The Chimera Within

Chapter 23

Early the next morning, Iraklis' troops were preparing to launch another invasion of the island, this time in a two-pronged coordinated effort that would commit only a limited number of squadrons to the south, but was designed to lure out the bulk of Toby's forces to a full-scale battle on the north side.

Toby and Frank Castle readied their defences, which were tested, true and reliable. They were prepared to hold off against the enemy for as long as it was necessary. Although perhaps Toby was not prepared for the next headache that he would have to face: Fred Foswell.

Fred Foswell was one of the original Liberators and was always seeking the spotlight for his presence or his opinion. The fact that he had not been consulted on the best way to defend the island (not that he knew anything about defending military position but obviously it was the principle of the thing) had never sat well with him. And now that Toby had lost his partner and cohort, Guy Kasady, Fred Foswell felt that now was his time to move on up in the world in influence and prestige.

Foswell began the dialogue with Toby Auchmann, "You're up crap creek, Ock."

"It seems to me that you're right there with me in the same canoe."

"All the more reason that you need to seek my counsel, Dr. Auchmann. It befuddles me that you haven't been asking for my advice earlier. Otherwise, we could have put an end to these hostilities."

"Yes I am sure that we are at a loss without your great wisdom, Fred."

"Yes, I'm convinced of that as well," said Fred, not picking up on the sarcastic tone of Toby's voice. "But now we can make up for these failings in foresight. Let's go over how we plan on attacking those godless bastards tomorrow."

"We don't plan on attacking them at all! We have the advantage of our defensive position. As long as we can hold out, we can wear them down. Attacking them outright would be the height of foolhardy bravado."

"With all due respect, Ock, you would be a pretty good boy if you weren't so goddamn chicken. We had Osborne in the palms of our sweaty little hands. And what happened? Your men screwed the pooch, that's what! They let him get away, and now we're running to play catch-up, again. Well not under my watch, we're not."

"The men did not screw up, Dr. Foswell," said Toby, trying not to lose his patience but wondering why he should bother. "They fought extraordinarily bravely and won a significant victory against the forces of Osborne. The fact that they failed to catch him was just bad luck."

"Catch him? They should have freakin' killed him, for crying out loud. And as a scientist, I don't believe in luck."

"Of course you wouldn't, you…" Toby coolly didn't finish his sentence, but Foswell was too caught up in hearing his own pontificating to notice.

"Sure, as great men who have the very future of the human race in our vision, we have many facets to consider, and we may be certain that the Devil himself will at times inhabit aspects of our creations. But ultimately, and I say ultimately," said Foswell, relishing the sound of his own voice, "if we are to be champions of humanity; real doggone heroes, we need to be men who would argue with the gods themselves. And in doing this, we will inevitably awaken many devils to contest our brilliant vision. And we can expect this even more the more we achieve. But will we let that stop us?" Foswell asked his imaginary audience. "Hell no!"

"Thank you, Dr. Foswell." Toby cleared his throat. "We will certainly take your advice under consideration," he said facetiously, while planning on doing exactly the opposite.

Once Harry Osborne managed to extricate himself from the swamp, he tried to put a strategic spin on his tactical debacle of the previous day, shifting the focus onto his state-of-the-art body armour and how it had salvaged the day from being a compete disaster. Still, he was humiliated enough that he yielded to Iraklis complete control in commanding the attack, so Iraklis' forces would take the north side, and Vitaly would lead the invasion to the south. The invaders had lost a gunship and thus were working on borrowed time, since they were limited in their ability to resupply.

During the night, Vitaly was able to establish a staging area for his men close to where Guy had had his bunker, and camouflaged by the marsh, they were able to dig in to prepare to attack a position that was less defended, while the majority of Toby's forces would be preoccupied by the main force of Iraklis to the north.

Just as the sun was starting to push its way up past the horizon, Toby took his station next to Frank Castle, as they prepared themselves to direct the battle and fight another day.

"I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your exemplary service," Toby suddenly said to Castle, somewhat awkwardly. "You honour our company and it has been a privilege serving with you."

Frank Castle seemed a little taken aback at these accolades, but he soon recovered himself. "General, you also have conducted yourself honourably and I consider you a true, honest-to-God patriot. Despite what every maniac, nut job and deranged savage in the world would convince himself, we are still the superpower that is in charge, and I consider it my duty to America to take on these kinds of assignments."

"I've never asked you, Commander. Do you have a family somewhere that depends on you? That waits at the door to see if you're coming home?"

"I don't talk about it because dwelling on personal attachments will get you killed," Castle said sharply. "But if you want to know a little about me, I was a Delta Force operator. I was trained for war. I was made for it. In my opinion my country is at war and it needs me. End of story."

"Is that why you keep working?"

"If you want God's truth, when I'm not out here in the field, I miss it. I miss the excitement and the thrill. Basically I love killing bad guys."

"I know the men feel like this war is more than that what they bargained for, so I agreed to pay them another $500 a day."

"That might appease some of them, but most of the old-timers just want to finish up here so that they can move on to the next job. From their point of view, a quick conclusion to this conflict would be more profitable," observed Castle.

"Maybe so," said Toby, "but I will try to hold out as long as possible to wear down the enemy, and our defences should be able to hold for quite some time."

"I expect to see a lot of fireworks here on the main front, but let's not forget our flank. We need to commit some fortifications to protect the south side."

"We will. And we'll rely on air support to protect our flank and yet avoid an open engagement."

"I'll give the Comanches the go ahead," said Castle, referring to their helicopters.

The next morning was virtually a stalemate, as both armies stared each other up and down like two boxers circling, waiting for an opening, parrying, testing for weaknesses. Iraklis' helicopters and a gunship fired down on Toby's batteries, while trying to stay out of range of their cannons and mortars. Iraklis wanted to wait until they had eliminated at least some of the forward batteries before attempting another landing on the beach. And Toby wanted his men to hunker down in their tunnels until Iraklis had committed himself.

Finally Iraklis decided to make a more decisive move to try to gain the momentum. Using small helicopters armed with howitzers and machine guns, he created a small defensive perimeter to land a small amount of troops on the beach. The men were packed tight trying to hold on to their tiny bit of ground, but were having a tough time of it making any advancement up the hill.

Meanwhile, while the humans were preoccupied with the ensuing battle, Caesar came out of his hiding place and opened the door that he had left open the previous night when he had entered the female chimp's cage. All the animals were silent as they looked upon him, free; and wondering what he would do next.

He looked back at them, and raised his head up high, signalling to all the beasts and partial humans that their time had finally come. He then proceeded to release all of them from their captivity and set them upon the world, communicating to them that they should flee.

But many lingered. A fire burned in common amongst many of the hybrids that had been used for testing. They were more intelligent than the average beast, and with that came a recognition of their tormentors and a human desire for revenge.

Tom and Elias were busy with the injured, not only battling the enemy but also against the challenges of limited equipment and shortage of medical supplies. Elias yelled at Tom, who was doing his best to assist, "C'mon! I need you to keep pressure on the wound! Press harder, dammit!"

Tom was pressing with all his might but to no avail, as the wounded soldier screamed in pain.

"Ok, I almost got the femoral artery. When I extend it out of the wound. Hold that wound open! Okay, good. When I extend it, you need to clamp it! Alright, here, I got it. Can you see it?"

At this moment, Kanaka approached. "Dr. Wirtham!"

"Kind a busy here!" shouted Elias.

"Ok I got it!" yelled Tom jubilantly.

"Clamp it! Clamp it!"

"Dr. Wirtham, you must come with me! Now!"

Elias ignored Kanaka. "What's happening? Have you got it?" The soldier cried out in terror.

"Crap! It's tearing! It's slipping! I got it, but…" The artery snapped back into the man's leg, along with his last chance for survival.

"Dammit!" swore Elias. "This man needed a Medevac. Why couldn't we get him one?"

"Forget him," Kanaka said coldly. "Shastra requires your assistance on something of prime importance. It is not a request. It is an order."

"She can demand all she wants," said Elias. "I'm not going anywhere. And what's her bloody hurry, anyway? Unless she's trying to…" Elias stopped mid sentence, as realization came over him. "She's not going to attempt the HEAVEN surgery now, is she?"

Tom looked up at Elias, then at Kanaka and back again. "Heaven surgery? What's that?"

"Enough talk!" Kanaka roared.

"HEAVEN surgery, is the vainglorious term for the theoretical process of transplanting a human's head onto another body."

"Head transplant? Why is she attempting such a complicated and experimental operation now, in the middle of a war?" asked Tom.

"I think you've answered your own question, Mr. Jones," replied Elias, staring down Kanaka. "She must be thinking this is her last chance to perform the surgery, and she wants to try and get it done before everything really hits the fan. You see, before all of this," Elias waved his hand around. "Dr. Lily Hollister was an exceptionally gifted, world renowned and respected biological scientist. A shining star in her field. She had it all. A brilliant career, the esteem of her colleagues, plenty of recognition and funding for her research, even a loving and devoted husband."

"What happened?" asked Tom, captivated.

"Tragically her husband developed cancer and died after only being married for six years. After being devastating by the diagnosis, Lily gave up everything in pursuit of a cure for cancer, but couldn't save him in time. After his death, she started pursuing something even more ground-breaking; transplanting a person's head onto a healthy body. Only a handful of individuals are aware that she cryogenically froze her husband's head while she developed her research. We were so close in our development to being operational, when she lost her most valued ally in Julian Connors. Now, she must be accelerating her schedule in a last ditch effort to resurrect the love of her life."

"Enough! Come with me, now!"

"I said that I won't, and I mean it," said Elias stubbornly. "Look around you. We can't successfully operate on someone like that in these conditions. And we haven't even completed all of the testing yet. Take my advice, Kanaka, and run while you still can."

Kanaka was through with arguing and asking politely. He rushed upon Elias and attempted to grab him to force him to come with him. Tom stepped between them. Kanaka thought that he could simply swat Tom away like a fly, but discovered that there was more to Tom than met the eye. As Tom held his ground and body checked Kanaka across the room, the big Polynesian dug his feet into the ground and cracked his neck.

"I knew there was something about you," he growled. "You're a mutant like me."

"Let's not get nasty."

"I know you are. I can tell. I can smell it on you. You're some sort of pūngāwerewere, like me. I'm a tarantula. And you are my prey."

While Kanaka was still threatening, Tom was slowly picking up a rock from behind him. He yelled, "Run!" and threw his projectile with all his might. Kanaka was able to just barely dodge it, and the rock embedded into the wall behind him. As Elias ran for his life, Kanaka paused to examine the results of Tom's murderous throw, thinking that while the rock was lodged in the wall it could very well of been inside his brain. "You are going to regret crossing me," he promised.

Tom gulped. He just had to fend off Kanaka long enough so that Elias could hide and then they could escape. Kanaka came at him and Tom in return threw a few punches. While for a normal human they would be crushing blows, to Kanaka they seemed to barely bother him.

Kanaka lunged at Tom, but he just barely managed to evade his swing. Tom punched him a few more times, and tried kicking him in the face. This seemed to cause him to stagger, so Tom moved in closer. But this was a grave error; Kanaka grabbed Tom's arm and then put him in a bone crushing hold. Not only could Tom not move, he could hear his ribs starting to crack and he couldn't inhale. With the life being squeezed out of him, he knew he had to think of something and quickly. He started wriggling as much as he could and gave himself enough freedom to move pull a knife out of his belt. Slashing Kanaka across the leg, Kanaka released him so that he was able to get out of the hold and he tried stabbing him with the knife. Kanaka blocked his right hand so Tom came across with a left hook and then plunged the knife into Kanaka's leg. As he dropped to his knees in pain, Tom fled, seeking to catch up with Elias.

Dr. Lily Hollister was starting to feel panicky. She had started the operation of a head transplant and there was no going back now. The problem was that she needed the surgical skills of Dr. Elias Wirtham, especially for the most complicated phase of attaching the head to the body. She looked down at the still breathing Russian soldier, Ivan Kutuzov. She gave him a strong sedative, but trusted that he had suffered brain damage anyway. She was not killing him, she was releasing him from what could only be an accursed life.

"Where is Kanaka?" she yelled, startling her assistant. "I cannot wait any longer. Leila, you're going to have to assist me with removal. As soon as I cut through the jugular, I need you to cauterize it completely, understand? That's the most important, but be careful to cauterize all the arteries and veins, to prevent hypovelemia."

Leila Davis, the terrified looking assistant, nodded. Dr. Hollister picked up her scalpel and started cutting. Sweat poured down her face as her attention centred with obsessive focus on her task, and her hands moved in tandem like two instruments possessed. 'This was it.' she told herself. 'It's all come down to this. It's now or never. There's no going back now.'

She removed the head triumphantly and picked it up with both hands. She was in the process of passing it to Leila, when at that very moment, with what could not have been worse timing, Dr. Janice Lincoln walked into the operating room, looking for IV solution bags.

Janice walked in rapidly, like someone on a mission, when she was stopped dead in her tracks by the sight of Leila holding Kutuzov's head. Leila and Dr. Hollister stared silently back at Janice and you could have heard a pin drop, when the silence was broken as Leila unceremoniously dropped the head into a steel pan, where it made a dull thump as it landed.

All of this passed in a few seconds, and as Janice was coming out of her shock at the gruesome sight, she opened her mouth in confusion, when Hollister pulled out her revolver and fired two shots into Janice without saying a word.

Leila screamed, knocking over the IV stand when she stepped back in panic. As Janice fell back against the door, and staggered back into the hallway, Lily Hollister waved the gun towards Leila. "Shut up. Shut up. Calm down. It had to be done. Davis. Davis! Look at me. She wasn't one of us. She would have tried to stop us. Now focus. Focus, dammit! Where are we with the surgery? Okay. I need bandages here. Now get me set up for reattachment. I need sutures. Bring over the blood vessel sewing machine. Okay. Where are the fusogens? Alright good. Hook it up to the IV."

Leila complied with all these directions, while whimpering softly to herself and blinking away the tears.

"Where are the immunosuppressants? What is that spilled all over the floor?" demanded Hollister.

"Here, Doctor. Here's another bag."

"It's not enough! We needed that bag you spilled. If we don't give him enough glucocorticoide the body will reject the cephalic transplantation. Go get more. There's more in the infirmary. Go! Hurry!" Hollister said, as Leila ran out of the room.

Hollister worked and fretted, prepping everything as best she could as she waited for Leila to come back. She tenderly took the cryogenically frozen head in her hands and looked at him lovingly. "Richard," she whispered. "You're almost ready. This is it. Just a few moments longer, and we can be together again. I love you."

She grew agitated and looked at her watch. "What is taking that girl so long? I swear if she took off, she will regret it!" Hollister put down her husband into the cooling blanket, and stormed off to the infirmary.

She entered the infirmary and opened the medication refrigerator. "I knew it! The glucocorticoides are right here!" She grabbed the meds and as she slammed the fridge door, she saw something out of the corner of her eye. She turned to see Leila's unconscious body lying behind a desk. Hollister whirled around to face the malevolent presence in the room: Koba.

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