my friend.”
He closed his cybernetic eyes, drawing deep within himself, the only true destination to which he could travel. The journey within opened his perspective in ways he couldn’t foresee.
15 March 2022
The rain provides the percussion against the window. The creaky boards down the hall mix with the overblown air handlers to provide the harmony. Leon has heard it all before. He nearly has it memorized. Tonight, the melody is different, and it’s the one thing he can’t control.
His sobs and tears are the dominant melody, overwhelming all other sounds. He was placed in St. Patrick’s Orphanage only days before, and he still can’t believe where he is, or what he is. The wool blanket is itchy and heavy. The mattress is a cage. The entire place is a prison. Trying to reason with it all, he erupts into a new fit of tears.
He tries to reason with himself without success. Every time he tries to tell himself things will be okay, his perspective is drawn again to his new reality. His legs remain dormant, unresponsive, dead. His eyes close again and new tears crease his face. He wants to die more than anything. He wants release from the cage of the half-corpse he has become.
The yellow light creases his field of vision long before he opens his eyes. He feels the light, the warmth, eons before he can focus. When his dark eyes open, the golden warmth silhouettes her form in the doorway. She is solace, sanctuary, safety. When he finally focuses, she is standing above him, the woman who welcomed him to the walls of this establishment. She smiles down on him, her face displaying the signs of age and toughness she’s developed over her years here. “You sound very alone, Leon. Would you like some company?”
He cannot even vocalize a response, settling instead on a nod. When she leans down to him, he clings to her as if his life exists solely in her arms. He buries his head against her, needing the comfort of someone, anyone, a soul who understands him. She brushes his black hair with the softest touch.
“It’s okay, my son,” she states quietly.
Son. He struggles to remember his parents, any fleeting spark of a memory of either of them. There is nothing of his father, not even the slightest light of a distant dying star. Of his mother, he seems to remember dark eyes, caring eyes…sad eyes. He remembers love and wanting, but nothing more. She is one more unknown, another unrecognized soul in the vast world of dead souls he’s come to know.
There is no father. There is no mother. The thought makes him grip tighter to the form of the woman who introduced herself as Sister Mary Cassandra. To him, she may as well be life itself.
As if sensing his desperation, she speaks softly. “Leon, sweet Leon,” she hugs him, her cheek resting atop his head, “if you’d like, you can call me Mother.”
Leon anchors to her to prevent his very soul from floating adrift, finding comfort in the warmth of his new caretaker. For the first time since his accident, he finds sleep in her arms. In his dreams, he runs faster than motorcycles, he leaps to tenth-floor rooftops, and his eyes glow with the golden glory that provided the backlight of his new mother’s arrival.
When Leon opens his eyes, the storm is at its greatest point of assault. The thunder makes the orphanage walls tremble. He hears the pounding of the rain against the window. It echoes in the hallways where the patchwork roof has given way to the rainfall. Mother has left his side. He has no idea how long she stayed by him while he cried himself to sleep.
Her devotion speaks volumes. So much of her finds its way inside of him. His parents are unknown, at best, figments he’s recreated out of wishes. After days, and now months in the hospital, they’ve attempted no contact. They may as well be dead. In terms of Leon’s life, they’ve always been corpses, memories he’s created. The orphanage and the orphans within are the only family he has.
A flash of lightning illuminates the silhouette of the wheelchair at the foot of his bed. The peel of thunder follows it within seconds. The storm is directly atop them now, its intensity driving relentlessly down on St. Patrick’s. Leon watches the dark spot where he saw the wheelchair a second before.
Another flash of lightning and eruption of thunder. The wheelchair remains in place, an anchor amidst a torrid sea of uncontrolled waves. Leon focuses on the words of his new mother. She was quoting another philosopher, but the words struck true.
‘As you think, so shall you become.’
Leon repeats the words as a mantra, his eyes never leaving the spot where the wheelchair rests between flashes with every recurrent streak of lightning. He moves, swiveling the dead weight of his legs off of the side of the bed. His lifeless feet strike the floor with an audible but unfelt thump. He grits his teeth, staring at the intermittent outline of the wheelchair.
‘As you think, so shall you become.’
Palms on the bed, he dips downward, then pushes himself back up. He repeats the process again…and again…and again. The wheelchair’s silhouette watches him, a mocking ghost, as the subtle burn begins in his arms. Leon continues, the soft fire growing to a heated challenge in his muscles. He has already thought of himself as the one who will exit this prison in search of greater glory. It is time to become that being he perceives.
He counts the repetitions, losing sight of the strikes of thunder and lightning, which cross his gaze. He focuses simply on the dedication and compassion in the heart of his new mother.
He can make out every broken spoke in the wheel, every rusty aspect of the frame of the wheelchair when the lightning crashes again. The fire stretches through his shoulders.
He digests every rip in the vinyl covering of the wheelchair’s aged seat and back. He repeats the exercise. The flames devour his upper arms.
He repeats the exercise, finally viewing the wheelchair as an object of his control, instead of the throne, which represents his enslavement. His arms scream. His lungs are adrift in a sea of fire. Still, he repeats the exercise.
‘As you think, so shall you become.’
Cat’s arms burned, yet he continued to repeat the exercise as the lightning peeled outside, another wave of damnation and depression on the lurkers of downtown Nitro City. His legs balanced atop the tank of the motorcycle as he lowered himself again and again, elbows bent, triceps enflamed with the pain of the repeated motion. So many years ago, he’d taken the words to heart. He’d refused the life of an invalid, living out his days as just another charity case. Instead, he’d become a cleaner, a kidnapper, protector, hitman, extortionist, and killer all in one. He’d done questionable things. He’d associated with the most corrupt and the most honorable of partners.
Anything was better than rotting away in that goddamned wheelchair.
The comm broke his focus, recalling him to the here and now. Reluctantly, he lowered his feet to the ground, then shifted his weight to them. His arms pulsed in inflamed protest. His fingers shook as he clicked on the comm. Dead Air. He’d missed the call.
He checked the comm, and the light indicated he’d missed eight messages. His fingers were still unsteady when he tried to light the cigarette he raised to his lips. Sitting squarely on the floor, he checked the last few days’ messages.
Four were from reporters. The first was McEwan, the ace had tracked him down before the rest. Two others followed suit, seeking an interview with the man who took down the angel who had gutted local law enforcement and terrorized school children. McEwan had left another message after the time of Cat’s supposed death. He was a true professional, declaring his intentions to secure an exclusive interview, even though the hitman was allegedly a corpse.
Cat laughed at Scoop’s tenacity. Shockit, he was good.
The other four messages were from Delilah. The first was nonchalant, almost jovial in tone. “Heya, Tiger. I think you have my comm. I looked everywhere for it, but can’t track it down. It’s okay. Really, I had the photographer re-route his calls through the Hotel to schedule our upcoming shoot, but if you have it, let me know, k? Oh yeah, by the way, my arms are killing me! You should have said I’d be sore for days, even if we kept our clothes on. Ok, I can’t believe I just said that. I’m going. Call me at the hotel. Smooches!”
A grin crossed his face. Her second and third messages were equally off-the-cuff. She mentioned a follow up date, even jokingly stating that he might need to decide on a safety word if they were ever alone together.
The fourth message bore a considerably different tone. “Cat,” with a single word, the rawness of her throat was evident. Her breathing was ragged. She had been crying and could hardly form the words she intended to. “Cat, please pick up…please tell me what I’m seeing isn’t true. You’re not dead. I know you’re not dead.” Her voice disappeared for several seconds, returning as a barely audible whimper, “please…”
Seconds passed again, nearly silent other than her sobs. Finally, she returned loudly, “No! You promised you’d be here for me, so, damn it, Cat, you will be. You can’t die. What if I need you?” Again, her voice dropped to almost nothing. Catwalk closed his eyes struggling to hear her message with more clarity. Her final words were almost inaudible no matter how hard he focused on them.
“Cat…I need you.”
Cat rubbed his neck, taking a break from staring at the holo-screens in front of him. Images of Angelyka, Pestylynce, and Wahrr occupied three screens. Delambre’s slight smile filled the fourth. He picked up his cup of tea, again, and set it back down. It had long since gone cold while he studied the images in front of him.