The Science of Monsters
Chapter Five: Grand Escapes
It took one week for my left leg to regenerate. Killian didn’t like the slow process, and nearly injected me with shot two before I was healed, but Maya talked him down. The heart rate monitors beeped furiously as I ran on the treadmill. Maya’s face was bright with happiness. “She’s absolutely wonderful!”
“How much longer do I have to do this?” I asked through short breaths.
“You can stop now. We’ll give you a few minutes to settle down before we get ready for the second injection,” Maya answered as Killian walked into the room.
“We could give it to her now. The others were calm and it did nothing for them,” Killian suggested, though the hope was lacking in his tone. His dark blue eyes met my icy stare for a moment before he ignored me.
“I just don’t want it to damage any of her systems.”
“She’s not a machine!” He grabbed the syringe. “Hold out your arm, O’Conner.”
“I said do it now!”
I rolled my eyes before doing as he instructed. I knew getting in the middle of their arguments was hazardous to my health, although the needle might be worse. I wanted to ask what was in it, but the last time I asked a question I got my leg removed.
“This is just round two of the virus. It is supposed to keep you from overheating, which is where things seem to go wrong with the others,” Maya explained.
“You saw Marcus explode the other day, right?” Killian raised his brow as he pushed the needle into my vein.
“Yeah, he seemed volatile before he exploded. I figured you just annoyed him,” I retorted. He gritted his teeth.
“He overheated before we gave him this.”
“You should be fine though,” Maya interrupted, “you’ve been going through the motions with flying colors.”
“Do I have to be cut open again?”
She shook her head while Killian nodded. “Great,” I rolled my eyes, “since you guys are ruining my life can you please get on the same page about it?”
“You won’t lose any limbs this time, but yes, a small incision to see how long it takes. The cut on your wrist last time took an hour to heal after the bleeding stopped. It shouldn’t take that long,” Maya seemed so sincere. Killian’s eyes suggested there would be a sever loss in limbs by the time he was finished with me.
“How long before you start testing, this time?”
“An hour at least,” Maya answered, a stern look covering her features as she stared at Killian. “Would you like some water or anything before?”
“No thanks. I would like some quiet though. Can I be alone until you come to hack into my skin?” I pleaded with Maya. She seemed really understanding about all of her experiments, but there were four others, besides me, that she favored.
“Of course, Scarlett,” she glared towards Killian, shaking his head, “we have work to do upstairs anyway.” She grabbed his arm while marching away.
I waited ten minutes before I tried to open the door they always seemed to come and go through. It was locked from the outside. I tried climbing to the small window, but I couldn’t quite reach it. Marcus did leave me a small present before Maya forced him back into a sleep chamber. He blew a hole, not quite as large as the rectangular window at the ceiling of the basement, at the edge of the back wall. No one was allowed in to fix it, but no one really seemed worried because it was too small for a normal human to fit through. Maya and Killian made me better than the average human though.
I scrapped the skin off both sides of my shoulders and hips while squeezing through the hole. The injuries didn’t stop me from running as far as I could, but they did make climbing the back wall more difficult. My right shoulder turned black and ashy, like charcoal. “I hope that’s supposed to happen,” I said aloud as I continued to run.
Alarms sounded in the distance; Killian probably figuring out I got away. I ran twice as hard, feeling my skin heat. I could see a nearly transparent pink layer cover my shoulder. A smile crossed my features as I ducked into what I assumed was a library. It was filled with books on shelves; the smell of dusty pages wafted towards me.
“Hello?” A man about my height asked as he came around one of the bookshelves.
“These people are trying to hurt me,” I gasped placing a hand over my shoulder, hoping he wouldn’t notice the frail skin.
“Come this way; we should find you something warmer to wear here. The others like to keep it cool.”
I glanced around realizing I had entered the office area of a temple.
“It is 7 a.m. The skies are clear, and you have to go to work in one hour,” Jarvis announced over the gurgling coffee maker.
“I really don’t really need a schedule alert,” Bruce rolled his eyes as he ran a hand through his thick, dark waves of hair. Why on Earth Tony thought setting Jarvis up in his new home was a mystery to Bruce, but he’d have to deal with it. “I don’t like feeling like I’m being watched either.”
“You are not being monitored, Bruce. Mr. Stark has yet to set up the camera modules inside. I could always pretend you do not exist if you wish?”
“Oh, that’d be perfect. The machine functioning on its own terms.”
“I am offended, Dr. Banner.”
“Mute, Jarvis,” Bruce barked. The silence that filled the room was nice, but it made Bruce feel guilty for probably hurting Jarvis’ feelings. He sighed heavily, “I’m sorry. Jarvis, unmute. I just really can’t function until after coffee.”
“That is quite understandable, sir. Mr. Stark is approaching the door.”
“How are my favorite boys getting along,” Tony yelled through the door. Bruce poured two metal mugs of coffee. He sat one in front of him as he sipped from the other.
“Like a house on fire, sir,” Jarvis answered. Bruce nearly choked.
“That’s good,” Tony smiled as he walked around the corner of iron suits wearing jeans and a blue t-shirt. “This is mine, right?” he took the mug of coffee.
“Unless Jarvis drinks his coffee black,” Bruce joked.
Tony’s face fell as he waved the mug around. “He makes the worst coffee! It’s so bitter and kind of oily.”
“I can’t be expected to be perfect all the time, sir,” Jarvis remarked. Tony chuckled.
“Remind me to fix that, Jarvis,” he laughed.
“Noted,” Jarvis answered bitterly.
“Are you really putting cameras in here while I’m trying to live here,” Bruce asked in a tone that was harsher than he meant it to be.
“Not if you’re going to go all Hulk smash on me.” Tony shrugged, “What do you know about the Mandarin? Was that why Agent was here?”
“Agent?” Bruce scrunched his forehead trying to figure out who Agent could be.
“You know, my favorite as you called him yesterday.”
“Oh, Phil, yeah…he didn’t really mention the Mandarin too much, but apparently I have a mission.”
“Coulson did not note the details of aforementioned mission,” Jarvis interrupted before Tony could ask. Tony nodded in response before putting the mug down.
“I have a meeting, so I’m gonna get going. Good luck with your job; I think you’ll find Big Mike is very fond of you after I left you a surprise at work.” Tony patted Bruce’s shoulder while smiling brightly before starting towards the door. "I'll call Fury later to see if I can't get you some info on this mysterious mission too."
“Tony, what…” the slamming door cut Bruce off. He growled under his breath before throwing on his greasy jeans and his cleanest dirty shirt.
“What time is it?”
“I’m going to head out. Can you do a lay of the land for me, Jarvis? I want to know what’s close to us because I don’t feel too comfortable being this close to the Science District.”
“Yes, sir, a report will be waiting on your return.”
“Bob! Your friend, Stark, is such a nice guy. He donated a lot of equipment, but it’s under the condition that only you can use it. I knew I wouldn’t regret giving you a job,” Big Mike grinned as he laughed a belly-rolling laugh.
Bruce smiled, “Yeah, Stark is a real pal. That number you wanted is (424) 774-0217.”
“Great, so go get to work. I have three new cars and there’s a woman bringing her car in for maintenance since I put a sign out front advertising lube jobs.”
“You got it, Boss.”
Four hours and two cars later, Bruce was listening to the radio as he worked on the lube job. He figured a lunch break was due soon. The bolt attaching the oil pan to the chassis popped as the dirty smut poured out of the engine.
“A security guard has been injured in one of the attacks caused by The Mandarin,” a female reporter blasted through the airwaves. “We are waiting on a response from Stark…”
She is interrupted by a bombardment of questions thrown at Tony as he walked out of the hospital. The loudest question, “When is someone going to kill The Mandarin?”
“Is that what you want? Here's a little Holiday greeting I've been wanting to send to the Mandarin. I just didn't know how to phrase it until now. My name is Tony Stark and I'm not afraid of you. I know you're a coward, so I've decided that you just died, pal. I'm gonna come get the body. There's no politics here; it's just good old-fashioned revenge. There's no Pentagon; it's just you and me. And on the off-chance you're a man, here's my home address: 10880, Malibu Port, 90265. I'll leave the door unlocked.”
“God, Tony, you’re looking for a fight aren’t you,” Bruce shook his head. He shoved the old oil to the side as he replaced the oil pan.
“Stark assaulted one of our interviewers; he broke the man’s phone in two and threw it away,” the reported gasped. Bruce laughed.
“Someone’s going to have to dish out some money, or go to court.” He poured fresh oil into the engine before starting the car. It purred to life.
He drove the car around front to the pickup area before going to the break room and grabbing a sandwich from the vending machine.
The day was over; the sun was setting. Bruce wiped his hands on a dirty cloth before putting up his new wrenches, screwdrivers, and spare parts Tony donated. He was about the turn the radio off when someone crackled through the static. “Here is your lesson, Tony Stark.”
Bruce felt a slight vibration as the tools began to shake. News reporters screamed, “Stark’s penthouse has been attacked. We cannot tell if there are any survivors.”
He was stunned. He remembered having coffee just this morning with his friend, and now he may not be… “There are two survivors. One of them has been identified as Ms. Pepper Potts. The second claims to be a doctor named Maya Hansen…There are reports of the house collapsing and sliding off the cliff into the ocean! Tony Stark did not make it out!”
“What?!?” Bruce shouted. He felt his nails dig into his palms. He prepared himself to go back to the warehouse and have Jarvis call Coulson right that instance. He wanted to join the fight against the mandarin. He stormed out of the old show room; nearly running towards the warehouse.
He was too angry to notice the slight vibrations in the air caused by the helicopter above him, but he did notice when the explosion knocked him to the ground. He looked up to see black smoke billowing out of an office building. His heart pounded against his chest as he ran towards the smoke. He had to make sure no one was hurt because if he didn’t it would eat at him until he couldn’t breathe.
His skin turned a pale shade of green as he continued to sprint towards the fire; eyes burned with the chemicals rising in his blood. He made it to the building before anyone managed to call 9-1-1. Bruce kicked in the front door, but there was too much smoke. His lungs forced him to cough the toxins out.
When he caught his breath he scrambled to the back of the building. He forced open an E-X-I-T only door. “Hello? Is there anyone in here?”
“Help me!” Something screamed from the corner. Bruce scanned the room, but couldn’t find the source of the voice. “Please, help me!” a raspy unidentifiable voice pleaded.
“Where are you?” he asked the room, half expecting a machine like Jarvis to answer, but this wasn’t a machine. This wasn’t human?
A human shaped ember stood from a pile of debris. “Help me!” A board from the ceiling fell causing its ashen arm to disintegrate. Its scream echoed through his body. He couldn’t move while the ceiling was falling around them. He thought he saw an icy blue eye in the monster begging for safety, but the burst of flames caused its eyes to grow heavy and black like pools of hell.
Bruce didn’t want to die there in some lab, and he knew what it felt like to be a monster. He couldn’t leave the creature. He grabbed a charred tarp and threw it around the human figure before carrying it out of the building.
Once outside in the cool breeze, he tapped out the areas of burning fire from the last blast. The creature wasn’t moving or speaking, but Bruce had hope for it. He picked up the tarp carefully, not wanting any of the ashes to come apart, as he gingerly walked back to the warehouse while trying to figure out just what this thing was. “Tony would know, if he were here…” he whispered as the sun set on a very rough day.