Metastasis, Part VI


harris_icon.gif strickland_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Metastasis, Part VI
Synopsis And yet I am, and live…
Date November 8, 2020

Fournier-Bianco Memorial Hospital

Roosevelt Island, NYC Safe Zone

November 8th

11:47 am

It is nearly noon, and Zachery Miller wakes in a hospital bed that stands against the wall of a recovery room.

As is the case almost every time he wakes, he reaches sluggishly for his left eye before his hand stops halfway into the journey, drops back down, and he lets himself blink blearily and slowly awake.

Despite all of the fuss made by other people about the brain biopsy he's been subjected to today, he is calm, peering slowly out into the rest of the room from where he lies, being serenaded by the beeping reminders of his own steady heartbeat. When he finally stirs again, after what feels like minutes, he reaches for the bottom of the bandaging that's been wrapped around his head, his fingers forcing their way underneath the edge of the fabric at his temple and upward.

Discomfort stops his probing, turns into frustration, and sets his jaw. He shifts under the light blanket, shoves it away, then sits up and casts a much more alert glance toward the door before proceeding to lift the stretchy bandage up and off of his head entirely. Fortunately, the sutures that sit in the shaved patch of skin below his now extraordinary bedhead have stopped bleeding.

Until the haze of anesthetics wears off, that may have to be all the rebellion he manages, idly tossing his prize toward the door with a quiet but decidedly unkind proclamation of- "Fuck off."

It lands on the floor next to a man waiting with arms folded in a chair in Zachery’s blind spot. Michel Harris is slow to stand on seeing Zachery wake up. The darkly-dressed man has the silhouette of a federal agent and wears a matte black rectangular badge clipped to his lapel that, in the right light, shines with iridescent colors.

“Doctor Miller?” He says in a flat tone of voice, “I’ll go get your nurse.”

Something had to have either gone terribly wrong or terribly right for an ostensible stranger to have been waiting by Zachery’s bedside.

The moment another voice sounds is the moment Zachery's shoulders pull forward, his head snapping to the side, to get a look at his visitor.

It's not a kind look, but the angry knit of his brow quickly gives way to confusion instead, mouth opening but nothing immediately leaving it. When a rudimentary and drowsy look over doesn't end in recognition, he snipes, "How long have you—"

That sentence is abandoned but his stare holds, and without pause he adds in a tone of voice so flat he might as well be reading off items from a shopping list, "Terribly sorry but who the fuck are you?"

The agent stops by the door, reaching for the handle but not quite opening it. He looks back at Zachery and briefly introduces himself as, “Michel Harris, Department of the Exterior.” He turns the handle to the door, brows raised.

“It’s best if your doctor explain everything, Doctor Miller.” Harris says, briefly looking to the window, then back to Zachery, waiting as if for permission to be dismissed to retrieve the hospital staff.

Having pushed himself up onto his elbows, Zachery quietly mouths the name he's just been presented with, then shakes his head and exhales a strained noise of baffled amusement that eventually manages to be strung into an answer that contains actual words. "Looking an awful lot like the department of the fucking interior right about now, considering you're the one who's… here."

Distracted by both his own half assed, groggy logic and the finger-tip heart rate monitor he finds himself glancing down to, he unceremoniously relieves himself of the latter. His hand freed, he shoves it into the mattress to sit up properly. Only then does he look around the room again, twisting around as if to check someone didn't hide someone behind him, as well.

Then, this Michel Harris is fixed with another stare. "All right," thinning patience evident on his words despite the dry excuse for a chuckle that leaves him in between. "Go on, then. Fetch."

Harris’ expression remains flat as he enunciates, “Woof, woof,” under his breath and slowly pulls the door open and steps out into the hall. That’s the weird sarcasm left rattling around in Zachery’s head as he’s abandoned in his otherwise silent hospital room. There’s no flowers by his bedside, no well-wishing cards from visitors, just a plastic pitcher and a half-finished glass of water that he doesn’t ever remember drinking from.

Outside of Zachery’s room, the sky is a sheet of slate gray and rain gently patters on the open windows. His view is one of the Safe Zone, rather than the somber westerly view of the Exclusion Zone. It grounds him in a moment in time, when something like time feels strangely slippery. Because in that moment Zachery remembers coming to the hospital, talking to a doctor and…

…then what?

The overturned sofa cushions of Zachery’s mind fail to produce any pennies for his thoughts. And his rummaging is set aside by the sound of the door opening, followed by Agent Harris returning with a young surgeon Zachery has vague recollections of speaking with prior to losing grip on his memory.

“Doctor Miller,” the new face greets, soon followed by a third figure. A tall, white-haired man in an ash-gray suit, glasses and beard. He has a badge clipped to his lapel that displays SESA LIAISON in large block text, the rest of it is hard to read.

“Doctor Miller,” the surgeon says, introducing the white-haired man at his side, “this is George Strickland. He’s the Deputy-Director of the Public Health Service and Implementation Science at the CDC and is the CDCs liaison with SESA on matters of SLC-Expressive health and medical research.”

Strickland closes the door behind himself, then adjusts his glasses and regards Zachery with a silent but inspecting stare, reaching inside his blazer pocket for something, but not withdrawing it.

“Doctor Strickland was called in by SESA following the…” the surgeon looks at Strickland, then back to Zachery, “the results of your brain biopsy. I realize you likely have a uh, a wealth of questions right now but what I want you to focus on is that at the moment you are alright and we’re going to work with you to… help you work through this once we have a better understanding of what we’re dealing with.”

Strickland remains quiet, then retrieves a small plastic cylinder about the size of a pill bottle from his pocket. Through the transparent surface, Zachery can make out something small and wet looking like a piece of uncooked chicken at the bottom.

For all intents and purposes, Zachery regards the two men like he's not even really sure they're here for him, visibly distracted in how still he holds where he's sitting, eye slow to track their movements between half formed thoughts.

It's not until that cylinder comes into view that his focus seems to fully be able to land on anything, added concentration deepening the lines of his brow as he stares at it. The fingertips of one hand at his side press into the fabric of the blanket still trapped underneath them, before his attention slides from Strickland to the surgeon.

"I don't know about a— wealth of questions," Zachery starts slowly, a corner of his mouth pulling outward into something sharp that is neither quite grin nor grimace. "But how about we start with what is that," he points at the cylinder, "and should I be concerned about its new fanclub?"

“There’s no really easy way to explain this,” Agent Harris says, looking to the doctor and stepping back. The surgeon, who Zachery can now see on their name tag is Doctor Willcox, looks down at the floor and remains silent for a moment.

“The elective brain biopsy returned… unusual results,” Doctor Willcox says with a side-long look to the agent, then back to Zachery. “The mass we removed from your brain included a small… implant. We haven’t been able to have it analyzed, but it appears to be some sort of sub-cranial chip that was surgically added to your frontal cortex. It was… it was buried inside of your brain, wrapped inside a…”

Willcox trails off, looking at a loss for a moment.

“Hidden,” Agent Harris opines. “Hidden inside your own cerebral tissue. It didn’t even show up on an x-ray.”

Doctor Willcox exhales a sigh and looks from Harris to Zachery. “We didn’t find any evidence of prior surgery on your skull or brain, no signs of how the implant was put there. Our best theory is that it may have been done to you and… healed over by someone with an SLC-Expressive gift to mend tissue.”

“Do you recall getting any cranial implants? Cybernetics? We don’t know if this is something Yamagato-make, or one of the other half dozen cybernetics companies. But before we jump to any conclusions, I wanted to talk to you about any history you may know.” Harris says.

"No," Zachery replies, too suddenly, on the Agent's last words. "And I've got nothing to do with Yamagato. Before all this, this, ah—"

He swallows dryly, failing to immediately find the words to finish his sentence, then gestures in a rushed, sweeping arc toward nothing in particular without taking his eye off of Harris while a laugh escapes him as if of its own accord. "Before this shit, I've only ever had things be taken away, not added." His hand is pulled close again, this time to pull a lower eyelid down for momentary emphasis.

Amusement ebbing away along with his patience, he stirs, pushing off and swinging his legs off the side of the mattress while his focus snaps to Strickland's face and stays there. "That's mine, and I'm taking it."

Strickland, stoic in his silence, affords Zachery no acknowledgement of that assertion. It is only Harris who seems to have any opinion on the matter.

“It’s evidence,” Harris explains. “In an ongoing investigation. We need to analyze what this component is and determine where it was manufactured, by whom, and for what purposes if we’re going to have any hope of figuring out what happened to you, your wife, your children, and the other passengers of that flight.”

Doctor Willcox looks over at Harris and Strickland, then raises his hands as if in an attempt to defuse the conversation. “Doctor Miller,” Willcox implores, “there’s more pressing matters than possession of the implant. The brain tissue that we retrieved along with the implant was… I suppose infested is the only real word I can apply to this situation. It was infested with micromachines — nanobots — of unknown origin.”

“Beyond that, we haven’t been able to perform any more involved analysis of the biopsy portion, but we’re going to need to do so pending approval from the government.” Doctor Willcox explains and looks to Harris and Strickland.

“As I said, your discovery here is a part of an ongoing multi-jurisdictional federal investigation.” Harris adds, affirming his stance on who owns what parts of Zachery’s anatomy.

For a moment, it looks like Zachery might have been sufficiently placated by the explanations and exposition both. But he continues off the bed, landing his feet on the ground with a groggy wobble. Still, he looks no less determined once he's standing steady in his hospital gown again, chin lifting. Nanobots.

"Okay," he begins to reply after a brief pause of attempted processing in silence, addressing the agents in turn. Louder, he continues to say, "First of all, don't call them children." This might have been a plea, if not for the anger that forces the clipped words out with more hostility than needed. The almost immediate followup to Strickland is colder still. "Second, if you're going to keep that thing, you need to keep us updated. If you don't, if you let this run its course - whatever that is - you're going to have more incidents like my wife putting herself in this hospital the way she did. And the next one might not live."

Finally, he fixes his eye on the last of the three men he looked so ready to fight a moment ago, as if to involve him where Zachery assumes the agents must already be aware. "Wouldn't that feel awfully like negligence to you, doctor Wilcox?"

Doctor Willcox, knowing he is pressed upon by the governmental forces aligned around him, angles a look over at Strickland and Harris. The former of the two finally breaks his silence.

“You will be kept updated.” Strickland says with a brief look to Harris, then back again. “Actually, I believe it’s critical that we keep all survivors of the crash updated on the status of this development. Provided that this biopsy does not cause any unpredicted harm to you, we may call in the others for a similar procedure to see if the presence of the chip is universal or not.”

“Additionally,” Harris says with a short exhale through his nose, “we will need you to submit to an exam by a licensed technopath to see if we can identify any other implants or devices in you. Now, given the intimate nature of SLC-Expressive abilities we can’t force you to undergo that procedure, but we can give you options. If there’s a licensed technopath you know or is under Raytech’s employ, we can utilize them. Or, if you’d rather this be kept more confidential we can bring in a SESA specialist.”

Doctor Willcox steps forward, resting one hand on the end of the bed and the other reaching out toward Zachery in a warning gesture. “Please, Doctor Miller, you need to lie down. You’re still under the effect of medication that may impact your mobility, and we don’t yet know if the removal of that chip will have any other side-effects. For your own safety.”

Zachery's shoulders go pushed back immediately as a response to movement toward him - if it wasn't yet clear that he's on edge, the ensuing jerk backward might do enough to prove it to those present. The bed behind him catches him as he stumbles, one hand lifting first to the doctor, then to his own forehead while he hisses, "I'm fine."

He turns halfway, sits his ass back onto the bed with a hop and a spread of his arms as if to say to the surgeon, see, all good, and then turns his attention to the agents with a sneer and a proclamation of, "I don't care who does it, send whoever you like."

His jaw tightens between sentences. Much as he'd like to pretend, he's more tired than he'd like to be, and it begins to seep into his words as well as slowed motions when he drags his hands back into his lap, slack entering his posture. "Send a technopath, do more tests, crack my skull open to dig for more toys in the cereal box. So long as…"

He pauses, thoughts twisting his expression into something hateful before it slowly clears and he shifts to begin to lie down properly. "As long as we get to finish this."

There is a tense silence in the room, one that comes with a look between Strickland and Harris that has more meaning than uncertainty. Doctor Willcox breaks the silence, relaxing now that Zachery is sitting.

“We’re going to keep you for observation until the end of the week. With everything going on, we need to play this safe.” Willcox says with evident concern in his voice. “In the interim, I’ll be reaching out to cybertechnology specialists from Yamagato Industries to do a more thorough assessment of your situation.”

“You will be kept up to date on developments, Doctor Miller.” Harris chimes in, while Strickland is showing himself to the door. “Think about what you’d prefer to do for a technopath. Otherwise we have one on call that we can bring in.” Harris looks at Strickland, watching him leave the hospital room.

Harris reaches inside of his coat for a business card, then lays it down on a table beside Zachery’s bed. “My number, if you need to reach me.” He then looks to Doctor Willcox. “Unless there was anything else?”

"The end of the fucking week," Zachery offers in an echo, as though it's the punchline of a bad joke. By the time he's lowered himself to where his head hits the pillow again, his hand is already dragging roughly down his face, and he laughs bitterly through his fingers.

With his visitors back in his blind spot, he does his best to force his shoulders down and his face straight. He fails desperately to do the latter, a wry grin clinging on as if the humour he finds in this situation's absurdity refuses to loosen its grasp.

"I'll think on it," he mutters suddenly up at the ceiling. "With the parts of my brain you haven't stolen yet."

Atta boy,” Harris says with a rise of his brows, making for the door while Doctor Willcox breathes in slowly through his nose to take a calming moment.

"Kindly go fuck yourself," is the last thing Zachery has to say, unable to keep it in.

“Alright.” Willcox says when Harris leaves the room. “Let’s walk you through some basic exercises to make sure your motor functions weren’t impaired by the surgery…”


Fournier-Bianco Hospital
Southwest Stairwell

Wiping a bead of sweat from his brow, Strickland steps into the stairwell and rests his right shoulder up against the wall. His eyes wander the whitewashed corridor, looks up the stairwell and then down, pausing to listen for others. It’s quiet.

Brows furrowed, Strickland looks at the floor, eyes tracking from side to side. “It’s me,” he says into the air. “No, he survived. They pulled a chip out of his head, I have it. But there’s badgeless spooks here that are going to take it from me. I can’t get it off-premises.”

Strickland paces, running a hand through his white hair. “An Agent Harris, I didn’t get his first name.” He scrubs his beard, having a seemingly one-sided conversation with himself.

“No,” Strickland murmurs, “others were admitted too. I don’t know what happened.” He waits, bobbing his head up and down once, then looks over to his side as if at something, but no one is there.

“I will.” Strickland says with a tremor of fear in his voice. “I will.

They won’t know anything.

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