Doc may be a lot of things…but he’s not a liar.
The next six months flew by. Literally, in some ways, since I was still flying all over the world. Not just cleaning up mod messes now, though, but also consulting with other labs who either wanted to be part of the international network or who were already in it but needed help. The guys and I still managed to finish all three papers we’d been working on, though, because although we were still on the TSA’s fondle-with-care list – because there’s still no way to take someone off of it, apparently – the freeze on everyone else’s passports had been lifted so I wasn’t having to travel alone anymore.
Nor was I allowed to. Yeah, our volunteer security guys had been pretty adamant about that being a bad thing, so we hired them – they are the owners of a private security company, after all, not just some random ex-military guys who showed up at the lab wanting to help. They aren’t at the lab all-day every-day anymore, but they keep tabs on our building’s security, make sure our detective at LAPD stays up-to-date on any security-related issues, and one of them travels with us whenever we fly anywhere. At first I was kind of worried about that – afraid it would look weird or offend someone because we had a bodyguard with us – but I was apparently the only one who thought that because everyone else just accepted it and most of them seemed to think it was a pretty good idea. Ivor thought it was an excellent idea, but then he has…personal reasons to want me to stay safe.
Yeah, still a thing. Even with six thousand-odd miles between us. We don’t have it as good as Joey and Angela, because I can’t just fly over there for a long weekend whenever I feel like it, but we’re both grownups with really demanding jobs and great international calling plans, so we’re totally making it work. And since our labs are officially connected, we also have a lab-to-lab video conference every couple of weeks. So yeah, the guys have ‘met’ Ivor and his team, and everybody gets along. No, it’s still not safe for them to come over here – in fact, their security guys and our security guys have had some really long talks about that, because the American agents who came to see us have fallen off the radar and the one who tried to kill Hana and I has even disappeared from the government’s end of things. And we know this because they were trying to investigate us as ‘persons of interest’ in his disappearance until Rick threw some paperwork at a federal judge and the judge told them to suck it up and stop being sore losers.
Literally he told them that, it’s in the transcripts. Apparently he didn’t think very much of them deciding to start investigating us the day after our lawsuit against the government was decided in our favor. Yeah, they settled, and they did it really fast because the judge over that case had all of the Project Chaney information Doc had given Detective Angelo and the newspapers and he’d been starting to make noises about thinking the Pentagon’s lawyers were hiding stuff from him. Rick doesn’t think they were, he thinks they were afraid to admit just how sloppily that project had been shut down, leaving a handful of agents and a half-crazy scientist running rogue with plenty of resources and no accountability.
Part of me sort of envies them. We’ve always had everybody looking over our shoulders: the media, OSHA, EHS, the ASPCA, Interpol. And the snooty bitch from the Department of Public Health, Ms. Perry, is still trying to catch us doing something wrong too. She even tried to get the county zoning commission to shut us down because Dave and Hana and I live at the lab…but she apparently hadn’t done her due diligence on that one any more than she had on the rest of them, because the bounty hunter before us had gotten a waiver for living on the premises and it was still valid.
Still, that made us think about possibly moving our business to a new location. We need more room, our security guys say we need more and better security, and if we buy something with enough land then we could possibly build a few houses there too. The zoning staff is helping us find just the right spot – turns out their office manager’s dander-reactive son gets a lot of joy out of being able to play with the catopeets on visiting animal days at Children’s. They’ve already found a few places that might work, so on top of everything else we’ve also been having to shoehorn in real-estate walkthroughs and consultations with an architect.
And this weekend, I was also shoehorning in a convention Hana had been invited to take part in – see, I was right, I am actually bunnygirl519’s assistant. It made for a pretty long Saturday, especially since Joey and I had just gotten back from yet another trip to India, but I wasn’t upset about it. I didn’t have to do anything at the con except be there with Hana and interact with the VIP handler they’d assigned to her, but everyone was nice and they took really good care of us so I actually had a pretty relaxing day. And I’d have all day Sunday to just kick back and relax, after all. By myself, even, because Dave had gone to visit his folks for the weekend, which meant I wouldn’t have to share the TV with him.
It didn’t occur to me how many different kinds of bad this situation actually was – the security guys don’t usually come with us when we’re running around the city – until Hana and I left the con and headed out to the parking garage…and were intercepted before we ever made it to my SUV. Late on a Saturday afternoon, on a weekend when nobody but the two of us were going to be in the lab.
Remember before when I said Doc was nuts? Yeah. We’d sort of known it was only a matter of time before he went off the rails, but I’d honestly thought it would take a little longer than six months. I was in his lair thinking this, because the people who had intercepted us were his people, and that’s where they’d taken us. Hana was scared. I was scareder. Because the minute they took the blindfolds off and Doc stepped into the stripped-out room we were standing in I knew the truce was over and it was game time again. And when it comes to Doc, game time could mean a whole lot of things, some of them pretty bad. Especially if he’s getting ready to bug out.
He was obviously kind of gloating but not out loud, and he was very thorough about checking with his guys to make sure everything had been done according to his instructions. Mainly to make sure no one had seen them grab us, and nothing had come up during the last few hours that could make someone notice we were missing any time soon. Knowing he wanted time scared the hell out of me, moreso because Hana was with me. “Doc…”
He beamed at me. “Danny, my boy, I’m sorry about the abrupt summons,” apparently that’s what supervillains call kidnapping these days, “but we’re about to change locations and I just had to speak with you before I left town. You and I have some unfinished business, and I want to finish it before I go. Loose ends are messy.”
I cocked my head, trying not to flex my arms against the zip ties – the plastic will cut you if you struggle, and I didn’t want to bleed to death all over his floor. He’d probably be offended by that because it would be rude. “I didn’t realize we had any, Doc, but okay. I’d appreciate it if you let Hana go first, though. She doesn’t need to be a part of this, it’s between you and me, right?”
He laughed. “Well, actually, she is a part of it, Danny. Because I’ve been thinking about the problems she had after I changed her – problems you haven’t been able to solve, and since human modifications are my specialty I felt like I should help you with that.” He shook an admonishing finger at me. “Naughty of you to be so stubborn, really it was. So what do you say, shall we talk about the problems with Miss Kim’s modification?”
I swallowed. “She doesn’t want to be changed back, Doc. We’ve asked her. And her boyfriend…”
“Wants to join her. Yes, I know. But you refused to accommodate him until you were able to guarantee a reversal…and until you thought you could fix the problems with the transformation.”
I swallowed again. It was true. Hana can’t talk, and she goes into heat; I didn’t want to do the same thing to Barry and have the two of them living in the lab for the rest of their lives. They deserved better than that. “Yes,” I agreed. “That is part of the reason I kept putting him off.” Hana made a mournful little noise, and I shook my head at her. “Sweetheart…I want the two of you to be able to live normal lives, on your own. You can’t do that if neither one of you can talk and you can’t control yourselves during…that time of the month.”
She made the noise again, and Doc patted her head. “Never fear, my dear, our darling Danny may not have been able to do it but I most certainly can. And while I’m not very happy with how slowly he’s been moving on that project, his reasons for going at such a methodical pace were above reproach. Still, though…” He wandered over to a table, picked up a very familiar syringe and held it up so I could see it. “I’m not an altruist, Danny. The Project beat that trait right out of me, oh yes it did. So I’m going to make you an offer: If you agree to let me inject you with this,” he gestured with the syringe, “then I will administer the proper treatment to give Miss Kim back her voice – without harming her or otherwise altering her modification. I can’t fix the breeding cycle without turning her back most of the way,” he added. “So that’s off the table. However, I believe that if you simply had your partner Dr. Montoya create a custom formulation of the Pill for her the situation would be considerably improved. So?”
“Will you do her first?” I asked, and he nodded. She’d started to cry, and I couldn’t look at her. Truthfully, all I could see were him and the syringe full of mod activator. It could be anything. Knowing Doc, it could be anything at all. But he wasn’t wrong, because even once we’d reverse-engineered the reversal process I still hadn’t been able to figure out how to reverse things that selectively so I could bring back her voice without changing anything else. Doc was the only one who’d managed that kind of control with the process, the only one anywhere. “Okay, then, I agree.” Hana chittered furiously at me, and I made myself turn and look her in the eye. “Stop,” I ordered. “If he says he can fix it without hurting you, he can – he’s nuts, but he’s not a liar. You can’t keep living in our lab, Hana, it’s time you got back to your life.”
“Very true, it is.” Doc put down the big syringe, picked up a really tiny one and walked back over to her. The goon holding on to her tipped her head back, holding her still so she wouldn’t jerk, and Doc felt her throat until he had the place he wanted the needle to go. Another goon handed him an alcohol wipe and he sterilized the spot, and then he slid the needle in and depressed the plunger. He pulled it out and handed it off to his goon-assistant a second later, and he put a little pink bandaid over the spot where it had gone in. “There you go, my dear, all done. We’ll just give it a few minutes so Danny will know it worked.”
And so we waited. She was upset and it showed, and then she started swallowing a lot and making sounds like she was trying to clear her throat…and then she started coughing. Doc was nodding. “Yes, there it goes. Cough it loose, dear. I know it hurts a bit, but I’ll get you some water in a moment – right now you’d choke on it, and we don’t want that.”
She kept coughing…and then, finally, she stopped. And cleared her throat again, giving Doc a wide-eyed look. He smiled and had his assistant give her a sip of water through a straw, which she swallowed with the little wince someone gives when they try to drink with a sore throat. And then she turned her head and looked me right in the eye. “D-Danny?”
We were prisoners of a crazy guy, and he no doubt had something awful in mind for me…but I couldn’t help it, I grinned from ear to ear. “Hana, you don’t know how glad I am to hear your voice. Throat sore?”
“A…a little. It’s getting better.” She already sounded less scratchy. “But Danny…”
I kept the smile; for her sake, I had to. “It’s okay, sweetheart, really. Doc won’t kill me, he’s not a murderer.” He’d already gone back for the big needle, and he was walking up to me with the kind of smile on his face a cat gives a mouse before playtime starts. I looked down at the needle, then back up to meet his eyes. “Doc, please,” I begged him under my breath. “Please don’t make her watch.”
For just a second, the crazy in his eyes flickered and I saw something there I didn’t understand…and then he beamed from ear to ear. “I believe I can accommodate that request,” he said, and stepped back. His assistant moved to stand in front of me, raised a really horribly familiar tranq gun, and fired. Again, it sank all the way in…but at least I knew this one was calibrated for my weight, because Doc’s a professional. The goon holding me cut the zip tie on my wrists and caught me as my legs lost all their starch. Hana was screaming bloody murder, but I just looked up at Doc and smiled at him. “You’re a bastard…but thanks for that.”
He smiled back. He even got in close and ruffled my hair. “Sleep well, Danny. This transformation won’t be reversible…but I do believe you’ll grow to like it. I do very good work, after all.”
“You do, yeah.” My eyes closed, I could feel my pulse slowing down…and then I felt the needle slide in. He’s not a liar, I reminded myself. He’s not a liar…