Automan and all character names therein are owned by the American Broadcasting Company and Twentieth Century Fox. All characters are fictional and resemblance to any persons living or dead is coincidental. No copyright infringement is intended.

Automan: High Performance
By Sailor Chronos

Chapter 14

Lina remained in the hospital for almost three weeks. The doctors wanted to be certain that the lesions on her skin were healing cleanly before discharging her. As promised, Dr. Tyler gave her a list of explicit instructions for what needed to be done to facilitate her recovery.

Both the Stanley and Nebicher families came together to help out. Allison and her husband Doug dealt with the salvage and reconstruction of Lina's townhouse. Walter and Roxanne rearranged their home so that she could stay with them during her convalescence: the dining room on the main floor became a bedroom for her so that she wouldn't have to negotiate any stairs. Anna Baines provided her daughter's favourite foods on a regular basis.

Automan assisted as frequently as the power grid would allow: ensuring that she got the proper vitamins and medication, dressing her wounds, and helping with the gruelling physiotherapy. He witnessed her every mood from agonized tears to frustrated curses, and bore it all with a steadfast devotion that impressed everyone, including Lina herself.

Even Lt. Baker visited several times to see her progress and cheer her on. He deliberately didn't mention anything about work to her, knowing that she had to focus her energies on getting back on her feet. "Her desk will still be there," he told Walter when his colleague asked about her professional status. "And I've taken care of her report backlog. She won't have anything to worry about."

The day that she was able to gingerly walk around the house by herself (with the aid of crutches) was a huge victory. Walter's boys Jack and Matt suggested that they have a party to celebrate, but Lina took the opportunity to tell him and Roxanne in private that she wasn't the only one deserving of the honour.

"The one who really should have a party is Auto," she said. "He has been such a tremendous help this whole time. Plus he told me that he has never had his birthday celebrated - and what's the date next Tuesday?"

Walter stared at her and Roxanne for a moment, looking quite abashed. "The fifteenth... oh, man."

"That's right," Lina said. "Judging from appearance, if he were human he'd be in his mid-thirties. But strictly speaking it's his twentieth birthday. Let's surprise him."

So it was arranged; Mrs. Baines and the Stanleys were all invited and they were happy to attend. Since Lina didn't feel comfortable with telling her family about Automan's true nature, particularly after the incident with Sholes, Walter came up with the excuse of needing Auto's help with a case to get him out of the house until they arrived.

Ironically, the contrived pursuit ended up becoming a real one and it took a bit longer to get back than had been anticipated. When Walter and Auto finally returned, the house was dark except for the main entryway.

"Shouldn't everyone be here?" asked Auto cautiously as they stepped inside.

"They should be," Walter replied with a mischievous grin as he preceded Auto into the sitting room. Then he clapped his hands.

The lights abruptly switched on. "Surprise!" voices called.

Automan halted in amazement. The sitting room and adjoining dining room had been restored to their former appearance, and coloured streamers hung from the ceiling. Both his family and Lina's stood around the table, in the center of which was prominently displayed a vanilla cake with the number 20 inscribed on it in electric blue icing. Lina, who was leaning against one wall with her crutches tucked under her free arm, led them all in singing the Happy Birthday song.

For a moment he was speechless. He had expected a party for Lina, not for himself, and was touched that his human friends had gone to the trouble of doing this. Never had he felt so appreciated. "Thank you all; really, this wasn't necessary."

"Don't be so modest," Allison said with a dismissive wave. "You deserve it. Now come and cut your cake for us."

In an aside to Walter he said, "You know I don't-"

"Auto," his creator interrupted with an astute smile. "They've been told that you don't eat sweets. Just play along."

"Mr. Magic Man!" called Shannon. "What's the 20 mean?"

"It's a private joke, honey," Lina responded before Auto could. "You'll understand when you get older."

"Aw!" the girl complained, to the amusement of the adults.

Auto picked up the cake knife, carefully sliced the confection into ten equal pieces, and then served them. "I must say that looks excellent. Who made it?"

Roxanne lifted her free hand. "Guilty; but it was Lina's idea. She wanted to make today special for you as well as for her."

He crossed the room to his girlfriend's side and regarded her with deep affection. "Thank you."

"No, thank you," she said softly as she gazed into his oh-so-perfect blue eyes. His dedication to her over the past weeks had made her love him all the more. "And I have a present for you." Putting the crutches aside she retrieved a flat rectangular parcel from a chair that had been concealed behind her legs. It was meticulously gift-wrapped in metallic blue with a silver bow.

With an amused chuckle at the reference, he protested, "I can't open that, it's too perfect."

The room erupted in laughter and a chorus of "Go on! Open it!"

After raising his hands in a gesture of defeat, he carefully removed the wrapping. The item was a simple frame, but he instantly recognized the photograph it contained: a still that had been captured on Lina's laptop computer when the two of them were at her cabin during the winter. He wore grey pants and a dark blue-and-black-striped sweater; she was wearing black jeans with a red sweater. They were standing in each other's arms in front of the fireplace, looking relaxed and happy.

Quite moved, he wordlessly placed the photo on the table so that the others could see it. And then, mindful of her precarious balance, he took Lina gently in his arms and kissed her.

In response she snaked her arms around him, more for closeness rather than support, ignoring the boys' whoops and the smattering of applause from the adults. When they broke the kiss she leaned against him and murmured, "Happy birthday, love."

Walter tapped on the edge of a glass with his fork to gain everyone's attention. "Folks, we are gathered here to commemorate the birthday of our good friend and colleague, Otto Mann." Lina and Auto briefly glanced sideways at each other; they'd both noticed his careful pronunciation. "Also we're celebrating Lina's continued recovery, and I've been informed that the work on her house is almost complete."

"That's right," Lina's brother-in-law said. "You can move back any time. The final touches can be done just as easily whether you're there or not."

"But we don't want to hear any complaints about the decor," Allison threatened, but then grinned to indicate that she was joking.

Walter offered, "And I'll build you a new computer system. You'll be up and running, so to speak, in no time."

Her eyes misted as she gratefully beheld all the people who had helped shape her life. This was the way a family should be. And when she was better, she would continue to work to ensure that they and others were protected from people who would harm them. "Thanks, everyone."

Cheers and whistles greeted Lina when she walked into her division HQ under her own power. It had now been two months since the incident and the skin on her legs was still healing, but she was well enough to do clerical work. Returning to active duty in the field would take longer, but at this point she was in no rush.

Lt. Baker met her at her desk. "Welcome back, Officer Baines," he said with a broad smile.

"I like the sound of that, sir," she said proudly. "It's good to be back."

He cleared his throat and held up a paper that bore the seal of the Chief of Police. "I would like to present to you an official commendation for your actions in recent events, plus a Wounded in Service citation, and my congratulations." Applause broke out across the floor as he passed her the award and shook her hand.

She felt quite welcome and contented. "Thank you, Lieutenant."

When the nattering had died down and most of the people had turned back to their tasks, Baker asked, "How long do you think it'll take for you to get back out there?"

"It'll be at least a few more weeks, according to my doctors. They've been very pleased with my progress but my skin is still delicate. To be honest with you, I'm glad for the respite."

He accepted that with a nod, and rapped his knuckles on the desk. "Then get yourself a pen and start writing, Baines. Reports don't write themselves," he said in his normal gruff manner, but there was softness in his face that allayed the sting.

"In just a few minutes; I need to keep a promise."

She walked to Agent Mann's office and let herself in with a key-card. Then she took a measuring tape out of her pocket and used it to help make some markings on one wall with a pencil, after which she affixed two picture hangers. Out of the bag she carried she pulled two frames, hung them up, and stepped back to view her handiwork.

The photo of Auto with Walter, Roxanne, and the boys was now flanked by a commendation that Agent Mann had been awarded in 1983 but had never picked up, and the photo of the two of them at the cabin. The last time she had spoken to him she had persuaded him to let her put them up with the reasoning that most humans in his position would be proud to display their achievements. It was part of showing the kind of person that he was.

So now their relationship would be 'official'. People could make what they wanted of it, even Sholes, and right now she didn't care. What mattered was that she and Automan were happy.


Sailor Chronos
February 2011

I would like to thank the following people:

My husband, as always, for his support.

"Kyou Fangirl" and "SunflashNurse", my beta-readers, for helping with the editing and clarifying some details.

Automan himself: Chuck Wagner, for bringing such a versatile character to life, and his encouragement to dream well.