Doc Ock: Of Dreams and Dust – Chapter 9 – Canker on the Rose

The claim that has the canker on the rose
Is mine on you, man’s claim on Paradise
Hopelessly lost that ceaselessly he sighs
And all unmerited God still bestows
The claim on the invisible wind that blows
The flame of charity to enemies
Not to the deadliest sinner, God denies
Less claim than this have I on you, God knows

I cannot ask for anything from you
Because my pride is eaten up with shame
That you should think my poverty a claim
Upon your charity, knowing it is true
That all the glories formerly I knew
Shone from the cloudy splendour of your name

~ The Claim that has the Canker on the Rose (Joseph Mary Plunkett)

Sweet is pleasure after pain

~ Lines from Alexander’s Feast (John Dryden)

We walk the narrow path
Beneath the smoking skies
Sometimes you can barely tell the difference
Between darkness and light
Do we have faith in what we believe?
The truest test is when we cannot see
Can you tell me
Is there something more to believe in?
Or is this all there is?

~ Lines from It Can’t Rain All The Time (Jane Siberry)


Author’s Note: This is not a nice chapter and the ‘hate sex’ is without a doubt rape – and Otto is the victim. Rooke is young and lacked moral role models, except for Wolverine, who would certainly be appalled. She is angry with all the intensity of a young person who simply doesn’t understand the meaning or consequences of her actions. For the record, I’m on Otto’s side here, and I don’t condone Rooke’s choices. The suicidal tag applies a lot, as well. These characters are very far from sane; they are intensely damaged and full of both rage and despair. These characters are very far from sane; they are intensely damaged and full of both rage and despair. So fair warning, for any who may be triggered, this chapter ends up in the icky violent end in both word and deed. Here be dragons. – AnonGrimm (@MET_Fic)


Violent images flashed across the landscape of an insane mind, eclipsing its brilliance in rage. His hand lifted, fingers gripping her throat, but no matter how hard they squeezed, the flesh would not bruise, the neck would not snap. Hatred fired into lust as his brain betrayed him first, and then his body followed.

Thrusts as brutal as the useless grip on her throat, he felt the heat gather like electric shock across his lower back, curling deep in his gut until the ejaculate exploded within. Collapsing in exhaustion, his weight fell onto her slight form, but still the flesh did not bruise.

Her breath was as rapid as his but did she need it or was it a habit – infused into her brain like a psychosomatic response?

“Shit, Doc, does your brain ever just shut up?”

“Go,” he gasped out, panting, “to hell.”

“Oh, eventually, I probably will – if anyone ever figures out how to kill me; won’t be you, though, will it? Isn’t that how this started?”

“Let me go,” he whispered.

“Take your grip off my windpipe and I’ll consider it.”

With a twitch, his fingers released her. In the same instant, he felt her control slip away, draining into that red pulsing star in his mind where he couldn’t reach it, couldn’t tear it out. Abruptly his again, the actuators moved, levering his body away from hers to stand him on his feet again.

The mutant cyborg propped herself up on her elbows, her body still splayed before him in the cold subterranean room. Her black eyes roamed over his flesh, a wicked smirk lifting the corners of her mouth.

“Resistance looks good on you, old man. I admit I miss your other talents but it’s easier to let you be vicious – and I still get stuffed, so hey, it’s a win-win for me.”

“Such a pity your talents are too weak to usurp my higher functions.”

“Ooo, biting sarcasm. I’m not going to cry over it, Doc. I’m making do with your lower functions just fine.”

Turning away from her, his stomach in knots, he moved the tentacles to lift and replace his robe around his body. His fingers shook as they tied the sash. “We still have to complete the work – you won’t be able to fight your enemy until it is done.”

“You can’t wait for that, can you? Get me out of your … hair? I’d worry about whether or not you were capable of sabotaging my magnetic immunity but for that ‘glorified erector set’ of yours. Their work ethic is too pure to allow you to screw me over that way. What a pity, huh?”

“A great pity.”

“Guess what? I’m not in such a hurry to paste Mags anymore. Twisting your murderous little impulses into some pretty awesome sack sessions is a hell of a lot more fun.”

Growling under his breath, he walked out of the room, the actuators crunching into the floor around him, supporting him. He entered the elevator and rose to the penthouse level, intent on washing her off of his skin.

I will find a way … there must be a way…

~ ~ ~

Night covered the city, its lights rivaling the stars overhead. Otto sat on his low stool close to the wall of glass, a nearly empty bottle of Jägermeister in his hand. Smoke curled up from the cigar clenched in his teeth.

Balfour had brought him the vices, and then left to follow orders: turn off the music in the penthouse and disappear.

The silence was a balm on his tormented mind but he knew the momentary peace and solitude wouldn’t last. The mutant was asleep in the Water Room but soon enough, she would seek him out again.

He resisted the urge to go in there, to attempt to murder her in her sleep. It had failed the last two times and a third attempt was foolish.

She had taken over his life, his mind, his body. He had tried to avoid meals, but then she would claim the actuators and drag him to the table. Her power couldn’t force him to eat but he knew allowing his body to be weakened again would not help him to break her control. She didn’t try to make him sleep but the exhaustion of her carnal hungers drove him to it and when it happened, she invaded his dreams.

This creature wears your mask, Rosalie – uses your voice to soothe, to tell me to live on without you. I cannot, I will not … your memory is all the peace I have left.

Lifting the hollow liquid comfort to his lips, his fingers plucked the cigar away so he could drain the bottle in one long pull. Dropping it, he let it shatter on the wood floor, heedless of his bare feet. Drawing smoke into his lungs again, he blew it out at the glass.

There is only one way out.

No. / We do not / wish to / end.

I cannot be subjugated to this horror. I want … to be with my wife.

He pushed on them with force all at once, his teeth crushing the cigar. One of them moved, lifted, twining in resistance. Bending his will to it, he shoved at it, his spirit flooded with triumph when the Adamantium spike shot out, weaving beside his face.

The vision formed, leading it, pushing it: one swift slash across the throat and the smoke would flow from the wound … and then the blood would follow.

Injury to self does not trigger the false lust and they are all gone or asleep, they cannot stitch it fast enough to save…

All of the machines became agitated, another rising from the floor. It opened as if to menace him, and then his sense of them snapped off so fast that he gasped aloud. Both of the weaving tentacles fell, striking and scarring the floor, crushing the shards of jagged glass.

“That’s a new trick – too bad for you that they don’t want to cash out.”

Otto stared through the wall of glass, his brain quickly starting up a methodical count of the lights. Beneath the count, he tried to track her presence in his mind, to follow it to its source.

“Not going to fly, Doc – and your numbers can’t mask what you’re doing.”

He turned his head to glare up at her where she stood in the doorway of the Water Room. The sight of her slender nakedness prompted a desire to strike her, to break her, which fired uncontrollably into the horrifyingly familiar shuddering lust.

“They alerted you…”

“Nope, they’re just really loud when they’re fighting for their weird misbegotten ‘lives’.”

He tried to fight the lust, tried to will his body to rise, to leave. His vision swam, a dizziness making him weak. Leaning forward, his palms slammed down onto his robed thighs as his stomach lurched.

“Damn, you’re wasted. Is this the latest passive resistance ploy? Suicide of the liver?”

“You … cannot…”

“Yeah, I can. I think I will.”


“Nice try, Doc.”

His eyes misted, illness threatening. Drawing in a deep breath, the cigar falling from his lips, he let it go in a hiss. Fighting her, thoughts burning with rage, he gasped again as the lust crested, making his hands shake harder.

“Please … do not … do not do this…” Wetness on his face, breath coming shallow and fast, he felt his head spin. The old horrific void rose up but before he fell into the shards of glass, the blackness claimed his mind.

~ ~ ~

Otto snapped awake and found himself on the wide divan in the Water Room. The sun glowed in a line through the gap in the drawn curtains. The lawyer and surgeon were leaving the room. He opened dry lips to call them back, to tell them what she was doing to him, but could only gasp at the feel of her grip on his mind.

Her fingers wiped his forehead with a cool, damp cloth, the touch making him shudder. A headache bloomed, thumping painfully across the path of her fingers to stab into his temples.

Turning from his side to lie on his stomach, he buried his face in the pillow to be free of her touch.

“I know you won’t believe this, but I’m not really enjoying making you suffer – not like I thought I would after the crap you pulled in the lab.”

“Then let me go,” he murmured into the pillow. “I will fulfill our bargain – but let me go…”

“If I do, you’ll kill yourself.”

“Why does it matter to you if I live or die? You wanted the death of Magneto – I will help you achieve that. Afterward, why does it matter…?”

“Damn you, Otto – you’re the stupidest fucking genius I’ve ever met.”

Alarmed, he turned his head back and opened his eyes to look at her. She wore a thin crimson silk robe, her platinum hair loose around bowed shoulders. The anger on her face was split by the tracks of tears down her pale cheeks.

“Answer me – why does it matter? Are you going to claim to care, that your initial sly dream attacks dressed as my wife made you feel for me?”

She looked away. “Yes.”

“Wearing her face, her body, taking from me my love for her, that is why you care?”

“Yes,” she whispered. “It was blinding. I never knew it could be like that –”

“It was rape, you stupid sick abomination!”

The actuators moved, curling, striking the floor around the divan to help him rise onto his forearms, the right one bandaged in white gauze. His fingers dug into the blankets.

Her head whipped around to glare back at him, tears falling. She opened her mouth to speak but he shouted over her.

“What you’ve done … is a violation I would not have thought could be done! I would rather be back in the grip of these machines, drowning in their nightmare visions of horror than to be used, humiliated, violated…” Sucking in a sharp breath, his voice dropped to a cruel low whisper. “You touch my flesh and it makes me sick … it makes me wish even more for death. Is that what you wanted? Is that the pinnacle of your revenge? Why seek revenge on me – for fighting you, attacking you, when I discovered you were raping my body and my mind?”

“No, I –”

“You thought the release would change me? You believed the mechanical pleasure of a manipulated and helpless body would breed, what – love for you? Damn you to hell, you’ve made me hate everything I once loved. You’ve made me want to die and you pollute my mind to rape my flesh, over and over, only to cry for me now, to cry for me – or for yourself?” His voice rose again until he was screaming into her shocked face. “God in Heaven, I want your blood on my hands and it’s already happening – I feel it – you’ll have me rutting again like a mindless bull, do it! Open your damn legs and do it to me again, you foul fucking mind-witch! Do it!”

“Stop it!”

The rage hit the redline and he rose, her corrupted rewiring of his synapses moving flesh and metal at once. He grabbed her arms with the mouths of the tentacles and yanked her beneath him. Shaking hands tore her knees open wide, his body falling onto her.

She seemed to forget that she could control them and him, her slight figure beginning to struggle to get free. Yet what she had done to his brain still worked against them both as his burning need to harm her drove his engorged cock to slam inside her brutally.

He felt the intensity of it bind him down harder and when he lifted his hand from the divan, fisted it, and smashed it into her cheekbone, the shot of renewed lust ripped his breath away.

Bringing his face in close to hers, watching her alien metal repair the bone that his fist had cracked, he gasped for air. His voice a low guttural thing, he muttered at her ear, “This is what you’ve gained with your witchery – isn’t it what you wanted? Come on, dirty little abomination – arch your back like a bitch in heat. What, silence and tears? Are you beginning to regret the monster you’ve made of me?”

“Otto, please … please stop…”

“I remember begging you to stop; you wouldn’t have, if I hadn’t passed out. Do not use my name like you care for me. This is what your meddling has made.” Punctuating each word with a harsh and violent thrust, he ground into her ear, “Don’t – you – like – what – you’ve – made?”

“Stop it, you fucking bastard!”

Her power covered his mind like a vise and squeezed, tearing his control away from flesh and metal, the pain of it almost knocking him unconscious. Her body moved, far stronger than it looked, and her hands rose to shove his chest up and away from her.

Tearing his thick cock out of her body, she threw him to the floor where he crashed down on top of the tentacles.

Breathless and wracked with the pain in his throbbing head and back, he laid still, his scattered thoughts vainly hoping that she might kill him.

Yet the creature above him sat up merely to hold herself tightly, her sobs rocking her slight form.

Slipping into his devastated mind was a simple thought, I had forgotten … she is … so like a child. “Rooke,” he whispered, using her name for the first time in a span of days his fogged brain had lost count of. “I will beg if I must. Please let me die.”

Sniffing, she wiped the back of her hand under her nose before both hands lifted to cover her face. “No.”

“Why persist on a path that will destroy us both? Release me, Rooke.”

“No, damn it. No!” She rose, nearly stumbling off of the divan. Pulling the torn open robe closed, she fled from the room.

Otto moved when he felt her control snap away and recede. His rage flagged and failed him in the darkening depression that wasted his spirit, but as it faded, it did not set his body free of the carnal need.

Desperate to deny what was happening, his hand grasped his tumescent cock and stroked it once. In all the time since his wife’s death, it was something he had never done. The mutant’s torture had changed his body, made it remember what it used to have in love, what it used to crave.

“Rosalie, my love, my life … help me … let it be your face again, your love…”

He tried to gather her image in his thoughts but the memory of her slipped just out of reach. Cold terror flooded his veins. Those memories had only been clear again while the mutant was giving them back to his fractured mind.

“God, no … no…” Tears rose and slipped down, their salt bitter on his lips. His hand opened with a spasm and let his false desire slide out away from limp fingers.

Hopeless, thoughts numbed and pushed beyond all pain, he strove to lift just one of the metal brutes, tried to pop its spike. They wouldn’t understand this, or what it would do. He tried not to consciously form the thought, the desire, to use it to shear the offending thing away from his body.

The actuator rose, twining, the shining shaft of the spike snapping out and angling down.


Rooke crouched on her knees in front of the wall of glass, the sun hot on the red silk at her back. Holding herself tightly, she sobbed, trying not to be sick.

Her thighs were smeared and stained with the sticky black substance that sluiced, pounding, through her veins. Her alien metal had already repaired what he had torn but the realization that she had never felt the pain he’d tried to inflict only made her feel sick again.

Only his words had been capable of hurting her, his words and the fearful insane hatred in his beautiful dark eyes.

Abomination … and it’s true. I chose this, he didn’t. My injury was done to me but I told Spiral yes. Otto was made what he is by an accident, an accident that should have killed him. He’s had no choice. Instead, he’s tried to find a way to live, until I took all of his other choices away from him. Is it revenge? No, I wanted to break him from his Rosie, so I could take her place. I wanted to give him a reason to live – but I’ve only given him a will to die, worse than before I ever came here.

Something distant and cold tugged at her thoughts, alien and strange.

“What is…? Otto! No!” She lurched to stand and fell. Realizing she’d never reach him in time, she sliced into his head and yanked his will away from him once more. Panting, she struggled to her feet, mentally forcing the gleaming spike away from its host.

Gripping the wall in the doorway, she looked down in horror at his heaped and now slack body on the floor beside the divan. The tentacle he’d tried to use fell away, striking the wall and tearing great gouges in it before it struck the floor over his head.

Rushing over to him, she went down on her knees, her hands on his hips. His heavy frame trembled at her touch, the blank void in his open eyes making her snatch her hands up away from him again.

Carefully pulling up the edges of his thick black bathrobe, she covered what he had attempted to maim. Tying the sash, she marshaled her thoughts and used the tentacles to lift him, laying him down gently on his side on the rumpled blankets of the divan.

Turning to go around and sit where she could watch over him, she startled to see his mute servant standing in the doorway. The young man was pale, worry for his boss plain on his frightened face. He twitched when she spoke in his mind.

I stopped him. Would you… Please bring us some of that wine, the gold stuff? I’m going to watch him, don’t worry.

What are you doing to him?

I know you didn’t hear a word we were saying, she thought back at him, suspicion making her tone wary.

They’ve been destroying things lately – I feel the vibrations when they do. I know how he looks when … when he tries to kill himself. He’s been angry with you, it’s … terrifying. Aren’t you supposed to keep him from wanting to do that? Mr. Rucker said –

I’m trying, damn it. Please go get the wine – and two glasses? Highball glasses, none of that flimsy flute crap. Keep Rucker out of this, too, got it?

After he brought the wine on a tray and set it near her on the nightstand, she dismissed him with a look. Pouring the golden liquid into both glasses, she drank one down, replaced it on the tray, and held the other.

Watching him closely, she loosened her grip on his mind. Ready to stop him if he tried to injure himself again, she slowly allowed him to come back to consciousness.

The blank look in the eyes turned dark and when they found her, they narrowed, his lips pulling into a grimace over white teeth. His face still showed the tracks of tears.

Rooke took a deep breath. “I’m –”

“Do not try to say the word ‘sorry’ to me,” he whispered, low and menacing.

“Why did you try to do that? Instead of just stabbing yourself in the eye? I might not have been quick enough for that.”

“A lack of foresight.”


His eyes clouded, closing in pain. “Do not use that name. You don’t have any right to it.”

“I was wrong, okay? I admit it – but now I’m afraid to change it, to … release you.” She moved the hand that held the glass closer to him.

“Please don’t … don’t touch me.”

“I won’t, but here, drink this, okay? Can you sit up?”

“Can’t you make me do it?”

“I’m done making you do things – except for stopping you if you try that again. Please drink?”

He stared back at her warily until the tentacles moved, obeying his will. They helped him rise, helped prop him against the curves of two of them, the others finding the floor to distribute their weight away from his back. The grasping end of one of them he was leaning on reached to take the glass, raising it to his lips. Drinking slowly, he kept his eyes on her.

The tentacle lowered again, snaking across his lap to hold the glass, as if trying to protect his body.

“Stop it … break it,” he whispered, swallowing hard. His trembling hands laced over his stomach.

“Stop what?”

“It still burns, the synapses… Stop.”

“I’m… I’ll have to work on untangling that. It’s easier to mess up than to … fix. Your brain’s a travesty right now, too, if you hadn’t noticed. It’d be better to wait until you’re a bit calmer.”

“I will be calm if you leave me in peace.”

Rooke studied him for a long silent moment. “I will go … if you’ll try to sleep? No stabbing or I’ll stop you, but if you sleep, I’ll leave the room.”

“Do not invade my dreams.”

She sighed as she rose. “I won’t.” Going to the door, she murmured, “Do you want … to dream of your wife?”

Staring back at her for a moment with such a chilled gaze that she shivered, he slowly closed his eyes. “My wife is dead.”

Rooke fell onto the couch outside of the Water Room. Drawing her knees up, she wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her chin on her knees. Watching the day brighten the room, she let her tears fall quietly.

~ ~ ~

Balfour woke her in the evening with a tentative touch on her shoulder. Almost in a panic as she sat up, she mentally reached for Otto. He was still asleep, and had been all day.

Too preoccupied with monitoring the doctor, she didn’t bother to speak in the servant’s mind. Signing her question, she asked, “What is it?”

He signed back to her that the evening meal was almost ready but he wasn’t sure if he should wake Dr. Octavius.

“No, don’t – let him sleep as long as he can. I’m surprised I can even get hungry … but I am.” Looking down at her rumpled silk robe, she sighed. Signing again, she added, “Sorry – I’d get dressed but my clothes are in there with him and I promised I’d give him some space.”

He turned away and picked up something off of Otto’s stool near the massive window. It was a small folded pile of her clothes. Offering them to her, he signed that the meal would be ready in a few minutes and left her to return to the dining room.

Shaking her head, Rooke held the clothes to her chest and took a deep breath. He had cleaned up the broken glass from the liquor bottle sometime during the day, too. Getting up, Rooke stripped off the robe and began pulling on the underthings, jeans, and black buttoned shirt he had fetched for her. Leaving the robe on the floor, she headed for the dining room in her bare feet.

“Good evening, Miss Dryden,” the lawyer greeted her.

She looked up and tried not to jump when she saw him sitting there. “Mr. Rucker. Did you get lonely downstairs?”

His elbows were on the table in front of his place setting, his fingers forming a steeple as he observed her.

“Dr. Octavius missed a board meeting this afternoon; Balfour was kind enough to fill me in as to why he was absent.”

“I bet.” Rooke sat at the opposite end of the table from him, in the chair Otto usually occupied.

Balfour kept coming in and going out, puttering about in preparation for the meal to come.

“To say I am concerned is an understatement. You seem to have found your way back into my employer’s bed, but I am not convinced that he wants you there. Certainly, he was not pleased the first time you managed it.”

“What we do in his bed isn’t any of your business.”

“Ah, but the doctor is my business, you see. His company has been grateful for your assistance in freeing him from the grip of those beastly machines, but I suspect your efforts have not been in his best interests since then. If, for instance, you have managed to subjugate him telepathically somehow, do not assume that power over him means you have any over me or over this company. We are here to protect him, Miss Dryden; I am here to protect him. If I perceive you to be a threat, I can and will deal with you.”

“What makes you think I can’t change your mind for you?”

His smile was thin and cruel. “If you were that strong, you would not have needed our help to free him before. I understand his … strained faculties … and strength of mind are a challenge to your talents. I assure you, my mind is quite beyond your ability to control.”

Rooke touched his thoughts with a careful probe but only got a slight disturbing whiff of them before his mind broke it. What little she had sensed sliced into her with a cold fear.

“You’re a sadistic bastard, aren’t you, Mr. Rucker? How many badges only wish they could get a bead on your criminal ass?”

“Many, in five different states and two countries overseas – I’ve left bodies where they’ll never be found, and only some of them were killed for Dr. Octavius. Tell me one reason why I shouldn’t have you join in their fate? You may be a challenge to kill, but given enough time and – inventiveness – I am confident that a way could be found.”

She was about to give him an angry threat or two in reply, but then they were both surprised by the crunching and vibrating approach of the doctor.

Grim-faced, his mind leaking righteous determination, Balfour entered the room again and pulled out the chair between them, in the center of the long table.

Otto entered behind him, still wrapped in his bathrobe and depending almost entirely on the machines to move him. He sat heavily in the chair without a word, but signed what he wanted to his servant.

Balfour went to the sideboard to pour him a whiskey in a heavy crystal glass and fetched a fine cigar out of a carved cedar humidor. Lighting it for him as he puffed, the young man retreated to stand at the door where the doctor could see him if he needed anything else.

Blowing smoke across the table, Otto turned his head to face his lawyer. “Miss Dryden and I are coming to a new understanding, Hollis, as of this morning.”

Rucker stared at his arm. “Your cuts are closed.”

Rooke glanced down; the gauze was missing. Shocked, she noticed a spider web-thin tracing of gray lace patterns here and there on the flesh of his right forearm.

“I used a powered sample of her metal to heal the puncture wound I – acquired – when she left us before. A remarkable and ingenious substance, is it not?”

“Otto, what is happening here? Is she a threat to you in any way?”

“I am capable of dealing with one mutant waif, I assure you. As for what business she has in my bed, surely you aren’t the man to judge, considering some of your hunting hobbies.”

Rooke held her breath and her tongue. Rucker looked away from the doctor long enough to glare at her, sure she was influencing his boss somehow. Locking stares with Otto again, the two men gauged each other in a tense silence.

Watching them both, her thoughts started a slow spin. What the hell is he doing? He’s getting his attack lawyer off my back? Why? Instinct screamed at her to watch out; he had to be plotting something and it probably wouldn’t go that well for her, no matter what he was feeding the lawyer. This morning, you were a broken man, Otto. I’m not sure what you are now.

Amazed, she listened as the doctor asked the lawyer to recap for him the topics of the board meeting he had missed.

When Balfour brought out their plates from the carved sliding doors of the dumbwaiter, he served his boss first but the doctor only nodded to him, keeping his attention on Rucker.

~ ~ ~

Rooke was silent throughout the meal, picking at it more than eating it, half afraid the servant or the lawyer might try to poison her. Their nerve gas hadn’t worked, but these people had been scouring the earth for tritium and found a lot of other rare and deadly things along the way.

None of the men looked at her or spoke to her, the other two seeming to follow the doctor’s lead. Reading them was pointless. Rucker’s mind was a steel trap, almost harder to crack than Wolverine’s, and Otto’s thoughts were fractured and strange.

For a nervous moment, she almost feared that the tentacles had regained control of him, but there was no prominent scent of them in the chaotic morass of his brain. Surprisingly, he appeared to be suppressing them as effectively as if he’d found another chip to stick behind his neck.

Eavesdropping in the servant’s head was easy but useless; he knew nothing about his boss’s current condition. Balfour was simply relieved to see him up and taking charge again – and he had woken him to be there, so that he could speak with the lawyer.

After two solid hours of shop talk, punctuated by the servant cleaning up around them, Rucker finally stood. Otto did not, but waved the servant to his side.

His hands were not trembling anymore as he signed his request to Balfour. “Go with Mr. Rucker, please – I wish to have a private talk with Miss Dryden. You may return in the morning.”

The young man looked worried, but nodded and moved to the door.

“Otto, I hope you know what you’re doing,” Rucker said with a glare at Rooke. “The boy is convinced she’s been making an ass puppet out of you for weeks. If you aren’t present for the meeting tomorrow –”

“I will be, Hollis. If I’m not, feel free to storm up here and remove any part of her you can manage to sever.”

“That would be more than you’d think, missy,” the lawyer threatened her, glaring at her smirk.

Otto’s smile was cruel. “Just be sure to save the pieces you acquire if it comes to that, will you? I’ve only scratched the surface of the worth of her component minerals.”

The lawyer turned his glare on his boss for a moment, unsure if he was teasing or serious. Then he grunted his disapproval and turned away, the mute servant on his heels.

When the elevator carried them down, Rooke reminded herself not to relax just yet. She had turned to watch them leave, standing in the doorway of the dining room. Behind her, the doctor was rising out of his chair.

She turned back to speak to him when he came at her, backhanding her across the mouth. The blow spun her, smashing her lower back into the edge of the table, a spray of her black blood dotting out over the polished wood.

Shocked, she felt the metal move to repair her dislocated jaw. Her tongue flicked out and licked the dark blood from her lips.

“For a guy who doesn’t want to be touched, you’re making some bad choices, old man. I haven’t taken the violence whammy out of your brain, yet – or did you forget about that?”

He moved faster than she could react, his human hands grabbing and lifting to toss her up onto the table on her back. Two of the metal brutes pinned her arms down as he advanced.

She was about to kick him, when the other two tentacles lifted and peeled his bathrobe away. His attack had sharpened what he’d tried to carve away and she couldn’t think when she saw it, thick and ready – and still stained dark by her black blood.

Reaching out, his expression unreadable, his hands worked to open her jeans. The snap of a spike sounded and she growled as it stabbed down and cut the denim away, the razor point of it merely scratching her smooth skin. The fingers dropped, touched her, and she sucked in a sharp breath at the shock of pleasure they offered.

Breath coming faster, she didn’t question opening to him, sure he couldn’t damage her before she could pin his brain and stop it. Closing her eyes, her head turned to press her cheek onto the cool wood.

When the head of his cock touched her, she braced herself for the violence of it but it slid in slow, pulled back and almost out, and then sank deep again. With a smooth control and easy strength that she’d almost forgotten, surprising pleasure grew.

“What … why…?”

Her eyes opened and then widened seconds before his fist struck her face, fracturing the jaw. She tasted the sickening black blood before the metal moved, her chest burning as the lights there glowed bright. Forced by his fouled mind, his thrusts turned rough.

Rooke reached for his thoughts with her power, but then he withdrew, his hands slamming down onto the table on either side of her hips. He bent down, and in the shock of his mouth closing on her slick folds, she forgot to claim his will.

Gasping out, she writhed as his unbelievable tongue worked her close to her climax in moments. She tried to lift her hands, her fingers wanting to touch the thick brunette mop of his hair, but the vice of the machines did not release her. She began to moan with lust, but then he rose, leaving her abruptly on the edge. Pushing inside again, his hatred obliterated the pleasure he’d built, his thrusts again seeking to tear her.

“What the hell are you doing?” she screamed at him. “I should fucking lobotomize you!”

Even as she said it, his hand moved down, found where they were connected, and began to build pleasure once more, his cock slowing to allow his fingers access. His heavy body curled over her, the two free tentacles moving fast to support him, their mouths opening to slam onto the floor. Their lengths undulated, using their strength to help him thrust. His bangs brushed her chin as he worked them both back to the edge and she felt him come, felt the explosion of his breath on her throat. One more thrust, and she would follow.

Wrenching back up and away, his face split in a cruel grin as he stepped back, letting his spent cock pull free.

Glaring, she panted. “I don’t know what your game is but it stops now.”

“Does it? A gentleman should never leave a lady wanting.”

One of the machines let go of her arm and darted down, its mouth closing, the muzzle of it compacting into a narrow long pipe. It bent, and before she could scream, it took his place and thrust inside her body, far too much of it trying to bury itself inside of her. She tried to rise, still pinned by her other arm, her hand grabbing the thing that had entered her in his stead. Just as it might have torn her wide, it backed up, and buried itself again.

Rooke wanted to fight, wanted to stop him, but then something else inside moved, clicked, and spun: and the wash of pleasure stole her will away along with her breath. When she could fight for air in starved lungs, she did scream, but it was a sound of mind-numbing lust.

She knew the spike was a very real threat, knew it was long enough to pierce her abdominal cavity, but the pleasure blinded her to any thought of stopping him. Forcing her watering eyes to open and look up at his face, she was stunned to see there the same absorbed expression he wore often in the lab.

Her climax nearly tore away her sanity, building and breaking, building and breaking. She cried out when the hellish machine left her body, blurred vision trying to see the man who still stood between her spread legs, his hands fisted at his naked flanks.

The tentacles all lifted at once after the last one to grip her arm released her with a snap. The doctor looked down on her once more, his face twisting with cruelty – and then he turned away and left her, the machines moving to help him walk.

Rooke lay there panting, the muscles of her stomach and thighs starting to cramp. Rolling to her side, she felt the shreds of her jeans fall farther down her legs as she pressed her face to the smooth wood and tried to breathe.                                                                                                                                                                       ************************************************************

We have / found it, / yes? / The key…

“Yes, I believe we have; now to discover how to use it best – and when.”

Wincing as he touched it, Otto let the hot water wash away the black fluid from his cock and thighs.

Do not harm. We / have agreed. / The key, / then the work.

Dropping it to let it hang, he allowed the many jets to fill his lungs with steam, the heat and massaging pressure on his skull, neck, and back, easing both his headache and his pain.

“I will not die a slave to her perverse lusts. After it is done, then we shall see … what is left of me.”

She could not control / us when we / entered her. When, / how?

“Not ‘could not’ – make no mistake, she could have. She didn’t. Pleasure blinds her, makes her forget, and makes her weak. Mix that with the pain and violence she expects and we will find our chance.”

Now / she / suspects / us.

“I know. It means a masquerade is needed.” Drawing in a deep breath, he released it in a sigh. “For the first time, I am grateful that Rosie is slipping away from me. I would never want her to see, to know … what I must do.”

~ ~ ~

Otto worked in the lab, compounding and forging the last set of spikes that would render the mutant cyborg immune to magnetism. The thin metal plates and wire that would hold them in place until her body assimilated them were spread out on another table nearby.

So far, she hadn’t consented to continue with the treatment since he’d immobilized her and begun the process without her consent. That morning, she had finally acquiesced to let him gauge the effect of magnetism on her arms and upper torso.

She watched him now from across the open space behind his chair, one booted foot on the wall, her arms crossed over her chest. She wore the Catholic schoolgirl costume of miniskirt, shirt, and cardigan that she had acquired to entice him long before. He hadn’t turned but one of the actuators weaved over his head, observing her as warily as she was them.

“With the latest test a clear success, we have only to complete the procedure … when you are ready.”

“What’s your game, Doc?”

“I hope to spirit you on your way to trouble another man’s existence; afterward, I will change the locks and possibly have the entire building scrubbed.”

“Can’t change the locks on your noggin. That’s not what I meant, though, and you know it.”

He sighed, his chin dropping to his chest. “My medical staff does not include a psychologist but I have the opinion of Dr. Rosenberg, who, like many of my staff, has had his share of odd demons to exorcise. He postulates that a body once accustomed to regular physical release may develop a craving for that release after the stimuli are reinstated.”

“Wow. What the hell did you just say?”

“Your abuses combined with the reordering of my brain’s synapses for pleasure and violence have reminded my body of what it used to have rather often, which can make it form an addiction to the act itself. The base mind, the id, works on the pleasure principle: it merely wants – food, warmth, sex. It is often unhindered by the ego or superego in my mind due to the damage it endured in the original accident with the actuators.”

“Translation: getting some makes the bod want to get more. See how short and punchy mine was?”

When she moved away from the wall and approached, he gritted his teeth and prepared to act his part. She ignored the agitation of the actuators and moved within their reach to place her hands on his shoulders. Her palms rubbed the thick black cable knit sweater for a moment before her fingers began to toy with his hair. She bent closer, the piercing on her lower lip brushing the outer edge of his ear.

“So why did you try to cut it off?”

“I am far too intelligent to be ruled by my id and since it seems to be what you want, if it were gone, perhaps you would be, too.”

“Middle of the night, a stunt like that – you’d have died, old man.”

“That was an acceptable outcome.”

“Wasn’t ‘acceptable’ to your pets, here; you had them on the ropes, but their squeals got my attention just in time. You’re wrong, though – your dick isn’t the only thing I want; anyway, without the rest of you, it wouldn’t be much fun.”

“Why do you persist –”

“I’m not sure, really,” she interrupted. Her hands slid off and down to his chest, her cheek pressing against his. “A wise man once told me to find someone who wanted me, not some ghost he lost … but I’d rather have you. Isn’t there some way we could compromise?”

He couldn’t suppress the shiver as her lips kissed his scruffy cheek. He waited to feel her control in his mind, his stomach knotting, but it didn’t happen.

“I’m not going to make you, Doc. I’d rather help you want to. Humor me … let your id come out and play.”

The actuators moved, turning the chair. The mutant stepped back, but then advanced, sensing no overt resistance in his thoughts. Otto was sitting slouched at the front of the chair with his knees open, the roots of the machines bowed around the back of the chair. They arranged themselves around them both, prepared to support him.

He watched as she sank down to her knees in front of him but when her hands reached to open his slacks, he closed his eyes, unwilling to witness it as she drew the thing out. With the actuators braced on the floor, he was spared their ocular data as well.

Metal touched it, the ring in her lip, and then her mouth took it in – deep. In moments, it hardened, eliciting a pleased muffled groan from the mutant. He knew it could be categorized as a mechanical stimulus response, something that did not require consent or desire to achieve it, yet even as he recited those facts in his mind, he was not prepared for how it felt. Drawing in a sharp breath, he kept his eyes closed tight, his fingers gripping the armrests of the chair.

Abruptly, the sick memory of the nightmare struck his thoughts: Rosalie kneeling before him, her mouth spiked with shards of glass. Shocked, his eyes flew open to see the mutant and he shuddered, his body breaking into a cold sweat.

Otto had no experience with this act unless it had been done with Rosie in intimate security and he half suspected the horrid vision had been pitched at him by the mutant – just to make him watch as it happened. Yet she was no longer paying attention to his thoughts, only to what she held in her mouth, the throat practically constricting to swallow it down farther like a snake. As disturbing as that image was, the pleasure of it was a shock.

It gathered like pressure and just when he realized it would soon break, she backed off of it and let it go.

Dumbfounded and at a loss, he merely watched her as she rose. Smiling slightly, she moved up as if she intended to sit on his lap. He grunted when her hand grasped his cock and set it where she wanted it, unobstructed by trifles such as undergarments under the short skirt. Staring into his eyes, she pushed it in as she settled down on his thighs with her knees at his hips in the chair.

Hands sliding up under the sweater to caress his chest and heaving stomach, she began to move. Leaning into him, she rested her head on his shoulder, chuckling lightly when he gasped.

“See? I’m nicer than you were, hardly any teasing stops – and no breaking your face, either.”

Otto didn’t answer. He kept his hands locked on the armrests, his blunt nails putting marks in the leather. What she was doing hurt his back terribly but the rush of a fast and surprising orgasm stole his awareness of any other sensation.

He bit his tongue to hold in a cry and tasted blood in his mouth. Thoughts whirling, his planned machinations forgotten, he simply sat and felt it all wash through his body. When it passed, the pain set in, pulling with a frightening ache on his spine and the muscles of his back and ribs.

“Miss Dryden … up, get up.”

“You know, after all that, you could call me Rooke.” She brought her face up to his to kiss him but he turned his head away. “What, I can take a ride, but I can’t kiss you?”

“The actuators, the…” His voice trailed off, crushed by the pain as it made it hard for him to breathe.

“Oh, crap, your back!” She clambered down off of him. “I forgot.” Watching him struggle to stand, she asked, “You’ve ignored the pain pills they found for you, haven’t you?”

Fumbling to set his pants to rights, he grit his teeth when the actuators moved. “I weary of being under the influence of … anything – or anyone.”

Leaving her, he tried not to allow the scream building in his throat to break free every time the machines moved to help him walk. Going as far as the elevator was out of the question, so he steered them to the small monk’s cell of a bedroom next to the lab.

Collapsing onto the bed on his stomach, he buried his face in his folded arms and directed the machines to settle and be still on the floor around him.

One of them lifted minutes later to observe the mutant when she entered the room and the jostling motion brought tears to his eyes.

“I brought one of the pills from your desk. Doc? It won’t hook you like the morphine, but it will help.”

The image of her weaved slightly as the machine twined. She held one of the pills and a glass of water. With a stab of anger and guilt, he moved the machine to strike the glass from her hand. It flew across the room to smash against the far wall, the pieces of it glittering like wet diamonds on the cold floor. The machine’s mouth opened, hissing at her – but she didn’t respond.

Turning away, she left. When he heard the elevator hum, he fell into a sleep of utter physical and emotional exhaustion.

~ ~ ~

Otto woke again without any sense of time or place, until the machines spoke in his mind.

Midnight has / passed. It was / working but we must / not falter again.

“Where is she?”

Above, the / room of water. How / shall we / proceed?

“‘Falter’…” He shook his head, tasting bile in the back of his throat. “It is a far simpler thing to plan such a course of action than to carry it out. You’re fortunate to be constructs; you have no morals to corrupt, no soul to betray.”

These things / appear to be / more burden than / advantage.

Otto’s smile was thin and cold. “I agree. Yet there was a time when I … would not have. It is a time that is slipping further away the more I try to grasp it.”

We must / go now. Begin, / before we cannot ever / begin.

Groaning, he hissed when they moved, but allowed them to set him on his feet. “If I didn’t have a collection of Faustian monstrosities grappled into my spine…” He let the anger at their persistence leak away. They were right – if he hesitated much longer, his resolve would fail him.

She watched him with an odd wary calm when he paused in the doorway of the Water Room. The curtains were open, letting in the bright moonlight.

Otto closed his eyes and listened to the soothing trickle of water running down the wall and the distant haunting notes of Chopin’s Nocturne in e minor, Opus 72 that crept through the penthouse. When he opened his eyes, she had stripped away the sheet to expose her slender alien flesh, her limbs composed to invite him.

He swallowed but didn’t speak, grateful for her silence as he advanced. The actuators, though fluidly graceful, were still jarringly loud as they guided his steps. Trying not to think, he lowered himself to her body and began to give her pleasure.

Avoiding her mouth, unable to allow her the intimacy of a kiss, he drew his fingers and lips down her body. The machines leant him their strength, their balance, as he suckled the folds of her opening, his fingers stroking the soft white down of her pubic mound. His other hand lifted, the fingers tracing the gray lines of her metal as one actuator’s ocular data gave him the path on the way to one conical breast.

It showed him her lips parting to speak but he closed his eyes and murmured, “Hush. Let me … try…” His words puffed warm air on her wet and flushed skin before his tongue returned to its gentle ministrations.

Her muscles relaxed, and hoping her thoughts were rendered as still and yielding, Otto began a careful search inside his own mind. The machines guided him here, too – in their hunt for the pulsing red star of their slavery.


The air in the sub-basement level of the lab was freezing but Rooke didn’t want to move, even trying not to shiver. Otto’s limp cock was lying along the cleft of her backside, his broad chest warm on her back as he lay on his side.

Then the heavy male body sleeping beside her in the bed shuddered and she slipped away from him to sit up and grope for the sheets and blankets they’d torn away hours before in a sickeningly violent coupling.

After the storm of hatred, he had turned gentle again for another round as soon as his body could manage it, but he still refused to share anything more than the impersonal friction of sex.

Covering his muscular bulk with the thick blankets, she huddled under them and tried to worm her way in against his skin once more. He grunted in his sleep and turned onto his stomach, the crunching movement of the tentacles that allowed the switch failing to wake him. Undeterred, Rooke cuddled up to his side beneath the thick roots of the machines, trying not to yelp when their cold metal brushed her shoulder.

Eyes open in the dark, she sighed. She knew it might be the best she’d ever get but it wasn’t what she wanted. As the memory of his heated and passionate lust in dreams swept her tangling thoughts away, she felt tears rise.

It’s worse, isn’t it? His indifference makes me feel like a damn blow-up doll. Rosie, you bitch, I think I hate you worse than ever.

His moody unpredictable hungers were exhausting and spiritually draining. Her heart constricted painfully every time the memories intruded of making love as he dreamed of his wife.

What’s the trick? she asked her long-dead mincemeat rival. What the hell did you do to him or for him, to make him so fucking loyal years after you’ve been treating the worms to a good meal? Do I have to go back in time, push you off of those college steps, and listen to him go on about science shit right from the beginning?

Her arm lifted, the hand caressing his back around the machines. When he stirred, she stopped the movement and settled her fingers around one of the metal brutes, gripping it lightly, but enough to keep her skin off of his.

Just sleep, Doc. If you wake, I won’t know which man I’m in bed with and I’m not rested enough to find out yet. Frowning at Logan’s words, she glared into the darkness. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have been spinning around so fast in your head, they’re making me dizzy … and lonely – even while you’re inside me.

Rooke couldn’t pretend ignorance of why it was happening, though. She hadn’t put much time into repairing his synapses yet and no matter what his new efforts to explore his fresh desire brought them, his anger at her continued to drive him to attack her.

As her latest tears slipped down her cheeks, she reached into his sleeping mind with a gentle and careful touch.

I can’t trust you not to harm yourself, but I can fix the rest of the mess I made of your head. Maybe then we could pitch Mr. Hyde out and see what’s possible without him?

She twitched when a trio of red lights snapped on in the dark through the roots of the machines rising out of his back. It was the lights in the joints of one of the tentacle’s mouths, thankfully minus the white spotlight at its center. She listened to his thoughts and the metallic ratcheting sounds of its twining movement in the dark but caught no whiff of waking awareness from his mind.

I don’t mean him any harm, you tin brute, she told it. I’m trying to fix the tossed salad I made of his brains, if that’s okay with you?


Great – happy you approve, she answered, frowning.

Will this weaken / your control? We do not / wish to end but he / will try again.

It might, I’m afraid, since it’s all sort of mashed in there in the same spot. I’ll try to untangle the violent lust crap without damaging the rest. We agree on keeping you all around, at least, huh?

No wish / to end, but he / is strong. You are / stronger?

Trying to be. Hey, how about some quiet, though? Can’t really do my best with you jabbering at me and it might wake Sleeping Ugly, here.

If you / need us, / ask and we / will assist.

Rooke smiled at her metal co-conspirator. Tell me how Saint Rosie reeled him in so strong? I mean … what makes him still so loyal to her?

It is fractured / memory only, and / fading. She he wants / is leaving our mind.

Not quite what I asked, but interesting to know. That’s why he said she was dead – not a fact he’s been real ready to face before. Is that why he’s trying to be nicer to me, in bed? Her heart beat hopefully for a moment, until the machines’ cold logic dashed it.

We do not / understand this / merging of flesh. It serves no / functional purpose.

Yeah, well, you’re lucky – I wish I didn’t care about it either. Now shut up for a bit, okay?

Only silence answered her. Sighing, she bent her mind to the task of untangling his. It was difficult and exacting, and before she was entirely finished with the fix, she fell asleep out of pure exhaustion.

~ ~ ~

Rooke woke to his mouth on her slick folds, his tongue lapping and toying until her back arched. She was surprised that he had turned the lights on in the lab, the bright glow outside the open doorway leaving the small bedroom in a dim grayish light. She hadn’t felt him leave the bed to do it – one of the tentacles must have telescoped to reach the controls.

Does he actually want to see me? He’s preferred it as dark as possible every other time; all the easier to pretend I’m a leggy Italian poetry fan.

She watched him hungrily as he moved, the tentacles shifting to allow him to settle between her parting and eager legs. His beautiful dark eyes met hers for only a second, then they shifted away again the moment he entered her. Head bowing down, his unruly and lengthening bangs brushed her throat and ear.

Soon enough, all thoughts melted as his strong and rhythmic thrusts pushed the world away.

“Kiss me, Doc … please?”

Speaking into her shoulder, his breath hot on her skin, he whispered, “No.”

“Why not?”

He didn’t reply, but she knew the answer. It was the same reason he wouldn’t hold her, or allow her to cuddle close if he was awake.

She could scoot into his heated bulk in sleep, but his arms never reached for her, his hands and lips never touched her, as he had always reached for Rosalie. He would take her body to ease the lust she’d taught him to crave again, and to keep her from controlling him, he had fallen into giving her pleasure. Beyond that, he was as impersonal and cold as the metal that had maimed him and driven him mad.

Yet cold or not, she knew his magnificent body would bring her to climax more than once before he would allow his own ejaculate to hit him, just as he had done in years of bed play with his wife.

I wonder if that’s some sort of weird habit, or a social courtesy. Smiling, she thought, Can’t really categorize this guy as ‘wham bam, thank you ma’am’, even when he breaks my face as part of our foreplay.

Rooke, he spoke in her thoughts, startling her. The actuators won’t leave me be about the work – we need to finish the bonding process.

It took her a few hammering heartbeats to realize that her thoughts had entered his mind, not the other way around. Had she been reaching for him out of a habit of her own?

This is hardly a good time for shop talk, Doc. Come on, slide into it – let yourself go.

She twined her consciousness deeper with his, urging him gently to find release. Searching for the sharp tang of self-destruction in his mind out of morbid curiosity, she smiled when she didn’t find it. The anger waited under the veneer of calm, but it didn’t fire incorrectly into a contrived lust.

Man, I’m good. Logan and Chuck would be so proud.

His anger didn’t boil with the need to injure her, either, meaning the lust itself could really be genuine. She tried not to think about that. Every time she hoped he could start to feel something for her, he’d end up driving his fist into her face.

Otto’s hands framed her face on the heels of the thought, and she managed not to flinch. Then her breath caught when his head lifted and his eyes met hers. His heavy frame shifted slightly to change how his cock stroked her, the pain in his back pulling, making him wince, but he ignored it.

“Come for me again,” he whispered. “I want to feel it.”

“Oh, God…” She gasped and moaned when his hands moved. They slid up her arms, his fingers twining in hers. The worst of his weight was held off of her by the angle of the machines, but the strain had to be terrible on his back. “Relax, huh? You’re hurting yourself. Flatten me, I don’t care; I like to feel your weight on me.”

His thoughts swirled, merging with hers deeper as their fingers meshed and held on tight. “Draw me in, like before, like you did in dreams.” His cock filled her again, pushing in as deep as it could go, his need seeming to want more than her body could give.

Rooke’s heart leaped. “Otto…” She pulled him to her with her power and after taking in a deep breath, tapped the streaming heat of passion in his mind. It rose around her, tinged with a strange aftertaste of alien coldness. “What is…?”

Otto’s head lowered, his lips almost touching hers, his arms on hers not allowing her to rise to kiss him. “Come for me…”

Her orgasm gathered more at his words and the closeness of his passion and warm soft mouth than the deep thrusts inside her body alone. She opened her mouth wide in a gasping suck of breath when it burst, radiating heat through her pelvis, back, and stomach, her nipples on fire with it.

There. / Yes. / We / see.

“Thank you, Rooke.”

Fear hit her in the second between the cruel stretch of his grin and the assault on her mind. Five entities struck her consciousness at once, though the battle was inside both of them. His madness and wrath quickly overwhelmed her.

She forgot about her pinned body and struggled to drag up the lax and lulled power she had held over his mind. In the instant that she brought it to bear against him, she felt it snap under the edged weight of his insanity, and screamed when the red star between them exploded.

His physical weight left her, and she tried to roll to avoid the blows, but the tentacles were on her too fast. Two of them punched her at 50 mph, one connecting with her ribs, the other her hip. Her body flew to crash in a hiss of sparks and a noise like whining gears against the wall. The lights on her chest and up her back flared, burning the skin around them as the metal began to move to repair shattered bones.

Rooke screamed again as his massive shape moved to strike once more, and then she hit his mind with her dream spinning power, riding on the waves of her shaken telepathy.

The man’s shout of horror and shock echoed when she made his brain see only what she wanted him to see – the broken and bruised body and limbs of his living and weeping wife.

When she could move, she got to her knees and struggled to stand. “Did you think you had to be asleep for that to work, old man? I can’t change my body like a metamorph, but I can make you see her awake or asleep. Go ahead, hit her! Smash your precious Rosie into a red paste!”

Rooke fought to stand, watching the balled fists of the tentacles open and lower as he stared at her, his human hands opening in a wordless entreaty.

Her pierced lower lip smeared with black fluid, she let a vicious smirk skew her mouth, but all the doctor saw was his wife’s terrified face, her large hazel eyes full of tears. The dulcet voice was easy; she’d heard it so often in his dreams. “Otto, my love, why?”

“No!” he screamed, hands fisting again. “She is gone, she is dead, it’s a lie!”

“Damn you to hell, old man, you tricked me good!” Keeping Rosie’s form, she let her own voice fall from bloody lips. “You hit me again, and you’ll only hit her, got it? Fucking bastard. How did you trick me? How! You’re not a damn telepath!”

The doctor sank to his knees as he stared up at her. Then, tearing his gaze away, he bowed forward over his knees, the tentacles writhing wildly all around him. The moan that was torn from his lips made Rooke’s heart ache.

Dropping the image of his wife, she retreated to the doorway and tried to communicate to the flailing metal monsters.

You’re injuring him, stop it! Be still!

Nononono, they hissed into her thoughts. You cannot / control us / now. We will / defend!

I’m not the one threatening him, you idiots, you are. Fine, go ahead, tear his damn spine out!

Another moan followed by a hiss of pain was ripped from him before they finally understood and began to calm their frantic twisting. Two of them smashed into the concrete floor to support the weight of the others as they lifted, still as sculpture but ready to strike. Otto’s arms had lifted to cover his head, his entire body shaking in agony.

“How did you do it, Doc?” Her voice was softer, trying to reach him.

Groping in the shambles of his mind, she felt her heart sink. He had obliterated the red star, and now she couldn’t do a thing to stop him if he tried to stab himself. The machines sensed her and severed her probe, pitching her out as easily as they had in the beginning.

“You trusted them.” His voice floated up to her in a rasped whisper, muffled by his posture and muscled arms. “You trusted them … because they do not want to die. You told them … that repairing the synapses would weaken…”

She looked up and glared at the uplifted machines. “It’ll serve you right if he makes you punch him in the jugular, you fucking assholes. Did he make you trust him? Did he promise he wouldn’t do it?”

“I won’t.”


“I wanted you … out of my mind. They are right – the work waits.”

“All you’ve wanted, maybe for years, was to cash out so you could go be with your beloved mincemeat.” The sound of anger he made at her words was barely human, but she ignored it. “Now you think that’s all changed just because you smashed my hold on your addled brains? Give me a break, old man.”

“My wife … is dead. Rosalie is dead. Her memory left me … left me. I can’t remember her anymore – her face, her voice. Until you…”

“I’m not doing that again just so you can have her. I warn you … I’d make a very bad enemy. If you strike me again, you’ll see her – I’ll show you how you’re beating her into meat. The work waits? Fine – we’ll finish when you can. Until then, I’m going to get away from you before I’m tempted to try for that lobotomy after all. Good night, old man … and if you make them slice your throat, I’ll pretend to be upset about it.”

When she reached the Water Room and collapsed on the disheveled blankets that were half torn away from the divan, Rooke curled into a fetal ball and sobbed. She wanted to reach out to see if he was all right, but she was terrified of what she’d find if she did.

“Otto, please don’t,” she whispered. She tried to calm down, tried to breathe, but the tears returned to choke her.


Otto worked in the lab without stopping to sleep or eat for two days. He ignored the servant, the lawyer, and the doctors. The mutant did not come down. The others said she was in the penthouse above, but he didn’t ask for any of the information they tried to impart to him. Eventually, they would give up and go away – hopefully before he felt compelled to harm them to achieve that end.

When the last metal spike was forged, cooled, and laid out with the others, he allowed the servant to bring food. Afterward, he fell into the ruin of the bed and slept.

His dreams were all nightmares, but none of them held his wife; alive, dying, or dead – she was gone. He woke screaming – hours or days later, he didn’t know or care. Rising from a prone sprawl, he saw that his body still craved.

The crushing weight of it felt eerily hollow, the anger shorting out in the gathering fear that filled him.

Rosalie is gone, but I am here. Where is she? Images flashed through his fracturing thoughts, memories of a jungle of iron and concrete, embraced by twin rivers. A green place, a gray stone – lies carved on its silent face.

Otto rose, ignoring the hunger that tugged at his stomach, the pain that pulled at his back. The scent of his unwashed body didn’t hinder – the flesh meant nothing.

The stone, the lies – the stone… Remake the stone.

He barely heard the vibrating crunch that punctuated each step he took to reach the computer. One grasping metal muzzle turned the chair so he could straddle it in loose, rumpled clothing. Fingers flying over the keys, he set many things in motion.

Time blurred. Somehow, he ate. Now and then, he slept. People came and went, following his orders, blueprints in their human hands. He kept out of sight when they were present near the lab, but when they left, he emerged to inspect the work.

The structure was almost completed. Shining titanium slabs were fitted and welded, the roof nearly sealed. Its wide centered doorway was empty; the vault door was being constructed offsite.

Otto did not enter the vault. It was empty now. Outside of the room-sized structure, a fortification of wooden crates lined the wall of the sub-basement. They had been left sealed on his orders, and no one but him knew what was hidden inside them.

Weary, he returned to the bed and allowed the machines to lay his body down. When one of them reached for the control panel in the wall by the door, probably to summon the servant, he didn’t try to stop it.

~ ~ ~

Waking again in the night, he rose. The machines told him it was near dawn, another fact he hadn’t asked for. Turning the chair in front of the computer, he straddled it, but his fingers didn’t touch the keys. Picking up a heavy, worn book, he opened it at the place where a bit of crimson lace marked it. The pages were illuminated by a single bright spotlight over his head in the instant that he thought about wanting light.

As the printed words formed images in his mind’s eye, swirling like the birds of a language unknown to him – mindless symbols – he none-the-less knew how to speak them, and perhaps how to evoke the memories they had once given back to him.

Soon, she came, as she had before – her steps silent, hesitant. He took food when he was hungry, most of the time. He took rest when his eyes began to blur from the work – and he took her, when the need was there.

He never knew, when it happened, if he would be kind or cruel. It didn’t matter. She always knew when it was time, and she acquiesced, lying down for him to cover her, taking what he gave her, and how he gave it.

Otto didn’t speak often, to anyone. Sometimes she spoke to him, but he never answered her. Now and then, she said his name, but it was mere sounds in the void. The gleaming metal spikes remained hidden, and the work went on. If he kept still, pushing back the void in his mind that lapped at the edges of his thoughts, perhaps the work would go on … and on.


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