Scene 1 – December 25th
Interior MLED Compound, Late Morning
“Merry Christmas,” Luke said as he entered the conference room, sliding his briefcase onto the table, sounding uncharacteristically tired.
“Happy Hanukkah,” I countered, even though it had been over for a week – my teasing response earned a small smile, but only a brief one. “…are you feeling alright, Luke?” I asked.
He sighed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table and rubbing his temples. “I should be asking you that question. You’re the one who got mind controlled.”
“I’m fine,” I assured him. “It was rough at the time and for a few days afterward, yes, but… Peregrine healed me, and I’m feeling just fine now. Well,” I corrected myself, “a little anxious about the future, but I think that’s normal.”
Luke nodded, then straightened up. “Yes, I suppose it is.”
“What’s on your mind?”
He gave me a look. “Your case, obviously. It’s been the only thing anyone in the PR department has had time for since it happened. You haven’t made things easy for us, you know.”
“It’s not your fault.” He drummed his fingers on the table and frowned, irritated. “The public is fickle, and I knew that going into this career. I just wish…” He sighed again.
“So what’s the verdict? Have I been fired?” I asked.
Luke shook his head. “No, Shepard was able to protect you from that, at least, and Canaveral’s testimony helped as well. Between the two of them speaking for you and your years of service making you a New Venetian institution, you can remain on the payroll – assuming you want to.”
“Of course I want to,” I said immediately.
He grimaced briefly. “Wait until you hear about the conditions Shepard had to agree to first,” he warned me. “Number one is that you’ll be benched indefinitely.”
“Which, of course, means ‘for as long as Chief Director Redding says so.’”
“Which means ‘forever’, unless Secretary Thornhill decides to overrule him,” he sourly agreed. “No patrols, not even going out as backup, and no PR appearances on talk shows and the like. Strictly console work and healing. Supposedly it’ll only last until your PR issues clear up, but…”
“…but Redding is a petty tyrant who still resents me for not moving to DC and joining his department,” I finished.
“What are the other conditions?”
“Number two is that you submit to monthly psych evaluations,” Luke answered. “Because apparently Peregrine’s word isn’t enough for Redding. It was magic and you’re cleared, that should be good enough.”
“Well… Max seems to have lasting issues as a result of the magic,” I pointed out, feeling a pang of sadness at the reminder of what had happened to the younger man. “So it’s not entirely unreasonable.”
“The Magnificent Maxwell’s pre-existing psychological issues were exacerbated,” he countered, “and it’s likely in part because he refused treatment from Peregrine. You, on the other hand, have always been perfectly stable. There’s no reason to worry about your mental health now that you have the clear from both Peregrine and Wagner.”
“I can’t really blame Redding for being mad, petty tyrant or no,” I admitted. “I basically took over an entire city with that sword, and made it look easy. That’s the kind of thing that makes PR pretty difficult.”
“Worrying about PR is my job, not yours and definitely not Redding’s,” Luke snapped. “What he should be doing is letting me handle this, not tying your hands and mine! If he gave me free rein, you’d be on the Ryder Report first show of the New Year, a few more appearances throughout the month, and everything would be back to normal by February – instead, you’re bound to stay out of the public eye and not allowed to comment on anything, which gives off the impression that the MLED no longer trusts you! And if we don’t trust you, the public never will!”
“Maybe they shouldn’t,” I quietly said.
“Don’t talk like that,” he scolded me.
I sighed, and crossed my arms on the table, leaning forward to rest my chin on them. “It sounds like I’m basically being turned into a healing consultant and nothing else.”
“…yeah, basically,” Luke confirmed. “You’ll still have the title, still be on the rolls of the New Champions, but there are some other restrictions as well, that… well, that’s the long and short of it, yes. I’m sorry, Miriam.”
“It’s okay,” I promised him. “I think it might be for the best.”
Scene 2 – January 15th
Interior Hospital, Early Evening
“Thank you for being here, Anima,” Doctor Yaffe said, shaking my hand. “I know you’re a busy woman.”
“It’s no trouble,” I lied – I had had to pass on going to the High Stakes Bar with my friends to be here tonight. But it was important work that I was glad to be able to do.
“Even if it’s no trouble, I know you’re usually on patrol and doing emergency response,” he said, beginning to lead me through the halls of New Vegas General Hospital. “I’m sure that all the patients here will appreciate your help tonight.”
“I’m probably going to be doing circuits of the hospitals a lot more often from now on, so the novelty might wear off before long,” I joked.
“Oh? Why is that?”
“I’ve been pulled from patrols,” I said, trying not to sound sour about it.
“Oh, because of the…”
“Yes. Instead I’ll be making rounds in hospitals, for as long as you’ll have me.” It was a loophole that Luke had found – the man was an angel, honestly. I had been spinning my heels until he got them set up.
Yaffe sighed. “Well… I’m sorry you’ve been benched,” he said, sounding genuinely sympathetic. “But hey, at least you’ll be able to heal some of the more difficult cases – I’ve heard your healing is a lot better than the spells our magical specialists learn.”
I waggled a hand. “Sort of? It’s a different style entirely, so it has different strengths. The standard spells that Peregrine invented are designed to be easily adaptable to anyone’s casting style, which is great for getting lots of people who can do magical healing. The problem is that in making them so easy to learn-”
“Relatively easy,” Yaffe corrected. “I’ve never been able to get any magic to work at all, myself.”
“-relatively easy, sure. But doing so makes them less effective than more individual spells.”
“That’s interesting – I never really thought about that.”
“The other big difference,” I continued, “is that standard magical healing uses the energy of the patient. Again, it lets one magical healer work on more patients than if they fueled it with their own energy, but it also slows down the healing, since sick and injured people don’t have a ton of energy to spare. My magic, on the other hand, actually results in the patient gaining energy.”
“So will there be a limit on how many patients you can help?” he asked.
“Unfortunately, yes,” I agreed. I had topped off my reservoir before coming here – and I tried not to think about what I had done to do so – but while I could hold a lot of energy, it wasn’t infinite. “I should be able to heal at least 15 patients tonight, plus or minus a handful depending on how much they need.”
“Is there anything we can do to help?”
“Not unless you want to donate your own energy,” I joked. Yaffe tilted his head, clearly thinking about it, and I hastily added, “There’s no need. It’ll probably take me the full four hours of my visit to heal those 15 anyway.”
“Still… I wonder…” He hummed thoughtfully. “Your style healing gives energy to the patient, the standard style takes it. Perhaps if you worked beside one of our healers, you could mix the techniques? Use your energy to fuel our healing? Something along the lines of healing half of a patient’s ills, and then our healer uses the donated energy to do the rest – or whatever the optimal ratio turns out to be.”
I bit my lip thoughtfully. “That… could work. I don’t think tonight is the time to test it, though.”
“Our healers are all busy right now anyway,” he admitted. “But maybe next time.”
“Anyway…” Doctor Yaffe stopped outside a door. “Here’s your first patient for tonight. Drew Palmer, he has severe arthritis in his hands and wrists.”
I nodded. “Thank you for guiding me, Doctor Yaffe.”
“Please, just call me Mark.”
Scene 3 – January 15th
Interior Hospital, Continuous
“Mr. Palmer, good evening,” I said to the man – a middle-aged man with gray hair and a scowl on his face.
“What do you want?” he demanded.
“My name is Anima, Mr. Palmer. I’m a licensed healer, and I’m here to help your arthritis,” I told him.
He glared. “…well?”
“I can’t heal you without permission,” I said as I approached. “May I?”
“Yes, yes, get on with it, girl.”
I hid my annoyance as he thrust his hands at me, right into my face. I took them in my own and pulled them away a little before I started.
A slow breath out as a trickle of life exited me and entered Drew, and I was able to see the patterns of life that made up his body. The pulsing core of his heart, the strong beams that were his bones, the intricate patterns of nerves and blood vessels… it was, as always, beautiful, even if its holder was unpleasant. He would be in a better mood once I fixed his arthritis, I was sure.
And… yes, there was the problem. The joints in his fingers and wrists were swollen, his life bent out of shape. I coaxed them into their proper shape, then fed a stronger stream of life into him, using it as fuel to heal his actual body.
A few minutes later, I was done. “How does that feel, Mr. Palmer?” I asked him.
Drew pulled his hands out of mine and flexed them experimentally. “Hm. Acceptable.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Just acceptable?” I was certain I had done a good job…
“Take it or leave it, girl,” he snapped. “Now get out of my room.”
I bit back my first response. “Of course, Mr. Palmer.”
Scene 4 – January 15th
Interior Hospital, Evening
“…and then he said ‘take it or leave it’!” I complained into the phone. “Can you believe that?”
“What an ass!” Essa agreed. “A man like that doesn’t deserve healing.”
I sighed. “It’s not that he doesn’t deserve to be healed, it’s just… I don’t know…”
“You were expecting some gratitude?”
I nodded, then said, “I suppose so, yes. The thanks isn’t why I’m here, I’m here to still be able to help contribute to people’s lives, to heal, but… but it would be nice to feel appreciated.”
“You deserve appreciation,” Essa said soothingly, “and you haven’t gotten much lately – the public is fickle.”
“You should come work for me! I’d appreciate you.”
I laughed. “Good joke. I know you would, Essa, but I’m not going to become a supervillain.”
“You don’t have to be a villain,” she wheedled. “I can just keep you on retainer as a healer for the Crows…”
“Thank you, but no. I’m happy where I am, even with assholes like that guy.”
“Ah well. I suppose I can keep focusing on my current target, then.”
“Who would that be?” I asked.
“Well, you’ve heard the rumors that the Buff Boys have a new meta, right?”
I bit my lip, thinking. “Abe has had a hunch for a while, but I didn’t really believe it myself.”
“Abe is right – they’ve got someone with powers that help them do precise chemistry,” Essa informed me. “It’s how the quality of their brawn has gone up so much. I don’t know the full details yet, but I want this new meta for myself.”
“So you can undercut their prices with a superior product, or to get a probably-young meta out of a probably-bad situation?”
“The first, obviously.”
I chuckled. “Never change, Essa.”
She giggled. “I promise. But honestly, Miri… you deserve better than how that guy treated you. Have the other patients been that bad as well?”
“No, no,” I said, shaking my head. “Most of them have been perfectly pleasant. I suppose it’s just… he was the first person I was healing in one of these tours, you know? He… stuck with me, I guess.”
“Firsts do stick with you, it’s true. But so do lasts, right?” Essa pointed out. “Focus on whoever your last patient of the night is.”
“I’m heading into their room right after this call.”
“And I’m sure that they’ll be lovely, especially in comparison to him.”
“Thanks for letting me vent to you, Essa. I just… that man had my blood boiling.”
“Anytime, Miri,” she promised.
“I’ll…” I sighed. “I was about to say that I’ll see you soon, but I’m probably not going to be able to make the usual meetups for a while.”
“It’s not like I was able to make tonight’s either – it’s crazy how much paperwork is involved in running a gang. And I have to leave town for a month or three soon for some corporate junk…”
“Maybe you should retire?” I suggested.
Essa giggled. “Now who’s joking? Paperwork or not, this is still by far the most entertaining thing I could be doing with my life.”
“I really do have to go, though.”
“Of course. Go save the world, Miri.”
I closed the phone and slid it back into the inside pocket of my jacket, then nodded to Mark where was leaning against the wall, scanning through something on a tablet. “Ready.”
Scene 5 – January 15th
Interior Hospital, Continuous
He glanced up, then turned the tablet off and led me down the hallway. “The last patient is a Marissa Jackson. Paraplegic after a car accident, and it’s a bad injury – if she’s not helped soon, her legs will begin to necrotize and amputation will be necessary. Even if you can’t heal her spine entirely, preventing tissue death would be a great help.”
“I should be able to,” I assured him. “It’s just a matter of-” I paused as I saw her, and realized that she was young. She couldn’t be more than six…
“I really hope you can,” Mark said quietly. “The rest of us are at a loss. Mr. Jackson, Mr. Jackson,” he said at a more normal volume, and the two young men next to the sleeping girl – one sitting, one standing, both utterly focused on her a moment ago – looked up at us. One of them was tall, thin, and pale – the other was built more heavily, with darker skin and one arm in a cast. “Anima here is a licensed healer, she’s offered to try and help your daughter. Anima,” he said to me, “this is Paul and Malcolm Jackson.”
“Can you really help her?” Malcolm asked.
I nodded. “I believe I can, Mr. Jackson. I’ve healed worse injuries.” Not often, but I had been a hero for close to two decades. Things happened. “If you’ll give me permission?”
Paul nodded. “Please… help Mars. She…” He looked close to tears. “…she was always such an active girl. I don’t know how we would bee able to tell her that she couldn’t… that…” He began to sob gently, and his husband enfolded him in his arms.
I turned away from them, giving them privacy, and instead reached out to take one of the sleeping girl’s hands, sending a trickle of life into her.
Immediately, I could see the results of the car crash. Setting aside the medically-induced coma that she was in the late stages of, she still had a sprained arm, currently placed in a cast, a minor concussion, and… the spine.
It was entirely broken, all nerves severed and all blood vessels ruptured. The bones were intact – whatever had cut her spine had hit at the worst possible place, slicing right between two vertebrae to cut the spinal column itself. It was hard to look at, even in the beauty of life – especially since, as a result, her legs and pelvis were already fading, not receiving the life-giving oxygen that was sent by her heart. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been given the apparent location.
I started to fix the problem – as I said, I had healed worse – but immediately ran into an issue. Her body was rejecting my attempts to magically heal it, resisting my reweaving of its pattern. I frowned a little and tried again, to greater result.
“Dr. Yaffe,” I said, keeping my voice low, “what’s on the girl’s chart? Why have the hospital’s doctors been having trouble?” I had a suspicion, but I didn’t want to say it without confirmation.
“A broken arm, a severe concussion, and the spinal injury,” he told me. “The magical healers tried to help her, but her body resisted the magic somehow. We’ve been keeping her in a medically-induced coma until we can help her.”
I nodded. “I thought so,” I said, then looked at Marissa’s parents. “Misters Jackson, has your daughter always been a metahuman?”
Malcolm blinked. “I… say again?”
“How long has she had metahuman powers?”
“I… wasn’t aware she had any,” Paul said, exchanging a quick glance with his husband. “Are you sure?”
I nodded. “As sure as I can be. She’s resisting magical healing, and her chart says that she should have a broken arm – right now, however, it’s just sprained. She’s also not as deeply unconscious as she should be given that she ought to be in a coma.”
“Does… that mean you can’t help her? If she’s resisting magic…”
“It means that she’s in the process of helping herself,” I told them. “Along with the magic resistance, it seems that she has regenerative abilities – slow ones, but she’s definitely healing on her own.” I experimentally dumped a large quantity of lifeforce into her body, not trying to shape it but simply giving her more energy, and… yes, just as I thought, I could actually watch it happening now as, with more energy, her healing sped up. “It looks like she’s absorbing the magical energy, and using that energy to fuel her regeneration. Not as fast as it the healers were able to help her directly, but it’s definitely working, and she’ll be able to do it herself, especially as she grows and builds up her energy reserves.”
“Will she be all right?” Malcolm asked.
“Yes, she’ll be just fine,” I promised them. “Based on her current rate of healing…” I took another quick look. “Her spine is already fixed enough that she’s no longer in danger of losing her legs entirely. I would estimate that she’ll regain consciousness in about an hour – without a concussion or an injured arm – will regain feeling in her legs by morning, and will be walking by the afternoon. Just make sure that a healer checks on her energy levels every few hours,” I said to Mark, “and that she’s getting plenty of fluids-”
I was interrupted by Paul and Malcolm both enfolding me in a hug. “Thank you,” Paul breathed.
“Thank you,” Malcolm agreed.
I hugged them back, but said, “I didn’t do much, Misters Jackson, it’s all your daughter’s own ability-”
“You’ve given us hope again,” Malcolm told me. “That’s worth something.”
“Thank you,” Paul said again.
I smiled as they released me. It was nice to be appreciated. I wasn’t sure I deserved it, but… it certainly made up for Drew Palmer.
The second book of Paternum, The Unforgiving Minute, will be available for purchase as an ebook or paperback on September 30th. Links to purchase from Amazon, or for a discount directly from me, can be found here. By purchasing the book, you’ll not only support me and allow yourself to read offline, you’ll also be able to read the exclusive arc In Letters Bold.
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