Castle Roland

Unexpected Reactions

by Rilbur

In Progress

Chapter 10

Posted: N/A

"Blood, I need more blood!" someone shouted nearby.

Andy groaned and tried to open his eyes.

"The other boy is waking up, Agent," someone reported.

"That's fine, I trust his control," Fred answered. "I'll stay on Eric."

"Wha's goin' on?" Andy slurred. He finally managed to open his eyes, but everything was so blurry all he could see was light and shadow. "Why can' I see?"

"Your eyes may have been damaged," a man told him. "Stay calm, some BEST doctors are on their way who can help." Andy tried to lift his hands, and someone quickly snatched them and pushed them back down to his sides. "Don't try and touch your eyes. Try and keep your eyes relaxed. You don't need to keep them closed, but don't blink a lot, if anything is caught in them, you might scratch your cornea."

"OK," Andy said, trying to sound calm, working his mouth in an effort to get it woken up. The discovery that he had some kind of mask covering it explained part of why talking was so difficult. "What's going on?"

Whoever was talking to him sighed. "Eric is in bad shape. We don't have all the details, anything you can tell us about what happened can help."

"I... I..." Andy stammered.

"I'm here," Fred reassured Andy. "I'm mostly just keeping Eric from using his augmentations. Nurse Summers is here too. You're safe, but we need to hear what happened to you. Please. Take a deep breath, and just tell it like a story. After you left the dining hall, you went to the restroom..."

A quick breath later, Andy picked up the flow of the narrative. He tried to remember everything, but he kept having to jump around to catch minor details he forgot. Every time he had to go back, Fred reassured him that it was all right, and that he should take all the time he needed. "We need to know what really happened, everything you can remember. If that means it takes you ten minutes to remember something, then it takes ten minutes. It's more important that you tell us what you know, than you tell us something quickly."

It wasn't a long story, but after it was over Fred lead Andy back through it, asking dozens of questions ranging from whether the hammer ever broke to what, exactly, it felt like when Andy's powers 'slid off' Eric.

"Is Eric going to be alright?" Andy asked after they were finished. Fred didn't answer for a long while, leaving Andy to listen to the doctors mutter arcane formulas and snap equally arcane orders to nurses.

"Eric isn't in very good shape," Fred said eventually. "He appears to be suffering from severe augmentation sickness, on top of the damage... on top of what he did to his hand and arm."

"I guess that was a kinda stupid question," Andy said after a moment. "But they can heal him, right?" Andy asked hopefully. "I mean, these are good doctors here! They patched me up good as new! They can do that for him, can't..." Andy swallowed and tried again. "Can't they?"

Fred's answer was even longer coming this time. "Andy, I'm not going to lie to you. The doctors are going to do everything that they can. Between AS and the damage to his hand, they have a lot of trouble to work through. They've had to defrib him twice already, and they barely got his heart restarted the second time. On top of the damage to his hand, there are internal injuries of some kind, and he is losing a lot of blood."

"But they can give him more, this is a hospital!" Andy protested.

"He's type O-negative," Fred replied. "They keep as much of that on hand as they can, but that's the universal donor type. It's rare, and while this is a trauma center, it's not intended as a first treatment facility. It's where they send the hopeless cases to hope for a miracle. Generally, by the time you get here, they already know your blood type."

Andy got the point. "They have to have enough!" he protested.

"It's not just Eric they have to worry about," Fred answered sadly. "This is a trauma center. They might need the blood for someone else. If the doctors decide... if the doctors decide he won't make it, it makes no sense to pump him full of blood that might save someone else's life."

"He'll make it!" Andy shouted, crying. "He has to!"

"Don't rub your eyes," the first voice repeated, holding Andy's hands down when he tried to. "Agent, he's fighting me."

"He's a little boy learning that death is real," Fred said sadly. "Instead of holding him prone, try pulling him into your lap. He's not using his power against you."

"I... I can't..." the voice replied.

"Oh you're hopeless," a vaguely familiar voice snapped crabbily. Andy felt someone brush off the hands restraining him, and was quickly pulled up into someone's lap. He struggled, a little, before settling down with his chin on someone's shoulder. "Go ahead and cry if you need to boy, I know I do," the new voice told him, voice rich and full.

"Doctor... Doctor Bearnt?" Andy asked uncertainly, noticing a distinct chill over his back. "And... am I wearing anything?"

"That's my name," the doctor agreed. "Someone get the kid a blanket, his gown isn't doing him much good. Andy, to answer your question in the way Fred won't, Eric may die. I rate his chances of survival at less than one in three, short term. If he lives past tonight..." Doctor Bearnt trailed off with a sigh. "Normally I'd say that the odds would improve if he lives past tonight, but that would be at best deceptive, if not an outright lie."

"Don't-" Fred began to protest.

"Unless you're willing to let him leave the room, he's going to hear it sooner or later," Doctor Bearnt argued. "He may have already heard it, and given time to mull things over he'll understand it."

"I don't want to explain it to him," Fred said so softly Andy almost couldn't hear him under the noise of the doctors.

"Who would?" Doctor Bearnt agreed. "Andy, Fred has tried to beat around the bush, but let's cut to the point. Eric probably won't survive the night. If he does, the odds are against him living more than a few weeks."

"What?" Andy asked, shocked.

"One of the augmentations he unlocked destroyed his hand and arm," Doctor Bearnt told him. "Below the wrist, the hand was just plain gone. Bones and all. Above the wrist... the damage was bad enough we had to amputate at the elbow. The flesh was just too damaged to save. And no, we cannot heal that. Some augments can regenerate their own limbs, but I don't know of any that can make other people regenerate theirs."

Andy blinked away more tears. "His hand is just... gone? What happened to it?"

"He turned it into a weapon," Bearnt told him. "That's why you can't see. We found several small darts made out of what looks suspiciously like bone in the restroom. One of them cut through your scalp to gouge the skull underneath. We also pulled a number of smaller ones, the biggest the size of a pebble, out of your face while you were unconscious. We think that's what damaged your eyes. If they get here quickly enough, the BEST doctors should be able to save your eyesight."

"Should?" Andy asked. "You mean... I might be like this forever?"

"I anticipate a full recovery on your part," Bearnt said, voice haunted. "I imagine you'll have a rough couple of weeks mind you. Nightmares, and the like. Survivor's guilt is common in something like this. But you'll live. You'll heal. You'll learn to use your powers to help others. Just like another scared little boy I once knew, who learned to stop people from self destructing."

"I have to stay in physical contact to do it," Fred pointed out. "And Andy hasn't shown any sign of a similar augment."

"Yes, but now he knows he's not alone." Andy could hear Bearnt's gentle smile in his voice. "He's aware that someone he knows has gone through something similar. In the dark times of the night, he'll have a friend to reach out to. One who can reassure him that everything is fine, that what he's going through is normal, and who can give him a helping hand over the rough spots."

Fred didn't say anything in reply. Andy held onto Doctor Bearnt as he listened to what the doctors were saying. "What happened after I... after I fainted?" Andy asked, wishing there was a better word for it.

"After you passed out, Eric managed to pull himself loose from the wall," Bearnt told him. "When he saw Fred, he began ranting furiously and then attacked him. Thankfully, his first blow wasn't well aimed, or Fred wouldn't be here. A glancing blow was more than enough to break one of Fred's ribs; a direct hit might have crushed Fred's chest. I'm not trained in assessing augment abilities, but I'd say Eric easily has a class five strength empowerment. Heck, even with Fred's armor up, Eric managed to break Fred's arm."

"Do you have to recite the list of my injuries?" Fred complained. "You make it sound so... foolish. After my initial assessment of the situation, I drew Eric away from bystanders to an outdoor area, where I proceeded to blast a large hole into the ground, relying on superior mobility to avoid additional injury. By letting Eric believe he could hit me if he just kept trying, I managed to avoid having him attempt to use his dart ability on me. One I had dug the pit deeply enough, I blew the ground out from under Eric's feet, causing him to tumble into the pit. By collapsing the walls, I restrained him in a non-lethal manner. By the time Eric broke free, Nurse Summers had rushed to my assistance. Despite the several darts he proceeded to throw at her, she utilized her own augmentation to render him unconscious," Fred recited.

"He makes it sound so dry," Bearnt commented, "not mentioning the several near misses he took dancing around that pit. He nearly fell in it once, and twice he slipped and let Eric hit him. That's why his left arm will be in a cast, as soon as he stops being stupid about the affair."

"He also neglects to mention his attempt to order me away," Nurse Summers commented icily. "Something about I shouldn't risk my life, that was his job."

"Given the cut you picked up, I think I had a point," Fred replied.

"And you'll notice that letting another nurse bandage the cut properly didn't interfere, at all, with my part in this little operation," Nurse Summers argued.

"The situations are not parallel," Fred told her. "A momentary lapse on your part won't-"

"What happened to Eric?" Andy demanded, not interested in their silly argument. "Why did he start... I mean, he wasn't crazy! Then he was!"

"I'm afraid I can answer that question," Doctor Gilbert said, voice coming over a speaker of some kind.

"You're back! Did you get in touch with the psychiatrist?" Fred asked.

"Yes, and had a very interesting conversation," Doctor Gilbert snarled. "He informed me that Senator Reynolds had already called him. This facility is no longer cleared to access any of the boy's medical records. He then mentioned that the good Senator had mused for a while on the concept of patient privilege. Oh, and when I asked if he could at least confirm the documents that he'd faxed us already, he was quite surprised. He'd pulled the boy's file up, and there was no record of his having sent us any such file. In fact, before tonight the last person to ask for a copy of his records on the boy was an aide in the senator's office. According to the timestamp, it was about an hour before we were faxed a copy. A copy which Doctor Samson was willing to confirm did not match his records, without of course divulging any privileged information on how the records varied."

"What's that mean?" Andy asked Doctor Bearnt, whose comforting embrace had grown stiff.

"It means," Fred snarled, "that someone is covering something up."

"You'll be interested to know that our phone system automatically records all inbound and outbound calls," Doctor Gilbert added. "I haven't reviewed the tapes yet, but I bet we can identify the aide who faxed us those files with them."

"Good," Fred snapped. "And contact the headshrinker again. Inform him that BEST has taken charge of this case, and it is now a federal investigation. I need to know if this boy ever showed any signs of being an augment before he came to this facility. I need to know every detail that... that... that person can tell me about the boy's mental state. I want his opinion on the kid's current mental state. I want his official recommendation on treatment, keeping in mind the kid's newfound abilities. And I want it in writing. Maybe he'll give us enough rope."

"I can't give you any details, but there was one thing he said that stuck in my mind," Doctor Gilbert sighed. "When he learned that the boy had undergone a psychotic break simultaneous to revealing powerful augmentation ability, he said, and I quote, 'God help you Eric. I don't think we can.' I pressed him for details, but he managed to regain control of himself and refused to elucidate on the grounds of confidentiality. His tone... He knows something useful, but I don't think we'll like it."

"Someone get me a phone-" Fred cut off and shook his head. "Scratch that. Just call BEST up and let them know that I want them to at least double, no, triple the force they're sending to contain the boy in the event of another outbreak. And..." Fred's voice faltered, pain filling it. "And tell them to use the big van to get here. Those exact words. They'll understand what that means."

"Surely it isn't that bad," Doctor Gilbert gasped, shocked.

"It's best to be prepared," Fred told him angrily. "I hope it doesn't go there, but..."

"There are better options," Doctor Gilbert said softly. "That's a slow death sentence."

"Don't," Fred ordered harshly. "Don't think it. Don't say it. Don't try it. We don't kill augments. Understand me? They don't get killed because of being an augment. Not one trace of anything like that in your records, or I'll have you up for murder charges myself. Not one trace of anything that can be so much as spun that way."

"I read you loud and clear," Doctor Gilbert told him. "By the way, if the big van becomes necessary, make sure I'm told in advance. I can at least try to stabilize him for travel."

A loud snap followed by what sounded like a small explosion in the other side of the room cut into the conversation. "Oops," someone said, "I think I may have just destroyed the only record of this conversation."

"Heaven save me from overeager amateurs," Fred muttered. "And the remote backups?" he asked.

"This facility was isolated from remote systems as a precaution," the other voice told him. "Once the door is closed, we're actually encased in a Faraday cage. Nothing out, nothing in."

"We've got the boy as stabilized as he's going to get," someone announced. "Lets close him up."

"Did you find the internal bleeds?" Fred asked.

"Yes," the voice said heavily. "Looks like blunt force trauma. Probably from the way you collapsed the pit."

"Agent, we have an issue," Doctor Gilbert announced over the loudspeakers. "One of our nurses just noticed what looks like a news crew poking around in the restroom. It looks like the snuck in when the BEST team arrived."

"One of the teams arrived?" Fred asked over a loud swooshing noise. "Why wasn't I told?"

"Because I told them not to," someone else said. "Fred."

"Angela," Fred greeted her happily. "Just who I needed."

Fred felt a hand take a hold of his face and pull his chin up. "Not too bad, probably take me less than ten minutes to treat," Angela said after a moment. "I think I'll start with him. The other boy... I don't think a few minutes will make much of a difference in his case, but eyes are prone to issues."

"I won't argue," Fred told her.

"How's the boy's control?" she asked. "You know how I dislike crowds, so if I can use another room..."

Fred sighed. "I swear, every time I decide not to let the boy out of my sight, something comes up to change my mind. And then something goes wrong."

"His control is that bad?" she asked, surprised. "On the phone you said-"

"No," Fred cut her off, "that's what's so frustrating. I already told you about the first of his two incidents. The second... he rechanneled a brand new augment into a nonlethal solution, despite having the next best thing to zero training. Evidence says that he's better than some squadron level kids I could name. It's just..." Fred snorted. "He's a trouble magnet."

"How much trouble can he get into in a room, alone with me?" she asked.

Fred laughed. "Do I really need to answer that?" he giggled. "Give him a few years, and his sight back and- Well, I love you for more than your mind, dearie. But to address your point, he should be fine. Unless a werewolf sneaks on campus and bites him. Or a vampire, I think the sun has gone down by now."

"Werewolves? Vampires?" Angela asked, clearly amused. "I didn't know it was Fantasy Wednesday. I would have worn heels."

"See above: trouble magnet," Fred told her. "I wouldn't put it past him to stumble right over the tooth fairy if he could find a way to make it cause trouble. Or maybe Santa will drop by in August after-all!"

"Point taken," she laughed. "I'll ask one of the local security guards to keep people away from the room after I leave."

"Fine, fine," Fred told her. "But you'll need to leave the room long enough for the good doctor to get the kid back on the stretcher. I don't think he'd particularly appreciate your opinion on his particulars, and his hospital gown is wide open in the back."

"Ooh, I remember that design," Angela replied. "You looked particularly fine in it, as I recall."

"Little pitchers, big ears," Fred told her. "Please. Leave me some dignity."

Andy didn't even understand why, but he realized the banter had left him with a giant grin on his face -- which was still held upward, presumably so someone could look at his eyes. "Fine, honey," Angela replied. "I'll wait until we get private before I tell you all about it," she whispered in Andy's ears before letting go. "Doctor, would you get Andy ready to move while I do my initial examination of the other boy?"

"His name is Eric," Andy told her. "Please help him."

"I'll try, sweetie, I'll try," Angela told him softly.

As quickly as Doctor Bearnt had pulled him into position, it actually took a minute or two to get Andy back onto the stretcher. Especially since the doctor appeared to be taking special care to help maintain Andy's privacy.

Still, Andy was being wheeled out of the room long before Fred and Angela were done discussing what lead up to Andy's injuries, much less what they were going to do for Eric. Some small part of Andy suspected that it was deliberate. Actually, a lot of him suspected that the entire thing had been done deliberately for some reason.

They wheeled him into another room where it seemed like he only waited a minute before Angela showed up. "Alright honey, I just need you to keep your eyes open for me. I need to rinse your eyes out, there are still bits in there."

Andy was moved into position over what felt like a sink. "Just keep your eyes open. It might burn a little, but that's alright. If it hurts to much, just let me know," Angela reassured him.

The liquid she started pouring over his eye didn't exactly burn, but it did sting a little at first. Worse yet, he lost what little ability he'd had to make out shapes. He couldn't see a thing through the liquid running over his left eye, just a bright blue glow all over.

"This wash has antiseptic qualities, that's why it hurts," Angela explained as she pulled his eye even wider open "Turn your head down, let it drain," she ordered as she stopped pouring.

After a moment the liquid finished draining, and she let go of his face. "Go ahead and blink that eye if you want, then flip over to your other side."

A few blinks later, and Andy could see clearly again. Mostly. At least, out of his left eye. Rolling over, he let her settle him back into position.

"Holy shit!" he swore, when he realized what he was seeing. "Sorry," he added quickly.

Angela smiled, throwing her dark hair back over her shoulder. Her dress strained under the motion, clearly designed for someone with a relatively modest triple-D cup. "I'm familiar with the reaction," she smiled. "You should have heard Fred the first time I treated him."

"Oh?" Andy asked as she began pouring the liquid over his other eye.

Angela laughed. "Well, thanks to the nature of his injuries, which included some rather nasty cuts and a concussion, Fred was in no shape to hide his reaction to my figure. He was incredibly impressed, on both a personal and professional level."

"Well, they sure are big," Andy admitted. "I mean, I know I'm not supposed to really say things like this, but... wow. They're huge. Don't they hurt?"

Angela laughed again. "You have no idea. They're a real pain in the neck, and back, and shoulders. But... they're worth it for the reactions I get."

"Well, wow," Andy admitted. "Those are huge."

"Yes, aren't they," she looked over her shoulder. "And I must say, I like being able to fly."

"Fly?" Andy asked, confused, then noticed large white wings poking out from behind her. "Oh, wings!"

"Yes, wings, what did you think-" Angela's mouth closed with a loud click. "I see. Typical male. Well, Fred reacted to those too... and much more visibly, at that." Her announcement faded away with a laugh. "And I suppose it's not much of a surprise that you're reacting to it," she added as she turned him face down to drain the eye. "I pretty much shoved your face into them, didn't I?"

"Sorry," Andy admitted sheepishly. "It's just... wow. They were big. And then your wings! Wow!" Andy wondered for a moment why he was making such a big deal over her breasts. It's not like they were that big a deal. Woman had breasts, men had... well, men had hair. Hair was much nicer than breasts. It could keep you warm!

Andy blinked away the last of the liquid. "I can see much better, thank you," he smiled as he tried to sit up. "But I still can't quite see right," he added.

"I suppose not," Angela nodded, pulling a tool off a nearby bench. Andy recognized it as the thing doctor's used to examine your ears. "Just look right at me," she ordered before shining the light into his eye. Andy almost flinched away, and she gently touched his temple to calm him. "I think you're going to need to see a professional optometrist," she said after a moment, then shifted over to the other eye. "I don't see any signs of gross physical damage in either eye," she told him after a moment. "That could mean the damage is in the focusing mechanisms, or the retina itself may have been damaged somehow." She shook her head. "Alright. I've done what I can for you. Now I need to go help... Eric is his name, is it?"

Andy nodded. "Please help him!" he told her. He didn't like Eric, but... there was something just wrong about what had happened to the boy. The idea of letting something like that happen to anyone, even Eric, made his heart feel heavy.

"I'll try," she promised, "but I'm not going to make any guarantees. He's not in good shape."

"I know," Andy frowned. "It's my fault. If I hadn't given him a hard time at dinner..." Andy sniffed, wiping away a tear.

"What happened at dinner?" she asked.

"Well, Nurse Summers made him apologize, and I kinda... rubbed it in," Andy admitted. "I held out my hand, knowing Nurse Summers would make him shake it. I tried to bother him by being nice."

"Being nice?" she asked, momentarily confused. "Oooh," she said a moment later, suddenly understanding. "That's evil," she grinned. "Andy, look at me."

Andy looked up and she caught her eyes with his. It was strange, he thought, he'd never really looked at eyes before. Hers were pretty. Wide, red irises with golden flecks. Or were they blue, with green flecks? He decided a moment later that they had to be brown, with blue flecks, but then realized they were really green, with orange flecks. And the flecks! They danced and swam before his eyes.

"Andy," she said after a moment, "you didn't do anything wrong. The way you handled Eric is probably the best way anyone could have. No one knew how close to a psychotic break he was, and if we had, we would have treated him differently."

Andy wanted to look away, but the eyes held him, forcing him to match her gaze. "It's my fault," he complained, "If I hadn't done it-"

"No," she shook her head gently. "These things happen, believe that."

Andy blinked away tears. "He's lost his hand, and the docs say he probably won't live! It's my fault!"

"No it's not," she told him.

Andy tried again to turn away, and again her eyes held his captive. "Let go of me," he ordered, voice almost breaking. "It's my fault, it's my fault!"

"Cry, my little angel," she whispered. "Feel free to cry. But don't blame yourself." She blinked, and the spell was broken. Andy wrenched away from her, sobbing, and curled up in the corner.

"Go away!" he shouted, and she nodded once, gently.

"I'm going to go help Eric," she told him. "There will be a guard outside the door. If you need anything -- anything at all, even if it's just a trip to the restroom -- let him know. We'll try and make it happen." Andy watched her out of the corner of his eye as she turned and walked to the door. When she reached it, she hesitated. "You spent a lot of energy. I'd suggest that as soon as you feel up to it, you ask for something to eat. Make it comfort food of some kind. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes always makes me feel better. We'll see what we can arrange."

"Pizza?" Andy asked. Food actually sounded really good to him. Despite the tears, he was hungry.

Angela laughed. "I'll have them order a large pepperoni pizza for you, how does that sound?"

"With bell peppers and sausage?" Andy asked.

"Sure, bell peppers and sausage sounds good," she smiled over her shoulder. "Talk to you later, honey."

"Later, Miss Angela," Andy told her.

"That would be Mrs.," she told him, holding up her hand as if to point out the ring. "Mrs. Wilson, to be precise."

"Wilson?" Andy asked. "Isn't that Fred's last name?"

"Why yes, it is," she smiled. "I wasn't exactly happy with the idea of him being gone for a month or two, but when we married we both knew there would be sacrifices. Now, if you'll excuse me, I really have to get going." With that she slipped out and closed the door behind her.

Andy stayed in the corner, letting the tears drop from his eyes. After a few minutes, he wiped them dry and looked around. He hadn't really paid attention earlier, but this looked more like a lounge than a doctor's office. There was even a TV in the corner of the room.

Wandering over, he found the remote and flipped it on.

"...At St. Damien's Neurological Hospital," a blonde-haired reporter announced. "Behind me, you can see the restroom where reports say the battle began. As you can see, it looks like a war zone."

The camera panned over the restroom. Andy hadn't really paid attention to it earlier, but it was a mess. There was water, and worse, all over the dirt floor, forming a muddy mess that looked absolutely disgusting. There were holes in the walls, and rubble everywhere. The shattered piping, ceramic tiles, and iron rebar looked dangerous, and the concrete barrier he'd formed was already half collapsed. "Reports suggest that just two augments, in the space of a minute or two, successfully reduced this one pristine restroom to the state you now see," the reporter continued as the camera came back to her. "What makes this truly frightening is that only one of the children was a known augment. In fact, almost every report agrees that the first child was defending himself against the attack of the second. We haven't been able to identify the first child, but in an Action News exclusive, we are able to confirm that the second child, caught on camera, is none other than Eric Reynolds." A picture of Eric, looking like something taken at a beach, floated up to hover over her right shoulder. "If that name seems familiar to some viewers, that's because his father is none other than Senator Edward Reynolds, outspoken critic of BEST and Augments in general." Another picture rose up to hover over her left shoulder, a professional photo of a dignified man in a business suit.

"If you think the scene behind me looks bad," the reporter gestured at the restroom, "you may wish to turn off your TV. If there are any children in the room, you are recommended to remove them immediately. In another Action News exclusive, we have video from later in this conflict, after local a BEST agent attempted to intervene."

The screen faded, slowly, to black, then came back. The image quality was bad for a moment, then everything grew sharp as the words 'Computer Enhanced' appeared in the lower right hand corner.

Eric, shouting imprecations and waving his hands, or rather one hand and the bloody ruin of what used to be a hand, chased after Fred. Fred's entire body glowed silver, and his clothes hung from him like loose rags, bits and pieces floating off as he ran. Every few steps he half turned and snapped a bolt of energy off, exploding the ground near Eric. Eric finally stopped and began to twitch, slowly raising his hand.

Fred stumbled on a rock, and Eric abandoned his stand. Sprinting forward he pounced triumphantly, only to shriek as his ruined hand struck bare dirt. Fred kicked sideways with a leg as he rolled away, toppling Eric onto his side. A few steps later he slowed, clutching his side while eying Eric. To Andy's eyes, it was obvious that he'd chosen to wait, but Eric mistook it and charged after him again. Fred let him slowly close, then exploded the ground right under his feet, causing Eric to spill sideways as he lost his footing. While Eric fell, Fred threw blast after blast of silver energy at the ground a dozen feet away, dirt and stone erupting from the ground with every blast.

Andy watched, awestruck, as Fred continued the game of cat and mouse. Every time Eric paused or hesitated, Fred took the opportunity to stop and catch his breath, or he tripped, or he threw a bolt at Eric's feet to distract him. Every time Eric thought he caught up to Fred, Fred seemed to simply vanish, rolling away, jumping over the rapidly deepening hole, or otherwise evading what Andy would have sworn was certain doom.

Eventually his luck ran out, and Eric didn't fall for his tricks. Rather than pouncing on the prostrate Fred, Eric raised his ruined hand slowly. It was no longer leaking blood, but the scraps of flesh that remained couldn't be called a hand. They were just... a mangled mess that ruined Andy's resurgent appetite.

What happened next had him bent over of the sink, dry heaving. Eric's hand and arm exploded. The scene rewound, showing in slow motion his flesh ripping outward as bone shot forward, rippling in midair to form a sharp, diamond shaped wedge with what looked like a wickedly sharp edge.

Andy could probably have dealt with that, except the video showed, clearly, how a scrap of flesh got caught as the bone twisted around. Caught between the shattered pieces that merged to form the dart, it looked like it was simply encased into the rippling mass, until eventually a fine red mist exploded from the dart. The image reminded Andy, forcibly of a ripe cherry tomato exploding when you squeezed it.

The thought of flesh popping like that was enough to send him over the edge, and he ran for the sink in an effort to contain the impending mess.

Strangely for someone who'd just eaten something, very little came up. Turning on the tap, he rinsed his mouth and washed the mess down the drain.

When he turned back, he saw Eric charge in, jumping over the large pit that Fred had dug. Fred twisted away, but tripped over a branch in the process. From the way he landed, it was clear the breath had been knocked out of him. Only instinct and reflex brought his arm up in time to block Eric's furious fist, and the arm cracked loudly enough to hear it over Eric's ranting.

Andy felt his gorge rise at the sight of the arm bent in the middle like that. Arms just don't bend there. They don't. But he managed to keep it down as Fred blasted Eric, hard, in the chest.

The silver light seemed to flow away from Eric, but it still sent him flying away. Fred stumbled to his feet, cradling his injured arm.

Eric rose slowly to his feet, a large, heavy branch held in his good hand. Fred looked at the branch, then at the pit he'd dug beside Eric. With a final wave of his hand, he destroyed the dirt under Eric's feet. Instead of exploding, the silver bolt seemed to melt the dirt, and suddenly Eric slid sideways, helpless to stop his tumble into the pit.

Fred went to work, throwing blast after blast of silver light at the walls of the pit, running around it in a circle to hit a different wall each time.

Eventually, the walls collapsed. Fred looked up as if seeing the cameraman for the first time. Shouting, he tried to wave the camera off, but whoever was taking the video walked up instead.

Suddenly the video spun, and Andy could clearly hear Nurse Summers scolding voice over the audio. He couldn't make out the actual words, but she clearly wasn't happy with the person behind the camera.

Then a loud bang sent the camera spinning. It faced off towards the buildings at a crazy angle for a few moments before someone picked it up, and pointed it back at what used to be a pit.

Fred had managed to collapse the walls, and it was now more of a large divot in the lawn, with Eric trapped in dirt up to his shoulders. Unfortunately, he'd managed to get his damaged arm free, and was waving it around, shrieking. The cause of the explosion a moment ago was clear, as every time he pounded it against the dirt holding his other hand, another explosion sent dirt flying. In mere moments he had both arms free, and began to excavate himself.

Ignoring Fred's roars to get clear, Nurse Summers dove forward, sliding on her belly over the edge of the depression. She whipped her arm forward, and the small tentacle that Andy had seen the previous night whipped out. Eric managed, just barely, to catch it on his good arm, and it wrapped around the arm like a whip.

At which point the entire limb simply fell limp to the ground. With a flip of her wrist, Nurse Summers pulled her tentacle back. Andy winced as Eric pointed his ruined arm at her. A flurry of silver blasts rained down around Eric but he ignored them in favor of sending another ivory dart at Nurse Summers.

The dart, even larger this time, sliced through the air with a crack, but Nurse Summers had been moving before it fired. She bit back a scream and clutched her shoulder, which rapidly turned red as the cut bled. Eric's free hand was already beginning to tremble and move, but her tentacle had finally finished retracting. With another flip of her wrist, she sent it snapping out to hit him cleanly in the forehead. It stayed there as if glued, and Eric trembled for a moment before finally falling limp.

"These extraordinary events took place at St. Damien's less than two hours ago," a different reporter came back on. "We'll bring you more on this incredible story as it develops. In the meantime, a word from our sponsors."

Behind Andy the door opened, and he glanced over his shoulder to watch the reporter and her camera man walk in. "I see you've been watching the news," she smiled at him.

"I... I..." Andy glanced over at the TV, where commercials were now playing. He felt incredibly off balance, between shock at watching the fight, sadness at what had happened to Eric, and just plain feeling sick over what he'd seen.

"Mind turning the TV off?" the reporter asked.

"Sure," Andy responded, fumbling with the remote. Turning the TV off, he turned to look at her. "Um... Hi. I'm Andy."

"Hello Andy, I'm Jessica Purcell," she smiled broadly. "What's your full name?"

"Andrew Loyd Webster," he replied automatically, almost happy over the distraction from what was going on. "Pleased to meet you," he stuck out his hand.

"What a pleasure to meet such a cultured young gentlemen," she smiled. "Tell me, would you mind talking to me?"

Andy tried to think of a polite way to decline, but nothing really came to mind. You can't just say 'no' to adults, after all. "Not at all, ma'am," he finally said.

"Ma'am, even," she pressed a hand over her heart. "How polite you are. Did they teach you at BEST camp?"

"No, my mom would tan my hide if I was rude to a lady," Andy told her.

"So you still respect your mother?" she asked. "Even though you're an augment, I mean."

Andy laughed. "She's my mother," he protested. "She'd slap me silly if I tried to back talk to her."

"But surely now that you're an augment, you could defend yourself," Jessica pointed out. "Or is your mother an augment too?"

Andy cocked his head sideways and tried to figure out how to explain this. "She's not an augment, and... It doesn't matter that I could put my mother through the nearest wall," he said slowly, as if talking to an idiot. "She's still my mother. That's all she needs to be."

"I see," Jessica smiled. "So you aren't afraid of her either?"

Andy laughed, completely forgetting what was going on with Eric. This woman was stupid! "I love my mother! Oh, she can be a bit crabby at times, and I really don't want to tick her off, but I wouldn't say I'm afraid of her! Not like that!"

"You said that being your mother was 'all she needs to be'; did they teach you that at BEST?" Jessica jumped to a different tack.

"I was barely at BEST for a week," Andy told her, almost dismissively. "They didn't really have time to teach me a lot, and most of that was stuff like teaching me that I could hurt people if I was careless. Contain and vent, contain and vent. That and try to teach me to use my new powers."

"Contain and vent?" she asked.

"It's something they drill into you," Andy told her. "If you get angry or upset, and your power tries to react, you're supposed to contain it, take it outside, and then vent it on things. The ground, the air, try to avoid property damage and definitely avoid hurting people. That's what they spent most of their time teaching me. There was probably more, but it had to be cut short to bring me here."

"Why are you here?" Jessica asked.

"I've got some kind of nerve disease," Andy shrugged. "Until recently, I had to use a cane or crutches to walk around. Well, actually, I was in a wheelchair at the end. I couldn't even walk. The doctors here are patching me up."

"Wheelchair? Crutches? Cane?" Jessica fired off. "You certainly don't seem to need them now."

"No," Andy smiled. "The docs are patching me up. Last night, one of them touched me, well, just kinda took my hand. And... well, wham! I could walk again!"

"Just like that," She smiled. "You must be pretty happy to be here."

"I am," Andy told her. "I'm not sure how much longer I'll be here. Supposedly I need to stick around until they finish healing me, last night all they did was heal the damage, they didn't stop it from coming back."

"So this is a long term care facility for you?" she asked.

"Yeah," Andy nodded.

"And the Eric boy?" she asked gently.

Andy fell back in his seat, shoulders slumping. "It's all my fault," he said, feeling the tears coming back.

"How so?" Jessica asked.

Andy almost didn't want to explain it again. "Well, we kinda got in a fight earlier today," he tried to explain it in as few words as possible. "He got in trouble for starting it, actually. Anyway, Nurse Summers made him apologize for the fight, and I tried to make nice. That's... what's what made all this happen."

"How?" Jessica asked, concerned. She reached out and took Andy's hand in hers. "How did 'making nice' cause this?"

Andy sniffed and wiped away another tear. "He didn't like it. He didn't want to make nice, so everything I did just... made him more angry. I think that's why he went crazy."

"'Went crazy'?" she asked.

Andy nodded. "Yeah. I ran into him in the restroom, and he... he thought I was chasing him. He started talking about how I was being naughty, and naughty puppies had to be punished."

"'Naughty puppies'?" she asked.

Andy shrugged. "I don't know why he said that. I don't think..." Andy struggled with the concept. "It's like he was somewhere else. Something else was going on, that only he could see. It wasn't just that he thought of me as an animal, there was something more."

"Animal?" Jessica asked, "You? A nice young boy like you is a gentlemen, not an animal."

Andy shook his head. "I think his father taught him that. Augments... we aren't really people to him. We're like cows or horses or something. Animals with a job."

"Well, that doesn't sound nice," Jessica smiled. "Go on, tell me what happened."

"He grabbed a hammer," Andy's eyes lost focus, and all he could see was his memory of Eric's slow, deadly approach. "He kept swinging it back and forth, he was enjoying it."

The woman didn't interrupt much as Andy described the fight. "That's when I fa- I mean, that's when I passed out," Andy finished.

"That must have been horrifying," Jessica told him. "How do you feel about it?"

"I... I..." Andy couldn't fight back the tears. "It's my fault he's going to die," he managed to force out. "I wish I could change it. I'd give anything to take it back."

"Here," Jessica handed him a tissue. "Take some time, compose yourself."

"Thank you," Andy wiped his face and blew his nose.

"You said he was going to die," Jessica prompted him. "Why? I was told they managed to capture him alive."

"The docs said something about augmentation sickness," Andy told her. "I heard a little bit about that at BEST. Really strong augments sometimes get sick after first using their powers. I think that, plus the damage he did to his hand, is the problem." Andy hesitated. There was something more. "Oh. Yeah. That's just the stuff tonight. The docs said he might live through that, but in the long run he's probably going to die anyway. Apparently because he went crazy, they don't think he'll live." Andy thought about it, and couldn't understand why. "I think it has something to do with some of his powers, but I honestly don't know what."

"Well, you're very well informed," Jessica smiled. "Tell me-"

The door behind Jessica banged open, and Angela came storming through, Fred right behind her. "This interview is over" Fred snarled.

"Interviewing a child, without parental consent!" Angela sneered. "You should be ashamed of yourself! Get out!"

Jessica leaned back in her chair. "Turn the camera off, this conversation is completely off the record," she ordered her camera man before turning the chair to face Fred. "I assume that by now you are aware that I know exactly who the second child is," she said calmly. "I also assume that you desperately need to know how my channel came by that information." Andy got up and walked over to stand between Fred and Angela, both of whom put their hands on his shoulders and pulled him back so he stood behind them.

"As a matter of fact, yes," Fred told her. "Those names were not released for public consumption, to protect the children involved."

Jessica smiled. "You might also be interested to know that I have a report stating that the Reynolds child was diagnosed with severe manic depressive disorder, accompanied by paranoia and indicators of a possible impending psychotic break."

"I want those records," Fred snarled. "And how exactly did you come by them?"

"I'm not done," Jessica told him. "I'm here because I have several sources. The data getting fed to the station didn't match what I'd already put together. As a result, my bosses decided to let me be the woman on the scene. This can make my career for me. You want my information, I want a quid pro quo. The interview with Andy gave me a lot. I want your side, Agents. I want to hear about BEST policy in these cases and how you limit damage caused."

"And in return for all this?" Angela asked.

Jessica smiled. "Full reverse disclosure," she mouthed each syllable as if tasting them. "You'll get all my records, including how we got them, and you'll get them without spending months tied up in court over journalistic integrity. I got the manager to agree. In return, we get the exclusive on this story. You'll want that, because we intend to crucify the Church of Purity."

"And why exactly would you do that?" Angela asked.

"Oh that's easy," Jessica smiled. This wasn't like the smiles she'd been sending Andy's way from the beginning of the interview. This one was scary. "My sources are quite good. Even my manager admits that. And my sources contradict, almost line for line, what the Church of Purity is funneling our way, both directly and through the Senator's office. We don't like being lied to."

Fred and Angela took a long look at each other. "Certain details are not for public consumption," Fred said eventually. "Not the actual news stuff. Details that aren't in and of themselves newsworthy. Bits and pieces."

"I won't ask you to reveal classified material," Jessica offered. "But anything that's not classified, I want. And the stuff that is rated as secret, I want your word that you'll try to get it released anyway. Not the stuff that should be secret. Just the stuff that's being held as confidential just to hold it as confidential."

Fred and Angela shared another long look. "We'll have to talk to our superiors," Fred said at last.

"We'll recommend they take the deal," Angela agreed. "But I guarantee you that they'll want to see proof that you intend to... what was it you said... 'crucify the CoP'?"

Jessica smiled. "Release the interview I just did," she offered. "It's already at the station, cut and ready for release. All I need is your go ahead to air it. It'll happen sooner or later, but both sides need a show of good faith token here, and once I give you my information, I won't hold any cards anymore."

"And how exactly does that provide a 'show of good faith'?" Fred asked.

"Honey, I think she wants us to watch the interview with her," Angela told him.

"Oh, is that all," Fred commented. "In that case... Andy. Your interview. Your call. Do you think this interview is a good idea?"

"I... I don't know," Andy complained.

"Andrew," Jessica said, leaning forward. "Think about how you described your mother. You said you love her. You trust her. She's your mother. Think about the words you used. Do you really think we can hurt you with those words?"

Andy smiled. "If you air the part about mom, she'll love it," he agreed.

"That's not my point," Jessica shook her head. "Is there any way -- any way -- to make that look bad?"

"No," Andy said firmly, understanding. "There are parts of that that can't go bad," he told Fred. "I talked about Mom, about how BEST taught me control. You talk about 'good press' all the time. It'll be good press."

Fred and Angela shared another look. "The boy agrees," Angela sighed. "But Andy, you'll need to say it outright. It's your permission to give, not ours."

Andy smiled, and then looked at Jessica. "Show it," he told her.

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