Artis Nathaniel Frederic was nervous as hell now. It had been over a month since he'd last seen or spoken with the tyrannical leader of the city, and yet he already had the feeling he knew what this particular call was about. "And what seems to be the problem, Mr. Morane? You know how busy I am these days."
"Oh fuck you!" Morane replied in a belligerent tone. "Don't sit there and tell me you're too busy for me, you impotent prick! I'm the one secretly funding that shit company of yours these days, since your daddy's inheritance dried up. So you owe me, asshole!"
There was a brief pause and then a deep sigh on Artis's end.
"That's what I thought." Morane huffed. "Now listen here. I had to put that fucking android out of his misery because he threatened to kill me. But that's not all, the stupid fuck somehow gained access to Bryan's memories, and he came here bitching to me about them. Now you told me that once we locked those memories inside of the android, nothing could touch them, so you mind explaining to me how in the fuck that android figured out how to access them?"
There was another moment of silence before Artis finally responded.
"I'm honestly not sure. The only thing I could theorize is that the memories have somehow formed a bond with the android's artificial brain. If that be the case then this is quite a remarkable discovery. By the way where it is it now?"
"On the fucking floor of my office." Morane answered. "So are you going to fix this mess or not? Cause I ain't got all night!"
Artis paused again. He glanced over his shoulder at the clock on the wall behind him. It was only a quarter past six now.
"I suppose I could send somebody out soon."
"No!" Morane was quick to disagree. "You come and you come alone, got it?"
"But what if I require assistance?" Artis asked then, sounding more anxious about Morane's probable intentions.
"You fucked this up, you fix it!" Morane chastised before hanging up.
Artis was at a complete loss for words as he hung up his phone. He figured by now he should have gotten used to that man's hostility, but in truth he wasn't. Even worse that he'd been secretly working with him all this time, going behind the backs of the very people who trusted him the most; the AMF. And all because he had been irresponsible with his father's inheritance, blowing it all on drugs and gambling in his younger days before he finally decided to clean up his act, but by then it was too late. The money was gone.
And with nobody else to turn to, it was only natural that he came before Morane, begging for his assistance. Although he knew the man would not give him anything without getting something in return; and in so doing Artis had pledged his allegiance, and promised to create the ultimate henchman; the android who would be known as Stan Winston.
Lost in deep thought, Artis suddenly heard a knock on his office door and promptly walked over and opened it just to find Sebak standing there. "Yes?"
"I just wanted to inform you that Dendera is feeling much better." Sebak stated. "She is still resting but should be awake later so we can continue our work."
Artis shook his head in response. "No, she can take all the time she needs to recover. I won't be needing any assistance this time."
Sebak couldn't help but pick up on the anxiousness in the man's voice as well as his body language. "Everything all right?"
Artis gave a nod. "Oh absolutely. I've just got a lot on my plate, that's all. I just spoke with the manager of the arcade. He said one of those machines was acting up and that I need to head over and fix it right away. So I'll be gathering up my tools and leaving soon to go take care of that."
"And you don't require any help?" Sebak questioned him, looking rather confused.
Artis laughed nervously, knowing there was a strong chance he might not make it back alive. "Nah, after all it's a one person job. I can handle it."
"All right, Sir." Sebak bowed his head. "And good luck."
By now, William couldn't believe the force of rage that had come over him as he slammed that AMF guard from earlier, right into the chain-link fence with all his might, demanding to know why he had deliberately let a child wander out into that dangerous city.
"Of all the rotten things in this universe, and you chose to put an innocent child in harm's way!?" William seethed through clenched teeth as he searched that man's eyes for a soul, just to come up empty.
"Yes I did!" The guard admitted, shouting back with just as much ferocity. "Those savages turned against us, killed our own! It's only fair!"
William felt nothing but utter disgust for this man. He even thought about breaking his jaw for good measure, until he remembered that Safiya and her mother were standing nearby, watching him. He knew the last thing that child needed to see was an example of violence; especially from him.
"She's a child." William reminded the guard, backing away. "I hope you know I'm going to report this to the admiral, and there will be dire consequences."
The guard then raised his fists and stepped forward. "Don't pretend to be some kind of fucking martyr, Corporal Sterling! We haven't forgotten that you and that blonde shithead were responsible for what happened here in the first place! Our comrades, my brother, is dead because of you! And you have the audacity to tell me what's right and wrong!? Fuck you, Sterling!"
William saw pain in those dark eyes now as they were locked on his, but no matter what there was still no justifying putting a child in harm's way. Revenge was the Tjatey way of handling things, not them.
"I'm sorry for your loss." William said looking him dead in the eye. "But I'm still going to have to report this to the admiral. You can't go unpunished, not for this."
Then not a second later after William had turned his back to leave, the guard rushed him, slamming his body against the pavement as hard as he could. He wasn't about to let this hybrid cost him his job.
William fell, landing head first on the concrete, practically knocking him out as his vision had suddenly become a blur. There was a brief ringing in his ears while the rest of the outside noise, such as the sounds of shouting and screaming were inaudible. He blinked, knowing that guard now had his hands around his throat, trying to choke the life out of him. And from what he could discern, Rehema and some others were trying their best to pull the guard off of him. But if they were failing or succeeding he didn't know.
Once the ringing in his ears faded, his vision became much clearer, and now standing over him was a tall Tjatey warrior with long wavy hair as blue as the sky of planet earth itself. The warrior's piercing eyes were also blue and they were staring right at William, as though looking through him. But what surprised William was the fact this warrior wasn't dressed in the typical Tjatey attire as seen on the base, but rather a very ancient looking uniform with a scarf like cloak, and an ancient golden amulet hanging around his neck.
William gazed up at the warrior, until the man suddenly offered him his hand.
"Rise with me." The warrior smirked.
At first, William felt unsure if he could trust this warrior, especially after everything that had happened. Yet something inside him was telling him it was okay to do so, and so he accepted.
"You may not know who I am but I know you." The warrior said as he helped William off the ground.
"Who are you?" William asked then.
"Ammon." The warrior answered.
And then it hit William like a ton of bricks. "Am I dead?" He began to panic, just to feel relief as Ammon shook his head.
"You're unconscious." He explained, gesturing towards William's sleeping body with his hand, as it lay on the ground. He could also see that guard being escorted away by the others as well as Rehema and Safiya knelt down beside him, trying to wake him up.
That was also when William noticed the blood running down the right side of the head of his body. He then reached up to touch his own and found there was no blood at all. Could it be that his soul had been knocked right out of his own body? He'd always believed in something after death, but experiencing whatever this was, seemed to be enough to make him wonder if he wasn't just going crazy.
"So what happens now?" William asked. "And are you just a ghost haunting me?"
Ammon shook his head. "I have come to you because my people have lost their way. You have already seen the effects of this with Naeem and those who followed him. He was never meant to lead my people, only you were."
Hearing this only seemed to anger William. He had become so sick and tired of being told that he was their only hope for a new leader, when all he wanted to do was have a normal life. But now that he had actually come face to face with Ammon himself, he knew there was no escape.
"But why me?" William asked. "Isn't there anybody else worthy? Why not Justin? I know he's full blood human, but he's more of a leader than I could ever be. I honestly believe you're all making a mistake in choosing me. I can't stand violence as it is. I only fought back against Naeem because I had no other choice. So please, pick somebody else. I don't want this it's just too much."
Ammon appeared to sympathize with him from the looks of it, and also by his silence as he listened.
"Please choose anybody else but me." William pled, bringing both his hands together in a form of prayer as though Ammon were god himself. "I don't want it."
William's eyes were still locked on Ammon's as the former warrior moved closer, stopping once he was close enough to reach out and place his left hand on William's right shoulder.
"Because you are my blood." He explained. "I am not asking you to be their leader, but just to lead them on a different path. They need guidance, and that of a noble warrior such as yourself."
"Please don't call me that." William shook his head shamefully. "I'm not a warrior and I never want to be one either."
Ammon nodded his understanding and removed his hand, stepping back in order to give William more room to breathe.
"Sometimes our paths are chosen for us." Ammon sighed, his steel blue eyes reflecting something of a memory in that moment as William noticed the light fade in them.
"What do you mean?" He asked next, wanting to know how Ammon came to be such a leader in the first place.
Ammon met William's gaze once again, as that look of serenity suddenly turned into something else; regret.
"I know you have many questions, but you must know that I can only answer a few of them. Others I wish to keep myself, because it is something you must learn on your own."
William's brow furrowed. "Just tell me."
"I only became their leader because nobody else had the courage to face him." Ammon explained. "He was leading us all down a path of destruction, of his own doing. I knew we would never be free until we revolted. We became the Tjatey, the defectors of our own ancestors. I never chose to be their new leader, the Tjatey chose me."
William was suddenly reminded of what his own mother had warned him about a month ago.
"What is this about, mother?" William spoke softly as he knelt down before her now. "Why has he turned against us?"
"For an old prophecy," she answered ashamed to look him in the face. "He believes that through your deaths it will be fulfilled, but he doesn't understand that death won't matter. He awaits our former leader. He wishes to rejoin him."
"Why don't you just speak his name?" William argued, clenching a fist. "I keep hearing about this mysterious former leader, but none of you dare to even say his name, why is that?"
"Because he is a curse." Ammon replied. "The Tjatey wanted to forget, and in order to do that we vowed never to speak his name again."
William could feel his chest tightening over the next thought that crossed his mind. "He is still out there somewhere, isn't he?"
Ammon only nodded, causing William to bow his head and sigh with disappointment.
"Please tell me he doesn't know where we are. He doesn't, does he?" William frowned.
Ammon turned away from him, looking as though he were uncertain himself. "That I cannot answer, because I do not know."
"Great." William remarked sarcastically.
"But should he return, those who are still lost may join him in battle." Ammon stated. "That is why I'm asking for your help, William. As I said before, you are my blood, therefore you are me."
William had to shake his head over the ridiculousness of those words. "We may be related by blood but that doesn't make us the same. I'm not you, alright? I am me, and I'll do what I feel is right no matter what."
Ammon said nothing more as he smiled at him, when all of a sudden William's vision became blurry once again and Ammon seemed to disappear within a blinding white light. William then opened his eyes and realized he was back inside his own body, and there looking down at him, was Rehema, Safiya, Justin, and somebody else he didn't recognize at first.
"Hey man, you okay?" Justin asked as William sat up, gasping.
William blinked and then searched around him, noticing there were others standing nearby watching him. "Where'd he go? I wasn't finished talking."
Confused by these words, Justin immediately assumed that William was talking about the guard that had just been taken away.
"He's in the brig where he belongs." Justin answered. "I was on my way back to Atlantech with Jayce here." Justin angled his thumb at the red haired soldier standing behind him.
"Nice to meet you." Jayce gave a friendly wave.
"Like I was saying." Justin continued. "We were on our way back when we heard shouting and screaming in the distance. So we rushed over to see what was wrong, and that's when we saw you on the ground with that guard on top, choking the life out of you."
Stunned, William then placed a hand around his own throat, surprised to notice he didn't feel any pain or discomfort at all. "I don't even feel like I've been choked." He replied. "And I wasn't talking about that guard either, screw him. I was talking about Ammon. I saw him face to face while I was out."
Justin's eyes widened as well as Rehema's.
"Really?" Justin marveled. "What did he say?"
"Not a lot." William answered as reached up and touched the right side of his head, and then brought it back down and looked at the blood.
"Are you going to be okay?" Safiya asked worriedly, seeing that the right side of William's face was scratched up and bruised.
"I think so." William winced. "My head definitely hurts a lot. How long was I out?"
"Maybe ten minutes at the most." Justin answered rising back up to a standing position, before offering his hand to William to help him off the ground. "Easy now." Justin said as William gripped his hand tight, and then lifted himself up.
Even though he was back on his feet, William still felt incredibly dizzy and off balance, but he was determined to report to the admiral.
"We should probably get you to the infirmary for a checkup." Justin suggested then.
"No, I've got to report this to the admiral." William disagreed curtly, causing Justin to roll his eyes.
"Don't be stupid, Will. You just got the shit kicked out of you and you're bleeding. And besides, there were other servicemen around when it happened. I'm sure they're reporting it now on your behalf."
Jayce chimed in. "Yeah I spotted one of our second lieutenants who also witnessed the fight. I'll bet he's reporting it this instant."
"See?" Justin pointed out. "Everything's fine, now go get yourself looked at pronto, before you keel over again."
"Okay fine." William huffed in annoyance, when he suddenly felt Safiya grab a hold of his left hand.
"Safiya, what are you doing?" Her mother demanded to know.
"Helping my friend." The little girl answered smiling up at him.
William smiled back down at her, knowing she was already on a good path despite her mother's prejudice antics. It also reminded him of Ammon's words when he talked about how he doesn't need William to take his place, but rather lead his people down a better path. And there for a moment, William began to wonder if maybe Safiya was kind of leader the Tjatey truly needed.
"All right, Safiya you can lead the way." William nodded at her.
Elsewhere, Victoria sat in silence in the backseat of the beat up jalopy as she and Maxwell were headed towards their next target. It was another local bank in the downtown area of the city. But unlike their first heist, this location was a lot closer to the main business district which ran all the way through Gambler's Strip. So there was an even higher chance of them getting caught this time around.
Yet despite Victoria's conflicting emotions, Maxwell had managed to convince her that she was ready, but she knew that was only his greed talking. He'd gotten a taste of that power and he wanted more of it, and surprisingly so did she. But it was something she hated to admit to herself and had tried her best to deny. Not only the thrill of robbing that first bank, but also the excitement she felt when she threatened that poor bank teller's life. She couldn't kill the woman, but there was something extraordinarily exciting about having that kind of power over someone. For it felt as though she were taking back her own power and control she had lost.
Oh wouldn't daddy be proud of his little girl? She wondered then as Maxwell parked the vehicle behind an abandoned building and killed the engine. Victoria looked out the window and noticed some old rundown apartment buildings across the street to her right. There were some lights on inside the building but not enough to cause her to worry. For now her only concern was the amount of people inside the bank. It was evening time now, and while most of the citizens were probably on their way to gamble, she knew there was going to be some kind of activity around here, so she braced herself.
Maxwell then interrupted her thoughts as he tossed an empty knapsack at her from the front seat, smacking her in the head again for the second time.
She groaned with aggravation as she picked it up and then set it on the seat beside her while she fixed her hair.
"You think you can handle this one?" Maxwell asked callously, refusing to even make eye contact with her.
She ignored him as she placed her hat on her head, straightening out the black veil, letting it fall over her face.
"You said I was ready, so why are you asking?" she quipped then. "The first heist was easy because it was the early morning and there were hardly any people around. But now that we're in a more prominent location it's going to be much harder avoiding witnesses. Are you entirely sure that we've thought this one through? I mean it's only been a single day since the last one. The authorities could already be on the lookout for us, especially in this heap of junk."
Maxwell scoffed. "Oh please, the police don't give a horse's arse about a single robbery. They're after the bloody serial thieves. As for more witnesses, you've already handled one of them, Miss Thompson. I'm sure you can handle another. Don't tell me you're having second thoughts about this already. Remember we need that money, especially you."
"Yes I know." She huffed, and then opened the door and stepped out. "But I'm going to make one thing clear to you, Mr. Graham. You are not to steal from me again, you got that? Or I'll personally shoot you myself. So are we clear?"
Maxwell couldn't believe she had just threatened him, but seeing as there was no time for an argument now, he decided to agree. "Fine, we are clear, now get your arse moving already. The longer you stand around lollygagging in the street, the better our chances of being seen!"
"On my way." She remarked contemptuously, grabbing the knapsack and tucking it underneath her left arm, and then lifting up the hem of her green floral print dress to check and make sure the pistol in the holster around her right thigh was secure. She knew she couldn't be seen carrying around her purse any longer; especially since it was the one thing that could truly identify her now.
A sudden wave of anxiousness came over her as she closed the car door and then began walking down the street. There were a few men out and about, standing outside the doors of a small Italian restaurant smoking their cigars and chatting. But of course it was only a matter of time before one of them spotted an attractive woman walking by her lonesome on the other side of the street, unaware of what this woman was about to do.
He whistled and catcalled her, along with the other two joining in. "Hey dollface, why don't ya come over here and let me buy yous a drink!"
Victoria rolled her eyes as she carried on her way. Thankfully the distance between the bank and the getaway car wasn't too far, but she knew she would still have to huff it in her heels or take them off. There weren't any stairs to climb either, which was also a relief. The only downside however, was that the building was much larger, which meant there were probably more than a few tellers at the windows, as well as clients. But it didn't matter how many or how less, she was mentally prepared either way, or so she believed.
Looking a tad overconfident, she walked up to the main entrance, a large pair of glass automatic doors trimmed with a brass frame. There was a censor at the top which activated the moment she stepped under it, causing the doors to slide wide open.
She walked inside the bank lobby and stopped to have a quick look around. She could see a large brown and white marbled floor, with four sets of wooden benches on either side of the room. There weren't too many people inside, only a mother with her young daughter who were seated on one of the benches, and a man in a dark long coat standing in the far corner reading a paper.
None of these people even paid her any attention as she walked on by, her heels clacking on the slick floor's surface as she walked up to the window of a male teller, a man who looked somewhere in between his 30's and 40's with brown hair, eyes, and a notable receding hairline.
She sized him up as she approached the window, noting the pleasant smile on his face as he greeted her.
"Welcome to Gambler's Strip Universal bank, how may I assist you this fine evening?" The man asked kindly
In turn, Victoria also gave a pleasant smile, but on the inside she could feel her adrenaline begin to rush. "Why yes, I would like to open a new account here.
"Will that be checking or savings?" The teller asked next.
Victoria whipped out her pistol and aimed it at his head. "Savings, please." She smirked.
The man's eyes widened with fear and he raised his hands. Victoria was already becoming quite familiar with this routine. Then all of a sudden, she spotted the female teller behind the window next to him, on the phone trying to reach the police. Angered, Victoria fired a quick warning shot into the air and yelled at that woman to drop the phone. The man standing in the corner, as well as the mother and child were suddenly cowering on the ground, covering their heads with their hands. Victoria had a feeling these people were used to this by now.
"If I see any one of you so much as touch a phone, I will put a bullet in this man's head, you hear me? Now fill the bag!" Victoria then handed the knapsack over to the man. "I know your clients are loaded too. Just look at this place. Why, I'd bank here myself if I weren't a crook."
The man nodded and headed for the vault behind him while she waited impatiently. He entered a code in the digital padlock on the door and it swung open. Then he began picking up stacks of Atlantis dollars and dropping them into the sack, when he heard another gunshot and began to panic.
"Hurry it up!" Victoria barked. "Or I'll lay waste to one of your co-workers here!" She eyed the other three tellers, watching as they too feared for their lives.
The man's heart was racing and he began to work faster, until he couldn't fit anything more into the bag and then brought it back and handed it over.
"If you must kill someone then kill me." The man begged, raising his hands.
Victoria smirked and laughed at him as she picked up the sack and turned to leave. "No need for that, I got what I came for. Now y'all have a good night." She blew a kiss.
She then headed for the entrance and walked out, ready to remove her heels and make a beeline for the getaway car, when all of a sudden one of those men from earlier approached her and began blocking her path.
"Hey there sweet stuff, what ya got in that big sack of yours?" He dared to ask.
"None of your damned business!" Victoria sneered.
But the moment that man had heard her voice, his face seemed to contort into that of a look of utter surprise. "Hey, I know that voice, you're that actress aren't you? You're Vic—"
Her eyes widened in panic and she aimed her pistol at his head and fired. The man fell to the ground at her feet dead, causing onlookers to gape in horror as they now stared at her.
It felt like the universe was moving in slow motion as Victoria took a moment to look around her. She then heard a scream, which made her glance to her left where she saw a young traumatized woman with their hands cupped over their mouth in utter fright as she looked down at the body of that man and then up at Victoria.
For that moment, Victoria could hear the loud thumping of her own heart, especially when she looked across the street where the two friends of the man she'd just killed were standing and gaping in shock.
She couldn't believe it, but she'd attracted quite the audience, and she knew things would only get worse once she heard the sound of a blaring siren in the distance, knowing the police were on their way to the crime scene. But she'd wasted enough time basking in the spotlight of it all. Now it was time to get back to Maxwell so they could get the hell out of there.
But by the time she had made it back and threw herself into the backseat of the vehicle, Maxwell was already in panic mode himself, demanding to know what happened out there.
"I heard that bloody shot, what happened?" He asked worriedly.
"I killed a man." Victoria answered plainly, feeling no shock or remorse at all much to her own surprise. "He found out who I was so I had to."
Maxwell then fired up the engine and began to peel out of there as fast as he could. "What about the money? Did you get it?"
"Of course I did." She groaned, removing her hat. "But we'd better not blow through it in a couple days, because we're going to have to get a lot smarter with how things are done."
Maxwell looked surprised to hear these words coming from her of all people.
"And another thing." She added next. "This broken down piece of trash has got to go. Sooner or later somebody is going to connect this thing with all our robberies. And now that we've got the money we can afford a different car. So I don't want any excuses! We'll dump this thing in the junkyard. Same with my dress. Too many witnesses have seen it now. It's also got to go."
"So when did you become so smart about covering your tracks?" Maxwell remarked with disdain.
She smirked in response. "About the same time I realized that I'm much better at being a criminal than an actress. Now find a secluded alleyway so I can begin transferring this money to the briefcase." She instructed. "I also need to change out of these clothes, so you'd better make sure there isn't another soul around."
"If there is you could just kill the bloke." Maxwell quipped rolling his eyes.
"There!" Victoria pointed out a familiar alleyway she spotted just ahead of them. "Turn down here!" She ordered.
Maxwell listened and made the turn into the alley, suddenly bringing the motor car to a complete stop.
Victoria then grabbed her purse and pulled out a sleeveless silver and pink dress that had been rolled up and stuffed inside. Her eyes glared at Maxwell in the mirror. "Don't you dare watch me! She warned him as she began unzipping the back of her green floral dress and then pulling it up over her head, revealing a cream silk slip underneath.
"Don't worry yourself, Miss Thompson. I have absolutely no interest in you beyond our professional matters." He scoffed, turning his head away. "But please do hurry the bloody hell up!"
Victoria slipped the new dress over her head and pulled it down over the slip, smoothing out the wrinkles in the sequined fabric with her hands. Then she opened the door, grabbed her old dress and walked over to a nearby dumpster and promptly disposed of it like a piece of trash.
Feeling a bit of relief, she walked back to the car and climbed inside, shutting the door before she set to work transferring the stacks of cash into the open briefcase beside her.
Maxwell drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, growing impatient with each minute that it took her to finish the job.
"Uh-oh." She suddenly stated, causing Maxwell to look over the seat at her. "What do you mean uh-oh, what the bloody hell is it now?"
"I can't believe I'm saying this, but there's actually too much money." She replied nervously. "It won't all fit inside here. What do we do now?"
"Stuff it in it!" Maxwell growled with frustration. "It will fit you just have to force it!"
Victoria tossed the last of the stacks on top of the pile, and began pushing down on the lid of the case, trying to force it down, but it wouldn't close all the way.
"Bright idea, Mr. Graham!" She huffed irritably, still trying her best to snap the case shut, only to have it keep popping back open. "Now what!?"
Maxwell slapped a hand on his forehead and groaned. "I don't know, you're the criminal mastermind here, remember?"
Victoria pulled a face, knowing he was only mocking her with that response, and then she looked down at her purse sitting on the floor next to her feet. She sighed.
"Oh you can't be serious!" Maxwell exclaimed, throwing his hands up in disbelief.
"What other choice do we have?" She snapped at him as she picked up her purse and began stuffing the rest of the cash inside. "See? It fits, and I can easily sneak right by Enrique or anyone else without them knowing the difference. They'd assume it was all cosmetics in here anyway."
"What the bloody hell ever, just hurry so we can leave!" Maxwell griped impatiently.
"Mr. Morane? I'm here." Artis announced himself as he pushed open one of the doors to the council leader's office and walked inside. It was mostly dark aside from a single wall light that had been turned down all the way. "I've also come alone as instructed, now if you could just show me wh—"
"You stupid son of a bitch!" Morane greeted him with a fist in the face, emerging from the shadows just to grab and throw him to the floor, knocking his glasses off his face.
"Get up!" Morane barked coldly, while a stunned Artis lifted himself back up and then looked over his shoulder to face his attacker.
"So is this it?" Artis asked now, reaching for his glasses. "Are you going to kill me?"
Morane clenched his teeth and furrowed his brow. "No. But I am going to make you regret this fuckup of yours." He then pulled out his hunting knife and flipped the blade open. "Get up!" He ordered again. "On your fucking feet. Then I want you to march your ass over to my desk and decide which hand of yours you're going to place on top of it. And you better fucking decide or else I'll decide for you!"
Artis grunted as he put his glasses back on and rose back up to his feet, and then made his way over to Morane's desk. He could see the lifeless body of the android lying on its side near the front of it, along with a visible head wound where the laser gun had struck it.
"Better make a wise choice as well." Morane taunted as he followed behind like a cat creeping up on a mouse. "I'm sure you don't want me to damage your good hand. Because we both know you ain't been laid in a long fucking time."
Artis felt insulted but he didn't dare let it show, especially since he knew Morane would only take pleasure in his suffering. Yet he couldn't help but feel like the same pathetic young man he'd been when he first came to the man. Everything in this office was exactly as he remembered it too, nothing had seemed to change. Not even his demeanor.
"Is this how it has to be? Isn't there some other way I could pay for my crimes?" Artis began to plead, turning himself around to look Morane into his icy blue eyes. "Please, I'll do anything you ask?"
Morane sneered at his pathetic attempts to save his own skin. "Pick a fucking hand and place it on top of my desk!"
Artis frowned and then glanced down at both of his hands. He was mostly right-handed but he did use his left hand just as much for certain things, so he knew this wouldn't be easy. But neither did he have any idea what Morane planned on doing with that chosen hand, whether it meant he would only lop off a single finger or the whole hand itself. Either way this was something Artis wished deeply he could get out, but Morane didn't seem to be up for negotiations anymore.
Then with a heavy sigh, Artis leaned over Morane's desk with the palm of his left hand pressed against its smooth wooden surface. He closed his eyes and looked away as Morane walked up with the knife in hand. Artis tried not to show any fear but his whole body was trembling now.
"Sorry it's come to this." Morane gave a sincere apology, before bringing the knife down and slicing off the index finger of Artis's hand.
The shock from the pain was the only thing Artis felt in that moment, but he still refused to open his eyes and look at the mess of blood on Morane's desk.
"Now we have to stop the bleeding of course." Morane mentioned next as he flicked open a zippo lighter and held the flame against the stump of finger Artis had left, cauterizing it.
Artis clenched his teeth and grimaced, feeling as though he could faint any moment.
"There now." Morane commented smirking at his morbid work as he put the lighter away. "Was that really so bad now? You can open your eyes. Consider yourself lucky I didn't force you to watch."
Artis's eyes shot open and looked down at the puddle of blood smeared across the desk like a crude painting. He felt immediate disgust. And then he looked down at the burnt flesh on his hand and felt like fainting again. His face was pale as a ghost now from the loss of blood.
"And what lesson was this supposed to teach me?" He asked then.
"No more fuck ups." Morane looked him dead in the eye, and then tossed him a roll of bandage tape. "Wrap it up and then you can set to work on him." Morane gestured at Stan.
Without hesitation, Artis wrapped the tape around his stump of a finger and then knelt down beside the android to examine the damage more closely. He pressed a finger to its face to check for any neural response at all but it was still unresponsive.
"I'm going to need a lot more light in here to do this." He looked over at Morane, who walked over to the wall lamp and slightly turned the small knob beside it counter clockwise, causing the light to brighten the room.
"That better?" Morane asked, before heading back to his desk to clean up the blood and properly dispose of the severed finger.
Artis nodded, still feeling a bit faint as he pulled out his toolkit. "Yeah it will do, thank you."
"Don't mention it." Morane replied almost jovially as he wrapped the severed finger into a bloodstained handkerchief and then tossed it inside the trash can beside his desk.
Artis still couldn't believe the predicament he was in, but he also knew he didn't want to lose anymore fingers or his life for that matter. For now he would cooperate with the man until he was asked to leave. But when that would be he didn't know.
"Not that I'm trying to sound bothersome, but what exactly do you want me to fix here?" Artis asked, looking up at Morane. "I mean aside from the obvious damage to his faceplate, that is."
Without saying a word, Morane rose from his chair and walked around the side of his desk, stopping just to pull a cigar out of his front pocket and light it.
Artis could feel shivers run up and down his spine. He really hoped he hadn't angered the man this time. But he desperately needed to know what his instructions were so he could set to work already.
"I don't want him to have any memory of what happened in here." Morane finally answered, followed by a puff of smoke from his mouth. "And I want him meaner, more aggressive if you will. I want every sad son of a bitch in this city to fear the very sight of him."
Artis duly noted all of this and nodded. "All right, so memory erasure and more aggression. I've got that down so far. Anything else? What about his relationships with those at the AMF base? If I erase too much he could end up forgetting everything, but again it's up to you. You're the one calling all the shots here and I'm just following orders."
Morane seemed to be thinking it over as Artis watched him. And while the room may have been a lot brighter, it still had no effect on the darkness in the man's eyes. Those soulless eyes stared him down as though he were vermin.
"Don't erase those." Morane replied. "I still need him as a spy. I just want him to be a lot more dangerous. Not to me of course." A snide smirk spread across his mouth then. "But to everyone else, even you."
Artis complied and began working, first by removing the faceplate, exposing the android's artificial brain within its cavity. But all the while Artis was trying to keep busy, he was very much afraid of the horrible outcome such an upgrade would have. Especially to those around him; the people he cared for. What if Stan does in fact become the ultimate weapon? Artis shuddered to think what it would capable of after he was done. But there was no backing out now. It was too late.