Emerald Legion, Chapter four.
“Presenting, Kid Cosmos!” – wherein one of our Champions reveals the how’s and why’s of his journey to Earth.
Rokk shuffled uneasily, waiting for the Queen to finish her meeting with the Orandan ambassador.
After a seemingly endless round of particularly insincere, ‘Oh no, it’s *my* honor, majesty,’ they finally left and Sarya’s smile remained frozen on her face until the last of them had bowed and curtsied their way out of the room, at which point she flung her barely-touched goblet of Orandan dream-wine behind her. “Even your choice of beverages is both sweet and bland. Good riddance.”
Rubbing her temples, she noticed her Champion standing patiently and motioned him forward.
“Do you require something Champion Krinn?” she asked perfunctorily.
“If this is a bad time, majesty…”
“Do not waste my time with sycophantry. This world has far too many diplomats already. Always speak your mind to me without fear.” the Queen gestured impatiently.
“I was just curious, about the Champion’s Garb you selected. It’s Braalian mag-steel, but it takes months to energize the structures once they are assembled, and I can’t imagine that you had this lying around just in case you ran into a potential Braalian Champion…”
“Certainly not.” She admitted. “One of my agents found it for sale. The magnetized discs were crafted for the Braalian Export Commisioner to wear to his wedding.”
“The one that didn’t happen, because his intended eloped with their best man?”
“Correct,” the Queen smiled. “Apparently he had no interest in having such an unhappy reminder hanging around and ordered it disposed of. His aide decided that ‘disposed of’ meant ‘sold for a tidy profit.’”
“But it’s perfectly calibrated to my preferred resonance, which is pretty rare…”
“Unique, actually, but quite available to anyone who bothers to look up the vital statistics of reknowned magno-ball celebrity, ‘Kid Cosmos,’ three time planetary champion at the Braalian annuals. You do still have a few fansites active, you know…”
Wincing, Rokk attempted to lead away from this line of questioning, “So you just ordered it re-calibrated?”
“Correct. It may take months to charge the matrices, but it takes mere hours to re-calibrate them to your unique specifications.” The Queen steepled her fingers and leaned back. “Now, perhaps you can satisfy my curiosity. Tell me of ‘Kid Cosmos,’ his rise and fall. Tell me of this ‘ferrous hydraxaline.’”
Face darkening, Rokk’s posture stiffened, but he answered, eyes fixed on the enormous dinosaur directly behind the Queen, as if unwilling to meet her eyes.
“I was three-time champion, top of the rankings, with thousands of fanatical fans who followed me around like I was some sort of god. People paid more attention to my comings and goings than the President of the Mining Consortium. But there’s always someone waiting for you to fall, so they can be number one, and some of them aren’t willing to wait. After three years, one of my rivals decided to slip ferrous hydraxaline into my food. They had people *living in my house,* pretending to be my loyal fans, scrubbing my back, bringing me breakfast in bed, and, oh yes, *poisoning* me.” Rokk’s fists had unconsciously clenched and his arms shook with anger, he took a steadying breath before continuing,
“Small doses of Faith boost a Braalian’s magnetic intensity, although it makes fine control more difficult.”
Sarya raised a finger to interrupt the narrative, and Rokk looked stunned momentarily, as if he’d forgotten he had an audience, “Excuse me, ‘Faith?’”
“It’s the street-name for ferrous hydraxaline. They first discovered it as a clear liquid seeping out of a crystalline formation in an underground temple, and the visitors to the shrine would dab the liquid in their eyes, which would allow them to see metal veins in the walls. They called it ‘faith.’ It was never particularly safe, and sometimes people would go blind if they used it too much. Over the years, they refined it to be a thousand times more potent, and a thousand times worse for you…”
“Occasionally, some loser will use Faith to boost his power, to try and compete out of his league, but generally the lack of control gets them in more trouble than the power-boost is worth, and there is inevitably long-term nerve damage as crystalline structures start forming in the nerves and tearing apart the cells.”
“They fed me enough of the stuff to kill a half-dozen people. Turns out the flunkies they had dosing me up overdid it in their drive to impress their boss. I had mood swings, which the press loved. Every week there was some new report of me flipping out and threatening someone, and it was only a matter of time before the power-surges became too intense for me to control, and things just started falling apart around me. My body was so full of Faith by this point that they didn’t even need to drug-test me, the doctor could feel the contamination when they brought him into my cell. It took a dozen people to shut me down, my powers were so out of control, and so artificially boosted, and I was ranting and raving about plots and conspiracies and jealousy.”
“Ironically, I was right about that. There *was* a plot. But it didn’t matter, my entire nervous system was so degraded by that time that their attempts to remove the drug from my system was just as dangerous. The drug had *replaced* my nervous system, and if they removed it, I’d be paralyzed. It didn’t matter that it was obvious that I hadn’t willingly attempted to overdose and kill myself, I would never compete again, and my title was stripped. I spent the next six months in and out of hospitals, living in my parents’ house while they tried to deal with my imbalances. My mind, my body, my powers, all of them were going haywire, and I was a constant danger to everyone around me. I’d be so angry that they had to slide food under the door, or even call in security to restrain me, and then I’d be so depressed that my brother would skip work-shifts and classes to sit by my bed because they were afraid to leave me alone.”
“Finally, I gained enough control that I could get up and walk around under my own power, but the doctors were baffled. My nerves were gone, rotted away, but still I was moving, and the veins of crystallized ferrous hydraxaline served somehow as magnetic conduits. I wasn’t ‘walking,’ so much as jerking myself around by sheer magnetic manipulation. Lots of therapy later, I was able to walk, and talk, and feed myself, and spent a lot of time apologizing to my family…”
The queen looked puzzled, “If everything was starting to finally come together, why did you choose that time to leave Braal?”
“Lots of reasons. I *hated* Braal. One minute, I’m the most popular guy on the planet, the next, I’m some cheating druggie pariah, and the people who used to wait for hours to shake my hand are now defacing my statue outside the coliseum and spitting at my brother when they saw him on the street. My people are hyper-competitive, and the only thing that gets the crowd howling more than a hero, is to see a hero fall…”
“But it was my all about my brother, really. Pol worshipped me, and he never gave up on me. He was never as good at anything, and he just got used to that. Anything he did, I’d done two years before, and yet he seemed fine with that. When I fell, he was so angry, but he never believed for a second that I had cheated, and he stood by me. But when the doctors came back with their reports of ‘miracles’ and being able to walk again and being more powerful than ever before, I failed to realize what this would mean to him. He saw it as his chance to be like me, and he started taking Faith.”
The Queen looked alarmed, “Did it harm him, as it did you?”
“We caught him in time. There wasn’t much nerve damage, and they managed to repair it all, but I couldn’t let him keep thinking that I was some sort of role-model, so I faked a massive relapse, and convinced the doctors to spread the word that my systems were failing again, and that I’d be paralyzed for life, my powers burnt-out and uncontrollable. We agreed that it was for the best that nobody on Braal think that the fluke that had happened with me meant that they should dose themselves with that poison on the one in a billion chance that it didn’t cripple them, or worse.”
“So I left for Earth, for some ‘experimental treatment’ that might allow me to live a ‘normal life,’ and I’d planned on keeping a low-profile until I could fake some sort of exo-skeletal suit.”
Rokk lifted his arms and smiled, “And now, I’ve got this suit, and I’ve told Pol that I’m still paralyzed, but this special suit lets me walk around like a normal person… As far as anyone on Braal knows, I’m a cripple, only able to move my limbs through the use of special machines.”
“I was a hero on Braal, celebrated for my athleticism and mastery of my powers. Now I’m a cautionary tale. Parents warn their kids not to be like me and waste their lives.”
The Queen settled back into her seat, having been unconsciously leaning forward, “Thank you for sharing this part of yourself, Champion Krinn. Your words are reassuring to me.”
“Reassuring? I don’t understand…”
“If I had ever had any doubts about my choice, which, I must stress, I have not, you would have reassured me that I was correct in my choice. You are indeed a Champion.”