Preamble: This is my first time out with the hurt/comfort thing, but I've been inspired by some Magnificent Seven fan fiction (where it seems that's the rule rather than the exception), by recent discussions on the N&A list, and even by my own maternal instincts (which, being the mom of seven, are considerable). I couldn't help myself, but if this is really bad, please don't flame me, I didn't mean it, honest.

All the King's Men

by Debbi K.

We knew this could happen. We had a contingency plan for it in the event that it did:

Should the experiment become no longer viable, terminate it.

We made you as strong and as resilient and as fast as we possibly could. We made you immune or resistant to every known pathogen, and we gave you a fighting force of antibodies that rivals the armies of Alexander.

But no living organism, no matter how "perfectly engineered" is a match for a kilo of semtex and the consequent entombment beneath the rubble of a ten-story building.

If I had created you any lesser of a man, you'd be dead.

Of course, for all intents and purposes, you are dead. What was that line from The Wizard of Oz? "Not just merely dead, but really most sincerely dead?" You were merely dead before. Dead to the world you knew and that knew you. This death would be the "most sincerely" one. All it would take is a flick of a switch...

The machine that's breathing for you will stop, and you will go on living twice as long as a normal man would - six, seven, maybe even ten minutes. But then, you'd be just as dead as dead can get.

Or, I can choose not to pull the proverbial plug and let you heal, which you will do, eventually. And you'll do it in one tenth the time it would take an ordinary human being. Theoretically. We don't really know to what extent it's possible for you to recover from injuries this severe. There was no way to test that ahead of time.

Even titanium-impregnated bone takes time to regenerate when it's been pulverized to pieces smaller than the size of those peas you have learned to hate so much. Silicon-enmeshed organs need time to repair themselves when they are bruised and torn and crushed, ripped from the protective shell of your polymer-enhanced flesh. And that blood of yours that carries more than 5 times the normal amount of oxygen to your perfectly developed muscles can't do much for you if that incredibly efficient heart I gave you has pumped most of it out through severed arteries onto slabs of fallen concrete.

You are not indestructible, Mr. Wiseman. The evidence of that is right before my eyes.

You no longer even remotely resemble the biomedically engineered marvel that you are. Steel pins stabilize your shattered limbs; a ventilator pumps air into lungs seared by flame and toxic fumes; a tangle of plastic tubing encases you, entering your ravaged body with nourishing fluids, leaving it to drain the toxic by-products of your existence, and connecting you to machines that do the work of organs too devastated to keep you alive on their own.

You look dead already, your fine features bloodless and unrevealing, so close to death that all you need do is wish for it to make it so.

I know you don't want to die, Mr. Wiseman.

But right now, a team of technicians, scientists, doctors and politicians is deciding your fate. Men in black, whose only claim on you is the hardware, software, bioware and technology that created you. . Men who haven't heard your smart-ass jokes, or seen your rage as we kept you, out of necessity, from those you cherish. Men who don't know how persistently you attempt to establish human contact with those who would pretend you are a machine - because you are aware of your own humanity, even if those around you refuse to acknowledge it. Men who haven't seen you smile. Or heard you laugh.

Or made you cry.

Men who don't know you, Mr. Wiseman. And who don't really care to.

You will live, if we allow it. We know that much. But the question is, how useful will you be to us if you can no longer serve our purpose?

What if instead of being faster and stronger and yes, better than any other human being on the planet, it will be all you can do to walk to the bathroom by yourself?

Your brain is still your brain. We couldn't do anything to make that any more efficient than the God who created you the first time. The CAT scans show that the damage there is minimal, no doubt thanks to the ceramic-infused, bio-gel lined cranium that houses it.

But what is "minimal" when this being that you are relies on that brain to establish and maintain molecular connections with computer chips 1/1000th the size of a grain of sand?

You will live, Mr. Wiseman. If we let you. But what will you be, if not what we made you? And why keep you alive if you are not?

Why indeed. These questions will be asked of me, and I won't have the answers.

I know you can't hear me, Mr. Wiseman. We never really planned for the delicate apparatus that enables you to detect the sound of my voice to be flattened by a concussion blast equal to a sledge hammer hitting the side of your skull.

But, I say your name, anyway. I run my fingers through your hair, the color and texture of which I left strictly to random chance. We had to have some surprises, didn't we?


The biggest surprise, Mr. Wiseman, was you. Sometimes, I think you hate us for what we've done to you. And at other times, I see your secret delight in the gifts we have bestowed upon you.

You love, you hate, you think, you feel.

We could not have figured that into our equations, so we chose to ignore the possibility that you would be so...


You respond to my touch, if not my voice, and your eyes flutter open. The eyes that I made blue, because did you know that brown eyes, like mine, have a sixty times greater risk of impaired vision? No. Of course you didn't. Why would you know that? Why would you care?

Those eyes look at me now, clouded with confusion and pain. I up the dosage on your morphine drip. You won't become addicted. Your liver can detoxify substances that would be instantly fatal to most people.

But I know that the drugs only take the sharpest edge off and that you still hurt. My fear is that the enhanced neural pathways with which I have endowed you now serve only to amplify your suffering.

I take your hand in mine. It's too warm, and the iron grip that should be able to imprint solid steel has no strength in it. Even so, your fingers fold around my palm.

You look so much smaller than I remember making you.

Your fingers tighten around my hand. Are you asking me to end your torment, or to lend you the strength to endure it?

I think I know you well enough to know the answer to that, just as I know what answer the committee I report to will arrive at, and just as I know how I will answer them, in turn.

Careful not to dislodge the IV taped to your arm, I take your hand firmly in both of my own.

You are mine, Mr. Wiseman. The life you have is the one I gave you.

And I, and I alone, will be the one to take it away.

The End

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