Saturday, 21 March, 2020
"It would put an end to this violence -- /without/ more bloodshed." Part of Future Past TP.)
<NYC> Oscorp Tower - Midtown East
The main entrance of Oscorp Tower is a sprawling space - the ceiling is five stories up, with balconies for various offices exposed to the lobby interior. The front desk is manned at all times by no less than three secretaries prepared to direct you where you need to go - or file an appointment with the appropriate manager. Two escalators flank the desk, extending up to a third story pantheon - where tour guides regularly take visitors through a variety of hotspots, including Oscorp's biology and engineering departments. Two elevators are set aside beside the escalators, with a third private elevator that is guarded at all times by a guard and requires a security card to access. The place is crawling with guards, all of whom are watching for the first sign of funny business.
Norman Osborn has proven to be a hard man to track down.
Ever since the detonation that took out Westchester, he's become something of a recluse; vanishing in the depths of his endless network of offices, laboratories, and personal spaces. That isn't to say he hasn't been unproductive; regular updates to Sentinels are emerging like clockwork -- the Mark 4 is still on the prowl -- and as the country's infrastructure crumbles, Oscorp seems to be emerging with ever-rising profit-shares.
And yet, somehow, the CEO of a company that is on the cutting edge of military technology -- of mutant suppression -- the near-indisputed leader in drone warfare -- does not look as if he is handling his success well. Osborn looks... sunken. Hollow. Like a man who's had everything inside of him carefully cored out and discarded. His once healthy, ruddy skin has taken on a pale, almost greenish tinge -- his hard, broad, lean build has become thin, gangly -- his suit, always so well-trimmed, hangs on him like a heap of cloth.
But the most unusual quality? His eyes -- amber-gold -- now have flecks of egg-yellow in them.
He's sitting in an office. Not *his* office; in fact, he's not sure who's office it is. Just some random person's office. It has a desk, and a computer station set-up -- he's seated at the chair, observing the screen. Footage, purloined from a previous Sentinel assault. A raid on one of the Oscorp-run detention camps. The image is taken from multiple angles -- security footage gleaned from Sentinels, crisp and clear, along with cameras stationed around the camp.
It's a picture of the Mark 4, taken from several angles -- descending with its silent, hideous scream, toward a bird-shaped figure... in a bowler-hat. Right before incinerating it with a belching swell of fire and pitch.
Norman Osborn continues to replay the image, frame by frame. Like a man obsessed.
Lucien, in contrast, looks like he is doing quite well. Filled-out, bright-eyed, his own pale grey suit quite neatly tailored to his well-muscled frame. Probably he watched the video -- the first time. Possibly even the second. By now, though, he is tending to his own affairs, scanning over emails on a tablet before he looks up at the other man with a small brush of fingertips to the back of Norman's hand. The touch comes with a quiet assessment, mind slipping out to gauge the status of the other man's. "Mr. Osborn. Your 3:15. The Mayor will be here in just a minute?" Maybe just a little pointed, his head tipping slightly towards the video screen.
"Nnh." There, as always, is the cancer. It's extended its reach throughout Norman's mind -- throughout his body -- its tendrils wrapped tightly about his psyche. Lucien's careful administrations have managed to pin it, contain it... maintain the shell of Norman Osborn around that yellow-eyed monster inside of him. But the shell remains a shell. And it's watching the image of the Mark IV's assault... with a hungry, vicious envy. Raw, unpainted jealousy.
The semi-yellow eyes flick to the left, toward Lucien -- almost bird-like. Osborn's hand slides toward the mouse, steadily click-clicking away from the image, closing it. "...yes. Of course." His voice is gentle and raspy. He straightens his suit, making himself look... somewhat presentable. Yes. He has business to attend to, right now.
He'll eat after.
A quiet -- whisper-soft, barely-there -- sliver of touch flickers out, tamping down the edges of that sickness in Norman's mind. Grooming it neatly back into place, softly smoothing it away before Lucien slips away to go get the door. He disappears through it -- only for a brief moment, returning with a professional smile in place and a hand extended to show Elliott into the room. "Please. Madame Mayor."
Elliott is in a skirt suit, dark blue, neatly tailored; it does not attempt to hide the sleek prosthetic that is her right leg. She acknowledges Lucien with a nod, greets Norman with a very small twitch of smile and an extended hand. "Mr. Osborn. You are a difficult man to catch, these days."
The stroke of Lucien's touch is like the rough tongue of a cat, matting down hackled fur; Osborn's psyche responds to the barely-there touch, strangely familiar -- the hunger quietly receding. Not entirely -- never entirely -- but enough for him to not gnaw on his chair when he gets to his feet.
Osborn is soon turning to greet Elliott with that oh-so-familiar, smooth, suave smile -- the smile of an experienced salesman. Unlike years before, the smile no longer touches his eyes. He steps toward her, reaching his own hand out for hers -- a firm, hard grip. "Yes, I apologize for that," he thrums. "Business has been... extremely consuming, as of late." There is just a hint of an unpleasant emphasis on the word 'consuming'.
"These days," Lucien answers in a quiet murmur, "who isn't? Things in the city have gotten somewhat hectic of late. Please --" He gestures to a chair for Elliott, taking a half-step back from the other two, himself. "Can I get either of you anything to drink?"
"Water is fine for me. Thank you." Elliott's grip is firm, too, her eyes meeting Norman's. She takes the seat, posture ramrod-straight in it. Military-precise even this many years out. "I can imagine it has. That is -- what I've come to discuss, today."
"No, nothing. Thank you." Norman's eyes darken; he steps back, to sink back into his chair. That smile -- the smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes -- remains on his face, locked in position. "Please, go ahead. I'm always willing to make time for you, Ms. Carruthers. You've always been incredibly--" (useful) "--considerate, in the past."
Lucien just tips his head in a nod. Slips out of the room.
Elliott folds her hands in her lap. "Business may be consuming, but -- busy, that isn't quite the same thing as productive, is it?" Her brows have lifted, slightly. "The situation in this city is more volatile by far under the -- administration of your Sentinels than it was before. You've had quite a bit of leeway, but we're not seeing results. For as overcrowded as the camps are, violence is still unacceptably high."
As Lucien vanishes, something flickers through Osborn's eyes again; it's easily dismissible as a trick of the light, however. He slowly nods his head, listening to Elliott's words -- although, for a moment, he's focused on where the younger man has gone. When he does turn his attention to Elliott, it's with a slight grimace. "...yes. Insurgencies are always a gruesome business. Nevertheless, there are plans to..." He pauses, here, before licking his lips. "...once mass production of the Mark IV commences, I assure you -- the problem will be -- closed."
Lucien isn't gone for long. He returns in short order with a bottle of spring water, a glass that he pours full of it. He sets both down on the table in front of Elliott before taking a seat beside Norman, tablet and stylus in his lap. Perhaps he is taking notes.
Elliott shakes her head, holding up a hand even before Norman has quite finished speaking. "Absolutely not. We hired you containment, not for a /slaughter/, Mr. Osborn, and you are not /getting/ permission for a mass deployment of the Mark IV. Not in this city, not after the fiascos you've already had." Her hand falls back to her lap, folding there again. "We've been in talks about an -- alternate solution. That won't involve your --" Her lips press together thinly. "Whatever those are."
"--hnh." Again, a flicker of something in Osborn's expression, in his face, as he's interrupted. His eyes drift back to Lucien as he returns, and then... back to Elliott. His fingertips grind into the pads of his chair, squeezing; a faint creak as he sits up. "Oh, I assure you, my intent is to only deploy them in the camps. As a precautionary measure against further raids. They are not..." His words trail off. His eyes show the slightest hint of narrowing, his lips straightening into a tense line. "...alternate solution?" he asks.
Lucien's head tips slightly at this, his eyes fixing thoughtfully on Elliott. His stylus taps lightly against the screen of his tablet, a very small twitch at the corner of his mouth.
"A treatment, under development. Soon to be in production," Elliott explains. "Similar to the one you use in your Mark IVs, but -- it doesn't require direct injection to spread it. An engineered virus that can nullify the X-gene. If we distributed it through your camps -- /releasing/ the populations of the camps would end up taking care of the issue more neatly than your robots could."
Osborn becomes dead silent. For a while after Elliott's announcement, the silence simply... lingers.
And then, with the deathly quiet of a calm before the storm:
"You found a way to... *nullify* the X-gene. And you're turning it into a virus."
The movement of Lucien's hand is small, casual, a small shift sideways to rest up against Norman's. Instinctively reaching out to quiet, to pacify. Outwardly his expression hasn't changed much. "A treatment? Developed by who?"
"The CDC has been researching it. The doctor who used to run that clinic up here --" Elliott shakes her head. "Quite a talented man, if -- eccentric. But yes. It would put an end to this violence -- /without/ more bloodshed."
Osborn's mind. But -- his expression is placid, almost unusually *serene* as Elliott Carruthers elaborates. "The release of a man-made virus designed to modify the expression of a gene we scarcely understand into the world's population. Ms. Carruthers..."
Another pause. "...though you may rightly think I am in no position to speak of restraint, I... cannot over-emphasize how absurdly dangerous that -- do you remember what happened last time there was an intersection between mutants and pathogens?"
"-- Doctor Saavedro." Lucien's voice is very soft. "He certainly has been turning his talents to -- new avenues. I suppose he would want to see this conflict ended as much as any."
"You're right," Elliott replies, with a very small curl of smile. "I think you are in no position to speak of restraint. This particular virus does little more than carry the existing nullification treatment -- which has been in use for quite some time with out catastrophe -- and spread it more efficiently." Her eyes flick for a brief moment to Lucien. "He would want to see it ended, yes. Unlike you, here, who have every motive to continue it. Forgive me for taking your -- caution -- with a grain of salt."
The gnashing teeth suddenly snap down -- clamping harshly upon something inside of Osborn's mind. Gripping it, gnawing it violently, before growing still. Grinding against one another like gears stuck in position. "To the contrary," Osborn states, his tone level. "The sooner this conflict is ended, the sooner the Sentinels can be put to far better use. I merely hope that..." The left edge of his mouth twitches. "...this pathogen of yours does not encounter a mutant capable of *modifying* it."
"What sort of time frame are we looking at, on this?" Lucien's voice is quiet. Quiet, too, is the internal touch that twines in and around those teeth, oddly soft but oddly firm in their muzzling. "Getting anything into widespread deployment in all the camps will take time and preparation."
"It is still waiting for final approval from the CDC -- there are, " Elliott says with a small tip of her head to Osborn, "quite a /lot/ of stringent safety checks it is undergoing. You'll have time; it'll be another month, month and a half before it's even cleared for use. I hope we can trust you to be ready."
"You can. You will have Oscorp's full and unconditional cooperation." The response is almost automatic; the gnashing teeth are muffled somewhere inside of Osborn's head. But still, they grind.
Elliott has another small smile, at this. Only now does she pick up her water, taking a long drink from it and setting it back down. "I look forward to working with you. Thank you for your time. Mr. Osborn. Mr. Tessier." Another clipped nod, and she rises from her seat, turning to head out of the room.
Lucien stands, following after her to see her out. Closing the door behind her once he's left her in the hands of her /own/ handlers. His knuckles stroke slowly against his cheek. "I think," he says, mildly, "I may take a brief trip to Atlanta."
"Mmn." Osborn's expression remains strangely serene; there is a wrinkle in his brow, however -- the gnashing has become churning, as he begins to think through the problem. He does, after all, love his problems. "I think that would be an excellent idea."