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When My Fist Clenches, Crack It Open

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Once Oliver is seated and Kerry has finished attaching the electrodes, Cary starts calibrating. Normally he would explain what's about to happen, but— This feels like a good opportunity for Kerry. "Kerry, why don't you explain what we're testing?"

"Oh!" Kerry says, pleased. "Sure!" She gives Oliver and Ptonomy a nervous look, then rallies. "We need a baseline for Oliver's different kinds of memory. Memory's actually— Okay, first there's sensory memory. That's automatic in response to sensory input. Then there's short term memory. We can only hold, like, five chunks of data in short term memory. Long term memory's where it gets complicated. There's— Procedural memory, muscle memory. We remember how to do things, like punching, but— It's like our bodies remember without us. The memories we can actually remember are— There’s semantic memory. That's facts, like— Knowing all the kinds of memory. I'm really good at semantic memory because Cary taught me a lot. But the other kind, episodic, autobiographical memory— I don't have a lot of that." She turns sad, then rallies. "Like David. Like you, Oliver."

"Precisely," Cary agrees, seeing that Kerry needs support. "Of course, the three of you have very different reasons for your— Lack of history. Kerry simply needs to continue having new experiences." He gives her a smile and she smiles back. "David's amnesia is complex. And as for yours, Oliver— First we have to figure out how each of your different kinds of memory are working. Then we can track your progress and start targeting the types of memory that need the most help."

"There's other kinds, too," Kerry adds. "Recognition versus recall. Flashbulb memories. Visual memory. If you can make new memories. Oh, topographical memory!"

"I don't think we'll need to test Oliver's sense of geographic orientation just yet," Cary says. "All right, calibration sorted. Kerry, can you test Oliver's sensory and short-term memory?"

Kerry picks up a light pen and stands in front of Oliver. "I'm going to draw letters and you need to figure out what they are and remember each letter. It's like an eye chart but for your brain. Ready?"

"Ready," Oliver confirms. He watches as Kerry writes on the air.

"Did you remember them?" Kerry asks when she finishes.

"D H J B F," Oliver recalls.

"Excellent," Cary says, pleased to see that the basics are functioning. "Try to remember those letters. I'll ask for them again. That will help us test your ability to make new semantic memories. Can you remember them now?"

Oliver hesitates. "D H... I think there was an F?"

"Oh dear," Cary says, and tries to stay positive. "Well, nowhere to go but up. Try to remember as much as you can. Obviously you have some ability to retain semantic knowledge but isolated information is the hardest to retain. Like a new telephone number. In one ear and out the other."

Oliver visibly concentrates.

"Let's move on to muscle memory," Cary says. "I haven't seen you have any trouble walking or speaking, at least in terms of the physical aspects. But you have been very still. Do you feel any discomfort when you move? Unsteadiness?"

"It's different now," Oliver says. "Moving."

"How so?"

"It was easy in the ice cube," Oliver says. "I danced quite a lot. I felt the need to keep— Moving. Moving was important." He frowns, apparently able to recognize a memory but not recall it.

"But it's not easy now?" Cary prompts.

"It requires— Concentration. I don't quite fit."

Cary ponders this. "Perhaps after twenty-one years of disembodiment— Your mind's sense of physical coherence drifted from the condition it was in when you left your body. Your mind's muscle memory no longer matches the muscle memory in your body. Two versions. It must take a great deal of effort to reconcile those." He brightens. "But the good news is that as with Kerry's experiential memories, the best treatment is to make new muscle memories as you are now. Physical exercise, fine motor skills. Less stillness, more movement."

"If I must," Oliver says, unenthused.

"I'm gonna help you with that," Kerry says, confidently. "It'll be fun!"

"Can you tell me those letters again?" Cary asks.

Oliver hums with thought. "F. And a C? No, not a C..."

"And how many letters did Kerry write?"

"Five?" It's correct, but Oliver sounds uncertain. "Yes, I believe it was five."

Cary reminds himself to stay focused on the work. Now is not the time to get upset. But Oliver used to have such a brilliant mind. He was so quick and— It's no wonder Cary didn't want to admit to himself how much Oliver has— Decayed. "Let's test your experiential memory. There are many phases to a person's life. Childhood memories can be difficult for anyone to recall. Adult memories are typically clear. You also have twenty-one years of disembodied memories that aren't present in your body, and then another year of memories that formed once you were embodied again. Let's start from the beginning. Do you remember your childhood? Your parents?"

Oliver tries. "Not especially."

"Maybe some memory prompts would help, like a photo album?" Ptonomy suggests.

"That is a good idea," Cary says, adding that to his notes. "It didn't work with David because those memories were physically removed. He can't remember no matter how hard he tries. But Oliver's pre-disembodiment memories should all be present and accessible. Perhaps like the muscle memory, the version in Oliver's mind has changed or faded so that— The necessary connections aren't there. It's made his memories— isolated, like the letters. The memories that still have connections, those are the ones that he can still recall."

"So Oliver can remember?" Kerry asks, excited.

"I believe he can," Cary says. "And the more connections are made, the easier it should be for the other memories to become accessible again. Sleep is essential to memory function. We really must find a way to get his mind to sleep with his body again. Ah, but let's continue. Oliver, do you remember Summerland?"

"The name is familiar," Oliver says. "David asked me about it. He wants to pool our resources."

Cary frowns. "You mean Divad? Or Dvd?"

"David," Oliver insists. "Or— Part of him. He doesn't want to hear himself think."

"Which part of him?" Ptonomy asks.

"All the parts."

"Okay," Ptonomy says, considering that. "Oliver, you said you remember helping people. That's why you're helping us with David."

"Yes," Oliver says. "His warring thoughts. His fear. They're quite familiar. Comforting."

"You helped many people with similar problems," Cary says. "Hearing their thoughts— Those must have made— Powerful memories for you. Now, with the emotional impact blunted, the memories distant— They've become— Soothing. Listening to David's trauma is— nostalgic?"

"Nostalgic," Oliver echoes, considering the word. "Nostalgias of another life. Complexities of memory a thousand miles away."

"More Ginsberg?" Ptonomy asks.

"The poems are a type of semantic knowledge," Cary says. "But they were also a strong part of his experiential memories. Perhaps— Once he realized he was trapped on the astral plane, he used them as a memory aid. But eventually— They were all he had left." It's a sobering thought. "Oliver must have realized he was slipping away, losing coherence. The poetry, the dancing— He was trying to cure his detachment syndrome. It just wasn't enough, not without his body."

He looks to Ptonomy, concerned for him and Lenny and Amy— And Melanie, wherever she may be. This whole situation is— Increasingly precarious.

"Do you remember that, Oliver?" Cary asks. "Do you remember what happened in the ice cube?"

"I was there for quite a long time," Oliver says. "Every day was the same. I could imaginify myself a kingdom but nothing was ever real. Until David. David was real. I couldn't imaginify him away, him or his monster. So I decided to help."

"That's why you came back," Cary says, recalling Oliver's sudden return. Over twenty years of nothing and then there he was. At first, Cary thought that Oliver had finally remembered them and found his way back, but he didn't know any of them. He came back for David. To him, they were just strangers, not his wife and closest friends. They're still basically strangers to Oliver now.

But Oliver does remember Melanie. He remembers her enough to risk his life to search for her.

"Oliver," Cary says, needing to know for himself as much as for understanding of Oliver's condition. "What do you remember about this past year? After you helped us get the monster out of David. Farouk took you over. We tried to find you but every time we got close, we lost you again. Were you aware of your surroundings? Did he keep you somewhere, or— Was he controlling you?"

Oliver consider the question. It obviously takes effort for him to remember.

"I was many places," Oliver decides. "It's hard to say— Which places were real. Sometimes Lenny was there. Sometimes Farouk or Melanie. Sometimes I was— Nowhere. I did what he wanted me to do."

"When did you see Melanie?" Cary asks. "When you came to Division 3 to steal the genetic sculpting gun?"

"Hm, yes, but— Before that. He said it was his gift, the monster. Bringing her from her bad dreams to be with me."

"My god," Cary says, realizing. "Melanie— She was distant, forgetful. She stopped caring about her work, about anything. We thought it was depression, drugs, but— She had detachment syndrome. She already had it."

"How’s that possible?" Ptonomy asks. "She was in her body."

"Farouk got to her through her dreams," Cary says. "Just like he did with David. He took her out of her body — through the astral plane — and into his. She had no mental defenses and she wasn't even aware it was happening because— She was asleep. If she was aware at all, she would have thought she was just— Having a bad dream. He could have worked on her that way for weeks before she became too affected to hide her symptoms."

"Wait," Ptonomy says. "She wasn't just disembodied. She was inside of Farouk."

Cary slaps his forehead. "Of course! Kerry, you said— What did Melanie say when you talked to her?"

"She said— Reality was a choice and the world wasn't real," Kerry recalls. "It was all in her head so she didn't need to save anything. And she said that one of us isn't real, that— One of us is just a fantasy."

"That sounds like Farouk to me," Ptonomy says. "Just like Lenny, she had Farouk's thoughts in her head and she couldn't differentiate them from her own. And like Lenny, Melanie tried to dull those painful thoughts with drugs."

"So all the weird stuff Melanie said, that wasn't her?" Kerry asks.

"It was her, but— Under the influence of Farouk's world view, his ideas." Cary turns to Oliver. "Oliver, do you remember anything else? Things you did and said under his control? Things Melanie did or said?"

Oliver tries. "I'm not sure what happened and— What he imaginified happening."

"Let's go backwards," Ptonomy offers. "Do you remember David torturing you?"

"Yes," Oliver agrees. "That was unpleasant. But he thought I was the monster. His anger was— Quite natural. If anything, the drill was— Too restrained."

Cary suppresses a shudder. "Well. There's no more torturing for anyone."

"What happened before that?" Ptonomy asks.

"He set the trap," Oliver says. "He brought Melanie to the desert. She wanted to be with me in the ice cube."

"That was definitely not Melanie's idea," Cary declares. Then he lowers his voice so David doesn't overhear. "Is that what Farouk wants? To live alone with David in an empty world?"

Ptonomy nods and lowers his voice, too. "It matches. Oliver could create the kingdom of his dreams. Farouk wants to be god using David's powers."

"Farouk should put himself in an ice cube," Cary grumbles.

"Yes?" Oliver asks, suddenly, turning to an empty space. He listens. Then he turns to Ptonomy. "David says he needs help."

Everyone looks at David. He's with Syd and everything seems calm, but— Cary may not be privy to David's thoughts, but he knows that surface calm can be quite deceptive.

"Which David? What's wrong?" Ptonomy asks.

Oliver listens. "Apparently Syd is being a— That's very rude."

"Ah, it's Dvd." Ptonomy goes quiet. "Got it. Lenny's going over now. She'll take care of it."

"I must admit," Cary says. "At times I'm quite jealous of your mainframe link. And Oliver's telepathy. I'd quite like to be able to speak with Dvd and Divad directly."

"They'll be sharing their body today," Ptonomy says. "But— We were considering using telepathic antennae to share the relay with you, Kerry, and Syd."

Suddenly, Syd stands up and walks out of the lab, her body language tense, angry. David looks after her, distraught. Lenny stays and comforts him.

Ptonomy sighs. "Syd's— Not in a good place right now. And if you and Kerry had the relay, Syd would feel even more excluded than she already does."

"That is a shame," Cary says. "If Divad and Dvd wish to, as Oliver said, pool their resources, being able to hear them would make things much easier."

"It would be good for them, too," Ptonomy agrees. "Oliver, is Dvd still here?"

"Yes," Oliver says.

"Dvd, how do you feel about allowing Cary and Kerry to hear the relay? So you can work together with Cary to help David and Oliver?"

Oliver listens. "David said you just said they wouldn't have the relay."

Ptonomy smiles. "Only sometimes. We're still going to keep it up as much as possible, especially when David isn't in your system's body."

Oliver listens some more. "David is having a disagreement."

"Divad and Dvd?" Cary asks. "Oliver, why don't you call them by their names? You never treated me and Kerry like we were the same person. It's really quite rude."

"When we set up the relay, Oliver said— Divad and Dvd's voices and thoughts are just— the thoughts David believes he's having as them," Ptonomy says. "And honestly Lenny's right. When they stop being angry, they do all sound like David. Because they are David."

"Still," Cary says, perturbed.

"Oliver, can you try to refer to Dvd and Divad by their preferred names?" Ptonomy asks.

"They're all David," Oliver insists. "But yes, I do see your point." He listens to something. "David— That is, Divad wants to share the relay to he can speak to Cary. He said he doesn't mind Kerry hearing. But he doesn't want Syd to hear David's thoughts. Dvd— He said he wants Syd to hear him so he can shout at her. He claims not to care about Cary and Kerry, but— Ah, I'm speaking out of turn. My apologies. Balancing these things is— Challenging. I do my best not to listen, but hearing is inevitable."

"You must hear a lot of secrets," Ptonomy says.

"I hear a lot of everything," Oliver replies. "Except from you and Lenny and Amy. Your silence is— Unnatural. Quite unpleasant, frankly."

"I always found the Vermillion soothing," Ptonomy says. "No memories, just data. You don't find all that noise overwhelming? David does."

"David doesn't remember growing up as a mind reader," Cary points out. "It must be different, having that from birth. Our minds adapt to our environment. That kind of constant noise— The mind filters it out or learns manageable ways to interpret it. Like— White noise or synesthesia. Oliver, you used to say thoughts were— Musical?"

"Yes," Oliver agrees. "The music of the spheres. A million melodies, one after another."

"There've been very few identified, powerful mind readers like Oliver and David," Ptonomy says. "The mainframe contains evidence that others exist, but it seems they use their powers to hide themselves. Now that the war's over, maybe they'll feel safe enough to come forward."

"It was a long war," Cary cautions. "And our presence in Division 3 is hardly public knowledge. The worldwide attacks on mutants have stopped but few know why, and the public at large remains ignorant about mutants entirely. The Divisions still suppress knowledge of our existence."

"It's a lot like David's invisible war," Ptonomy muses. "Two sides fighting and forcing the world to forget the fight."

"The cure for the world is the same as the cure for David," Cary says, firmly. "Knowledge and compassion." He waves his hand. "But I'm getting ahead of myself. What should we do about the relay?"

"I've been holding off on this for Syd's sake, but— I think you're right, we need to make the decision now." Ptonomy turns and waves Lenny and David over. "David, Cary and Kerry would like to be able to hear Divad and Dvd through the relay. That means they'll be able to hear your thoughts too. Divad wants to be able to talk to Cary so they can pool their resources."

David takes that in, then listens as his brothers talk to him. "I guess. I trust them, and— I don't want you to feel—" He listens some more, then frowns. "You don't yell at Amy. Wait, you've been yelling at Amy with your thoughts?! Dvd!" He gives an exasperated sigh. "I guess— Since we're going to be sharing our body—" He looks at Ptonomy. "Okay. Cary and Kerry can have the relay."

"Oliver, go ahead," Ptonomy says.

"This won't hurt a bit," Oliver says, and he taps Cary on the forehead. Nothing happens. He does the same to Kerry. She looks at Cary and shrugs.

"The relay is off," Ptonomy reminds them. "Unless we're done with the memory tests?"

"I would like to do some more," Cary says. "How about we do a quick relay test?"

"It's pretty noisy," Ptonomy cautions. "Obviously we want Dvd and Divad to be able to talk to everyone, but if it's too much Oliver can only relay to you as needed. Kerry, the same goes for you. This isn't all or nothing. You do get used to it after a while."

"Relay going on— Now," Oliver says.

"-ary? Cary, can you hear me? This is Divad. Cary?"

"Oh, Divad, hello!" Cary says. It sounds like Divad's voice is coming from next to Ptonomy. "Are you over there?"

"When they speak, you'll hear them directionally," Ptonomy explains. "Thoughts will be heard internally.

'Like this,' Divad says. Or— Thinks.

'Yeah, get used to it,' Dvd thinks. 'I've got my eye on all of you.'

"I'm sorry if Dvd thinks anything rude," David says, pre-emptively. "Or if I— My thoughts can be—" 'Maybe this was a bad idea. Torturing two more people with my thoughts— No, Oliver said he'd turn it off if they wanted. I wish he could turn them off for Divad and Dvd. I wish he could turn them off for me.' "Sorry," David says, resigned.

"It's like Cary," Kerry realizes. "When Cary goes inside me, I hear him in my head." She smiles, delighted. "David, it's like you're part of our system!"

"It is?" David asks.

"It is," Cary confirms. "To be honest, I have missed hearing Kerry that way. Of course I'm very happy to have her outside, but— It has been awfully quiet without her. Three is much noisier than one, but— I think we'll be fine."

"I'm really glad to hear that," Ptonomy says. "Feel free to talk to each other as much as you want. But the Davids have to share their thoughts as part of the relay. They're trusting you with a lot. Let them decide what they're ready to share aloud. Try your best to prioritize what's coming from outside over what you hear inside."

"Okay," Kerry says, determined. "Cary, it's like they're outside and inside at the same time. It's like— We're one big system!" She gives David a hug, and David accepts it, surprised and then touched. "First we both like cherry pie, and now we're a system!"

"I guess we are," David says. 'Kerry,' he thinks, quiet and heartfelt.

'He was ours first,' Dvd warns. 'Just because we have to share him doesn't mean we have to like it.'

"Dvd," Kerry chides. "Don't abuse the relay. You have to say things out loud so everyone can hear them. Right, Cary?"

"Ah, that's right," Cary agrees. That's almost exactly what Cary used to tell Kerry back when he was coaxing her into talking. "If you're going to say things to us, it's only fair if your brothers can hear them, too."

"Fine," Dvd grumbles. "Whatever, I don't want to talk to you anyway. Just remember I'm keeping a close eye on all of you."

"Sorry about him," Divad sighs. "Any progress with Oliver? I was watching David."

"I'll show you my notes after we finish the tests," Cary promises. "We can do the analysis together?"

"Yeah," Divad says, sounding pleased and eager. "Thanks for this, Oliver. It's really— It's been a long time." 'I can't wait to be in our body. This is— I missed it so much.'

'Suck-up,' Dvd grumbles. 'Teacher's pet.' "Don't get distracted. We have to keep David safe."

"I'm helping them so they can help us," Divad replies. "If you help too you might actually learn something."

"Learning's your thing," Dvd insists.

"Are they always like this?" Kerry asks.

"Pretty much," David admits. "They'll calm down. Dvd only really does yelling or— Aggrieved silence. When Dvd stops yelling so does Divad. Though apparently they do a lot of thinking I can't hear." David glares at the empty spot where it sounds like Dvd is standing.

"David, this means everyone can hear you and your brothers except Syd," Ptonomy says. "I was hoping to share the relay with her as well. At this point— I'm afraid she isn't ready for that, and Divad and Dvd and Oliver's needs outweigh that consideration. I hope that will change, but if and when it does, you'll have the right to refuse to share with her."

'Syd doesn't—' David starts, then starts again aloud. "Syd can't forgive me for hurting her, so— I don't think you have to worry about that." 'She shouldn't anyway. God, I really don't want to think about this anymore.' He looks to Lenny, silently pleading for help.

"I got this," Lenny tells him. "You guys finish up with Oliver. I'm gonna take the Davids for a stroll." She gives David a push towards the door.

"Bring Divad back soon so he can help me with my analysis," Cary calls after her.

"Relay going off— Now," Oliver says.

“That was— Wow,” Kerry says, still taking it in. She turns to Cary. “Do you really miss me?”

“Oh Kerry, of course I do,” Cary says, heartfelt. “But I’m so proud of you. Seeing you thrive like this— It means more to me than anything.”

Kerry’s absolutely thrilled by that. “You know, you can be inside me, if you want. We’re a system, you should be inside me sometimes, right? That’s how our system works. We share just like the Davids share. We should share more, too. I want to.”

“We should,” Cary says, warmly. “Not right now, of course. We have a great deal to do today. But— Later, certainly.”

Kerry’s disappointed, but she rallies quickly. “Maybe we can share at night, like the Davids will. Then we’ll only need one cot. And I can eat breakfast for us.”

“Let’s not get carried away,” Cary says, lightly.

“Yeah, you do love eating,” Kerry says. “I wouldn’t want you to stop doing something you love.”

Cary gives her a hug for that. “Let’s finish up with Oliver. Then we can have the relay back on and we’ll be able to hear the Davids again.”

“Yeah,” Kerry sighs, like the thought of it makes her feel— Complete.

Cary is very glad that no one can hear his thoughts. Then he remembers Oliver. He meets Oliver’s eyes.

‘Please don’t tell her,’ he thinks.

‘As you wish,’ Oliver thinks back. The presence of him in Cary’s head is as painfully familiar as the presence of the Davids. In a way, Oliver was part of his system too, back then. Another mind inside his own. And now Cary is an inside mind, and he’s meant to be inside of Kerry.

But he doesn’t want to be inside.