A Good Man (part 2)
Exploring the World of Whateley Academy (Gen 0 Project)
A Good Man
Gen-0 oversight by Elrod
'Whoever saves one life, it is as if he has saved the whole world.'
Talmud, Sanhedrin 37
October 27th, 1991
MCO research lab #5, Northern Michigan
Tara watched the nurse, David Wellington, nervously. He didn't look like any nurse she had ever seen, not with his face scarred as if he'd been clawed by a bear. His body was tense, and he sat okn the edge of the chair,like he was about to spring off of it. The way he watched her, barely blinking was unnerving, but she was glad he was nervous. She felt like someone was rubbing her nerves with steel wool, her fingers kept tapping out a tune on her leg, a red haze hovered at the edge of her eyes. “What did Dr. Carter want you to do?” she asked, quietly.
“I'm suppose to observe you,” he said very clearly, enunciating each word slowly and carefully. “The rage suppressant drug you were given the other day could be useful in his research. So I'll be watching you and doing regular tests every hour to ensure that there are no side affects.”
“W-what if they want me to do another experiment?” she asked, looking at her white socks that looked almost pink to her as a snarl filled her head.
“Dr. Carter is the head researcher at this facility. Since there is nothing officially scheduled by Dr. Brennan, he has booked your time for the next several days.”
“So what do we do now?” she asked, trying to hide the relief she felt. She wasn't used to having someone being in her room for any length of time.
David cocked his head to the side. “In an hour I'll take a blood sample, your blood pressure and a few other minor tests. At some point this morning, I'll require a urine sample with another in the afternoon and the evening. At one o'clock, you have your regular session with your psychologist Dr. Freeman.”
She smiled and leaned forward, the red haze faded a little. “Dr. Freeman is coming? I haven't seen him in over a week.”
“You haven't been seeing your psychologist?” David asked, his voice tight, his eyes widened. “I've read your records, you're suppose to see him everyday that you don't have an examination or test.”
“They said he was busy and couldn't see me anymore.” She didn't add that the orderly had told her that Dr. Freeman considered her a hopeless case that wasn't worth his time. David didn't need to know that, no one did.
“Right. I'll tell Dr. Carter about that when he gets back.” He shifted his chair a little making it face the door a little more directly, not that it would do much good if he had to leave quickly. The only way to open it from the inside was with a key, a safety precaution to keep her from getting loose in rage and killing everyone. If some poor orderly or doctor was caught inside with her it was considered a regrettable but necessary loss. “Um, yes, anyways, I think if you just go about your day as you normally would it would be best.”
“OK,” she said. Casting one last nervous look at him she went to the cheap desk and pressed a seemingly ordinary panel on the wall, it opened up revealing a stack of books. The TV, her guitar and a few other things that she didn't want to lose were hidden in the same way, where she wouldn't break them in a rage. A thick German text book went on the desk followed by a pink notebook.
Sitting down, Tara opened the language book, found the place she'd left off and got to work. She had lots of free time, so even though she'd probably never have a chance to get a job or leave the MCO, she studied. Since manifesting her memory was flawless and learning came easily, studying and music had become the only ways she could escape; escape her memories of the past, her bleak present and her dreary experiment filled future.
It wasn't much, but it was the best she could expect and better than she deserved.
Victor took off his robe revealing a black swimsuit and a well muscled body. He still looked scrawny compared to a lot of the jocks at his old school and every one of the guards, but months of exercise trying to work off the energy that threatened to burn him every time he move, had given him long lean muscles. If Dr. Carter was right he'd be able to show them off back home in a year or two.
If his parents let him go back home. If his brother could stand being near him ever again.
Pushing that thought away, he dove into the pool and began doing laps. The cool water felt wonderful against his hot skin. He could barely feel the water flowing around him thanks to the drugs that kept him from flaring with every step, but he could still feel temperature, nothing seemed to dull that. Dr. Carter said it was part of his mutation, he didn't care what it was. The joy of a hot shower, a cool breeze on his face, the warmth of the sun, they were the few physical pleasures he still had. If he could just learn how to control his power, he would be able to enjoy the silky smoothness of his sheets as he went to sleep, the comforting weight of a warm sweater, the feeling of another person. Right now he couldn't even really enjoy some personal time with a sexy magazine.
He hadn't realized how important things like that were until they were gone.
Some men jumped into the pool, he ignored them. Most of the personnel used the pool and the gym after their shift, it was free and better than anything they'd find nearby. A few of the older staff members would talk to him sometimes, he even had races with some of them, but usually he was left alone. Being fifteen and surrounded by adults, he preferred it that way.
Touching the side, he flipped around to begin another lap. A hand grabbed his head pushing him under. He thrashed around hitting a thigh that felt like iron, while the water heated up from the flames erupting around his body. His lungs burned, instinctively taking a breath, water filled his sinuses. The man finally let him go.
Victor erupted from the pool, gasping and spitting up water. Grabbing the side of the pool, he breathed deeply, black spots slowly fading from his sight. Even the chlorine filled air tasted wonderful after his near drowning. A corner of his mind noticed that the large pool had gone from cool to pleasantly warm.
Four large feet walked towards him. Trembling he lowered himself back into the water, watching the two men that were almost as big as Franky, but without his easy going smile and attitude. He heard splashes of more people behind him.
“Wh-what d-do you want?” he asked, his voice raw and cracking.
A man with blond hair knelt down, his eyes had all the compassion of a rabid dog. “We want you gone. This is a pool for normal people, not genetic defects like you.”
His companion, a thin black man, darted forward grabbing Victors arm. With a hand like a steel vice, he lifted and threw him out of the pool, hard enough that the teen rolled along the hard floor and hit the wall with a bone jarring thud. Flame erupted all around him, scorching the wall, burning his hair off, blistering his skin.
The four grown men laughed as he moaned, stunned and hurt even with his dulled senses. Staggering to his feet, Victor began edging towards the door, holding the wall for support, trying to stay out of arms reach.
“You come here again,” the blond growled, “we'll make sure you drown, we know how to make it look like suicide. You tell anyone what happened, you'll learn what it feels like to have your fingers crushed in a vice.”
“And you've seen the woods around here, lots of places to stash a body so it won't be found for years if ever. Don't even need to dig very deep,” one of the swimmers said, his voice high pitched as if he was trying to hold back a laugh.
He took off running, flames erupting with every step. Laughter followed him.
Tara winced as David pressed the special gun like needle against her arm. He lined it up along her vein before pressing a button, a soft pfft sound followed by a rush of air shoved the metal needle through her hard skin. The small plastic vial began to fill with her blood. She looked away, biting her lip, wishing that it was over.
“You don't like needles?” David asked.
“No,” she muttered.
“Not much can hurt you, I wouldn't think that something small like this would bother you.”
She gave a one arm shrug, glancing nervously through half closed eyes at the blood which was rising so slowly.
“I was in one unit,” David said, “that had a big guy in it, 6'7”, four hundred pounds of sheer muscle. One time in a little farming town, when we were all way too drunk, we bet him five hundred dollars that he couldn't beat up a bull. He finished his beer went to a nearby field where a big nasty bull was sleeping, slapped it across the face and when it charged him, he dodged to the side, grabbed it by the horns and flipped it onto its back. Never saw a stronger or crazier guy. But whenever I had to take some blood or give him a shot, he had to shut his eyes and cover his face with his hand or he'd start crying and bawling like a little girl. Funniest thing you ever saw.”
“Yeah right,” she said.
“I swear I'm telling the truth,” he said, holding his free hand over his heart. “We called him BAM, Big Ass Mike, when he wasn't in the same room it was DAM.”
She snorted in disbelief but a small grin shone through.
“And we're done,” he said, putting the cap on the vial.
Tara looked at her arm in surprise, she hadn't even noticed the needle being pulled out. Taking a cotton ball, she wiped away a small bead of blood, the wound was already healed leaving her skin flawlessly perfect. There was a knock on the door, she jumped in her seat, looking at it wide eyed, her heart beating a mile a minute.
“D-don't worry,” David said, motioning for her to stay in her seat with a trembling hand. “It's just the orderly coming to pick up the samples.”
She nodded jerkily, wrapping her arms around her knees, watching the door as if an evil monster was on the other side. The red mist rose in her eyes, she began humming, trying to drown out the sound of the saw that filled her head.
Not taking his eye off of her, David went to the door which was already being opened. “Hey Mich-” his greeting slammed to a halt as six men in body armour stepped forward.
Tara jumped backwards from her seat to the furthest corner of the room, bringing the plastic chair with her in one smooth motion that was inhuman to look at. Crouching down, holding the chair in front of her like a shield. “Go away!” she snarled through her teeth, forcing down the growl she felt building up in her throat.
David tried to close the door. “You're disturbing my patient. Get the hell out now,” he didn't quite shout.
“It has an appointment with Dr. Brennan,” the leader said.
“Dr. Carter has her booked for observations for the next three days. Dr. Brennan can see her when we're done.” Even through the red haze, Tara saw that David was looking at her more than the guards, his face drained of blood.
“It's Dr. Brennan's patient. She wants to see it. Now get out of our way.”
“Research policy states that any exams must be logged in the book on a first come first serve basis,” David said. “I'll need to- need to see a signed document by Dr. Carter, Dr. Brennan and the Director before releasing the patient.”
The leaders lips curled up into a sneer, his voice dripped with contempt. “Look, nurse, we have our orders. Get out of our way or we'll have to do something you won't like.”
Tara whimpered watching in horror as the armed guard went to shove David in the chest. The whimper died away a moment later. David grabbed the guards wrist, shoving it upwards and punched him in the armpit. As the guard yelled in pain, David didn't let up, kicking the guards ankle with a painful sounding crunch to spread his legs a little and drove a knee into the lightly padded inner thigh. As the guard fell to the ground moaning in pain, he was kicked out the door into the hallway.
“Get me the proper documents and you can have her. Until then, get the hell out of here,” David said to the stunned guards, slamming the door shut. Turning he saw Tara watching him, her chest heaving, the plastic of the chair splintered under her hands. “Oh shit!” he gasped, instinctively throwing himself against the locked door.
Tara closed her eyes, focusing on her heartbeat, trying to slow it down, finding calmness as she counted each beat. A minute later when she could speak without growling she said in a harsh whisper, “I'm safe.”
“OK,” he said just as softly in what was obviously an attempt to sound soothing. “Do- do you need anything?”
She opened her eyes long enough to see him nod jerkily. Very slowly, keeping his back to the wall, he made his way to the bathroom, closing and locking the door as softly as possible. It was quickly followed by the sound of him vomiting into the toilet.
Tara got off the floor and pulled out her guitar. Sitting on the bed, she began strumming a simple tune. The rhythm helped push back the last of the red haze. She looked at the bathroom door, wondering about David. He was terrified of her, that made him smart. But he had tried to help her when she was getting the needle, and she had never had anyone physically fight to help her. When she was younger fighting hadn't been a problem except for some stupid boys pulling her hair or pushing her in the schoolyard. Then she'd manifested and everyone was more worried about her hurting others than her being hurt.
She wasn't used to that. For so long, only Dr. Carter and Nora seemed to really care about her. Franky was a good friend, but he enjoyed boxing with her more than just sitting down and talking. Everyone else was professional, helpful and very, very polite, but keeping their distance, not trusting her, waiting for her to explode. She'd learned to treasure the handful of people who talked to her like a human being for a few minutes.
When the bathroom door opened, she saw that David looked almost normal, still pale, his hands shaking, but not as terrified.
“Why did you beat that guy up?” she asked, looking back down at her guitar, not wanting to see the fear in his eyes.
“Reflex's mostly. I spent a lot of years learning how to fight and had to use the skills to stay alive. So I didn't think, just reacted.” He gently banged the back of his head against the wall. “I'm probably going to be written up for this.”
She bit her lip, wishing that she could just fade away. If she was gone it would stop her from hurting people, from causing all these problems. “Why didn't you just let them take me?”
“I was told by Dr. Carter to monitor you. I'm doing my job,” he replied simply.
She looked up at him and smiled. “Thank you.”
He narrowed his eyes in confusion. “For what?”
“For telling the truth.” She sniffed, and wiped her nose. “Most people don't tell me the truth, they say what they think I want to hear. Afraid I'll flip out if I hear something bad.”
“Oh,” he stared at his hands for a moment. “I- I should call Michelle to come get the samples. Just keep doing whatever you usually do.”
She nodded, leaning against the wall and watched as he tried three times to dial the right number on the phone. Her fingers plucked the string, helping to take the last of the edge off her rage.
Victor limped out of the shower he shared with the other boys. His skin glistened with burn cream, despite being used to it, the feel of the slimy stuff rubbing against his housecoat made his skin crawl. He wished that Dr. Carter was there or Franky, they'd know what to do. But the only people around were the nurses and orderlies who couldn't do much, and the jerk David who didn't seem to consider him or the others as anything important beyond research material.
“Are we having lobster tonight?” Ben asked, his electric wheelchair whining slightly as he came into the living room.
“Ha ha,” Victor deadpanned, trying to cover up his bright red skin.
“Some goddamn guards threw me into a wall. Said I couldn't use the pool again. It's only for humans now,” he said, kicking the ground. He cursed as flame shot out of his toes, singeing the fireproof carpet.
“Since when?” Ben said almost too quickly to be understood thanks to his slurring.
Flopping onto the couch he looked up at the ceiling, wishing he was back home in his old room. Only that wouldn't work, his old home had burned down thanks to him. “Since they threatened to kill me if they ever found me there again. I wish Dr. Carter was here.”
“You didn't hear?”
“Hear what?” he asked, looking at his friend who seemed even more soggy and melted than usual, his entire bottom half was basically a puddle on the deep seat of the wheelchair.
“I- Dr. Carter- here,” Ben finally said taking a newspaper off the little island and handing it to Victor.
It was the second page, right at the top it said, 'Renowned Mutant Researcher Badly Beaten', a picture showed Dr. Carter, his face swollen and heavily bandaged. Skimming over the article, the police said it was a case of a mugging gone wrong, but they were doing everything possible to catch the violent criminal.
He couldn't believe it, the doctor was old and groaned whenever he had to move around too much, but he'd always been there. Whenever a person acted like they were freaks, or they got upset about being cursed with their powers, he was ready to help them out. He would know who to talk to about the four guards, he'd get their asses fired. With Dr. Carter in the hospital, it was like the one steady thing in his life was gone. The paper started shaking for a second, then it caught fire.
Cursing he threw it to the ground and stomped it out.
“I so want to call home right now,” he moaned, holding his head in his hands.
“So call them,” Ben said. “I called my folks this morning.”
“How? The calls have to be monitored, and we can't phone unless we're scheduled.” He made a face to let his friend know what he thought of that.
“I used Dr. Carter's code to call outside.”
Victor gave him a hard look. “How did you do that? He keeps that a secret.”
Ben's right eye stretched out like a tentacle, it drooped in the middle and looked like it was going to start dripping at any moment, but it held up. “Knowledge is power,” he said with an oversized grin.
“That will let me call home, without any jerks overhearing?”
Ben nodded, which caused his neck to bend almost double. “Just dial pound, five, seven, pound, zero, one, pound, eight, wait a moment and dial the number you want. It makes the system ultra secure, no one can trace it without special gadgets or devises.”
“Thanks man, I owe you.” Victor left the room trying to remember the code, a little amazed that the older boy could be that sneaky, he always seemed like a goody two shoes. Closing his door, he gingerly laid down on his bed and grabbed the phone, quickly dialing the number before he forgot.
He hummed quietly as the phone rang. Before he manifested he would have tapped his foot or snapped his fingers, he'd lost that habit after setting his bed on fire for the fifth time.
The other end picked up and the person he least wanted to talk to answered in a scratchy, unhealthy sounding voice, “Hello?”
“Hi Johnny,” he said to his younger brother. “It's Victor, is mom or dad home?”
“What you don't want to talk to your brother?” the raspy voice took on a nasty tone. “I just got my fifteenth skin graft. It's pretty big news isn't it? I have skin from my ass on my face now, I can almost go outside without people puking when they see me.”
“Johnny...” he couldn't talk. His mind played back the last time he'd seen his brother, being carried away by a firefighter who was screaming for an ambulance. His brothers whole upper body looking like overcooked ham. “I'm sorry. How many times do I have to say it? I couldn't-”
“Couldn't stop it!” his brother yelled. “How about you apologize a few more times. I think I deserve it. I'm the one who still wakes up screaming at night thinking my room is on fire. I can't even look at a hot stove anymore without a panic attack. You want Mom or Dad to make you feel better? Fuck you, they're not here.”
“When will they be home?” he asked, clenching his fist as hard as he could to stay calm. “This is important.”
He took a shot, hoping that there was still some love, some caring between them. “It's not safe here. I need to come home. This morning, some guards almost drowned me.”
His brother didn't say anything. He knew Johnny was still there, he could hear his breathing but that was all. “Please, tell Mom and Dad that they need to get me out of here.”
The silence dragged on for another minute. Then the last thing Victor had expected happened, his brother started to laugh. It was a sickly, wracking laugh, like something he'd hear in a horror movie, it stopped quickly in a fit of coughing. “Good,” Johnny finally managed to say, he sounded out of breath, gasping for each word. “You want help? Let them kill you. H1 is recruiting here. Half the police... and firefighters... joined up... because of you. I joined to. I'm their poster boy. You come home... we'll have a bonfire. See how much... fire it takes... to kill you. I'll force... myself... to light... the match. The MCO... might be... quicker.”
His brother hung up, leaving Victor staring at the wall in shock, the phone held limply in his hand. As the conversation replayed in his mind, he broke down sobbing. A tiny voice in his head told him that he deserved it, that he should have let the guards kill him. Throwing the phone across the room, he roared in rage at the world, trying to drown it out.
There was a knock on the door. Tara didn't have to look at the clock, the growling of her stomach let her know it was lunchtime. It helped that David was with her, she wasn't so terrified of visitors knowing he was there to help. She turned off the TV without much regret, MTV was only playing pathetic pop songs. David got up from the chair where he was reading yet another file to look through the peephole. With a smile he stepped away from the door to let the orderly and two trays of food in.
“It's your favourite today Tara, baked chicken breast, cranberries, steamed vegetables and a Cesar salad, with fresh squeezed orange juice to wash it down,” the orderly said.
“Thanks Brandon. How are your kids? Is Kelly going the basketball tournament?” she asked, enjoying the chance at a normal conversation.
“They're doing great. Kelly passed her history test so she'll be going, if she does well she might get a scholarship. It won't be much but every little bit helps. Randy has a sleep over on the same weekend, so the missus and I finally have a weekend free.” He put the trays on the small table and turned to leave. “Sorry I can't talk more, with all the new employees, I have to help out in the kitchen a lot more until they get some more help. Enjoy your meal, I'll be back in an hour.”
“See you then,” she said as he wheeled the cart out the door.
David waited for her to sit before taking the seat across from her. Lifting the tray lid off, his eyes widened in surprise. “This is better food than they serve the nurses,” he said, eagerly grabbing his knife and fork.
“Dr. Carter insists his patients get good food. I got added to the list when he saw what I used to eat,” she explained, before taking a bite of the juicy piece of perfectly seasoned meat. Her eyes closed as she savoured it.
They ate in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the food too much to ruin it with awkward conversation. When the chicken was all gone, she took the napkin to wipe her lips. Her hand stopped halfway to her face as her eyes saw a photo that had been hidden under the napkin.
It was a photo of Franky, blood covered his face, someone was holding his head up by the hair, his eye was swollen shut, his lips and nose looked like mashed hamburger. From how his mouth hung open, with blood and drool streaming down his chin, he was unconscious maybe even dead.
The rage roared in her mind.
“GET OUT!” she shrieked.
Well honed survival instincts had David out of his chair and racing to the locked door before she finished shouting. He wasn't fast enough, everything was blood red as the table shattered under her fists. The dead howled in her ears. Before the man made it four feet, she was on top of him grabbing him by the back of the shirt, he screamed, the smell of urine filled the room.
The last shreds of sanity made her turn, slam open the bathroom door and throw the man she barely recognized as a living creature into the small, fortified room. His scream of panic cut off with a loud crunch when he hit the opposite wall. She slammed the door shut, hitting the red panic button which locked every door so securely a tank would have trouble getting through it.
Screeching in fury, the rage took complete control. The one part of her mind that stayed sane and helpless, forced to watch everything she did and relive it later, howled silently in grief.
Dr. Carter couldn't open his eyes. He wanted to, they burned and felt like they were coated in salt, but no matter how hard he tried they wouldn't open.
He distantly felt the pain that seemed to move like water through his entire body. It didn't bother him much, more of a curiosity for his mind to contemplate. He moved his fingers and toes, flexed his arms and tried but failed to sit up, judging how it made the pain better or worse with a physicians care for details. Eventually he realized that wondering about the pain wasn't very practical, why he was lying down with his eyes closed was much more important.
The last thing he remembered had been talking to his friend Richard. No that wasn't right. He'd been thinking about his friend, something had happened, something bad. His head started to hurt. Pain blossomed on his face as if he had been punched.
A memory filtered out of his foggy brain. A man standing over him, kicking him in the gut. The man was smiling. He'd seen a smile like it once before, as a serial killer talked about drowning a man by teleporting a spoonful of beer at a time straight into his lungs from across a crowded restaurant as everyone watched in horror and confusion.
He moaned, he wasn't sure if it was from the pain, to call for help, or just to make a noise. The door opened, someone wearing soft sole shoes padded in almost silently. He tried to speak but only a groan came out.
“Don't worry, Dr. Carter, you're in good hands,” a woman whispered.
There was some rustling and a slight pull on his arm.
Bliss overpowered him letting him fade off to sleep and dreams of better days.
Rob stalked the corridors of the research facility, while his face was featureless, his stiff shoulders, long strides and the angry hum in the air that made passersby shiver uncomfortably, showed the world know how he felt. He wasn't wearing a shirt, taking pleasure in seeing the baselines discomfort at his unnaturally smooth pink skin.
First they got the stupid guards who didn't know how to take a joke, then they made the stupid rules supposedly for their protection, then Dr. Carter got beaten. What was going to happen next? He wanted to get outside for some fresh air and a run that didn't leave him feeling like a rat on a treadmill. The whole atmosphere of the facility was becoming so stifling it was getting hard to breath.
He wondered what his chances of surviving to New York or Seattle was. The salary the MCO paid him for accepting all their poking and prodding wasn't much, but he hadn't spent it on much either, so he had almost two thousand dollars saved up. That was more than enough to get him on a bus or plane to one of the cities. A plane would be better, Franky or Dr. Carter, if he survived, could help him get on the plane without any hassle, than a scarf would let him get off easily enough. A bus would take too long. Once in a city, he could get a job as a DJ or something, hang out with the punk rockers, get some tattoos and be ready to defend himself. He could handle it, no matter what that jackass Director said. He just needed to survive for about six more months and he could get his inheritance when he turned nineteen, that would let him live comfortably for a few years.
And if any H1 goons came after him he would show them just how much he had learned since he was a scared fourteen year old.
The air filled with music, he'd pack his bags, sign his exit papers and walk out the doors by the end of the week. He didn't have to put up with any of the crap the MCO was throwing his way, he was an adult now, a free man. It was finally time for him to reclaim his life.
The lights went out.
He looked around in the inky blackness, normally if there was a power outage, the lights would kick back on within five seconds. When they didn't he started to get nervous. Reaching out with his power, he felt along the sound waves, mapping out the hallway and everything in it more clearly than any natural or man made sonar could hope to achieve. He hadn't told anyone about that particular trick, he'd learned the hard way how important it was to keep a few aces up his sleeve.
He felt two figures creeping down the hallway. From the faint sound of their steps they had padded shoes on. Gently nudging ultrasonic sound waves along their bodies he sensed they had their batons out and ready, the faintest whining told him that the batons were activated and ready to stun whatever they hit. If he could have smiled, he'd be grinning from ear to ear.
Surrounding himself in a bubble of silence he moved a few feet away, if they were using night vision goggles they'd see his movement easily enough. And there it was, they shifted to walk straight at him.
“Hey dickweeds, I see you!” he shouted in their ears. As a follow up he made an ear piercing squeal fill the air, loud enough to make ears bleed even though the brunt of it was focused on the goggles, which caused the sensitive wiring in them to break, becoming useless.
Moving to another position he 'watched' the guards pull flashlights from their belts. That wouldn't do.
“Stop,” he ordered, using a set of harmonics that overpowered the brain momentarily. “Throw your flashlights away.”
Despite the silence surrounding him, a steady stream of sound reached his sensitive ears letting him know that the flashlights were out of play. He had every advantage he needed now.
“I'm feeling generous today,” he told them. “I won't mess with you... much. But I'm going to give you a warning and I want you to pass it on to everyone who would do something stupid, like what you wanted to do.”
The brain override ended and the two men moved towards where they thought he was. Snapping his fingers Robert made it sound like an explosion had gone off beside their eardrums. They fell to the ground holding their ears screaming in pain. Grabbing the sound waves like they were strings he twisted them around directing the screams right back into their ears, so anyone more than a foot away wouldn't hear a thing.
“You didn't read my file very well did you?” Robert asked. “And you didn't ask the last guard who screwed with me what I told him. You touch me, you try to hurt me, I will make you suffer for it and I'll make sure never forget the lesson.”
He took a moment to set up a cage of sound around them, if they tried to move it would feel as if their hearts were about to burst. It only took a tiny bit of concentration to keep it going, and the guards already suffering from having their eardrums almost popped and what had to be massive headaches weren't in any shape to fight through the affects.
“Let me tell you a story, it will help explain my current feelings for people who try to fuck with me. My father was a mutant. He had dragon scales all over his torso and a few on his neck and arms, he couldn't do much, just a low level exemplar. His village wasn't very modern, very old style beliefs, and it wasn't safe for my father to be a mutant. So my grandfather cut off and burn the scales from his neck and upper chest,” Robert said casually. “It worked for four years, they told everyone he had been badly burned in an accident. But when his scales were spotted by his neighbours, they called him a witch and tried to burn him. His parents managed to slip him out of Mexico and into the US, to a cousin who had a restaurant. Through a few bribes and lies, my cousin was able to get him a green card, and my father started working at the restaurant.”
The air hummed a happy little tune, as he remembered happier memories. “My father did very well, learned everything he could about the restaurant and by the time he was twenty six, he was the head manager. He even found a wife who didn't mind his burns or his scales. He thought that America was the greatest land in the world, and was the most patriotic person you could find. The fourth of July was bigger than Christmas when I was a boy. And despite what had happened to him, he was a very gentle man. Rarely raised his voice, never hit my brother or I, and taught us that violence was a last resort and killing was something you should only do to protect your family.”
The humming turned deeper, rumbling through the air, like distant thunder from a hurricane. “Then I manifested. My older brother hadn't, so it was a surprise to see me turn into the ugly thing you see today. I used to be quite a handsome lad if you can believe it. I was only fourteen, so the girls weren't quite throwing themselves at me, but I was the first boy in my class to get a date and a girlfriend.”
The pitch black hallway echoed as spikes of sounds slammed the guards flat against the ground. “H1 found out that I was a freak. They couldn't move openly, but they had a hit squad visit my house. My brother and Mother were shot as they sat watching TV. My Father and I were in the kitchen preparing snacks. The first man through the door got a kitchen knife through the chest. I'm not sure who was more shocked, my Father or the dead man. Then the bullets ripped through the wall and my Father threw himself in front of me. As I stood there unhurt, covered in my Fathers blood, I screamed. I couldn't talk then, I had only just learned how to eat without a mouth, but I made sure the whole world heard me. All five of the surviving hit squad are still permanently deaf. If I had known how back then, I'd have popped their heads open like grapes.”
The guards grabbed their heads as he showed them just how easy he could liquefy a brain if he really wanted to. “So, this is the last warning any of you guys get. You fuck with me, you fuck with the others here and you won't have to worry about crazy Tara. I'll make the person pay, and if I have to I'll tear this entire place down.”
Feeling better at getting his own back, Robert headed back to his room, pausing long enough to kick one of the guards in the gut. He wanted to kick him in the face, but the less bruises the better, they probably wanted to keep this a secret and that suited his own ideas just fine.
“You guys! Group meeting!” Rob shouted from the living room.
Victor dragged himself out of bed, his skin didn't too tight anymore thanks to the lotion and having a few hours to start healing. He was upset by that, he'd have preferred to feel the pain of his burned skin to the depression that surrounded him like a shroud. With Dr. Carter in the hospital, Nora quitting, and Franky gone for the next few days according to the orderlies for personal reasons, there was no one Victor felt he could talk to. He couldn't even talk to the psychiatrist Freeman until the regularly scheduled appointment in two days. Not that he liked the guy much, his parents had always said that psychiatrists were overpaid hacks who preferred psycho babble to really handling problems. So all he could do was lie in bed cursing god, which was about as effective as spitting in the ocean.
“What's up?” he asked, sitting down on the couch. He noticed he was the last to arrive, Sonny was playing with a Rubik's cube, the colours flickering so quickly it looked like a strobe light. Ben was looking a little firmer in his wheelchair.
Rob paced around the room, moving almost randomly, followed by the hum of angry bees. “Have any of the guards screwed with you guys?”
“Me,” Victor said quietly. No one else said anything.
“What did they do to you?”
“Threw me out of the pool, told me they'd kill me if they saw me there again,” he muttered, slouching down.
A glass on the table shattered, making everyone except Rob jump. “Right, I don't like how things are going, who here can go home?”
“My parents are picking me up tomorrow,” Ben said. “I called them last night, they're going to send me to a special school.”
“Sonny what about you?”
“Ihaven'ttalkedtomyparents.Theysaidtheydon'twanttoseeorhearmeuntilIcanactnormally,” the speedster said with a shrug.
“I can't go home,” Victor whispered. “I called and got my brother. If I go home, he'll get H1 to kill me. I don't have anywhere to go.”
“OK,” Rob said his featureless face scanned the room for a moment, the buzzing got louder. “I was attacked by two guards in the hall. It was a set up and they had help. They won't want to try anything against me for at least a few days, but you guys are a different matter. None of you leaves this room alone. You go together or with a guard or orderly you trust. If you're doing a test and they want to send you back here by yourself you refuse until you get an escort from someone you know won't hurt you. If it looks like you're in danger, hit an alarm and defend yourself. They want to hurt us, we have to do the same.”
“Whatarewesupposetodoagainsttheguards?!” Sonny asked, surprise, shock and disbelief racing across his face.
Somehow Rob was able to show his disgust at the question without having a face. “You can move at super speed, just punch them a few dozen times before they can blink somewhere it will hurt and then run away. Victor can fry their ass, you'll hurt yourself, but no worse than you did the last time you stole my Playboy.”
“I won't burn anyone!” Victor growled.
“Fine,” Rob snapped making the air crackle, “make them back off with some flames. Until Dr. Carter gets back, if he gets back, we're in a nasty situation playing nice will just get us beaten or dead.”
“What did they try to do to you?” Ben asked.
“They turned out the lights and sent two guys out to beat me with their clubs. I showed them the errors of their ways,” Rob said, some of the anger seemed to leave his body as he stood up straighter and stopped pacing. “I've been here longer than any of you, it was never Disneyland but I never saw it this bad. I've heard some of them mention the Fools Fight, as if that has anything to do with us,” he said, a snort came from the walls.
“What happens if we attack a guard?” Victor asked. All eyes turned on him. “I mean, we defend ourselves and hurt a guard or two, then what? Won't they arrest us or something?”
“They don't want to be caught hurting us, that's why they turned off the lights when they attacked me.”
“But they came after me in the pool with all the lights on. And if we hurt one of them too much, they can't cover it up can they?” Victor's stomach roiled at the thought of burning someone. He hadn't been able to look at his brother after the accident, but he'd seen his own burned flesh often enough to be horrified at even the thought doing it intentionally.
“Maybe, but they'll do worse to you if you don't stop them,” Rob said. “If it comes down to you or them, choose yourself.”
“IftheythrowmeoutforbeatingthemupI'vegotnowheretogo.Ishouldjustrunandnotfight,” Sonny said, the Rubik's cube was smoking as he spun it.
“And what if they ambush you?”
Victor listened as the two argued. He knew that the guards would hurt them, he just had to look at the fresh set of blisters if he needed a reminder. But Rob was talking about actively fighting back, maybe even killing someone. It was like asking him to fight the cops, you just didn't do that. And what if they did, then the good guys would get involved. He hadn't seen his parents in months, something always came up at the last minute when they were suppose to come. Franky was like his uncle now, the guy he could turn to when he needed to vent or to get out and just talk. What would he think if some of his friends burned because of him?
What would he think of himself if he destroyed another life?
Slumping down in his chair, he wished that Dr. Carter was there to help calm everything down.
The door opened, making Tara jerk her head upwards despite the exhaustion she felt. Chains rattled and clinked together from the movement. When she saw David limp in, she started to sob, she wanted to throw her arms around him, to beg him to forgive her, to find someway to make everything better.
The chains kept her rooted to her bed.
“I'm sorry,” she whispered through the tears.
“I've had worse. Thanks for putting me somewhere safe,” he said, sitting down very slowly with an audible gasp of pain.
She tried to wipe her nose, but the metal cuffs that encased her hands and wrists, leaving only her fingers free to do things like eat and wipe herself, were attached by a chain as thick as her arm to shackles around her ankles stopped her. Not that she could have reached her nose anyways, a shiny steel mask covered the lower half of her face, a small hole let her eat and drink, but there was no chance she'd be able to bite someone. She dropped her hands to her lap in disgust. “What was the damage?”
“Three broken ribs, and some spectacular bruising. They wanted me to stay in bed, but I told them I had a job to do and could do it sitting down. After two hours of learning how horrible a patient I am they threw me out,” he said, a chuckle was quickly stopped as he flinched in pain and bent over a little cradling his right side. “When did they put the gear on you?”
“While I was passed out.” She shook the chains, remembering how much she had wanted to rip the mans head off. “They should have put a bullet in my head.”
She waited for him to object, to say that she had some kind of life waiting for her and that they'd find a cure for her one day. He didn't say anything, just watched her curiously like she was some strange animal he'd never seen before. The rage didn't rise up, it was subdued, resting after its recent release, instead the empty blackness pressed even more heavily on her.
“Do you really want that?” he finally asked. “I can open the locks on your restraints, let you go out into the hallway. The guards now have a shoot on sight order for you if you aren't restrained or in a properly prepared room. You still have at least seven or eight hours before you're back to your usual damn near invulnerable self, and a few more hours until you can rage again.”
“You really want me dead?” she asked, all emotion drained from her voice.
“I believe in letting people do what they want as long as they don't harm another person without a very good reason.”
Tara didn't give herself a chance to think, she raised her hands towards David letting him have easy access to the locks. Wordlessly he pulled a key from his pocket and began unlocking her shackles. She smiled as the weight dropped away. She began humming happily at the thought of what would come next. She didn't care if it would hurt, just the fact that it would end was enough.
Getting to her feet she looked at the locked door. David held another key out for her. She eagerly took it before he could change his mind. She practically skipped to the door, the blackness started to lift at the promise of finally escaping the hell she found herself in.
Her fingers fumbled getting the key into the lock.
A light cough from David made her glance in his direction, his face was completely unreadable. The second of inattention let the key slip from her grasp and fall to the ground. Cursing she knelt down to pick it up.
The next thing she knew, she was sitting on the floor, her head in her hands, wailing in pain, wishing for everything to end.
She barely noticed the comforting arm placed on her shoulder.
October 28th, 1991
Michigan, Research Centre 5
Franky limped into the security office, wishing he could have gotten a few more days off, but after a phone call from the Directors office that wasn't about to happen. He stopped in surprise at the door, his good eye widening a little. A new man, who looked like he had come straight out of a movie set for a hard ass military general, was sitting at the security chiefs desk.
“Sit down, Mr. Collins,” the man said, his voice cold. “I'm Security Chief Penick, your new boss.”
Taking a seat, fighting back a wince as he put pressure on bruised muscles, Franky tried to keep a straight face. “It's a pleasure to meet you, Chief Penick. What happened to Security Chief Denaria?”
“He was removed from his position. Considering the mess the security situation has gotten itself into here, what with fights, internal disputes, and allowing a known rager to almost kill a nurse, it was decided a firmer hand was required. So for my sins, I have been given temporary control over all security for this facility,” Chief Penick said.
“I'll do what I can to help make the transition easy for you and everyone else, sir.”
The man grimaced like he had a bad taste in his mouth. “If you want to do that than you can hand over your resignation right now.”
Stunned amazement kept Franky in his seat. “What?”
“I've looked over your file, you're the person who recommended that convict Tara Wilcox be allowed to wander around without anti-brick shackles. When I talked to the other guards, who know how to stay out of fights, or at least to win them yesterday evening, your name came up as the most frequent troublemaker,” Chief Penick said. Leaning forward, he glared at Franky. “Quite frankly if you didn't have seniority and a very good review from the former chief, I'd have you out on your ass this minute.”
Making a fist, Franky silently glared right back at the new security chief. Anything he said would be used against him, it was easier and better to stay quiet, even if it did make his stomach churn with disgust at the unfairness of it.
The silence dragged on for a good minute, before Chief Penick finally broke it. “Mr. Collins starting today you will no longer be acting as a physical trainer for the mutants. In mine and the Directors view, training teenage mutants to fight is an unacceptable risk to the safety and security of the staff.”
“Sir,” Franky said, trying to keep his tone respectful, “the training was ordered by Dr. Carter, the head researcher of this facility. Has he been made aware of this change?”
“Considering Dr. Carter's current hospitalization, we have been unable to notify him. If when he returns, he wishes to present a case for continued training for his mutants, he can prepare a presentation for Director Brown and myself. If at that time we decide to allow it, then training can resume under your tutelage. Until then, a mutant in the weight room is a security risk that will be dealt with accordingly. Are there any questions?”
Forcing his jaw to relax, Franky shook his head. “No sir.”
“Very good. Because of the number of injured guards we have had to rearrange the schedule a little. You'll be doing parking lot duty. You may leave now.”
“Thank you... sir,” he replied, standing up smartly and leaving without showing any discomfort. Out in the hall, he forced himself to walk quickly to the parking lot. It was punishment detail, boring work, in a little glass booth that was too hot in summer and too cold in winter. About the only good thing about it was it gave a person plenty of quiet time, and the chair was comfortable.
Five minutes later, sweating and gritting his teeth from pain, he arrived at the post. One of the new guards stepped out, smiling broadly. “Franky! Glad to see you back on your feet, I didn't think you'd be here so soon after getting your teeth kicked in.”
“It takes more than that to keep me down,” Franky said, not returning the smile.
“Got some bad news for you, the chair was broken an hour ago and we haven't got a replacement. You're going to be on your feet the whole day.”
Biting back a curse, Franky smiled right back. “Doesn't bother me in the least. Only fat asses need the chair.”
The guard kept right on grinning as he walked back towards the centre, leaving Franky to silently simmer at the thought of standing up in the booth with his aching muscles. Stretching, he began his eight hours of purgetory.
Dr. Carter laid in bed willing himself to heal. He could still barely think through the pain and the medication but he knew he had to get back to work, he had to protect his kids. Every part of his body hurt, he couldn't even grit his teeth to fight the pain since his jaw was wired shut. Lifting his hand just to prove he could sent jolts of agony up and down his right side.
“Dr. Carter, please relax, you're in a hospital,” a woman who he assumed was a nurse, told him needlessly. “We're doing everything we can to keep you comfortable and get you back on your feet, but if you keep pushing yourself, you'll hurt yourself more.”
He ignored her. He didn't know how long he had been unconscious, but it was too long. He couldn't trust anyone in the MCO now. He had to get out of bed and make phone calls, he had to get his kids somewhere safe. A scream tried to escape his closed mouth as he sat up in bed.
Someone grabbed his arm, holding it tightly as something stung it.
His throat and tongue tried to form the right words, tried to explain that he had a job to do. That he was needed. But hands as strong as iron pushed him back down. As his head hit a pillow that felt like an anvil wrapped in sandpaper, the burst of energy left him. The pain died away and sleep overcame him.
“You're back,” Tara said, shifting in her bed, closing her eyes at the rattle of chains.
“Yes I am,” David replied, closing the door behind him. “You're still officially under observation by Dr. Carter, until that ends here I am.”
“Are you going to let me out of my chains again?”
Taking a seat, he nodded. “If you want. But I won't open the door for you today, you proved you really don't want to die yesterday, so that offer is off the table.”
She tried to see what he was thinking. She couldn't get an idea of what he was thinking. Dr. Carter was easy, he wanted to cure her. He cared about her as a person but when he was looking at something new he couldn't hide his interest and could forget that she was a person and not an interesting specimen. Franky treated her like a kid sister, who could kick his ass in a fight and thought that just made her cooler. Dr. Brennan was harder, she would flicker between disgust at having to be near her and glee at trying something new and seeing some success. The new employees were the easiest to place, they wanted her dead. They didn't even try to hide it. David was a blank.
Getting up she easily moved the shackles and chain through the air, after getting some sleep they felt about as heavy as thick nylon rope. Holding them up to David, she smiled behind the mask. “Can you get them off now? I really want to have a shower and scratch my nose.”
“I figured you would want a shower,” he said, putting a key into the shackles.
She blushed as she realized that she stank. After her rage they had simply put the shackles on her, without washing off the blood, sweat or debris, she hadn't even been allowed to change her clothes. She'd managed to ignore how itchy the dry sweat and food felt, but it didn't mean she liked it. The second the shackles and mask were off, she grabbed some clothes and rushed into the bathroom.
Half an hour later, well scrubbed and feeling a little better, she cautiously went into the room she called home. David was sitting in the corner reading a file, acting completely unconcerned about being in the same room as her. Taking her guitar from its compartment, she sat on the bed and began tuning it, thankful that her rage was sleeping in the back of her head. She could use her guitar for fun instead of protection. “Why are you so calm today?” she asked.
“Because I know you won't kill me.” He said the words as if they were common, everyday things.
“Most people get scared when they see me rage. You're the only person here who has seen me do it when I'm not strapped down or safely locked away,” she said in a whisper.
He shrugged, “I've seen worse.”
She ran her fingers over the guitar strings making a painful whine. “Yeah right.”
Tilting his head to show the scars that lined his face, David grinned mirthlessly. “I've seen worse.”
Leaning forwards to get a better look at the scars, Tara tried to hid her surprise at the damage. They were deep gouges in his flesh, from the look of it his whole right cheek had been turned into confetti. From close up she could see his jaw was oddly shaped as well, like part of the bone had been chipped and only partly healed. His button up shirt was loose at the top and she could just make out similar scars on his chest. “How did it happen? Were you trying to stop a mutant?”
“No, I was in Paris. It was suppose to be an easy assignment. I speak French, so I was a perfect candidate, we didn't realize at the time that French Canadian was pretty different from Parisian French.” He chuckled pleasantly. “I'd work for a year with the French MCO share ideas, see what they did that worked and what could be improved. Then a mutant appeared, he was in his twenties and no one had ever heard or seen him before. He could shape shift into a werewolf and take apart a city bus in five seconds.”
“Could? You killed him?” she asked, not knowing if she wanted to hear the answer.
“I didn't even have a gun on me,” David replied with a snort and a bitter little smile. “The French are pretty harsh on that type of thing and they refused to accept my permits. No one killed him, and no one has heard of him since. We got a report of a werewolf running around attacking people and the French MCO went out to test some new weapons, seeing what might work. I went to help deal with the wounded since it was too dangerous for the regular ambulances and paramedics to get involved. Some French heroes were already there trying to contain the guy. It was one big cluster fuck. The MCO got in the superheroes way, the superheroes got busy demanding the MCO leave and even threatened them with lethal force, while they both tried to get the werewolf and nearly took each others heads off. I'm not too sure it was always accidental either.”
“What did you do?”
“I did my job,” he replied, his voice flat. “I saw some people wounded, and ran to keep them alive until the fight got far enough away for the real paramedics to take over. I thought we were in the clear, when one of the groups of hothead, not sure if it was the MCO or the heroes, managed to make the werewolf run back in my direction. I barely had time to throw the woman I was working on out of the way before I got slashed from my face to my waist. I remember an instant of pain, then I was waking up in a hospital with a lot of stitches, and my wife who was suppose to be back home, sleeping in a chair beside me.”
“You're married?” she asked, not quite believing that the hard faced man could be married.
“Six pretty happy years.”
Curiosity built up within her, finding someone who would open up to her was rare. “What does she do? Is she MCO to?”
“She's a part time hairstylist. Saves us a lot of money on haircuts, especially for our kids.” He nodded at her questioning look. “Yeah, I have kids. They're one of the reasons, among others,” he motioned at his scars, “that I became a fully qualified nurse.”
“I wish I could see them,” she whispered, plucking the guitar strings. “I used to babysit the neighbours kids for pocket money.” She waited for the consolation, the promise that he would help her and one day she could be a regular person, maybe even in time to start a family of her own and have a baby to hold.
He didn't give her the empty words. “Did you hear what happened to Dr. Carter?”
From the tone of his voice, she looked up sharply, a growl rose in her chest, the rage was waking up. “What happened?”
“He was robbed and badly beaten in Detroit. I thought that might have set you off,” he said.
She shook her head. “No one told me,” she whispered. Concentrating on the simple tune she was playing, she tried to stay calm. The rage was weak enough in her that it wouldn't come easily yet, she still had a few hours of peace, but if she didn't keep control of things holding it back would be even harder the next time.
“What did you see when yesterday?” he asked. “You saw something and you exploded, but the guards are saying you just had a typical rager incident.”
The image of her friend beaten and bloody rose up in her mind, she could see it with picture perfect clarity. She bit back a sob as she tried to speak. “It was Franky. They had a picture in my food of him. He was beaten so badly.”
“Franky is the big guy who acts as a trainer sometimes, right? He was beat up along with a few other guards at a bar the other night.” He scowled, his scar twisting, making him look a little like a movie villain. “Why would they want you to rage?” he asked himself.
“They hate me. They want to kill me,” she said, letting her guitar drop onto her lap. “They probably wanted me to kill you so they could shoot me in the head.”
David had to have heard the low growl in her voice. He leaned back a little, his eyes widening a hair. “Have you ever been to Australia?” he suddenly asked.
“Beautiful place. I went there with a group of agents to help the Australian MCO expand after they lost most of their experienced agents to an attack by Gizmatic. They were never very large, so losing almost two dozen had them reeling. It's where I met my wife.” With a calming smile he started telling her about it.
“Are you boys doing all right?” Ben's Mother asked, as her husband collected two small suitcases and did one last search of the rooms to see if anything had been left behind.
Victor glanced at the Director who was standing off to the side, smiling pleasantly. “We're doing OK, Mrs. Peters,” he said carefully.
She noticed his look and frowned at the Director. Handing him a piece of paper she gently patted his arm and looked over at Sonny and Rob. “Well I'm glad to hear that, you boys have been very helpful to Ben for the last year. I expect you all to keep me posted on how your doing, and if any of you need to talk you can phone me whenever you want.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Peters.”
“Just remember, things are always darkest before the dawn. Despite all the trouble that's happening right now, things are going to get better,” she said.
“Time to go, Sarah,” her husband said, wheeling Ben's chair towards the door. His jaw was tense as he hovered protectively over his son.
Bye Ben,” Robert said, not taking his eyes off the Director. “When I'm making music in New York I'll drop you a line, maybe invite you to my club when you're old enough.”
“Takecareofyourself.Maybewecan meetupatthatschoolyou'regoingto,” Sonny said, carefully running over to pat Ben on the back.
“Thanks guys. I'll write to you, let you know what Whateley is like once I get settled and everything,” Ben said, his features dripping onto his chest.
Victor stepped forward his hand extended. His friend took a second to harden himself, so his arm and hand was almost normal as they shook. “I'll miss you,” he said.
“Yeah,” Ben replied. An oversized grin came to his face. “Try not to burn off anything important this month.”
“Try not to let anything fall off that you'll need later,” he retorted, forcing himself to grin.
They watched their friend leave what had been their home since shortly after manifesting. The Director said a few words to Ben and his family in the hallway but returned less than a minute later, the smile gone, leaving only the familiar scowl they had seen all too often.
“Now that that bit of business is done with,” the Director said, looking as if he'd just found half a maggot in his food, “it has come to my attention that there have been some incidences between you the and some MCO employees.”
Victor tried to keep himself from looking at Rob, while he wondered what was going to happen now. They wouldn't be sent home, the MCO wanted them there, even though most of the new people hated them. He couldn't figure out they wanted them to stick around when most of the research was about helping mutants, which they seemed to despise. He knew he couldn't go home, he just wanted somewhere safe to live until he could get his power and his life under control.
“They leave us alone, we leave them alone,” Rob said. His voice was pitched so that the words weren't quite a threat, but the way his beady eyes narrowed left no doubt about his thoughts.
“Good, that's a very proper attitude to have,” the Director said, his voice just as carefully controlled. “Keep it like that and everything will go swimmingly. However if you break the rules or attack any of my men you will be punished.”
Victor had heard the expression about being able to cut the tension with a knife, but he had always thought it was a stupid cliche. As the Director and Rob stared at each other, while he and Sonny sat silent and ignored off to the side, he could practically feel the hatred and anger that filled the air. Looking at the smouldering hatred in the Directors eyes he didn't know how Rob could keep it up. He smelled his own flesh burning as his powers reacted to his feelings.
The dishes in the little kitchen nook exploded.
The Director smiled as everyone jumped in surprise. “That will be coming out of your savings Rob, try not to do it again or I'll be forced to take away some of your special privileges. I expect you all to clean it up in half an hour, the janitors have their own work to do and can't wipe your noses for you whenever you have a temper tantrum. If it's not done to my satisfaction, there will be no supper for you.”
“YOU SON OF A BITCH!” Rob shouted, his voice shaking the room.
The smile didn't waver as the Director opened the door to leave. “For that outburst, you have fifteen minutes. I'll see you soon.”
“Fuck you! You can clean this up yourself!” Rob shouted at the door as it closed. Turning on them, the older boy seemed to vibrate with rage. “You little shits are just going to sit there and take all of this? Why am I even staying here trying to help you out, if you don't do anything?!”
“What are we suppose to do?” Victor asked. “We're not eighteen, we can't leave unless our parents let us. If you're so pissed off, you leave and stop causing us trouble.” The small voice in the back of his mind told him he wasn't being fair, but too many things he couldn't control were happening, he could at least tell Rob off without worrying about going to jail or getting beaten.
The air was pierced by a harsh nails on chalkboard screech. “I'm trying to help you guys, Victor. Do you think it's better to just roll over and let them do anything they want, or to let them know they can only go so far before we make them stop?”
“I don't know,” he admitted. “I just... I was Dr. Carter was here.”
“Well he's not, he can't wipe your nose and pat you on the head promising everything will be all better,” Rob sneered.
His hands burned. All the anger that he'd been holding in erupted into a rage. Screaming he let loose with a blast of fire that hit the far wall, evaporating the fireproof paint and scorching the specially made wall. Flames licked across the ceiling leaving long smears of ash before they died away. Rob stared at him in utter shock for a moment before letting out a yelp and ripping his shirt off. Despite being several feet away from the flames, embers covered the fabric creating dozens of holes and blistering the boys pink flesh.
“Heyguys!Calmdown,weneedtosticktogetherright?IfyoukilleachotherI'mscrewed!” Sonny said from the kitchen nook where he was busy sweeping the shattered glass and porcelain into piles.
Staring at his hands which were blackened bits of bone, Victor threw up. He hadn't been close enough to really hurt Rob, but it was so close. With his lunch dripping down his shirt, he staggered to the door and hit the emergency call button with his elbow before collapsing to the floor.
Franky bit his tongue hard enough to bleed as he limped towards the infirmary, refusing to show any sign of the agonizing cramps that ran up and down his body. He didn't see a single friendly face in the hallway, but there were plenty of laughing guards. They weren't laughing at him, they were talking to their friends about other things, and only happened to be laughing and smirking as he came along.
“Hey, Franky,” said the new guy with half his face burned said, slapping him hard on the shoulder, “glad to see you back on your feet.”
Forcing himself to smile, Franky resisted the urge to slug the man who had kicked him hard in that very same shoulder the other nigh. “Glad to be back. Someone needs to keep you ugly mugs in line.”
Gratefully he made it to the infirmary and stepped inside. The smell of antiseptics filled the air, along with the scratching of a pen as the doctor on duty wrote a report at the desk beside the door. The doctor looked up at winced at seeing his face. “Hello, Franky. What can I do for you today?”
“If you have some extra strength pain killers I'd be grateful,” he said letting out the groan he'd been holding back, “but mostly I'm here to see Victor.”
The doctor waved his hand to a bed at the back of the infirmary which was hidden by a privacy curtain. “He's over there, not talking to anyone. And the Director in his infinite wisdom fired the psychiatrist last week, so I can't even call him in. Maybe you'll have better luck, I'll get you something for your pain.”
“Thanks,” he said making his way to the bed. Pulling back the curtain he was surprised to see Victor lying in bed with his arms on top of the blanket wrapped up in bandages about two inches above the wrists. He'd seen the kid burn his hands badly before, but never to the point of amputating them.
The teen looked up, his eyes were surrounded by dark circles and he looked as depressed as when he'd first arrived. Taking a seat, he patted Victor on the shoulder. “What happened?”
Instead of answering, Victor rolled over to face the wall.
“I heard over the radio that you had burned your hands off, and maintenance was right pissed about having to rebuild a big chunk of wall. Since you haven't had an outburst like that since I've known you, I think you need to talk to someone before you set this whole place on fire.”
Easing himself gently into a too small plastic chair, Franky sighed. He had been hired to be a security guard after his stint in the army, not a counsellor. His own teenage exploits weren't exactly something he'd encourage others to do even if he had somehow survived, so when things went beyond someone to roughhouse with, he was at a bit of a lose. Still with Dr. Carter out of commission and the kids psychiatrist gone, it looked like he had been picked for the job. “I know things aren't going that well right now. You've got a lot of crap coming down on you that you don't deserve and you have no idea how to handle it all. I just want you to know that you have people working their hardest to help you through this.”
“Who?” Victor asked in a whisper.
“Dr. Carter for one. He's pulling every string he can to get things back to the way they were. And-”
“They don't even know if Dr. Carter will get better,” the teenager said, his voice still low, practically spitting the words.
“I've known him for a few years, he's one of the most stubborn people I know,” Franky lied. “He'll be back here before you know it.”
Victor didn't react, just kept staring at the wall. After a few minutes of dead silence, Franky got up, cursing the cramps that made him want to scream and flipped the curtain aside. “Victor you've got two choices, roll over and die or fight. I know the one I'd choose, but you've got to make that decision on your own.”
Making his way out he took the painkillers from the doctor and swallowed them dry with a grateful swallow. Not sure what else to do, he headed for home a long soak in a hot tub would help his body. If only his mind could be put at ease so easily.
Tara laid in bed trying to ignore the shackles. David had put the chains and mask back on when he left, on order from the Director. Her rage, once more fully awake and eager for release, shrieked at the irritation and indignity. She wished she could play her guitar, music could keep it contained, keep it quiet enough for her to relax. But with the new protective equipment, all she could do was use her mind to keep herself contained, to keep herself from becoming even more of a monster.
It wasn't nearly enough.
Standing up she shuffled around the room, hoping to work off some of the agitation that filled her.
The door clicked and opened without so much as a knock or a pause to let her prepare herself. Spinning around to face it, the blood drained from her face as she saw Dr. Brennan step inside, she was smiling pleasantly. “Hello Tara, I trust you're doing well,” she said, her voice sounded sincere, almost sweet.
“Please,” she whispered, moving backwards into the corner, crouching down as soon as her back hit the metal wall, “please, don't hurt me.” Her rage howled, held back only by the terror she felt.
“I don't enjoy hurting you, dear,” Dr. Brennan said in the same soft voice, “but if we're going to solve your problem we have to try many things we don't like. Come on now, I have a number of experiments to try tonight.”
She began to whimper. She could barely see anything between the red haze and the tears that welled up and rolled down her cheeks pooling against the hard rubber of the mask. “Please, send me to prison. I don't want to do this anymore.”
“I thought you were going to be difficult,” the doctor said sadly, stepping outside of the room. “Fortunately I brought help.”
Two guards she knew all too well stepped through the door, leering at her, hiding behind large padded shields.
With a howl she threw herself at them, all her terror, all her sadness, all her sanity burned away in the fiery rage.
Tara woke up on the floor of her room. Her hands were covered in blood, the metal shackles torn and battered apart, half embedded in the door. Dark red streaks covered the wall and floor, thick enough to be dripping in places, her right cheek rested in a puddle of blood.
A wail ripped itself out of her aching throat.
The door opened again, Dr. Brennan and the two guards looked down at her, one of the guards had lost his shield, she realized after a long second that it was lying shattered beside her.
“I think your ready for the experiments now, dear,” Dr. Brennan said, crouching down to look her in the face, smiling like an angel.
When the two guards picked up her limp and virtually lifeless body, she began shrieking. For the first time in her life, she begged the rage to come back, to end it all once and for all. As she was dragged screaming down the hallway, the rage refused to come.
Dr. Carter felt cold.
Ice ran through his veins, turning his muscles to ice. It started at his heart and worked its way through his body. He wanted to shiver, but his body was frozen solid, any movement would shatter him in an instant. His lungs tried to move, to take in air, but nothing happened.
He gasped, fighting to breathe, the darkness that surrounded him somehow got blacker, blotting out any light that might show, drowning out the hope that he might live, that he might help his patients.
His mind screamed in impotent fury.
And then he could breathe.
His mouth gaped wide, the wire holding his jaw together had been removed and he rejoiced, gulping the air in, filling his lungs until he thought they would burst. It had never smelled so sweet.
“You're alive. I was afraid that you'd be too weak to handle my cure, but I guess you were always too stubborn to know when to quit,” a woman said beside him.
“Who? Wendy?” he stuttered, rubbing his eyes, trying to get his vision back.
“Yes, Anthony, it's me,” the woman said, leaning over to kiss his cheek.
His vision was still blurry, but he could see enough to recognize his old student, friend and colleague, she looked as beautiful as ever, thanks in large part to her exemplar mutation. “I thought you were in Miami,” he said.
“You haven't checked your mail recently,” she said, her voice low. “I lost my medical license last month. Well technically I'm still being reviewed and its only a temporary suspension but we all know what the board will say.”
“What?! How dare they!” he practically shouted despite the not so dull ache in his lungs and throat. He tried to sit up, only to have his arms give way halfway up, sending him toppling back onto his pillow.
Wendy put a delicate hand on his chest. “Don't move too much, you'll give yourself a heart attack. Even with my devise, you're still weak, you don't want to know how much internal damage you had. I'm surprised you managed to make it to the hospital, much less survive this long.”
He shifted a little as he realized his heart was beating painfully like a drum. He couldn't remember what had happened, but it had have been bad.
“Now before you explode with curiosity, I used an untested medical devise to save a patient and got caught. I'd used it dozens of times, but since the Fools Fight, the state government in its great wisdom demanded that all medical devises and gadgets be tested again to ensure their complete safety.” She snorted and curled her lip at the thought of how much time and effort all of that would take. “I had just started the process, when I was handed a young boy who was dying. I still don't know exactly what he had, but it was some kind of pneumonia that had been altered in a lab. He was drowning in phlegm and no standard treatments worked. So I used one of my devises and burned it out of him. He lived,” she said, smiling broadly. “Within the hour I was in front of the hospital review board being read the riot act.”
“Fools,”Carter said. He knew Wendy, any devise she used would be thoroughly tested and declared safe even by the FDA. Making her go back over everything for a safety review would take years even if they fast tracked it.
“I knew what I was risking when I did it,” Wendy said, rubbing a hand gently across her eyes. “So now here I am illegally helping you.”
“Why? If you get caught you could go to jail, you'll lose everything you worked for.”
She shrugged. “Some things are worth the risk. You're well known, maybe you can talk some sense into the world. No one else seems able to, especially a mutant. Don't worry about me, no one is going to catch me here, and I have a job waiting for me in Canada. The capes there still have some influence and they need a good doctor in Vancouver. They say that in a year after I prove I know my business and pass a medical test, I'll be able to practice medicine in a hospital again.”
“I can't do anything,” he muttered. “I can't even protect my patients.”
A long finger ran across his cheek, making him shiver, he remembered those fingers all too well. “You always did take the world on your shoulders, Anthony. I don't know what you can do, but you need to realize you're not alone. If you were all alone having to fight the good fight, you'd still be three quarters dead looking at years of physiotherapy.”
They both froze as footsteps clicked down the hallway. The person kept going not even pausing at the door, letting them both breathe a little more easily. “You should go, before you're caught,” Carter said.
Wendy leaned down, kissing his lips. “When you get the chance come meet me in Vancouver, I'll send you a letter with my address and number when I get settled. I may have somethings that could make you feel young again,” she said, giving him a sultry smile.
His heart was beating too quickly again. “I'll try,” he said.
Throwing a hood over her head, Wendy's shape shifted becoming an elderly man in a janitors outfit. Slouching out of the room she quietly shut the door and disappeared down the hall.
Carter thought about what she had said, he had been thinking about the problems as an internal MCO concern. But now he realized the MCO was too rotten to save. Better to tear it all down and rebuild. If he could bring some attention to what was going on to innocent children, he might be able to do some good for everyone.
Taking the phone from beside the bed, he dialed a number. There was a long wait before a man snorted out an angry curse.
Speaking with an enthusiasm he hadn't felt in months, he said, “Mallory, I need you in Detroit tomorrow. Don't worry I'll pick up the tab, I've got a story that will be front page news.”
MCO research lab #5, Northern Michigan
David Wellington took a moment to steady himself outside Tara's door. Despite her being just a kid who reminded him a bit of his sister, she was a volatile rager with a kill record, as the agony in his ribs reminded him every time he breathed. Finding the necessary willpower to put a pleasant, professional smile on he knocked twice and waited a few seconds before unlocking the door. “Tara, can I come in?” he asked, opening it a crack.
There was no answer.
Losing the smile, David opened the door wider, the room was pitch black. His nose twitched at the all too familiar smell of blood. Old training kicked in and he mentally made a map of the room from what he'd seen the day before, using all his senses to get an idea of any possible danger. He heard a faint gurgling sound coming from the ground near the bed. Flicking the light on, he saw dried and half dried blood covering the floor and the walls of the ruined room. His eyes went to the source of the noise, a long, wide streak of blood drew a macabre line from the door to under the bed.
He slide along the floor grabbing onto the bed frame with one hand to stop himself as went down to his knees, ignoring the blood that coated his pants and hands, and looked under the bed.
“JESUS!” he shouted, recoiling in horror.
Leaping to his feet he hit the intercom. “MEDICAL EMERGENCY! I need paramedics for Tara NOW!” he ordered.
“How's dumb ass-” the question died away in a squeal of anger, as Rob saw a heavily bandaged girl lying in bed surrounded by machines and multiple IV's. What made the scene rage inducing rather than pitiful was that the girl was +chained to a bed surrounded by four armed guards. “What the fuck?!”
“Mind your language Rob,” the on duty doctor snapped. “Tara needs some peace and quiet after...” the doctor couldn't finish, he just glared at the armed guards.
Forcing himself to keep at least the resemblance of calm, even as his mind told him to kill every guard in the room and then work his way up the food chain until the Director was begging him for forgiveness, Rob took a few seconds to compose himself. Finally with the air humming in anger, he asked, “Did Dr. Brennan do some more experiments?”
“You heard of that?”
He nodded, not willing to go into detail about just how well he could hear things. He made it a point to listen very carefully whenever he saw that the new guards were acting so happy and would stop talking when they saw him. “Is it true?”
“I'm not at liberty to say,” the doctor answered, confirming his suspicions.
“Will she live?”
That earned a curious look. “I didn't know you cared about her.”
“She's a mutant,” Rob replied making sure the guards could hear him perfectly. “With the way things are right now, we've got to stick together. If anything that isn't for treatment purposes happens to her, I'll have to get angry.”
The four guards tensed up, their hands moved towards their holsters. The doctor looked back and forth between the group of heavily armed guards and Rob, clearly trying to decide who was the bigger threat and how to stop a fight in his infirmary. “Rob, I'm going to have to ask you to leave, you can visit Victor tonight, after we've induced a rage in Tara to speed up her healing process.”
“All right,” Rob said, not taking his eyes off the guards. “I may be here. Take good care of my friends for me.”
Leaving the office, he quickly made his way back to his room, there were things he needed to do and it would be best to do it immediately, screw revenge being a cold dish, he wanted it burning hot. As he changed into his punk gear, a black shirt with the sleeves torn off, a well worn studded leather jacket, ripped jeans, fingerless gloves with studs along the knuckles, a black bandana, and black combat boots.
As he got dressed, he considered taking his anger medication. Picking up the bottle, he gave it a shake and threw it into the garbage.
Sonny met him in the main room. “HeyRob,whereyagoing?”
“For a walk. You'll probably want to stay inside until I get back.”
The speedsters face blurred as he shook his head. “Butwe'renotallowedtogoforwalks,remember?”
“They've got a choice, they can let me go for a walk or I can break some of their precious doors. Are you going to try to stop me?” he asked, making the air growl.
Sonny backed off, “Noman,justwantedtomakesure youremembered.Canyougetmeachocolatebarorsomething?”
“Sure. I'll get you box of them,” he replied, feeling generous.
“Thanksman.” There was a pause for a full second, which was a lifetime for Sonny, “Um,don'tdoanythingstupid.OK?”
“Don't worry about me. I'm not going to do anything I'll regret,” Rob said as he headed out the door.
The security cameras followed him as he made his way down the halls. He could hear the motors whirring to catch his every move. When he reached the exit, the Director was waiting at the check out desk.
“You've decided to go for a walk, Rob?” the Director asked.
“I need some air, I thought I'd go into town, maybe stay the night with some friends. You going to try to stop me?” he asked.
“Not at all,” the Director replied, smiling broadly. “I just wanted to remind you to be careful out there. Your friends would miss you if anything were to happen.”
His hands tightened at the implied threat. Not for the first time, he was glad his face couldn't show any emotion. “I wouldn't want them to worry, so I'll be back by tomorrow morning. Try not to let anymore accidents happen, it doesn't look good for a hospital to lose patients.”
“I'll try my best, but accidents do happen. Enjoy your little vacation,” the Director said, opening the door for him.
Heading to parking garage where he kept his old beat up motorcycle that he'd lovingly bought and repaired as a seventeenth birthday present for himself, Rob began to hum happily. He may not want to date the rage girl, but no one deserved to be tortured. And from the things he'd heard over the last few days, Dr. Brennan was doing a lot worse than that. It was time for her to get a taste of her own medicine.
“This had better be good Carter, I had to skip out on the so called UN ambassador of Karadonia arriving in New York to begin negotiations for recognition of the new country,” Mallory said as soon as he entered the hospital room.
“Is the torture of children, attempted murder, assassinations and the complete destruction of the MCO at the hands of anti-mutant radicals good enough?” Carter asked. He'd spent all morning lying to the doctors about how he'd managed his miraculous recovery, and wasn't in the mood for pleasantries or wasting time.
Mallory let out a whistle and pulled out a notepad. “That could make my editors speak to me again. But I'm going to need details, the MCO is definitely getting to be too big to mess around with. Rumours have it the new top dogs are spending money like its going out of style for the upcoming election, and if the politicians want any hope of being elected, they'd better tow the MCO line. They've already gotten rid of ten politicians who were too pro-mutant for their liking, and at least thirty more are going to lose their election unless their opponents drops dead.”
“I'd heard it was bad,” Carter said, closing his eyes in shame at what he'd helped built. “But I didn't know they'd gotten so far into the government. If I had only paid attention.”
“Well you didn't, and now look at the mess we're in,” the reporter said, showing absolutely no sympathy despite all the times they'd talked about mutant issues as friendly acquantances and for business. Mallory was one of the go to writers when a newspaper or magazine needed a smart article written about mutants; ever since he'd managed to convince Carter to do an interview about the dangers of manifesting mutants in 1981. There had been a minor bout of hysteria then, after a boy exploded in the middle of his science class while complaining of being too hot. Despite being strictly neutral about mutants in his regular life, Carter knew the man was one of the unknown founders of Evolution Rocks and did articles for their underground news letter under a pseudonym.
“Well I'm trying to make amends now. If I tell you everything I know it might be able to help,” Carter said.
“It might just be enough. Is all this just hearsay, or do you have evidence?”
“In my files, I have a detailed report of the injuries that Tara Wilcox suffered and a recording of her telling me of how Dr. Brennan cut off her hand. The rest is just what I've heard and can figure out. Is that enough?” he asked, hopefully.
“Wilcox... Wilcox,” Mallory muttered, tapping his pen against his teeth. “The teen rager?”
“Yes,” Carter answered, feeling a growing lump of ice in his stomach at the reporters uncertain expression.
“She murdered her family. That's going to get rid of any sympathy she might have had,” he explained. “With the way things are going now, about half the readers will be saying it's exactly what he deserves.”
“She's a sick child,” Carter roared. After everything that had happened his emotions were worn raw, and his usual decorum forgotten.
“And she's a girl who killed what, ten, twelve people with her bare hands. I feel for the kid, but most of the public right now would consider her not worth their time, and would probably question why we're even keeping her alive.”
Gritting his teeth to keep from saying exactly what he thought of that, Carter took a moment to center himself. “What would be good enough?”
“Well,” Mallory said slowly, “the assassination thing. You're talking about Mr. Giles, right?”
“Yes. He was fighting his forced retirement, have the police found anything?”
That got a frustrated shake of the head. “The police have an open and shut case of a truck driver pulling too many hours and falling asleep at the wheel. There are a few rumours and questions going around the in crowd, but nothing more than the usual gossip that always comes up. And before you ask about your beating, your wallet and watch were taken, so it's being regarded as a particularly violent mugging. Which is about par for the course here in Detroit.”
The heavy feeling of despair that Carter was becoming accustomed to fell on his shoulders. “So what can I do?” he asked in almost a whisper.
“Get me something, anything, that will show the MCO is doing something illegal to someone who isn't a mass murderer.” Mallory stood up, rubbing his temples. “Listen, I believe you. I know you wouldn't play me with something like this. So I'll start really pushing what contacts I have left in the MCO, and put some of my associates onto the scent. If you get anything, anything at all for me, you know my number and my mailbox. This could be the story of a lifetime, and if I can publish it my name will go in the history books.”
“Thank me by getting me the stuff I need to win a Pulitzer. And get some rest, you don't look like hamburger anymore, but you're a long way from healthy. Now if you'll excuse me, if I'm lucky I can catch enough of the UN meeting that's about to start, to write a halfways decent article.” With a quick wave goodbye Mallory hit the door at a quick walk.
Dr. Carter thought about what he had to do. There had to be some documents about the illegal testing going on, it was a simple matter of finding it. He might not know where it was, but he had some ideas on where to look, and the one place he couldn't do any of that was in a hospital bed. With an agonizing groan he swung his legs over and got to his feet.
Franky made his way from the parking booth, feeling almost human thanks to bringing a camping chair from home to sit on. But while his body felt better, despite still being a mass of bruises, he was on the edge of murdering someone over what had happened to Tara.
Continued in Part 3