When Charlie tore out the solidified blood that had temporarily granted me superhuman strength, I’d thought it was the most pain it was possible to experience and still remain conscious. The blood healed me even as it was being ripped from my body, keeping me together, keeping me just alive enough to feel every agonising second. It had left me paralysed, unable to move, lost in an ocean of pain and isolation, until they showed up, had injected me with the ‘cure’, had broken me down into an all but useless husk.
I’d thought that was the most pain I was ever going to experience in my life. I was very, very wrong.
To purge the toxin from my body and keep me alive, phase one had consisted of concentrated radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and injections of Zoe’s blood, and together they’d left me as a mostly shaken wreck. Somehow, I’d pulled through.
Phase two made that feel like a tropical vacation. Zoe’s main idea, one I’d foolishly signed off on, was effectively a supplementary skeleton. A combination of metal and silicon, grafted to my skeletal system, was supposed to make me tougher and more stable, and myoelectric implants enhanced neural and muscular response times. Well, that was an oversimplification, but the main point was that it involved literally cutting me open down to my skeleton, and I needed to be conscious the entire time.
Things I did not have to be conscious for included optical and cochlear implants designed to enhance and expand my vision and hearing, and a few synthetic hormone distributors that would give me a greater level of control over the physical state of my body. Then there were redundancies for vital organs and even upgrades to them.
Basically, over the course of a month, Zoe turned me into a cyborg. The time passed in a blur, with me being either unconscious, or in too much pain to know what was going on. I was dimly aware of Sabrina coming and going, and whenever Zoe wasn’t operating on me, she was working on her machine, but for the most part, my entire world was pain.
Then, one day, it stopped. It wasn’t a gradual shift, the pain didn’t slowly recede, it just stopped. For the first time in close to a year, I felt normal.
At first, I didn’t understand. I lay in bed, starting at the ceiling, waiting for the pain to return. I waited to feel sluggish, vague, detached. Instead, I felt nothing.
I tried moving my hand. It did exactly as I wanted, without resistance or pain or shaking or delay. I stretched and contracted my fingers, watching in amazement as they moved.
I sat up slowly. There was no rush of dizziness or nausea, no ache or twinge of pain. It was incredible.
“How do you feel?” Zoe asked, and even though I hadn’t known she was there, I wasn’t surprised.
“Normal,” I told her. “Phenomenal.”
“Everything went almost perfectly,” she said, but her voice was an almost guttural purr, an edge of danger in it. “Things almost went badly. My blood should have countered that. Somehow, you didn’t have enough.”
I tensed, feeling like a fool. I should have known even a little bit would have a huge impact. More to the point, I should have known she’d notice.
“Faulty medical equipment?” I asked, knowing full well she wouldn’t buy it.
“Here’s the thing,” she said, leaning in, an aggressive glint in her eye. “Sabrina isn’t calculating or cunning enough to mess with any of things. You, I thought you were too clever to try something that foolish.”
There was no way to keep her suspicions off of me. It was too obvious. All I could do was try to obfuscate my actual motives. Somehow, I had to do that without lying.
“I needed information. After seeing what Wendy’s blood did, I needed to find out what yours could do. And, no offence, but I didn’t trust you to be honest about it.”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “And what did you find out?”
I had to keep myself from showing obvious relief. She bought it, and I had actually run some tests, so it would be an easy sell after all.
“Your blood is almost the opposite of hers,” I said. “Whilst Wendy’s sustains, yours consumes. Similar effects in terms of physical augmentation, but it’s much more intense, and would burn out a human body within weeks. My theory is that Wendy is some kind of battlefield medic, whilst you’re designed to create a temporary militia of superhumans in a pinch.”
She stared at me, her expression unreadable. The tension returned, as I waited to find out if my gamble would pay off.
She pulled back, laughing softly. I did my best to maintain an unintimidated expression.
“You’re right, I wouldn’t have told you,” she said. “Clearly, I’m going to need to keep a closer eye on you. You’re going to be a lot more dangerous now that you can actually take care of yourself.”
“As long as you’re not planning on hurting or infecting anyone, we’re on the same side,” I said, hoping she wouldn’t know I was lying.
“I’m not some cartoon villain,” she retorted easily. “All I want to do is go home. The mess, well, that’ll be yours to clean up.”
“Then let’s get your machine working. Right now, that’s my top priority.”
At least that part was the truth.