Buddy's fall is even harder this time around.
"No wait!" Mr. Incredible called after the small boy.
"No really it'll just take a minute, I'll be right back," Buddy grinned and waved as he jumped out the window, homemade rockets firing.
"NO!" the hero shouted, reaching and only just managing to grab hold of the boy's tablecloth cape. "STOP!"
"Hey stop it!" Buddy yelled, kicking frantically at the sudden addition of 208lbs.
"There's - a - bomb!" Mr. Incredible grunted, trying to avoid Buddy's exhaust while holding on to the improvised cape as well as remove the bomb. Without warning the fabric tore from his hands. He grabbed wildly for anything to hold onto and found himself gripping one of the thrusters of Buddy's rocket sneakers. The fragile metal, however, was not meant to bear the weight of a full-grown adult, much less a super-human twice as dense and heavy as a regualr man. It snapped in half, falling to the streets far below.
"Knock it off!" Buddy protested, still completely unaware of the danger. "You're wrecking my flight pattern!"
"SHUT UP AND HOLD STILL!" Mr. Incredible bellowed over the roar of the remaining rocket and the rush of the wind as he and his would-be sidekick zigged and zagged above the Metroville skyline.
"THERE'S A BOMB!!!"
Cameras flashed, hands waved while others met in thunderous applause, reporters bellowed questions. She simply smiled and nodded her head in acceptance. It was not vanity, it was simply the reward of a job well done. She was pleased that they were impressed with her work. What could be better? Wait a minute? What was that?
From her vantage at the top of the tall and elegant hotel staircase the movement was clearly visible. Granted the teeming crowd was clad entirely in black and white and most everyone was wearing makeup in some form, but no one- as far as she could recall- had come dressed as a mime.
There were supers in the crowd. They could deal with him, all she had to do was page them and...
A face full of smoke and a powerful kick of fire and alcohol was the only warning he got. He couldn't have held on any longer if he wanted to. The blast threw him one direction, the boy in another. The soot in his eyes blinded him to the rapidly approaching pavement. He found out quickly enough the hard way. His back connected with enough force to press a crater into the asphalt. He groaned and lay there for a moment, his body shivering in pain from the impact.
"Oh god..." he groaned, wondering if he'd broken more than just a chunk of Main Street. He tested his limbs experimentally. Holy cow...he wasn't paralyzed. He was, however, in a lot of pain. Pain. Buddy. Oh God. Where was the little pest? Dragging himself out of the smashed concrete, he looked over.
The redheaded boy lay-face down on the pavement a few yards away, motionless. Mr. Incredible's eyes grew wide, fearing the worst. A fall from that height would have surely killed such an ordinary child instantly. He blinked and started as Buddy twitched. Slowly, painfully, the boy peeled himself from the street. Mr. Incredible looked up briefly, wondering how on earth the boy could have survived such a fall. Several torn window awnings and a dented streetlamp provided the answer. The canvas tarps and streetlight had slowed his descent, so the boy would only suffer a broken nose and jaw instead of joining the angels. So much for small miracles.
Further surveying the scene, Mr. Incredible couldn't help cringing. Two buildings were now surrounded by their own smoke, flames licking through the windows of one. God what a mess.
"Mister... In...." Buddy choked, face now free from the roadway. The boy coughed and gagged, spitting blood and teeth onto the pavement. His cape spread out over him, the bottom edge blown away where the bomb had been, he lay on his stomach and looked up at his hero.
The poor kid... If only he'd been able to grab the bomb. If only he'd be able to... Wait a minute. He'd TOLD the kid to go home. He'd tried to be nice, he'd put up with the kid's shenanigans for as long as he could. It wasn't his fault. Not this time. Pity froze and then burst into white-hot flames of anger. If this stupid kid hadn't butted in. If the little punk had just LISTENED. This was ALL HIS FAULT. Mr. Incredible could hardly believe his own ears as he heard his voice climb from a dangerous growl to a mad bark of rage.
"What, you want me to HELP you? After you put all those people at risk? After they could have been killed? You caused BOMB VOYAGE to get AWAY. Who KNOWS what he's up to, and how many people are going to be hurt because of YOUR mistake. No, no. Good riddance, Buddy Pine. I hope this teaches you your place. Stay out of my business."
With that he turned and walked away. An ambulance was already pulling up to the battered intersection. The paramedics would take care of him. He was done with this kid.
He got the phone call at virtually the same time. The spring show had been advertised on television for months, and as he didn't get much chance to visit, Xerek had promised himself he'd tune in. He didn't care much for gowns or makeup, indeed the concept of fashion was rather lost on him, but it was a chance to see and hear an old friend, if from a distance.
It had been a nice show, even if it had been peppered with commercials. It was winding down now. Edna stood at the top of a rather imposing flight of marble stairs, nodding graciously to the applause she had so rightly earned. She began to descend the stairs, her staff of models and subordinate designers in tow. Without warning the picture shook violently. For a moment Xerek wondered if the BBC signal had gone on the fritz, but the television was making no complaint. Instead, he realized in horror, something had gone wrong at the fashion exhibit. On screen, the ground trembled violently and everyone pitched to the floor, the hapless group on the stairs tumbling down the sharp marble edges. Smoke rose, a chandelier crashed off camera. The picture suddenly fell sideways and then vanished as it was replaced by the blank chatter of a breakfast cereal commercial.
The phone rang, nearly startling him out of his seat. He grabbed the receiver and put it to his ear.
Incoherent gushing poured from the earpiece amid high-pitched sobs. Samantha?
"Samantha? Samantha is that you?"
Yes, yes it was. Wailing, something about Buddy.
"Slow down, I can't understand you. Calm down, take a deep breath. Good girl. Now, what happened?"
The tirade began again. Buddy. Something about Buddy, Buddy being hurt. Badly.
"WHAT?!" he burst as his daughter's blubbering finally solidified into a coherent message. "Never mind. No I understand. I'll be there as soon as I can. Yes, just stay there. All right, all right, calm down. Wait until the doctors give you an answer before you panic, all right? Shhh... Yes. All right. See you in a little bit. Goodbye."
Hanging up the phone, he eyed the television briefly, hoping for an update on E's ruined fashion show. Commercials. Brilliant. Why did disasters have to happen on the same day? Putting a hand to his head, he took a mental step back.
Roger came the scratchy reply.
I need a seat on your next flight to America. Metroville. NOW.
This a rush?
Yes, my grandson's been hurt.
Roger. Got a Heathrow to LaGuardia in about an hour. Will that do?
An hour. Damn. Well, he still had to pack and get to the station and check in and so forth. An hour really wasn't all that much time. Still, he'd be ready. He grabbed his suitcase from the closet and hastily began stuffing it with whites from a dresser drawer, only half paying attention to what was going in.
It'll have to.
See ya then.
Very good. Over and out.
"BACK! BACK YOU SAVAGES, BACK!" E made good use of the boring and outdated magazine she'd been given. As reading material it was useless, but as a weapon, it was proving quite effective.
"I SAID DON'T TOUCH ME!!!"
The offending nurse didn't dodge quickly enough and got her cap knocked off. Other white-clad attendants wisely kept their distance.
"Ms. Mode, please..." the doctor pleaded, "your leg..."
"It'll be FINE," she snapped, still brandishing the magazine. She knew as well as they did that it was a lie. Bruised and absolutely coated in dust from falling plaster and shards of glass and crystal from a shattered chandelier, her injuries were minor with the exception of her left leg. Half sitting as she was, it was painful in the extreme. It lay turned in farther than the radius of a human hip could manage, the knee bent and further turned so that it lay in crooked profile next to the other. She had refused to let anyone come near her, let alone touch her leg to examine it. It was probably dislocated, almost certainly broken, but without an X-ray or some sort of closer examination it was impossible to tell the full extent of the damage.
"Please, at least let us take X-rays, pop it back in?" The doctor dared to look hopeful as the tiny fashion designer regarded him. "We can't in good conscience allow you to leave like this, not without some sort of treatment."
"All right. Fine," she groused, crossing her arms. "X-rays, then. That's all. Nothing else till you get a hold of my personal physician."
The doctor breathed a visible sigh of relief. "All right, yes, that will be fine. We'll let you know the minute we contact him."
The doctor retreated, seeming only too glad to get away from the miniature wrath of the woman on the bed. The hapless nurses were left to deal with her. Amazingly, the magazine was not taken up against them as they attempted to clean her up and get her situated. There was, however, a great deal of yelling and cursing in several different languages.
E was the only woman Xerek knew of who could say "mutton-headed idiots" in Japanese as well as German, French, Spanish, and Italian. Therefore the half-cursed mix of languages from across the hall where he and Samantha sat waiting attracted his attention. With a brief "I'll be right back" he rose to see what the difficulty was. He had suspected the source of the noise, but it was still a surprise to see E, bedraggled and apparently injured, surrounded by nurses.
"E?" he blinked.
"Julian?" she seemed equally surprised if the blank gawk on her face was any indication. It softened into a sort of half-smile but remained confused. "Vhat are you doing here?"
"Is this man a relative?" one of the nurses asked.
"Something like that. Shoo, all of you."
The nurses obligingly shooed.
"What happened to you?" Xerek asked, coming over and taking a seat nearby. E rolled her eyes and made a face.
"Bomb Voyage decided to crash my show. Literally. Fell down that damned flight of stairs at the Hilton," she rubbed her injured leg gingerly. "I would have been fine if one of those stupid King George chandeliers hadn't landed on me once I hit bottom."
Xerek gave a sympathetic wince. "That couldn't have been much fun."
"No," she agreed, "it vasn't."
"What have the doctor's said?"
At this she grew nervous, taking a moment to search for an answer.
"No one can get a hold of Berkley. It's as if they've all suddenly dropped off the face of the planet."
She meant the super doc's. Physicians to the supers, they were supers themselves but lacked the brute strength displayed by their mask-wearing brothers and sisters. Instead they functioned as support crew, providing health care much the way E provided costumes and equipment.
"I'm not surprised, have you seen the headlines?"
She shook her head making her dark bob sway. "No."
He took a deep breath. "There was an accident earlier. My grandson, Buddy...er...Robert, do you remember him?"
She nodded. "Somewhat. Is he all right?"
"Well, that's the difficulty. He absolutely idolizes Mr. Incredible and his mother, my Samantha, had hoped he'd manifest abilities of some sort as he got older... He... I don't know what he was thinking, but he tried to tag along with Mr. Incredible as a side-kick."
E's gawk returned. "Side-kick?! He's what? Ten?"
E covered her face with a hand and muttered something in German.
"Oh good grief. That can't have gone well."
"No, it didn't."
"Is he all right?"
"We're waiting to find out..."
E's eyes grew wide. "What happened?"
"Buddy's still out cold so the details are rather sketchy. From the looks of things, he tried to tag along and accidentally botched an encounter with Bomb Voyage. If I had to guess I'd say Buddy got a hand-held stuck to his cape."
E's eyes widened in horror. "Is...is he all right? Was he hurt?"
"Everything below the knee is entirely gone. He's in surgery now... He...he SHOULD be all right but..." Xerek broke off and rubbed his face with one hand. A light touch drew his eyes upward again as E laid a tiny hand on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry dahling," she said softly, unshed tears shining in her eyes. "At least he's alive."
Xerek nodded, forcing himself to take hold of his emotions once more. "Yes. Yes there is that. He's still alive."
"You still haven't told me why all the doctors have mysteriously vanished?" E prompted, attempting to change the subject in order to keep things from becoming too distressing.
"Yes. Well, that's the other half of the story. Evidently before Buddy interrupted, Mr. Incredible stopped a gentleman from committing suicide."
"You'd think he'd be grateful," she mused.
"One would. However, he isn't. No more than an hour ago he filed a lawsuit against Mr. Incredible. I suppose he needed money for the hospital bills- he was injured during the rescue."
"Yes. But that's not the worst of it. Once he decided to sue Mr. Incredible others decided to follow along. Everyone from the bombed office, your spoiled fashion show, and those involved in the wreck on Main Street have filed suit against Mr. Incredible. More complaints against other supers have been filed as well."
She sat and stared, utterly floored.
He shrugged. "I suppose everyone was tired of the property damage. You must admit, supers are a bit hard on the architecture."
"Yes but still!"
He shook his head. "I don't understand it either. All I know is this: we are in real trouble, E. If anyone finds out about you or I or Samantha... I'm afraid of what will happen. I think that's the reason Berkley and the others are lying low. They're probably afraid of malpractice suits."
She nodded thoughtfully. "Yes. That makes sense. In which case, there's no point in me staying here only to be unmasked and sued out of my livelihood."
Xerek smiled. "I think you have the least to lose out of all of us, E. After all, you haven't a single suit malfunction to blacken your good name."
She snerked at that. "Heh. Even still, I'd rather not give anyone the opportunity to start something, real or imagined. Come, help me up."
Face scrunched against the pain she began to inch towards the edge of the bed.
"Are you mad?" Xerek asked, reaching to stop her. "You can't go home like this! You can't even stand!"
"I don't trust mere mortals to toy with my insides," she retorted. "Once things blow over I'll be sure to get looked at properly."
He eyed her dubiously.
"I'll hold you to that," he warned, reaching and bodily lifting her from the bed and carefully standing her on her feet. She wobbled precariously on one leg, the other still bent and turned in uselessly, unable to even stretch to reach the floor.
"This may be difficult..."
"Why don't I page your chauffer? He can retrieve you without raising too many eyebrows."
She nodded. "Yes, good idea. If you would, please."
Xerek nodded and took a mental step back, alerting Edna's driver.
"Mr. Xerek?" a doctor had stuck his head into the room. "Your grandson's awake."
Xerek turned to E who still stood balancing on her remaining leg.
"Go," she told him, "see to your own family."
"Don't discredit yourself," he told her, scooping her up and following the doctor out. She blushed but made no protest, only hung on, quietly accepting the dual humiliation and favor of being carried.
In the hall Samantha sat crying on one of the many hard, wooden benches. She stopped abruptly and looked up at the sound of her father's heavy step. She blinked several times, goggling slightly at the sight of Edna being borne along in his arms.
"Daddy, Ms. Mode," she said blankly, standing and shaking hands with E.
"It's good to see you dahling," E smiled gently. "I only wish it were under better circumstances."
Samantha nodded dumbly and fell into step with them. The walk to the ICU was long and tense, their footsteps clattering loudly in the sterile, white corridors. To Samantha the ward seemed eerily quiet, to E it hummed and moaned with the stupefied wails of drugged minds, to Xerek it was filled with the white noise of mechanical chatter and sighs from overworked machinery. Buddy's room was near the end of the ward, still full of doctors and nurses. Samantha grabbed her father's arm and pressed her other hand over her mouth. E bit her lip. Xerek had to admit, it was a difficult scene to look at.
Buddy lay on his back, the truncated ends of his legs heavily wrapped and propped straight up in the air by a stack of pillows. His face was thickly bandaged and an entire cage seemed to have been stuffed into his mouth, wires and stretches of rubber protruding from his lips. Xerek remembered Samantha's frantic phone call about the initial test flight of Buddy's rocket boots. He'd been only six then and had crash-landed face-first on the sidewalk. He'd needed a great deal of bridgework then, now it seemed it would all have to be replaced. At least, Xerek thought with dismal optimism, not many of Buddy's adult teeth had come in yet.
"BUDDY!" Samantha shrieked, suddenly releasing Xerek and lunging for her son. "Buddy what were you THINKING?!" she bawled, half glad, half furious. "You could have been KILLED! Haven't I told you a hundred times those things-" E assumed she meant the rocket boots- "were dangerous?!"
Buddy, eyes half closed with pain killer and bruising, blinked blearily at his mother. Tears rose in his bloodied blue eyes as if to say, "I'm sorry, mother".
"Now you'll never walk, or run, or jump, or play or do anything again! You'll be crippled! You'll be stuck in a wheelchair the rest of your life!"
E winced slightly at Samantha's hysterical tirade. Granted half of what she was saying was the result of so much stress and worrying, but the other half... Once a beautiful and alluring super hero herself, Samantha had had to retire due to an injury. Often a partner with Mr. Incredible, Vectress was strong but not to the degree he was. She'd hurt her back and that was the end of her vigilante career. She had not taken it well. Unable to answer the call of Justice, she'd begun trying to live her dreams through Buddy. But Buddy was young and it sometimes took years for super powers to fully manifest. Buddy, so far, had proven to be an exceptionally bright little boy, but that was where the exceptional ended.
"Now you'll...now you'll never..." Samantha's hiccoughed words died off; drowned in renewed tears. She gave no further attempt at speaking, only sat down and blubbered into her handkerchief. E, however, heard the rest of the sentence and cringed. With a start, she realized she wasn't the only one who'd heard those unspoken words. A small, wordless echo shuddered and then vanished. The silent sound was as invisible tears, unheard sobs in Edna's ears. She wondered briefly if Buddy had heard after all what his mother could not bring herself to say in front of him,
Now you'll never be super...