Authors: Norman Christof
Zero to Hero
“Let’s go, Colonel, it’s time for you to take a walk,” Matt announced cheerfully as he burst into Chaz’s room.
“Well it’s about damn time,” Chaz replied. “I was beginning to think you were totally incapable of letting me out of this place. What kind of physio takes almost a week to get me moving around?”
“I’m not a miracle worker, Colonel, that’s all up to you. It wasn’t my idea to get you walking already. I’d much rather wait another week and make sure you’re strong enough for this. But, orders are orders.”
“I guess someone has big plans for me,” Chaz replied with a grin.
“I wouldn’t know anything about that, Colonel. I just know I was told to get you up and moving around on your own within seventy-two hours. No small feat. So, I’ve arranged a little incentive for you.”
“Let me guess. You’ve got a troop of hookers waiting down at the end of the hall to see if all my parts are still working.”
“Sorry, Colonel, that’s not quite what I had in mind. But don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be motivated by what I’ve got. I’ve brought this walker assist to get you started.”
“Jesus boy, I’m not ready for the old folks’ home quite yet. I’m not using that friggin’ thing.”
“Look, Colonel, believe me when I say it’s in my best interest to get you moving just as quickly as I can. That doesn’t mean I want to have you falling on your ass and breaking bones that don’t have enough muscle to support them. I’ve got bosses to answer to that won’t be pleased if I break you.”
Chaz tilted his head and said, “I should know what I’m capable of by now, don’t you think?”
“What I think, sir, is you don’t know how to take things easy. I think if I let you you’d likely try and sprint for the door. I need you to promise me we’re going to do things my way. At least today, let’s take it slow. If you do OK, we’ll push it a bit more.”
“Fine, we’ll start it your way. For now.” Chaz smiled back.
Once Matt had Chaz standing securely with the walker beside his bed, he went and opened the door.
“Alright, Colonel, let’s go nice and slow and see if you can make it to the door on your own. There’s no rush. Make sure the walker is balanced and just a few inches in front of you before you move your feet.”
Chaz edged the walker forward, then shuffled his feet close to the walker.
“That’s great, Colonel. Now try it again. Just a few inches at a time. Don’t overtax yourself, and let your arms get used to supporting you.”
Chaz continued inching the walker forward, shuffling his feet to catch up. Within a few minutes, he was almost at the door. His arms were starting to shake, and sweat was forming on his forehead.
Matt started closing the door and said, “Nice job there, Colonel. I think that’s maybe enough for now; let’s head back to your bed. I’ll save the surprise for another day.”
“The hell it is, boy! You had that door open, and I damn well intend to take this rig outside. Open that door.” Matt stood there and started to speak, but Chaz interrupted. “You open that door or I’ll send myself and this walker crashing to the floor and break as many bones as I can. Try explaining that to your bosses.”
“Colonel, you’re shaking and already straining yourself. If we go too far you won’t be able to get back.”
“Boy, this isn’t sweat. I’m barely getting warmed up. Believe me, you have no idea what I’m capable of. I’ve been in worse shape than this and managed to evade a hundred freaks with nothing but a butter knife in my pocket.”
Matt smiled and said, “That’s a lie.”
“The hell it is. What you didn’t know is that it was one of those plastic butter knives. The ones that break when you try to butter a damn roll. I’ll tell you the whole story another day. Right now, what I want you to do is open that door before I do something really stupid.”
Matt reluctantly opened the door and waved the colonel through. Chaz continued shuffling along, and just to prove his point he picked up the pace and moved the walker almost a foot ahead of him each time.
“Easy there, Colonel.”
Chaz continued as quickly as he could, moving down the hall. There was no slowing his pace. The hall was long enough and there were plenty of chairs placed along the way where he could have stopped and rested, but Chaz insisted on moving along. Matt just kept shaking his head and hovering as close as Chaz would allow. Chaz didn’t stop till he got to the end of the hall, where a janitor was sweeping. He was visibly out of breath, and both his arms and legs were shaking. When Matt motioned to the chair, Chaz shook his head and said, “No, I can make it back. Just get out of my way and let me go.”
“Actually, Colonel, I think you may just want to have a seat.” He motioned to the janitor coming towards them. Chaz looked a little closer.
“I know him. He’s different. He’s aged. What happened to him?”
“Have a seat, Colonel. You should let him tell his story.” Matt turned to the janitor. “Alex. Come over here. There’s someone you should say hi to.” Matt moved across the hall to give them some privacy.
Alex set down his broom, and moved quickly to take a seat next to the colonel. “Well, what do you know? The old bastard’s actually awake. I never thought I’d ever see you out of that bed. What the hell took you so long? Things really haven’t been the same around here without you. I mean of course you’ve been here, you just haven’t been very participative.”
Chaz wiped the sweat off his brow and managed a smile. “It hasn’t really been that long for me, kid. It only seems like yesterday. For all I know, it was yesterday, and these bastards,” Chaz motioned to Matt, “have been lying to me the last few days. I don’t really know what to think these days. Sometimes I think my mind is playing tricks on me. Been having strange dreams, and not sleeping very well. Guess I did enough of that over the last few years.”
“Yeah, things didn’t turn out so great for me either. After what happened with Christa, people around here weren’t that happy with me.”
Chaz shook his head. “They never liked us much here to start with. All they were really interested in was Christa.”
Alex grimaced. “That’s not entirely true. I kind of wish it was. They took a pretty keen interest in me after they hauled us back in here. Or at least after I woke they did. They were downright pissed about losing Christa.”
“You were around for all that? I thought you were in a coma as well.”
“Oh I was, but not for very long. Less than a week actually. They really couldn’t explain why I woke and you didn’t. Everybody’s different I guess. I wish you had woken first. You could have handled things better. I didn’t do so well.”
“What do you mean? Not so well?”
“Well, they were pretty upset, right, and I was the only one around of the three of us. Christa disappeared to who knows where. That was a major loss around here. Sure, they wanted her out eventually, but they wanted to control that. They wanted her out there on their terms, spreading the mutation. Then, when they were ready, they were going to pull her back and do things with her. I don’t know what, but it wouldn’t have been good for her.”
“Yeah, I may have some idea as to what they had in mind.”
“What do you mean? You knew this?”
Chaz looked to Matt across the hall and said quietly, “Not really. I saw some things before we got out. I was going to tell you about it all, but not till we were out of there.”
“Things like what?”
“Not here, I don’t want to say here. I don’t know who’s listening. Some other time. So what happened after you woke?”
Alex hesitated. “It’s not easy to talk about.” He glanced at Chaz, then stared at his feet. “It got really ugly for me. The general needed a scapegoat, and I was the only one that fit the bill. He tried court-martialing me at first, but somehow my military records got lost, and no one actually believed I was in the service. Can you believe that? After everything we did to try and save everyone, they said I wasn’t even in the service. How many times did I nearly die trying to protect this country?”
“I’m so sorry, kid, you shouldn’t have had to go through that alone.”
“It got worse. They dragged me through the public courts. Everyone knew. All my family and my friends heard about it. I was international news. They said I’d be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people because of what we did. They really just did it for the publicity in the media. They wanted everyone on the lookout for Christa, and my trial made headlines everywhere. They never did find her though. Blaming me for all of it was easier then blaming one of their own. I think that’s how my military records got mysteriously lost. Pretty convenient for them. The general in particular. He really covered his ass pretty good.”
“Sons of bitches.” Chaz shook his head. “They’re pulling the same shit on me now. They want me to do some mission for them but won’t say what it is. They threatened me with the same court-martial, and my family as well.”
“Your family? Why? They had nothing to do with any of this.”
“They left the country before we met, remember?”
“So? Everyone in their right mind that could did the same thing. Why would anyone want to live in a place full of freaks trying to eat you every day?”
“Yeah, well, not everyone gets caught, and of those that do, how many are related to ex war heroes that desert the military and blatantly disregard orders? The shitty thing is, I obviously still have something they want. That’s why they’ve got me going on this mission. Wish I knew what it was.”
“I’m sure you’ll find out eventually, whether you want to or not.”
Matt stepped back closer to interrupt. “I’m sorry guys, but I need to get you back, Chaz. There are some here that wouldn’t approve of you two talking, and I wouldn’t want any of my bosses thinking I stressed you out on your first day out of bed.”
Chaz looked up at Matt. “Yeah, sure. I think I may need a little help getting back though. I seemed to have strained myself on the way here.”
Matt shook his head. “No one ever listens to me. There’s a fold-down seat and pop-out wheels on the walker. I can wheel you back to your room. You’re not the first guy to overdo it on his first day, and I came prepared.”
Chaz looked back to Alex. “We’ll talk some more. I’d like to catch up on the last few years. It’d be nice to have someone I trust to fill in the gaps. No offense intended, Matt. I appreciate what you did here today.”
Alex looked down at his feet and half mumbled, “Yeah, we can do that. You may not like what you hear. It’s not exactly a happy story … not the best years of my life.”
Chaz and Matt headed down the hall as Alex went back to work. Once they were out of earshot, Matt spoke up.
“I wouldn’t push him for too much information right away. I was his physio when he came out, so I got to know him before the authorities went after him. He’s had a pretty tough go of it. Depression, alcohol, drugs. He went about as low as a man could go. He was all alone in the fight, and the odds were stacked against him. He did some prison time, but eventually they let him out on compassionate grounds.”
Chaz looked back over his shoulder. “Compassionate grounds for what?”
“He doesn’t like talking about it, but his old man couldn’t handle the pressure of the trial and the conviction very well. I think he was a bit of a drinker too. Within a year of Alex being in prison, his dad committed suicide. Hanged himself. Couldn’t take the embarrassment of his son being the guy that ruined our best chance for survival.”
“Shit. No wonder he looks so much older. Poor kid. I should have been there. I should have taken the fall for all this.”
“He doesn’t like to talk about it. He blames himself, I think, for the whole thing. It’s been a couple of years since it happened. I’m pretty sure the general arranged for him to be back here. He wanted to make sure he could keep a close eye on him and keep him under wraps. He wouldn’t want the entire truth coming out.”
“Why are you telling me all this? You’re taking a bit of a risk here yourself.”
“It’s my job to help people; it’s always been my calling. These days, working around here, that’s not an easy thing to do much of the time. Some of the people in charge around here are real pricks. If there’s anything I can do to make someone’s life better, I’ll do it. Life’s too short not to do what you can.”
“You’re a good guy, Matt. Alex is too, and there’s no damn reason for him to be pushing a broom around. He put his life on the line to save people and to protect Christa. He needs to get his life back. He needs a chance to prove himself. To prove to himself who he really is. I think I may know just the way to do that.”
“Wow, look at you. One walk down the hall and you’re ready to take on the world.”
“Damn straight I am, and I have a feeling this mission they want me for may be just what I need. Like I ever had a choice in the matter. If I’m going to do it, that kid’s coming with me. He’s a hero, Matt, not a janitor. He’s just forgotten it, and I’m the guy that’s going to help him remember it.”