Thursday, January 6, 2011

Current Day: Colorado Airspace, eastbound

Lightning flared again, looking to Kailey like one big, bright flash. The sleet had frozen solid against the XG’s canopy. She was flying mostly by instruments, since the cameras didn’t give her a much better view than that through the canopy. As the lightning increased, the instruments’ reliability was starting to waver.
“Steady,” came Lieutenant Danz’ voice over the radio, around the warbling and squawking of the storm. “We’re nearly there.”
“Multimillion dollar aircraft, and they can’t even put in defrosters?”

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Two Years Past: Nano Return

Dr. Harris held the door open, but instead of the hulking figure of Jordan, a small, slender man of much lighter coloring stepped through the door.
He had large, brown eyes behind wire-rimmed spectacles, and his dark hair was parted at the side, cut conservatively. The hospital ID on his white coat’s left breast pocket read “Dr. Praveen Singh, Nanorobotics”
He brought a chair up to the side of Kailey’s bed, and sat.
“Good morning, Kailey,” he said, with a thick British accent, extending his hand to hers. She took it, and his handshake was warm, firm, despite his long, thin-fingered hand. “I am very pleased to finally meet you. I have been reading of your progress, in the project reports, as well as from the logs of Dr. Diggs —”
 “Dr. who?” Kailey asked.
Dr. Singh blinked. “Dr. Oscar Diggs. Oh, perhaps you know him as the Wizard,” he chortled. “He has taken great pains to make sure not many people know his name, though I can’t imagine why.
“And I am Dr. Praveen Singh. I work in Nanorobotics. While the Wizard writes the coding and programs for this project,” he said, digging into a pocket of his lab coat, “I provide a good portion of the hardware.” He set an IV drip bag on the table that sat over Kailey’s lap.
She stared at it. “It… looks like a saline drip,” she said.
“Most of it is,” the doctor said, with a smile. “But also, suspended in that saline solution are millions upon millions of tiny computers, nearly molecular in size.”
Kailey squinted at the bag.
“They will form a body-wide network, streaming through your blood, transmitting and relaying commands from the superconducting filaments woven through your musculature, providing the fine-tuning necessary for such things as picking up a penny, playing piano. They will also be providing computing power and feedback for much of your body’s involuntary muscle control.”
“Like… the way your body keeps itself upright, or balanced on one foot?”
“Yes! Exactly right,” he said with a smile. “With just the filament system, you could walk, but it would be… robotlike, like you may have seen in movies. But with these,” he tapped the saline bag, “your motor control will improve a thousandfold.”
Kailey smiled, and felt her heartbeat pick up a bit.
“Another benefit, they will provide the computing and feedback to enable you to regain nearly full feeling back in your lower body. You should be able to feel sensation down to the sand-grain level.”
Kailey felt her eyes widen. Her smile broadened.
Dr. Singh held up a hand.
“Before you get too excited, there are some drawbacks.” He waited, but Kailey didn’t ask any questions, so he continued. “Firstly, once this system is.. Ah.. Installed, it has to be maintained. It cannot be ‘turned off’ like the filaments. So, once they are active, they must stay active for the duration of this project. Once you gain feeling, we cannot just turn it completely off. This is for your own safety — you will be able to feel pain again, everything from a bumps to cuts, sprains and strains. This is so you do not — ironic as it sounds — hurt yourself. The pain response is there for a reason, and we have mimicked it as best we could.”
“So if I stub my toe, it will hurt, and keep hurting so I don’t keep walking on it?”
“That is correct.”
“Okay. Sounds fair,” she said.
“Secondly, and more importantly, your body will have to make certain adjustments.”
He paused, and Kailey thought for a few moments about it.
“If those are going to be in my blood,” she said, thinking aloud, “then… Won’t my body think it’s sick?”
Dr. Singh nodded, smiling. “Yes, very good. Your body will react as though it has an infection, yes. In other tests, this has manifested as a low-grade fever. While there is not much we can do about that, it is not in and of itself a danger. You will need to drink plenty of fluids, since dehydration is the primary danger. You will be required to take some drugs to counteract the other responses.”
“The… cells that gobble up invaders?”
Again, the doctor smiled. “Yes, that is another reason why there are so many tiny machines. Some will get ‘gobbled up’ as you say. Others may cease functioning earlier than others. We have a certain level of redundancy built into each dosage. The immunosuppressants will lessen the amount of ‘gobbling’ done, but that also means that you will be at higher risk for infection if exposed to legitimate viruses and bacteria.
“Finally, and this is very important. These machines cannot repair themselves. They have a limited lifespan before their power supply gives out. They are not self-replicating.”
“Batteries not included,” Kailey said. “So… they have to be replaced?”
He nodded. “They should break up once their power runs out, and pass harmlessly through your system. But periodically, we will have to do a total cleansing. You will be required to undergo a special type of dialysis, once every few months, and then receive an entirely new doseage.
“I must warn you, they are very, very trying on your kidneys, and if some of the machines do not break up entirely, they could clog up the filtering. This is another reason we do the periodic full cleansing. You will be at very high risk for symptoms not unlike kidney stones and at long-term risk of renal failure. Do you understand this?”
Kailey’s mouth had gone dry, and she sipped at the cup of water that was always close by. She nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
“I will leave the full documentation on your terminal, and you can contact me, or any of the staff here if you have any questions. Your Dr. Carter and I have had many long conversations about this step in the process, and I urge you to talk it over with her before you make a decision one way or another.”
He stood up, and took the IV bag, slipping it back into his pocket, then held out his hand again.
“Thank you for your time, Kailey.”
She shook his hand somewhat distractedly.
The doctors, when they showed up, never failed to drop something huge and heavy in her lap.
“You look as if I have just hit you with a bus,” he said. “But.. When you are ready, please let me know your questions and concerns.” He patted her hand, then turned and left.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Two Years' Past: Motion Control

“Again, please.”

Kailey lifted her right arm, up as high as the clearance inside the scanner’s tunnel would allow, which wasn’t much.

“Okay, now down.” The Wizard was giving her instructions through a headset, his voice crackling as the magnetic fields garbled the signal, even through the heavy shielding of the cable.

“Is it supposed to feel like somebody is using me for a tuning fork?” Kailey asked into the microphone.

“Not for normal people, no,” the Wizard said. “But normal people don’t have superconducting nervous systems.“

“Don’t the magnets hurt the computers in my head?”

“They don’t work like conventional computers. No magnetic storage. Left arm, please, up.”

Kailey raised her left arm.

“All right, now down. And.. Up again, please.”

Kailey followed his instructions. In many ways, it was like the warmups in ballet. First position, third position, fifth position, over and over again, until she didn’t even have to think about where or what her body was doing, it just responded to the verbal cues.

They were teaching the computers — both the motion control mainframes and the smaller versions in Kailey’s head — where her muscle groups were, and where they were located in her brain. The lacework of filaments overlaying her brain watched the neural activity, learning the various pathways, taking ‘snapshots’ as it were, of the various movements.

“We aren’t really teaching your computers how you move — it already knows the basics,” the Wizard had said on the first day. “Motion control therapy fine tunes that information to your body. We’re creating a filter of sorts, so when you think ‘jump’ the command doesn’t come back asking for more juice than your muscles can provide, and you wind up hurting yourself.”

“Right hand, up ninety degrees from the elbow, please.”

“Palm up or down?” she asked.

“Palm down. Good catch. And stop smiling. I see that. We’re not working on facial muscles yet.”

Kailey lifted her hand, until it pointed at the top of the doughnut.

“Now down. Now the left.”

* * * * *

After only two months, Kailey had completed the upper body filtering.

Jordan wheeled Kailey down the corridor, but they passed the doorway leading to the PET scanner.

“Aren’t we…?”

“Nope. Next phase of therapy is a little different.”

He wouldn’t give any more away no matter how much Kailey wheedled.

He eventually stopped before one of the Audio/Video labs. He tapped in a code at the keypad by the door, and it clicked open. He backed Kailey into the room.

This particular room was dominated by what looked like a dentist’s chair on steroids. A thick bundle of cabling snaked over to a server tower in one corner. The entire rear wall of the room, opposite the door, was a projection screen, and showed a blue screen.

Jordan lifted Kailey from the wheelchair to the other chair, again adjusting her scrubs to keep them free from wrinkles.

The Wizard looked up from the workstation near the tall mainframe, swiveling his stool around as he pushed himself across the small space to Kailey’s side.

“Okay, Kailey. We’ve done as much as we can with your upper body, the parts you still have feeling in. I have to tell you, I wasn’t expecting to hit this phase of the program for another couple months. Great work.” He smiled.

Kailey felt the blush creep across her face. “I… I didn’t to much, just followed directions.”

“Well, if we keep this up, you’ll have breezed through the conditioning in about two thirds of the time we were expecting it to take. I just hope Dr. Singh is ready by the time we finish up.” His smile shifted more towards ‘grin’ territory.

“So… what do we do now?”

“All you have to do is watch the films we’re going to show, and think about how the leg muscles would work out the actions.”

“Thats it?”

“That’s it,” the Wizard said.

“Wow. Okay.”

“Ready?” he asked, scooting back over to the workstation.

“Um, yeah. I guess.”

The Wizard tapped at a few keys, and the blue flashed into shaky, grainy video footage.

“Oh my God,” Kailey breathed. She leaned over, looking back behind the chair. “That’s me!”

The Wizard grinned. “Well, I said we were going to have to start over at the beginning. Your parents were most gracious in giving us every scrap of footage of you that they had.”

Kailey turned back to the wall, having a hard time watching through the haze of tears in her eyes. But she watched, and thought, very hard.

The Wizard tapped at the keys every now and then, or made an adjustment on a dial here or there, and the lights of the mainframe flashed, red-to-green-to-red, learning what Kailey had learned nearly a dozen years ago.

* * * * *

“You were cute as a kid,” Jordan said, as he wheeled her back up the corridor.

Kailey sat in silence. She knew what was coming next.

“What happened?” they both asked at the same time.

“Jordan, you really need some new material,” Kailey told him, her voice showing a weariness. How could it be more exhausting watching movies than the first phase of the therapy?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Two Years' Past: The Whys

“You didn’t deserve what happened, and I might be able to fix some of the damage. You’re young, with more to do in life ahead of you. You were still alive when they pulled you out of the rubble. You’re strong. Stubborn. Those are both qualities we need in the candidates for this sort of program. You were a dancer, the very best at the academy, which means you have other qualities that we will need for this type of work.

“I talked to the medic that flew in with you. You know what he told me the first thing you said to him was when he found you?”

Kailey shook her head. Her memories of the accident were fragmentary at best.

“You grabbed his sleeve and said ‘I’d rather die than not be able to dance again.’”

Kailey blinked at the sudden hot sting of tears in her eyes.

“So that has been and is my promise to you. You aren’t dead, so we’ll make it so you can dance again.”

The Wizard fished in his pocket, and pulled out a handkerchief, handed it to Kailey.

* * * * *

“You all right?” Jordan asked, as they went back up the corridor. “Your eyes are all puffy. I’ll knock his ass down if he made you cry.”

“No, it’s okay, Jordan.”

They went up the elevator in silence.

“Hey, Jordan,” she said, as they rounded the corner to the cafeteria.


“How much did you know? About me? The surgeries? The metal?”

“Not much. Knew you had a tough time, someone dropped a house on you, and they did some Humpty-Dumpty. Guessed they did something first time I picked you up. You’re heavier than you look, girl. Not, like, megatons, or anything, maybe an extra two or three kilos. I’ve lifted enough weights to be able to tell the difference.”

“I’m not fat, I just have titanium laced through all my bones,” Kailey said, batting her eyes up at him.

Jordan laughed.

“Hey, what’s that he gave you?”

“Homework,” Kailey said, indicating the three folders.

“Huh. Thought you only got that after Third Session.”

“He says it’s required reading.”

“Well, what is it?”

Kailey flipped open the top folder, showed Jordan. He frowned.

“It’s all fuzzy,” he said. “Like they do in those porno videos when they don’t want you to see the naughty bits.”

“What do you mean? Look, it says right here: ‘Microfilament nerve architecture is…’” She frowned when Jordan frowned again. “It does,” she insisted.

“I believe you, girlfriend. Never heard you use words like ‘micro-whatever’ so you must be getting it from somewhere. Maybe the computer in your head is deciphering it.”

“Well… He did say it was for my eyes only…. I wonder what else it can do. Maybe I could use it to help me with my other homework, too!”

Jordan shook his head. “I don’t know what’s scarier, girl. The fact that you can just accept that they crammed all that stuff into you, that your first reaction is to want to use it to cheat on your homework.” He laughed again.

“Okay, headin’ on into the chow hall. Think maybe we should keep all the super girl stuff hush-hush?”

Kailey nodded. Chances are, the dirty old men would just ask when she was going to get the skimpy costume, anyway.

* * * * *

Dr. Burke stood in front of the door to Kailey’s room, arms crossed, and the scowl etched even deeper into her features.

She unfolded her arms at Kailey’s approach, extending a hand.

“Those folders, Miss Winter, if you please.”

Kailey’s grip on the folders in her lap tightened.

“The folders,” the older woman repeated, the word coming out close to a hiss at the end. “You are not allowed to have those, they are property of this Institute. Return them immediately.”

“The information relates directly to my ongoing medical treatment. I have a right to know. They are part of my medical records, and I have a right to those, as well. Why didn’t you tell me about any of this before?” Kailey asked.

“It was not necessary for your recovery up until this point. As your physician, I—”

“I think I have a right to know what’s been done to me in an operating room. That’s what doctors do. They say ‘We’ve reinforced your entire skeleton with metal, oh yeah, and let’s not forget about the computers and microfilament wiring’ not ‘We replaced a couple crushed vertebrae and repaired your legs.’”

Dr. Burke’s lips set in a firm, grim line.

“And that buzzing in my head? It’s line noise across the nanofilament webwork that bled over into my audio cortex. Not tinnitus.”


“I want another doctor.”

“You can’t—”

“I can. Doctor Diggs was very open about my rights as a patient. He said that if I wanted a new general physician, all I have to do is ask.” She looked up. “Jordan, I do not feel that Dr. Burke has my best interests at heart and has acted unethically by withholding information about my condition and deliberately lying to me.”

Jordan stared at the doctor. “Now that a patient as expressed concerns regarding her treatment, it would be unethical to continue treatment with such a breach of trust.”

Dr. Burke turned, stalking down the hallway, her back very straight.

* * * * *

Kailey was in her room, brushing her hair, still damp from the after-Fourth-Session shower when the knock came at her door.

It wasn’t Jordan’s jaunty two-knock cadence, or the gentle tap of her morning nurse, but slightly more hesitant.

“Come in,” Kailey said, tugging at a snarl in her curls.

Another doctor in a white coat stepped in, tallish, with short blonde hair and wire-rimmed glasses on a chain around her neck, dangling along with the lanyard full of keys and her Institute ID badge, which was turned around so the magnetic stripe showed. She carried a thick file under one arm.

“Good evening, I hope I’m not interrupting,” she said in a clear, high voice. “I’m Dr. Emily Carter, and I’ll be taking over your general medical care from Dr. Burke.” She held out a hand, and Kailey took it, surprised at the warm, firm handshake. Dr. Burke’s was like a dead fish.

“I’ll be sitting down later tonight with Drs. Harris and Diggs, and—”

“He hates being called Dr. Diggs,” Kailey said.

“He— oh, all right.” She looked down, and made a notation on a pad of paper that was at the top of the stack in her arms. She sat in Kailey’s wheelchair, propping the files up on her knees, and flipped back a few pages in the notepad.

“Dr. Burke never sat in my wheelchair,” Kailey said.

“She probably always stood by your bedside, so you had to look up at her,” Dr. Carter said.

“Well… yeah, now that you mention it.”

“I like to think of this as part of seeing things from your perspective,” Dr. Carter said. “Now, having read over your medical notes and case file, I have some questions here…”

Kailey and Dr. Carter talked for several hours, and they both looked up when the night nurse came in with Kailey’s evening medications.

“Just the two yellows and the big pink one. You won’t be taking the little red and blue ones any more. You might have some difficulty getting to sleep the next few nights, but I’d rather it was natural sleep.”

Kailey nodded, sipping water to wash down the pills.

“Rest of the glass. Water is the best thing for you.”

“Yes, doctor,” Kailey muttered, and settled back once she’d finished the glass. Dr. Carter got up, and pulled the covers up, tucking them in around Kailey’s legs.


Kailey nodded.

“I’ll be back first thing in the morning.”

“If it’s not too much trouble,” Kailey said.

“Never,” she said, and turned off the overhead lights on her way out the door.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Two Years' Past: Truths

He let go of her hands, got up, and came back with his briefcase. He set it on the exam table, and opened it up, pulling out a pile of folders several inches thick. He thumbed through them and pulled one out from near the bottom of the stack and handed it to Kailey.

“What’s this?” she asked. The folder didn’t have any kind of filing notation on it, just a number: 5.

“Kailey, I don’t want to scare you. But there are some truths that they didn’t tell you that I think it is very important that you know. Remember, when I said that the goal here is to get you on your feet?”

She nodded.

“Well, that is one of the truths. And in order to get there, we had to do some things to you. I say ‘we’ and lump myself into the group, so if you are going to be angry, then you have to be angry with me, too. And I accept full responsibility for my part in this.”

“Okay, now you’re starting to scare me,” she said, her voice wavering a bit.

“You have questions. Ask them, at any time, and I will answer them, to the best of my ability. The best hope for all of this work to amount to anything is for all of us to be very honest with you. After all, this is your life we’re dealing with here. Some of the doctors, and scientists, I think, forget that there is a person on the end result of their work.”

“When you said you — they — had to do things to me, what did that mean?”

The Wizard sat back. “When the I-beam came down, it hit you in the lower back. Fortunately, you were on your knees at the time, and your falling with the beam after that point is probably what kept the damage from being more extensive than it could have been. Other debris was able to cascade into the gap and keep that beam from completely crushing you. Those fractions of a second were critical to your survival.”

“I… sort of remember when it fell. I was trying to get away, to crawl across the floor towards the door. I cut up my knees, but then I couldn’t feel them. I guess that was when my back broke.”

“It wasn’t a clean break. There was crushing damage, and your spinal cord wasn’t severed completely. But enough bone fragments were lodged in it to cause permanent damage.”

“Now you sound like a doctor,” Kailey said.

“They didn’t fly you to a normal hospital. You came straight to the facility where I was working at the time, and as your helicopter was landing, I got the call, that they had another candidate for the research project I’d been working on.”

“‘Another?’ Like, I’m not the first?” She glanced down at the folder. “I’m number five?”

The Wizard nodded.

“What happened to one through four?”

“They died.”

Something of the light in the Wizard’s eyes dimmed, then, and his jaw clenched, just the slightest bit.

“Oh,” Kailey said. Then she leaned forward, putting her hand on the man’s knee. “I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.”

“No,” he said, taking a deep breath. “That’s just it. It was. I pushed too hard, lost sight of the end result of the project. I forgot that there were people on the other end of my research. I shelved it. Stopped the work, shut everything down.

“Number four, Donald Brown, 32, My age, at the time, too. Construction worker. He fell, several stories, was paralyzed, like you are, from the waist down. I spent two years with him, in rehabilitation. Watched him take his first few steps. But he wanted to run before he could walk. And it killed him. Heart failure. That was eight years ago, last February.”

“If it’s so dangerous, then… why… Is it going to kill me, too?”

“No!” he said, and Kailey jumped.

“Sorry,” he said, taking a deep breath. “In the eight years, a lot of work has been done with the kinds of systems I was working with. Medical knowledge has progressed. And, I’m sorry, but you are a lot tougher than Don, and Kyle, and Vincent and Xavier.”

Kailey didn’t miss the slight hesitation between the last two names.

“Were you related to Xavier?” she asked.

“You don’t miss much, do you?”

Kailey shrugged. “Well, I have been seeing shrinks for the past six months.”

The Wizard smiled. “Xavier was my younger brother. Bit of a daredevil. Motorcycle accident.”

“I’m sorry,” Kailey said.

“So am I,” the Wizard said.

They sat in silence for several minutes, and then the Wizard cleared his throat.

“So, what the doctors and scientists did to you is very delicate, very intensive work. The fact that you survived that phase — phase zero — is a very, very good sign.”

“Phase zero, as in ‘might be over before it even starts.’”

The Wizard nodded. “Wow, talk about hitting the nail on the head.”

“So it was the operations to fix my back? And legs?”

“Yes, and then some. Your left leg was broken in several places, and they couldn’t pin the pieces together. So they regrew a new femur, around a titanium latticework. We did that for all your major skeletal bones — Oh, they didn’t pull them all out and replace them, that would be messy. It was non invasive procedure, injections that flowed through the bones while under special magnetic fields.”

Kailey stared at her hands. “I’m not going to grow claws, am I?”

The Wizard laughed. “No, and no yellow spandex. No fighting crime, no leaping tall buildings.”

“But… metal doesn’t radiate electro magnetic waves.”

“No. The superconducting wiring laced through your muscles is doing that.”


“Well, thinner than wires. Filaments, really. Even thinner than fiber optics. It’s an artificial nervous system. Works just like it, bouncing impulses back and forth to the computers inside you. Eventually, those will get you up and walking again.”

“It’s a really good thing I’m already sitting down,” Kailey said.

“Bit much to take in, I know.”

“I know they make computers really small, but…”

“Three in your head, three in your spine.”

“They opened up my head?”

“Dr. Harris did, yes. He laid down the neural latticework and placed the primary processors in the back of your skull, and wired the filament system into it.”

“You make it sound like it’s something he does every day.”

“Well, he is a brain surgeon. The very best in his field. Every single doctor involved in this — in you — is the very best in their field. We are all working for you, Kailey. For you, not on you, like you’re some kind of car that just needs a tune up.”

“But… why?”

“You don’t ask very simple questions,” the Wizard said, with a sigh.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Two years' past: Halos

Kailey watched the numbers light up along the top rim of the elevator doors.

“Hey, the exercise rooms are on 4. We missed it.”

“We’re heading for the basement today, girlfriend. Time for Phase 2.”

“Phase 2?”

The elevator stopped on the ground floor, and a man in a tweed coat stepped into the elevator. He smiled.

“Jordan, Kailey, nice to see you again. You’re looking much better since the last time I saw you.”

Kailey blinked. “Um… Do I… have we met before?”

The man frowned. “No I guess you wouldn’t remember our first meeting. Well, introductions again, then,” he said, and the elevator dinged. He walked with them down the hall towards one of the labs.

“I was there when you woke up, the first time, some months ago. Bit of a mess, that was. I told them it would be a bad idea, so soon after the surgeries.”

“I know they did a lot of operations on me,” Kailey said. “But they were very vague about what they were all for. I have a lot of scars that I didn’t have before.”

The man nodded, stopping at a door and tapping in a code at the keypad that replaced the door’s lock.

He stepped in, holding the door.

The room was mostly dark, and was filled mostly with a machine taller than Jordan, that he could probably stretch out full length inside of with room to spare. An examination table sat on a track that would slide through a doughnut-like opening in the middle of the machine.

As Jordan wheeled her up to the table, the buzzing in her head picked up a notch, going up in pitch, as if the bees had started buzzing faster. They didn’t much like the machine, and Kailey didn’t think she did, either.

The man in the tweed coat stepped through a partition in the room, opposite the machine, that was glassed in. Even with the lights off, monitors tossed gray-green light up onto his face, making him look like the big floating head in the Wizard of Oz.

Kailey giggled, nervously. The man in the booth shrugged out of his tweed, and replaced it with a crisp white lab coat. He checked a few things here and there among the computers in the room, then wheeled a stool out into the main part of the room, and he sat facing Kailey. It was a refreshing change, not having a desk between her and the other doctor, or having to crane her neck look up all the time.

“Welcome to Phase 2,” he said.

Kailey blinked. “How many phases are there?”

“Including phase 0… five, that I know of.”

“Why didn’t they just call phase 0 phase 1 and then this would be phase 3?”

The man laughed. “This is a joint project between several universities and at least two governments. Somebody probably snuck something in at the last minute, after all the paperwork was filed.

“But that isn’t really all that important. What is important is the end result, and that is getting you back on your feet. Everything we do here, everything that has been done, and that will be done is being done with that goal in mind. They explained that to you, right?”

Kailey nodded. “You… Don’t talk like the other doctors,” she said.

“Well, I’m a doctor, too, but mine is a PhD, not an M.D. But please, don’t call me Doctor, or Doc, or anything like that.” He frowned down at the patch above the left breast pocket of his lab coat. In cursive blue letters, it read “Dr. Oscar Diggs.”

“We’re going to be working together, very closely for many years to come. This is not a doctor-patient relationship, like you have with Dr. Harris, or Dr. Burke. I would like this to start out as a partnership, and depending on how things progress, hopefully a friendship. We’re stuck with each other for this and future phases of the project, so get used to seeing me around.” He smiled. It wasn’t a “this won’t hurt a bit” smile, but a genuine one, that reached his eyes.

“My name, by the way, is Oscar. Oscar Diggs, but hardly anybody calls me that.”

“Then.. What do they call you? If you don’t like ‘Dr.’ then what should I call you?”

“Around here, and in the circles that I work, they’ve dubbed me ‘the Wizard.’”

Kailey stifled a giggle.

“I know, it’s a bit pretentious,” he said, hanging his head.

“No.. It’s just… when you were in the little room over there and the monitors were lighting you up… I thought you looked like the big floating head from the Wizard of Oz. So… does that make me Dorothy, then?”

The man smiled. “You know, it’s funny, but before I knew your name, I thought of you in my head as a ‘Dorothy.’”

Kailey frowned, and stuck out her tongue.

“Yeah. I much prefer your real name, too.”

Kailey’s eyes flicked over his shoulder to the big machine, which sat humming away, the bees in her head buzzing in concert with it.

“Oh, this?” he said, turning and putting a hand on the machine. “Ol’ Betha won’t hurt you. She’s mostly harmless. She’s a bit of an odd bird. She’s part CT scanner, meaning we’ll be able to do 3D X-rays. We’ll also be able to peek at your brain, and see it light up when I ask you to perform some simple tasks. And we’ll be doing a lot of that. This phase is going to be boring and repetitive. ‘Wax on, wax off,’ as it were. But, like the kid in that movie, the work we’re doing today will help us down the road. Questions?”

Kailey thought. He’d answered most of them, and even some she hadn’t thought of. Then… “So.. If this thing uses magnets and x-rays, is that why the bees buzzing in my head are so loud?”


She nodded. “Like, bunches of them.” She brought her hand up to the side of her head, and shook it around. “All… buzzy and agitated.”

The man reached into his pocket, and pulled out a plastic wedge. He flipped a switch on it, and a series of lights blinked across the top, running left to right, in green. He held it up to Bertha, and the thing lit up all the way across, lighting up the very last red light. The lights decreased as he brought the device further and further away from the machine.

“K-2 meter. Measures electromagnetic fields.”

He held it between the machine and Kailey, and the first two lights flickered back and forth. Then the first light flickered as he drew it closer to Kailey, and another and another lit steadily as he brought it closer to her head.

“Got a bit of a halo going,” he said with a grin. He stood up, went into the partitioned control chamber, and came out with a camera.

“Say cheese.” He said, and clicked the shutter. Though the room was dark, it made no flash.

“That picture’s going to be terrible,” Jordan said.

The Wizard walked over, and turned the viewscreen around so they could see.

Jordan showed up as dark silhouette, the machine a bright flare on the right of the picture, blazing like a spotlight. Around Kailey’s head was a hazy corona of blue-white light. Her entire body was limned in the blue-white light. Another burst of light showed along her lower back.

“This isn’t in the visible light spectrum,” Kailey said. “I’m glowing!”

“Everybody puts out a little bit of an EM field,” the man said. “But it’s not strong enough to show up on most detectors. You light up like a christmas tree because of the hardware the surgeons installed.”

Kailey frowned. “Hardware? They told me they just fixed my back and the bones in my legs….”

The man frowned. “That’s it?”

She nodded.

He whistled. “I’m going to have to have a talk with your doctors, then. They were supposed to have given you a partial briefing at the very least.”

“What did they do? What did they do to me? Why do I glow like some kind of ghost?”

The man looked up. “Jordan, would you mind leaving for a bit? Kailey and I need to talk, it seems.”

The big man nodded, then patted Kailey’s shoulder. “Be right outside the door, Sunshine.”

She nodded.

When the door shut, the man took Kailey’s hands in his, leaning his elbows on his knees. “How much do you remember before you came here? Before you woke up?”

Kailey sighed. “I talk about this stuff in First Session.”

“Well,” he said, “let me give you something to really talk about with them, then.”

Friday, January 29, 2010

Flashback: 2 years' past: Worth

“No, over there,” Kailey said, inclining her head away from the two round tables where several groups of older men and women in light green scrubs and mismatched bathrobes sat.

Jordan wheeled her around, past the collection of walkers and crutches arrayed behind their seats, and he parked Kailey at a small square table for three against the wall, below the windows.

“I’m doing my best here, K” — the way he said it, it sounded like just the letter, that was it. “They want you to socialize. It doesn’t do you any good, just sitting in your room when you’re not in sessions.”

“Session” was the Institute’s term for therapy, be it physical or mental. Kailey had four sessions a day, a counseling session after breakfast, followed by conditioning until lunch.

“Conditioning” was the Institute’s term for ever increasing bouts of torture with large metal machines and slabs that surely weighed more than the numbers painted on the sides would lead anyone to believe.

After lunch, it was a schooling session. Because she was under age — as well as a year behind — she spent three hours a day with a different tutor every day, fulfilling the state’s requirement that she maintain schooling if at all possible.

After studies, she spent three or four hours with another group of physical therapists, and they worked her lower body, bending, stretching, lifting. She was glad she couldn’t feel anything they did down there, if how she felt above the waist was any indication of the results of a session.

Kailey picked at the cereal in her pre-measured, pre-heated bowl. This was the cereal for babies, consisting of… mush… rather than, say, something with flakes, or berries, or O’s.

“Maybe I should go over there, and sweet talk one of those guys with the new hip out of a slice of bacon,” Kailey said with a narrow-eyed glance over her shoulder.

One of the other old men happened to catch her glance, and he smiled, lifting his box of orange juice in a toast.

Kailey hoped his eyes were bad, and he mistook her grimace for a smile so he wouldn’t think her too rude.

Jordan hunched over his own tray, concentrating on peeling the grapefruit he’d selected. In his hands, it looked about the size of an orange in any normal person’s grip, and he peeled it apart and ate it in sections like an orange.

Kailey glowered at the banana.

“No,” Jordan said, as he ate another slice.

“I didn’t even—”

“Don’t have to, K. Nothing too acidic for another three weeks. That banana has everything this grapefruit does. And don’t forget to take your pills.”

She glowered at the little cup of pills, piled half-full, then began fishing them out one by one, taking them with a slurp of low fat milk. She wasn’t sure if she grimaced more from the chalky texture of the pills, the nasty taste of whatever the coating it was they used on the vitamins, or the milk itself.

She pushed her tray away after she finished her pills.

“You didn’t finish. Eat your banana.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“I’m not going to sneak you any snacks between sessions,” Jordan said, wiping his hands.

“I would never ask you to do that for me,” she said, trying to sit straighter in the chair.

“You never do. You just make those puppy dog eyes and stick that lower lip out.”

She pouted.

“See? There you go. Girlfriend, aren’t you a little old for that trick?”

“That depends. Does it still work?” she asked.

Jordan sighed, and slid her tray atop his.

“So.. What? You’re saying it makes me ugly? Are you saying I’m ugly now?”

He rolled his eyes, then undid her brakes, and wheeled her over to the table full of old men.

“Gentlemen, good morning. Could I ask your opinion on something? I seek the wisdom of my elders.”

“Best watch that tone, sonny. I may have a new knee, but I can still get up and kick your butt from here across the room,” one of the men said. Kailey wasn’t sure if he had his teeth in or not.

“My patient here is doubting her appearance. As my opinion may be biased because I’m stuck looking at her sorry self all day, every day, maybe you could give her a fresh perspective?”

With her hands full of tray, trying to keep it even so the grapefruit rinds didn’t fall to the floor, Kailey couldn’t smack Jordan. He must have planned it that way.

“She’s cute when she’s mad. Which she is, most of the time I see her in here,” said one of the men with a toothy smile. “You keep saying whatever it is you say to her, sonny.”

“Bit scrawny. They should feed her more than bird seed, put some meat on those bones.”

“If I was fifty years younger… And you were a few years older…” He winked.

Kailey felt her meager breakfast begin to turn an uncomfortable flop in her stomach.

“Thank you, gentlemen. Until lunch hour, then,” Jordan said, and with an incline of his head, he wheeled Kailey to the doors, slowing to allow her to deposit their trash and trays on the receptacles.

“See, that wasn’t so bad,” he said, as the doors whisked shut behind them.

“He winked at me,” she said, crossing her arms.

“You still got it, Girlfriend,” Jordan said, beginning to whistle the tuneless song he’d been composing all week.

“They’re a bunch of dirty old men. Next time you bring me by there, I’ll tell them you’re gay, that’s why you don’t find me attractive at all.”

“I never said you weren’t. Just not my type, is all.”

“And what is your type, then?”

“I like my girls tall, with a lot of… spark in them.”

“I think you meant to say ‘big boobs.’”

“Well, yeah, those would help, too. Nothin’ at all wrong with a nice, healthy pair of—”

“Shut up, Jordan.”

“I’m talkin’ cantaloupes, not apples, you know?”

“Shut up, Jordan.”

“Well, you asked.”