Day 33. 64 pages, 30,257 words.
When Happy Gretchen thumped into the medical bay a short while later, Doctor Reco turned to regard her with his eerie lopsided green stare. Pod 12, sitting on the edge of the examination table like a sack of mud, did not respond to her arrival.
“Doctor,” Happy Gretchen said, and spared a glance for the remains of Captain Mortimer Flonk on the next table over. The dissection of his head had proven a distinct upgrade. “Is this our little psychic, then?”
“Hmm, no,” Doctor Reco said vaguely, turning his attention back to the Bonshoon girl. Happy Gretchen permitted the disrespect that – mild though it was – would have been unthinkable in any of her other underlings. Reco was fractious, yes, but quite brilliant. She didn’t like to think about the day when he would inevitably overstep too egregiously, or – worse – realise his own worth. Additionally, the entertainment value of watching him slowly grow his bizarre Adluminal augmentations could not be overstated. “Not exactly,” he went on, and gestured to the array of sensors he’d affixed to her head. “She’s as inert as Pod 9 – more so, she’s – well, she’s the way these sleep-rotted kids are meant to be, basically. Exactly what we expected, and nothing more. Just a nervous system test pattern. Pod 9’s the anomaly.”
“I’m aware of this,” Happy Gretchen said, although she let the medic get to the point in his own time. “We know you did the best you could with them.”
“Of course I did,” Doctor Reco said, his voice still vague and his mind still clearly fixed on some other issue. Of course, he wouldn’t have considered for a moment that his failure to get all of the sleepers to regain active consciousness was a failure of any kind. The three – the four – that had begun to walk and talk were still a mystery, and nothing to do with him. Catatonia was quite literally the optimal realistic result.
She waited a few more seconds, then prompted him a little. “So what happened to Flonk?”
“Oh, he got brain-nuked by a telepath alright,” Doctor Reco said positively. “I mean, either that or he accidentally snorted a protein whisk and switched it on while it was lodged in his skull. Not absolutely ruling that out, but it was probably the telepath,” he checked his pad, then looked back at Happy Gretchen. Up at her, since she was now standing close by his side. Pod 12 continued to gaze slackly at the middle of the doctor’s narrow chest. “But the identity of this telepath, that’s the interesting part.”
“Well, it’s neither Pod 9 nor Pod 12,” Doctor Reco said, “and it’s both of them. I’d have to find some way to test it without causing more … accidents … but I think that’s exactly what this was. An unfortunate coincidence of the three main players in this messy little drama being too close to one another at the wrong moment. Pod 9 may have been feeling some sort of subconscious resentment, or protectiveness for his little p’bruz. Flonk’s brain was so feeble it’s a wonder he hadn’t burned it out trying to remember where he docked his ship years ago. And Pod 12…” he turned his bulging green eye-orb back on the girl, illuminating her placid face with a sickly glow. “Pod 12 was there,” he concluded.
“What are you saying?” Happy Gretchen demanded. “Pod 9 had an emotional outburst he couldn’t process, and so he transferred it into Pod 12’s mind and she bounced it into Flonk?” she turned to look at the scabby human carcass with its carefully segmented skull and its utterly pulverised brain. “And it did that?”
Doctor Reco, inasmuch as he always looked surprised, turned a particularly surprised look up at her. “Yes,” he said, “that’s … more or less exactly what I’m saying.”
“It most certainly is,” he agreed. “Pod 9 reads as completely inactive, in terms of telepathy. He’s – well, he’s bonshier than most Bonshooni, for that matter. He only seems like a bright button because he’s surrounded by these,” he gestured at Pod 12. “But because he’s surrounded by them – and maybe attuned to them, or codependent with them – he can link up to one that’s nearby and, briefly, between the two of them they can become a single relatively powerful but unmanageable telepath,” he glanced up at her again. “What about the two you took in?” he asked. “The other two lively ones? Any sign of this sort of activity?”
“No,” Happy Gretchen said, quite honestly. Pod 22 and Pod 23 were different, certainly, but they didn’t have this sort of ability. Mind you, she reflected, perhaps they just hadn’t manifested it yet. “Do you think the ones who woke up fully will all manifest something like this?”
“No idea,” Doctor Reco replied. “They might have had these psychic abilities when they went into the pods, and that’s why they reanimated when the rest of their friends came out as breathing meat. All forty of them might have had abilities, and that’s why they were all in that arc of pods together, but only a few of them remained viable. It might have been an accidental freak result of the treatments we gave him. Or the whole thing might have been a once-off, a couple of synaptic sparks banging against each other and grounding on the closest available soggy piece of skull-pudding.”
“Do you think he can use any of the other blanks this way?” she asked. “Or only Pod 12? Could he be trained to do it using his own brain?”
“No idea,” Doctor Reco repeated. “I might be able to answer some of those questions with more study and experiments, but that could be dangerous. In the meantime, any old moron with a packet of cranial throughput patches and two-thirds of an imagination can do what I’m doing with these kids. When one of them punches another customer in the brain, I’ll be able to be more help,” he snorted tightly through his off-centre little nostrils. “Not much more help, mind you.”
“But you can refine your theories, put together more findings,” Happy Gretchen insisted. “Talk to them both some more. Well, talk to Pod 9,” she added. “At least rule out any other possible cause of death for the good Captain.”
“Sure, that I can do,” Doctor Reco grumbled. “I’ll start by reading up on whether there are any human diseases that cause embolisms this explosive. Flonk might just have stuck his dick in one too many ill-advised crevices. But your questions about Pod 9 … look, I’m a doctor, not a…” he paused, and frowned. “A whatever would be required to teach sleep-rotted Bonshooni how to be psychic assassins,” he concluded. “Actually I don’t think there is such a specialist.”
“Actually,” Happy Gretchen said, “there might be. But it will take some time.”
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.