Chapter 2

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Arx Nubibus buzzed quietly with activity. The sun had set long ago, and the sun lamps were dimmed so that one could barely see the city streets. There was just enough light to navigate, and the reflective strips near the railings glinted red in the night. 

A lone figure stood on one of the bridges, staring down at the ground. There was no crime tonight. The man's gold-coloured mask dimly reflected the light as he stared at his phone. No breaking news. Not a sound to be heard in the night. 

Achilles sighed and sat down, his back leaning against the rails. He craned his neck to see the stars, so high in the narrow streets. The Top was best for stargazing, but most people rarely went there. A hero's place was where people were, where they might be needed at anytime. 

He should have been glad that it was peaceful. Glad that nobody was trying to hurt anyone else. But the night grew heavy and solitude drained his will. 

Wasn't there anyone else like him in this world? This sequestered bubble, both so vast and so small? After all, if one dared look out an edge window for long enough they could see the earth below, enormous swaths of land and water that made the city look like a speck. Maybe there was someone like him outside Arx. 

Achilles laughed at himself as he entertained the thought of leaving Arx and searching for someone else like him. Was there anyone left on the world below? Had any other floating cities been launched into the air to escape the catastrophes? There could be, but there was just as good a chance that there was no one. 

Besides, Arx needed him here. He'd vowed that day, the day he received a miracle, that he would do everything in his power to protect its people. He'd sworn it to the god who granted him the miracle. For a man who was weary of life, that day had been the turning point that gave his life meaning. 

Even if tonight weighed heavily upon him, the fledgling hero would not stray from his path. 

 

Bright music played as pixelated characters danced across the credits screen. Joey breathed out as he stretched his arms and checked the time. 8:00. Later than he'd thought, but he couldn't just put the game down when he was fighting the final boss. And was that boss ever tough! There was a lot of lore that Joey couldn't understand, but the story had kept him hooked from the beginning. 

He'd have to tell Ned he'd managed to beat the game after two months. He had been doing other things too, of course, like rehab and trying to keep his mind active. But since Joey had far more time on his hands than Ned, despite Ned being the one who was far more into games than him, he'd beaten the game before Ned had even gotten to the halfway point. 

Was that something to brag about? Ned was better than him at games, so the answer was a resounding yes. His brother was smarter than him at a lot of other things too. Joey had to be superior at something. 

He shut down the game after declining to start a "New Game+" and headed for the kitchen. Both his parents had been working late recently and Ned was staying with a friend for the weekend, so Joey was on his own for supper. 

The fridge had nothing he thought was interesting in it. Everything was something he'd have to cook, and he just felt like something quick, like a microwavable dinner. There was a 24-hour store about three blocks down and one block over that he could run to. He was hungry, so he grabbed his jacket and wallet. Arx's temperature was mostly regulated to a comfortable level, but it still got cooler in the evenings. 

One trip to the store later, Joey was walking back up the stairs to get home. He could have taken the elevator like most people, but the doctor had advised him to exercise when he could. A bag holding one frozen spaghetti bolognese swung from his hand as he ascended, careful not to push his legs too hard. While recovering well, he didn't want to reinjure himself. 

He heard a scuffle at the top of the stairs and glanced up, wondering what could be happening. As he was processing, a woman ran down and stumbled, landing against the railing. 

"Stop! Return what you stole." A figure Joey couldn't quite make out in the shadows came after her. The woman glared at him and started running again. 

"Move!" she yelled. 

"Stop her!" yelled the other figure, a man from the sounds of it. 

Joey froze. What could he do? What should he do? As he was standing there stupidly, the woman shoved him. A familiar weightlessness engulfed him as he dropped his supper and flailed for a railing. The woman was running past him and for some reason his other arm went to grab her. Instead he grabbed nothing. 

These were not like the stairs at home. They were longer, harder and much more unpleasant to fall down. He hated how he was getting used to this stuff. 

The woman screamed as Joey tumbled, and the man up above yelled in concern. 

Next thing Joey knew he was sitting dazed on the landing he'd just left. If he didn't end up back in the hospital, he'd be lucky. A struggle ensued higher up as he tested his limbs for mobility. Surprisingly, they seemed fine. In fact, he just felt a bit dizzy. 

The guy from before hurried down the stairs with the woman in one arm and Joey's food in the other. In better light, Joey noticed he was wearing a gold mask and a blue cape. Like one of those stupid old-timey capes. 

In fact, this guy looked suspiciously like Achilles. 

"Are you alright? No of course you're not alright. We need to get you to a hospital. Here's your bag, and I'll send help as soon as I can. As for you," he said, pointing to the woman, "I'll be informing the authorities about your actions." He left the bag next to Joey and reached to check his pulse. 

"I'm alive," Joey said, slightly annoyed at the attention. 

"Good. If you were in critical condition, I'd be immensely concerned. Can you tell me your name and birthdate?" 

"Joseph Queen, August 2nd. My house is at the top of those stairs and I'd rather not bother my emergency contacts right now. Can I just get up and go home?" Achilles looked taken aback. Meanwhile, the woman was kicking and screaming over the masked man's shoulder. 

"I..." Achilles looked at Joey, then at the flailing woman. He seemed to debate options, then sighed. "I suppose you can, as long as you're certain you're feeling alright and you promise - promise - to see a doctor at the earliest opportunity." 

"I'll see one tomorrow. I promise." Joey slowly sat up and grabbed his supper. He wasn't lying - he was due for a check-up in the morning. 

"Very well." Achilles helped Joey stand, the latter testing his joints as he went to make sure nothing felt off. He felt fine. 

 

After a slow trek back home, Joey microwaved his supper and went to bed. The next day at his appointment, the doctor said Joey was recovering well, and made no mention of any new injuries. To be fair, Joey hadn't felt any new injuries either. 

He didn't say anything, but it was weird right? He'd fallen down a lot of stairs, and he should probably by all rights have some head trauma. At the very least he should have a bruise or two, but there were none. 

On the way home he stewed about the problem. Achilles the superhero was on his mind too. Never had he thought he'd come face-to-face with the guy. Especially after the bridge incident. Obviously he was trying to do his hero thing and Joey had gotten caught up in it, though it hadn't boded well at all for him. 

Which brought him back to the question: Why in the big blue earth was he fine? A vague memory fizzled in his mind. Something about a Miracle and a purple figure. Then...had that figure given him some sort of power? Was that figure a god? 

He got to the stairs. No one else was around. He wasn't sure why he did it, but Joey leaped up the stairs, curious as to how far he'd go. It was far. By trying to jump as high as he could, he bounded up from one landing halfway up to the next. Way more than he should have been able to. 

Joey went back down to try again. This time he got three-quarters of the way up. 

What was happening? 


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