Chapter 83

                Lunch was a longer affair than Owen expected, though not longer than he should have been prepared for, as Hexcellent tried to eat her way through the fair under the guise of team building. By the time she was finally done, a small stack of greasy paper plates had been collected in her hands like trophies; trophies she quickly dumped into a trash can as she hurried to next event. Bubble Bubble, having taken the opportunity to down a funnel cake and corn dog herself, also returned to her booth once she got word the reporters had cleared out.

                Owen, once again with time on his hands, took the chance to actually stroll through the event and check out some of the various attractions. He was getting accustomed to the stares and whispers, so much so that there were times he didn’t even notice them. Instead, he focused on the bevy of booths and tents spread across the landscape, gazing in wonderment at the well-organized attractions meant to wring as much money for the charity as possible.

                Autograph booths were by far the most popular and frequent attractions, spread carefully across the fairgrounds so that the sprawling lines didn’t cause a complete bottle neck. Just as in the morning, the vast majority of these were manned by Supers from various sports teams, mostly younger players that Owen was only cursorily aware of.

                As he walked by an area devoid of people but roped off in preparation for what would be a massive, snaking line, Owen caught sight of a very familiar name emblazoned across the banner stretched above the lone table at the end of the line. The Comet, Jade Norris, was going to be present on the final day for an autograph session. Now retired, she was still a legend in her own right, and Owen found himself flipping through his schedule to see if he had any free time that day. Maybe if he could get here early enough, he could snag the former football star’s autograph. One look at the heavily inked black of activities made it clear that he’d be lucky to squeeze in time to piss; standing in a massive line was way out of the question. Pity, Owen had a feeling that would have been quite the thrill.

                It was after the area blocked off for Jade’s signing that Owen spotted a familiar figure slipping into a white tent with a red cross on it. He contemplated pretending not to have noticed, but then started heading toward it anyway. If someone was hurt, he felt like he should be aware of it. Even if that person was Zone.

                Owen pulled back the medical tent’s flap to reveal a wide space, filled with air-conditioning units and cots. Most were empty, though a couple were hosting people who looked as though they’d had too much sun, fun, or rum and were trying to sleep it off. In the corner, resting a large bag of ice against his left knee, was Zone, who balked as soon as he saw Owen’s massive silhouette appeared in the entrance. Zone didn’t bother trying to run or flee, he merely tried to look as sullen as possible while Owen carefully made his way through the tent.

                “Hurt yourself already? It’s only the first day.” Owen didn’t bother pointing to the ice bag, they both knew why Zone was here.

                “It’s preventative, not that this is any of your business,” Zone snapped. “I have to ice my knees between events so I can make it through everything. Doctor’s orders.”

                “Uh huh. I’m pretty sure the docs didn’t want you doing any of this stuff, not just to keep your knees cold.” Owen crossed his arms deliberately and stared down at the much smaller man. “What’s the deal with this, anyway? Will Mordent really not spring for a healer? I mean, you’ve got a lot of sponsors. It seems like a worthwhile investment.”

                Zone puffed up for a moment, ready to be combative, but as he shifted the bag from his right knee to his left, the wind seemed to drift out of his sails. “They… they’ve healed me before. A few times, actually. The problem is that this isn’t just one injury that can be easily fixed. It’s the culmination of lifetime full of putting constant strain my body. Unlike some people, there’s nothing really special about my physique, just in how I use it. Little injuries keep piling up, and by the time a healer gets out the damage is done.”

                “And total body, retroactive healers are as rare as they are expensive,” Owen said, understanding setting in. Healers, like all Supers, had powers that tended to function differently for each person. They were already a fairly uncommon breed, and the ones who could do more than just accelerate a body’s natural healing were a step above. Getting rid of injuries after they’d already healed on their own… there were probably less than ten known Supers in the world with that kind of power, all of them in high demand. Even if it could book one, Owen doubted Mordent was willing to fork over the cash it would take just to turn back the clock on a single asset.

                “You’ve got it. So I’m stuck icing my knees and powering through, at least for as long as this body of mine is willing to hold out.” Zone shifted the bag once more, clearly his right knee was the one in more need of treatment.

                “I can see that. I supposed asking if you’ve thought about hanging it up before you tear yourself apart would be a waste of my breath,” Owen said.

                “Not all of us get to do this for as long as want,” Zone replied. “Getting a taste of what it’s like to be out there, making a difference, doing things that only we can… for a lot of us it’s fleeting. One day, when these things finally give out on me, I’ll have to settle for some corporate gig, probably for Mordent helping oversee new corpies, but until then I can still work. I’d rather spend the rest of my time doing the job I love than watching from the sidelines. But I guess you probably wouldn’t understand that.”

                There was no right answer Owen could give, not to Zone, so he didn’t bother. Instead, he merely walked across the medical tent, filled up a fresh bag with ice, and brought it over to his teammate. Wordlessly, he took the melting bag away then handed Zone the fresh one. Only when the new bag was in place did Owen speak, and it was with a more subdued tone than Zone had ever heard from the large man’s mouth.

                “You’re not wrong. I’ve got no place to lecture you on how you spend what time you’ve got, not after I pissed away so many of my years. But I’ve seen a lot of good people die because they couldn’t let go when their bodies were no longer capable of doing the job. It’s a damned shame to see that happen. What’s worse, though, is that there are people counting on the ones who die. Innocent civilians who expecting to be protected or saved, but are left in the fire because someone unable to admit time was up took the call, instead of letting it go to a person still capable. Just remember, Zone, that your job doesn’t exist in vacuum. Your team, and the people we go out there to help, all depend on you. When the day comes that your body does finally give out, you might not be the only one who pays for that failure.”

                Before Zone could respond, Owen turned and headed out of the tent. There was no trying to drill the point in, not with someone so stubborn. All he could do was hope the words made their point. Heaven only knew how many people Owen had seen ignore the warning before.

                All he could do was hope that Zone would be smarter.