Wednesday, February 25, 2015

17: And the Fire


Entry 017: Where a nice, neat ending is nicely and neatly destroyed.


                A heartbeat of silence passed before Cor wheeled around and slammed his fist into Darl'markins' jaw.
                Darl went down swearing, but it was difficult to hear him over Cor's shouting.
                "-two faced sonuva glitch-!" was all Felix could make out before Cor descended into a language he didn't understand, but sounded somewhat electronic, like a printer crunching through a paper jam.
                "Restrain him," Kla's calm voice cut clean above Cor's shouting and two of her muscle came forward and forced Cor to the ground. Felix was in shock or he would have been surprised to see one of them was Ham-Hands.
                Kla had not moved from her place by the door. She stood easily in her four-inch heels, drape neck halter top, and form fitting jeans, looking more ready for a night of clubbing than kidnapping. "We can do this the easy way, Mr. Cortis, or the easier way," she told the still struggling Cor. She sounded bored as she inspected her manicure. "The easy way is you stop this ridiculous struggling and come with us quietly so no one gets hurt."
                Cor spat something at her that sounded like a barnacle droid cussing out its programmer.
                Kla finally looked up from her red glazed nails. "The easier way is Morgan here shoots you in the back of the head and we dump your body from high atmo so it burns up on descent." She raised that versatile eyebrow. "I'll leave the decision to you."
                If Hybridians had laser vision, Kla would have been nothing but ash-dusted heels. As it was, Cor scowled up at her from the plush floor, but stopped struggling to lay his hands on Darl'markins' neck.
                Kla smiled at him. "Excellent choice," she said and then held out her hand to the bodyguard still standing behind her shoulder.
                Felix had the sour feeling she would have enjoyed whichever choice Cor picked.
                The Wruvian put a cheap, non-descript wallet in Kla's waiting hand. She didn't bother checking the contents before holding it out to the Hybridian still standing.
                "The amount we agreed upon," she told him. "I hope you find something..." she eyed his dingy, tattered long coat permanently steeped in the sharp smell of alcohol and various cigarette and cigar smoke, "worthwhile to use it for."
                Darl eyed Cor warily as he walked around him and took his payment. "No worries there," he told Kla. "We've got big plans." He gave her a slight nod. "My organization and I thank you for your generosity."
                Kla smiled at him, not a pleasant expression in Felix's opinion but that may have been the heavy disdain still in her eyes. "Please let Mr. O'Dowell know if he can offer further assistance."
                Darl promised that he would and turned to leave, stepping over Cor's prone body as he did.
                Cor shot one last insult at Darl's back, but Felix was too preoccupied to really hear him. Kla was watching him intently. It took everything he had not to let her see his knees shake.
                She turned to her bodyguards. "Drafus, instruct the captain to lift off as soon as he has clearance. Morgan, see our guests to their quarters."
                Felix flinched as Morgan – a very angry looking Ham-Hands with the knot the size of Felix's fist on the top of his forehead – came and gripped his upper arm hard enough to dent his blood vessels. Felix watched, still stunned speechless, as Davy pulled Cor to his feet and shoved him forward.
                Kla's smile as the two men were pushed past her would give Felix nightmares for years.
                "Let's not keep Mr. O'Dowell waiting," she purred.

***

                Felix blinked in the bright sunlight as he was led out of the Star Skimmer some time later. He couldn't say for certain how long it had been since they'd left Carpathia, but he thought that 'days' felt safe enough.
                "Oy kid! You're all right!"
                Felix spun around, Morgan giving him a shove when he found him moving too slow.
                Felix didn't notice. "Cor! You're...not."
                Cor gave him a cocky smile despite the bruises and dried cuts covering his face. Felix hadn't seen the other man since they'd boarded Kla's trap-ship and of course Kla and Morgan Ham-Hands had refused to tell him what they'd done with Cor, so he'd spent most of his time trying not to imagine the worst.
                "What?" Cor smirked even wider, wincing when he stretched his split lip too far. "These? Ain't nuthin', Felix. Don't you worry none." He spit on the dusty ground, the dark bluish-black of blood and oil apparent even to Felix several feet away.
                Kla's guards shoved them forward, cutting off conversation. Anger and fear roiled around in the pit of Felix's stomach, making him feel sour. With all that was happening it was hard for him to tell which was winning.
                "Where are you taking us?" Felix asked the back of Kla's head to distract himself. "This isn't Nexus Five."
                Kla spoke over her shoulder and he caught one corner of her dry, violet smile. "Figured that out did you?" She laughed.
                Felix's mouth thinned and turned down at the corner. "Is all the sarcasm really necessary?"
                Kla's grin grew, so perhaps it was. Nexus Five was a metropolitan hub, home to five bustling city-states that were each a focal point of one booming industry or another. Liaxus, home to the greatest engineers this side of the Way, was also home to the central office of D&S Industries.
                And a thriving hub of commerce their destination was obviously not. They'd touched down on the edge of a dry and dusty expanse that bordered the city ahead of them on three sides. Tall orange and tan striped mountains lined the last border like a natural fence marked 'DO NOT ENTER'. There wasn't a drop of water in the air or a cloud in the flat blue sky. The room they'd kept Felix in on the ship had lacked windows – or a bed or a toilet or amenities of any kind – but he assumed, given how large the sun was in the sky and the impressive heat shielding units he saw around the city limits even from here, that the rest of the planet was just as arid.
                As it was, Felix would have wondered why anyone would live here at all if he hadn't seen the impressive salt flats stretching as far as he could see to his right.
                "This place is perfect for product testing," he thought as he watched a dust cloud several miles away quickly recede. "Miles and miles of space without a soul to accidentally hurt in sight."
                He watched the dust cloud dissipate – possibly some sort of speed or engine test for a new vehicle – the test apparently over. "This is Terrace, isn't it? Back in the Ardonna System?"
                "Very good, Mr. Cauldwell," Kla approved, not concerned at all that he knew where she had taken them. "See what you can achieve when you put that big brain of yours to work?"
                Felix scowled at the back of her head. "Something tells me working is all my big brain's going to be doing for the rest of my natural life." And with the current advances being made in neural mapping and life extension, maybe his unnatural life as well.
                Kla chuckled. "There's no need to sound so depressed Felix. We are not Mavericks."
                Cor snorted at the comparison to the barbarians said to live in the inhospitable Sumsuma Expanse and spit more bloodied saliva on the ground. "You threatened to kill 'im if Torrik didn't hand over his work."
                Felix felt a chill at the reminder, but told himself that with his written work burned to ash, the only way they got his research was by keeping him alive.
                Kla shrugged supple shoulders. "True, but I knew it would not have come to that. Believe it or not, Captain Torrik is rather attached to you Cauldwell. If your buckethead of a friend there hadn't overhead us and jumped to conclusions-”
                "Wasn't all that big of a jump," Cor growled at her.
                "-then Torrik would have given me your notes and I would have left without so much as a backward glance."
                Felix wasn't sure which was worse; his current reality or Kla's alternate.
                A vehicle was waiting for them at the city limits, a white stretch model with more than enough room for all of them. Including their grudge-holding bodyguards.
                Felix eyed his out of the corner of one brown eye as Kla slid in last with a contented sigh. Davy shut the door behind her and the out-of-place luxury vehicle pulled away without him or the over-sized Wruvian. Presumably they would return to the ship.
                "Better than if they'd come with us," Felix thought. Three against two still weren't good odds in his opinion – especially when half of the two was him – but better to take on three than to be outnumbered by three.
                Kla practically purred as she leaned her cheek against the soft upholstery. "I don't understand you at all Felix," she murmured as cold air began to fill the elongated cabin. "Why exile yourself to the annals of nowhere when you could live like this? At least him I understand," she jerked her chin at Cor sitting stiffly on the bench seat across from Felix and Morgan, his own guard keeping his blaster pressed into Cor's side. "He's a grease monkey through and through. But you..."
                She leaned forward in her seat at the back of the stretch and peered at Felix with saffron-flecked amber eyes, one finger tapping her chin as she analyzed him like he was in a Petri dish. "You have options that you either failed or neglected to explore. Any company worth its stock would snatch you up in nano-seconds, and practically every recognized university too. Even Hybridia's Royal Academy, I think." She slid half closed eyes at Cor with a smile meant to nettle. "And we all know how anti-organic those stiff collars make them."
                Cor bridled at the implication all Hybridians were specieists, but wisely kept his mouth shut.
                "Don't like teaching," Felix offered, feeling uncomfortable with the silence, "no one ever gets what I'm saying. And this kind of luxury – buying expensive things just so you can say you bought them without breaking the bank – never appealed to me."
                Kla looked at him like he'd spoken in tongues, but Felix didn't care. What would a spoiled woman like her know about life on a budget? Felix and his mother hadn't been poor – their rent was never late and there'd always been food in the fridge – but they had by no means lived extravagantly either. All of Felix's private schooling had been paid with scholarships. The bits and pieces of his early machines had come from junkyard scrap and Old Man Macaulkins had let him use a section of his automobile repair garage in exchange for a couple of re-built engines and oil changes when the old car buff came down sick.
                It hadn't been a bad life. Actually, thinking back, Felix would have changed very little. At the very least he would have whined for parts less. "Maybe Mom would have spent a little more on what she wanted if I had."
                Kla just shook her head at him with a disbelieving smile, ignoring his sudden bout of melancholy. "As I said, I simply do not understand you Felix. Perhaps that is what makes you so fascinating."
                She was eyeing him in that piercing way that made him uncomfortable again. Felix scowled and forced himself to meet her pupil-less eyes. Maybe if this ridiculous adventure didn't kill him outright, he'd be able to look Tori in the eye for more than a nervous glance every once in awhile.
                "Since when are we on a first name basis anyway?" he demanded sourly. Thinking of Tori made him remember how angry she'd been the last time Felix had seen her. "And who's fault was that again?" He scowled at Kla.
                She just smiled and relaxed into her plush seat done up in business tan. "Since we became co-workers of course."
                Cor almost snarled, but bit most of the sound back. "He's not yers yet fleshling."
                Kla watched him with narrow eyes and a sure smile. "Don't be willfully dense, grease monkey. It doesn't suit you."

***

                They made the rest of the short drive in silence. The hairs on the back of Felix's neck felt like they were permanently on end, but he copied Cor's expression of withdrawn indignation, hoping he didn't look as terrified as he felt.
                The vehicle pulled to a stop in front of a building that looked practically the same as every other glass and metal rectangle in the city. The only thing that set it apart from its neighbors was the brushed aluminum letter blocks bolted above the quadruple doors marking it as the D&S WEST DIVISION building. That, and the cadre of armed men with the company's logo stitched over their breast marking the invisible property line.
                The two men at the doors gave Felix matching dirty looks as he was shoved rather unceremoniously from the stretch. His guard followed him, than Cor and his blaster buddy, and finally Kla with her liquid grace.
                The guards stood a little straighter when she appeared, though they might have been stone statues for all the attention she gave them.
                The man behind the lobby desk stood so fast his chair squeaked against the glassy tile and made Felix cringe at the sound. "Director Kla!" he stammered, going white under his tan. "We, ah, that is- I wasn't told to expect you for another-”
                "That's because no one expects you to know anything," Kla snapped out, clearly in her element surrounded by faux-marble columns and the echoing clack of her heels against the hard floor.
                "Not that she was all that unsure of herself outside of it," Felix muttered to himself as he was led past the silenced desk clerk. The man – "Older than me and still working a lobby desk. How depressing." – watched their little procession with obvious curiosity. For the first time since they'd been captured, Felix felt something was missing.
                He twisted around to look at Cor walking a foot or so behind him. "Shouldn't we be in cuffs?" he asked. "I mean, if I'm going to be kidnapped and held captive like the genius scientist in all my favorite movies, they might as well do it right."
                Morgan Ham-Hands shoved him hard enough to make Felix' stumble. He snorted a laugh, but didn't turn back around. "Come on Kla," Felix no longer cared enough to make himself stop talking, "you strike me as a woman with a couple of kinks in her. Lend me yours."
                Far from offended, Kla actually laughed. "Well," she said, completely ignoring the shocked look on the lobby clerk's face as she followed the rest of them into the elevator, "somebody has certainly found their courage."
                Cor and Felix both laughed as the elevator doors slid shut. Felix because he felt slightly lightheaded and found the idea of his own bravery funny, and Cor because he obviously thought the lady had lost it.
                "No," he grumbled, "but somebody has certainly gone off his rocker with hunger. When's the last time you fed the kid?"
                Kla finally took offense at something they'd said. "It's a small ship with too many people on board. I did what I could-”
                "Yeah? Well at least when he was with me I didn't let him starve-"
                Felix felt his temper finally snap. "Would the two of your just shut up? I am not some twelve year old kid you need to keep out of the street. You sound like my parents right before they split." He muttered the last without thinking about it.
                That shut them up right quick. Cor and Kla shared a horrified look and then the only noise in the box was the wheedling elevator music and the sound of embarrassed fidgeting. With surprise, Felix realized that the only thing more awkward-inducing than the elevator they were in, was him.
                "My own personal superpower," he reflected. "I'll have to try not to use it for evil."
                The next five minutes were perhaps the most surreal of Felix's life. Crammed into a steel box with his mentor, a woman that would either kill him or kiss him with the right motivation, two hired thugs, and at least twice as many hand weapons, Felix felt he should have been fighting off the urge to hurl all over everyone's shoes. Instead he felt frightfully calm.
                "Maybe it's the hunger like Cor said. Or," Felix canted his head to the side so one ear was angled to the speakers in the ceiling, "it's the ridiculous music. An acoustic version of the Backalley Boys isn't exactly a fitting soundtrack for this scene."
                A downright cheery ding! rang through the air as if to support his theory and they all piled out with a minimal amount of elbows rammed into kidneys.
                The room that met them was sumptuous, elegant, and about as practical as a campfire in a fishbowl. Black and white dominated the long, corridor-like room stretching out before them. A straight white path of carpet cut through the black on either side. White couches and fashionable chairs formed little islands on black oceans, while a wide white desk with black accents blocked the imposing double doors behind it. Even the secretary was a contrast in fundamental colors. Her clean white jacket, skirt, and shoes – all at the height of business chic – stood out against her ebony skin. She had no hair – not even eyebrows – but unlike many people it only made her look fierce.
                "O'Dowell definitely has a type," Felix thought as a not-so-gentle prod propelled him forward down the stretch of snow white carpet.
                And there was definitely a chain of command as well. The black and white secretary stood quickly, but retained more dignity than her minimum-wage counterpart downstairs.
                "Director Kla," she said, voice even but insistent, "Mr. O'Dowell has a meeting in five minutes. If you will kindly wait-”
                Kla's stride didn't stutter. "You know I don't wait Mamoiya. O'Dowell is expecting me."
                "Not for another hour-” Mamoiya started to say.
                "Good," Kla interrupted firmly, "then I won't have kept him waiting long."
                Mamoiya sighed, but took her seat as Kla swept around her desk and with both hands, pushed open the marble white doors standing between them and Caladry O'Dowell's private office.



< Entry 16                                                                                                                                 Entry 18 >

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