It was no more than vaguely human, two arms, two legs, a torso and a head. Its surface was swollen and distorted by a series of tumorous growths, some as large as Jason’s head.
“We don’t use real names, for privacy reasons. This is B.” said the man that Grave had asked to show Jason and Hector around the hospital. He’d introduced himself as Dr. Heton, a tall, thin man with a receding hairline and a weak chin.
They had spent a few minutes watching through glass as men and women, wearing the now familiar hazmat suits, began working on the injured operative. Jason had thought himself used to the oddities of his life but the sight of Robert Grave giving advice to the people sewing and stapling his internal organs – not to mention the muscle tissue – back into place was strange, even to him.
It was also surprisingly amusing. Jason had found himself in the rare position of needing to restrain a grin at the thought of it. he suspected such an expression would have been considered inappropriate in the face of such an obviously suffering patient.
“What’s wrong with him?” Hector asked. “If you’re allowed to tak about it, I mean.”
The doctor nodded. “B’s care is paid for primarily by a Citadel funded program, one of the caveats is that operatives are allowed access to any information involved.” He gestured with one hand, indicating the rest of the hallway. “B and the rest of the patients on this floor have a condition called Disadvantageous Empowerment Disorder.”
Jason was familiar with the term but, apparently, it was new to Hector.
“It’s more commonly known as Enfeeblement.” Hector nodded at Dr. Heton’s clarification. “Empowered individuals whose abilities or alterations are directly harmful in some way.”
“I see.” Jason said. “So, those growths are the result of an empowerment, not some disease?”
The doctor sighed. “Yes and no. B was diagnosed with a relatively straightforward case of pancreatic cancer. It was caught early and the placement was almost ideal for surgery. All told, the risks were about as minimal as you could ask for.”
He shrugged. “Even so, surgery is always a daunting prospect, even without the c-word. We think it was that worry, that fear, that shaped his empowerment. B is an extreme regenerator, so much so that he’s effectively immortal. His body recovers from injury, any injury, in fractions of a second.”
Hector’s expression changed. It was similar to ‘disgust’ but… lesser, somehow. Perhaps it was ‘distaste’?
“That includes the cancer, doesn’t it.”
“Yes.” Dr. Heton told Hector. “B’s power doesn’t differentiate between healthy tissue and tumerous. That means surgery, targeted radiation,” he shook his head, “pretty much any form of treatment you could name, it’s all useless.”
The doctor took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then let it out slowly. “Worse, his power’s kept him alive.” His voice was quiet now. “It’s gotten into damn near every part of his body. He’s in constant pain, something like twenty percent of his body mass is…” He shook his head again as he trailed off.
After B, Dr Heton introduced them to an assortment of other patients. His case was the worst but none of them were well off. S was a woman in her mid-twenties, wasted and thin. She was a Strong type, lacking the expected toughness or Jason’s own self healing. Her condition required a constant, heavy does of muscle relaxants to prevent minor motions from breaking her own bones. M was a man in his late thirties, with an enhanced sense of touch. It left his skin so sensitive that a stiff breeze could leave him screaming in agony. There were others, many others.
“Is it always so severe?” Jason asked. The Enfeebled and their stories, what little of them he had learned, had left him… disturbed. He was not certain why.
“No.” Dr. Heton told him. DES has a pretty wide spectrum. The floor below us has a clinic for outpatient treatment. The patients here, they’re the ones that need continuous care, the worst off.” His voice was odd, softer than the tone he had been using previously. “Even with them, there’s hope for a few.”
“We’ve got a series of surgeries planned for M. The first should essentially eliminate his ability to feel pain. If that doesn’t work, we’ll eventually take away his sense of touch entirely, leave him completely numb.” He shrugged. “Not ideal, but certainly better than his current state.”
Hector raised a single eyebrow. “Why do I get the impression you’re not optimistic about that?”
Dr. Heton made an odd expression. A… grimace? That would indicate displeasure or discomfort, Jason knew.
“Because I know, better than most, that Empowered don’t always follow the rules when it comes to this sort of thing.”
The eyebrow remained elevated.
“I’m Empowered.” the doctor said with a shrug.
“Really? Do you mind if I ask-”
“I can walk.” he said, interrupting Hector with a smile.
Jason was willing to wait for the rest of the explanation but it seemed that Hector had less patience. Or, perhaps, he was simply more eager.
“That doesn’t actually sound like a power, doctor.”
Jason would have been concerned about offending the doctor if he were the one questioning him. However, Hector was smiling. Jason had noticed that people were rarely offended when Hector smiled, regardless of what he said. Hector was very good at smiling.
Of course, Jenny was better. Jason made a mental note to contact her later that evening.
Dr. Heton shrugged and returned the smile. He used one hand to rub his back as he explained. “Keep in mind that I severed my spinal cord when I was nineteen, surfing accident. It never healed.”
“So… your power is that you can walk normally, despite severe nerve damage?”
“Yep. Full sensation too.”
“Huh, that’s… that’s actually kinda cool.” Hector said.
The doctor stopped rubbing his back and gave a different smile. “Well, it’s not enough to get me into the Citadel but it means I can work here, so I’m pretty happy about it.”
Hector rose both eyebrows this time. “Huh?”
“Every staff member, both here and in the clinic I mentioned downstairs, we’re all Empowered. Either very minor or well defined powers, so we can’t disrupt the research.”
Jason spoke up. “Doctor, I believe there is something we are missing here.”
“Oh, right, sorry.” Dr. Heton resumed rubbing his back. Perhaps a nervous habit? “That Citadel funded program I mentioned? It’s a research program, focused on Empowered. We’re not doing anything ground breaking, just trying to clarify the interactions between state of mind and the resulting abilities.”
“I fail to see how that requires so many Empowered on staff.” Jason told him.
The doctor shrugged. “Well, that’s not specific to this project. It’s actually standard for most pure science research. About the worst case scenario for something like that is finding out that one of your staff popped with an ability that could skew the results or learning that you’re a Richards type when no can make heads or tails of your publication.”
His pager began vibrating. The tall man glanced down, then resumed speaking. “Looks like that’s it for today. Operative Grave is done and waiting for you downstairs.”
“Thank you for showing us, doctor.” Jason could not help taking another look at B on their way back to the elevators. “It was… very interesting.”