Status: In Progress
Rating:R or T on
Warnings: Swearing, violence, drug abuse, discussions of human physiological issues, a crapsack world in general, original characters
Pairings: There is one pairing that will become central but as of now this information is irrelevant.
Summary: The world outside beyond the Aperture Labs is not exactly paradise.
Disclaimer: The Portal franchise and associated characters are the property of Valve.
"All that the proud can feel of pain,
The agony they do not show,
The suffocating sense of woe,
Which speaks but in its loneliness,
And then is jealous lest the sky
Should have a listener, nor will sigh
Until its voice is echoless."
- Excerpt from Prometheus by Lord Byron
As though in a dream, Chell's body responded to an ingrained, somewhat Pavlovian response to leap to her feet the moment she heard the voice of GLaDOS pervade her senses. The smooth alto, weaving its spell in the air in flat robotics and coloured a glorious purple with lies of human notes had been her call to defensive arms for as long as she could remember. The room swam as she tried to bring herself to stand upright or even to so much as focus but her head felt stuffed, her forehead hot and prickling as though she was being stuck with tiny pins..
Although the command to move percolated in her brain, the corresponding nerve endings staunchly took an eternity to obey. Each muscle in her body pounded with its own pulse and the warbling birdsong of the oblong and blue-eyed (her heart gave a flutter of startled recognition, but no, it was not her old companion after all), over-large core body of the strange new robots only served to intensify the discomfort.
It was not pain, not in the strictest sense. Chell was no stranger to pain. Her skin was a map of scars and shiny patches of heat-seared flesh that were memories of close calls with the many deadly traps that Aperture had to offer. This was a new sensation and decidedly more unpleasant. She shut her eyes and tried to concentrate.
Was it her, or did GLaDOS' voice just flatten? Become less human?
She had no more time to assess the situation as the two strange robots took hold of her, a situation that Chell used to aid herself in the task of standing upright. Their grip was gentle but each movement was tinged with some sort of artificially manufactured condemnation as they directed her toward the lift. With one hand on either side of her lower back, they sent her firmly forward into a graceless stumble, manipulating the buttons that sealed her within her glass coffin and without further fanfare sent the elevator upward at what felt like a glacial pace, despite the rapid thrum of mechanics beneath her feet.
She was expecting more testing of course, unwilling to trust anything that GLaDOS told her. Particularly, now that the only lingering spark of humanity within the A.I. had been arguably obliterated. She tried to focus on preparation by pushing past the increasingly uncomfortable sensations in her body. She reminded herself that she'd had worse, had come close to freedom not once but twice before and would come up with a plan so that her goal would not evade her grasp yet again.
What happened next was a far more inspiring jolt into the realms of functional reality than any mental pep talk. The tube-like walls outside the elevator suddenly fell away around her, leaving only the single lair of breakable, flimsy, useless glass between herself and a veritable army of turrets.
Her eyes made a trained sweep of the area, scanning for a portal-friendly surface. It was a gesture simultaneously frantic and controlled, one only achieved by only the desperate or well practiced. Chell was the cultivated combination of both. When this proved futile, and really, there was no other feeling save for a sense of resignation, the woman dropped her hands to her sides and looked directly at the bouquet of red scope lasers, all of which were pointed directly at her. Her eyes were wide, almost to the point of protruding from her face; determined to face her end head on and with pride intact.
Proving to no great effect that everyone is somewhat religious in times of strife, this shadow of a human being who knew nothing of even the potential of a deity beyond what Aperture had shown her of the futility of hope soundlessly moved her lips in a sort of infant prayer; the last resort of the resigned.
One turret spontaneously twitched, its panel flaring out like the wing of a poisonous Amazonian butterfly at rest, daring to invite any predator to brave the taste of its venomous body. Chell's eyes began to itch with the need for moisture but she would not allow GLaDOS a victory. Any victory. Even she who had been raised in the florescent bath of artificial facility light knew the folly of giving your enemy the satisfaction of seeing you break.
As the lone human prepared herself to face the unknown of what happened after kicking off from this mortal coil, a single note broke the silence. It was sweet and musical but for the reaction it garnered, it may as well have been as a gunshot. Every muscle in her body visibly tensed, but to her credit Chell held her position and did not move save for a violent, pulsing vein under her left eye. Sweat dripped into her vision as she waited for the deployment of ammunition that seemed to be taking an eternity to arrive.
It did not arrive at all.
The turret's panel closed, its right side twin opening in another flare with another soft, sweet and wholly melodic note. A brief silence hung in the air as suddenly the lift gave an immense shudder propelling its occupant into what Chell, had she the vocabulary to name such a structure, would have called an amphitheatre.
The music drifted between the turrets as they for all the woman in the lift understood, babbled in melodic gibberish. Her gaze darted between each separate piece of warbling ordinance in turn. She may not have understood the Italian but she could detect the tonal undercurrents of the voice between them as though GLaDOS herself was singing this song, projecting her will and voice through the facility in the unexpected vessel of pitch, rhythm and tone. Perhaps this was the jilted AI's reminder to the only audience she had. One last reminder that the facility, as well as Chell herself was and always had been merely a part of her whims and machinations and will, potatoes notwithstanding.
Miraculously, the speeding elevator left the turrets below as the last strains of music faded into the ether. The glass separating the lift's occupant from the world peeled itself back to present her with a door. It was nothing like the usual Aperture doors in its rotten wooden decay. An unusual light source danced in moats through the cracks, bringing with it a scent unlike anything Chell had experienced before. Sweet, earthy and something else she couldn't place. It felt strange and unnatural; at least, that was to say that it smelled nothing like the facility.
The small dank space and the now quiet servo motors in the glass prison left Chell with was no other options besides straight and forward. She gave the strange-looking door a tentative push and it gave way with a snap and crack of brittle wood. She winced, expecting a reprimand but even though it never came she barely registered the lack of response. It was the scene on the other side that she was not at all prepared for but now encompassed her full attention. Gold beneath her feet and an expansive ceiling painted in a palette of blue and white that simply did not exist within the facility.
Curiosity caused her to venture forward a few steps further beyond the threshold. The door swung slowly shut behind her but she paid it no mind as she marched, her progress halting just short of the golden ocean which rippled outward in hypnotic waves. She looked around for the cooling fan – the usual cause of air disturbances within the facility, but finding none her hopes began to rise.
It couldn't be…could it?
The woman nervously extended one finger towards the stalks of vegetation, ghosting the pad of her finger against the chaff. When it didn't disappear, her lips opened wide in a soundless whoop of joy and she ran her hands through the stuff, sending little seed pods fluttering off into the breeze where they drifted on the currents a short way, disappearing to rest between the dense wheat and sandy earth.
As she reveled in her miraculously granted freedom, sheer happiness overruling the fatigue and aches of her body, drinking in this amazing first look at a world not dominated by the artificial, the door to the shed swung free of its own volition. Without any fanfare, the tiny structure expectorated the companion cube, charred and cracked. It tumbled out to rock to a stop at her feet.
Chell gazed at it a moment in shock before she panicked, wringing her hands and pacing on her island of hard-packed clay. That was what it felt like now: a desert island. The initial elation had given way to a grim understanding that she had been ejected forcibly from the only home she'd ever had. GLaDOS' final torment was this message; no more or less clear than if she'd said it aloud.
I used to want you dead, but I'll settle for simply having you gone. Be gone, don't come back, I don't want you.
In a sudden desperate frenzy, Chell turned and ripped open the door to the shed, ignoring a large piece of wood that splintered off and desperately ready to dive back into the familiar embrace of darkness and an existence with a purpose. Nothing but a powerful metallic tang of electricity and the uncomfortable crackle and warmth of a working power hub pervaded her senses. The lift was gone, a dusty wooden and solid floor having taken its place. Numbly, Chell picked and pried at the boards but they seemed nailed down or perhaps too heavy to move. Shakily she walked back outside, but the sounds, sights and scents of nature no longer brought her any joy.
GLaDOS had sealed the entrance against her to make the message she wished to convey unquestionably clear. The only things left that proved the existence of the Aperture Science facility and her time spent beneath the earth was the logo stretched across the chest of her tank top, her long-fall boots and the fire-damaged cube still resting innocuously in the dirt a short distance away.
She closed her eyes and sucked in air until her breathing slowed to a somewhat normal rate. Taking a seat on the ground next to the companion cube, she rubbed her temples. Thinking rationally had been hard from the moment she had awoken and had become increasingly difficult now that she was out here in this (possibly) expansive new world. It was certainly a lot larger than any one of the test chambers and Chell was nothing if not conditioned to become intimately acquainted with the functions of her surroundings.
The trouble was, this environment left her with a lot of questions and the pervading feelings of illness that tugged at the edges of her being were intensifying rather than subsiding with time.
She started by yanking the tough stalks of wheat from the ground, running her fingernails through the stems to create rivulets and weave them into a makeshift rope, looping it around the cube in order to drag its weight along behind her. Years of testing demanded that she not leave the cube behind, no matter what. With that accomplished, she had to admit to herself that the self-imposed task had been busywork and she had no further ideas about how to occupy her time, save to pick a direction and start walking, the cube crushing the wheat stalks in a path behind her. She knew she had the strength to carry the cube but the trail was her last hope of a ticket back to the place she was ever increasingly conflicted about leaving behind forever.
Navigating a terrain that wasn't man made was a task Chell attacked with the same tenacity of solving a puzzle. She began turning in a slow circle to observe the topography of her new surroundings. To the east and west, the sky was the same clear blue, dotted with puffy clouds and merging into a jagged horizon of wild-growing wheat. The north held promises of different terrain; rocks and perhaps a source of collected moisture if the denser forestation was to be believed. She remembered how foliage grew thick in the places in the facility where clean, drinkable water and the ever expanding root systems of edible potatoes could be found.
Inspecting the last fourth of her three-sixty rotation gave her pause. The clear blue tapered to indigo and then to reds, yellows and blacks. The eerie looming shadows spoke of unnatural creations and the vermillion and mustard colours intimated dangers associated with turrets and faulty machines. She turned away from the nightmarish spectacle with determination. That was not a place she would set foot in if she could help it. Turning back to the north, she resumed her plodding forward march.
The journey should have been reasonably pleasant. The air was cool and though she had nothing to compare it to, the weather did not provide any new challenges, remaining crisp but with a warmth to it from the sun. The golden plant life provided a certain sustenance as although they were tough and flavorless to gnaw at they were at least fit for human consumption.
As dusk descended, the sky deepened to indigo and the cool breeze had become a definitive chill so Chell unknotted the jumpsuit at her waist and slipped on the sleeves, holding the collar closed around her neck. Zipped up, it offered a slightly greater amount of protection against the elements but the comfort did not last very long.
Sitting down for a rest on a large flat rock sent a chill through her seat and up her spine. She had been feeling sluggish and tired the whole 'day' but the second the weight was lifted from her legs she knew she had made a mistake. Like sealing herself into a chamber of turrets with nowhere to hide from the watchful lasers or the bullets to come. What was once mere physical discomfort and fatigue had amalgamated into a confusing whirlwind of horrible sensations that she could not name or alleviate.
Her skin prickled with gooseflesh but her brow stood out with sweat that she could feel dripping down her forehead into her eyes which suddenly stung with irritation from the salt. It was all she could do to force her trembling fingers into rolling down the knees of her jumpsuit over the long fall boots. The fabric was not made to stretch but sheer cantankerous determination forced her usually steady hands to work the unyielding mass to her ankles. Her breath caught in her throat.
She had never before needed to remind herself to perform such a simple task before in her life. She choked down an audible gulp of air and then held it within her burning and desperate lungs as a noise the likes of which she had never heard before echoed around her.
Chell's mind had no frame of reference for the sound but instinct told her that the long, hollow scream wail was every bit as deadly as neurotoxin or the seemingly innocent chirp of a searching turret. She squinted into the darkness but she couldn't tell whether the blackness that stymied her vision was creating the ominous shapes she saw looming in the shadows until something hard closed down around her neck and something hot that cooled rapidly trickled in rivulets around her throat and down the neck of her jumpsuit. A thick coppery scent invaded her nostrils and her head grew too heavy with blistering pain to hold up while her eyelids did battle with gravity.
Her last conscious thought was that GLaDOS had called her hard to kill and she wouldn't even get to see her finally die. The irony in it was almost funny. Perhaps she was delirious. Either way, she did not get to ponder it at length. Her eyelids finally slipped closed as something warm touched her cheek and she knew no more.
Although dozens upon dozens of lights from a sea of windows bled illumination into the city gloom, only one person was street-side, his neck craned upward to squint at a blue street sign, its white lettering obscured by a thick layer of combination rust and grime.
The sudden rumble of a lone car making a right hand turn caused the man to begin hopping up and down, waving his hands. The vehicle slowed in response to the frantic attention seeking dance and shifted slowly closer to the curb but did not fully come to a halt until it was a few feet away, as though the driver had been having a great personal debate as to whether or not to stop.
"Excuse me. Could you tell me how to get to Park Avenue?" he gabbled as he raced towards the would-be good Samaritan, apparently too desperate to ask his question to notice that the vehicle's occupant had not yet rolled down his window. The glass began a slow slide downward as the brisk jog brought him parallel with the driver's side door.
"Oh ah, hello there mate, I'm looking for…"
The man visible through the gap in the tinted glass was a tired-looking thirty-something with a balding patch he had tried to obscure with a wispy comb over and a five-'o'clock shadow of stubble dotting his weak chin. He didn't meet the excited and hopeful pair of eyes. "Sorry 'm not a…not like that." He swiftly resealed himself behind his semi-opaque shield and pulled away, picking up speed to leave the stranger in a cloud of dust.
"Oh! No, no, no, you've got it all wrong, I'm not solici—er, looking for work in…bother." Both the man and his car were long gone and the pedestrian looked dejectedly at a paper napkin he held, covered in an untidy scrawl of smudged ink.
"Three-twenty-five, floor eight…" he chanted to himself, casting his gaze at the pole on the corner again "I wonder, does this say Park Avenue or Avongate Park?"
He bit his lip and sighed, turning in the direction the car had come from. His eyes lit up as he inspected the numbers on the buildings, most simply crudely spray-painted on the doors in vibrant reds or whites. He swiftly closed the distance between himself and the building dubbed '325', pressing the button next to the door five times in nervous rapid succession.
"Good afternoon, Lovett Technological Enterprises." The female voice that responded was evidently attempting to sound coldly professional but instead came out high and extremely guarded. "Please state the nature of your business."
"Well I… I have a job interview at five with Mister Lovett. I'm sorry I'm a bit late but I had trouble with the…with the directions so if you could see your way clear to letting me in, please, that would be brilliant, really. My name is Prometheus."
"I'll go check the verification of your appointment." The speaker hissed off, leaving the unfortunate man to dither in worry on the stoop, pressing his back to the door, gaze flickering up and down the street as though he expected thieves and murderers to appear out of thin air at every turn.
"Oh! Um. Mrs. McCree sent me!" he called out as an afterthough, but this last statement was met with a silent pause that seemed to stretch on forever.
His eyes lit up as the speaker finally crackled back to life. "I'm going to let you in now. Push when you hear the buzzer and please make sure the door is fully shut behind you, Sir. Mr. Lovett's office is…"
"…Floor eight." Prometheus echoed along with the woman, opening the now-unlocked door just enough to squeeze his slender frame inside and pushing it immediately closed after him. The carpet was an ugly brown shag and a hand-lettered sign was cellotaped to the metal lift doors, proclaiming them 'Out of Order'. He headed for the stairwell.
Floor eight was punctuated by the same ugly brown carpet, a large dark spot of what might have been coffee puddled outside the door. Another buzzer earned him a few dull thumps and the click of a flimsy push-button door lock, the sort which released when you turned the handle from the inside.
The man seemed to have been struck temporarily dumb, but he gave his head a little shake. "Yes, Ms…"
"Kwan." She held out a hand for him to shake which he took, giving the appendage a limp twitch that resembled an out-of-water fish in its final death throes. If the woman had any thoughts to express on the matter she seemed expert at ignoring them, turning with a groan and a hand in the small of her back for the weight she carried in front of her. "As you can no doubt tell, you are auditioning to be my replacement."
Prometheus tore his gaze away from her face with its almond shaped eyes (brown), caramel-coloured skin and jet black hair tied up in a ponytail. It traveled down to take in the rest of her. "Oh. Yes, yes of course. Lovely. With the...this…and all." He gestured vaguely towards her pregnant form. "I'd like to be considered, would be brilliant. I sort of lost my last job but ah, not a problem, not a problem, got a reference, that's supposed to be a good thing and all."
Ms. Kwan gave him a strange look, watching as he stumbled over to take a seat in one of the chairs that adorned the office and picked up a magazine which he opened to a random point, his eyes making every effort to drill a hole into the glossy pages. There was something off about him, starting with the intense stare he had given her. It had been unnerving but not threatening, almost as though he were searching her face for something he wanted to see. Even now while he gave every impression of being fully engrossed in what he was looking at, his eyes determinedly remained fixed on one point rather than the normal roving back-and-forth of even the most disinterested reader.
It was with a sense of mild relief that she acknowledged the entrance of Hank Lovett from the back office.
The man jumped, fumbling to both catch the magazine which had slipped from his fingers in shock and stand up at the same time, looking nothing so much as analogous to a new born colt struggling to coordinate all of its four limbs at once.
"Please step into my office." If Mr. Lovett was perturbed by his interviewee's sudden attack of nerves or ungainliness he did not show it, standing aside to usher Prometheus ahead of him into the room beyond with a sweep of his hand.
The door clicked shut behind the duo.
"Have a seat just there." Hank crossed the room and pulled out one of two chairs facing his desk, taking a seat in his own on the opposite side and plucking a single sheet of paper from surface of the desk, shaking it straight to read it. "Now let's see."
Prometheus took the seat, his lips turning down in a worried frown as he recognized the pathetically short resume that his former employer had helped him write before pointing him in the direction of Building 325, Floor Eight, Park Avenue…or whatever the name of the street actually was.
"Your last job was with Eileen McCree in McCree's Deli, was it not?"
The man across from him nodded, staring at his hands, as though to chastise them without words. Hank understood the gesture. When he'd spoken to Mrs. McCree on the phone she had explained the nature of the termination of employment. Prometheus it seemed, was terminally clumsy. Not even the lack of the brave or stupid willing to venture into the current climate to make their own money could balance the losses that Eileen had reported suffering from dropped and damaged food.
"Well, at least you will not be working with any food here." He chuckled mechanically while wondering idly if the man across from him looked so terrible because none of the food he had ever attempted preparing had made it into his stomach.
These days however, very few people actually did look healthy. Hank knew that his own demons aside he was the exception rather than the rule. Things were tough all over, as the expression went. Nonetheless, the man across from him was a different sort of pathetic, his blonde tresses more devoid of colour than simply white-gold and his blue eyes appeared tired of making a constant bid to escape the confines of their sockets. His height paired with his slender, unassuming frame did him no favours and he appeared to exist to take up space without any practical use, much like a fancy curio or a decorative vase.
What prevented him from simply disappearing into the background, height aside was his name. What cruel monster of a parent named their child 'Prometheus'? It was as if the he'd been explicitly designed down to the last detail for the whole world to hate him. What was worse, the man exuded not a lick of self-confidence. Rather, he projected nothing more or less to the world that he deserved every last bit of torment hell could dish out, and then some.
With his potential job candidate still engrossed in his fingernails, Hank chanced a look out the window for an eyeful of the roiling pit of hellish stone the world had become as a reminder of why he was going to hire this man despite every businessman's instinct to the contrary. Years ago, in the days of pioneers like Cave Johnson, one could afford to be picky. These days, simply being willing to provide a service to the community made you practically invaluable.
"We'll start you in filing, Mr. Prometheus. Please take these forms back out to Cyndi Kwan in the front there and we'll have her showing you the ropes on Monday. Welcome to the team."
Prometheus' smile was wan but he retrieved his resume and the two stapled pages with what was presumably a grateful if not nervous air, exchanging another wet noodle hand shake, readmitting himself to the 'lobby' and presenting the papers to the pregnant secretary with a small but not unnoticeable flourish of the only pride he had heretofore exhibited since his arrival.
"Congratulations Mr. Prometheus. Please arrive at ten minutes before eight Monday morning. I trust you can make your own way home?"
Prometheus gave a swift nod. "Oh yes, thank you, I promise I won't be late. I'll remember, write it down ah…something like that. Shan't forget, see you soon!" he continued to babble pleasantries and words of thanks. The strains continued down the hall and into the echoing stairwell long after the faux-wood door had swung shut behind him.
"It's rust." Prometheus pointed out as he ran his hand along the paint-chipped black banister that adorned building 325's chilly, concrete stairwell. "Plus I think that went smashing. Did get the job didn't I?"
He paused a moment. "Of course I bloody well tried, I don't have an option here!"
He let himself out of the building, turned to watch the door click shut behind him and started down back to the corner at a rapid clip, his expression turning both simultaneously scared and stormy, hands stuffed in his pockets and his mouth working overtime as though he were attempting to get a word in edgewise with himself.
"But…But…Well I…I can't talk now, people are ruddy well staring at me like I'm a bleeding moron!" He exploded at the top of his voice, stopping in the middle of the street and throwing up his hands.
There was a scuffling noise behind him and he wheeled to see a thin woman with a mop of unprofessionally teased two-tone hair racing away from him down the street as quickly as an individual wearing a pair of lewd thigh-high boots and a stretchy red micro-miniskirt could manage.
He turned away from the diminishing uneven beats of her rapid retreat and turned his head skyward to address what appeared to be thin air once more.
"Yeah. I know I am."
Prometheus completed the remainder of his walk in relative silence, jamming his hands back into his pockets and keeping his gaze glued to the horizon line as he made the mercifully short walk back to his own dwelling; a block of buildings earmarked as simply 'D'.
A thick skeleton-style key gave him admittance to the front door with a short winding staircase carrying him up to the second level. The painted metal door crudely fit with a lopsided mail slot had D-2 scraped through the paint in jagged block alphanumeric glory. The same key fit into the hole here, twisting to the left with a heavy clunk to grant admission to the space beyond.
In the little alcove that made for his uninspiring entrance hall, Prometheus toed off his shoes without unlacing them, shrugged out of and hung up the tweed jacket he'd put on for the interview, un-tucked his shirt and narrowly avoided treading on a small lumpy package the action of opening the door inward had sent scooting along the rough-hewn wooden floor boards. He bent to retrieve it, ripping the attached note free with a squeaking groan of stressed clear tape, unfolding it and squinting blankly at the scrawls of black ink scratched across its surface. He did immediately recognize his name and he slowly read the note aloud to himself, haltingly sounding each word out.
Prometheus: Starving yourself won't do you any good. Regards, E. McCree.
The man opened the paper to reveal a nine-inch oblong sandwich, filled with several thin slices of ham, some even thinner slices of cheese, a hastily hand-shredded lettuce leaf and a small dollop of yellow mustard. He smoothed out the corners of the wax paper with a fond smile for the butcher, perhaps one of his only real friends in the Detroit Sectors. He had been lucky to have met her when he arrived in Sector Five. She had helped him find this flat and had given him his first job, showering him with almost parental kindness that few had ever afforded him as far as he could remember in his own life span.
Her husband he had met only once, he apparently worked for city wide defense which was practically a full-time job. It was a hushed but well-known fact that that Eileen ran some off-base (and for that matter, 'off-government') security detail herself, banking on her husband's position to push the boundaries of the already dubious laws.
His upstairs neighbor posited among a slew of other ideas that quite unfortunately seemed to hold potential degrees of truth; Mr. McCree and Eileen had chosen their respective careers because Mrs. McCree was barren and could not have children. She also had a wide variety of theories that both husband and wife were secretly working on reviving any number of ancient military projects.
Even with all the things he had seen in his lifetime, Prometheus was rather loathe to take the side of a self-titled physician and admitted conspiracy theory enthusiast.
As if in synchronization with his thoughts, there was a thump from above him followed by a storm of footfalls bleeding through the paper-thin walls. Prometheus stood from his spot at the table and reached the door just as it rattled around in its loose hinges with a rapid fire knock. He took a deep, nerve-steadying breath and pulled it open, launching straight into a barrage of wordy excuses.
"Hullo Doctor. Now while I know you had your heart set on a chat today, I simply don't have time for one or for a check up right now, very busy attending to immensely important and boring business. Actually, would you believe I'm also eating dinner. Yes, that's quite right, I am eating my dinner and drinking my tea, very serious business, can't talk, lovely to see you."
'The Doctor' or sometimes simply 'M' to many folks in the Detroit Sectors, caught the edge of the door and pulled it firmly out of Prometheus' grasp while he was still running his mouth. She moved forward to effectively intercept the sweep of its path.
Recognizing that he was effectively trapped in his own home, Prometheus let his shoulders slump. "So that said, would you like to come in?"
M herself was a plump ashen blonde who was something of a force to be reckoned with. Her arsenal boasted an impressive pill collection and a crafty manner topped off with a nose for a deal and a good conspiracy theory that bordered on greedy. She was nice enough if you had something that she wanted and as of this moment Prometheus was in possession of two such desires.
"Dinner hm?" she arched one eyebrow slyly, easily elbowing her way further inside and locking her gaze onto the sandwich on the table. Everything about her always put Prometheus in mind of a snake, slithering its way through. "Might be contaminated, eh? You know, you could die if you eat contaminated food. That thing is probably laced with Salmonella. Better let me taste-test it. Just to be on the safe side, you know? People will store anything anywhere these days, so much information has already been lost. What I ask, could be more 'serious business' than that?"
Prometheus gave a huff which he was careful to keep under his breath. He liked Eileen and disliked the fact that M was insulting her work whether knowingly or unknowingly. Bravery had never been his strong suit so he turned over his gift without question, trying to melt into the shadows as the woman gloated over the ease with which she had relieved her victim of what she all too obviously viewed as a veritable prize. Ham and cheese was no great loss compared to some of the other things Prometheus had to hang on to. Perhaps, if the Doctor was satisfied with this victory she would be less persistent in her nightly attempts to obtain the other.
Prometheus' other great strength was denial.
Suddenly supremely unconcerned with 'contamination', cross or otherwise, the Doctor heaved herself into the armchair perched in front of the silent black television monitor and stretched down the side to feel around the floor next to her moth-eaten throne. She flicked back her hair triumphantly as she resurfaced, two halves of a cable connection clutched together in one meaty fist. She balanced what remained of the sandwich on one knee, fitting the connection points together, giving the hexagonal widget that would keep them bound a spin and snatched up the remote, jostling, bending and twisting the cords until the picture and sound emanating from the ancient box met her satisfaction. It was practically a ritual. Every time M arrived she would set up pirated cable and every time she left, Prometheus would mimic her actions in reverse to remove it.
"Sho." She said around an enormous mouthful, one beady eye fixed on the screen and the other trailing up Prometheus' form with utmost interest. To an outsider, the gaze might possibly have been interpreted as amorous but anyone who had known the medic for any length of time longer than ten minutes knew that what the woman found most interesting about sex was not the definition that referred to the act of copulation. Prometheus always felt like she had injected a camera inside of him, one that was forever seeking out all he had ever hoped to keep private. She herself didn't even have enough respect for him to mask her intentions with a clever lie. "You ever going to tell me your real name, Boyscout?"
This too was a ritual between the two of them, an on-going verbal and mental tug of war to gain the precious commodity of information or to defend it.
"Are you ever going to tell me what 'M' stands for?" Prometheus shot back, reveling in the small victory when brows furrowed, jowels wobbled in a scowl and the paunchy face became closed off. She gave an enormous swallow, the over-large and half-broken down glob of food making a difficult journey as a lump prominently straining against the confines of her windpipe. She blinked back what might have been tears from the effort and cleared her throat with a harrumph noise to mask her choking cough.
"Careful there Limey, you're asking for a checkup."
The jibe had the desired effect. Blanching considerably, the man tried to shrink in his chair, his height serving to simply make him all the more noticeable as the balance of power returned to its stalemate status. Any average individual had to be suffering a minor case of serious brain damage or be one step from death's door to willingly allow M anywhere near their insides. Prometheus even could argue that he had many more reasons than simply that to deter the woman from touching him.
Her brief lapse in control forgotten with the final bite of her meal, M crumpled the wrapper and aimed it at her companion's head, the flimsy projectile falling short of its target to bounce harmlessly on the floor. Naturally she did not get up to retrieve the litter. "Alright then, answer me this. Are you still suffering from Oneitis?"
"Well, I'm not exactly sick that I know of…"
"You are. Serious business case of Oneitis is what you've got. I see it all the time in my line of work." The Doctor waved a careless hand in the air to emphasize her apparent worldliness and superior mental capacity. "Whoever she…or is it a 'he'? Well whoever they are, they're probably long dead or judging by the fact that you have all the pride of that pile of dog shit I stepped in last week, I'm guessing they hate your guts. So give it up, English. Just a little healthful bedside manner from me to you. You know, as thanks for dinner."
"I didn't ask for advice." Prometheus grumbled, but he knew M was right. Maybe she was right and he was indeed pining (just a little of course), but it didn't afford him any lingering interest in moving on to pursue some other relationship.
The flickering television connection cut through the awkward silence that followed with an ear-splitting burst of static.
"You're a fool, Prometheus." M mumbled, stretching herself in his recliner, her thick set body seeming to ooze and settle in the contours of the chair.
Prometheus sighed. "What about yourself, lady? I mean not that we don't appreciate you because I think everyone does, being that you make them not rattly and sneezy and such like and I especially appreciate you being around since I kind of like getting the ah, what's the phrase? Ah. Impression that my new boss might probably go to you and everyone knows where you live…ah well it's just I'm kind of er..."
The self-proclaimed physician snorted with laughter and Prometheus fell silent with a frustrated and infuriated glare at a scuff mark on the wall.
"That's the great thing about healthy people in a climate like this. It's more of a freak out to be normal than it is to be sick. Everyone needs you. Except you apparently." She leaned over the arm of the chair and Prometheus shrank back, but it seemed M was not about to go after his artful (if he did say so himself) avoidance of her dubious medical ministrations after all. "You mentioned your boss. You know much about him? Anything at all?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well y'ever met him? Before today I mean. Know anything about his family?"
"No." Prometheus shook his head definitively but as he did, a small tidbit of knowledge surfaced through a sea of memory. "Well, wait. I think Eileen mentioned he had a little, ah…a little girl when she got me the job."
In response, M snapped her fingers, her eyes rolling up to the ceiling in contemplation. "Yeah. S'what I'm talking about. It's something flower. Help me out here. Violet? Lily? Rose?"
Prometheus considered the list of names. "Rose, I think."
"Well look at that, would you? Rose and the Doctor!" She chortled for a moment then caught sight of the expression on the man's face. "No? Not funny? Geez! I thought with you being something British-y and all, that one'd be right up your alley. Are you trying to tell me you actually lived your life chained to a stone with birds pecking at your liver?"
"I ah...yeah. Something like that. Definitely lost my sense of humour. Utterly unfunny. Girls don't go in for humour." He babbled, not entirely sure any longer of what he was saying or if it made sense in context. The name had been bestowed upon him, he certainly hadn't asked for it and he definitely did not have any clue as to the meaning behind it. He was grateful for the mental silence this granted him. Making a public spectacle of himself once in a day was more than enough. He didn't fancy any further conversations within his own tumultuous head and especially not in present company.
It seemed however as though M's statement was merely that: a statement. Her inability to recognize Prometheus' mental cringing for what it was proved she was not truly possessed of any ability to read minds. Her voice took on an unexpected dejected tone.
"Yeah, gotta be tough. Sure the kid's well off. Probably going to live a nice, long, healthy life. Can't argue with that...but man." The physician's expression slid into a frown. As greedy, gluttonous and generally tactless as she was, there was some small part of her that deserved her title, self-imposed though it might have been. "Gotta be hard, being the only girl in your class with a period. Don't give me that look, it's normal…or it was. A long time ago."
Prometheus struggled to compose his face into a 'what are you talking about, I wasn't disgusted' sort of expression. The Doctor was on a roll and not about to be deterred from her rant.
"Fuck it sweetheart, I ain't gonna pretty this up for you. You're a big boy so you 'get' general basic biology, don't you? Ladies bleed out their crotch once a month and if they don't take care of themselves right, that ain't gonna happen. Imagine being the only little girl in your class who actually does because they unlike all their classmates can afford to be healthy enough to lead what should be a normal existence. It's not fair is it? For anyone. It's tough being different, innit it?"
The tall man's mouth was now doing a rather excellent impression of a large mouth bass and still the Doctor barreled on.
"Plus her dad's one of my best customers."
"Right in one."
Prometheus was too shocked to even register that for once he had been spot on in his own sense of observation. The man sat down heavily in one of the uncomfortable mismatched chairs that served as dining table seats, so disturbed by the revelation to even register the usually off-putting indignation that stemmed from the medic's utter comfort in taking him on a mental rollercoaster. Within five minutes she'd gone from waxing nostalgic over ancient science fiction shows to emotionally lamenting the fate of an innocent young woman to calmly and nonchalantly eschewing even the loosest forms of patient-doctor confidentiality agreements.
"You're the only person I know besides me who doesn't buy my own line of crap, even though I know I literally come in here every night and you let me take what I want." She spared a glance for the sandwich wrapping still strewn on the floor. "I'm getting fatter and fatter off your food. I am sitting in a chair that right now you wish you could kick my ass out of...and you don't...Prometheus." she dragged the word out like a curse. "Why not?"
In reply, he stood up brusquely as though he was about to take her advice about the 'ass-kicking'. He wasn't entirely sure what he intended on accomplishing but before he could make up his mind she held up a finger to stop him. With little recourse to other action, he obeyed.
"That's why I do it English. That's why I do it." She let the fragment and its unclear meaning hang in the air between them while she shifted again to wedge her bulk into a snugger position in the plush cushions. "So, Prometheus. I'm intrigued. Pecked by birds, condemned to hell, am I right? You kind of fit the description but I'll ask again: who are you really?"
"Well, I'm the bloke who rents the flat downstairs from you for starters..." A knock at the door prevented further intrusion into his privacy much to Prometheus' relief. "So ah, there's that door again. 'Scuse me, M." He stood causing the woman in the armchair to scramble for the pirated cable connection, ready to disarm it at a moment's notice.
Prometheus glanced at her, scuttling sideways in a sort of crab-like walk towards the door. He was unwilling to leave her to her own devices. His luck had always been just that shade of poor.
The knock came again more insistently and he realized that whoever was on the other side could already hear the chatter from the set and would not be fooled into thinking that no one was home. He threw caution to the wind and opened the door, his own eyes locking with an opposing set in a shade of dark brown attached to a brilliantly white smile which swam up like a life preserver from the gloom.
Hello Prometheus. Oh. And M." Elieen McCree glanced disdainfully at the woman in the armchair, emphasizing the nickname of 'M' with the dogged refusal to bestow the honourific of 'doctor' upon her.
"Hey." was the only response as the woman, perceiving no threat from the new arrival kept her attention mostly riveted on the boob tube.
"I'm glad you're here." Eileen stood in the doorway, a crease between her eyebrows and despite her size playing almost shyly with the ties on her overcoat. She turned her look of repulsion from the self-titled physician to bestow a much softer and kinder gaze upon the gangling male. "You too, Prometheus. Both of you."
"Oh. Um. Thanks for the sandwich, Ms. McCree. It was really excellent, quite good really with the ham and the cheese and what not. Really, really excellent."
McCree took in the callously discarded wrapper still strewn on the floor and the casual, comfortable state of the other woman who occupied the small space, her eyes narrowing. "I'll bet."
"Well." Prometheus' tall form shifted to position himself between Eileen and M. "I ask again: what brings you by, Ms. McCree?"
Eileen didn't quite ignore the question but although she was watching Prometheus this portion of the conversation was obviously directed at M. "You're watching the news, I see." A quick flicker of an irritated scowl from the figure in the recliner confirmed this. If Eileen was upset by the display of hostility she did not show it and instead began to address Prometheus directly instead. "There's been activity down near the wheat fields. Hybrid activity."
"So?" M tossed the statement casually over her shoulder without so much as looking up. "Not even Prometheus here is that bloody paranoid."
"I'm somewhat inclined to agree. I well, I mean not to disrespect and I sure am no expert, but no one's heard of a hybrid attack for a long time. Even I'm willing to bet that we're perfectly safe around here. You know, with the fences and all. Heck. What am I saying? You helped put them up! Um, I know you put the…the tracking devices on them…the ah, the wolf-thingies too, but we're defended in the city now. No one's seen one close for ages…I mean that's…that's what the news says." He faltered.
Eileen gave him a smile that was at once reassuring and worryingly grim.
"I did help and normally I would agree, almost. We're never a hundred percent safe and I'm quite sure our companion here would agree wholeheartedly with me. There's still strains of the Green Flu out there. We don't know what outsiders or animals could be carrying." Eileen was no more a pixie than the self-proclaimed Medic but she could not ignore the fact that all the fences and military equipment in the world could not protect them from an airborne virus or an infection.
"Hmm-mmm." Came the rejoinder from the opposite end of the room.
"The problem is exactly that. We know that the hybrids have legally become complacent...for as much stock I suppose as you can set in that. They don't move, they've more or less developed their own ecosystem. The only reason they have for migration is a new food source."
You think then that that is a human food source?"
Prometheus raised his head looking to the North where he knew very well what laid beyond. Stretching of road, boiling red sky that turned to blue and white…and a field of golden grain…and…and a facility that continued, without the knowledge of the folks in the Detroit Sectors, to leech its venom directly into the earth itself.
"I'm going to check it out. I can't go without a team and it's block D's turn to come. I want the both of you."
"Well well. Sounds like a fun run. Probably kids, you know. Dumb kids even. Could be interesting from a medical perspective. Can always use new organs, fresh blood, that sort of a thing."
Personally, and to that end from the looks of things, Ms. McCree as well, thought that the most interesting thing about marching into the wild with the doctor was to gauge the time it would take a pack of hybrid wolf-dogs to pick up on the scent of and come after a generous portion of edible meat. Nonetheless there was something about the demand that made the normally cowardly Prometheus want to go along. Not that he had a great deal of choice in the matter. Eileen had agreed to help him (and no one who knew him could deny he needed it) on the condition that when she decided she required the aid of another in one of her projects, then he would comply. He had no choice in the matter.
Knowing this, Eileen McCree turned her gaze toward the tougher of the two customers. "Please, Doctor. I have the feeling that something bad is happening out there."
M grimaced, enjoying the idea that she could string her rival along but trying to mask her interest in the potentially gorier parts of the trip.
Prometheus lowered his chin and gazed up through the curtain of his eyelashes, watching as the two women internalized their frustrations. As the time and the stare-down stretched out, the man carefully and nervously cleared his throat, a small, gurgling half-cough emanating from his lips.
Two sets of eyes jerked sharply toward him and he hurriedly focused on the fibers in his navy wool socks. It seemed to break the spell.
"Well, if we're going then guess I'll need to get my equipment." M stretched, brandishing the remote in the general direction of Eileen and Prometheus and clicking the 'power' button. The television ceased its sputtering attempts to show the news feed and with a grin evidently meant to be cheeky but which turned out rather menacing she placed it on the table, hefted herself out of the chair and disappeared out the door. The retreating footsteps filtered down in a storm through the thin walls and the door to the living quarters above gave a tremendous slam that sent a stream of dust plummeting from the chipped wainscoting that adorned the walls.
Eileen let her breath out in a whooshing noise. The woman seemed not to have realized that she'd been holding it and merely held her gaze blankly at a fixed point on the wall. Prometheus was surprised to recognize embarrassment in the tough, matronly figure. He shifted again, wiggled his toes and realized with defeat that it was probably too late to get away with looking oblivious. He chose to do what he did best in the midst of a grim and awkward silence. He opened his mouth.
"So what do you think. I mean, I always wondered and she won't tell me. What does 'M' stand for, do you think? I mean, people have names and she can't just be called 'M' or 'Doctor'. No one is just called one letter or their profession. Not, you know, normal people, anyway."
Eileen's wall-eyed stare snapped back to business, her tone as brusque and steady as it always was but her eyes smoldering fire as she answered very deliberately, slowly inclining her head towards him. "Medic. M for Medic."
"Of course. Yes that makes perfect sense. What a moron I've been. Right. I must say that is a little disappointing because you know, she's always bloody after me to tell her why I'm named Prometheus and all."
The beat of silence that passed between the two was punctuated by another flurry of footsteps and a soft whirr of mechanics. The butcher's lips pursed into a grim line and she rounded on Prometheus so ferociously and suddenly that he instinctively backed away from her. He might have gone right out the window or ran for the door had he not been stopped by his backside meeting the table.
"I'm surprised at you. Especially. You." Eileen was tall; not as tall as Prometheus himself but at that moment all five feet and eleven inches of her was making him feel something akin to the shame of a child who had been caught picking through his mother's handbag. She was in his face, her muscular chest pressed close into his thin one, a scent of raw meat clinging to her and the air around her like a second skin. "Prometheus."
The use of his name, the utterly defeated and dissapointed tone of the voice parroting the mocking and derisive tone used earlier by the doctor rendered him unable to look elsewhere or tear his gaze away from her accusing, angry glare.
"Listen, I thought you hated…I mean really, you don't seem to have a lot of nice things to say about ah, anyone who breaks the law, um, as much as there is…are…laws….that is including yourself so I guess I understand why that sort of might possibly extend to me and um, I guess I'm kind of not really sure why you're defending y'know, M." Prometheus had run out of things to say and he settled for leaning as far back and away as he could go.
The footsteps were growing louder above them, a reminder that the moment that they would have alone was becoming smaller and smaller. Prometheus' ears strained hopefully but it seemed whatever the doctor was trying to accomplish was something that required time. The butcher's gaze flicked briefly upwards as well. "This is not about M. She's amoral and crude but she understands, even if she dislikes it that all of this has to end. We need a social system that has privacy, social justice and rights! We were close to it before but it's going to be the dark ages all over again if we can't make it right! Do you understand?"
Prometheus didn't, not really, but he nodded just the same.
The trio descended beneath the earth into the building's car park where Eileen had stashed her van. It was easier to make living spaces out of the old industrial buildings which were anticipated to receive large numbers of visitors and presently provided the citizens of the Detroit sectors with an added steel shell of protection against theft and environmental dangers. The treasured behemoths protected inside were in and of themselves their owners' personal armour against the evils of the world and Eileen's van was par the course if not the archetype of the brand. It was an older model in scratched navy, impossible to tell the make as all of the old tell-tale ornaments had fallen off. Its power locks were shot, but the manual controls slid steel reinforcements home with satisfying clunks from the inside. To Prometheus' great surprise it was M who commandeered the back seats without question or complaint, leaving Prometheus the luxury of the front compartment.
"Can you give me a reading on the compass, please?"
Prometheus glanced up at the flashing digital letters in the panel above him.
"N-W. Uh. Northeast. West. Definitely North-whoa! Oh, okay, that's…you turned. Um. N. North. We're definitely going North now." Prometheus' fingers clenched hard into the armrest on the passengers' side door.
There was a muffled clunk and a curse from the back seat.
Casting a shaky glance at Eileen to ensure she was not going to pull any more crazy maneuvers he chanced further garroting via seatbelt to twist in his chair. "Are you okay?"
The Medic, who had been seated on the floor of the van with no seats or belts to strap her in place was flopped over a strange box with what appeared to be a fire hose attached. A ratchet thudded from her shakily relaxed grip to the floor of the van.
"Oh yeah. Freakin' amazing." She rolled off the machine with a grunt and hauled herself to her knees to inspect it. "God help us all if this thing dies on me out here you daft bitch."
"You're fine then. I'll ah…" Prometheus turned back around, a thought more immediately worrying than an argument breaking out between the two women tugging at the edges of his forethoughts.
"We're not going to be walking into…meeting up with any hybrids on a personal level are we? Because that just seems to be a really, really terrible idea. Just, generally walking into a place where things want to kill you, even if they seem asleep or um, dead, sometimes…they're not?"
The van came to another screeching halt in reply. Something heavy – either the Medic or her strange contraption - thudded against the back of Prometheus' seat. He himself was thrown into the jerking resistance of the harness that kept him from a continued trajectory through the windshield glass.
A cacophony of cursing rose up from the back but they seemed to be coming from or he seemed to be sinking underwater for all the clarity that reached Prometheus' ears. They seemed to be in the middle of a nest of Hybrids: a marvel of species adapting to a world gone mad. The past few years had not been kind to the earth and while the human race had put itself first, the remainder had done their own work to ensure the continued strains of their DNA would remain on the planet.
Prometheus was beginning to be able to make out the individual shifting shapes as his eyes adjusted to the gloom. They were swarming something, fighting with each other as much as whatever unfortunate thing they had managed to pin beneath their writhing black mass of claws, fur and dripping, salivating mouths.
Eileen took charge, plunging her hand down the front of her jumper and extracting a small silver something which flashed in the wan light of the rising moon. She placed the tip into her mouth and her cheeks flared out as she released a harsh puff of air into its depths. The creatures jumped, squealing and backing off, low and hunched, heads turning fast and wild in every direction.
"What did you do that for?" Prometheus squealed. "Now they know we're here and I am really not very comfortable with that idea!"
"Dogs were the pets of humans once and wolves prolly're able to hear higher frequencies as well." McCree explained, shucking off her seatbelt and dumping a .44 Remington pistol into Prometheus' lap. "Try not to shoot yourself in the foot."
Instead of being gracelessly fumbled, the weapon only gave a pitiful bounce off of the velour cushioning of the seat. The door was already open but in the next second Prometheus was back, fumbling for it desperately. He fired off two shaky and entirely inaccurate shots, the bullets sending puffs of dust up when they glanced off the ground. They were not wholly without effect as the creatures scrambled in confusion, breaking the ranks around their prize.
Eileen's eyes went wide as she recognized what Prometheus had seen first. There was a person, bloodied and scratched lying prostrate on the rock.
"MEDIC!" she howled, one hand reaching for her shotgun, her knife, anything.
"In a fucking minute!"
Barely registering the reply, the butcher fished in her pocket, closing uselessly first around the dog-whistle, then mercifully around her multi tool. She flicked open the hard flat blade she used to neatly de-bone small fish in her store, hoping it would at least keep her defended until her mind was back in full working order.
It took an extra split second to realize she had deployed it in her pocket.
The howl of pain that rent the air was enough to make one of Prometheus' wild shots jerk off of its' erratic course and straight down the open muzzle of an approaching beast. The wounded mutt screeched like a banshee, its snout plowing into the dirt, the tang of filth mixed with oozing blood attracting the attention of a few of the hungrier and greedier omegas of the pack, willing to settle for the less valuable and more easily obtainable meal.
Miraculously the contused and bloodied figure now free of its assailants was sitting up on the outcropping of rock and was fighting back, or attempting to. Her eyes were wide, she was bleeding in several places and she would likely not last in her current state for a great deal longer. Nonetheless for every creature that approached her in the chaos, she did her best to fight it off and fling it out and as far away from her as the limits of her rapidly waning strength would allow.
Prometheus' mind spun. He watched Eileen drop to her knees and yell in pain, her own circle of the beasts crouching low to the ground as they contemplated how best to rip her to shreds. Another cluster was becoming more confident in the increasingly enfeebled attempts of their original target to defend herself effectively.
One long bony finger tightened against the trigger.
"If I miss I'm really sorry, truly I am." Prometheus closed his eyes and pressed one digit against the trigger in McCree's direction, only to have his shot fire harmlessly into the distance as he was knocked off course.
"Moron!" hissed the Doctor, her voice carrying back to Prometheus as she bore down on the butcher, one hand clamping the lever on the hose-head of her contraption awkwardly down while the other pumped bullets from a pistol with far more accuracy than the gangling man still struggling to right himself. "Get the damn girl! We're FINE for fuck's sake!"
A red haze flashed in his peripheral vision as heeding the doctor's commands and throwing caution to the wind, Prometheus darted forward, snatching the woman on the rock up in his arms. She was light and did not put up any kind of resistance. Perhaps she was exhausted, perhaps she counted them as the lesser of two evils.
There was a smattering of gunfire suddenly behind him and he saw a wolf-dog poised in attack position lifted off its feet and sent sprawling into a crying, whining heap a few inches away. He ran faster, blindly streaking in a linear path towards the forms of the Medic and the Butcher, both of whom were standing by the van, the latter miraculously unharmed. They were both screaming and yelling a auditory slurry of words that he was unable to process as words. Instinct alone kept him focused on his course while only dull yips and squeals of pain where the bullets of his defenders found their marks wound their way through the blinders the rest of his senses had erected.
He exploded through the back doors of the van, cracking his chin on the scratchy floor and causing his precious cargo tumbling into a ragdoll heap. The tail end of the vehicle dipped at some point near his legs where the doctor scrambled in behind him, then there were three dull thuds and the merciful safe roar and forward momentum of the van engine thrumming beneath his chest.
M's mud encrusted boots stomped their way into his line of vision, her hands stretching and pulling the injured woman's limbs. She let out little gasps of pain as she was arranged onto her back, the hoarse noises inspiring Prometheus upright to his knees.
He crawled forward towards the two, only to get pushed back down by the Medic. "Stay away!" she warned, hauling the hose from her backpack around.
It passed within a millimetre of Prometheus' nose before he realized she was not intending on attacking him with it.
Ignoring his reaction the doctor grunted as she pushed the lever heavily forward, emitting a groan from the internal workings of the machine. Prometheus silently cheered and urged the device on, his eyes following the thin but steady drip of blood welling from the wounds on the thin body shaking feebly before him.
M pumped the handle again, her squat form rocking fully onto her knees while her free hand reached about to smack the power source on her back with a wide, flat palm.
The machine sputtered once, twice and finally red gas hissed forward from the open end of the nozzle.
"HAH!" M shouted, but her victory went without further praise as Prometheus' attention was caught up by the astonishing sight of seeing the flesh wounds close, scab, scar and repair into seamless flesh that seemed not to even boast a trace of its earlier abuse.
"It can heal a wound? Any wound, I mean?"
"Y-uhuh." A touch of annoyance coloured the doctor's tone.
Prometheus was struck dumb by the novelty of what he had just witnessed until he saw the first twitch. A small jerk of a single finger at first and then the entirety of the woman's body started to writhe, her fingers coming around to rub at her stomach, twisting to her side, the curling and uncurling of her joints seeking relief against the rough texture of the bottom of the van.
"Fuck!" M swore aloud.
"What's wrong with her! What did you DO!" Prometheus grabbed for M's shoulder and shook it back and forth.
"Gerroff me! She's a bloody addict you dolt and she's in with-FUCKING-drawl!" M paused to suck in a breath and knead the flesh in her lower stomach,res evidently struggling with a stitch. "Eileen…get us the hell home. MY home!"
Prometheus didn't dare to touch her but hovered like a distressed humming bird around the perimeter of the spectacle, wringing his hands as the suddenly surprisingly adroit medic shone a light under her patient's drooping eyelids, pressed her ear to the left side of her bosom to listen to her heart and ran her hands through limp, damaged hair follicles.
The apex of her study ended at the woman's mouth, lifting up her upper lip to peer at the teeth which were not brilliant but certainly not over run with decay either. "Huh. That's weird." She mumbled, then craned her head to look at Prometheus. "I'll say this for you: you sure picked yourself a doozy."
"What?" The man was genuinely surprised. "What do you mean?"
"What I said before. Oneitis. This is her. I mean it was obvious…but a junkie? Guess you're lucky it hasn't messed up her teeth but that'll be Aperture for you. Don't know what you're going to get. Guess that's one for the 'truth' pile."
"How did you know?" Prometheus asked stupidly.
"Because no one in their right mind goes running off into the middle of danger for someone they don't know. Not even a saint, n'you are no saint. I mean, this is your girl am I right? Miss Hates-Your-Guts-But-I'll-Wait-For-Her?" M didn't even look up.
Prometheus sat back on his heels, leaning his side half against the backside of the vacant front passenger seat. "Oh. Yeah. Yeah, that."
The woman's body was vibrating with the tremors that ran along her limbs. Her hands and legs jerked spasmodically on occasion, her breathing erratic. It began to slow to the point of no more than little puffs in the crisp air the malfunctioning heater in the vehicle couldn't keep from seeping through the cracks. Sometimes the only proof she was alive was searching the air above her lips for that hint of condensed vapours pouring forth.
"Oh no no no, don't you die on me." M gave the side of the woman's body a sharp shake. "Come on, let's hoof it."
Eileen did not need to be told twice and she swung the van in another sharp 90 degree turn, jostling them spectacularly and eliciting another worried noise from one half of the peanut gallery.
"Don't you think we should be more gentle?"
"No." Surprisingly the dissent didn't come from the medic but from Ms. McCree. "Every second counts with a wounded patient."
The remainder of the ride back to the apartment block was more of the same, driving fast and furious but mercifully uninterrupted through the deserted streets. The woman jerked and twitched, buffeted by her own traitorous body and the rocking movements of the vessel beneath her.
"It's fucking bullshit is what it is."
"MS. M! PLEASE!"
"That's 'DOCTOR' to you!" the woman snarled. "Look, I don't KNOW. I have a clue but until I have my equipment I'm running on lu-" She looked up and took stock of the look on the man's face. "Fuck Prometheus. Alright. I'll tell you what I do know. Anyone else and I'd say she's a client of mine who wandered off in a fit of drug induced depression to die. However we know there's nothing North of here and I don't know her or even how the hell she got out that way but she's newly off the drugs isn't she? You don't know. Of course you don't. She is. Trust me. I don't even sell old Aperture adrenals. I like my clients to live long enough for repeat business."
"I could have you put away for that." Eileen glanced into the back seat through the rearview mirror and Prometheus was glad that vicious gaze was not leveled at him. He'd personally rather not contemplate the pain associated with losing a hand to a butcher's knife.
The Medic didn't bat an eye. "I could have you put away for some of the ordinance you keep separate from your little vigilante pseudo government group. Point is, I need to treat her with equipment that will do more than heal flesh wounds.
Prometheus wrung his hands. "You can though. Treat her I mean."
"Think I can." She leaned forward and smacked the former test subject full in her face. "Wake up you. We're nearly there. Don't quit on me until I've got a chance to try."
Prometheus' hand twitched but remained in his lap.
Getting the woman up the stairs proved to be less of a challenge than getting her to the van. The other residences of Living Establishment D were used to oddities in their stairwells and left them alone, even with the Doctor shouting orders at them from a stairwell below since her bulk would not allow her to squeeze into the stairway with them. Mrs. McCree and Prometheus however were both up to the challenge and within seconds they were at the Doctor's flat on the third floor.
"Stick her on the table." The Doctor took this moment to barrel in past them.
The physician's apartment for the few times it had been necessary for Prometheus to see it had never been welcoming or homely, but it was almost always contrary to what he expected. It was bathed in white and with a dozen cabinets, sterile surfaces and most unnervingly a stainless steel work station in lieu of a coffee table set up in the middle of the most prominent public living space.
They put the woman in the jumpsuit on the table, Eileen hovering on one side and Prometheus on the other, watching helplessly as the patient twitched and spasmed violently yet with a pathetic wriggle in the aftermath that caused both man and woman to lock eyes and look away lest they start weeping at such an inopportune moment. Behind them, the Doctor shuttled bottles in and out of cupboards.
"PINCH HER!" she would roar every few seconds when the erratic thumps that accompanied the twitching began to slow.
Prometheus leaned across and faltered.
His companion performed the duty, earning her a rewarding jolt from the pathetic creature at their mercy and the butcher's gaze met Prometheus' with tears threatening to spill over the edges.
"I'm sorry." the older woman said. "I don't like it either."
Beyond them a box crashed to the ground spilling a rainbow of various tablets across the floor. For once the Doctor did not notice the mess it was making of her workspace as she dodged potential tripping hazards with a small bottle clutched tightly in her grasp.
Prometheus watched as she wrenched it open and plucked out a small oblong capsule which was pinched innocuously between thumb and forefinger. There was something about the colour of the thing that caused Prometheus' sense of foreboding to increase. One half was blue and the other orange, transparent with what seemed to be a gas churning within the confines.
Without so much as a warning, the Doctor slipped the capsule between the helpless girl's lips, pinching her nose closed. She gasped and gagged and the second meaty hand came down on her throat, rubbing gently until a small but obvious lump rippled visibly against the skin of her throat.
"That's a girl."
"What did you give her!" Prometheus demanded, recovering himself a split second too late.
"Trace amounts of arsenic, mixed with adrenaline inducing hormonal supplements, methamphetamine and just a pinch of a very strong hallucinogenic drug I developed myself based off some old Aperture ideas. I call it Soma. Very Brave New World."
Prometheus stared at her.
"You might call it 'neurotoxin.' Deadly in the wrong hands but here –"
She got no further. The reaction was instantaneous. Prometheus cleared the examination table, his long legs taking him clear over its occupant without a trace of his usual clumsiness. The Doctor backed away immediately.
"You MONSTER! She's not some bloody experiment!"
Eyes wide, M barely managed to dodge a flying scalpel that Prometheus had seized straight out of a nearby jar of iodine. It bounced off the window sill handle-first, leaving a sizable dent in the wood and a large chip in the white paint.
"You're hoping to kill her and…and…cut up her body like some biology frog! They were always working with frogs! No! Deer! She always talks about deer! Birds too so maybe a bird!" he was shouting and snatching up items at random without looking at what they were.
Not for nothing had the Doctor lived her life for this long. She regained her nerve and charged the flailing Prometheus like a bull baited by a matador. Catching his upper hand in her wrist, she twisted it down with relative ease, or so she anticipated.
At once, Prometheus resisted and M nearly avoided getting her finger bones snapped or ground into powder by the sheer luck of letting go in surprise.
The two stood, nose to nose, staring, Prometheus' expression softening as his expression melted from incensed to terrified. The Doctor for once was wide-eyed and speechless, wheezing from the effort of the fight but still attempting to get him to look directly at her. Prometheus's gaze determinedly avoided hers, too obviously guilty.
Predictably the Doctor recovered first, backing away from him, but not from fear. She was laughing, a mildly nervous chuckle now but building up as she continued. "Well well. I always knew there was something damn weird about you...but I never knew it was this weird, or this damn for that matter. All this time me nabbing your food and thinking I'm so clever when I should have seen the obvious. You're not even human!"
Eileen dropped the chair she'd evidently picked up in an effort to dispel the fight. It clattered to the floor and Prometheus looked over at her. He'd completely forgotten she was there at all.
The Doctor's laughter had progressed from incredulous and nervous to manic and outright hysterical, clutching her sides in mirth. "I'm learning so much about you tonight!"
Prometheus' looked from one woman to the other to the miraculously silent but still very much alive form on the examination table.
"Please." He choked out, his voice desperate with begging. "Please don't tell her."