33 - Hospital Impatient

"You are far too weak right now," the doctor said. "We need to give your bones more time to heal. I'd say you can start physical therapy in three months or so."

"Fuck that," snapped Cataclysm. She was sitting up in the hospital bed, her face pale and her eyes marred by dark circles. Her hair was short; she had learned that it all fell out shortly after the bomb blast. Her voice was feeble but still carried steel as she said, "I'm sick of you telling me I'm too weak for everything. I'm too weak for PT. I'm too weak for surgery to get all this metal out of me. I'm too weak to get out of bed. I'm to weak to feed myself. For fuck's sake I practically had to punch a nurse to stop her from trying to feed me through this." She waved derisively at the yellow NG tube taped to her cheek and running into her left nostril.

The doctor adjusted his glasses as he said, "I appreciate your frustration but your body has been through a great trauma. We have to give you time to get stronger so-

"Well, I'm not getting stronger lying in bed!" Cataclysm saw Witchcraft poke her head through the door and waved her in as she continued. Witchcraft was, of course, in her street clothes as she had been during all her visits. "Look, I'm fucking sick of your excuses. I'm not going to lie around doing nothing because you haven't got the balls to make a decision or you're afraid of getting sued. I'm going to start exercising. Today. Which is going to be safer: exercising on my own or working with a PT?"

The doctor's face clouded. "I can't in good conscience-"

"I don't care about your fucking conscience." Her shoulders drooped as her energy flagged. She waved him off and said, "Go away. I'm tired of you." The doctor pursed his lips and then turned and walk stiffly out of the room. "And get me a fucking PT!" she called after him.

Witchcraft had watched the exchange impassively. "Making friends as usual, I see," she said dryly as she crossed over to take a seat next to Cataclysm's bed.

"Idiot doctors keep trying to keep me sick. It's a fucked up system. They make more money the longer they make me stay here. All they do is..." She trailed off, panting.

Witchcraft looked concerned. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Cataclysm said, catching her breath. "Yelling at doctors is part of my cardio workout." She took a deep breath and forced herself to calm down. "Sick of how fucking weak I am. Can't even eat a whole pudding cup without my arm getting exhausted. Look at this," she held up an emaciated arm in front of Witchcraft. "I'd have to put on twenty pounds to be considered 'skin and bones'. For fuck's sake, have they even been feeding me? And I can't believe that with all the medical technology we have, we still haven't figured out something less humiliating than the bedpan." Cataclysm rubbed her eyes tiredly. "Sorry. More bitchy than usual."

"It's OK. You've earned it," Witchcraft said, reaching out to pat her arm. "You certainly seem to have more energy than when I last saw you a few days ago."

Cataclysm snorted. "Yeah I guess. I still sleep about sixteen hours a day. I keep telling them to cut back on my meds. Jesus, you'd think it would be easy to get less painkillers but the nurses won't blink without some doctor's order and the doctors want to keep me drugged up. Probably so I won't yell at them."

Witchcraft furrowed her brow. "Do you really think so? Because that would be a serious ethics violation."

"Huh?" Cataclysm asked in surprise. "Oh, well, no not really. It just takes fucking forever to get anything done around here. I'm sick of lying in bed. You never realize just how crappy television is until you have nothing to do but watch it all day." She stretched her neck to work out a kink. "Don't you know anyone who can speed this up? Some healer who can do little oogity-boogity and I'm back to normal?"

"Well in fact we brought in some of the best magical healers I could find while you were in Tokyo. That may well be why you recovered at all. I decided to stop that after your transfer here. I'm concerned that, especially here on your home turf, their involvement might bring you unwanted attention. Of course now that you are awake, the decision is up to you."

Cataclysm considered that but her mind was still fuzzy and she couldn't figure it out. "Shit," she said in frustration. "Fine, if you say so. I'm having trouble making decisions. And remembering. And a few other things. My brain got pretty squished. The neurosurgeon is less of a dick than that guy. He's about the only doctor I don't want to kick in the nuts. He's utterly fascinated that I'm not a vegetable, but not like that's an insult to him. He's talking about bringing in a whole flock of neuro-something-or-others to study me. The parade of other doctors tell me all kinds of shit. My lungs are shot. My blood chemistry is off. I might get blood clots that could kill me or cause brain damage. My bone density is low because I've been on my ass for so long and they apparently haven't been feeding me enough calcium so my bones might break for pretty much no reason. Basically as near as I can tell, everybody figured I was going to die so gave me the bare minimum care. You know the 'make her comfortable' shit. Unfortunately I was rude enough to survive so now they are scrambling to fix the effects of weeks of neglect. And, hey, you remember that funny, funny joke I make about radiation giving me superpowers? Well it turns out that radiation really just gives you cancer. There's nothing now but the oncologist is this perky little bimbo I just want to slap every time she opens her cheerful little mouth to tell me that it's very possible I won't die of leukemia or some massive brain tumor over the next ten years." Cataclysm's voice had become increasingly rough during her rant and she finally trailed off as she ran out of breath again.

Witchcraft had listened to her tirade with increasing concern. "Don't overexert yourself," she said. "And don't let their negativity get you down. Attitude is a very important part of patient recovery. If you let them convince you that things are hopeless then your body will follow suit."

Cataclysm snorted. "Don't worry about that. I'm not going to shrivel up and die. I'm going to get better just so I can come back and spit in the eyes of these arrogant prick doctors."

Witchcraft smiled warmly at her. "Now that's more like it."

Cataclysm looked gloomily at the pole next to her that held an IV bag, vital sign monitors and a PCA machine. "Of course I also thought the other day that this hospital is pretty much going to own me after this. I can't even imagine how much this is all going to cost. It's not like I have a real job with medical insurance."

"Oh don't worry about that," Witchcraft said dismissively. "You are under the super-secret Champions Health Plan. Anyone who nearly dies while defeating a supervillain with a city-destroying weapon aimed at Millennium City gets free medical care."

Cataclysm frowned. She didn't like charity and wanted to refuse the offer, but it's not like she could really pay for this. It wouldn't surprise her to find out her bill was well into seven figures. Even Harmon Industries would feel an expense like that. "Not sure how I feel about that," she admitted and then added, "but, well, thanks." Wanting a change in subject she said, "OK, enough self-pity from me. Tell me about anything at all as long as it's happening outside the hospital."

"Well, part of the reason I came by was to tell you about my investigations into Menton. Unless you'd rather talk about something more trivial."

"No, no, I want to hear this," Cataclysm said, sitting up a little straighter in bed.

Witchcraft took a moment to compose her thoughts. "I consulted Lieutenant Maronni as well as other experts on Menton and told them what you said. Investigating Menton is always difficult because you don't so much see his actions as the subtle ripples of his influence. However once we looked at him and Psychotic and ARGENT all together it started to make sense. It's like looking at three patterns that seem like random noise but when you superimpose them on each other, they form a picture. A lot of this is supposition of course, but this is our best guess.

"We think Psychotic was Menton's doomsday device. After you foiled his plans at ARGENT he started planning how best to destroy you, eventually luring you down to Stronghold probably by directly influencing Lieutenant Maronni and others. Now Menton is arrogant enough to believe he couldn't be beaten, but he's also careful enough to have a backup plan just in case.

"So he looked around and found a mind that saw you as an enemy: Zoe Loft. He already had his mental tendrils in ARGENT so he gave them a little nudge and suddenly they thought it would be a great idea to take this street thug and tech her up into a powerful cyborg. He probably fed her anger towards you, pushing her over to obsessive levels. He kept her under control but once he was put into Hot Sleep, his control weakened and she was freed to do what she wanted. And all she wanted was to kill you. Everything she did after her transformation into Psychotic was planned around that."

"But you don't think he's still arranging things?" Cataclysm asked.

Witchcraft looked uncertain. "Well that's one area where Lieutenant Maronni and I differ in opinion. She believes that Menton was not controlling Psychotic. Her methods were far too blunt and violent. He is a subtle manipulator. He wants to control the world, not destroy it."

"You don't agree?"

"Well, up to a point," Witchcraft hedged. "I see her point about Psychotic. I suppose I agree that he might not have as much control over his victims as before but I believe if you look at all events he seems to still have some influence."

Cataclysm was puzzled. "Events? Like what?"

Uncomfortably, Witchcraft said, "Like some of your behaviors since the Stronghold breakout. Like the DEMON incident. I think perhaps he influenced you into acting out of character."

Cataclysm was silent for a moment and then rolled her eyes. "Really? I can start blaming Menton for everything now?" she said sarcastically. "If I cheat on my taxes I can say Menton made me do it?"

"The IRS has probably heard that excuse before," Witchcraft said lightly.

Cataclysm couldn't help giving a heavy sigh. "Beth, you have got to start accepting me for who I am rather than some fantasy ideal. DEMON may not have been my proudest moment but that was all me. That has roots back in shit long before I met Menton or even you." She shook her head. "Honestly, it borders on insulting. Every time you try to make me into Little Miss Hero you are sending the message that the real me isn't good enough."

Witchcraft looked stunned. "No, that's not at all what I think."

"Maybe but that's how it feels sometimes. Look, you've known me long enough to start seeing the real me, warts and all. I don't apologize for my existence but you make me feel like I should."

Witchcraft reached out to squeeze her hand. "I'm sorry, Cataclysm. I never meant it like that. I just believe in seeing the positive in people."

"Fine, but that doesn't mean you should ignore the rest. You don't get to pick and choose which parts of me you get. You have to take the whole package." Cataclysm could hear the irritation growing in her voice so forced her anger down and said in a teasing tone, "You're tough. I'm pretty sure you can handle the real me."

Witchcraft gave her a little smile. "OK, I'll take off the rose-colored glasses. But I'm never going to stop believing in the best in you."

"Your most endearing and annoying feature," Cataclysm said.


Drops of sweat ran down Cataclysm's face as she labored to lift the heavy weight. She gritted her teeth as her arm slowly rose under the load, and hissed her breath out as she lowered it. She grunted as she struggled to do another rep. If she could finish fifteen reps then tomorrow she'd try it with ten ounces of water in the bottle.

A muscular black man came into the room and glanced down at his clipboard. "Lori Jett?" he asked in a smooth baritone.

She'd gotten used to them calling her that, though she still didn't like using the name. "Yeah," she grunted.

"I'm Alan," he said cheerfully. "I'm your physical therapist."

"Hey," she said, continuing to exercise.

He watched her critically and then said, "You need to stop doing that."

"I can work and listen," she said, her voice strained as she slowly raised the water bottle.

He pursed his lips. "You're doing it wrong. Your form is lousy. You're exercising the wrong muscles. Most importantly you aren't protecting the joint. Can you feel your elbow slip?"

She paused in her exercise and looked up at him. "The left one sometimes," she admitted.

"You're going to damage the joint. Now put that down before you cause yourself permanent injury."

She hesitated but then put the water bottle down on the table next to the bed, her arm shaking with the effort. "Fine, then teach me the right way to do it."

"In time," he began.

"No," she interrupted. "I'm sick of everyone telling me to wait."

He sat down and said, "OK, I understand how frustrating this is for you. They told me you are highly motivated and that's great. Makes my job easier."

"Motivated," she snorted. "I'll bet that's not the word they used."

"Not exactly," he said with a twinkle in his eye. He continued, "Motivation is important but over-motivation is bad. Your body has been through a lot and it's going to take a long time to fix it. I'm not going to lie. It's going to be hard, the hardest thing you've ever done. But there are no shortcuts. You can't do all the work into one day like you are cramming for your college finals. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You are going to have to work every day for months, maybe years, but if you can do that, if you can maintain your motivation that long, then I'll get you back on your feet."

She chewed on her lip. "You're saying I'll walk? Because the doctors keep telling me I won't."

Alan shrugged. "Yes I think you'll walk, and if not then I'm certain you'll have some kind of independent mobility. You have to understand that doctors are in general too negative. Of course we therapists are too positive. The reality is usually somewhere in the middle. However the one who really has to decide that is you. If we're going to do this then I need your help. I'm not looking for a patient. I want a partner. What I bring is knowledge and experience about body mechanics, muscle performance and neuromotor development. What you bring is knowledge of this particular body," he pointed to her. "That body is unlike any other. You know how you move, how you think, what motivates you, and when you hurt. When we bring two experts like us together, nobody's going to stop us."

Cataclysm studied him for a moment and then nodded. "OK, so what do we do now?"

"Today I'm going to evaluate you. I know you want to work, but this is how the work starts. I have to put together a program that's right for you." He said sternly, "Now I know you have your opinions but I have three rules that are not negotiable.

"First, listen to your body. If it hurts you stop. And don't say, 'No pain, no gain.' That's garbage pushed by macho jerks who want to prove how tough they are. Don't get me wrong, when I work with you I'm going to hurt you but I know what kind of pain is safe and what kind is not. When you are working on your own, you stop when it hurts.

"Second, I'll give you activities to do on your own. You do exactly what I tell you, unless it hurts. If I say do ten reps, you do ten. Not nine. Not eleven. If I say ten, I say it for a reason. This is not some photocopied set of exercises I give to everyone. This is a customized program for you.

"Third, and this is the big one. You do not get out of this bed until I tell you it's OK. I've worked with people as compromised as you are and they all want to walk. Right away. Specifically they want to walk to the toilet and pee by themselves. Great. I want you to walk too. It's not healthy to lay around. But walking is hard. We forget that before we learned to walk we learned a lot of other skills. We are going to work on your core, your arm and leg strength, your balance and a few other things first. Only then will you be ready to walk." He shook his finger at her and said sharply, "You get out of bed before I say you are ready, I will come over here and kick your ass."

She snorted. "You'll try. I'm pretty sure I could take you, even like this."

He grinned and said, "Maybe." He gave her a more serious look and said, "But I'm not kidding. I'll say it again: if you injure yourself, you just set your recovery back. Got it?"

Cataclysm looked at him for a bit and then nodded. "All right. We'll try it your way. For now."

"Great," he said with a big smile. "Let's get started."


Cataclysm leaned into the gait trainer as she laboriously hauled her right leg forward. "You don't walk with your arms," Alan chided her. She growled and shifted her body so most of her weight was on her left leg, using the gait trainer for balance. She resumed her effort to move her right foot, finally managing to get it a few inches ahead of her left. "Seven," Alan said.

She stopped to rest, panting and sweating. "Come on, you wimp," he teased. "I've got people in their eighties who move faster than you do. Move it, slacker."

Cataclysm shot him a look but didn't waste breath on a comment. She shifted her weight to her right leg and started the arduous task of moving the other foot forward. Her left leg was weaker, having been more damaged than her right, and she couldn't even lift it all the way off the ground especially with the weight of the ankle braces. She dragged the toe of her shoe along the floor as she moved it, groaning as she fought to push it forward. Slowly it moved and she put it back on the floor. She started to shift her weight but Alan called out, "Cheater, cheater." She looked down and realized her left foot was still behind the right.

She got out, "Bastard," but pushed her left foot forward a couple more inches until the toes were just head of the other foot.

"Eight," Alan granted her. "Come on now, I haven't got all day. Let's go!" Cataclysm brought her right foot forward and he said, "Nine." A wave of dizziness took her and she swayed. The two techs standing nearby reached out to steady her and Alan dropped his gruff act and rushed forward. "OK, that's enough for today."

"No," she growled. "Ten." He gave her a sour look and she insisted, "Ten!"

"Fine, one more but that's it."

She regained her balance and the techs let her go. Using the gait trainer to steady herself she lifted her left leg as best she could and slid her foot forward. She inched it forward -- more like millimetered it forward -- but refused to give up. Finally she got it a hair ahead of her right foot and set it down. "Ten!" Alan said with a huge smile. One of the techs pushed her wheelchair up to her legs and while the other unstrapped her from the gait trainer. They transferred her to the wheelchair.

"Double digits!" Alan said proudly. "Good job. Of course that means at least eleven tomorrow."

"Fifteen," she said before she gulped water from the bottle one of the techs gave her.

"Careful," he cautioned. "Remember, too much motivation is bad. We'll shoot for eleven. Maybe twelve. For now let's strap you in the stander and we can work on some upper body exercises."

She nodded and he wheeled her over to the table.


Alan wheeled her down the ramp and out to the curb. Cataclysm inhaled the fresh air deeply. It's not like this was the first time she had been outside of the hospital during her long convalescence, but now she was finally going home. She'd never liked being cooped up and the hospital had been like...well, not like jail because she knew how that really felt, but certainly she was glad to finally be free of the place.

He set the wheelchair brake and then settled down on a bench next to her while they waited for Pyro to pull the car around. "Glad to be going home?" he asked.

"Not as glad as the staff is," she mused. They had cheered her as Alan had rolled her down the corridor but she suspected they were simply glad they weren't going to have to deal with her any more.

He chuckled. "They'll certainly be telling stories about you for a long time. I know I will. Honestly, I never expected you to come along so far. I'm really proud of you. I'm going to be using your story to inspire people."

Cataclysm snorted, embarrassed, and said, "Nah, use me to scare people. Like, if you aren't good we'll have the mean zombie lady shuffle after you."

"That works, too," he grinned. His smiled faded and he shifted uncomfortably. "So, I was wondering. What's your schedule like over the next few days. I know you have a lot going on, transitioning to being out of the hospital, but I thought maybe we could get together."

Cataclysm was confused. Her brain was still just a little sluggish so sometimes she had trouble following conversations. "I thought I was changing to another PT. Barb something."

"Uh, no," he said. "I mean socially. You know, like a date."

She was taken aback and just said, "Oh."

He looked a little self-conscious and said, "Well, that look of horror sort of gives me my answer."

"What? Oh, no," she said quickly with a little laugh. "No, it just that you took me by surprise. I haven't gotten any vibe like that at all from you up until now."

"Well, when your job is to put your hands on people you have to be very careful about stuff like flirting. I had to wait until we had no more professional relationship. But, hey, if you're not interested then no big."

Cataclysm was struggling to adjust to the abrupt change in the conversation. "No, it’s not that. I just...My life is kind of complicated. I don't really have room for anyone in it."

"OK, I understand," he said.

She hadn't thought about him like that until now. The idea certainly had its appeal but she dismissed it. "Seriously, it's not lack of interest," she said and then shrugged, "but then again doesn't everyone fall in love with their PTs?"

"Oh, hell no," he laughed. "They fall in love with their doctors. They hate us PTs. Doctors give you drugs and make you feel better. We hurt you and make you work."

"Well, I certainly don't hate you. I like people who push me. But, well, like I said. Just bad timing."

"All right. If the timing gets better," he waved to indicate the hospital, "you know where to find me."

"I'll keep that in mind," she said. After a hesitation she reached out to touch his arm. "Um, thanks. I mean, well, it's been kind of a long time since a guy's shown any interest."

"I find that hard to believe."

She snorted. "It shouldn't be. Most guys want wimpy chicks looking for Prince Charming. They don't like women who can stand up for themselves."

"Well, then maybe you just need to find stronger men."

They looked into each other's eyes and Cataclysm felt herself blushing. She looked up and said, "Oh, here comes Pyro."

Alan looked over and saw the car approaching. Pyro pulled up next to them and Cataclysm got to her feet. She opened the door and Alan reached out to help her. She slapped his hand and growled, "Stop that." He grinned and pulled his hands away, letting her get into the car by herself.

He handed her little bag of possessions through the window and said, "Well, good luck. You're going to do fine. I think you'll like Barb. I've never met her but I know her reputation. She's one of the best in the city." He paused and his eyes twinkled. "They say she consults with L’Institut Thoth. Treats a lot of metahumans."

Cataclysm raised her eyebrows. "Really? Cool. Maybe I'll meet someone famous."

He stepped back from the car and waved goodbye. She waved back and Pyro drove off.