The Chimera Within

Chapter 25

Mark Iraklis led his squad as they took control of the compound and followed Toby as he retreated up the side of the volcano. Iraklis silently approached the mountain bunker from the flank, and signalled his men to circle around. He started approaching the door, when Dr. Toby Auchmann himself walked out, his hands in the air.

"It's over, Ock," called Iraklis, his rifle pointed at him. "Tell your men to stand down and relinquish control to us."

"It is over," said Toby glumly. But just one thing I wanted to ask you first." He stepped down from the entrance of the bunker and put his hands down.

"What is it?" called Iraklis, still keeping his distance until more of his men arrived.

"There it is!" pointed Tom. "It's on that boat down there. We just have to pick up the sailor who piloting the boat."

"No man left behind," agreed Castle. As soon as he had lifted Khai into the chopper, they dropped grenades into the boat, destroying the signal jamming equipment.

"What's your question, Ock? I'm waiting."

Toby looked at his phone. He had a signal. "You know how Julian always used to say that progress is inevitable?"

Iraklis shrugged. "Yeah, so? What of it?"

Toby quickly punched in a code.

"That's a myth," he said, as he proceeded to press SEND.

A great explosion ripped through the compound as Toby's self destruct incendiary bombs were activated. Most of the animal hybrids, all of the computers, a few random soldiers and then lastly the mountain bunker went up in smoke.

Iraklis watched as Toby was consumed in a blinding white flame as the force of the explosion sent him flying backwards into the air where he landed amongst the trees.

Peter kneeled next to Guthrie, still cursing all that this amoral quest for knowledge and power had wrought. He did not flinch as he was consumed in flame and torn apart by regret.

Tom looked back at Noble's Isle aflame, thinking about what lay ahead, and all that had passed on this misadventure. Castle had agreed to take him to Australia, and even help him and Elias procure fake passports to allow them to enter Mexico, where they would have to find some traffickers to help them enter the US.

In exchange for getting him back to the States, Tom wanted Elias to perform Mariah's heart surgery. At first, Elias wasn't thrilled with the idea. "I'm going back to the States to put all of this behind me!" he exclaimed. "I don't want to go back to working with this kind of shady medicine. And you don't want that either, Tom. Trust me, nothing good can come of it."

"There's nothing to it, Elias. I have to see this through. Someone is counting on me."

"Watch yourself, Tom. Watch yourself. That's all I have to say to you. What makes you any better or different than Julian Connors or Lily Hollister? You'll end up the same as them, and the people you're trying to save; they'll end up suffering as well."

The reality was that Elias was just vocalizing the doubts and anxieties that were currently plaguing Tom's thoughts. But he had come too far to give up now. He looked at his phone and opened a picture of Mariah. "I hear what you're saying, Doc, and I think that you just might be right. But I need to believe that some small glimmer of good can come from all of this. That's what you and I need more than anything, Elias. Getting back to the States is important. But if we are to live with ourselves from this day on, we need some redemption more than anything."

"I don't know if what you're asking qualifies as 'redemption.' Seems like we're just going down the same old path. You know what Einstein defined as insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Seems like this can only end in one of two ways: death or insanity, and I don't particularly relish the idea of either of those two alternatives."

"Well, Doc, we had just damn well better think of some variables to add to that equation so that we can arrive at a better conclusion. Look, I get it. We're not better or smarter than Connors or Hollister. Didn't Einstein also say that 'our technology has exceeded our humanity'? There has got to be a way to save people, without completely mortgaging every ethical principle that we stand for. Let's see if we can't balance our humanity to at least match our technology."

Elias shook his head in submission. "Alright. Here we go again, I guess." He pulled out his flask, and unscrewed the cap. "Huh! But to use Einstein against me! Don't that beat all!" he grumbled, as he took a swig.

Harry Osborne stood in his cabin on the command ship, posing in front of the mirror with his pistol. A knock came on the door. "Yes. I'll be out in a moment," he said.

Osborne walked out, exuding that air of authority and hubristic triumph that he felt was the prize won by the victors. Had they not fought a war? Had they not wreaked terrible vengeance?

He met up with Markus Vitaly, who was still dirty and grimy from the battle. "We have secured what's left of the island, sir. But I am afraid that there is not much left."

"That's fine, Mischa. It's better that the world remain none the wiser as to what went on here. We wouldn't want the news media to associate Oscorp with that old Grendel and her mutant progeny."

"And an update on General Iraklis' condition, sir. He is conscious, and pretty banged up, but he'll make it."

"I couldn't be more pleased," grinned Osborne.

"But he did suffer at least one serious injury."

"Oh?" Osborne did his best to feign interest. "And what is that?"

"He's suffered some pretty bad burns to his face. He is blind, sir."

This news seemed to disturb Osborne somewhat. "I will go to him. I'll need to take on some of his duties."

Osborne landed on the beach and was soon at the rear of the compound where his men had their prisoners. One of them in particular caught Osborne's attention, and he could not resist reminding the unfortunate man of his current predicament.

"Ah, Dr. Foswell. I trust that you finally comprehend where your vaulting ambition and ruthless hostility have led you. A great man may lie in his grave, but he can rest somewhat more peacefully now that his death is being avenged, don't you think?"

"Well it's funny how things look differently depending on where you sit, eh? I picked up on what you're saying; that I'm some sort of base murderer. But that's not how history will remember me and my companions."

"I seriously doubt that history will remember you, at all," said Osborne drily.

"Oh don't sell yourself short, Osborne. People are going to remember how you tried to flaunt the laws of biological decency and then you rained down brutality and wanton destruction on those brave few who dared stand up to you. Believe me, history will remember all of us, because people love to review and dissect the psychology of villainy."

"Hah! You yourself said it, you fiend! Your own words condemn you that you are indeed a villain! And the lot of you proclaimed your admirations for Dr. Connors' brilliance when you allowed yourselves to be consumed by that old green-eyed monster and thus determined that you must deprive Connors, and therefore the world, of his genius. That's what makes you such a joke, Foswell. You're a half-educated follower who conceitedly hurled yourself into this murderous enterprise because Toby convinced you that you'd be able to get away with it. Now that every trace of your dignity has been thoroughly ravaged, even you must dimly comprehend that you were duped. You're a patsy. You're the Othello to Toby's Iago. And in the end, your guilt is clearly evident. You will be remembered as a footnote, as one of the saps that supported Auchmann in murdering a great man."

Foswell took a few steps forward, as he was getting his Irish up. "You talk of things you couldn't hope to begin to understand, you intellectual midget! You speak of murdering a great man, but you are nowhere near comprehending what supposedly made him great. I know that you would vaguely reply 'science', because you think this to be the response comme il faut. But not only is that answer meaningless, you don't even believe it yourself."

"If you pretend to understand so much of my beliefs and motivations, Foswell, then pray enlighten me."

"You believe Connors to have been great because you forecasted great and wonderful profits from his research. You're not a scientist. You never were, not that that's a sin in itself."

"Well I thank you for allowing me that."

"But you, like all of your corporate types, get so enamoured with the thought of making a dollar that you are willing to dismiss all other consequences. You are the quintessential Milo Minderbinder. You are always first and foremost a company man, a lackey to the filthy lucre, a capitalistic profiteer who is completely indifferent to the suffering and destruction your corporate agenda might induce. And in your shortsighted quest for profits and allegiance to the dollar, you have put our very survival as a civilization and as a race in jeopardy."

"You and your collaborators are always going on how you were out to save humanity. I suppose you thought that if you could give yourselves a grandiose enough of a designation than you could conjure up a justification for cold-blooded murder. But there lies the truth in your violence. You and your team really are just intolerant luddites who, contrary to nature, progressed from the monkey wrench to assassin's blade. So if you would kill one visionary, where does it end? I suppose you would kill me next, if you had the chance?"

"I wouldn't kill you, Osborne. You should know perfectly well that I am the gentlest of everyone here on this island."

"Now you're just trying to absolve yourself from punishment for your crimes."

"I guarantee you that I wouldn't harm anybody here, or in Oscorp, or in the entire scientific community because they're all smaller."

"In what ways are they smaller?" Osborne was beginning to get irritated.

"Intellectually smaller."

One of the other prisoners, a certain Karl Johnson, saw that Foswell's hands were balled up into fists and although of small stature, he was leaning forward in a pugilistic stance, like he was just waiting for an opening to take a swing at Osborne. He tried to cut in at this point with a conciliatory tone. "Alright, there's no point in discussing anything because we'll never come to an agreement. Fred, what are you doing? He's got a gun. He's probably just waiting for an excuse to kill us. This is just the whiskey talking." Evidently Foswell had managed to find a drink or two after their defeat.

"He wouldn't dare! He already has too much to answer for. How would he explain murdering us in cold blood?"

"I'm still waiting for you to elaborate more on your giant intellect," taunted Osborne.

"That's enough!" said a panicky Karl.

"Look at that lying hypocrite," seethed Foswell. "Tapping his pistol, just to remind us that we're at his mercy. Take that away, what are you? Nothing but a weak, little moron."

"Quit antagonizing him!" At first Osborne thought that Karl was talking to Foswell, but to his surprise, surmised that this comment was directed at him. "Can't you see he's suffered enough? Leave us alone!" Karl tried to direct Foswell by the shoulders away from facing down Osborne, but he resisted and accidentally elbowed Karl in the jaw, causing him to double over, clutching his mouth. "Ow! Dammit, Fred!"

Osborne heartily laughed at this exchange, but quickly became serious. "Perhaps you're right, Dr. Johnson. I did not come here to revel in my victory, but rather because I need your help with a matter, that must not be taken lightly."

"You got some nerve, Osborne, to expect us to help you." Foswell continued to steam.

"It is somewhat of an imposition, I am aware, and I wouldn't ask if it wasn't of the utmost importance. As you know, Dr. Auchmann's ruse of wiring all of the buildings with explosives achieved his objective of destroying virtually all of the hybrid specimens and the research, but we have reason to believe that a hostile, invasive plant was created and was released into the forest here on the island. We of course haven't been able to do extensive tests into the nature of this genetically modified plant, only that it seems to spread at an alarming rate."

"A GMO plant was released here? And you aren't concerned that it could pose a threat?"

"Of course, I was concerned, and I will not dispute your expertise as a botanist, but as you were not available, Iraklis has decided not to bother doing anything with it. My scientists have assured me that it shouldn't be a threat to the local ecosystem, so the official decision was to abandon the plant here. But I must confess that I have my doubts as to whether this is indeed the best decision."

"Your scientists? Who in particular came with this ridiculous assessment?" asked Foswell incredulously.

"Well as you weren't available, naturally Dr. William Allen was willing to offer his expert opinion."

"Expert? Hah!" Foswell scoffed.

"I have my doubts," conceded Osborne.

"The opinion of William?"

"I would like to clarify this matter before we leave."

"A genetically modified, hostile weed? Is that what we're talking about here?"

"I was actually just on my way to talk to Dr. Allen for his guarantee that we can in good conscience leave this plant here, with no chance of it spreading, even infecting other countries."

"William couldn't tell Whitetop Weed from Wild Parsnip."

"And yet Iraklis would have me believe that his expertise is a match for your own."

"Well then, I'd better go and take a look at it."

"Take a look at what?" asked Karl in surprise.

"To see this noxious weed that Connors created."

Karl pulled Foswell aside. "Are you crazy? You can't go with him, while he's brandishing that gun and preaching vengeance for Connors!"

Foswell turned back to Osborne. "It's decided then. If you leave the gun here, I'll agree to examine this weed of yours."

Osborne responded, "Of course, leaving the gun is of no consequence. But the path into the jungle is quite rugged. I could not impose upon you such a venture."

Foswell got his back up. "You're lecturing me on rugged jungle paths? I've ventured down plenty of jungle trails, let me tell you. If you can do it, being a city bred pantywaist, then it will literally be a walk in the park for me. Especially if it means protecting the world from another invasive plant species. And as for William, he's an idiot. Let us be off."

"Well then you had best put on these masks," Osborne handed Karl and Foswell protective white masks to prevent the breathing of pollen, then he went ahead of them and spoke in an undertone to the guard. "These men have been infected with a contagious bioweapon. I'm afraid that they must be quarantined, but I take personal responsibility, Corporal." The terrified soldier held his breath as the men walked by.

They made their way past the smouldering wreckage that was the compound for hybrid research, and took a path that led into the forest. They walked past some fairly large trees, and the trail wound it's way around some rocky outcroppings and then followed the terrain as it ascended, climbing towards the mountain.

As they climbed, Osborne paused to catch his breath. "And how are you, Foswell? Why don't you stop to take a breather?"

"Typical city slicker. You're soft and out of shape, Osborne," mocked Foswell. "We're short on time, as you said. You can stop to do your nails later. But right now, we need to get to wherever this plant is so we can get back before dark."

"As you wish, Foswell. You're right, a little exercise won't kill us."

The dappled light of the sun filtered through the trees, and Osborne pulled a floppy wide brimmed hat out of his bag, as they couldn't always count on refreshing shade from the foliage. As he did so, Foswell's eyes flashed and he laughed. "My God, Osborne. Are you wearing a LYMP?"

"A what?"

"A LYMP. You don't understand?"

"You're asking if I have a limp?"

"Ah, so you are not an M? Of course you are not. For a second I thought you were wearing the yellow pin of Mensa."

"Not I."

"Obviously it is impossible that you would be an M." Foswell continued laughing heartily. "Honestly I don't know what I was thinking. You. A member of Mensa. Oh well, it is certainly good to laugh. But let us continue to this weed infestation."

"Yes. Let's continue." Osborne extended his arm, directing Foswell and Karl up the path. The climbing grew steeper, and Osborne procured a walking stick to support himself on the rocky terrain. Osborne guided them towards the ledge of a ravine, where a creek flowed fifteen meters below. There was rich greenery that could be seen, accompanied by the babbling of the brook, altogether making for a very pleasant location. Osborne paused at the edge of the cliff face, indicating that they had reached their destination, while Foswell vainly looked around for the plant in question, all to no avail.

"Come," gestured Osborne. "You can see the plants down there in the gully. Now William, he was positive-"

"William's a fool," Foswell interrupted, holding up his hand, as he walked rather unsteadily towards the edge, where Osborne was waiting. As he approached the lookout over the ravine, while he continued to scan the landscape for the weeds, Osborne straightaway gave him a shove, sending him tumbling and rolling grotesquely down the craggy bluff. As soon as Karl ran to the edge to look on Foswell's involuntary descent, he felt the solid weight of Osborne's wooden staff upon his head, knocking him out cold. Once Karl slumped to the ground next to Osborne's feet, he was able to consider how Foswell was making out in his plunge to the bottom.

Once Foswell had stopped rolling and had realized what had happened, he unleashed a torrent of abuse up the bluff, which even the least generous of individuals would grant, that in this case was warranted.

"What the hell, Osborne? Good God!"

"Yes. Pray to the God that caused you to bleed, Foswell."

"Aw jeez. I think my leg is broke. I can't freaking walk! And I'm stuck down here! Was this your plan all along? But what of this genetically modified weed? Surely we must attend to it? For the greater good?"

"True," Osborne replied, "there is the weed."

As he spoke those words, he busied himself securing the unconscious Karl to a tree, tying his hands together with a zip tie.

"Osborne," came the plaintive cry from the bottom of the ravine, "Osborne, surely you can't just leave me here? Not like this?" The effects of the alcohol evidently were wearing off.

"I suspect that you will not be left alone for long, Foswell. Soon the ants and the buzzards will be here to keep you company," he said coldly.

"But Harold," Foswell pleaded. "Why?"

"You dare to presume upon my mercy?" raged Osborne. "You murdered Julian Connors in cold blood. And so you must die! Justice demands it."

Foswell responded with a few despondent moans, and then screams for help. Help that would never come, for there was no one to hear. Finally Foswell said, "Come Harold. You don't want to do this. This isn't you, my friend. You don't want this on your conscience. You don't want this on your soul! Osborne!"

"Yes. As long as justice as served, I must be gone."

To these words, Osborne listened for a reply from the chasm, but was met with stony silence.

"Foswell!" he called, to no reply. So he called again, "Foswell!" but to no answer still. "Very well, Foswell. Karl Johnson. In pace requiescat!" he kissed his fingers and touched his forehead in farewell. "Do svidaniya, comrade."

Martin Li was feeling extremely nervous. Iraklis' forces had captured him, and while he had been happily enjoying anonymity amongst the other prisoners, he had been identified as one of the conspirators and now had been summoned to see Iraklis in person. He was very apprehensive, having heard that Iraklis had been horribly injured and reasoning that this could only have a foul effect on his mood and sense of charity.

He was ushered into the tent that was serving as a makeshift headquarters for Iraklis to not only direct the cleanup of the island, but also to convalesce. There, he was directed to Iraklis who was propped up in a cot, and wearing a convex plastic mask over his eyes. As he approached, he was struck by a sense of pity seeing Iraklis and his injuries, yet intrepidly carrying out his duties, having many attendants reading and dictating information to him.

As he entered, the guard at the entrance introduced him, "Dr. Martin Li is here to see you, sir."

"Li? Ah good. Show him in. How are you, Martin? Is the prisoner camp to your liking? I don't say that to be impudent, but rather out of sincere concern. We have already begun the process of rebuilding and there is no sense in rubbing salt into old wounds or revisiting past grievances. So have you been receiving fair treatment?"

"Um, yes," Martin stammered. "I mean, I should say so. But the only thing…"

"Yes, what is it?" Iraklis turned in his direction blindly.

"The only thing would be is perhaps we could use another ration of water. To fulfill all of our needs: washing, even brushing our teeth."

"Consider it done. That is, if you could possibly do something for me."

Martin felt his heart jump into his throat. "I will certainly try."

"I would like an honest assessment of my condition. The doctors here are proving themselves to be most unobliging in this respect."

"I'm certain that your medics would feel more confident if you were off to see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible."

"I certainly will, as soon as is possible, but in the meantime all of you quacks and sawbones will have to do. Remind me, what is your medical background?"

"Psychiatry. I may not be a field surgeon or an ophthalmologist, but I am an experienced physician, so I will do my best. I assume that a gross examination of each eye and orbital has already been assessed. What was the nature of the injury?"

"I was hit full in the face by the blast of an explosion. One final gift from Dr. Auchmann."

Martin removed the protective shield to look at the mangled eyes of Iraklis. "Have you administered broad spectrum antibiotics through his IV? I've heard a combination of ceftazadime and vanomycin is recommended."

"Yes Doctor," responded one of the nurses.

"I did happen to read up on common battlefield trauma when I came here," smiled Martin, trying to calm his own nerves and hoping that everyone else would keep a positive frame of mind. He gently touched the tissue around the eyes for swelling, but there was plain evidence of inflammation and hematoma. "I cannot open your eyelids. I have to assume that the swelling harbours a ruptured globe. Your doctors were right, Mr. Iraklis. The priority should be to transport you to an ophthalmic OR as soon as possible."

"I am aware of that, Doctor. What I want to know is; what are my chances of being able to see again?"

"There are many factors to consider. We can't know everything without at least a CT scan and an MRI, to detect foreign matter and check for blast-induced traumatic brain injury, which often leads to loss of vision. Also, I remember reading of an excellent computer modeling program developed by Dr. Vicky Nguyen that could help us diagnose the extent of your injury and subsequent treatment."

"Will this computer model actually help me if my eyes are burned out?"

"Well perhaps not. There's no way to know for sure unless we try. The problem is that treatment for eye trauma has been impeded by the lack of suitable animal models that recapitulate the initial injury. If we entered your injury into the computer model-"

"But is this model designed to help with treatment?" demanded Iraklis.

"Well, no," admitted an increasingly uncomfortable Martin. "It was more designed with the objective of developing protective eye armour, but I'm sure-"

"So I just want to make sure that I got this right. Treatment for eye trauma is limited because of a lack of animal testing. Much like the animal testing that Dr. Connors was performing. Correct me if I am wrong, Doctor."

Martin began to squirm so much that even Iraklis could perceive his discomfort. Finally he said, "In all honesty, Mark, based on what I've seen of your injury, the probability that you will be able to see again is essentially nil. I am very sorry." He held in his breath to see if he had just signed his own death warrant.

After some very tense moments, Iraklis said, "I greatly appreciate your honesty, Martin. Lieutenant!" He called the attention of Scott Washington, who was working nearby. "Please see to it that Dr. Li receives sufficient water to clean himself and enough to drink as well. And give a checkover that the prisoners are being treated fairly. We must now look to the future."

This response shocked Martin, but then gave him pause for doubt. Could it be that therein lay some coded message; some order of execution? "Forgive me, Mark," he said unexpectedly. "Somehow we lost our way and watched ourselves almost like spectators as we committed many evil acts outside of our ethical construct. I feel terrible, for many things."

"You are full of fear, Martin, but it serves you poorly. Better that you preserve this penitent spirit, and God will forgive everything. I have learned that there is no sin that exceeds God's boundless love and that he loves me even in my sin. We must only take care that we continue to look to God in penitence, for that facilitates the absolute conquest of fear."

Martin was beside himself with wonder. "I must say that I am speechless, this reaction in you is so unexpected. How are you able to find such forgiveness in your heart?"

"Don't think that I haven't spent so much time with you scientific types that I haven't been able to absorb something, Professor," smiled Iraklis. "Are you familiar with Professor Carl Thoresen's research dubbed the Stanford Forgiveness Project? Their conclusions demonstrated scientifically that forgiveness could positively enhance emotional and physical health, while noting that very few people understand what forgiveness is and how it works. That's about as far as scientists have gotten with all of their wisdom. From my own experience, I have found that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world; and then defines himself afterwards. Well, I plan in choosing to act essentially as a good person, and not define myself by cruel actions. To achieve this, I must be constantly conscious of the potential consequences of my actions, but I must retain control over my choices available for goodness by avoiding despair.

"Despair comes from standing before God, or your concept of God, and at being in despair at not willing to be oneself, or in despair at willing to be oneself. Put simply this is sin. But the beauty of having faith in God is that you can evaluate your actions in the face of God and in this way truly judge whether something is bad or good. Even when we screw up, we have the potential to undo the evil that has been committed. That is why it was commanded long ago; 'be ye kind one to another, forgiving one another freely, even as God also in Christ forgave you.' These words continue to transcend the narrow-minded scientific method so often practiced today.

"So go in peace, Martin, and do not be afraid. I have learned from these musings to not take offence at people's wrongs. I have truly forgiven the dead for the harm that they wrought, so that I may sincerely reconcile with him. If we are repentant, it means that we are capable of love. And if we love, then we already belong to God."

"I don't know what to say," said Martin, with tears in his eyes. "I have never been a religious man, and I am ashamed to admit that I never thought of you as a religious man either."

"I wasn't. But I am still free to create myself and then live in accordance with that self that I choose. We all must allow our actual values to be our guide us to make that choice instead of allowing those choices to be made for us, as so many do these days."

"Thank you, so much, Mr. Iraklis. I really thought I would die on this island. I genuinely wish you all the best in your recovery."

"There's no need to thank me, Martin, for no one is your judge now. I'm less worthy than anyone of being your judge! But may God forgive you. If even I, a sinful man, just like you, Martin, was moved to tenderness and felt pity for you, just imagine how much more so God will be. Love is such a priceless treasure that you can buy the whole world with it and redeem not only your own but other people's sins. Go, and do not be afraid."

Martin Li felt he could breathe the fresh air once again, like someone who had just received a last-minute reprieve from the red jaws of death; and the sky looked all the bluer for it.

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