“If you think you can do it, I’m all for it,” I said.
Alex grinned. “Trust me. I’ve seen worse, and it worked out. Now, can you take off your glove?”
I thought about it, checking my HUD for alerts. There weren’t any left. “Assuming the repair systems worked, yes.”
I used my right glove to set the left gauntlet to split and be absorbed into the left forearm. It worked. That didn’t surprise me and it shouldn’t have. It wasn’t the first time I’d tried it after all, but it was the first time I’d tried it after the suit took massive damage.
“Oh,” Haley said, staring at my hand.
Amy eyed it coolly. “That’s bad. I got a few burns like it when we fought aliens, last spring.”
I let my eyes move from the suit’s forearms to my actual hand. It looked terrible. The skin was wrinkled and gray, and made me think of grilled meat. It looked a little browner around the joints, and a little pinker on the top where I thought I might be able to feel something.
I might have been deluding myself.
Alex shook his head. “I guess it’s a good thing we spent the summer putting on muscle. I’m going to be pulling material from your arm, and also from stored fat. Your hand will be a little weaker than you’re used to when I’m done, but that will change over time. Ready?”
“Great,” he said, and my hand began to tingle. A moment later, it felt good, but a little painful at the same time, a little like it might after hard exercise. Alex wasn’t finished though. Both the pain and the pleasure continued, but it didn’t stay constant. It felt like it started at my wrist, slowly moving toward my fingers.
At first my hand didn’t visibly change. Then the skin began to crack and flake off, the gray skin beginning to get a little color at first, but then growing dry and starting to itch.
I gave Alex a sidelong glance. “May I touch it?”
He held up his hand to stop me from talking, and said, “Not yet. I’m not done.”
His mouth a flat line, eyes staring at my arm or maybe at everything inside it, Alex was more serious than I’d ever seen him.
I let him work. A few minutes later, I had a working hand. It looked just like it had except a little more pink. It felt a little sore.
When Alex said, “You’re done,” I set the glove to reform around my hand.
“Good idea. Tomorrow you’ll want to put on sunblock unless you want a sunburn, and you’ll want to keep it up for a while. Oh, and one more thing. You don’t have fingerprints on that hand.”
“Oh,” I said.
“No kidding?” Lee grinned. “I know people who would pay good money for that.”
Alex met his eyes. “How much?”
“Four, or five figures, but it’s got to be both hands.”
Laughing, Alex said, “I’m sure all these guys are totally legit and no one would get in trouble at all.”
“You bet,” Lee said. “Not if you didn’t get caught anyway.”
Half an hour later, I’d parked the van back in the garage and we were inside the foothill. Daniel and the others had moved everyone in to one of the complex’s big conference rooms. Most of the people had been woken up by then, and either sat in the conference room, talking quietly with each other, or had left for their own rooms.
As for myself, I was talking with Daniel near one of the corners. I wore only a stealth suit, having left the Rocket suit back in the van. Hunter and Adam lay on the floor unconscious next to a cart covered with plastic chairs.
“So we’ve got them,” I said. “What did you find out?”
Daniel frowned. “I found out that we’ve got nothing. Hunter was duped. He liked Adam and trusted him, and when Artaxus took over the show he was mind controlled.”
“That figures,” I said. “Well, at least we’ve got Adam. We can find some answers there… And now you’re looking at me in a way that’s making me nervous.”
“Me too,” Haley had been talking (separately) to Camille and then Travis, but she’d walked around the chair cart just then. Or so I assumed. Her ability to sneak up without me noticing had always been unnerving.
“About that,” Daniel said. “Adam’s not Adam. That’s actually–”
“Courtney.” Haley said. She’d sniffed the air as he’d said, “Adam’s not Adam.”
I shook my head. “That’s not possible. I saw them both at the same time more than once. She couldn’t have been him all the time. What happened?”
Daniel shrugged. “Pretty much the same thing as Hunter. She wasn’t deliberately helping Adam like he was, but she was close when he left. Artaxus made her believe she was Adam and change shape. And no, you didn’t interact with her at all. She never went down where you were held. She spent the whole time up here working for Artaxus.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. Well, at least I hadn’t ended up fighting her.