“Whatever you are by nature, keep at it; never desert your line of talent. Be what nature intended you for and you will succeed.”
– Sydney Smith
The man standing across from Iain was about his same height and build. His hair was in a style similar to the one he now had though it was darker brown. He had deep brown eyes and a square set jaw. The latter was clenched tightly as the former moved from the naked Taya to Iain, who had only pants, which were undone, on.
“Who is our guest?”
"Taya, Theresa, stood up and said, “Hello, Edward, this is an old friend, Iain Bryce.”
Iain was fully dressed now and Theresa had taken her pile of clothes and left the room after Edward asked her to allow him a moment alone with their guest.
The pirate captain wasn’t sure just why the man was being so cordial to him, considering he’d just walked in on his woman and another man about to have sex. He almost wanted to thank the man for that since he truly thought another minute in the room with Taya naked and he likely would have given in to his desires. He wasn’t sure now was the best time to mention that.
“Taya and I knew each other once… a long time ago, Mr. Benedict,” said Iain as he took the glass of whiskey the man offered him and slowly ran a finger along the bottom of it, feeling more than a little uncomfortable.
“Taya?” asked the man.
“That’s what she had told me her name was. We’re from the same planet.”
“Beta Four, yes,” said Edward, nodding, “I know. I happened upon her scrapbooks of you a few years back. You are quite the celebrity, Mr. Bryce. Lots of rumors of just who and what you are. I knew she had an obsession with you but I never thought she would see you again to have to worry about it.”
“I never thought to be seeing her either.”
“You look troubled by this, Mr. Bryce,” said Edward, very compassionately, “What I just walked in on.”
“Yeah, well, I would’ve thought you would be as well,” said Iain a little under his breath.
“I am truly not upset with you, Mr. Bryce. Nor Theresa. I know she has… clients; it is part of the line of work she’s in. One she is very passionate about and I do like to see her happy. Did she make you happy?”
“I wouldn’t allow her to,” started Iain without thinking, then he added, “My mind was clouded with memories of the past.”
“She has a way of clouding men’s minds, and, in your case, she had even more reason to be enthusiastic about it, considering your past. She has an appetite I… cannot always satisfy… I understand you have a very similar one. Perhaps it’s something about the climate of your planet; arid and steamy?”
Iain thought on that and sniggered a little, “Yeah, maybe.”
“I found myself getting a little obsessed with you as well as I read through her journals of you, of your time together as teens, and the passionate articles a Ms. Tyler has written of you and your enclave through the years. Another with an obsession, I think; giving that you seem to be her favorite subject. One you obviously have used to your advantage. I’ve seen the vidfeeds of you. She is very flattering to you all. Yes, I think it’s evident another with quite an obsession.”
Again Iain sniggered; Ms. Tyler’s obsession had worked itself into becoming a full-time member of his crew.
Edward looked at the pirate for a moment, wondering what the snigger had meant. “I am not homosexual, by any means, Mr. Bryce, but I do find myself finding you quite… alluring.”
Iain stood up then; this was getting a little too weird now.
“Trust me,” said the man, smiling at the pirate’s reaction. “I am not interested in anything of that. I am simply fascinated with you.”
Iain still wasn’t able to relax though; the man across from him had a look in his eyes he didn’t especially think he liked, as if imagining what he might taste like.
“I understand you are a very proficient thief,” said the man, changing the subject rather abruptly.
“Uh… yeah?” said Iain. “I guess I hold my own well enough.”
“You’re being unusually modest, I think, Mr. Bryce. I’ve heard tell you’re normally quite forth giving with praise of your own expertise. There is no need to be so humble before me,” said Edward getting a wicked smirk on his face. “We that have so much adeptness should never be afraid to shout our own praises since so few others will do it for us.”
“I have been told I am a right bit too boastful at times but I have never… I have rarely claimed to be an expert,” said Iain, hoping he didn’t sound this pompous when he did.
“I don’t wish to argue with you on this, sir. I’m simply wondering if you have ever tried your favorite pass-time for hire or simply for the prestige of it, the thrill; freelanced, you might say?” asked the man.
“I’m not doing this to make a name for myself, Mr. Benedict, I am doing it because there are people starving out there.”
“I’m not going to argue with you on the matter of your proud image either.”
“It is not just a proud image, sir. I only stole for necessity before becoming a pirate and after has been to keep me and mine alive only. Although I will admit I do enjoy it I’m not doing it just for the fact of it,” said Iain.
“Would you be willing to, just once?”
“I’m getting a right little dizzy with the innuendoes, Mr. Benedict, please just state what you are asking in plain English,” said Iain. He set the drink down, not wanting it to cloud him anymore than what he had already drank was doing.
“I’m a collector, Mr. Bryce. I have an item I wish to add to my collection, one that is currently in a museum on Sunnen. I’ve been trying to obtain it, by legal means, for quite some time but the current owner refuses to part with it. I had all but decided it was lost to me, at least until its owner passed away… Meeting you now has given me an unusual opportunity. I would be willing to pay quite substantially for this item.”
“Told you I’m not that kind of thief,” said Iain sternly, a small part of him was screaming that the idea of it was a little intriguing.
“Splitting hairs, just a bit, aren’t we?”
“Principals, sir. I may steal but I’m not a thief,” said Iain, knowing himself how foolish that sounded.
“Might you be if the price were right?” asked the man as Theresa stepped back into the room. He held his hand out to her.
She walked past Iain and took it.
Edward brought that hand up to his mouth, kissed the back of it then held it up to his heart. “I want this item very badly, Mr. Bryce. I am accustomed to getting what I want.”
Iain looked down, feeling a little uncomfortable being in the room with them.
“How much might it take?” asked the man, “I am a very rich man.”
“I’m sorry for all that has happened this evening, sir,” said Iain, “it was nice seeing you again, Taya… uh, Theresa, but I think it’s time I take my leave,” said Iain, reaching for his jacket and bag.
“Pardon me, Mr. Bryce,” said the man quickly, as Iain turned his back on him. “Might I ask you one last thing?”
Iain looked over his shoulder. He noticed the look in the man’s eyes was beginning to get dark then. He had a feeling he wasn’t going to like the next words out of the man’s mouth. “You might,” he said.
“I first wish to tell you how much I truly do care for this woman,” said the man, caressing Theresa’s face. “I’m telling you this not because I wish to hurt you or make you jealous. I know you also have very strong feelings for her. I’m telling you this because I wish you to understand the full impact of just how much I want to have that item.”
“Sir, I already told you…”
“I know how much you value another person’s life, Mr. Pirate. That is all but unheard of in any line of work in our dark universe but especially in the line you are in. I also know that you have been willing to give up yours on more than one occasion for perfect strangers.”
“Are you threatening me?” asked Iain, anger creeping into his voice now.
“No, I would never threaten you, I’m only hoping to explain my next action in hopes you will fully understand me,” said the man as he reached into his jacket pocket, removed a syringe and brought it to Theresa’s throat. He injected its contents into her neck before she even knew what was happening.
“Edward!?” Theresa screamed. Her hand went to her neck and she pulled herself out of his arms. She stumbled over to the sofa she and Iain had almost made love on and sat down hard.
“The hell did you do?” barked Iain, as he dropped his bag and went to the woman’s side quickly.
“You remember the outbreak on the planet Ansi a few years back? The one your doctor helped find a cure for? Yes, I see you do by the look in your eyes. I have just injected some of the virus, a much more refined version, faster acting, into Theresa. You see, Mr. Bryce, I am a doctor, actually a scientist. I have studied that particular virus in my laboratory for the last few years. I have found it quite exciting to watch the course of the illness in my test animals and those feelings are greatly increased when given to a subject that understands what is happening to them.”
“You can’t be serious,” said Iain incredulously.
“You’re immune to the virus, since you have already had it and the inoculations you have received, as am I, however Ms. Baker is not. I dare say I don’t need to remind you how fast the disease progresses or how painful it was. The strain I’ve just given Theresa will be about twice that.”
“Iain?” Theresa said desperately.
“You bastard!” shouted Iain.
“I am that, I won’t deny it. I do not wish to see Theresa harmed, truly I don’t, my dear, but I really want the item at the museum and since money will not entice Mr. Bryce to get it for me…”
Theresa was only staring in shock at the man she thought she trusted.
“I am not a thief!” shouted Iain, “Give her the antidote!”
“No. Are you willing to let her die for your principles?” asked the calm and unmoved man.
“Edward!?” shouted Theresa as sweat began to form on her forehead.
“I wish you to remember our time together well, my dear, and know that I will do all in my power to make sure your last days are as comfortable as they can be made,” Edward said to the woman as he put the cap back on the needle and returned it to his pocket.
“Fine! I’ll do it! Give her the fucking antidote!” shouted Iain.
“I have no assurance you will follow through then and she will be immune as well so I will have no leverage to keep you to task, Mr. Bryce,” said Edward as if he was the one being compassionate.
“You have my word,” said Iain through clenched teeth.
“I do believe your word is sound and can be trusted, Mr. Bryce, but I think watching her dying will be a far better assurance,” said Edward. He looked at a diamond adorned watch then and said, “I believe the shakes will be beginning in about ten minutes, unless I miss my guess, by the end of the day she’ll be running a high fever and begin to get fever blisters. You remember, the black ones that itched so badly? By this time tomorrow she’ll be unconscious or, at the least, incoherent, and in another three days she will be dead.”
“Give me the details then so I can get your fucking item,” said Iain.
“Step into my office, Mr. Bryce,” said Edward, smiling as if this was merely a normal business transaction.
Theresa was holding Iain’s hand tightly; he didn’t want to release it either, he looked at her and said, “I promise I will not let you die.”
A tear rolled down her check as she nodded and let his hand go.
The man’s office was warm, with dark paneling along the bottom and a rich green wall color along the top, crown molding and a ceiling adornment finished the decor of the room. The rest looked like any doctor’s office with medical diagrams hanging on the walls. A full skeleton on a rod was in one corner and several resin organs on shelves. Iain recognized the heart and a pair of lungs but wasn’t sure of the names of the others. Another shelf had medical books and journals. A large desk was in the far corner with two wingback chairs before it. A wall of oak file cabinets ran the back wall and another door opened from the room beside the last one of these. There was only one small window in the room.
Edward motioned Iain to one of the chairs in front of the desk and walked to the cabinet closest to the second door. He removed a long shipping type tube from inside, opened the end of it and pulled out what looked to be a set of blueprints for a building. The name in the corner read ‘Museum of Medicine and Medical Antiquities of Sunnen’.
The pirate captain had never been in the building before but its security was legendary, as were its permanent collections and exhibits. It had presented shows on everything from ancient Roman and Egyptian medical sciences and artifacts to live surgeries and autopsies throughout its long history.
Lance had been dying to go to it and, he had no doubt, Leigh would enjoy it as well. He knew of one display, which had the history of medicine throughout the ages, starting when the first recorded surgery was performed, with crude bone instruments, to the most recent with the lasers and sonic devices that were in regular use now, that he could imagine his doctor and son drooling over.
“You cannot be serious,” said Iain, looking at the man standing across from him as if he was anything but human.
“Quite, actually. They are having an exhibit of some very interesting artifacts from early terraforming history, including the brain of a very prominent scientist. The man who was most instrumental in the particular mixture that acted as the catalyst for the process; I wish to add this brain to my collection.”
“A brain?” Iain asked, wondering if the whiskey he’d drank was making him hear things wrong.
“Yes, Mr. Bryce, a brain, as in what you have in here,” said Edward pointing to his head. “I wish to analyze it. I find the makeup of all the organs fascinating but I am especially intrigued by the human brain. Even with all the imaging technology we now have we still really know less than nothing about how it truly works. The real way to study one is after it’s been removed from the skull. To see the inside of one such as this man’s would greatly please me.”
Iain was staring at him in shock and horror now, “You’re fucking twisted.”
“I have been called far worse, as have you, I am sure,” said the man. He sniggered at the look of outrage on the pirate’s face, “Oh, come now, it’s not like I’m asking you to extricate it from a living man, Mr. Bryce, it is already long since dead.”
“Talk about splitting hairs,” said Iain sarcastically.
“Your own brain would interest me greatly, as well, Mr. Bryce… To see how it differs from… say… a true criminal?” said the man. He chuckled at the look this brought to the pirate’s face. “Don’t worry, I do not wish to take it from you before you’re finished with it, but I wonder if you might be willing to leave it to me in the case of your untimely death?”
“Yeah, I’ll do that,” said Iain sarcastically as he took the plans and pulled them toward him briskly. Right then he just wanted this nightmare to be over. “Where is the exhibit?”
The man leaned over and pointed to the main showroom, in the center of the middle floor of the building. The one with the highest level of security, of course, “It is only running three more days. The man’s name was Windham J. Pierce the Second. I’m most interested in his use of bio-agents to speed up the photosynthesis process. I want to see if he was exposed to any of the toxins while working so closely with them and, if so, how or if it may have affected or altered his brain tissue. My specialty is in toxic research, you see.”
“Yeah, that’s all right interesting and all but I don’t got the stuff with me for a job like this,” said Iain, pushing the plans away from him.
“I will give you expense money and, of course, payment for your time and expertise. I want this to go off without a hitch as much as you do, Mr. Bryce.”
Iain’s heart was pumping very hard and the enjoyable rush of adrenaline was beginning to flow now, making him feel anxious and very good at the same time. He was also a little sick that he was anxious and feeling good.
“How do I know you’ll give Taya the antidote?”
“On that you will have to trust me.”
Iain wanted to jump the man then and throttle the life out of him but not knowing where the antidote was and that there was no way he could make it to Ansi in time to get more stopped him. “You will keep her comfortable?” he asked
“Actually, that will be your responsibility as well, Mr. Bryce. I’m expected at a seminar on Ryger in two days, therefore I will not be able to care for her.”
“I cannot care for her and rob this place!”
“Well then,” said the man shrugging. He pulled the blueprints from the pirate’s hands and began to roll them back up.
“Fine! I will need to study the plans for a bit,” said Iain angrily.
“Very good,” said the man as he handed Iain a leather bag with a large stack of credits inside. “I’ll take Theresa to her room. You will find her at the top of the stairs, first door on the right.” He handed three prescription bottles to Iain then and said, “This is the regiment of drugs your doctor, Ms. Carter, found helped to comfort the ill while she searched for the cure.”
Iain only grunted in response as he took the bottles.
“I do hope you believe I’m not an evil man.”
“Yeah, you’re an angel in disguise,” said Iain, snidely.
“Now I must go pack for my trip. I’ll be back in four days. Theresa will be in great pain by then but the antidote will still work on her, assuming you have retrieved my prize.”
“What if I cannot? What if I get caught in the attempt?”
“Then you can hang with the knowledge that Theresa is in a far better place waiting for you as soon as your neck leaves your body.”
“Right warm and fuzzy!” said Iain.
“I look forward to when next we meet, Mr. Bryce. And to adding the articles that will be written of your theft to the scrapbooks,” said Edward Benedict as he nodded and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Iain stared arrows at the door for several minutes, fighting the urge to kill the man that had just walked through it. He looked back at the plans. His mind was working a million miles a second now, looking at the various points of entry into the building. He wished he had Jaime and Jared with him to help him go over options.
The pirate captain looked around, shook his head and sank into the chair behind him. He was wondering if he had somehow stepped into a strange and sick parallel universe when he dropped from the jump gate.
He looked at the clock on the wall, which said it was 9:45, meaning the museum was long since closed, then to his watch, still set on ship time, which said it was 11:45 on his ship, and wondered what Sara was doing right then.
He shook himself then, remembering, and feeling guilty for, what he had almost done, and angry because he felt like she’d driven him to it, and the rest of this.
Hearing a cough from upstairs reminded him this was actually happening.
He was shaking his head as he stood and began to look at the plans. He was feeling the now becoming-almost-constant heartburn flaring up again.