Jun 12, 2011
I heard them fighting in the hall before Skitter stumbled back into the classroom. There were deep cuts all around her ears and the sides of her face; and I could see chunks of hair missing where she had been sliced across the scalp. Her head was soaked in blood. I looked past her into the hall, but Jack was nowhere to be seen.
"Fix me,” she gasped. The skin was hanging from her head in strips like she'd been flayed. I couldn't even imagine how much pain she must've been in. “Fast!”
I hurried over and touched two fingers to her forehead. Immediately, her entire anatomy exploded into the forefront of my mind. Every pore and cell and pimple. All of the flaws and defects as well as every arguably cute and positive feature.
It was part of the problem I had had with my sister.
Quickly putting that aside I focused on the girl before me again. Beneath the mystique and intimidation of 'Skitter' she was a surprisingly average, plain girl.
Aside from the massive amounts of injuries she had sustained.
As well as noting every part of my target's anatomy, I could also easily note anything out of place or that shouldn't be. Their genetic coding told me what shape their body should be, so I could even notice flaws due to malnutrition and the like. Picking out the cuts, bruises, cracked ribs and flayed skin was easy, and I quickly set to work repairing them, drawing from her fat reserves. With the speed my mind processed all of the data my power gave it, hardly any time at all would have even passed from her perspective from the time I touched her forehead to the time her injuries began to heal.
“The red miasma took away my ability to recognize people. I don’t know anything about the people I’m fighting." Her words drew me from my reverie as I finished healing the last of her recent injuries. "Fix my brain.”
As soon as her request sank in I was immediately shaking my head. “I don't- I can't." I had seen the damage to her brain in my initial scan, but I had instinctively ignored it, going back to my ingrained habits.
“If you don’t fix me, Jack could win, and billions could die." Skitter insisted. "If you don’t cure whatever it is that Bonesaw’s done with this miasma, I and tens of thousands of others could die of a degenerative brain disease.”
“You don’t understand." Back to my old mantra. If I said it enough maybe I could even believe it. "I can’t cure brain damage.” Even without seeing her face, I could see as her hope drained out of her. Her head drooped and her shoulders fell. Despite myself I felt the need to offer an explanation. “I- my- the last time I did it, the last time I broke my rules, everything fell apart. You’re asking me to do the exact same thing Jack was. To break my rules again.”
“They’re just rules.” She didn't understand. No one ever did.
“They’re the only thing holding me together.” I pleaded.
“You were willing to die if he took you hostage. I’m asking you to sacrifice yourself in a lesser way. Fall apart if you have to. But undo what Bonesaw’s started.”
“This is worse than dying,” I said, my voice quiet. Even I wasn't sure I believed my excuse in the face of that. I already knew I would give in.
“Ask yourself if it’s worse than the slow, degenerative death of thousands and the potential end of the world.”
I stared at her, resigning myself again as I turned my attention to her brain and began reconnecting and restoring the damaged neurons. A parasite was at the root of it, creating prions and perpetuating themselves to cause targeted lesions. I had thought as much.
“This is bad. Every second is time you’re suffering more permanent damage.”
“That’s not a huge priority," Skitter replied, to my surprise. "I’m more worried about Jack, and all the others who got hit harder by this stuff than I did.”
“It’s a parasite that’s producing the improperly folded proteins." I tried to explain. My voice was a monotone and I spoke so quietly I wasn't even sure she could hear me. It was all I could do to keep working through my horror at my own actions as I broke my rules again. "I can stop it, and I think I can make them create a counter-agent that counteracts the proteins and promotes healing in the brain. Can’t make them fix the lesions, but I can promote plasticity in the brain and new connections to old information.” As I explained it I was working on the solution already. But even doing it for something good like this, my actions disgusted me. Knowing just how easy it would be to go that step further.
I felt her sag a little in relief at my efforts, but I ignored it and pushed on in my quiet monotone. “The parasites will replace existing parasites over time, and they’ll die if it gets cold, now. Or if you raise your blood alcohol content. Get drunk after a week or two to clear them from your system, and don’t drink tainted water. If everyone clears them from their systems, the miasma’s effects will be gone by the end of winter.”
“They’re probably what she seeded all over the area, before using the catalyst.” Skitter suggested.
“I’d believe it.”
“And the damage, can you reverse it?”
“The minor damage, yeah." I admitted. "But I can’t do anything for the people with more serious brain lesions unless I attend to them directly. There’s other healers out there, I know they’re not as good, but maybe they can do something to fix that.”
Skitter nodded and silence reigned for a few seconds as I continued my work.
“Let me know the second I can go,” she said, clearly impatient to get back to the battle. “Jack’s going to attack, or pull something.”
“Trying to engineer a large-scale solution to help as many people as soon as possible. The parasites will leave your body through your sweat, spit and urine, and enter the local water supply to override the others, and anyone you cure will cure others in a sort of reverse-epidemic. I have to make sure this is engineered right, or nobody’s going to get cured. If I screw it up, it could be worse than what Bonesaw did.” I guessed that was enough reason for her, because she quickly changed topics.
Though I would rather have continued explaining. Or any other topic.
“Where did you get the material for what you did for Glory Girl? That sarcophagus thing. You have to use living material, so…”
“They weren’t human.” I hedged.
“That’s not that reassuring.”
I sighed and reluctantly explained. "I used pheromones to lure stray cats, dogs and rats to us, then I knit them together. Victoria didn’t have enough body fat to stay warm, and she was wearing out faster than I could get her nutrition.”
“She’s going to return to normal, though?”
“Just a little more time. I have to ensure she’s totally together inside the cocoon, then disconnect her from it and make sure she reaches a physical equilibrium afterward. Once I know she’ll recover…” I trailed off. I didn't want to think about what came next. Especially after Jack.
It would be so easy...
I finished up my work and turned away from her. “Go. You’re done. Go after Jack.”
There was silence for a few seconds where I thought she had already left and I just hadn't heard her.
Then a hand grabbed my shoulder and I looked back in surprise to find her still there, staring at me.
"Amy. I know what Jack said. And I know what Tattletale said before. Much as I hate to admit it, he did sound kind of like her. And you're probably sick of people telling you what-"
"I am." I cut her off. "So don't bother." Why wouldn't she just leave already...
"I'm not going to. I'm not going to tell you who you are or what you should do." She spoke firmly, offering no room for argument. "I just want you to think what kind of person you want to be. Good or bad, don't let anyone else tell you what you are. Trust me, it's never that simple anyway... Just be who you want to be. Do what feels right and do what you need to, and don't let anyone make you feel ashamed."
Her words cut me deep and I hung my head. It wasn't that simple. It's never that simple.
"What if I don't know who I am anymore? And with what I've done-"
"Hey, you've heard what I've done right?" This time, she cut me off. "And that's not even all of it...You think I don't have regrets? Jack said I'm driven by guilt. And...that might be at least one part he was right about. But I'm driven because I want to set them right. And if you don't know who you are well...no one really knows who they are. But you still know better than Tattletale and Jack. So instead of listening to them, find out for yourself. Just...don't give up alright?"
I just stared at her, wordless in the face of all of that. What do I even say to that?
Skitter sighed and got up stiffly. "I...I wish I could stay but I have to go after Jack and spread your cure. I shouldn't have even stayed as long as I did. Sorry." She looked nervously between me and the door. "If...if you need anything, come find me."
She raced for the door and before I knew it I was shouting after her. "Wait!" She stopped and looked back. I didn't even know why I called for her to stop. "Just...thanks." She just gave me a small nod and then she was gone.
A minute or so after Skitter left Victoria returned in her cocoon, crashing back down through the ceiling. With the protective instinct I instilled to make her chase Bonesaw, she must be returning now because they were all gone.
At the thought of my most recent change to her, my face fell in shame.
Do what you need to.
Skitter's words came back to me. I'd had to do this. To protect us. I still felt guilty for it, but I let myself set aside the guilt for the moment. I could wallow later. We were still in danger. Everyone was.
I put a hand on Victoria's cocoon and got rid of the instinct I had added. I didn't want to change her more and the longer I left that there the harder it would be to fix.
The longer I waited the harder it would be to fix...
Be who you want to be.
I wanted to be a good person. For the longest time I felt I was bad, and what I did to Victoria confirmed it. But...Skitter said it wasn't that simple. If I want to be good I should just...try to be good.
Do what feels right.
Looking back up at the face I'd etched in the cocoon, I sighed. I had just been delaying the inevitable. Everything with Tattletale and even to myself...excuses.
I focused and rested my forehead against the cocoon as I sunk into the scan of Victoria's brain. It was true that new connections had been made and it wasn't as simple as undoing what I did. But it wasn't hard either.
I started by undoing what I did in the first place, then worked out from there, removing or changing the connections that branched from it. The associations her mind made with me from before, I left as is. And the natural ones in response to what I had done...I left as well. I removed the romantic love and what of it had been corrupted to hate, and I broke down the emotional cocktail and hormonal balances I had mentioned before, repurposing the base parts elsewhere. Another excuse.
I sighed and stepped back. There was more to do to finalize the fixes but...
There were other people who needed help right now. If things were as bad as Skitter said, they needed me out there. Even if I considered myself bad, I wanted to be a better person. And the only way to do that was to act.
I turned around and pressed my back to the cocoon and made it sprout straps of flesh to wrap around me like a harness. I tried not to think of it as Victoria embracing me. I had lost my right to that.
Once the straps were in place I activated Victoria's flight and we lifted off out of the school. I hated to still be using her like this but...I was doing what I needed to. She couldn't help in her condition and I couldn't help without a way to get around. She might hate me for it but she would hate me anyway. And this way, we might be able to save a few lives still.
The city had already looked like a hell hole recently, but with the red miasma hanging over it and giving everything a red tinge, it truly looked like hell itself. I could see a small path in it of clear air that was slowly spreading. That must be the way Skitter had gone; the counter-parasites spreading from her sweat as she passed by.
I turned away. Something in me wanted to follow after her, but this wasn't the time for that. If we wanted to help as many people as we could as quickly as we could then we had to split up. Also she was likely pursuing Jack and...I didn't want to see him again right now. Or ever.
I lowered us down into the miasma so I could better spot anyone needing help. The thick red mist made it hard to see the ground from higher up. The moment the mist touched me I felt the parasites and immediately began turning them into the counter parasites before they could infect me. Never before had I been so glad my power worked quickly. If any got inside me I wasn't sure I would be able to stop them. But once I turned some on my initial contact, it began spreading from my entry point as well, which made it easier to see and move around.
As we flew, I idly continued fixing Victoria as well. Correcting the connections and hormonal cocktail in her brain, as well as shaping the flesh of the cocoon to repair her body. My power let me divide my attention well. It went faster if I focused, but I had time while I searched.
After a few minutes I saw a body lying in the street and flew down to investigate. It was one of the heroes in the anonymous black suits the Protectorate had been wearing today.
She- because I could tell they were a woman from their figure- was convulsing on the ground. As I landed I was already hurrying over to investigate and see if there was anything I could do.
I reached through a tear in the suit to touch the bare skin around the cut beneath to begin my scan. Immediately I recognized her as Battery, from the times I had worked on her before. I had worked on all of the Brockton Bay Protectorate at some point or another.
At the same time as I recognized my subject, I also sensed the virulent poison raging through her system. It had to be one of Bonesaw's. She was in no danger of dying, at least not right away, but every second she lay there she was in excruciating pain as the poison slowly ate away at her. I set my brow, got comfortable and got to work.
A few minutes later I sat back with a sigh of relief. The poison was gone and the damage was repaired. While I was purging the poison I had also repaired the lesions in her brain from the miasma and converted the parasites to spread the cure as I did with Skitter. As a result, once the poison was purged and the repairs were done she recognized me when her eyes flickered open.
"Just call me Amy," I responded quietly. Panacea didn't fit anymore. Raising my gaze to her face again, I spoke more firmly. "I got rid of Bonesaw's poison and cured you of the effects of the miasma. Once you're up to standing you should go help the others. You can spread the cure through any of your fluids; like sweat, and spit."
She stared silently for a few seconds. Confused? Stunned?
...scared? It occurred to me I didn't know how much the Protectorate knew of what had happened with my family. And with Victoria cocooned on my back...
"T-Thanks," she said once she recovered. "Did you see any oth-"
"You're the first I found. I've got to go see if I can find anyone else to help. The Nine went a different way so you should have time to recover." I stood and activated Victoria's flight again.
"Wait-" But I was already lifting off, out of range to hear whatever else she had to say.
And I began searching again.
A couple hours later I set down outside the PRT Headquarters, at a corner away from the doors. I was careful to avoid the cameras and windows, so I should have a minute before anyone noticed.
I'd found a few more people after Battery that needed help and fixed them up. Some had already been affected by my spreading cure, and the others I cured myself so they could help spread it. I tried not to think about how many would have died if I had just hid with Victoria...
I made the straps retract back into the cocoon and stepped away to turn back and look at her.
Over the past couple hours I had also been finishing her treatments. Both to her body...and mind. I had reversed what I'd done to her as best I could, and I had set her body on course to finish healing itself. She would be thin and malnourished, and she might need to work to get back into shape but...she would live, and recover. The cocoon would keep her in stasis a few more hours as it fed her the nutrients she needed to get back into a functional condition, thinning as it used its own mass to heal, then what was left would slough off as it woke and released her.
She was out of my hands now. I'd done what I could and fixed her, just like I promised.
The heroes would hopefully find her here when they got back from dealing with the fallout of the fight earlier. And by then, I would be long gone, hopefully.
I reached out and laid my palm against the cocoon one last time and made a slight aesthetic change to its surface before turning to hurry away, leaving a short message etched in it.
Keep her safe.