Liz woke, lying in a comfy bed, to feel a dull pain in her arm. Before she sat up, before she opened her eyes, before she did anything else at all, she tried to wiggle her fingers. Nothing. She didn’t cry, didn’t scream or even curse a little. Just sighed, she’d known there was a good chance…
The bastard who’d robbed her, who’d stabbed her to get her purse when she hadn’t even tried to fight back- that would’ve been stupid, fighting over a little money and her make up when he had a knife- had done a lot of damage. Knicked an artery, severed nerves and tendons…
She wasn’t a doctor or a nurse, not even a vet. But Liz Potts was very much the sort of person who paid attention to the world around her. She liked to read and she liked to ask questions, plus modern medical science was just frickin awesome. Phoenix didn’t have a dedicated Healer on staff at any of its medical facilities but between microsurgical tissue repair, patches using cloned tissue, targeted gene therapy- it was all like something out of a sci-fi novel- there had been a good chance she’d keep full use of her arm and hand.
That had been on the condition that she absolutely and completely refrain from using it for something like a month. She’d refused to have it immobilized with a full arm cast, which, in retrospect, might’ve been a little stupid. No very definitely had been, but worth it. If not for the lucky fact that Hector had been nearby with a military grade trauma kit…
That had not been luck. Given the way Hector spread himself throughout the city, given that he was never much more than an arm’s length from those bags… even if she’d never seen him open then one… Liz was a woman who was nearly consumed with curiosity, the desire to know and to do.
Hector, well, it didn’t do to define a man by the nature of his Empowerment. It was a rare and sad individual who could be so easily described. Even so… even so, Hectors’ power was the very definition of the desire to do. Liz was very aware of Lane Syndrome, Stockholm’s cuter cousin, but that wasn’t why she’d asked him out. How could she be anything other than fascinated by a man like that?
Liz hadn’t thought about all of that before she lunged across the table. She thought it now though. Thought it and remembered his panicked raving as the others held him down, realizing it wasn’t just that Hector but all of him in danger and, eventually, the paramedics strapped him in, restrained him. She remembered that she’d made sure to bring those bags with them, heavy as they were when she stepped into the ambulance. Not investigating the one he usually carried on his right side had been far harder than the decision to trade her arm for his life.
Even if she lost it, if she never used her arm again, it had been worth it. Certain of that, Liz opened her eyes.
“Hey.” Hector said, holding her gaze with his own, a slight smile dancing on his lips.
“You’re okay.” she breathed in relief.
His smile bloomed as he nodded. “Yep, thanks to you. But your arm’s shot and it probably won’t get better on its own.”
She gave a wry smile, against the pain in her arm and against the pain of that thought. It could’ve been cruel, what he’d said and the way he’d said it. But Liz was a woman who liked to know, needed to know as much as possible before she decided to act, whatever there was to know and whatever there was to do.
“Well, it could’ve been worse. Probably won’t be playing the piano anymore though.”
“I didn’t know you played.” Hector replied.
“Two lessons before I quit.” she made a face at the thought. He laughed, feeble as the joke had been, then turned serious.
“Liz, last night- You saved my life.”
“It was only fair-” He cut her off with a look. She hadn’t seen him this intense before and, frankly, she rather liked it.
“Liz, I owe you. More than anyone but two, maybe three others, I owe you a debt.” Wait, how could he owe someone for something bigger than…? “Anything I can do for you, give you, whatever, just say the word and it’s yours.” His voice was flat.
She decided to bring back a little levity. “And if I ask for your left pinky-?”
Before she’d finished speaking, he’d pressed his left hand against the wall and had his knife in his right. Then- ewww. “That- uh, that doesn’t really count. I mean, you’ve got plenty of others, right?” Oh god oh god oh god why had she said that!?
He nodded. His eyes were very serious. “Say the word and that’ll change.” She couldn’t see it, had no way to know for sure… But, somehow, she was certain that across the city a dozen or a hundred Hectors had their hands against a wall or a table with a knife’s edge resting against it.
“No! I- I was just kidding. I didn’t-”
He shrugged. “Anything else?”
She shook her head, a little afraid to answer.
“Then let me suggest something.” The door opened and a pair of Hectors stepped in, escorting a young man in Healer’s grey.
“Hi,” the stranger said, “my name’s Rick Regrowth. I think there’s something you needed help with?”
“What brings you by today, Jason?” Dr. Heton asked.
“I was hoping that it would be possible for me to visit a pair of your patients, Doctor.” Jason answered. He had been ordered to do something he would enjoy, something that might make him happy. He had thought of two possibilities. This was the first, less certain one.
The man nodded, then spoke. “Well, shouldn’t be a problem. Who was it? They, rather.”
“The first is Hector Hive.”
Dr. Heton had been smiling, not a big one but it had been there. The expression left his face at that. “Oh. Well, I can’t say you don’t have the clearance.”
Jason followed the man down the hall and around a corner. They arrived at a windowless room, one Jason knew would have reinforced walls and a secure door. There were two men, police officers, guarding it. They stepped aside when Jason approached, nodding at him for some reason.
Dr. Heton went in first, let Jason stand and view the room before he spoke. There were six beds, each held a young man with Hispanic features. He was… wasted was likely the best word. He looked thin, pale. His eyes were closed, with noticeable bags beneath them. The lips were all dry and cracked. Jason recognized some of the equipment in use, feeding tubes, IVs and basic vital monitors, but not all.
“He’s- they’re dying. I… I understand that Hector himself should be unaffected?”
“Yes.” Jason said. “So long as one body survives, Hector will continue. I… I am not sure why I wanted to see… these. It seemed important.” There was silence for a time. When the doctor eventually broke it, there was an odd tone in his voice.
“Was there… was there something you wanted to know?” Jason did not answer. “The woman, Starve, her power’s not documented and… well, it’s not exactly safe to test at this point. Hector- these Hectors, still register as Empowered to the woman we keep on staff. She can- can tell if someone… is, but she can’t tell much more than that.”
The man was fidgeting, looking around and crossing then uncrossing his arms. Jason might have thought he was nervous but could not think why he would be.
“We brought in an empath and… they’re not thinking, not really. His best guess was… basically, they’ve each only got a tiny piece of what- what they’d need to function. We’re… pretty sure that’s because Hector, Hector usually spreads his mind out between all the brains he has access to.”
“I understand that part. I expected it. Why are they dying?” Jason asked. He… felt something, anger, fear, something. He did his best to keep it from his voice.
“Starve wasn’t just a Null. Whatever her power was, it affected how his body works. He’s starving, dehydrated, all of it. We’ve got the feeding tubes running but it just sits there in his stomach. He’s not taking in what he needs. Our best guess is that the power suppression is temporary but that they won’t live long enough for it to matter.”
He had spoken that very quickly. Grave had been right. Jason needed to… to learn how to control this.
“I… I do not know what I thought I would gain from this visit. It was a mistake and I apologize.”
“Do you… are you done here?” Dr. Heton asked. Jason nodded, silent. “Where… uh, who was the other patient you wanted to visit?”
“B.” Jason could hear the man swallow after he had answered.
“Jason… I… You know he has a… has directives. But… Hana- Dr. Lisborne, she’s still on vacation and she has his power of attorney.”
Jason noticed the loss of his lives and unclenched his hands, and his jaw. He held more than enough to require care in his actions right now. “Very well. When will she return?”
“Tomorrow, she should be here tomorrow.”
Jason nodded, as calmly as he could manage. “I will return then. Please let her know I wish to speak with her.”