Slowly, over the next several hours Wilcox learned more about the changes her body underwent.
Peng left to attend to other things, leaving her alone with Admiral Custen, who was also a physician she discovered.
When they had a moment alone, he began trying to describe what happened to her.
Custen said, “Essentially, your cellular structure underwent a photovoltaic metamorphosis.”
“Explain it to me in English, Doc. Without all the medical mumbo-jumbo.”
Custen took a deep breath and started again.
“Okay. Let me start at the beginning. The Gemini Project was a secret effort by the League to transform people into quasi-electronic entities. They were obsessed with creating subjects who could do things ordinary people cannot. Primarily they were interested in autonomous teleportation.
“We don’t know a whole lot about their successes, but we do have some intelligence about their failures. And there were a lot of failures.
“A few years back, word got out somehow and SSI had to abandon research on the major planets. They retreated to minor ones, Raton Five in particular. Finally, from what we understand, they started seeing some successes. They transformed people so they could teleport themselves, or turn themselves into a digital state somehow.”
“The Intangibles,” Wilcox said. “I’ve heard of them.”
“Right! About the time the war started, something happened on Raton Five. We’re still not certain about all the details. Suffice it to say the facility was destroyed and only a handful of subjects survived. They scattered to the four winds, so to speak. A few have shown up on our radar. A couple of them made it to Lute, for instance, and became pirates. SSI and the League Navy got caught up in the war and they have not resumed research so far as we know.”
Wilcox said, “Okay. Now, what does that have to do with me?”
“That warehouse your team entered was used for Gemini Project experiments before everything was moved to Raton Five. The bot set off an explosion designed to release all the cellular transformative energies stored at that site. Think of it like a battery explosion.
“Your body absorbed a blast of considerable strength at just the right distance to survive. Any closer or further away, and you’d be dead. Call it Providence, or whatever you like, but you happened to be at the perfect distance to absorb the energy and survive.”
Wilcox paused to think, letting everything Custen said sink in.
She said, “Alright. How am I alive? You said many patients subjected to this . . . radiation or whatever it is . . . died? How come I’m not dead? Why would the distance matter?”
“We’re not sure. We think whoever programmed the bots probably thought the explosion would kill anyone in the area. If they knew you were still alive, they’d probably be as surprised as we are.”
“Has it . . . has this energy changed me?”
Wilcox held out her hand and looked at it. Her skin looked and felt the same. She felt really good at the moment, in fact.
Custen said, “Your cellular structure has definitely been altered. You are holding a considerable amount of raw energy in your body, much more so than the typical human. That’s what our instruments are picking up, anyway.”
“Okay. So . . . what’s that mean? I can teleport myself like the Intangibles now?”
Custen shrugged. He said, “We don’t know. We’re hoping you can tell us more.”
He smiled in his best bedside manner and said, “You’ll be staying on the Barton while we run some tests. Don’t worry, we have an excellent gym and you can stay in shape. Of course, you’ll have access to the quantum matrix and all its entertainment options. Think of this as a vacation.”
Wilcox groaned. She said, “I’ve got people down there who need me. I have to get back to my platoon.”
“The 31st has been shifted over to guard duty. Mop up activities are mostly over, anyway. Colonel Peng is in agreement with this decision.”
He made the last statement to forestall her appealing to her CO. He could see the rebellious glint in her eye.
Wilcox sighed, resigned to her fate.
She said, “Fine. What would you like to experiment on first?”
Days passed and the entire medical staff onboard the fleet’s hospital ship had to admit they were stumped. They spent considerable time consulting with experts across various fields back on Diego, but no one had anything conclusive to offer. Sergeant Wilcox seemed to be in perfect health.
In fact, some of her charts looked better than when she signed up. Her vitals appeared peak and her health appeared to be about as good as it possibly could be.
She appeared to be fine mentally, too. For all intents and practical purposes she seemed to actually be in better shape than she was before the explosion. No one could figure out why.
She also could not seem to do anything extraordinary, either. If she was an Intangible, she had nothing to show for it. Several medical personnel tried to test her and see if she could teleport or shift into a digital state. She could not.
A considerable debate formed among the military scientists and Navy medical personnel as to what exactly had happened. They had little to go on, since SSI’s research remained classified, and the few surviving subjects had long since dispersed. No one really knew where to start looking. Certainly no one had ever been subjected to similar explosions under controlled circumstances.
The consensus among members of the group was they needed more time to study the sergeant, and hopefully glean much more data.
After two weeks and no changes in Wicox’s bio readings, Peng was ready to put her back into active duty.
“We really need more like two months, or even two years, to study her properly,” Custen said in the conference call in which the sergeant’s fate was discussed.
“I understand,” Peng said. “And I suppose in some way or other she will be studied her entire life. But, there is a war going on and I need every able-bodied man and woman I can get. Unless there are serious objections besides the need for more research, I am going to put her back into her platoon.”
No one could come up with a persuasive enough argument, and so the following morning, 15 days after the incident that sent her to the hospital ship, Sergeant Wilcox returned to the surface of Juventas and the company of her troops.
“What are you maggots looking at?”
Her first words were addressed to the duty rotation outside the area that used to be the Yorkton Administration Building. The destroyed city blocks were cordoned off from civilians, and the Marines kept a patrol there to prevent anyone from going into the area.
“We haven’t figured that out yet, Sarge,” Jamieson said with a smile.
“Insubordinate bastards. Get back to work.”
And with that, life for those serving in the 31st returned to normal.