Kismet watched Dame Danger fidget on the floor with a partially dissected piece of technology she’d been given as a gift from Japan’s new leadership, uncomprehending. When the jet had landed, in a moment of terror and confusion, their powers has all slipped away. The entire island nation had been blanketed with Dr. Destructo’s nullifiers.
“If you die with one of those implants, when you come back, is that still… you?” Jessica had asked Raine when she had taken Adam’s backup to be installed in his new body as it grew. “I mean, you have the same memories, but all the neural connections… it’s not just your memories, is it?”
“It doesn’t just store memories,” Raine had reassured the young tinker. “It creates a full backup while you sleep so you can retain any skills you learn.”
Something about that still bothered Kismet. Nobody really knew what the mechanism was for metahuman abilities. If it was biological, they might not transfer over to a new body, and you could lose them forever. At the same time, if it was biological, you could deliberately move yourself into a body that’s a clone of a powerful hero or villain and maybe gain their abilities.
But if they did transfer over, was that possibility really any less worrying?
Dame Danger growled in frustration and pushed the circular white disk away from her.
“I wish we could go out and explore,” she said. “I can’t believe they’re keeping us locked up in here.”
“I can guarantee we would get lost,” Kismet said half-heartedly.
“Yeah but that would at least be interesting!” Jessica countered. “My brain feels totally numb.”
Kismet looked up, then nodded. She leaned towards Jessica.
“So, how much do you still know?” Kismet asked. “If you learn something through your power, do you keep that?”
“I think so,” Dame Danger said. “I still remember how all my tech works. I think I could probably recreate something I’ve already made? I just, couldn’t make anything new.”
“So you’re still smarter than me,” Kismet said.
The younger girl smiled. “Thanks. It still feels weird though. When I look at a piece of tech I can usually just tell how it works, like reading a sign. It’s hard to look at it and not read the words, even if they’re in a different language or I don’t understand what they mean right away.”
“So now it’s like you can’t read,” Kismet said, and Jessica nodded. “I can see how that would be annoying. For me it feels more like there’s a few seconds of lag between when I decide to do something and when it actually happens. I’m just… slow.”
“That’s rough,” Jessica said.
Kismet hesitated for a moment before asking the question burning in her mind. “Have you ever looked at the Nullifier?”
“I-” Jessica paused and looked away, abashed. “Yeah. Dr. Mind always said he couldn’t understand it but I was desperate to find my specialty. I was trying everything.”
“It didn’t make any sense!” she said, throwing out her arms in exasperation. “It was so simple. There were no advanced components at all, just… shapes. It looked like one of those fake infinite energy machines.”
“Huh,” Kismet said. She furrowed her brow. “
“I was thinking maybe it’s psychosomatic or something, but it still works when you don’t know it’s there.”
“So that means it’s not a placebo?” Kismet said.
“Huh. I wonder what’ll happen if they turn all of ’em off here.”
“You think they will?”
“I dunno. I’m not sure it would be a good idea.”
They lapsed into sober silence.
“What even is this place?” Kismet asked, gesturing at the blank white walls. “A hotel?”
“Huh?” Jessica said. “No, it’s a hospital. Or something. They can grow you a whole new body here.”
“Hm. Makes sense.” Kismet sighed. “I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that they can do that.”
“Seriously,” the tinker agreed. “It’s like something out of cyberpunk. I think it was Altered Carbon or something.”
“Oh yeah, I heard about that show.”
“I meant the book, but same concept.”
“So would you do it?”
“Uh,” Jessica said. “I dunno.” She stood up and sat down on the other bed. “I think I probably would, to be honest. Local backups only, though, and that is one EULA I would read all the way through. How about you?”
“I really don’t know. Like, the idea is cool, but it’s also kinda gross, you know?” Kismet said. “It makes you wonder like, how much would a new body cost? Probably hecka expensive, right? ‘Cause nobody’s going to decide not to buy one if they can just because it’s too expensive. But then what if it is too expensive? Will only poor people die?”
“Oh yeah.” Dame Danger looked thoughtful. “Plus overpopulation is already an issue, and if people keep having kids, things will get really bad really fast. There’s an easy solution to that one though!” She grinned. “Let’s colonize space!”
“An easy solution?” Kismet laughed.
“Sure, why not? I bet we could do it at this point. Just get a whole bunch of tinkers together and give them us each a million dollars when we solve it. Boom, done.”
“I notice you included yourself in that.”
“Heck yeah! It was my idea!” Dame Danger kicked her feet. “but you’re right. It could be really cool, but it could also get really bad.” She shot Kismet a sly look. “We’ll just have to make sure it doesn’t.”
“Hell yeah!” Kismet agreed.
The next day, the team was gathered back together. Eve and Lilith sat apart from the others, talking softly with one another, while the others were less subdued.
Raine entered the waiting room and the conversation died off almost immediately. She swept her gaze around the room, and her eyes lingered on Eve. Her face locked into a neutral expression and she looked away. Eve clenched her eyes and turned her head to face towards a wall.
“You’ve all been very patient so I’ll jump straight to the good news,” Raine said. “Your friend is doing fine. I’m told he finished installing last night, so should be waking up a few minutes.”
A cheer went up from the collected teens.
“His c-stack had schema for most of his nonstandard augs, and his sisters were able to provide the rest. They decided to exclude a few of the more… questionable ones, and some needed upgrades, so he should be better than new.”
“That’s some crazy stuff,” Legion said with a huge grin. “Pretty soon I won’t be the only one on the team who’s died.”
“Dude,” groaned Jet with a grimace.
“What? It’s true. Seriously, you should all see if you can get one of those things installed.” He made a motion like he was plugging a cord into the back of his head. “It’s super cool.”
“I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than that,” Plateau said skeptically. “Look what happened here,” he turned to Raine. “No offense.”
“None taken,” she said. “You’re right, though. It has brought us great hardship, but now that we have it, we can’t take it away. That would be murder,” she sighed. “There’s was a group here once that thought that immortality devalues human life, that a thing can only be beautiful if it is fleeting. A very traditional notion.”
“Was?” asked Jessica.
“By their own metric, I suppose, they were beautiful,” Raine said, eyes distant. “We have a long road ahead of us to restore our culture.”
“I’m sorry,” Eve said quietly, eyes downturned. The others shifted uncomfortably and gave each other uncertain glances. Even Raine seemed at a loss for what to say. Lilith put a comforting arm around her and pulled her close.
“No,” Lilith said. “You don’t have to be sorry. None of what that narcissistic asswipe did was your fault.” Lilith’s brow furrowed with anger. “You are awesome and beautiful and strong. Remember that.” Eve hugged her sister and buried her face in Lilith’s shirt. “Don’t you ever be sorry.”
The door opened again, just a crack, and every head in the room turned to look with bated breath. Eve sniffled but stared with wide eyes. A moment later, Adam entered.
He looked exactly the same. He saw his friends gathered around the room, and his sisters with light in their eyes. He gave a tentative smile and a wave.
“Hi,” he said.