I made my way to the curb, the airport noise fading behind me, lifting my arm for a cab. “Chris! Christopher?” I lowered my arm and turned.
“I’m Jessica. John’s roommate.” She blushed a little, saying that. Blue eyes, brown hair, ample curves, the kind of girl he liked. I quelled my curiosity, though. “I was told there wasn’t much time. Take me to him.”
“This way.” She led me into the parking area, to her car. I watched the scenery as we drove, passing the Pentagon, then the Potomac passing by. Through a jungle of office buildings, into a neighborhood full of green grass and trees, scattered with old brick apartment buildings.
I ran my fingers through green leaves as we went to the apartment building. I was used to cities being an ocean of pavement. She opened the door, leading me into a small apartment. “So let’s not waste time taking coats and making tea. Where is he?”
A voice called from the next room. “I’m in here . . . I’d recognize that ego anywhere.” I followed the sound, pushing the door open. “Christopher . . . you made it. The Good Doctor himself.”
I smiled, struggling to show no response. This was a man with unbreachable skin, limitless strength, a man who had incredible grace, honed from a lifetime of struggling not to crush everything he picked up. And he was lying there like a dead fish, weak as a child. A pot sat by his bed, ready to be puked in, I guessed. “I was told it was poison . . . may I?”
He nodded, and his weakness worried me. I pulled the gloves off my hands and examined my senses. I could feel the spread of my bones and veins and nerves like most people could feel the positions of their limbs, and as I touched John’s arm, I felt his body too, as if it were an extension of mine. Every cell, the intricate web combining to form a human being . . . and a lot of tainted blood.
In processes that defied biology or chemistry, I coaxed the tainted cells down his arm. I instructed his skin to part at his wrist, and picked up the pot, holding it under his arm to catch the corrupted fluid. “Ow.” He squirmed, though the cut I’d opened was small. “Shit. What are you doing?”
“I told your body to bleed. God, you’re such a baby. You act like you’ve never been cut in your life.”
“I never have been cut in my life. That HURTS.”
I scowled, mostly for theatrical effect. “Pray you never lose your power. You’d probably cry like a girl the first time you stubbed your toe. There, I’m done.”
“Chris. I still feel like shit. Why am I still so weak? Keep going.”
“Look, John, Ironheart, you may be impervious to damage, but this poison binds to your blood cells and prevents them from carrying oxygen. I couldn’t remove the poison without removing the blood.” I lifted the pot I’d been coaxing blood into. “You just lost all this. You’re tough, but you still take time to build up blood, and you still get tissue damage if you can’t oxygenate . . . are you even listening to me?”
“Sure. Yeah.” Of course, he wasn’t listening. “But I need to be out there. The cyborg guy, we think he’s going to attack another lab today.”
“The Cyborg Guy? That’s the best you got?”
“He’s new in town. He’s going after military-grade laser weapons. I can’t just lay around.”
He tried to sit up again, and with one finger on his chest, I pushed him down onto his back; this man, who would lift a car like a piece of fruit any other day, dropped by the touch of a fingertip. I kind of liked that. “I’ll handle him.”
He scoffed.”Look . . . I know you’re as fast and as strong as a body can be, but he’s literally a machine. Human ability can’t beat him, and he can electrify his body. You wouldn’t be able to touch him. Even if you could, how would you hurt him? You can’t fuss with people’s insides if they don’t consent.”
“Jonathon . . . Ironheart. Trust me.”
Jessica had been watching, and she frowned, at this. “Christopher, you told us you couldn’t affect someone who was resistant to you. Was that a lie?”
I looked at Jessica, letting my exhaustion show; I was tired of the conversation fast. “That wasn’t a lie, and it’s not how I intend to handle him. It’s none of your business cutie, and John, it’s none of yours, either. You can trust me, or not. But if you don’t give me an address chrome-dome is walking out of that lab with lasers tonight.”
It took convincing. When I left, I think they both half-expected it to be the last time they saw me. At home I worked to support a team; The Good Doctor wasn’t a solo warrior. I looked at the lab, watching it from a distance. I should have an hour or so. It would be long enough. I reached down, touching a blade of grass. The grass hadn’t sufficient awareness to resist me, and immediately I had a sense of the whole plant and the spread of its roots. I initiated processes that just couldn’t be explained by science. Cascades of complex changes, chemically and biologically impossible, flowed from my simple wishes.
The roots of the grass tangled with the next plant, and the next, until the entire field of grass was a single organism. The roots sought deeper, seeking out life. Insects and worms were caught in their grasp, infected by my influence as roots grew into them, tying everything beneath me into a single network of life. I began drawing the grass underground, and gathering biomass from deeper in the earth, spreading out, turning the organic matter turning into a vast underground organ.
In time, I formed a giant underground heart, sheathed in bone, carrying a reservoir of thousands of gallons of organic mush – something like blood. It would leave a void of life that the earth beneath me would take months to recover from.
Time to shift my focus. Bone began to grow, now. Like tree roots, they grew in tendrils, hair-thin at first, infiltrating the tiniest cracks in the building’s foundations. I grew them all through the foundations and the walls, saturating the hidden spaces with bone filaments. I began channeling blood through the bone and into the vents and the crawl spaces. Membranes formed between spurs of bone, rudimentary ears. Nerves spread to connect them to me, letting me listen as blood poured into the building, filling the hidden spaces with mass that I could use.
I heard him first. The whine of a jetpack, then the blue light from his exhaust as he dropped to the ground, and began hacking the electronic lock. His body really was almost entirely metal. How much of him was still flesh? He got in easily, of course. I never intended to keep him out.
Everything seemed quiet. I looked down at the facility, lowering my altitude and landing at the door. I pulled a jack out of my wrist, ripping the casing off the card-reader bare-handed. I plugged myself into the diagnostics jack, and within a few moments, had bypassed security.
I moved through the facility, quietly as a six-foot tall metal cyborg could. I was picking up some odd sub-acoustics. Creaking, dripping. Something was wrong here. But the laser lab wasn’t far. That’s when blood started coming out of the walls.
“Freaking scientists can’t even keep their science in the bottle . . . careless bastards. What kind of creepy B-movie bullcrap is going on in this place?” I hurried toward the stairs. Blood was pooling on the floor, and I saw meat beginning to squeeze out of dome of the ductwork. “Shit. This isn’t fricking funny.”
I pounded up the stairs. Whatever was happening was happening throughout the building. Some spiky formation was creeping inward from the vents, filling the halls. I grabbed one as I passed, glanced at it. Rigid, but porous, marrow in the middle. Bone. “Shit. Shit. Shit.”
I kicked through the door of the lab. I didn’t care about alarm anymore. Once I had the lasers I could carve my way out of any corner. The room was a cloud of bone filaments. They’d overgrown the prototypes, bone getting into the cracks and growing – as I watched, one of the prototypes snapped in two, from the pressure of the roots growing from within – like a tree root splitting stone.
I suddenly realized that this wasn’t just weird. I was in a great deal of danger. And it didn’t help when, in the meat that had been growing over every wall, eyes began to open.
I broke, and I ran. This was too much. This was a horror movie or a nightmare. The bone and meat had overgrown every hallway by now, blood an inch thick across the floor. I crashed through it, smashing it, but as it grew thicker and fused, I was having a harder and harder time. I had to ram the growths several times now to make any headway, and I kept slipping in the blood. I was uncomfortably aware that the corridor I’d cleared was closing up behind me, and that amidst the spiky mesh of bone filling the halls, more and more eyes were opening around me. I began screaming as I flailed at the bone, smashing eyes, trying to force my way free.
He had bought himself a few minutes when he thrust his arm into the web of bone I’d built, and detonated a grenade. It tore his arm off, but being what he was, that was probably replaceable. Still, I had him again soon. Spraying the jetpack fuel and igniting it bought him a little time, too, but his electric discharges were almost useless, killing bone without breaking it.
Bony threads worked their way into his chassis, got into the seams of him, and grew into the interior. Over the course of twenty minutes, bone tore his chassis and body apart. Over the next few hours, I drove the monster I’d created to secrete various acids for the various metals he was made of, digesting him. I wasn’t a fan of surprise comebacks.
I gave one last instruction to this grotesque organ I’d created – decay. Everything I had created would begin dying on a cellular level, breaking down into mush and grit.
I opened my cell phone and dialed a number. John – Ironheart – answered on the first ring.
“It’s done. I’m afraid I killed him.”
“Christopher . . . how?”
“Trade secret, I’m afraid.”
“Seriously, you can trust me.”
I knew better, though. Nobody wanted to know the true extent of my abilities, not really. I was accepted, sometimes even revered as a healer, a man who could save your life, and trusted because my power relied on consent. My team at home relied on me for my support, but that could quickly change if they saw the extent of my abilities. What I did was nightmare fuel. It could have come straight out of a horror movie, Resident Evil or something.
“Jon. You trusted me to handle this. Trust me when I say that you don’t want to know.”