I watched in fascination as Phoebe stitched my arm back together. Well, not stitched; in reality, she used some kind of protein based glue that the medbed… did something suitably impossible with to heal me. The only stitching done was to weave the subdermal armor back together.
“As good as new!” Phoebe set aside the device she’d used, which bore an uncanny resemblence to those teeth-scraping things at the dentist’s office. “No one will ever know you had a sword sticking out of you.”
I lifted my arm off the table, testing mobility and grip; she was right, it was as if there was never any damage in the first place. “I think it might even be better than before.”
“Want to go back to my room and test sensitivity and manual dexterity?” Her flirty tone was forced, though I’m not sure a normal person would have caught the subtle hesitation in her voice. There was something bothering her, but no comfortable way for me to broach the topic. Once again, I opted for avoidance tactics.
“So, how’s Lynx doing? You worked on her first, right?” I’d been unconscious for the part of the operation where they cut me open, surgically removed the bones, and put a new set in. My forced unconsciousness was a welcomed opportunity to turn off the pain chip to reduce side effects. Even now I still felt like I was in the middle of caffeine withdrawal.
Part of me wondered just how many replacement skeletons they had in storage for me. For that matter, they had the first one ready almost immediately after I agreed to join the project. The sheer depth and scope of Artemis’ resources bordered on the terrifying. This much power in the hands of so few; I should just be glad they’re on my side.
“Lynx is fine, we’re keeping her asleep for security reasons,” Phoebe said. Her smile began to falter, but she caught herself. “I made sure to give her the full package, while we were in there.”
I’m not sure I want to ask the question, but if I don’t I’ll wonder forever. “What’s the ‘full package’?” I tried to keep the trepidation out of my voice, but her perception was at least as good as mine, so I didn’t carry much hope of success.
“Oh, the usual. We had to re-break a couple bones, excise some scar tissue, stuff like that.” If she noticed my concerns, she pretended to ignore them. “Most healers can’t fix old injuries that healed wrong. Ours isn’t an exception. She was pretty banged up inside. Her power kills anything that touches her skin. It compensates for the lack of internal flora somehow, maybe even speeds healing by clearing toxins from air and food, but it also means she can’t use medication or get help from a doctor.”
“Makes sense. As far as destructive forcefields go, it’s pretty impressive.” Explains how she treated tear gas like it was nothing.
“Strongest I’ve ever seen.” Phoebe looked down, as if somehow her toes held answers to some deep questions of the universe. I would have settled for explaining her aversion to shoes, myself. “It… it’s okay if you sleep with her.”
What. For the first time since high school, I was at a complete loss for words. “Phoebe. I’m not. Why do you think?”
“It’s obvious that’s what’s going to happen. The narrative is perfect for it; you’re going to be solving the mystery together after having a fight that makes you rivals and partners and that means there’s going to be all that tension.” Phoebe stopped her rambling only to take a breath. Her seafoam-green eyes were on the edge of flooding over. “The foreshadowing is right there.”
I glanced at the nurses, who weren’t doing a great job of pretending not to listen in. They weren’t shocked, no doubt familiar with Phoebe brand logic, but this expression of it was new to them. One nurse had the good graces to look chided when he realized I caught him eavesdropping; the other looked like she was ready to pull up a chair and start the popcorn.
Well, we’re clearly someone’s idea of a good story. I struggled with how to approach this scenario, but even with my supposedly perfect brain, I had no answers.
I was not a psychologist, and if I were I’d still have no working knowledge of Phoebe’s mind and how that translated to this situation. If I argued that this wasn’t a fictional drama, how would she take it? If I said I wasn’t interested in Lynx, would she think that meant I was interested in her? This was a minefield, I didn’t know the terrain, and I was working my way through on sense of touch alone.
The only thing I could be certain of was that I was going to ask that nurse’s boss to explain the concept of ‘propriety’ to her. I made eye contact with her, my face letting her know I was less than enthused about her behavior. She got the hint and remembered there was actual work for her to do.
“But that’s okay,” Phoebe continued, having decided that if I wasn’t going to speak, she’d keep going. “She’s clearly not the main interest, so she’ll just be a footnote in the story. That’s okay.”
She’s repeating herself, an obvious sign of denial. I defaulted back to the one pearl of wisdom I recalled from basic psychology: when in doubt, ask. “What makes you think that?”
“Isn’t it obvious? She’s got her own set of badass powers that let her keep up with you, complete with tragic backstory.”
“I can’t argue with that.” Lynx’s power was undeniably top tier, and given that it tried to kill anything touching her; she went half her life without being able to touch anyone without hurting them. “But I don’t see how it matters.”
My high school lit teacher always said I’d regret not paying more attention in her class. No one could have predicted how right she would be.
“Well, that means she’s already a main character.” If Phoebe thought that clarified things, she was mistaken. “Therefore, she can’t play a supporting role in yours. This is a crossover event, and when it’s done everything will go back to normal. You’ll have a fling which makes the audience happy, then part ways when the crossover ends. Later you both find your real true loves. That’s how it works.” Her smile at the end was forced, but hopeful.
I didn’t need to subscribe to her beliefs to agree with her that Lynx and I would go our own ways. I was not retiring after a single job and moving to Canada. Nor could Lynx join Blue Steel. Given the risks we took with Surges and Transferals, we were already playing with fire, well aware that one day we’d get burned. Adding a top tier Imbued like Lynx was akin to dousing ourselves in kerosene first.
“And what happens with your theory if Lynx and I don’t end up sleeping together?” If nothing else, this scenario presented an opportunity to learn some of the terrain. Phoebe was critical to keeping me alive in the field; I needed an idea of how her mind worked.
Her lips pursed, then started to tremble. “You can’t. It means she’ll be a recurring character until you do. Maybe she’ll even become part of the cast. It has to be now so she’ll be gone and you can move on.”
“And by ‘move on’, you mean I’ll end up with you.” Did she just suggest I have a fling with another girl as a way to improve our relationship? Granted, it’s a relationship that exists only in her mind, but point remains. What the fuck?
Other than a few juvenile fantasies, there was nothing in my life to prepare me for this scenario. This is what I get for joining the military first, then going to college. I could have had some idea how to deal with situations like this. Then again, if I’d never joined the armed forces, I both couldn’t have afforded college and wouldn’t have had the powers that put me in this situation.
She blinked away the tears. “Yeah, it’s going to happen. It has to. I’m the quirky adorable love interest, it’s how the story works.”
She brought a hand up, brushing a stray lock of her red-orange hair out of her face. By the time her hand no longer obscured her face, her broad smile had returned. “The main girl has to be unique, but can’t overshadow the hero. That makes me the perfect choice in the end, right? So don’t worry about me, okay? I can wait.”
She’s certainly unique, there’s no doubt about that. I tried to imagine any of my ex girlfriends suggesting something like this. With them, it would most likely be some weird test of my loyalty. Well, except Gwen, but that was another subject entirely. The appropriate answer would, of course, to insist I wasn’t interested in anyone other than said girlfriend, but Phoebe wasn’t my girlfriend.
Still, that doesn’t make it a completely flawed tactic. “You know, a more cynical person might accuse you of using some sort of reverse psychology on me.”
“That’s mean.” The look in her eyes was some blend of knowing and playful. “Especially since if I deny it, it just makes me look guilty. Besides, we both know I can’t trick you like that. And I’m not that kind of doctor anyway.”
Maybe you can’t trick my senses, and maybe you can but don’t want me to know. Ugh, that’s one hell of a paranoia loop. Okay, different approach angle. “What kind of doctor are you, then?”
“Medical.” She looked at me for a moment, then the smile faded for something that bordered on insulted. “Oh! You thought it was just an honorary thing because of my powers?”
She brought her hands up, resting them on her hips in a way that came across as an excuse to show off her curves rather than anger. “You may be the main character, but I didn’t spend all these years waiting for you sitting around doing nothing. I’ll have you know I earned that PhD.”
So, sleeping with another girl is somehow okay, but don’t insult the credentials. “Sorry, I didn’t realize. Doctor Reed it is from now on.” I’d have considered that another of Phoebe’s so-called ‘quirks’, but I’d known other doctors over the years. If anything, she was less neurotic than most of them over her degree.
“You can still call me Phoebe,” she said. “Besides, it helps to have something to do. I’d go crazy if I stayed in my room all day.”
“If you say so, Doctor.”
A smile crept back onto her face. “You’re just lucky I’m too nice to make you grovel.” Phoebe’s voice dipped back into that exaggerated, immature attempt to sound sexy. “But if you’re really lucky, I’ll do it anyway.”
“Isn’t there some ethics law against flirting with your patients? I think the medical review boards frown upon that.”
“Well, I haven’t exactly been peer-approved, so that’s the least of their problems. Besides, you’re the only one I would ever flirt with.” She then leaned forward to reveal she’d switched her bra for something light blue and borderline transparent. “You don’t mind, do you?”
If I say no, she’ll just call me a liar. Given the amount of time it took me to bring my eyes back up to that knowing smirk, I didn’t have much of a leg to stand on. “I should go, there’s still a job to get done.”
Her smile vanished for a second, before she forced it back. “Yeah. You have your job to do. I… I’ll be waiting for you to return.”
For a moment, I hesitated, seeking some magic combination of words that would solve everything. With no answers forthcoming, I got up and walked away.
While one train of thought focused on how I might have handled the situation better, the other focused on the future. I went over the change in my equipment from a stealth focused strategy to a more offensive build. I ran simulations in my head of my new theoretical advantages and disadvantages; in addition to the hacking system being left out, I was sacrificing speed, maneuverability and versatility for firepower and defense.
I wasn’t happy with the switch, but it was necessary. The plan of engagement had changed from recon-espionage to seek and destroy, only I wasn’t the one who’d be doing the seeking.