Concepts, Lore, & New Developments.
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Military Adjunct Base, Washington DC
Teja sat on a stool in the lab, a soldering iron in one hand and a pair of wires in the other, carefully rewiring what had been proposed as a ray gun. Inaccurate, inefficient, all the fallacies of a piece of technology that had been designed by someone who thought she was a hero and not a soldier. She’d tested it, written down all its capabilities and all its fallacies, and taken it apart - ostensibly to enhance it, but more specifically so that it was in pieces and no one could ask her to take it on the field.
Laboratory, 2100 hours Tuesday
She twisted the wires together, soldered them in place, and closed the last panel. A damned ray gun. What a stupid idea. She sighed, and pushed herself back from the table, glancing at the clock. Not even all that late. She’d hoped to… to do what? Distract herself for longer, she supposed. To have an excuse. She didn’t really have one though, and so she went over to the circuit breaker in the room, flipped the switches, and walked to the sink in the dark to wash her hands.
She dried them carefully, turned the circuit breaker back on, and acknowledged that hse was definitely wasting time. That wasn’t her. She went back to the desk, picking up the phone and dialing out.
“Dr. West. This is Captain Docesznic.”
“Teja! It’s been a while. What’s going on?”
She stared at the wall for a moment, but it didn’t have the answers. Dr. West might. “Clear a space for me tomorrow, will you? I want to run some tests. I need the EM lab.”
He had questions, of course, but she dodged them neatly. She wasn’t ready to talk about it, not over the phone. Not before she had the test results in hand.
She’d noticed a few things, though. In London. Time had stopped, for a while, but she’d known it would start again. She’d gotten information early enough on that when it started again, it would start with all the cumulative effects of what had occurred during the timestop, all at once. For most, that meant care with drugs, care with damage, care with death.
She’d had to consider another factor - care with charge. It had made her think about how much charge she could carry, and think about how quickly she regenerated it. It was an answer that she’d known, but one that she hadn’t really spent a lot of time thinking about. London had made her think about it, though, and that had brought up some questions. She thought she knew the answers.
No. It’s too early. Run the tests, first.
She was an engineer. No conclusions without proper testing.
Teja picked up the ray gun, and walked it down to the armory, checking it in and making sure it was locked up with all the appropriate paperwork and all the appropriate signatures. She’d still have to field-test it again before it was officially on record for use, but she didn’t have the energy to do that tonight. The mental energy, anyway. She ran a hand through her hair, feeling the crackle of static. Too much time sitting at a desk today, not enough time pushing charge. Well, she could take care of that later. She signed out, and started the short walk home. Technically, she could have asked for an off-base housing allotment, or a larger one, but she’d been in the same apartment for several years, and it wouldn’t have felt right to ask the government to refit another one for her specific necessities.
Besides, it wasn’t like she ever entertained company. Too much time at the lab, she supposed. She unlocked the door and latched it behind her, dropping her keys on the table by the door before picking up a grounding wire and letting most of her charge drop off into it. She always felt strangely empty when she did that. Like something was missing.
Sensibly, she went and made herself a sandwich. She supposed she could have eaten at the commissary, but she hadn’t really been in the mood for company. Mostly, she’d just wanted to be in her lab, fiddling with technology. It was curiously soothing. Maybe she’d needed that, after London, for reasons that had nothing to do with the amount of charge she carried.
She put the dishes in the machine, not bothering to turn it on yet, instead checking the circuit breaker while lighting a candle and flipping everything off. A set of candles lined the bathroom vanity, and she lit them carefully before undressing and stepping into the shower. Electricity sparked into the water, pulled away into the grounding rod near the drain.
Teja didn’t even notice. She was used to it. She dried off and changed into pajamas, returning the circuit breaker to normal and starting the dishwasher before retreating to the single bedroom. She wrapped the grounding-wired bracelet around her wrist before climbing into bed, leafing through a few pages of a physics text before deciding she might as well turn the light off.
She could brood about the next day just as well in the dark, after all.
United States Meta-Inception Project
She arrived at Dr. West’s lab in the afternoon. It was a familiar location - she ran tests there on herself on a regular schedule, after all - or the lab ran tests on her, but in general, Teja preferred to think if it as running the tests herself. It gave her a measure of control over the situation, if not over the results.
Laboratory, 1300 hours Wednesday
Usually they’d been running some tests every six months, but they’d been baseline standards. Max charge, a couple questions about whether she was having any issues, and then a generalized dismissal. She understood - the Capacitor project was ancient, in terms of engineering. Seven years… more than seven years. In engineering, that was an eternity. They had other things to work on, so as long as she was up to functional specs, she’d been remanded pretty much entirely to the government’s care.
It was probably how things had slipped through the cracks. They’d been running some tests, and assuming that the tests told them what they needed to know, but Teja thought that perhaps they had been running the wrong tests. Or they’d been running some of the right ones, but not linking them in with the other tests. Not well enough, anyway.
She paced back and forth in the clean room, waiting for the techs in the next room over to finish calibrating the equipment. Younger ones - Dr. West was walking them through the process, but it was taking a while. Teja didn’t really mind the wait. Everyone needed time to learn.
No. She put those thoughts away, for now.
“I think we’re ready.”
Teja nodded. “I’ll need to discharge again before we do the capacity pull.”
“I thought you discharged when you went in there?”
Teja paused, then nodded again. “I did. I’ll need to discharge again before we do the capacity pull.”
Dr. West looked up, through the glass windows. “It’s been… half an hour. Thirty-four minutes. You can’t have generated much charge in that time.”
Another of those pauses, then, quietly. “I think it’s enough to cause a non-negligible incongruity in the results.”
This time, the pause was on his end, echoed by the sound of a pen being set down on the table. “Teja, how long does it take you to max your charge these days if you’re not pulling?”
“Hard to say. I’m constantly pulling or discharging for one thing or another.” But that was why she was here. Because of that question. Because of London. “Three days, maybe.”
She folded her arms, then nodded. When she’d first developed her ability, the amount of charge she had generated had been so negligible that they’d questioned if she was even generating any more charge than a standard human, or whether that data point was within the normal deviation. Eventually they’d concluded that she generated something, but it wasn’t enough to be anything meaningful. Time had changed that, though. Seven years. She’d known her holding capacity was growing. They’d all known that. No one had been looking much at the generation rate, though.
She’d known it was more than non-negligible, given the precautions she had to take at home. She just hadn’t been paying attention to the growth rate. She should have been. She definitely should have been.
And there was nothing to do about that now but run tests and figure out what needed to be done about it next. “All right. Ground yourself out.” Dr. West’s voice had picked up that quiet intensity he got when presented with an interesting scientific equation.
Teja touched her hand to the metal handlebar of the measurement device, and released the charge. As always, she felt off when she bottomed out, but it cleared up pretty quickly. She’d always assumed that her ability to bounce back was just a matter of tolerance - and maybe it was. Or maybe it wasn’t.
Teja flipped the charge, and pulled in the charge until she topped out. She was focused on her task, but not so focused that she couldn’t listen to the responses in the next room.
“Is that a thirty-one?”
“Looks like it. Almost a thirty-two.”
The scale went from one to ten. Ten had been defined as the maximum amount of charge she’d been able to hold, when they’d deemed the Capacitor project complete. The military had wanted to keep the assigned numbers arbitrary, for security purposes. How much charge she could actually hold was a matter of secrecy - it was better to discuss the numbers in an abstract, adjusted form.
Within a year, she’d been pulling twelves. It had only gone upwards from there. Last time they’d tested, she’d hit twenty-eight.
There were a few repeats of that performance, just to make sure the numbers didn’t lie, but it wasn’t that she was here for, not really. She zeroed out again, and then they started the timer, set for an hour.
An hour of waiting, then another discharge - trying, trying to establish a baseline for what they should have been testing all along - how fast was charge generating? For Dr. West, it was an academic issue. For Teja, it was far more personal.
Eventually, the data was collected, and she left the lab to collate things and send them over. That was the easy part, of course. Testing was always easy. It was making something useful with the results that was a challenge.
Military Adjunct Base
Time moved on, electrons shifting states in the atomic clock. Other things took her focus off of testing for a while, and a man died. Maybe because of it, maybe not. If she hadn’t been there, would things have turned out differently? Certainly. But would they have turned out better? That was a question that couldn’t be answered by anyone. Some things were too subjective to define.
Briefing Room 3C, 1900 hours Monday
There’d be a funeral soon, she’d heard whispers. The timing on it wasn’t so important, without a body to bury. She’d try to be there, though, if she could. Atom hadn’t been a friend, and at the end he’d been an enemy… but up until then, she’d respected him. Most of the time, that was all she could allow herself to do. Respect, for a time, and then pay her respects at the end.
The world survived, though, and decided to provide her with results instead of excuses.
She’d scheduled a meeting, for after hours, when most people had gone home and everyone else wished they had. Since Captain Docesznic almost never scheduled meetings, no one had argued with her designated time. She sat in the standard briefing room, a copy of the files that had been distributed laying closed in front of her, her finger tracing the rim of a cup of coffee that had possibly been brewed this morning. It didn’t really matter, since she wasn’t drinking it.
She’d dropped the data, and sat back to let people discuss it. Mostly it was with a tone of excitement, that she had more growth potential than the initial project had revealed. She let them have their excitement. After all, in terms of military potential, it was exciting. She certainly couldn’t blame them for that.
“Captain?” A voice, intruding on her thoughts. Cautious. “You don’t seem as excited about this as the rest of us.”
“No.” Her voice felt distant. She cleared her throat, tried again. “No.”
“Why is that?”
She sat up in her chair, letting go of the coffee cup. “Because I can extrapolate data, sir. Dr. West.” Her tone was quiet, and a hush fell into the room. “Can you put up the graph for maximum capacity?” The display screen shifted over, but Teja wasn’t really looking at it. “And the graph for generation.” Her finger touched the coffee cup again, tracing a line. “Projected out. Use the best-guess graph… and combine them, same time-axis.”
She closed her eyes. “How long?”
Because they were both growing, but one was growing faster than the other. How long, until the charge generation overtook her maximum capacity? How long, until she couldn’t hold it in any more?
How long, until every moment was like that moment in London, unleashed lightning, touching everything around her? How long until she was too dangerous to protect people from herself?
She opened her eyes again, and pushed her chair back. The screen was there, but she didn’t need to look at it. She’d already run all the numbers in her head. The screen was just confirmation. Letting everyone else know what she already knew. She stood, to leave, because whatever happened next, she didn’t want to be stuck in a meeting room any longer.
“I suggest we start working on engineering solutions.”
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