The List – Episode 4: Good Doctor

My body shook the table as the scalpel bit into the skin of my cheek.  Blood gushed out from the incision as the knife traced its way around my face, creating little streams and reservoirs of sticky crimson as it ran down my body.  It wasn’t pleasant, but it was nothing compared to what was coming.

The chisel burrowed up under the flesh of my face until it was firm against the cheek bone.  I flinched instinctively as the hammer swung down, pounding onto the butt of the chisel.  For a second I experienced complete darkness, then I was back in the rust and grime covered operating room.  I bit down on the ebony rod in my mouth, adding yet another set of my teeth marks to the already gnawed wood.  I wondered if this time would be the time the rod gave out and splintered under the pressure of my jaw.  I didn’t contemplate it for long as the next hammer blow chipped off a chunk of bone and the pain engulfed me again.

The wooden arm rests rattled under my grip, the screws pulling loose from the table as my fingers dug into the grain.  The hammer pulled back and struck again.  This time the arm rests snapped in half.  Before the hammer could strike again, my grip went slack and I lost the battle with consciousness.

✓✓✓✓✓✓✓✓

                I woke up to a plume of cigarette smoke swirling around my face.

“You should have thought twice about building up that resistance to anesthetics.”  The Doctor was leaning over me, presumably laser stitching my face back together.  I was going to tell him where he could shove his anesthetics, but my face was swollen shut on account of the battering.  I followed his eyes, droopy and half hidden behind wire frame glasses, as he studied my face and nodded.  The Doctor leaned back in his chair as he sucked in another lungful of the smoke and exhaled.

“The med-culture is already hard at work on the damaged tissue, and you should be like new within the next few hours,” he said between puffs.  A wicked smile curled up on his face.  “I must say I did a bang up job this time.  I’d offer you a mirror, but you’d just turn it down like always.”

The pain was quickly residing in my face, replaced by the cooling sensation of the med-culture as it repaired the ravaged skin and muscle.  Within a couple hours my face would be completely healed and unknown to the world outside.  I was free to do as I pleased, at least until my identity was blown – then we’d have to start the whole damn process all over again.  I poked my check, the special polymer inserts had already started to harden and fuse to the bones.  I leaned up and cracked my neck to both sides, and worked the tension out of my jaw.

“Feels good, Doc.  You gonna let me pay you this time?”

“I’ve told you – I still have money piled up from my previous job.”

I eyed him suspiciously.  It was hard to trust a man you were indebted to, but the Doctor knew his shit, and seemed to take a sort of twisted pleasure in cutting me open.  And he seemed to have it out for the system as much as I did – so it was an unspoken truce that he wouldn’t sell me out and that I wouldn’t put a bullet in his forehead.

I threw my jacket on and holstered my supplies and weapons, and started for the door.

The Doctor laughed, a laugh that so disturbing that I wondered if he was even close to sane before I had found him drugging up some of the super heroes he had worked on prior to me killing them.  “As your doctor, I have to say you probably shouldn’t be going out yet,” he said as he covered his face with his hand and continued to laugh.  “But as your doctor, I have to tell you to kill as many as you can today!”

✓✓✓✓✓✓✓✓

                I wiggled my jaw in my hand as I moved between the poor masses of Old City and kept one eye on the person trailing me a couple blocks back.  I noticed the shadow not even a step out of the Doctor’s door.  I had already walked a couple miles, weaving in and out of the alleys and streets, and he stuck to it, never close enough that I could see his face, but never loosing track of me.  Sometimes I would see him a couple blocks over to my right; the next second he was a block over to my left. This guy was a pro.  He just picked the wrong assassin to follow.

Whoever he was, he made the mistake of trying to trail me on my own turf.  I turned a corner off a crowded street and bolted down a rat-infested alley.  Sure enough, my shadow took the bait, trying not to lose me as I ran through the labyrinth of decaying wood and brick.  I came up to an abandoned building and kicked the door in as I started keying a sequence into my palm, and the next moment I was on the other side of the building and pushing my way through the exit.  I rolled out into the alley and scanned it with my gun.

One side of the alley was a dead end where three buildings were crammed together from the unplanned growth years ago.  The stench was worse than normal for Old City, as the tenants above decided this alley would make for a good landfill.  The mound of garbage towered about two stories at the high point.  To the other side of the alley stood my shadow, dressed in rags and thick with a stench that smelt lovely compared to trash mountain.  His face was covered like the rest of his body.  Although part of me wondered who he was and what he wanted, a greater part of me – the part of me that just spent the last three hours of my day getting my face chiseled on – just wasn’t in the mood to ask questions.

I sent a burst of bullets his way, and he rolled as they tore up the concrete where he was previously standing.  He was quick, and as he came out of his roll he leaped up and planted his feet on the wall, then started running sideways across it as my bullets tried to keep up.  He slid a blade out of his rags and spun it in one fluid motion, snapping his wrist back and telegraphing his next move.

I didn’t give him a chance to throw the blade.  I keyed in the final digits in my palm.  The entire brick wall he was running on exploded outward and collapsed in a storm of masonry and red dust.  I lunged out of the alley as the rubble came crashing around me, the dust pluming out into the street and settling in my lungs.

I hunched over and coughed up a thick mixture of mucus and ancient brick.  I cut my fit short when I caught sight of the gleaming metal in the debris, and I twisted my body as the small triangular blade sliced past me, cutting a perfect little line into the shoulder of my jacket.  The blade stuck into the arm of a gawking bystander behind me, and the bystander’s screams of agony were cut short by a small explosion – nothing impressive, but big enough that I was glad it hadn’t stuck into my arm.

I jumped back, clearing some space between myself and the alley, as the man calmly walked out of the destruction.  He was no longer in the stained and torn rags; instead he had on a black vest over mesh netting that clung to his skin.  Probably some kind of durable super fiber, seeing as how it was able to withstand the bomb I had rigged and still looked perfectly new.  Wrapped around his torso was a black belt that ended in two straps that fluttered in the breeze.  He held a hand on top of one of the many small swords that sat securely under his belt, and let his other arm dangle to his side, which held who knows how many of those little explosive knives he had just thrown.  On the top half of his face he wore a black mask with little horns adorning the edges, and a tuft of blond hair lay over the mask, half covering one of his eyes.

“Richard Graham, your mother let you dress yourself today?”  I instantly recognized the young CEO of Beta Industries now that he was out of the rags.  The same Beta Industries that was responsible for tampering with the water in a district of Old City not three months prior, resulting in kidney failure for thousands of people.  This man was a mass murderer, and had the nerve to think he was some kind of ninja super warrior.

“The name’s Kouzuki,” he said, striking a pose that I assumed was an attempt at martial arts.

I rubbed my jaw line, noticing that the swelling was almost gone, and now a burning itch started where the incisions had been.

“Sure it is,” I said.  “I’m glad you could take the day off from recording the kid’s shows so we can hang out.”

I let out a laugh and was dumb enough not to realize I had pushed the wrong buttons.  A thin chain wrapped itself around my arm and jerked tight, thowing me into the air and almost popping my arm out of socket.  Kouzuki yanked on his end of the chain, and I slammed into the side of a building about fifty feet up, and I wasn’t sure whether it was my ribs or the bricks that cracked from the collision.  Just as I started to fall, Kouzuki whipped the chain up, and somehow I was defying gravity a hundred feet above the streets below.

As I reached the apex, my body floating weightless in the air and my stomach going up into my throat, Kouzuki revealed a handful of blades.  His arm became a blur, launching the blades at me close to the speed of sound.  I picked them off one at a time with burst fire from my Seiver, and the blades exploded in a line pattern that looked like it was ripping a slit in the sky.  I heard a grunt from below, and Kouzuki pulled out a blade as long as his arm and sent it spinning.   I leveled my gun at it and pulled the trigger, only to hear the unfortunate sound of dry fire.

I flipped the gun around in my hand and met the blade with the butt of it.  The blade dug into the gun, and continued like it was going to slice right through it and stab straight through my chest.  I strained to redirect it towards a different path that didn’t involve losing a limb.  It continued to push against me, as if contemplating what it should do, when suddenly it veered into the side of a building, leaving a hover car sized crater in the brick and mortar.

The blast catapulted me back towards Earth, reminding me that gravity still existed.  I tumbled through the air on a trajectory path set for Kouzuki, and powered up my beam blade at the last second to bring down into Kouzuki’s neck.

The handle of my blade rattled in my hand as the beam stopped just shy of Kouzuki’s exposed jugular.  He was blocking the blade with the back of his forearm, and it took me a second to realize that he was also using a beam blade.  The vibration of my blade grew, trying to yank itself out of my hand as the air crackled around us from the disruption of the beam fields.  Lightning bolts of white heat erupted from where the two blades met, singeing the hair on my knuckles and the rest of my body in an instant.

I pushed off of Kouzuki’s blade and powered down my own to release myself from the death hold of the disrupted fields.  As I skidded backwards, I powered my blade back up and worked the controls to send it zigzagging down the street, careful now to avoid touching Kouzuki’s blade that reached out for me.  The blades intertwined, racing each other to meet their target.  I bent my blade and it jutted into the side of a building as I crouched under Kouzuki’s blade that stabbed for my head, which shot just over my scalp.  I twisted my body around as Kouzuki’s blade veered back around and sizzled the air just millimeters from my neck, and at that moment my blade shot back out from the side of the building.  Kouzuki had overextended himself, and I had him caught in midair without any where to go.  My blade was going to catch him right in the gut.  At the last second, a beam emitted from his other arm and clashed with mine, keeping it from digging into his intestinal track.

All of our beams shut down for a second, flickering from the unstable fields, and then they were powered up and back in action.  Kouzuki whipped both of his blades around, one coming in from the left and one coming in on the right.  I jumped and slid between the small gap between the two, and whipped my beam so that it wrapped itself around them.  I gripped the handle with both of my hands and set my beam to full power.  The handle jerked violently in my grasp as the entire street heated under the blinding white light of the touching beams, and then went still.  I threw the glowing handle to the ground, losing a layer of melted skin with it.  Steam rose from both of Kouzuki’s dead handles.

“Didn’t think you could take me on in with dual blades?”  Kouzuki asked.  “I’ll admit you’ve got talent though. Who did you learn from?”

The question made me pause for a second.  I scanned my mind for memories of how I mastered the beam blade, and wasn’t surprised when nothing came up.  The skills were there, skills that I knew would have taken decades to master – just no memory of how I got them.  I must have set mem-blocks in place, to either protect myself or the person that taught me.  Either way, I knew I must have had a good reason for it.

“I picked it up last week, actually.”  I thumbed at one of the grenades that sat on my belt.  I only had two frags and one screen nade.  I was running out of tricks, and had no idea how many more Kouzuki had up his sleeve.

Kouzuki scoffed.  “You think you’re funny.  I’ve got news for you:  you aren’t.  You’re trash, just a stray dog that needs to be put down.”

“I’ve got news for you:  you’re a grown man that still plays dress up and pretends that he’s doing something good in the world.  Let me ask you, how many deaths are you responsible for?”

This struck a nerve with Kouzuki.  He bared his teeth, his face contorting into something truly evil.  I didn’t wait for a reply, I snapped the frag nade off my belt and lobbed it into the air above him. He didn’t hesitate either, and he pressed a button on his costume that caused it to shift up and cover his face and other exposed areas.  Then he disappeared into the surroundings.  The nade floated over an empty street, and I dove out of the way as it exploded.

I jumped back up to my feet, trying to listen for the faint tapping of footsteps, but the alley was completely silent.  My jaw exploded in pain from a blow I couldn’t see.  I lashed out, trying to catch Kousuki in his attack, but received a kick to my already cracked ribs.  Two more punches to my lower back – kidney shots that guaranteed I’d be peeing blood for the next couple of days – then another to my face that spun me around, spewing blood from my mouth.

I stumbled and managed to keep myself from going to my knees.  Blood ran down my face, from wounds both new and old.  The wounds pulsed with a regularity of pain, each throb its own cinder block being dropped on my face.  I reached for my other grenade, but a kick bent my fingers back until they snapped at the joints, and the nade went spinning out of my hand.

The fresh pain of my broken fingers triggered a sudden calmness in my mind.  I had lost control of the situation, and it was time for me to take it back.  I closed my eyes for an instant, clearing my thoughts, analyzing every move that Kouzuki had taken.  When I opened my eyes a split second later, I was completely refreshed and ready for the next attack.

I coughed blood and bile up into my mouth, and held it there.   Kouzuki’s next blow landed in my gut, hitting my diaphragm and causing my vision to black out for a split second.  Without thinking, I spit out the pint of blood and bile that had sat between my busted cheeks, let it erupt from my mouth and onto the invisible figure in front of me.  Part of his outline flickered, and he hesitated, probably wondering if I had seen him.  That hesitation was just long enough for me to launch onto him, grab him by his suit and let my hands do the work that my eyes couldn’t.  I pulled him above my head and supplexed him into the cracked pavement.  The fabric ripped under my fists and flickered in and out of the visible spectrum.

Kousuki tore free of my grip and rolled a safe distance from me.  Parts of him floated above the ground where the shroud was torn – a disembodied forearm, random parts of his torso, half his face, and assortment of other pieces.  My mind was able to put all of his movements together, like some sort of human puzzle, and I stitched together a scene of him reaching behind his back, pulling something out of a hidden pocket, and then swinging his arm around.

I couldn’t see the needles that he threw, but I could feel them – dozens of them – each causing a burning sensation in my veins where they had pierced through skin.  My balance decided that would be a good moment to take a break, and I toppled face first to the ground.

Kousuki’s laugh echoed through the now deserted street.  He walked over and grabbed me by the scalp, lifting my head up so our eyes met.

“This was easier than I expected it to be.  All I had to do was listen to that doctor of yours.”   He smiled.  “He was quick to sell you out, and for such a low price!”

Another burst of laughter echoed off the buildings around us, but this time it wasn’t Kouzuki.  I rolled my eyes up in my head, and caught a look at the black leather shoes The doctor wore as he strolled up, the rubber soles pattering on the asphalt with each step he took.  He stopped a good ten feet away and exhaled a lungful of smoke that sat stagnate in the air around him.  He flicked the red hot ash from the end of his cigarette and clutched his face as he let out another bout of maniacal laughter.

“What a low price, indeed!” he said.  “It was too easy, wasn’t it, Levi?”  He took another drag off his smoke between his fits of hysteria.

“Richard, Kouzuki, or whatever the hell it is you go by,” the Doctor said.  “Now might be a good time for me to warn you that anesthetics and tranquilizers have no effect on Levi.”

I waited just long enough for the look of confusion to register on Kouzuki’s face, and then made my move.  I grabbed hold of Kouzuki’s ankles and spun my lower body upward, my left leg wrapping around Kouzuki’s chest and slamming him to the ground.  My right leg followed soon after, with full downward momentum into Kouzuki’s wind pipe.  I continued to keep the pressure on his neck and completely cut off his wheezing gasps for air.  The harder he struggled, the tighter my squeeze got.  His arms flailed, each time weaker than the last, until they were just barely pawing at me.  He let out one final spasm of life, and then the fight was over.

I rolled his limp body off mine and worked my way back to my feet.

“This is the third one we’ve got like that,” the Doctor said.  “I must say I’m surprised this method still works.”

I coughed up another pint of blood, and smiled, showing my red stained teeth.

“They’re strong, but nobody said they were smart.”

I pulled the dirty wad of paper from my pocket and walked over to join the Doctor.  I was patting my pocket for my pen when the Doctor held it out, letting it hang between his thumb and index finger, taunting me.

“You left this back at the clinic,” he said as a wicked smile stretched across his face.  “Speaking of which, it looks like I need to give you a new face.”