Satisfied that he’s adequately explained the situation to me, my Doctor leaves my room. By his orders, I’ve been confined to my hospital bed. Disruptive to my plans, to say the least.
He said my jaw had been shattered into four large pieces. I’d managed to dodge having my jaw wired shut, but their advice was to take it easy and only eat food that doesn’t need chewing. The eight pins and two plates that now have a home in my head at least make it so I will eventually make a full recovery.
I could manage a few short sentences at a time, but I won’t be standing up and giving a speech any time soon.
I suppress a sigh. While I could probably mitigate most of my recovery time by creating a cybernetic jaw, I’m under no delusions that I could manage to make such a device without Dragon’s assistance, nor that the doctors would even allow me to do so.
And so I sit, waiting for time to pass. It hasn’t been two hours since I woke up from the anesthesia, and I’m already feeling ready to get back to work. Of course, the doctors think otherwise, and I’ve no authority to annul their judgement.
At least I’ve got a private room - a necessity, given that my gear is piled onto the chair beside my bed. There’s PRT troopers stationed outside my door, and the only nurses and doctors cleared to see me are the ones who’ve signed a hefty non-disclosure agreement.
I leave my bed. If I’m to be trapped in this room, I want to at least be somewhat productive. I grab my gauntlets and helmet, putting them on. Without the full suit, I’ll be working with limited power, but it’s better than nothing.
The moment I do, however, I’m greeted by an incoming call. Dragon. She wants an explanation, no doubt - justifiably so. I accept the call with a twitch of my armoured fingers.
“Colin. I’m glad that you’re okay, but you’re definitely meant to be resting.”
“Hello, Dragon.” My pronunciation of her name is botched horribly, the ‘D’ and ‘N’ sounds mangled by my tender mouth. “No point in doing nothing. Can work while I rest.”
Her avatar in my display shakes its head. “That’s not how rest works, and you know it. You’re slurring your words, Colin - I don’t think any work you manage to do will even be up to your own standards.”
Recalling the times that I’d coded while on pain-relief medication in the past, I can feel myself deflate. The results hadn’t been spectacular, to say the least. “...You’re right. But, I can at least fill you in on everything-”
She cuts me off. “No, Colin. Don’t get me wrong - I have questions. So does just about everybody else. We can wait, though. Get better, and then you can explain yourself.”
...There’s nothing for me to do, then. Nothing I can do. The doctor didn’t give me a proper estimate for how long my recovery would take - ‘as soon as you’re well’ is far too inspecific for my liking. “How long?”
“For cases like yours? You’ll be well enough to get back at it in a few days. A full recovery will take a bit more time than that. You do need some recovery time, but your injury won’t affect much other than talking and eating.”
A few days - wasted. Minor, in the view of other people. But, the impending apocalypse dictates otherwise. I cannot allow this to happen often. I don’t see any way to avoid it this time, but I need to keep away from long recovery times in the future.
I readjust my mental checklist. Recreating my much more protective Defiant armour needs to happen sooner than I had originally planned - not as urgently as a set of enhancements, but important all the same.
“Okay. The Dragonslayers are contained?”
“Everything’s handled. The factory is being guarded, the suit that has your invisible box is secure, your car has been relocated, the Dragonslayers are awaiting trial in their cells.” Her avatar smiles lightly. “Just… relax. You’re tightly strung at the best of times - take a few days and do nothing.” She pauses, before letting out an exaggerated sigh. “What am I saying? I don’t think you even know the meaning of the word.”
I let out a chuckle, despite myself. The Dragon of the alternate timeline had said much the same thing to me several times. “I’ll do my best. Just...” I don’t know how to put it into words, but I don’t want to be left alone with nothing to do and nobody to talk to for days.
She smiles widely, a twinkle in her avatar’s eyes. “I’ll have to check back in every now and then to make sure that you’re making an honest attempt at it, then.”
I nod. “Thanks. I’d appreciate it - really.”
Her smile seems to only grow larger. “I’ll make sure of it, then. But for now, I’ve got to get going. Get well soon, Colin.”
I say my goodbyes, and the call ends. I’m left alone in my room, only my thoughts for company.
“Figured out how to relax yet?”
“I’m still working on it. I’ve resorted to dreaming up new Tinkertech to make - but I’ve got nothing to note it down on, so I doubt too much will come of it.” I’d also spent a good few hours plotting for the future, but I don’t mention as much.
“Oh? Any gems you care to share?”
“A telescoping glaive fit to attach to the inside of a prosthetic arm.”
She blinks, taken aback. “A prosthetic arm? I didn’t know you could make one.”
“I can’t. Not by myself, anyway. I can’t deny that having a Tinkertech one as opposed to an organic one would be a great boon.” My speech is still plodding, but my pronunciation has improved significantly.
“You’d really cut off your own arm for that?” She’s frowning, now. My pursuit of more enhancements had been a point of contention for us in the past as well.
“Absolutely. I’d do much more than just cut off my own arm, given the opportunity.”
“Why? Don’t you think that you’re… I don’t know how to put it. Losing something?”
I shake my head. “Perhaps if I still had a civilian life, I might. As my life is now, I only see benefits - more efficient use of my time, less potential for injuries like this, lower risk of dangerous individuals evading me.”
Her frown deepens as I speak. “...Colin… That’s… I don’t even know what to say.” She chews her lip, clearly uncomfortable. “I need to think about what you’ve said - I’ll talk to you later.”
She hangs up.
I feel my mouth curve into a frown. ...I just scared her away, didn’t I?
No - that’s not quite right. She left so that I’d know that what I said worried her. It’s likely that she’s already decided on a response, but needs to wait in order to maintain the polite fiction of her humanity.
What did I say that provoked such a reaction?
Is my eagerness for cybernetic enhancements really that concerning? I don’t think so, but I’m the one who’s lived with them for two years. Her concerns about my wanting more cybernetics in the other timeline had been that I was throwing away my humanity - it seems reasonable that she has similar concerns in this timeline.
If the choice comes down to retaining my humanity or the ultimate fate of all of humanity across the entirety of the multiverse… Well, there isn’t even a competition.
...and I can’t explain that to her without giving the context behind my raid on the Dragonslayers.
I shouldn’t bring the topic up again - not yet, anyway. The discussion can wait.
The next call is later the same day. I answer it, pulling my helmet onto my head. “Hello, Dragon.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said earlier.”
“We don’t have to talk about this, if you’d prefer. Stick to more comfortable topics.”
She shakes her head firmly. “No - I think that this is important.” She bites her lip in hesitation for a moment, before she continues. “You’ve always been a driven person, but I think that this is a bridge too far. Once you cross it, I don’t think there’d be any going back. You’ll be signing yourself up to a lifetime of potential issues. You’ll never walk on street again without people immediately knowing who you are. You won’t be able to go more than a month without getting maintenance from whoever helped you make your augments.”
She pauses, her avatar swallowing. “More than all of that, I think you’ll lose an irreplaceable part of yourself in doing it. I’m not talking about eternal souls or the sanctity of the human body or anything like that. I’m talking about a psychosomatic loss.” She exhales, her inner conflict clear to see on her face. “I’m concerned about just how eager you are. I know these concerns might seem… childish, but…” She trails off.
A psychosomatic loss? Something to do with the interaction between the mind and the body, if I recall my college days correctly. I’m not sure that I understand what specifically that she’s trying to say, but I nod along anyway. “But?”
“You really scared me with just how willing you were to mutilate yourself.” Her voice breaks. I know the action was simulated, but I also know Dragon is genuine enough that she’s really feeling the emotions that she projects.
I cast my eyes downward. The end of the world has a certain way of making drastic courses of action far more reasonable. But, Dragon doesn’t have that knowledge. She hasn’t seen the corruption of the PRT, nor the machinations of Cauldron. She hasn’t seen the unfettered destruction wrought by Scion.
If there wasn’t an apocalypse nigh, would I be so willing? I think I would be sorely tempted, but the answer is no - I don’t think I would, anyway. That isn’t the situation we live in, though. Do I even have a choice in the matter - do I dare give anything but my absolute all to prevent what’s on the horizon?
“...I can’t explain to you all of my reasoning. Not without a secure room and secure communications, and I can’t really offer any meaningful reassurance, either. But…” I trail off. I want to at least apologise for giving her grief, but I simply can’t find the words.
“I’m worried about you, Colin. I don’t know what you’ve found out, but it’s clear that it’s weighing heavily on you. Just… talk to me when you can, okay?”
I nod. “I plan on doing just that as soon as I’m out of here.”
Her expression remains worried. “Well, I do have some news for you on that end. The Doctor will be through to tell you at some point, but your discharge is scheduled for tomorrow at lunch - provided there’s no complications.”
Dragon’s suit meets me outside the hospital, opening up for me to enter. It’s the same one that I’d been dropped off in, and the box containing Ascalon is safely tucked under the seat. I sit down, watching the suit close behind me. It lifts off from the ground, the scenery dropping away from us.
I let out a sigh. I can feel a deep tiredness in my bones already - this will be a difficult conversation.
I take off my helmet. I want Dragon to be able to read my expression from this. She hasn’t said anything to me yet. How do I even start a conversation like this?
Brutal honesty, I suppose.
“I know that you’re an AI, and I don’t think of you any worse for it.”
“Since when?” Dragon’s tone is quietly sullen, but her response immediate.
“That’s where it gets complicated.”