The Most Terrible Test: by Rick Wheeler (the Mighty Ohm)

There's something comforting about the War Walls. I'm not sure what it is, but its always seemed that no matter where in Paragon City I go, they're always a refuge. High above the city streets, out of sight from most of the passers-by and various criminals down below, lost in the hum and glow of the force walls, I could find a moments peace.
It also helped that the walls were extremely cold at night, and that helped numb the pain I was feeling. While the nanite surgeons were trying their best to undo the injuries I had taken, I would have killed for an aspirin at that point.
It had not gone well for me these last several hours. It all started when I heard the impossible: my friend Oden had been slapped with a warrant for his arrest. I hadn't seen him in days. All I knew was that he was involved with some investigation involving the Crey Corporation and their activities. Norse God-complex or not, Oden wasn't the kind of guy to do the things he was being accused of. Oden and I had known each other for a while and worked together many times. He taught me a lot about aerial combat and about the big threats out there in Paragon City. He got me to where I am today, to be honest. He was a hero as far as I was concerned.
The police and Crey security forces had grilled me heavily for information when it began, and I was under observation for quite a while. I hated being monitored like that, and only yesterday managed to get out from under their constant scrutiny. Since then I'd been staying low, trying to find out what I could from some of Oden's associates. They weren't that willing to talk, being that they were being watched too. At least until one of them managed to slip me a clue as to where Oden had gone and what he was up to.
Since then I've been running ragged, trying to follow in Oden's footsteps to try and find him. I've gotten into several scrapes with the Crey already, and I think they're well onto me now.
Actually, I know they are.
Whatever Oden was looking into, Crey's Folly was the heart of it. I'd been rounding up rogue Crey Agents for some time before I finally started getting the answers I wanted. If I had been a little smarter, I would have seen the set-up long before I walked into it. They had looked like such easy targets, it should have been obvious to me. I flew in to take them down, when I felt searing fire on my back and right arm. I spun around in mid-air and hit the ground hard. I hadn't seen the snipers, but they saw me coming from a mile away.
Then they were all over me. I tried getting back into the air but my vector engine flight pack was damaged. I also noted to my horror that the armored casing on my right forearm was gone, and my Medicom was too.
I wasn't much of a hand-to-hand fighter, so I ran, trying to find cover from the sniper fire erupting around me, with the Crey still in pursuit. But that idea failed as soon as I felt something tear through my right leg. I collapsed to the ground in pain right in front of one of the Agents, who drew her pistol and pointed it at my head. I knew that without my Medicom, I was a dead man, and there was nothing I could do to save myself considering the state I was in.
Imagine my surprise when I suddenly got moved to the top of a nearby building. I had been teleported before, but it was still a surprise. I didn't get a good look at who did it, as my savior immediately leapt over me and down into the street where I had been previously. It was obvious from my vantage point that the Crey were no match for this stranger, who defeated them handily in short order with a style and flair that I could only envy.
As soon as the fight ended, my benefactor teleported in front of me, and looked down at me. It was a woman, but I couldn't make out anything more than that basic shape in the darkness. I started to croak out a thank-you when she interrupted me.
"Go home."
I was taken aback by this, but she didn't give me a chance to say anything before she continued.
"I don't have time to go around bailing out people like you all the time. I have enough to do to protect this city without babysitting little boys. I know who you're fighting against and why, and you have no idea what you're getting into. If you can't handle little threats like this, then you have no business being here. Now go home."
She turned her back to me and teleported away without another word to me. I didn't even get a chance to thank her or find out who she was.
Not knowing what else to do, I turned on my backup vector engine, and limped away into the night sky.
So that's how I got here: huddling against one of the huge War Wall pylons, trying to figure out what to do now. While nanite surgeons race through my body putting me back together, I'm trying to patch a hole in my flight pack. The pain of my injuries is giving way to the sting of that woman's words to me.
I know I could have taken those Crey if I had seen the snipers beforehand! I'm not some wet-behind-the-ears punk hero wannabe! I didn't get this far because I had someone holding my hand! And yet, here I was, nursing my bruises and my ego like some kid whose team lost the little-league championships.
But looking down at the ruined armguard where my Medicom had been until recently, I have to admit that's not the only reason. My hands weren't shaking because I was cold. I could have died today. I could have crossed that line between being a hero and being a memory. That fight could have been the last thing I ever did.
I'm not sure if I can go back out there again. I feel like every time my heart beats I'm holding my breath to see if it'll do it again. Some hero I've turned out to be, one scrape with death and I'm ready to run home and hide under my bed. Images of all those times I've appeared in the newspaper after besting some miscreant run through my head, and I start to feel sick. Maybe you can only cheat death so many times; maybe this was my last warning. Maybe next time I won't have some stranger there to bail me out.
Feeling lost in these thoughts, I broke my attention away from my flight pack, and looked up into the night sky. Naturally, my eyes drifted towards the most prominent thing there at the time: the moon.
How many times had Oden stared up at that thing? He always watched it whenever it came into the night sky. He was strange that way. Was he seeing something I wasn't?
I thought back to one of the many conversations we had after besting some neer-do-well. Oden always liked to stop and gather himself after big battles. Said it cleared his head.

"Tell me Ohm, tell me what you know of heroism."

I looked at him somewhat askance. He was always asking me the weirdest things. "I dunno. I don't really think about it. I suppose what we're doing is heroism, right?"

He shook his head. "No Ohm. Heroism isn't found in victory or in the cheers of the grateful. Anyone can wallow in accolades and rewards. Nor is it found in defeating criminals and miscreants. A sociopath can run around sending villains to the hospital, but that doesn't make that person a hero. And again, a hero is not a warrior who feels no fear. A fool can be fearless, but will only rush headlong into meaningless struggles without any real understanding of the consequences."

"Let me guess, heroism is where you face off against your fears and overcome them, right?"

"Not precisely."

This struck me as somewhat odd. I was half expecting him to spout off something akin to a typical greeting card. Instead he went off in a direction I wasn't expecting, again. Damn the man. I pressed him further. "What do you mean: not precisely?"

"If you face your fears, but never know defeat, have you truly been tested? You have yet to face something far greater than yourself, and have not found reason to grow beyond what you are. It is in defeat that one finds heroism."

He stared up at the moon, and didn't explain further, as if looking for something I couldn't see.

I pressed him further, now quite puzzled. "That doesn't make any sense. How does getting your butt handed to you in a fight make you a hero?"

"Being defeated does not make you a hero, it is what you do after you are beaten that determines if you are a hero or not."

He looked down at me and his single eye bored into me a bit more than I was comfortable with, and he continued. "When you are beaten, and you know that you are beaten, and you know that it is merely by chance or miracle that you live, that is where your courage is won or lost. To know that you will be beaten again, and perhaps be slain, and yet you stand tall and do battle once again, against that same foe. In your heart you know you cannot win, yet you fight on, simply because someone needs you to be there for them at that time and place. And the thought of allowing that foe to continue unchallenged, makes the risk meaningful enough for you to put your life on the line once again against all odds."

I didn't know how to respond to that. He continued without a pause in his dissertation.

"Heroism is not always found in the roar of victory. Sometimes it is in the quiet voice inside you that says: I will try again tomorrow. Defeat, and how we respond to it, is the truest and most terrible test of all who would call themselves heroes."

Damn the man. He was right, as usual.
So, what was I going to do? Go home as that strange woman had insisted? Or live up to the name I had given myself, and get back out there? The nanite surgeons were done with their work. My vector engine was working again. And I could still get a replacement Medicom at any time. I didn't even know if Oden really needed my help. For all I knew he could be back at the In Front Steakhouse, slamming back another drink. But did I want to take that escape from this situation?
So it was all down to my choice, right here, right now.
I don't know how long I was there, but the red smear of the rising sun creeping over the War Walls told me it had been for a long time.
Swallowing the lump in my throat, I stood up and stepped off the wall, my vector engine flight pack kicking in to maintain my altitude, and I flew off towards the hospital. I had a transponder to pick up.
I am the Mighty Ohm. I will be a hero.
I will try again.
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