|This story is a work in progress.|
|Pig and Whistle story universe|
Chapter 1, Out of Joint
The darkness of my dreams slowly fades into an incessant beeping coming from above my head. As consciousness approaches, the beeping consolidates into some old electronica tune pulsing out from my phone's bluetooth speakers. I open my eyes, and am instantly startled by how dark it still is. At 9:30 in the morning, light should be streaming in through the windows.
My attempt to sit up was a great effort, until my head met the underside of my bed. “Uggh,” I mumble to the box springs, “What is this, the third time this year?” Squirming to escape from the claustrophobic clutches of the leg supports, I suddenly feel cloth drape itself across my forehead. Oddly, the edge of the bed is still several inches away. As my morning hindered mind processed this fact, I pull myself the final distance out from under the bed. I roll over on my back and lie there for a while.
My phone reaches the end of the current song and proceeds to dig into my extensive library, searching for the next track to play. It decides I'm in a sombre mood, and queues up Dead Cities by Future Sound of London. An old album to be sure, but it's almost relevant in this day and age. I take the change in song as a signal to get up and start my day. Pulling on the edge of the bed for support, I finally realize what was wrong. The sheets had followed me under the bed.
I bolt upright, and give the bed a once over. There, near the middle of the queen size mattress, is the problem. It looked as though the sheets had been sucked partway into a small black hole.
Strange, this is the first time that's happened. I thought I could only affect myself.
This could be interesting...
I reach out toward the center of the swirl of sheets and place my palm on it. Concentrating, I slowly push my right hand down on the mattress. First it's only the top layer compressing a bit, but then the surface seems to ripple and my hand slips through. Pushing a little farther into the mattress, it feels like my arm is encased in a thick fluid. Tapioca pudding perhaps. Either way, I'm now about up to my elbow in it.
“Now what?” I mutter.
Wait, the sheets are a different density than the rest of the bed. Perhaps I can feel the change. Slowly swirling my arm back and forth, I fail to notice any change in the tactile feel of the mattress. Suddenly my arm breaches a section that feels a bit different. I move my arm left a bit and it passes through the empty space between springs. Moving my arm slightly upwards, I feel a section that is a lot denser; it must be metal or wood. Not something I'd want to pull out. The section to the upper right feels much better, more airy than the rest. I can only hope I've found the right thing, because I'm now up to my shoulder in mattress, which is not exactly comfortable. It doesn't help that my time is running out, as evident by the very strong, very fast pulsing in my neck, as well as the uncomfortable heat on my arm.
Now how do I grab something inside of something else? If I can match frequency or phase or whatever it is I do with it, then maybe I can separate it from the rest of the bed. The first few grasps return very little results, and my arm is approaching the unpleasantly warm to hot threshold. My warning to start pulling out. With one last attempt, I grab at it, finally catching hold of something. “Yes!” I shout, clutching what I hope is the wad of sheets that had sunk into my bed, and slowly start retrieving my arm. They pull out much the same way a spoon does from jello. The bed seems to stick to the sheets for a bit, before sliding back into a solid shape.
I start to dance a little triumphant jig, which my mother takes as her queue to open my door. “Gwhaaaah!” I exclaim while attempting to cover most of my naked self with the newly recovered sheets. “Don't you knock? I would much appreciate it!” I shout at her. The door closes with an embarrassed “Sorry!” and flurry of footsteps.
My name is Allan Willson. The Willson comes from my family, the Allan part I chose for myself. It was taken from one Alan Turing, the father of most useful programming languages, and indirectly some less useful ones. My personal favorite is an esoteric language called BrainF*ck. BF is Turing Complete, but only has eight recognized commands: “,.+-<>”. The simple “Hello world” program looks like this:
When run, it outputs "Hello World," which of course makes perfect sense.
As you may have guessed from the escapades with the bed, I'm a teefer. I'm still human-ish, only with a few differences. The main difference being that I can “phase” through things. Now it seems that I can bring things along with me if I ever need to go through a wall.
With this revelation in mind, I quickly get dressed. On my way to the door, I put on my watch and grab my phone, which has now switched to playing more upbeat songs. As I walk down the hall, the phone detects the speakers in the living room, and automatically connects to them, leaving my room enveloped in silence. Passing into the kitchen, my phone informs the coffee maker of my presence. It proceeds to make me my personal cup of joe. Just the way I like it.
Chapter 2, Morning After
While I grab the now brewed coffee, my mom is at the stove whisking together what I believe to be pancake batter. A quick survey of the ingredients and boxes on the counter confirm my assumption.
“Do you want nuts in yours?” She asks, as I pull up a chair at the table.
“No thanks, plain is fine.”
“Alright,” she replies, opening the oven to remove the precooked plain pancakes kept warm by the glow of the heating element. The oven door squeaks closed as she turns and places the plate in front of me. After a quick blessing, I start eating, and she turns back to mixing the batter for the next batch. I drown out the light scraping of the whisk on the bowl, and look over the newspaper lying on the table.
I'm just about through eating when I hear a sudden “Oh” from behind me. I lower the paper and turn around. “Don't forget to take your medicine!”
“I won't” I say, grabbing a bottle of pills off of the counter. With a rattle, I set them next to my drink.
My parents know about the phasing, it would be hard to hide, but I'll keep the recent discovery to myself. They don't need to know that it just became easier for me to run away; if I ever felt so inclined. I had thought about it a few times, what with my dad working all the time as a security guard up at the old Pantex nuclear weapons facility, and my mom temping as a secretary for the V-22 Osprey manufacturing plant; but I could wait until I finish summer school. By then I'd be off to college anyways, and University of Texas is looking really good right now.
Both of my parents may work jobs with military ties, but we're not excessively patriotic. On my mom's side, it was more of just chance. Working as a temp is like that. You fill a role for a while, then move to the next one. My dad would much rather be guarding souls than guarding nukes, but the circumstances forced his hand. The church he was looking to become a part of had a slight anti-teefer bias, and Pantex contacted him right before the church gig fell through. After some thought, he agreed to the Pantex contract for the same reason he denied the church: It seemed God wanted him there.
“Hey, Mom. Did Dad come home from work last night?” At the sound of my voice, my she stops mixing the batter, and sets it aside.
“Unfortunately not. The base got word of a possible flyover sometime today. They should have clearance, but the Pantex facility is still a no fly zone. All security has been stepped up, so he'll be working most of the day. I've got to head in to work as well, so make sure you keep the house clean after I leave.”
“I will. After I get back from Calculus I'll mow the lawn as well. It's looking pretty bad out front.”
“Thanks. You're always so helpful around the house. We may need to start paying you the maid's fee.” She says with a smile.
“Sounds good to me,” I reply with a chuckle. “I've got to go. See you later tonight.”
“Don't forget the...”
“I know!” I blurt out, turning around to grab a pill out of the container. I'm about to swallow it when I notice that I've grabbed the wrong bottle. The label reads Lisdexamfetamine.
“Hey mom, I don't think taking Vyvanse would be advantageous to me right now.”
“Oops, sorry!” She replies with a sheepish look. “I must have pulled out the wrong bottle.”
“Maybe you should take some then? You might have caught some ADD from me.”
“Very funny” she snaps back, reaching under the counter and pulling out the correct bottle this time. I take the bottle from her, and extract one of the pills, and swallow it with a quick sip of water. With a glance to my watch, I confirm what I had suspected earlier. My heart rate was above 100 and that I must have forgotten my medicine last night.
With my heart taken care of, I scoot in my chair, and then head for the main hallway. While walking through, I pull out my phone, and give it a shake to turn off the music. That accomplished, I re-seat it in my pocket and grab my bag on the way out. I open the door, hesitate a moment, then turn and say, “See ya.” As I turn back and kick the door closed behind me, I pull out the keys to my ancient 97 Toyota Previa.
I'd found it in a junk yard in mostly working condition. It's odd looks, coupled with the custom stereo, subwoofers, and gauges that someone had installed before the collapse made me immediately fall in love with it. The only problem was that at around sixteen mpg, it was hardly street legal. After about a year of learning all the internals of the car, I successfully converted it to a hydrogen/gasoline hybrid.
I unlock the car door using the physical key, as the car has no keyless entry, and start it up. My phone syncs up to the stereo through the older bluetooth protocols that the ancient head unit supports, and queues up my driving playlist. Drum and bass fills the air, followed by the slight whistle of the supercharger spinning up. I back out of the driveway, check my mirrors, and am soon on my way to Amarillo College to brush up on my calculus skills.
Chapter 3, Higher Education
I'm attending summer school because not all of my credits carried over when we moved to this town just above Amarillo. I've got Calculus on Monday and Wednesday, and Government on Tuesdays. It's a bit of a pain, but I'm just glad they recognized my graduation from high school. Repeating senior year is not my idea of fun, but then again, school does introduce you to people. At the moment, my total friend count consists of people in my classes, and some kid down the block. None of them can be called close friends. I haven't had close friends since we moved from California.
California. Now there's a place I don't miss. The weather's perfect, you're about three hours from the beach, snowy mountains, or an amusement park, and being different is severely looked down on. I was different. Not just because of my teeferdom. No, I was different much before that. I was a Christian from some weird place called Texas. We had originally moved to California so that my dad could study at a seminary. I don't recall the name, it didn't apply to me. What concerned me was trying to fit in. Sure I had friends, but only two of them were good friends. The rest were just there; background noise to my life.
Back then, I wasn't very strong. I would cry a lot; sometimes around others, usually because of others. I had been called almost every derogatory and demeaning name available. During my junior year, of the few friends that I had, two of them turned on me. This left me with the two people who were on my side, against an ever-growing number that were against me.
Senior year wasn't as hard as I had thought it would be. With two off-campus periods, I had time to work a retail job. It was boring, but it brought home some cash. Computer Science was quickly becoming my favorite class. For once I could tell something what to do, and it would do it; minus the occasional “NULL_POINTER” error. Things were looking up. Almost everyone has grown up by senior year, or at least grown apathetic enough to not care anymore. As graduation approached with growing speed, I was happy those four years were almost over.
It was my sophomore year that I caught the torch. That was in 2018. The medicine in the NAR had more or less caught up to Blowtorch Fever. So it was in the capable hands of the hospital that I survived my encounter. After it had run its course of about five days, I was back in school. The heightened heart rate gave them pause, but they released me anyways, figuring it was temporary. I noticed that I didn't need my ADHD medicine anymore, and stopped taking it. I didn't notice anything wrong until graduation.
As it turns out, the mixture of an energy drink, for the graduation party, and the excitement of graduating was enough to trigger my first phase shift. I must have been running at around 200 bpm, but at the time, I hadn't known to check. Either way, as I walked to collect my diploma, on stage in front of everybody and their parents, I started to slowly sink into the floor. It wasn't a quick drop. No, it was a slow descent, like sinking in mud. I had taken three steps before I noticed anything. I finally looked down at the odd resistance pulling at my feet, and saw that they were a good half foot under the surface of the stage. My shoes and socks were laying several feet behind me. This revelation only raised my heart rate higher, which did nothing to quicken my descent. After passing through the wooden layer of the stage, my feet hit the metal frame. This slowed me down considerably. By now I was trying to pull myself out of the floor. With frantic motions, I lost my balance and fell face first. I braced for an impact, but it felt more like falling into a pool; hard, but then forgiving. Either because of the impact, or because of the shock of falling through a solid floor, I lost consciousness. The last thing I heard was the combined reaction of everybody around me. It sounded something like, “Holy Shit!”
The following is what I heard later from my parents and the paramedics.
I learned that upon falling over, I had phased out of my clothes as well. Thankfully I was both unconscious and on my stomach by the time this happened. My descent continued, until I fell through the other side of the stage, and dropped five feet into the under-stage storage. My heart rate had fallen a bit due to the unconscious state of my mind, so I didn't start passing further through. At the first sign of my fall, someone had called the paramedics. They pulled me out of the under-stage storage, and upon checking my pulse, gave me something to slow it down. They report that at this stage, I was running at about 183 bpm. They took me to the hospital, where I was finally diagnosed with Transformative Failure of Ontogenetic Regulation, and released three days later with a prescription for the beta blockers to control my pulse. I was pretty much out of it the whole time, waking up every few hours, only to fall asleep again. I finally awoke in my own bed, and knew something was wrong. Thankfully my parents were there to explain everything to me.
I was more of a freak than I was before. Only now I could walk through walls. Albeit at the time, only without clothes. Rather than have to live with the fame and misfortune associated with teefers, we moved back to Texas. Which brings me here on this farm road, driving fifteen miles into Amarillo to retake my classes that didn't transfer.
I signal a lane change, and take the exit to the Amarillo College campus. This was going to be a long day.
Chapter 4, 22:22, November 12, 2020
Everything was going great after moving from California. No more harassment, no explaining what I was, what I could do. In my Calculus class I was even starting to form friendships. Nothing to close, but at the very least, I was forming connections. Everything changed on November the twelfth of year 2020.
That was when the first bomb fell. I was downtown at the time, but in a town this small, that's about three miles from the edge of town. All I know is that the church bell tower had just started to strike 10:30pm. It had always been a little fast, but it kept the town on time.
Bo--Crack-- Suddenly the bell was cut off by a loud impact.
I turned away from the Ice cream social I was attending, and looked at the tower, or where the tower should have been. Instead It looked like someone had cut it off midway up, at an angle like the stem of a potted flower. I had very little time to contemplate on this when a blinding flash lit up what was left of the tower in silhouette. A deafening report was then issued across the land. The ground seemed to rise up and roll over as the shockwave blew past us, ruffling anything light and loose enough to move, as well as blowing out almost every window; including the ones on my car. I'd barely had time to register the loss of the church, much less my windows, when the second flash and report sounded. Five times an explosion was heard, and five different locations where left in ruins. They were spaced out randomly, some as close together as a few hundred feet, some as far as several miles. The last one landed out in the woods, in the general direction of the Pantex facility.
At the second flash, I took of running to my house. Reason was left behind with my car, I just needed to get home. Oh, right. That's where my mother was.
On the way, I see the third flash on the edge of my vision. The report soon rolls past me, urging me to go faster. The delay was shorter, the bombs were coming closer. I pick up speed. My heart rate passes 150 bpm as my watch begins to buzz on my wrist.
I reach my house in a couple of minutes. Three long strides up the steps, and I'm at the front door. Without even bothering to slow down, I close my eyes, and walk right through the front door.
“Mom! Where are you? Are you all right?” I shout into the empty hallway.
“In here!” a muffled reply echoes from around the kitchen.
“Where is here?” I yell back, rushing into the dinning room.
“The hall closet! Hurry!”
I sprint toward the closet, avoiding the dinner table on the way, but almost tripping on a chair. Once at the closet, I yank open the door, and throw myself inside, letting the door close behind me. My mom is crouched next to the inside wall. I sit down next to her and take her hand, about to say something when a loud smash resounds from the back porch. My phrase changes mid sentence.
“how are yo-” *Crack* “-ohhhh Shi-”
My curse is cut off by the blinding light of the explosion, and an ear shattering detonation. The shock-wave throws me bodily through were the wall was moments before. The house was coming down on top of us!
Quickly I reach out for my mother. She's laying on the floor, afloat in a sea of rubble. A loud beeping is emanating from my wrist, but I pay it no attention until I attempt to grab my mom's hand. As her body and mine meet, my hand passes right through.
“Shit! Come on, not now!”
I check to see what the beeping is trying to tell me. The watch reports that I'm currently running at 210 bpm. Great. I grab at her hand again, and again pass right through. The ceiling is now raining down on us, two by fours and insulation falling in our midst. A loud crack emits from one of the supports, and with a shudder, the roof gives way.
With every last ounce of concentration, I reach out one more time. Finally I grab hold of my mothers hand. Then my world passes into silence. It didn't hurt as much as I thought it would, the ceiling collapsing on us. Felt more like getting punched everywhere at once. Looking to my right, I check that I still have a firm grasp on my mother. Thankfully she had phased through with me. It was odd to see parts of the roof sticking out of her, but a quick pull dislodged her from them. She appeared to be unconscious. I set her on the flattest rubble I could find, the remains of the dinning room table, and unphased her. The table was missing a few legs, but was generally intact. With her hand still in mine, I checked her pulse. Still alive. I sigh in relief.
Exhausted, I ignore the incessant beeping coming from my wrist, and unphase myself. Unfortunately, in all the excitement, my foot had sunk into what was left of the floor. As I unphased, the floor solidified around it, the molecules interlocking each other. Then, just as unfortunately, I lost consciousness, and fell forward.
I didn't feel my leg snap somewhere in the middle of the shin, but I heard it.
Chapter 5, Unforeseen Consequences
Again the darkness of my dreams slowly fades into an incessant beeping coming from above my head. I crack open my eyes, allowing them to grow used to the light. Everything looks white. White walls, white ceiling, even white bed sheets. The beeping is coming from the monitor above my bed. With each beep, a wave crosses the line.
The readout says 89. Good, they have me on beta blockers or something. I lay back down, and soon fall asleep again.
I awake again to muffled voices. It takes me a bit to fully remove myself from my sleepy haze.
“... seems to have stabilized.” Says somebody I don't recognize, probably a doctor or nurse. “Hold on, he's coming to.”
I slide backwards in an attempt to sit up. In the room there is a doctor and a nurse discussing my condition. The doctor notices me struggling to sit up, and hands me the control for the bed. After raising the back a bit and getting comfortable, I ask the first thing that comes to mind.
“How's my mother doing?”
The doctor turns to dismiss the nurse,then turns back towards me.
“Your mother is doing fine. Thanks, no doubt, to your quick action. She hasn't left your side for most of your stay. She would be her now, but she was needed at work. As your only current source of income, she decided against taking time off. Your foot, on the other hand, was less fortunate.”
“How long have I --” Suddenly the reality of his words catches up to me. I realize that on my right leg, I can't feel anything below my knee. Only a sort of odd tingle, like I'm touching something thats slightly electrified. Bolting farther upright, I reach for my where my lower leg should have been.
It wasn't there.
“What happened?” I ask, after falling back into a sitting position.
“The break in your leg was clean, and the surrounding damage was extreme, but not un-mendable. Your leg could have been saved, but the lower portion was, uhh, embedded in the floor.” The paramedics couldn't figure out how to extract it without causing un-repairable damage. To keep you from bleeding to death, they had to cut it off right at the break so that they could move you to the hospital.”
While he was telling me this, I just kinda zoned out. I kept leaning forward to check that my leg was really gone, and every time, it wasn't there. I could still sorta feel it. Phantom limb they call it. The brain thinks that there's still something there and tries to talk to the nerves, or is it the other way around? I'm not quite sure. Suddenly I realized that the doctor had finished speaking. I stopped feeling the bandaged stump of my leg, and sat back down to reply.
“Right. Look, I'm really tired, so I think I'll lay back down and go to sleep. If that's alright.”
The doctor looked down at me and replied, “Oh, no, you need all the rest you can get, but you will need to start thinking about which type of prosthetic you want to get, if any. I'll have the nurse bring in some catalogues when you feel more up to it. You'll need to make a choice fairly quickly, before the leg heals completely over, otherwise it will be harder to install the prosthetic connection base.”
“Thanks.” I reply, lowering the back of the bed into the reclined position. The doctor leaves and I soon fall asleep again.
Some time later, I awake to the feeling that I've forgotten something. Something important. As I think over this nagging feeling, I look around the room again. The stack of prosthetics catalogues is sitting next to the bed, within easy reach, and someone has left some flowers on the table/desk next to me. What am I forgetting? I don't know, and I'm not sure I want to find out.
To distract myself, I grab one of the catalogues and start flipping through it. My non-leg is still sending phantom signals to my brain, causing me to itch the stump ever now and then. It's a very odd feeling, and is starting to become annoying.
The first catalogue I picked up was for a company called Synthetics. Several of the designs were very nice, and some of them even looked real enough to pass as a flesh and bone leg. Then I saw the prices. $7000 for a single leg! These guys must be the luxury brand of prosthetics; one of the pieces even had the heel suspension designed by Lotus engineering. These were some serious feet.
After thumbing through a few more pages, I put down the Synthetics catalogue as way out of our price range. I grab the next catalog from the top. Just looking at the cover I know this one isn't for me. The cover piece is a very nice looking pair of fox legs. The brand name is Furry Feet, and they cater to almost every species that a teefer could be. The prices are much better than Synthetics, but I don't think I could pull off wearing one anthropomorphic leg and one not. I set this catalogue down and reach for the next one.
Well, this definitely looks to be in our price range. It seems that Asus has expanded their EEE line into even more categories. I kind of stopped paying attention to them after they released about twenty different versions of the same netbook. Underneath the EEE logo was the tagline, “Easy to work, Easy to Learn, Easy to Play.” Now these sounded promising. With a crinkle, I open the magazine and start working through the designs. Most of them are no frills, but every now and then there's one with a few good features. I finally find the one that seems perfect for me. The EEE PLR-1200. It's a lower leg prosthetic running a stripped down open source Linux shell, and it didn't have all that many features. Only gait recognition and a Toyota Engineering designed heel and ankle joint. It didn't even have a skin like covering, just the bare-bones leg frame and elastomers. What attracted me to it was the phrase, “Modifications covered under warranty.” That, along with the open source embedded OS meant that I could customize the crap out of the thing, and still not worry about breaking it. It also helped that it was priced at a much more reasonable $1500 per leg. I only needed one anyways. I grab the sharpie that the nurse had been thoughtful enough to leave on the table, and circle the PLR-1200. With that task done, I lay back down to rest a bit more.
My mom visited the next day. I felt much better after a full nights rest, and was starting to become used to the prospect of not having a lower right leg. It still felt really odd, but even the ghost nerve signals were fading.
She entered the room, went straight to my side, and took my hand. “How are you doing?” She asks, her concern showing in her eyes.
“I'm fine now. Well, other than missing a chunk of leg anyway.” I reply, sitting up a bit more. “Want to see it?” I ask, making to pull the covers off and present the stump
“No thanks!” She hastily blurts out, raising her hand between her eyes and the offending limb. “I saw enough of it without the bandage!”
“Fine” I say with fake indignation, lowering my leg along with the covers. I was happy she was here. I always enjoyed our conversations, and the distraction from everything was welcome. We chatted small for a while, but then I had to know. Pulling myself up into a more serious posture, I ask what has been on my mind.
“What happened? Where's Dad?”
Before I had even finished asking, my mothers face hardened, matching the seriousness of my questions. A hint of pain slips into her countenance, and I instantly regret asking her so soon, but I must know. Something the doctor had said earlier had come to my attention. Something about “only source of income.” His words echo in my mind, loosening fears and doubts.
“Where is Dad?” I repeat, concern and fear creeping into my voice.
My mother stands there for a moment, thinking through her words, chewing on them one at a time. I wait patiently until she finally speaks.
“As far as anybody knows, we were hit by a random bombing run. The Rangers are in town now, trying to figure everything out.” She starts out, her words a bit rough, layered with barely hidden emotion, but soon she picks up strength, happy to finally have it out of the way.
“They think the target may have been the Pantex facility, but none of the bombs got that far.”
“Wait, that's where dad works! Is he alright?” I exclaim, bolting further upright on the bed.
She looks up, startled by the interruption. At first I thought she was mad, but then I realized that tears were forming at the edges of her eyes. I reach out to take her hand, deciding to let her finish completely before interrupting again. As she finishes gathering her thoughts, I lean back a little more, tired from sitting up to long. Soon enough, she starts again, in a much quieter, emotional tone.
“Your father was caught up in the last blast, out in the middle of his patrolling area around Pantex. When help arrived, he was already de--” Here she stopped, seemingly unable to say the word. By now the tears were flowing freely, and sobs interrupted her speech. Between tears, she continued, finally deciding on a word to use.
“He was already gone when they arrived. There was nothing they could do.”
I leaned forward as she leaned toward me, accepting the unasked for embrace. We held each other for a long time. I couldn't cry, not yet, but her tears were enough for the both of us. Only when the room was empty again did I allow my tears to come. I cried to the only things that wouldn't care. The ceiling received my tears with indifference, and the monitors continued their steady beeping without noticing my weakness. If God was in his heaven, I doubted he cared about one kid in Texas, crying to an empty room.
Chapter 6, A New Step
As soon as I was discharged, we went prosthetic shopping. Well, we didn't really go much of anywhere, prosthesis aren't exactly mainstream products. So to be more accurate, we went Internet shopping from the comfort of my new (temporary) room. The catalogue had listed their homepage, as well as several authorized retailers. Thus armed with a list, we started shopping around.
My mom grew bored about five minutes in and left to throw some lunch together. I was glad to be back on home cooking. Hospital meals are decent, but only serve the purpose of helping you heal. Flavor and flash are less of a priority. I was hoping for a chicken pot pie later tonight at dinner, but have no idea what she would whip up for lunch. With my mind still on food, I return to the task at hand, and turn back to my computer.
Like most everything else in my possession, my computer is a home-brew job. I'd started with some name brand, but years of revision on it, and several case transplants have lost the name to the ages. Currently I was running an AMD Athlon XX-4800+ BE. It may be the high end of two generations ago, but that doesn't mean it's lowly twenty cores were much slower than the newer forty and sixty core machines. Especially sense I had clocked it around 7.2 GHz. The phase change compressor required to keep it as close to zero degrees Celsius created an audible hum, much like a small refrigerator, but the chilly temperatures and 2.2GHz gain off stock were worth the noise pollution. The processor, along with ATI's last gen graphics card and a few terabytes of drive space completed the ensemble. I'd thought of buying some newer DDR4 ram, but the price to performance was not in favor to my wallet. A change in ram would require a new motherboard, and then I was looking at about $200 purchase. My sixteen gigs of DDR3 are working fine, thank you.
All this power did nothing to make the Internet any faster as I waited for the page to load. I could stop the updates that were currently downloading, but the loss of bandwidth was worth a new virus not eating my files. Besides, one megabit out of six was enough to get by on. I was currently building a thin client firewall out of spare parts, but for now, my software firewall would have to make due. Thankfully, the newest distribution of Ubuntu had a very good one built in.
The address bar reports that I'm currently at “Prosthesis Emporium,” and the price listed is one of the best I've seen all day. While grabbing my mom's credit card with my left hand, I add the leg to the cart and click the “checkout now” button. I punch in the relevant information off of the card, “check the second day air” box, and sit back in the chair. Another two hundred dollars for faster shipping was nothing to sneeze at. Thankfully our insurance covered most of the leg and hospital bills, and the leg was needed before the funeral.
... ...The funeral... …
Suddenly my world comes crashing back down, as the weight of my father's death catches up to me, bringing with it an overshadowing despair. The tears come unbidden, flowing fast and free. I just sag in the chair, letting it all flow out. Draining my sadness away. After a bit I find my mother's hand resting on my shoulder, an attempt to comfort me. My tears dry up quickly, but my voice betrays my emotion; warbling and broken with halting sobs.
“Why?” I ask more to the universe than my mother. “I just want to know why. Why were we bombed? Why weren't we warned? Why did he have to die?”
“I don't know.” She replies, pausing for a moment before continuing. “I wish I did, but I don't. I don't have the answers, just more questions. I've been asking God questions every day of my life.”
“And he doesn't seem to be answering, does he?” I interrupt, sitting back up in the chair. “He'd better have some good answers when I die, because he has a lot to answer for.”
Chapter 7, Death in the Family
The leg arrived right on time, five days before the funeral. I tore into the packaging as fast as I could, pausing only momentarily to admire the box and PLR-1200 logo before tearing that open as well. I made sure to keep the UPC code, the warranty dictating that it be kept in a safe place. With undisguised glee, I pulled the leg out of the now decimated box, and set it on the ground. Without a charge, it slumps over backwards, rotating along the ankle joint before I could catch it. The carpet helped muffle the fall, as well as protect the leg from damage. I fish around in the box until I find the wall charger and shrink wrapped mass of manuals and guides.
With the charger in one hand and the leg in the other, I crawl over to the wall, and after some searching, plug the leg in. A red led starts flashing on one of the panels of the leg, the small engraved text above it reads, “Charging.” That accomplished, I crawl back to the box, and separate the manual from the rat's nest of cables, flashdrives, and quick start guides. I'm not sure how you quick start a prosthetic leg, but they seemed to have found a way. Making sure the manual says “English” on the front, I crack it open and start reading. The charger is a four hour quickcharger, so I've got some time to kill.
I finish the manual in roughly thirty minutes and start on the next step: installing the software on my computer. It's mainly the update utilities, along with digital versions of the manuals and guides. I plug the flashdrive into the front USB 3.0 port, and let auto configure do its job. It asks for my password and permission to get to it. I punch it in, and click go. A progress bar pops up and starts edging towards the right of the screen.
According to the manual, as long as the leg's pressure lines and external body aren't punctured, It should be water proof to about 30 bar of pressure. I wasn't planning on doing any deep sea diving, so this hardly applied to me, but it was good to know nonetheless. Also according to the manual, the heel and ankle joint, which was engineered jointly by Toyota R&D Texas and Toyota Engineering North America, could withstand weights of up to 2000 pounds and an impact force of up to 500. After loosing the leg I weighed about 125 pounds. With the prosthetic, I'd weigh about 140 pounds, so I don't think I'd be straining it too much.
A glance at my watch told me that I was running at 90 bpm, and that only one hour had passed. My impatience takes over, and I unplug the leg, drag it over to the computer, and plug it in. The USB 3.0 power bus should continue charging it. Sure enough, as soon as I plug it in, the charging light comes back on, as well as the red “Do Not Disconnect” led. The computer beeps in response, confirming that it has made acquaintances with the leg, and would like to get to know it better. I offer that it should by him a drink, and click ok on the dialog box. The newest version of the firmware begins its download. I sit back in the chair, my stump just barely jutting over the edge, then open up Firefox to search for third party modifications and other Open Source goodies.
A while later, I hear a beep from the leg. The charging light now glows green. Whenever I'm doing something that draws most or all of my attention, I lose track of time. The three and a half hours that it had taken the leg to charge seemed like only five minutes to me. In that span of time, I had found and bookmarked several dozen webpages related to the PLR-1200. Most of them were modification pages, but several were dedicated to a custom compiled operating system meant to enhance the legs capabilities. The mods were cool, but the OS I found very interesting, and could possibly be very useful.
With the leg now fully charged, I could mate It with the base connection that was grafted into the end of my stump. The place were the skin and metal met had a very odd, almost cyberpunk feel, which was not unwelcome. Without the artificial skin covering the leg, it too looked to be a cyberpunk mantelpiece. With a faint clink, and the tightening of a couple hex bolts, the PLR-1200 was secured to what was left of my leg. I experimentally lift my leg up. It's a fairly heavy piece of equipment, being made of cheaper materials, rather than lighter. I think most of it was Aluminum or Magnesium. Because I still have my knee left, most of the difficult movement is still done by my body. The leg only has to deal with the distribution of weight on the ankle, and keeping me from falling on uneven ground. The connection uses several electrodes embedded into left over muscles and nerves, leading to an almost natural replication of movement. It would take some time to get used to, but I don't think it should take too long.
By the time the funeral rolled around, I was already used to the leg. It actually took me less time to learn to walk again than it did for me to learn to drive a manual transmission. The leg was hidden beneath my long dark slacks; the foot hidden beneath Doc Martins and long socks. I went through the motions, and acted as I should, but I wasn't feeling it. I felt really out of place, surrounded by crying people, when I myself had dried up a week beforehand. It felt as if I was tear smuggling, sneaking them through until I was alone.
Death shouldn't be a sad occurrence. It signifies the passing of a life into a better place, be it Heaven, paradise, whatever you do or don't believe in. But in this case it felt more like his life was stolen away; taken before his time was ready, like a surprise party a month before the birthday. “I hope you're enjoying yourself up there, watching us toil around down here.” I mutter to the casket, as it is lowered into its six foot resting place. The pastor says a few words I don't pay much attention to, and the rest of the day passes in a blur. By the end of it, I'm very tired of hearing about how sorry everyone is for my loss. I haven't lost anything. Loss implies that it won't be found again. I certainly hope to be seeing my dad again, though maybe not anytime soon.
Chapter 8, Rebuilding
The Texas Rangers approached me three days after the funeral. That was the only time I got.
I was watching the telly at the moment. Still getting used to our borrowed house when the doorbell rang. I heard my mom set down whatever she was working on. “I'll get it,” she says, walking by me on the way to the door. With a glance through the peep hole, she suddenly becomes very rigid. A wave of apprehension washes down my spine, setting my watch to blinking. I see a similar wave pass through my mom. She opens the door slowly, revealing two Rangers, framed by their armored Toyota Ranger truck. The Texas Rangers logo is splashed across the side of the vehicle, proclaiming to all that the owners must be the very baddest of asses.
“Pardon the intrusion, ma'am,” one of the Rangers proclaims, “but we would like a few words with your son, if possible.”
“Sure,” comes her chilled reply, then showing her Texas hospitality, she offers them coffee, and invites them in. I notice, as they enter into the house proper, that one of them is actually a female, as well as, at the very least, 60% feline. I hadn't notice before due to the buzz cut that seemed to extend to her whole body. The closely cut fur created a very human outline. With a grunt, I push myself up from the couch, and half stumble to make my greeting.
“You must be Allan.” says the feline teefer, offering her hand, “I'm Rachel, and this is Gregory.” I take her hand, and give a firm, solid handshake, once down and once up. Her grip is strong, grasping around the palm, and not the fingers. I notice that though her palm and fingers have a faint padded feeling, her hand is, by design, almost entirely human, except for the well trimmed claws garnishing each fingertip.
“I would be him,” I supply, turning slightly to shake Gregory's hand, “Nice to meet y'all. Care to take a seat?”
“Thank you,” comes the reply, as they sit on the couch opposite the one I was just reclining on. I return to my throne, and my mother return with a coffee tray in tow, and sets the assemblage on the coffee table. Both Gregory and Rachel take a cup; I leave mine be for now.
“We'll cut right to the chase,” Rachel Started, “Texas could use your help.”
“My help?” I exclaim, “I'm just some kid in Texas...”
“Who just happens to be able to walk through walls.”
“Look, “ I say, leaning back in my chair. The fact that they new about my ability wasn't all that surprising, the whole town must have known by now, and the rangers were fabled to be better than the now defunct CIA and FBI combined. It was the bluntness that startled me. “I haven't even started college yet. I'm only 18–”
“You are of age. More so than you think.” cuts in Gregory, “Not every 'kid' in Texas could have pulled off a rescue like that.”
“Some rescue, my father is dead, and I'm out a leg." I say, pulling my artificial leg up to demonstrate. “And to top things off, everyone in town knows about it by now. No one has approached me yet, but it's only a matter of time...”
“We're sorry for your losses – All of them," interrupts Rachel, “but we needed to get to you soon. Our leads on the bombing are running dry, and I realize how sudden this may be, so take some time to reach a decision.” She set her cup on the table, and motioned to Gregory that they should be on their way. Halfway to the door, she turned back. “My card is on the table, if you decide before we contact you again, let me know.”
With that they said their goodbyes, and were on their way; the rumble of the truck fading down the street. I sat for a few minutes, staring at my now empty cup. I don't remember drinking it. Wait, crap. I'd phased it. The liquid was now pooling on the table. I'll clean it up later, for now, I need to think.
My mom enters the room again at some point and cleans the spilled coffee, then sits next to me on the couch. I hug her and don't let go for a long while.
The next day I take a walk down the street, looking at all of the destruction. All that was done in such a short amount of time; all that was taken away.
My right foot was still slipping a bit. I hadn't yet found a sock and shoe that fit it right. I might have to add a non-slip tape to the bottom of the foot.
I turn a corner, looking at the remains of a store front. Half of the sign is still up, reading “Heff” while the rest of it lay disguised beneath the rubble, indistinguishable from the rest. I'd always enjoyed going to Heffner's General Store, now all that was left was the soda machine. It had somehow survived and was dispensing cold cola to the people on the street. I pick up a Dr. Pepper, losing a dollar, but gaining some cold refreshment.
Farther along my walk I see the husk of an apartment complex, the previous tenants going through the rubble, looking for anything that might have been theirs.
“Hey!” I hear, coming from behind a particularly large pile of rubble, “Hey Allan! Can you give me a Hand!”
“What?” I shout back, “Where you at?”
“Over hear!” floats over to me, and the owner of the voice suddenly pops up in the midst of the pile. “Help me out will ya? This thing is stuck pretty good!”
“Sure, hold on.” It was John, one of my buddies from Calculus. I didn't know he lived in these apartments, but I never really asked. I walk up to the mound to see what he's trying to get out. “What's up?” I ask, reaching the top of the mountain of debris and stopping right next to him.
He motions down at his feet, and my eyes follow. “Safe is stuck. I think an armoire and a couple of buildings fell on it.”
I can just barely make out the handle, buried beneath the other debris. “Well that could be a problem.” I say, straightening back up.
The view from the mountain startled me. Everywhere there were people combing the rubble for their possessions. All kinds of people. The local butcher was helping a diminutive man pull his chest out from under the remains of a bed. Several Mexican guys were helping an elderly woman find her belongings. Everywhere people where helping each other. The local biker pack, quite literally as they were all wolf or dog teefers, had just arrived; bringing with them shovels, wheelbarrows, and other instruments of digging. I may hate the bastards that did this to our town, that killed my father and ravished our land, but this town needed all the help it could get.
“Hey, Allan? You okay?”
My reverie was suddenly interrupted. “Yeah – yeah, I'm fine. Lemme look at that safe again. We gotta be careful or this mound could collapse.” I turn back to John, my mind still slightly elsewhere. “I'll see what I can do, but I'll need your help. I'm not that strong, and we'll have to dig it out a bit before I'll feel safe pulling it out.”
Revenge was on my mind, but it wasn't a pressing matter right now. Now is not the time. The offer from the Rangers would give me a chance to find those responsible, it could lead to vengance, but for now I'll stay put.
I've got to call Rachel back, and let The Rangers know I'm not joining them just yet. But that can wait.
Right now it's time to rebuild.