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Arx Nubibus
Ongoing 1605 Words

Chapter 1

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"So how'd you do on the test?" Hank asked as he walked beside Joey through the residential area. Joey shrugged. 

"Probably about as well as anyone. I just hope I pass." 

"Man, I am not jealous of you. All that brain stuff goes over my head." 

"Psychology is not that bad, Hank." Joey laughed and gave his friend a punch on the shoulder. 

"Have they told you about that one super old dude from before Arx that thought dreams led back to a...what was it called? Some kind of complex where you wanna marry your mom or something." 

"Oedipus complex? And yes I have heard of Freud. Also there was more to his theories than just that, even if a lot of them dealt with repressed sexual desires. The old world had some strange ideas." Joey shook his head. The old world - the surface world people lived on prior to Arx Nubibus - had boasted some impressive technological accomplishments, but some things were totally off the mark.

He'd learned about some weird stuff in his university psychology classes. Like how mental illness used to be thought of as a form of demon possession. Or, apparently in the ancient world some people thought that the distribution of bodily fluids determined one's personality. Something about blood and bile. That had been a while ago, so Joey couldn't quite remember it perfectly. 

"I have a stupid math exam tomorrow," Hank complained. "I don't want to know about integrals. What do I look like to you?" 

"Not a math person," Joey replied with a laugh. 

They were walking across one of the residential bridges. Hank's place was just on the other side and Joey's was about a block farther and up a flight of stairs. The artificial sun lights were on at this time of day, even though the real sunlight still came filtering down between the buildings. The bridge they were on was fairly quiet, and below they could hear kids getting out of school. Most of them would walk home from there, some accompanied by parents and some not. 

Then there was something off. Joey and Hank stopped in their tracks. Three people stood around them. Of course, these people had been walking with them for a bit, which they hadn't thought anything of. Plenty of people used the roads. But one of these people held a raygun pointed at the two of them. One of the other two spoke up. 

"Hand over your cash and we'll let you go." 

Crap. Joey didn't have much cash, but he knew Hank kept a decent chunk on his person. 

What do I do here? 

Joey slowly reached for his wallet, but Hank stood his ground. 

"Why should we? Gimme one reason we don't call the military on you." 

"I'd say a raygun is a pretty good reason," Joey said, carefully keeping his voice level. 

"Calling the military," Hank said, grabbing his phone. One of the guys without the raygun leaped at him, trying to wrest the device from Hank's hand. 

Joey couldn't just leave the guy to himself. He moved between them, pushing their assailant away and trying to calm Hank down before they both got shot. The other guy was getting in on it too. Joey didn't know what was happening anymore. Everything was a blur. Someone shoved him and his back hit against the railing. The raygun was still pointed at them. 

Then as Hank tried to keep his phone from them, one pushed Joey a little too hard on the shoulders in an attempt to reach it, which Hank was now holding over empty air. Joey tried to stabilize himself by grabbing the railing, but everything was happening too fast. He felt his body tip, and then he was in freefall. 

"Joey!" He heard Hank yell as he flew down past the various buildings in the business district. Five full stories of it. 

Crap. Is this how I die? Joey found himself thinking before he felt his shoulder hit the ground. 

 

The next time Joey opened his eyes, harsh hospital lights met him, making his eyes hurt and everything blurry and smeared. He was connected to a breathing apparatus, and he couldn't move. He looked around at the bland room and tried to move his fingers at least. They moved, but his arms were locked in place. Toes? Slight twitch, legs also immobile. But it wasn't for lack of ability. As his eyes flickered over himself, Joey realized he was in a lot of casts. 

Well, I probably broke almost every bone in my body, he thought drowsily. His eyes slowly drifted closed again. 

 

Someone was standing in front of him. He couldn't see their face or make out any physical characteristics, but there was a figure there, glowing with a soft purple aura. Joey tried to look around, but his vision seemed to be fixed. The figure opened its mouth and spoke. 

"How tragic. You try to help your friend, and end up crippled because of it. Poor young man. Don't worry. This will never happen to you again. I'll grant you...a Miracle." The voice faded to a whisper. 

His vision faded and something seemed to settle in his bones. 

 

Three months later, Joey was sitting at home playing on his brother's gaming PC. Ned had recently been gushing about some new game by Bluebird and Joey was trying it out. Since he'd shattered a good chunk of the bones in his body during the fall, he'd gotten an exemption to withdraw from university for the year. He'd start again when the new school year began, but for now he was focusing on recovering. Lying in a bed for two months was not good for his muscle mass, and rehab was taking a while. 

The game was fairly simple as far as modern titles went. Well, at least it looked that way at first. The graphics had more points than most, and were reminiscent of those really old games where everything was a triangle, even the people. Despite the graphical shortcomings, Bluebird's games were pretty well-loved by a lot of people. This one was about an adventure on the surface world before Arx rose into the air, in a country called Peru. 

The world already seemed fairly impressive. The map was huge, and from what Ned had said every inch of it was stuffed with detail, from complex NPC interactions to a city library full of books you could actually read. They weren't long books, but the amount of writing was impressive. And apparently the physics engine was top-class. Mostly stuff that went over Joey's head, but what else was he going to do with his time off? 

His phone beeped and he paused the game. Another news article on "Achilles" the hero. About two months before Joey's accident, Achilles had showed up and started fighting crime in a disguise like those super hero comics. They'd apparently been quite popular in the old world, but nowadays they were falling out of fashion. Joey wasn't sure if Achilles was a publicity stunt to reboot the popularity of superhero stories, a nutcase who wanted fame without the drawbacks or an actual legit hero. 

Apparently Achilles had a power that meant no weapon could harm him, much like some old hero in a poem or something. He'd mentioned it in an interview, but the reference was lost on Joey. Apparently Achilles had once again saved the day when some jerks tried to rob an antique store. 

Why couldn't Achilles have shown up before I got shoved off a bridge? Joey thought absentmindedly. Some luck he had. Last year he'd had better grades than most of his classmates, and now he was going to be behind a year. 

Joey closed the article and started the game again. His polygonal character was climbing up some vines. He couldn't help thinking that if the graphics were anywhere near decent the game would be gorgeous to see. Ned said it couldn't be helped since Bluebird was a single person making massive games, but that didn't change what a shame it was. 

His phone dinged again and Joey paused the game to check it. A text from his mom. 

plz start supper. meat ready to go.

Joey quit the game and hoisted himself on his shaky legs. The kitchen was just downstairs, and he carefully picked his way along the railing. Or he would have, if his left leg hadn't decided to just give out on him. 

Crap! 

It was all Joey could comprehend as he tumbled down the stairs and hit his head on the hard floor. He winced. Everything hurt, but at least he could still move. He checked each limb for injuries as he moved to stand up, and everything was working. At least it didn't hurt as much as he thought it would. Maybe falling five stories made a tumble down the stairs feel like a walk in the park. 

He headed for the fridge and pulled out the meat and a pan to cook it in. 

 

His parents and Ned were home soon after for supper, and after listening to Ned gush for a while about his new game, they watched their mom's favorite TV drama. Around nine, Joey made it to bed. By then, he'd almost completely about falling down the stairs earlier. 

The next morning he remembered again, but didn't feel any different. Nothing hurt any more than it had before, and there weren't even any new bruises. It seemed weird, but for now Joey decided to just be happy that he wasn't more injured. 


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