Dr. Knight paced back and forth in the infirmary going over her peculiar patient’s medical history. The patient was due in a few minutes, and hers was a vexing case. The good doctor was accustomed to treating injuries and illnesses both mundane and magical. She was not accustomed to treating victims of permanent grafting by malicious, parasitic spiritual entities. Few such victims, which the shapeshifters referred to as Fomori, were sane enough to be treated rather than mercifully euthanized. Fewer still would seek out a remote Chantry full of Tradition Mages looking for help. The particulars of the girl’s condition required a wide range of expertise as well as no little sorcerous skill for there to be any hope of real progress. Fortunately, Christi Knight had both. This was to be the most in depth physical that she had given her patient thus far, and would help set the course for the patient’s ongoing treatments.
There was a light rapping on the door and Dr. Knight called out, “Enter” without immediately looking up from her file. She heard the slight creak of the door opening and saw her patient’s arrival out of the corner of her eye.
“Good evening Miss Lee. Please take a seat,” Christi looked up and smiled brightly to Linda, and could not help but detect the aura of palpable misery that seemed to hang over the pretty yet mousy young woman. That was nothing new though; it was a symptom of the parasitic Bane’s presence.
“Thank ya Doc,” Linda half-whispered, “Ah’m powerful appreciative’a your takin’ me on as a patient. You’re th’only doctor Ah’ve been able ta see since ah became… what Ah am.” She then took a seat and removed the heavy duster that she habitually draped across her thin shoulders like a cape.
“That’s not strictly true, Linda… you’re forgetting Aya,” Christi reminded her.
“Nah, Ah ain’t forgettin’ her… but she’s an ER doc. Massive trauma, gunshots an’ the like. She’s fine f’r patchin’ me up in a hurry if Ah need a hand with that… but you’re the one can help with what really ails me.”
“Linda, we’ve already had that conversation: I don’t know of any cures for your condition that aren’t lethal in and of themselves. That thing’s got its hooks in your Pattern so deep that yanking it out would kill you,” Christi felt bad saying it, but she didn’t want to give Linda false hope.
Linda shook her head, “Ah’m not askin’ ya to… Ah’m only askin’ f’r help managin’ mah condition. Ah’m not ready t’die jus’ yet.”
Christi hmmmed and proceeded to get down to business, quickly collecting Linda’s vital signs and biometrics, nodding to herself and discussing the details with Linda briefly.
“You’ve gained a few pounds since your last physical, but you’re still underweight,” she observed. “Have you been following the diet and taking the supplements I recommended?”
“Yes’m,” Linda murmured. “Ever’ day. An’ followin’ the fitness regimen that ya recommended ah have Jon an’ Taka set f’r me.”
“Good,” Dr. Knight responded, “Because that accelerated cellular regeneration of yours is a mixed blessing if I ever saw one. It leeches minerals and nutrients from your other systems continuously to fight off the toxicity that’s also constantly attacking your system as well as anything else that needs healing. You may be basically immune to most diseases and able to shrug off gunshot wounds, but you’re also at constant risk of malnutrition. If you’re not careful, you’ll get osteoporosis, anemia and more. Your supernatural metabolism and immune systems are phenomenally tough, but they’ve also left you terribly fragile. How’s your appetite?”
“Still don’t got no appetite, but Ah’m followin’ doctor’s orders,” Linda responded with her eyes downcast. “Half’a th’time Ah cain’t really even tell ah’m hungry till ah start t’get th’shakes.” She shrugged ineffectually.
“Keep following the schedule, and you should be able to reach a healthy body weight. Okay, now take that glorified pocketwatch out, turn it off and remove your shirt. I’m going to need to examine you more fully, and can’t have Strago’s toy interfering.”
Linda fished out a rounded piece of equipment that looked something like a pocket watch with a transparent clamshell top. She popped it open and deactivated it, set it down on top of her bundled overcoat and disrobed. After a couple of furtive looks towards the door, Linda allowed her body to assume its default form. Her fingers sprouted huge and vicious black talons in place of fingernails, and mottled patches of scales erupted on her skin in various places, including a bit on her cheek and neck. A pair of multi-jointed arms burst out of her back, uncoiling and then arcing up into a resting position that was vaguely reminiscent of either wings or a pair of cobras reared up to strike.
After weighing her again to note the difference in her weight once she had shifted forms (a gigantic middle finger to the foundations of the Technocratic Paradigm, Christi thought with a certain grim satisfaction), Dr. Knight proceeded to examine Linda with a practiced eye, speaking softly to her once in a while and asking questions about tenderness or irritation. Linda admitted to her that retracting and concealing her various anatomical abnormalities, while something she did quite regularly, was physically uncomfortable.
“Mmmm,” Christi acknowledged Linda’s explanation while the doctor inspected the secondary arms from behind. “Retract the arms please, and slowly.” Linda complied, though she shuddered a bit during the process. It was always easier to just do it quickly, like ripping off a Band-Aid or jumping into a cold pool. Once they had been withdrawn into her back, the only immediately obvious external sign that they had ever been there was a pair of nasty scars along her shoulder blades. Christi kneaded the flesh along Linda’s shoulders with strong and expert fingers, poking and examining closely, extending her magical perceptions into the mutated creature’s body. “Your shoulder muscles really don’t like these being retracted, do they? There’s a lot of tension and tissue strain in here. Does it take constant effort to keep them in?”
“Jus’ ‘bout,” Linda replied softly. “After ah learned ah could pull ‘em back in at all, it took me a couple’a months ‘fore Ah could train mahself t’sleep with ‘em pulled in. Usedta be, they’d just rip out once mah body started ta relax.”
“Interesting. Please extrude them again, but as slowly as you can. I need to see the process a little more closely,” Christi instructed her and kept her hands pressed against Linda’s muscles as the arms emerged from their fleshy sheaths again. Christi adjusted her fingers as she went, pressing in and feeling with her extended awareness the way that the muscles and bones twisted and reshaped themselves. At some point soon, she’d want Professor Strange to rig up a device to scan and record the details of the transformation for in depth study, but today’s observation would help Christi come to him with an informed explanation of her needs so she could rein in his more fanciful ideas – and prevent him from installing some sort of gratuitous death ray. That scan would need an overlaid analysis of Linda’s spiritual components throughout as well, she reminded herself.
That completed, Christi returned to Linda’s front and took her original right hand by the wrist, turning it over and smoothing her fingers along it and her forearm, checking this part of her body for healing and minute injuries. “It’s interesting that your regenerative abilities don’t extend to repairing scars that predate your possession,” the Doctor said evenly. Linda’s arms were a network of track marks and scarring: burns from cigarettes and lighters as well as what must have been a variety of injuries resulting from torture… and self-harm. Christi could almost certainly remove the scars, but Linda had bigger problems than that.
“How long have you been clean now, Linda?” Christi asked with a quirked brow.
“Mebbe four months b’fore Ah came here t’Overwatch,” Linda murmured.
“No ma’am… th’ episode that ended then was a relapse itself. Ah’ve quit a couple’a times inna past.”
Christi drew a sample of Linda’s blood and poured it into a small cauldron then uttered a brief incantation over it. It was true: no sign of heroin or any other illicit drug abuse for quite some time. The tainted chemicals and unusual hormones that Linda’s body produced were quite problematic enough on their own without adding opiates to the mix. She carefully returned the corrupt blood to a vial for more thorough testing and comparison with prior samples later.
“You know Linda, between your physiology and body chemistry, any conventional doctor trying to work with you would end up in a fetal position, rocking in a corner,” her tone was kindly, only gently teasing.
“Ah know ma’am… ‘s part’a why Ah’m here at Overwatch,” Linda acknowledged listlessly. “They cain’t do nothin’ for me. They’d probably jus’ cut me up an’ stare at mah skin as it grows back…”
“Speaking of which,” Christi interjected with gentle sternness, taking hold of Linda’s hand and looking closely at it, “You’ve been cutting yourself again, haven’t you?”
Linda stared at her wide-eyed and her shoulders slumped, then she lowered her head and replied just loud enough to be understood. “How’d ya know? It’s all healed up… Ah don’t get scars from it no more if Ah don’ use mah claws…”
“Yes, the skin’s sealed over and the major portions of the injury are gone, but there’s still enough minute bruising and repair work going on in the deep tissues of your hand that I was able to detect it. What did you do to yourself this time?”
“Um… don’t yell at me for it… Please don’” Linda sighed resignedly. “Ah’ll tell ya… it was a knife. Right through th’middle’a the hand…”
“We have got to get you some better coping mechanisms,” Christi tried to sound more kindly than scolding, but her patient’s self-harm was a sensitive and frustrating topic that Christi did not feel qualified to address fully. Ritual scarification was something that a Verbena like Christi wouldn’t question, but hurting oneself just for an emotional release out of self-loathing was unhealthy on so many levels. The fact that Linda’s own regenerative abilities let her get away with more extreme behaviors than most cutters certainly didn’t help things. If Christi knew of a psychotherapist out there that was really competent to deal with both Linda’s own maladaptive personal demons and the more literal demon that was actively trying to aggravate them, then Christi wouldn’t have hesitated to have her committed outright. Right. Address this as a physician, not as a mage or as a woman that’s worried about the patient’s mental state… maybe that will get through to something somewhere in this girl’s twisted thought processes.
She took a deep breath and gathered her thoughts. “You need to stop injuring yourself, even if just for purely physiological reasons. Yes, you heal but doing that puts a strain on your system. It does have physical consequences: even though there’s a spirit materializing biomass from the ether to patch you back together, for whatever reason it doesn’t replace everything; it draws iron and other materials from elsewhere in your body.” Here she tried to regain eye contact, and eventually had to put a hand on Linda’s cheek to draw the reluctant woman’s disturbingly pale eyes again. “Look. I want to help, but you have to help me help you.”
Linda held her gaze for several long moments, her eyes pained. Eventually she nodded and looked away.
“See if you can find other ways to deal with your issues. That does not include nipping off to the nearest town and letting yourself get picked up on by passing truckers either, Linda.”
That got the Fomor’s attention. Linda rounded on her with gritted teeth, but then slumped backwards a bit with a hand over one eye.
“Ah’m jus’…. Too far gone. Ah don’ know why all’a y’all bother…”
“That’s enough,” Christi interrupted firmly. Self-pity and hopelessness were just another dodge Linda used to avoid squarely facing herself, and Christi didn’t quite have the patience today. “You seriously need to take personal responsibility. Yes, you’ve been a victim forever: there’s a neon sign floating over your head that says so. No, your family’s not around to do it to you anymore. I know that you’ve come a long way, and you’re more functional than when you showed up on our doorstep but you’ve got a long way to go yet. You escaped them; don’t be your own victim too.”
Linda’s hands flexed but then clamped tightly onto her own knees, gripping for dear life. She forced herself to nod, slowly. “You’re raht.”
“Linda, I do care what happens to you, and my brother’s fond of you too. To be honest he’s got some emotional investment in helping you get well,” Christi said more softly. The Doctor was a protective sister who had an impulsive and sometimes overly romantic brother as well as an emotionally fragile patient to take care of. She wanted to make sure that Devin didn’t draw Linda into something that would mean a lot less to him than it would to her, and would ultimately do further damage when he grew bored with it and moved on. Christi hoped that Linda knew better than to imagine that Devin reciprocated the attraction that she obviously felt for him, and she decided to try and prevent that. “Devin always has to take care of people, even despite his better judgment. Don’t read anything further into that, but do remember that you’ve got people here that think of you as a friend… family even.”
“Ah didn’t think there was nothin’ more there, Doc. Promise,” Linda responded a little defensively to the implications in Christi’s words. “‘Sides, mah last boyfriend was an old pal’a his. Wouldn’t feel raht chasin’ Devin.”
“Just so long as we understand each other,” Christi smiled in some relief, though she had actually been more concerned that Devin might have been the one doing the pursuing: he so loved a project. With his romantic history, the amount of time he spent at the Chantry rather than back at home with his wife and children combined with his arcane untraceability, it was difficult to trust that her dear brother was as faithful as he claimed. Putting those thoughts aside, she went back into clinical mode. “On the cheerful topic of your sexuality Linda, I do think we need to talk a bit more: You’re out of control. I know that you’ve recently run out of the Pill… and I won’t even ask where you were getting it. Besides, I don’t think that the conventional dosage of that you were taking made any difference; I’m pretty sure that your changed system wasn’t responding to it. We’d have to formulate a different compound or at least a dramatically increased dosage, and I’m not confident that we could do much good without throwing your system a lot more out of whack than it already is.”
“Hey now… Ah use protection…” Linda protested. “Ah’m not a complete idjit…”
“No, you’re not an idiot but you are promiscuous and your body chemistry is… complex. As your physician, I’d be irresponsible if I claimed to understand it completely. Venereal diseases aren’t going to get past that volcanic immune system of yours, but condoms aren’t 100% effective at preventing pregnancy. I don’t even know how well your body would cope with carrying a fetus. To be blunt, that’s the last thing that you need at this point in your life anyways.”
“Yer raht ‘bout that last’n, fer sure…” Linda chewed on her lip pensively. “Ah cain’t say Ah been much good f’r the little girl Ah already got…” Her eyes were misting up as she said it. “Ah’m not sure that’s gonna be a problem nohow. I’ve had… well…” She seemed to be looking for the words, “a couple’a miscarriages… bad’uns… back before ah got changed. An’ with mah drug habit an’ diet problems… Ah don’ know as Ah’m capable anymore.” Christi could see the conflict in Linda’s eyes: in a way, this wretch clearly hoped that she could never inflict another member of the poisonous Lee family on the world… but there was something else too. The Doctor only knew so much about the Garou to which this woman was Kin, but she had heard that the primary function and honor for their Kin was reproduction. How horrible would barrenness seem to such a creature?
“If it makes you feel better to know for certain, I can check,” Christi asked softly. When Linda nodded and started wiping her eyes with the tissue Christi had offered to her, the doctor rose and fetched a tea kettle from the counter and poured a cup of a special herbal blend for Linda. Into this, she sprinkled a selection of additional herbs. Once she was satisfied that the extra elements had steeped long enough, she offered it to her patient, who drank it gingerly. Christi then sat down beside her again and placed a bare hand against Linda’s abdomen, intoning a simple old wife’s charm. Just her luck: there was still vitality within despite everything that was wrong with this twisted body. “Well Linda, it appears that you’re still capable of conceiving. Medically and personally speaking, I can’t recommend it to you.”
Linda nodded and seemed to be pulling herself together again, murmuring a quiet thanks.
“Go ahead and put your clothes back on. If you’ll accompany me into the lab, we’ve set up some equipment to put you through your paces properly via a cardiac stress test and a few other things. Your reflexes border on precognition and your body is capable of positively inhuman bursts of speed, but we don’t know what your limits are or just how much of that kind of over clocking you can take. So we’re going to see if we can peel back the curtains a little bit. Sound good?”
“Sure…” Linda replied as she pulled her clothing together.