Wednesday, March 4, 2015

18: Caladry O'Dowell

Entry 018: Where Felix meets a truly dangerous well as a whining, ridiculous one.

                Felix felt his stomach drop down to the soles of his feet.
                "So much for brave."
                Felix swallowed past the stick jammed sideways in his throat and tried to hang onto that feeling of strength he'd briefly found in the elevator. Remembering Kla's disturbed expression at being compared to his mother alongside Cor helped immensely.
                It was enough to get him through the door. For the five yards between that and the black wood desk at the far end of the office, there was Morgan.
                With a final vindictive shove from Ham-Hands, Felix stumbled to a stop in front of the man that had made his life nothing but terror and misery for the past month.
                "Well," said the man himself as he took in the two men now standing before him, "if it isn't Felix Cauldwell in the flesh. I've heard a lot about you young man. All of it very impressive."
                Caladry O'Dowell himself was nothing like his pictures. His public image presented a man with an iron spine. King of the boardroom. Master of the hostile takeover. Every company in the civilized universe from the smallest Mom and Pop to D&S's most powerful rivals lived under the ever-present shadow that Caladry O'Dowell cast, knowing every day, in some little back corner of their minds, that if O'Dowell decided he wanted what they had built with their own two hands, there was nothing they could do to stop him.
                Fortunately, Felix was too stunned by the man in the gray sweater and khaki slacks currently shaking his hand to remember all this. He...didn't look like a man that could earn the title Lion of Liaxus.
                "It's a pleasure to meet you son," O'Dowell was telling him with a wide smile.  He had very white teeth, Felix noticed through his daze.
                "Like a cottonmouth."
                Unaware of Felix's line of thought, O'Dowell crossed his arms over his barrel chest and leaned against his desk behind him. "Kla tells me you've got an idea to change the universe." He held up his hands and smiled encouragingly. "So let's hear it."
                Felix thought for sure he must have heard wrong. He stared at the man with graying blond hair and tried to remember how to speak coherently. "Let's hear it?" he repeated.
                O'Dowell nodded, expression not changing. "I don't have all day, Cauldwell. Speak your piece or get out of my office."
                Felix stared at him...and then walked very quickly towards the door.
                "Of course," O'Dowell raised his voice, "then you won't get any credit for I've been assured is a truly phenomenal breakthrough in space travel."
                That brought Felix to a stop. He was halfway between O'Dowell and the door. The voice in his head that generally proved to be his common sense shouted ninety-nine times for him to walk out that door and get as far away from these psychopaths as he could. But the hundredth time...
                "You don't have anything," Felix told him. "When I walk, my formula goes with me."
                He heard Cor sigh and knew the older man was pinching the bridge of his nose, static field crawling with aggravated energy.
                "For sparking's sake Felix, do you have to keep remindin' them?"
                Felix was too angry to feel much reprimand as he finally gathered his courage to face O'Dowell. "I'm still right," he insisted. "With all my notes gone, the only place that research is saved is up here." He tapped his temple, fist curling at his other side as he hissed his denial at the man standing at ease a few feet away.
                "That's true," O'Dowell agreed. But then he tilted his head in a sideways nod. "Or at least, that's almost true."
                He held out his hand to Kla, standing patiently at his side, and Felix felt his insides turn to air. Kla pulled out his last remaining notebook from her bag and handed it to her boss with a superior look at Felix. He'd forgotten she'd taken it from him before they'd tossed him in his makeshift prison on the Star Skimmer.
                "Scrap," his mind squeaked.
                "So much for big words," O'Dowell said as he flipped through Felix's notes. As he watched, an invisible force socked Felix in the gut, sweeping the air from his lungs. All the warmth was leeched from his body as he watched the fifty year old human flip casually through what was left of his life's work.
                He couldn't breathe. In his half-starved stupor, he had forgotten Kla had taken the notebook from him and he couldn't even breathe.
                "You have some truly fascinating ideas in here Cauldwell. I can see what Kla was so worked up about."
                He handed Felix's notes back to Kla, who smirked like a violet-skinned shark.
                "Now," O'Dowell continued, "you are undoubtedly a very bright young man, but I didn't see anything in there my-” he tilted his head in that sideways nod that held more disappointment than approval, "-decently-gifted head developer can't fathom out." A dark look soured his pleasant expression, transforming him into a dangerous old man. "Eventually," he growled.
                "But," his pleasant mask reappeared, "fortunately for you, I have very little patience."
                Felix had a bad feeling growing in the pit of his stomach where it still hovered several stories below him in the lobby. "I'm sensing a sudden job opening in your R&D Department," he grumbled.
                O'Dowell chuckled. "I like your sense of humor Cauldwell. You remind me of myself at your age."
                A wave of nausea threatened to knock Felix over.
                "But you've hit it on the nose. One way or another I am giving this book of ingenious ideas to my head developer, but it'll take him years to crack your shorthand and even longer to retro-engineer all that beautiful math you're already using as a given in what I'm assuming is the most recent in a long line of notebooks."
                O'Dowell pinned Felix with a knowing stare, but Felix refused to speak.
                "But with you working with us," O'Dowell continued his hard sell, "we can start from your already lofty advantage and get started right away on the real stuff. In the next five years, your device will be a staple on all new ship models, your name a household icon. So," O'Dowell clapped his hands and gave Felix a hopeful grin, "what d'ya say? Ready to be famous Felix Cauldwell?"
                Before Felix could tell the pompous old man where to stick his so called 'generous offer', the looming double door slammed open behind them. Everyone turned to see a grown man with brown hair and a red lab coat that wasn't too large, but still hung off his thin body, advancing towards them. He wore half-moon glasses that Felix knew were for show that kept slipping down his nose as he scowled fiercely at O'Dowell. All in all, he had an unfortunate resemblance to a stressed out scarlet macaw ready to start pulling out his tail feathers.
                "Davis Redford," Felix growled in his head. "Must have finally gotten the memo."
                Redford's stride stuttered when he finally realized O'Dowell wasn't the only one in the dimly lit room, and just like that, all the power radiating from his scrawny body disappeared and never came back.
                "Ah, Redford," O'Dowell said, returning the focus to himself where he liked it, "you're just in time. I want you to meet your new assistant director of R&D."
                "What?!" Redford and Felix shouted in unison. They both sounded equally unhappy.
                "This is outrageous!" Redford protested.
                "Yeah," Felix shouted over him, "and a lie. I haven't agreed to anything!"
                Even with Redford's blustering, Felix heard Kla snicker. "Not yet," she murmured.
                Redford kept going like a steam engine, his face starting to turn an obnoxious shade of red. "You hired me to run your R&D, not," he flung out an accusing finger at Felix without looking at him, "babysit some wannabe ground-shaker out to stamp his name across every e-zine in the civilized universe!"
                "Because dealing with one of those is already more than we can stand," Kla murmured, crossing her arms over her chest and giving Redford a knowing look.
                Redford glowered at her but did not rise to the bait. He leaned in close to O'Dowell, what would have been a murderous expression on his face if he'd been anyone else in the universe, even the black and white secretary outside the door. "Look, this was not in the job description. You and I have an agreement-”
                "An agreement I remember very well," O'Dowell firmly cut him off, a slight line appearing between his yellow and gray eyebrows as he frowned. "One that in no way prohibits me from bringing new people in on my projects."
                "My projects-!" Redford tried.
                O'Dowell shot him a look that made the scientist fall back a step, shoulders hunching up protectively. "As I was saying," O'Dowell said sternly, "I will bring on whoever I see fit to. Now you will make an effort to get along with Mr. Cauldwell or I will turn you into a footnote that no one in history remembers. Do we have an understanding, Redford?"
                He watched Davis Redford with the kind of manic gaze that took years of mastering the art of backstabbing, business politics, and backhanded compliments that were only practiced on the battlefield between high powered executives. Redford met it with all the sheer stubbornness he could muster...and caved not a minute later.
                "Fine," he spat, arms crossed petulantly over his scrawny chest. "But if he messes anything up, all he'll be doing is cleaning equipment until I say so."
                He jabbed a finger at his chest, but everyone knew it was all talk. Davis Redford was a weak-willed man puffed up on his own self-importance. Against O'Dowell's iron strength and savvy, he didn't stand a chance.
                Caladry O'Dowell smiled, not at all a pleasant expression. "Excellent. I think you two will really hit it off. Cauldwell," he said, coming fully to his feet and waving a strong arm at Redford, "have you met my head of Research and Development, Davis Redford?"
                Davis Redford summoned up a false smile as if he hadn't just spent the last five minutes ignoring the man behind him. He turned around. "It's my pleas-”
                Only to stumble backwards as Felix's fist connected hard with his teeth.
                Redford was shocked speechless as stars exploded in his vision. Felix hunched over, holding his hand, as a mix of Hybridian and Earthen profanity spilled out his mouth. He was sure he had indents in his knuckles from Redford's teeth.
                "Well," O'Dowell watched with mild amusement, "I take it you two have met before."
                Redford's eyes had widened. "Nah weh haben't!" His protest was muffled by his hands clapped over his mouth as he felt for any missing teeth.
                Felix glowered at him. "Yes we have you sonuva glitch!" he snarled, flinching as he shook out his hand. Who knew punching someone would hurt so much?
                He shook off the pain and fixed dark eyes on the scientist propping himself up with O'Dowell's expensive desk. "Nine years ago, Jefferson High School, college career day! You gave a presentation on theoretical versus practical sciences and afterwards I came up and asked for your advice on my work on a new branch of gravity theory. You said you would look over my notes and send them back with any advice you had. The next thing I know your stupid face is all over the world and they're calling you the greatest mind since Einstein!"
                Felix didn't bother keeping his voice down and as he stood there breathing hard and wishing his hand would stop throbbing, he became aware that someone was laughing.
                He blinked and looked up to see Kla holding her sides and leaning against the side of the desk. She was laughing so hard Felix thought she would fall over without it.
                "What?" he demanded, still running on insulted rage.
                "Ya-you hit the sm-smahaha!" Her words dissolved into ridiculous laughter.
                Felix drew himself up and refused to look away from her. "Yeah, so?"
                Kla pried a hand away from her side and covered her eyes as they teared up. "Buh-but you're a weakling!"
                She cracked up even more, but Felix shook his head and rolled his eyes, not seeing what she found so amusing. He noticed Cor was giving him a look of his own.
                "When did you work on gravity theory?" he asked, looking confused.
                Felix scowled at his shoes. "I was stuck on my big project for a couple months so I decided to take a break and dabble in different fields," he grumbled. "Gravity theory, space engine mechanics, you know, stuff like that.
                Cor snorted a laugh. "Right, the easy fields." He shook his head. "Remind me ta introduce ya ta video games when we get outta here."
                Felix frowned at him, getting the feeling Cor was poking fun at him, but he didn't understand how.
                O'Dowell regained control with a few looks, although Kla still giggled from time to time as she wiped small tears from the corners of her eyes. "Well I must say Mr. Cauldwell, I am impressed."
                Redford gawked at him, face still half hidden. "Du are?"
                The old man nodded. "Oh yes." His smile was sly as she looked at Redford but spoke to Felix. "We have never had such a well rounded genius under our roof before."
                Redford fumed. Felix was struck by the fact that O'Dowell couldn't praise someone unless he was insulting someone else with the exact same words.
                "Very efficient sort of man."
                One Felix was quickly getting tired of. "Look," he tried to sound firm, "I don't know what medication you people have been missing, but try and get this through your steel-cased heads." He spoke through gritted teeth. "I am not coming to work here. I will not give you the equation that I have been working on since before my voice started to crack. If you want to figure out the secrets to life, the universe, or anything else to do with quantum mechanics, kidnap someone else."
                They stared at him and in that split second Felix was no longer inside his body. In some bizarre out-of-body experience – no doubt caused by the fact he hadn't eaten in almost twenty-four hours – he was standing between O'Dowell and himself. O'Dowell, strong and imposing, watched Felix, appraising him with eyes so dark a brown they were almost black. Except the expression like he was watching some kind of interesting bug was gone, replaced by one Felix couldn't understand.
                And then he saw himself and he understood a little more. The skinny twenty-something year old kid that had hidden in the underbelly of the Helix 7 from passengers and crew and life in general had been misplaced somewhere. Felix still recognized himself, but it was like seeing a relative you hadn't seen in a long time. You recognized them by their nose or the eyes that ran in the family, not the person them self.
                The Felix Cauldwell staring down O'Dowell was one he had never expected to see. He was...almost scary. The dark eyes were determined, his mouth set into a grim line. He was still skinny, still messy and rumpled and dirt stained. He was definitely still young, but even to his own eyes, he didn't look like a kid anymore.
                Insubstantial Felix was at once unnerved and proud of himself. He'd never lied to himself; he was not a strong person. He was picked on as a kid. His best friend had been his mother. And his brain had been too big for his own good.
                "And apparently it still is."
                The point was he now saw he had a spine. He didn't know where it had been hiding all these years, but Caladry O'Dowell had dragged it out of him. And now he didn't even have the courtesy to back down after yanking him out of his safe little life and sending him through the mud and misery of it all.
                Caladry O'Dowell gave a smooth shrug and suddenly Felix was back in his body, blinking as a brief wave of disorientation swept over him and then faded, taking all evidence of his strange experience with it.
                "Okay," O'Dowell said.
                Felix blinked again. "Wait, what?"
                "You can leave." He pointed at the door behind him. "Go. The door's unlocked. No one will stop you."
                Felix eyed him. "And my notes?"
                "What notes? I know of no notes. You came here with nothing but the shirt on your back to beg me for a job." O'Dowell stared at him with steely eyes. Felix knew he would not relent on this.
                Redford was already leafing through the journal, drinking in Felix's coded chicken scratch. "What the heck is all this?" he demanded, scowling furiously. He looked around, back still hunched as he brought the side of his hand down on the scrawl. "Are you sure this isn't just some kind of dead end puzzle code? I mean why are you even paying for this in the first place?"
                Felix stared at Redford with flat eyes. "Wow," he thought, knowing for a fact that half of the symbols in there were the run-of-the-mill mathematical symbols, "even now, he's an idiot. Saying it'll take him ten years to figure my math out would be a generous. That gives me more than enough time to finish it myself and get the final design patented and everything."
                Felix nodded, determined now that nothing would stop him from walking out that unlocked door. "Right then. Come on Cor, let's get outta here."
                But O'Dowell pressed a button on his desk. "Mamoiya, dear, have someone come to escort Mister Cortis to the security building as soon as possible."
                A faint but distinct voice answered, "Yes Mr. O'Dowell," and then disappeared.
                Felix stared at O'Dowell in shock. His eyebrows felt like they were trying to merge with his hairline. "Wah-what? You can't do that!"
                O'Dowell leaned back against his desk and slowly crossed his arms over his chest, unbothered by Felix or his soaring eyebrows. "Yes, you are free to go, but Mr. Cortis has injured several of my employees and he will have to answer for that."
                "What? You mean that thug Darl'markins you hired to trick us in Titania?" Felix all but shouted. "That's your upstanding employee?"
                O'Dowell barked a laugh. "Hardly upstanding, but still under my employ. And, yes, the charges against your friend will undoubtedly prove baseless in the end, but–" Felix had just known there was a 'but', "-the legal banalities must be observed. Unfortunately-” He'd known there was an 'unfortunately' too. "-Terrace is considered a colony under universal law which means all civil matters fall under the authority of the home planet-”
                "Earth." Felix provided.
                "-who is this case has appointed a civil servant to oversee all of this madness-”
                "You," Felix muttered just as O'Dowell grinned and said, "Me."
                "You know I really and truly hate your guts, right?" Felix growled.
                The smile on O'Dowell's face did not waver. "You're hardly the first and, I hope, not the last."
                "Mortal enemies make life much more interesting," Kla murmured.
                O'Dowell clapped his hands together. "And considering how busy I am, how little I am actually here, and the fact that under Terrace law I must physically be here to administer justice, it could be years before your friend's case is actually heard."
                Felix scowled. "Unless I stay."
                O'Dowell beamed and nodded. "I am so very glad you catch on quick."
                Felix tried to burn the man where he stood, but despite his new spine, his superman powers had yet to come in. Honestly, what was the point of having a spine if you still ended up getting walked on anyway?
                "Fine," he spat, much the same as Redford not long before, "I'll do it."
                O'Dowell grinned, Kla smiling smugly behind him. They both looked like they'd finally caught and split a very stubborn canary.
                "But of course they do," Felix grumbled to himself as Ham-Hands and his friend led Cor away. "They already knew what I would say."

< Entry 17                                                                                           Entry 19 >

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