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Tag: the gate

Chapter 24 – Everything Went Almost Perfectly

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.

Chapter 23 – I Did Not Sign Up For That

“What’s this?” Sabrina asked, turning the device over in her hands. Her surprised expression was entertaining, at least.

“A gift,” I said. “Trying to make myself useful.”

I still couldn’t move around very much, but I had enough mobility in my hands to craft, and at least my brain seemed to be firing on all cylinders. I got restless.

“Okay. What does it do?” she asked, sounding more than a little skeptical.

“It’s a shock glove,” I explained. “A modified version of my own. Good for incapacitating people without causing them any lasting damage, you know?”

“Isn’t that still really bad for you?” she asked, frowning.

“Can be,” I conceded. “Especially if they have a heart condition or something. Hard to design around that, unfortunately. Use with caution.”

She held it up, looking inside of it, as if expecting it to be booby-trapped.

“Why?” she asked.

“What do you mean, why?” I responded, pretending I wasn’t expecting exactly this line of inquiry. Of course she was going to be suspicious.

“What do you get out of this?”

I pretended to be offended. “I like to help, okay? I can’t do much right now, not in the middle of my treatments, but I can at least do this much. It’s… I used to do it for Charlie, until…”

Sabrina’s face softened immediately. My chest ached.

“Thank you,” she said. “Um, how does it work?”

I grinned.

“There’s a specific hand gesture to activate it,” I explained. “Here, put it on and I’ll show you.”

She nodded, sliding her hand into it. As it clamped around her, she flinched and cried out.

“Ow! What was that?”

“The best part,” I said. “It doesn’t need to be charged, because it uses you as a battery.”

“What? I did not sign up for that,” she said, tugging at the glove, trying to remove it.

“Relax, you have plenty of excess energy,” I told her. “I’ve been looking at the tests Zoe ran on you. You won’t even notice it, and it means it’s always guaranteed to work. Plus, you can ramp up the power if you need to use it on, well, someone a little tougher.”

It took a moment, but I saw understanding cross her face. She nodded covertly.

“So how do I make it work?”

I ran her through the gesture. She had to do it a few times to get it right, but the glove lit up, and she tested it out on a receptor I’d build specifically for that purpose. She smiled, satisfied.

“Thank you, Rachel,” she said. “Um, I don’t mean to complain, but it is a little tight…”

“Oh, of course!” I said, hoping it didn’t sound completely rehearsed. “Here, let me get it off you. I’ll adjust the size a little, and get it back to you.”

“I appreciate this,” she said, as I unclasped the glove and slid it off her hand. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. I guess I’m still adjusting to, you know, everything.”

“Trust me, I know what you mean,” I lied. “But for what it’s worth, I think you’re doing a great job.”

She blushed, smiling awkwardly. I let her leave, more than a little pleased with herself. God, she was so naive I wanted to throttle her. Not literally, of course.

As soon as I was alone, I opened up the glove, pulling a small vial out from a hidden compartment. A tiny amount of her blood sloshed around inside. A smile broke out on my face.

I slipped the vial into a locked, hidden container. The last thing I wanted was anyone else stumbling on it, and asking what I was doing with it. A girl’s got to keep her secrets, after all.

With that sorted, I turned my attention back to more important matters. I was pretty close to figuring out Zoe’s machine, and I’d already managed to point out a few adjustments that had impressed her.

From what I could tell, the core of the machine was going to create a literal black hole. That actually wasn’t all that difficult, all things considered. The difficult part, and the part that Zoe was clearly still struggling with, was turning that black hole into an actual transdimensional gateway. She was almost there, but with the materials we had available, it was still a little ways off.

The genius of the thing excited me like nothing else ever had. It was the most advanced, incredible piece of technology I’d ever seen, and to have the chance to look at it up close, to go through the designs, to watch it being built, it was a dream come true.

Then of course there was the fact that it was supposed to be a bridge to a parallel dimension. An actual, bona fide alternate reality, one which was apparently so technologically advanced it could create superhumans like Zoe. I wanted to see that world more than anything else.

Did Zoe intend to let anyone go back with her? Was she just looking to get home, or did she care about more than that? I found it difficult to believe it would be that simple, but I didn’t know nearly enough about her to predict more than that.

There was another risk, too. Even if we could create an interdimensional rift, what if it got out of hand? It only needed to open long enough to send her through in theory, but what if we couldn’t close it after? What if it expanded?

What if more like her came through? What about getting rid of the others that were already through? There were too many variables, too many possibilities, and I did not trust Zoe to nearly the same degree as Sabrina seemed to.

A gentle knock at the door drew my attention, and I was surprised to see Zoe standing there. She never knocked.

“What’s up?” I asked, putting down the soldering iron I’d been absently turning over in my hands.

“Time for your medicine,” she said, grim humour accenting her voice. “It’s going to be a big one.”