The memory throws up high and dry
A crowd of twisted things
A twisted branch upon the beach
Eaten smooth, and polished
As if the world gave up
The secret of its skeleton
Stiff and white
A broken spring in a factory yard
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
Hard and curled and ready to snap
~ Lines from Rhapsody on a Windy Night (T.S. Elliot)
Wreathed in cigar smoke, Otto sat in thought. His forearms rested on the back of the wooden chair which he had turned backward and straddled.
He watched the monitor that showed him the company board members shifting uncomfortably in their seats three floors below him. The camera was angled just to the left of Rucker’s head but Otto didn’t bother to change the view to include his major-domo’s face. His focus was on the man in the Hong Kong version of an Armani suit.
“We’re waiting, Mr. Sanders,” Rucker drawled.
The man glanced nervously at the camera and away again. “There isn’t anything like tritium in China. I searched in and out of the law. There’s nothing. I’m sorry sir.”
A woman in a navy Givenchy suit, a real one, stared up at the camera. She spoke without any hint of fear. “That’s all possible locations hunted to the ends of the earth, sir.”
Otto smiled. If she could have seen it, she might have paled. “So it seems, Ms. Archer, and yet we still need a fuel source compatible with my formula.”
“Sir,” she answered, her chin lifting slightly, “the minerals harvested now could have limitless potential. The search hasn’t been a total loss.”
“No, indeed. Proceed with evaluations of their properties and possible applications. Oversee the effort yourself, Ms. Archer. I will expect a preliminary report in three days.”
Switching the camera view at last, Otto watched as Rucker rose, his fingertips on the polished mahogany conference table as his flint gray eyes scanned the faces around him.
“That will be all, I believe, unless Mr. Ollre has any further instructions. Sir?”
“No. Carry on – and good day.”
Otto removed the stub of cigar from his mouth and crushed it violently into a heavy glass ashtray on his desk. He rose too quickly, overturning the chair. After the clatter of it faded, the silence of the empty penthouse surrounded him, half plunged into darkness between the sparse security lights.
He closed his eyes for a moment, hands knotted into fists, before switching off the monitor and sweeping out of the room.
~ ~ ~
The chill of the subterranean bedroom made him shudder but he didn’t wake. The mechanical arms stirred slightly, suspicious, but then slowly went still again.
In his mind, Rosalie Octavius watched him with pride. Tragedy waited, moments away – the accident, the glass – but he couldn’t forsake her. Seeing her die every night tore at his soul but it was the only way to see her alive.
Otto turned to face her as he always did and stared around him in shock. The old lab of steel and glass had faded. His wife stood on a hillside surrounded by heather, breathing the fragrant air. She smiled her welcome. The lab coat was gone. In its place, a diaphanous cream gown fell from her shoulders. Her beauty stole his breath.
Otto reached out a hand to her but when her fingers touched his, he startled. The tentacles rose to watch her, mouths slightly open. Did they understand? She came close and they wreathed around her as he drew her into his arms.
Fingertips caressing her cheek, he looked down into her bright hazel eyes.
You needed me.
It can’t be real. You’re gone. The glass – I killed you.
I forgive you.
An expression of wonder came over her face as she took in the tentacles. When they moved, one of them opening its mouth behind her with a mechanical hiss, the expression turned to fear.
They won’t hurt you. I’m … bonded to them now; they’ve changed me…
Her fingers brushed the thick hair from his forehead. You look the same to me.
His arms crushed her to him, a soft sound of pain escaping his lips as they lowered gently to hers.
My God, Rosalie… I’m so sorry – but I love you … beyond death.
Rooke’s mind reeled as the man kissed the psychic mask she wore. She didn’t need Chuck Xavier to tell her the simulacrum of the woman was all that kept her from being attacked and driven out of his mind. She would have to be careful.
The sight of the four monstrous things, obviously the other sentient beings, shocked her. She had thought he might suffer from multiple personalities, but the truth was stunning.
She knew who he was – had heard of him. The press had dubbed him Doctor Octopus, a title that needed no explanation. How many times, as she lay in her hospital bed in New York City, had she listened to other thoughts as they trembled in fear of this man?
Rooke smiled. She didn’t care which side of the law he was on. He’d been against Spider-Man, and that was good enough for her. The X-Men, the web-slinger, and the man she hated beyond anything else: Magneto – it was their fault that her life had been ruined.
Cold metal stroked her side and with a guilty pang she focused again on where she was. One of his metal arms was caressing her body with its dog-like muzzle.
Kinky. Does he realize it?
Turning her concentration on the Doc, she was amazed at the strong undercurrent of emotion his mind was bathing her in. Yet she couldn’t touch it or feel it directly while keeping her own mind safely independent of his.
Curiosity and temptation twined inside her. She wanted to experience the things that passed around her psychic image like mist. What had Xavier said? Names – names were the magic word. Hunting through her stolen memories, she found it.
Otto, her mind whispered to his, the slightest fear riding her thoughts. I have missed you…
She gasped when he responded, his powerful mind pulling her into its influence. In a flash, it was all there – the love, remorse, and starved desire – in stark and drowning sensations.
Don’t be afraid, he told her, his lips at her neck, just under her left ear.
Large strong hands held her arms gently but the hunger he felt for the image she wore seemed palpable through the touch. Oh, my God…
Rooke had been with many men since her patron mutant saint had given her back the use of her body. Sex and desire in the physical realm had always paled in comparison to the intimacies she could spy on between others. Yet this man’s need overwhelmed her, even as it sparked and burned her, mentally and physically. The love he felt just from seeing and touching this woman was beyond the bounds of anything she had ever known.
Rosalie … I don’t understand. I’ve never been able to touch you, to remove you from – what happened. How?
Watch it, she thought, without broadcasting it to him. If he senses you, you’re entangled enough to get damaged. Unhook, back off. This is getting dangerous.
Carefully, she retreated from the fire, slipping back behind the wall of the illusion she wore.
It’s a gift, she told him. I can’t remain long but I wanted to tell you – I forgive you, and I love you. Remember… She stepped back, ghosting out of his grasp.
To listen to Horace, Rosie? I can’t – if I live for today, I won’t have you.
His human arms were raised, palms up in a mute appeal. The mechanical arms were ranged around him, two over his head and two poised at his shoulders. They seemed to bristle with growing mistrust, their mouths pulling open as if baring unseen fangs.
The man’s attempt to keep her there with an intense will, even as the machines hissed, confused and frightened her. She escaped, breaking the connection with a yank.
Opening her eyes, she stared into the blackness of the echoing warehouse she had broken into for the night. The couch in the office, a rusting jumble of threadbare cloth and cracked vinyl, dug into her back – but she didn’t move.
“That was close,” she muttered. “Freak almost held me hostage.” Her right hand slid down to cup her denim crotch, pressing damp cotton panties against hungry flesh. “Shit. Ock, you are one loaded motherfucker. The Daily Bugle never had a scoop on that!” She grinned in the dark and tried to relax. “That wasn’t for me, though. Rosie, whoever you are, you’re one lucky wench, even if you are mincemeat.”
Unable to sleep, she gave in to her body. Stripping off her leather glove and opening her jeans, she touched herself languidly. Calling up the psychic memory of him, she imagined the sensuous lips on hers, her fingers in his thick brunet hair.
She could forgive him his age, what – twenty-four or more – years her senior? She could even forgive the bowl haircut. His broad-shouldered heavy frame and sculpted pecs would have gotten him a ticket in anyway, had she met him on the street. No doubt about it, the mind was a turn-on, mad as he was – and those metal things!
Damn. With a giggle, she drew them into her autoerotic fantasy. Could he make one of them…? Why not?
The imagery altered as she smiled. Yet sex with the heavy cold muzzle, as delightfully wicked as it was, didn’t compare to what she had felt in his mind, in his arms, and mouth. Even with the barrier of clothes between them.
That heat had been alien to her. It was – pure? Rooke shook her head. She didn’t know what to call it. How could the things she’d felt him desiring be pure? Men were beasts. They saw, they screwed, and they left. Besides, it was just a kiss.
So how come that kiss was better than any screw you’ve ever had? She frowned. The kinky elements faded from her mind until the tentacles themselves were out of focus. Bring forward the man – that kiss. If I’d stayed, Ock, what could you have done to me? Her fingers resumed, quickening their motions slightly. “Come on, old man, do it,” she urged under her breath. “Oh, shit yeah…”
Her orgasm hit her forcefully, her body twitching under the cold touch of her fingers. The exhaustion she’d been fighting all day crept over her as the release relaxed her. Eyes drifting shut, she dropped off to sleep.
~ ~ ~
It was the tank, not the hospital that came to torment her. She breathed alien fluid as the living metal sliced into her skin like a devouring insect, wrapped around her bones, and branched out through paralyzed muscle and dead nerves. Erupting out of her flesh again, it forced wounds closed, spreading out over the surface of her body in patterns and whirls of nanotech lace.
Lights grew on filaments out of her spine, and over the left side of her chest. Metal pads opened on her fingertips, their sensory enhancements amazing, but the birth of the diamond-hard retractable talons had torn her with agony.
Spiral had promised she would walk again but there would be a price – and there would be pain. After four years in a hospital bed, paralyzed from the neck down, the promise was all she could see.
When the torture of her cure had been at its worst, she might have turned back, but by then the choice was no longer hers. As the dream slithered toward that apex, she abruptly focused and forced it to change, with a jolt of her own dream-spinning power – her most honed mutant talent.
The hospital bed swallowed her but she didn’t mind now. It was an empty threat and if she allowed the dream to open here, maybe she could bring her parents into it.
Memories of all the minds she had ridden in secret – borrowing their bodies, their freedom, and their lives – crowded around her: New York minds and Chicago minds, after her parents brought her here … all familiar, comforting. They had kept her sane in the prison of her own mind.
Yet somewhere, on the edge of dreaming, she still felt the strange and tempting sensations of her telepathic encounter. Unbidden, a yearning to feel it again, to understand it, was born. It became so strong that it drove her awake.
Rooke sat up and hid her face in her hands. “Can’t play with that, girl,” she whispered. She didn’t doubt the wisdom of it – but the urge to connect with him again didn’t fade.
Otto had woken in a cold sweat with four agitated machines coiling around his body. The dream had toppled his tenuous hold on sanity, calling up things he hadn’t allowed himself to feel in years – since her death.
He stumbled from the bed in a daze and if the arms hadn’t wrapped him in a robe, he’d have entered the penthouse nude.
Indulging in a scalding shower, bombarded by six powerful jets around the large black-tiled room, he felt his rational mind start to reassert itself. The tentacles dried him and themselves with thick towels and helped him into a fresh robe, split up the back as all of his clothing had to be.
Otto retired to a padded heavy stool that stood in front of the windows. It had wide padded arms, but no back. Two of the tentacles lent him back support, their mouths opening into three-fingered prehensile appendages. The other two angled themselves to watch him, all four minds muttering in confusion at once. He ignored them all and watched the lights of the sleeping city.
What had changed? How was I able to alter the dream, to touch her? A gift, she’d said.
The words of love and forgiveness washed over him again, soothing his splintered mind, even as the memory of touching her set his body on fire again.
A soft sound made him turn, though his sentinels had already shown him Balfour behind him, standing under the arch that led into the hall.
Otto signed to him with practiced hands that all was well. “But I could use a whiskey.” He signed the request as he said it.
Balfour nodded and disappeared. When he returned, he had the drink and one of the expensive Arturo Fuente Opus X cigars Rucker always brought. The Macassar Ebony humidor box had set the lawyer back $30,000.
“Thank you,” he said, with a slight smile, when the young man struck a match for him.
Alone again, he took a drink and let it warm him. The cigar filled the room with a delicious perfume but it couldn’t soothe the confusion and the longing that consumed him.
“I don’t understand,” he whispered to the silent city.
Many things about the dream made no sense. Subtle details, while pleasant, had been out of place. The nightgown – Rosalie had never been fond of the color cream and neither had he. If the mind tended to conjure the familiar, why had they met on a hill covered in heather? His heritage was German, Rosalie’s Italian. The Scottish Highlands were foreign territory to them both.
His habitual restlessness grew, aided by the chattering of his perpetual companions. A dangerous urge to go out plucked at him, but was it their idea or his own cabin fever? It had been almost a year since he’d last left his sanctuary alone, without the trappings of the wealthy recluse to hide what he was.
“If we were seen… The risk isn’t worth it,” he told them.
It invaded us. / Not Her. / Another, another! / Should have attacked it!
“No!” His lips peeled back from even white teeth in a grimace that had terrified many. “None of you knew her! You will not harm her, ever!”
Not Her. / Another! / Go! Go and see! / It will seek us out! Kill it!
“Damn you to Hell, you will not touch her!”
He dropped the whiskey, the glass shattering on the floor. The cigar was crushed in his fist, broken in two. It missed falling into the spilled alcohol by inches and slowly smoldered, scorching the wood.
Rising, he staggered to the window, his fingers digging into his hair in anguish. Resting his forehead against the cold glass, he breathed raggedly, struggling to regain control. The others were silent as they watched, ready to steady him, help him – and drive him to murder again.
“She is dead. Dead. My Rosie is dead. You can’t hurt her.”
Their voices, speaking all at once again, attempted to be more soothing, persuading. We know Her. / We saw Her. / This one is not She you want. / This one invaded our mind…
Otto opened his eyes, his fingers sliding down his face. He reached out to touch the glass and the expression of pure insanity reflected there. “Invaded?”
He moved them, striking the floor with resounding blows, and went down the hall to the large formal dressing room. His servant, always frightened when he showed his anger, was none-the-less waiting to help him dress.
Balfour settled the heavy brown trench coat on Otto’s shoulders over thick winter clothing and backed away again, going to lean his back against a wall far from the doorway.
“Where?” Otto demanded of the machines.
Go. / Think of Her, it can hear us! / Find it. Kill it! / Draw it out…
The elevator took him to the roof. He stepped out into the frigid air and biting wind of October. It spread his coat out like a cloak as he leaped over the side of the building, trusting to the urging, murderous creatures to grip the rugged protruding stones of the architecture and swing him down to the street – sixteen hundred feet below.
It took a lot of fancy mental footwork to get past the security guards at the University of Illinois Science Library, but after convincing the second one that she was his partner back from her rounds, Rooke slipped away with her flashlight and started browsing. The flashlight, lifted from the partner she’d left snoring in the parking lot, was a heavy foot-long Maglite.
When she located a bank of computers, she set the flashlight down on the table and fired up the last machine in the back row. Sleep had eluded her, so she sought knowledge. Drawing on the memories of a businessman from Manhattan, she operated the equipment and software like a pro.
Okay, Ock, let’s get you Googled and see what you’re all about.
She ignored the Daily Bugle matches and opened a few of the others. Coming across a site with pictures of him pre-freakdom, she was surprised to discover that his first career hadn’t involved flinging cars at wall-crawlers.
Atomic research. What the fuck? Hey – score! Otto Gunther Octavius. Jawohl, dude.
On the thickest site she found, written in a scientific language she dubbed New American Geek, a man named Connor went on and on about Ock and his grand experiment gone wrong and claimed to know him personally.
Frat buddies? Do you guys even know what beer tastes like?
She clicked on a photo thumbnail and a large color portrait of the smiling scientist opened up. His eyes were dark, a deep brown, the face defined by a strong jaw and solid square chin. The man looked more like a construction grunt than a geek. Didn’t scientists eat quiche and walk around like sticks, forgetting to speak plain English?
Leaving that photo up, she found one of the Daily Bugle snapshots and opened it beside the other to compare.
His feet weren’t touching the ground. Two of the metal arms were pretending to be legs, as the other two lugged huge bank bags of gold. The safe door behind him had been ripped from its hinges and locks and tossed like a Frisbee.
Damn, old man. That’s the way to go. Screw scraping and scrounging – just rip the shit off and take, take, take! Gotta admit, I like your style.
Rooke printed out both photos and turned off the machine, folding the sheets of paper in quarters and slipping them into a pocket of her jacket. She picked up the flashlight and headed out.
Sick of roach motels and run-down buildings, she thought about trying to put the whammy on a doorman at one of the big hotels. A businessman staying in one would be easier but there wouldn’t be many of them up after one in the morning. Sighing, she walked off out of the 800 block of West Taylor Street.
A memory from an unusual mind struck her casual telepathic scans, a random catch – but the mental signature was familiar after obsessing about it all night. Plus, multiples not being that common, it could only be him.
“Where are you, Otto Gunther Octavius? Not taking a dirt nap like you should be – or a Hudson nap, I guess. What’s the story, fish bait?” She smiled. He probably had some dank basement den somewhere. Was he sitting in it now, brooding over whatever failed criminal scientists brood over?
She focused on the signature and followed it telepathically, without contacting him. The memory was of the woman, of course – his beloved mincemeat. She wasn’t surprised. Didn’t men always obsess over what they couldn’t have?
Rooke tucked the flashlight into her jeans waistband to climb a fence and enter an alley. It would take her back to her warehouse, and then she could concentrate on the Doc better.
It’d be sweet if I could snoop you out, Ock. We could go for coffee and chat about the fun of being cyborgs. Just for starters, of course. Eventually, I’d have to see what a doctorate does for a man’s plumbing.
She stepped up onto the raised cement base of a streetlight to get a view down the alley. As she slipped an arm around the pole, her motion sensors went crazy.
“What the –”
A heavy object struck her and knocked her across the alley where she landed in a crumpled heap. Gears whined and screamed in her ears. Something was broken but she didn’t worry about it. Spiral had said the cybernetics would repair themselves and they’d never let her down. By the time she regained her feet, the damage was fixed. Hatred stiffening her delicate features, she glared up at her attacker.
“You!” Rooke stepped back a pace.
He was huge. The human body had to be over six feet tall, but the tentacles held him ten feet over the street. The one that had hit her across the ribs was coiling with an inhuman menace. The other was open and shining a light down on her.
“How did you find us?” His voice was angry, insane.
“You screamed – in your mind. I’m a telepath, I followed it.”
“And toyed with us!” The powerful tentacles set him on his feet and struck out at her, all too fast for her to react.
The blows smashed at her but the flesh wouldn’t bruise and the metal just rewove itself, fixing any damaged components as it went. She rolled out of a fall and landed on her side, panting. Sparks flew from her back before the rent closed.
Rooke started to get up. “Had to trash the jacket, huh?”
He froze in the act of striking again. “What are you?”
She ran her hand under her nose, wiping away a dark liquid. “Mutant. Deluxe Limited Edition. Want to stop playing Hulk Smash and talk like civilized monsters?” He was silent but didn’t attack again. Rooke picked up her fallen Maglite, slapping it onto her gloved palm.
“We can’t allow you to tell others about us. I’m sorry.” All four mouths around his head hissed open and spikes as long as her flashlight popped out of them.
“Wait a minute! I won’t blow your cover, old man. I just wanted to know about you. I’m not going to turn you in. I don’t get on with cops.”
She stuck the flashlight back into her waistband and began stripping off her leather gloves. Holding them in one hand, she held up the other, palm out. The black stone that pulsed in its center flashed in the streetlight. Her fingers capped in metal, she popped the diamond claws.
“See?” she told him. “We have a lot in common. So whattaya say? Call truce, play nice? I’m dying to talk to you.”
“You’re a cyborg.”
“Don’t miss a trick, do you?”
“It was you in my dream – you changed it. How?”
“I manipulate dreams. Mix in the telepathy and there’s a lot I can do – but I can’t explain how. There was a man in Westchester named Professor Xavier who offered to teach me, but I didn’t like his rules … or his cause.” She lowered her hand and stared at the palm. “I didn’t want to upset you. I was trying to help.”
“The metal in your body, what is it?”
“Hell if I know.”
Otto lunged – to capture, not attack – but she avoided the grab of the tentacle’s interior coil and backed away. “You wanted to talk. Come along then,” he taunted.
“Really not looking to play Fay Wray to your Kong, sorry. Sure we can’t just find an open bar?”
He smiled. “I’m afraid I’m not dressed for it.”
She began backing away from him toward a wooden fence. The amazing metal showed on her forehead, chest, and threaded through the arms and hands. What portion of her that was human was barely more than a child, in spite of the hunted look of her expression. Pure anomaly, she fascinated him.
Otto watched as she turned and punched through the fence, kicking a hole big enough for her slight body to slip through. He didn’t try to catch her again and when she paused, he noticed the trickle of black fluid on her lip.
“Who made you?” he asked.
“Mr. and Mrs. Dryden, both deceased,” she replied with a glare.
“Perhaps I could talk with you – but it would have to be in the privacy of my home. If you think you can trust me.”
“I doubt it … but maybe.”
“Do you know the Octagon building?”
“Who in the Windy City doesn’t?”
“Come tomorrow if you like. Security is rather stringent but I’ll have them on the lookout to let you in.” He smiled. “If I may have your name? I suspect you know mine.”
“Rooke. Wait a minute – it’s you!”
He was lifted into the air, the tentacles gripping the brick wall behind him, ready to carry him home. They were seething in his mind. “What is me?”
“That mystery guy, the genius.” She shook her head and grinned. “Good job on the identity overhaul.”
~ ~ ~
Rucker was shocked to hear that he was hoping to have a guest. “Can she be trusted?”
“Probably not – but she knows who I am.” Otto watched him slide the needle into the vein of his bare arm. “I went to kill her, until I saw her.”
“Let me take care of it.”
“No. She isn’t to be harmed. She’s – unique. You’ll understand when you see her. Just send her up to Balfour, if she has the courage to show up.”
“Fine.” Rucker gathered the kit and rose. “You’re probably rich enough now to sail over most indiscretions, Otto. Yet I must insist – if you want someone removed, tell me. Going out is dangerous. If you’re discovered, we’ll have the spandex union down our throats. Those people have proven very resistant to bribes, not to mention the less fiscal methods of silencing a threat.”
When he left, Otto sat on his stool before the wall of glass and watched the day lighten.
Foolish. / Why trust? / Why? / The man is right – to kill is best.
“Whatever her crimes, I must inspect that metal. It moved – repaired itself. What if it could be what we need?”
Once it’s / dead, the metal / is ours / yes?
Otto was silent. He rose and went to dress for his company. Balfour had his instructions and Rucker had no doubt already informed the kitchens.
Standing in front of the three-way full-length mirror in his pants and bare feet, he stared at the bruising around the harness belt. The pain of it had melted into a pleasant haze.
Deep inside, the original nanotech wire probes were fused in a tangled mess around his vertebrae and into his spinal cord. Fingers felt for the bare end of the artificial spine at the nape of his neck. He had removed the burned out inhibitor chip long ago, after it had failed to keep his mind protected.
His hair was reaching into his eyes. The memory of Rosalie teasing him about it stabbed at him, as did the realization that her words of forgiveness had been nothing but the foolish taunts of a child. She had played with him, cruelly seeming to offer his heart’s desire and then dissolving it like mist. What was the point of such a game?
Remembering the fire of the kiss, crushing his wife to his chest, and the burning need reborn – his fists clenched.
It distracts / you don’t / listen. / The work waits…
“I can’t live without her.”
She wanted this. / For us. / For all. / We must.
His hand rose and covered his eyes, blocking the sight of them in the mirrors. “I know.”
Author’s Note: Fray Wray and Kong are of course from the movie King Kong. Thanks for Reading! – AnonGrimm (@MET_Fic) (anongrimm.tumblr.com)