I give Doc Simmons a skeptical look. “You think my blood is full of tiny robots.”
Her return look accuses me of being willfully stupid. “Not like you’d understand them, no. I think it’s more of a distributed network, piggybacking on your body’s existing systems to set up an interfaced communication structure.”
My skeptical look continues, and she adds, “Admittedly, I’m making this up as I go along, but it fits what I can observe and assume. From the structured placement and the responsive reactions, it’s clear that these…” She clearly wants to say ‘nanomachines’ again, but refrains. “…foreign bodies are in communication, probably directly with each other but possibly with an external source.”
I may not get cold anymore, but that idea still gives me a shudder. I know that my abilities aren’t normal, obviously, and I’ve even concluded that they were a test of sorts. But somehow I’ve never solidified those ideas into the logical conclusion that she’s just stated: that someone else is controlling things inside my body.
Oblivious to my discomfort, the doctor continues, “As for what I assume — you wouldn’t have gotten your blood tested if there weren’t visible effects. So if it’s not the facial bruising, what are they doing?”
I hesitate, and Brian says, “C’mon, man, she can’t help you if you don’t tell her what’s up.”
After a long moment, I say reluctantly, “I think they’re giving me superpowers.”
It’s now Doc Simmons’s turn to give me a skeptical look, so I hurry on. “Look, give me a paperclip or something, something small and magnetic. Magnetisable. Whatever it’s called, something that would stick to a magnet.”
She slides one off of a stack of papers and passes it to me, and I place it in my palm and demonstrate how it sticks no matter which way I turn my hand. The doctor grabs my hand and pulls it close to her face, demanding, “Do that again! Show me, slowly. This isn’t a trick?”
“No trick. Not my trick, anyway.”
“Can you repel it?” she asks, and I obediently levitate the clip an inch off of my cupped palm. She slides her finger underneath as if checking for wires, and breathes, “This is amazing.”
Releasing my hand, she asks, “How far does your control reach?”
“That’s about it now.”
“Now? How far was it before? What happened?” She doesn’t have a notepad in her hands, but manages to give the impression of having a pen poised and ready to take notes all the same.
“I don’t know; a couple of dozen feet, maybe? It sort of wore off.”
Simmons gives me a disgusted look for my imprecision and asks, “What else can you — or could you — manipulate? Could you alter the flow of electricity?”
Brian chimes in, “Remember during the big storm, the guy you couldn’t hit with the defib?”
The doctor’s eyes widen, even as I narrow mine to glare at Brian. “That was you!” she exclaims in recognition.
Brian shrugs apologetically behind her. “Trust her, man. Or trust me if you don’t. Besides, she was going to figure it out eventually anyway, and this’ll save you from an hour of questions and a bunch of homework.”
Simmons shoots him a look over her shoulder, and he shrugs again. “Don’t blame me, Doc. You interrogate people.”
Turning back to me, Doc Simmons asks, “Have they done anything since then?”
“Um, well, sort of. I mean, yes. Do you have…I don’t know, some trash, and like a nonflammable surface?”
Moments later, I’m raising my hand at a balled-up piece of paper in a glass beaker on the desk, and we all watch as it bursts into flames.
“Man, that’s cool,” says Brian wistfully.
Doc Simmons, meanwhile, is already hurrying around her office. “We need to test this.”
Two hours of experimenting later, Brian’s long gone and I’m explaining to the doc that really, I have a job I need to get to, and science is going to have to wait. She is deeply dissatisfied with this claim.
“You can be late,” she tells me.
“I can’t! It’s a new job.”
“This is important!”
“Being employed is important, too! Look, I appreciate everything you’re doing for me here, but I have to go.”
“Fine,” she says with badly-concealed temper. “Give me your phone number.”
“Whoa, hey, was this a date?” I joke, but the words die in my mouth at the look she gives me. Doc Simmons could fry ants with her glare. Chastened, I mumble out my digits, and she nods.
“Okay, go. I’ll send you further questions and we’ll come work them out.”
It occurs to me to ask what happens if I don’t want to be her lab rat, but one look at her tells me the answer to that: too bad, Dan, you’re not in the driver’s seat here. I mentally shrug, make my way downstairs and cab it out to work.
I have to go home to get my uniform, so I end up being about ten minutes late to work. I figure this is still basically okay, and that I can explain away my tardiness with my obvious physical injuries if necessary. And in fact, when I arrive, the first thing Matt says to me is, “Dan, wow! What happened?”
Part of being a good liar is figuring out your story ahead of time. I, unfortunately, am not a good liar, and have not thought to do this. Ideas spin through my head: I was mugged. I had this terrible nightmare. My friend invited me to a fight club.
None of them sound any better than the truth, so I just go with that. “I was in a car accident last night.”
“Were you driving?”
“No, walking. It was on the way home from here, after the cops let us go.” I decide to take a small step away from the truth. “The guy hit me and drove off. I don’t know if he never saw me, or what, but I never got a look at him; it was just wham, in the air, on the ground.”
“Do the police have any idea who it was?”
“The police?” Oh, yeah, obviously I would have called them. “Yeah, um, no, they said there wasn’t really anything to find.” Except a burnt-out car and a dead guy. I feel momentarily sick again, remembering.
Matt looks concerned. “Are you okay?”
“I’m a little beat up, but yeah, basically. I’m good to be here, if that’s what you’re asking. I just got back from the hospital,” I add, which is technically true but actually unrelated.
“All right, good,” says Matt. He pauses, then says, “This may sound harsh right now, Dan, and I understand that there are extenuating circumstances, but I really do need you to call in if you’re going to be late. I get that this situation is different from usual, and I’m not going to hold it against you. But it’s just a phone call, and it would make my life a lot easier.”
So, ten minutes late is not basically okay, and “I was hit by a car” is not a good enough excuse. It’s rough being on the bottom rung of the ladder.
The workday goes fairly well, aside from the fact that I have to answer the question “What happened to your face?” approximately fourteen times an hour. I try giving a fake answer at one point, but when I tell a middle-aged couple that I was in a fight club, they both just glare at me disapprovingly. The woman says, “You should wear protective gear,” and the man with her nods. I sigh and take their order.
The man behind them approaches the counter, looks both ways, then leans forward and whispers, “You’re not supposed to talk about that!” So at least the joke wasn’t a total loss.
On the whole, though, it turns out to be much easier to just incorporate it into my routine. “Welcome to Børger, what can I get for you? A car hit me last night. Yes, it hurts, no, I don’t know who did it, yes, it’s terrible that people behave like that to each other.” I’m pretty tired of having the same conversation over and over, but everyone who asks means well, so I keep a smile on my face and the sarcasm out of my voice.
About seven hours into my shift, a man diverges from the script. Instead of asking, “Did it hurt?”, he says, “Really! A buddy of mine got into a car accident last night, too. Bad night for it.”
“That’s terrible,” I say.
“Yeah,” he says. “It was my car he was driving, too, so it’s a double whammy. The thing’s totaled now.”
“How’s your friend?”
“Totaled, too. Can I get a Big Børger, no pickles?”
I don’t know exactly what he means by this. Is his friend totaled like smashed-up-but-going-to-be-okay? Or totaled like dead? Either way, I have no idea how to respond to this cavalier announcement, so I just ring up the order.
“It’ll be a couple of minutes,” I say.
“Thanks, pal,” says the man, and gives me a searching look before walking off to wait by the pickup line. I feel like the look was supposed to mean something, but I have no idea what. Do I know this guy? I don’t think I’ve seen him before. He’s a pretty average clean-cut white guy, nothing particularly memorable about him.
The next customer is up, though, so I shrug it off and tell them that I was in a car accident, and yes, it hurt, but no, I don’t know who did it. Yes, it is terrible that people behave like this to each other. I check the clock; with three more hours in my shift, I’m probably going to be saying that at least another forty times. I wish Matt would let me just put up a sign.