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When My Fist Clenches, Crack It Open

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Kerry's never had hot chocolate before and she's not sure she wants to. Cary likes it and he wouldn't encourage her to eat something bad for her, but it's full of sugar and she knows about how bad that stuff is for bodies now. She knows that cream soda is full of sugar, too, so she hasn't let herself have that for days, even though it's the only food she really likes. Cream soda is— Her waffles. She thought it was good for her but it wasn't. So hot chocolate can't be good for her either.

She might risk it anyway because Cary's drinking his, but she has another threat to deal with. Clark came in just after they placed their order and just sat himself down at their table without being invited, and Cary definitely doesn't like Clark and Kerry doesn't either. Apparently the lab is off-limits until Lenny says it's okay for them to come back. Kerry absolutely doesn't like that. Leaving David alone with Syd is obviously a terrible idea. Except it's not David inside him, it's Divad and Dvd, and Lenny's there, too.

Kerry doesn't know what to think about Lenny. Lenny shot those guys in the desert for her and she saved David's life, and that counts for a lot. It wasn't really her that forced Kerry to be outside, that tried to kill her in the fake Clockworks, that possessed her and made her hurt Cary's spleen. But if she was safe for David, Ptonomy would have let her come back to the lab days ago, like he did with Amy. And she tried to lie to David to trick him into making her a body, as if he could. And—

Whatever. Cary trusts Ptonomy and Ptonomy trusts Lenny. So Kerry's going to trust her, for now, assuming she doesn't make David's brothers worse. Right now the threat she has to deal with is Clark.

It's just like when Clark brought David his lamp. He came to deliver something and he delivered it, but he's sticking around anyway because he wants to talk about something else. And Cary is just like David was, wary about whatever words Clark wants to deliver. Kerry is tempted to kick Clark in the shins until he leaves. It worked with Dvd. And Clark deserves to be kicked in the shins for trying to help David kill himself with the genetic sculpting gun. He deserves to be punched in the face for that and maybe even stabbed in the heart twice.

Clark's hot chocolate arrives and he stirs it, considering his hostile audience. The spoon clinks against the mug. He picks up the mug but the drink is too hot so he blows on it and then puts it back down.

"We need to discuss Melanie," Clark says. "I'm sorry but she's not going to wake up, any more than David is going to get back his memories."

"Oliver will find her," Cary insists.

"We also need to discuss Oliver," Clark says. "He's dedicated himself to assisting with David's recovery and we're grateful. But we have two brain-damaged mutants in that lab and it's time we talked long-term solutions."

"Oliver doesn't have brain damage," Cary insists.

"Have you checked?" Clark counters. "Because you missed it with David."

"David's MRI scans were never completed in Summerland," Cary says. "We knew something was wrong with his memories but we didn't know what."

"You scanned him when he came back."

"We were looking for the monk's infection. And there were other priorities, priorities that Division 3 insisted on."

Clark gives his hot chocolate another stir. "All the more reason to make their health our priority now. We support your plan to track David's physical recovery. We agree with you that Division 3 isn't able to provide the right kind of long-term supportive environment. We're a military organization, not a therapeutic one."

"I'm sure you'll be glad to get rid of us," Cary mutters, and sips from his mug.

"Actually, I won't, and neither will the Admiral. I know we've had our differences—"

Cary snorts.

"—But Division 3 is trying to be better. Isn't that why you came here in the first place?"

"That's what Melanie wanted. And now you want to, what, put her in care?"

"The Admiral wants to freeze her," Clark says. "Cryogenic suspension."

"No," Cary says, reflexively.

"The alternative is letting her body atrophy for months, possibly years. It worked for Oliver. The technology's come a long way in twenty years. It's very safe."

"Freezing Oliver didn't give him brain damage," Cary says, angry at the implication.

"Have you checked?"

Cary huffs and leans back, rubs his face. "We didn't have time to check because you came in and tried to kill us. And then—" He sighs, frustrated, upset. "He was effectively in solitary confinement for twenty-one years, that would be enough to make anyone— And having Farouk in his head for a year can't have helped."

"Neither did being mentally tortured. And he was forced to help destroy the love of his life," Clark adds. "What was it Divad said? David's broken open. He forgets, he keeps secrets, but when something's wrong with him everyone knows something's wrong. Oliver's quiet but he doesn't even know what day it is. His powers still work but that's about it."

"He isn't some— Dementia patient," Cary says, sharply.

"But he is sick," Clark counters. "He needs help."

"We need him for David's treatment," Cary insists. "Unless you want him to end the world."

"We're balancing a lot of concerns," Clark says. "The Admiral is trying to find the best way to avert a lot of terrible futures. If we let Oliver continue to search for Melanie while his issues go untreated, the next time he leaves the odds are high that he won't come back."

"He wants to help David."

"And if he's gone so long he forgets who David is?"

Cary looks distraught. Kerry takes his hand and he gives her a tiny smile in thanks.

"Look, I have a family," Clark says, plainly. "I put my life on the line because doing my job keeps them safe. We all have to do things we don't want to stop something worse from happening. You have a job to do, too. You have to start doing it. And if your personal issues are what's getting in the way of that, deal with your issues."

Cary frowns, thinking.

"I'll be in touch," Clark says. "We expect updates on both their conditions. Daily scans for David and a thorough baseline for Oliver. Find out what's wrong with him and we'll discuss the next steps."

"Fine," Cary agrees. "But we'll get Melanie back."

"Not without David's help," Clark says. "If you want to keep her body with you in the lab, help Oliver so he can help David. Help both of them with the tools you have. That's what all of us are doing. And if those tools aren't enough, accept your limitations and let us help Melanie so she doesn't come back to a body that's not worth living in."

Clark slides out, nods to Kerry, and then he's gone, his hot chocolate left behind.

Kerry turns to Cary. "Do you want me to punch him in the face? Because I want to punch him in the face."

Cary gives a strained laugh. "No, that's— While I appreciate the offer, I don't believe that would be wise."

Kerry looks through the windows at the hallway. Two Vermillion walk past but there's no one inside them. "Do we really have to freeze Melanie?"

"I don't know," Cary sighs. "But bodies— They need to have someone inside them. I've been taking care of Melanie's body but— If it takes too long to get her back, that won't be enough. That's why we had to freeze Oliver. But knowing what we know now—" He looks away, disturbed by something. "Clark's right. We don't know enough about what happened. We don't know what's truly wrong with Oliver and we can't help Melanie until we figure that out. I can't risk— Trapping her in an ice cube, too. That would be— Terribly cruel."

Cary stirs thoughtfully and takes a sip. He puts down his mug and finally notices that Kerry's is untouched. "You should drink it while it's still hot. Otherwise it would be called— Lukewarm chocolate." He smiles at his own joke.

"Clark didn't drink his," Kerry defends. Not that she trusts Clark, but he pays attention to threats, he knows things that even Cary doesn't know.

"He did that to make a point," Cary explains. "Eating with someone, sharing a meal, that's an intimate act. Clark— He was going through the motions of sharing with us to trick us into letting down our guard. But he didn't eat because he has no genuine intention of being our friend. It's a kind of— Tactical move."

"Sneaky," Kerry says, but files the idea away for later. She doesn't like Clark but she likes a good tactical move. Maybe she should start paying more attention to Clark, like she's paying more attention to Ptonomy. Ptonomy's the fashion guy, but Clark's the tactics guy. Though Ptonomy is also a tactics guy.

"That's why Clark didn't drink his," Cary says. "So why don't you want yours?"

"Because it's not in our meal plan," Kerry says, firmly. "You shouldn't've had it either. Sugar is poison, you showed me. You're already— You shouldn't eat poison."

Cary's amused by this, then he frowns. "Is that why you haven't had any cream soda for a while?"

Kerry nods. "It's stupid that it tastes good. Poison should taste bad so you know not to eat it."

"That would make things easier," Cary admits. "But you don't like how a lot of nutritious food tastes. Some healthy foods taste bad and some unhealthy foods taste good. It's not always that way, of course, but it's a problem many people have. Sweet things are— Quite delicious. But it's about— Moderation. It's okay to have treats sometimes, when we really want or need them. That's why they're treats. We just shouldn't have them every day or with every meal. It's a matter of dosage. Like any chemical, the dose makes the poison."

Now that Kerry understands. She knows all about dosages. "You should have just told me that in the first place," she says, rolling her eyes. She picks up the mug and sniffs it. It does smell— Okay. She takes a sip.

Wow. Hot chocolate is— Wow. It's even better than the cream soda! She didn't think anything could be better than that.

"Ah, ah, not so fast," Cary urges as she gulps it. He shakes his head in amusement. "At least you gave it time to cool down first."

Kerry finishes her mug and takes Clark's. If he's not going to have it, she's not going to let it go to waste.

"Kerry!" Cary chides, but he doesn't stop her. She does drink this one more slowly. It's still pretty hot.

Cary stirs what's left of his hot chocolate and gets his thinking face on.

"I'm afraid Clark's right," he decides, after a while. "I have been— Remiss, in my duties. David and Oliver are our friends but they need more than just our support. Otherwise we're— Making the same mistakes we've already made with both of them. The same mistakes that made us overlook Melanie and Ptonomy when they needed help. Division 3 is— A much more dangerous environment than Summerland ever was. I didn't want to let this place change us, but— We need to adapt to our environment to survive."

"Okay," Kerry says, putting down her half-empty mug. "So how do we adapt?"

"Let's consider where we've failed," Cary says. "Division 3 is a physical and technological fortress, but that hasn't protected us from quite a number of threats. Our minds are vulnerable and so are our bodies. Let's set aside David and Oliver. They're our patients, we have to keep them safe, not the other way around. So what do we have?"

Kerry considers their assets. "You and me. Syd, Clark. Admiral Fukuyama and the Vermillion and everyone in the mainframe. Division 3's soldiers and scientists. The mainframe, the surveillance system, the lab, the armory."

"Good," Cary says. "And how have we been attacked?"

"Ptonomy was killed by an insanity creature. Those got into all of us." Kerry doesn't like thinking about the sensation of having the tiny insanity monster pulled out of her forehead. It was weird and creepy. "The monk snuck in with his victims. His mind couldn't be read and he had the virus and— Whatever he did to control the kids."

"More mental powers," Cary says. "We still don't know how the insanity creature got in, or even what it was. The best I've been able to surmise is— It was some kind of construct that crossed over from the astral plane. An infectious one, just like the monk's virus." He visibly thinks harder. "The symptom alerts were intended to help us be aware of mental alterations, but— They failed because there's no way to know when our own minds have been changed. Once they're changed— We simply believe what our minds tell us we believe."

"Creepy," Kerry says, not liking that at all. "How are we supposed to protect ourselves if we don't even know something's wrong?"

"That's the very problem we keep running into," Cary admits. "David, Melanie, Ptonomy, even Syd. None of them knew they'd been changed or by the time they realized— They were unable to resist those changes. What we need is— A mental defense system. With organic infections we have blood tests and medications and our immune systems. With computers we have firewalls and special programs that can identify and remove malicious code."

"So we need a mental firewall," Kerry says. "Dvd can do that."

"That's something only telepaths are capable of," Cary says. "Division 3 has already done extensive research on defenses against telepathy. That's what led to the creation of the mainframe. It's not possible to create an external defense against a mind reader. The defense must be generated from inside the mind. Implanting that kind of technology— Few would survive the drastic surgery required."

"Then— We need a way to check if we're infected," Kerry says. "Like the blood tests, but— Our minds."

Cary considers this. "Perhaps David and Oliver aren't the only ones who need to be scanned. Division 3 have our fingerprints and DNA, but what they need to do is take thorough scans of our bodies and our brains and repeat them on a regular basis. Obviously there will be changes over time, aging and other natural processes, injuries and so on, but— Our minds and our bodies are— If not indivisible, at least deeply interconnected. The monk's mental virus was physically detectable. So were the insanity creatures and so was Farouk, even as a disembodied mind. Mental invasions may not be visible, but— Their effects are."

That makes sense, but— "What about souls?"

"I'm not even sure what a soul is," Cary admits. "But— Thanks to Syd, we do have confirmation that they exist and can be separated from the body. Perhaps the embodied mind is— The integration of the soul with the body. Farouk's soul left his body and entered into David's body. We know that because he was able to free himself using Syd's powers."

"Do David and his brothers all share a soul? Do we?"

"I don't know," Cary says. "I would guess that they do. Divad and Dvd are parts of David, not separate individuals that entered his body. When Syd swapped with David, all three of them must have been present in her body, not just David, because they are all David. As for us— When Syd touched you, the process was disrupted by Farouk. Beyond that, none of us have ever thought to ask her."

They look at each other, and— It's—

"I've always wondered," Kerry admits. "If we're— One person or two. I mean, we have our own bodies, but— I always felt like— Your body was ours. And mine was— Just— Something I wore for a while, until I could be in my body again. But now I'm outside and— My body is ours but— It's mine. And yours is just— Yours."

"Yes," Cary agrees. "I suppose— We could ask. I'm sure Syd would agree to help. But— I'm not sure I want to know."

"What if only one of us has a soul?" Kerry asks. "Does that mean— One of us isn't real?"

"No," Cary says, firmly. "David, Divad, and Dvd are all equally real, even though they share a body and a soul. If we're like them, if we're— We'd be two minds— Two identities whose mutant powers allow us to— Embody ourselves separately. Like astral or mental projection, but— Physical."

"Physical projection," Kerry says, wondering. She's intensely aware of her body, of Cary's body. Of the sensations of the seat beneath her, the table under her arm, the lingering taste of the hot chocolate in her mouth. Her clothing and how it wraps around her body and holds it.

"I know you want to— Understand yourself better," Cary says. "If you want—"

"No," Kerry says, then— "Maybe. I— I have to think about it." It's such a huge question and she never thought she'd get an answer. She still might not. But the idea of certainty is— As tempting as it is terrifying. She doesn't want to have a separate soul from Cary, but— She also doesn't want to not have a soul, or—

"Kerry," Cary says, gently. "You know— Whatever we find out, if we choose to find out— It won't change anything. Just like me being older— It didn't change what we are to each other. You're still— My other half. My twin. No matter what we look like and— No matter what we are."

She meets his eyes and sees the love in them. She relaxes. "You are, too," she says, though it feels inadequate to say. Cary has always been better at words than her, better at ideas. Not because she's incapable of them, but— Because she didn't try more. She didn't risk herself more. She hid for so long and now she's far behind him.

But she's outside now. She just has to keep trying and— She'll catch up. A little at a time. There's a lot to learn but she'll catch up.

"Okay, so souls are real," Kerry says, getting back to the problem at hand. "And minds and souls and bodies are connected but separate things. And our powers are— Physical. Genetic. But some powers, mental powers— They don't need bodies to work."

"Perhaps those powers are also part of the soul or the mind. People like David and Oliver, they astral project. The soul leaves the physical body, taking the mind and conscious awareness with it. But they're more powerful when all aspects of their existence are combined. That's why Farouk needed his body back. Even if we can survive without our bodies— We need them." Cary snaps his fingers, excited. "That's what happened to Oliver. It wasn't the cryogenic suspension, we'll check but I don't believe that's the cause. It wasn't even the astral plane itself. If we use Oliver as our guide— I believe extended use of astral projection has negative effects. Without our bodies we start to drift, to lose ourselves. It took years of periodic astral projection for Oliver to wander too far but eventually he did. Thinking back— It didn't happen all at once. We thought he was— busy, distracted, but— Melanie was worried for a while. She tried to get him to stop but— By the time we realized something was wrong, it was already too late. And David— He spent a great deal of those two weeks outside of his body. A small factor in the grand scheme of things but— Important nevertheless. Perhaps with astral projection, like so many things, the dose makes the poison. Disconnect the soul from the body for too long and the mind— Loses coherence."

"Is mental projection as bad?" Kerry asks. David is mentally protecting now, and Divad and Dvd do it a lot.

Cary hums in thought. "With mental projection, the soul remains inside the body. The mind itself is displaced but— I should think it's much safer."

"What if your soul is in someone else's body?" Kerry asks.

"That's a very good question," Cary says, and he feels very far afield but— "Farouk became a parasite, drawing strength from David without giving anything back. But without his own body, David's body would have been— Influential, perhaps even formative without strong mental resistance. Farouk latched on to David for revenge, to survive, but— Then he couldn't get out. He must have found himself struggling to maintain his sense of self. That kind of extreme mental strain—"

Kerry's eyes widen. "What about Ptonomy? And Amy and Lenny? They don't have bodies."

Cary considers this. "Ptonomy and Amy both expressed— A sense of being different without their bodies. Perhaps for short periods, that kind of detachment can be therapeutic, giving relief from the physical body and a fresh perspective. Oliver initially thrived with periodic astral projection, it's part of what made him so effective in helping others. But after a while, he became— Detached. Dispassionate. Not all the time. I believe— when he was more engaged, it coincided with the periods where he remained in his body for longer, when circumstances kept him from projecting. Perhaps returning the soul to the body helps restore the mind's coherence." He frowns. "That means— Bodies don't just needs minds. Minds need bodies. The longer it takes to find Melanie, the more her mind will lose coherence."

"But she'll get better, right?" Kerry asks. She doesn't want Melanie to lose coherence. She was already acting weird even before she left her body. "When she's back in her body, she'll heal?"

"Yes," Cary agrees. "Though that will depend on how long it takes to reunite her soul and body. Lenny was quite detached when she first returned, but her time in her body helped her greatly. Oliver didn't remember Melanie at first but he does now. Clearly healing takes time. Let's add mental tests to Oliver and David's recovery plan. And as you pointed out, Ptonomy, Amy, and Lenny don't have real bodies to go back to. Perhaps these android forms will act as— A kind of prosthesis or chemical supplement. Ptonomy has seemed more engaged with the world with his new android. Hopefully Amy and Lenny will feel the same. But— As Clark said, we have to consider the long-term. Without their bodies, the three of them will eventually begin to display the same symptoms that Oliver did. And like Oliver, they may be unable to recognize those symptoms within themselves. That means they're our patients, too. We have to help them, track their condition."

"And we have to scan everyone with a body," Kerry insists.

"You know, there is one benefit to the mainframe," Cary says. "It has data redundancy. So if the worst happened, we could in theory— Restore them from a backup. They would revert to an earlier version, lose whatever experiences they had since then, but— They would also lose whatever damage they incurred. In theory."

"That's a theory we don't want to test," Kerry says. The whole idea of it creeps her out. The whole idea of being reverted like that, being forced to forget, it's weird and creepy. It's too much like what Farouk did to David.

"Agreed," Cary says, meaningfully. "Let's speak to Clark and arrange to get the equipment we need. Division 3 can upgrade their security procedures and we'll take care of our own people. Hopefully this isn't all closing the barn door after the horses have escaped."

"More like— Locking the henhouse with the fox inside," Kerry says.

"Oh, I like yours better," Cary says, approving.

Kerry preens. She's getting good with words and ideas now that she's had more practice.