Bonds of Steel

Procyon was proud of his parents: a couple of hard-working Psichelite miners, the backbone of the pitiable Roccasirio economy. Most of the population worked in the mines, but Procyon – in all the wisdom of a 10 years old – was sure his parents were the best of the best.

Despite this, his peers were much more interested in Psichelite than he was. They were cool, alright, flashy and undoubtedly useful, and the Vallendeuse and Himmelian troops were very careful not to get too close to their precious resources while trying to kill each other. Psichelite were Roccasirians’ life insurance. Procyon couldn’t deny all that, but he felt complete reliance on Psichelite was dumb and boring.

That day he went out of town when the adults were busy working, sneaking behind the town guards as he distracted them with one of his contraptions: a Psichelite-free fire cracker. It took him a lot of tries and reading to get it right, but he found the process incredibly fun. So fun that he wasn’t even that upset when, after just a few minutes out in the snowy trails, a large hand grabbed him by the collar.

“Oh, come on, Procyon! Again?”

The woman who ruined his grandiose escapade was Murid Rodens, the town’s doctor. Procyon liked her: she was kind to the kids, and gentle when he had take shots. She also had so many books Procyon loved to borrow, and Murid happily lent them.

So, while for Murid it was a good old scolding at her place, for Procyon it was just an evening with Dr. Rodens.

“How many times do I have to tell you? It’s dangerous out there. What if a monster attacks you?” She admonished him, including ‘humans’ under the ‘monster’ definition.

“Relax, doc!” He took out a small wooden device from the breast pocket of his jacket, “I got this for self-defence!”

Procyon handed it over to Murid, who examined it carefully. It had the shape of a toy gun, but the mechanism inside seemed complex enough. The boy sure was smart, but his sense of self-preservation compensated greatly.

“You know how adults throw away old, ugly Psichelite, right?”

She nodded. She didn’t condone the act, but in such a rich mining town it was way too common: they had plenty of better Psichelite both for jewellery and for common use, so the lesser ones were just trash kids hoarded and played with.

“The others just throw them around and try to use them as is, but that’s a waste, isn’t it? So I thought, what if you use them as projectiles?”

“The energy they release is directly correlated to their kinetic energy, yes.” Murid couldn’t help but agree.

“Yeah! Castor is the strongest of us, so when he throws a Bolt Psichelite it goes KA-BLAAAM! And he’s the only one who can!”

Murid was torn between worry and admiration for the kid’s observation skills.

“That’s what made me want to try it out!” He continued excitedly, “A gun is much stronger than Castor, after all! But it’s no good to try that in town, so I wanted to see if I could hit something out there!”

Now, that was worrying for sure.

“Hit something like what?”

“Hmmm, a monster? A soldier, maybe! So I’ll scare them away, and all the adults will be able to work less, and I’ll get to hang out with Mom and Dad!”

Murid grabbed him by the shoulders, startling the boy.

“There is no weapon you can build that could single-handedly get rid of Himmelians or Vallendeuses. There is no weapon ANYONE can build capable of that.”

He pouted.

“Well, for now!”

“Listen,” She took a deep breath before continuing “your job is to stay safe inside here. The war will end on its own. Your gun is impressive, I admit, but you shouldn’t build weapons. Why not use your brain for good, instead?”

“But this IS for good…” He muttered dejectedly.

Murid let go of him, scratching her forehead in thought.

“How about you become my apprentice, then?”

“But I don’t care about medicine.”

“Not even about this?”

She stood up to rummage through a cabinet nearby, pulling out what Procyon thought was some sort of automatic screwdriver. He opened his mouth in awe.

“What’s that?!”

“I use it in surgery. It cuts through bones.”

“No waaaaay! How does it work? Is it dangerous? Is it Psichelite-powered?”

Murid laughed, then replied: “This and much more awaits you if you become my first and only apprentice!”

She finally got his attention, she happily thought to herself.

“This needs a small Psichelite to work, but I have a few prototypes which don’t. They’re still not as safe, though…”

Procyon’s eyes were glittering with curiosity and admiration.

“Let’s start right away! I’ll be your apprentice! Can I open that thing? I want to see how it’s inside! Oh, and could I take a look at the proto-pies, too? Just a peek!”

Murid was so proud of herself: he was definitely safe, now.

But Procyon, as all kids his age, was impatient. Murid had no time to indulge in his antics – not as much as he would’ve liked, at least – so off he went to the mountain trail just behind the town. Murid was busy, as all adults were, and no one was there to stop him. No hand was there to grab him when the snow caved in under his weight, making him fall down a crevasse.

He lost his senses and woke up who knows when – it wasn’t dark yet, at least – but he had lost a shoe in the fall. Now his right foot was trapped under a mountain of snow he was too weak to lift, a wet sock as its only protection.

It was cold, but Procyon felt he could endure it. He refused to think he was in any real danger, at least for a while. He called for help, but stopped when he heard the mountain emit a distant roar: Mom and Dad had warned him about avalanches, and he didn’t want to make the situation worse.

Then came the hunger. He thought he’d be gone for half an hour at most, so he didn’t bring anything with him. He tried to shoot a bird with his toy gun, thinking he could eat it in an emergency, but he felt strangely relieved when his only shot missed.

And last came the loneliness, together with the darkness. He thought of Mom and Dad, who must’ve been worried sick. He thought of Dr. Rodens, whose scolding now would’ve been more than welcome. Heavens, he was ready to not leave Roccasirio for the next 12 years, if this meant he’d get back home.

He pondered if sleeping the pain off was a good idea, but he was starting to get colder, and that was another big no from his parents. He kept calling for help, softly, quietly, as if to avoid alerting a mountain spirit that was out to finish him off.

Now he was really scared.

“Mom… Dad…”

He heard a noise different from the others.

“Procyon, are you there?!?”

His father’s voice. Procyon cried in joy.

He woke up in a bed in Dr. Rodens’s clinic, his parents by his side. His mother immediately hugged him, while his father held his hand. Procyon finally felt warm.

Dr. Rodens was there too, standing next to his bed. She left the family a few minutes to celebrate their reunion, then sat down to talk directly to Procyon.

“I’m so sorry, Dr. Rodens. I’ve been so stupid. I’ll never do it again!” he blurted out before Murid could say anything. She shook her head.

“This is not what I… what we need to talk about, Procyon. Of course, I’m happy you’ll be more careful…”

Procyon felt a shiver down his spine, then instinctively pulled back the sheets covering his small body. He screamed as he noticed his right foot was missing.

“We had to cut it off. I’m sorry.”

Now both his parents hugged him, and that calmed him down slightly. He hoped it was a prank, after all he could still feel it! There was no way they really cut it off. No way!

“Listen to Dr. Rodens, now, honey.” said his mother. He still couldn’t believe it, but he chose to believe his mom.

Murid took off her coat and her right glove, showing Procyon how metal and screws had replaced her hand and forearm. The boy couldn’t stop staring at it.

“I’ve had a couple of surgeries in my lifetime. This was the most unpleasant,” She proceeded to move her mechanical fingers, one by one, as to show him what she could do “but I wouldn’t change what I gained in the slightest. We could make you a foot like this, and you’d have no trouble walking again. Just a few check ups now and then. What do you think?”

Procyon was feeling a number of emotions at once he didn’t know how to handle. Grief. Fear. Relief. But one in particular over all the others prompted his reply.

“So cool…!”