The next week goes about like you’d expect. We make steady progress at the construction site, filling several dump trucks with the last of the debris from the burned building. I see some pieces that look like finger bones in the rubble when we knock down the old walls, and say nothing. All of that stuff was supposed to be cleared away before we ever started here, but when you’ve got a guy who can grow functioning organic hands out of walls, I guess it’s hard to find every last pinkie bone.
Demagnetizing Regina also goes well. Every morning in the car, there are still random warning lights on the dashboard, but the refrigerator no longer starts to stress when she walks by it, and she’s able to pass by fluorescent lights without making them pulse and flicker.
Eight days into the process, when Regina picks me up from work, she’s practically giddy. “Look!” she laughs, pushing a button on the side of the driver’s seat. The seat hums and slides forward.
“You’ve…got power seats?”
“I have working power seats! I haven’t been able to move them in months. And it’s been stuck in the wrong position, so I always had to sit weirdly to drive. Now I don’t have to anymore!”
“I could have moved it for you, you know.”
Regina wrinkles her nose at me. “Then it would have just been in a different wrong position. At least I was used to this one.”
I know when to tap out of an argument. She’s happy right now, and all I can achieve here would be to take that away from her. I’m not that committed to being right over something this trivial.
It does remind me of something important, though. “Hey, if you’re this close to normal magnetic function, we can probably take you to the hospital without risking any of the machines there. You up for meeting Doc Simmons?”
“Yeah — do we have to do it tonight?”
“Definitely not! She’s going to want more time from you than we’ve got tonight, anyway. I’m off tomorrow; we can go in then, if she’s free.”
Regina looks alarmed. “How intrusive is this testing?”
“It’s mainly talking. I mean, blood draws and all, but that’s pretty minor. The doc’s trying to build a picture of this thing, though, and you’ll be only the second person she’s met who’s been directly affected by it, so she’s probably going to have a few questions.”
So, let’s talk about understatements. When we go in to see the doc the next morning, she all but pounces on Regina. She’s waiting in the lobby when we get there and has to visibly retrain herself from physically seizing Regina as soon as we walk in.
When the doc has her eye on something, it’s like a lioness on the hunt. And just as with a lioness, it’s disconcerting to be the focus of that attention. Regina’s nervousness is practically tangible. To the doc’s credit, she does her best to be social, but the predatory anticipation shines through.
“Hi! I’m Dr. Simmons. You’re Regina? Dan said he’d be bringing you by today.”
She grasps Regina’s hand in a firm handshake, barely letting go before turning to head for the elevators.
“Yes, Dan said you –” Regina looks around nervously before continuing, “– study this?”
“Absolutely. I’m very interested in how these machines work. So far, Dan has been my only point of reference. I’ve seen them while they were active in his blood, and I’ve been examining them since they went dormant after the, ah…” She waves her hands vaguely. “…unfortunate incident at the police station.”
Regina stares at me. “The fire? That was you?”
I shrug uncomfortably. “Well — yeah. I mean, I had, um. There was a, uh. Um. It was the best choice at the time.”
“And that was — the same way I could control the rain?”
“I guess so, yeah. From the same mechanism, certainly. I mean, probably. Technically, we’ve just been assuming. You could have something totally different going on, I suppose.”
“Dan?” says Doc Simmons.
The bloodwork confirms what I was expecting. Regina’s got the same matrix of nanomachines suspended in her blood that I do.
“They’re dormant like yours, but still functional!” the doc exclaims enthusiastically. I am less excited about this.
“So they could just be reactivated at any time?” I ask.
“I could feel the rain again?” Regina asks hopefully.
“Yeah, and turn back into a ravening hate ghoul,” I say dourly, and Regina’s face falls. The doc scowls at me. “What? I think it’s worth mentioning that when her machines were active, she made a pretty solid attempt at killing me. You’ll pardon me if I’m not one hundred percent excited to hear that we can go back to that mode.”
“I’m sorry,” says Regina, looking upset.
“I don’t blame you. Vince had something similar going on, and it was definitely linked to the nanos. I just don’t want to see it come back.”
“Dan,” says Doc Simmons, “if I accidentally re-enable Regina’s nanomachines and she comes after you, I will personally protect you from the woman who’s six inches shorter than you and half your weight.”
“Who can summon down lightning!” I protest.
“We’re inside, Dan! Put on some rubber boots if you’re so worried about it.”
I feel that the doc is unfairly dismissing a legitimate concern I have, but before I can respond further, she physically turns away from me to address Regina.
“As long as Dan’s pouting about this anyway, let’s discuss it. What did it feel like when you were near him?”
Regina frowns. “It was like this hole in the world, a cut that wouldn’t heal. It hurt just to know he was there.”
Not a particularly flattering description, and coupled with the patronizing dismissal of my worries, it gets under my skin. Despite the doc’s accusation, I am not pouting, and so I do the mature thing and take a walk to cool off.
Seriously, how am I getting made fun of for not wanting to die? It’s not like I’m blowing this out of proportion. Regina tagged me with a couple of lightning bolts outside this very hospital. Doc Simmons was the one who tried to resuscitate me with the defibrillator. I’m in the right here. Brian would back me up.
All right, I might be pouting a little bit. But I’m still right.
I pace around the hospital for a bit longer, feeling sorry for myself. And what would the doc do if I turned out to be right? I bet she’d be sorry then. She’d be there, messing around with her samples, when wham! She accidentally triggers something and suddenly the old Regina’s back, the stormraiser, full of fury and freshly demagnetized by yours truly. I bet she wouldn’t be making funny comments about rubber boots then!
I’m right in the middle of my soliloquy of injustice when my whole body cringes. The sensation is like an ice cream headache in every cell at once, and it’s very familiar. It means my nanomachines have just reactivated, and I’ve just gotten new powers.
But so far, every time I’ve gained powers, so has someone who wants to kill me. And one of those people just happens to be right here in the hospital, and is currently alone with an unsuspecting Dr. Simmons.
I tear down the halls in a panic, sprinting for the doc’s lab. Although I’d just been envisioning this exact scenario in a “serves her right” sort of tone, there’s nothing but fear for the doc’s safety in my mind right now.
I don’t even know what my new powers do yet, but I can figure that out on the go. The hatred caused by the nanos always seems to be focused on me, so if I’m there, at least I’ll get the doc out of the crosshairs. If nothing else, I heal faster than normal.
After much too long, I’m in the corridor leading to the doc’s lab. Without slowing down, I shoulder the door open with a bang and dash breathlessly into the room.
Two very surprised faces whip towards me as I startle Doc Simmons and Regina out of whatever peaceful conversation they were engaged in. Everything is fine in here. I am, as usual, an idiot.
“Dan, what is it?” asks the doc, rising from her seat. “Is everything all right?”
Unable to talk, I just nod. Sweat drips off of me as my adrenaline level crashes, and my vision briefly goes gray at the edges. I spy a stool and stagger over to it, slumping gratefully onto its hard surface.
After a moment, I get my breathing slightly under control and look up. “Sorry,” I gasp. “Thought…there might be…a problem. Got…new powers…Worried about you.”
The doc looks excited. “What kind of powers?”
“Don’t know,” I wheeze. “Not super speed.”
A short while later, I’ve done my whole check-for-powers routine — try to levitate, try to predict the future, try to move objects with my mind, and so on — and I am totally unenlightened as to the nature of the new ability. Dr. Simmons and Regina, however, are highly amused.
“So you go through this rigmarole every time the nanos activate?” the doc asks, her mouth quirked into a smile.
“Every morning,” I admit. “I’ve gotten powers in my sleep before, and only noticed later. This is to help shorten the discovery process.”
“How come I haven’t noticed you trying to balance on chairs at breakfast?” Regina asks, also smiling.
“Because I do it in the privacy of my own room, and for exactly this reason! I don’t need your mockery.”
“I’m not mocking! It’s just — it’s pretty funny, is all.”
She’s not wrong. I’ve recorded myself before in case anything showed up on the camera that I didn’t notice while I was doing it. The things I try and the faces I make are absolutely ridiculous, I freely admit. I’m still a little sore from being laughed at earlier, though, and not inclined to go along with it right now.
The doc swabs my arm to draw blood and says, “Let me run some tests on a new sample to see if I can find anything anomalous. I wish I knew how these were activated! Or how you got them in the first place, for that matter. I already asked Regina, but you can’t think of any place you two might have met before?”
I shake my head. “Not unless she came to the museum at some point.”
Regina chimes in, “Not unless he came to the convenience store.”
We both look at the doc, who has a thoughtful expression on her face. “Hm. Both jobs with a large number of people passing through, where someone could easily pass something along anonymously. And both menial jobs, so you wouldn’t be risking anyone of particular importance if the experiment went poorly. No offense.”
“None taken, Dr. Mengele,” I say dryly, and the doc has the good grace to look embarrassed.
“We could probably check the tapes for the V & R Mart,” Regina offers.
“Really? You think they’ve still got them?”
“Oh, I know that they do. Amir was obsessive about that. He had boxes full of memory cards, all in order.”
“And he’ll let you see them?”
“No,” says Regina, and grins. “But I can take them.”