"Did you leave the package where you were supposed to?" a man in a long trench coat demanded.
"Yes," the other agreed, nodding. "Your instructions were easy to follow."
"Good," the man nodded. "I'll have one more package for you in a week or so."
"Thank you," the second man said as the first turned to leave. "Thanks to you, my daughter will live long enough to have children of her own."
"Just remember to keep your mouth shut," the first ordered firmly over his shoulder.
"I will, I will," the man nodded. "Anything for her." Not receiving a reply, he shook himself and left.
A knock at the door distracted Fred from his half-finished congratulations. "One moment," he shouted, frowning at the twisted cane. He grabbed it and the intact one and shoved them into the room's closet, carefully closing it so they stayed inside.
Walking to the door, he shouted, "Yes?"
"I think I'd like a word," Doctor Gilbert stormed through the door, shouldering Fred aside. "You will wait outside while I examine my patient."
"Is something wrong doctor?" Fred asked, stopping Doctor Gilbert halfway to Andy.
Doctor Gilbert turned, slowly, to glare at Fred. "In case you forgot, the EEG cap forwards it's data to my server. You were given access, but you can't restrict mine."
"Your point being?" Fred asked.
"My point being," Doctor Gilbert forced out between gritted teeth, tone dangerously even, "that even when I don't recognize a telekinetic signature, I'm not stupid enough to miss it when it jumps all over my screen as I review his EEG readings."
"And how exactly do you know it was a telekinetic signature?" Fred asked. "Maybe he was exerting a different talent."
Doctor Gilbert took two steps forward, and poked Fred in the chest. "You are not welcome in this room," he ordered. "Leave!"
Fred leaned forward, and softly, almost gently answered, "No."
"I will call security and have you thrown out," Doctor Gilbert said coldly. "Last chance."
"I cannot leave," Fred told him. "I must remain in close proximity to Andrew. Whether we like it or not, his talent is growing in strength, and he doesn't have sufficient control. Leaving him alone as long as I did the other day was a mistake, as proven this morning when I let you drag me away for a meeting."
Doctor Gilbert took a deep breath. "Fine," he conceded. "But I remain his doctor, and I gave strict orders-"
"Which were obeyed," Fred told him. "He wasn't to exercise his ability to any significant degree without clearing it with you. I cleared it. I told you that I was going to lay the groundwork for this afternoon's session before I brought him."
"You told me-" Doctor Gilbert broke off halfway through the sentence. When he resumed, he'd dropped from a shout to something resembling a conversational tone. "You did indeed tell me that," he agreed reluctantly. "However, the implication that you deliberately left me with-"
"Was that I would do my job," Fred told him. "That doesn't mean coddling the boy, or you."
The joints in Doctor Gilbert's hand cracked loudly as he flexed them. "I will again thank you for... correcting... my dietary habits, but that doesn't mean-"
"Doctor," Fred cut in, "I wasn't referring to that. It was bloody stupid and you should have known better, but under the circumstances almost understandable."
Doctor Gilbert grunted. "If you weren't referencing that discussion..."
"You aren't a child, and this hospital isn't your private playground that you generously allow others to play in," Fred cut him off. "BEST has a vested interest in both this boy, and this facility. You may have gotten some very, very generous grants from various private donors, but if BEST hadn't helped you, you wouldn't have some of the supplementary staff that will let you make this place truly shine."
"Beyond that, even if this was completely a private hospital, the boy and I are a package deal. If you kick me out, he comes with me," Fred shook his head. "You won't do that to him."
"No, I won't," Doctor Gilbert growled out angrily, "but don't think this is over, not by a long shot."
"I don't intend to," Fred shrugged. Doctor Gilbert was turning back toward Andy when Fred continued, "That said, did you have your afternoon snack yet?"
Doctor Gilbert froze, angry, and then muttered a curt "Yes" before continuing to advance on Andy.
Pulling a pair of rubber gloves out of his pocket, Doctor Gilbert snapped them on before kneeling next to Andy. "How are you feeling?" he asked, anger masked. Masked, but Andy could still see it simmering behind the man's eyes.
"Fine," Andy said.
Doctor Gilbert harumphed as he drew out a pen light. He quickly shone it in Andy's eyes, holding them open with his other hand. Instead of using the wrist to check Andy's pulse, he pressed his finger's against the side of Andy's neck, and harrumphed again. "Any pain?"
"Just in my hand," Andy admitted.
"And what exactly happened to your hand," Doctor Gilbert asked as he examined the injured appendage.
Andy hesitated, not sure how to answer. "My fault," Fred broke in. "I was careless handing him his cane."
"Careless," Doctor Gilbert repeated. "Yes, you do seem to have a habit of being careless."
"Careful, Doctor," Fred told him, "you might make the boy think you don't like me."
Andy tried, he really did, but he couldn't help but giggle at the droll tone Fred used.
"Oh, you laugh," Doctor Gilbert told Andy, clearly frustrated. "Just wait until he's running around your back doing things he shouldn't do."
"In case you were wondering, I actually followed the procedure you indicated, bringing the session to a close the second the pain began to increase," Fred offered.
"Yes, well, it would have been nice to have that marked on the EEG, wouldn't it," Doctor Gilbert said as he pulled out a stethoscope. "Lift up your shirt."
"Doctor, is that really necessary?" Fred asked.
"Probably not," Doctor Gilbert agreed, "but if I'm right... now shush, I need to listen."
Andy flinched away from the cold of the stethoscope as it was pressed against his chest. The doctor unlocked the chair and spun it around. "Scoot up a bit and then lean forward," he ordered, then pressed the stethoscope against Andy's back. "Take a deep breath."
"Thank you, you can pull your shirt back down," Doctor Gilbert told Andy before he stood. "In case you were wondering," he turned to look at Fred, "Andy's symptoms aren't purely neurological anymore."
"What?" Fred asked, surprised.
"The BEST facility detected irregularities in his heartbeat and breathing," Doctor Gilbert told him. "Initial tests suggest that the heart issue was related to his neurological condition, but his oxygen level was low for a while and it was assumed there was a breathing complication. Some of the tests we were going to run before his session would have given us a useful comparison against his baseline, to check that they weren't related to the use of his ability."
Fred looked surprised. "Why wasn't I informed?"
"Because you aren't a doctor," Doctor Gilbert told him, "and it was assumed that you'd do as we asked and discuss things with us before you did anything foolish."
Fred winced. "Doctor," Andy asked, "what's wrong?"
Doctor Gilbert sighed. "Some of the tests they ran on you showed irregularities with your heartbeat. Basically, your heart wasn't working quite right, and we didn't know if it was a problem with the heart itself, or if it just wasn't getting the right orders."
"Thankfully," Doctor Gilbert told him cheerfully, "that part is quite conclusive. The irregularity was easily heard with a standard stethoscope, and I can't find a single trace of it now. It was definitely a symptom of your condition, and your treatment last night was effective."
"As for your breathing condition, I am going to have to withhold comment for the moment," Doctor Gilbert told him. "The tests they did definitely showed your blood oxygen was low right after your incident, but it rose quickly. The BEST doctor's ruled out a complication of your power, following some chain of logic I'm not qualified to argue with," Doctor Gilbert shot an angry glance at Fred, "but they wanted us to confirm with some tests."
"How many times am I going to have to say sorry?" Fred asked, raising his hands in surrender. "I'd step out of the room, but I need to be here in case Andy loses control."
"Yes," Doctor Gilbert nodded, "I suppose you do. I'm... sorry, that I tried to interfere with that." The apology was clearly difficult for the doctor. "Now, we have testing apparatus set up in a small annex off therapy room two. Shall we head there and acquire some of the useful data that we need?"
Fred opened the door and stepped aside. "Andy, do you want me to wheel you there? Or we can send someone to try and track down your canes."
"He should have a set right outside his door," the doctor commented. "Given the frequency our patients jump between canes and wheelchair, we try to keep one of each outside each room."
"Ah," Fred smiled, hesitating. "That pair isn't there anymore."
"They should be there," Doctor Gilbert frowned. "What exactly happened to them?"
Fred shrugged. "BEST will pay for their replacement," he reassured the doctor. "I think that's enough to handle the matter."
Doctor Gilbert took a deep breath. "I suspect they won't be the last thing BEST replaces. The construction crew you arranged for is due to arrive shortly, by the way. Should I alert them to any additional damage to our facilities?"
"Oh, no," Fred shook his head. "The damage was quite limited. In fact, BEST would only be paying for one cane except I think Andy needs a slightly sturdier pair."
"I see," Doctor Gilbert commented. "Well, they're waiting for us. Why don't we just use the wheelchair for now, Andy?"
Andy sighed. "Can I try and walk instead?"
Doctor Gilbert frowned. "According to Tyler, you almost hurt yourself earlier," he said thoughtfully. "I don't think-"
"It was only because the floorboard was loose," Andy quickly broke in. "This place doesn't have anything to trip over other than-" Andy broke off as he realized that pointing out that he'd made the floorboard loose wasn't exactly the smartest thing he could possibly do.
"I see," Doctor Gilbert commented, glancing down at the damaged floor. "Well, under the circumstances," he glanced at Fred, "I think I'll give you a little leeway." Fred stood silently by the door, ignoring the slight emphasis on 'you'. "Stand up, slowly," the doctor ordered.
Andy quickly kicked the foot rests out of his way and placed his feet flat on the ground. Locking the wheels on his chair again, he placed his feet flat on the ground and slowly leaned forward and put his weight down on them. "That's it," Doctor Gilbert smiled, "slow and easy. I want to see how you move."
Getting up slowly was hard work, harder than just springing to his feet would have been. Instead of using the momentum of his initial push, Andy had to brace his hands on his knees to support himself as he slowly pushed upward.
"Alright, slow and gentle now," Doctor Gilbert ordered. "Just one step at first." Andy concentrated hard, and his body responded to his demands with a grace that felt right, right in a way that he hadn't felt in months, or even years. Even the other night had held the slightest edge of... something to it. A sense of things not quite right, not quite real. But this was him. He was doing this, not the doctor, not BEST, not his parents. Him.
He walked on his own two feet, without a cane, and with a giant smile on his face as he realized that it wasn't as hard as it seemed. This was actually getting easier as he continued! Doctor Gilbert grunted as Andy paced around the room, getting used to the feel of being on his own two feet again.
"Well, that's interesting," Doctor Gilbert shook his head. "You're unusually responsive to therapy. Now, lets try another test," he pulled a small ball out of his pocket. "Catch!" he tossed it underhand to Andy, who managed, clumsily, to catch it. Doctor Gilbert grunted again and marked something down on his tablet.
"Well above what I would have expected," Doctor Gilbert shrugged. "Congrats. I don't know how long you'll stay recovered, but it appears the majority of the neurological damage has been reversed. There's still some work to be done, but clearly not as much as I would have believed."
"I was under the impression that treatment would take a month or two, minimum," Fred asked.
"He's not finished with treatment," Doctor Gilbert shook his head. "That will take a month or two. Even if we've reversed the damage, we still have to get his body to not cause anymore. That's not my department."
"I see," Fred nodded. "But with the majority of the damage reversed-"
"Don't go all out on training," Doctor Gilbert cut him off. "The use of his abilities causes damage. Wait until after we've stabilized his nervous system."
Fred shrugged. "Fine. But I'll still work on control with him."
"Your call," Doctor Gilbert admitted reluctantly. "Alright Andy, you've convinced me you can walk. Let's get headed to therapy."
Andy stifled a groan at the thought of another session in the torture chamber. At least he could walk again. If the torture room helped as much as it appeared to have, he'd take a dozen sessions in it over the thrice-damned canes. Or the wheelchair. Or being stuck in bed, spoon-fed nasty oatmeal glop until his heart failed of embarrassment over having to use diapers. A fate which he'd feared worse than death itself after taking a wrong turn into a hospital's long-term care ward.
But now... freedom was almost within his grasp. As they left the room, he felt his mood swing even further up, and he started skipping a little in joy. "Settle down, boy!" Doctor Gilbert snapped. "You aren't fully recovered yet, and so help me if you fall down and manage to hurt yourself, I'll make you regret it."
Andy grinned over his shoulder at the crabby old man as he carefully resumed a more normal gait. For all the harshness of the old man's tone, there wasn't any venom behind the words. He was just as happy as Andy, even if he didn't show it.
Andy wished he could sprint ahead, hopping, skipping, jumping, maybe even doing cartwheels, but not only would the doctor Not Be Amused, but he didn't actually know where they were going. After they left what he was beginning to recognize as the 'dormitory hall' where he and the other kids lived, he had to wait, impatiently, for the doctor to catch up. "You shouldn't press old folk quite so hard," Fred commented wryly. "They aren't as spry as you are."
"Sorry," Andy scuffed the floor with his foot. "Just happy. Didn't mean to rush you."
"Don't apologize to me," Fred smiled. "Apologize to the old man in the room."
"That sounds suspiciously like an attempt to insult me," Doctor Gilbert pointed out crabbily as he walked up.
"Well, I can hardly classify myself as 'old'," Fred joked. "I'm not even thirty years old. I still have to respect my elders."
"I see," Doctor Gilbert shook his head. "This way."
Andy waited for the doctor to take a few steps down the hall before taking off, ignoring the door opening near him. "What?" Andy heard a voice screech after he turned away. "The freak is walking already?"
Fred and Doctor Gilbert froze mid-step. Andy turned, slowly, anger rising slowly. He knew that tone. It wasn't going to happen now, obviously, and maybe not tomorrow or the next day. But sometime, probably sometime soon, Eric was going to pick a fight. Andy felt the slow, leaden, icy chill of his anger deep in his stomach, and let his hands slowly clench into fists. Eric advanced slowly on his canes, letting the door to the restroom slam shut behind him. He heard, somewhere miles away, Doctor Gilbert order Fred to back off, that this was his responsibility to deal with.
"Freak," Eric hissed. "Animal. You shouldn't be taking up the treatments real people need." Andy felt a distant pain in his hands as he waited. There wasn't anything he could do. Even without canes, he was clumsy. Slow. Easy pickings for any bully. The pain in his hands changed, his hands feeling heavier now, like they weighed a thousand tons. "You don't belong indoors like a person," Eric continued to rant. "You should be in a damned cage with the rest of the animals!"
Eric raised one of his canes and poked Andy in the stomach, hard. Andy clutched his belly and resisted the momentary urge to vomit as Eric sneered. Something inside Andy snapped and he howled. He cocked his fist back, feeling the weight shift and begin to take form.
"Contain and then vent," Agent Hunt repeated mercilessly. "Say it with me."
"If I get angry, I need to contain my powers and then vent them when it's safe, contain and then vent," Andy repeated with a sigh.
"I'm serious Andy. You need to learn that. Sooner or later you're going to discover new augments. The one way you do not want to find a new one is by sending someone through the nearest wall with them. Contain, then vent."
Eric had already pulled his crutch back, and was giving it another good hard push, but with a single thought Andy gave it a sideways shove. Eric staggered as his thrust hit empty air, and then Andy slammed his hand, fingers spread, onto the floor.
All Andy could think of was a cage. Eric, wrapped in a cage. "I'm not the one who belongs in a cage!" Andy hissed as the wooden floor flowed like water under his hand. Wood boards began to flow like water, their far ends pulling in like water before the tsunami as they bulged up around Eric. Eric managed to stop his stagger by hitting the far wall of the corridor, but the flowing boards were moving swiftly now, their separate lengths twining around each other as they formed a long, curving arc with one end ending at Andy's fist.
Suddenly the wooden flow jumped sideways, curving tentacles flowing out of it as it moved over Eric. Eric collapsed to his knees, dropping his canes as he held his hands over his head.
"Shit," Fred commented calmly. "This is exactly the kind of thing I was supposed to stop."
"Under the circumstances, I think this is my fault more than yours," Doctor Gilbert replied in a voice that was almost too level, a kind of brittle calm that could shatter in an instant.
Andy panted as the sudden, explosive burst of rage washed away, his fist still encased in part of the cage he'd formed. He felt... clean, somehow. He hadn't hurt Eric. He'd chosen not to hurt Eric. But he'd still defended himself. He smiled. The bullies would never hurt him again. Ever. He could fight back, if he chose to, but he wouldn't. He wouldn't have to fight back. He could stop them without fighting back.
Andy smiled as he blinked back tears. The bullies would never, ever hurt him again. He looked up at Eric, sitting in a perfect wooden replica of a bird cage made of wood. Eric looked at the cage, wild-eyed, and then glared at Andy. The promise of future vengeance didn't bother Andy. Not anymore.
"Andy, could I get your assistance?" Fred asked.
"Huh?" Andy looked over. Fred had managed to stick his foot through the floor where one of the boards had been removed. "Oh. Um..." Andy looked at his hand. "I'm kinda tied up myself."
Fred took a deep breath. "I can already see the paperwork on this one," he laughed. "It's going to be a doozy."
"I didn't hurt him," Andy reminded Fred. "I chose not to hurt him. It was too late to contain, but I vented by doing this instead."
"Instead of what, exactly?" Fred asked.
"I was just gonna hit him," Andy shrugged. "I'm... I don't have a clue what would have happened if I'd hit him instead of the floor." For an instant, Andy thought of having Eric's body flow under his hands the way the floor had. He'd wanted to flatten the idiot, to smear him across the walls.
Taken as something other than an exaggeration, the idea was sickening. Andy felt his gorge rise at the thought of actually reshaping Eric's flesh like that. "I think I'm going to be sick," he commented.
"I think I'm going to get some nurses. And a handyman with a saw," Doctor Gilbert told them before turning and walking away. "Yes, I think some nurses."
"I'm definitely going to be sick," Andy swallowed and began pulling on his hand, trying to free it from it's wooden prison.
"Not on me!" Eric snapped, pulling himself up using the cage bars as a support. "Get me outta here!"
"Just stay calm," Fred ordered. "Damnit. I'm well and truly stuck here." Fred sighed. "Oh well, I guess a little more damage won't hurt anything."
Andy wasn't able to watch what happened as his lunch came up to say hello. Two quick heaves later, what was left of his lunch was splattered all over the hallway. It was surprisingly little, given how much he'd eaten. "I said not on me," Eric complained.
"Hush, boy," Fred ordered, brushing splints off his leg. "I'd like to get you out, but this evidence says this stuff tends to shatter into splinters, not break cleanly. Unless it's really urgent, you're better off waiting for someone with a saw."
Andy was tired, but he remembered how his hands had felt. "I think I can do it," he said after a moment. "But... I don't want him touching the bars when I move them."
Fred nodded slowly. "Are you certain?"
Andy nodded. "I can fix this. My hands... I've actually kinda done this before. I just..." Andy didn't know how to explain it. "Nothing ever happened the other times. But the weight... I've felt that before. I know how to make it happen."
Fred shook his head uncertainly. "This doesn't seem like too destructive a power. Alright, go ahead. Slowly, step by step."
Andy took a deep breath and told his shaking hands to stop quivering. He felt his hands. Their weight. Their shape. He reached and pressed his other hand against the wood imprisoning his hand. His fingers were still free, it was just strands of material flowing between them to meet under his palm.
Oh. Wait. Andy's eyes snapped open.
"Um, actually, why don't we just pick it up?" Andy suggested, struggling to do just that. "It doesn't have a bottom."
Fred opened his mouth and paused, the started laughing. "Good idea. OK, on three," he squatted down on the other side. "One, two- oh, wait..." he looked at Andy's hand. "This won't work," he got up and knelt down next to Andy, ignoring the sick spreading over the floor. "I might have broken your wrist doing it that way. We'll just both need to take showers. And at this point, I don't think you'll give me any nonsense over staying in touching distance, will you?"
Andy opened his mouth to argue, but shook his head instead.
"On three. One, two, three, lift" Fred ordered. Andy braced his hand as best as he could and lifted. Fred provided the bulk of the force, but Andy could feel the way the cage shifted as he pushed. Fred was providing the strength Andy couldn't, but only that much. Andy was the one moving this cage around. Andy felt something in his back begin to burn, but he just lifted harder as Eric squealed.
"Get out boy," Fred ordered.
"But there's throw up all over the floor!" Eric whined.
"So you'd rather wait inside the cage?" Fred asked reasonably.
"Get me out without making me go through throw up!" Eric demanded. "Turn the cage or something."
"Oh of all the stupid-" Fred cut himself off with a snarl. "Fine. Andy, you can stop lifting, I'll take it from here."
Andy gratefully let his free hand drop down to the floor to support his weight. Fred shifted his grip and slowly pulled the cage further up. Andy pulled back on the cage, using it as a level to help himself get up. Eventually the cage began to shift on it's own, the smooth ends of the bars not providing enough friction to support the weight of the cage.
Eric squealed and shot out from under the cage, ignoring the vomit as he slid out from under the suddenly unstable structure. Fred managed to restrain the worst of the impact and turn it into a topple that almost managed to break Andy's wrist.
"I'm going to call my father!" Eric shouted as he stumbled down the corridor, one hand gripping tightly to the railing for support.
"You do that," Fred muttered under his breath. "OK, now that the boy is clear, shall we try and fix this?"
Andy looked up at Fred, then down at his hand. The thought of someone having to take a saw to the wood to get his hand free decided it for him. He'd really, really, really rather not get his hands cut off too. Closing his eyes, and tried to concentrate. The trick was in the weight, he remembered. It was an old game he'd played with his mind, something he'd learned one day when he was sick. Reach out towards something, feel the way it connected with his hands. His hands grew heavier, and heavier, and heavier. Opening his eyes, he looked at the wood. He felt the weight. He felt the connection. Why wasn't anything happening?
"It's not working," Andy complained. "I can feel the power. It's there. It's just not doing anything. At the least, you'd think this stupid cage would do something." Andy glared at the cage, wishing it would just fall to pieces.
With a crack, every single join broke loose and the cage rattled down in a shower of wooden rods. Andy still felt a trace of weight in his hands, and looked at the bit of wood still surrounding his hand. Having it crack wouldn't be too much fun, but he could just imagine having it flow around his hand- Before he could finish the thought, the weight vanished as the wood flowed like water. The second it pulled loose from his hand it solidified, looking almost like a clay ashtray some five year old might have made. Badly made, even for a five year old. It bounced off the floor before rolling into the vomit pile and stopping.
"Well, I think we can count on this to screw up any chance of claiming you have control over your abilities," Fred sighed as he looked at the pile. "Still, no one was hurt, and that's not a minor thing, either. Brand new ability, you barely trained, and you redirected it into something that didn't cause any injuries anyway. Even if it did scare them a little."
"I'm sorry," Andy scuffed the floor.
"Kiddo, what scared me is what would have happened if you had slugged that boy," Fred shook his head. "I honestly thought you were about to, and I had no idea at all you were about to break out with a new power. That's not good, for either of us."
Andy shrugged. "I didn't hurt him. I wanted to. I really, really, really wanted to."
"I noticed," Fred commented idly, poking at the pile of wooden pieces. "Molecular manipulation, maybe?" he asked himself gently. "Not too terribly fast, but pretty thorough. Never seen anything... flow like that before."
"Huh?" Andy asked, confused.
"Trying to gauge your new ability," Fred told him. "I'm going to guess... maybe a class two. Depends on how quickly you can do it with practice, and how large an area you can effect at once. Going to take a lot of testing to narrow it down." Fred glanced over at Andy. "For all that your go-to ability seems to be your TK, you definitely have some other surprises locked away. Not too surprising, really, but I was expecting them to be buried a bit deeper than this."
Andy looked down at his hands. He'd learned the trick about making his hands heavy a year or two ago, when he was stuck in bed with some bug or another. It was fun to make his hands feel heavy. He'd never been able to explain it, even to himself, but it had been a way to entertain himself that his mother couldn't veto by making him stay in bed. But nothing had ever happened before. "Fred, I've been doing this for a while," he said softly. "The hand thing. But nothings ever happened before. It was just... a little game I played with myself, tricking my mind into thinking my hands were heavier."
"Oh really?" Fred looked at him, head cocked. "And nothing ever happened?"
Andy shook his head. "No. And I was always... disappointed? I guess that's the word. It was disappointing when nothing did. It always felt like something should. And when I was at BEST, I kinda figured something would just... happen... somehow. It never did."
Fred frowned. "You mean you tried this at BEST?"
Andy nodded. "Yeah. I did. I touched something, and..." He frowned. "I thought I was imagining it, but it felt like it... was trying to move under my hand. I pushed and I pushed, but nothing ever happened except a headache."
"Do you have a headache now?" Fred asked.
Andy shook his head. "No, I don't. And it feels different. My entire body feels lighter, but... there's still... weight left." Andy tossed his hands up, unable to explain. "I could do more. I know it."
"Show me," Fred ordered, pointing at the pile of scraps. Andy picked up two of the pieces, and tried to make them into one again. For a second nothing happened, then he took a deep breath and concentrated. Weight, in his hands, and then a connection to the wood. The two pieces began to shift in his hands, reaching out towards each other, but as he pressed them together, he felt them collide. They smooshed against each other rather than merging. Backing off, he reformed them back into sticks and tried it again. Again, the ends smashed against each other and spread outward. Frowning, he remembered a video on someone spinning, and he broke the ends into threads and wove them around each other. When he was done, he handed the piece to Fred.
"Well, I'll be certain to ask you over next time I break something," Fred commented, looking at the stick. "There's no wood grain left, but you definitely put them back together."
Andy shook his head. "No, I didn't," he said softly. "I just.... wove them into each other. It's still two pieces."
"Well, see if you can weave the entire mess back together, and put it back down," Fred pointed at the mess. "If you can repair the floor that'd probably go a long way to making this mess a little less of a disaster."
Andy frowned, looking at the pieces. "I'm not sure I can do it," he admitted.
"Try," Fred asked.
Picking up another piece, Andy felt for the weight, and then the wood began to flow in his hands. He had to touch each piece to keep it flowing, but before long he realized that even the slightest touch was enough. After the first couple of sticks, he had to set the mess on the floor as he began to feed more sticks into it. Shifting over, he placed the liquid wood on the supporting joists that held the floor up, and Fred began handing him pieces. Slowly at first it began to spread outward, then faster as Andy got practice under his belt. The iron nails were the worst part. He had to flow the wood carefully around them, then clamp down tightly so that the nails were actually holding the wood in place. As Fred handed him the last piece, Andy frowned at the damaged boards where Fred had been forced to pull himself free. Letting go of the wood he was working with, he walked over and looked at the splinters. It was a mess, without any large pieces to focus on. The odd thing, though, was that even with the stray splinters, it looked like there was plenty of material left over.
"What happened?" Andy asked, reaching out and smoothing the jagged edges. "How'd your foot get stuck?"
Fred shrugged. "I stepped where one of the boards was flowing away, and next thing I knew my foot was through the floor. For a second it was free, then the boards sorta... popped loose and pinned me."
Andy got up and walked a few feet up and down the hallway, touching the floor in a few places. "Oh," he commented eventually. "I see. Look. The boards around my hole are all looser. You can actually see the gap between them and their neighbors. The rest of the floor it's almost like one piece." Nodding, he walked back over and touched his board again. This time he crawled around on his hands and knees and touched each board on the outside of the area he'd destroyed.
Halfway through the process, Nurse Summers trotted up, two workmen in tow. "Well, I hear we have another issue to deal with," she commented.
"Please stand back until Andy is done," Fred ordered. Andy heard them talking, but his concentration was so deep that it didn't really impinge on what he was doing.
"I heard he attacked another student," Nurse Summers said icily. "Or he was attacked. The Doctor was clearly suffering from shock."
"The latter, mostly," Fred informed her. "I think it was that boy from the dining hall earlier. The one who wants us in cages."
Nurse Summers snapped our the name "Eric" like a curse. "I shall have words with the boy. What happened?"
Fred snorted. "I suspect you'll need to help him find a clean pair of pants more than anything else. He made some comments about how it wasn't fair for Andy to receive priority treatment. I think how well Andy has responded to his treatments made him think that Andy was receiving preferential treatment. Anyways, he wound up trying to attack and with his crutches. I'd call it a poke, but there was enough force there to qualify for spearing, if the crutches had pointed ends. Andy took offense at that, and nearly swung back. Instead, he channeled a newly manifested augmentation into turning some of the planks from the floor into a cage."
Nurse Summers looked at the floor. "He's repairing the damage."
"That's incredible," one of the workmen commented. "Look at the way he's just merging the planks together. Looks cool."
The other workman laughed. "We should bring some of the clients by to see. Remember Old Man Jenkins wanting something 'different' for his floor? Betcha he'd love to get something like that."
"Yeah, the foreman really had a hard time finding something the guy liked," the first workman nodded. "Betcha he'd have paid a pretty penny for that, especially if the boy can do some kind of design or something. I mean, it kinda looks like wood, but it doesn't have the grain anymore. More like a... texture? Iunno. I bet there are clients that'd pay a lot for something like this."
"Pay?" Andy asked, suddenly distracted. Despite his utter concentration on what he was doing, he'd still managed to keep track of the conversation even without listening to it.
"Yeah, kid, pay big time," man nodded. "That's different, and I've never seen it before. Different and rare spell expensive, and honestly, I don't think I've heard of anything like it before. It'd probably be unique."
The other workman nodded. "Yeah. And the way you're making the wood all one piece... I betcha that's going to make the floor stronger, what do you think Hank?"
Hank nodded. "Yeah, I bet you're right. Repairing it would be a tin plated bitch, though. If even one bit gets damaged, you'd have to replace the whole bit."
"Not really," Andy disagreed, then put his hand back on the wood. He opened a few holes up, then closed them again. "I could just... reform it. So long as I'm careful, I think I can make the pieces pretty big. Even feed new pieces of wood into them."
Hank's eyes widened. "Oh boy, we have gotta tell Foreman Williams about this kid. Ginny is great enough, lifting those heavy materials, but imagine what this kid could do!"
"Yeah, but could the boss afford to pay him?" the other guy out. "Besides, for chrissakes, he's still a kid!"
"Kid today," Hank said firmly. "Boss is always pointing out to keep an eye on tomorrow."
"Yeah, but BEST or the military will probably snap him up," the other complained. "Betcha he's got other augments too. Never let him work the civvie market."
"You never know," Hank said. "Still, if the kid can do this..." he turned at looked at Nurse Summers. "Why exactly were we called in to do some repairs?"
"Lets just say that we didn't know he could do this half an hour ago," Fred told the man. "I'm letting him run with it because, frankly, as far as I can tell he's doing a pretty damned good job. Once he's done, I want you to check over his work and make sure it'll stand up to code. Do whatever is necessary to check it out. I don't care if you cause more damage. I want to know if this is up to code. If it isn't, let me know ASAP and try to write up a report on why. Maybe the kid can fix it."
The two workmen looked at each other. "We might need to call in the boss for this. Won't be cheap. Probably need some fancy engineers to test the stuff."
"Then get them!" Fred snapped. "Better yet, call me with a description of what you need, and I'll get someone from BEST out here." He looked over at Andy. "And by the way, don't dream of riches just yet. There are other augments out there with molecular manipulation, and they could probably figure out how to reproduce this, even if your power doesn't seem to work in exactly the same way theirs does."
Andy shrugged. "Alight. I'm just about done here."
"Was Eric sick, or Andy?" Nurse Summers asked, looking at the vomit smears that had gotten spread around.
"My fault, Nurse Summers," Andy admitted. "I almost hurt Eric. I... well, when I thought about what might have happened to him if I'd hit him instead of the floor..."
Nurse Summers looked surprised. "In that case, don't worry about it. I'd rather you worry about the damages before you cause them, even if it does cause a bit of a mess. Just... don't ever hit anyone with that augment," she pointed at the floor. "I'd really rather not see what would happen if you did."
Fred shuddered. "God, the report on this incident is going to be a nightmare. Kid, if you ever cause me this much work again..." he shook his head. "That's good enough. Lets get you back to your room, find some clean clothes, and then it's back to the showers. For both of us."
"I'm not done!" Andy complained.
"You're done enough," Fred ordered. "Now up. March!" Fred grabbed Andy by the arm and dragged him off, almost literally. He set a hard, fast pace that left Andy with no opportunity to complain further. When they were out of earshot of the three they'd left behind, Fred slowed down. "Sorry about marching you off so quick, but I wanted to stop that conversation. Having those workers speculate over how useful you might be to them is fine by me, but having them complain about how dangerous your powers are if not properly controlled... that doesn't do BEST, your fellow augments, yourself, or anyone else any good at all."
"Oh," Andy said softly. "You think they'd be scared?"
"Kiddo, if you aren't scared, I'm going to check you into the nearest psych ward and throw away the key," Fred said harshly.
Andy thought about the damage he could do, and nodded slowly. "Yeah, I don't want to hurt anyone like that. Ever."
"Good," Fred told him. "You shouldn't be afraid of your powers, but please do be afraid of what could happen if you lose control with them. Your TK is bad enough, but this new power is just scary. Here we are."
Andy walked over to his dresser and opened a drawer. Instead of the expected supply of socks, he found several sets of socks, undershirts, and boxers, all in men's sizes. "Huh?" he complained, reaching out to sort through them. "This isn't my stuff!"
"That's because I had a change of clothes moved in here for me," Fred told him, slapping his hands away and quickly grabbing a set of clothes for himself before slamming the drawer shut.
"Oh," Andy commented, quickly searching through the other drawers to find what he needed and tossing the results on his bed. Moving over the closet, he quickly pulled down a change of clothes for himself, careful to keep the clothing clear of his vomit-streaked jeans.
"Come on, lets go shower," Fred ordered, grabbing his own change of clothes and shoving them into a plastic bag.
"Where'd you get the bag?" Andy asked.
With a flourish, Fred opened up a second bag for Andy, apparently pulling it out of thin air with a snap. "Weren't you ever a boyscout? Be prepared! Or, if you prefer, the seven P's."
"Seven P's?" Andy asked, stuffing his clothes into the bag.
"Yes," Fred nodded. "Actually, I think the boyscouts prefers the five P's. Prior planning prevents poor performance."
"What's six and seven?" Andy asked.
Fred grinned. "The first one is proper. Don't just make plans, make them properly. Proper prior planning. Spend more time worrying about a thunderstorm deluging the area than a hurricane touching down in the middle of your camp while you're gone. The other one I'm not going to discuss in front of a minor, but with a little thought I imagine you can come up with a few ideas. Especially since we're headed to a restroom, and I'm sure that'll give you ideas."
"Huh?" Andy asked, completely confused.
Fred laughed. "Don't worry about it. Just focus on the six P's and you'll never even run into the seventh."
Andy shook his head and walked out the door. Adults were weird, sometimes.