[AUTHOR’S NOTE] This is a short set in the Unlucky Seven universe (or Uni7erse as was recently suggested to me). If you like what you read here and you’re not familiar with the source material, check the links on the sidebar to buy/borrow Unlucky Seven and the Obligatory Sequel. You won’t regret it!
“Ok,” said Phalanx with a sigh, “What seems to be the problem?”
Budda was lying flat across both of the metal gurneys in the medical cave formerly known as dead robot storage. Phalanx had pushed them together to accommodate the width of the giant rock man and was quite unsure as to why someone with no internal organs and the ability to regenerate by eating rocks had asked for a check-up.
“Well,” Budda started, “I need you to check my strata.”
“Your strata?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Budda said, “Y’know, the layers where I’ve been regenerating. There’s those stripes of coal and grey stone that came in after I started eating the cave walls to regenerate my torso. Now there are some cool black scar kinda things all over me because I ate coal after that big fight with the robot ninjas.”
“Ok,” Phalanx said, lingering on that word, “Seems like you already know what’s in your strata. What do you need me for? I’m not much of a geologist.”
“I didn’t figure that,” Budda said, “But you do know chemistry. I tried an experiment and I need you to help me determine the results.”
“What exactly do you need me to do?” Phalanx asked with a sigh.
“Ok, well, let me tell you my idea first,” Budda began, “So, I was thinking that I regenerate rock I’ve lost with any rock I consume, right? I just have to chew it up and it gets excreted or whatever into my strata.”
“Established,” Phalanx said, “Go on.”
“So, I had this thought that I would walk to, like, Africa,” Budda said.
He followed up with nothing. Phalanx stared at him, waiting for some kind of indication as to where this whole thing was going.
“Walk,” Phalanx said,” To Africa.”
“Yeah,” Budda offered after being prodded, “Walk to Africa. I mean, I could do it. I don’t need to breathe and I’m pretty sure my body would be ok handling pressure at the bottom of the ocean because, you know, I’m made of rocks. I could make it if I tried.”
“Do you realize how long it would take you to walk to Africa?” Phalanx asked, “Underwater?”
“Two years, three months, six days, and six hours at an average walking speed of 3.5 miles an hour,” Budda spouted.
Behind his sunglasses, Phalanx’s eyes bugged out of his head.
“I googled it,” Budda said.
“So you want to spend two and a half years walking to Africa along the bottom of the ocean,” Phalanx said, “Please explain.”
“I’m going to walk to Africa,” Budda said, “Find a diamond mine, damage myself piece by piece, and eat diamonds until my entire bodily structure is solid diamond.”
“Eat diamonds,” Phalanx said, “You’re going to walk to Africa and eat diamonds.”
“Yep,” Budda said, “It’ll make me practically indestructible.”
“I don’t even know if you can eat diamonds,” Phalanx said, “Did you… Is that why I’m here? You ate a diamond and you want me to see what it did to you?”
“Exactly,” Budda said, “I used some of my sweet government hush money to buy a two-carat diamond ring off the internet. When it finally came in, I made a little gash in my chest and I ate it. I wanted you to see if there was any trace of the diamond in the spot I’m regenerating.”
“You ate a diamond,” Phalanx said plainly.
“A two-carat diamond,” Budda said, “Not really as big as I thought it would be, but whatever. This was just an experiment.”
“You ate something like a ten-thousand dollar precious stone,” Phalanx said, “As part of experimenting with your powers.”
“You keep saying these things like somehow you’re going to surprise me with what I did,” Budda said, “Yes. Whatever you are thinking, I totally did it so that I could see if it was worth my time to do the bigger thing.”
“Walking to Africa,” Phalanx said, his jaw continuing to remain slack with incredulity.
“Yes,” Budda shouted, “Walking to freaking Africa, finding a diamond mine, and slowly piecing myself together a newer and far less destructible body. In case you didn’t notice, I was ripped in half by your big bald Project friend in my last big one on one and I was only recently chipped away at by robot ninjas. Just because I can’t feel pain doesn’t mean I can’t take damage.
“I would be a better asset to the team if I could regenerate myself with sturdier stone. I’m not really sure why I ate so much coal on that note, but it seems to hold up a little better when it’s part of my body. What I’m saying though is that if I got into a diamond mine, I would be able to just eat everything in sight and be a giant diamond man instead of the rock guy who gets blown up or disfigured during every fight.”
“I understand your reservations,” Phalanx said, “Trust me. I’m usually the expendable one, too, because I can’t really die. I don’t care about loss of life or limb because there will be more of me. In fact, I don’t think you’ve actually talked to the original Phalanx that showed himself to the group since very near the beginning. We’re very careful about retaining our local source. I do have some issues with this plan, though, if you can be reasoned with.”
“Sure,” Budda said with a sigh.
“Ok, for one,” Phalanx said, “Walking to Africa is ridiculous. I know you have this whimsical Little Mermaid kind of idea of what that will be like but, seriously, it’s dark down there and you still need light to see. There isn’t a light source that would last long enough at the depths you’re talking about. You would have no idea where you were or what you were stepping toward. If you really wanted to do it and didn’t want it to take two years or more, I could get in touch with one of my contacts and we could ship you over in a crate or something.”
“Hm,” Budda said, “That actually sounds like a better idea.”
“No kidding,” Phalanx said, “Second thing: did you do any research at all on diamond mines beyond watching, say, Snow White?”
“Well, it’s a mine, right?” Budda said, “Like this one. I can hide out in a tunnel and dig on my own and stuff. I’m sure I’ll find enough big stones to eat.
“You need to look into this stuff, man,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose above his sunglasses, “Most diamond mines are giant pits in the ground – strip mines, not tunnels. Not a place you’re going to be able to hide. Not to mention they’re usually pretty secure.”
“I’d go in at night,” Budda said, “Sneak in.”
“You are an eight-foot tall rock man,” Phalanx pled, “I don’t know why anyone has to constantly remind you of this.”
“Just because I’m big doesn’t mean I can’t be stealthy,” Budda argued.
“Well, no I guess it doesn’t,” Phalanx conceded, “But, seriously, breaking into a diamond mine is not going to be a walk in the park.”
“Look, I appreciate your concern about my master plan,” Budda said, “But, it’s not even going to matter if you don’t help me test my theory. So, can you like sand off a bit of this portion here and see if it contains anything of that diamond I ate earlier?”
Phalanx stared at him, certain that he was serious about all of this. Budda looked back at him, his pupil-less onyx eyes pleading for help. Phalanx sighed.
“Fine, whatever,” Phalanx said, “Let me go get some tools.”
Budda’s stone face contorted into a disturbing expression of joy.
The next day, after the small dust sample Phalanx had sanded from the area where Budda assumed his diamond regeneration would take place had been analyzed, Phalanx called for the rock man. They met again in the medical bay and Phalanx remained impressed that the wheeled gurneys were able to handle the weight of his “patient”.
Phalanx handed Budda sheaf of papers.
“This is the chemical analysis of your surface stone,” Phalanx said, “Feel free to look through it at your leisure.”
“What about the diamond?” Budda asked, anxiously.
“Sorry,” Phalanx said, “Lots of carbon, but none of it dense enough to even come close to diamond.”
“But,” Budda said, stammering in disappointment, “But I ate it.”
“It’s the hardest bulk material known to man,” Phalanx said, “Your powers would be a lot more serious if you could actually digest it. Or, whatever it is that happens in there.”
“It’s not fair,” Budda said, “It’s not logical. Coal is carbon, diamonds are carbon, I can eat coal, therefore…”
“It’s not about fair,” Phalanx said, “It’s about science. Maybe your body just can’t deal with the density difference. I know I’m kinda the expert on super abilities around here but I’ve never dealt with a rock person who regenerates by eating other rocks. I can’t really give you an explanation to why, but…”
He stopped abruptly and tilted his head at Budda.
“What?” Budda asked.
“Open your mouth,” Phalanx said.
Budda did as he asked. Phalanx grabbed a pair of tweezers and approached his rocky maw full of jagged white pieces of what looked like quartz imitating teeth. He gently reached in with the tweezers, plucked something caught between two of the shards and dropped it into his other hand. He immediately went to one of the lab tables, removed his sunglasses, and gazed through a jeweler’s loupe at first, then placed it under a microscope.
After a moment, Phalanx started to laugh.
“What?” Budda asked, “What is it?”
“Budda,” Phalanx said, turning around, his fist clenched around what had been taken from Budda’s mouth, “Let me just say that I still believe that you wouldn’t be able to actually eat a diamond. As a matter of fact, whatever restoration furnace you must have burning inside of you probably wouldn’t be able to reincorporate it into your body. That said, this was stuck in your teeth.”
Opening his hand, Phalanx produced the two-carat stone Budda had wrenched from the ring he had purchased online.
“So that’s why it didn’t work,” Budda said, reaching for it.
Phalanx closed his hand and drew it back.
“Before you take it and inevitably try to eat it again, there’s one thing you should know,” Phalanx said.
“What?” Budda sighed.
“This is a cubic zirconia,” Phalanx said.
“Seriously?” Budda shouted, “No, it’s not. How do you know?”
“Really?” Phalanx asked in return, “You asked me to shave off part of your body and put it under a microscope, I hand you a ream of paper that is the full mineralogical and biological work-up of your crunchy outer shell, and you’re going to doubt me on telling the clear difference between a diamond and not-a-diamond?”
“Dude, I dropped like fifty grand on that ring,” Budda said, “There’s no way that’s not a diamond.”
“Well, in fact,” Phalanx said, “Having only recently qualified myself to you, I can definitively tell you it is very much not a diamond and communicate to you the principal of caveat emptor as well as the idea that the internet is not always an honest place.”
“I sniped some guy for that ring,” Budda said, his voice half sad, half furious, “It came with certification and stuff. I ripped the gem right out of the setting like it wasn’t a thing. Now I’m out fifty-k and I can’t even resell the damn thing because I tried to eat it.”
“There, there, big guy,” Phalanx said, patting him on the shoulder, “You know, Cubic Zirconia is pretty tough. Almost as tough as diamond. You want to take a taste?”
Budda sighed, taking the gem from Phalanx’s hand. He held it gingerly between two of his massive fingertips.
“Do you know anything about Cubic Zirconia mines?” Budda asked.
“Let’s cross that bridge if we come to it,” Phalanx said.