If a man can't die, maybe it's because he's already dead. [Weird Tales Contest Entry]
|Midas Mantok grinned at Vorran-7 from beneath a beetle brow. "I like a man with a tender heart, doc," he said. "Makes it easy to put the squeeze on him."
The scientist dodged the gangster's granite-like gaze. "But my wife and son are safe?" he asked, and glanced briefly at the bodyguard who loomed behind the most powerful crime boss on the planet.
"Until I give the word." Mantok rolled the sleeve back from his meaty forearm. "I'll want to run some tests before I tell my boys to let them go."
Vorran-7 opened his satchel. "I assure you the injection will work."
"As long as the stuff in there"—the gangster nodded at the silver syringe Vorran-7 had taken out—"is the same as what you gave your guinea pig. Then we'll be square, won't we?"
The scientist hesitated. Then he wordlessly took Mantok's wrist in one hand and with the other slid the needle into the gangster's arm.
"You got any of that for the rest of us?" the bodyguard asked.
"What makes you so dumb?" Mantok retorted. "If he had any extra he'd use it on himself. Ain't that right, doc? Not that it'd do you any good." He sniggered as Vorran-7 withdrew the syringe. "It's your wife and kid who'd need it."
"This is the only dose anyway," the white-faced scientist replied. "The active ingredient is almost impossible to manufacture. And I must have broken nearly a dozen laws just to make this one for you."
"Kind of gives me another hold over you. But don't worry." Mantok rolled down his sleeve. "After I'm running things, ain't no one'll be able to touch you. Long as you remember who you're working for."
The bodyguard cocked his head. "So how long till you're— What's the word?"
"Impregnable, stupid," Mantok said. "Meaning nothing can touch me."
"That's right." Vorran-7 packed up his satchel. "All your tissues are now impermeable. Bullets, radiation, electricity. If hit, you won't even bruise."
"What about poison gas?" asked the bodyguard.
"Hey, are you looking for a loophole?" Mantok snarled. But he shot a wary glance at the doctor.
Vorran-7 wiped his brow. "No, poison gas won't effect you either. My wife, sir—"
"First things first." Mantok turned to his bodyguard. "Loopy. Your piece. Shoot me in the face."
"You heard me."
But Loopy remained frozen, so Mantok seized his pistol and—almost carelessly—fired it at his own forehead. Vorran-7 dove as the bullet rang off a couple of hard surfaces before burying itself in the sofa.
"Whew!" Mantok was uncrossing his eyes when the doctor raised his head again. "I didn't feel it, but it still packed a punch. Hey, stupid! You see any blood?"
"No boss," Loopy stammered. He was almost as white as the office walls. "I don't even see where it hit you!"
"Here!" Mantok started to unbutton his shirt. "Try to shiv me in the ribs."
"Mr. Mantok," Vorran-7 protested, "there will be time to, er, test your indestructability later. If you could see your way to—" He bit his lip.
Mantok shrugged. "Loopy," he said, "fetch the doctor's skirt and sprog."
"I'll join them outside, on the street, if you don't mind," Vorran-7 said. "I'd like to get out of here myself as soon as possible." Mantok nodded at Loopy, who then left.
But despite his protest, the scientist still lingered and watched as Mantok strode over to the window. They were on the two-hundredth floor, with a majestic view of the skyline. Mantok clasped his hands behind his burly back as he gazed out on it.
"Glass," he said. "They're all made of glass out there. The buildings. The people. Everything. Me, I grew up in the mines."
He glanced back at Vorran-7. "Where I'm from, everything's carved out of the rock. Made me hard." He thumped his chest, then turned back to the window. "Now I am made of rock. And I'll smash this glass town," he growled, "and anyone who gets in my way."
Vorran-7 said nothing, but cocked his head as though listening.
An intercom buzzed. "I just put 'em in the elevator, boss," Loopy said through it.
Mantok grunted. "You can dangle now," he told Vorran-7. "You waiting for something?"
"I just want to make sure the injection is working."
Mantok leered. "Wanna try shooting me? Bet you'd love to."
"No. I'd rather— Are you feeling alright, Mr. Mantok? You sound a little ... short of breath."
The gangster grimaced. "Yeah, a little. The excitement, I guess. I can't seem to catch my breath."
"You wouldn't be able to."
"What's that?" Mantok's voice was sharp.
"Because you're now impermeable, Mr. Mantok. That was the word you were reaching for earlier, not impregnable. Your tissues are 'impermeable'."
"Yeah, that's right. Nothing can touch me." But Mantok's frown deepened; his breathing was becoming labored.
"Nothing can penetrate you, Mr. Mantok. That includes not only bullets and radiation, but germs and bacteria."
"That'll be a bonus." But a puzzled fear was now showing in Mantok's eyes.
"Nutrients also won't be able to penetrate your tissues. I'm afraid you're fated to starve to death, sir."
"What?" The gangster's eyes bulged.
"Don't worry, you'll be dead long before then. You see, your lungs are now impermeable to oxygen. You're suffocating, Mr. Mantok, as surely as if I'd wrapped a plastic bag around your head."
"Suffocating?" Mantok wavered on his feet. "But the guinea pig—"
"I was careful to lead you from the room before you saw it die in its cage."
All the blood fled Mantok's face. He ran for his desk.
But he stumbled to his knees, then fell onto his back. Vorran-7 walked over to him, to gaze down impassively at the gangster, who was gulping and gasping like a landed fish.
"A tender heart bleeds, Mr. Mantok," he said, "where a stone can't. But answer me this. Which one is alive?"
But the gangster had no breath for an answer.