I am the Dark One, the Widower, the unconsoled
The prince of Aquitaine whose Tower is abolished
My sole Star is dead, and my constellated Luth
Bear the Black sun of Melancholy
In the night of the Vault, You who comforted me
Surrender me the Pausilippe and the sea of Italy
The flower which pleased my bleeding heart too much
And the trellised vine where the Vine Branch allies the Rose
And I have two times vanquished and been through Archeron
Modulating in turn on Orpheus’s lyre
The whispers from the Saint and the screams from the Fay
~ Lines from Je Suis Le Ténébreux (Gérard de Nerval)
By too severe a fate
Fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen
Fallen from his high estate
And weltering in his blood
Deserted, at his utmost need
By those his former bounty fed
On the bare earth exposed he lies
With not a friend to close his eyes
~ Lines from Alexander’s Feast (John Dryden)
Take them by the hand
lead them to the light
lift them to be healed
in soft and cleansing night
Believe in change
the song the siren sings
but toss them up
to catch the wind
and they fall like
~ Broken Things (W.R.R.)
His mind spun through the wreckage, trying vainly to stop the flow of madness. Cold concrete against his cheek prodded memory, as the others strove to make him rise.
You said it wasn’t possible, that she couldn’t control our mind. I know machines don’t love – can you lie?
We seek to continue. / Your capacity / for emotion puts / all at risk.
My God – you aided the wretch? Helped her … to rape my mind as well as my body.
It was a compromise, / a way for all to survive / together. Foolish to claim / such injury.
Damn you… If I could rip you out of my mind, I would tear out my spine to be free of you.
They are waiting / for us above. / Come. / We will not allow this.
He tried to resist but his grasp on controlling their mind was gone. From the moment he’d raised them against him, they had fought him. It was the same every time, from the depths of the East River, to the trail of blood that dripped from his left arm as they lifted him off of his feet and carried him to the ruined elevator.
Balfour met him on the medical floor with a thick and soft white wool blanket, wrapping it around his hips before the metal arms propelled him to the operating room where Rucker and the doctors waited. He was lifted again to sit on the steel table.
The lawyer and the neurosurgeon stood ready to assist as Dr. Roznovsky, chief of Otto’s surgical staff, tended to the puncture through the meat of the forearm.
“What stabbed him, Mr. Rucker?” the surgeon asked. “One of them?” His distaste implied the tentacles.
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
“He’ll need saline irrigation first, Dr. Rosenberg, if you would. Then we’ll see what’s best. Who called in the emergency? Of course,” he replied to a gesture Otto didn’t see. “Dr. Octavius, do you understand me, sir?”
Otto nodded slowly once without looking up but he knew what the man wanted. “They won’t interfere,” he whispered. All four of the tentacles were ranged out on the floor behind him, lending him support.
The surgeon picked up his injured arm gently as the neurosurgeon assisted him, bringing over a small basin full of a clear liquid and a 50cc irrigation syringe.
“We’re going to flush the puncture and put on a temporary dressing. I’ll administer a tetanus shot, and then we’ll need to take X-rays. Do you feel able to walk or will they help you?” Dr. Roznovsky smiled when he nodded. “Either way, sir. Just keep them under control and out of the way and this won’t take long. We’ll give you something for pain in a moment.”
Otto ignored them all. The haze of rage had slipped under the strong pull of the old despair, which numbed him more than any drug. Yet when the saline was shot through the wound, he hissed. One of the tentacles rose behind his head to watch them. The men paused, nervous.
You wanted to drag us up here. Kill these men and we might have a chance to bleed to death.
We will watch, / nothing more. / If they assist, / they will not be harmed.
“Perhaps something for pain now,” Dr. Rosenberg muttered. He took the basin away and drew up a local anesthetic, handing the syringe to the other surgeon.
“What’s that?” Rucker asked. “He can’t be knocked out or these damn things get dodgy.”
“5cc of a 1% lidocaine solution – he will remain conscious.” Dr. Roznovsky began a series of subcutaneous injections at a forty-five degree angle around the wounds on either side of the arm. “It will numb the area in a few minutes, and then we can proceed.”
Otto expected the lidocaine to burn and spent his failing energy in concentration on the tentacles. Five minutes later, when the surgeon gave his forearm a light thump with his finger, he couldn’t feel the touch. He watched listlessly as the practiced hands covered the holes with dressings and secured them with Kerlix gauze wrap.
The surgeon told him everything he was doing before he did it as a self-preservation precaution. As he administered the tetanus shot in his deltoid muscle, the other doctor recorded the vaccine’s serial number on Otto’s well-marked chart.
Balfour’s bare feet appeared in his view when the young man slumped in a chair in his pajamas, holding one of the customized bathrobes. He might have tried to sign to him but Otto didn’t lift his eyes.
Staring down at his lap, he watched the wet pattern of saturated blood that had ruined the blanket, shivering from both cold and memories. He studied the bloodstains, seeking Rorschach images that might help him cling to sanity.
Dr. Roznovsky touched his shoulder. “Step down, please, sir.” Waving the young man forward, he added, “Mr. Balfour, let’s have that robe.”
The gesture was enough for the servant. Otto’s senses twisted as he fought off dizziness. The hands that helped divest him of the blanket and don the robe were warm and careful, but the movements of the tentacles through the back of it pulled at him with a deep pain.
Rucker steadied him as they resettled around them on the floor. Balfour’s face was troubled as he came around to tie the sash. They had cut the left sleeve at the bicep.
“We have to be sure nothing is broken, sir,” the doctor told him in a patient voice. “I’ll use a radius/ulna X-ray. There’s no fear of stray metal in the wound with Adamantium, of course, but you could have damaged bones.”
“Back away,” Otto whispered.
They didn’t hesitate. The tentacles scarred the stone tiles as they carried him into X-ray. The pressure of his full weight on the harness took his breath away and sometime during the process he blacked out for a moment. He regained consciousness in a chair beside the X-ray machine. Rucker’s voice had asked something.
“It’s a clean, straight puncture, no damage to the bones. However, the muscle will be healing a while,” Dr. Roznovsky announced. “Dr. Octavius? I need you back in OR, sir.”
He didn’t move at all. The tentacles lifted him and returned him to the operating table. He sat on it quietly. Balfour had taken the blanket away and was probably up in the penthouse readying the place for his arrival. They would put him in the Water Room, where she had slept. Would Balfour clear out her things?
“Otto?” The lawyer touched his right shoulder. “Are you with us?” He looked at the surgeon. “Will you stitch it?”
“No. The puncture is not repairable by suture. I’m going to irrigate it again, and then dress it. I’ll have a sling for you, Dr. Octavius. You’re too industrious to remember to leave the arm to rest otherwise.”
They worked in silence as he observed them. One of the tentacles still hovered overhead and the dual view as it fed its ocular data into his mind didn’t help his disorientation.
The man who often restored his body spoke to the man who had just begun to tend to his brain. “How did you find his mind, Doctor?”
Dr. Rosenberg’s voice was hesitant but the calm of the other surgeon soon put him at ease. Dr. Roznovsky had been treating Otto longer than anyone.
“He’s a remarkable subject for how well he survived the initial accident. Most such injuries disconnect the spinal cord from the brain in varying degrees, with some neuronal pathways remaining intact. Recovery depends on the utilization of the surviving connections. Mr. Ollre – ah, Dr. Octavius – has increased the number of new pathways to incorporate these, ah, extra limbs, over what was lost.”
“You made use of the new MRI, then?”
“Yes. I applied a combination of MRI, co-registered, with high-resolution EEG, non-invasively, of course, to map the brain’s movement control network – with a series of active and passive movement tests. There was a change in the control of voluntary movements of the extremities by the cerebral cortex, as is often the case. Activation of his motor cortex is originating from the posterior of the brain, rather than the normal controls, which is also common.”
“I wouldn’t call anything about this man ‘common’, Doctor,” Rucker commented.
“Oh, certainly not. The precise way in which the reorganization of motor pathways occurred in conjunction with the addition of the new pathways for the arms … is quite simply astounding and elusive to determine. I could spend my life studying it and perhaps never truly discover how it was accomplished.”
The lawyer’s voice was cold. “I would rather discover a way to keep him stabilized.”
~ ~ ~
It was the Water Room. Would he see her if he opened his eyes? Someone stood beside the wall of glass at the farthest point possible from him.
“Are you awake, Otto?” It was Hollis Rucker’s voice and there was trouble of some sort.
“Where is she?”
“Under a rock or in a dumpster, I hope. The records are updated – she can’t harass you anymore.” The man sighed. “Someday, you might trust me enough to listen when I give you advice.”
“What else is wrong?”
“The leading press release is out – ‘Ollre completes Dr. Octavius’s project’. It’s all gone well, and the media bought it as fast as the scientific community. We’ve only just this morning hit a snag. His name is Parker.”
Otto opened his eyes, squinting in the bright sun as he looked at his lawyer.
Rucker frowned back at him. “He keeps calling from New York, asking to speak to Mr. Ollre, even in a teleconference with a legal team. He claims to be a friend of the late Dr. Octavius and for the record, I advise against it.”
“When he calls again, put it though. I’ll take it in my office, in private.”
The lawyer sighed. “He’s connected with the Daily Bugle.”
“I know.” He rubbed at the white bandages that were wrapped up his left forearm. The arm was in a sling. “Hollis – if the girl attempts to return … see that she fails.”
Rooke had run mindlessly, driven away more by his horror and rage than the violence he’d dealt her. The damage was repaired as she ran but she couldn’t escape the fear that he might come after her at any moment.
Chicago didn’t make it easy on fugitives. The night was cold with a frightening wind sending torrents of rain against her naked and sparking body. She kept moving, away from the Loop and straight into one of the run-down and dangerous neighborhoods that always offered shelter in abandoned buildings.
Food and other comforts might be harder to come by in weather like this but she couldn’t think past a roof and getting out of the weather.
Then an alley that should have yielded accessible hidey-holes turned into a dead end. A sob escaped her lips as she crouched between a metal dumpster and a brick wall. How had she gotten turned around?
Footsteps. She tensed and resisted the urge to look but using her telepathy almost hurt. It felt like Ock’s rage had scorched her brain. Motion sensors were no help – they didn’t tell you anything more than that something was there. The only thing she was sure of was that it couldn’t be Ock – there was only one mind.
What are you – and can I use you to get out of this shit? Please, she begged, not certain to whom she prayed. God? Spiral? Don’t let it be a cop. Give me a mush brain I can manipulate easy. I’ll even take a crystal freak, I don’t care.
Reaching out carefully with her telepathy, she almost cursed. It wasn’t impenetrable but the mind was too strong for her to fiddle with by far. Stifling another sob, she abruptly realized the cadence of the thoughts was vaguely familiar. Fear made her wince.
Not Ock. You’d hear him coming a block away, idiot. The man’s a bloody hydra, too. Yet the feeling persisted – it was someone she’d tried to play with before. Who?
Risking a peek, she saw the heavy silhouette standing in the center of the alley, ignoring the rain and without a doubt watching her. Rooke shrank into herself, her arms around her legs, shuddering as she sat in the dirty rainwater. The figure was holding a set of gleaming metal knives in his right hand and the mind wasn’t one she could argue with or alter.
Go ahead and kill me, if you can. Save Ock the bother. Lowering her forehead to her knees, she heard a strangely familiar sound.
The rain drummed down on them both, making a hideous racket on the metal dumpster overhead. When the intruder came closer and knelt to peer at her, she winced but didn’t try to escape.
Then he spoke and she feared she might faint. “Gotta admit, darlin’ – expected ya t’ do a bit better’n this with what we taught ya.”
“Wolvie?” She uncurled without a care and reached out for him but by the time the X-Man picked her up, she had fainted.
~ ~ ~
Rooke slept fitfully, her mind full of nightmares. The pain of the tank and the crushing blows of the tentacles combined but she was hooked into the tank, unable to escape. The shimmering and shifting image of Ock, tall and menacing through the glass wall and fluid, paced in impatience for her body to repair, eager to be able to break her again.
You called me a rapist… Ock – Otto … I was trying to help, both of us. Why can’t you give her up? You hate me now, don’t you? So it was all for nothing…
She woke with tears running down her face. The ceiling was graying with a spreading water stain in one corner by the bathroom doorway. There was a slight mold smell and a scent of dust.
No-tell Motel – not the best, not one of the piss-drenched rat holes, either. Where is Wolverine?
She sat up with ease, everything having repaired itself long ago. A peek under the blankets told her she was still nude – but clean, warm, and dry.
Looking across the tiny room revealed the X-Man sitting at a small table by the rattling heating unit. He wasn’t in uniform. His jeans were faded and tight, the worn biker boots resting on the next chair. His hairy torso was covered by a white undershirt that stretched over the barrel chest. A dripping leather jacket hung from a hook on the back of the door.
As she watched him, she pulled her feet up to sit Indian-style, holding herself to hide a shudder. He was studying the mouth of the whiskey bottle in his hand, one thumb toying with its ragged label.
If she’d ever been happier to see those mutton chop sideburns and wild black hair, she couldn’t remember it. “Hi, Wolvie. Thanks for the rescue. Again.”
The blue eyes that turned to her looked like jewels but the smile on his lips didn’t light them as it always had before. “All in a night’s work, pun’kin.” He took a long pull on the bottle. “Anyone in particular chase ya down that alley? Needs a lesson in manners an’ I’m more’n willin’ t’ ‘blige ‘em.”
“It’s a long story.”
“I got time.”
Rooke smiled. He always made things so simple – but she couldn’t tell him this tale. “I – put my ass in a sling myself. Don’t act surprised just to make me feel better.”
“Wasn’t plannin’ t’.” He took his boots off of the chair to turn and face her. “Got me curious, though. Scents on ya yesterday painted quite a picture.”
“Been sleepin’ ‘round tha clock, darlin’; it’s after six, next evenin’.”
“Oh.” She sighed. Abruptly, she had to try not to cry. “I don’t suppose you’d be up to keeping me company? Help a girl chase away the blues?”
“I am keepin’ ya comp’ny, from over here.”
“I could spin something entertaining –”
“Don’t start.” He stood and peered out between the closed curtains, moving them with the neck of the bottle. “Just relax an’ lemme play Uncle Logan. When ya turn eighteen ya can try again.”
“If I do – if I even can. Do I look a day older than last time?”
“Nope.” Facing her, he was silent a moment before pointing to the bathroom. “Got ya some clothes this mornin’.”
“Thanks, Uncle Logan.” She patted the bed beside her. “I’ll be good, I promise.”
The expression on his face told her his opinion of her promises but he moved to her side anyway. Leaning against the headboard, he crossed his ankles on the bed and let her snuggle up. When she reached for the whiskey, he surrendered it without a word.
“Who’d ya run int’ sportin’ Adamantium? It’s a select club.”
“If I tell you, will you rush off and fuck him up to defend my honor?”
“Maybe, dependin’ on ‘is crime – but I know ya well ‘nuff t’ know ya mighta earned tha boot. Don’t approve o’ tha method, that’s all.”
“Being sans clothes was my fault, too. I was dream spinning, with permission, but he – didn’t like my take on our boundaries.”
“Goin’ t’ play ‘I gotta secret’, huh? Yer call – but if ya need tha ol’ Canucklehead t’ weigh in, give tha word.”
She laid her head on his chest and sighed. “I wish I could – but not this one.”
“Really screwed up this time, pun’kin? Pissed off a man ya wanna keep?”
“What makes you think that?”
“Ya sound like me. Not used t’ ya givin’ a damn ‘nuff t’ be wistful.”
“I’ll ask about the latest X tragedy if you want me too.”
“No, darlin’ – don’t wanna jaw ‘bout that. Same shit, diff’rent day, right?”
Rooke smiled. “Jean should pull her head out of her ass. You beat Cyke hands down, even if you are short.”
“Leave it,” he whispered, without heat. He sounded tired. “So someone cracked yer ribcage open an’ found a heart, huh? Stole it on tha spot? Then ya pushed it an’ got pitched ass over tea kettle int’ tha storm.”
“Sort of. Reader’s Digest version, I guess … but he’s not interested in me. He just wanted me to play his dead wife in his dreams. He used my telepathy to suck me in – but he didn’t realize he was doing it. Mr. Shy and Private would rather I couldn’t see the dreams at all. After a while, I got sick of phantom sex and snuck downstairs.” She sniffed. “He was so angry. He called me a rapist…”
“So he was pissed when he woke up an’ found ya in ‘is saddle? Can’t blame ‘im. That is rape. Ya didn’t hear ‘im say, ‘yeah, fuck me, Rooke’ while he was awake, did ya?”
He sighed. “Maybe ya shouldn’t take up with someone who doesn’t want ya fer who ya are. Ya def can’t be tryin’ t’ screw a guy who doesn’t want ya, period … ‘is reasons why he don’t – that ain’t even yer biz.”
She huffed out a breath. “No one ever made me feel like that. I didn’t know sex could be that way.”
“If yer jacked int’ ‘is need fer someone he lost, yer gettin’ some other woman’s fun, darlin’. If ya could talk ‘im int’ bed with ya legit, it’d be a diff’rent sorta sack romp – unless he loved ya.”
“I was hoping I could –”
“Ya can’t.” His low growl overhead startled her. “Rooke, ya gotta understand this. Learn it. Some people love certain people. Ya can’t change how they feel no matter what ya feel or what ya want … an’ ya shouldn’t try. They got as much right t’ how they feel as ya do an’ forcin’ ‘em ain’t right – it’s … sickenin’.”
“But she’s dead, Wolvie! What’s the point? He can’t dig her up. Move on, damn it!” She drew in a sharp breath as she felt a stab of pain leak from his closed mind. He started to dislodge her and rise but she clung to him tightly. “I’m sorry! I forgot!” The tears came in an instant. When she felt him hold her gently, they turned into sobs.
“Hate t’ see ya in pain, pun’kin,” he whispered, kissing her hair, “but some o’ us feel too strongly, love too much. Losin’ ‘em – ‘specially if it’s a shock or violence, it feels unfinished an’ it haunts ya … sometimes forever. Don’t waste yer time gettin’ hurt by a man who’s married t’ death; find a lover who’s in love with ya.”
“I didn’t mean to say that… I loved hearing about Mariko. You had … you both…”
“What Mi’ko-chan an’ I had can never be replaced.” He put a fingertip under her chin and made her look up at him. “Thing is, sometimes ya can find somethin’ new, that’s diff’rent ‘nuff … an’ it can be as good.” He looked down at her with a sad smile. “Just try not t’ fall fer someone new who’s also married.”
~ ~ ~
They stood in silence as the rain turned into random drops around them, making the puddles on the asphalt shimmer in the weak morning light.
When he asked her to return with him to Westchester again, she almost did it, but it wasn’t the life she wanted and they both knew it. He was offering a safe place to land, until she sorted out her situation, and she loved him for it – but the X-Men would expect her to tow the line if she went back. They didn’t approve of her revenge gig, either – unlike Wolverine, who had his own reasons for hating Magneto.
He’d brought her black leather pants and boots, a Stevie Ray Vaughn t-shirt, and a black leather trench coat. Every bit of it fit perfectly, including the underthings. The notion that he knew all of those sizes was amusing but she didn’t need to ask why – she had never had any trouble fitting Jean’s clothes whenever she’d ‘borrowed’ them.
“Very Matrix – I like.”
He shrugged and grinned as he lit a cigar. “Any woman taller than me looks good in leather.”
“I’m as tall as Jean. We’d weigh about the same, too. If you change your mind…”
“Never mind tha seventy extra pounds o’ lead in yer butt, pun’kin.”
“Pot calling the kettle black, ‘Weapon X’?”
He just smiled. “Ya change yer mind, ya know where I hang my hat. Between tha two o’ us, we’d drive Chuck int’ a nuthouse in a week. Could be fun.”
“Would be – but I can’t.” Rooke hugged him close, tucking her chin over his shoulder. “Thanks for everything, Wolvie.”
“Anytime. What’re ya plannin’ on doin’ now?” He pulled back to look up at her.
“Something daring, adventurous, and a little insane.”
“That’s my girl.” Then he eyed her with suspicion. “Not tryin’ fer Mags again, I hope? Hell, I put ‘im in a wheelchair in Genosha not long ago. With any luck, he’s still in it but make no mistake – tha man can still paste ya. That’s just one o’ tha drawbacks t’ bein’ stuffed full o’ metal.”
“A wheelchair? Way to steal my thunder but I guess I could call it an all-too-fair advantage – a ‘glass half full’ sort of thing. No, I’m not making a play for him again – not just yet. There’s a tougher nut I need to crack first.”
“Loverboy?” he asked with a sigh. When she nodded, he added, “Well, it’s yer life but try t’ remember ya deserve better than table scraps, pun’kin. Don’t ever let any man make ya ‘is dog – or ‘is punchin’ bag. Just cuz we heal fast don’t mean it can’t still hurt on tha inside, right?”
“Try t’ lay off puttin’ a sex whammy on tha unwillin’ while yer at it, huh? That shit ain’t tha way t’ make friends o’ any stripe. Tellin’ ya this t’ spare ya pain an’ trouble, got it?”
“I got it.” She hugged him again impulsively. “I love you, Uncle Logan – and I’m just starting to figure out what that really means.”
“Then tha fight’s half won, darlin’.”
She watched as he walked away to the red Harley in the motel parking lot. It roared to life, the racket of the motor splitting the morning. Tossing her a salute as he turned into the road, he drove away, heading for home.
Rooke put her hands in the pockets of her new trench coat and felt a folded square of leather. Pulling out the brand new wallet, she found over $500 tucked inside it.
You are the best, Wolvie. Thank you.
Otto sat in the dark lab spotlighted by the actuators around him. The glass vial full of the powered sample shook slightly in his hand as he pulled the stopper out. A few drops of blood fell over the bandages he’d cut away and left on the floor.
If it doesn’t / have the desired /effect, you must / abandon this plan.
“What, no concern it will poison our blood?”
She lived with / this metal. We / proved it is not toxic. / The anomalies prevent adverse effects.
“Anomalies…” She hadn’t decided on names for the unknown elements. Suppressing a shiver, he pushed her from his thoughts. “I must heal. There is much to do.”
Tipping the vial to the edge of the puncture wound, he watched the gray powdered metal tumble in. He held his breath, half expecting pain. Would it work? Had it been calibrated somehow to her specifically or would it perform its intended function for any damaged flesh?
Yes. / It moves, bonds, / draws the wound / together.
Otto gasped. A vague pain had crystallized into concentrated agony in seconds. Yet the wound was closing – the metal spreading through the tissues, knitting them together on a scale the naked eye couldn’t hope to observe.
When it finished, he turned the arm over and back again to inspect it. Only twin gray-etched circular scars remained, one on either side of his forearm. The pain lessened to a dull ache that might not abate – but the limb had regained full function.
“I wish we could replicate this composite alloy. With sufficient testing, it could revolutionize current surgical practices.” He put his left palm down on the counter and rose with his full weight on the arm. “Amazing.” His gaze fell on the bandages. “Nevertheless, one global miracle at a time.”
Will we hunt her, bring her back, / to have Her? / Though it would be better to live without dreams. / We have the fuel source. If her death is desired –
Otto closed his eyes. “I have a duty to a friend – a debt I must pay. Afterward… I don’t know.”
They lifted around him as he returned to the elevator. The new doors closed and he tried not to think as the car rose to the garage level. The limo waited to take him to the helicopter.
What will I say when Peter knows it is me? Perhaps I should try to keep out of sight – but how can I help him with this black suit, this alien substance, from the shadows? He didn’t say anything about it but the news reports from New York said enough and I could hear the desperation in his voice. Such a young man to bear this burden – he shouldn’t bear it alone.
He ignored the cold expression on the lawyer’s face when he opened the door for him. As the limo pulled out into the dim Chicago streets, the wind beat against the glass like a living thing.
West Taylor Street was deserted, whipped by the strong freezing wind that threatened to bring rain at any moment. Rooke strode confidently up to the University of Illinois Science Library ahead of her reluctant companion.
“Do you want to get wet?” she asked him.
The slight man shivered in his heavy coat as he hurried to catch up with her. “I don’t know that they won’t find this highly unusual…”
“Don’t be silly, Prof. It’s not that late and I really need that report.” She smiled and gripped his coat front as he joined her, looking up at him adoringly. “I said how grateful I’d be.” Her words almost purred at him.
“What class on Tuesdays did you say you take Physics? I’ve never heard Professor Simmons mention you.”
“After Chemistry. He adores me but maybe he’s got a guilty conscience. Come on.”
As she had assumed, security gave no trouble to the faculty member returning for a lost report his student needed. They barely glanced at her as she walked into the building at Professor Greer’s side.
Moving him to the same bank of computers she had used before to investigate Ock, she picked up a random heavily doodled piece of printer paper from the floor, hugging it quickly to her chest.
“Here it is! Oh, you’re the best. I was afraid someone might nick it or throw it away.”
“Excellent,” he said, glancing nervously around. “We should go. If you wanted – if you were serious – I have to be home before ten,” he finished quickly, his face trying to pale and blush at once.
“Got a strict warden, huh?” she asked, trying to sound sympathetic. “Why go? It’s raining now.” She moved behind him, pulled out a chair, and gently pushed him down onto it in front of one of the monitors. They could hear the weather gearing up outside and a distant narrow window showed a waterfall beyond. “We could do it right here.”
“They patrol…” His voice faded in fear, the terror of being caught making him appear even younger than his thirty-something years.
“Yeah, I know.” She leaned down and licked his ear. “Nothing turns me on faster than a brain, Prof. You just sit here and look like you’re surfing the ‘net or the files or something. I’ll slip under the desk and turn your life inside out.”
“Well, I – wouldn’t it be better if…”
“And risk the warden’s wrath? Hell hath no fury like a frigid wife scorned.” Rooke slipped her gloved fingers into his hair and smiled when he turned on the computer. “If you want them to think you’re really busy, you could look up some things for me – for the footnotes. You don’t mind helping me, do you? It’s not cheating, I’m not even one of your students. Simmons doesn’t need to know, either – anymore than your wife does.”
“Footnotes?” Greer sounded dazed.
“The Octagon Industries building – find out if there are other ways to access the basement floors. Utility tunnels, sewers, anything.”
“There are no basement floors in that building, beyond the parking garage’s lower level. My … wife, she works for one of the contractors who built it.”
“I know – I mean, you said that, when I mentioned the subject of my report.”
“You aren’t after that ridiculous reward the Enquirer is offering, are you? Ollre is about to change the world where others failed – he deserves respect, not young people snooping into his private business.”
“Of course not. My report is trying to prove that the building might not be safe – too much load on the street, might topple and take the next city block with it, that sort of thing.”
“What has that got to do with the Physics essay? Professor Simmons told me –”
“Prof, do you want to argue about doddering old Professor Simmons or do you want to help flesh out my footnotes while I crawl under the desk and make you forget your wife’s name?”
With a twitch, he started whipping his fingers over the keyboard. Rooke grinned as she stood behind him. Lust made mind control so simple and wives who had headaches too often made very susceptible victims out of their husbands, no matter how intelligent or prone to do the right thing they might be.
Rooke hadn’t even used telepathy on him that much. Stealing information and images from his mind as she haunted the campus all day, she had discovered a lot more than his ability to find out what she needed to know quickly. He was starving for female attention, terribly jealous of rumors that Simmons had a lover among his students, and most important, he had the sort of mind that was easy for her to manipulate.
As he got connected to the internet, she did tweak her telepathy in his brain a little – reminding him of his rebellious youth and the treasured memories of being a maverick once in this very school. He’d been a computer hacker of decent abilities among his varied scientific talents, though the machines had changed a lot more than he had in the intervening years. It was a golden time of precious memories to him and led him more easily into the sort of snooping he’d need to use to get the information.
Kissing him on the cheek, she gave him an alluring smile and slipped down to the floor to crawl under the desk between his feet.
Telepathy was harder to use this way, in spite of his malleable brains and she wished she could have relied on her dream spinning instead.
It’d be simpler to just go ahead and blow the geek, she thought, frowning at herself. Simpler or not, her stomach turned at the idea. Not Professor Greer’s fault, he wasn’t gross, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Being true to the crazy man who wants to kill you? she scoffed. Gone mental. All the way around the bend, without brakes.
Sighing, she leaned forward and opened the man’s belt and zipper. Yet when he felt her fulfill her promise, it was all in his mind – the replayed memory of a high school date, when a girl he still felt for had done this in return for help with passing some science test. She had rooted the memory out in the commons, as he had paused to watch two students kissing on a bench.
Monitoring his thoughts, she smiled when he eventually found what she needed. With a gentle push, she induced him to print out the information. When the noise of the distant communal printer stopped, Rooke crawled out from under the desk moments after his X-rated memory finished. It was the high school girl who put him back in his pants but he blushed when he watched her emerge, and then fumbled with his zipper. His efforts to keep quiet had been Herculean.
She walked off and pulled the pages, five in all, from the printer and smiled. Would the wife find out he had sticky underpants before he did? Probably not. She didn’t seem to have had any interest in them for the last six years. A memory of Ock with Rosie froze her. They had been married twice as long as this man but had a night gone by when they hadn’t…?
“Is it –? Will it help your report?”
Rooke turned to face him. He was blushing fiercely now. “Huh? Oh, yeah, you’re the best, Prof. Tasty, too.”
He scurried to lead the way out after that statement, as she knew he would. The pair of security guards, different ones from her last after-hours visit, just nodded to them as they left.
“Do you have a way home?” Greer asked, raising his voice to be heard over the wind and rain.
Rooke tried to smile. He was a decent man. Eager to be away from her and beset so quickly by guilt over something he believed had happened, he was still concerned for her safety.
“Yeah. My car’s right there.” She pointed to a tiny Honda parked close by.
“Okay, then. Um … goodnight.”
He pulled the hood of his coat up and fished out his keys. Darting from under the front of the building, he trotted off to his car, a distant Lincoln. The headlights came on but the car didn’t move.
Sighing, Rooke folded and pocketed her papers before stepping out into the rain. She used a diamond-clawed cybernetic finger to break the Honda’s lock. Sitting quickly in the car, she shut the door, hoping the professor would decide she was safe now.
The Lincoln pulled off and out of the parking lot, soon lost in the curtain of gray rain. The knowledge of how to hotwire a car, lifted from a former target’s repository of criminal expertise, floated into her thoughts but she rejected the idea. She didn’t know how to drive and getting pulled over by police wouldn’t help.
Annoyed at the odd limits to her mental snooping, Rooke got out of the car and slammed the door behind her as she ran back into the cluster of university buildings.
Payphone, taxi, Octagon Industries.
All things considered, her mad plan was going rather well; the only snag would be Ock himself.
~ ~ ~
At ten o’clock on a Friday night, she had an hour before the restaurant would close. She had ordered only dessert and wolfed it down in a manner unfitting the delicate and amazing dish.
Tru was a joint she wouldn’t have dared to set foot in a couple of months ago. It was a swanky but progressive French outfit, the kind that liked to provide as many forks at dinner as Ock’s servant did. She had chosen it for an odd convenience: being located on North St. Clair, at Huron Street, it was the perfect place for a potential last meal. Now all she had to do was head down Huron to North Michigan Avenue, and then go south. On South Michigan Avenue at East Monroe, sat the imposing structure she hoped to infiltrate.
Paying the bill with Uncle Logan’s Waif Fund, she finished off the expensive wine her telepathy had convinced the waiter she was old enough to have. She gave the prints from the professor one last cursory study, slipped the papers back inside her coat, and stepped into the storm.
With a right turn on North Michigan, Rooke headed south to the building she had lived in for so short a time. The top of it was visible even in the rain and dark, towering over the Loop and nearby Millennium Park, seeming to be taller than Lake Michigan was long. Blue and white lights lit its uneven and artistic architecture from the point where it rose over its neighbors to its summit. A bright white strobe flashed at the pole thing on the top, warning aircraft not to fly into the brute.
Somewhere up there was a wide, rambling rooftop that she had fallen from just to have the thrill of making Ock catch her.
If I hadn’t gone down to be with him, would I still be there now? She stopped and looked up at the building again, rain running off of her face. Don’t fool yourself. It was driving you crazy. The options were leave … or go and have him.
Maybe she could have a second chance, if he would speak to her without ripping her apart … and there was only one way to make that happen.
She stepped out into the empty street, her boots stopping in front of a manhole cover. Kneeling next to it, she pulled it up and moved it aside. Swinging her feet into the pitch-blackness, her boot toe groped for a rung in the cement of the tunnel. Finding one, she stepped down the crude service ladder and pulled the cover closed again over her head.
“For a storm run-off pipe, this smells disgusting. It must double as a sewer. Either that or I can’t read a city planner map worth a damn.” She spoke just to keep herself company in the wide and echoing tunnel at the bottom of the ladder rungs. “Steel or more concrete?” Not willing to touch the walls to check, she let it remain a mystery.
Slipping a thin miniature of the fancy Maglite she’d had before out of her coat, Rooke pulled out her printed map and studied it before heading north. To dispel the silence, she hummed an epic Dead Can Dance tune called Dawn of the Iconoclast.
She split her attention between a balancing walk that kept her boots out of most of the little river at the bottom of the pipe and counting off her steps to determine when the Octagon building was beside her.
Satisfied with her count, she stopped. “This has to be it; besides, it’s time to quit being a sewer rat – the way the water’s rising, if I slip I might end up in the Chicago River.” Her light shone on the wall of the pipe, proving it was concrete, not steel.
The papers were consulted, folded, and put back inside her coat as she held the flashlight between her teeth. Breaking the concrete wouldn’t be too difficult but she didn’t know how far she’d have to tunnel to reach the lab. The schematic had shown it to be a distance she could manage but what if he heard her?
“Damn workaholic will probably be right on the other side of the wall when I crash through. He couldn’t just go see a movie or have a picnic on the roof?”
Sighing, she popped her diamond claws. Wolverine would have done it faster but she managed well enough. The trick would be surviving if Ock was there to greet her.
Two hours later, she had a hole at waist height shooting roughly east. It was barely wider than her slight body and movement while the excavation went on was a very limited thing. She backed out now and then to shove debris behind her into the pipe. The level of the water had risen again since she’d started.
“Hope I don’t flood the lab,” she whispered, an impish smile on her face. “That wouldn’t make friends.”
Her motion sensor was blunted by the thick concrete but she left it up and sharp anyway. The seconds of warning it could give might not make a difference if he was too close, though. Ock was a lot faster than she was and if he got a good enough hold on her, those Adamantium spikes could carve her into spare parts.
I bet I can’t count on Mutt and Jeff² to help me out either, the Philistines. Too bad – we had a good team-up going, until I blew it and forgot to be Saint Rosie. Couldn’t have kept that up for long, though; he’d have caught me sooner or later. We need to have a talk, Ock and me. Work something out – but first, leverage for bargaining…
With the next strike of her burrowing claws, the barrier crumbled. The shock of the unexpected breakthrough froze her with fear and she had to force herself to move, pulling forward enough to see out of her tunnel. She snapped off her flashlight reflexively only to be pitched into utter darkness.
Fuck, she thought, trying to calm her breathing. Is it even the lab? The void before her was silent and dead. Peering around, she saw a red light in the distance and felt her heart skip a beat. Damn it! Thought it was one of them, watching me. Is that the elevator light? Yes! I did it! Where is Ock? Did I manage to drop in during the five minutes he allots for a trip upstairs?
The idea that he could have heard her and was quietly waiting to pounce made her blood run cold but as long as she wasn’t actively being attacked, she knew it was time to be quick.
Get in, get out, and get gone.
Rooke slithered out of her hole and dropped to the stone floor, switching on the flashlight again as she landed. A covert glance into the bedroom proved it was empty. They had traded the kindling he had made for a new bed and this one had a stout iron frame. Shaking her head, she moved on through the sprawling lab.
The reactor device was covered again but she knew where he kept the fuel source and headed for the false computer monitor on a dusty shelf nearby. Prying off the plastic front revealed a safe. Smiling, she punched in the code on the keypad that she had stolen from his mind as he slept one night.
Weird that a guy that paranoid wouldn’t have a more secure safe – then again, when you’ve got an elevator that can kill an intruder, most people wouldn’t bother with a safe at all.
The small square space inside the safe held a singular treasure – the twelve-sided piece of her metal, still encased in the center of a transparent ball, twice the size of a marble. She’d never known if the sphere was glass or some kind of plastic and when she picked it up, she still couldn’t tell.
Some homemade space shit, Doc? Slipping it into her coat, she closed the safe and put the monitor back together. A phrase filched from the pit bull Rucker’s mind made her grin. Possession is nine tenths of the law – sad, but true. Ball’s in your court, Doc. A low thrumming noise invaded the silence. The elevator? Shit!
Rooke ran for her tunnel, hauled herself up and started to crawl through but there were sounds in the storm tunnel that didn’t belong there – footsteps, hushed voices, and the quickly silenced squawk of a radio.
Oh my God… Is it cops? He’s got some silent alarm on the fucking tunnels? Bastard!
A quick peek confirmed her fears and also alerted them to her presence – but they weren’t cops. The uniform was security for the building, Ock’s private miniature army.
“Halt!” one of them shouted, raising his gun.
Scuttling backward, possibly straight into the doctor’s mitts, she fell awkwardly on her rump with a yelp. Twisting to face the elevator, she stifled a scream as the doors opened.
A slight figure emerged flanked by two more armed guards – but none of them were Doc Ock. She swept her flashlight beam up to blind and identify them at once. Balfour … and the others must be authorized to use the elevator, too, unless Ock had lied about the gas.
“Freeze!” the guards ordered in unison.
“Nope, sorry, gotta go!” She rushed them, motion sensors buzzing as they opened fire.
Rooke felt a bullet tear through her right hip. Her wince was a habit – she felt no pain and the damage was repaired before she could stumble.
Her flashlight became a handy club as she smashed it into one man’s jaw and punched the other guy in the face with her fist even as he shot her through the stomach. The black fluid sprayed out seconds before the wound was closed.
Balfour had jumped back into the elevator but she stepped between the doors, allowing them to strike her and open again.
The first of the tunnel guards was almost through the hole she had dug and those boys had a lot of ammunition. She didn’t intend to find out how often the metal could fix bullet wounds.
I’m going up, boyo – you can get off here if you want.
Balfour’s shock at her telepathic speech made him hesitate but she read the fear in his thoughts – the nerve gas must not be a lie. Hesitant, he asked, Why – are you doing this?
Newsflash, Cato: your boss tried to play fifty-two pick up with my limbs. Crimps a girl’s loyalties a bit. Tell Ock I’m willing to deal. All he has to do is think loud – I’ll hear him. You getting off or what?
The first man was through the tunnel and about to shoot. Rooke shoved the stunned servant out of the way, her strength flattening him. Knowing the ground floor would be a swarm, she hit a button in the teens and ducked as a bullet sailed through the closing doors.
Seconds after the elevator began to rise, a sinister hissing began at the ceiling, all the way around the car.
Here we go… Spiral, I hope you made me gas proof or this shit’s going to take me from needing a Kleenex to looking for a tombstone. Nerve gas is supposed to short circuit all of the other bodily functions on the way to the six-foot hole, too. Come on lucky 13!
Rooke held her breath to slow the ingestion, though she knew it would absorb through her skin, too. How much protection would the leather give? Yet it had already misted over her face when she glanced up at the noise.
A dizzy feeling crept over her as she forced herself to watch the red digital numbers flash on the way to the thirteenth floor. The guards would know her destination, too, though – could they get up there first?
Fuck, I feel drunk – but it’s not turning me into a quivering mass of excreted goo, either. Spiral, babe – if this works, I’m going to kiss you! If I ever see you again.
The bell chimed and the car slowed, the fuzzy numbers, blurring fast, reading her floor. Shoving the little flashlight she had continued to clutch into a coat pocket, Rooke crouched. As the doors opened, she threw herself into a tight roll across short gray carpet.
A hail of gunfire was on cue, smashing into office equipment and furniture around her as she dove for the big bay windows.
Shouts followed: orders, exclamations – but the words were a smear. Her hands curled into fists and shattered the heavy window as she rocketed through a shower of glass and rain.
Vertigo, tumbling – she tucked her body into a ball and gritted her teeth. When she hit the street with her back, it cratered beneath her. For a horrifying moment, she couldn’t move. Sparks shot out of tears in her coat as the lights in her chest burned the skin around them.
A turn of the head, a finger twitch – and then the promise of the mutant creator was fulfilled again. Rooke rose, shaken and woozy, and stumbled out of a two-foot deep crack in South Michigan Avenue.
She hurled herself against the side of Ock’s building and did a fast check of her pockets – the sphere was intact and safe but the flashlight was crushed. As running footsteps sounded around the corner, she lurched into a limping escape through the storm.
Otto stood with his hands fisted at his sides, staring at the clear night sky through the replaced window of the accounting department. The thirteenth floor had been deserted for hours. A few open spaces gaped around him where gunfire had destroyed work stations in the area. He had inspected the lab and the repaired breach through the freshly re-enforced storm tunnel wall, before coming upstairs.
Behind him, one of the tentacles watched the other men. Rucker was silent, which meant he was furious. The captain of security nervously babbled about the measures they’d taken to prevent the thief’s escape. Her punch had almost blinded his right eye, which remained black and swollen, and his lieutenant was still recuperating on the medical floor with his jaw wired.
Otto spoke quietly, interrupting the captain who fell silent at once. “She got away. Why tell me how you almost stopped her?” He turned to face them, the tentacles crashing down around him, supporting his weight.
“Sir, we found nothing of importance missing from the lab –”
The temptation to break the fool in two was strong, a desire that must have shown on his face. “She stole the only irreplaceable thing in the entire building, Captain. The fuel source for the reactor – a substance which exists otherwise only in her body, neatly fixing the holes you tried to put in her.” Advancing on the man in the black and brown uniform, he struggled to avoid striking him. “Find her, Captain – because if I have to find her…”
“Yes, sir! I’ll have every available resource on the search. We’ll get her back, sir.”
Otto waved him away with disgust and watched him rush off. “The child’s a chameleon, Hollis. She knows the city and she can turn minds into mush, make them do whatever she wants. Those fools won’t get a sniff of her.”
Rucker sighed and leaned his hip against a desk, his arms folded across his chest as if he was physically containing his frustration. “I need to know the whole story, Otto. This little fugitive of yours claimed you were trying to offer her a job here. Then you’re doing your best to murder her, all in the same twenty-four hours. ‘Complex’ doesn’t begin to describe you but you have to level with me now. What is she after?”
“Later. I should be out hunting her myself.”
“She’s had enough of a head start to find the perfect rock to crawl under while you shadowed the bug in New York. I was called on this the same night but couldn’t reach you. It’s my job to help you – let me do it.” He tapped his fingers on the desk and tried again. “Why did she take the fuel source? Just to screw you over for trying to scrap her – or is she going to want to set up a trade? Blackmail? Sell you out to 60 Minutes? Pick one and then get some sleep while I go hunting my way.”
Weariness and pain descended. When he opened his hands, the fingers shook. “I need…”
“I know. Let’s get you upstairs first but after I pop you, I want you to sleep. Morphine only goes so far.” Standing, he gestured for Otto to follow. “Now talk. Why the hell were you out to kill her all of a sudden?” He entered the elevator and turned, waiting.
Otto joined him reluctantly, unable to articulate the flotsam of anger and despair in his mind when he thought of Rooke. The elevator brought them up to the penthouse in silence.
~ ~ ~
Balfour moved through the room as Otto slowly woke the next day. Keeping his eyes closed against the sunlight, he watched his servant via the camera in one of the tentacles.
With a soft sound, the curtains were drawn, plunging the Water Room into a welcome gloom. It was easier to sit up without help and he began to suspect he might have slept quite late. Asking about it in rapid sign language, he was informed that it was after two o’clock and asked if he wanted lunch.
Otto winced. He hadn’t eaten very well since he’d left but he was feeling vaguely ill and didn’t want to risk much. Deciding to take a chance on broth and juice, he sent the young man off and got up to shower. His efforts not to think were interrupted promptly.
Others won’t / find her. / We must go out / tonight.
“Your plan is to ‘think loud’?” He frowned and leaned his hands on the black tiles, letting the jets of hot water strike him as he tried to calm his emotions. “She set up the whole theft just to make us speak to her, probably to drive some insane bargain or force us to keep our prior agreement.”
All the terms of which / were never clear. / We shouldn’t barter, / we should take.
“This from the creatures who conspired with the wretch?” He stepped under one of the taller jets and let it soak his hair, the force of the water massaging his scalp. A memory of Rosie rubbing his shoulders after a long day made him shudder.
She interferes / with the reactor. / It halts / the work.
“The only unforgivable sin. We’ll get the fuel source back. The question is, how much of it? I wouldn’t mind exploring her theory of brains in jars at this stage.” Turning his head, he glared at one of them through dripping locks. “Why did you help her to use me that way?”
She claimed / an ability to / keep you from seeking / an end for us all.
“Presumptuous and a fool. Understand this – the child is capable of lies.”
She is able to give you / what you require to co-exist with us. / We do not understand this word ‘sin’. She is a / means to achieving your goal.
Otto closed his eyes, his fists striking the tiles. “My goal? What this girl did was a perversion of what I lost. I feel … dirty. I can’t escape the feeling that I’ve betrayed my wife and I want to kill the fool for that. She thinks love is worthless, placing no value on intimacy with another beyond the physical animal lust of it. I’ve known more and it’s all I’ve ever experienced – or ever wanted to. This idiot child took that and twisted it, using my love for my wife like one of the street hustlers she lies with for money.”
Fingers trembling, he moved to turn off the water. They couldn’t understand but he needed to say the words to someone.
“The vows said ‘until death do us part’… but I never thought about it. We were going to live forever, of course; the young always believe that and when love is so strong, it seems possible. Yet she didn’t have to die – a simple mistake in calculations killed her … my mistake.” He stood still as they reached for towels, dried him, and then picked up the waiting bathrobe. He allowed them to wrap him in it.
We have / corrected this mistake. / The project will / be a success.
“It can’t bring Rosalie back. Nothing can – not dreams or that mind witch … nothing. I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that Rosie is still with me somehow and if she is, she knows I’ve … she knows.” His hand rose to cover his eyes. “She would forgive, I know that – but can I? Forgive that little fool … or myself…” Lifting his eyes to glare around at his perpetual companions, he stepped out of the bathroom. “I think – I would like her to pay dearly for it. Then we can discuss exactly how much of the fuel source she’ll be returning to us.”
Author’s Note: The information about spinal cord injury is gleaned from reading the Master of Science thesis of Leonid I. Rozhkov, December 2001. My thanks to him for the help with that subject and the thesis was a fascinating read. The rest of the medical knowledge in this chapter was gleaned from my ever-helpful LVN sister. Hugs, J!
Needless to say, Wolverine belongs to Marvel Comics. His cameo here has a point in the near future. If you’re curious about what Wolverine has recently been through before appearing here, the answer is in my story Shattered Silence, available elsewhere around here.
Also, please forgive the lack of information on what Otto was up to in New York. That omission is in place due to the movie Spider-Man 3 and several hints among the extras on the Spider-Man 2 DVD, that gave me reason to believe that Doc Ock would make a cameo in the third film.
Obviously, that didn’t happen (the teasing twits) so I’ll just interject here that Peter Parker had called to get information about Mr. Ollre, suspicious of anyone else finishing Doc Ock’s fusion project. Just plain missing his young friend, someone who remembered the man he used to be and saw good in what he became, he wanted to go to New York to help Peter, having heard about Spider-Man showing up in a black suit and his behavior being different. Peter’s own exhaustion and unspoken fears for himself on the phone with Ock, convinced Ock to try and help. However, after merely shadowing Peter for a day or two, afraid to show himself, he determined that Peter could handle his problems. Then when he remembered to check in with Hollis Rucker, he learned that Rooke had broken into the lab and raced back home.
Rooke’s quip of calling Balfour “Cato” is a reference to Cato Fong, the Chinese manservant of Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies. He never said much but he was very loyal. Also, I admit that I’m ignoring canon with regard to Magneto. In my fan fiction stories, he’s alive and well. I have no time to research his situation during my current timeline or to completely rework my stories just because Marvel Comics likes to kill off Magneto almost as often as they do Jean Grey. Thanks for reading! – AnonGrimm (@MET_Fic)