While Vancouver didn’t look much different than the American cities I’d been to, the people were so polite. It reminded me of an accent free Texas, but with more apologies. Up until now, I’d assumed the stereotype of Canadians apologizing all the time was an exaggeration. Turns out, I was wrong.
I’m inside. You’d think they’d have her in a secure hospital. I paused for a second, waiting for a response while checking out the visitor’s area to the hospital.
By some weird coincidence, the receptionist was another redhead. She was cute, but Phoebe had her beat by a wide margin. Guess I messed up the relay. I took a moment to try to send the confirmation a second time.
<Perhaps they don’t want to make a bigger deal of it in the media than they have to.> The disembodied voice in my head belonged to Doctor Patil. Technically, it was somewhere in my upper torso, not my head, but to my brain, it sounded like it was in my head. <And don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it eventually. I, uh, promise we won’t let Doctor Reid sit at the monitor until you do.>
<That would be appreciated, thanks.> Not for the first time, I lamented the lack of practice; every feature was like a new muscle I needed to learn to use. Some features were easy to learn, though I had far from mastered them. The communication system on the other hand, was a nightmare.
I barely spared a glance at my surroundings; the more out of place I looked, the more suspicion I’d draw on myself. I walked straight to the receptionist like I was just another visitor. She looked at me, and my new inhuman senses let me know she liked what she saw. Oh, if I only had this in high school, I wouldn’t have wasted two years on Gwen.
“Hello, ma’am.” Knowing she found me attractive, I smiled a bit more than I needed to. It didn’t hurt that I was wearing a false face; as many an Imbued had demonstrated, it was easy to be brave in a mask. “I’m here to visit my niece, she broke her arm last night.” The excuse was made up on the spot; much easier than inventing an excuse and then practicing it until it no longer sounded rehearsed.
“Sorry, sir,” the receptionist answered. Her pupils, tone, and even scent changed in concern as she tried to recalculate her mental assumption of my age. I, meanwhile, scanned every aspect of her with senses I knew, and others I was still getting accustomed to. Her name tag, the brown of roots that were just starting to show, and her engagement ring. That makes this so much easier. “You’re too early for visiting hours.”
I leaned forward, put my left hand on the desk, and offered a look that she, at least, found charming. Once contact was made, I could feel the invisible progress bar displayed on some piece of equipment plugged into my nervous system. I just needed to keep her eyes off my hand for a minute. “I know, but it’s only a few minutes early. If it’s not too much of a bother, Mary.” I couldn’t possibly have been the first person to read her tag and use her name to talk her into something.
She looked up at me, her lip trembling slightly. Oh fuck, I did my job too well and she’s actually going to say yes. We had backup plans, but they were less than ideal. “I’m sorry, sir, you’re mistaken. Visiting hours start at nine.”
“Oh!” I glanced at the clock then made a show of bringing my right hand up to my face, rubbing my eyes. “Sorry, I thought. I, uh, I’m here from Montreal and guess the jet lag got me.” The internal countdown told me I had roughly thirty seconds remaining.
“Sorry. You’d be amazed at how often that happens.” Her body language told me that, no, it wasn’t very common. She was already anticipating the story she’d tell her friends during her lunch break about some hot guy who couldn’t tell time.
Twenty seconds left. “I guess I have some time to kill. Say, want to show me to the cafeteria? I can buy you a coffee?” I remembered the old pickup rules from my younger years, and one of the first rules was never asking a question where ‘no’ was an answer. Not that I expected her to agree in the first place.
Her eyes went wide. Whatever else, I had just made this girl’s month. “Sorry. I mean, I’m flattered, but.” She held up her hand, showing her ring off. “Thanks for the offer?”
“Oh. Your fiancé is a lucky man.” I meant it, too. There was no hesitation to her body language beyond the usual Canadian fear of saying ‘no’ to anyone. As long as he didn’t screw it up somehow, he had someone who was loyal to him.
At roughly the same point, the process had finished; I withdrew my hand from the desk. “I’ll just see myself out.” <Please tell me it worked.> This time, I was certain I made the uplink work on the first try.
<It worked. The computer just needs a minute to process.> Patil’s voice trembled; unlike me, he was speaking to a microphone. Not for the first time, I marveled at just how clear I could ‘hear’ him, despite my ears not being involved in the slightest.
Mary turned her hand around, making a timid wave out of it. “Bye. Sorry.”
“Sorry for troubling you.” I made my retreat as fast as I could without drawing suspicion. Some day, Canada will rule the world, and then everyone will be sorry.
<What was that?> Doctor Patil sounded confused over the line.
This thing’s still on? <Sorry.> God damn it, now I’m doing it. <It’s one of those cultural jokes, I wouldn’t be able to explain it if I tried.>
Now that the thought of multiculturalism entered my head, I wasn’t certain how India viewed their Imbued. From what I understood, they were regarded as living gods, but India’s concept ‘gods’ was different than Europe’s. Not that I could articulate how.
We have access to almost anywhere on the planet, and clandestine arrangements with at least two countries. I may need to read up on Imbued relations worldwide.
<We do have a few works on the subject,> Patil said, confirming that I still hadn’t managed to turn off the communications. <I’ll have someone put together a list of respected sources for you to read.>
<Thanks.> Through force of will, I kept my mind from thinking of various expletives and a threat to remove the system myself. It wouldn’t have worked anyway; I only had a vague idea of where it was inside me.
To avoid any more accidental outbursts, I focused on the thousands of sources of information available that couldn’t be translated to words. Vancouver was alive with sounds and smells, most of which were bad. It was the first city I’d been to since gaining superhuman senses, and it stank of chemicals ranging from natural decay to fumes from cars and trucks. The rain that must have ended not long before I arrived promised to leave the day both cool and humid.
The sounds were in some ways better and worse; it didn’t help that I was near a hospital, and so the cacophony of beeps blended with the chaos of engines and sirens. Nearby, some asshole boss was screaming at an employee about messing up a customer’s order.
Don’t think I’ll be using this feature often. With a thought, the noises and scents dimmed to something still better than human, but only by a small margin. Still enough to know to keep walking past the first alleyway I would have turned into, and instead go to the second. Part of me wanted to walk in and ask why anyone would do a drug deal in an alley at eight in the morning, but I had more pressing concerns.
Once in an alley where I was alone, I pressed my hands to the wall and willed the adhesion system to life. My cybernetics were all tied to one another, drawing off the same power source and often the same hardware. I got my lock on the wall and pulled myself up, but had to sacrifice superhuman strength to get it. My natural strength was good enough to get me the seven stories up to the roof without something stupid like getting noticed on a fire escape.
Pity we didn’t have room for both the stealth and hacking systems. Extra pity that there’s no way to get a flight system to work with the armor at all. At the same time, the space warping tech was awesome in its own right, having offense, defense, and mobility features. I got in position on the roof nearest the hospital and ran down the plan as my computer-assisted brain ran through factors familiar to any who had sniper training.
<We got her room number,> Patil said. He needn’t have bothered, the computer told me first, and displayed her location. I switched from vision to one of the x-ray systems. Vision was blurry through the wall, but I could see the woman inside hooked up to machines inside. They left her mask on.
<Have visual confirmation.> I selected a trajectory from the list given to me by my computer. It was a tricky jump, one that required skill to pull off, but also the path that required the least amount of time exposed. I sent the signal up the chain so mission control could do their thing with the information. <Ready when you are.>
<Just a second,> Patil sounded more stressed than I was. <Make it so.> There was a brief pause. <What? There’s nothing wrong with it.>
Guess I’m not the only person with trouble controlling the com system. I took a breath, and changed features. I turned off the adhesion setting and changed over to the matter reshaping mode. Specialized metal reshaped itself in the energy field, creating a ten foot long metal stick not too different from a vaulting pole.
With that finished, I focused full power into the physical enhancements and lens field. I sprinted toward the edge of the roof, jabbed the stick into the guard, and went sailing through the air. No longer in need of the strength enhancer, all that power went into the lens field, cutting the distance between me and the hospital roughly in half.
I hit the wall hard, but the energy absorption did its job. At worst, I’d have minor bruises to worry about. I pushed off the wall, using the adhesion field for traction, and with a tumble-roll I found myself on the fire escape only feet from the door. The door popped open with a click before I even got my hand on the handle. I didn’t hesitate, even now I was far more exposed than I felt comfortable with.
Inside, I didn’t allow myself a chance to breathe; there was a good chance the emergency doors connected to a second system that would register the breakin even if the main was hacked into ignoring it. My x-ray vision, which used some arcane Gadgeteer logic rather than actual x-rays, revealed there was no one in the halls. I ran for Vine’s room.
Again, the hacking system opened the door for me before I reached it. <I’m in. Setting up now.> The matter assembly would take some time, to create a teleportation chamber in the hospital room. I switched my vision to medical analysis mode, viewing Vine’s body.
Oh fuck. <Guys, is Vine able to regenerate?>
<She’s a botanical summoner, she has no ability to influence animal material.> This time, it was Professor Abernathy who spoke. Later, I would take the time to properly worry about what she may or may not have overheard from the prior conversations, but for now I had bigger concerns.
<Aborting the mission. It’s a decoy. Repeat, she’s a decoy.> The assembler system reversed process, pulling the specialized metal back against my underarmor. I knew I was compromised, so the pretense of stealth was over. I would bolt for the window and hope I could make some distance before-
“You’re under arrest, scumbag!”
Well, this bodes well for the rest of the day.