Pattern Recognition: Part 3

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Here’s what I tell the police: I was sitting at my desk when I heard a ruckus in the parking lot.  I got my crutches and limped out there to find someone violently breaking into my car.  I yelled at them, and they must have panicked and floored it directly into the parking lot light, which crumpled onto the car.  I rushed down there as quickly as I could on crutches, but the man was unresponsive.  I then crutched my way back to the museum and called the police.

It’s a simple story, and fits the picture well enough that they don’t question it much.  Besides which, they’re much more interested in why I’ve had two hairy super-steroid visitors in two nights than in why one of them was stealing my car, or why he would have torn off the bumper to do it.  I get a lot of pointed questions about where I know these guys from, what I did to annoy them, what it is they’re looking for from me, and things like that.

I mainly respond with baffled shrugs and professions of total cluelessness, which are more or less true.  However, I’ve been asking myself these same questions, and I’m starting to put together a picture.  It’s total speculation, true, but it hangs together well.

Item one: last night, I get attacked by a guy with super-strength, only to find that I have super-strength, too, and limited invulnerability.  We have a brute force contest, and I come out on top — but when he goes, so do my newfound powers.

Item two: tonight, another guy with super-strength, looking like he’s from the same species as the first one.  This time, I’m Joe Average for strength, but I can out-think Einstein.  So I set the rules of the contest this time, and I come out on top again.

Now, though, I’m still thinking at doubletime, which maybe means this contest isn’t over.  So what else do I have to finish?  Could be I’m supposed to figure out what’s going on.  It’s a bit of a weak hypothesis, but it’s easy to test: sort out what’s going on and see if the powers fade away like before.

So that’s the picture I get: I’m under attack, only I’m being given the tools to repel the attack each time.  Not attack, then.  I’m under a test.

And as if that thought is the key, I feel my brain dropping back down to regular speed.  My focus narrows to the policeman in front of me, and I feel a moment’s regret for all of the things I never knew I was missing before, the subtle body language cues and the meaning in the background noise and the time to think about all of it.  And then the policeman asks me again what I think those guys want from me, and I say honestly, “I wish I knew.”

I really do.  What’s the point of the test?  And how do I pass?

These are the wrong questions, of course; how’s a bacterium supposed to understand polio, or why it’s a bad thing?  But I won’t see that for a while yet.

Eventually, the policemen leave me alone, the body is taken away in another ambulance, and my car is towed away on a truck.  They say the insurance adjuster will give me a number, but it’s obvious that the car’s absolutely totaled.

Time enough to shop for another car once my foot is healed.  For now, I call a cab to take me home, and when I get there, I collapse onto the bed in total exhaustion again.  This is a fairly ugly pattern, I think, and I make it almost all the way through the sentence in my head before I’m asleep.

Next time I open my eyes, it’s tomorrow afternoon, and my phone is blinking with another voicemail that I know is from Edgar again.  I groan my way out of bed and stumble straight to the shower, stripping off my clothes as I go.  The hot water stings as it hits the tiny abrasions all over my body, and I get a cramp in my leg halfway through from trying to keep my cast outside of the tub and elevated, but even with those problem the shower is still the best thing I’ve ever felt.

The water sluicing off of me runs grey for a while, which surprises me a bit.  I mean, I know parking lots are dirty, but I was rolling in that one for like five seconds, tops.  It takes easily a minute before the water starts looking clear again; I figure that probably means I’m clean, but I still stay in the shower until the temperature’s dropped far enough that the water isn’t steaming anymore.  Long showers aren’t usually my thing, but it feels like a pretty good decision today.

While I’m rinsing away the physical and mental grime, I think a bit about the idea I had last night, of being used as an experiment.  It still makes more sense than anything else I can think of, so I decide to assume it’s true until I find something to disprove it.  So, I’m a lab rat: check.  Right now, I’m dancing to someone else’s tune, but I might be able to get out in front of this thing.  What do I have going for me that a lab rat doesn’t?

Intelligence, first of all.  I may not be overclocked like I was last night, but I’m still smarter than any rat in a maze.  So far, I’ve been waiting for the problems to come to me.  This isn’t exactly my fault, of course; I had no way of knowing that either attack was going to occur before they did.  At this point, though, I’d be an idiot to assume that there wouldn’t be any more.  How can I predict the next one, though?

I’ve got some warning in the form of onset of superpowers.  I laugh at that thought, but there’s nothing else to call them.  The ability to easily lift a thousand pounds, to painlessly absorb a hit that cracked a rock wall, to think rings around rocket scientists – these things are definitely superpowers.  And I’m evidently being given them in order to deal with superstrong grunts, so when the powers show, I know it’s time to start looking out.

That gives me a little warning, but not much; I had a few hours with the smarts, and no time at all with the strength.  I might’ve been superstrong for a while, of course, but I didn’t feel any different, and so I never checked.  Fine: first order of business, start testing for powers on a regular basis.  What are the classic ones?  Strength, brains, speed, invulnerability, flight, telekinesis; those are all easy to check for.  I’ll look a bit weird suddenly dashing off to see how far I can get, but I work alone at night, and live alone during the day; I can look a bit weird if I want to.

What if I can turn invisible?  Will I still be able to see myself?  I can use my phone’s camera to check for that one, I think.  What else; animal control?  There are always squirrels or birds around; I can try to call to one of them while I’m waiting for the bus.  I start losing track of what I’ve already listed, and table this thought until I’m out of the shower and can write it all down.

Let’s see, what else.  These superstrong guys are coming from somewhere.  They were both wearing normal clothes, so they’re not like some weird tribe of Neanderthals that have made their way into the city.  Maybe the police or the hospital know who they are; I should check it out, see what these guys did before they went feral and tried to kill me.  If they’ve got something in common, if they worked together or were fishing buddies or something, maybe I can get a hint as to who’s doing this, or at least how.

This is a pretty slim hope, as I still have no idea how they’re doing it to me, and I’ve been with myself the entire time.  It’s the best idea I’ve got right now, though, so I run with it; it can’t hurt anything, certainly, so it’s worth a shot.

The water’s starting to get cold, so I get out, towel off, and listen to my voicemail while I write down a list of all of the superpowers I can remember from comics and movies.  Sure enough, the voicemail’s from Edgar, and he could be reading the exact same script as yesterday; we have some things to discuss, he needs to see me in his office, please be there an hour before my shift starts.  I listen with half an ear while I contemplate exactly how many superpowers boil down to “really strong” or “great dexterity.”  I’d never really noticed before; I suppose that’s a testament to the good writing in the scripts.  Or to my willingness to ignore lazy character design in favor of seeing things get hit, I suppose.  That one’s probably more likely.

I waste the afternoon trying to move objects with my mind, walking around my house blindfolded, balancing on the edges of chairs, and doing other similar activities.  At first, it’s to see if I have any powers related to those, but pretty soon I realize that I haven’t played The Floor is Lava in a lot of years, and so I segue from “checking for powers” to “acting like a kid” pretty smoothly.  The game’s a lot harder when you’ve got a busted foot, but having the extra reach to step between couch and coffee table easily just about compensates for it.  It’s a pretty great afternoon, actually, and when the time comes to catch the bus to get to work, I whistle as I swing myself along on the crutches to the bus stop.

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