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An Update

Writing
Well, it seems to have been a busy month. Uploaded three chapters, each for a different story.

An Unlikely Hero has been a pleasant surprise for me. So far it’s turned out quite well and the latest chapter (Chapter Four) has really advanced the plot. In fact this was the chapter in which I really worked out what the plot was going to be. When I first started writing AUH, all I had was in my head was the image of the main character being brutally killed in the first chapter yet somehow miraculously coming back to life.

Chapter Six has been a long time coming. The last chapter was posted way back in August of last year. I got pretty bad writer’s block at the start of the chapter. I knew that Trace (the main character) was going to save the day, I also knew that there was no way he could take out Dorga and his goons in combat. Unless of course it was in an extended “Home-Alone” style guerilla campaign. In hindsight that would have been kinda cool but would’ve taken ages to write. This chapter also revealed the final bits and pieces of the kid’s backstory and exactly what the relationship between him and Dorga was.

After taking a break to write four chapters of AUH, I returned to RS with The Tattoo. I’m glad to return to this story, as its the longest I’ve every written and there’s still so much I want to write. I really want to finish this some day. This particular chapter pretty much has nothing to do with the plot of the story, so it could be seen as filler. It does however ramp up the tension between Ryan and Boris.

These two almost came to blows in this chapter and only the timely arrival of Daniel prevented a knife fight from breaking out. This chapter also introduced Bucky. A last minuted inclusion, I never intended to introduce a dog but somehow, that section just wrote itself.  Bucky is in fact the dog owned by my Mutants and Masterminds character, Jared Sanchez. Ryan’s little joke about the reason behind Bucky’s name is painful in origin, as it was originally the reason why I called my character’s dog Bucky in the M&M game. I pretty much got the same reaction from the GM and other players as Ryan did. As I said, its painful.
University
Exams are starting this week in programming and computing, as long as I don’t freeze up they should be a cake walk. Maths next week I’m less confident about.

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An Unlikely Hero – Issue 4

an-unlikely-hero“BEGIN BIOHOST INTEGRATION PROCEDURE YES/NO?”

The words pulsed slowly in his field of vision as if waiting for a response. Todd’s heart was racing, all traces of tiredness banished. What was going on? He could guess that it had something to do with the nanobots, he didn’t need to be a genius to work that out, but he had no idea what “biohost integration” meant. Whatever it was, it didn’t sound good. As if in response to his racing thoughts, more text began to appear.

“DEFINITION: BIOHOST INTEGRATION

PROCESS BY WHICH BIOHOST’S ORGANIC SYSTEMS ARE ENHANCED, AUGMENTED OR REPLACED WITH CYBERNETIC SYSTEMS IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE MAXIMUM EFFICIENCY OF UNIT’S PRIMARY FUNCTION.”

“Oh this is good,” Todd thought, “it’s asking my permission to turn me into a cyborg.”

“INCORRECT: CYBERNETIC SYSTEMS WILL CONSIST OF LESS THAN 5% OF BIOHOST.”

A chill ran down the boy’s spine. “Are you … reading my mind?” He asked out loud, not sure if he wanted to hear the answer.

“CORRECT.”

Todd wanted to run screaming to his dad, he knew that would probably be the right thing to do. However, there was something he needed to know; a suspicion that he needed to confirm. “You’ve already done more than just heal those gunshots, haven’t you?”

“CORRECT, SEVERE NEUROLOGICAL DAMAGE LEADING TO COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT WAS DETECTED AND REPAIRED. AN OPTICAL SHUNT WAS ALSO INSTALLED TO FACILITATE COMMUNICATION WITH BIOHOST.”

It was talking about the brain injury he had suffered as a baby. Deep down he had known something was going on. Since waking up onboard Sentinel, part of him had felt different. He was more focused, able to concentrate on things for longer periods than he used to. Now he knew why, the nanobots were changing him. They were the reason why he had been able to ace the maths test yesterday.

Todd sat down against the door and closed his eyes, counting to ten in an attempt to calm down. “So,” he said to the nanobots, “let me get this straight. In order for you to do your medical thing better, you want my permission to upgrade parts of me with cyber stuff?”

“NEGATIVE, MEDICAL CARE IS NOT UNIT’S PRIMARY FUNCTION.”

“Then what is your ‘primary function’?” Todd asked confused.

“COMBAT ENHANCEMENT AND BATTLEFIELD ASSISTANCE.”

—-

Sam was surprised to see his that son was already up when he went downstairs for breakfast the next morning. The boy was sitting at the kitchen counter with a bowl of brightly coloured frosted cereal. Opened in front of him was a textbook that he was studying intently as he munched on the cereal. Next to the textbook was another book, a dictionary with dense double-columned text that Todd occasionally consulted to look up an unfamiliar word.

“Don’t read at the table,” Sam said switching on the coffee maker. Todd mumbled an apology, muffled through a mouthful of cereal, and closed the books. “What are you reading anyway? That doesn’t look like a schoolbook.” He reached across the table and turned the book around so he could read the cover. It was a book on nanotechnology, old and slightly dog-eared. “This is from the study.”

Todd swallowed the cereal and shrugged. “Until recently, the only thing I knew about nanobots was from that sci-fi show where they “facsimilate” people.”

Sam laughed softly, “I think you mean assimilate.”

“That’s what I said, assimilate. If I’m going to have these things inside of me for the rest of my life, I might as well learn as much as I can about them.”

Although there was no trace of bitterness in his son’s voice, Sam couldn’t help but feel a stab of guilt. He realised that he never really spoken to Todd about the nanobots inside of him. In hindsight, it was obvious that Todd would be curious about them. Sam picked up the book. “I went to college with Matthew Sanchez, the person who wrote this book.”

“Really?” Todd said as he finished his cereal.

“He wrote it in his second year, quite advanced stuff for a seventeen-year-old in the late eighties. Really ahead of its time, if he hadn’t dropped out of college he could’ve made a great contribution to the field.” He flicked through the yellowed pages.

After putting the bowl in the dishwasher, Todd checked his backpack, making sure that his homework was in the bag. “I’m gonna be late back from school tonight; I’m stopping by the library on the way home.”

“Don’t be too late…” he said looking up from the book but Todd had already grabbed his bike helmet and left.

—-

The six-mile bike ride to school gave Todd the time he needed to think. After his “conversation” with the nanobots last night, Todd hadn’t slept much. He had asked the nanobots exactly what “Biohost Integration” involved and what they wanted to do to him. The nanobots had responded with a bewildering list of procedures. Some of them were easy to understand but most of the proposed “augmentations” were beyond his understanding. Cybernetics and nanotechnology weren’t exactly subjects taught at middle school. Confused and not a little scared by the prospect of what the nanobots wanted to do to him, he had told them to shut up and leave him alone. Surprisingly they seemed to listen, the green text vanishing from his vision. Lying in bed afterwards, he realised that he had to find out as much as he could about what was happening to him.

Todd knew that his dad had been working on the alien nanobots. First thing that morning he had gone into his dad’s study looking any information he could find on the technology. Unfortunately, most of the research data was on the computer and Todd didn’t know anything about hacking. He had been able to find a few books n the study, most of them were out of date but they were a good start for someone like him. That was why his dad had found him sitting at the breakfast table studying a twenty-year-old textbook. In the beginning, he had needed to consult the dictionary at least once a paragraph to decode the meaning behind an unfamiliar word. Yet as he had continued reading, the subject matter became easier for him to digest. By the time his dad had come down for breakfast, Todd had already read the first four chapters, surprising himself by how much he understood.

Halfway into his journey to school, Todd pulled into a petrol station and propped his bike up against an outside cooler. Todd usually met up with his friend on the way to school, the petrol station marking the point where their respective routes to school merged. A J was running late again so Todd went inside the station’s shop to wait for him. He immediately wandered over to the news rack at the back of the store and looked for his favourite video game magazine. The gangly-armed college student sitting behind the counter and glass partition didn’t notice the boy enter, his nose buried in a book. Todd was crouched down, flicking through reviews of the latest video games when he heard the door open a few minutes later. He was about to stand up to see if it was A J when he heard a voice that couldn’t possibly belong to his friend.

“The register,” the voice yelled, “open it.”

Todd dropped the magazine and his heart began to race. He looked up at the convex security mirror mounted on the ceiling above him. Through its distorted reflection, he saw a masked gang member, maybe 16 or 17 years of age, standing at the front of the shop pointing his gun at the student. Although stunned for a second by the sudden appearance of the armed robber, the student acted quickly, ducking behind the counter and pressing the hidden silent alarm button. Hidden from view behind shelving, Todd flipped open his mobile and dialled 911.

“911 Emergency, what is your location?”

Todd spoke quietly, not wanting to alert the robber that he was there. “I’m at the Circle K gas station on North Roosevelt Boulevard; some guy with a gun is robbing it!”

“Okay son, is that the one at 3032 North Roosevelt?”

Todd paused for a second; he still didn’t know his way around the city’s streets. “I dunno, but it’s opposite the little league field.” He didn’t hear the emergency operator’s reply. Frustrated by the lack of cooperation the gang member fired his gun at the student. The bullets impacted harmlessly on the ballistic glass, spider webbing its surface but not penetrating it. Todd dropped the phone, shocked by the sound of the gunshots in the enclosed space. He quickly picked up his phone but before he could bring it to his ear, a shadow fell over him. Looking up, he came face to face with the barrel of a gun.

—-

Officer Taylor was walking across the car park of the fast food restaurant, two coffees in his hands, when his radio squawked into life.

“All units in the vicinity of 13th and Roosevelt, silent alarm triggered at the Circle K gas station.”

His partner leaned out the window having heard the same message. “Hey Robby, isn’t that…” He began to say.

“Just down the road.” Taylor finished for him, looking through the chain link fence that ran alongside the car park, across the grass and dirt baseball diamond, towards the petrol station with the Circle K logo outside. All seemed quiet, the forecourt was empty. “Probably just a false alarm.” He climbed into the car and passed his partner his coffee.

“Update on the silent alarm,” the dispatcher said through the radio, “report of two-eleven in progress. Shots fired.”

“Okay,” Taylor said emptying his coffee out of the window, his partner doing the same, “not a false alarm.”

—-

“Give me the money,” the gang member yelled at the student, “or I put a bullet in this kid’s head!” He punctuated his threat by jamming the barrel of the pistol into the side of Todd’s head. The youth had his arm around Todd’s neck, pinning the struggling boy to his chest.

“I can’t,” the student said with wide panicked eyes, “the register locks when the alarm is triggered!”

“You’re lying!” Yelled the gang member, shooting the ballistic glass of the partition again. The arm around Todd’s neck tightened and the thug lifted him until Todd had to stand on tiptoes hanging on to the arm in order to avoid being strangled. “I’ll do it,” he hissed, “the money or the kid dies.”

“THREAT MODE ENGAGED, VOICE STRESS ANALYSIS INDICATES 78% CHANCE ASSAILANT WILL CARRY OUT THREAT. RECOMMEND IMMEDIATE PROTECTIVE MEASURES.”

“Not now,” Todd muttered under his breath. Although he hated to admit it, the nanobots were right. Curiously, although he should have been panicking, he felt calm. All his senses seemed heightened. It wasn’t like super-hearing or super-vision, it was more like he was noticing EVERYTHING around him; the tone of the voices, the angle of the sunlight coming through the front windows, everything. The gang member was waving his gun around again, threatening the student. Todd saw that this was his chance. Letting go of the gang member’s arm, he jabbed his elbow sharply into the youth’s stomach. With a grunt, the gang member lost his grip on Todd and the boy tore free. He could have made a break for it, running for the front door. However, he knew that he’d never make it; the gang member would have a clear shot of his back for several seconds before he reached the door. Instead, he turned to face the gang member and kicked him hard in the groin. At the same time, the gang member smacked the butt of the pistol against the side of Todd’s head. Both of them fell to the floor stunned, Todd blinking to clear the stars from his vision, the gang member groaning and clutching his groin. As the gang member fell, he dropped his gun and the pistol landed between him and Todd. They both recovered their wits at the same time and scrambled for the gun, wrestling on the floor. Todd kicked out, the heel of his shoe striking the gang member’s nose and forcing him back. He grabbed the pistol and jumped back, aiming it at the gang member. “Stay back,” he yelled in a voice he hoped sounded brave and not like that of a scared thirteen-year-old kid.

The gang member chuckled harshly. “Give me the gun kid, I don’t wanna have to hurt ya.” Two red cross hairs appeared in Todd’s field of vision, both of them fixed over gang member; one centred between the eyes, the other hovering over the gang member’s heart. A third green crosshair wavered around the gang member’s body. Todd realised with a start that the green crosshair was indicating where he was aiming the gun. The red ones were showing recommended targets, both of them kill shots. The nanobots must be using the optical shunt to deliver heads-up-display style information, and they were recommending a one-shot kill. However, there was no way he was going to shoot-to-kill. Both the nanobots and the gang member seemed to sense his reluctance to shoot. The gang member responded by pulling out a knife and stepping towards him; the nanobots by generating more targeting crosshairs, this time orange ones over the knees, shoulders and hands; disabling shots.

“Put the knife down,” Todd said, “I’ll shoot.”

“No, you won’t,” the gang member sneered taking another step towards Todd.

Flicking the pistol’s safety on, Todd smiled. “You know what, you’re absolutely right.” Before the gang member could respond, Todd tossed the pistol in to the air, caught it by the barrel, and smashed the grip into the side of the youth’s head. The gang member crumpled to the floor, unconscious.

“Little dude, that was awesome!” The student said, unlocking the door to the cashier partition and coming out to stand by Todd. “You totally kicked his butt!”

Todd looked up at him and handed him the gun. “You better take this,” he said, “I don’t like guns.” The sound of sirens outside and the screeching of tires heralded the arrival of the police.

—-

Officer Taylor didn’t believe the cashier’s story at first. Looking at the scrawny thirteen-year-old, Taylor guessed he couldn’t be more than five foot in height and 100 pounds. The gang member must have had at least 10 inches and 50 pounds on him. It was hard to believe that he had overpowered and disarmed the gang member. However, the cashier had been insistent. When questioned about it, the boy had been cagey, almost embarrassed to admit his involvement. It was only when the gang member had come too and fixed the boy with a murderous stare, yelling obscenities at him and vowing to track him down for what he’d done, that he finally accepted that the kid had indeed taken the armed robber down singlehandedly.

“So what’s your name son?” He asked Todd a few minutes later after the gang member had been taken away. Todd was sitting on the bonnet of the patrol car drinking a slushie donated by the grateful cashier.

“Todd sir, Todd Marshall.”

The police officer looked at him quizzically for a few seconds. “Do you go to Horace O’bryant?” Todd nodded. “And yesterday you got into a fight with Billy Taylor.”

“How did you…” Todd started to say but then he saw the officer’s name badge. “You’re Billy’s dad. Crud.” He shivered under the stern gaze of the police officer, not just because of the cold ice drink. Getting in to a fight at school was one thing, but even he should’ve known better than to beat up a cop’s son. The police officer held his expression for several long seconds before breaking into a smile.

“Relax son, your teacher told me what happened. Billy should never have said those things about you and your father, he’s lucky he got away with just a black eye and a bloody nose judging by how you dealt with that gang banger.”

“Hey Todd, what’ve you done now?” A J called out from the edge of the forecourt, sitting on his bike on the other side of the police line. Todd waved to him and turned back to Officer Taylor.

“Can I go?” Todd asked him. “I don’t want to be late for school.”

“I suppose so,” the policeman said, “just stay out of trouble.”

Todd grinned, “I’ll try,” he said as he collected his bike, “but lately, trouble seems to be finding me, not the other way around.”

—-

Being the son of the commander of Overwatch had its advantages. Ever since its launch ten years ago, Cody had spent nearly every school holiday onboard Sentinel, exploring every nook and cranny. With Paragon as his father, he had been able to go places normally off limits to civilians and he had the run of the entire station. In his exploring, Cody had found places the only the designers and engineers knew existed, places where coverage of the station’s security system was patchy at best. That was why he was here now, in the bowels of Sentinel, where he could be sure of secrecy.

Making sure that he was alone; Cody took a small crystal amulet from around his neck and clasped it in his hand. The crystal glowed briefly and a shadowy figure appeared in the corner of the room. “Report,” Cody said to the figure.

“The boy has responded to the antibiotics and his infection has subsided,” said the figure, “his condition has stabilised.”

“Good,” Cody said turning his back on the figure. The boy looked at his reflection in the shiny surface of a metal pipe, running his hand through his hair and examining his face. “As long as Paragon’s brat is alive, I’ve got access to his memories and personality through the link we now share.”

“Of course sir, I shall make sure there are no further complications from the surgery.”

“Make sure that you do. Without that access, this whole operation will have been a waste of time. Now what about the other boy?”

—-

The regular beeping of the EKG machine roused the real Cody from his deep sleep. Although his vision was blurred and his thought processes slowed from the drugs flowing into his body through the IV connected to his right arm, he could tell that something was very wrong. Despite the medical equipment arrayed around the bed he was lying on, the room he was in didn’t look like a hospital room. With its grimy concrete walls and exposed pipes, it looked more like a basement. The beeping of the heart monitor increased its speed with his heart rate as became more aware of the fact that he was strapped down on the bed and couldn’t move. Above the bed was a gantry of lights that could illuminate the bed if with a harsh white light, although currently they were turned off. The metal of the gantry was reflective and through it, he could see that apart from his shorts, he was naked and an angry red scar was present on his abdomen above his left kidney.

A blurred figure approached the bed. “Who are you, what’s going on,” Cody tried to ask. However, the question came out mumbled, a nonsensical string half-formed words. He was starting to panic. The last thing he remembered was getting on the bus to the beach near his school. Now he was strapped to a bed in a dank basement with a surgical scar.

“Oh,” the figure said leaning over Cody, “you’re awake.”

“What … what did you do to me?” Cody managed to force himself to say. The figure didn’t answer as he pulled out a hypodermic needle and drew a dose of sedative. Seeing the needle, Cody struggled feebly against the restraints but could do nothing as the man inserted the needle into his arm. The blackness rapidly closed in and once again, he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.