A Parting Gift
September. 27th, 2013
The last 6 months have been a roller coaster. My body started shutting down. It’s terrifying to feel yourself slowly dying. I’ve come close to punching out a couple times; Kang War nearly did me in and the same for my first battle with Hobgoblin (I can’t believe I fell out of that building twice). Actually, Hulk really did kill me now that I think about it. The superhero trinity of Stellianos, Tycho, and God worked a miracle together on that one.
This was different. It happened gradually. It began by waking up sore after working out or fighting thugs. I caught my first cold in 3 years. I even managed to trip over my own shoe laces. Everyone has the basic coordination to avoid that. But I ate pavement chasing after a mugger. It shook me up pretty bad. These were small things that I chose to ignore, thinking I was just a little off my game after the battle against Fuuten . That ordeal had taken it out of me, physically and emotionally, and I figured I just needed rest. So, I focused on building up Containe Investigations (really catchy name, I know). God blessed me, giving me some wealthy clients that I did good work for. I kept busy and, though I still felt off, I didn’t seem to get any worse. That is until my flight powers stopped working while I was half a mile over the Irish Sea.
I dropped like a politician’s approval ratings and hit the water with enough force to break bones, collapse a lung, and rupture my spleen. I blacked out and came to 50ft under water. I thank God that my water breathing powers didn’t shut off too. I was disoriented and in a lot of pain. I somehow managed to swim/drag myself to shore and EVI contacted Celestya, who hauled me to her hospital. I don’t know what tests she ran on me but the verdict was bad: My body, all of it, was slowly deteriorating. The closest thing Celestya could compare it to, was a body rejecting an organ donation. Which made sense when I thought about it. Kingpin had me rebuilt after the car wreck, using only-God-knows what. Maybe some of that stuff was failing? What if it hadn’t been a “new lease on life”, but only an extension? Celestya didn’t have a definite answer and that really rattled me. Her advice was to come in for regular evaluations and to seek help from Stellianos. I’m not going to go into the entire 6 month ordeal, but it was one of the darkest points in my life. I realized I had come to depend on my powers and abilities as a means of measuring my self-worth. Without them, I wasn’t the same Ralph Containe. I wondered who would help defend my family, Dublin, the world (this sounds melodramatic but I was not thinking rationally at all). I fell into a depression and that compounded my misery.
I withdrew into myself and stopped spending much time with friends, my church, and Felicia. They all cared for me, I realize, and did their best to help. They couldn’t really do anything, but they tried. Felicia was surprisingly empathetic and kind. We had begun dating in February and she enjoyed teasing and flirting with me. We were both unsure of how the relationship would work out (I’d begun to realize relationships of any sort are tough for heroes). She has real trust issues stemming from previous relationships which we haven’t talked much about. I felt like she might just be stringing me along. Her compassion towards me during this period convinced me otherwise. She would check on me before and after work to make sure I was okay, send encouraging texts throughout the day, and cook really stellar meals when I was too sick to move. I deeply regret not being more appreciative towards her.
Things got really bad two weeks ago. I had fought with Felicia a few days earlier over something trivial that upset me (I think she had to cancel on a date) and we weren’t talking. My body and mind were becoming rapidly weaker. Celestya had determined that several of my organs were not actually my own and that my body was rejecting them. Kingpin must have provided those after the wreck, we concluded. I was told to stay home and rest while she and Stellianos wracked their brains for a solution. By the end of the week they still had nothing and I knew my time was up.
It’s odd to realize you are about to die, to feel death calmly ease its way through your body, moving to overtake your consciousness. I wasn’t scared, surprisingly. It felt like I was in a warm room, with the shades drawn, about to drift off to sleep on a comfortable couch. That sounds stupid, but it’s how I was perceiving the world from my kitchen floor, where I’d collapsed. I was about to close my eyes, trying my best to remember what my name was, when I heard the front door slam open and someone scream, “Ralph! Ralph! Where are you?!” I blinked and wondered who Ralph was, as a beautiful white-haired woman skidded into the kitchen, falling to her knees beside me. I vaguely recognized her as she lifted my head with one hand and opened my mouth with the other. She had a very concerned face that seemed to be on the verge of tears. I thought “Who’s this Ralph guy making her worried like this?” “Ralph, you need to drink this.” I tried to focus on her face as she poured a purple liquid down my throat, thinking that this was the prettiest person I had ever seen and I wanted to die remembering her. I struggled to stay conscious, but everything faded quickly into darkness.
I came to still lying on the floor, my body drenched in cold sweat. I tried to sit and nearly threw up. Giving up, I turned my head to see the person who I now recognized as Felicia across from me, eating Goldfish, sitting on the countertop, and generally looking disheveled but content. She raised an eyebrow and quipped as I laid there stunned, “What’s the matter Ralph, cat got your tongue?” I have never been so happy to hear such a stupid pun in my life. Tears started leaking out of my eyes as I nodded. She gave me one of those soft smiles I only rarely see and hopped down to lie next to me. “I’m so glad you’re not dead Ralph,” she whispered as she kissed me. We lay there on that cold linoleum for several minutes, staring up at that ceiling, tracing the cracks that run through the plaster, not saying a thing, but I appreciated that moment more than I can say. I was thankful to just be alive. I cried some while Felicia rubbed my arm and reassured me it was okay. After wiping my eyes, I asked, “How’d you save me?” She rolled onto her back and pulled a folded piece of violet paper from inside her shirt. “This came to my apartment with that,” pointing to the empty vial next to me, “Let’s read it.” We scooted together and read:
“Felicia Hardy, how are you doing? I’m doing fine, still dead of course, but doing well. Anyways, the few seconds it took for you to read that should have gotten the mailman to pull away. So, I mailed this to you because of the vial included in this package. Get it to Ralph immediately. He’s collapsed in his apartment and is dying from heart failure. You have to make sure he drinks the entire vial. You’d better hurry, I know you’re curious, but you can read the rest with him!! -Fuuten”
“Fuuten sent you this? How? Why?” I asked, completely baffled. “I didn’t read the rest until it looked like you were going to live. Keep reading.” she replied.
_“18 Sept. 2013 Funny, we write our dates the same way! Also, Felicia, I said to read the rest with him. Tsk tsk.
Ralph, I am taking advantage of one of my more lucid moments (which have become more and more rare) to save your life and to talk to you as who I was. Hopefully, you’re grateful. You can name your first born son (or daughter) after me. I know you won’t of course, but I can see I’ve got about a 65% chance of getting a middle name. I’ll take it.
You have been slowly dying for several months now, due to a rather impressive set of complications involving 1) the stolen organs inside your body that Kingpin had installed 2) my taking your original powers, including your cosmic powers which your body had adapted to. Those abilities were managing the organs from point one that weren’t compatible with humans, let alone you. 3) Finally, you’d have had about 6 more months, which would have been when Stellianos and Celestya solved this, but you’ve taken quite a few beatings/poisonings/explosions during your time. So today was going to be your day to check out. Oh, and just so you know, the Kingpin knew the organs would fail, it was one of his many failsafes to make sure you don’t challenge him. He’s got a couple more. I’d tell you, but sometimes I can only remember the concepts while sane, though I know the details while I’m lost in insanity. You know Cosmic Awareness is too much for a sane, even temporarily so, mind to comprehend.
You’re probably wondering why I wrote you. Partially to save you and partially to tell you the truth. The truth is Ralph that I am so very tired. Within my mind, I struggle daily to find my way through my maze-like insanity. See, I was born about 150 years ago now, and the last 100 of those have been spent slowly becoming more and more lost within myself. But, I also want to let you know who Fuuten is. Did you know my father owned a large corporation in Japan? The business has been inherited by a nephew of mine. Still under the Miyamoto name. What about that I was involved in early Mutant activist struggles? It was the generation before Charles Xavier. Times were different then. Many of us were killed. To brag a little, did you know that some of the major technologies being used today were invented by me? The original levitation systems of SHIELD tech was invented by me under the name of Kido Yama. This isn’t a cry for your sympathy. I can’t claim I was a hero or even a good man. I was prideful and arrogant. I always got my way, and would go to extremes for it. I was a normal man though. Not so good and not very bad. I wanted you to know this not as an excuse, but because you were a friend to me. That meant something even when I was at my most lost. I don’t have friends these days and for good reasons too, but I want, before I die, someone to know at least a bit of my story. This is the sad last gasp of a man who, even on his deathbed is so arrogant that he believes his story matters. If it does, if it can do anything, it is as a warning of the dangers of pride. I was smarter and better than my peers. I knew I could make the world a better place and I did, but as these powers grew, I rejected the warnings that they could consume me. I ignored good advice and became a monster. A monster who had to be killed.
Anyways, I know you are not going to come to some ridiculous Christmas party and I know I am going to kill a large number of people in retaliation. You are going to lead all the world’s heroes (plus Dr. Doom) on a perilous quest to stop me and I’m going to make you earn it. Do well from here on out. You’ll face greater challenges than me and I tried to prepare you and other heroes for them.
I know I have to die Ralph. I understand why you made the decision you did. I’m glad that it’s going to come to an end. This farce went on far too long. So, anyways, I’m going to save you here because I appreciate that you made an effort to reach out to me even though it would have been wiser not too. I hope you enjoy the birthday present! Appreciate it. Make sure to visit my franchise! They sell waffles. If you ever are in desperate need of help go to the one in Dublin and ask for Mac. Don’t abuse it or he may blow up Providence! Hehehe. Sorry, I’m slipping here at the end.
Happy Birthday from Your friend,
P.S. The microchips are for EVI. Tell her I’m proud of her.
P.P.S. JK, there isn’t a P.P.S.. You thought there would be one didn’t you, Jordan!"
I stared at the letter for several seconds, feeling a mixture of gratitude and disbelief. Fuuten had easily been my most dangerous foe and a menace to the world. I appreciated this opportunity to understand him better as a friend and a man. I now knew the truth about my powers and owed him my life. I hoisted myself up from the floor and felt incredible. Better even then after the car wreck that began all this. Fuuten’s cure seemed to have done more than just heal me. I reached my hand down Felicia, saying, “I owe you an apology for how I’ve treated you. Thank you for saving me and thank you for being kind. It’s what I needed, even if I didn’t reciprocate it.” “You’re going to make it up to me,” she smirked, taking my hand.
We walked into the living room and looked out the wall of windows over the rainy Dublin night, hugging each other close.
“Cat,”’ I remember whispering, “I’m just a man, a man who will die one day. Who I am isn’t it my powers or accomplishments. I needed to be reminded of that. Fuuten knew it. I don’t want to take my life for granted. Any of it. It’s too precious a gift.”
Felicia lightly laughed “You better not take me for granted Ralph, or I’ll dump your country-bumpkin ass. But yeah, I hear you…Happy birthday.”