Spoilers: Nothing major; takes place after "Everybody Who's Anybody."
"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori."
"It is sweet and becoming to die for one's country."
- Roman saying
"I don't suppose you could convince the Pentagon to invest in a Clapper, could you?"
"What are you talking about, Mr. Wiseman?"
"You know- `Clap on, clap off- The Clapper.'"
"Once again: What are you talking about, Mr. Wiseman?"
"Wellll... you've been complaining about how tight money has been lately. Just figured you could get rid of that whole fancy-shmancy computer system that's running things here and save a buck or two or three thousand. You know, since you've grafted yourself to my side you could take on the responsibility of Head Clapper- clap on at six hundred, clap off at twenty-three. You could even clap on before you send some machete-packing guy to try to dismember me in my sleep."
"Mr. Wiseman, please return to your treadmill."
"But Doc, it's been seventy miles. SEVENTY MILES."
"Seventy more miles then, Mr. Wiseman."
"Seventy more miles?"
"Yes, seventy, and now, Mr. Wiseman. Before I make it an even hundred. If you have enough time to talk, you have more than enough time to run." Doctor Theodore Morris fixed Michael with an expression the latter had come to call the Look- a Look that combined the power of annoyance, impatience, and general egotism into a formidable barrier against Michael's appeals to reason, compassion, or conversation. Knowing well the futility of struggling against the Look, Michael sighed and climbed back on the treadmill.
A few miles passed in silence, with Michael running compliantly and Morris scrutinizing readouts. The peace shattered as a phone rang in the next room and Morris got up to answer it, giving Michael the Look- silently admonishing him to keep running. Michael did.
Over the hum of the equipment and the thud of his own footfalls, Michael managed to weed out 'Romulus', 'equipment', 'Matthews' and 'tomorrow'. Curious, he gradually slowed his steps and stopped running altogether.
"This is extremely short notice, Commander," he heard the Doc say. "Yes, yes- we'll be there. No plans have been interrupted, I assure you. Thank you, sir. Fourteen hundred hours tomorrow, sir. Yes, sir. Goodbye, sir." The phone clicked as Morris hung it up, and Michael hastily resumed his running, doing a full-bore thirty-seven as Morris walked in and resumed his seat.
The doctor eyed the readouts for one moment before announcing, "There will be a change in plans for tomorrow, Mr. Wiseman."
Michael carefully kept his expression devoid of anything except the occasional grimace of effort. "Really? And we were going to see Grandma Pearl, too, since we didn't get to at Thanksgiving."
Morris ignored that. "We will be taking a field trip tomorrow instead, Mr. Wiseman. More specifically, we will be going to Romulus; even more specifically, we will be going to the army depot located just outside of it."
"And Romulus is where, exactly?"
"Oh, it's upstate. A mere six hour drive into the back country."
"Six hours in the limo? With you?"
"Please try to restrain your enthusiasm, Mr. Wiseman. Or redirect it into your running, if you will. I see that there are still fifty more miles left for you to go." He shot Michael the Look, and Michael shrugged off the impulse to fling himself on his knees and confess that he had indeed quit running to eavesdrop; the Look's abilities extended to giving Michael the impression that Morris knew everything he thought, before he thought it, and even if he wasn't in the same room.
Michael returned to running, and the rest of the marathon passed silently, as did the rest of the day. Another supper of processed bulgur wheat, a shower, and a few more tests passed until the lights flickered out at twenty-three hundred, without a clap to herald the event.
He awoke to a loud clap right in his ear- and right at six hundred hours.
"You have had your clap for the day, Mr. Wiseman. Now get up and get dressed- we're late as it is." Michael felt the Look digging into his back and complied.
A half hour later, Morris and Michael stood outside, the former shifting irritably and mumbling about punctuality. After an eon which lasted about five more minutes, a few dilapidated pickup trucks pulled up to the curb. Morris moved to meet the man who climbed out of the first truck, exchanged a few brief words, and climbed in. He had put the truck in gear when he realized that Michael still stood by the curb, staring. Impatiently, Morris rolled down the passenger side window, arm jerking vigorously on the handle.
"Mr. Wiseman, honestly, we haven't got all day."
"Uh, Doc, this ain't the limo." Michael gestured to the truck.
"Of course it ain't the limo, Mr. Wiseman," Morris returned. "Do you think it would be prudent to drive all the way to Romulus in a limo? Do you know how much gas costs these days, Mr. Wiseman?"
"Well, no, because you never tell me anything, but..."
"Mr. Wiseman, not only would it be expensive to drive the limo to the base, it would also not be what we military types call `a low profile.' We are driving to a rural town, not Los Angeles; a limousine is most certainly not a low-profile vehicle in Romulus. Now get... in... the... car." Morris carefully emphasized each syllable in case Michael had failed to understand him.
Sighing, Michael climbed up into the truck and buried his head in his hands. Ignoring his charge's distress, Morris pulled away from the townhouse and broke into song.
PART II: "The Naming of Parts"
"To-day, we have the naming of parts."
- Henry Reed
"Am I myself or just another freak?"
- Donald Fagen and Steely Dan, Fire in the Hole'
2/28/2000: 4 AM, in the woods outside of Romulus, NY.
They crouched in the blackness of pre-dawn, clad in fatigues and draped in metal. Five older men, stocky and grizzled, bent over a narrow-beam flashlight and the map on which its light fell. Martin, the youngest and who barely counted as much more than a boy, sat off to the side, keeping watch. He clutched his rifle in white-knuckled hands, unnerved by the strange green-tinged shadows made by his infrared goggles.
In his corner, Martin quaked with silent fear. The endless training he had gone through had never been this bad. Having Commander Allen point his .38 straight at his chest and threaten to shoot if Sonny Boy don't straighten up was not as bad. A few minutes with the man had convinced Martin the Commander was crazy, militia or no militia, but his towering fear of what his father would say- and do- kept him silent and kept him designing backyard weaponry for the Fifty-Fourth.
"Right." Commander Allen's rasp pierced the quiet and made Martin jump. "You each have your munitions and station assignments. Tag, Boyd, and Rogers will enter at the southwest corner through the drainage ditch right off 96. Me, Burns, and Martin here will take the northeastern penetration point through the woods. Place your charges, time them for eighteen hundred tomorrow, and get out. Remember- Code of Silence if you're apprehended. Sic semper tyrannis."
"Sic semper tyrannis," the others murmured.
Allen stood up and motioned to Burns and Martin to follow him. Swallowing his fear along with a sense of impending disaster, Martin straightened and headed off into the northwestern woods, where an even deeper darkness waited.
Later that same day- 2 PM.
Uncounted cow pastures and five different renditions of "Baby, I'm Sorry" later, Michael and Morris finally drove past the few dozen buildings that constituted Romulus' downtown and pulled up to the security checkpoint of the Seneca Falls Army Depot. Morris flashed their ID, and the bored sentry nodded before opening the gates. The ancient truck lurched through and poked down a maze of lanes between identical buildings.
At long last, Morris pulled up in front of one, stopped, and got out. Michael fairly exploded out of his seat. "Thank GOD we finally got here. I seriously thought this would never end. I mean, I love Tina Turner as much as the next guy, but I did not- and I repeat, NOT- need to hear 'What's Love Got to Do With It?' ten consecutive times. And on top of that, Aretha would kill you if she-"
" I seriously hope, for your sake, Mr. Wiseman, that you are not insulting the talents of the divine Ms. Franklin."
"Well, no Doc. Actually, I like Aretha too. I was insulting-"
"Come with me, Mr. Wiseman." The Look effectively terminated any further conversation, and Morris headed for a doorway. Michael obediently brought up the rear, following the doctor down a flight of stairs and into some kind of subterranean bunker. He stopped in the entranceway, gaping.
Bright lights glared down mercilessly onto a great expanse of white, silver, and chrome. White-suited technicians moved in and out of a labyrinth of machinery, all of them apparently unconcerned with the appearance of the two newcomers. Morris nodded to himself and turned to Michael. "Follow me, Mr. Wiseman, and for God's sake, keep up and don't touch anything." The Look warned of dire consequences to disobedience.
Michael trailed behind Morris, trying to gawk as indiscreetly as he could, just to irritate the doctor. The place was right out of Star Wars or The Next Generation. It was--
"Very Bond," Michael commented.
Morris glanced over his shoulder, obviously annoyed at having to do so. "What are you talking about, Mr. Wiseman?"
"You know, Bond- James Bond? High-tech gadgetry, martinis, license to kill-" Michael broke off as he caught sight of a blue-skirted and shapely figure striding closer to them. "- attractive women, most likely with a degree in biogenetics or weapons training."
Morris rolled his eyes before answering. "This is not Bond' then, Mr. Wiseman." They came to a halt as the blue-skirted figure strode up to them.
"What's not Bond?" Hazel eyes regarded the two men from under a shelf of dark brown hair- her expression suffused with some childlike curiosity Michael liked immediately and the cold clinical-ness of Dr. Morris, which he didn't. She was not young but not precisely middle-aged, and something in her carriage suggested a confidence in her own capabilities. Her forehead came up only to his chin, but something about her made her seem taller- a match in confidence for Dr. Morris himself.
"This," finished Morris after directing a scowl at Michael, "is Dr. Elizabeth Matthews, one of the better psychologists working in the Pentagon today. I've asked her to come here and... talk to you." Morris managed to make talk' sound like some unspeakable, horrible deed, like pulling the wings off flies or mail fraud.
Dr. Matthews held her hand out, and Michael shook it. "Nice to meet you," Dr. Matthews said, and smiled.
Michael made himself return the smile and then looked at Morris. "You mind if we talk, man-to-man kind of thing? One second?" Morris' face contorted in a brief paroxysm of annoyance at being put out, but he managed a civil excuse us' to Dr. Matthews and turned aside with Michael.
Before Michael could say anything, Morris quelled him with the power of the Look. "Mr. Wiseman, Dr. Elizabeth Matthews is a board-certified psychologist- and psychiatrist- employed by the Pentagon to counsel special operatives. If you want conversation, here's your chance. You may talk to her, debate with her, spill your guts to her, bare your soul to her. Tell her anything you'd like. You have three hours in which to do this. I'll be back at eighteen hundred to pick you up, and I sincerely hope you will have exorcized this apparent need to talk."
"She can't tell you a thing about what I say? Confidentiality and all that?"
"Mr. Wiseman, if you feel the need to excoriate me, please do so. My feelings will not be hurt in the slightest way, I can assure you."
"Good." Morris turned back to Dr. Matthews and smiled. "I leave him in your charge, Dr. Matthews. Good luck." Before Dr. Matthews or Michael could respond, he turned on his heel and strode out.
Michael and Dr. Matthews regarded each other from across her desk.
"I was half-expecting a couch, you know," Michael said.
She smiled. "I'm not a neo-Freudian by any means, Mr. Wiseman. They use couches. So, Dr. Morris brought you here to talk. What would you like to talk about?"
"I don't know. Now that I can talk without the Doc giving me the Look and telling me to shut up, well, it's just kind of inconvenient"
"Do you mind if I ask you some questions, then? I was on assignment in Saudi Arabia when sign-on requests for participation in your project were sent out. I didn't hear of it until it was too late, and I have to admit I'm terribly curious."
"What's it like, being in this body?"
Michael stared at her, poleaxed and at a complete loss. "Well, it's fu- I mean, it's weird. Like in the middle of an operation, I just... I don't know." He struggled for the words; fortunately, she understood and didn't prompt him. "See, everything works, and I don't even think about it. I know how to do all this stuff I only saw in Indiana Jones or somethin'. I can climb up a brick wall with my fingertips and not think twice about it. But if I'm in the shower or working out or, I dunno, looking in the mirror it hits me that I'm not who I was. I feel like... like I'm not part of myself."
She nodded. "Have you tried to talk to Dr. Morris or any of the psychiatrists who have evaluated you?"
"Talk to Dr. Morris? About that? I've tried. He and the shrinks- I, I mean the psychiatrists- mumbled stuff about mind-body displacement' and told me I'd get used to it..."
"And you will, with time. Dr. Morris is a slave driver- he was my preceptor in biopsychological dynamics when I was a medical student- but he does have a point. The more you work with your body, the sooner you get used to it. It stays true for all of us."
"Yeah, they say that all the time. And sometimes... sometimes... ah, forget it. It's crazy."
"You forget, Mr. Wiseman, that I deal with crazy' as a matter of course. Chances are good that what you are experiencing is not crazy." She leaned forward in her chair.
Something within him threatened to break- something made of frustration, fear, and anger. It was everything he had held inside while on the treadmill, while eating, while being carted around to some assignment or other. Everything he couldn't even allow himself to dream about began a slow ferment.
"It's just... I don't know who I am anymore." It came out as a frightened whisper. That something inside him grew faster, furious at that fear. "Sometimes I can't remember what Lisie and I did on Valentine's Day four years ago. I can't remember what I got Heather for her thirteenth birthday. Other things get in the way... new things. How I can balance on a ledge of a hotel building so I can spy on some foreign agent. How I can knock out some guy trying to kill me. They block out Heather, Roger... Lisie." His voice broke.
"Who am I, huh?" The question maddened him, and that something boiled over. "Am I an insurance guy with a wife and kid? Am I this genetically-engineered thing everybody says I am? Huh?" He paced against the far wall, staring at her and fighting the fury that welled up inside him. "Well?" he demanded, choking the word through a throat closed by anger. "What am I?"
She gazed directly at him, calm and unafraid. "You," she said, as though stating incontrovertible fact, "are Michael Wiseman."
That stopped him.
You are Michael Wiseman.
She stood up and walked over to stand almost toe-to-toe with him. Short as she was, she had to crane her head to look up, but still managed to overawe him by sheer presence. "Do you remember Descartes' principle? I think, therefore I am.' Because you think, you exist. You acknowledge yourself as Michael Wiseman. Insurance, strong muscles, military training, a college education, kids. It's all window dressing. Here," she tapped his chest and forehead, "and here are the only things that matter. Whether or not you- or anyone else- has a soul should be left to the theologians. Dr. Morris cannot convince you that you are anything other than what you are. He can make you a killer or a ballet dancer. What is here," she poked his chest again, hard, "matters."
He took a deep breath. You are Michael Wiseman. The thought calmed him.
"I... I would like to see my file. I know who I am... I think. I want to see what the rest of me is."
Her eyes widened slightly. "That's classified information. I only have access to it by Dr. Morris' permission."
"Please, Doc. I'm begging you. Dr. Morris has kept me in the Dark Ages since I woke up. I just- I just need to know what's going on."
"You wouldn't understand most of it. A college-level Biology course is not suffic-"
"Doc. Please." He stared down at her, and fought the impulse to shake that need into her. " I'm on my knees here."
Martin had gotten lost first, and then stuck in the outbuilding he had hidden in. Hours had passed, and he hurt from bending double in the ancient ice box inside which he crouched. Guards had passed more or less regularly upon discovering the wire-cut fences on opposing sides of the depot, but they had gone. At least, Martin hoped so.
Gingerly, he climbed out of the box and stretched, feeling bones and tendons crack. He bit back an imprecation, remembering Commander Allen's injunction of silence. Commander Allen. The name froze Martin to his core, as did the thought of what lay in store for him when- or if- he made it back to base. No lie could work with Commander Allen- he saw right through to a boy's soul, Martin's father said.
Martin stepped outside, checking for any approaching guards. They had left long ago, and Martin trotted down one long row of storage buildings. Maybe he would make it to the escape point, after all. It wasn't much further- he thought. After being cooped up for twelve hours, it felt good to move.
Twelve hours. He looked at his watch. Almost eighteen hundred. He froze, staring at the watch, willing it to be wrong.
"Hey! You there! Identify yourself!"
Martin's head jerked up, and he saw a lone soldier running towards him, weapon drawn. He had his own semiautomatic, and a pair of legs that could run and dodge. And... and a bomb lying there, fifteen feet away, hidden behind an electric meter.
The seconds slowed to a crawl. Martin had enough time to consider- he could disarm the bomb and save them both. He could warn the guard and they could take cover. He could just run. He could stay and die, and let the soldier die, too. Commander Allen would skin him for disarming the bomb, for saving the soldier, and for running. But the soldier...
... the soldier did what was right. He was probably scared, maybe forced into doing this by his dad like Martin was.
"Wait!" Martin yelled. "There's a--"
The world exploded in force and sound.
Theodore Morris in repose seems an indolent creature; he waits with the seeming of endless patience and doesn't stir from his spot or otherwise move. But when his prey comes along- take, in this case, the unsuspecting Doctor Aaron Jensen, he becomes fierce. "I would like you to explain what took you so long, Dr. Jensen." Morris' voice cracked across the bunker, occasioning a startled turning of heads. "That equipment was requisitioned a month ago. A month, Dr. Jensen."
"That should do it, sir." Dr. Jensen said, unfazed by Dr. Morris' scathing gaze and neatly dodging the unspoken questioning of his competence, and pointed to the loaded service truck. "We had to modify the EEG to your specifications, so it took a little longer than we thought. My apologies for the delay, of course."
Morris nodded impatiently, frustrated that Jensen refused to be cowed. "Good, fine. Great. Thank you for all your help. If you don't mind, I'll be on my way to pick up Mr. Wiseman. Now," he added, "that I'm late."
The last thing Morris saw before he heard the explosion was the other doctor's salute, and the last thing he heard before he saw the ceiling cave in was the doctor's scream of terror.
PART III: "Mind's Eye"
"Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord."
- Julia Howe, Battle Hymn of the Republic'
His ears rang like his old alarm clock. Unlike his old alarm clock, though, his ears did not have a sleep button. The last thing he had heard before the wall collapsed on them had been her murmured agreement, and the last thing he had seen before he heard a thunder that obliterated all other noise completely had been her reluctant nod of assent.
Dazed, Michael picked himself up, shoving off huge chunks of collapsed ceiling. Concrete dust stung his eyes, and wiping the tears away did little to make the situation better. He looked around the destroyed office; half the outer wall had fallen in- Dr. Matthews didn't need to worry about that window anymore.
Dr. Matthews. His mind seized on that. Where was she? He plowed through the rubble, calling her first by Dr. Matthews' and then switching to Elizabeth.' He got no response to either. Fear engulfed him- a horrible rush of fear that obliterated the numb shock of the explosion and the collapsing building. Sobbing, he called for her again and again, praying to Whoever's Up There to let her, please, be alive. He pushed his way through masonry, tripping on twisted pipes, stepping on torn flesh...
The fear vanished, and the blankness returned. He stared at her neck, dully fascinated by the way it bent at such an angle- backwards and upwards, like the neck of a dead bird. Her eyes stared back, dull as his own. He found himself whispering her name over and over again; she did not answer.
The fear returned, and with it the horror of actually seeing a real dead person. He had never seen one in real life before- not one up close, any ways. Not one he cared about or liked. His mother had been cremated. Dr. Matthews' wrist had snapped, and hung off at the same angle her neck did. Her neck. Her eyes. The shards of glass in her cheek. Her eyes.
Before he thought any more about it, Michael clawed his way out of the room and into the sunlight. He fell twenty feet, landed on concrete, picked himself up, and ran away.
Morris found his mind drifting- damnable thing at a time like this. He needed... what did he need? Oh- to figure out how to get his leg out from under that huge chunk of concrete. After that... after that... He decided he would rather let his mind drift. It seemed to float away on an outgoing tide, passing away from the oppressive heat and closeness of his prison and out into something else. Images played in front of him; part of him said this was that flashback' near-death experiencers talked about. Michael Wiseman had probably had them.
Michael Wiseman. Morris' mind fixed on that one name. So much of his life tied itself up in that name. He recalled the years of design and experimentation, the zealotry he shared with his colleagues, the desire to sculpt the raw material of human life into a thing of perfection. Michelangelo could not have been prouder of his David, or Leonardo of his Mona Lisa, Morris decided after a moment. What did they think as they stood over an insensate block of marble or the blank canvas and paints? Was it like what he felt staring down at the test tube of germ cells that would eventually become the body of Michael Wiseman?
He found himself replaying one clear memory of him from the thousands surrounding the whole project. The memory was the work of a moment only- the moment Michael opened his eyes for the first time.
The world's most powerful heart pushed super-oxygenated blood through steel-strong veins and into alveoli each capable of holding twenty times more breathable air than a whole, normal lung. In that second, Morris heard through his stethoscope the determined pounding of that heart and felt under the skin the steady throb of the carotid pulse.
And in that very next moment, two eyes opened- two beautiful eyes that regarded Morris calmly for a moment only. Then they closed, leaving Morris in quiet triumph. He went with that memory, a smile forming on his lips. He drifted off with the image of Michael opening and closing his eyes, again and again.
Martin couldn't feel his right arm anymore- good thing, because it had hurt like hell for however long it had been since the ventilator fell on it. He felt sure Allen or anyone else wouldn't come back for him, which was okay, although he would like someone to find him.
The dead guard didn't count, and Martin felt horrible about that. He had tried to warn the guard, defuse the bomb, or do anything, but fear of the guard and fear of what Commander Allen would do to him if he found out had frozen him in place for the few critical seconds for the guard to tackle him and the bomb to tick its way down to zero. He wasn't afraid anymore, for the first time since his father had packed him out of high school and into the clutches of Commander Allen.
"Commander Allen will make a man out of you, boy," Thomas Faraday told his seventeen-year-old son two years ago. "Books don't make a man- you forget that college you got your sights set on and go learn from Commander Allen. You'll get a better living with him than your brother Jeffrey ever did." Jeffrey had escaped Covert, gone to Cornell, and now lived in Palm Beach with two Cadillacs and an indoor pool. It sounded like a good living to Martin, but his father and Commander Allen growled about how Jeffrey gave into the system and was now helping to run it.
Martin remembered his fear of his father. He had written Dartmouth and declined their offer. His mother had cried about that, pleading with her son to change his mind. His father, overhearing, said women didn't know much about much and told her to shut up, then got Commander Allen over the next day with the conscription list for the NY 54th Regiment. Atheists ran the country, Commander Allen had said earlier that morning, and their blasphemy extended to resurrecting dead people and putting them to work as mindless drones for their military. Dead people! Commander Allen had shaken his head at the evils of such a business as he poured nails and glass into PVC piping and tied the fuse off. They were bringing one of those zombies to the Seneca depot, he said. Better kill it now, and take the rest of the depot with it.
Hours later, Martin Faraday huddled under a block of masonry, arm crushed by a ventilator unit, and cried to himself, to God, to anyone.
PART IV: "Adrift"
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
- Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Ozymandias"
Michael stumbled through chaos, hearing and seeing soldiers run past him as though in a dream. He heard gunshots in the distance, and a disembodied voice- very like Dr. Morris- reminded him that bullets hurt, but couldn't kill. Him, at least.
Adrift in chaos and reaching for anything to hold onto, Michael latched onto Dr. Morris. He had to find the Doc. The Doc was his ride home, his meal ticket, and even- after a fashion- some kind of companion. So he didn't talk much, had the emotional intensity of a rock... Yeah, he needed the Doc all right.
He seized the arm of a passing soldier. "Hey, where's the Doc? I mean, where's Doctor Morris?"
The soldier stared at him for a moment, apparently trying to decide whether or not to be hostile. "He was in the loading bay down in Quadrant Three. You his project? Mr. Wiseass?"
"Wiseman, yeah. And thanks." He released the soldier's arm, and took off, wondering where Quadrant Three was. A sign came to him- not from Heaven, but from a still-intact wall in front of him. He started to run, tearing blindly down the corridors. He dodged falling masonry and oncoming soldiers, leaping easily over huge piles of rubble. He ran with only half his mind to it- the other half kept a lookout for the loading bay. He came to the end of the row and, cursing softly to himself, turned to double back when he heard a muffled crying.
The Doc! Michael gave thanks to the Bose system installed in his cranium as he darted over to what had formerly been a storage building. He heaved a length of steel piping out of the way, then a slab of concrete and then the shattered remains of a ventilator. The crying got louder as Michael dug deeper. "Hang on!" he shouted. "I'm almost there!"
He finally cleared away a good portion of the wreckage and got his first good look at the victim trapped under it.
It wasn't the Doc. It was a young man- boy, Michael amended after a second- wearing army fatigues and a bandolier. A navy blue patch with "NY 54th" stitched on it in white hung off limply from a torn sleeve. A pair of frightened green eyes stared at Michael, red-rimmed through tears and grit. Blood trickled from his ears and scalp and- Michael swallowed convulsively- dripped from the savaged remains of the boy's right arm. A guard- dead, Michael noted with something like clinical detachment- sprawled over the boy's back.
"Please," the boy sniffled, "Get me out of here..."
"I-- I will," Michael told him, at a complete loss as to what to do. "Uh... do you think anything's broken?"
"Aside from my arm?" The boy managed a wheezing laugh. "And my pride? I don't..."
Michael crouched down. "Kid? Hey, kid!"
The boy's eyes took on the look of Dr. Matthews' eyes- they stared off into that middle distance, filled with a vacancy that no human eyes should have. "Commander Allen's gonna kill me," he whispered.
Michael shook the boy's shoulder as gently as he could. "Kid? You with-"
Nothing. Shaking his head, Michael pulled himself up and kept going.
At long last- and more through luck than navigation- he found the loading bay. One whole wall and the ceiling had fallen in; somehow, the three other walls had stayed up. Michael picked his way over the ruins, straining to hear something. Anything.
Finally he heard something, so faint he could barely make it out.
"Oh, Michael. Oh-oh Jesus..."
"Doc! Oh, God. Doc!" Michael scrambled over the rubble in the direction of the voice. "Keep singing, Doc!"
"... you know I'm not to blame..."
Michael crouched over where the Doc's voice came from and began to dig. Stonehenge-like slabs of concrete grated across rubble, smaller chunks and boulders flew as Michael pitched them aside, uncaring about who would see and who would comment. "Keep it going, Doc!"
"... you know my reputation for playing a good clean game."
"Clean game, Doc? You lying sonofa- I mean, c'mon. You play dirtier than, well, I don't know who plays dirtier than you do."
"Oh Michael, oh Jesus, I'll keep my promise when..."
Finally Michael cleared out the last of the debris and got his first look at the Doc. It wasn't a good one. Morris' glasses were smashed, his suit rumpled, and his leg very likely broken- in the very least. But, for the time being, it was good enough.
"... you turn that heartbeat over again. Da da da da..."
"Okay, Doc. Right you are. Now, c'mon, let's get you out of here."
"Get down on your knees, brother!"
"Oh, no. Absolutely no more Bobby Bland from you, young man. Not until we get you to the hospital." Michael cleared away the rest of the building from Morris' immediate vicinity.
"Ladies are kind-hearted," Morris informed him solemnly.
"Yes, they sure are," agreed Michael. "Although, I'd personally go for a paramedic myself."
"Hey, you've got one."
Michael spun around- it was a paramedic. More specifically, two paramedics and an officer following behind them. One of the paramedics shoved Michael out of the way and began to extricate Morris from the wreckage and onto the stretcher. Morris sang softly the entire time, although shock had him switching songs constantly. Bobby Bland progressed to B.B. King, after which Morris left the blues altogether and moved on to old television theme songs.
The officer accompanying the paramedics tapped Michael on the shoulder. "You're Mr. Wiseman, I presume? My name's Buchanan- Robert Buchanan. I'm the officer in charge of depot operations."
"Well," Michael said after a moment. "Since you're the guy in charge, I hope you're also the guy who can tell me what's going on here. Why aren't there any on-site doctors? These guys are, well, civilians."
"They partially shut down this place after the Gulf War, so active medical staff is restricted to one physician on call and a couple nurses- the doctor is being extricated as we speak and the nurses both have broken bones. Civilian craft and ambulances are taking non-critical patients to the hospital in Varick," Buchanan told him. "They don't have the facilities there to treat the severely injured, though. Some are being Medivac'ed to Clifton Springs and the rest- including Dr. Morris- are being taken to Ithaca."
"I'm going with him."
Buchanan eyed him. "You don't look like you're in any shape to tag along. Under the circumstances, I'd say you should consider getting yourself in one of those ambulances and going to Varick."
Michael drew himself up in his best impression of Dr. Morris at his most commanding. "I said that I'm going with Dr. Morris, and that is what I'm doing."
Shrugging, Buchanan turned away. "Whatever you say then. You're technically not under my command, so I'm not going to press you. Good luck."
"Yeah." Michael spun around and almost collided with the paramedics and Dr. Morris' stretcher.
"Sorry, buddy," the paramedic told him. "Full flight today. You'll have to go to the airport in Waterloo to hitch a ride to the Tompkins airport, and all craft there are being diverted here for criticals only. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm getting your friend here to Ithaca."
"Wait! Wait. How exactly can I get to Ithaca from here?"
"Straight down Route 96. The Tompkins County Medical Center is on your left. It's about sixty miles, give or take."
"Great. Thanks." Michael looked down at Morris for a second and grinned. "Sixty miles? Is that it?"
An hour and a half later, Michael ran through the ambulance bay door and into the emergency department at the Tompkins County hospital. After getting directions from a nurse, he ran to the surgery wing. From there, an unnecessarily curt surgeon directed him back down to the emergency department to get cleaned and stitched up. He fidgeted as the resident cleaned and stitched a cut on his forehead- everything else had healed, more or less. After accepting a set of scrubs and declining a shower, he ran back to the surgery department again.
Unfortunately, the same surgeon directed him to the waiting room.
"I would really just like to know how Dr. Morris is doing."
The surgeon glared at him. "Dr. Morris suffered a collapsed lung, a broken leg, a broken ankle, a bruised spleen, some liver damage, a slight concussion, and a..." the surgeon glanced at a chart before resuming, "... torn cruciate ligament. He is very badly injured. Other than that, the only thing I can tell you is that he is in surgery. I can also tell you that we will apprise you of his condition when he is out of surgery."
Dismissed to the waiting room, Michael fell into a seat. His mind told him to sleep or at least shut down for a bit- he didn't want to. He kept circling back to Dr. Matthews and that boy- how they had died while he had lived. How Dr. Morris had been in God knew how much pain until Michael found him- until Michael, with his super-strong and super-resilient body, had moved mountains of rubble to get him out.
He stared at his hands and arms. They looked ordinary, but he knew they weren't. Dr. Matthews had patiently explained the details of that to him for the better part of their three hours together. She went over how nanoware-enhanced muscles could build and retain strength without tearing and could metabolize energy faster and more efficiently. She explained how they made his skin elastic so it could spring back to cover a penetrating wound. She knew more about neuroanatomy: how they augmented and modified neurotransmitters to increase his pain threshold, how they'd altered his cerebellum to more easily compensate for his increased strength and agility, how they made muscle-nerve connections more sensitive and more powerful. After those three hours had finished- just before the bombs went off- he had asked her for a copy of the files. She had reluctantly agreed.
It had helped some, knowing how the Doc had done what he did. Christians got it in the Bible- how God created man was right there for them to read in Genesis. Any kid knew how humans came around, whether they were created or evolved. But he didn't know how he had come to be- the Book of Morris never elaborated beyond "You were dead. We put your brain in this body. Now you're alive again."
Now he felt helpless, realizing that all of the stuff that went into him didn't do him much good. The hands that could pull a safe out of a wall or dig into brick couldn't do anything. He had run a faster sixty miles than he had ever run before to get here and end up waiting like the few other people in the room with him. Michael felt something coming over him- something he hadn't felt in a long time. He curled up on his chair, drawing that amazing, God/Morris-given body into a knot.
No power, a hissing voice in the back of his head whispered over and over. No power.
You, reminded the memory of Dr. Matthews, are Michael Wiseman.
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