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Having Been Broken

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Gary doesn't get up at 7:42 like he used to. He wakes up at 6:37 and he screams for ten seconds and he finishes his breakfast. Then he makes sure everything is well in the house, makes his lunch, and is dressed appropriately by 7. It has to be 7 because that's when he has to leave if he wants to get to the hospital in time to see everyone.

He doesn't have his driver's license yet, and it's not an emergency, and parking at the hospital is terrible anyway, so he has a cab driver pick him up from his mom's house. It's the same guy each time, an old man named Marek who has a really old Motorola phone with a terrible quality signal. They usually end up talking about cars. Today it's the antique Corvette one of Gary's neighbors just started restoring.

At the hospital he says goodbye to Marek and goes straight to the ICU. It's been a week since the fight at Grand Central and he's been to the hospital every day since then, so the lady at the desk recognizes him now and waves him through.

"Ten minutes," she tells him, and Gary agrees. It's an important rule, and he's very lucky to be able to visit here at all.

Dr. Rosen's room is full of machines, and so it's full of signals all connecting to each other. Gary is never sure what to say to someone who can't talk back, who might not even hear him, but most of what he's read says that it helps people in vegetative states to hear familiar voices.

"I can see your heartbeat," Gary says, making sure to use his quietest inside voice. "If I really look for it there's kind of a flash of light around you, and the heartbeat's the only thing that makes sense. I think it's actually the signal your brain is sending to your heart. It's like at the summer camp when I could hear the food."

Dr. Rosen doesn't respond. The monitors all continue their steady beep beep beep so Gary knows nothing's changed. Gary pulls up Dr. Rosen's electronic records. (They're encrypted but it's easy for him to get through their setup.)

"They still aren't sure if you'll wake up. But your physical state is improving. Dr. Ko wrote that yesterday afternoon. She thinks you're getting stronger. She doesn't know anything about alphas, though, so we can't ask her why you're even alive. Kat thinks that maybe you have an alpha gene, because you're the father of an alpha. But nobody else who was at Grand Central and didn't have an alpha ability is alive. They were, and now they're not, and we have Stanton Parish in holding until we figure out what to do with him."

There's still nothing from Dr. Rosen except the same signals. Gary wishes he would just wake up, that would make things easier for everyone, but that's not something anyone has control over. He spends some time just looking and listening, wondering what else he'll be able to see now.

"Rachel says we just need to have hope that everything will be all right. But I don't think hope is enough. We need to find something to do, something that can make actual change. A way to honor Anna, and Dani, and everybody else who died. I think I have an idea but I don't want to tell you yet. It's something the alphas on the team need to decide first."

The digital clock in the hallway sends a pulse of energy out as its numbers change.

"I have to go now," Gary says. "My ten minutes are up. I'm going upstairs to visit my mom now, because they let me spend more time with her, but I'll be back tomorrow." He starts to leave, then turns around and adds "Get well soon," and then he goes to the elevator in the main hallway.

"Mom," he says, and his mother turns her head to look at him. She's still having trouble with her neck, from the crash. "Good morning, Mom. How are you doing?"

"Gary," she says. Her voice is stronger today, but she still only says words in short bursts, like it takes her a while to put them together, so he waits patiently until she's done. "I'm all right. Was a bad night. Neck started hurting again. Kept me up."

"They can give you more pain medicine," Gary tells her. "You just have to ask. Dr. Rocha said so. It's okay to ask the doctor for help."

"I did," she says. "But the night shift is slow. I'm better now. You?"

"I'm fine, Mom. I'm fine. Uncle Alan sent me a text message last night, he said he'd come by the house after he visits you today. I've been taking good care of it for you. It's all clean and I keep everything locked up, and there's lots of food. Oh, and Rachel brought me some hummus."

"Good," his mom replies. "Dr. Rosen? And your friends?"

"Dr. Rosen is still the same. I talked to him too. I don't think he could listen, though. And I'm going to the office after I'm done here, it's the first day all of us will be there. But I can't say what we're talking about because it's a secret."

His mom nods, slowly.

They spend the rest of the visit (thirty-two minutes) talking about things that don't have anything to do with the last week. It's what she asked for, and it's something he can give her.

"You said you had an idea?" Bill asks. He and the rest of the team are in the conference room. Gary is sitting in his chair, but he's moved it so it's in front, where Dr. Rosen usually sits. There isn't anybody but them there, and that's how it needs to be, at first.

"Yeah, I do," Gary says, "and it's a good one. It took me a while to figure it all out, there are a lot of things that couldn't have worked before, but they do now. And it's a way to help make the world better. Really better, not better the way he wanted it." He doesn't make eye contact because there are too many people for that, but he looks around the room to make sure they're all paying attention.

"Does it involve seeing how long Stanton Parish can survive in the middle of the ocean?" says Cameron.

"No, Cameron. It doesn't. We don't actually have to decide what happens to him. He could stay locked up forever, but we're not in charge of what to do with him anymore. You know that. And besides, I don't want any more people to die."

Cameron doesn't say anything else. It's Rachel who tells Gary quietly, "Go on."

"It started when we got access to some of Parish's files. Well, really it started when I met Anna, because when she DDOSed me she sent more information than she planned to. That's how we learned that there were so many people who were part of Red Flag. But at the time we had no way to connect them, it was all encrypted and it came in such tiny amounts that there wasn't any way to connect all of it. Just vague locations. But they had to have a way for all of them to communicate with each other."

"And those are the records we have now?" Kat asks.

"No," Gary says. "They were smart about it, they don't have one big list of members. It's a web. There are groups. There are YouTube channels and secret chat rooms and fake meetings where they pretend to be knitting, and things like that."

"The point, Gary?"

"It's rude to interrupt, Bill." But Bill is right, Gary knows this. They can ask questions if they get confused, he doesn't have to tell them everything at once. "With all the information we have, plus what we got from Stanton Parish after he got arrested again, we can reach all of Red Flag. It won't be all at once, it's not like they have a newsletter, but we have control over the main ways they'd send information to everybody. Like links to Anna's videos, they'd send those along, or news stories they thought involved alphas. Things like that."

"And you think we should be the ones writing those messages now?" Nina asks.

"I said, don't interrupt. But yes. It's a great idea."

"It's a terrible idea. They're terrorists!"

"Not all of them. Not even most of them. Mostly they're just people like us. They were scared or lonely and they found a group of people like them, that's all. Just like we did."

"We didn't try to kill an entire city of innocent people," says Bill.

"No, we just manipulated members of our own group into helping with a torture scheme. That's so much better." Gary recognizes Kat's sarcasm. That's one thing he likes about her. She makes it obvious what she really thinks, even when she says something else.

"They didn't try to kill people, either, that's what I'm trying to say. You need to listen better, Bill. Bill! The criminals don't matter. We can arrest them if they're criminals. But the regular people, the ones like us, they need someone who can help them. Someone who knows they're not crazy."

"You want to turn Red Flag into a support group," Rachel says, and that's still not exactly what Gary is trying to say, but it's close.

"Or a movement," Kat says. "Half the people at the fight club didn't give a damn about the fighting, they just wanted to be sure they weren't the only ones who could do things."

"That's it. That's what I'm saying. We can help people feel normal. Help them realize that there's no such thing as a normal person. We have to look out for each other."

"Why are you even asking us?" Cameron asks. "It sounds like you already made up your mind." He still looks angry but his voice is softer now, more calm.

"I could have done that. But this needs all of us. It can't be just one of us. It's too big for that."

"It would let us keep watch over the alpha community, keep a better pulse on what the people who aren't criminals are doing," Bill says.

"It's like what Dr. Rosen tried to do last year. But he was talking to the wrong people back then. He was talking to neurotypicals. We need to talk to the alphas first. This is going to need neurotypicals too, but we need to be in charge of our own movement." It's what Anna was trying to tell him. It's why the compound at the summer camp had been formed. It's why Stanton Parish had set up the massacre at Highland Mills, to get rid of the people who wanted to organize without him. It's why he visited that chat room while he was working for the NSA. Gary knows this is something he's ready to do. More than that, it's something he wants to do. "It isn't something we have to decide on right now. We can talk about it. The information we have isn't going to change."

The room would be quiet now, except there are signals moving all around. Phone calls, text messages, television, and radio all light up his world, and even though they say different things they're all the same. They're all people looking for each other, who want people to understand them. Gary is glad to have people like that, in the conference room and at the hospital, and he decides that even if they end up deciding not to follow his plan, he'll find a way to do something like it. It's the only thing that seems right.