Title: The Hand--A Vignette
Characters: Ilsa and Kroenen
Rating: R for violence and gore
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"Ilsa is that you? I could use a hand." Ilsa looked at the scene on Karl's desk. She was used to seeing blood and bones there, interspersed among the gears and bits of wire. She recalled one day when she had seen him cutting slowly into his own arm, and drawing out a piece of the muscle there. She had watched, horrified, as he laid a thin bronze tube into the opening, and attached the ends to something in the flesh with a pair of pliers. That was before he had first donned the mask, and when she asked him what he was doing, he looked at her blankly for a moment with watery blue eyes, before saying: "I'm making improvements." The sight she saw now was far worse, but she forced herself to laugh. "Cute," she said steadily, and, indeed, he did need a hand, for he had carefully stripped one of his own down to the bone, with only the smallest scraps of flesh still clinging. She liked the sight of blood, especially when she caused its flow, but someone spilling his own blood always seemed odd, as if it belonged to a different discipline from her own. "What about your assistant?" "He had no stomach for it." Kroenen jerked his head toward the corner and Ilsa saw the crumpled figure of the doctor's latest assistant, a crimson stain widening and darkening from his abdomen. The man was moaning lightly, but Ilsa hadn't noticed. Moans and screams issued so often from this chamber, she had learned to ignore them.
"Do the jokes help? With the pain?" Ilsa asked cruelly. She wished she could see him react, but the mask hid anything, and if there was some extra tightness in his voice, well, she might be imagining it. "Does the Master not provide you with enough subjects, that you must perform these experiments on yourself?" The blank orbs regarded her again. "Of course he does. But I get the most knowledge this way. It is the only way to truly understand. And it would have been fine if Georg hadn't balked at helping me complete it." Ilsa softened slightly, as much as she was able--she could hear the desperation behind the monotone voice--he had gone too far, again, but would never admit it. Kroenen had reminded her, years ago, of a schoolboy plucking the wings off songbirds, and wondering why they couldn't fly after. The Master had a purpose for his relentless tinkering and experimentation, so she must help him. "Of course, if you're not . . . up to it," he continued, "you can just call in Hans and see if he'll help." Ilsa set her face in a scowl. She knew she was being baited, but couldn't resist snapping at it. "I can handle anything you can," she said, jerking her chin up. Hours later sweat ran down her face and between her breasts. She wiped her hands off on her pants every few minutes to continue holding the tools steady. She had to admire Kroenen's will, if nothing else. Blood leaked slowly from the open wound where his wrist was, and every so often he cauterized a vein with a tiny acetylene torch, never flinching. He gave instructions and she helped, placing a wire here, tightening a screw there, until the interstices between the bones filled with machinery, and he finally connected two wires into the flesh of his forearm and could move his new fingers again. He swatted her occasionally when she was clumsy, but she bit her tongue and simply followed his orders. Finally he fitted the filigreed carapace over his hand and flexed the fingers again. He picked up one of his knives and twirled it deftly between the metal digits. Ilsa thought he must have been smiling beneath the mask. She was covered with sweat and her fingers were sticky with oil and blood. She curled her lips. "If you're done with me, then . . ."
He reached out with lightening speed and grasped her upper arm with the new metal hand. "Thank you, Ilsa. I couldn't have done it without you." "You're no use to the Master maimed. One day you'll go too far, Karl." "No one is born perfect," he said, face turned toward hers. Ilsa couldn't see his eyes behind the mask, but she imagined those blue orbs looking her up and down, and that twisted brain thinking of what gears and improvements he might like to install. She shuddered and shook him off, and left the room without looking back.
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