This was the address he had been given by the old sawbones... he double-checked the slip again, just to be sure. But how could this be right? This place looked like a respectful clinic, not the kind of back alley shack he’d have expected an old sawbones to be associated with. But there it was in front of him... this was the spot. Deandre went back to the cab for Estrella, and helped her in. He gave the receptionist his name, and half expected her to tell him he wasn’t on the list. Instead, she motioned for him to take a seat and wait to be called. He did as he was told.
When he was called, he and Estrella followed the nurse back to what looked like a typical doctor’s office, except for the crystal or glass skull on the counter, housing what appeared to be a fake brain, floating in some kind of purple liquid goo. After a few moments, a youngish-looking doctor — who was pulling off early to mid-thirties pretty well, if he was not — came in and greeted them both.
“Hi there, folks. I am Dr. Argyris, but you can call me Galen,” he offered, extending his hand to both Deandre and Estrella. “I see here that you were referred to me by Dr. Clarke... Is that correct?”
Clearing his throat, Deandre responded nervously.
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Alright then,” the doctor nodded. “How about you hop up on the exam table, and remove your shirt for me, if you would please?”
Galen patted the vinyl covered cushion of the reclining padded exam bench, smiling at his new “patient.” He always wondered what brought them to the point of requesting his services.
Deandre obediently climbed onto the examination apparatus — which could just as easily be described as table, chair, or counter, depending on how it was set up and being used — and slowly took off his shirt.
Galen surveyed his torso... there were no bruises or marks anywhere on it. He glanced again over the pictures that quack Clarke had sent over. They showed an entry wound in the T12, just below the 8th rib. The doctor got close to Deandre, nearly nose to nose, and stared his patient square in the eyes.
“Are you trying to scam me son?,” Galen demanded. “Because if you are, I’ll tell you right now, that’s a very bad idea, and not likely to turn out the way you want it to.”
“No sir, I am not!,” Deandre balked, holding up his hands and shaking his head in a show of innocence. “Those pictures you’re holding... that was me before the Doc worked on me.”
“The boy is not lying,” an elderly voice said suddenly, from out of nowhere.
Deandre and Estrella both jumped at the sound.
“You cannot see it, but he was magically healed,” the ethereal intonation continued, as if speaking to a rather dull student.
Galen rolled his eyes and sighed.
“Dr. Hisakawa, I do not believe I asked for your opinion,” Galen said, turning and addressing the crystal skull on shelf. “However, thank you for pointing out to me that magic was involved.”
And with that, Estrella jumped up and moved towards the door. It slammed shut in front of her, and she heard the sound of the lock’s bolt clicking into the chamber.
“No need to fear, my child,” the skull of Dr. Hisakawa assured her, speaking tenderly. “We mean you no harm.”
“The skull is correct,” Galen added, trying to mask the sound of his annoyance with the creature in the crystal. “We are here to help you. So please, Miss, just sit down...”
Galen delicately placed his hands on Estrella’s shoulders, gingerly maneuvering her into an about-face from the door, and presented his hand for assistance. She nodded slowly, still a little uncertain, but took his hand and returned to her seat across from Deandre, watching as he put his shirt back on with a reassuring smile to her.
“I will try to explain,” Dr. Argyris expounded.
“How can you explain something you yourself do not understand, boy,” Hisakawa chided from the skull.
Galen grit his teeth, but disregarded the unsolicited commentary.
“Hisakawa was once a powerful mystic, until he foolishly ran afoul of an even more powerful and somewhat temperamental vampire... now he is just a brain inside a crystal skull, with a disembodied spirit.”
The skull said nothing. Galen relaxed.
“Is he trapped inside there?” Estrella asked, with a haunting, lilted resonance.
“Yes, he is,” Galen replied, awed by the beauty of the sound emanating from the young woman. “I’m not really sure how... I have no magical abilities,” he blurted, shocked at his sudden added truthfulness.
“You are very impressive, child,” Dr. Hisakawa chuckled. “Are you the one who healed him?” he asked Estrella.
“Yes,” she answered to her feet, her cheeks flushed.
“I’m sorry, my dear,” Dr. Argyris interrupted. “But I am going to have to ask you to wait out in the reception area.” Galen’s timbre was cool, yet commanding.
“It’s okay, Doc,” Deandre piped up. “I don’t mind her being here for any of this.”
“Haha, my boy!,” Hisakawa snorted. “Galen does not enjoy being mesmerized! That’s why he got cybernetic implants, to protect his eyes from vampires. Of course, the joke on him of it is...” and here the skull had to pause to regain his composure before continuing, “...his bionic ears actually make him MORE susceptible to your girlfriend’s abilities!”
The discorporate doctor was enjoying himself so much, he seemed likely to choke from laughter. Galen, his eyes and lips squeezed together tightly, ignored the obvious baiting attempts, drawing in a long slow breath through his nose, while counting to himself internally. What he wouldn’t give to live in a world without magic, vampires, and mystics trapped in crystal skulls. He spoke instead directly to Estrella.
“That is not the reason,” Galen told her, more calmly than he felt. “I must ask Deandre some questions he might be unwilling to answer with you present.”
Deandre nodded, slowly, and gently took her hand in his.
“Maybe it is better if you leave me to them for just a bit,” he said softly, his eyes pleading. “It’s clear these guys know what they’re doing... I’m sure I’ll be in good hands.”
He felt terrible for asking her that, as he would never choose for her to feel set aside, and he worried that she would, but Deandre understood exactly why they were asking, and he knew it was for the best. Estrella furled her brows, a little taken aback by his request, but she figured he had his reasons, and decided to trust him. When she tried the door, she found it opened easily, so she turned and smiled as she left, blowing him a kiss on her way out.
Galen, trying not to seem too impatient, watched her walk out with a quick nod and a polite little wave, then turned to Deandre with a much more serious expression.
“Now, let’s get down to business, kid,” he began. “Why would you want to get cybernetics, and do you have any idea what the impact will be on the life you now know?”
Deandre cleared his throat.
“That girl that just left here...” he swallowed hard. “She’s very special to me. We’ve found ourselves trapped in a situation where cybernetic enhancements would help me to protect her without involving the use of her powers.”
Deandre spoke to the doctor directly, with a kind of clarity and confidence he’d not shown while Estrella was in the room. Galen began to see a clearer picture forming.
“Deandre...” he sighed, wearily rubbing his temples. “I’m a doctor, and this is going to sound strange coming from a doctor, but maybe you should just consider getting a gun.”
Same old story, he thought... boy meets girl, wants to protect girl, elects nuclear option.
Deandre vehemently shook his head.
“A gun isn’t going to cut it, Doc,” he rushed to state his case. “Some of the people after us have magic, and a gun won’t have any effect against that. Right now, the only real defense we have is Estrella’s vocals. And, quite honestly, I’m not even sure I would be able to handle a gun.”
“Tell us something, Deandre,” Hisakawa prodded. “Has she put you in a trance to contend with attackers?”
“Yes, actually,” Deandre admitted. “That’s how I got shot.”
When Galen heard this, his demeanor changed. He cocked his head and clucked his tongue.
“So she enchants you to fight off your attackers?”
Knowing firsthand about being a puppet for magic users, Galen no longer felt like dismissing the boy.
“Well, yeah...” Deandre scratched the back of his neck, his brow knit. “I mean it’s weird, really... I usually don’t even remember most of it, or if I do, it’s just snippets, like action scenes out of a movie.”
“Yes, the effects of a siren’s call can alter your memory, or even erase it,” Hisakawa articulated, coming across more scholarly now, with no hint of joking.
“The truth is, Deandre,” Galen jumped in, sympathetically. “I don’t actually know how to alter your ears to where a siren’s song would not affect you. I’m not sure anyone does. But, I will say, if we were to discover a way of dampening that effect, you might find you no longer feel it necessary to be around her.”
Deandre slammed his fist on the exam table with enough vigor that Galen jumped.
“No, it’s not like that!,” the young man insisted, forcefully. “Estrella’s powers didn’t enchant me into falling in love with her. I don’t even believe that’s possible. I fell in love with a provocative woman, who also happens to be a siren.”
Deandre looked off into some distant place not in the room with them, and took on a far-away tone.
“The world we come from...,” he murmured low. “It’s so ugly, you’ve no idea.”
Galen found himself nodding, involuntarily... he actually did have a pretty good idea. Deandre continued, almost more to himself.
“There’s not a lot of redemption in a place like that, but Estrella, she’s a genuinely good person... even better than she herself realizes.”
“Alright, I didn’t mean to offend you,” Galen resigned, then turned to the skull. “Hisakawa, do know of any way to nullify a siren’s power?”
“I might...,” Hisakawa droned gradually, with a note of concern. “I understand you’re sure about your feelings for her, Deandre...”
Deandre turned his attention to the crystal encased brain floating in purple goo.
“But do you think she feels the same way, or are you just a bodyguard to her?”
“I know she loves me,” Deandre defended. “When she healed me, she didn’t even know she was capable of doing it.”
“Do you fear her power?,” Galen probed.
“Yes!,” Galen confessed immediately. “I mean, sometimes...” he scratched the back of his neck again, his face twisted into knots.
“When she puts me in a trance, and I don’t know what I’m doing...” he squirmed a bit. “I mean, what if something were to go wrong, when I’m not in control... what if was to somehow be responsible for hurting her while in that state, or what if I just couldn’t save her???” his eyes drifted to that far-away place again, and he trailed off.
“That isn’t what I meant,” Galen mused. “But that does prove your love for her.”
“There is a way to mitigate those types of powers against you,” Hisakawa suggested. “...however it is dangerous, and perhaps beyond the limits of Dr. Argyris’ abilities.”
Hisakawa was never one to miss an opportunity to jab at his pupil. Galen grunted.
“Dr. Mamani can assist me if technomagic is necessary,” he retorted, sidestepping the thrown gauntlet.
Deandre groaned loudly at them both.
“I don’t care if her powers will still work on me...,” he ranted in exasperation. “...all I want to know is, will it make me the person she needs me to be when I’m under her spell?”
“We can get you what you’re wanting,” Hisakawa declared, a touch snidely. “But it won’t come cheap, boy. You can’t get something for nothing, you know.”
“I don’t care about the cost, either,” Deandre contended.
This wasn’t entirely true. The old sawbones had told them they could work off the cost of the procedure in trade, but, given their backgrounds, he did have some concerns about what they might be asked to do. He said nothing to that effect, though, as he had determined he would be prepared to do whatever was necessary... nothing would be too great a cost to ensure he could keep Estrella safe.
“Both you and Estrella will have to come here and work for us,” Hisakawa proclaimed. “...to help pay for the operation.”
“In case you forgot, Hisakawa,” Galen interrupted, frustrated. “I’M in charge here.”
Galen did not approve of innocents being manipulated in this way. Hisakawa cackled rudely.
“Oh, no, no, no, my boy...!,” he bandied. “Check your records, man. You are only the Chief Medical Officer, whereas Vito made ME the Director of the Center,” the discarnate old coot crowed.
Galen’s eyes rolled back into his head while his internal wifi jacked into the hospital’s central computer. When his search confirmed Hisakawa’s claim, and his face returned to normal, he scowled at the skull and marched out of the room in a huff, saying something about the operating room.
If Hisakawa had a face, it would have been gloating like a Cheshire cat.
Estrella’s talents would be put to good use here. Galen would get over his reluctance quickly when he realized what she was truly capable of, he was sure of it. Not to mention, hopefully this would help him win some points with Vittorio, and perhaps even earn some consideration with respect to his release from this nightmare of a prison.