You could tell it was a private room. There were no rows of hospital beds crowded in together and a faint whiff of disinfectant was the worse scent that could be detected. The large, spacious area was well-lit by a window with a view of the newly instated healing garden. The windowsill was densely populated with get well cards and copious bouquets and the one and only bed was occupied by a painfully thin black man, who barely caused a dent under the sterile, white covers.

Kerry, a fit Asian man in a suit with a robotic hand, registered with mounting concern just how terrible his godfather looked as he fielded off yet another inquiry on his phone.

‘I told you before, Frank’s not available to look after that right now. You’ll have to take care of it yourself. I’m sorry.’ He ended the call with an exasperated sigh.

‘Was that Boo Hall again?’

‘Yes. Again. He said he’s having trouble with Manny Mako and some Supers on the island.’

Worry creased Frank’s features. ‘I need to get out of here. Get back to work.’

‘You’ve done more than enough, Dad. They have to learn to function without you.’

‘Have you heard from your brother or Patricia?’

‘Patricia’s in California. She and Susan are putting the new EASC recruits through the wringer. Nothing from Frank.’

‘She never lets up making sure they stay ready, that girl.’ Frank smiled fondly, imagining his daughter, the badass. Then disappointment clouded his features somewhat. ‘That’s a pity. It’s such a long time since I’ve seen him in person.’

Kerry gave Frank what he hoped was a reassuring smile. He was saved from further efforts by a knock on the door. A middle-aged Hispanic looking man donning a white coat entered the room.

‘Nice to meet you, Mr. James. I’m Dr. Ramirez, although some people call me El Curandero. How are you feeling today?’

‘Terrible. I need to get the hell out of this hospital so I can get back to work.’

‘Well, that might be a problem. I’m afraid it’s not entirely good news.’

‘What’s wrong with me, Doctor?’

El Curandero pulled a couple of x rays out of the folder he was carrying.  He held them up to the light.

‘I have to be honest with you, Mr. James. Based on these x-rays and on the report of the consultant who examined you a couple of days ago, I have to agree with him. It’s quite frankly astonishing that you’re still alive.’ 

Frank’s facial expression grew increasingly grim as the doctor continued:

‘You have multiple organ failure. Your kidneys and your liver are severely damaged and your lungs are in shreds. It’s as if you got run over by a car from the inside.’

‘Well, what happened was …’ Frank trailed off.

‘Dad, you don’t have to lie to this man. He’s here to help you.’ Said Kerry.

‘Okay, it’s like this. Two days ago, I was on my latest covert mission. You know about …?’

Doctor Ramirez nodded his head solemnly.

‘I was asked to break into Mako industries, and check out that they were legit, but it turned out to be a setup. I managed to get away – just. But then when I took my suit off, I passed out. That’s never happened to me before and I’ve had a lifetime of battles.’ He looked to Kerry for confirmation and the other man nodded. ‘We’ve been through a lot together.’ Frank continued, smiling sadly as he looked at his godson. ‘You’ve got a robotic arm and foot to show for it and I’m left with these mangled organs. Between energy blasts and all that physical combat, I guess it’s no surprise it’s caught up with me. Live by the sword, die by the sword, isn’t that what they say?’

‘You’re not going to die!’ Kerry gripped his godfather’s hand fiercely.

El Curandero regarded the two men. ‘I’m afraid Frank is right, Kerry. He’s taken too much damage. Even with my healing abilities, his body has endured more than the human body is designed to handle. Normally I could use my powers, but his other organs aren’t strong enough to withstand the process. It would kill him. I believe …’

Frank interrupted the doctor.

‘Let’s cut to the chase here, Doc. I know there are other ways and I know for a fact that you studied Orra’s revival abilities. There must be something you can do. And do I have to remind you that you owe us big time after all that Mindless Outbreak shit?’

‘I’m sorry Frank, the only thing that can save you now is a multiple organ transplant. But we run the risk of your body rejecting the transplants unless we can find a perfect match. And because we need multiple organs, they all have to be from the same donor.’

‘So how do you rate his chances?’ Asked Kerry.

‘To be brutally honest, they aren’t very good. I mean, we’ve located a heart but there’s only a fifty percent chance that it will be a match. And no one has died in the past couple of weeks who matches his profile.

I hate to say it, Frank, but you have less than a month to live if these organs can’t be found.’

‘But Doctor, what if there were a perfect match?’ Kerry spoke urgently. ‘A person who died suddenly with all the organs my father needed. If I brought him here to you, would you perform the surgery?’

‘If that scenario came to pass, I would operate. Of course, I would! Your father needs those organs to survive. But I have to say that the chances of someone dying, just like that, with all their major organs fully intact, are minuscule. I mean, the person would have to be in pristine condition, almost as if they were still alive …’ El Curandero trailed off. He didn’t like the sound of where this was going.

‘Okay. Enough with the bullshit.’ Said Kerry. ‘I have something in the works that will give us access to your so-called perfect match. It is imperative that my father survives, and we are prepared to do whatever it takes.’

‘Whoa, hold on there a minute, what are you saying? That you’re going to get a live donor? Are you out of your mind?! I’m a doctor, for God’s sake. I took oaths, I save lives. I don’t kill people!’

‘Then save my father. He’s spent his entire life helping his country, sacrificing his health in the process. Now give him what he needs so he can make America the utopia it deserves to be.’

‘Look, Kerry. I understand your situation, I do, but what you’re asking me to do is tantamount to murder. I mean, there is nothing I would love more than for your father to live, but what you’re proposing is completely unethical.’

‘You don’t have to actually kill anyone. Just take what you need from them when we bring them here to you.’

El Curandero was shaking his head but Kerry kept on talking.

‘Your colleague, Doctor Philips, already provided me with the names of the only three people on the planet who are the perfect match. How do you think he was able to retire so early? One of those perfect matches should be on his way here, as we speak. I’ll pay you a million dollars to take care of my father.’

Kerry could see that the doctor was wrestling with his conscience. It didn’t take long for El Curandero’s love of money to win out.

‘Okay. I’ll do it. But I’ll need a cast iron guarantee that I won’t be linked to this in any way. I can’t go to jail, or have any of those crazed super soldiers coming after me.’

‘Don’t worry. We have you covered. You just prepare for the surgery.’

A knock on the door almost caused the doctor to jump out of his skin. Boulder Starks stuck his head into the hospital room.

‘Mr. James, may I have a moment of your time, Sir?’

‘I’ll leave you, gentlemen, to your business.’ El Curandero exited the room, trying not to feel intimidated by the look that Boulder gave him as he left.

Kerry was the first to notice the cuts on Boulder’s face.

‘What happened to you?’

‘I, um, I obtained some injuries while I was trying to secure the target.’

‘What do you mean, “trying”? Don’t tell me he got away!’

‘Well, yes, but Sir …’

‘Are you fucking kidding me? That asshole was handed to you on a plate.’

‘I told you those clowns were too risky to use.’

‘So where is he now? He couldn’t have gotten that far. Find him immediately. Don’t you realize my father is on borrowed time?’

‘Well, maybe he borrowed some of that time from Gary – I mean the target – because he’s dead.’

‘Are you trying to be funny? Bring his dead ass here. Maybe we can still salvage something from his body.’

Frank spoke for the first time since Boulder’s arrival. ‘The doctor said that the body needed to be in pristine condition.’

‘Well, the dude got crushed.’ Said Boulder. ‘And seeing as how bits of him had to be scraped off a wall and a tractor trailer grille, I’d say he’s in less than “pristine” condition.’

‘So what are we going to do now? You guys have gone and fucked everything up.’ Kerry began pacing the room in an agitated fashion.

‘Just calm yourself down, Mr. Chan. There were two people on that list. We can still go after Billy Andrews. We didn’t go for him first because he was less open than target one.’

Frank’s voice came strained from his hospital bed. ‘God forgive me for doing this, but my country depends on it. Track Billy down and bring him here alive. We can’t afford any more mistakes.’

‘And because you lot are such a crowd of fuck ups, I’m bringing in my own person.’ Said Kerry. ‘I’ll get her to meet you at the site. Just do everything she says.’

‘As long as I still get paid, I don’t care what you do.’ If Boulder’s pride was hurt, he didn’t show it.

Kerry dialed a number on his phone and then spoke into it rapidly.

‘Buffy Calico. It’s me. I’m going to need your help.’