Disclaimer: Darien Fawkes, Claire, Bobby Hobbes, Eberts and all the rest belong to someone else. Not me though. Unfortunately.
On Tuesday she attempts to leave early so she can get a head start on the drive out to the hospital. It's only an hour outside San Diego but some weeks the drive seems like forever, the endless miles of desert stretching out to the horizon as far as she can see.
This Tuesday she has a removal in the morning, a young soldier named Davis no more than twenty-five who is all smiles when she enters the lab. He's been down here for the last three days getting prepped, being injected with the necessary chemicals and being x-rayed every three hours so she can monitor the progress of the gland, to make sure the body isn't rejecting it to quickly. An assistant hands her the latest film as she walks in the door.
"Hey Keeper, how's it look?" Davis asks, sitting up a little in his bed. "I am getting it taken out today or what?"
"Looks like the rejection is coming along nicely," Claire says, holding the x-ray up to the light. "We'll get you prepped in a few minutes and the gland should be out of you by noon."
Davis beams a smile at her. He's been like this for the past year, constantly flirting and trying to get her attention at every turn. As if he couldn't see that someone else was on her mind.
"So, doc, is this going to be dangerous? Should I say my prayers before you put me under?"
"The procedure to remove the gland is quite simple, actually," she says, turning to glance at the monitors. "The drugs we've been administering to you the last few days cause the brain to suddenly reject the grafted tissue of the gland. Now all I have to do is go in and snip it out,"
"Cool," Davis says. "What will you do with the gland after you cut it out? Just chuck it?"
"Actually, yes," she replies. "The latest versions of the gland are destroyed by the removal process. A security measure, so that no one who captured one of the Imans would be able to reuse or replicate the gland."
"They put a million dollar gland in my head and it goes in the trash," he says. "That's the government for you."
Claire makes no reply, examining the charts and then putting them down with a sigh. Picking up a needle she walks over to the bed where Davis reclines, watching her. As she goes to inject the serum into his IV he moves out a hand to stop her.
"Hey doc, are you sure you couldn't leave it in a little longer? I've kinda gotten use to going quicksilver, you know."
"You know the rules," she tightens he fingers around the syringe. "All the Imen spend one week in pre-training, one week for the surgery and recuperation, two weeks post-training, and eleven months in the field. No more, no less," she says. "If the gland is left in too long the brain is unable to reject it and it can no longer be removed safely."
"Then what would happen?"
Davis stares up at her with the wide eyes of a child. A malicious smile plays on the corner of his lips.
"Eventually a resistance to the counteragent builds up, making it impossible to control the quicksilver. The patient soon succumbs to quicksilver madness."
"And then what?"
Claire turns abruptly, injecting the syringe into Davis's IV.
"That will help you sleep," she says. "When you wake up the gland will be gone."
She turns and starts walking to the door.
"Hey Keeper," Davis asks abruptly, and she pauses in the doorway, "who was the first Iman."
Claire pauses, taking a deep breath. "Simon Cole," she answers. "Due to a flaw in the gland he was made invisible permanently, and was killed while still at the lab."
Before she can go, the inevitable question follows. "Who was the second Invisible man?"
"Darien Fawkes," she says, softly.
"What happened to him?" Davis asks.
Claire turns away, letting the door slam shut behind her.
When she comes out of surgery later in the day her assistant tells her that someone is waiting for her in the lab. After cleaning up she walks through the adjoining door to find her visited sitting idly in the lab chair.
"Bobby," she says, calmly. "What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to check on my partner," he answers.
"He's not your partner any more," she replies, brushing back her hair. "The operation was a complete success. The gland was removed completely."
"I'm glad," Hobbes replies. "Davis is a jackass."
"Maybe the next one will suit you better."
"Somehow I don't think so," Hobbes replies softly.
Claire pauses, looking over at him for a moment. "Why are you really here?" she asks.
"It's Tuesday," he says, after a minute.
"Oh," she says, moving closer to him. "And they still won't let you have clearance?"
"That hospital is locked up tighter than Fort Knox" he shrugs. "They only let in medical personnel to see him."
"Maybe you could impersonate a male nurse." Her joke falls flat.
Bobby sits in silence for a while. "How was he doing last time you saw him?"
"Good," she lies.
"Well, better," she admits. "I think things are looking up."
He turns away from her with a sigh.
Outside the Officials office, a maintenance man is adding a new plate to the wall. In the Agency's new, high-security offices a lot more attention is paid to detail. And especially to the project that won them this respect.
On the wall is a plaque baring the name of every Iman. First, Simon Cole, followed by the ominous inscription "Died in the service of his country and the Iman project". The rest of the list is pretty straightforward:
Richard Harper, Iman from 2002-2003
Harold Zink, Iman from 2002-2003
Suzanne Briggs, Iman from 2003-2004
James Welch, Iman from 2003-2004
Mike Dawber, Iman from 2003-2004
Jake Reins, Iman from 2003-2004
Below the list on names is the new addition "George Davis, 2004-2005". The first Iman of a new year. As she reads the names again the conspicuous absence of one name stands out even more.
Eberts opens the door. "He's ready for you now, Claire."
It's only the third time she's been in this office, and still it strikes her as unfamiliar. The new furniture, the new desk, the plants that are green and the windows that actually open. And most of all the new official, who is sitting behind his desk watching her entrance. To be accurate, he isn't really a "new" official at all. He's had this position for four years now.
"It's Tuesday," he announces.
Claire looks at Eberts, unsure of herself. "Yes, sir, it is." she replies.
"Are you going to visit him today?" The new Official asks.
He sighs, tapping a pencil against his desk. "Do I need to remind you, Claire, that I have specifically asked you not to continue your visits to the hospital."
"It's my personal time," she says.
The official sighs. "I suppose it is," he answers, "but I'm afraid this continued devotion to Mr. Fawkes is affecting your work negatively."
"I can assure you that it isn't."
From his desk drawer he single sheet of paper and lays it on the table.
"I'll be perfectly honest with you Claire," he says, "there's talk of having you removed from the Quicksilver project."
Claire stiffened. "I don't see why my abilities should be in question."
"Your abilities aren't in question," he said, "but the expense of keeping you here is. Now that the training of other doctors have been completed and it is no longer absolutely necessary to keep you on board, it doesn't seem economically sound to buy your loyalty with these supplemental benefits."
Claire remained silent.
"The funds diverted for additional research on long-term quicksilver exposure," he continued, as if reciting off a list. "The specialists you have brought on as consultants. The leeway we have allowed you in continuing to rebuild Dr. Fawke's research. And of course," he added, "the upkeep of Mr. Fawkes."
"He's in a state run institution. Our taxes are covering his room and board," she spit out.
"Not his experimental treatments, or the physical therapists, speech therapists, or the psychiatrists. Or the additional security we've had to reinforce the hospital with to prevent his kidnapping by a foreign power. Not to mention the fourteen surgeries he has undergone in the past five years. The agency has paid for all of that."
Claire was quiet for a moment. "What are you trying to say."
"What I'm saying," the official said, "is that you have two options. Either you retain your position here, and we will immediately terminate all nonessential services we have offered you for the past five years, including the special services for Mr. Fawkes and the fund and facilities for your continued research. Or you can leave and try to find some other agency that is willing to pay the bills for your little obsession."
Claire stood, angrily, leaning over the desk to stare him straight in the face.
"You disgust me," she said, "the way you pretend like he didn't even exist. Like he didn't sacrifice anything for this agency, for this country. You see him as some mistake you think you can just erase. And now you want to just leave him there, to rot to death in that hospital."
"Mr. Fawkes was a civilian. While his sacrifice is noble, is does not justify this agency's enduring commitment to his cause," he looked her straight in the eye. "You know, you should be thanking me. When I took over this agency I had the opportunity to order the removal of the gland and terminate Mr. Fawkes. The fact that I allowed you all this leeway should prove that I am sympathetic to your cause."
"Fuck off," she said as she turned on her heel towards the door.
The drive out to the hospital seems to take longer than usual, as the days events play over again in her mind. The sky seems to darken as she approaches the hospital, the huge building looming over the horizon as dusk begins to fall. A the front gate the guard waves her through after barely a glance at her security pass; he knos her by now, after making the same trip week after week.
"Evening Claire," the receptionist says as she goes to sign in. "You're early tonight."
"I left work early," she says, under her breathe. "How is he."
The receptionist smiles softly. "He's still about the same... I'm sure he'll be happy to see you."
Claire trys to smile back. "Do you have the new results?"
The receptionist hands over several folders. "Here's all the new information...here, let me buzz you in."
The heavy door swings open, revealing an long hallway filled with identical doorways on either side. This is the low security wing of the hospital, if you could call it that. The patients are free to come and go as they please, and a few of them are wandering down the hallway in twos and in threes. As the door closes behind her a few of them turn to look at her, their lecherous smiles making her blood run cold.
Still, she thinks as she makes her way down the hall, this is a vast improvement on the high security wing Darien was originally housed in; she can still remember the guards padding her down before she entered the room, escourting her down windowless halls filled with locked gates and barred exits. If that was hell then this must be limbo: for those patients unable to live in the outside world but peaceful enough to be treated like human beings.
The door on the hall is Darien's; she requested that he be kept down here, where she thought the sound would bother him less. Before she goes in she opens the file, looking over what the doctors have prepared for her. Everything has only gotten worse, but she expected that. The output of the quicksilver gland was unaffected by the last treatment she prescribed. Progress in physcial therapy and speech theraphy was limited. No noticible improvment in mood. It was all just a continuation of the same downward slope that she had watched for the last five years.
On the top of the folder a note was written by Dr. Haldwall, who oversaw Darien's care. His messages briefed what went on between Tuesdays.
"The new meds had no change (see enclosed data) but I still think we need to try a higher amount before we look for results. The eyes seem to be healing nicely, no evidence of infection when I checked. Other than that nothing much is new. Pysch claims to be worried about his worsening temperment, suggest a new kind of antidepressents. I ordered the new tapes you requested-- should be in sometime next month. BTW-- should I keep putting off Bobby Hobbes? He's been leaving messages all week about getting approval to see him. Stay smiling!"
Haldwall's optimism was almost sickening. Pulling a pen out of her purse she dashed of a quick note in response.
"Tell pysch no more antidepressents. We can't even evaluate him correctly right now. Other than that, continue with the plan of treatment. P.S. Do not approve Bobby Hobbes' petition to see Darien, no matter how many times he calls you. Don't give him so much as a day pass."
She slid the pen back into her purse and slowly opened the door.
It was dark inside, except for the light coming from an open picture window on the right side of the room. She flicked the light switch, before she remember that they still hadn't rewired the room. She set down her purse and the file on a chair next to the door, before straightening up, and looking towards the bed on the far end of the room.
He was lying on the bed, turned on his side, facing a tape player that sat on the table next to him. In the background a tape was playing softly, so that she had a hard time distinguishing the words:
"...human understanding, a faculty of the soul, a combination of principles, forms, or rules according to which we think things. It is the law according to which being is produced, constituted, or unfolded; or rather, it is both a subjective faculty and an objective reality: it is in me as the essence and norm of my thought, and it is in the..."
A philosophy text book-- she remember picking it out for him, thinking he would enjoy it. Softly, so as not to startle him she approachs the bed and calls out to him, softly.
"Good evening, Darien."
His head turns just a fraction of an inch towards her, letting her know he has heard. Then, slowly, he lifts his hand, as it is wieghed a thousand pounds, and presses against the tape player, shutting off the recording.
She approaches the bed slowly, going to sit down next to his prone form. As she does she reaches over and pulls back the covers so she can stroke the bottom of his foot to let him know that she is there.
When she sits here, next to him, it is if all that she has gone through in the past five years comes back to life in her mind. She still remembers the night, as if it was that very night, when she woke up to find him sitting next to her in bed.
"Oh God, you nearly gave me a heart attack," she said, reaching over to turn on the light. "What the hell are you doing here."
He said nothing as he leaned forward and kissed her, gently, on the lips.
After a moment he pulled away. She stared at him, her blood racing, as she stared up at him.
"What was that for?" she asked.
With total calm, he pulled up his sleeve and showed her his tatoo. She stared at it for a moment, not blinking. All but two segment were bright red. "I haven't gone quicksilver," he said softly.
"I don't understand," she said after a moment, "I gave you the counteragent at the end of today. You must have quicksilvered, or your levels wouldn't have gotten this high so suddenly,"
"They never went down," he said after a moment, "the counteragent had no affect."
She looked at him, seeing for the first time a look of panic and of horror in his eyes. "Maybe the counteragent was diluted incorrectly," she said softly, "It's probably just a mistake."
He shook his head, softly. "It's been over a year," he said, "you said resistance would build up eventually,"
"No," she said, "I can make a new counteragent, or we can reuse the old one, or..."
"This is it, isn't it?"
She stared at him, blankly. "I promise I will not let anything happen to you." she said, "You know that,"
He had looked away from her, into the darkness. "I'm not sure it's in your power to stop it."
The madness, when it had begun, seemed to be the same as all the previous times. His eyes, bloodshot and red, his whole body quivering and shaking as if he soul was being strangled from the inside. The pain in the back of his head grew stronger by the day, and as it did his violence, his superhuman strength grew, until they were forced to more him to the secure ward in the hospital. For six months he paced around the padded room like a tiger in a cage, screaming obscenities at anyone who came to listen, ripping at his own flesh until his body seemed only to be held togther by stitches and bandages. In a straightjacket he would hurl himself around the room, trying to do as much damage as he could to everything and anything he saw.
They one day, nearing Christmas, she got a call from Dr. Haldwall.
"You have to come see this...it's a miracle, that's all I can say. He's totally recovered...you won't believe it until you see it!"
When she arrived he was sitting in his room against the wall, reading a book for the first time since she could remember. His body, though still bruised and battered by his earlier attempts at self-distruction, showed no new wounds. He was the perfect example of composure.
As she entered the room, his face lit up. He rose to his feet, shaking, and came over, embracing her, kissing her face, her neck and her hands.
"You were right," he whispered to her, "you did save me."
The recovery lasted for a week, the only week of pure happiness she would have for the next for years. The new symptoms began to show themselves slowly at first, when his wounds and bruises refused to heal. His skin took on a palish tint and his eyes seemed to sink into his head. Claire was unable to remain optimistic for long; it soon became apparent that the quicksilver madness had taken a new turn.
Nothing about the gland had changed; it was still releasing the same amount of quicksilver, and at the same steady rate. But his body was reacting to it in a new way. One by one it seemed to strip away his humanity; first, movement. Within two months of his recovery he could no longer move his legs, and after a while, nothing below the neck. Repairing nerve damage and physcial therapy had repaired some of that, but his hands still moved slowly and unsteadily at best. Then, one by one, his senses were stripped away.
At first his speech grew slower, and then softer, and then stopped. For Claire, having to watch him undergo this steady deprication was even worse when she was unable to talk to him and ask him what she could do. For a while she tried to teach him sign language, but his poor mobilty made it almost impossible, only a few words getting permently added to his vocabulary. Then the sense of touch: suddenly, his nerves began to die, leaving him unable to feel the slightest touch, except at certain, almost unaffected areas, like the bottoms of his feet.
Smell and taste went together, at a time when no one seemed to notice the loss due to other, more pressing concerns. His circulation almost stopped in his extremities, and then his heart, with it's irregularites, required a pacemaker to be put in. It was about three and a half years since the first, terrible night, and Darien Fawkes, the invisible man, had been reduced to lying in his room, reading all day. Each Tueday Claire would come, trying to offer some kind of comfort, and all the time still working on a way to ease his pain.
About a month ago he began to complain, in his scattered sign language, that the light was hurting his eyes. They removed the lights above his bed to make him more comfortable, but after a few weeks the famialer red eyes of quicksilver madness appeared, clouding his vision. Within a week they were infected, and when cataracts began to form, Dr. Haldwall informed Claire that they had no choice.
A week ago Claire had removed his eyes.
She sat on the bed, trying not to cry, as she stroked the bottom of his foot. The bandage across his eyes hid most of his face, and she was glad; had she seen what was left of his beautiful face she would not have been able to hold on. She noticed, suddenly, that he was trying to lift a hand, so she leaned over and took it in hers, supporting it as the fingers moved.
With his hand forming the letter T, he moved his wrist, in a slow semicircle away from her. She knew what the sign meant.
"Tuesday," she repeated out loud, "yes, it is Tuesday."
He nodded, letting his wrist go limp. For now, all that was left to him was what he could hear, between her voices and the voices of the doctors, and the tapes she was able to find for him to listen to when his eyesight began to fail and he could no longer read. It was all she had left to give him.
She stood up and walked around to the other side of the bed and pulled back the covers, crawling into the tiny bed behind him. She wrapped her arms around him, pulling him close; with her ear pressed against his back, she could hear his heart still beating. His body still trudged along from day to day; that was still something to be happy for. And inside, his mind was still intact, though sometimes she wondered if that was a blessing or a curse.
Outside, the sun set.