The Chimera Within

Chapter 15

The board of directors at Oscorp had not been in agreement that all the Liberators needed to be stationed in faraway branch offices for their own safety. In fact, to insure the thorough destruction of all research pertaining to hybrid research, they had appointed Maxwell Dillon to be in charge of the lab and had approved the private security contractors to watch over the operation and provide protection. Tom's little break-in and theft seemed to give credence to Mark Iraklis' concerns, but the board, led by Senator Baker, were determined to leave Oscorp Labs under the management of Max Dillon.

At the behest of the board, Dillon tried to reach out to Harry Osborne, saying that he appreciated his opposition to Iraklis, for their lawsuit with each other boosted his own position in the company. Osborne coldly retorted that he filed the lawsuit to oppose Iraklis, not to assist Connors' murderers.

Upon hearing this remark, the board began plotting against Osborne, to try and undermine his credibility, and seek a legal skeleton in his closet to use as a pretext to have him thrown out of the company. Osborne was aware of this, and called Tom to meet him at a discreet location where they could discuss a plan.

Tom wanted to invite Gwen along, so he went by her room and found her packing her luggage. "Are you going somewhere?" he asked, surprised.

Gwen looked up and smiled. "I saw the carnage in the lab. Looks like somebody went to town in there. I guess it was probably just that hit man, escaping. Funny, though, only I noticed that he stopped on his way out to steal your heart transplant project. Weird, huh?"

"Yeah, weird. So far no one has asked any questions."

"Still too embarrassed, I guess. But it works out well for you, doesn't it? Well, you're not the only one whose projects are in jeopardy with all this chaos. I've got permission from Iraklis to go to Iran and set up a joint project with Dr. Alex Seifalian, who runs a bioengineering laboratory in London. Dr. Seifalian is originally from Iran, and he was excited about the prospect of setting up a lab in his home country. We have to steer clear of animal-human hybrids, of course, so I got approval to work with materials from plant fibres to grow the organs. It's really fascinating stuff. And I feel like going back to the Middle East and getting away from all of this pandemonium will be good for me."

Tom opened his mouth to say something, but was speechless from shock.

"Just try and be happy for me, okay? This is where I belong, and I've also got a meeting scheduled with the Pakistan minister of health, to discuss a deal for selling our pharmaceuticals in their country. That was the icing on the cake for the company to approve my project."

"Gwen, that's great! I am happy for you! Sounds like you'll be super busy."

"Yeah, I'm going to have a crazy schedule right from the day I arrive. You know, I could use your help with these projects. We already know that we work well together. I think that you'd love working with Dr. Seifalian and that you'd be fascinated by what they're doing. The field is accelerating in leaps and bounds, and his team is on the cutting edge."

Again, Tom found it difficult to find the right words. "Gwen, um, I would love to. Believe me."

Gwen raised her hand, somewhat annoyed. "I know, I know. You made your choice a long time ago."

"Come on, I know if anyone would understand it would be you. I have to at least try to see this thing through." He grinned. "I've committed way too many felonies along the way to give up now."

"That is exactly the reason you should get out of here."

"At least one or two of the times that I bent the law was a plan of yours, if I recall."

"Look, I'm not going to say that I'm not disappointed by your decision, but I do understand. Take care of yourself. Now that I'm not going to be here to watch your back."

"Take care of yourself too. Speaking of people you can trust, Harry Osborne wants to have a clandestine meeting with me. That's a little weird, huh?"

"That's exactly the kind of thing that I'm trying to warn you about. I wouldn't trust that guy if I were you."

"He seems like a good guy. I kind of like him."

Gwen gave him a hug, and kissed him on the cheek. "Just be careful, okay?"

Tom met Harry Osborne in a dark little bar in Brighton Beach, south Brooklyn. "Interesting hang-out," remarked Tom. "Are you a regular here?"

"There are no cameras, and yeah, I trust the manager and the clientele here for their discretion."

"Alright, what's up?"

"Look, Tom. We've always been friends, right? Well I want to maintain that friendly relationship as things continue to get more serious at Oscorp. So I'm going to let you in on something, and then maybe you can help me out as well. Tomorrow, I'm going to demand that I be elected to the Board of Directors. When they refuse, I'm going to unleash a public relations nightmare on them by leaking the video of the murder. Iraklis tried to sway public opinion against them, but I'm going to set lynch mobs after them with the whole world wanting their heads for that vicious assassination. But in the meantime, I want you to set up a meeting with you, me and Iraklis."

"Okay. Why me?"

"I trust you, and Iraklis trusts you and knows you. Just tell him I'm ready to set aside our differences to get justice and to save this company. Don't worry. He'll come."

Osborne made good on his threats, and he had the board scrambling to try and deal with the public backlash of anger. The video was soon running on all the news outlets and everyone seemed to be voicing their opinion. Two days later, Tom found himself in the same dark little bar, with Iraklis and Osborne.

"Look Iraklis," Osborne began, "I know we've had our differences in the past, but we have got to work together on this. We can't maintain control of this company unless we unite. For this to work, you have to push that I be elected to the board."

"That may not be that easy."

"Well, it's necessary if we're going to organize an effective strategy. And we're already short on time. Why do you think Auchmann and Kasady are happy to be hiding out in Australia? Or more interesting still, why Baker hasn't been pushing to get them reinstated here?"

"Probably they're trying to avoid the electric chair."

"In a matter of speaking that is correct. They're compiling a rock-solid defence," Osborne's voice took on an even more hushed tone. "They're looking for 'the Island.' I trust you know of what I am referring." The blood seemed to drain from Iraklis face. "I can see that I need not explain that if our enemies get there first, it would raise many unwanted questions into just how Oscorp developed some of their treatments. I'm sure it would get pretty uncomfortable around here, to say the least, if the world knew all that Oscorp had done there."

"How much do you know?" stammered Iraklis.

"Enough to know that if they find it, it would assure our destruction. We need to stop them, before they find the island."

"Stopping them will be no small task. They've enlisted a private army."

"It's true," Tom was finally able to pipe in. "They've got ex-Blackwater soldiers protecting them."

"Then we'll need to amass an army for ourselves," said Iraklis. "I have some military contacts, so that may not be a problem."

"And I have mine," assured Osborne. "But before we go overseas, we need to fully assume control here at home. We need to purge the board of all of our enemies."

"That can be arranged. Oscorp currently has a big board and our share price is down. We'll explain to the shareholders that firing some board members is a sure fire way to make the shares go up. For that to work, then, you'd have to take a reduced salary."

"That won't be an issue," said Osborne. "So let's draw up our list of enemies shall we? I already have a few in mind that I want out. I assume Baker sits at the top of your list?"

"For this to work, we have to get rid of Baker in a more, shall we say, all-embracing manner. If we just tried to fire him, he wouldn't go quietly, and like you said, we don't have time for that. Does anyone have a problem with where this is going?" He looked back and forth at the other two. Osborne immediately shrugged and said he was perfectly fine with it. Tom felt uncomfortable. But it was true. They were running out of time. Finally he regretfully shook his head. "Alright then I'll set it up. The obvious choice to carry it out is the Punisher. He is by far the best."

"Do you think that he'll do it? He has some sort of code with this kind of thing." Tom was deeply hoping that the others would agree that it wasn't necessary.

"He'll do it. Baker's a politician and he's dirty. Anyone can see that. If the Punisher wants to do it in a way that doesn't destroy Baker's legacy, I'll leave it up to him."

"This still doesn't sit right with me. I got into studying biotechnology to save lives. Now we're talking about taking them? It just doesn't make sense." Tom was debating more with himself, but out loud.

"Look, stick to thinking in the lab with the rest of the squints. Eggheads thinking too much outside of the lab is how we got into this mess in the first place," Iraklis snapped.

Harry made more of an effort to assuage Tom's feelings of guilt. "If this was just about the research, then you'd be exactly right. But it's bigger than that. These people killed Dr. Connors. Murdered him in cold blood. This is more about getting justice and setting things right, the way that he would have wanted it."

Meanwhile, both Iraklis and Osborne had been scribbling away on napkins. "Alright, here's my list. We'll fire these people, and we'll have a lot less opposition for whatever we need to do."

"And here's mine. I also propose that we instate Tom Jones to run Oscorp labs. What do you think?"

Iraklis gave an expression of indifference. "Fine with me." He held his hand out and they all shook on their agreements.

"Let us be off, then gentlemen. We are still surrounded by enemies, but that should change in the coming days, and then we shall be off to the South Pacific!" Osborne declared.

The next few days were very eventful. In addition to winning over shareholders by their purge of the board, Iraklis and Osborne saw the loss of a few other enemies as well. Maxwell Dillon went to eat at a restaurant in Hell's Kitchen and he was never heard from again.

The story of what happened to Senator Billy Baker made the news. One night his limo collided with another car, that after bringing the Senator's limo to a halt, hit the concrete barrier and rolled. The Senator was left with minor injuries, and while he normally would not get involved in helping out his fellow man and would have preferred to stay in his car, the drunk driver of the other vehicle had a sensational story to tell. In his account of the accident, he remembers the 'Senator' dragging his body away from his burning vehicle. "The Senator must have gone back to my car to make sure that there was now one else to save." The man started crying in the news interview. "If I hadn't been inebriated, I could have told him that it was just me in the car. Then we would have another hero still with us. Instead…" He broke down, unable to finish.

The police arrived at the scene to find the drunk dragged to safety, just as he would later explain. And they found the remains of the Senator burned with the car, killed when it exploded.

Tom was at the bar when he saw the news report. "I guess Frank Castle had respect for Senator Baker after all, giving him a hero's death, and protecting his legacy. Although, since he was a man who despised the poor so much, maybe this wasn't the legacy he wanted," he said to Harry and Mischa, raising a glass.

"We don't always get to choose the legacy we leave behind," observed Harry.

"What do you want your legacy to be?" asked Tom.

"God willing, I'd like to leave behind a strong company that will continue long after I'm gone. Connors had the vision, but he made some mistakes. If I can hold on to the reins for a long time, and bring order to this mess, than I think that will be a key factor in creating longevity and success."

Tom studied his drink. "What do you think happened to Dillon?"

Osborne and Mischa looked at one another. "I don't know. I have a feeling Iraklis had something to do with it, but I'd rather not ask."

"Eet deed have the marks of a mob heet," put in Mischa.

"Yeah," sighed Tom, draining his glass.

The next day, Tom was in Iraklis' office with Harry Osborne, when he received a Skype call from Gwen. "Gwen! So good to see you! How are you doing?"

"Oh, I'm doing okay. I'm encountering a little more resistance here than I thought. Are you in Mark's office? Can you point me to him? Mark, we need to talk about something. This guy, Nick Powell, whom you nominated to oversee the Mumbai branch? Yeah, he's a complete idiot! It's common knowledge over here that he's constantly flying around in the company jet, mostly partying in Macao, Monte Carlo, South Africa. You get my drift?"

"Those are all gambling destinations," concluded Harry.

"Exactly, thank you. So this is the guy who's supposed to be setting up one of our biggest deals with India, and not only is he a brazen profligate, but he leaves behind a lot of scandal in his wake. You know that India, while predominantly Hindu, still has lots of Muslims right? Well, I don't think they're too impressed to be doing business with someone who blatantly flaunts their moral code. There has been major fallout here, when he caused a huge scandal in Dubai. He went there supposedly to attend an important medical conference and then he got drunk at a party and trashed his hotel room. A lot of his employees were arrested for drinking alcohol in an unlicensed venue. It's a disaster! And I'm here in Iran with the morality police breathing down my neck while they're constantly investigating the Oscorp offices.

"I actually miss working with Dr. Smythe. We may not have seen eye to eye on a lot of things, but at least he understands how to maintain good relations with the Muslim authorities. He's over in Turkey right now helping Syrian refugees. He's running his own humanitarian organization that provides medical supplies, and operates a trauma centre for Syrians that are injured. There's even photos of him personally using his medical training to provide trauma care. I don't know if he's hoping for some absolution, but I'll tell you one thing: our sales in Turkey are great. When it comes to licences or approvals, we can have whatever we want there. India, not so much."

After they finished their video chat with Gwen, Tom raised the issue that had been burning a hole in his brain. "So now that you've consolidated your power base here in Oscorp, we don't have to worry about kowtowing to the haters anymore, right? I mean, you said we were to carry on with Dr. Connors' vision for the company and that all his programs would be ratified. So then, we're free to carry on with hybrid research without any hindrances, right?"

Iraklis looked annoyed at the question, but Harry was more conciliatory. "Yes, of course we intend to sanction all of these programs. But we have to be smart about it. We are not sure of what exactly we are going to find at the secret Island laboratories. If we don't seal off any potential scandals from that, none of us will be safe." He patted Tom on the back. "We're going to resolve this little problem as quickly as possible. So just hold off a little while longer."

Tom left the office in a huff, knowing that time was the one thing Mariah didn't have.

After he left, Iraklis looked to Harry, "He's out of his depth here with us unless he learns to just do as he's told and stop thinking."

"And yet so far he submits without a complaint to all that we've decided upon."

"He's very driven, but I fear only to a point. He'll follow our lead as long as we hold out the carrot and he believes he can still reach it. We will need to keep him convinced with unbridled hope, because once he's lost his motivation, then he will cease to be useful."

"Let us not be plotting our allies' demise while we yet sit in such a vulnerable position, virtually surrounded by adversaries. We will need him yet, methinks."

As Osborne so aptly stated, good allies are necessary. Yet also is true that a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. Gwen proved to be right in her concern over the problems that Nicholas Powell was causing. But it got worse than anyone could have surmised.

Tom was already travelling with Mark Iraklis and Harry Osborne to Australia when they were informed of this latest piece of scandal involving Oscorp.

As it turned out, Powell's branch was bleeding money, mostly as a result of his extravagant methods that also failed to bring many returns. He decided, being banned from Dubai, that he would try to strike up a deal with the Saudis to boost his bottom line. Not being confident with his reputation amongst the Muslim authorities in that part of the world, he reached out to Dr. Spencer Smythe to intervene and set up a meeting for him.

Smythe refused. He saw Powell as just another decadent, corporate suit with a sense of entitlement, and he told him so. Powell was livid. He flew down to Ankara with his personal bodyguard that he had taken the custom of traveling with, to have it out with Smythe in person. He threatened and he sulked, but Smythe wouldn't budge. The rest of the details became fuzzy, but what was confirmed was that after their altercation, Spencer Smythe was kidnapped and became a prisoner of Islamic State. The video of him being tortured and beheaded was released just as Tom was catching up with the news on his phone. "Seems a little suspicious don't you think?" he remarked to Mischa.

"Sospeeshis? Da. Pouvel deed thees. Hayds are goink to roll."

It was true. Powell was fired, but not before Guy Kasady made a statement condemning Oscorp's CEO and president for their 'cruel negligence in recklessly pursing their corporate agenda.' Iraklis tried to get in front of the scandal by giving Guy permission to lead an investigation. Guy sent Dr. Peter Morgan to Mumbai to lead the 'investigation', where he found Powell hanging in his apartment. A photo was sent in an interdepartmental memo of the supposed suicide, but Tom spotted a small skull pinned to Powell's shirt.

"He didn't hang himself! Frank Castle did this! Look! He left his calling card," he said, pointing to the photo. Tom turned to face Iraklis.

"Don't look at me! I had nothing to do with this. I'm being honest."

"Then we can safely say that Dr. Kasady has hired the Punisher to lead his mercenaries." Harry's face had his most serious appearance.

"Eet's better that we know. Now we can prepare accordingly," said Mischa.

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