Go to Bed Dead And Yet Wake Up Alive
Go to Bed Dead And Yet Wake Up Alive
"The only way to truly kill freedom is in small, unnoticeable cuts, not huge bleeding wounds." - Justice Felix Frankfurter
Not far from the bed in which Xander Harris lay unconscious, Agent Calvin Henry of SHIELD sat a desk, reading a copy of Field and Stream magazine. The cover article was entitled "Dove Hunting Etiquette". Agent Henry had never been dove hunting. He'd hunted deer since he his father first took him that winter of his 15th year. He'd also gone on a bear hunt once. But never dove hunting. He couldn't imagine that it would be any more exciting than a bear hunt, but it did look like it had its own challenges, what with doves being small and fast-moving. Birds that were hard to shoot sounded like fun.
He wasn't technically supposed to be reading on the job, but absolutely no one with any sort of authority really cared. Over the course of who knew how many shifts, Agent Henry had discovered that the primary feature of this particular job was boredom. The girl he and the rest of his team were guarding had been out cold for nearly six months. Agent Henry was willing to put real money on her ending up a vegetable, if it wouldn't have got earned him a serious reprimand. It wasn't that he was mean-spirited or callous; its just that like a lot of veteran law enforcement officers, he was very much jaded and cynical.
And a reprimand was the last thing he needed. He liked his job; he certainly enjoyed it more than he liked his short tenure with the FBI. He was smart enough to know that pulling something as monumentally stupid as laying a bet that a hospital patient would end up being permanently brain damaged or something was the kind of shit that got you dismissed on ethnics charges, or worse. Or worse, got you not only fired but prosecuted, like that dumb bastard Lawery, who had snuck into the girl's room, took a bunch of pictures of her lying there all naked, and then tried to sell them to a porn website.
Moron. Lawery had apparently missed the memo that the girl was jail-bait, and nothing ends a life like a conviction for manufacturing kiddie porn. Lawery had ended up with a well-deserved one-way ticket to a twenty-five year vacation in Leavenworth.
When he began this assignment, he'd idly wondered who the girl was. He'd been able to find out her name, some basic biographical info, and her exact status ("temporary medical custody pending further determination", whatever the heck that meant), but everything else about the girl was being restricted. He'd found out through scuttlebutt that she was some new and unknown superhuman, and that apparently her skin was impenetrable, but that was it.
He'd also heard from Carol Dunleavy, the agent who'd accompanied Assistant Supervising Agent Copella to the girl's home in Ohio, that when they were informed that the girl had been found, her parents had wigged out. Her mother started crying, and her father had told Copella and Dunleavy that the girl was "no longer welcome" at the family farm.
Agent Henry thought that was a little sad. He'd lost both his folks in a plane crash when he was not too much older than the girl. That was bad enough, having your folks taken away like that. But being told that she no longer had a home and her folks didn't want her.
Maybe it would be better for her if she didn't wake up.
He continued reading his magazine in silence. The article about hunting doves had turned into an article about the comparative value of crossbows. He'd never used a crossbow when hunting, and the article actually interested him. He was so involved in the article that when the monitoring system at his desk started beeping, the noise surprised Agent Henry so much that he dropped his magazine.
He sat there in shock for several seconds. The alarm hadn't ever gone off after it was tested, way back when the girl was first brought in. He mastered his surprise and carefully studied the video monitor. It was a live feed, so if there was anything going on in the room...
There. Did she just move? Was she... did she look like she was in a different position than usual?
Agent Henry leaned forward and pressed a button, speaking into the microphone on the desk. "Medical team to room 308, please. Security team to room 308 please. Doctor Darby, your patient is awake." He pressed an additional button and said, "Agent Dunne, check your primary, would you? We just had something register on her restraints and it looks like she's moved. Might be nothing, but take a look, okay?"
"Roger, Calvin." Dunne responded over her radio. "Did you say it looked like she has moved? Coma patients don't move around like people who are asleep. You sure?"
"Positive. She's in a different position. Gather up the doctor; he's going to want to check her over before you do your initial interview."
Agent Henry waited until he got confirmation from Agent Dunne, the senior member of the security team assigned to watch over the girl. And then he went back to his reading. He was definitely going to try to talk his wife into going dove-hunting with him. She might complain at first, but he remembered that, way back when he took her fishing for marlin that one time, she eventually started having fun with it and later actually got enthused. The same thing would likely happen again this time.
Waking up the second time was much, much more abrupt for Xander than the first time had been. Despite the utter chaos of sensory overload and the heavy weight of suddenly being awake after months in a coma, the first time Xander woke up, he'd slid into a sort of easy, slow wakefulness. He'd awakened a step at a time, in quick succession to be sure, but it had still been a step at a time.
The second time he awoke, maybe four minutes later, was as sudden and jarring as a car crash. His senses were haywire again, though somehow it wasn't as intrusive as before. He found it much easier to listen to the little voice in the back of his head that told him how to turn the volume down on everything. But it was still as if someone opened his head and poured a bucket of ice water into it.
There were people in the room with him; five of them. Without ever opening his eyes, he knew this. He could hear their heartbeats, and smell the faint acrid odor of their sweat, and feel the slight increase in air temperature that each one of them was causing as infrared radiation poured into the atmosphere from their bodies. He could even tell that two of them were closer to him than the others, and that one was close enough to reach out and touch.
The five other people in the room were the first thing that he noticed, though they weren't what consumed the whole of his attention. What consumed his attention, at least at first, was the fact that he was still apparently a girl. He still had a pair of boobs, big ones; his chest felt odd, heavier, unwieldy because of them. Is this how girl's felt all the time? And his... his... he couldn't say it. Not even to himself. He couldn't even force himself to use one of the dozens of childish euphemisms he and Jesse had carefully memorized while they were growing up together. The terms just would not enter his conscious mind. But even so, it wasn't there. Still. That entire part of his body felt weird. Certain sensations that he knew he should be feeling weren't being felt because... that... was missing.
For some reason, it embarrassed him. Internally, in his head, where his mind lived, he was a guy. He knew he was a guy. It was one of the unchangeable laws of the universe. Alexander Lavelle Harris. Guy. A man among men. He loved sports and looking at women and drinking beer and spitting and scratching himself in public and burping!
If he were to be truthful, he didn't mind participating in the occasional touch-football game, and he wasn't a half-bad swimmer, but most other sports left him cold. The most beer he'd ever had in his life was when his alcoholic father Tony pushed an open can into his hands and said, "Every kid needs to have a sip when they get to be eight." He hadn't liked it much, and living with Tony the Lush he was fairly comfortable with the idea of never drinking again. Burping and spitting and scratching, as any guy could tell you, just weren't the thrills that they were made out to be.
On the other hand, when it came to the ladies...
He couldn't deny he liked to look at them but lately he'd come to the conclusion that merely being pretty wasn't enough for him. Harmony Kendall had been proof of that. Very pretty girl; complete and total bitch. No thanks.
The fact that he was failing the guy test further embarrassed him.
So yeah. Internally, he was still a guy. Externally he felt like... he felt like. Well? He didn't know what he felt like because it all felt weird. He supposed this was what girls felt like. No, that thought was suddenly running into bad directions. And he knew that he didn't want to feel his outs... no, stop. That wasn't any better. Okay. So. He was a girl, and it was weird, and he didn't know how to feel girls. No. Stop.
Embarrassed by his own embarrassment, he slowly opened his eyes.
The five people turned out to be four women and a man. Three of the women were dressed in what Xander was assuming were nearly identical dark-colored; they all had similar insignia and patches, hence uniforms. Of the man and the last woman, he was wearing a white lab coat over his shirt and tie, while she was wearing one of those merrily multicolored smocks Xander had come to associate with nurses.
The doctor was leaning over him. One of the man's hands was reaching toward Xander's face, while the other held some sort of short metal wand. Xander pulled back as far as he possibly could; he wasn't so much surprised by the man's presence as he was by the man's actions. The doctor reaching for his face scared him a moment. Obligingly, though, the doctor stepped back a pace and smiled. Nice, pleasant doctor's smile, Xander thought to himself. Designed to keep the patient calm and cooperative. It was, in Xander's opinion, a smile engineered to make a patient feel relieved.
Of course, the three imposing, scary people who were so obviously some sort of military standing by the door killed whatever relief Xander might be feeling at a friendly doctor's smile. They were each watching Xander like hawks, and each wore some fancy-looking high-tech pistol on their hips. The guns alone were proving to be the opposite of "relieving."
"Ah, and there you are. You're awake! That's great!" The doctor spoke using that assured-yet-kindly doctor's tone, again engineered to make a patient feel perfectly at ease. It was likely the same tone of voice the doctor used to tell cancer patients they only had a day and a half to live or something.
"Uh, ri'wake." Xander tried to force himself to relax, but again the ladies near the door with the honking big guns were a bit unnerving. His voice was a scratchy croak...
It was weird!
"wake..." He tried again. It was difficult getting his mouth to work. He obviously had been out for a while.
Was that his voice? How could that be his voice? He'd never had the absolute deepest of voices, but his speaking voice certainly wasn't made of the higher-pitched sounds he was creating now. Xander, of course, had no idea what a tenor or a mezzo-soprano was, but if he did, he'd certainly have pointed out that he normally was the first, and not the second.
"Okay, good to know." The doctor gave the 'nothing to worry about' smile again, and it broke Xander out of his musings about his voice. "My name is Mark Darby. I'm one of the doctors here, and I've been supervising your care. This is Susan." The doctor indicated the woman wearing the multicolored smock. "She's been your long-term-care nurse."
"Long term care?" Xander asked. It still came out a little croak-like. His confusion at the situation was apparent and tangible.
The reassuring smile faded a bit. "Um... yes. You've been with us since October. You've been in a coma. I take it you don't remember how you got here?" When Xander indicated that he didn't with a shake of his head, the doctor glanced at the nurse, who scribbled something down on the thing in her hands.
"You may find that your throat is too dry and scratchy to talk very well, so do your best. And if you need a drink of water, we can get you some." The doctor sort of shrugged in the direction of a thin, strip-like rolling table that held, among other things, a bedpan, a water pitcher, and a short stack of clear plastic cups.
The doctor held up the small wand-like object he had in his hands. Xander could see it was just a fancy-looking penlight. "I need to check your pupil response and a couple of other things, if that's okay. None of this will hurt, I assure you. And while I'm doing this, Susan is going to ask you a couple of questions, just to make sure you're okay and you're not suffering any problems from being unconscious for so long. Okay?" The man smelled of cigarettes, lots of them. Almost like he'd bathed in cigarette smoke before coming in. The smell almost made Xander vomit, but within moments it was gone.
Xander just nodded and held his head still while the doctor repeatedly shined a light in first one eye, then the other. He'd noticed that no one had answered his question, but for a moment he was too busy looking at the device the nurse was working with. It reminded him of one of those data pads used by the crew of the Enterprise on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He knew that the presence of this real-life datapad should have clued him in to something, but at the moment all he could think about was how cool the thing was.
"Can you tell me your name, sweetie?" Nurse Susan smiled at Xander as she asked.
"Zahn-" Xander croaked. Without thinking he pulled one of his hands up toward his throat, only for the hand to come to a sudden and abrupt stop because of the shackle. He looked at the shackles in disgust, then turned that same exasperated look toward the guards near the door. The guards, for their part, didn't so much as react.
"Oh. Sorry about that. Let me get you some water." The nurse, Susan, poured some ice water into one of the cups, then popped a bendy straw into it. "There you go." The nurse seemed nice enough, but Xander could smell the tuna that the woman had eaten recently. Obviously the nurse hadn't had a chance to brush her teeth after she ate. The stench of the fish almost made Xander recoil, but within moments it had faded into the background.
"Okay." The nurse put the cup of water back on the table. "Let's try that again. Can you tell me your name?"
"Xander Harris." Xander's voice was still a bit on the croaky side, but it was at last working. He coughed lightly from the sensation. It was like he really needed to clear his throat, but there was nothing in the way of it being clear. And it was still freaky to hear that voice come out of his throat. He just wasn't supposed to sound that way.
"I'm sorry, did you say, 'Zander'?"
Xander nodded. "Its a nickname. Its actually 'Alexander', but all my friends call me Xander." He coughed again, then finished. "No one but my folks call me Alexander."
"We'll talk about that in a minute honey." The nurse looked at her Star Trek pad, then at the Doctor. "Did you say that your name is 'Alexander?' Like the boy's name?"
"Well yeah 'like the boy's name.' What do you expect?" Xander raised his hands as high as he could, then dropped them back onto his lap. This promptly reminded him of why they might question is use of a boy's name. Oh. Yeah. That. To them, I'm just some girl.
"Okay. Alexander, then. And you say your friends call you Xander. That's interesting. I would have thought it would be 'Alex', right?" Nurse Susan smiled. "What do I know? Okay, Xander... can I call you Xander?" At Xander's nod, she continued. "Okay, Xander, do you have a middle name?"
That caused Xander to gloom up. "Yes, I have a middle name." He didn't say anything else.
"I'm going to lower your head, okay?" The doctor asked, just before lowering Xander's head. That was one of his pet peeves: people who asked you if it was okay to do something and then just did it without waiting for you to give your permission. "Now, um, Xander, I need to listen to your chest, so I'm going to pull your gown down just a little. Don't worry, I'm not going to uncover you or anything."
The doctor moved Xander's hospital gown out of the way, just enough like he said he would, and then started using his stethoscope to listen. It hadn't occurred to Xander to worry about having his chest exposed to the air before. It took him a moment to realize that suddenly having boobs would mean that people treated him like he had boobs. How long is this freak-show going to last? He asked himself.
The nurse had waited until the doctor had started listening when she prompted Xander. "You say you do have a middle name?"
"Yes." Xander just nodded, once.
The nurse looked at him, expectantly. After a short staring contest, Xander finally conceded the fight. "Fine. Its Lavelle. It was my mother's maiden name. Could I have another sip of water?"
The nurse complied, and while Xander was drinking she asked her next question. "How old are you Xander?"
"Seventeen. I'll be eighteen in January."
"Oh yeah? My birthday is in January. I'm the twenty-seventh. How about you?" The nurse smiled at him, still scribbling on her datapad.
Nurse Susan gave Xander another smile. "Okay, Xander. Can you tell me where you're from? What town you were born in?"
"I'm from California. Sunnydale. Sunnydale, California. On the coast, about an hour northwest of LA."
The doctor stopped poking and prodding. "Okay, well, I'm done. It looks like you're okay. I'd advise taking it easy when they finally let you get up and walk around. You're out of practice, so you might be wobbly." He took the datapad from the nurse and tapped on it in several places, then began scribbling himself. After a moment, he handed it back, then turned to Xander.
"Well, uh, Xander," To Xander it seemed the doctor was putting special emphasis on his name. "Its been nice talking to you. I'll be around to check on you and to keep you updated on your condition. In the mean time, Susan here will be taking care of you. I'll talk to you later!" With that, he nodded to the nurse and the guards, then left.
Xander heard the buzz-click of the door. He was locked in, and everyone in the room was locked in with him. Nurse Susan and the guards had followed the doctor out with their eyes, just as Xander had. When they all turned back to him, Xander interrupted by asking, "Hey, when we're done, do you think I can give my friends a call and maybe my folks? Let them know I'm still alive? When you tell my folks I'm okay, they'll probably ask you how much you want to keep me, but my friends will want to know I'm doing good."
"Well, I know that someone's talked to your parents about your being here. I don't know if they've been told you're awake yet." Nurse Susan patted him on the arm. Xander barely felt it, and it came off as a bit fake. "Okay, Xander, these next couple are going to sound a bit weird, but its all just a preliminary to make sure there's no long-term effects of being unconscious for so long."
"You know, the doctor said that too. How long have I been here? And what happened to me?" That was the big question. How the hell did he suddenly become a girl? The last thing he remembered was Halloween and trick-or-treating, and then everything because gray and foggy, and then everything became black.
Nurse Susan suddenly looked out of her element. "You, uh, don't remember what happened? They found you in a crater in Nevada. You were naked as the day you were born and out like a light. And you've been out since then."
"No, I don't remember any of that. So when is now?"
"Oh, sorry." Nurse Susan cut a quick glance at the guard. Xander saw one of the women give a micro-shrug, at which point Susan tapped something on her datapad. "Well, according to this, you were admitted on the third of November, and its now it the end of March, so just under six months."
"Six months? Holy crow!"
"Yep. Its a long time. So... are you ready for the next round of questions?" At Xander's confirming nod, Susan asked, "How many fingers?" She held her hand up.
"Four. Or three and a thumb if you want to get anal."
"Very good. Okay, and what's the primary color of my smock?" She was scribbling again.
"Purple. Sort of violety purple, too."
"Good. Good. Can you name the current president?"
Xander began to answer, and then abruptly closed his mouth. "Well, given the election and all, I, uh, I don't know. Either President Clinton got re-elected, or its President Bob Dole. One of the two, obviously."
Nurse Susan paused in her scribbling. She looked at Xander a little sharply, then took a deep breath and kept smiling. "Well, I'm not sure where your particular political ideals are located on the left-right scale, but President Clinton was, in fact, re-elected."
"Oh, that's cool. I like the guy. Couldn't have voted for him, but hey, still like the guy."
"Right." Susan glanced at her pad again. "So can you tell me your parents names?"
"Anthony and Jessica." Xander's face got gloomy. "The lush and the punching bag," he muttered to himself.
"I'm sorry, but did you just say, 'the lush and the punching bag?' Was that comment about your parents?"
Xander didn't answer at first. Finally, just when Susan was about to prompt him again, Xander responded. "Yeah. My dad and mom. They're both just... just... exquisite specimens of humanity. He's been living in a bottle ever since he got hurt on the job, and he takes his frustrations out on his family. In return, my Mom's climbed into the bottle right next to him, and has discovered that she knows how to throw a punch too."
That stopped the nurse cold. "Alex, did they ever hurt you? I mean, were you... did they beat you? Did your father ever touch you?" Without meaning to, Nurse Susan's eyes darted down toward Xander's chest, then back up. "You know. Did he ever..."
Xander felt himself blush. His face went from glum to confused to disgusted. "Ugh! Why'd you have to make with the bad thoughts? Oh my God, I'm going to be all day scrubbing with brain bleach to get that picture out of my head! No! He never touched me! Neither did she! I mean, other than with his fists. But not that... he got really liquored up one time and threw an empty bottle of Jim Beam at my head, but he never. Ewww!" The long rant got scratchier and scratchier, and quieter and quieter, as Xander's voice gave out.
Nurse Susan helpfully brought more ice water. "I think we're done for now," she added. "The remote for the TV is over your right shoulder; let me get that for you. I know you can't get it with your hands in those things." Susan actually looked apologetic at her own mention of the shackles, as she handed the remote to Xander. It was attached to the wall by a long silvery cable. "Agent Dunne is going to want to talk to you about a couple of things, I am sure." Nurse Nancy tilted her head toward one of the guards. "Keep smiling, Xander. Don't let it get to you."
With that, she patted Xander on the hand and left, accompanied by the usual buzz-click.
Xander watched her leave, then turned her attention to the woman Nurse Nancy had called 'Agent Dunne.' Xander studied her for a moment. Really studied her. This Agent Dunne was maybe ten or twelve years older than Xander. She was a tallish woman, standing maybe five-foot ten inches tall. Her hair was auburn and tucked up into that sort of twirly-bun thing that women know how to do when they have long hair. And she had freckles.
If Xander hadn't been absolutely terrified of her, he'd have thought she was cute.
He fell back on his usual behavior patterns: when scared beyond belief, start making jokes. "So, Agent Dunne, right? I have to say that as vacation resorts go, the beds here are pretty great, but the room service is a bit on the light side." The corners of Dunne's mouth quirked just enough for Xander to be aware of it. He swallowed heavily and continued, unsure exactly how to proceed. "So... I guess if Nurse Susan was the good cop, that makes you the bad cop?"
The agent stepped forward as she spoke. "That all depends on how this conversation goes. As you heard, my name is Josephine Dunne. You can call me Ms. Dunne, or Agent Dunne. Eventually, maybe, if everything goes well between us, we can advance to the point that you can call me Josephine, or Jo. But we're not there yet. Would you prefer me to call you Ms. Starr, or Ms. Harris?"
Xander's brow furrowed. "Harris. My last name is Harris. I don't know why you'd want to call me Starr. Its not my name. I don't know anyone named Starr. My name is Alexander Harris. And if you have to call me by my last name its 'Mister' Harris.'" He paused and looked down on himself. "Despite what it looks like, I'm not a girl. I'm a guy. Like I said, my name is Alexander Harris. My friends call me Xander. I don't know how I got stuck in this body, but given some of the other things that have happened to me, this is just... I dunno... weird. But I'm not a girl. I'm not."
Dunne stared at him for a moment. "All evidence to the contrary."
"Yeah! Exactly!" Xander nodded. "This isn't my body and I don't know how this happened, but this isn't me." He waved his hands toward his now-protuberant chest. "It isn't me."
Dunne was quiet for a moment, then began again, this time with a much more stern tone of voice. "Ms. Harris..." She held up a hand when Xander started to object. "Look, I do not want to come across as insensitive, but here's the situation. While you were unconscious we took your fingerprints in an effort to identify you. And identify you we did. We found out that you are, in fact, a seventeen year old female runaway Midvale, Ohio named Karen Starr. In my line of work, I've encountered people who wanted me to call them all sorts of things," she continued. "So while I'm willing to go with the flow and call you by whatever name you want me to call you while you're here, there are limits. I'm not going to call you 'Mister' just because you want to show your ass."
"Agent." There was iron in her voice now. "Call me Agent Dunne, or Ms. Dunne. Do not call me lady. That is disrespectful. I haven't been disrespectful to you, so you have no call to be disrespectful to me."
Xander took a deep breath, then let it out through his nose slowly. "Okay. Agent. Look, I'm not just saying this to show my ass. I really am a guy. I'm just... stuck in a girl suit."
"You're saying you're a transsexual?"
"A what?" Xander was confused for a moment. "Oh, you mean... no, I'm... well... sort of, I guess... I mean... but... I mean... I'm a guy, and I'm trapped inside the body of a girl, but I have no idea how I got here. I wasn't born this way. I mean I wasn't born a girl, I was born a guy. And then this all happened. One minute I was a guy, the next I'm suddenly a girl."
"So you're not a transsexual, you've just been suddenly turned female." Dunne asked with a bemused look on her face. "Like someone hit you with a sex-change ray and turned you from a man into a woman?"
"Exactly! Right! That's what happened! I need to figure out how to change back. There's got to be a way. I mean, if something turned me into this." Dunne's face grew darker and Xander realized he'd just referred to being female in a very disrespectful manner. "Sorry... I'm sure there's nothing wrong with being female, but when you're a guy its not what you're supposed to be and I'm not describing it correctly and oh my God, I'm babbling like Willow." He took a deep breath and again let it out slowly. "Anyway, I'm stuck in this body... not that there's anything wrong with it, I guess, but its not my body. I want to get my body back, and until I do, I'm asking you to refer to me as 'mister.' I didn't ask for this, so... its not my fault I'm not in my correct body. Okay?"
Dunne was quiet, an odd look on her face.
"I promise I'll be cooperative. Just... if you're going to call me by my last name, do me this one favor, okay?" Xander was pleading. He knew how desperate he sounded.
"All right. For the sake of mutual cooperation, we'll call you 'mister.' Don't jump on people who forget, okay?"
Xander nodded quickly, relieved to get that over with. "So... you were saying?"
"What?" Dunne gave a start, then looked apologetic. "Oh, sorry. I was saying that I'm the head of your security detail." She stopped, abruptly, and restarted. "I understand this isn't exactly the best circumstances in which to meet new people, and I'm sorry about that. I'm not exactly at fault for what's going on either."
To Xander she at least sounded sincere.
"Now, that being said, I am required by law to give you the following information. If it sounds like something I memorized, its because I had to memorize it." Dunne smiled slightly, then began: "In accordance with Part 5 of the United States Legal Code, Section 102 Subsection 1103, and Section 105, Subsection 2105, you have been arrested by SHIELD on the charge of publicly utilizing superhuman powers without due registration and without proper licensing."
Xander started to speak, but Dunne held her hand up. "I'll answer your questions after I finish, okay?"
"As an unregistered superhuman, you can be held indefinitely as a threat to the American public, and will not receive the benefit of a trial, or even legal representation." This caused Xander to scowl; Dunne acknowledged his scowl with an apologetic shrug. "That all said, you're being given a chance to cooperate with us, and a chance to register. Should you choose to not cooperate, you'll be sent to prison, probably for the rest of your life. Now... you obviously have questions. I'll answer what I can. There are some things I either can't answer, and by that I mean literally I don't have the information so I can't answer, and then there are things I won't answer because of security concerns or security classification. But as long as you remember those restrictions, I'll try to answer your questions."
"Yeah. My first question was originally going to be about who you guys were and the superhuman thing, but now I have a question about the entire 'no trial, rest of my life' thing. I thought the Constitution was set up to prevent that sort of thing! Isn't there an Amendment that prevents cruel and unusual punishments and gives everyone whatcha callit... due process? I'm not a lawyer but I've watched enough Law and Order to know that just tossing people into jail for life without so much as a lawyer visit is wrong!"
"Except you're not considered a person."
That stopped Xander cold. And the cold went all the way through him. "Then what am I?"
"Legally? You're a walking talking weapon of mass destruction, and in the interest of public safety, you can and will be imprisoned if you don't cooperate." Again, Dunne sounded apologetic, but she also sounded determined.
Xander thought about it. "And what makes me a weapon of mass destruction? I'm just a guy who got turned into a girl."
"No, Mr. Harris," she sighed. "If, as you say, you're just a guy who got turned into a girl, you're also a girl who fell from near-Earth orbit, slammed into the side of a mountain hard enough to leave a crater a hundred feet across, and yet doesn't have a scratch on her. Him. Sorry."
"While you've been unconscious, we've been examining you. While we do not know the full extent of your abilities, we have pretty well determined that you're immune to any sort of... well... damage isn't the word for it. We tried to set you up with an IV, and the needles broke and bent on your skin. We can't get any sort of read on your body's electrical system. To an X-Ray machine, you're solid as concrete. We get some penetration with an MRI, but not enough to really matter."
The shock was apparent on Xander's face. He had no idea how to react to this. It was... it was... it was almost as shocking as waking up a girl. Congratulations, Xander... you're a superhero! And because of it, you're going to jail!
"I don't know if you're a mutant or if you got hit by lightning, or were dunked in a vat of toxic waste or, picked up the wrong magical doo-dad at the wrong time. But I do know my superhumans, Mr. Harris, and you are certainly one of them."
"Wait. You said, 'You know your superhumans?' So I'm not the only one?"
"Not the only... Mr. Harris, are you really trying to tell me that you've never heard of the Avengers? Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Wasp? Or Spider-Man? That you've never seen a news story about any of these people?" Dunne was obviously skeptical.
"Captain... Huh?" Again shock prevented Xander from articulating what he was feeling. He thought about what he was hearing, and as he did something from what Dunne had said finally trickled through. "Wait... you said I was in SHIELD custody earlier? You're talking SHIELD the agency. Agent Dunne. You're a SHIELD agent. Like Nick Fury and the Agents of Shield, SHIELD. That's who you're talking about, right? That SHIELD?"
"Director Fury is retired, but yes, that would be the agency I'm talking about. But..."
"And Captain America and Spider-Man and the Avengers and the X-Men and Doctor Strange... all that... they're all real?"
"Yes, of course they are. Why would you not think they were real?"
Xander seemed to deflate in his bed. "Holy shit, its worse than I thought. I'm like... in another world entirely." His words were barely audible.
"I'm sorry, what?"
"I'm... I... I don't even know how to describe it. I'm in the Marvel Universe, stuck in a girl's body."
Dunne just looked confused. "What's the Marvel Universe?"
"Yeah, I guess you'd just call it 'the universe.'" Xander said. He couldn't prevent the wry smile. "I was always a bigger fan of DC Comics than Marvel."
"Mr. Harris, you're not making sense."
"Yeah, I know." He shook his head. "But its not me. The world isn't making sense, Agent Dunne of SHIELD. The world isn't making sense."
She was silent for a moment, then asked, "Tell me about it. Please?"
Xander stared at her for a good long while, then finally shrugged. "Okay. The last thing I remember is being in Sunnydale, trick-or-treating. I was helping to escort some elementary school kids as part of a Community Action thing set up by my High School principal, a real sourpuss of a man named Ryan Snyder. We kept the kids safe while they were walking around at night."
"That was sweet of you. Did you have fun?"
"Oh sure, I was sharing Xander's Tips for Maximizing Candy Acquisition with the runts. And then suddenly everything went gray, then black, and the next thing I know I'm waking up here. And I'm stuck in a girl's body, and am apparently about to be thrown in prison for the crime of being alive." Xander's eyes looked through Agent Dunne. "Before I got here I was a man, and I didn't have these powers. I don't know what's going on, and I have no idea what to do about it. And my head hurts now."
Dunne turned to one of her subordinates. "Agent Plato, would you go get Mr. Harris something for her headache? I'm sure Agent Book and I will be fine alone with her. Him. With Mr. Harris." At this, one of the other women nodded, then left the room.
"This is like... a bad joke. Why am I the universe's butt-monkey, what with the Aztec mummies and the virgin-eating praying mantises, and the..." his voice trailed off. "I'm really tired. Can we do this some other time?"
Dunne didn't respond.
"Please?" Xander pleaded.
Finally, Dunne nodded. "Okay, we can finish the briefing after you've rested. Keep this in mind, okay? Like I said before, because of your situation, your exact status is a bit up in the air. Right now, its been decided that if, while you're with us, you cooperate, answer our questions, take some tests, and things like that, and if you agree to come into compliance with the Registration Act, you'll eventually be able to go home."
"Home. Right." Xander couldn't help but laugh. "Home seems like its really far away right now."
"I can understand that." Dunne just nodded. Again, she sounded sincere, and apologetic. "So, Mr. Harris... think you can be cooperative with us?"
"What choice do I have?" was the bitter reply.
From the other side of the one-way glass, Agents Understone and Copella watched Agent Dunne talk to the girl. Both had incredulous looks on their faces.
"Got to admit, Boss, I sort of expected her to lie to us about things, but not to tell this sort of whopper." Copella shook his head. "And such a blatant lie, too. Wow. Its like she doesn't respect us enough to put work into it."
But Understone was shaking his head. "No, I don't think so, Bart. I think the girl actually believes everything she told us. Look at her. She's scared, and shocked, and traumatized, and... well, don't know what else, but I can tell she was earnest about it. I'm not saying she's not nuttier than a fruitcake, but I don't think she's lying."
Copella tapped on the datapad in his hands. "Yeah, well, I got news, Boss. She's lying about this." He handed the datapad to his supervisor. "Take a look."
Understone recognized the Internet Film Repository, or "IFR" as it was called. The website was a database of movie information since the silent era, including just about everyone who'd ever starred in anything, or directed anything, or wrote, produced, did music for, did animation for any film and TV project ever produced. He'd wasted some time there before, just bouncing from one movie page to the next. If you were into movie and TV trivia, and he was, it was a cool site to go to.
The specific page was for the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Understone remembered it, barely. It had always seemed like a 'chick show' during a time in his life when he was much more into cars and football. As far as he could remember, the only episode of Buffy he ever saw was the one that involved the girl finding the dead body of her mother on the couch, and even then he'd only watched the first ten or fifteen minutes before turning it over to a baseball game.
"Okay, so Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What's the connection?" Understone tried to give Copella back the pad, but Copella just pointed to it.
"Look at the cast."
Undertone did so. "Charisma Carpenter as Buffy, Sarah Michelle Gellar as Cordelia, Riff Regan, Anthony Head, Nathan Fillion, Ryan Reynolds... Wait..." He looked at Copella sharply. "Ryan Reynolds as Xander Harris? Let me guess, Xander is short for Alexander, and the character's middle name was Lavelle?"
Copella was nodding. "Exactly, boss. Our girl there is using the name of a TV character." He turned back to the window. "Wonder why she chose that TV character."
Understone shrugged. "No idea. But I still don't think she's lying. Somehow, I think she actually believes she's really this character." He paused, thinking. "Okay, how's this sound? Troubled girl goes through a power eruption and suffers a mental breakdown because of the stress. Takes on the identity of a character from a TV show because being herself hurts to much. Or something."
"Well, its probably way wrong, but it sounds good." Copella gave his boss a sharp look. "You're saying she's not lying because she's crazy?"
"Might be. Never been through it myself, but I've heard that suddenly getting superpowers can be scary and painful. I remember talking to Ms. Marvel once about the time she got her powers. She said she almost got PTSD because of it, and says that its one of the things that caused her to become a drunk. So its possible that happened here. Hell, for all we know, the individual we have here and are calling Karen Starr really is a guy, and part of her eruption was to suddenly become a girl who really existed. Maybe this 'Xander Harris' is a ghost who is possessing Karen Starr. Stranger things have happened."
Copella didn't know how to react to that idea. He was a religious man, and had always had trouble coming to terms with the fact that magic and demons and witches and wizards were real. "Wow. Okay, you want I should contact Leonard Samson?"
"Yeah, Bart. Good thinking. Get Samson. Have him do a psych eval so we know if this girl is a psycho or just a victim. If she's crazy, maybe I won't have to have her hauled to the Gulag, assuming its a permanent thing. If its not, maybe we can do the world some good and get her treatment." Understone turned and walked toward the door.
"Yeah. Lord knows we need more good in the world. I'll handle it, Boss." Copella smiled at his supervisor's retreating back. Still smiling, he turned back to the window to watch Dunne finish up with the girl. Copella let out a sigh. He hated seeing people tossed in jail for doing nothing, and to his mind, all she'd been guilty of was falling out of the sky like a rock. Hopefully someone would smarten back up before it went to far. At least the girl was being cooperative.
Author's Note: If you recognize it, it belongs to either Mutant Enemy, Marvel Comics, or DC Comics. If you don't, its probably mine.
Author's Note the Second: So it appears that the Buffy watched in the Marvel Universe wasn't completely identical to that watched in ours. I should note, for those who weren't already aware, that all the alternate casting choices I present here were actual possibilities in our world. Charisma Carpenter and Sarah Michelle Gellar really did exchange roles. Everybody knows about Riff Regan and Nathan Fillion, and Ryan Reynolds really was under consideration to play Xander at one point.