"What's going on with my son? Oh, and while we're at it with me!" Jared demanded. The doctor's had taken several hours to 'examine the data', and were finally willing to talk to him. He'd profitably spent the same time finding clothes and talking to his kids. The General had been kind enough to send over a selection of civvies in his and his kids' sizes.
"I have no clue. He shouldn't still be awake, but clearly he is," Major Williams said apologetically. "I have, literally, no clue what the hell is going on. We've lost all but the monitor feeds to his augmentation, and most of those are being routed through you. And that simply should not be happening! And I can't explain how the bloody hell you're hearing the software like that. Maybe later it could interface like that, but... no, not this early! And when the hell did you two pick up sub-vocalization?!"
"Daddy, don't worry! I'm fine!"
"Yes, Son, I know. But this wasn't supposed to happen!"
"I wish you two would stop using the link to talk to each other, it complicates our monitoring efforts," one of the doctor's complained.
"And it drives you nuts that you can't listen in," someone else heckled him.
"Enough!" Major Williams shouted at them. "Focus, people!"
"As far as we can tell, the synchronization and calibration of his augmentation completed itself, without outside intervention," one of the scientists commented. "So, effectively, we're finished with the installation process. Even if we didn't finish it ourselves."
"How the hell is that possible?" someone complained. "We were still installing the firmware tweaks that we gave the Sergeant, so how-"
"The tweaks are in place, so clearly you finished that much!" someone interrupted.
"What? No! I'd just finished cataloging the needed updates and transferring the necessary checksums for verification, I didn't have time to do the actual updates," the other scientist disagreed.
"Well, what little telemetry I've got clearly shows the updates occurred! He's running the exact same firmware and software that his father has!"
"Wait, that's impossible, he wasn't going to get the same updates; he doesn't need the military stuff!"
"Well, he's got it!"
"Major Williams," Jared cut through the noise, "do I need to be here for this screaming match? Clearly, you are just as clueless as I am as to what the hell is going on, and I'd like to work at comforting my sons!"
"Under the circumstances, no, I don't think so. We'll probably have some questions, very soon, however," Major Williams told him.
"Thank you, gentlemen," Jared said as he left the room. He didn't have to ask for directions, he knew exactly where to find Cody.
Which, of course, led to a different kind of question. Questions that an entire room full of America's best and brightest, supposedly experts in the hardware they'd installed in his very body, could only stare blankly over. It was... intensely frustrating.
"Hey there kiddo," Jared said as he walked in.
"Daddy!" Cody shouted, bouncing off his bed and into Jared's arms.
"Dad!" Davey echoed, clutching tight to Jared.
"How you two holding up?" Jared asked.
"I missed you Daddy!" Cody told him. "Don't go away again!"
"You missed him?" Davey complained, "you keep talking to him in your head!"
"You're just jealous that you can't!" Cody accused.
"Nah-uh!" Davey said indignantly.
"How about we go grab a bite to eat?" Jared cut the argument short.
"Burgers!" Davey suggested.
"Pizza!" Cody ordered.
"Surf 'n' Turf!" Jared ordered.
"What?!" the kids screeched.
"What, I hear the hospital makes a mean steak!" Jared dissembled. "And you guys can get your burgers, and your pizza, and whatever other junk food you can convince the guys there to make!" The kids looked at each other for a few moments, then turned their glares on Jared. "What?" he asked.
"You're planning something!" Cody accused.
"We can tell!" Davey agreed. "Hey," he said thoughtfully, "Cody, if you can think at him can you dig in and make him tell us-"
"Don't even think it!" Jared warned. "Don't play around with that stuff. Until we understand what's going on, it's possible that you could screw something up and hurt both of us. On top of that, if you go digging around in my mind you could run into things you don't want to see!"
"Like?" Davey asked, eagerly.
"Well, um..." Jared couldn't think off hand of something to keep them out. There were too many memories he didn't want them near, things that were private, things that were horror, things they were too young to deal with and things no one should have to face. "Trust me, you don't want to know." Jared's mind raced, trying to find a memory that they'd recognize and want to stay a mile clear from...
"I dunno," Davey caged, "sounds like you're pulling another fast one on me..."
"Cody, do you really want to relive that time you had diarrhea for a week from my perspective? Complete with smell?" Jared threatened.
Cody stiffened, "No! I'll stay out!" he promised.
"Ew," Davey turned green at the thought of that week. The entire house had stunk for weeks thanks to the occasional 'accident' as Cody's body had dealt with the side effects of the medications he'd been on to clear up some bug he'd picked up. Jared couldn't remember the name of it, just that it used to be both deadly and untreatable. He'd been too busy applying air freshener to try and remember more. Naturally the smell had still been there a month later, when they had to move out, and they'd lost the deposit they'd put on the house.
Just one more thing for Samantha to complain about.
"Alright, now that I've made my point what do you say we head on down to the cafeteria and find some grub?" Jared asked. Carrying Cody was easier than it had been before the accident, and for a good thirty seconds Jared debated trying to carry Davey too. Of course, Davey was old enough he didn't want to be carried, so Jared finally, and regretfully, decided against the attempt. He just pushed the boy out the door in front of him and let Davey lead the way as he sealed the door behind them.
Once they reached the cafeteria, Cody wriggled his way out of Jared's arms, and the two of them ran off to terrorize the staff. Jared laughed as he watched them bounce from person to person, Davey introducing his younger brother to several new 'friends' as they begged for the food they wanted, and not the yucky 'health' food set out. Salads and tuna sandwiches were not a kid's idea of a meal, and the option of water, tea, or coffee didn't suit them either.
Shaking his head, Jared grinned as he walked over to save the wait staff. "Hey!" one of them commented.
"Hey," Jared acknowledged the greeting. "So, the twin terrors here scare you off yet?"
The man laughed, "Twin terrors? Certainly fits these two! No, no problem, we've actually got some pizzas in the oven and some burgers on the grill in preparation for the dinner rush. We've had to change the menu a little, what with acting as refugee housing until something better can be arranged."
Jared laughed and shook his head. "Well, I at least happen to like clam chowder and salad, so don't bother cooking anything special. Well, unless you have a steak sitting around, I'd love something to sink my teeth into."
"Actually, we do happen to have some steaks to grill – how do you like it?"
"Medium," Jared said happily.
The cafeteria worker laughed, "Your steak will be ready in about five minutes."
Jared paid the bill and dragged his kids off to wait for their food. Soon enough it arrived and they wolfed it down, laughing at each other amicably. Jared, for the most part, just sat back and watched the two of them with a smile.
"Excuse me, sir," a familiar voice interrupted.
"Corporal Edwards!" Jared exclaimed. "Please, sit!"
"I'm sorry, sir, but you and the boy are wanted by the doctors for some examinations," the corporal apologized. "I'll keep an eye on Davey while he's waiting," he added.
Jared shook his head, "We have a meal to finish first."
"They want you now, Sir," the corporal pointed out.
"And I want my sons to finish eating in a nice leisurely fashion," Jared said testily. "It's an imperfect universe; I get to tell my son's to hurry up and the doctors get to wait a few minutes."
"Yes sir," the corporal said evenly, "I'll let them know you said that."
"Please add in one more thing for me," Jared asked.
"Recent events do not change the facts. I am an adult, Cody is a child, and I am his father," Jared told him. "Relay that word for word. And if they don't get it, fathers are responsible for their child's well-being."
"I'll relay the message, and the subtext," the corporal answered with a smile. "And I'm sure they'll understand."
"Thank you," Jared thanked him. "Hurry up and eat boys, I don't think the doctors will be happy waiting." Jared followed his own orders and finished the last of his steak and salad. He hadn't quite finished his potato when his kids finished their meals. With a last longing glance at the potato and the carrots, he led them off to talk to the doctors. Corporal Edwards showed up halfway there and took Davey off with him to visit a nearby lounge.
"I think we've figured out part of what's going on," Major Williams sighed hours later. "It doesn't make sense, and it means a hell of a lot of trouble, but we've got part of it figured out."
"Lay it out, as best you can," Jared asked.
"Somehow, while we were working on your son, his built in wifi activated and linked in with you. That's... not supposed to happen, not like it did," the major told him. "Using each other as relays, yes, basic communications yes, but not this. Somehow your connection cut his primary link to our systems and routed everything through you. And since we were in the middle of doing systems updates and calibrations, your augmentation took that over for us. Which is a big problem; you have the full military software which your son was not supposed to get."
"Alright, and what are you going to do about this?" Jared asked.
"That's the problem, we can't do anything about it," the Major sighed. "Somehow, we're completely locked out of his systems. We're getting basic telemetry data, enough to give us a clue what's going on inside him, but nowhere near enough to debug him if something goes wrong."
"And that... thing that happened with me?" Jared asked.
"No clue," the Major shook his head. "We've got more advanced telemetry from you, and it's not telling us anything useful. Its fascinating stuff, the synaptic mirroring is already complete months ahead of schedule, but nothing useful."
"Synaptic mirroring?" Jared asked. "Synaptic refers to brains, right?"
Major Williams shook his head. "Yes, and in this case..." Major Williams trailed of, blinking. "Holy shit."
"What?" Jared asked.
"That even makes sense!" Major Williams laughed. "How did we miss that?"
"Miss what?" Jared asked testily.
"The synaptic mirroring, that's the key!" Major Williams laughed again. "I don't understand why it completed so quickly, that's going to take months of study, but I think I understand what's going on! The system is designed to mirror your natural brain patterns, and to use that to learn to 'think' more like you. And that's exactly what's happened!"
"Doctor, you aren't making sense!" Jared warned him.
"As simply as I can put it, the augmentation was supposed to develop a kind of 'copy' of your conscious mind, a 'shadow mind' if you will. But it did it too well, and instead of it being a one way link, its two way. When your shadow mind receives information from the software, your conscious mind somehow listens in... its brilliant!"
"Doc, you still aren't making sense," Jared complained.
"Simply put, the augmentation has mirrored your own brain patterns so closely that it essentially created a 'slave' copy of you to run the software stuff, doing what you want when you want it."
"OK, so what does that mean?" Jared complained.
"Jared, did you think anything during the procedure that might..." the doctor hesitated. "What were you thinking about when the link failed?"
"Thinking about?" Jared asked. "Um, I don't... let's see... watching my son move like that, when you were using the augmentation to control him, I thought that was rather disturbing. I didn't like it, but I accepted it was necessary to help him. I wanted to understand what was going on, to take responsibility but all I could do was sit there and let you do it."
"You wanted to help your son? To do the work yourself?" the Major asked.
"Well, no, I'm not qualified to even try!" Jared pointed out.
"I'm not talking about qualifications!" Major Williams said angrily. "I'm talking about desire: did you want to be able to do that!"
"I'm not interested in the years of study-" Jared began.
"No no no!" Major Williams broke in. "That's not what I'm talking about. If you could have done it yourself, you wanted to."
"Well, yeah, if I could have handled things myself I would have wanted to, but I can't, you know that!" Jared answered.
"But your augmentation could!" Major Williams grinned. "So it answered your desire directly!"
"Wait, I wanted it so it happened?" Jared asked.
"Precisely!" Major Williams grinned. "Do me a favor, want to see what your son is seeing right now!"
Jared focused for a second, on wanting to see through his son's eyes...
"Ah!" he said, shaking his head. Nothing made sense, it was as if... "D'oh!" he commented, closing his eyes. With only one visual input to handle, all of a sudden he could clearly see himself... his son... Jared's eyes popped open as he suddenly did not want to watch. "Doc, next time we do that we make sure Cody doesn't mind me using his eyes for a few seconds."
"It worked? What did you see?" Major Williams asked.
"My son, in the restroom," Jared said succinctly.
Major Williams froze. "Oh. I didn't... I should have thought about... um..."
"It's alright, it's nothing I haven't seen before. If not quite from that angle," Jared laughed, wondering what his son would think about what had just happened. And wondering what the heck his son was doing, since he wasn't actually peeing as far as he could tell.
"We need to check to see if he can do the same to you," Major Williams commented.
"Probably a good idea, if only from a privacy viewpoint," Jared agreed, chewing it over in his head.
"OK, why don't we arrange a session in-" Major Williams began.
"No," Jason shook his head. "I think I need to talk to my son for a while."
"Something wrong?" Major Williams asked.
"I'm not sure," Jared admitted. "But... I didn't just see him. I felt his body language. He was... unhappy. Confused."
"You want him to see a shrink?" Major Williams offered, concerned. "We've gone one on staff for just this kind of thing."
"I'd like to try and talk to him first, get an idea what's going on," Jared sighed. "If we need to we can bring in the heavy guns, but I'd really rather not."
"We'll talk later," Major Williams agreed affably. "Please, don't hesitate to ask if you need help."
Finding Cody was easy enough. Talking the sobbing seven year old into opening the door, a little rougher. "Cody, I know you're in there," Jared said through the door. "Open up. Come on, just open the door already."
"Go away!" Cody sobbed.
"Cody, let me in, we need to talk," Jared tried again.
"Excuse me sir, is something wrong?" an orderly asked sternly from behind Jared.
"My seven year old son has locked himself inside," Jared told her over his shoulder.
"Oh, why?" she asked, pulling some keys out of a pocket.
"That's... Well, I can't believe I'm pulling this card but it's classified," Jared told her.
"Excuse me?" she asked. "A seven year old boy's distress is classified?"
"Believe me, it sounds just as absurd over here as it no doubt sounds to you, but... yeah," Jared told her.
"I'm going to give you three seconds to come up with a slightly better lie than that," she told him.
"Problem is, it's not a lie," Jared paused, and decided to try a half-truth. "It's... the reason why we're here touches on some classified stuff, so..."
"Oh," she blinked. "Something happened, and you can't talk about it... but he knows?"
"In a nutshell, yes," Jared answered. "It's not so much what happened, as how it was dealt with though."
"I see... I'll get my supervisor, she's cleared for secret information," the orderly smiled.
"Um, top-secret," Jared said uncomfortably.
"A seven year old boy... is involved in something classified at top secret levels?" the orderly's eyes widened in shock.
"Yes?" Jared tried hesitantly.
"I'm going to contact my supervisor, something here is rotten," the orderly shook her head and pulled out her cell.
"Jared!" Captain McCullough called from down the hall.
"Captain!" Jared answered. "Good timing!"
"Oh, is something wrong?" McCullough asked.
"My son, the younger one, locked himself in here and is refusing to open up," Jared said, flicking his eyes at the orderly.
"You," McCullough asked the orderly harshly, "do you have a key?"
"Yes, but-" the orderly began.
"Give it to me," McCullough ordered.
"Sir, if I may..." the orderly tried to pull McCullough aside for a few moments chat.
"This had better be good," McCullough muttered loudly as he allowed it. They argued in quiet tones for a few moments before the orderly gave up and handed over the key. "Of all the nerve," McCullough complained. "I mean, sure, there's a certain degree of sense, but after I specifically told her you were telling the truth..."
"What was the problem?" Jared asked.
"She was convinced you were abusing him somehow and wanted to hide it," McCullough shook his head. "Here, this key will get you in... need any help?"
"Make sure no one listens in?" Jared asked.
"Consider it done. And God, I hope we get you to that secondary facility sometime soon, this sneaking around has gotten old!" McCullough laughed.
Jared laughed and agreed as he opened the door. "Cody?" he asked. Seeing his son curled up on the floor, still sobbing, he closed the door behind himself and knelt down. "Shh," he said comfortingly, picking his son up and rocking him. "Everything is gonna be fine," he kept repeating reassurances as his son's sobbing slowly reduced.
"I'm not me anymore Daddy," Cody choked out. "I noticed it earlier, but my arms are too short! And I've got all these things in me! I'm wrong Daddy!"
"What do you mean?" Jared asked, confused.
"My arms. They're longer. But they aren't!" Cody complained. "I keep tripping over nothing because my feet are just way to close, then way to far, and I don't understand what's going on!"
"We'll talk to the doctors, maybe they have an idea," Jared sighed. "Come on..."
Jared carried the crying boy out of the toilet and Captain McCullough smiled gently. "He ok?"
"He's complaining that his body is... wrong," Jared said, not understanding. "Stuff like his arms are too short, and his feet aren't where they should be."
"We need to talk somewhere private," McCullough sighed. "Follow me." He led Jared, quickly, to a conference room in the secured section of the hospital. "OK, I think I know what's going on, and it shouldn't be that big of a problem," he said. "Sit, sit."
"What is going on?" Jason asked, angry. "My son is in tears because of whatever it is!"
"When we designed the software, we had to take into account that all human beings are fundamentally different," McCullough explained. "Taller, shorter, fatter, thinner, smarter, dumber, quicker, etc etc."
"Alright," Jason nodded. "Go on."
"We designed the core package of the software to be able to adjust variables like limb length, joint range, and the like on the fly," McCullough told them. "In your case, since we had time and weren't too sure about how that code would work, we went ahead and gave it good approximations of the data. We did the same thing with your son, but when your software handled the firm-ware upgrades for us it didn't know to take that into account."
"So..." Jared shook his head, confused.
"Your son's software thinks that he's as big as you," McCullough explained. "In essence, there's a war going on between the software and him over how to move. He goes to put his foot in one place, and the software 'knows' that will make him fall, so it places it someplace else."
"That's it!" Cody exclaimed. "My feet don't go where I want them!"
"You probably feel a bit strange, alienated from your own body, as well," McCullough nodded. "It's almost like puberty, only a lot worse because something is fighting back as you try to adjust."
"So what's the solution?" Jared asked.
"We checked what happened with your son," McCullough told him. "While the dynamic settings might be wrong, all the static ones..." McCullough shook his head. "We checked the settings that aren't supposed to change themselves, they're all right. We just didn't think to check the ones that are supposed to automatically adjust other than to run a basic range check and make sure they aren't changing too quickly."
"Too quickly?" Jared asked. "He could really use the corrected version right now!"
McCullough sighed. "Jared, if they change too quickly there's no way for them to become right. It has to be gradual. Most of the time that would work fine, the problem is one that a lot of people are going to have to face moving on. It's... an adjustment period, a learning period, for both you and the software. In Cody's case, it's worse than usual, but... it's normal, and we don't want to try and force anything."
Jared frowned. "There's nothing we can do?"
"Honestly, we need to stay hands-off if possible on this," McCullough shrugged. "It's dangerous for us to go mucking around in there until we understand exactly what happened when you uploaded your firmware to him. You locked off a lot of the combat stuff, which is good, but we need to understand what you uploaded and how before we muck around. It looks like you got everything right, somehow, which suggests you may have downloaded the stuff from our servers. Which doesn't add up."
McCullough shrugged. "I don't understand what happened. Sometimes, it looks like two data sets don't match, then I go back and find out they did the whole time, I just wasn't reading it right. Or I didn't remember it right, or I didn't write it down correctly, or a dozen variations on the theme. It's... if I didn't know better, I'd say your software was being updated by someone else, who was changing my records to hide doing it."
"Is that possible?" Jared asked, concerned.
"No!" McCullough snapped angrily. "I checked. Our security is the highest, and some of the records are stored offline in isolated machines without network connections. There is no way anyone is getting onto those but authorized personnel, none of whom would do this, and most of them couldn't do it anyway, they don't have the skills!" McCullough took a deep breath. "Sorry; I'm starting to get angry over the situation. That whole 'once you have eliminated the impossible' thing doesn't work very well when there is nothing left to be the truth. The data can't be changing across all the backups and systems I've maintained, and the entire team can't have suddenly developed the habit of misremembering their data. It's a conundrum that doesn't make sense."
"That's got to hurt," Jared sighed. "Alright, I guess I get the idea."
Cody picked that moment to chime back in, "Captain, what did you mean 'liminate the impossible?"
"It's a famous quote, 'once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth'," he explained with a smile. "Basically, once you get rid of the things that can't be possible, whatever left is the truth, no matter how unlikely it seems."
Cody's brow furled in thought. "So those machines can't be changing their stuff?"
"No," McCullough sighed.
"Why not?" Cody asked.
"Because, there is no way for anyone to get at them and change it like that," McCullough explained. "They don't have network access, so you have to actually be at them to change stuff."
"And the people who work with them can't do it?" Jared asked.
"I wish it were as simple as that," McCullough shook his head. "No, it's a mystery I'm going to be working on for God only knows how long. I've made an assumption somewhere that isn't justified, and I'm going to have to go through and check every single assumption until I find it." McCullough shrugged. "It'll take time, but eventually I'll figure it out."
"Alright," Jared smiled. "Now, do we have anything else we need to talk about?"
McCullough shook his head. "Not at the moment."
"Daddy?" Cody asked. "Am I still me?"
"What?" Jared asked, confused.
"I gots all these machines in my body, and I'm not movin' like I used to, or thinking, or anything!" Cody complained. "Am I still me? Did I... did I change?"
"This is a conversation for philosophers and parents," McCullough snorted. "You're on your own for this one Jared!"
"Thanks," Jared said. "For nothing!"
"You're welcome," McCullough smiled. "I'll go talk to the doctors, see if there's anything we can do to make the adaption process run quicker."
"Thanks," Jared turned to face his son. "You aren't your body, Cody," Jared told him. "You are your heart, your soul, your mind, and those things aren't touched."
"But they are!" Cody complained. "I'm not movin' right, and I keep thinking about things I don't!"
"I'll talk to the doctors about that, but... you're still you, Cody," Jared reassured him.
"No buts," Jared told him firmly. "You are my son, not some thing made by doctors. You are my child, a miracle born of my flesh, and your mother's flesh."
"Then why didn't Mommy love me?" Cody asked.
Choosing his words carefully, Jared was very glad he'd stolen a few minutes here and there to consider this point. He would not lie to his children, if he could avoid it.
"Mommy," he began, "was sick. She had problems that I won't even pretend to understand. She did things she shouldn't have, things that hurt a lot of people."
"There are many things in my life I would change, my son, but in this you may be sure: I love you, and if I had a choice to do it all over again I'd still choose you."
"But Davey said..." Cody started, then stopped.
"Davey?" Jared asked strongly, abruptly upset.
"He and I talked... a bit..." Cody said hesitantly. "He didn't want to, Daddy, I made him..."
"What did he tell you?" Jared demanded.
"I... I asked him about why Mommy left..." Tears started falling down Cody's face. "I asked him about why Mommy went away. He told me she wasn't away, she was... when you said she was gone..."
Jared closed his eyes, tears rising. "She's dead, I'm sorry son, I should have been more clear. I should have..." Jared rocked Cody back and forth as they cried.
"He said..." Cody started. "He said he hated Mommy!"
"He's hurt, she left him and-" Jared began.
"No, because of what she did to you!" Cody shouted.
"What did he tell you?" Jared growled, freezing.
"He was talking to that other guy, Corporal Edwards, about her... raping you..." Cody started crying again.
"Oh, Cody," Jared sighed. "I didn't want you to hear about that yet," he told his son. "It's not something you should have to worry about."
"She hurt you Daddy!" Cody cried into his shoulder.
"Yes, she did," Jared agreed. "What she did was very, very wrong. But what she gave me is worth any cost, any price. Do you know what she gave me?"
Cody paused for a few moments, thinking. "Us?"
"Yes, you and Davey. I love you guys, with all my heart," Jared told his son.
"I love you too, Daddy," Cody said softly. "But..."
"But me no buts," Jared told him firmly. "I love you. Period the end."
And Jared was going to keep saying that until it stuck.