A Milk Run
by Noel Goddard
Fandom: The Invisible Man
Original Pub. Date: August 2001
Summary: Darien and Bobby have some complications on a routine mission.
An obscure folksinger named Joe Uveges once sang, "Death, I think a lot about death."
Now while this may seem morbid, it was certainly true for me. The last year of my life had been lousy with it. It started with Kevin and has been an endless hit parade ever since. I spend almost all of my waking hours either thinking about how to kill the man responsible for the hell that is my life, also known as Arnaud de Fohn, or how to not kill my partner, also known as the one and only Bobby Hobbes. In the few minutes between those thoughts, I've managed to stop a variety of terrorist plots and serial killers - usually by seriously injuring or killing the bad guy while in the throes of violent madness brought on by quicksilver. So, yes, I think a lot about death.
That being said, I wasn't prepared for our last mission. It was supposed to be a milk run. In and out - no sweat, no mess, no fuss. Only, as usual, things didn't work out that way.
I slumped in the chair, prepared for the usual tongue-lashing from the Fat Man about God-only-knows-what. I cast a furtive glance at my partner, only to see that Bobby was totally engrossed in what appeared to be a stare down with Eberts. God, I never have understood what was up with those two. Never. I turned my attention back to the Fat Man. He sat scowling from the desk as usual. Was it just me or had the emblem of our sponsor agency changed again...Bureau of Weights and...
"Fawkes! Are you listening?"
"Um ... sure. We're getting our paid docked for...what was it again this time?"
"Damnit Fawkes! Pay attention! You, Hobbes and Monroe are going on a simple information drop today. Wei Ling, one of our double agents in the Chinese intelligence community, has signaled to us that he has information on how the Chinese are progressing with their own invisibility project. You three are going to meet him at an abandoned warehouse by the docks to pick up the information. No conversation, no heroics. Just trade this case for the information. Got it?"
I noticed Hobbes shifting in his seat, having finally lost the staring contest with Eberts, "Um, sir, why do we need Monroe for this? It seems like Fawkes and I could handle it on our own, sir.'
Eberts answered, seeming to look more smug than usual, "Because Robert, Wei Ling will only deal with female agents. He seems to view them as less threatening. We believe this to be the result of a deep-rooted cultural..."
I jerked back awake with the Official's interruption, "Shut up Eberts! Fawkes, you will go in with Monroe, invisible of course, and Hobbes, you'll monitor the situation and be back up from outside."
I groaned inwardly. Why do I always get stuck with her these days? What I wouldn't give for some nice mellow surveillance duty with Hobbes. Whoa - where did that come from? Must be getting close to time for a shot. I checked my tattoo to see; yep, only 2 segments away from looneyville.
I interrupted the debate between Bobby and Eberts about something inconsequential with, "Um guys, I need a shot here. I'm going to head on down to the Keep while you all finish ... whatever it is you're doing."
With that I left the three stooges behind to do whatever it is they do when they're not tormenting me. I walked through the halls contemplating when exactly I'd started to enjoy spending time Bobby, when I actually willingly started getting up and coming to work in the morning. Well, that's just going to have to stop right now.
With that I entered the keep to the other two members of our little "family" deep in conversation about something. "Hello ladies. How are we today?"
Claire and Monroe looked up from Claire's new computer and smiled in a polite what-the-hell-do-you-want kind of way. Now, don't get me wrong, I've really grown to like Claire, but I don't think I'll ever completely trust her. Monroe on the other hand has been nothing but trouble since she arrived. The only good thing about her was that in general she thought we weren't worth her time, so she stayed away from the Agency and us.
Claire's voice brought me back from my reverie, "Darien, Darien. Are you feeling alright today?"
"Um, yeah, just waxing philosophical on life, the universe, everything, you know." The looks I got in return said it all - no sense of humor - either one of them. "Um, can I get a shot here? Fat Man wants me to go invisible to accompany Monroe here on a milk run."
Monroe shrugged, "Oh that. I don't really need your help, but if it's what the Fat Man wants..."
I shrugged and shuffled over to the chair that had been my second home for the last year. Claire came over and began to search for a vein, any vein that didn't already have tracks all over it from a year's worth of counteragent. Finding one, I watched as she swabbed it with alcohol and then stabbed me for the 78th time - not that I was counting or anything. Slowly, I felt the burning sensation of the counteragent make its way up my arm, across my chest and then finally up my neck to the little monster itself. I closed my eyes, feeling the beast slink away, at least as far away as it ever gets.
Monroe's harsh voice interrupted my peaceful moment, demanding attention as always, "Come on see-through-boy, we've got work to do. I've got somewhere important to be in two hours. Let's get this done."
The ride to the warehouse was charming as usual. Hobbes and Monroe sniped at each other the whole way. Me, I looked out the window at the city going by and thought...yep, you got it...about death. Who would I try to kill this week when my latest shot ran out? God, maybe that psychiatrist Claire was talking about last week wouldn't be such a bad idea. This just isn't healthy.
We pulled up outside the warehouse in question. Monroe slipped on her wire and her sleek infrared sunglasses. Me - I got the dorky camera cap as usual. No respect, absolutely no respect.
On cue, I willed my heart rate to increase, and I got that wonderful rush as the quicksilver poured out and coated me. God, if only it didn't make me crazy, this would be such an awesome high. Focusing back on my task, I followed Monroe into the warehouse. Little did I know, this was going to turn out to be much more than just a simple milk run.
Once inside, I saw a Chinese man of medium build begin to approach from across the warehouse. He was impeccably dressed and wore a self-confident smile. Wei-Ling had obviously done well for himself as a double agent. It was interesting to me that his expensive clothes didn't make him an object of suspicion to the Chinese government.
He stopped in front of us, "Ah, you must be the great Agent Monroe. My pleasure..." and with that he reached for and kissed Monroe's outstretched hand.
Monroe's return smile was anything but sincere. "Wei Ling, I presume. Where's the information you have for me?"
He reached into his coat pocket, "All in good time, Agent Monroe. All in good time." Too late, I realized he was pulling out a pair of suspicious-looking sunglasses. "Ah, Agent Fawkes. How good to not see you again."
Just as I was processing what was happening, I felt the dart pierce my neck. "Aw crap." I crumpled to the floor. In the second before I passed out, I saw Monroe go down as well. I called out for our last hope, "Hobbes!" Then there was only blackness.
I awoke with a splitting headache centered right at the base of my skull. It was like quicksilver madness, only worse. I fought to get my eyes open and was greeted by a world colored in shades of gray. That could only mean one thing - I was still quicksilvered. I tried to get up, only to find my arms and legs strapped against a table, and my head... well it also seemed attached to the table in a way that I didn't really want to think about.
Wei Ling, who had been standing beside the table, stepped aside to reveal the Chinese agent who had tried to milk me once before. "Ah Agent Fawkes, you're awake. Perfect. We've just about reached the point in our tests where we want you awake. You see, this time, instead of trying to milk you, my government has decided instead to study you while quicksilvered so that we can better make our own invisible agents."
Great, that's exactly what we need. A whole core of invisible Chinese assassins running around. We'll see about that. I calmed my heart rate to stop the quicksilver flowing from the gland. That's when it happened. My eyes screwed shut and I screamed as the pain in my head multiplied a hundred fold. The pain continued until my heart rate rose again to a level optimum for quicksilver flow.
Slowly I opened my eyes again to meet the laughing face before me, "Now, we couldn't very well just trust you to cooperate, could we? The data we obtained when last we met has allowed us to devise a very nasty-looking probe, that when inserted into the gland, causes you a great deal of pain when you try to stop the quicksilver flow. Would you like another demonstration?"
So that was the new pain at the base of my neck. Aw crap. Another more frightening thought occurred to me. "Um, how long have I been out?"
The Chinese man sneered, "Why Agent Fawkes? Do you have a more pressing engagement?"
Not knowing which was more dangerous, going quicksilver mad and not telling them or telling them and not going quicksilver mad, I opted for the latter. "Well, because if it's been more than about half an hour, then I'm about to get really, really ugly." Almost on cue, I felt the monster begin to rise inside me. More pain, but this was different. This time the beast seemed excited, feeding off the quicksilver that was pouring out of me. I fought to put a lid on my demon, struggling to stay me against impossible odds. I never even heard the shots. I never saw Hobbes and Monroe come bursting through the door, until it was too late. The last coherent thought I had was, "Death. Wonder who's going to die this time?"
When I woke up the first time, beast safely tucked away, I found myself in a straight jacket in a padded room. I had no memory of what had happened after I went mad this time. All I wanted to know was whose padded room this was, and if Hobbes was alright. Monroe never even occurred to me until later. After all she was the superagent; she could take care of herself. The first question was easily answered as the Keeper came through the door to tend to my wounds.
I smiled in relief, "Hey Keepie! I'm glad to know that I survived for the home team. What's with the straight jacket?"
Claire looked at me with bloodshot eyes of her own, "Not now Darien. Here are some pills for the pain. Just take them please. No questions for once."
Frightened by the look on her face and the tone of her voice, I pressed on, "Come on man. Where's Hobbes? They didn't get him did they?" I paused, searching for answers in her eyes, "Come on Claire. You're scaring me. Where's Hobbes?"
At just that moment, the door to the room opened and Hobbes entered. I sighed in relief, "Hey, here I am partner. Calm down and do what the Keeper says, my friend."
With that to reassure me, and the pain building in my leg, I let Claire put the pills in my mouth and wash them down with a bit of water. As the world started to blur out of focus, I heard Hobbes ask the Keeper, "So why doesn't he remember anything this time from when he was quicksilver mad?" That was it. I drifted off into a pain-free dream where the sky was blue, the sun was bright, and there was no such thing as a quicksilver gland.
It took them three days to tell me what had happened. I never noticed that Monroe hadn't come to visit. Hell, she never visited unless she needed something. I never thought about the fact that this time, unlike the rest, I couldn't remember anything about my time in quicksilver madness. What finally clued me in was that they weren't letting me out of the padded room. Within a day, they had let me out of the straightjacket, but Claire kept insisting that I wasn't strong enough to leave the room. When I asked why I couldn't just be rolled on a stretcher to the Keep to recover, she just offered me more pain pills and left.
Uh-uh. No dice. This time I pretended to swallow the pills, only to spit them out after she left the room. Something was definitely up and I needed to know what. I plotted and planned - trying to come up with a way out of the padded room. No good ideas presented themselves. The only way that seemed possible was Hobbes. He would let me out; he'd have to see what was going on. He would let me out. That became my mantra for the day.
When Hobbes finally arrived, he looked particularly worn. He was in his best suit, but he looked decidedly tired and somehow older. I smiled to see if I could get a matching response, "Hey, Hobbesy. What's up man? When are you and me going to get out of here and get some real food, man?"
Hobbes ran a tired hand across his head and seemed to think for a moment before speaking, "Darien, I think it's time..."
All the alarms went off. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Did you just call me Darien? Okay, did my rat die or something while I was out of it? What gives?"
A small smile flashed across his face briefly, but it was gone when he spoke, "Okay, Fawkes. I know you don't remember what went down the other day. Well, the Keeper and I think it's time that you found out. I want you to come with me." Hobbes motioned with his hand and another agent brought a wheelchair into the room. Hobbes helped me into the chair and we left my prison behind, or so I thought.
As we rolled through the halls of the agency toward the Fat Man's office, I noticed that the building seemed more empty than usual. Trying to keep my own nerves at bay, I joked, "Hey, is the Fat Man making us work on a federal holiday again?"
There was no answer from Hobbes behind me. I tried to turn to look at his face, but his hand on my shoulder stilled me. I rode the rest of the way to the office in silence.
There was no one else in the Fat Man's office. Just an aging television and VCR setup. Again trying for levity, I quipped, "Hey, we got video. We must be moving up in the world. " Again my wit was met with silence as Hobbes stepped out from behind the chair to turn on the setup. The television crackled to life with scenes of a seemingly empty exam table and my Chinese friend standing over it - taunting me. Hobbes spoke softly, "They were filming everything as part of their studies. I was able to liberate the tapes and all of the data their computers recorded about you."
Hobbes moved behind my wheelchair again as we watched the tape. It was as if he couldn't bear to watch my face as the tape unfolded. To this day, I have absolutely no first hand recollection of any of the things I saw unfold on the flickering screen. The Keeper called it post traumatic stress disorder. I called it crap. More crap inflicted by this damn thing that lives in my head. Only this time, I'm not sure if it's entirely bad crap.
The scene plays across the flickering screen. There's no audio. Thank god for small favors. I watch the leather restraints on the table snap apart one by one. Suddenly, I see myself visible, free from the hideous probe, sitting crouched on the table. Before now, I've never really seen myself quicksilver mad. I now understand why Hobbes is always checking my tattoo when he thinks I'm not looking. It's not a pretty sight. Once free, I watch the beast I've become launch at the Chinese bastard who has taunted me one too many times. I watch as I snap his neck without a second thought.
I see Hobbes and Monroe realize too late that I've gone quicksilver mad and am not their ally anymore, but instead another foe to fight for survival. After all the Chinese in the room are on the floor - either dead or injured, the beast turns to Monroe and Hobbes. Monroe doesn't realize what she's dealing with. She's never seen me like this before and never will again. Over and over again in my head, I watch as my demon...correction, I...snap her neck. Quickly, quietly. No sweat, no mess, no fuss. Just like the Fat Man said, a milk run.
The rest of the tape is more uneventful, at least from my point of view. I think Hobbes was too kind. He knew that I wanted a bullet if something like this ever happened. I guess I should have specified where I wanted the bullet. For my trouble, Hobbes shot me in the leg and cold-cocked me with his pistol. Somehow it didn't seem enough amidst the sea of bodies strewn across the room on the tape. The tape flickered to a stop and the television screen filled with static. Hobbes and I sat and listened to static for I don't know how long.
He broke the silence first from behind the wheelchair, "Darien, it wasn't your fault. It wasn't you. It was the gland." He couldn't even look at me. I couldn't look at him as I replied, "I know Bobby. I just..." Tears filled my eyes as Bobby rested both hands on my slumped shoulders.
Death. I think a lot about death.