Rating: R for violence. No sex.
Characters: Hellboy, Kroenen, Abe, a few OCs from the BPRD, including pathologist to the undead, Dr. Leah Andrews
Summary: After the movie, Hellboy takes a team back to the Moscow cemetary to clean up.
Kroenen did not know how long he waited there in the dark, impaled upon his own spikes, crushed under gears he had designed. Long stretches of blessed unconsciousness mixed with the more horrible eons of wakefulness. No magic he could think of would free him, and he had already made every bargain with the Ogdru Jahad that he could. The silence with which they greeted all his pleas was deafening. After a time he bent his mind on his own death, releasing the clockwork that held his heart in motion, unpinning the network of wires that held his internal organs in place, but nothing came of it. The procession of sand would tick through his veins with or without his sanction, like an ever-turning hourglass. In the darkness his mind seemed to devour itself, going over problems of engineering and medicine, tracing well-worn paths until they could be traced no further. Memories of things he would rather forget crept in to dance. His mind did not usually run to the fanciful, but he could picture his thoughts capering like medieval devils around a bonfire. It was fitting then, that his prayers should be answered by a demon. After an eternity of waiting he heard a woman's voice speaking in the clipped, accent-free English he associated with American intelligentsia. An affected voice, with a superior, nasal edge. "There's a man under here." A forklift pulled the gear off of him and he saw a huge reddish figure silhouetted by a work lamp. "Right where I left him," said Hellboy. He took a puff on his cigar. "Take his swords and his knives. Take the hand. I'll carry him. Kroenen was spattered with shavings of metal as some agents cut down the forest of spikes with their diamond-hardened jigsaws. The woman donned one of Kroenen's masks to protect her eyes. Kroenen thought maybe she had seen him move, but if she did she gave no sign. "He ripped through his own arms and legs to free himself, Dr. Andrews," a male agent said in quiet horror. The woman answered, precise and impatient, "Yes, Kyle. Let's gather some of the sand to study it." Kyle ventured within reach of one of Kroenen's hands, and Kroenen could have killed the man in a heartbeat, but he remained still. The Odgru Jahad spurned his bargains now; perhaps this human agency would not. They took his knives and wrapped them in cardboard. The woman, Dr. Andrews, found the catch at his wrist that released his mechanical hand and took that. The tendons and wires in his arm twitched when they were cut off from the hand. "What's that?" Kyle asked. Latent nerve functions. Not sure. I'll study it," answered Dr. Andrews. Hellboy lifted Kroenen off the spike he had been unable to rip out, the one that went right through his back. Sand poured out like a river as they transferred him to a stretcher. They secured his arms and legs, and bore him up and out of the graveyard. Although she would never show it, Dr. Leah Andrews was nervous about being on a mission with Hellboy. He had a tendency to get his co-workers killed, and Dr. Andrews had no special abilities beyond her incisive mind. Sitting with Hellboy in the back of the chopper that would take them to Moscow, then to a plane to Newark, Dr. Andrews wondered if she should say something. The mission had turned out fairly predictable, and she did not have enough experience with Hellboy to know if his brooding silence was typical. "Be careful when you study him, Doctor. He may not be dead," said Hellboy, finally. "I mean, he may not be any more dead than when I threw him in the pit." "I have experience with undead creatures," Leah reminded him huffily. She looked down at her nails; they were clipped very short, as always, but now they had fine sand under them, and the creases in her hands were lined with dust. She rubbed her hands together and wished fervently for the moment when she could wash them and be back in rubber gloves. "He's no vampire," Hellboy said. He took out a cigar and looked at it for a moment before tucking it back in his pocket. "He's closer to a mummy, and no one's really found a way to kill those. You can incapacitate them, but no one's ever been able to kill them. And mummies are usually bound with specific curses, and can only be raised under very specific circumstances." Hellboy lapsed into silence again as they touched down on the tarmac in Moscow. Some additional BPRD agents met them on the ground with a large coffin shaped box. "You're just going to put him in a box?" Hellboy asked. "Titanium," Leah explained. "Etched with holy symbols--although I'm not sure that will help in this case--and locked with bank vault-style locks. We've had worse than this little wind-up toy in there." "I'll sit in the cargo hold with it," Hellboy said, and gave the agents a glare that would brook no argument. It was not difficult for Kroenen to play dead on the way back to BPRD. With so much sand leaking out of him, his motive force ebbed to its lowest level. In his rare moments of lucidity, he wondered if, perhaps, draining all the sand in his body out would finally kill him, but no, that would probably just leave him immobile, but not without unlife. After an indeterminate length of time Kroenen found himself taken out of the box and secured to the table in a bright operating theater. His eyes had been blindfolded with some material that grated uncomfortably on his exposed corneas. He wondered if that was for his comfort of that of the technicians who did not wish to look upon his hideous face. All his clothing had been removed as well and as before he hated the feeling of vulnerability. Kroenen could sense presences around him, the businesslike efficiency of the female doctor, a less certain set of hands belonged to a young male technician, and outside the room some observer lingered. Kroenen could feel the touch of the observer's cool mind on his, a genuine psychic with somewhat alien thought patterns, male but not a man. Given time and proximity, Kroenen's limited telepathic ability might have picked up more, but the time was coming soon for him to act. Abe had images of tearing flesh and breaking metal in his mind when he awoke that morning. The spike through the arm--that had to be torn out before the gear could be pushed off. Abe had dreamt of the man before, nightmares engendered after reading Professor Bruttenholm's observations, but nothing prepared him for the reality of having this creature's thoughts in his head. The thoughts were exacting and clipped, much as Abe would imagine the man had spoken in life. He rarely referred to himself in the first person, especially when thinking of surgeries he had done to himself or injuries suffered. They seemed stuck on a permanent tape loop, a long litany of surgical procedures and memories phrased like entries into a medical journal. Unable to get the thoughts out of his head, Abe went up to the medical bay and caught a glimpse of the scarred arms and torso of Karl Kroenen and Leah Andrews's watery blue eyes above her surgical mask as she cut a bit of flesh away from the wound and put it into a dish of formaldehyde. The thoughts were silent again, and Abe wondered if they had been the product of an overactive imagination--after all, he had known Kroenen would be back in the building soon--and the body lying on the operating table looked dead. Then the creature twisted its hand out of the restraint and pushed the blindfold off its head with the metal stump. Before either scientist could react, Kroenen had a scalpel in his hand and drove it deep into the eye of the young technician. Kroenen hooked his maimed arm around Dr. Andrews's shoulders and held the scalpel to her neck. Abe rushed to the door, but by the time he had unlocked it, Kroenen had finished his bloody work. The revenant pressed the scalpel harder against Dr. Andrews's neck when Abe started to come through the door, so he backed away and went back to the window. Dr. Andrews started to struggle in his grasp, and Abe heard a distinct, if raspy "Don't" come from the creature's lipless mouth. Kroenen cut the surgical mask off Dr. Andrews and it fluttered to the floor. Now Abe could see the terror on her face, and the revulsion at being pinned against Kroenen's dead flesh. Kroenen's naked eyes stared straight ahead and he was as motionless as dead machinery until he saw Abe. The eyes swiveled in their sockets as if they were mounted on stalks, and then his head and neck turned to follow them. "What do you want?" Abe asked from behind the glass observation window. "You need not speak, I can read your thoughts." If possible Kroenen's eyes widened, but Abe looked away before he could see if the visible muscles twitched in the open wounds that made up Kroenen's face. Can it really? was Kroenen's thought. When Abe read an ordinary human's thoughts it was always a disordered alphabet soup of images and words, and learning to pick out the relevant thoughts had taken many years. But Kroenen's thought was clear and crisp as if spoken, with no underlying chatter. The head tilted like a bird's. Very well, I desire the means to repair myself, and some assistance in doing so. Then you may do with me as you wish. The last was thought sarcastically. Abe could see a metal rod protruding from the creature's back. "No more killing, or they'll lock you up and throw away the key," Abe said. The technician sat slumped at the foot of the operating table and the fluids from his pierced eye had mixed with his blood to make his face a slick and jellied mask, but Abe's thoughts were caught in Kroenen's and he gave the death no consideration. Abe had a grudging admiration for the creature's mental discipline. Even in thoughts, he revealed no more than he wished to. Later Abe would wonder how he had been so callous about the gruesome death in front of him. As you say, agreed Kroenen. What is my guarantee? Abe considered and then rejected a few offers. "You get none," he said finally. "But we get none from you, except the bonds of mutual benefit." Abe could feel Kroenen's sardonic approval in his thoughts, and wished to discomfort the creature more. "Hellboy would like to see how you look in pieces. Don't forget that." Leah quickly stopped struggling in Kroenen's grasp, and turned her focus instead on the undead creature who had her prisoner. He was very strong, and his skin on hers was cool. She could feel the sand in his veins crawling beneath the flesh like the march of tiny ants. Kroenen felt her pulse slow back to normal where the big vein in her neck beat against his skin. He pressed the scalpel into her neck a little, to make the blood flow and to feel her fear again. "You've made your point, Nazi," said Abe with distaste. "We have a deal. Let her go." Kroenen let her out of his grasp and she stood up slowly. She went over to the mirror and affixed a Band-Aid to her neck. Her face had gone even paler than its usual sallow white, but Abe thought she seemed composed. She replaced her surgical cap over her stringy pale hair, too colorless a color to be called blond, and got a new surgical mask. "Leah, you should rest, get that cut looked at," said Abe through the glass that separated them. "No, I'd like to get started," she said coolly. "Can you send someone in here to clean this up." Abe backed away frowning. His skin felt hot and sticky, as it always did after too long out of his tank. He suddenly felt he did not have the energy to argue. Abe radioed some agents with flamethrowers to stand guard. Leah's thoughts now drowned out any of Kroenen's. They were her usual internal chatter, but now the themes seemed sinister. Must know, must understand, must discover, Leah's monologue, loud and insistent. Two "Abe, I hate to call your judgment into question but this, well, this is a humdinger," said Manning. The FBI bureaucrat shuffled the papers in front of him deftly between his hands and Abe caught flashes of names: Abraham Sapien, Leah Erin Andrews, Karl Ruprect Kroenen, Kyle James McDonald-deceased. Manning had been doing his homework.
"I had to say something to make him stand down," said Abe. He fluttered his gills in a gesture that was his equivalent for a shrug, but Manning didn't notice. "I've faced that freak before." Manning turned his hand toward Abe, and Abe swam closer and saw the thin seam of a scar cutting across the other wrinkles on his palm. "His only use to us is what he can tell us about the others." Abe fought the desire to tell Manning to get to the point and instead executed a slow back flip through the waters of his tank. Manning tapped on the tank with his West Point class ring, a monstrous piece of metal that dwarfed the stubby finger wearing it. Abe drifted back up to the front of the tank. "Well, I didn't think torture was really the way to go with him," Abe said fastidiously. He privately thought torture was never the way to go, and BPRD came close to the edge of it all to often, but Manning wouldn't want to hear it. "Physically, well, you've read what he does to himself for fun, and psychologically, I don't think it gets any worse than the sensory deprivation of the hole we found him in." Manning's frown deepened. "We don't torture here. We're the US government," said Manning automatically. Abe bit back a snippy response: save it for the press. "What's your suggestion then?" Manning asked. "I've noticed the wind-up freak's friends don't tend to stay dead, so any information we get from him will be valuable." "I've set a rotating team of psychics to listen in on his thoughts 24 hours a day. They, Dr. Andrews and whatever technicians she uses will make full daily reports," Abe explained. "Can't we bargain with him for information? No more medical treatment without some intelligence," Manning suggested. Abe spread his hand helplessly. "That was the bargain I made for Dr. Andrews's life," said Abe. "New bargain." Manning rolled his eyes on seeing Abe's expression. "We can't afford personal integrity here, Mr. Sapien. Surely you remember what they tried to do last time." Abe nodded reluctantly. "Don't worry, I'll go break the bad news," said Manning. "No, no, I'll do it," said Abe. His own personal integrity required that he see this through. He swam to the top of the tank to suit up for another venture into the air. Leah hardly slept since she took on her new project. She remembered her moment of fear for her life, but that had been quickly replaced by an even greater fear that someone else would be allowed to do this work. Someone else would get the credit and the papers, would get the knowledge that she would certainly gain by working on such a unique creature. She was a pathologist, but not the only one working for the BPRD, and not the most favored. But her quick thinking won her this project. She had been working on it two days, and every moment she discovered something new. One of the BPRD's pet psychics sat outside the operating theater with a laptop balanced on his lap, but his fingers were still, and his face wore an expression of frustration. Leah smiled inwardly--she had been reading their reports, which every day said that Kroenen revealed nothing more in his thoughts than immediate surgical plans. One of the psychics, a timid young woman who looked barely out of her teens, had been taken away in tears after just an hour. All she would say was that the images shook her too deeply to continue, but BPRD had her under hypnosis to try to find out anything further. At first the psychics had helped relay Kroenen's instructions to Leah, but she found she did not need them. It was not words she heard from him, not precisely, but some deeper knowledge of what needed to be done, like a light guiding touch on her hands and mind. She did not spare too much time to think about it, lest her mind break like the young psychic's. Leah looked at her watch. Her second day was coming to a close, and soon Abe's voice over the intercom would bid her stop for the day. He allowed her to work fourteen hours, no more, although Kroenen would have liked her to stay longer. She knew, at a level deeper than consciousness, that whether she wished it or no, she was bound to this creature; she had spilled what passed for his blood and he had spilled hers. It wasn't the first time, but it was the strongest. He had not been the first creature on her operating table to rise up and cause injury--a vampire's nails once carved three deep grooves down her arm, and she had felt a similar sense of linkage, but that was severed quickly when the BPRD incinerated the corpse. Leah finished the suturing she was doing on Kroenen's back. She ran the black autopsy suturing thread through holes sixty years old--no need to make new holes when these would never heal. She cut the thread and put away her supplies with a sigh. She could work all night, and there were other repairs to make. The holes through his arms and legs still had to be fixed, but it was not allowed. She kept her eyes on the prone form as she backed out of the room. Would he jump up now that she had completed the most important surgery? She left his key within reach, and by now he would be able to wind himself up and test their refinements to his internal clockwork, but Leah did not want to be in the room when that happened. Leah shut the door quickly behind her, and locked and sealed it. She pressed the combination of buttons that recessed her surgical tools behind the wall panels so he couldn't do any work without her. This was more out of professional jealousy than for safety's sake. He was her project now, not merely his own. Outside of the operating theater she heard the sticky footfalls of Abe and turned. "Your mind is quiet, Leah," he said. "Are you well?" He reached out to touch her shoulder, but Leah pulled away. Common belief among BPRD rank and file was that he could read a mind more easily with physical contact. Abe held up his hands. "I mean no invasion." "I am fine, Mr. Sapien, thank you for asking," Leah answered. What does he waaaaannnnnt . . . ? The question appeared in Leah's mind unbidden, and she jumped. "What was that?" Abe asked. "Did you . . . nevermind." "What do you . . . what are your plans for him?" Leah asked. Abe sighed. "I suppose you should know. The director--it's been decided that he gets no more medical help without giving us some information in return," Abe said. "And you don't like the idea?" Leah asked. Abe opened his mouth to speak, but they were both distracted by a crash from within the operating room. They turned to look at the window and saw it had gone dark. Enough light shone in to show Kroenen was no longer on the operating table. Abe's mind was suffused with images and plans, and he held his head in his hands as he leaned back against the wall. One of the oxygen tanks could be used as a bomb . . . pick out some less necessary stitches and use them to sew up big holes . . . kill . . . die . . . steal a scalpel . . . where is the artificial hand? Abruptly as they started the thoughts cut off again, and Abe breathed a shaky breath. "I think he knows," said Abe. Leah came over to him and put her hand an inch away from his shoulder, not quite touching him. "Mr. Sapien, are you okay? Can I get you something, or someone?" Abe blinked a few times. "Thank you, my dear," he said and patted her hand. His skin was not as clammy as she expected. "When you ride the tiger . . . " he started. "What do you do with a creature of pure evil, Dr. Andrews?" "That's not my department," said Leah blandly. "Turn him over to the Vatican? I don't know, I'm not a Catholic." "I don't know either. I think we can let him think about it overnight. He's not getting out of there." Leah kept a room at the BPRD headquarters, but she preferred to stay in her own apartment. It was in the top floor of a dingy row house in Jersey City, but it was her own. She liked to put on some light classical music while she typed up her days' reports, and watch the sun set over New York City across the water. Tonight, however, the soft music gave her no rest. She sat down a wrote a few sentences ("Subject drew the following sigils and instructed me to etch them on his replacement spinal rod. See Fig. 15 a-d.") but then stood up again at her wind and looked at the cars going by. The light of the headlamps was hypnotizing, and she found herself almost dozing on her feet. Then, deep in the part of her mind that no longer belonged to her, she heard plans for escape drawn up, and then rejected. She tried not to move or breath, lest she disturb this connection. She saw visions of rituals needed for summoning demons (no, too many wards in the BPRD), visions of weapons he could make from pieces of his own body, visions of herself dead, herself used as a hostage, or Abe dying with Kroenen standing over him. She didn't know if these were Kroenen's fantasies or his actual plans, but she sat down at her computer to write them down so Abe and the rest would be forewarned. She called up a new document at her computer and started to type, but then her fingers froze. When would she next have an opportunity to make discoveries like this? Her knowledge of flesh reanimation was triple what it had been just two days earlier. And if she could sense this, surely the psychics could also? Leah had no special extrasensory talents. She settled back at her desk and continued writing up the surgeries. Tomorrow would bring some kind of confrontation with Kroenen, and Leah realized she didn't know who she hoped would win. Three Kroenen retreated out of the glare coming in the windows, to lurk--no--cower in the dark shadows where he belonged. He had expected no different. Why would this human agency keep its word? But still it rankled, and what rankled more was the knowledge that he could tell them nothing they did not already know. His undead army still waited in jars, but was useless without Rasputin's activation, and he would return when he chose, like some dark Messiah whose second coming was only the beginning. What rough beast . . .? Kroenen thought. He tried to control his thoughts of escape, beneath the level of the fish creature's prying, but a thousand scenarios paraded through his mind. Most of the operating theater's potential weapons were locked away now, automatically closed behind seamless cabinets, but a few extra implements were merely locked in glass cabinets. He might be able to fight his way out, but the BPRD held his weapons and masks hostage. They provided him with the wardrobe of the insane--soft shapeless tunic and trousers with no metal anywhere on them. It was scarcely less demeaning than going without. His eyes swept the room. As if placed there by mistake, his key lay in a metal tray near the sink, but Leah did not make mistakes, not here. He knew enough of her mind to know how relentlessly focused it was, seeing nothing beyond the task, the knife, the flesh; a mind like his own. Such clear thinking was so rare in a woman, ruled as they were by base and homely desires, but Leah must have cut that part of herself out, unsexed like Lady Macbeth. Kroenen approved of such ruthless self-surgery. Still, her mind was weaker than his, and here was the evidence. He put the key back in his chest and wound it quickly, a motion so habitual it was automatic. His clockwork was not necessary to his survival, such as it was, but granted him strength and speed far beyond what he could achieve without it. Kroenen felt the sand in his veins start to course more quickly, and as it did it came pouring out of the still-unhealed holes in his arms and legs. He searched around for suturing thread, but found none, and even if he could, he needed further help to sew up the exit wounds the stakes had made. The sand flowing from Kroenen's wounds had ebbed to a trickle, and he felt the hated weakness coming over him. He must lie down and allow his body to generate more. There would be time enough to decide what to do. Abe could not sleep, and instead swam in endless eddies around his tank. He wished, as he often did, for the warmth of a tropical ocean that would heat his body up to a human's temperature, a warmth he thought he remembered from his own pre-history. He did not know why he should feel even a scintilla of sympathy for Kroenen. The man walked along his path toward evil with the precision of an automaton, there could be no forgiveness for him. Or perhaps that was why Abe pitied him; the Nazi followed his path as though he had no other choice. Abe could not hear the creature's thoughts, although if he stretched his mind, he could sense the presence of others in the BPRD. Hellboy's glowering, smoldering presence in the deepest recesses, Liz, her mind filled with images of fire and death, and Myers, who dreamed of kittens, and a young blonde girl who took his hand, but he could not sense Kroenen, except deep in his own mind. A pit of inhuman sentiment had settled in Abe's consciousness, an alien coldness. Abe swam to the top of his tank. He knew what he was doing, but did not know what he hoped to accomplish by it. How could he possibly understand Kroenen, or hope to explain Manning's new requirements of him. Kroenen was like a canker in BPRD; as long as he stayed there he ate away at their resolve to fight evil, for how could they fight evil without becoming it. Manning had an answer, of course, to use Kroenen and then destroy him, but in Abe's mind that made them just as bad as those they opposed. Abe was looking, he decided, for some spark of humanity in the wreck of a man they had imprisoned. If Abe could see that, something in him would be satisfied. He slid into his air suit, and strapped on the water-breather. As he walked down the hall he found he'd picked up his Rubik cube. He twirled it idly between the long fingers of his right hand. Kroenen lay on his back on the operating table, a surgeon's mask covered his lipless mouth, but the lidless eyes stared straight into the blackness of the ceiling. According to Dr. Andrews's reports, Kroenen did not sleep, but he must have some other state of repose. We should get his mask back to him, Abe thought. He sat up and Abe's approach and stared (as if he could do anything else) through the glass. "I gather you, ah, heard," said Abe. Kroenen did not answer, either mentally or out loud. "I could say it wasn't my idea, which it wasn't, but I still speak for BPRD, and stand behind the directive." Abe heard, or imagined he heard, an exasperated sigh. Kroenen lay down again, and Abe detected a whiff of impatience from him. Your justifications do not interest me, thought Kroenen. "I don't care what 'interests' you," said Abe snippily. "The deal is this: give us useful information about Rasputin, Ilsa von Haupstein or anyone else you know of planning to come back and cause Armageddon, and we will continue to provide you with medical care. Refuse and you can stay in one of the deepest cells until you change your mind." Abe heard the tone in his voice and hated himself for it, and hated Manning for making him do this. He cultivated a cool, light persona for dealing with everyone who wasn't a close friend. It kept people from focusing on his differences, kept them professional, but he didn't know he had this nasty vindictive part of himself. I don't know what they're planning, thought Kroenen as he sat back up. What makes you think I was in their confidence? "Don't even try it. Anything could be helpful--histories, rituals, anything. It's an easy bargain to make," said Abe, not believing it himself. Perhaps it was Manning's voice he heard himself speaking with. Betrayal comes easy for you, does it? Kroenen asked, not maliciously, but curious. Abe looked down at the puzzle in his hand. "I think you know it does not, but you . . . ." Abe said. And you are not even human--would you have less, or more to lose than I did--I would? Kroenen asked. "I am as human as I can be," said Abe, "and not under discussion." Kroenen tipped his head to one side, in that bird-like gesture he favored. Perhaps he practiced such gestures that did not require facial expressions, since he kept it covered. I had goals once, Kroenen thought, and Abe realized this was a thought he was not meant to catch, a thought with a hint of despair behind it. Then came the next thought, crisp and focused: All there is to barter with is information, nicht wahr? You do not think I could be helpful to this office otherwise? This special, secret project? Abe did not like the nasty implication Kroenen placed on the words "special" and "secret", but he pressed on. "This deal is not pleasing to either of us," said Abe, trying to sound harsh and conciliatory at the same time. "Give me something for Manning, and you will get Dr. Andrews's services back." Kroenen stood up off the operating table that was his bed. He looked horrifying, yet somehow comical in the red pajamas BPRD had provided for him. He put his hand up to the glass and splayed his fingers. Abe could see the stitches from never-healed, self inflicted wounds stretching as he did so. Abe looked at the hand to avoid looking Kroenen's raw eyes, his mangled and unreadable face. Abe put his own hand up to the glass--the contact was immediate and wrenching. Night--rain--piercing pain--Rasputin pulled into another dimension--pages written in blood--words read from Ilsa von Haupstein's blood red lips--blood sacrifices screaming and dying--breathing in the smoke of burning dead. And through it all ran a thread of hatred and self-inflicted pain so deep and constant that Abe felt himself growing queasy. He wrenched himself away from the contact, and found that he had clenched his other hand around the Rubik cube so hard that the corners had left deep blue dents in his palm that hurt when he loosened his grip. Kroenen tilted his head again. It doesn't help does it? I've held nothing back, and yet it gives you nothing. Abe couldn't tell if he heard gloating in the creature's thoughts or desolation. He let the toy fall from his hand and walked away from the window. He could sense Kroenen had actually held back, but he had still given Abe so much information, that Abe would be sorting through it for days, or years. Kroenen had given Abe most of his memories, probably many clues that could help them prevent Rasputin's return, and yet Abe could not bear to poke into that new corner of his mind. He could feel it festering there like a disease, but Abe was afraid if he looked at it, it would consume the rest of his mind. How could anyone live with such memories? Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it, thought Abe, an adage that the BPRD had proved time and again, but what good was such a history. It oppressed him with a sense of the inevitability of human failure and evil. What does it profit a man to gain the world if he would lose his own soul? Abe asked himself. He found no answer.
Leah came in the next morning to find Kroenen lying down on the operating table, calm as if the previous evening's theatrics had never taken place. There was something more animated about him, a humming energy rather than the corpse-like stillness he had evinced before, something almost cheerful. Leah shuddered a little. As his strength grew, her importance decreased. She was surprised to find no one guarding the room, but prisoner negotiations were not her department. If no one stopped her from working, she would work. Still, his energetic movements, helping her make his final improvements, unnerved her. He had found the key she left for him. She left it as a token, if not of esteem, perhaps as a nod, one colleague to another--a message to tell him she saw him as more than a prisoner. Leah wished to herself for the thousandth time, as she sewed up a wound on the back of his leg, that occult pathology were an accepted form of science. The journals that would allow any articles on the fascinating creature before her were the worst kind of periodical. They filled their pages with dating advice for werewolves, and advertisements for suppliers of black market blood. They would only accept her articles considerably dumbed down from her usual scientific standards. If only she had stayed with the NYPD's pathology department. When a ghoul showed up on her operating table, she made her report accordingly, only to find herself forced to endure daily appointments with the police psychiatrist. No, she told herself, at least here she did not have to lie to anyone about what she saw. Better to go through life with her eyes open . . . and that thought brought her back to her patient, whose eyes would never be closed. She wondered if that bit of surgery had been a metaphorical statement carved into his flesh. As she cut the last piece of thread, Kroenen quickly rolled over and grabbed her wrist, his fingers pinching like a vise, and grinding her flesh against the bones. A body on a table, its arm laid open to the bone, her own hands grasping a cauterizing torch and a scalpel . . .fingers twitching . . . the sounds of screams echoed in her ears but she ignored them and bent to her task. Leah twisted her arm out of his grasp and backed toward the door. He made no attempt to follow. "You could learn so much," he said in a harsh and garbled whisper, and she realized he was offering her Faust's bargain. "You're finished," she said, not answering his unspoken question. "You're fixed." Leah had her hand on the doorknob, and she pulled it open and went through it so fast it caught her lab coat as she closed it. She bent to free herself, and on the floor saw Abe's Rubik Cube. No telling why it was there. She cradled it in her hands for a few moments and looked in on her patient. He stood in he bare feet, with bare eyeballs turned toward her. He made such a pathetic looking figure that Leah felt a moment of pity. She opened the door again, just a crack, and threw the toy to him. His arm shot out fast as a snake's tongue and he caught it. Abe would have liked to huddle in a corner with his arms wrapped around his knees as he had seen Liz, and even Hellboy, do when they were sad or overwhelmed, but such a motion did not work well in a tank of water, and bobbing around like a cork did not help him get a handle on his mood. Earlier in the day Manning had come to his tank, tapping on it again with that obnoxious ring. "Well? Did he tell you anything?" "Yes," Abe said shortly. "And . . . ? Will I see a report? Some time this year?" "Later," said Abe, and he swam to the back of his tank, and answered no more of Manning's impatient questions. Kroenen's memories must be confronted; there was simply no other way. All Abe could do was sort through them, write them down, and make them into an easily digestible report. Much like his own bad memories, these would be better when he faced them. Having been on the wrong side of far too much experimentation and testing at the hands of BPRD scientists, Abe was frightened to face the nightmare version of the person on the other side of those memories, the torturer-doctor he always feared all scientists could be. Even himself. Yes, there lay the meat of his fears, that if he understood Kroenen too thoroughly, he would become him. There was no help for it. Abe swam to the top of his tank and put on his dry weather gear. He liked typing at least; Manning would have let him dictate to a stenographer, but Abe's hyper-flexible fingers made typing a pleasure. Abe sat down to his computer in the corner of Professor Bruttenholm's old office, where it stood out incongruously shiny and new among the old papers and books. His keyboard had a plastic shield on it so he could keep his hands wet and comfortable as he wrote. Karl Ruprect Kroenen was born in 1897. By the age of 10 he performed his first blood sacrifice . . . In her office, Leah attempted to type up a report of her own, but her mind kept wandering. Of course she would never accept Kroenen's offer. It was wrong, impossible, unacceptable and, of course, far too tempting. Leah did not share his apocalyptic fervor, but the idea of limitless experimentation, unbounded by ethical considerations did exert a pull on her imagination. And she could publish again. She had heard rumors of rogue labs in places like Zaire, Western China, and remote areas of Pakistan where even respectable drug companies outsourced their testing, places where human life was cheap. I won't go, she thought, but I'd like to know I have the option. Which she wouldn't if Kroenen remained in BPRD custody. His melding of flesh and metal held such promise for the prosthetics industry, and his magic--well, Leah was enough of an expert in her field of occult pathology to know that his source of unlife was unique and needed more study. Imprisoning him, or worse yet, executing him, would rid the world of all that promise. Some part of her mind wondered if these thoughts and feelings were truly hers, but she brushed that away. Still, any plan would have to be put into motion quickly, before Abe overheard an errant thought and stopped the whole thing. First he would need his swords, mask and mechanical hand. Leah stood up and went down to Evidence. The BPRD had a sizable machine shop--mostly used for constructing weapons or containment units--and when Leah walked in she saw one of the technicians holding one of the swords into the furnace with a pair of tongs. Leah yelled above the din of fire and machinery, "What do you think you're doing?" The technician pulled the sword out of the furnace and turned around. "It won't melt," he said. "It barely even gets hot. The mass spectrometer says it's a fairly ordinary steel alloy, but that would melt at this temperature." "Did you even think about physical evidence?" Leah spat, hoping to jolt the man out of his techie haze. "Well?" "Dr. Andrews. The pathology techs already checked all his effects over. I got permission." "Not from me you didn't. I'm point on this project, or didn't anyone tell you." Leave it to Manning to undermine her authority. The tech looked sheepish. "I haven't put the other one in the furnace yet," he said. "Thank God for small favors," Leah snapped. "Have someone box up all of Kroenen's effects and bring them to my office." "Yes ma'am," said the tech, fully chastened now. Leah went back to wait in her office, and only ten minutes passed before the tech brought up a neatly packed crate containing boots, jumpsuit, vest, mask and sitting on top the mechanical hand. Leah thanked him curtly, and shooed him out. She picked up the hand from the top of the box, admiring the elegant filigree work in the metal. Another frustrated artist? she thought, then shied away from such imagining. She glanced at her wall clock. Night was falling outside; the time approached to execute her plan, if it happened at all. She carried the box into her operating theater, where Kroenen waited expectantly. She started to tell him that she had a plan, but the words were choked off somehow. He gestured for the box of his things and Leah handed it to him. She felt as if she were not fully under her own control, but she turned her back to give him privacy as he put back on his gear, and the pictures of his plan formed inside her mind. Leah found herself nodding in agreement. Leah turned at a clattering noise behind her. Kroenen had opened up a collapsible gurney and lain himself down on it. He beckoned to her and Leah covered him with a sheet so she could wheel him out the door, but then she stopped for a moment. "How do you know Abe won't find out? He'll read my mind later! This was a dreadful idea," she said suddenly. She stepped back, expecting to find herself held captive by Kroenen's terrible grip, but instead he spoke.
"He will not read you. I swear it," he rasped. "But--" Leah protested. "I swear it." His tone would allow no argument. Leah fixed her hair under a surgeon's cap, and put on a mask as well, so she would look like any other orderly at a quick glance. She wheeled him out the door and to the morgue. This evening the funeral home would come to pick up the body of Kyle MacDonald, Kroenen's victim, but instead they would get his murderer. Leah flashed her badge and the attendant waved her through, back into the refrigerated room of locks and drawers. She found an empty drawer and affixed Kyle's tag to it. These drawers could be removed as a sealed coffin-like box, so, with luck, they would never even check that it was Kyle's body within. Leah started to raise the gurney up to the height of the drawer when Kroenen sat up. "Thank you," he said. He tilted his head to one side, and Leah thought he might say something more. She drew closer to hear what he might say, but instead of speaking he grabbed her throat and drove one of his small knives into the back of her neck. Kroenen leapt down from the gurney, and picked up Leah's fallen body. He had promised, and now Abe would not read her mind. Still, it seemed a waste of such an amoral intelligent person. She could have been very useful. He lowered the gurney and placed her on it. Blood had spilled over the front of her scrubs, but none had touched him or the floor. He eased the knife out of her neck and let the blood soak slowly into the padding on the stretcher. Kroenen had taken one item with him from the operating theater that was not his own, the odd cubic toy given him by Leah. Leave it to a woman to be so purposelessly sentimental, he thought. He tucked it under her hands. In death, the unpleasant line between her eyes had smoothed out, and the mean, pinched look from her features relaxed. Kroenen looked at her again before pulling the sheet up over her face. Kroenen turned to maneuver himself into the morgue drawer, but something drew him back. Leaning over the woman's body, he whispered a spell. Three days hence, if it were her desire, she would come to find him. The spell would only animate her for a short amount of time, and if she wished to remain dead, so she would stay, but it would give her enough power to open a grave and seek him out. Abe typed without ceasing for nearly eighteen hours. Finally, almost too stiff and sore to stand, he made his way back to his tank and slept a dreamless sleep. In the morning he went to see Dr. Andrews. Of anyone in the BPRD, she would have the best idea of what they should do with Kroenen after fixing him. He needed to talk it out with someone, but she was not in her office, and even worse, neither her nor Kroenen was in the operating theater. Abe turned to sound the alarm, when it started going off of its own accord. "All senior personnel needed in the morgue immediately!" came a panicked male voice over the loudspeakers. Abe raced through the halls, nearly running into Hellboy on his way. He pushed past Hellboy, and heard him say an aggrieved "Hey", but he did not stop. The morgue seemed full of people in lab coats, but they all stepped back and away from the body in their midst. There lay Leah with a Rubik Cube clasped like some bizarre bouquet in her hands. Abe took it from her, easing it out of her stiff fingers. It had dried blood on it, but Abe could see that every side had only one color. It had been solved. A cursory investigation cleared Abe of any negligence and placed the blame on Dr. Andrews. Abe received a commendation for the thoroughness of his report. The next day the story on the front page of all the Newark papers was of a stabbing in a funeral home. Two days later the elderly owner of the same funeral home died of a heart attack when a female corpse, stabbed through the neck, got up and walked away from his slab.
* * *