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“So let me see if I’m understanding you correctly…”
Dr. Andre Castillo is one of Tampa’s premier physicians, having made several “best-of” lists multiple years running. His progressive approach to health and wellness, and impeccable bedside manner, have made him a patient favorite since he joined Baycare Medical Group.
Medicine isn’t perfect; neither are the circumstances in which doctors practice it, nor are the patients they see. Dr. Castillo has seen his fair share of unbelievable cases, wild requests, and heartbreaking diagnoses, but the matter at hand today isn’t any of these things.
A reasonable request? Yes.
An outrageous reason for it? Absolutely.
“You’re asking me for another tetanus booster because you’re scheduled to compete against a man who is half made of metal?”
“Well,” Lindsay Troy starts from her seat on the exam table, sneakers kicking the front of the step-stool as she swings her legs, hoping she appears nonchalant about the whole thing. “Half made might be an exaggeration. It’s probably more like 15, 20 percent.”
“Lindsay, you do remember that you had one administered in November, right? In San Francisco, after you,” he checks the notes on his computer, “took a shiv to the leg and jumped off a guard tower.” A pause. “Jesus.”
“Yes, that happened. The drop wasn’t that bad, though, and Dan caught me. Kind of. Had to do what I had to do to keep our tag belts, y’know?”
The doctor says nothing. The Queen of the Ring isn’t the only pro athlete he has as a patient, but she is his biggest risk-taker.
Lindsay presses on. “Besides,” she smiles, “have you considered that it’s better to be safe than sorry? What harm could another booster do?”
“For starters, you don’t need one. The recommended timeframe for a booster is once every ten years. My assistant told you that over the phone, but you insisted on seeing me anyway. Secondly, I am far more concerned about the ramifications of you facing this … metal man.”
“One, his name is Maximillian Wilhelm Kael.” Eight syllables, three names, one daunting opponent. In her brain, Troy hears first of his name, long may he maim in his leaden, mask-aided voice, and shakes her head to rid herself of the thought. “Two, I’m concerned too, that’s why I want another booster.”
“That is not what I mean,” Dr. Castillo sighs, “and I think you know that. What you do for a living is dicey enough, putting your body and livelihood on the line week in and week out. You compete against someone with these types of physical enhancements, needed or not, and you risk serious injury. Every hit you take hurts even more, and your body can only absorb so much. A booster won’t stop your bones from breaking, nor will it stop paralysis.”
Lindsay grimaces; she can’t help it. This isn’t anything she hasn’t considered herself, of course. Her request of receiving another booster is really just a placebo. For the first time in a long time, she is afraid of what might happen come Saturday night, if she’ll be able to make it out of Chicago intact.
Max Kael is no ordinary wrestler. He’s a human grade weapon, bloodthirsty for violence and exacting his will. And he is very, very good at it.
Letting her nerves show, however, spells disaster. Her pride is too great, her ambition too absolute, to let the prospect of facing a man who has shored up his defenses shake her confidence. If she does that, she’ll have lost before she even steps foot in the Allstate Arena. Put up a tough front today, and especially against her new teammate, and give it nothing but her best. That’s all she can hope for.
“Well, Doc, I can see we’re at an impasse, so I suppose I’ll just head on out,” Lindsay hops off the table and reaches for her bag, “since I didn’t really need to see you anyway.”
Dr. Castillo offers her a sympathetic smile. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help to you.”
“Don’t be sorry,” she chuckles. “I’ll find my own way to combat Skynet’s Sith Lord.”
Momentarily deterred, but still undaunted, Lindsay extends a smile and a wave before walking out of the exam room.
“This is going to be a goddamn nightmare…”
Normally at this time, DP’s would be buzzing with activity. Open ring time, sparring sessions, tape review, and advanced muay thai classes are some of the general happenings on a Tuesday evening.
Not tonight, though.
The lights are still on but the front door’s locked; all sessions were canceled the day before. Lindsay’s the only one in the building, and she leans against the ring apron deep in thought, iPad cradled in her hands, muttering to herself. On the screen, an anatomic rendering of Max in full ring gear. Arrows point to various parts of his body, indicating all the tweaks, adjustments, and enhancements to make him the half-man, half-metal monstrosity he is today.
If Dr. Castillo won’t help, she’ll have to survive on her own.
One eye gone and covered with a metal eyepatch. One good eye from a dead man. Nasty, sharp, iron teeth. A titanium plate in his head. Body brace to hold it all together. All the things she’ll need to take into account on Saturday. All the things that are weaponized against her and able to cause serious injury.
“Can’t kick him on the left side of his head; metal plate,” she continues, scrolling down on the screen. “Can’t punch or forearm or land the Raynes to his mouth; metal teeth. Not to mention, could lose a chunk of my arm if he bites me once I get the Keys locked in…”
Hell, if she could get away with it, she’d do it too. Anything to move onto the finals. Anything to prove to Max that the Group of Death is better with her. Anything to throw it back in the GOD of HOW’s face that she’s the real front-runner out of the remaining four.
Lee Best is a very salty man. Sure, it makes sense that he’d back his adopted son. But Lindsay’s been around too long not to recognize the signs of rejection: shit-talk after the fact, lashing out, stacking the deck against her. She knew the minute Lee opened his mouth before the ICONIC main event; her match against Harmen being no-DQ continued the trend. Lindsay might be the “dream hire,” but you’d have to be blind to not see it not sitting well with GOD that she didn’t remain aligned with him after shedding the Best Alliance skin. And now, to pick the SON over the Father, especially after revealing the ruse behind both their matches?
It’s damn near blasphemous.
Lindsay’s not about to play nice with the Boss; not when she knew better than to trust him from the get-go. With the LBI in its final stages, it’s win out or go the fuck home, and she’s come too goddamn far to not figure out a way to beat the odds-on favorite and shatter the dreams of the Dynamic Duo, Red and Ted.
At the bottom of the picture are detailed game-planning notes and strategy ideas. Sticking and moving, then finishing Max off by dropping him on his head and neck might do it. She and Mike have been working on a version of the “Jesus Complex;” as he’s made the “Raynes of Castamere” his own with her and Savannah’s tutelage, so too was she gifted the usage of his finisher as another part of their secret pact. They’d been finessing it for over a month, but using it on the Lord Supreme Dictator could further strengthen his animosity toward her, and the last thing Lindsay wants is to raise his ire even more.
She’s walking a very delicate line: winning the match, while still winning him over.
As the outlier to this new formation, Max is protective of the bonds that are already there. It makes sense; change isn’t always immediately embraced, and him not checking his group texts in the lead-up to the reveal makes her and Dan’s arrival feel very sudden. She doesn’t fault him, even though it makes things much more personal, and it would be a lot easier if he would accept this new reality and get on board.
Using Mike’s move will have to wait until the finals, provided she gets there. It will be much more satisfying to spike Redding or Palmer through the mat with it. A “death from above” approach is also an option, and it might be her best shot at victory.
Satisfied with this plan of attack, Lindsay tosses the tablet into her bag and reaches for a roll of black tape. No sooner has she wound it around her right wrist and thumb, when she catches a figure approaching the gym’s door out of the corner of her eye.
Dan Ryan stops at the entrance and raps on the glass with a cardboard tube, which he then points to for added emphasis. Behind him are two UPS drivers. Lindsay jogs over and unlocks the door.
“This is a surprise,” she says, confused, as Dan and Co. stride inside. The brown shirts wheel two hand carts with white-sheeted objects on them toward the ring, deposit them near a corner, and depart. “I thought you were going back to Houston for a few days.”
“I did. And now I’m here. This couldn’t wait until we both got back to Chicago, so I made the trip.”
The Ego Buster stops by the apron and tosses his sister-in-law a grin. “Do you know what this is?” He waves the tube up and down as Lindsay stops beside him.
“I have no idea. And I hate when you grin like that; it’s creepy.”
“You think it’s creepy. EYE think it’s mysterious. C’mon, guess.”
“Fine.” Lindsay pauses and rolls her eyes. “A poster of you and your new bestie Mike Best.”
“No…although, if I did it would be a fat head, and it would already be on that wall over there.” Dan pulls the plastic cap off one end of the tube and slides the contents into his hand.
Whiteprints, of some unknown design.
Lindsay frowns. “You flew all the way here to show me you’re embracing your inner Bob Vila? And what’s under the sheets?”
“Patience. I’m getting there.”
“I don’t have time for patience. I’m facing Ultron in four days.”
“It just so happens,” Dan leans in to Lindsay and looks around to see if anyone can hear them. They can’t, because no one else is here. Lindsay also looks around with an expression that seems to be one that says ‘NO ONE ELSE IS HERE!’ “….that these are the super secret schematics for Maximillian Wilhelm Kael, or ‘THE SSS’ for short, because I like acronyms.”
Lindsay can’t help her rapid-fire, incredulous blinking. “You cannot be serious.”
Dan shoots a very wounded frowny-face at his sister-in-law.
“I’m always serious. I had to spend a tidy sum of at least twenty-seven dollars from a very legitimate looking shop on Etsy for these. There was a certificate of authenticity and everything.”
“Well, now I’ve heard everything. You shop on Etsy. Are you on Pinterest too?”
“No,” he shakes his head. “Just Etsy. Alaina turned me on to it. She bought me these great little soaps with manly scents that are made from essential oils so they don’t dry out….” He suddenly notices her looking at him like he’s from outer space. “You know what? Never mind. The point is, these are for you. I thought they might help you in your preparations.”
“Alright,” she sighs. “I am a little curious what twenty-seven dollars got you. Let’s see them.”
Before Dan unrolls the papers, the delivery drivers walk back into the gym with another be-sheeted hand cart. This one looks a little heavier to move than the other two. Lindsay watches them slide the object off the bottom and walk away once more.
“Okay, really, let’s see these drawings. I gotta know if they’re better than what Kaz mocked up for me. And then you need to explain these ghost gifts.”
He smiles at this. “You mean your new training partners?”
The blinking starts anew. “Come again?”
“Nevermind that right now,” he says, waving her off. “First look at these. I have a feeling they’ll be very helpful — definitely more helpful than what some kid made for you.”
She frowns. “Some kid? You mean your nephew, the Graphic Design major?”
He waves her off again. “Don’t try to make me feel bad for my words. I’m much more violent these days. I’m liable to tear one of your walls down in anger and then refuse to pay for it. This is the new me, you know.”
“Oh, I know.” Troy shakes her head and unrolls the schematic, stretching out the sheet and studying it as best she can. She looks around it in disbelief, then turns it around. “Are you kidding me with this?”
He makes a face, incredulous. “Whaddya mean? Is it not legitimate?”
She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath and then opens them again.
“Daniel, this is a schematic print of the Captain Jack Sparrow animatronic in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. You know what gave it away?”
She doesn’t wait for him to answer. Instead, she turns the picture toward him. “It actually has the words ‘Schematic for Captain Jack Sparrow Animatronic – Disneyland, California’ on it in the upper right corner, scratched out with the name ‘Max Kael’ written in Sharpie, and a price of $14.99.”
“Well that’s just great.” Dan grimaces, frustrated. “Do you know what this means?”
She stares in disbelief. “That this is worthless and no help whatsoever?”
“No,” he replies. “It means I got ripped off! I paid $27 for this thing.”
“I’m sure you can file a complaint and get your money back,” Lindsay deadpans. “Meanwhile, I still have a Kael Conundrum on my hands. Do you know how many people I’ve faced in my career who have more than trace levels of metal in their body?”
“I’m going to guess…zero.”
“Right. You probably have the same number as me.” Lindsay runs her fingers through her hair in an absent-minded gesture meant to stave off her growing concern. “So not only do I have to be conscious of where he’s got all that metal, but I have to adjust pretty much my entire strategy so I don’t wind up knocked out in the ring and out of the tournament.”
“Well,” Ryan says, confidently, “It’s funny you should mention being prepared for where he’s got all that metal, because my gifts address exactly that problem.”
“Did you pay more than twenty-seven dollars for them? Because I can’t deal with another good-intentioned gift that you got swindled on.”
“Listen,” Ryan puts a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “I appreciate your concern for my financial well-being, however, you must remember, I am very rich and twenty-seven dollars is nothing to me. It’s like…. Eighteen dollars or something. I don’t know the current exchange rates. NOW THEN…”
Ryan nudges her in the direction of the three large sheet-covered items now lined up against the wall.
“I went to a considerable amount of trouble to find some metal men for you to spar with.”
Ryan nods. “Metal men. Like Max, who is a man and is made out of metal.”
Lindsay looks at Dan, then back at the lumpy, concealed objects all lined up in a row. “This day just keeps getting better,” she sighs. “Alright. Let’s see what you went to all this trouble for.”
“I have a few options for you,” Ryan says, approaching the first and rubbing his hands together as if choosing the perfect weapon to destroy a small country with. He pulls the first sheet off with a flourish. “I present to you the Class M3 Model B9 General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot.”
Lindsay Troy’s jaw drops. “The what?!”
Dan raises his hands to the machine like Vanna White turning a vowel.
“The Class M3 Model B9 General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot.”
She just keeps staring.
Ryan drops his hands, disappointed, and his voice seems a little sad. “It’s the robot from Lost in Space. Didn’t you ever watch Lost in Space?”
“I know the ‘Danger, Will Robinson’ line, does that count?”
Ryan raises a finger. “Ok, so you didn’t like that one. That’s fine. I was prepared for that.”
He pulls the sheet from the second and gives another “voila!!” flourish. Lindsay facepalms.
“Why the hell did you bring Stoovins here?”
Dan frowns at the replica Commander Data from the Starship Enterprise. “That’s offensive. Stevens isn’t nearly as life-like as Data.”
“Are you sure? It’s a little hard to tell them apart.”
“Stevens is nothing more than an Ensign at best,” Ryan says matter-of-factly.
“Okay, Captain. I’m just breathless with anticipation at whatever’s behind Door #3. This one seems much bigger. I’m half expecting it to be the Iron Giant or something.”
Ryan pauses, looking a little bummed, then pulls the last sheet off and nods. “Yes, it’s the Iron Giant.”
“Wow,” Lindsay says, sarcastically. “So many choices, where do I begin?”
Dan raises his hand to his chin, as though studying a fine wine. “Well, I’m partial to the Iron Giant, naturally, however the robot from Lost in Space does have its charms.”
“HOW….. can you not tell I’m being sarcastic??”
Ryan gets a bit defensive. “Oh soooooorrry. I didn’t realize that bringing you the gift of metal masculinity would ruin your day so.”
“It’s not…” a frustrated growl escapes her throat. “Okay. You know I appreciate your efforts, but Max is more than just a robot replica. He’s won the LBI three times. He is, and I say this with as much respect toward you as possible, the biggest threat I’ve faced in this tournament. Hell, probably since coming here. He might even be the biggest challenge I’ve ever had, just because of who and what he is.”
She motions to the faux-bots. “Those aren’t gonna hit me back. They aren’t programmed like he is. They aren’t even real.”
“Actually,” he interrupts, “Commander Data is fully functional and programmed in multiple techniques…”
He just stares at her.
Dan Ryan shrugs. “If you say so.”
Lindsay brings her hands to her mouth, closes her eyes, and tries to get her focus back. “Okay. If you really want to be of help? Get in the ring with me and help me figure this out. You hit just as hard as what I imagine a metal man does.”
Ryan nods, thoughtfully. “That’s true. And I could wear brass knucks on both hands or something if it’ll help.”
“I would like to make it to Chicago in one piece, thank you.”
Just then, there’s another commotion at the door, as the workers before are now trying to wheel in another large object. The white sheet on this one, however, catches on the door and is pulled away, revealing Bender from Futurama.
Dan Ryan’s eyes go wide. He composes himself and glances at Troy, who shakes her head in disbelief. He looks back and makes eye contact with the worker looking in his direction and makes a throat-slashing gesture, mouthing ‘ixnay on the obot-ray’ as he does so.
They immediately stop and drag the robot back out through the door.
“Any other surprises for me or can we get down to business?”
Ryan throws his hands up in surrender. “Business it is.”
They’ve been at it for an hour. Strikes, counters, admonishments of remembering which side of Max to target, and what move chains to watch out for. They will do the same for Red and Ted, however they cannot be worried about until the first roadblock is adequately prepared for.
Getting past the eMpire’s last hold-out, and the number-one ranked fighter in the company, is Lindsay’s sole focus right now.
She levels Ryan with a high kick to the throat, just under his chin, careful not to connect with his mouth. Dan stumbles back, and Lindsay rushes forward, evading a clothesline, and quickly runs up the turnbuckles in one fluid motion. With her back to the Ego Buster, she glances over her shoulder, and prepares herself to fly backwards, looking to connect with the Crowning Glory.
She catches the gym’s door opening, and in walks Maximilian Wilhelm Kael, blue eye locked on the ring as he stomps over toward the in-laws.
“What the…” Lindsay exclaims, immediately hopping off the top rope and back to the canvas. Ryan looks to his left, surprised. Max glances to his right, noticing the in-laws’ silent audience for the first time.
Ryan slides between the ropes and jumps to the floor, retrieving the white sheets, and hastily covering the Iron Giant, Data, and the Lost in Space robots back up, whistling a nothing to see here! tune while the Lord Supreme Dictator and the Queen of the Ring look on.
With a sneer on his face, Max jumps to the apron, enters the ring, and stands in front of his … teammate?
Lindsay braces herself, takes a half-step back and readies her foot to throw a strike, just in case. But instead, the LSD champion extends his hand, the sneer starting to melt away.
“Care to train?”
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