After three steps, I scream out in agony and fall to the ground clutching my side. Bruno turns and runs to me, kneeling down beside me and placing his hand reassuringly on my back.
“Hey, kid. You okay?”
“Yeah,” I grunt. “Give me a second.”
“Where are you injured?”
Where am I not injured? I think to myself. Instead of being snarky, I decide to stick with as few words as possible. “My side,” I groan, lifting my hand enough to show the blood seeping through the thick orange jumpsuit fabric.
“Whoa,” Bruno says, jumping to his feet. “Why didn’t you tell me you were shot?”
“It wasn’t at the prison,” I say, falling onto my back while holding myself together with my freshly bloodied hands. “Happened back in Cheyenne.”
“The battle. I got shot in the battle of Cheyenne.”
“What battle? What are you talking about?”
“Forget it,” I reply, frustrated how he appears more concerned about my words than the hole in my abdomen.
“You’re right, sorry.” He begins pacing and looking in every corner of the wooded area we are near as though it might contain some hospital or paramedic. “The first thing we need to do is get that jumpsuit off you so we can get a better look at the wound.”
“Sounds good,” I agree. “It hurts too much to lift my arm. Can you help?”
“Yeah.” He nods his head wildly. “Yeah, of course I can.” He stares at me from his position next to the water.
“Now, maybe?” I yell. The pain is excruciating and knowing we are mere seconds away from being captured and sent back to the prison we just escaped from isn’t helping my patience either. The stitches have obviously ripped apart. Here’s hoping Bruno’s got some sort of field dressing skills he learned during a rebel training program or something.
That’s assuming he is a rebel. He could be an SP in disguise for all I know.
Bruno rushes to my side. “Oh, yeah, sorry,” he mutters as his knees slide on the wet grass. He immediately unbuttons the top half of the bright orange prisoner’s clothes. I wasn’t given anything to wear under the jumpsuit, so the wound is immediately visible. He gasps in fright and jumps back.
I strain to look down at it and find it surprising how such a little hole could cause so much pain.
“What do we do now?” Bruno asks. “Do you have a bandage or something in your backpack?” He runs to my pack before I can even respond.
“No, my bag’s useless,” I answer. “And I’m guessing you’ve never dealt with a wound in the wild before, huh?”
“No,” Bruno mutters. “Nothing like this anyways. We always had a—”
“Great.” I frown. “Maybe if we can press something up against it, we can get it to clot or something.”
“We’ve gotta move,” Bruno mutters. He seems much less confident than the man who had pulled me out of the prison. “The area will be swarming with SPs, and who knows what else, any second now.”
“Unless you want to carry me all the way to Buffalo, I don’t think we have much of a choice here.” My earpiece is still in my hand. Recognizing I might need help, I place it back in my ear.
“Cyrus,” The Geek whispers through my ear piece.
“What?” I mutter through the pain.
“I didn’t say anything, kid.” The look of fear in Bruno’s eyes grows.
“I can help you. I’ve got a list of wilderness treatment options,” The Geek continues. “Are there any pine trees around?”
“How should I know? Don’t you have eyes on me?” I murmur angrily.
“Cyrus,” Bruno says slowly. “You still with me, pal?”
“Ask the guy who’s with you then,” The Geek says. “I’m sure he can tell a pine tree from the others.”
“Bruno,” I say, looking up. “Can you find a pine tree for me?”
“Sure, kid,” he says with a sigh of relief. “They’re all along the bank here. What do you need?”
“Perfect,” The Geek chirps. “There should be something which looks like maybe a lump on the tree or something. If he pops it like a boil, it should begin to ooze sap which we can use for an antiseptic.”
“Alright, so, we need pine sap. Can you do that?’ I ask Bruno.
“Sure. Be right back.”
Bruno runs off toward the tree line while I continue to cringe in pain.
“Did yourself in good this time, huh Cyrus?” The Geek says sadly.
“What are you talking about? I had no choice. I had to run. I couldn’t have—“
“What?” Bruno yells back to me. The light dances in the wind.
“Get me some pine sap!” I yell in return.
“Now is that any way to treat someone who’s trying to aid you in your escape?” a voice says from above me.
I yelp in surprise and jump backwards away from the unexpected voice, a difficult thing to do while lying flat on your back and seriously injured.
“Sorry, Mr. Rhodes, I hadn’t intended to frighten you,” the woman says. Although she seems to have appeared from out of nowhere, I can see her as clear as day. An over six-foot tall blond woman stands next to me on the bank of the river, dressed in a gray suit with a tight knee-length skirt. There’s something off about her. She’s not unattractive, but at the same time, something about her seems completely repulsive. Maybe it’s the smirk she has on her face as she stares down at me. Her blue eyes are piercing. Her skin is almost translucent white, with a fair tinging of grey. Everything about her makes me immediately uneasy.
I look to see if Bruno has seen her as well, beginning to fear I have gone crazy, as he has so obviously begun to believe. Unfortunately, he’s taken the whole pine sap thing to heart and is oblivious to the arrival of the mysterious woman.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Rhodes, I assure you I’m as real as your colored friend over there, as well as the hole in your side.”
“Who are you?” I gulp.
“A friend, Mr. Rhodes.”
“I don’t have too many friends.”
The woman laughs. “Why don’t you call me Miss Nile?”
“Telling me your name doesn’t make us friends.”
“Oh, but Mr. Rhodes, I believe I’m most certainly someone who can offer you more than you could ever dream of. Surely you don’t think it mere happenstance you were freed from that prison. Better men than you have died down there.”
“Unless I find some way to get back on my feet and running, I’m pretty sure I’m headed right back there for death, so you’re not really saying much.”
“That’s why I’m here, Mr. Rhodes, to aid you on your way.”
“You bring an invisible jet out here or something?”
“Unfortunately, my circumstances do not allow me to intervene quite so directly. Yet, you may find this a useful tool in your healing process.”
A flash of sparkling light goes off next to me and as it subsides an aerosol can appears in its place.
“What is this?” I ask, looking incredulously at the woman, only to find she has disappeared. “Geek? What the heck just happened?”
“No clue, Cyrus. I’ll see what I can dig up. What’d she give you?”
I pick the can up and look at it. It’s white with one simple line of text on it in blue letters. “MATRIX-Heal. Spray on effected area and wait 30 seconds.”
I read it out loud for The Geek.
“Sounds too good to be true,” he says dejectedly.
“What do you mean?” I argue. “You did see what I saw, didn’t you? She appeared from out of thin air. If she can do that, is there really anything outside the realm of possibility?”
“You might be right, but we still know nothing about this woman. Where did she come from? Who does she work for? None of it sits comfortably with me.”
“I just escaped from an underground prison. There’s not much comfortable about my life right now.”
“I’m still not sure we should trust her.” The Geek continues to argue.
“We don’t really have a choice now, do we? Can you look it up? MATRIX-Heal? There’s got to be some sort of info on it, right?”
“Already hitting up the normal circles for something like this. I’m not finding anything. I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Cy.”
“Too late,” I reply. “I’ve already been motionless for too long. I can’t be put back down in the bottom of that hole, Geek.”
I look the can over, wondering if there might be some other identifying marker which would allow The Geek to verify its use. Not like it matters. I’m as good as dead if I stay here, meaning I have to use it. Besides, why would anyone appear out of thin air to give me something that will kill me, when I was already headed toward death as it was?
I pull off the cap and spray at the cut in my side. It instantly foams.
“AAAAAH!” I scream out. The pain is immediate and intense. The entire side of my body burns and all I can think of is how badly I want to rip it off me.
“Cyrus!” I hear Bruno yelling as his footsteps near. The Geek screams in my ear as well. In a panic I swipe at the now-red foam, struggling to get it off before it melts me into a puddle or whatever it’s trying to do.
“Water!” I scream at Bruno. He runs to the riverside without hesitation. I look down and see further foam developing from within the wound. Pain surges throughout my body as the foam continues to grow. I keep swiping at it, but more appears instantly to take its place.
Bruno sprints back up the slight incline to my side, his hands dripping with water. He kneels carefully next to me and pours the small amount of water still in his hands onto the continually foaming area above my cut. The water spreads the foam enough to get a better look.
The cut is gone!
Where once there was a bloody mess of a hole in my side is now simply skin. Rather nice looking skin, if I say so myself.
The pain’s still there, but nowhere near as bad as it was a second ago.
“Where’s the cut?” Bruno asks.
“Holy crap!” The Geek exclaims. “It’s a Matrix healer!”
“Yeah, that was the name,” I say while continuing to cringe. Something’s still happening inside which I’m not entirely fond of.
“The name of what?” Bruno asks.
“Right, I get it’s the name,” The Geek jumps in, “but I didn’t realize someone actually developed it. It’s only supposed to be a theory, not an actual thing.”
“So, how did I get it?”
“Get what?” Bruno asks.
“I don’t know.”
“You better figure it out.”
“Figure what out?” Bruno yells.
“Right,” I say, realizing Bruno’s still at my side. “Let’s do the leg.”
“Do what to the leg?” Bruno asks.
“Spray that foam on it. If this stuff will heal me, we might as well get me back up to shape, right?”
“What foam?” Bruno asks.
“In the can there, right next to you.”
“Where did this come from?”
“Oh,” I stammer, “I guess it must have been in my bag.”
“You told me—“
“I’m obviously delirious, okay,” I cut in. “Maybe I forgot about it.”
“Okay,” Bruno says. “How does this work?”
I work on pulling up my pant leg, the pain in my side making it difficult to lean too far forward. Bruno aids me in my task, revealing the shredded meat which once was my left knee cap. “Okay.” I frown, bracing for what’s to come. “Spray it right on there.”
“Is this what you did last time?” Bruno asks.
“And it’s supposed to hurt like that?”
“I don’t know, is it supposed to hurt like that?” I ask The Geek.
“How should I know, kid?” Bruno replies uselessly.
“Since it’s rebuilding tissue at an obscenely fast rate, I’m surprised you didn’t black out from the pain. I’m guessing this stuff is intended to be used with some strong anesthetics.”
“Great.” I scowl.
“I’m starting to get the feeling I’m missing something important in our conversation.” Bruno frowns.
“Spray the stuff already!” I scream.
Bruno fumbles with the canister before finally pointing it at my knee. He sprays it liberally all over the bloodied mess.
Again the pain surges immediately throughout the limb and I cry out in torment as my body mends itself. Pounding the ground, as if attempting to injure the earth itself in payment for this torture, I suddenly become aware I’ve stopped screaming. And breathing.
“You still alive, kid?” Bruno asks me.
I inhale deeply and look at him. “Water!” I grunt.
“On it,” he says. He jumps to his feet and bolts back to the river.
“You doing okay, Cy?” The Geek asks.
“Stop asking me that and figure out who that woman was.”
“She’s no one, Cy.”
“Don’t tell me that with all of your stupid resources or contacts or whatever that no one has any idea about a woman who can appear from a cloud of magic sparkles to provide super shaving cream which makes you want to kill yourself. Check under Healing Fairy or something.”
“I’ve searched everywhere, nowhere have I found a reference matching anything to her description, or even the spray, outside of theoretical future product designs.”
“Who came up with those theories? Maybe they have an idea?”
“Here you go, kid.” Bruno has reappeared at my side and dumps the water on my wound. “Still talking to yourself, huh?”
“Nng,” I grunt out as the foam is washed away. The skin beneath shows and I see my leg looking as beautiful as ever, although completely hairless on the healed spot.
“You think you’re good to go now, kid?”
“Give me a sec, okay?”
Now that the pain is passing, I hear the sound of a helicopter in the distance.
“I think a second is about all you’ve got, Cyrus,” Bruno says, his eyes still wide with fear.
“Okay,” I say, forcing every ounce of willpower into my legs to bring me to a standing position. “Let’s do this. I’m as good as I’m ever going to be.”
“You want me to carry you?” Bruno offers.
“No, we need to move fast. Let’s hope this spray doesn’t have some sort of horrible side effects.” I walk to my bag and place the canister inside before slinging the bag onto my back.
“Wait, you’re saying you’ve never used it before?”
“There’s a first time for everything, right?”
“Whatever you say, kid. You ready?”
Go to Chapter Two