Ch.1 On the Brink - Part 3

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Doctor Francis Stein leaped out of the way, clutching his stack of papers, as Angelina and Christina tore around the corner. The least you could do is watch where you're going, he thought.

Leaning against the wall of the carved stone corridor, he watched as they continued, unaware of his presence.

Why are you both going the wrong way in such a hurry? He glanced in the opposite direction. Is the meeting already over? He pushed his large spectacles up and pursued the women. "Ms. Creangle, if I could have a moment of your time. I've been asking for months. I need more resources for my experiments," his voice lined with desperation.

Angelina glared at him and whispered to Christina. She then broke off and intercepted Stein. "The meeting's still going on, so get down there. This is an emergency," said Angelina, pointing sharply in the other direction.

His face wrinkled up as Christina turned a corner. "How about my emergency? I am on the verge of a breakthrough in fighting infection, but my time is being wasted. Wasted because I don't have the people or supplies I need."

"We don't have time for this, Stein."

As she turned to go, he reached out and grabbed her arm. Several papers fell to the ground.

She glared at him, and he looked at his hand, surprised at himself.

"You keep promising me that I will have time to explain to Ms. Creangle, to make my case, but every time you just tell me to go away. Not this time." He lifted his chin, holding on to the surge in confidence.

Angelina's nostrils flared. "Get to that meeting, Stein. Be where you're supposed to be, when you're supposed to be there. Unless you want me to point out to Christina that you've been derelict in your medical duties lately. Then I'm sure she'd have given you an audience, before throwing you out on your ear. I have half a mind to believe that you're just a con man."

Stein's words failed him, and so he bent down to pick up his papers, his eyes locked on Angelina's. Swallowing, he pushed onward. "I have been here for ten months. Ten months and I am still waiting for the very things you promised me when I agreed to lead the medical science and research department here. Maybe it's you who is the con artist? Just where do you disappear to when Creangle's off on her sojourns?"

Angelina folded her arms and stepped forward. Despite being only five-foot-three-inches, compared to Stein's five-foot-nine, he leaned back as if she were a giant. "And what do you feel you've been denied, Stein? Does someone have a nicer lamp than you? All I ever hear about is what more you need, what you don't have. Do I need to remind you that you were lost and running for your life when you happened upon a group of fleeing scientists who were headed here? And despite not having any paperwork on you, we accepted you in as one of our own."

Stein's hands curled into fists. "And I'm supposed to be eternally grateful? I used to be the head of medical research at the University of—"

"I don't care, Stein." Angelina's eyes were cold, the fury and anger in her face disappearing like fire under a tide.

He punched at the air. "There's a girl running around in a yellow hood with a mechanical arm beyond anything I have ever seen." He jabbed a finger sharply behind him. "Where did she get that? I can't believe for a moment that it came from Christophe Creangle himself. Whatever miracles of technology the man once made are beyond the senile, old fool he is now. He couldn't make a shoebox, let alone something like that."

The edge of Angelina's mouth turned up in a smug smile. "Do you think Christina made Mounira's arm? Is that it? Wait, I remember now. She did it in one of those non-existent moments she had to herself."

"Oh please, I think it more than likely that you have some deal, someone else involved that you're hiding from all of us," Stein rebuffed. "Am I to seriously believe that a man who smells constantly like a baby needing a change is responsible for such a miraculous invention as that arm?"

Angelina pushed Stein back. "Now is not the time for your petty squabbling. I've never seen an ounce of the man you claim to once have been. Walk away, now."

He strangled the papers in his grip.

"You know, Stein, you are the biggest obstacle in your life. Now shut up and get down to that meeting, or I'll find someone else to lead the medical sciences team. Someone who actually cares about the team and results."

Stein's body shook with rage as he watched Angelina walk away. His life had been a chain of 'almosts', opportunities he felt had been stolen from him with polite lies and careful smiles.

He'd almost been hired at a university to lead their medical research team, but instead was allowed to rent a lab while they dithered. Then he'd made an incredible discovery, one that would have surely brought him fame, money, and recognition, but he arrived one afternoon to discover the small, one-story building had been demolished. And so on went the chain of events, resulting in him running for his life with other geniuses, hunted as abominators, all the way to the doors of Kar'm. He'd hoped that his lifetime of feeling adrift had come to an end, and it had, but not in the way he'd expected.

Kar'm was a hellish prison for Stein. He was surrounded by brilliant minds with little interest in other than what they were striving for. No one seemed interested in collaborating. Everyone wanted to be left alone with their toys, allowed to display any temperament; everyone that was—except for him.

With a long face and slumped shoulders, he stared at the nearest crank lantern. Unlike its colleagues that all hung on the wall, brightly shining, this one was dim. He reached out, taking hold of its little winding arm.

"Do you need some help?" He raised an eyebrow and leaned in. "What's that? You do? Allow me."

He yanked the handle so hard, the lantern plummeted to the ground and smashed.

"There, how do you like Kar'm-style help?" He gave the broken lantern a push with his boot. "No? I do admit, it was not what I expected either, but better you learn the lesson sooner rather than later." He tapped another lantern. "It's a shame you couldn't find one to complement you. You might have been able to become the brightest of all lights together. But instead, you now hang there, alone, your genius muffled by the cruelty of others."

He slowly headed for the meeting room, his mind going over what he'd wanted to mention. Turning the final corner, he glanced over at the open doorway thirty yards away. There were all manner of familiar voices shouting even more complaints and curses. "It sounds like they're already rabid. Best I be ready for when I enter."

Stein crouched down and laid his papers out. "This first ..." For the next ten minutes, he fussed back and forth with the order of the papers. "Strategy's not your game, Francis. Stop messing with the papers and just get in there. Don't try to be who they want, just be yourself. Wing it." He bowed his head.

Then something caught his attention and he gazed over at the meeting room. His fingers twitched, and his stomach tightened. Frowning, he listened carefully. Something's wrong. They don't yell like that. That sounds more like panic.

Standing up, Stein touched his glasses and took a step forward. What did Remi just say? Did he say—?

An explosion threw Stein backwards against the wall and scattering his papers everywhere.

His ears ringing, his eyes wide, he stared at the upside-down smoky scene before him. Rolling onto his stomach, he grimaced and righted his glasses.

Later, he would wonder if it was the desire to help or morbid curiosity, but regardless, Stein slowly crawled forward through the rubble, until he collapsed on the floor, his face turned to peer into the bloody scene. His head spinning, he flattened to the ground, and passed out.

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