In the end, I’d spent the rest of the day not moving. Not because I didn’t think that I could; what little I’d moved my head and upper body showed that I was more than capable of moving. The issue was how I’d moved. It was a surreal, humbling thing to go from having such tight control over my body to having it not respond properly.
Just sitting up for the good doctor had been enough to make my arms flail randomly. After that, she hadn’t put too much emphasis on me moving my body in total, instead letting me focus on making sure that my head and mouth were working properly.
After that had come a brief nap, followed by some of the most awkward conversations of my life. Everybody wanted to talk with me, but nobody had any real ideas about what to say. They were happy that I was alive, no, they hadn’t seen how bad the damage was. Yes, Sarah was in tip-top shape.
In the end, it had been Tabby who had come to our rescue from the awkwardness. After excusing herself for a good half an hour, she’d come back with newspapers and the like. The rest of my day had been spent with everyone reading to me. Mostly about the attack, but also some information about parahuman affairs, the state of the world, and other bits of news they thought I’d take an interest in.
I’d already known that the creature had gotten the name Agamemnon. I wasn’t sure where the name came from, and honestly, it didn’t matter much. Current theory suggested that it had once been a human, which brought up two vastly different theories as to its origin. Either it was a heavy trigger that had drawn people in to form a body that massive, or it was artificially made.
The latter theory didn’t have a lot of evidence to support it, and there were confirmed cases of heavy triggers doing similar things in the past. I would have enjoyed a more in-depth explanation, but the newspapers weren’t necessarially written for people like me who preferred the nitty gritty details.
They were right about the image of me, too. Whatever drone had been flying around had gotten a good image of me. Chest puffed out, shoulders back, head high, a calm expression on my face. I knew that pose, that look. It was my defiant pose, mark three. I had five other variations, but had slipped into that one because of the teleporter on my belt. It was a good shot, I had to admit.
I wanted the footage of what had happened when I activated the teleporter. I read that a whopping 40% or more of its head had been teleported out with us. Afterwards, Agamemnon had made for the ocean at a stunning speed of 38 miles per hour. The Wardens had lost contact within fifteen minutes of total submersion. That was telling in and of itself, and reportedly they had Thinkers working on it.
The articles on Sarah and I were interesting, but in a more horrific way. Whomever had written it must have been on some sort of spin control or something. We were hailed as heroes who knew exactly what we were doing the entire time instead of bumbling idiots who were making wild guesses and hoping for the best. The quotes seemed hand-picked to make us look far better than we really were.
They’d gotten instructors at school, mercenaries we’d worked with, even random people from New Brockton to speak up about us. Sarah sounded like a shrewd and cunning woman with sharp investigation skills. I was made out to be an unorthodox tactician and genius in parahuman studies. I wasn’t stupid, sure, but genius? I doubted that I was even in the top 25 percentile. Even comparing me to the top 25 percentile was optimistic at best.
One newspaper even described us as having “people’s heroism,” citing our dinner with the Dragon’s Teeth as evidence. Someone even dug up a quote of me saying that I was pretty happy doing the Sons of Bitch run, because I was able to help people with it. It made us sound completely selfless heroes who were more concerned with making the world a better place than anything to do with our own lives.
How could someone do that? It was common knowledge to those who dealt with me that we were only mercenaries so that I could build up the money to get five questions. How could they paint us like that? How could they ignore all the other people who fought and died, when we just got a lucky blow? All the people who had enabled us to do everything we’ve done over the years?
But I’d kept my mouth shut. I’d kept my mouth shut and my face even, letting them keep reading. There wasn’t a need to concern them with these thoughts.
After they’d finished, it was bedtime. Well, not so much bedtime, but more of time for tests while I slept. I’d spent the night strapped into some suped-up scanner to monitor me while I slept. Doctor Alcomb assured me that it wasn’t that there were potential issues, but instead so that they could have data regarding what Riley had done to get me on my feet.
Today was, well, more of the same, only different.
“Sarah, Professor Carden, Tabby, Amy, you, no idea, no idea, Tim, Chis, Mr. Munteanu.”
Quincy’s image stayed on the screen, a full-body image. In his suit, as usual, but his stance was awkward, like he wasn’t sure what to be doing.
Dr. Alcomb worked on her keyboard. It was a lot better than any computer that I’d gotten to use, even the ones I’d seen in St. Louis. Then again, if she worked with Riley, it was all probably tinker tech. “Good. You’re doing excellent, Jordan.”
I smiled a little, trying to ignore the cap I wore on my head that dug electrodes into my scalp. “I take it there’s no issue with me not recognizing two of them?”
“No, I’d rather be surprised if you did. They were random patients I grabbed just for this.” She clicked a few more things. “Alright, are you ready?” I nodded. “Remember, first impressions only. As quickly has you can when you see the image, no pausing to try and figure it out.”
This time, instead of being a full body image of a person, the images had been cropped so that they only showed from the waist up.
“Chris.” The image changed to another. “No idea. Mr. Munteanu. Amy. No idea. No idea. Tim. No idea. Sarah.” I took a breath before looking over to the doctor. “Did I do alright?”
“You did fine,” she said, smiling patiently at me. “Nothing that we didn’t expect. Is it alright if we do it one more time?”
“So long as it’s only once. If we do it much more than that, I’ll be trying to identify them by their eyeballs.” I grinned, and she chuckled softly.
“Nothing that bad, I promise you.”
Once again, the images began to flash on the screen in front of me. This time, they were just the head and shoulders of people. “No idea, no idea, no idea, Sarah.” I let out a sigh as another strange face popped up. “I feel like I should know this one, but no idea. No idea. Chris. No idea, and a big nothin’.”
“That’s fine, Jordan.” Dr. Alcomb smiled at me again before jumping off of her chair. “You did a wonderful job, and you’re helping us out so much right now.”
The doctor wheeled the monitor away from my bed. “There’s still so much that Riley does that scientists just don’t understand. Like, pretty much everything. So we tend to run tests, hoping to get output that will shed some light on it. She’s pretty interested in your brain, too. Your seizures, the way it’s composed, the way that it’s dealt with trauma done to it over the decades, all of it has given her a few ideas.”
“Which would explain the scan last night,” I said thoughtfully.
She smiled at me. “Partially. I’m sorry that we strapped you in like that, but your sister mentioned that you train in your sleep a lot, and we wanted to get a better look so we could understand what was going on there.”
I made a face. “I never used the word trains. She’s always liked saying that. I’ve always just thought that there was fighting going on in my dreams, but my brain didn’t produce enough of that one chemical that induces sleep paralysis.”
“GABA and glycine, yes.” She nodded slowly. “It’s not quite accurate, but that’s a simplified way of thinking about it. I haven’t been able to fully review the data yet, but there seems to be a bit of an interesting interplay with your mirror neurons going on, which seems to be interacting with your seizures as well. It’s all very new and interesting to her.”
I chuckled weakly. “I’d have thought Riley would have gotten more then plenty of a look at my brain.”
Dr. Alcomb chuckled as she began to loosen the electrodes around my head. “She did, actually, but nothing quite gives the same information as seeing the brain in action. Her passenger gives her more information that way. Of course, she isn’t the type to cut someone’s skull open to see it at work, so she has to-”
“I wouldn’t mind,” I said quickly, ignoring the pricks of pain that came up. The electrodes didn’t pierce the skin, but that didn’t mean that wiggling them from the places they’d rested didn’t smart. “I owe her. If she’d like, she can have full access.”
The doctor paused, looking down at me. “That’s an awful lot of trust.”
“Trust in what? That she won’t do something?” I smiled at her. “I’m fine. You said it yourself, she rebuilt my body from scratch and patched up my brain.” Even if the doctor was a bit evasive on the details. “If she wanted to do something to me, she had plenty of opportunity. I haven’t even heard of rumors of her crossing any lines, just doing the work agreed on. I don’t see a problem with her hacking me open again to take a peek.”
“Well,” Dr. Alcomb said softly as she got back to work. “We’ll see. That said, as much as you might not want it, we’re going to have to focus on getting you ambulatory.”
I frowned a bit. “It’s kind of scary to be honest. The lack of control.”
Again, that patient smile met me. “I know. But every day that you lay in bed without any activity, you stand to lose between one and five percent of your muscle mass. For most people, it would typically hover around the one to two percent, but you’ve had a lot of work done.”
She finally removed the cap completely from my head, and began the work of winding the cords up. “Your muscles are natural, fully compatable with natural human muscle, but they still had to be shaped and formed. They weren’t grown naturally, they weren’t grown in a vat. Strands were lengthened or shortened as needed, muscle bundles were put together instead of bound through hard work.”
She slowly walked back to the machine I’d been hooked up to, working on putting everything back in its proper place so she could take it away. “Because of this, your muscles need to work. They’ll operate normally once the communication issues are in place, but until they have their own natural bonds formed, you’re going to lose muscle mass faster than the average person.”
I pressed my lips together as I focused on my arm. It flopped, it fumbled. My hand refused to work right, refused to get a grip. But I was getting the sheet that covered me off, and that was the important part.
“We’ll start you off slow,” Dr. Alcomb continued. “I’d prefer to speed up rather quickly, though. The more we work with it, the more muscle groups we have you exert conscious control over, the faster that your body in total will return to being under your full control.” Interesting, but it made sese. “We’ll start off simply, until you’re more comfortable with the recovery process. We’ll start with exerting control over specific muscle groups, but then ramp up to-”
What I tried to do: Sit up and swing my legs over the edge of the bed.
What happened: I wasn’t sure, but I ended up on the floor.
“Jordan!” the doctor cried out, not that I could see her from how I was laying on the ground.
“Ow,” I deadpanned. It hurt a bit, more than I’d anticipated, but not nearly enough to complain. This might not have been my most brilliant plan.
As she hurried over to me, laying her hands on my back, I heard the door open and two sets of feet come in. Even better, an audience. What a wonderful day this was shaping up to be.
“I’m okay,” I said quickly. “I kinda expected this.” Not so much this, but I’d expected to flop on the bed like a fish.
“Five bucks,” I heard Chris say.
“Goddamit,” Karen groused, but even she sounded a little amused.
“How long have you two been hanging around outside the door?” Dr. Alcomb asked. I couldn’t imagine her expression. Right now, all I could really see was that the surprising lack of dust underneath the bed.
“Long enough,” Chris said, his tone far too amused. “We’ll get him up.”
I felt two pairs of hands latch onto me, hoisting me up slowly. “On my feet! On my feet! Help me stay upright, but let me do the work!”
As I got more upright, I could see the doctor glaring at me, her fists on her hips. “Jordan. This is completely unnecessary.”
“The more muscle groups I work, the faster my brain will assert proper control, right?” Chris and Karen got me upright, but had to put themselves underneath my shoulders to keep me up. My entire body was spasming erratically. “Standing requires a lot of muscle groups to work.”
That didn’t help her expression any. “Yes, but we were going to work up to it, not just dive into the floor.”
“Give it up,” Chris said with a laugh, trying to support me without actually supporting me too much. “Listen, Doc. One time, Bro here got a concussion and was trying to do jumping jacks an hour later. Kept on hitting the floor and throwing up.”
Karen’s voice was just inches away from laughter. “Sarah was telling me a story last night about when he broke his leg, right after they got the cast on him, he tried walking on it.”
Dr. Alcomb huffed softly, reaching up to poke me in the chest. “Listen, you. I did not spend that long putting you together just to kill yourself before I’ve even discharged you. If I even begin to suspect you’re pushing yourself too hard, I will sedate you and force you to rest, do you understand me?”
I didn’t so much of lower my head as I did quit trying to hold it upright. “Yes’m. Should… Should I lay back down?”
She took a deep breath and let a more dignified expression come back to her face. “No. Since you’re so intent on doing it, and since these two haven’t complained, then we’ll keep you standing until they get tired.”
“This is what I get for trying not to complain over how heavy the dude who was dead a week ago is,” Karen said with a melodramatic sigh. My head flopped enough that I could see she was smiling.
But that also gave me the first semi-clear view of my arm that I’d had. Almost immediately, I recognized one thing. “No scars.”
“Nope,” Chris confirmed, sounding pleased with himself. “None what so ever. Eyebrows don’t have a break in them from where you’ve split ’em, your ear doesn’t have a notch in it…”
“Your skin’s as clear as the day you were born,” Karen chimed in. Not that she’d know.
Dr. Alcomb gave me a smile that was… sympathetic? “I’m sorry if you would have preferred to keep them, but there were areas of your skin that were completely unable to be reused. We considered doing patches, using as much of your old skin as possible, but while we could match the base tone of your original skin, matching the melanocyte would be almost impossible. It would actually be easier to replace all of the mitochondria in your body.”
My mind raced. Melanocyte, and it had to do with pigmentation, so probably the cells that dealt with melanin. It made sense with the name similarities, and what little I could pick up of the context. So, in essence, she was saying that they wouldn’t have been able to make the way that my skin turned darker when I tanned look natural? Yeah, that sounded about right.
Though the bit about mitochondria was completely beyond my understanding.
“I’m very sorry,” she continued. “We could have replicated the scars when we were doing your skin, but some of those scars would have caused you problems later in life. We suspect a couple of them already were causing you problems, but with the rest of the issues your body had, you probably wouldn’t have noticed them.
“We do have those we could see mapped, however, so we can give you them again if you’d like. They’d only be superficial, but it is an option that I wanted to bring up at some point.”
I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. It hurt, in a way. As stupid as it sounded to me, I felt a slight bit of pride over those scars. They were a road map of everything I’d been through, everything I’d survived. Even if most of them were earned either in training or effectively self-inflicted through my own stupidity.
On the other hand, there was no denying the fact that they did give me problems on occasion. She was right about that. Sometimes, they wouldn’t let me move quite as fluidly as I would have liked. It would be interesting to see how I could move now.
I decided it was better not to think about it, not to worry one way or the other. Instead, I pushed those conflicting feelings off to the side, buried them in the void.
“It’s cool,” I said as my head began to flop a little again. “I may not look as badass, but at least I won’t get people eyeing me nervously anymore.”
Dr. Alcomb smiled softly, nodding. “Good. That’s a good attitude to have.” She paused, taking a breath. “While we’re on the subject, there are some other minor changes I thought you should know about. I might as well go into it, since you’re a captive audience right now.”
Chris and Karen chuckled a little. So did I, but I didn’t see the humor in it. “Go ahead.”
“You’d done an impressive amount of work at strengthening your knuckles, we could tell that from your left hand.” Which said that my right had been effectively destroyed. “While that probably helped with punching, it did you no favors when it comes to manual dexterity. Riley went ahead and ensured that your knuckles were as protected as ever without suffering that loss.”
I nodded slowly. That was kind of her. “It’s much appreciated.”
“Your bones also showed evidence of repeated microfractures and healing, especially around the shins.” She leveled her gaze on me, trying to get me to explain without actually asking.
“Yeah, I did a lot of that myself. Beating my shins, elbows, forearms, blah blah blah. All with a dowel. A few times with a piece of rebar, when I could get my mitts on it. It makes the bone stronger, better for attacking and receiving attacks.”
She nodded, though she didn’t look happy. “That’s what I thought. Well, you might be able to get results from doing that for a month or two, but eventually the adaptations I mentioned before will kick in, and you’ll stop getting results.”
“The stuff Riley implanted?” I asked. She nodded a little. Good. “I’ve been meaning to ask what she did.”
“Organ sheathing, bone reinforcement, an adaptive subdermal mesh, an adaptive brain cushion, soft arterial support stents, select artificial muscle strands to improve muscle depolarization and repolarization rates, artificial oxygen and lactate pumps, as well as minor kidney and liver enhancements. Nothing too fancy, to tell the truth. Some of the stuff she’s done to herself is far more impressive.”
More that I wasn’t sure how I felt about. More that I decided to ignore for the time being. It felt appropriate. Focus on getting up to speed, then deal with everything else.
Fortunately, Karen came to my rescue. “I know some of those words. There were organs mentioned.”
I grinned despite myself, and Chris howled with laughter. When he calmed down, though, he turned his attention to me. “Sis and I were pretty adamant about her helping you stay alive out there. Rebuilding you was on the house, or so we’re told, but the enhancements cost extra. I agreed to trade some stuff, and work on a toxin screen for blood that would be more efficient than what she currently has access to.”
He paused before giving me a sheepish look. “I, uh, might need some help on that, though. So far, my passenger has told me bupkis.”
“I’m surprised that you understand so much about your passenger,” Dr. Alcomb said softly.
“All thanks to Bro here.” He forced my nearly-convulsing body to stand up a little straighter.
“I read everything that Riley and Valkyrie have written or said on the subject, amongst others. When I learned that Tinker passengers could be lead, depending on when the person triggered, I experimented with Chris until I figured it out. I haven’t had a chance to work with other Tinkers, though. I’d like to, some day.”
“You should have seen it when he was reading,” Chris said with a grin. “Bro would be doing these push ups real weird like. Down, hold it, halfway back up, hold it, finish up, half way back down, hold, repeat. He’d put a book under his face and read while he did ’em.”
“It’s a variation of isometric push ups,” I explained. My left leg was getting it better than my right, but it still had a long ways to go. “It isn’t as effective as standard isometrics, but it let me study while I was working out. I always wished I could have had an extra twenty hours to the day to get everything that I wanted in.”
“Awkward sentence, Bro.” Chris was grinning, though.
Dr. Alcomb, though, simply looked irritated. “I’m suddenly starting to understand some of the things that I saw a lot better now.” With a sigh, she moved to her chair and hopped onto it. “Kids. You spend the first half of your lives trying to get yourselves killed, and the second half just trying to stay alive.”
I was glad that I’d spent almost the full hour to get steady on my feet — about twenty minutes after I’d gotten the hang of it, I’d ended up having to rush into the bathroom something fierce, as if my body had suddenly remembered that the bowels and bladder existed. Which, considering who had reconstructed me, wasn’t entirely out of the question.
It wasn’t soon after that people decided to leave me alone for a bit. Apparently, they had decided that I needed some rest. And while, yes, a nap had done me wonders of good, it wasn’t more than a half an hour before I was out of bed again, in some sweat pants and testing out my new body.
I wasn’t sure if I was impressed or disappointed. On one hand, I was up and active so soon after waking up from being down for… Well, I still hadn’t asked how long I’d been down for. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know. On the other hand, what I was getting out of my body was… less than impressive.
I could hold a standard ISO push up for only 70 seconds before the burn was too much. I had to really focus and move slowly to do the splits. After just a few minutes of shadow boxing, I was building up a good sweat. My stamina had become absolute crap on me. If ever there was a situation that was disappointing, this was it.
As I performed more normal push ups, though, I found that it was coming easily, without much thought. When I should have had to focus on it to keep going, when my body was complaining, it still performed the motions without having to push it. I wasn’t sure as to what was going on here, and to be fair, I was pretty sure that this was beyond my knowledge base.
They had made it sound like nothing but my head had survived intact, and even that might not have been the truth. So, using spare parts that weren’t even in a human form, Riley had rebuilt my entire body. She had recreated organs, a nervous system, endocrine, everything. Effectively from scratch, as far as my mind could figure out.
From my understanding, there was something odd going on there. That seemed like it surpassed her abilities, even with the source of the raw materials being either a human or composed of humans. From my understanding, she could only bring people back from the dead if the bodies, and the brains, were relatively intact.
Of course, I had to admit to myself that I could be wrong. I wasn’t infallible, and my knowledge was based on what I’d read about her. It could be that there was a loophole somewhere with her powers, or something to do with how the way my body was repeatedly sliced by the malfunctioning teleporter. For all I knew, it could have something to do with all that sugar I drank in St. Louis.
I was just contemplating what else might have happened in St. Louis to make me an anomoly when I heard the door opening.
In a heartbeat, I was on my feet, fighting a sudden bout of vertigo. Balance was still a tricky thing, despite how quickly I was getting the hang of it. I turned, only to find Amy standing there.
“Should you be doing that?” she asked, a concerned expression on her face.
“The harder I work, the faster the results.” I smiled warmly. “It’s okay, honest.”
“If you say so.”
I opened my arms, and she slowly came up to hug me, a tight smile on her face. Not exactly the most comforting thing on the face of the planet. The look she gave me when we parted didn’t help matters any, either. Not with that worried frown.
“Jordan? We need to talk.”