“Let’s try this again,” intoned the man’s gravelly voice. Jared coughed, head swimming. He didn’t understand what was happening. How was he still alive? He didn’t feel like he was in any more pain, but that didn’t make any sense. If he wasn’t dead, he should be in worse shape than he’d been in his life. But maybe they were drugging him? Yes, that must be it.
A sharp sensation broke through and he sat up with a jolt. Standing right next to the bed was the old man. In his hand was a scalpel that he had just plunged into Jared’s arm, which was now tied to the bed with a pair of handcuffs. An arm ending in a hand that had all five fingers when Jared was certain only three should remain.
“Im-impossible,” he said. Even more so, realizing his throat was ok.
“Impossible? Well, it should be. Most of the abilities we’ve observed these past years don’t conform to our understanding of biology, chemistry, or even basic physics. But I think you’ve personally witnessed a couple of abilities a lot more impressive than your regeneration, don’t you think?”
“No, I mean, I can’t. Even your scan said I was normal. I don’t have any abilities.”
“This sort of denial is why I had to stab you again. Seeing it for yourself might help you accept things. Or to drop the act, if you already know.” He pulled out the scalpel and Jared watched as the muscle closed, knitting itself back together in front of his eyes. Jared gaped a moment before the power of speech returned to him.
“How could I already know? We were scanned at the border and scanned by the girl on the bus. They both said I was clean.”
“Interesting choice of words, but the one at the border said you were all clean. And yet nearly half of your group had abilities. Do you know the probability of that many specials, as I like to call them, being on a bus together with only a couple dozen people? And that’s at random. Do you know the probability of that many getting past the initial screening process without tampering with it somehow? The initial screening has a roughly one in a thousand false negative rate and a one in ten thousand false positive rate. Our screen is better suited to our purposes and flips those odds. But if you found a way to intentionally fool the first round of scans, I suppose it might increase your chances of getting past the second one.”
“Why would we want to fool your scans?”
“Because you are a unit of specials created by your government to infiltrate our country,” the man pressed him.
“You’re crazy, I’m not…I’m not…a…special?” Jared asked incredulously, faltering as he watched the wound in his arm. While he was focusing on the conversation, the skin had started to seal itself. No more blood poured out and, as he watched, even the top layer of cells stitched itself together without any sort of scar. Aren’t those dead? How can dead cells regenerate?
“Yes, young man, you are. The question is, what else are you?” the old man said, more seriously than he was before. “You attacked me. Unsuccessfully, but you showed you have some fight in you. Though I have some fight left as well myself, poor aim aside.” He cracked his knuckles for emphasis and Jared saw that they were bruised. Did the man smash in the side of his face all by himself?
“Not, not some sort of spy! We were just on vacation. Maybe Katherine found a way to fool the border scans, but she was the only one I knew could even do anything! I didn’t know Patrick or Shelly …. And I couldn’t heal like that before, I swear to God.” The old man stared at him quizzically, as if trying to assess his truthfulness, then he abruptly stuck out his hand.
“How rude of me, I never formally introduced myself. I should really remember to tell people who I am before shooting them, though normally it doesn’t matter much. My name is Doctor Mirkov. Shouldn’t be too hard to remember since you don’t normally meet many coughing mirrors these days.”
Jared regarded Mirkov’s hand, then looked back up into Mirkov’s eyes.
“Oh right, you’re kind of tied up I guess. Just a precaution. Wouldn’t want May to have to shoot you again. Well, that’s not entirely true. I wanted her to shoot you in the head to see if you can come back to life. Still do. But she seems to be against that. Guess she would rather a partner who is moderately durable instead of waiting around to see if she can get one who can live through what she can.”
“Yes. I really hope you’re not slow. Your language may not be my native one, but I am quite certain I’m good enough for you to understand. Maybe brain damage doesn’t heal as well as the rest of you? As I said before, you are now being drafted into our glorious army. If you’re not a spy, then your abilities were lying dormant. It seems to be happening more often these days. You can tell by how many freak strokes and heart attacks there have been among young people lately. Those whose abilities are lying dormant usually have them activated during a time of extreme duress. Roughly ninety-nine percent die, and the remainder develop powers we can’t currently explain the origin of. Powers that will be of use to us in the government. Yours in particular will be helpful in identifying and containing others with more offensive abilities such as your friend Patrick.”
“How do you plan on getting me to help the people who killed my friends? I’m not scared of dying, you asshole.”
“Especially not given how hard it probably is to kill you now. But you see this button?” Mirkov asked, holding up a small remote with a large red button on it. “Totally unnecessary. I prefer using a smart phone app. But as with seeing your stab wound heal, sometimes subjects respond better to a more prominent stimulus. Here’s what happens when I push it.”
Mirkov pressed the button and Jared was once again wishing he was dead. Every nerve in his body tingled with cold fire. He was being torn apart from the inside and it made him long for the bullet wounds again. They were nothing compared to this.
Less than a second later, it was over. He lay back in the bed, gasping for air.
“If you disobey our orders, we press the button. Or a key on the keyboard or a touch screen, depending entirely on your commanding officer. Regardless of method, the result more or less amounts to telling your brain that every pain neuron in your body is flooding in simultaneously while shutting off coping mechanisms like the ability to pass out. That easy enough to understand?”
Jared suspected the science was a lot more complex than Mirkov’s high level explanation, but the idea was quite easy to grasp. They trigger every pain response the brain can process and make it impossible to avoid. If they did it for too long then adrenaline would probably cause a heart attack… except if I can really heal that might not do anything.
“You can’t do this, I’m a citizen of –“ Jared started, grasping at straws, only for Mirkov to cut him off.
“I know who you’re a citizen of. Your country has bigger problems right now. Either you were spies, in which case they’ll most likely disavow you in order to prevent tensions from rising while they deal with domestic issues, or you’re regular high school students. And if you’re regular high school students, I highly doubt they will have time to investigate all of your tragic deaths, caused by your friend exploding on the bus. Shelly, was it?”
“What do you mean, have time?”
“You don’t know? I thought the youth these days were constantly wired. No one was carrying a smart phone or anything? No news at all? I mean it happened a whole twelve hours before we stopped your bus.”
“What happened? We were trying to take a break from the internet. Enjoy the moment and all that. No one was supposed to have their phones on; most of us turned them over to Shelly for safekeeping.” Jared hated Doctor Mirkov more than anyone he’d met in his life, but something about his tone scared him. It had shifted from the jovial attitude he had earlier to a deadly seriousness.
“And no one cheated on that? I think the spy story sounds more believable… no matter, I regret to inform you that approximately three days ago, roughly half a day before you got on the bus, Sunlight City decided to live up to its name more dramatically than usual. A special with a similar ability to your friend Shelly was hit by a lightning strike in a suburb of Sunlight city. Considering they get like two thunderstorms a year there, the probability of it occurring was absurdly small. However, it did. The resulting energy release disintegrated just about everything in a ten mile radius and caused catastrophic damage for another forty miles. Early estimates of the casualties are at least four million dead and counting with millions more injured. Sorry kid, your government has bigger problems than looking for you.”
Jared felt like he was socked in the stomach. He came from Sunlight City, his nation’s most densely populated metropolitan area.
“My parents…what about my parents? I…I need to know if they’re ok. And my sister. Please, don’t tell me Lilly is… I need to…I need to…” he didn’t know what he needed to do. Just that he needed to do something. He had lost his friends, his city, possibly the ability to go home to his country. And now he might even have lost his family and anyone else who might care if he was still alive.
“I don’t know about your family. What I do know is that your kind is the greatest change to human history we’ve ever had. If the spread of abilities continues at the current rate, within a couple of hundred years there will not be anyone left alive who doesn’t have one. There are many calling for the containment or death of any special that can be found. But without knowing how it spreads, I think that is a pointless exercise. Rather, we need to accept the inevitability of those living with powers we don’t understand. But Sunlight City is only the most glaringly obvious in a string of incidents that shows we cannot simply ignore the issue either, as your country has tried to. Those who have the potential to help protect the people must be found and utilized against those who have the potential to cause catastrophic harm. I will admit my soldiers were overzealous, but a single bus murdered is better than an entire city destroyed. Don’t you agree?”