Staring down at the blood staining his hands, his son’s blood, Sam was lost. His mind, usually as sharp as a monofilament blade, was spinning; contemplating every what-if possibility, calculating every permutation and variable. Could he have done things differently, would his son be alive now if had not used the nanobots. All these questions ran through his head, second-guessing every decision he had made.
The movements of the medical staff around him were like a blur, he was barely aware of his own surroundings. He grunted an unintelligible reply to a nurse asking if he wanted something to drink, she took his answer as a yes and left the private room, narrowly avoiding being run over by a group of doctors and nurses pushing a wheeled stretcher loaded with medical equipment. From down the hallway, towards the open-landing pad there was the whine of approaching rockets followed by the crash of a door almost being thrown off its hinges.
“I NEED A DOCTOR!”
The voice cut through the funk, jarring him back to reality. He got up and stood at the door to the room, looking down the corridor. In front of the door to the medical centre’s landing pad, a group of doctors were clustered around someone on a stretcher. Behind them stood Paragon, the front of his sky blue armour smeared with blood. “You need to observe L4 protocols,” the superhero said to one of the doctors over the shouting, “he’s been infected with nanobots.” As soon as Paragon mentioned the word “nanobots”, the medical team swung into action, pushing the stretcher towards an airlock-like door marked “Quarantine Section”. Left behind by the medical team, Paragon watched the heavy metal door close behind them and took his helmet off; it was out of his hands now.
Sam took a step into the hallway. “John?” he asked tentatively, a flicker of hope beginning to form, “what’s going on?”
Paragon walked over to Sam, taking him by the shoulder and smiling. “I don’t know how Sam, but Todd’s alive.”
“Alive?” Sam said incredulously, the gears of his mind grinding for several seconds before slipping into place, “the nanobots! They worked!” His despair turning to sudden joy.
“The doctors here are experienced in dealing with the ‘unusual’. He’s in good hands.” Sam tugged his arm, trying to pull away, but with Paragon’s enhanced strength he wasn’t going anywhere. “But Todd’s not out of the woods yet.”
“Listen,” Paragon said carefully, “you understand the technology behind these nanobots better than anyone. If Todd is to have any chance, we need to know what you know.”
Sam looked towards the airlock; it took several seconds for him to gather his thoughts before he turned back to his brother-in-law. “Find me a lab and a computer terminal with an open comm-line.”
Todd was in surgery for several hours as the doctors battled to save his life. If it hadn’t been for the nanobots acting as an auxiliary life support system, regulating his heart rate and breathing and limiting the amount of blood loss, Todd probably wouldn’t have made it through the surgery. Even with the nanobots inside him keeping him alive, it took the skill of several surgeons to repair the internal injuries caused by the gunshots. Once repaired however, the nanobots no longer had to devote most of their efforts to just keeping Todd alive, and were able to take over the healing process. Within a day, his injuries had completely healed.
Nonetheless, it was twenty-four hours before he woke up and when he did, he awoke to days of blood tests and medical scans. He was kept in an isolation room, hermetically sealed and with no windows to the outside; the only people allowed inside were the medical staff. They had to wear bright yellow hazmat suits with self-contained air supplies in order to enter the room and stayed only as long as was absolutely necessary. Despite putting on a brave face, the whole experience was more than just unnerving for him, it was terrifying. His father wasn’t allowed to enter the room and could only talk to his son through the glass from the observation room next door. To Todd, the isolation and lack of physical human contact made him feel more like a prisoner or test subject than a patient. Eventually after three days the boy could no longer take it and he snapped, throwing his dinner tray across the room. The tray smashed into the observation window, smearing the glass with the nutritionally balanced and scientifically designed paste that was supposed to taste like pasta and meatballs but tasted more like stale tofu. He had refused to take part in any further medical tests. His father was brought into the observation room to try to calm him down but it didn’t work. Sam was shocked when Todd lashed out at the nearest suited doctor, punching him hard and knocking him to the floor. Two other doctors tried to restrain him but Todd fought loose and was backed into a corner yelling that he’d rip through the suit and bite the arm of the next person who touched him. After that they had been forced to sedate him, knocking him out for the rest of the day.
When he awoke, the lights in the room were dimmed and there was no one around. The first thing he noticed was the padded leather cuffs around his wrists and ankles, securing him to the bed like an unruly psych patient. “Great,” the boy muttered lying back in the bed and staring at the ceiling, “from bad to worse.” In hindsight, he probably deserved it, threatening the doctors like that. But what did they expect, keeping him in here like this. Locked in a room with no entertainment or diversions and with his ADHD, it was no wonder that he had gone a little crazy. After a few minutes of tugging aimlessly at the cuffs, he lifted his head and looked over to the observation window. The glass had been opaqued, becoming a mirror through which he was unable to see if anyone was in the room beyond. “Hello,” He called out, “you can take these off now … Seriously, you can’t just leave me like this … I won’t do anything stupid, I promise … Hello?” If there was anyone on the other side of the glass, they weren’t answering. He spent the next hour or so trying to stave off the boredom by counting the dimples in each of the ceiling tiles; working out that on average there were 15.19 dimples in each tile, Todd felt a small measure of personal pride that he’d actually managed to do the sums in his head.
Eventually the airlock hissed open and a suited doctor walked in, flanked by two orderlies who waited by the airlock. He walked over to the bed and looked down at Todd, his arms crossed. “Well Mr Marshall,” the doctor said condescendingly, “have you calmed down now? We can continue these tests with the straps on if we have to.” The doctor waited for an answer, Todd muttered an apology in response. Satisfied, he nodded over to the orderlies who came over and undid the boy’s straps. They stepped away from the bed, but not too far away. Todd sat up, rubbing his wrists and giving the three men wary looks. The doctor pulled out a needle and removed it from its sterile packaging. “Arm,” he said holding out a waiting hand. The boy hesitated for a second before reluctantly holding out his arm. Todd winced slightly as the doctor drew the blood sample although he was now starting to get used to it. They had been taking them every few hours, monitoring the concentration of nanobots in his blood. The rest of the examination was done in silence, neither doctor nor patient speaking to one another. Writing down a few notes, the doctor turned to leave.
“Am I ever going to get out of here?” Todd asked in a quiet voice. The doctor turned around to look at Todd who was sitting back against the headrest of the bed, hugging his knees. His face softened, perhaps realising for the first time that his patient wasn’t a battle hardened superhero, but a scared young boy. Dismissing the two orderlies, he sat down on the bed next to Todd, gently placing a hand on the boy’s arm.
“A lot of people are working very hard to sort this out,” he said softly, “to find a way of getting those things out of you.” The doctor looked around the spartan room. “I’ll see if I can’t get a TV or video game or something brought down here. It can’t be much fun in here all day on your own.”
Todd looked up and grinned slightly. “It has been a little boring.”
The doctor got up off the bed and walked to the airlock. As the airtight door opened, he turned back to the boy. “With your dad on the case, I’m sure you’ll be out of here in no time.”
“It’s impossible,” Sam said sitting down heavily and looking at the computer screen despondently. “Sure, every treatment we come up with eliminates the nanobots, but they all have that annoying side-effect of killing the host.”
“What about that EMP idea you had?” Paragon asked from across the workbench.
“No good, it’d short out all the nanobots in his body.”
Paragon was confused “Isn’t that what you want?”
“Try to imagine a million tiny robots electrocuting you from the inside. There’s no telling what that sort of damage could do to him, especially the ones in his brain.”
The two men fell silent, Sam staring at the screen of his computer. “So what’s the plan?” Paragon said eventually, knowing that Sam wouldn’t have called him down to the lab without a reason.
“We do nothing.”
“What, we just give up?”
“Not exactly,” Sam said turning the computer screen to face Paragon and showing him the test results. “Every test has shown that the nanobots are benign, only affecting damaged tissue. What’s more, they seem to have bonded to him on a genetic level. I extracted some of the nanobots from the latest blood sample and inserted them into a sample drawn at random from the blood bank. As soon as the nanobot was separated from Todd’s blood it deactivated, as expected, but it didn’t reactivate when placed in the second blood sample. It only reactivated when returned to Todd’s blood. I repeated the test several times with a variety of samples just to be sure that the nanobots aren’t a threat to Todd or anyone else.”
“And are you?” Paragon said carefully.
Sam gave him a sidelong glance. “Of course I am; this is my son we’re talking about after all.”
Paragon looked dubious. “I don’t know; you’re talking about letting him walk around with alien nanotechnology flowing through his veins. The Advisory Council won’t be happy about that. They’re already talking about revoking your security clearance and bringing you up on charges.”
“The Council can go jump for all I care!” Sam said slamming his fist on the workbench. “All I care about right now is my son.”
Paragon sighed and scratched his bald scalp. “I’m supposed to give you this lecture on responsibility, lab protocols and all that. But to be honest, if I did it’d make me a hypocrite.” Sam looked at him quizzically with a raised eyebrow. “If it’d been Cody lying there and I was in your position, I would’ve done the same thing.”
The doctor had kept his word about getting some form of entertainment into the isolation room. About 15 minutes after the exam two suited technicians arrived and installed a large widescreen TV along with a high-end video game console. The console had a wireless network connection and was linked to a massive library of downloaded music and videos; probably illegally downloaded by the looks of things. Someone had obviously been busy with the Sentinel’s high-speed internet connection. For the next few hours, Todd lost himself in video games and movies, vaporising aliens and slaying zombies by the dozen. His crusade to save the world from the alien cyborg zombie horde was interrupted around lunchtime by a tap on the observation window. Todd paused the game and saw Cody waving to him from the observation room.
His cousin was two years older than he was and in high school. Todd didn’t get to see him much, during term-time Cody went to a private boarding school somewhere in Europe and during the school holidays he spent most of his time onboard Sentinel with his family. The massive flying installation could be stationed anywhere in the world and civilian access was tightly controlled, popping around for a quick visit was out of the question. Still, there were the annual family gatherings at Thanksgiving and the Independence Day weekends. The Harris’s and the Marshal’s, taking on the world together through the power of fireworks and family barbecues.
“Yo Lazarus,” Cody said through the intercom, “I hear you got yourself into trouble again.”
Todd scowled. “That’s not funny Cody, I almost got killed. And what’s with the Lazarus thing?”
The older boy blinked in surprise. “Whoa, you mean no one told you?”
“Told me what?”
“Dude, I hate to be the one to tell you,” said Cody, although his smile said otherwise, “you were dead for like an hour. If weren’t for those nano thingies, you’d still be dead.”
“I … I died,” Todd whispered.
“The way I hear it, you got the record for being dead the longest before coming back. Hence the bible reference.” Todd wasn’t listening; he was looking at the floor in shock. He had died? Why had no one told him? His dad had told him that the nanobots had kept him alive, not brought him back from the dead. Why had he lied to him like that? “Hey,” Cody was still talking; he hadn’t noticed that Todd’s attention had wandered, “maybe they’ll put you in the Guinness Book of Records or something.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be in school or something?” Todd asked, eager to change the subject.
“What, I’m not allowed to visit my favourite cousin in hospital?” He said laughing.
“Cody,” Todd said his eyes narrowing, “I’m you’re ONLY cousin.”
“Well I guess that would also make you my LEAST favourite cousin as well.” Cody shrugged. “Truth is, after what happened dad pulled me out of school for some reason.”
Todd knew why his Uncle had pulled Cody out of school. He remembered vividly what the gunmen’s leader had said just before he ordered his man to shoot him. “Next time it will be his kid.” That had been a pretty clear threat aimed at Cody.
“I got here a few hours ago, and they said you could do with a visitor. Plus you seem to have my games console in there with you.”
Todd looked at the wireless controller in his hand and the games console connected to the TV. “This is yours?”
“Yeah, and I see they only gave you one of the controllers.” Cody held up the other controller. “Fancy a deathmatch?”