The hospital used a disinfectant that lightly stung the nostrils of all who smelled it for too long. Nine years later they would switch to a different one after discovering that two of the interacting chemicals could do long term damage to the sinuses of those who were exposed for long periods of time. The young man sitting in the waiting room could have told them that just from a quick sniff, saving them countless headaches, both literal and metaphorical, along with a couple of lawsuits. That young man could have told them many things, had he been so inclined, which he wasn’t, and if they’d been willing to listen, which they wouldn’t have.
Neither could be blamed for those attitudes. While the young man possessed one of the most amazing minds of his generation, the shell that housed it was hardly impressive. Spiked hair dyed a myriad of shifting collars, dark eyeliner making him look like some sort of angry raccoon, and the leather jacket with several symbols ineptly applied across the surface all combined to form the image of a male going through an exceptionally outspoken rebellious stage. As to why he wouldn’t have shared with them any of the knowledge dashing through his mind, well his priorities were currently elsewhere. That was evidenced by the very fact he was sitting in this hospital waiting room, a pale look of creeping terror etched into his face.
A tall, broad man in a tailored suit took the seat across from him. He was muscular in frame, though the sliver tinting his temples betrayed the fact that he wouldn’t be able to sustain such a figure for much longer. The young man looked up at his new companion, a brief flicker of confusion on his face. This was a large waiting room, and they were the only two people in it. There was no reason for him to sit so close, unless he planned on making conversation. The young man was correct on that account, though what came out of the older man’s mouth was unexpected. It was the second surprise the young man had experienced that day, and it would ultimately be the far longer lasting one.
“Sarah’s not doing so well, is she?”
The uncertainty that had been lingering behind those dark shaded eyes evaporated as steely suspicion took its place. “You aren’t affiliated with the hospital, so how do you know my sister’s name?”
“I know a lot of things, Luke,” said the older man. “I know about the way your brain processes information, the way you can calculate variables in a heartbeat that would take a computer several seconds. I know about the car accident earlier today, and the fact that your sister is in intensive care.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m a man coming to you in your moment of need, offering opportunity. You can call me Mr. Volt.”
“Okay, Mr. Volt. How about you fuck right off and leave me alone,” Luke spat.
“I can do that, Luke. I can and I will, if that’s what you really want. But you’re a smart person. Don’t you think it might be worthwhile to hear me out first?”
“Kiss my ass, old man. You think you’re the first one to approach me? I’ve had dozens of companies come sniffing after what I’ve got. I’ll tell you what I told all of them, I’m not looking to sell-out. I work for me and I’m doing just fine. So take your fancy clothes and your corporate philosophy and go choke on a dick. You’ve got nothing I want.”
“No, I probably don’t,” Mr. Volt agreed. “But I have something Sarah needs.”
Luke’s sneer froze on his face, slowly melting away into a blank stare as the meaning of this man’s words became clear to him.
“I read the file, I know how bad it was,” Mr. Volt continued. “You were so sure you could get past that semi, but you miscalculated.”
“I DIDN’T MISCA…I didn’t miscalculate,” Luke said, lowered his voice after the initial outburst. That didn’t stop the tremble from crawling into it. “I don’t miscalculate. The driver veered for no reason. There was no logic to it. It wasn’t in the numbers. He shouldn’t have done that.”
“But he did. Right into her side of the car. You got by with only scrapes and bruises, but Sarah wasn’t nearly as lucky. Tell me, you saw her injuries. What are her chances of survival?”
For a moment it seemed that Luke wouldn’t answer, unless one counted clutching his hands together as they began shaking a response. He’d held it together for longer than most could have, but having to vocalize the figures he hadn’t stopped thinking about was finally breaking down his resolve.
“Fifteen point three two four percent. It was around twenty one percent when she came in, but the longer they take, the lower the odds get.”
“What if I could change those numbers? What if I could give you a hundred percent, not only of survival, but of complete recovery? No scars, no rehab, no lingering pain, no paralysis. It will be like it never happened.”
“You’ve got a healer.” It had been in the back of Luke’s mind since he got here, that a healer could save Sarah. There wasn’t one at the hospital, of course, they were too rare to waste time in a podunk town like his. Even if there had been one, they were incredibly hard to see and astronomically expensive. Luke made good money with his freelance work, but that was well beyond his means. If this man was telling the truth though…that changed everything.
“What’s the catch?” Luke asked at last.
Mr. Volt pulled a cell phone from his pocket and set it on the table beside Luke. “The catch is this: you come to work for my company. The pay is decent and the hours are shit. Resignation is forbidden and termination is not a synonym for firing. The retirement package is actually pretty nice, for those who’ve got what it takes to make it that far. The fringe benefits are top notch though. Housing, travel, and a staff with things like a healer and a teleporter available in emergencies to all employees, and their immediate family.”
“So that’s your deal. I give up my life and you save my sister.”
“Think of it as a trade. I find that helps. You’re trading your future for hers. All you have to do is pick up the phone and press send. My people will answer, and Sarah will be perfectly healthy five minutes later.”
Luke scooped up the phone and held it in his hands, staring at the green numbers typed across the screen. His brain whirred with activity, numbers not affiliated with the phone in front of him danced across his mind’s eye. All the calculations coming to him unbidden. It was his gift. It made him special. It meant that he had a future full of possibilities that no normal person could ever hope to rival. His brain, that damned, trouble making brain, kept drawing him to conclusion that if this was a trade, then it was a bad one. Sarah was human. She would live a normal human life and eventually die a normal human death. His life would be far more interesting, far more worthwhile, so long as he had the freedom to pursue it. The math cold and unquestionable. Logic didn’t lie.
Luke eye’s focused on the green digits hovering before him, the large fonted key to saving his sisters life. This should be obvious, right? This was what he did. Ration, logic, reason, math. Numbers. All of it was world was numbers, if you knew how to look at it. But now he had two set in front of him. Luke knew one set was the smart choice, and he knew which one it was, too.
With a quick motion Luke hit the SEND button and pulled the phone up to his ear. Fuck his future. It wasn’t worth having if it came at the cost of hers. It didn’t matter what his brain was saying, his mind knew what was right.
He’d chosen his numbers, now all that remained was to see what came next.