Not because of the blinding, white light. Not because of the decibels assaulting his fragile eardrums. And neither because of the plethora of other sensations overwhelming his senses.
No. Though, in a way, yes; his eyes... His vision. As if he was in some kind of videogame. A crosshair, some kind of HUD...
He closed his eyes and promptly left consciousness again, without noticing anything else.
--- --- ---
"He was awake?" Joseph Manderley almost ran into the room, about a minute too late.
"Yes sir." Inwardly, he, doctor Jaime Reyes, rolled his eyes. As if Manderley didn't know.
"How was he?" He detected worry in Manderley's voice. Or perhaps he was just catching his breath.
"Panicked. From the moment he opened his eyes. Then he fell unconscious."
"What does that mean?" Yes, Manderley was worried. Logical, of course; the so-called nano-augs cost billions of credits, if not more. To lose one of the two only nano-augmented agents was horrible in terms of credits alone - approximately 50 billion credits, he thought - not to mention force strength and capability; Paul Denton was quickly becoming one of the most efficient agents UNATCO had ever employed.
Yeah, human life didn't matter that much to bureaucratic pencil pushers - definitely not more than credits and operational efficiency. He sighed.
"He probably panicked because of his augments. Imagine waking up one day to discover that your senses have been drastically altered; your sight, your hearing, your sense of smell... Not to mention the whole HUD he'd have seen; a compass, a projection of his own body, a crosshair..."
Truth to be told, he was in two minds about this. He loved technology. He wanted to live a long life and see the future. To see what kind of miracles would be possible, to see where humanity would go, given decades, given centuries... The power humanity already had over her environment was, in a word, amazing. How far could humanity go, though? The science fiction stories of old, about uploading minds, altering genetic code, replacing or augmenting limbs with cybernetics - those weren't really science fiction anymore. Imagination had spawned fantastical stories, and humanity had decided to make these stories come true. Science fiction had brought forth the spark that lit the fuse of technological progress - and look where we are now!
Yes, the world wasn't a very nice place, what with the polarisation between the haves and the have-nots, the economic crises, and the rampant discrimination against the augmented... But that was fear of change, and resentment, because the poor had no access to the wonders possessed by the rich. Technology was not the problem, it was the solution - but first, the rich would need to step outside their ivory towers.
Luckily, he was able to do something about it. UNATCO fought terrorism. Terrorism which only served to make the rich even more wary of the outside world. Terrorism which blew up resources. Terrorism, a nefarious virus that spread through the dissatisfied masses and, one by one, killed them all. As the chief physician of UNATCO, he was the very opposite of a terrorist; where terrorism brought death, he brought life. Where terrorism destroyed, he created new possibilities through research and augmentation.
But, JC Denton, a long-time friend of him, was now the second nano-augmented agent. Which was the future, of course, and they all had always known JC Denton would become one, just like his brother... But not in this way. And although he recognised the importance of experiments, he wasn't sure how to feel about the experiments done to his friend.
He shook his head and managed to catch part of what Manderley had said.
" -oing to happen anyway." Manderley looked around the room, drawing in confidence, before smiling lightly at him.
"Well, I'll be on my way. Keep me appraised of his status." With a quick nod, Manderley strode away.
Yes, we all knew it was going to happen anyway... He couldn't quite manage to shake off the feeling that this statement, though true, hid a very sinister message.
--- --- ---
It was three days after he had first regained consciousness, although only for a fleeting moment. Almost two weeks after the incident. Two weeks since he had become more than human. And, crucially, more than machine as well.
He was resting now, coming to terms with his augmentations. He didn't resent them - he had always intended to follow in his brother's footsteps, and he had started training already - but... It sort of felt wrong. Maybe he resented the process, the reason for his augmentations - but it was a done thing.
He turned his head as he heard the door to the hospital being opened. He was, after all, in the hospital, under observation by his friend Jaime Reyes.
"JC Denton! Agent JC Denton!" Manderley's booming voice sounded exactly like that of so many politicians, full of faux-confidence and faux-friendliness, drawing one into the conversation and subtly filling one's head with their own ideas as truth. Odd, how he picked that up. Must be one of his new augmentations, he figured. Many mech-augs had social and emotional intelligence enhancing augmentations, after all.
"How very good it is to see you alive and awake! How are you feeling?" Manderley's eyes gazed warm and friendly, but also expectantly, at his.
"I'm fine, sir." His voice sounded a bit different. Monotonous and robotic, like the mech-augs, but much more human.
"Excellent, excellent. Get some rest agent, the doc says you need it. Afterwards, we can discuss this whole..." Manderley waved around with his arms. "Situation." Manderley plastered a fresh smile on his face as he pivoted around and walked away.
Well, that had been enlightening. He remembered Manderley as a professional man, valuing order and hierarchy. He didn't remember Manderley being this jovial and familiar at all. Not at all how the director of UNATCO was supposed to act, in his opinion. It felt... Fake. Now that he had these nano-augs, did Manderley feel the need to suck up to him, for lack of a better term? Was he a nanotechnologically augmented agent first, and a human being second? Suddenly, he wanted his brother. He'd understand.
"Paul?" He croaked, just as Reyes walked towards him.
"He's in Hong Kong. He tried to come over, but... You know how it is, missions are more important than family to those higher up." Reyes had always been a bit of a cynic. Strange, how he reconciled his cynicism with his idealism and his genuine belief in technology being the answer to all of humanity's problems.
He nodded. He hadn't expected anything else, really.
"How do you feel?" Asked Reyes, stressing the 'do'. After all, a patient tells more to a doctor, and a friend tells more to another friend, than an employee tells an employer. Reyes happened to be both a doctor and a friend.
"I really feel fine. Just... Wary, I suppose." Reyes nodded sympathetically.
"It must be a lot to take in, all these new half-finished augmentations." Most of which you don't even know about, Reyes added mentally. "On the upside, your physical condition is perfect, so if you feel up to it, there's no reason for you to stay here."
"I don't get to have some kind of manual or report about everything they've done to me?" Reyes shook his head apologetically.
"I'm afraid not. I would tell you, mind you, but I don't know everything either. Manderley - I assume it was him - brought in half of Sarif's old scientists. Ostensibly for their unique expertise, but..." Reyes shook his head. "Well, at least they saved your life, JC. I don't think I could have done that."
He nodded and attempted to sit up. His world spun for a moment, but it was gone as soon as it started. Maybe he even had anti-dizziness augmentations, who knew.
"Manderley should know more. He's been wanting to talk to you anyway. I'd suggest visiting him. He won't mind at all, quite the contrary."
"Very well. And don't sell yourself short Jaime - thank you for looking after me." He said as he slowly stood up.
"Hey, what are friends for." Reyes sounded dismissive, but he couldn't hold back a small smile. "Your trench coat is over there, JC."
--- --- ---
As he made his way to Manderley's office, he recollected his memories. He had been on a simple assignment as part of his training for the UNATCO. A bunch of people had gathered in front of a clinic in Manhattan, which claimed to sell 'Ambrosia Lite'. Obviously a scam, but desperate people do desperate things. The clinic was privately owned by a Fay Kasvindel, who wanted to close her clinic and leave, as she always did at 16:00. The clinic's security, however, was afraid the growing crowd would storm the premise and demand the 'Ambrosia'. The people had taken up chants such as 'occupy Ambrosia', and some few had shouted death threats.
He and a few other agents, in cooperation with the local police department, had been called in to detain the crowd, to investigate the veracity of a bomb threat - and if true, to disarm it - and to capture any NSF terrorists instigating the crowd. A perfect training mission, really; a crowd was no match for an armed agent - assault rifles and assault shotguns, perhaps a tad excessive - and the bomb threat added some spice to the operation, as an unknown agent had put it.
Well, that it had, indeed. But they hadn't expected someone from the crowd to throw an actual bomb, set to detonate three seconds after being thrown.
The rest, as they say, was history. He had woken up chock-full of nanotechnology, half of which held his body together and allowed his organs to function properly. Most of the other half was deactivated as of now, as they could interfere with the other augmentations and cause him to die. A pretty grim picture, and the reason why he was under such strict surveillance.
He knocked on the door to Manderley's office and was let in.
"Agent JC Denton... You really are fortunate. How quickly you have recovered - and already up for more, it seems?" Manderley gave him a broad smile. He took a moment to consider, but yes, he was 'up for more'. For years, he had wanted to be part of the UNATCO. His near death and subsequent early introduction to nanotechnology only strengthened that resolve.
"Yes sir. But -" Manderley interrupted him.
"Excellent!" Since when did Manderley have this annoyingly loud, booming voice? "But the real reason I called you here, was to discuss your augmentations."
He nodded, indicating Manderley to go on.
"You have probably noticed a few changes; your senses, especially your vision, have all been optimised, with only the slightest, almost undetectable, changes made to your voice and eyes. Like your brother." Manderley flashed him a smile again. "However, beyond that, not a lot has been changed. Or, more accurately put, activated. Your body should be able to absorb more damage, your reaction speed and perception should be increased, as well as the control you have over your body in general."
Manderley paused a moment.
"The flashier augmentations - optical cloak, shields, superhuman strength, and other such things - are all disabled for now. This is for your own safety, as your body is relying on nanotechnology to survive, and we don't want to take any unnecessary risks with our personnel. The nanites of these augmentations may interfere with the nanites already in your body, which could have... Disastrous results."
Manderley paused again, to let the severity of that statement sink in.
"We are, however, manufacturing a wide range of nanites that can activate your - and others' - augmentations. Not all at the same time, as some of the nanites will interfere with each other, so when the time comes, you'll have to make a few choices. These nanites are of a new, modular design, so that they can be used by any nano-augmented agent, which is why we're mass manufacturing them. Your brother's augmentations, on the other hand, were developed specially for him."
Interesting. He nodded, and, although he suspected he knew the answer already, decided to ask anyway:
"So what kind of augmentations do I have exactly - is there any list or report of what exactly was done to me?"
"I'm afraid that information is classified for now. Experimental research, but it saved your life so you shouldn't complain. We'll continue to monitor your situation and inform you accordingly. You shouldn't ask, really."
Manderley sounded disapproving. Before he could reply, however, Manderley smiled and continued.
"After you graduate from the Academy, I'll personally see to it that you can access your medical record and anything related."
Well, that was something at least. He could live with that.
"Speaking about the Academy... In light of your nano-augmentations, we've somewhat altered your training. There's one final course left for you to take, that will combine everything you have learned, including stealth and hostile situations. It will take up the better part of an afternoon and will be a completely practical experience. Should you pass that, you'll have graduated from training and can officially call yourself an agent of UNATCO."
Excellent. He already looked forward to putting his newly acquired skills to use.
"Give me a day to familiarise myself with life outside a hospital bed?"
Manderley's grin was almost - almost - predatory.
--- --- ---
"Sir, Denton has passed."
"Has he now? According to training, or according to you?"
"He has developed a slight independent streak after his... Accident. He hasn't become noticeably more aggressive against the NSF."
"He does know the NSF threw that bomb at him?"
"Of course, sir."
"Better than the primary unit, with room for improvement." A slightly nervous pause. "I will assign him to our two most loyal and violent agents; Hermann and Navarre. They will teach him."
"See that you do. I do not want another pacifist weakling. We need absolutely loyal killing machines. This project cannot be allowed to fail."
With that very real threat, the man - Simons - hung up on him. Being a 'bureaucratic pencil pusher' was hard, Manderley thought, as he resumed his work.