Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Pandora's Playground 4

Dechs Kaison sat behind the grand mahogany desk in his office, staring into the empty glass that still smelled of malted barley. The bottle called to him from its place on the minibar, asking at the very least to be put back on the shelf. Dechs gazed from the glass to the bar, then to his cane resting at the edge of his desk; the white gold head had already been fixed to a new charcoal black shaft. With a frustrated grunt, he propped his feet up on the desk and glanced over at the fish tank. The two Indonesians were as beautiful and lazy as ever, floating about slower than even the minute hand on his gold Movado timepiece. Who would be first to arrive?

The sound of a sliding door was followed by the heavy footfalls of an armored boot; a reflection of red and black appeared on the glass of the fish tank. Deathgrind was only ten minutes early. "I appreciate you meeting with me on such short notice."

"To be fair, I consider giving me notice at all to be an improvement." Dechs planted his feet back on the ground and stretched his open hand toward one of the leather chairs sitting across from himself. "Have a seat. George should be here any minute."

"George?" Deathgrind prodded with a tilt of his head. He flung his heavy cape over the back of the chair as he slumped into it.

"Said you needed a doctor. I called in my best."

"Best in what area?"

"My. Best." The words were at the same time reassuring and final.

Deathgrind grunted approval, then craned his neck as a brief metallic ratcheting rang out. In looking for the source of the noise, he instead found a man standing behind the minibar. Deathgrind could count four hairs on top of the man's head and twice that number in wrinkles around his eye alone. A snap judgement put him at five and a half feet tall, weighing no more than a hundred forty pounds. He ripped off a pair of blue plastic gloves and dropped them in the wastebasket on his way around the bar; there was a spring in his step that belied his apparent age. Pulling down the surgeon mask, revealing teeth too perfect to be originals, he blurted, "Sorry I'm late. What do you need?"

"A glass of Glenlivet, thanks. And one for our newest partner, Deathgrind." Dechs was holding his empty glass outward, tilting it back and forth in the air. "He'll need a straw for his."

"I thought this was about a patient, Dechs," the old man paused to pant and give Deathgrind an appraising look. "I wrapped up in quite a hurry, too."

"It is and we'll get to that. Scotch first. Priorities, George."

George rolled his eyes and snatched the glass with a defeated sigh. As he passed Deathgrind on the way to the minibar, he offered him the signature, playing card style business card of a Kaison Corporation employee. "I must say, Deathgrind, you are exactly as described."

Deathgrind took the card and looked it over before tucking it into his armor. When he saw that George was only pouring two glasses, he asked, "None for yourself, George?"

"Unlike Dechs, I neither hold my liquor extraordinarily well nor do I live upstairs."

"Right, you live downstairs," Dechs frowned, "I keep telling you to take a damn vacation."

"I can rest when I'm dead." George had put an odd emphasis on the first word. He strolled back, handing one glass to Deathgrind with a polite smile and nod. After sitting down, he placed the second glass on the edge of the desk, just outside where Dechs could reach. George still smiled, albeit with some mischief. George caught a quick glare from Dechs before watching him pick up a fountain pen to twirl between his fingers.

Turning to face the guest in the room, George inclined, "Well, what's your issue?"

"The issue is with my associate. A mender type who is ill."

Dechs blinked.

George delved, "Well, to start, what class of mender?"

"That is an interesting question." Deathgrind hesitated, "Though she has not done it yet, she is certain that she can mend bone."

George pursed his lips and shrugged, puzzling, "That's an easy class two. Where's the interesting part?"

"Six months ago, when I met her, she was only capable of healing flesh wounds by contact."

At this reply, George jerked forward to the edge of his chair, with pupils dilated and jaw slack for a moment before bursting, "She progressed from class four to class two in six months?" Dechs was likewise surprised, but the sum of his reaction was only the snap of his pen as the twirl came to a halt momentarily.

"Indeed, she is... different. She was fine when I met her, but as her mending grows stronger, she is getting sicker. Physically weaker. Fatigue, vomiting, and occasional fainting." Deathgrind drew some of the liquid up through the straw and behind his mask. "I cannot help but suspect the affliction is linked to the mutation. Have you ever heard of something like this?"

"No," Dechs replied in flat tone.

Simultaneously, George affirmed, "Yes."

There was an awkward moment of silence. George's eyes shot from his employer to the metal menace and back. Dechs remained motionless, save for the pen twirling. The first to move was Deathgrind, who turned to face George and pressured, "Please, tell me more."

Dechs narrowed his eyes and discretely dragged a line across his throat with the fountain pen he was twirling.

"Actually, no. It couldn't be applicable here..." the word trailed off as George thought of something to say.

"We've seen it before, but under very specific circumstances and it's always rapidly fatal." Dechs injected, staring at the space between the two men across from him, "Whatever's wrong with your mender is something else. George, she's to be your top priority. Find out everything you can and get her in good health."

"Well, first thing to do is get her in here." George regained his composure. "We can run her DNA to make sure she is one of Pandora's and what class she's supposed to be. We'll also start running tests to rule out common diseases."

"Thank you, Dechs, George," Deathgrind tipped his glass to the doctor, "I appreciate your collective expertise. I will bring her in as soon as I am able."

"We'll do everything we can." George jumped up and hurried out of the room.

As soon as the door closed, Dechs dove forward and used the fountain pen to hook his glass and pull it close. "This mender. What is she to you?" While waiting for a reply, he gave the glass a turn, wafting its aroma before he took a sip.

"She..." Deathgrind stumbled, words failing him. The question had caught him off guard as much as its delivery. After a careful pause, he stated, "The mender is a trusted asset with whom I have a mutually beneficial arrangement."

"That's it?" Dechs set his glass down and mused, "Awful early to be calling in your favor for just some asset."

"That was not my intention." Deathgrind countered, "The way I see it, I am bringing you something of value. We can both benefit-"

"Oh, indeed." Dechs interrupted, "A disease, specific to mutants that may be more harmful to stronger ones? There's certainly value in that, unless it's already someone's weapon and your girl is the first test subject."

Dechs paused just the briefest of moments, looking for a reaction, then continued when he saw none, "Of course there's even more value in a cure for it, weapon or otherwise. If only for that, I couldn't count this as your favor, but you've also given me much more than that." Dechs picked up his glass and pointed with that hand, "You don't regenerate, do you?"

"I heal faster than most, but no, even class four regenerative types are better." Deathgrind leaned forward and placed his glass on the table, the liquid within hardly touched. With a severity that the voice changer could not hide, he stated, "This information is extremely sensitive."

"Of course it is. You're putting a great deal of trust in me. I respect and value that," his words now were more sincere than they had ever been. He chuckled, then steered the conversation somewhere else, "but there's still the problem with you being too strong and smart. I'd love to get a look at your DNA, too. See if you have any of the Pandora markers or maybe something new."

"What good would it do?" Deathgrind's query was genuine.

"Could tell you a lot about yourself. What else you could do. What kind of limits you might have. I mean, wouldn't you like to know?"

"You assume I do not already know what I am."

"I know you don't." Dechs gulped what scotch he had left, then went on, "You'd have shut this topic down long ago. You don't know why you're different from everyone else and you're at least twice as curious as I am. Let me sate my curiosity and do you a favor at the same time."

"I will consider it. Now, pardon my asking, but I must know," Deathgrind took his turn at driving the conversation, incredulous as he spoke, "Do you keep George in your liquor cabinet until you need him?"

Dechs guffawed; Deathgrind replied with a hearty laugh. They both savored the light moment until Dechs answered the real question.

"George was working on something in the off-the-books-research lab floor." He stood up, grabbed his cane and walked his glass back to the minibar.

"So, you have direct access to that lab and you trust George with the backdoor to your office. You must hold him in high regard." Deathgrind retrieved George's business card and twirled it over. "Should I be jealous that he is a king?"

"No, the face cards don't imply a rank. I pick them more to match personalities." Dechs poured himself another glass while he spoke, "George was the first, though. He's been with me since the old days and now he practically runs the medical half of that lab. Speaking of, what would you say to a tour?"

Shaking his helmet as he stood up, Deathgrind refused, "Thank you, Dechs, but I still have a great deal of preparation to do. I should be on way."

"Oh no, you really shouldn't!" A nasal voice called into the room as the door slid open, and at the same time Deathgrind crumpled back down into his chair. He gripped tight to the sides of his helmet and writhed violently, helpless and silent.

In the doorway stood a man dressed as a nurse and bearing the most arrogant of grins beneath his sapphire blue eyes. His head was enormous, prominently so because it had been shaved clean. He strutted into the room, a menacing scowl finding its way to Dechs, and with his nasal voice, announced, "I've overloaded his senses. Every sound he's heard in the past week, every smell and taste, all compressed into a five second loop and bombarding his mind. You're lucky I'm not here for you. Get in my way and I'll have you gnawing on your cane."

In response, Dechs raised his right hand to about the level of his chin, palm openly displaying a lack of hostility. He spoke calmly, "I don't care what you're here for, brain boy." He paused, staunchly posting both hands on his cane in front of him, "I'll give you one chance to walk out of here unharmed."

"Mister Kaison," the psychic began with an annoyed tone that quickly faded to one of disinterest, "spare me your threats. I know all about you and I'm frightened by neither your connections nor your money. I'm only here for the ogre. Give me ten minutes in his head and let me leave. No trouble. No regrets. It's the safe bet." He finished his sentence with a heavy punctuation, emphasizing his poor use of casino lingo.

Leaning into the counter, Dechs scratched his chin and rested the cane against his leg. While he raised the glass to drink with his left hand, he held up one finger on his right. The glass went dry and was returned to the counter but the finger persisted, insisting on a few more seconds' patience. Dechs took up his cane and hobbled towards his office door with a majority of his weight on the cane. The doors parted, but Dechs stayed, turning around to face the room.

The psychic crossed his arms with a melodramatic sigh and tapped his foot. Rather than speak, he nodded his head towards the door.

"You were supposed to turn around so I could hit you in the back," Dechs tried to sound disappointed, but his tone revealed he was not surprised.

"So what now? Will you gamble that I do not have the concentration to hold you both?" Some part of him hoped the cripple was stupid enough to try something.

Dechs did not disappoint. The doors closed behind him as he lunged forward on his good leg and swung a fist.

The psychic hopped back, easily avoiding the punch and laughing as he did. His eyes flared and a forehead vein bulged and throbbed, "Time to pay up!"

Dechs seized up, falling forward to a knee and clutching tight to his cane with both hands. He crawled towards the psychic once, then halted altogether. Through a contorted face and clenched teeth, Dechs let out a shout that gradually failed to no more than a whimper, "Rrrrraaaah! Oh, it hurts! I want my mommy."

Everything changed an instant later. Dechs shot up and threw his fist deep into the psychic's gut. Wincing, he settled his weight onto both feet and tossed the cane into a right hand grip on the bottom. With a broad smile on his face, he challenged, "You said you knew all about me, right?"

The psychic, at first slumped and gasping from the sucker punch, slowly rose and tried to make a sound. It could have been another insult, a plea for mercy, or no more than a cough. Without waiting to figure it out, Dechs swung his cane like a golf club and caught the psychic in the chin. He was airborne for a second while Dechs let the cane slip back to a left handed grip at the head. The cane snapped to the floor at the same instant the psychic crashed.

"You mean to tell me that you know I play poker in Pandora's Playground, the goddamn concentration camp of mutants, but think I haven't found a way to deal with psychics?" The last word carried a harsh inflection and was punctuated by the cane cracking hard against tile as Dechs closed distance to the psychic again. Before he could connect another attack, though, he found himself staring at the beautiful floor of his office. The psychic had recovered with a fast sweep, landing Dechs on his bad hip, extracting a yelp of pain. He tried to breathe, but found an arm across his throat and bearing down. The room began to blur, but despite his predicament, Dechs grinned up at his assailant.

"You smug bastard! What is it now?!"

There was the barely an instant of silence just then as the psychic realized the whole of his situation. His eyes, once narrow and seething with rage, now exploded with an abject terror. His mouth drooped open and gaped, replacing teeth that were clamped tight against each other in fury. The moment was over before it began, when a polished red and black gauntlet collided with the back of his large skull. The force was enough that his body made a complete forward roll, landing him flat on his back, unconscious at best.

Dechs rolled to his knees and quickly checked for a pulse, "Good, you didn't kill him."

"Oops." Deathgrind groggily replied.

Dechs snorted, "Don't be so modest; I know you're smart enough to preserve your leads. Wait here. I need something from the lab." With much help from his cane, Dechs rose to his left foot, keeping all weight off his right leg. He limped the whole way to the liquor cabinet, touched a few of the bottles, then began to descend as the ratcheting was heard one more time.

While Dechs disappeared behind the minibar, Deathgrind stumbled back to the desk and leaned against it, rolling his neck and then casting his gaze back to the middle of the floor. He considered the still breathing scum that lay there, a hunter now turned prey. Deathgrind had no shortage of enemies, but this one was in no way familiar. Perhaps it was just an overpaid contractor; he would have to find out. Although true that it was more valuable alive, it would be no less valuable with a broken rib or five. He mused for a moment, devising excuses to crush a finger or dislocate an elbow. Was that a twitch just now, or an attempt at escape?

In the end, Deathgrind decided to postpone his anger until it came time for interrogation. For now, he gleaned what information he could. In addition to the uniform scrubs, there was a legitimate identification tag that belonged to someone else. As Dechs returned to the office with a circular steel device in hand, Deathgrind commented, "My head is still ringing."

Dechs approached and then sat down beside the psychic, "He's a damn strong psychic, likely a class one. Hurt like hell until I could shut him out. I'd wager he could have walked in here all but naked and convinced everyone he was me, but he wanted to conserve his energy. Looks like one of my doctors is dead, too. Someone invested a lot to get in here." While he spoke, Dechs slid the circle over the psychic's head, tightening it down around his temples with a latching mechanism.

"Whatever that is, you should fix it in place with fluted, heavy bore screws." Deathgrind suggested.

Laughing again, "This crown will emit electrical shocks at random intervals between two and fifteen seconds apart. The battery will last three days." Dechs walked over to Deathgrind and handed him what looked like a pistol grip. "This is a dead man switch. Hold it to prevent the shocks so he can coherently answer your questions. If he attacks, you'll let go and he gets lit up. Expect him to try it once, and only once."

"You want no parts of this?" Deathgrind scooped the psychic off the ground and heaved him over shoulder in a fireman carry.

"I have one condition." Dechs returned to the minibar and leaned against it, "What happened here is that this poor bastard couldn't overpower your mind. That's the story I want told, so when you're done with your questioning, kill him."

Without a word, Deathgrind spun on his heel and strolled off, humming a particularly upbeat old tune from a children's movie. There was an abnormal motion to his stride that caused the psychic to bounce into his shoulder with every other step.

"Off to work he goes," Dechs smirked, "Hi ho, hi ho."

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