Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NaNoWriMo '09, Chapter Eighteen: Growing Pains

The below is a section of the novel that I wrote for National Novel Writing Month. It isn't a stand-alone story, and it's probably not worth your time to read. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month so wordcount is valued above quality. This is a good thing, as it encourages people to actually finish a project. Nobody expects that the result will be ready for public consumption without heavy editing. If you want to read it for some reason you can view the whole thing in one place HERE although that's still totally unedited and terrible. You have been warned.

After the attack, the betrayal, that whole disaster, I woke up in a hospital as a John Doe - but Agent Ferris won't be able to track me back even that far, let alone to the incident that put me in my coma in the first place. He can look all he wants. I can see that he's trying, and his searches are quite clever. Right now he knows the obvious parts of my seventeen-year career with the feds, plus the names of two of the three politicians I've blackmailed to maintain my position. That information is useless, worthless.

His new strategies, the clever ones, have scored him something that Doyt managed to overlook a hundred times - the name of a surviving scientist that worked on the original experiments. Well, not original… but I'm the only one that knows that. I don't know if that will fill in any blanks for him, but it's a good place to start. Will the good doctor remember that I was still healing from the incident when I arrived? Will Ferris think to look for unclaimed medical records? I'm inclined to think that even with all of the government snooping tools at his disposal that won't be enough to narrow it down.

After I woke up, still injured and confused, I knew that I had failed. Everyone and everything I had worked for, gone. I think I cried then, just lay in the hospital bed and cried like a baby. I felt raw. I was thirty-two years old, and starting life over from scratch. When I calmed down a little, I tried to weigh my options. On paper, I was a non-entity. No social security number, no birth certificate, nothing. That meant I could, in all likelihood, just stay in the hospital and claim amnesia and find out what they do with John Does. The problem was one of responsibility. I had helped to create something terrible, to unleash it on the world. I wasn't sure if it was still filled with energy and growing stronger, or weak as a newborn baby… but either way I had to stop it from causing any more trouble. I knew that wasn't something a John Doe could do.

I snuck out of the hospital without difficulty and started thinking of what leverage was available to me - I had a universe of valuable information, but all of my reference materials were gone and there was so little I could remember off the top of my head. Luckily, I recalled some names associated with up and coming politicians. The names of mistresses, of high priced call girls. If the one I was looking to stop was weakened, it would need the help of other freaks - but this was still nearly two years before Disney and at the time the freaks were still just fantastic ideas out of a comic book. That meant the political angle was best used to have me assigned to a certain top secret research project. It took me less than a year to become Silas Black and attach myself to the lab.

When I was introduced to David, I was speechless. He looked angry, and awkward, and scared. Seeing him was such a shock, even though I had tried to prepare myself. These days everyone is aware of the human experimentation that goes on even if it's not considered polite dinner conversation, and by now I've had thirty-four years to get used to the idea, but this sixteen year old David was still dealing with the fact that he'd been sold into slavery by his government. If ever there was a reason for teenage angst, that would have to be it. But that scowl… I was most surprised to see his mother in it. It's funny, the little traits we pass on or inherit without knowing. I hadn't thought about her in years… we had never really gotten along, and I only went to her funeral under duress. Most of my memories of her involved a fight, but seeing some trace of her so unexpectedly still threw me for a loop.

The scientist introducing us took my expression to mean that I was bothered by David's age and unwilling participation, and assured me that everything was completely legal and approved of by the government. What a meaningless phrase. He moved on, showing me some other subjects who had gained pathetic abilities. One could oxidize iron, rusting things by staring at them, but it only worked on the outermost layer. Another could increase the surface tension of water, allowing a puddle on the lab table to look like a single giant drop - but he could only hold it for a few seconds. I asked to see the Inducer, to get a clearer explanation of the source of the powers, but there seemed to be limits to my political clout.

Part of me wanted to just burn the lab to the ground, kill the scientists, but I knew that wouldn't stop anything - it would just happen somewhere that I couldn't observe it. Instead I played the part, watched, learned. Waited. Search after search failed to find any of the contacts from my former life - so many people were known only by a nickname or pseudonym. Eventually I was able to locate my friend who had been with me when I was knocked into a coma, but as he had been found dead in a field the same day I was taken to the hospital he wasn't much help. The only connection I had to my former life was David.

I found excuses to talk to him, and I saw that he was becoming depressed due to his lack of an ability. He was a guinea pig, with no freedom or rights, and he wasn't even providing useful test results. I waited until I believed us to be alone, and told him to close his eyes. He sneered at me and flipped me off. Oh, to be a teenager again! I refused to back down, however, and eventually he listened to me. I told him to keep his eyes closed, and to picture looking down at himself. I led him through a meditation, describing a spider's web inside his mind with threads connecting him to everything.

"You, of all people, can do this. You can pull yourself up by your bootstraps, David. Feel the power inside you. The spider web is tangled, disorganized… I need you to reach in, gently, and fix it. One thread at a time."
I saw his brow furrow for a second, and then a look of peaceful concentration took over. We sat there in silence for what seemed like hours before he finally opened his eyes wide and smiled.
"I… I have to try on one of the others." There was an urgency in his voice; he was feeling that incredible rush of having a real ability. I put a hand on his shoulder before he could stand and run out into the hallway.
"David… I need you to do me a favor and not tell anyone about this conversation, do you understand? If anyone asks, you figured it out on your own."
He nodded, and I let him go.

It was careless of me, a stupid risk. If anyone had heard me talking to him they would have wanted to know how I knew he had an ability when none was apparent - even stranger, how I knew what specific ability he had when even now after years of experiments they don't have any clue about how that is determined. I don't know what I would have said, but keeping my position would have been difficult. I was more careful after that, falling into the role of Silas Black and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for him to return. In that year between helping David to realize his powers and the day at Disney where the shoe did finally come down I became almost content, and I had fooled myself into thinking that my nemesis was ruined and now existed only as a powerless, bedridden invalid. I fooled myself into thinking I had all the time in the world.

I immersed myself in the experiments as much as the scientists would allow - they were immoral, but not inhumane as they would eventually become. It was fascinating, and I was excited to see David mature and learn more about his abilities. There was a certain amount of jealousy, but nothing to do about it - the Inducer was heavily secured and off limits, and I suspect it wouldn't have done anything for me anyway. Instead I lived vicariously through the others, David in particular. I watched with pride as he hampered or re-directed the abilities of the other test subjects, and tried to ignore that longing, the cold depression that had resided in me since the moment I woke up in the hospital and felt… mundane, impotent. It was for the best, I told myself - after all, I needed to blend in and monitor for the day my lost enemy tried to enlist the help of other freaks. Still, for the best or not, I couldn't ignore the emptiness that filled me when I watched David and knew I would never feel that exhilaration of having an ability again.