Tuesday, 02 August 2022 23:28

Nonsense, Book 1 (Chapter 4)

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Chapter 4: An Avalanche Of Days

My daily life settled into a stream of discoveries, frustrations, humiliations, and small victories as I learned to use my body again. The first few days while I was learning to crawl, we found out those extensions on my elbows were actually the tips of wings folded along my arms. While my skin normally couldn't stretch more than a few inches away from me, apparently I had a very thin membrane running down my sides and halfway down my legs underneath the skin that allowed it to stretch out into wing surfaces. There turned out to be a similar membrane between my tail tips, and for some reason a network of structures like these on my upper back and back of my neck. Spreading my wings out stretched the rest of me pretty thin, and it would be impossible if I wore any clothes these days.

I couldn't stand to cover myself with cloth while awake. Without ears, my hearing was done with all of my skin. With even a single layer of clothes sound became mostly flat and non-directional. A thick blanket was like wearing earplugs. On the other hand I was just figuring out how to voluntarily change my coloration. At that point I could generally keep myself a single specific color all over. I tried making my hands and head a different color so it looked like I was wearing some kind of bodysuit, but I wasn't yet familiar enough with my body to hold it that way without concentrating on it. And I hadn't begun to figure out how to change the texture of my skin at will, but I could grip surfaces and objects with pretty much any part of me.

After getting crawling down, I proceeded fairly quickly to being able to get around mostly manageably on all fours, which was pretty much the best thing since getting here because I could get myself to the bathroom without a nurse's help. Though it was a mixed blessing because the facilities were not designed with me in mind and awkwardly lining up output with receptacle was a reminder of this every single time. Toilets are not generally manufactured with tails in mind, and they expect one's exit ports to be in a specific position. Also a handy Monster Tip: if you end up getting claws, toilet paper must be handled with utmost care. You will never again be able to use it in a hurry. On the other hand, my plumbing not being embedded in a butt crack helped that issue. The human gluteal crevice is one of the least convenient waste disposal situations among mammals at least, though I'll admit that quite a few animals have it much worse, especially some invertebrates. Anyway I highly recommend trading up if you get the chance.

In just under a week, the Doc had determined that my bones, teeth, and claws were some sort of very light but durable carbon-fiber structure, and that a pair of long, thin organs running through the sides of my torso down into my tail were the source of my magnetoception. I am basically a biological antenna, and given the sensitivity of these organs he strongly recommended I avoid MRIs. My two sets of eyes see different ranges of light, the main pair sees fewer colors but also sees infrared and has better night vision. The smaller trio is tetrachromatic and also sees ultraviolet. All of these eyes have inner second lids. As for my fancy flesh, it has a different genome than my core organs and the tissues around my bones. Neither of these genomes resemble anything else on earth.

He'd also gathered enough data on my digestion to identify me as a semi-omnivorous obligate carnivore and pronounced me able to eat anything fit for human consumption. My body had handled the small amounts of certain softball toxins he'd thrown at it like ethanol completely and so quickly that I'd probably never be able to get drunk. It took care of microbial invaders so thoroughly that I neither had nor needed a gut microbiome for digestion. But he hadn't been as thorough as he could have been and his all-clear turned out to be a premature assessment. With my first meal of real food (if hospital food is real food), not just experimental pastes or cubes, I was permitted a celebratory eight-ounce can of Goodcola. Moments after the caffeine hit my bloodstream, it became incredibly hard to focus. My vision started to blur, and I just kind of spaced out. Then my grasp on reality took a vacation.

 

* * *

 

You are of me, Wounded Hand, but you are not me. Remember this.

 

* * *

I was on the floor. I was pretty sure the floor was real. I could focus from moment to moment again, that was progress. The beach and the orchard weren't real, were they? At least they weren't anymore. Here was real. There were real things here, microscopes, test tubes, the walls, I knew these walls. I was still aboard the clinic. Had I been somewhere else? A round... leafy... building? Was there a mirror? It called me Wounded Hand. I remembered that. I looked at my hands, and in my right hand was that weird marble. Embedded in my right hand. I poked it, and it sank deeper and popped back up, but I didn't feel any pain, it was just passing through me. I turned my hand around and pushed it again, and I didn't see it coming out the back. So it wasn't just noclipping through my hand, it was going somewhere.

It was then that the Doc and my dad came in. I was still a little out of it, but apparently I'd been missing for about a half-hour, and there were some weird lines and symbols scratched into the wall of my room. That sounded familiar, I looked more closely at my hand and there were flecks of paint on one of my claws. I managed to get up and quadrupedally stumble with them to another room. They wanted to keep me away from whatever diagram I'd created for now, just in case.

In a new bed, still mildly in a chemically-affected semi-stupor, my attention went back to my new jewelry. Instead of pushing it, I pulled it and it came away with no resistance. It felt like a regular glass marble. I could also feel my fingers holding it as if it were a part of me. I then looked at my hand where it used to be. I couldn't see anything anomalous about it, at least anything that wasn't already anomalous this morning. I felt around my palm with a finger and felt it catch on some invisible notch, then sink in. I pushed my finger all the way into the spatial discontinuity and didn't find anything stopping it. My dad said something, I guess he was still there. The Doc was also there probably making sure the scanner was getting all this. He said something about a strict diet until further notice, sounded pretty good to me.

I turned my dubiously effective attention back to the marble. I thought about putting it back, and it slipped out of my fingers. No, it vanished. Wait, it was already back in my palm. Haha, that was great, I took it out, tossed it across the room, abracadabra, back inside my hand. Look, if I flick my hand like this it pops out and then I bring it back, it's like a yo-yo if yo-yos teleported. Holy crap, this was the most amazing thing ever in the entire history of amazing things. I tossed it to my dad, he asked the Doc if it was safe to handle, the Doc said that it was chemically and magically inert. Hahaha, he said my ball was inert, I rolled over laughing. And then at some point I fell asleep.

 

* * *

 

“It's the most bizarre thing. Everything else is isolated and removed, but the caffeine in that drink seemed to exploit some privileged channel, leading to a psychedelic response. I'm guessing other methylxanthines could do the same and have who knows what effects. So coffee, tea, and chocolate are right out from now on, and I'd avoid energy drinks in general as it's a bit of a Wild West market. Independent companies and chemical gadgeteers have been known to work together and put all sorts of things on the market, and they may be very unsafe for you even if they've gotten their creations approved by the FDA.

On the other hand, your brain activity during this event is quite literally unlike anything I have ever seen. I can only describe it as kaleidoscopic.”

 

* * *

 

Over the next few days I progressed to getting around naturally and easily on four limbs, and then quickly learned to swing out my wings and use them as walking sticks to walk more upright. Once I could pretty much walk, I started getting out of the room more. (The Doc had me back in the first room again after he'd documented the scratchings, and had the wall sanded down and repainted.) So soon enough I was hanging out with Gena getting some fresh air on deck under the shade of the ocean hologram awning hiding the clinic from satellite observation, with the Atlantic below us. We were at the railing, and I was alternately examining the thin glittery branches in my marble and throwing it over the side just to bring it back again.

“You know, you could have ended up a lot worse. At least you ended up with a body capable of actually living. Not everybody who comes through this clinic does. One patient ended up with half-formed gills and non-functioning lungs. Dad tried to create an oxygenated enough medium that he could breathe in, but he still eventually suffocated. There was a lady whose brain basically turned into a giant flatworm's, it wasn't complex enough to run her body and she just... stopped working. When you think about it, you are one lucky guy.”

I watched the marble shrink into the distance as I considered. Gena had a point, but that last bit... it felt weird to be referred to as a “guy”. “Nod a ghy.”

“I guess your parts have changed, but that doesn't mean anything, unless you feel like you're not a guy?” I gave her a thumbs-up at that.

“So... you're a girl now?”

I thought a moment, then shook my head. That felt just as weird.

“That's going to make paperwork more complicated, but I think you can make it work. I mean, you don't look more like one or the other, you don't even look human.”

I shrugged and nodded. Gender was not going to be the worst of my social integration issues.

“So that makes you... non-binary, I guess. Do you have pronouns you want me to use?”

I shook my head. I only just now came to this realization, I hadn't had time to figure that out.

“I'll just wing it then, and you can tell me if I get something wrong.”

I shot her another thumbs-up, and finally brought back the marble. Wait, it felt different. I grinned, and handed it to Gena, this was a new development.

“What, it's... wet? Sea water. Wait, this means you can bring back other matter with it!” Her calculating grin matched mine as possibilities dawned on us.

 

* * *

 

We went back below deck and when we passed through the small dining hall, we found it already occupied. At one of the tables sat Dr. Obertek, a girl with dull green hair on the far side of the table, and a woman facing away from us in a suit of mechanical armor who I recognized as a hero called Steel Clarion. She usually never appeared in public without her helmet on, but she had it off now. She was saying to the Doc in a familiar voice, “...would have taken her to The Clinic in Pittsburgh, but you're more of an expert in extreme changes like-”

“Eep!” The green-haired girl made a stifled noise as she saw me. I didn't blame her, my current look was pretty surprising. The other two at the table turned to follow the girl's gaze and I suddenly recognized Steel Clarion all over again. And then Gena ran between us and said, “Wait, re-introductions are in order! Riv, this is your aunt Clair, also known as Steel Clarion (I'm a massive fan, bee tee dubs) and Clair, this is your brother's recently transformed now non-binary child, River! They haven't decided on specific pronouns yet.”

I rolled all five eyes at Gena. “'Ow lonk?”

“Oh, I've been sitting on this one a while. I figured if she wasn't telling you, it wasn't my place to do it.”

Clair came over and hugged me. “Dammit, all your dad told me was that his cover got blown and you... guys? had to go to ground. If I'd known you were here I'd've come much sooner.” She turned to the green-haired girl. “Will you be okay here with the doctor while I catch up with my neph- er... relative?” The girl shyly nodded. I noticed then under the table that she wasn't sitting in a chair. Instead, from the waist down she was a turtle. There was a turtle shell right there on the floor below her. It had an underside that was rounded instead of flat, and was shaped so that her torso coming out of the hole that would normally accommodate a turtle's neck was oriented more upward than forward. Her front turtle legs were twice as long as the rear ones to keep her shell tilted upward.

“So where's your dad?”

“Shomwhere heer.”

Gena interjected. “I think he's probably avoiding you, actually. Should we go try to track him down even though he can probably avoid us forever if he really wants to? Also, who's the girl? New patient?”

“Um. Yes. Way too common story, her parents kicked her out for manifesting as a mutant. Me and a few other capes kept the MCO from hauling her away. Well, she did most of that, actually. You noticed her shell, right? Well when she pulls into that, apparently she becomes pretty much invulnerable and immobile. After about eighteen hours, they gave up trying to move her. They even destroyed the sidewalk under her and she didn't budge an inch, just hovered over the crater they'd made. They let us call someone in to talk her out, and we snuck in a teleporter to do it. As soon as she dropped whatever effect she was using, Slidestep blinked her right out of there. But enough about work, what the hell happened to you Riv?”

So with Gena's far more articulate assistance, I began bringing Aunt Clair up to speed on recent events as we eventually tracked down my dad. Or rather, he stopped avoiding the confrontation with his sister and let us find him.

 

* * *

 

After a few more days, I'd finally learned to move confidently enough that I could go through an official powers test. The turtle girl, Tara, was still adapting to getting around on the stumpy legs coming out of her shell, but it looked like her top speed might eventually barely reach a pace describable as “brisk”.

Gena and I were waiting in the small gymnasium when Miz Pierce brought in a guy with light brown ruffled hair, in a gray suit, green tie, and thin-rimmed glasses. To his credit, he came over and shook my hand showing no surprise or hesitation at my appearance, and addressed me in a crisp British voice.

“Good afternoon. I am Agent Lemin of the DPA. I'll be filing your results here so you don't have to deal with the Mutant Commission Office as you are not, in fact, a mutant. You will still be getting a Mutant ID card, but it will simply declare you as a paranormally altered individual. We generally use equivalent ratings to the mutant ability scales and put a bit of that on the card to make them happy, but unlike a mutant you are under no legal obligation to keep that data current. Now, when I start recording we'll be operating strictly with codenames only, do you have one in mind?”

“Dodsits.”

“Pardon?”

Gena corrected, “They said 'Nonsense'. They're still getting the hang of speaking with their new mouth, so I'll be translating their particular dialect of mumble.”

“I appreciate that. I presume you have a codename as well?”

“Harmonica.”

“Very well. Your father will, of course, not be attending. Despite his humanitarian efforts throughout most of the world he is still considered a criminal in the US, and his presence on this recording would be awkward for everyone involved.”

Click. “Speaking is Arthur Lemin of the Department of Paranormal Affairs, conducting a powers test of codename Nonsense. Having investigated the original incident site and reviewed Nonsense's medical records, I am confirming here for the record that this individual has been subject to a paranormal alteration and is not now nor has ever been a mutant, thus this case is quite clearly within the purview and jurisdiction of the DPA. With me are codename Miz Pierce, who is one of the physicians that treated Nonsense during post-incident recovery, and codename Harmonica, who will be assisting Nonsense in being understood due to a speech impediment.”

We began with the easy stuff. I held a compass with a crystal needle for a few minutes, which showed that I had absolutely zero ability to gather and hold the magical energy in the world that is usually called “essence”. Even the average baseline human would make the needle twitch a tiny bit, ordinary people had a trickle of essence flow, but it looked like I didn't even have that anymore. Whatever I had before my transformation was gone. There was, however, my weird marble and my hallucinogen-fueled teleportation incident. There was obviously something else going on. Agent Lemin reviewed photographs of the wall etchings and didn't recognize any of the symbols or writing, but noted that the diagrams “bore some resemblance to higher-dimensional geometry employed by certain individuals I will mention in my written report.” He decided to mark down a WIZ1(eq) just in case.

For the next test I was given a pile of mechanical parts. A few of them seemed like they belonged together, that segment must have a motor inside and it connects to this module, which means these wires should go here and those go there into a battery pack, and that... makes a dial spin around. Whee. That mechanical intuition earned me a Gadgeteer equivalent of 1 and a fistbump from Gena. This led into tests for any ESP, telepathic, or telekinetic abilities which included the stereotypical cards with various shapes on them, looking for a hidden item, guessing what was in a sealed box, all kinds of stuff. Nothing special turned up there beyond my existing senses and I couldn't make anything move with my mind, not even my marble. It just sat where I put it, unless I popped it back to my hand.

Then came the most absolutely thrilling part. A math test. On the other hand, it came much easier than math had been before, but the combined general knowledge quiz that came after that was a little harder. I was relieved when we moved on from mental to physical capabilities starting with my skin mimicry. I'd then gotten pretty good at simulating different surfaces, if only in appearance. I can look like metal for example, but if you touch me it'll just feel like really smooth skin. That got all kinds of categorization: 'SH2(eq)' for Shifter equivalent, 'p' for partial because I could only change my skin, 'a' meaning I could only change appearance and not composition, 'w' because I could change at will, 'm' because my mass stayed the same.

More physical tests, I had to lift a bar on a machine that had resistance that could be scaled from a few pounds to hundreds of tons. I had a feeling I wasn't going to be setting any records here. I managed to top out at a respectable 835 lbs, but the machine's actual upper limits kept me from being too impressed with myself. Then came... The Treadmill. Oh, don't be fooled, it started out innocuously enough, just ramping up in speed gradually until I couldn't keep up at just over 70 mph on all fours. Then we tested how long I could maintain that speed, about a minute and a half. We took it down to a more casual 20 mph, and I kept that up for a bit. Then the belt began to slowly tilt upward. No big deal, my fancy skin could still grip the belt easily, as it had gripped the floor on my first day here. It gradually reached 90 degrees sheer and I was still keeping right up. It held there for a moment, and then started slowly back down. It was at about 30 degrees when the medicine ball swung at me from behind. Before it struck, I saw it out of the corner of an eye and time seemed to slow down. In slow motion, I threw myself to the side and rolled to my feet, hissing with my wings half spread and my skin flashing in colors of rage. Time returned to full speed and Gena was approaching me slowly and nervously. Agent Lemin was holding on to some sort of device and looked ready to throw it if he needed to. Miz Pierce simply watched.

Gena asked, “You, uh, you okay there? We're not gonna have a rager incident, right?”

I sat down on the floor and shook my head. “S'fine, juz' s'prize.”

“Yeah, well, you gave us a surprise too. Agent Lemin, I think you can go ahead and put away that glue bomb.”

“Of course. Shall we mark that as a positive on the danger sense?”

I shook my head and pointed to my upper left eye. “Reg'la senz. Sawh et.

“Man, I wish I had extra eyes. It ended up hitting me square in the back of the head.”

I punched her lightly in the shoulder. “Coulda war'd me!”

“I wasn't allowed to warn you. It would have invalidated the test.”

“Quite,” added Lemin. “Let's take a break, and we'll pick this back up in, say, twenty minutes or so.”

 

* * *

 

When we came back, we started on my senses. My vision was more impressive than I thought when we pushed it. Not only did I have a broad range of wavelengths, but the distance vision in my primary eyes was about as good as an eagle's. My smaller eyes are a bit better than baseline human for close-up work. My hearing was about the same range as a normal human being, nothing impressive there. My sense of touch, as I already knew, was ultra-high-definition. Smell and taste were also within human norm. And there was my magnetoception. Agent Lemin decided to lump all of these, my physical strengths, and my slight mental acceleration under Exemplar equivalent 3. Again, equivalent because “Exemplar” describes a specific mutant trait.

He then asked Miz Pierce about my rate of healing. “That is an interesting question. During my initial examination I made a superficial abdominal incision.” (This surprised me, but she very probably told me at the time, I'd been doing my best not to pay attention to what was going on down there.) “It sealed quickly, but only due to the self-adhering properties of the dermal mass. The tissues beneath healed at an unsurprising rate, only marginally quicker than baseline, but when they did heal they did so without any discontinuity. This complete knitting is usually seen at least Regen 2. Possibly Regen 3 if there is full regeneration of severed appendages, but we have not and will not test that.”

“Of course. We'll mark it down as REG-2 equivalent. Nonsense, is there anything further you can think of that we haven't covered here?” I shook my head. “Well then, I think we have enough here, you are free to go while I wrap this up.”

 

* * *

 

That night, I was looking forward to being out of this place. My dad said he'd found a quiet place in Nebraska where we wouldn't be bothered. This would be my last night here. Then in a couple of months I'd be going to probably the only school that somebody who looks like me could attend, the same school my parents went to. Whateley Academy in New Hampshire, an actual secret school for mutants. Life had certainly gotten strange recently, but maybe I could find some kind of normality sometime soon. Life then instantly punished me for that thought.

The door to my room opened, and in stepped a woman in a plain gray dress, knee-length silver hair hanging from a topknot, and her face covered by a curved blank oval of birch bark. I tried to react, but I couldn't move. She flung out her hand, the room filled with swirling dust, and I lost consciousness.

 

* * *

 

“Our Syndicate contacts have identified the intruder as the Errand Girl, a person or entity that uses fae magic to perform odd tasks in exchange for certain rare talismans. Major magic users aren't interested in her because the extent of these tasks is limited, but she's perfect for the non-magical looking for a magical angle of attack. She almost certainly was employed to subvert our Syndicate-standard wards somehow and abduct River.

One of our nurses left via our Chicago front halfway through her shift and didn't return. Looking into her behavior prior to this, shortly after River's arrival she accessed his file then sent a short transmission. She has apparently been doing this for years after the arrival of some patients, but I don't yet see anything connecting her targets.”

“I do. They are patients who are most likely to have powers that can be fully reverse-engineered from DNA. The spy is working FOR THAT BI-”(bzzt).

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