Let's hear it for a fandom out of left field! Hello Oddworld fans: My name is Lael Adair, better known in the Justice League and Invader Zim fandoms, and I'd like to contribute to your little corner of the world. Goodness knows you guys need some hardcore love.
The story below relates to Stranger's Wrath and contains massive spoilers, so you'll probably need to have played the game at least halfway through to enjoy it. As always, please feel free to give me any and all feedback. I welcome reviews with open arms :)
-- Bid --
By: Lael Adair
The vykker never turned from the stack of folders cradled in his arms as he spoke over his shoulder to the front of the shop. A gruff voice answered him.
"Terrific. Let's just ignore the huge 'closed'sign in the window then, shall we, and enter whenever we feel like it? Get out."
"Don't think so. Need ta have a word with ya."
The clink of steel striking against the floor caused him to straighten. He knew the sound of spurs too well, and how much it paid to be wary of them.
He turned on spindly legs as calmly as he could. It was always a guessing game with the mental state of outlaws. Some were perfectly sane, others unhinged. Slow, controlled movements were always best.
The creature before him was shrouded in clothing despite the heat outside—heavy boots, long leather serape, and a broad-rimmed hat. The vykker could see fur on its exposed arms and some hanging down from the shadows surrounding its face. His interest piqued.
A mammal—didn't see too many of those around.
The beast took several steps forward, tilting its head back and pushing up the brim of its hat to expose fierce green eyes, almost glowing against its face. Its forearms were the size of the vykker's torso, its fists as big as his head.
"You a doctor?" it asked.
This guy had a real reading problem. The sign above his shop was only five feet tall...and illuminated.
"Of sorts." It wasn't his chosen profession, but R&D work was turning up rather thin since the labs went under—some ruckus with fuzzles and gabbits or something. Details were sketchy after traveling hundreds of miles across Oddworld.
"Gotta...problem...need yer help with."
Doc felt a tinge of excitement. This was starting to sound like work, and work on a mammal, no less! He scanned the creature for injury, switching over to the medical side of his mind that received little stimulation from routine shotgun wounds and broken teeth. He'd observed it walking when it first entered; no limp. There was no smell of blood or other fluids, barring the musky scent of its fur, and it wasn't favoring any appendages. Overall, it seemed healthy.
"We-e-ell," he drawled, "that's a sleg of a different color...if it's the truth. If you're here to rob me that's the worst excuse I've ever heard anyone use to get inside."
The creature snarled, showing a row of pointed teeth. "If I had a mind ta rob ya I wouldn't need an excuse ta get in."
"Right. Okay, then, what can I help you with?"
"You gotta back room or somethin'?"
He placed the filing papers on the nearest countertop as he flashed the beast—er, customer—his best smile. A glance over its shoulders revealed it had already taken the liberty of shutting the front door. It must have been the large windows on the ground floor that were bothering it.
It sidled away from him when he walked past, piercing eyes tracing every movement, especially around his hands. Doc paid it little mind; anatomy diagrams were already scribbling in his head as he worked to visualize the body structure resting beneath the customer's clothes. Its species was impossible to determine—both from the lack of general mammal knowledge and because it seemed a mishmash of non-specific features.
The two climbed a rickety staircase to a second floor half the size of the first. Business rarely yielded more than a few customers at a time. Doc had long ago converted most of the narrow hallways and small rooms to storage or living quarters. He angled right at the stairs and stepped into the first doorway on the left; the biggest office he had. There he turned to allow his guest to enter and circled back to place himself near the doorway.
The outlaw's composure was quick to falter once he stepped inside. For the first time his attention wandered, distracted by the tools hanging on the walls. None were for examination purposes—they were all strictly surgical and didn't need to be stored in the open—but they never failed to intimidate. Doc figured the psychological edge over his patients couldn't hurt.
"I trust this is better, mister...?"
The reply was not immediate. "...Stranger'll do."
"Fair enough. You'll notice, Stranger, that most of this floor is windowless. There's a fireplace farther down the hall where someone could get in, I suppose, and the staircase, of course. But you'll be able to hear anyone coming for you, if that's what you're worried about."
Stranger looked to him. "You the only one here?"
"Yes." He didn't mention the laboratory critters held in cages a few rooms down. None of them would be leaving alive, anyway. "Now, if that's all the questions, I don't have all night. What have you got?"
The Stranger sighed, head dipping for a moment before he removed his hat, throwing it on a nearby chair. A shaggy mane of brown fur fell around his face, dark with sweat and dirt. He pulled the serape over his shoulders in a cloud of dust, then reached to his waist. It wasn't until he started to undo his belt that Doc's enthusiasm soured to disappointment.
The vykker groaned. Not another one!
"Get lost, outlaw," he said, turning towards the door with a snarl. "I don't do that type of work. Go check in Larkland if you're looking for a crotch-rot specialist. Or stay out of the whorehouses, both work equally well."
He stopped in the doorway.
"It ain't that."
Dropping his pants to the floor, the Stranger stepped forward out of his oversized boots...and stepped forward again. Doc's mouth fell open as four legs emerged from where two had been moments before. Without thinking he scuttled forward, scrambling to affix his glasses over his eyes as he reached for the creature's flank. Connected muscle structure! This was a...
He straightened, eyes flicking to the top of the beast's head. He beckoned with his fingers but Stranger didn't move. "Bend down!" He stretched a hand around the beast's neck and pulled it forward with only a little resistance, needle fingers already plunging through thick hair to reach the scalp beneath. "Dumb brute..." He massaged around for a moment, eyes closed, feeling for the points where bone erupted from skin. There were a few bumps, but little more.
The steef's skull was malformed; it had never produced horns.
"Ain't none there," Stranger said, "but I'm the real deal."
Not entirely, Doc thought to himself as he stepped back. The steef's body was underdeveloped compared to what little he had seen of the rare animal. He guessed at a genetic deficiency, perhaps a growth hormone, though the torso appeared to be of regular size. Maybe something in the thyroid? He could cut it out—dissect it—
"It's the legs."
Doc shook himself from his thoughts. "What?"
Stranger lifted a back leg. It folded neatly parallel to his stomach. "The legs. I have'ta get rid 'a two of 'em."
A reconstruction surgery?! This was too good to be true.
"You want a bipedal stance?" Doc said. He reached forward and took the raised hoof, turning it this way and that in his fingers. The toes were separated digits, able to rotate independently with the weight of the animal as it moved.
He moved around the back of the steef as he surveyed its rear legs together—how the joints were positioned, how its weight was distributed, at what angle the flanks slanted to join with the torso. As he passed a set of cabinets along the wall he stopped to pull several pieces of parchment from the shelves, along with a bottle of black ink. He dipped his left fingers into the jar and sketched as he resumed his circling, extending a hand every so often to feel for muscle and bone structure. Like most vykkers he was ambidextrous, one of several qualities that made them ideal for surgical work.
The steef did a commendable job at staying still through the examination, thought it obviously wasn't used to being touched. It moved whenever Doc approached its back legs, and snorted only once when he got too close to its tail. It made no effort to speak but met every poke and prod with intense scrutiny.
Doc pulled away from feeling the curvature of its spine. "How do you walk on two legs now? Show me."
Stranger turned to face him, shaking his head. "Can't. Not without the boots."
He selected one of the shoes from the floor. Inside the neck was a simple funnel with padding in the front to imitate longer toes. It must have taken some time for the steef to learn to walk with only two legs, especially since the front joints bent in opposite directions from the back. The boots forced the rear legs to move at the hip, locking the lower knees in place with the tall neck of the shoes. Prolonged use would lead to destruction of the joint, providing Stranger wasn't feeling it already.
He surveyed the beast's legs once again. Though muscular throughout the rest of its body, its calves and ankles were thin, delicate. They were designed for movement, not carrying weight. Personally Doc doubted mobility would be possible if he removed two of them. If he cared for the patient at all over the challenge he would have passed that information along. Good thing he didn't.
"Shouldn't be a problem," he said. "We'll have to add bone structure to adjust for the shift in your center of gravity, but there'll be plenty of scraps for that! Good luck learning to walk again, though."
"Of course, this isn't going to be free..."
Doc traced his throat with his un-inked fingers. "Hmm. Offhand I can't really say. I'll have to look at these—" he held up the sketches, "—and figure out the mechanics of the operation. Of course for...discretion...the Mongo office would be best." The nearby river was also convenient for dumping botched jobs. This was a big animal. The less distance he had to drag it should disposal prove necessary, the better. "All work is a thousand up front. Beyond that the needed hours and equipment will dictate the price. I can get that for you by the end of the week."
The Stranger was cinching his belt. He crossed the room to collect his hat. "You can get it tomorrow."
Doc scoffed. Typical gunslinger trash. "Look here, jackass, I'll tell you the same thing I tell every outlaw that comes through those doors trying to bully service: I'm the only game in town. You want work done? Pain and death free? Then it's done on my terms, and I'll be damned if you're going to tell me—"
He broke off when the steef turned to him. It flexed its right fist, sinew twisting beneath fur, and a weapon unfolded from its forearm. Two metal spears snapped outward to form a crossbow along its wrist. It became obvious to Doc that, though he remained closest to the door, he was only a lunge away from the beast's free hand. He started to retreat but stopped when the crossbow trained on his chest. The drawings fluttered to the floor.
"I ain't an outlaw," Stranger said, advancing slowly. "Not here ta argue or steal. Just a payin' customer, real civil-like." The weapon touched the vykker's chest. Gently, he was pushed through the doorway until his back touched the other side of the hall. "But I's got a lot to lose, and not a shit's care for what I gotta do ta get what I'm after. So I'll be back tomorrow to have a word with ya, and you should have'a number for me then, right?"
Doc's attention was fixated on the weapon. "Uh, on second thought, y-yes. I think that's possible."
"Sounds good. One more thing." Stranger leaned down into his face, teeth bared. "You just became the only one who knows. Anyone finds out, I'll know who ta come talk to, won't I?"
The vykker swallowed. "I s-s-suppose you would."
Lowering his weapon, the steef straightened and touched the brim of his hat with a slight nod. "Doctor."
Doc couldn't move as he watched Stranger deactivate the crossbow and head down the stairs. He didn't peel himself from the wall until long after he heard the front door close. At last he cleared his throat, adjusting the spectacles over his eyes, and stepped into the examination room to retrieve his drawings. He flipped through them as he replayed the last few moments in his mind. This was a desperate character, requesting dangerous work. The operation would help the steef hide, but after the procedure there would still be one witness who could give it up. Undoubtedly it knew and planned to deal with that.
Doc tucked the papers under his arm and headed towards his office at the back of the house.
He wasn't going to pass an opportunity like this. The sheer experience was beyond comprehension. He would make records here vykkers would feed on for decades, generations. But, sadly, the subject wouldn't survive—and once he'd taken his notes, and dissected everything there was to dissect, he could retire on the moolah and notoriety, alone.
Doc smiled to himself as he entered his study.
It would be a long night, but well worth the effort for the last job he'd ever do.
Vykkers are horrible bastards but I admit I felt bad for Doc when it showed what happened to him in the game. This makes me feel better about it.
I'm considering turning this into a multi-chaptered experiment with little vignettes exploring points in the plot I found interesting. One of which is why Doc didn't use his leverage on Stranger to save his own ass when the outlaws came for him. Did they give him the opportunity? Did they not believe him? Did he have some sick sense of doctor-patient privilege? Odd only knows.
For now, this remains a oneshot. Hope you enjoyed it!