“The truth is rarely pure, and never simple.” ~ Oscar Wilde
Love the viper
hold it to the breast
refashion pain to joy
and kiss the devil’s tongue
as poison creeps
through chilling vein
and all is set
ready for the loam
The bones whispered warnings
but blood and love are fools
~ Viper (W.R.R.)
He went like one that hath been stunned
And is of sense forlorn
A sadder and a wiser man
He rose the morrow morn
~ Lines from Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
Otto moved in a haze of pain and exhaustion, plagued by insomnia and nausea. He was unable to focus on anything the actuators did, either with his body or autonomously during the brief periods they allowed him to rest.
If Hollis Rucker or anyone else had attempted to contact him in the physical world, he didn’t remember it. In the world inside his mind, only the nightmare of Rosalie and the betraying mutant existed.
Sometimes, he was sure he heard Rooke’s voice in the lab. Aching to strike out, his reddened eyes would look for her, if the actuators let them, but she was never there.
When it came, the mutant’s voice often spoke a one-sided dialogue, with a very different feel to it than she used when he knew she addressed him. Was she transmitting her part of a discussion with others to his mind, and if so, for what purpose?
He might shake his head when it happened, hoping to disperse the words like insects, but he rarely responded to her. The words themselves seemed to drift like smoke, twining and fading quickly.
It came again – the insects, the voice – embedded in feelings of frustration and concern. He opened his eyes to see the lab, and the actuators working around him on the components for the mutant – but they were alone. Closing his eyes again, he watched the voice make smoke patterns in the void.
… tormented … no, it’s depression, over his wife. You have to… No! Listen to me! I … the tentacles … yes, it is – it’s the best thing they’ve done yet, it helps us…
She was angry, desperate. Where?
… he said it’s been ten hours since the last one. If we play our cards right, we …
Otto struggled to focus. Where was she? Where? he thought at the voice.
… yes, I know, but that doctor said we had five to seven days, max … at the same time, yeah, and the ride starts … no, in a few hours – so let’s be ready.
Where are you?
… I hope so. This is fucked… The emotion shifted, turning curious, hopeful. Otto? Is that you?
Oh, Otto… Sorrow bled into the smoke. I’m here to … see about the deal we made. I want to see you soon, okay?
Yes… Come now. I want…
Otto? Stay with me, please. What is it? Tell me, what do you want?
To break you… Vertigo rose, slanting in his mind, tilting everything until his mind’s eye could only see the pit, the void – where the nightmares waited.
You shall / not harm. We must test the / components on the mutant. / Align the field.
Yes, he answered them, and felt them lift his body.
In his mind, the scarlet sorrow of the voice darkened, drying black like old blood. When it’s ready, I’ll come down to you. You’ll have to control him, since he still wants to murder me.
The time is set / the same. / We will hold him / when you come.
~ ~ ~
How long had she been there? The actuators had already begun the test of their new device when he became aware of himself again. Otto watched her, longing to harm her and unable to do so.
She wore the same clothing and coat he’d last seen her in, her appearance disheveled. The only change was the black nylon belt and the device mounted at the front of it, centered over her lower abdomen.
It was a compact realignment of the same principles he’d developed to render the actuators immune to magnetic fields. On them, it had been incorporated into their structure, moving fluidly with them. As a separate unit, mounted to but not incorporated into her body, it was doomed to fail.
Even as he thought it, one of the actuators turned on the magnetic field inside the cage he’d used to test them. Rooke stood inside it, fear and hope warring on her face.
The field whined to life, activated, and immediately tried to pull her into all six walls of the cage at once. She screamed as she was lifted and yanked, but the actuator switched off the field before she incurred any real damage.
Landing on her knees on the grid floor, she glared at them, avoiding his gaze. “Shit! Was that for fun? Jack with the mutie?”
Otto fought them when they tried to make him speak to answer her. He was surprised when they allowed him the victory, and their answer sounded in his mind instead.
It will / function, in time. / We will review the / data and try again.
“Great. At least jerk me into one wall, huh? Not all of them at once?”
He tried to remain focused, to watch her, but the knowledge that his body was in danger lured his thoughts away. Yet it didn’t distress him. The actuators would not allow self-destruction, but in their neglect of the flesh, he might still attain peace.
The mutant’s voice snapped his attention back to her. She met his murderous glare and winced, but she had heard his secret hope, and opened her mouth to betray him in a new way.
“Um … if you want to continue to exist, you have to take care of him.” They circled around him, tilting their heads at her quizzically. “Hey, I admire the single-minded work ethic, especially since it’s in my honor, but the Doc’s losing weight and he can’t even stand on his own, can he? He’s exhausted, too.” She frowned at their threatening expressions. “Look, I’m here now – ready to let you help me, and you got the sample for your reactor, too. I don’t need to influence his mind now … but if you don’t let him rest and eat, you’re going to run him into an early grave.”
She approached and reached up, and they allowed her to touch them. Correct. / We are incurring damage. / How to reverse / this process?
Otto tried to raise his arms, tried to reach her, but they prevented it. Her death went against their new purpose.
The mutant turned away from them all, her arms lifted to hold herself. “Allow his staff to tend to him.”
We will not / allow their poison. / If they attempt it, / we will –
“Crush them like overripe melons? Yeah, I know that. We all do, believe me. You still have to let him drink more water, eat something … and get some sleep.”
~ ~ ~
Senses faded, only to become sharper when unreal. Sharp… Thumb on broken glass… Rosie…
Then the glass reversed its lethal flight, reforming behind his wife, banded by the moving shadows of the actuators. They stretched abruptly, endlessly, and reared back to strike the glass.
No! She will die!
Swirling, the images changed again, and the glass remained whole. Rosie stood smiling at him, until one of the tentacles rose behind her. The mouth of the monster opened with a hiss, and then it struck, snapping her neck before her smile could fade.
Rage swept through his mind, burning through every vein and nerve. You… It wasn’t the experiment at all – you killed… Rosie!
The boardroom was empty except for the frowning lawyer and the two doctors. Rooke stared back at the men, defiant. She could feel that the chief surgeon, the Russian, agreed with her plan, but was loath to trust her. Rucker never had, but he was getting desperate. The other one, the brain doctor, was too intimidated by both his boss and herself to have much of an opinion at all.
“You said yourself that when the morphine withdrawals seriously kick in, we’d have our best shot to get him out of this mess. I know he wants to be free of them, if only to play soccer with my insides. I’ll worry about that when I get there, but his desire to be in charge is enough to help me with what I have to do.”
The Russian replied, “There is a danger beyond our fears of your motives and goals. Dr. Octavius suffers from many maladies, physical and emotional, but chief among them is an alarmingly inventive death wish. Even if we could trust that you mean him no harm, how do we prevent him from harming himself?”
“My temporary plan, until I think up a better one, is to distract him out of it. Right now, he wants to mess me up a hell of a lot more than he wants to off himself, which is something, anyway. Plus, the tentacles have a new reason for living: helping me to be able to fight Magneto. They wouldn’t allow him to kill me before now because it would ruin their work, and I’m hoping when he’s top dog in there, they’ll still resist the idea.”
Rucker raised an eyebrow at that. “It would be more prudent to think of a better plan initially – in spite of how tempting the risks of the temporary one may be.”
“Head Doc here said it’s been sixteen hours since the last injection already, so we don’t have time to reinvent the wheel. At thirty-six up to seventy-two hours, he’ll be at the worst point of it, and we all need to be ready to jump, not standing around wringing our hands. I’m used to flying by the seat of my pants, don’t worry about me.”
“I assure you my concern is for Dr. Octavius alone.”
“Yeah, well, so is mine.”
“What about after all of this is done?” the brain doctor interjected. He paused when the others turned to look at him, but then continued. “Dr. Octavius has never been exactly like most morphine addicts – he’s rather highly functioning in many areas, and capable of focusing on more than just the next injection. I suspect this is due to the tentacles, the AI minds, that is. Even so, the level of pain produced by their attachment to his spine is considerable. Do we intend to put him through all of this only to expect him to live without the drug?”
Rooke sighed. “Find something else to put him on, then. Something less intense that doesn’t play right into their metal mits. That crap lowers your ability to be conscious, period. It harms your ability to think or be fully aware of what’s going on, too. All of that continuing just means we might have to do it all over again later, when they find another opening to make him their bitch. To be honest here, with all of you not trusting my ‘motives and goals’ I have to say I’ve wondered at yours more than once – none of you have even suggested just shearing the beasts off of him while we have the upper hand. Why is that?”
Rucker glared at her. “The reactor – they are necessary to work it.”
“So make another chip that keeps them out of his brain.”
“That would be difficult without his assistance. We don’t know how it was done before, and the plans for that device are all locked in his head. No designs for it have been found, either on paper or an electronic file; they could even have been destroyed along with the lab in New York. We don’t have access to his current lab computer, even when he is in his right mind.”
“Well, I’d leave getting them off up to him, anyway – I just wanted to hear you admit why you haven’t mentioned it.”
“Don’t play games, Miss Dryden. A lot rides on what we do here, but Dr. Octavius would never want his life’s work to be halted by the removal of those things, and the bottom line is what he wants.”
“Mr. Rucker, don’t kid yourself. What he wants is to die, after he plugs me. We have to get him in control of them, and help him stay in control. After that, if I can stay out of reach long enough, I know a way to stop the death wish crap. That helps all of us, right? Later on, he can make his own choices about how to live with them, or not to. By then, I’ll probably be off to wallop Magneto – or try to – if the stupid wretches ever manage to finish their silly belt device. I think they can’t do it without his willing help, anyway, but I’m not going to worry about that now.” She glanced at the doctors in turn. “Figure out what other drug you can give him instead, and do your bit when those things start letting you help his body.”
“Yes,” the Russian said. “Remember that all personnel must be aware of the risks. The actuators are lethal and possess only a rudimentary understanding of our staff’s purpose and methods.”
Rucker nodded. “I’ll have hazard pay for any team you pick to assist, Dr. Roznovsky. For now, I should make Balfour aware of what we are about to do.”
Rooke remained where she was as they began to leave the room, her eyes on the camera in the upper left corner that had allowed Otto to attend meetings here. Hazard pay. That guy is a real piece of work. Maybe if I can be there, I can keep them from hurting anyone – anyone but me, anyway.
“Are you coming?” Rucker asked from the doorway.
Sighing, she approached and passed by him, leaving the room without looking back. “I’m not going up to write notes to the help – I’m going down to lure them up to you. When you’re ready for that, think at me – I’ll keep an ear open for you.”
~ ~ ~
Rooke watched as the tentacles manipulated the doctor into running a few tests on the samples she’d brought them. It was just vitamin and mineral supplements, but they had wanted proof.
Keeping her mind closed to them, she considered the going options. Those white coats insist this junk will help him ditch the morphine in one piece. All well and good, but I hope it doesn’t help too much – they need to see him in serious distress, to the point of believing he might die. If it’s similar at all to quitting coke, that shouldn’t be a problem: I haven’t forgotten what it was like to leak from all ends at once, even if Spiral’s toys kept me from feeling the pain of the muscle cramps.
When they were finished, they turned Otto to face her. His eyes were open, but no one was home. Repressing a shudder, she kept her eyes on one of the upper mouths. It did not bother to open or mime the words she picked out of the doctor’s mind.
The samples / are what you claim. / When should this / treatment begin?
“Soon. The doctors are getting his room ready on the medical level, and the lawyer is bringing his servant up to speed on the diet issues.”
The work is unfinished / but we sense the body’s / weakness and illness. This will / correct it, so the work may continue?
“Yes, and then we need to step it up – uh, work faster. I’d like have my device and get gone before he gets lucky and snaps something important with those random grabs.”
That will not happen / again. We are controlling / the destructive impulse / more effectively.
Privately, she thought, I noticed – and I know how, you sick tin freaks. “Good. Don’t forget your promise to make this belt thing work for me.”
Until the reactor can / be used, it is our sole function. This / weakness inhibits productivity / and must be assessed and repaired.
“Yeah, and it’s no fun for him, either.” She cocked her head to the side at a mental hail over their heads. “Well, that was the bell, let’s go.” When the machines did not respond, she sighed. “They’re ready for us upstairs. Geez, you’re sharing his brain, can’t you make as much effort as he was to bridge the language barrier?” Grunting in disgust as they stared at her, she waved for them to follow her to the elevator. “You better start learning some slang, because I’m sure as hell not taking Geek 101.”
~ ~ ~
It only took thirty minutes to get Otto into the special bed they’d prepared in his large private treatment room, but it felt like years to the hand-picked medical staff, herself, and the loyal Balfour.
“When did you make this contraption?” Rooke asked the chief surgeon, keeping her tone casual as the suspicious machines watched her.
Dr. Roznovsky looked grim. “Over a year ago, but Dr. Octavius would never touch it. He has a natural mistrust of my kind that has never abated, and restraints were out of the question.”
“They’re only fun in bed when you have a safeword. Can’t say I blame him – my mistrust of your kind hasn’t ‘abated’ either. Don’t get too relaxed, though; I’d bet they could get out of that if they wanted to.”
Unaware she heard him, he thought, If they try to escape it … they will damage their host body considerably.
Yeah, well, they don’t need to just to whack us – the damn things have a long reach.
The surgeon studied her appraisingly but did not respond.
Otto was lying on his back, a feat of engineering created by special technicians under the Russian doctor’s watchful eye. The rectangular slot in the bed was just big enough to permit the tentacles to slip through and around. Their telescoping ability was well known to the team, so the warnings these people had received should be taken seriously.
Rooke had eavesdropped on Rucker’s speech to them all as she and Otto had traveled up in the elevator. They were to keep their movements slow, calm, and deliberate – speak softly, and attempt to hide any nervousness they felt.
‘Nervousness’ – the lawyer turns comedian. The team is terrified, but they have balls of solid rock, no doubt. There isn’t enough ‘hazard pay’ in the world for this gig, though – I wonder if the old man knows how loyal they all are?
All around her, their thoughts were full of concern, and not just for their jobs or their necks. They believed in his dream of a better world and hoped to keep him alive to achieve it.
Only one of them, a young nurse, had been shocked with the knowledge that ‘Mr. Ollre’ was Doctor Octopus – the others had known for months or even years. The fact that she had been included in spite of that told Rooke that they had been selected not only for skill and daring, but for that quality of loyalty.
Rooke glanced over at the lawyer on the other side of the rigged hospital bed. You’re a clever bastard; maybe I should quit making an enemy out of you – just to be on the safe side. Smiling at the thought, she spoke to the surgeon again. “So it’s rounds of vitamins and minerals, no other drugs, you’ve got him rigged with tubes stem to stern in all the right holes so we don’t have to move him, strapped down, and ready to sweat to the oldies. Did I miss anything?”
“The straps are wired and automated; they will relax and constrict with his movements and even vibrate to tone the muscles when needed.”
In her mind, the restless uncertainty of the machines made her smirk. They did not like their host body being strapped in. In spite of the chief surgeon’s attempt to keep their predicament a secret, it had begun to occur to them that if they wanted to leave the bed by force, they might bring only some of Otto with them.
These people won’t hurt him or you, she told them. If you could feel their emotions, hear their thoughts – they only want to make him healthy. They want him connected to you, too; without you, he can’t work the reactor and they all want that to go smoothly. All you have to do now is let him sleep and rest.
Do not use this sleep to / control us or free him. He / seeks to end, so we must / remain in control.
Don’t get your little Adamantium panties in a twist. Besides, he’s not likely to get a lot of sleep. Flushing the drug out of him is going to be more like a roller coaster ride – with really high-tech seat belts. Give it a few more hours, and he’ll be way too preoccupied with that to pay any attention to you or me.
Beneath the lie, she carefully strengthened the bond she’d been creating deep in Otto’s mind. His consciousness had been nearing a coma state for hours, and while it worried her, it also made her telepathy stronger.
She had forged the bond with the only thing she found that would make him reach out to her – his desire to kill her. The bright red star of it pulsed so far below the influence of the machines that they had not detected it.
He didn’t speak to her anymore with the confused and murderous mind-voice, and she suspected he was attempting to flee into the void to find an end. Soon enough, his body would yank him back, and then the real work would begin.
A slight touch on her shoulder pulled her back to the white room surrounded by blinking and beeping machinery. It won’t be long, Otto, and I’m so sorry it has to be done like this. “What?” she asked the surgeon, too wrapped in concern for the patient to mind that he had touched her.
“I’m going to have most of the staff pull back to the observation room when he wakes. Are you going to remain in the room and do you wish anyone to assist you?”
“Yes, I will – and let me have that nurse, the young one. What was her name?”
“Yeah, she’ll do fine. Tell her to keep near the door and do what I say.” If I space out, I’m busy, got it? Do not interrupt me.
He did not show his surprise at her mental warning and without the usual hesitation of telepathy newbies, he thought back at her, You won’t be. Good luck.
When the others left and the nurse came in, Rooke smiled at her to take the edge off of her fear. “Hi, can I just call you Mary?” Try not to react when I speak in your mind. Work on reacting only to what I say aloud. Okay?
“Yes … just ‘Mary’ is fine.”
She was afraid of a telepath’s power, too, but determined to help. You can talk to me in your head, I’ll hear you. Anything those metal brutes shouldn’t hear, think it at me. “So why did you want to be on this dream team?”
“Mr. Ollre – I mean, Dr. Octavius – he helped my son, Frankie. He lost his leg in a car accident last year and the doctor made a prosthetic for him that is nothing like anyone has ever seen before.”
“Cool. He’s a saint when he’s not busy being the devil.”
“When do we … start to help … or something…?”
“He’ll wake up any minute now, and then we just need to talk to him and monitor the machines, watch over him in general.”
“Those machines?” Her eyes tracked two of the swaying tentacles.
“No, the medical ones, that bank of beeping things along the wall. The tentacles are supposed to stay out of our way and let us help him but I need you to relay stuff to the others, through that talk box by the door. Plus, you can interpret the beeps and data, and I can’t.” Don’t go near a single damn one of those gadgets that are close to him, got it? Everything in this room can be read by Doctor Russia in the other room, at their control panel. You’re mostly here to cover the fact that I have something else to do in his head.
“Okay.” Mary’s mind voice was equally as timid as her audible one. I understand, Miss…?
Impressed that she cared to know her name, the mutant smiled with real warmth. Call me Rooke. You’re getting the hang of this, don’t worry about a thing.
On the heels of her reassurance, the nurse twitched and stifled a yelp of fear. Rooke turned in time to see the hazy confusion in Otto’s dark eyes turn into a glower of murderous hate. The tentacles had turned menacing too, and that was the cause of the nurse’s reaction.
Here we go, she thought, not bothering to send the words on to the nurse. Thinking about all that Xavier and Wolverine had taught her, Rooke prepared to deal with Otto and his machines – on three levels at once.
No. She IS the / work; we will / not allow her / to be damaged.
Her ‘damage’ repairs in seconds – no lasting harm would be done.
Becoming more aware of his body, he stiffened in shock; in response, the straps he had not noticed at first tightened without anyone approaching the bed. Fear and a horror of being restrained filled him even as the reaction made him aware of his ill-health, weakness, and the medical things they had done to combat it.
This is the final betrayal. You have allowed us to be roped and tied like a lab rat?
They intend no / harm to us. You are in need / of repair.
I didn’t know machines could be trusting fools. Perhaps you will learn the consequences when they saw you from beneath me.
The actuators did not react to the threat. Someone at least vaguely plausible must have worked hard to convince them that they were not to be removed.
He was not so attuned to his body that he could feel more than the needle that was already set in the vein of his left arm but as an unnatural sleep stole over him, he feared what they might be pumping into his blood from vials under the hellish bed.
It is not their poison. We / are going to send you back to sleep / to spare you this / while they work.
Otto tried to fight it, a terror of being unaware and helpless making his limbs writhe. The straps tightened farther to stop his resistance, but before he could open his mouth to scream, the actuators plunged him back into the void.
Blackness, but below it, a red light glimmered. Seeking it out, he sensed his enemy within it. You – come closer, mutant. Wielding metal weapons that were impotent, being only in the mind, he meant to harm her in any way he could – until she morphed into Rosalie.
Otto, I’m going to help you break free of them.
You. Are not. My wife.
Rosie’s face winced at the vicious tone of his thought but the mutant did not give up the charade. Speaking again with his wife’s voice, she said, Your medical staff is going to get you off of the morphine while I do my part. We’ve been at it for a while already, but there’s still more to do.
Behind her, he saw himself, the actuators rising to threaten, to kill.
You are not my wife; this is a trick, a lie. Show your face! Show your damn mutant face!
Rosie’s voice screamed. As the machines fell to bludgeon her delicate body, Otto’s rage rose and twined around it. Unaware that his scream had erupted in the room that held his flesh, his mind forgot that the being was the mutant.
No! Stop this! You shall not harm her!
Directing his hate at his own image, he gathered his limitless will and waning strength to fight the machines.
Rooke woke with a start, disoriented and only vaguely aware that her body had been damaged and repaired – more than once. Nightmares were reluctant to fade, both the ones she’d created to help Otto fight, and the ones the machines had used against them both.
“What the hell … happened?” she asked, unsure who might reply.
“You’re awake!” Fingers, warm and gentle, touched her forehead as if testing for a fever.
It’s the nurse – Mary. “What happened?” she asked again. Opening her eyes, she added, “Why am I in the hallway?”
“I wanted to find a bed for you to rest in but Mr. Rucker wouldn’t hear of it. We dragged you out here because those tentacle-things were trying to kill you yesterday morning.”
“Yesterday?” Batting the woman’s hand away, she felt the soft, crumpled thing beneath her head and realized it was a white coat. With a grunt, she forced herself to sit up and handed the nurse her coat back. “Thanks for the pillow, but you guys shouldn’t have moved me.”
“But they were –”
“I fix pretty quick. How long has it been, are we past the seventy-two hour mark?”
“Yes, and then some. Dr. Roznovsky said the worst of it is over.”
“For the withdrawals, maybe – is the Doc awake?”
“No, not now. He fought the restraints and screamed himself hoarse – but the straps held.”
“The tentacles didn’t try to undo them?”
“Oh, they tried – when they gave up trying is when they went after us.”
“You’re in one piece?”
“Yes. You got between us when they went mad or they might have killed me. It was touch and go once or twice but I’m fine – I’m amazed you are.”
Rooke sighed. “I’m not amazed by it anymore, just grateful.” Accepting the woman’s help, she got to her feet and headed for the door to Otto’s room.
“Are you sure it’s – safe?” Mary asked.
“Doesn’t matter if it is or not. Stay here.”
Her mind swam with images and scraps of the war they’d waged in their heads – together and against each other. She didn’t care if Otto still hated her; it hurt too much to remember what he’d gone through to worry about that.
Pushing the door open, she was greeted by four agitated tentacles. As they lifted and opened their claw mouths to threaten her, she ignored them. Otto was waking.
He was drenched in sweat and shivering, his limbs drawn down tight by the straps as he instinctively tensed against them. Any portion of skin she could see was covered with goose bumps, and his muscles still twitched involuntarily now and then. The dark eyes that looked up at her were dilated and wary.
Picking random bits of information out of the minds of the men in the observation room, she learned that the nurse had risked life and limb to tend to her boss, though the tentacles had not attacked her as long as she was caring for him. They had attacked when Mary tried to remove their mutant enemy from their reach.
Thank you. Rooke tried to stuff all the warm gratitude she could into the thought. Not for her own rescue but for the nurse’s efforts to prevent Otto from choking on vomit, and for compassionately cleaning his face when the illness subsided. You took care of him in spite of the risks. I guess all the men were too busy keeping their own butts safe and snug.
Those things wouldn’t let them in, Mary answered, embarrassed for her superiors.
Fine, fine, have it your way. “Otto? Can you hear me?” Cracked lips parted, and she dared to come closer to hear his rasped whisper.
“This does not finish … what is between us.”
“That doesn’t matter now. Are they beaten down?”
“I am holding them, for now. I am … weak.”
“The chief white coat says the worst is over now. Try to relax and the straps will loosen a bit. When you feel a little stronger, we can get you out of this damn contraption. Then you can go do your relaxing in the Water Room.”
“No – the lab … now.”
“You can’t be moved now. Don’t worry, if you want to be a troglowhatsit, we can move you down there. They replaced the bed with a much tougher one, you’ll like it.” She waited for him to correct her misspoken word, but he didn’t seem to notice it or care. Sighing again when she saw the tentacles angling closer, she added, “Whacking people won’t get your strength back. Let the medical folks take care of you and I’ll leave you in peace. Deal?”
“No. You don’t leave me in peace … ever.”
“Hate to tell you this, but a lot of that was your buddies here, not me. All that bullshit about Rosie being a zombie and hurting you – that was them, too. If you don’t want to live, deal with wanting to die later. They won’t let you die and their way of keeping you down was to torture you with that crap. Stay in control and at least you can have your do-gooder company projects to keep your mind off of living.”
Shrugging to imply that it didn’t matter to her what he chose to do, she turned to leave. Holding her breath, hoping that the truth would sink in, she paused with her hand on the doorknob when his weakened voice spoke again.
“The agreement you made with the actuators … I will honor it. When it is done, this debt … will be repaid.” His words began to fade and exhaustion washed over her from his labored and ill-used body. “When it is done…”
“You want me gone, for good. You got it, old man,” she said, her voice flat.
~ ~ ~
Rooke stood before the window in the Water Room, trying not to feel Otto’s struggle. He continued to battle the machines for control as he slept in the small laboratory bedroom. If he started to lose, she’d jump in and assist – if not, she’d let him do it on his own.
Loneliness twisted in her. The endless waiting after the ordeal in the hospital room had almost been worse for her than the mental war she had fought with him for over six nights and days.
The nurse, Mary, was friendly and tried to be kind, as did the servant, Balfour, but Rooke found that she wanted solitude – even if it hurt.
At times, however, it became almost too much to bear. Reaching out through the thick glass, she tried to push her telepathy to its limits. Wolverine … can you hear me? Logan?
Rooke? What is troubling you, child?
Gasping, she drew back from the glass at the voice in her mind. It was not Logan – but it was all too familiar. Emma … it’s nothing. I’m fine. Where is Wolverine?
Emma Frost, formerly of the Hellfire Club, called the White Queen. She was now a teacher at the X-Men’s school – Rooke’s least favorite when she’d been there. The woman’s mind-voice sounded cool and aloof as always, even when she tried to sound concerned.
He has been busy – we all have. You are distressed. May I help somehow?
Yeah, tell him to hail me later when he can.
The blonde telepath attempted to answer her but Rooke severed the contact and slapped her newly improved shield into place. It muddied her sense of Otto, though, so she wouldn’t be able to keep it up for long.
“Damn mind witch. Why couldn’t I have netted Jean or Xavier? Jean doesn’t like me and Chuck tolerates me with that disappointed father act, but at least they’re better at respecting a girl’s privacy. She must have been scoping outward, too – there’s no way I managed to reach the X-Crib on my own steam.”
Flopping onto her back on the huge bed, she tilted her head back to watch the water moving down the wall fountain. The peace of the room only made her more restless.
“I shouldn’t be bothering Logan, anyway; God knows what he’s dealing with. ‘Busy’ to Emma could mean he’s in the bathroom or going toe to toe with Sabretooth. He’ll ring me if he can and maybe he’ll use Jean as the go-between; he never seemed that fond of the white witch, either.”
She fell into a fitful sleep, having not had much of it, but her nightmares followed her. Jerking awake again, she glanced at the clock Balfour had brought her.
“A fifteen-minute cat nap. Better a bit than none, I guess. Is it suppertime yet?”
Meals were taken with Balfour in silence, though once the lawyer had made an appearance. Rooke hoped it meant he was warming toward her. To celebrate that idea, she didn’t try to antagonize him.
~ ~ ~
Three days later, she was summoned down to the lab via a note from the servant. Wishing she could shoot the kamikaze butterflies in her stomach, she got into the elevator and hoped for the best.
Otto was sitting in a chair, supported by the tentacles as he inspected the belt device they’d been working on. All it took was a quick peek into his head to know that he still vied with the machines at times. He was technically in charge again but they had a stronger influence over his emotions than they had before.
Give it time – he’ll whip them eventually.
The new doors on the elevator matched the rest of the repaired lab – almost as if their epic destructive clash and her tunneling break-in had never happened.
One of the machines had tracked her approach, but the doctor didn’t turn to acknowledge her. “This is never going to work as long as it remains a separate object outside of your body. A belt can be removed and you can be removed from it as well, in any number of pieces Magneto might like.”
“Are you rested enough to mess with this?”
“That is none of your concern anymore. My staff is tending to my health.”
Annoyed, Rooke slipped a probe in and knew he was still weak when it succeeded. He’s refused any sort of pain meds, too. That could be good or bad, though they did come up with less addictive and less mind-altering alternatives. A whiff of poetry in his thoughts made her look at the area beside the computer, where a book had been left open. What is he reading?
“We will need to find a way to incorporate the design into your body.”
Rooke smiled in spite of herself. “I bet you’ve thought up a few ways to do that.”
“None that would complete the work for its intended purpose.”
Sighing, Rooke took up her old stool near him as a sense of déjà vu descended. Sitting down, one foot making it twist back and forth, she looked up at him. “The metal might be able to absorb it, but I have no idea how to make it do that, beyond holding whatever you are making close to me and asking it nicely.”
“Absorption at the surface would only leave you with one area that was not magnetic. I believe I can replicate what I did with the actuators but it will involve the introduction of other metals into your composite make-up.”
“What other metals?”
“Adamantium and titanium, and a few elements I would blend them with.”
“Both of those metals are magnetic as hell.”
“The other elements and the process nullify the magnetism. How it is achieved is not your concern.”
“Um, are you aware that Adamantium is not carried at the local market?”
“I have what I need here in the lab.”
“Oh, okay then. So how are they going to be ‘introduced’ into me? I assume it’s not a wine and cheese situation.”
For the first time, Otto turned his head to look at her. The expression was eager but not pleasant. “Small quantities will have to be made up and inserted, and then the flesh secured to prevent the anomalies from rejecting them.”
“I hate to spoil your fun, Doc, but I won’t feel it.”
~ ~ ~
Late that night, Rooke woke in the Water Room. She thought for a moment that she had heard the tentacles enter the penthouse but that had been the broken leftovers of her nightmare. She stared around her in the dark but the thing that had woken her was in her mind.
“It’s Otto – dreaming of Rosie.” Curling into a fetal ball, she held her knees against her chest. The desire for him had not abated and neither had her indifference to her own suffering. “Does it matter anymore if he catches me – or decides to ditch our deal?”
Between one moment and the next, she knew the answer. Breathing deeply, she stretched out and tried to relax. Her telepathy flared out and to her shock, it touched his waking mind.
Do not invade my dreams wearing masks. I can see through them now. Come down to me.
He reeked of deception behind the thin attempt to appear inviting and Rooke recognized what he hoped to do with little effort. “Here’s the repeat question of the day: do I care?” she whispered. Knowing she didn’t, she told him, Wait a minute and I’ll be down. “I have to start unplugging him from Rosie sooner or later, after all,” she muttered, “may as well get it underway now. Whatever destructive mischief he’s dreamed up, I can take it.”
She got up and pulled on her bathrobe, tying it at her waist. Her hair was loose and getting a little longer. She let the platinum mass fall around her shoulders, determined to be as unlike Rosalie as she could manage.
The only lights on in the lab came from the elevator and the bedroom, both too dim to show her where Otto was lurking, but she didn’t need light to find him. Her telepathy had told her he was in the bedroom, dressed only in his robe, in an effort to deceive her.
I wonder how far he’ll go to reel me in – probably not far.
She had just found his looming figure with her eyes when the tentacles struck. One used its interior coil to wrap around her waist, shoving her back against the concrete wall two feet above the floor. When her arms flew back and struck the wall on either side of her head, the two upper tentacles popped their Adamantium spikes and lunged. The spikes pierced the black stones in her palms, shattering them.
Rooke screamed as the damage allowed her to feel and began to make her arms numb, immobile. Kicking out with her legs, she found nothing but the serpentine metal she could not harm.
Glaring down at him, she hissed. “I knew you weren’t in the mood to cuddle – planning on breaking your word?”
“No, I plan to start the process of fulfilling it.”
The spikes in her palms had stabbed straight through the concrete, and the rounded metal of them would not allow her stones to repair themselves.
Otto approached only after the fourth tentacle used its coil to trap her thrashing legs, wrapping tight around both ankles and pinning them to the wall. The attack had opened her robe, but she felt nothing from the doctor at the sight of her nudity other than a sense of enjoyment – that he’d succeeded in making her hurt.
His human hands held several metal objects, thicker at the centers and cut square on one end. The tapered ends were honed into blades.
“I’ve been working diligently on your problem and these are the solution.” Smiling up at her, he transferred the others to one hand and poised the first in his fingers, aiming the point of its blade under her heaving left breast. “The three in the upper and lower torso may hurt less but I expect the other four, needing to be inserted into the arms, may be worse. A pity.”
Her eyes filled with tears as the first was sliced into her pale and gray flesh. Gritting her teeth a moment, she gasped as it was pushed deeper. “I hope you’re … enjoying yourself, Doc. Later on, it’ll be my turn…”
After each bar blade of metal was stabbed into her and shoved in until it was out of sight, he covered it with a titanium strip of metal, beaten thin with holes in both ends. Wires looping around her torso at ribs and hips, and around her upper and lower arms, secured the strips like cyber-tech bandages.
It was over, for the first session at least, but the pain continued as she felt the foreign metal begin to be attacked by Spiral’s gifts.
It’s not as bad as the tank, she thought, clinging to that fact as she gritted her teeth to avoid screaming. You bastard, all bets are off, and fair play can go fuck itself – I’ll stick to my plan, but now it’s dirty pool all the way.
Rooke did not transmit her thoughts to him. Instead, she used a delicate probe to invade his mind once more. It slipped deep, propelled by her anger and pain, and plugged itself into the pulsing red bond star she’d left in his subconscious. Using the probe like a conduit, she began pumping things he wouldn’t like into his brain, engineering them to manifest in ways he’d try to kill her for later.
I hope you try, I really do. The more you try to harm me, the more this shit will replicate. Is it starting to work already, Doc? You look a little confused. Bastard. You’re too goody-goody at your core to beat me at the cruelty game. Lucky for you I have an agenda beyond just making you take yourself apart bit by bit! Just wait, old man. The next thing you stab me with might be what I wanted upstairs.
~ ~ ~
Sometime after the metal had begun to be broken down and assimilated inside her, Rooke had passed out. She woke with a start as Otto was fixing the wire on the thin titanium plate over the hole in her left forearm. He was concentrating on his knot work. The tentacle that had held her ankles had released them – it was moving to the floor to support his weight.
Sucking in a deep breath, she twisted and kicked out, both feet connecting with his abdomen. Off-balance and still too weak to support all of the machines at once, he toppled to the bed beside him, partially on top of the machines’ base. The upper tentacles were ripped backward, out of the wall and her pinioned hands. When the last machine released her waist, she fell and struck the floor.
Count the breaths … one … two … three…
The black stones were slower to respond, but as they started to mend, her shaking limbs began to feel stronger again. Shooting her rage directly into their bond like a shot of adrenaline to the heart, Rooke reached out from its red center and gripped the machines with the doctor’s own will.
When she sat up and struggled to her feet to stare down at him, his dark eyes were wide with shock. His machines would not move and could not help him.
“I laid the groundwork while you were out cold in that hospital bed. You were right not to trust it, old man. A lot of nasty stuff can happen if you let yourself get tied down too hard.”
“Release me,” he said, his tone a low threat.
Leaning down, she wriggled her perfectly useable fingers in his face before opening his robe to the waist with one hand. The other hand trailed her fingers down his body to the sash of the robe.
“I’m going to let you up after I leave the room. I’m letting you up at all because you were fulfilling our bargain, however twisted the delivery method.”
“It’s not finished yet.”
“We’ll get back to it later – on my terms. Goodnight, old man. Sweet dreams…” Lifting and lowering, her hand cupped the soft terrycloth that covered his hard cock as it began to swell. “I’ll see you in them in a moment.”
He hissed as his emotions flooded with rage. When she turned and left him, he shouted at her to release him but she did not let go of the machines until the elevator had lifted her up away from him.
Otto did not open his eyes to glare at the machines. Anger pulsed at his temples in time with his headache but they were too logical, too static, to understand the physical and psychological nature of the problem.
Stop the / contact / and the affliction / will stop.
“I cannot stop it.”
How could he explain that he had tried? The force that had so effectively stopped her probes before had been their strength, their unceasing vigilance in his mind – but she had surpassed them somehow.
Around them, the lab was silent, lit only by a few computer screens. He had turned his chair around to lay his head over his crossed arms on the back of it. Within reach was a single small pill in a plastic vial, their latest offering to stop the pain in his ribs, neck, and back. It had sat there beside the water glass for three days.
Anger, an unbalanced / mind – these things / she said sever her ability / to connect with us.
“Do you really think we could get more enraged or become more insane? It would stop if you let me kill her.”
She is the work. When the work is / completed, after she faces / the mutant, we / can find her again.
“‘The mutant’ will likely kill her for us – I’d rather do that myself. She has proven she can stop us, control us. Wasn’t that the cardinal sin before?”
Do not think of this, it does not / serve the work. / The work waits; it is all that / matters until the reactor can be used.
“She is the work, as you said; if I touched her now, I am … afraid … of what she could do – or make me do.”
Thinking of it for only a moment brought a rush of lust to his body he couldn’t fight. Even his dreams had reversed themselves – the image of Rosalie becoming the wanton young mutant. She had imploded it, all of it – effectively stealing his damaged mind as surely as the machines had before.
She comes now. / We have the remaining / samples and braces ready to / complete the work.
“I doubt that is why she’s visiting.”
He didn’t move or look up, watching the elevator open and the mutant emerge through the ocular data of the two machines that had lifted to acknowledge the intrusion. Knowing she would do so, watching her approach, he still couldn’t help flinching when her hands touched his back. The fingers that toyed with his hair made him shudder.
“I wish you hadn’t let them cut it again. Did they use an actual mixing bowl to get it just right?”
“If you are here for the rest of your treatments, we are ready to begin. I expect it will be less traumatic this round.”
“Yeah, like I’d let you smash crystals again for the ugly sadistic fun of it. Got to hand it to you, though, I didn’t think about that fast enough to stop you. It should fetch you another ‘evil genius’ merit badge, at least.” She gave him an impish smile, knowing the tentacles would relay it to him. “No, I’m not here for that; I’m in no hurry – are you?”
She leaned over and kissed his shoulder, the simple contact through his robe setting his body on fire. Trying to block out the vision of her nudity the machines fed into his brain, he felt them twine around her – oblivious to her control or unconcerned about it?
“Otto, come to bed, it’s late.”
He winced again and closed his eyes. The words and cadence were Rosie’s, said to him so often with a similar caress. He had no doubt it was deliberate – yet mocking his wife’s love was not the worst she could do.
“This is revenge, to force me against my will?”
“I’m not what I used to be, just like you. It’s pointless to deny my basic self-serving nature, my predatory instinct, and I won’t waste time ‘acting contrary’ to it. If you’re useful to me, I’ll take what I need from you – isn’t that the speech you once handed me? Close enough, anyway. Come on, Doc, let’s go use each other.”
“You told me then I’d have a fight on my hands – I will discover how to fight this.”
“To quote you again, ‘I would expect nothing less.’”
Her power moved him because it could move the machines. She would have him, because the witchery she’d done to his mind played havoc with his urges. Could she control him enough to force the method along with the act?
“Doc, I can read you like a first grade primer. Be as brutal as you like – if you know how. It doesn’t matter to me.”
When he touched her, he tried to injure. The impulse fired but did not connect in his brain to the function of causing harm. Shock froze him for a moment as the lust she’d damned him with intensified.
“You’ve reordered the synapses… How is that possible?”
“A little something I learned from a less goody-goody telepath, one who doesn’t wear an X. Don’t worry, old man – it’s reversible, and you won’t get a hard-on if you smash anyone else – just me.”
Otto tried to tear the actuators and himself away from her but it was pointless – her insidious control went so far beyond them that even communication with them was blocked.
“You’re pissed, you’re in pain, and I’m going to have you anyway. Go ahead, Doc – take the only route I left you – make it rough.”
She drew them in and laid her body down before them. The metal bandaging was gone; her upper body had accepted the new anti-magnetic material – another possible weakness lost to him.
Dropped to his knees between her legs as she lifted them up, two tentacles supported him while the other two stripped away the robe. It hung limp along their lengths, half draped off of the bed and forgotten as he was led, by compulsion and frightening lust, to claim the pale body that opened to him.
Rage drove him to be cruel, showing him how to be vicious. Yet even as he took that path to defiance, he sensed that it only strengthened her hold on his unwanted desire. Constricting, like the infernal straps of the hospital bed that had subjected him to her will – the compulsion would not loosen though force.
The way out, then … is to become what you once were, he thought, the words twisting like smoke through a mind that was sinking further into madness. No! I cannot touch her with gentleness, cannot take her in passion. I am … I must… Rosalie … help me…