“Okay, I got some good news and some bad news. Question is, do you want me to tell you by yourself, or share it with Peach and Keisha?”
Seung blinked at Doctor Alexander. The painkiller was starting to take the sharp edges off. He thought he’d have a twenty-minute window of sense before it really kicked in and put him back to sleep. For several days now, he was on a teeter-totter between too much and too little medication. The doctor said his liver was knocking it down faster than normal. A lot faster.
“You mean, tell them or not?” Seung said through the fog.
“Yes,” Doctor Alexander said shortly. “It’s your rights.”
Seung didn’t let anybody else into his personal business since he was about twelve. But when he opened his mouth to say one thing, he heard himself say something else completely. “Want Keisha to hear.”
“Peach is okay too. Small words, simple.”
Doctor Alexander waited until Peach and Keisha came out of the restroom. Peach steadied Keisha, who was having headaches bad enough to make her dizzy. Doctor Alexander had talked to them about maybe treating her for a sinus infection. Keisha settled onto the gurney, making a grim face. She complained, once, that her hipbones hurt from the thin bedding. She was a woman, dammit, she had a big old pelvis to haul around. Seung worried about her hipbones, when he had a brain. He liked her hipbones as they were. Peach, too, winced sometimes when she turned onto her side, squeezing in on the gurneys next to them.
“Look like you got a hairball, doctor,” Keisha managed a little smile. She concentrated when Alexander was working with any of them, no matter how crummy she was feeling.
“Well, we thought you two ought to hear this too,” the doctor said. “I’ve got some of the blood work results back from our specialty zoomorph lab. Seung’s doing fine getting over the infection from that metal pin stuck in his back. Now, as I told you last night, we can’t get an Xray to work on him, same as Dance. I checked his reflexes and manipulated his spine this morning when we redid the bandaging–” he nods when Seung makes a sour face. “I really don’t think he’ll have any lasting neurological damage from it. I don’t get any impression of bone fragments to worry about. He might have soft tissue scar tissue and develop reactions like arthritis in later life, but I think it ought to be healthy for a long time. Now, on some of the other things, we don’t have answers yet. They’re still waiting on the DNA sequencing.”
“Who’s they?” Keisha asked.
“The horse farm lab prepared the samples and sent them off to some of their military buddies. I understand the military lab has been studying the zoomorphs for oh, twenty years now. We always send the difficult stuff to them, plus they have better security. Don’t worry about them doing crazy stuff like detaining either of our boys here. I’ve talked to them many times before. They want Dance down here living quiet with other zoomorphs, learning what he can do. Now it’s the same for Seung. They don’t want either of these guys getting provoked or chased around. Now, whether they’ll step in and send some damn troops and help us keep the bug labs cleared away out here, that’s a different problem.”
Keisha frowned. Alexander held up a stern finger and kept talking. “Turns out all of Dance’s different parts are all him. One guy, not Frankenstein. The lab who made him did the stitching at a genetic level.” He looked at Peach. “Dance’s different parts get along fine. We don’t know how they did that. It could really help other people who have problems, if we learned that.”
Doctor Alexander nodded back. “Nobody knows how they did that, or how that works. Just for that one thing, Seung and Dance are…valuable resources. We don’t know for sure about Seung yet, but we’ll find out. Anyway, the lab guys are working on identifying Seung’s tissues, and figuring out if Dance and Seung are different. The early gel electrophoresis shows they’re very close, but not identical. I mentioned the military folks wanting things kept quiet, that’s the first big reason.”
Keisha was just staring at the doctor. Seung couldn’t tell if she understood it all. “Not twins?”
“Not identical. Fraternal, maybe.” Doctor Alexander waved one hand impatiently. “One reason we know how Dance grew out is that Emma took pictures and measured him through it. He grew out at a faster rate than any snake we know about. Seung’s tail is growing out at a rate faster than Dance’s did at the same stage. Since Dance had problems with bone growing pain and hurting new raw skin as it was shedding, we’ll have pain meds in case Seung needs them. I’ve got in an order of topical cortisone cream to ease the pain levels if Seung reacts in the same way. We can go to shots if it gets worse. I’m not assuming that you two are the same, but just in case. Do you want me to show you file pictures on what Dance’s scales look like under a microscope and what they can do?”
Seung glanced at Keisha, helplessly. He barely understood half of the words, and putting them together was more than he can manage.
“I thought they were just scales, like a gator, or a cayman,” Keisha said, frowning.
“No. Oh no. Now, Seung hasn’t been feeling good enough to go into details, and Dance is always careful not to scare anybody around this place, but there’s stuff that maybe can get out of hand. Dance’s scales can manage light. They change color and become virtually invisible to infrared sensors. That thing can disappear.” Doctor Alexander shook his head. “From what I’ve been able to see of the larger scales at the base of Seung’s tail, his are the same or close to it. Dance’s scales can throw coherent light–laser light. That collar thing around his neck has scales too. It can generate focused laser light. He shoots bugs with it. That unfolds, it’s huge, got struts, he can actually glide on it as a parasail. The thing can stand up into a band shell for directing the noise when he shouts. That’s completely lab-built, I don’t know of any animal like that.”
Keisha frowned, looking at Seung. “That’s what you saw?”
Seung gave a tight little nod. He’d thought the other man was turning into a helicopter or something. He remembered the tail turning colors, too. Blinding him. He tried to tell Keisha that first night, warn her, but he didn’t have enough words. She said she expected weird stuff when she saw Dance the first time, but it nearly gave her a heart attack to wake up and see him sitting there in a chair near the gurneys, reading some kind of sheet music and humming while his tailtip was conducting it–and arguing with him, in gestures. Enough to give anybody a heart attack.
Doctor Alexander nodded. “Dance grew out other snake parts too. He can adjust the chemistry in his venom sacs. He makes different kinds of drugs against infections and deficiencies, injects a sort of anti-venom. Seung, you gave me that tooth that fell out this morning? Some of Dance’s teeth fell out to make room for his fangs. Looks like it’s the same premolar as his were.”
“Fangs?” Seung said.
Alexander nodded, watching Keisha, not Seung. “Two of them about an inch and three quarters long, midway back along the upper palate.”
“Like mine?” Peach said, baring her front teeth and pointing. Seung blinked. He didn’t remember her fangs being that large, and he’s been kissing her past them.
“Yeah, sweetie, except these teeth fold up, and yours don’t.” Alexander made hinge gestures.
Peach leaned down, peering at Seung, and she put her hand on his lip, happily asking him to open his mouth.
Seung opened his mouth.
Peach stuck her fingers in his mouth, poking around gently, feeling upward with the pads of her fingers. “Oooh, there it is–pull,” she commanded him.
“Careful, don’t get your nose too close in there–” Doctor Alexander said.
“Yes!” Peach said triumphantly, and held out her hand. One fingertip had a little nick on it, and blood welled out of it. “Seung got fangs! Cool!” And she grabbed Keisha’s hand. “See–feel–”
Keisha looked into Seung’s eyes. Then she put the bruised, meaty base of her thumb into his mouth, pushing. “Bite,” she said. “If Dance can heal people, so can you. Fix this sinus infection for me, that’d help a lot.”
Seung made a guttural noise in his throat, protesting.
“I’ve been hearing stories about Dance,” Keisha said, and nodded. “Give it a good hard push, the rest oughta take care of itself.”
Seung closed his eyes, shoved his head forward, pushed his mouth onto her hand, and nothing happened.
Then she popped her other hand on his jaw, a good hard noisy slap.
He felt something click, snap, and thump in his head. He jerked under the force of it, three times. It hurt. Keisha gave a yell too. Then he was tasting blood in his mouth, impossible to tell whose it was. He jerked upward frantically, dragging something up out of the meat of her hand, and then she was free of his grip, gasping.
Seung found himself lying flopped over to one side, hanging onto the gurney, panting. “Sick!”
Peach leaped for a trashcan, and held it for him as he gagged. She patted him. “Keisha get better now,” Peach told him.
He felt their hands supporting him when he finally fell back into the bedding. “Uh uh uh,” he heard himself panting.
“Better?” Keisha said, looking at him. Her hand was bleeding. There were holes in it. Seung pawed frantically, lifted her wrist, turned her hand to see it.
“Oh, don’t you worry, I’m all good now you fixed me up,” she told him.
Seung made a desperate little whine in his throat, unable to find any words at all. He reached out toward the doctor, gestured wildly, unable to reach far enough.
Keisha grabbed his head in both hands. “Look at me,” she said.
He panted, looking.
“You did exactly what I told you,” Keisha said. Her eyes were very big and dark and fierce, a little frightened, a little tired.
He gave another murmur in his throat, unable to stop himself.
She jerked his head slightly, determined. “Look at me,” Keisha said.
He blinked, and watched her.
“You see I’m okay,” Keisha said.
He nodded a little bit.
“That’s good. That’s what I wanted you to do. I’m gonna ask you to bite me again tomorrow. I want you to trust me it’s gonna be okay. Better than okay.”
Seung blinked, squinted, took in deep breaths. “Okay,” he said, hoarsely.
She smiled. “Maybe in a different spot next time.” And she leaned in and licked the side of his face, licking away the smear of blood she left like a thumbprint on him.
“Why?” Seung gasped.
“We gotta clear out those baby venom sacs nice and clean, so they don’t swell up and get infected. And if you know it’s me, it’s gonna be good sweet stuff coming out of you, nobody needs to worry.” Devious woman!
She grinned over at Alexander then. “Think we got it worked out now, oughta be easier next time.”
Doctor Alexander looked a little pale. But he nodded, and he said to Seung, “You got a good taste of her there. You might need to bite her tomorrow too, just to be sure you gave her immune system enough boost.”
“Bandage?” Seung said, worried, frustrated, and touched Keisha’s wrist again.
“Oh yes, if Keisha would like to wash her hands first, we will proceed to bandage her up even more,” Doctor Alexander said.
“Don’t cry,” Peach said, while they were busy, and she hugged him. Seung hugged her very hard, until she squeaked.
Keisha turned from the sink. “We ain’t done yet, Seung, you know that. But we’ll pick it up tomorrow, same time.”
“Same bat channel!” Peach said, and giggled, and yelped when Seung swatted her on the butt. But even her laughter couldn’t keep him awake after that.