Much Improved


klaus_icon.gif tibby_icon.gif waugh_icon.gif

Scene Title Much Improved
Synopsis Tibby has run out of lives. She is offered one more.
Date December 5, 2018

Island paradise in the Sea of Okhotsk

Tibby Ole Naidu has heard so many stories exactly like the one she is living now.

They come with variations. Rooms in which one wall is a sliding series of bars, in which eighty souls are crammed into it for 18 hours of the day, the clink of chained ankles and the smell of human waste soaked into unwashed clothing, bed rolls, the crevices of cement. Holes of isolation burrowed deep into the earth. Capital punishment for misbehaviour. Of death sentences, and madness, and never seeing the sunshine again. Of extreme heat, and extreme cold.

This place has its particulars, one of which is isolation. Tibby could probably count on one hand the amount of other prisoners she has seen, and that was almost entirely on the first day as she was processed. Since then, her life has been this one small room, meals skittered through a sliding window at the very base of the door, outside exercise in the form of a cage no longer than five feet, in which the cold Russian wind comes slicing through the wire, carrying sleet. Baths in the form of cold water scooped by hand from a metal bucket.

There are no cats. Likely because it is the beginning of a severe winter that no domestic feline could survive, not outside, in the immense amount of isolation that separates her new home from the rest of the continent and its civilisation. No roaming wild cats either.

Night comes, and there is a better sense of how many other people are here too. It's a constant symphony of chesty coughs that echo down the concrete corridors. It only took a few days for her to join in, a plaguing, chest-tightening barrage of coughing that wracks her diminished frame, banishing all potential for sleep until she is too exhausted to do anything but. It's a few weeks, until that coughing comes with it the taste of blood, and it's probably when she first tastes warm copper filling her mouth after one hacking fit, that she might contemplate her death.

All over a small fortune in heroin. Some weapons. Nothing that would end the world.

She didn't see a graveyard when she was brought here in chains around her ankles, her wrists, her waist, but maybe she can just picture it — rows of anonymous crosses on a snowy track of land, and one patch that's been disrupted to reveal the freshly churned earth beneath of a new body put into the ground. Or maybe not. Maybe no crosses, no markers, maybe one big trench in which they can finally all be warm together.

Another morning comes, piercing meagre sunlight through the inch-wide slit in the wall.

Purposeful footsteps are what rouse her, and then: the sound of a key in the metal lock of her cell door, rattling and grinding. A disruption in the ritual.

Emerald green eyes crack open a fraction, initial thoughts of a dream… nightmare consume Tibby and those eyes once filled with a lazy amusement widen when she realizes she is in fact awake. The pain in her chest and the rest of her extremities tell her so, fucking prison. Her movements are slow, any hope of becoming some beefy GI Jane while in isolation were damned as soon as she got that cough. The copper taste was never something she was use too. Always bitter. She was fine not talking to anyone, she was fine being alone. That fucking cough and the lack of any felines was what really got to her.

Tibby had gotten bitter.

Swak, her father would call her. The recurring nightmare of her family ridiculing her playing in her mind: this is what happens when ya wanna be ya own baas. Demarco, her cousin would say. Voetsek would be the small woman's reply. They never listened, they always came and taunted her.

This was different though the lock taunted her in a different way, when that door opens it's a fantasy to escape. Just a fantasy, slowly her head lifts. Natural blonde hair that was once a bright platinum is now a shaggy mess from the constant dying, ends ragged. Her knees are knobby, poking through holes in the dark, unwashed clothing she wears. It hurts to sit up but Tibby does slowly. Reaching her arm across chest and over her shoulder to scratch at an achy spot. Drawing her knees into herself she perches her chin on them and peers ahead with groggy vision at the door with the rattling lock.

The door grinds into the wall on an old track, flaking rust, and a figure fills the gap. He is tall and sharp in the face, bright eyes and light skin crossing pale through the bar of dawn light that pricks at dust in the darkness of her cell. The rest of him is harder to see, kevlar and ferrofluid plate black as the walls.

One step. Two.

Klaus circles in on her like one of the wildcats she knew so well, wordless appraisal in the beat before he leans to reach for her.

The fingers he curls under her elbow are cold and hard through the thin cloth of her clothing. The jaw of his grip adjusts its hold, inexorable, calculated, courteous. He takes on whatever weight she cannot — or will not — at arm’s length, without pinning scanty meat painfully to the bone. Enough steady leverage to keep her suspended on her feet, or otherwise to lock her thrashing in place about the pivot of her shoulder like a fish on a gaff hook.

Her choice.

Fighting now would be stupid and so Tibby allows Klaus to pull her lithe body up from where she laid, her breath a sharp gasp as she's forced to her feet and then pulled from her own personal hell. Out. Her eyes squint almost shut from the light. She has a flashback to being dragged from a scuffle as a girl, her grandmother's shoulders working in a huff as the wild girl tried to run back to attack the boys who had teased her cousin.

Tiny but fierce.

She would rather be tiny and smart at least from the moment she was arrested onward, there wasn't much life for her outside expect well what had landed her in the prison in the first place. That's the only life Tibby knew. She could only guess what this was about. Her mind can't help but settle on stories she heard of what happens to little women in precious, if it came to that she decides in that moment.

She'll try to take him down with her.

A second set of foot falls, slower, at a neat clip of designer men's heel against the freezing concrete. The man who appears at the door is almost as tall as the first one who has successfully drawn Tibby onto her feet, but cuts a svelte figure, even cloaked as he is in heavy black wool, a scarf, leather gloves, in defense of the frigid air that bites at bare flesh.

Evelyn Waugh looks like an unlikely edition to the dirty, freezing concrete cell. Just visible through bundled scarf and semi-closed coat is a glimpse of three-piece suit and spotless white shirt. A nice watch peeks at his sleeve, its face giving off a faint, subtle glow. He stops a scant half-foot away from the open door, bringing a hand up to idle with his coat sleeve as he gives Tibby a long once over, his expression the appraising side of neutral.

Behind him, someone closes the door. And locks it.

He doesn't seem concerned.

"Tibby Ole Naidu," he says, mouth shaping those more foreign vowels with easy precision. "Also known as Elia, to certain friends. How many lives does she have left, I wonder."

Nine is the traditional amount, but she looks like she's lost a few along the way, and running out.

Fleischer settles at Tibby’s side, breath furling at a steady stream against the chill, mechanical hand sapping warmth from her flesh despite the aura of heat around him. It’s like standing next to a steam engine.

He looks back to her from Waugh, and gives her arm a little squeeze. Unspoken prompt.

Be polite.

Her eyes flash at the mention of that other nickname Elia. Also at that squeeze to which Tibby's gaze becomes more ferocious and she glares over at Klaus before she considers Evelyn's words.

Two white men. They didn't seem the type of sleazy to take advantage but then again you could never be too sure. Squinting in the light the woman struggles and then stands on her own with the assistance of Klaus' helpful grip. They've done their homework, no need to hide her. Tibby's throat is raw from disuse of her vocal chords and the voice that comes out is raspy and dry, cracked even. Shoulders bunch up and her body shakes.

"Ya came all this way for me?" A choking laugh that results in a cough, they aren't locals.

There seems to be some measure of approval, from Waugh, when she speaks. Strings a sentence together. As for the content of this sentence, he doesn't smile, but his eyes narrow in a way that gestures to a smile — not quite warm, where the dim light of the cell seems to pick up a desaturated shade of the wintry colour of his eyes, but indulgent. Sure, he came all this way for her.

It does seem like it'd be an excessive inconvenience, for most people.

"Quite," he agrees, what what seems like both kindness and condescension into equal measures is laced into his tone. "So you might do both myself and my colleague the honour of not wasting our time. I'm sure none of us would care to remain here," a rolling look upwards at the water-stained ceiling, back down at her, "longer than necessary."

Waugh tangles his hands behind his back, naturally inclined to good, formal posture. "We're interested in what you might have to offer our organisation, given direction. And supervision."

She almost coughs up another laugh. They want her to go legit? Fuck. Rubbing the side of her head and looking between the two men. "If a showers involved…" The first part of what the man says rings in Tibby's mind. Freedom. A goddamn shower. Maybe some cats. Not her ship. Not her. She gulps. Adze had never come with on this trip being the rebellious bugger he was but Oya…

She rather not think about that right now.

Gulping the woman takes a moment but it's literally a nanosecond. If they'll get her out of here… Fixing her jaw in a firm way Tibby's arms stiffen along with her back and she looks up to Evelyn making eye contact. She's hungry, sick and weak. There's that word again. "What kind of organization?"

There’s a flinty green to the narrow of Klaus’ eyes, the hair behind his ears razored down sleek and fine as the dust and rust and misty breath drifting in the gloom around them. He is watching her closely.

That is what he is paid to do.

“One that pays well.”

This is a German, at her elbow, diction deliberate as the lift under her wing. He leans in a shade closer, undeterred by the stink or state of her, voice rough in its lower discretion. Nearly a growl. What constitutes privacy, in this hole?

“Have you had many other offers?”

He doesn’t think so.

Waugh is patient as Fleischer shows a little improvisational flare, content with the reminder of where Tibby stands in relation to whatever it is that's happening to her right now. The real message being: she is in no position to be asking questions.

Or refusing.

But all in good time. Seeing no need for her to verbalise an answer to the man keeping her upright, Waugh says, "I represent the interests of a business collective, and my job is to ensure that their desires manifest as action. That is all you need to know in this moment, Ms Naidu."

He steps into the room a little further, looking directly down his nose at her. Among the constant smells of ice and human waste and her own blood drying tacky in her nasal passages, his proximity introduces the fine fragrance of expensive cologne and dry cleaning. "The life you knew is over. It will die here, in filth and obscurity, but you needn't die with it. The offer on the table is an opportunity at a new one, in return of your full and unequivocal cooperation."

Slowly, Tibby shakes her head to the German man's question: none at all.

Her nostrils flare as she gets a closer whiff of Evelyn, he walked the walk and talked the talk it seems and the feline telepath can appreciate that. The offer is still mysterious but Tibby has that or rotting in this filth. Her choice has been made for her and she thinks both men know it. Her father had taught her it was to retreat, to do as you're told until you're at a place where you don't need to listen anymore. Tibby thinks of it as a lesson to make this all more digestible.

This isn't one of her father's lessons though and Tibby feels that if she tries their patience much more that last grain of sand in the hourglass of this offer will have fallen. So instead of speaking more she just nods. She understands, she's interested. Take her the fuck out of here.

So it is decided.

Klaus turns from her, his iron grip eased off to an easier crook of paired fingers with a chitinous click-click-click. Like he is holding a coat.

”She is filthy. I have latex gloves.”

Waugh’s smell expensive.

He addresses Evelyn in clipped German, speaking over and around their find like the parcel she’s been promoted to.

In German, Waugh defers, "That's quite alright, but thank you."

And as he is doing so, he is unbuttoning where one leather glove is fastened to his wrist, and then peeling it off like a second skin. Trimmed nails, hands that haven't seen a great deal of work in their time, and a modest gold band around his ring finger. Despite his words, Evelyn does— sort of— look her over for the most optimal place to touch her, a hint of distaste pulling at the corner of his mouth.

And settles on a clasp at where her shoulder meets her neck, with the kind of pressure one might apply to a good handshake. Tibby might imagine that the thrum of her heart beat can be felt through the pad of his thumb.

"Let's get you cleaned up," he says. It sounds kind. And speculative, as if there is more to clean away than just the grime clinging to her skin, and more to find, too.

The world around her lurches.

It seems to spin an inch sideways before blurring into nothingness, replaced all of a sudden by the kind of searing bright white light she hasn't been exposed to in weeks. Tibby loses all sense of gravity, direction, orientation, and it's really only Evelyn Waugh's hand on her shoulder that acts as any kind of tangible anchor.

When her senses come to, she will register that she is in another room. Pristine. A hospital-style bed with monitors crowding around the head of it. A window that seems to glow while offering a view that at first she can only catch a glimpse of in the form of some rolling green hills and blue sky. Their friend has been left in the cell, and the strange, too-firm grip of his hand on her arm is gone.

Waugh remains, steadying her by habit.

The rushing sensation of being teleported leaves Tibby almost wanting to puke if she didn't want too already luckily there wasn't much on her stomach and she would stumble and fall were it not for Evelyn's guiding hand. The new environment is such a different place then where they just were she almost cries at the near fantasy aspect of it all. Rescued from a prison and taken to a safe place. How safe it really was remained to be seen.

The window draws her attention even more. Greenery. Not the sea. Not the cold. Evelyn had already started holding up his part of the bargain. Whatever this offer was… it couldn't be that bad. "Where are we?" She ventures to ask and Tibby turns those emerald green eyes to the tall man, she sticks out in this environment with how dirty she is. A hand goes to rub under her nose, blood on her finger when she draws it away. She was in no shape to help anyone.

"I'm shit to you… like this." She whispers, admitting her weakness with a cruel twist in her gut.

Waugh's hands settle on her arms, directing her towards the bed — as something she can steady herself on, at the very least, as he isn't forcing her to do more than move in that direction. She is either very weak, or he is surprisingly strong — perhaps a little of both — and in the warmth of the room, so different to the perpetual cold of the prison, beads of sweat have started to gather at his brow.

He lets go of her as soon as he is confident she won't collapse into a pile of limbs and rags.

As she says this, Waugh's focus on her sharpens, as if looking at her like she is, you know, a person, rather than a package he is managing. A smile, finally, cutting thin across his face, one of sympathy. "You'll have all the time in the world," he assures her. "I promise, you'll find yourself much improved."

And he vanishes, soundlessly, leaving Tibby — once again — alone.

But a different kind of alone, in a room prepared for her, rather than forgotten in some frost-tinged sewer hole on some god forsaken Russian island. Here, the window is bigger than one inch, with clear glass protecting her from the elements. The lights don't seem to glow from a single light bulb or visible feature, but are set into the edges of the room where the walls meet the ceiling, giving off a soft, diffused effect of gentle light that is becoming gentler on her eyes the longer she is here. There is a door, and it's closed as well, silver in construction with no visible handle, just some kind of keypad next to it.

Moving is a bitch but with a blink as the man vanishes, Tibby looks around from laying on the bed. Left alone so soon… the blonde feline telepath reaches for the headboard to lift herself up. The walls… the keypad. Instead of scramble off of the bed and trying to escape she stays in bed. Steadying back in a comfortable position.

Don't fuck this up. What would she do anyway?

Like she said. She's useless here. Like this. Better to get ready. Better to trust these white men. Tibby knew when she was defeated but at least this room had a large window and a comfortable bed… what a comfortable bed. Her head begins to loll to the side. Almost fading out to sleep, blessed sleep. Maybe she would shower later. Maybe she would recover and learn what exactly this was. For now she allows her eyelids to flutter close, her tiny body curling in on itself.

How much time passes, after Tibby shuts her eyes, she can only measure by the light coming in through the window, of which there isn't much. The white light of the room has gentled into a low, sleepy yellow, like firelight, and the glass of the window seems to have shaded against the sun's harsher light from penetrating it.

She rouses into a state that is only barely awake, but her senses are still fine tuned in survival mode, ears pricking at the sound a metallic click.

The door, closing. A soft mechanical whirr follows.

Through her sleep-cracked eyes, she sees a figure, immediately strange due to the way it glides closer, the shorter stature, until she clocks that this figure is seated, and moving on smooth wheels. An unknown face, bespectacled, older, darker skinned than the two men who put her here in the first place, currently looking her over lengthwise in his own kind of appraisal.

By the time he gets to her face, he becomes conscious that she is waking, and adjusts the sit of his glasses.

"Hello," he says, just a touch stiffly. "I know you must be fatigued, unwell, and confused, but. It's time that we got started."


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