It happens every night, without exception. The details are different every time, his years living in the secret world blurring together into one messy painting. Tonight, his client is a very old man with a red striped tie, and his monster is a great white wolf.
Sidestep. Parry. Swipe. Miss. Draw. Fire. Roll. Duck. Slice. Cut. A messy ballet, but Aleksander knows it well, understands it in his core. No stage-trained dancer can dance as beautifully as this. No one else can do what he could do.
The battle nears climax. Aleksander's blade clashes against claw, neither material sure which should shatter first.
This is the moment the man in the striped tie, the client, makes his fatal decision, every time, without fail. Aleksander understands why the man in the striped tie did it - he'd paid a lot to come out here. He wants a trophy, something that he can point out to his friends in his study and say, "I killed that. It was a terrible battle, and we almost lost, but I was the one that killed this monster."
He can see it out of the corner of his eye now. The man in the striped tie pulls his shotgun from off his shoulder and aims. Aleksander doesn't have the time to tell him to stop - he pulls the trigger, and Aleksander drops to the floor, his chest torn apart like the wrapping paper on a Christmas present.
Aleksander doesn't remember what happened after that. He doesn't know if the man in the striped tie survived the rest of the night in those deep, dark, woods.
Usually, the dream continues to a hospital bed, and the pieces of him that were cut out.
Tonight, instead, he is awoken by a scream.
Aleksander's eyes opened. He calmly stepped out of bed, grabbing the pistol under his pillow. He cleared his bedroom first before stepping into the hallway. Listened closely for a moment, but heard nothing but his daughter's sobbing. "Lucille? Are you all right?"
"Daddy!" Aleksander could hear the sobs in her voice. "There is a monster underneath my bed!"
Aleksander relaxed. Opened the bedroom door and stepped inside. Slid smoothly to the floor and lay prone, pistol in hand, lifted up the sheets and looked under the bed to find…
Nothing. There was nothing under the bed. Why would there be?
Aleksander got up and flicked the light switch. "No monsters under the bed."
"Yes there is! I just saw him! He had great big teeth and was covered in scales and his eyes were bloody and…" The girl looked up at her father with great big teary eyes. "You have to believe me!"
Aleksander rubbed his eyes. "Shall we look for him, then?"
The girl nodded.
"All right. Do you want to help me?"
The girl shook her head and dove further under the covers.
"Fine. Wait there." Aleksander began to sweep and clear the room, just like a combat zone. He checked the closet, the dresser, behind and under the bookshelf, her night stand, and once again, for good measure, underneath the bed. "Clear," he reported. "The monster must have run away. Do you want me to stay?"
The lump of little girl hiding under the sheets moved in a way that could indicate a nodding head. Aleksander sat down on the foot of her bed and told her another story from his time with the Russian army. She fell asleep half-way through.
In the morning, he made her pancakes.
When Lily got to the office Monday morning, she found her assignment standing waist-deep in a wooden crate full of packing peanuts.
He heard the door shut and glanced up at her. "Have you seen my silencers?"
Lily frowned. "I don't remember ever seeing you use a silencer, Mister Foxx."
He dug through the box some more, throwing packing peanuts all around the small office.
"I had them shipped from my old office." He crawled out of the box and began rifling through his desk drawers. "They were expensive."
Lily began scooping up peanuts and throwing them back in the box. "I'm certain I haven't. You know, they have silencers in the armory. You could probably get one that fits your gun."
He was sorting through the filing cabinets now. "These were special. Void Silencers." He looked over to her, saw her confused expression. "They do not have Void Silencers here?"
"Never heard of them," Lily said.
Foxx closed the filing cabinet, locking it with a brass key. "It is what it is. May you please take me to the quartermaster?"
6:00 AM Subject leaves home, retrieves mail, returns inside (Mail screened previously)
7:45 AM Subject leaves home with daughter, enters motor vehicle.
7:55 AM Subject arrives at daughter's school, daughter exits motor vehicle.
8:00 AM Subject stops at diner, drinks coffee alone, reads paper.
8:32 AM Subject pays for meal (cash), leaves diner.
8:45 AM Subject leaves city limits - as requested, surveillance ceased.
Doctor Gunnel read over the log once again. Apparently, paying for a private detective was useless - not like anyone outside of the Foundation would know what they were looking for any ways.
Gunnel really didn't care who Foxx was, or what the Foundation had planned for him, but as long as his benefactor kept sending him his pay checks, he'd keep sending him whatever they felt like asking him for. After all, money really did talk.
Gunnel read the log again, then heard his computer beep. He felt his heart race - his bug had managed to catch a voice-mail. He practically fell over the play button.
…Um, hi, Mike’s tailoring and alterations calling.
Your jacket and pants are finished, exactly like you ask.
The total comes to… um… $74.50.
…Pick it up when you have the chance, okay?
Our business hours are nine AM to four.
Doctor Gunnel frowned, and began scribbling on a piece of paper.
Despite my best efforts, I cannot seem to get any information on the MC&D purchase. No matter how many bugs I place, investigators I hire, or files I steal, I can't get anything on the anomaly, or how he operates.
He crumbled it up, and tossed it in the bin, before pulling it out and setting it on fire in his ash tray. His benefactor would have no interest in a failure report. He'd need actual information, which means he would have to work a lot harder.
He suspected that he'd have to do more than just bug Foxx's voice-mail. He'd have to bug his outgoing calls, too.
He'd find something yet. Some smidgen of info about Foxx and what they were planning for him.
Lily tried to keep her irritation down to a reasonable level. Her third day assigned to the aggravatingly mysterious Foxx, and she had managed to lose him. He was due for an examination at noon, and he hadn't checked out of the building at any point. He wasn't in his dorm, and he wasn't responding to her calls.
She checked everywhere: Mess Hall, Armory, Offices, Firing Range, Training Halls, Board Rooms, Level-1 Laboratories, and, in an act of final desperation, both the men's and women’s lavatories. She was just about to ask site security to look for him when her cell phone buzzed.
Lily: Going to my tailor. Will be back after lunch.
Lily exhaled, made a note to dress down whoever let Foxx slip past their checkpoints without notifying her, then pulled out her phone.
"This is Lily. Asset Heth has left site. Are you tailing him?"
"Yes Ma’am. We're having a little car trouble at the moment, but it'll be all right."
"All right? What the hell does that mean? Is he still in your line of sight?"
"No Ma'am. But, he's just visiting his tailor. We've been there before. We'll catch up with him soon enough."
"Report to me if you don't. Lily out."
The bell rang as Aleksander walked through the small door. A tall, bald man looked up from his newspaper, before cracking a smile. "Foxie. Long time no see."
Aleksander turned the sign in the door around, letting everyone know that the shop would be temporarily closed. "I got a phone call saying you had my stuff ready?"
The man coughed. "Were you followed?"
Aleksander pulled some copper wiring out of his pocket. "No. My tails had some… car trouble. I'm alone."
The man laughed. "That's my Foxie. You bring cash, or you want me to charge it to a company account?"
Aleksander threw a large, black briefcase onto the counter. "Seventy-four-thousand five hundred dollars, plus tip."
The man threw his newspaper on the counter next to the briefcase. "You never fail to impress." He stood up. "I imagine you want a live demonstration before you walk out with your new gear?"
"Demonstration, please." He remembered his dream from last night, remembered the time his old tailor had sold him a faulty coat and a shotgun blast had gotten through. "I always take a test drive these days."
Baldie unlocked a large steel door and waved Aleksander within. "Words to live by my friend. Words to live by."
Heavy machinery thrummed in the back of the room, rolls of thick fabric being fed into them from steel rolls. To the left of the room was a makeshift shooting range, and in the centre of that was a much-the-worse-for-wear mannequin wearing a pair of black dress pants and a long, thick dress coat.
Aleksander walked towards the firing line. "I assume those are mine?" he asked, drawing his pistol from his coat pocket.
The bald man nodded. "Go for it."
Aleksander fired ten rounds into the jacket. After a few seconds of silence, he watched the squashed bullets push out of the jacket and fall onto the floor. "Impressive."
"Of course. It's also totally fireproof, waterproof, and tear-proof."
Aleksander blinked twice. "You are absolutely sure I cannot rip this jacket?"
The bald man laughed. "I have to use high-pressure water jets to slice the fabric myself. Knives are child's play."
Aleksander put his gun away. "What about the pants?"
"Classic Huntsman long-fall trousers. You'll survive a drop up to 1 kilometer, officially. Unofficially, I've heard of guys surviving up to six. Not sure how true those stories are."
"They're true. I was one of them." Aleksander looked at his watch. "I need to head back to the office. I'll wear these out."
Baldie nodded. "Dressing rooms are upstairs. Anything else?"
Aleksander frowned. "Are you still married to the leatherworker?"
"Yup. Twenty-five years now."
"Tell her I need a new pair of gloves. Oh, and if she still knows the lensmaker, I'll need new glasses. I pay cash."
The orderly pulled a needle and some vials out of one of the drawers and began to prepare them. "That will not work," Aleksander said.
The boffin looked up from the sterilization process. "What?"
"That needle is too small. You will need one much bigger." He flicked the device in question. "That will bend, or break off inside of me. Very uncomfortable. Twenty-seven gauge works best."
The boffin scrawled it down on the yellow piece of paper on his clipboard, then reached for the bigger needle. The jab was quick, and the vials began to fill themselves up with a watery-black liquid. The boffin had been briefed on this, but it didn't make it any less strange to see in person.
He tried running a blood typing test, but the liquid he extracted from Foxx just dispersed through the vials - unsurprising, again, but still really, really weird to see.
He threw the vials into the plastic box on the wall labeled Anomalous Biohazard Disposal. He looked back at Foxx, who was putting on his shirt. "Right, we're all done here. You're free to go."
Foxx stood up. "May I read my results?" He put out his hand expectantly.
"What? Yeah, I guess." He passed the clip-board to the well-dressed man.
MEDICAL FILE - CONFIDENTIAL, DO NOT DISTRIBUTE
Name: Aleksander Foxx
Clearance: Level 2
Date of Birth: October 15, 1978
Age: 36 years
Dates of Testing: █-██-██
- Electrocardiography test
- Electroencephalography test
- Marksmanship Exam
- Physical Endurance Test
- Basic Blood Work & Typing
Aleksander Foxx is a new Agent recently recruited from another GOI, Marshall, Carter & Dark.
Foxx has some anomalous effects which have been described in detail below.
Aleksander Foxx has an allergy to penicillin, but has said that he "has not needed to worry about that for a while, now," apparently due to his anomalous capabilities. He is not on any regular medications of any sort. He stated that his anomaly may react with various chemicals, including any fungicides or pesticides.
Aleksander Foxx has several anomalous properties, all of which he was not born with, but instead, as he stated it, "gifted to him by his employers."
The largest, and most obvious, is the fact that his chest cavity is missing his lungs and heart, and is instead filled with plant matter, that when sampled showed similar DNA to the mundane species Plantae Bryophyta, or standard moss, but with a few genetic divergences.
Through all testing, they appear to act like a normal pair of lungs and heart, although his breathing is significantly shallower, and his "heart" beats significantly more slowly (roughly 50 bpm.)
It appears that his lung actively filters out all toxins in the air, accepting only carbon dioxide and pushing out anything else. As well, his heart filters out any toxins in his veins, including all viral and bacterial infections, and most drugs. In case of surgery, it may be difficult to keep him unconscious, and dosages should be adjusted accordingly.
As well, the entirety of his blood has been replaced with an unidentified black liquid. Mister Foxx states that this is due to "the new heart not liking the old blood." Attempting to blood-type it has failed, but a transfusion will likely not ever be necessary, as any wounds (externally or internally) clot incredibly rapidly, leaving a threat of bleeding out unlikely.
Finally, Aleksander Foxx has the capability to identify chemical components within food and drink, including most non-anomalous drugs and poisons, by either smelling it or tasting it.
When Aleksander got back to his office, a really ugly man was waiting for him. He was leaning in Aleksander's chair, drinking Aleksander's coffee, and resting his feet on Aleksander's desk.
Aleksander was not amused. "Can I help you?"
"I know who you are," the man said.
"Please take your feet off of my desk."
"I might later, Magpie."
Aleksander, for the first time that day, felt panic, and froze. "Ukulele, right?"
"That was me!" the ugly man said cheerfully. "I go by Clef these days." He smiled. It was not a very nice smile.
"I go by Mister Foxx now." Aleksander sat on top of a nearby filing cabinet. "It's funny. You tried to kill my family when I was a boy. Now we work for the same team, apparently."
"I wouldn't say the same team. It's not like it used to be, kiddo. Used to be everyone fought for the same purpose. Now everyone has their own agendas… plots within plots… it's enough to give a man a headache."
"A pretty good life lesson from the guy that killed my mother."
Clef smirked. "Not the first mom I've killed," he said bitterly. "I came over to give you a couple of welcome gifts."
"What could you offer that I don't already have?"
"I can get you a PAVISE."
Aleksander stared down the greasy man sitting in his chair. "…Bullshit."
"I'm serious. I can get you a fully functional PAVISE — undamaged and with all safety systems disconnected — for all of your reverse-engineering pleasure."
"PAVISE is GOC technology. If you had one, the Foundation would have better invisibility tech of their own."
"Utilizing them is still held up in red tape: holdovers from the post-Bowe era. I can get you a head start."
Aleksander thought for a moment before replying. "I will take it. But do not expect anything in return."
"It's in your filing cabinet."
Aleksander got off the filing cabinet and opened the top drawer. "… So it is. Filed under 'P' even."
Clef smirked. "Organization is the key to efficiency. I've got a second gift for you, as well."
Aleksander started to fiddle with the device. "Oh?"
"One of our employees has been… overstepping, lately. Been investigating you without permission to do so."
"I noticed my desk phone was double-bugged. Wasn't sure which one was the official one, so I left them both be."
"We'd like you to… talk to him."
"Who is he?"
"The dossier is also in your filing cabinet."
Aleksander opened the second drawer of his filing cabinet. "So it is. Filed under 'S' this time. I imagine for 'Silence'?"
"Also 'Snitch'." Clef glanced at his watch. "Well, would you look at the time. I've almost missed my ambiguous, non-existent appointment that I have scheduled just when I start to lose interest in my current conversation."
Aleksander stopped fiddling and looked up at the ugly man. "Doctor Clef?"
"This is a Mark Three PAVISE. 1990s GOC tech. I could probably buy a better one off of Ebay."
Clef laughed as he left. "Enjoy your six minutes of invisibility!"
Aleksander waited for Clef to close the door behind him. He never did.
Aleksander closed the door, picked up the PAVISE in one hand, the dossier in the other, and sat down in his desk. He read the Dossier and frowned.
… He'd have to call a babysitter. He would be home late.
Doctor Gunnel had had a long day - no leads on Foxx, and he was too busy investigating that to do his own research. He swiped his security pass, unlocking his apartment within Site-19. It wasn't anything particularly special - most of his furniture was still the standard-issue equipment they gave everyone, but it had his clothes and his personal belongings, so it was the closet thing he had to a "home."
He stepped inside and felt the door slide shut behind him, leaving him in pitch darkness. He began to look for the light switch, when he heard a voice coming from the shadows.
"Do you know what I hated about living in London, Gunnel?"
Gunnel froze. His heart felt like it had stopped beating. He knew this was it - his gig was up. Foxx had figured it out. He was going to die.
"It was the roundabouts, Doctor. I hate roundabouts."
Doctor Gunnel slowly reached into his pocket. He took out his keys and tossed them to the floor, followed by his wallet, then his pocket knife.
"When I want to go somewhere, Gunnel, I like to go in straight lines. If I have to make a diversion, I simply turn and eventually return to the path I was on."
Gunnel did not say a word. He'd found his pillbox. He opened it up and dry-swallowed the small white tablet inside.
"Roundabouts take you in such a snake-like path. No one solves their problems directly in London."
Gunnel tossed a small object onto the ground. It hissed softly. Foxx did not appear to notice.
"This is an analogy, Doctor. I do not bribe. I do not blackmail. I go directly to the source. I do not drive in circles. Do you understand, Doctor?"
Gunnel breathed in deeply, tasted acrid vapor, and waited to die. When he didn't, he began to laugh. "You're an idiot."
"You didn't even notice the nerve-gas grenade. I just took the only antidote. You'll be dead in seconds and I'll…"
A blur of motion. Doctor Gunnel felt the cold steel being pushed through his chest. He looked down at the blade piercing his stomach, and up at the man who pushed it through him.
"I don't have lungs," Foxx said. "I would have thought you would have learned that in your research."
"I don't know what kind of spy you are, Doctor Gunnel," Foxx said, "but you seem to be a terrible researcher." He put his hand against Gunnel's chest and pulled out the blade, watching Gunnel slide to the floor in a heap. Then he made sure all of the windows were closed and locked, shoved a wet towel under the front door to create a makeshift seal, and sat down on the living room floor.
He pulled out a phone from his jacket pocket. "This is Foxx," he said. "Gunnel is dead. Might want to get a Hazmat team in here. This room is apparently full of nerve gas."
Doctor Clef sat on the steps of the apartment building as he watched Mobile Task Force Beta-Seven ("Maz Hatters") rush past him. He looked up at the heavy footsteps of reinforced dress-shoes sounded behind.
Aleksander was standing behind him, one foot on the railing, the other on the concrete. He was examining something on his shoe.
Clef started to laugh.
Aleksander frowned. "What is it?"
Clef giggled. "You look like that fucker from the rum bottle."
The frown deepened. "Captain Morgan? I do not."
"You're posed just like him. You look fucking stupid."
Aleksander stepped off the railing. "Mission analysis?"
"Well, first question. Did you stab him right away, or did you even make any attempt to take him alive?"
"You were unclear on that point."
"I did ask you to talk to him."
"You paused. That could have made it a euphemism for killing the man. In any case, after he attempted to murder me with nerve gas, I was not inclined to let him live."
Clef rolled his eyes. "All right, point taken. Any news on who he was working for?"
"No. But it was almost certainly not your Overseer Council."
"What the hell makes you say that?" Clef asked.
"Nerve gas grenades and antidote pills," Aleksander explained. "Why use something so awkward when one has access to cognitohazards?"
"Good point. I'll take that under advisement." Clef slapped Aleksander on his back. "Anyway, you proved you could do what needed to be done. Welcome to Lambda-Two."
The confusion spread from Alexander's forehead to the rest of his face. "What's a Lambda-Two?"
Aleksander was just about to fall asleep when the phone rang. He groggily reached out to it before mumbling a sleepy "Hello?"
"I hear you move. Why you no call me? You are trying to avoid me, Smart Alek?"
Aleksander felt his bones chill. "Hello, Babushka."
"You not can hide from me, Alek. My bears, they will find you. Bears are everywhere, Alek. Even in city, bears are nearby. In zoo, in forest, always there are bear."
"…I know, Babushka. I wasn't hiding from you, I've just been busy with my new job."
"You still kill the people, Alek? Bozhe moi, why I ever take you in? Your mother must be spin in grave. You can do much better thing than kill people for dirty merchant."
"… Babushka, I first saw you kill a man when I was seven. I watched you drink his blood."
"That is way of bear, Smart Alek! Cubs in danger, mother bear kill without mercy! You have lost way of bear. You kill for money. Bear never kill for money. You forget example of Cousin Yevgeny? He fuck entire town because try to use bear to kill for money. Idiot. Some day you also will fuck self because kill for money. Also, why you not bring Lucille to stay with me?"
"Babushka, Lucille is not going to go and live with you."
"Is better Lucille live with great-grandma! Even if you good father, girl need mother or grandmother, teach ways of woman and ways of bear. Maybe you not send Lucille to live with me. Is fine. But you should find good, strong Russian woman to remarry. At least teach Lucille way of woman if cannot teach way of bear. I go now, Alek. You call me back soon. I love you."
"… I love you too, Babushka."
The phone went click. Aleksander rolled over and returned to his dreams.
Sidestep. Parry. Swipe. Miss. Draw. Fire. Roll. Duck. Slice…