Thom looked down at the circular wounds dotting his arms. Some were completely healed, slightly raised and shiny pink. Others seemed very recent, having thick, dark, scabbed caps that itched enough to need idly scratching. Others still were in-between fully healed and freshly made. He seemed to mostly have them on his arms and legs, but also a few along his neck and shoulders.

“Well, I suppose it’s good to know I wasn’t being used to put out cigarettes,” Thom remarked sarcastically. “What kind of experiments? Am I going to get cancer or something? It’d be a bitch to live through the end of the world and then die because someone shot me up with transmission fluid just to see what would happen. And what left the marks?”

“Unfortunately, I don’t know. The man I believe was responsible for seeing to you either does not keep much in the way of scientific notes, or he keeps them with him. In any event, I was unable to determine exactly what they were doing. I don’t even know for sure that they had a plan or goal.”

“Great,” Thom muttered in frustration. “So we know I was in a coma, we know I got some experimental brain drugs, and we know some guy probably used me as a pin-cushion for three years, but have no idea why. That about sum it up?”

“I am sorry, Thom,” Ana replied. She shifted uncomfortably and looked down at her feet. “I had hoped to find out something more, maybe after getting you out, but my attempts to return to the research area have failed. So for now, we really just don’t know anything more than that you’re awake, you seem normal, and you’re getting stronger.”

“Stronger, right,” he scoffed. He was so weak he could barely make it across the hallway without needing to nap for a couple of hours. Sure, he wasn’t army-crawling across the floor to get a drink of water anymore, but he was an awfully long way from feeling like a normal person. Still, her suggestion struck at something else he’d been wondering about.

His brow furrowed. “If I was in a coma for 13 years, and just woke up a handful of day ago, shouldn’t I pretty much be an invalid? I’ll admit that I’m not running any marathons anytime soon, but I can actually walk a little ways. Shouldn’t my muscles be complete pudding by now?”

“Well, according to your original chart, part of the coma study included regular electrical muscular stimulation. I don’t know if it was continued later, but that would explain why you aren’t in worse shape than you are. You are certainly gaunt, but you’re not completely skin and bones. Also, I’m giving you a pretty regular regimen of steroids and other growth hormones to help you heal.”

“Steroids!? What gives you the right to just decide to pump me full of steroids? Those things have terrible side effects. I don’t want to be all juiced up. You’re no better than the others!”

She looked him squarely in the eyes and gave a piercing glare. “Since I’m the only one between us with medical experience, I’m quite content to make those decisions without consultation. Besides that, I risked my life to get you out, and every day we stay here we get one step closer to being detected. Both of us are in grave danger at the moment, and the faster we can be on the move, the better our chances of survival. I need you strong enough that you can travel across country, alone if necessary, and I’ll do whatever it takes to accomplish that, as soon as possible.”

She smiled wryly, “And if it’s the side effects you’re concerned with, I wouldn’t worry too much. The most likely are baldness and infertility. Your head is shaved at the moment, so I think we can agree you have little to fear from baldness, and since I doubt you’ll be having much luck on the dating scene in our brave, new world, reproduction is probably not going to be a big issue.”

Thom scowled and opened his mouth to reply, but she cut him off.

“Don’t worry; it’s only for the short term, until we get you strong enough to travel. You should have no lasting side effects. But if we don’t move away from here soon, and are found, side effects will be the least of your concerns.”

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