They'd left McLure Industries, travelling by taxi a few blocks away, Michael silently ensconced in his own little world, seeing his biots through their own eyes. He was tempted to make comments, to verbally express everything he was seeing, but Caligula had told him that there was to be no talking during the taxi ride. So Michael kept his mouth shut, but his eyes were alive, expressive and telling.
Caligula, on the other hand, was constantly alert, eyes scanning the area, watching as cars pulled up close or drew in behind, taking in the sight of every passerby on the street when the taxi was stopped. He doubted anyone from AFGC was around, but you just never knew. Of course, having spent years working for them, he knew better than most how to detect TFD - "Tourists From Denver".
But for every TFD AFGC employed, there was always the chance of a real goon lurking around the corner, someone who stood out so much it hurt, but yet someone who stood out a little too much to be an operative. That had been his role. The obvious villain, the man with lasers for eyes – the modern day Rambo. Sure, he may not have strode around town dressed in fatigues and carrying a machine gun, but he had that certain something – that danger about him, that made people take notice.
But even goons had their limits, and he'd turned from AFGC. He'd thought for sure it would have been the death of him, but luck had appeared to favour him and he'd escaped fate. But still he wondered what had come of the kids – Joani and Aaron Carpenter. He'd delivered them to their mother, emptied his bank account so the woman could take them away and start new lives somewhere else. Not that anywhere was beyond the grasp of AFGC, but better not to stay where they knew you lived.
As for him – he'd checked himself into the nearest hotel with what little money he had left and had robbed a liquor store for booze, because he'd been certain he'd be dead by sun up. Not that it mattered, because in the end he'd done the right thing by saving those kids, and he'd redeemed himself.
But the person who came knocking on his door that night had not been who he'd expected, and he wasn't dead by sun up. On the contrary – he was feeling more alive than he'd fooled himself into thinking while working for AFGC. He'd sat with Lear and Grey McLure for hours, discussing the threat that the Armstrong twins represented, and discussing what should be done about it.
He'd had no interest in the biots, of course, because he was far too old for that sort of nonsense. But he could provide security in the macro, and he knew the ins and outs of AFGC and its security force, AmericaStrong. He could help.
And now he was shuttling this sixteen year old kid – Michael (for now, at least) to the newly established BZRK New York headquarters. Granted, he was the only one who stayed there at the moment. The kid would be Lear's first American operative. Maybe he should have felt bad about damning a sixteen year old to this battle, to this life – but Lear had chosen well. This kid had nothing to live for anyway. Might as well give him something.
Caligula glanced over at him, watching as he sat still, a faraway look in his eyes, like he was lost. Caligula knew better. He could already see it in the boy's eyes – there was a spark there now, where before there had been nothing. He was engaged. That much was a gift to someone like him. Give water to a man dying of thirst, and he was yours for life. Likewise – give a man purpose who'd been living as a shadow, and he was one with the cause. He knew that much from personal experience.
They pulled up to the destination and Caligula paid the taxi driver before nudging Michael to get out. The boy slid soundlessly from the car and stood on the sidewalk waiting, his eyes looking at the car but not really seeing it. Caligula waited until the driver pulled away, his eyes looking around the street, taking in every person in the vicinity. Of course it was still another two blocks to the real destination, but he'd avoid a tail now if he had to.
"Come on," he said, grabbing Michael's elbow and pulling him along. "Pay attention to the here and now, kid. You'll have time for quiet contemplation later."
Michael was a bit startled as the man grabbed him, but quickly snapped out of the trance his biots had on him. It was so weird, seeing two realities at once! Three, really, though two were mirror images of each other. His vision was divided, compartmentalized like windows on a computer. He tried to make the biots view smaller, concentrating solely on the sidewalk in front of him. He kept up with the man called Caligula, stayed by his side while avoiding people around them. It was a little tricky, dealing with the multiple views, but that was mostly because he wanted so badly to ignore what was in front of him and concentrate on the biots.
"Where are we going?" He asked, wondering if he'd even get an answer.
"Home," Caligula answered, no further explanation. Michael didn't ask for elaboration, just kept up beside the older man, dodging people who almost seemed to be trying to get in his way.
"So, I have a question," Michael started to ask, but was hushed by Caligula.
"Not here," he answered, "Wait until we're home." So they walked another block, and Michael was surprised when Caligula suddenly pulled open the door to a greasy hole in the wall diner. "After you," the man said, glancing around after Michael went in through the door, obviously on the look out.
Michael stood inside the restaurant, interested enough to leave his biots to the side for now. What were they doing in some scuzzy, dirty place like this? He looked expectantly at Caligula, wondering (not for the last time) what he'd gotten himself into. But Caligula said nothing, just brushed past him down the cramped space, heading to the back. Michael followed in silence, confused when Caligula walked into what was obviously a storage room.
But though his mind raced with questions, he still said nothing.
At the back of the room was another door, and Caligula pulled this one open. He waited until Michael followed him in, closing and bolting the door shut after the kid. "Here we are," he said, walking further into the room and taking off his jacket, throwing it over the back of a chair. There wasn't much in the way of furniture, just a table and four chairs. The bulbs in the ceiling lamps had no shades, and the walls looked like they could use a good scrubbing, followed by a coat of paint (maybe two, to be on the safe side).
Michael stood in the middle of it all, confused and curious. "So, is this home?" He asked, eyes on Caligula.
The man nodded, sweeping an arm around dramatically. "All of it," he replied, "I hope you like scrubbing walls, kid, cause you can see this place needs a good cleaning."
Michael frowned, but said nothing in reply. He walked over to the table, pulling out one of the chairs and sitting. "Can I see them?" He asked, knowing that the older man had the crèche that held his biots.
Caligula exhaled, still feeling just fractionally bad about all of this. But then he reached his hand into the pocket on his shirt and drew out the little white case. He placed it on the table in front of Michael, very aware that there was still a lot of work to do. Funny that even though he had zero experience with a biot, he was still expected to teach the kid.
"Be careful, it's been in the darkness for a bit now, so the bright light might hurt your eyes," he said by way of warning, before pressing a button to release the lid. He couldn't help but grin a little when he saw Michael clamp a hand over his face.
"Even when I close my eyes, I still see," he replied, opening them slowly to look down into the device. "Why can't I see them?" He asked, having expected the biots to be at least a few inches in size by now.
Caligula smiled. "You can't see them with the naked eye," he replied, "Too small. Just put your finger out, you'll see yourself."
Michael did just that, and even though he knew what to expect he still found his body dodging out of the way as his finger came closer, confusing one reality for another. "Fuck, this is weird," he said quietly, sitting back up in his chair and moving his finger closer again, remembering that what he was seeing was from the perspective of the biots. Which were so small that he couldn't even see them...
"You can make them move," Caligula started to explain, "Just by thinking. Why don't you try it out? Maybe even climb up on your own finger, if you can handle it."
Michael nodded, though he'd pushed his own visuals to the wayside for the moment, so it was almost like he was listening to someone through a speaker, because even though Caligula was there in front of him he wasn't seeing him.
Well, he was, but he wasn't focusing on him, so it was almost like he wasn't seeing him.
"Is that really what my finger looks like?" He said in awe, hunching over the table a little, leaning on his hand.
"What does it look like?" Caligula asked, genuinely curious. He'd heard Pound complain about the visuals often enough, but the old Indian man never really did give him any distinct visuals to think of.
"Like another planet," Michael said, his voice tinged with utter bewilderment and fascination. "It's like, if I didn't know it was my finger, and you asked me what I was looking at, I'd never guess. I think I'm looking at the ridges in the skin that make a fingerprint, because all I see are walls of flesh, well I think it's flesh. It's pink."
Caligula sat back in his chair and just watched Michael, fascinated by his fascination. "If you think your finger is interesting, just wait until you get in the eye."
Michael's lips twisted into a frown at that point, just the way Caligula expected they would. "What am I going in the eye for?" He asked.
"Because it's the gateway to the brain, kid. That or the ear, and from what I've heard, you do not want to go into the ear unless you have no other choice." He grinned and watched as Michael just shrugged and went back to exploring his finger. "Are you hungry? I'm going to go pick something up from downstairs."
"Sure," Michael replied, "Get me whatever, I don't really have any preference when it comes to food unless it's spicy. I doubt a diner does spicy, though."
"I doubt it does, but we'll see. I'll be back in a bit. Even though I don't think it likely, I must reiterate that for the time being, you are not to leave this apartment without my authorization, understood?"
Michael nodded, though Caligula was right. He had no intention of going anywhere at the moment. "Sure thing, mom."
Caligula couldn't help but chuckle. He hadn't taken Michael for the type to crack a joke.
Stepping out of the diner, Caligula glanced around the street, first to his left, then to his right. Seeing only the typical scum on the street of this neighbourhood he took off to the right, heading for a nearby Indian place that offered take-away. He wasn't really feeling like anything other than a sandwich at the moment, but he'd decided to acquiesce to Michael's odd dietary preferences for his first meal as a member of BZRK. It seemed only fitting.
He crossed the street and pulled out his phone, typing a message to Lear.
Kid's doing well, noticed improvement. Definitely fascinated with his children.
He slid the phone back into his pocket as he stepped through the door of the grimy little place, the spices hitting his nostrils like an open flame. He hoped the place offered something as bland as possible for him. He stepped up to the counter, eyes resting on the small man behind the cash register wearing a grimy apron.
"Can I help you, sir?" The man asked, his accent thick enough to sound legit.
"I need two meals for take out. Make one of them the spiciest thing you have, and make the other the mildest." The man smiled and nodded. "One phall chicken, and one butter chicken, coming up," he said before heading for the grill. Caligula went to a nearby seat and lowered himself down into it, eyes looking further back into the place. There were a few tables toward the back, two of them occupied. One was a mother with three children, and the other were two men discussing something rather heatedly. Caligula kept his eyes on them for a moment before looking to the door.
Grey often told him he was overbearingly paranoid – and coming from a billionaire, that sometimes made Caligula second guess himself. But he'd seen things Grey hadn't, he'd done things the other one still didn't know about. He had every reason to be paranoid. His paranoia is what kept him alive. And now he had Michael to worry about – to care for if he was willing to go that far.
Maybe he'd leave the caring part to Grey. All of Caligula's compassion was being used up on ordering Indian for the kid, after all.
His phone buzzed then with a message and the older man reached for it, flipping it open, reading Lear's reply. Good. I want him exploring the eye by tomorrow at the latest. Grey has offered to help him study the brain map, but I want him looking at anatomy images tonight if possible. Pound is in England for a week, but when he returns I'll have him teach the kid how to fight in the nano. Until then he's all yours. Try to keep him intact.
Caligula shook his head at the message, amused and annoyed at the same time. So not only was he babysitting the kid now, but he was supposed to teach him anatomy as well? Ridiculous.
Done and done. I'll see if I can scrounge up any material for him tonight, though it is getting late and some advance notice would have been nice.
He knew it was a bit of a stretch to include that last bit, but he also knew that Lear would put up with his snappy remarks, because he was needed. There was no one else better suited to play mother hen to BZRK recruits than he was. The buzz of a reply was almost immediate, and Caligula almost didn't want to read it.
You knew he was initiating today. Prep was your responsibility. Let me know if anything important happens.
And just like that Lear came down, and Caligula was shaking his head again. It wasn't worth getting annoyed over, though, so he closed his phone and stuck it back in his pocket. Now the problem was going to be finding something for Michael to look through. Perhaps he ought to call Grey, see if he had anything dumbed down enough for a sixteen year old about to embark on his first foray into the brain.
Then again he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to look at Grey's face tonight, because he had a feeling it would be full of disappointment and betrayal. Maybe he'd just buy a laptop and hope someone in the area had a wireless network. Then Michael could do his own research.
"Excuse me sir, your order is ready," the man behind the counter called out, and Caligula sighed as he stood up and walked to the cash register. For now he'd just worry about getting Michael fed.
It seemed like no time at all had passed since Caligula had left, but perhaps that was what it was like when you were actually engaged in something? Michael wasn't sure, because he'd never truly been this engaged in anything before. Right now he was leaning over the table, arms folded in front of him, head down, biots facing each other. It was still weird, seeing multiple images at once, but it wasn't all that awkward anymore. He had them facing each other so he could ensure he was learning how to move them properly, because watching yourself do something while looking down was entirely different then watching yourself do something while looking at your reflection in the mirror.
Now he was concentrating on one of them, the one closer to him, that he'd dubbed M1. Granted he wasn't entirely sure how he'd keep track of which one was which – would each biot always appear in the same area in his field of vision? Right now he had them arranged thusly – M1 on his left, M2 on his right, and reality was behind them, but if necessary he would draw it up so it was on top of his biots. He could deal with three screens, he was sure of it.
He heard the door open and close but didn't bother turning around, still engrossed in his biots. He smelled dinner though – and he was surprised to smell curry. "I thought you were getting food from the diner?" He asked without looking or even moving, focused on his biots.
"I had a change of heart," Caligula replied, walking over to the table and setting the bag down.
"Hey watch out!" Micheal yelled, reaching for the bag and pulling it up. "My biots are down there!"
Caligula grinned and took the bag from Michael, putting it back on the table. "Then you'd better move them. You don't want them ending up in your food."
Michael frowned, picking up the bag again and putting his finger down the surface of the table. "Be careful, don't crush them."
Caligula had to laugh at that. "Crush them? With a bag of food? Listen kid, the last thing you need to worry about with your biots is crushing them, they're far too small. And by the way, I wouldn't leave them on your finger, either. You definitely don't want them to end up in your stomach, do you?" He asked, opening the bag and pulling out styrofoam containers.
"As interesting as that would be, no, I can't say that I do want them there." He raised his fingers to his temple, depositing the biots on his forehead. "Shit, that's so weird," he said, seeing his skin up close. It was a vast expanse of pink, almost like a desert. It was a veritable whole new world, really.
"You definitely don't want to end up there, either," Caligula said with a grin, opening both containers and guessing by withering smell alone which one was Michael's.
"Huh?" The teenager asked, too weirded out by his forehead that he drew up his visual of reality instead.
"Shit," Caligula replied, "You definitely don't want your biots to end up there."
Michael was silent for a moment as he processed the old man's joke. In reply he simply shook his head before looking down at the offered container. "This isn't from the diner, is it?" He asked, surprised that Caligula had gone out of his way to get him something spicy.
"Nope," the older man replied, spearing a piece of chicken and bringing it to his nose, smelling. At least it didn't feel like it was melting the hairs in his nasal cavity off. "There's an Indian place two blocks north, I went there."
Michael was grateful, but a little confused. "Why?" He asked, curious.
"I read your file," Caligula replied, "And I saw that the only food you really care for is spicy. I figured today of all days, you deserved something you like."
"I don't really like it," Michael replied, shrugging as he picked up a piece of chicken. "I'd probably hate it if I was normal, you know. I mean, I can feel myself sweating when I eat it, and it makes me cough. But it's better than feeling nothing at all." He popped the chicken in his mouth and felt it immediately – his eyes started watering. But it was a good feeling, at least to someone like him.
Caligula nodded and watched him, on the verge of laughing. The kid's face was red and he could see the tears forming in his eyes and he bet that any second now -
"What the fuck?" Michael yelled, choking down the food in his mouth and hastily raising a hand to his forehead.
Caligula had to bite his cheek to keep from laughing. He knew from Pound's comments what was likely going on at the moment. "Is there a problem with your food?" He asked innocently, watching as Michael brought his hand down to the table again.
"Holy shit, it's like... I don't even know how to accurately describe that!" He paused, rubbing his fingers into his eyes and coughing. "It was like my face was a sprinkler, this water was just coming out of nowhere! Well, not out of nowhere, but out of my face! Like, I was standing there, and then all of a sudden there was fucking water underneath me!"
"Ah, you were sweating? Interesting experience."
Michael didn't respond right away, looking down at his food, then suddenly looking up at Caligula. "You fucking knew that would happen, didn't you?" He stared accusingly at the older man. "That's why you got me curry!"
Caligula realized that it probably would seem that way to the kid, but it really hadn't been his intention. "Honestly, that wasn't my intention. I didn't even think about it."
"Bullshit. You're enjoying this, aren't you?" Michael replied, annoyed now.
Caligula laid his plastic fork down and stared at the kid, his eyes serious. "I won't lie, I am enjoying this. But I did not get you Indian food to watch you suffer. You have to believe me, Michael. Don't forget – I don't have biots. I know what sort of experience you go through, I've heard of it all, but I've never experienced it myself, so I don't always think about it. I apologize that it freaked you out, but on the other hand – it's good. You're learning."
Michael didn't agree with his analysis – not at the moment, at least. But he picked his fork up and took another bite of chicken. Lesson learned – the biots would stay in their creche during meal time from now on.