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Title: Sketch: The Faultless Monster
Fandom: Pumpkin Scissors (animeverse)
Character(s): Muzé Caplan
Pairing(s): None
Rating: PG
Word Count: ~1400
Warnings: Mentions of suicide and medical/psychological experiments
A/N: This character sketch of Muzé Caplan has been sitting on my desk in draft for years. I had intended it to be longer and include a version of her canonical meeting with Oland, but that got stalled in development. Looking it over, however, I decided that what I had managed to write could stand on its own. Concrit welcomed with psychological evaluations.

There is something at work in my soul which I do not understand. I am practically industrious — painstaking, a workman to execute with perseverance and labour — but besides this there is a love for the marvellous, a belief in the marvellous, intertwined in all my projects, which hurries me out of the common pathways of men, even to the wild sea and unvisited regions I am about to explore.

— Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Muzé Caplan slit open the embossed envelope with the same swift efficiency (if but a fraction of the interest) she brought to a dissection. The three flimsies hardly seemed worthy of the rag paper and red wax seal that enclosed them, but she was Caplan now and such courtesies were deemed her due. She often thought that the ancients should not have dismissed the philosopher who defined man as a featherless biped by showing him a plucked chicken. The Institute, the military, the imperial court: how little different they were from a fowl run in the energy their inhabitants devoted to creating and maintaining a pecking order.

She tossed aside the envelope and the covering letter from Colonel Someone-or-Other in Human Resources to examine the meat of the matter. Very little effort had been required to persuade the general staff that all transactions regarding the Invisible Nine be flagged for her attention and approval: they had been as eager for deniability as she for information. The mass demobilizations following the cease-fire had caused substantial disruptions in her experiments, disruptions exacerbated by an undignified scramble to conceal or destroy valuable data. She sighed and briefly massaged her temples. The best part of the last three years had been wasted on damage control, but now, at last, the Institute was ready to continue its most consequential project. So, what have we here?

She scrawled her initials in the margin of a death certificate for First Lieutenant Kurt Wolmarf, 903-CTT, with a note forwarding it to the head of chemistry. No doubt he would spend the next six months wrangling with the army for possession of the blood, pulmonary and nerve agents with which the lieutenant had absconded, while his assistants were left with the thankless task of determining what, if any, effects those weapons had produced in their handler. She shook her head in mild exasperation. Engineers. So devoted to their machines, they were blind to their subsidiarity. Until someone invented a tank that could drive itself, the battlefield would remain an arena that pitted man against man — one intelligence, one will, one body against another.

It is they whom we must improve.

She laid the death certificate in her OUT tray and turned to more pleasing business: a request from Army Intelligence, State Section III, for reassignment to their ranks of Corporal Randel Oland, 901-ATT. Ah, splendid! The 901st had been her particular pets; she was always delighted to discover another had survived the peace. So many had perished in that freak wave of suicides after the armistice — a few, more disturbingly, had experienced homicidal episodes ungoverned by their conditioning and had had to be put down. She'd conducted their postmortems herself, but the data had been disappointingly inconclusive. Caplan had always said that the controls human beings placed upon their own behavior were like the chains that muzzled Grossmagen, the mythical beast whose open jaw gaped from earth to heaven — they would hold as long as fate decreed, and then chaos would devour the world. Sometimes she wondered whether her predecessor would have seen Grossmagen's shadow in the unrest currently plaguing the empire and sought, as he ever had, to strengthen those chains.

She rose and strode down the hallway to the records room, where the clerk on duty took her request and disappeared into the shadowy ranges of shelves and cabinets behind the wooden counter. Oland, Oland. She tried to call him before her mind's eye, but could not. The 901st had been a heavily recruited unit; so many boys had passed through her hands that only those with unique or egregious personal quirks remained clear in her memory (Schulz, the lad who wept after she repaired his harelip; Becker, the butcher's apprentice who could read the patent statement on her eyechart ...). Randel Oland, she guessed, was one of the many who had neither required her intervention nor piqued her interest.

The indifferent thickness of the file the clerk retrieved for her confirmed that notion. Having returned to her desk, she flipped it open on the blotter to the photograph stapled to a copy of Oland's vital statistics. Dark hair, blunt features, serious (or perhaps vacant) expression ... No? Well, then, subject Oland, it's time we became reacquainted.

His height and build would have caught any military recruiter's eye; no doubt he drew the Institute's notice when he also proved literate, reasonably intelligent, and not unduly self-reflective. He'd scored high in basic training and, once assigned to the 901st, had taken well to its physical and mental conditioning regimens. A few sketchy reports of field exercises followed, during which the subject demonstrated his mastery of the requisite operational techniques. She rolled her eyes. Caplan, too, had despised such jargon, but when passing sensitive information through unsecured channels, it was unwise to call a spade a spade. A still sketchier psychological evaluation (for even Caplan had been unable to devise an instrument adequate to gauge the mental health of men being driven deliberately mad) provided only a single individualizing detail. Under the heading Prosocial Behaviors, the examiner had noted: Feeds stray cats.

More satisfying were Oland's medical records which, even when reporting negative results, were accompanied by a wealth of illustrative radiograms. He had been multiply wounded, of course, in training and at the front, but his time on the sick list had been short. Pathological analysis indicated that his tailored "hardeners" were performing as designed, minimizing systemic insult and speeding healing. Another examiner had noted, with evident approval, Disinclined to malinger. Had the subject perhaps become habituated to combat? He had certainly done his part to maintain the 901st's fearsome reputation. The unit's after-action reports chronicled Private Oland's contribution to several successful missions, culminating in a field promotion to corporal.

And that was all. The last entry in his file was dated three years ago, some few months prior to the cease-fire. What have you been up to since then, subject Oland? It was easy for a soldier to go AWOL from a unit which didn't technically exist, but a man who chose that route was unlikely to reappear in the military seeking a transfer under his own name. She made a note for her assistant to investigate whether Oland had continued to draw pay or supplies from the army or any of its known back channels during those three years. She thought for a moment, then made a further note to cross-check the results with civilian police and social services for any localities Oland could be determined to have visited in that same period. An interview with the subject himself is contraindicated until we are in possession of those reports.

Meanwhile, what should be done about his requested transfer to Section III? Though technically an intelligence unit, they were little more than a vehicle for the government's reconstructionist propaganda. One of my troopers serving in a soup kitchen? Absurd — as absurd as the tank those pacifists in Schwarzburg had turned into a public fountain. Or was someone in intelligence playing a deeper game? She frowned, tapping her pen against the bridge of her spectacles. The military had never been all of one mind about the Invisible Nine, but most of the factions opposing their deployment had gone quiet since the armistice. Could this be the opening move in a new campaign against the Institute? Her mouth quirked scornfully. I assure you, we are quite capable of protecting our own.

She riffled once more through Oland's file, pausing over his photograph. She was loath to deny the request (and the opportunity to discover what it signified) outright. Perhaps she should delay her decision until she knew more about the man and about those who sought him as a comrade. Caplan, of course, would simply have drawn the subject back into the Institute's fold, claiming that any other course would be a waste of resources ("... their purpose is terror and destruction; they have no other use ..."), a blow to unit cohesion ("... there can be no accord, no exchange of aid and comfort, between men whose experience of battle is incomparable ..."), and possibly a threat to Oland himself ("We are birthing monsters, Muzé — surely you see that?").

She dipped her pen in the inkwell, drew the flimsy onto the blotter, and signed her approval. This, she thought, smiling broadly, will bear watching.

[Acknowledgments: Pumpkin Scissors is created by Iwanaga Ryotaro and serialized in Monthly Shounen Magazine. The anime of the same title was directed by Akiyama Katsushito and produced by Studio Gonzo x AIC in association with COSPA. Copyright for this property is held by Iwanaga Ryotaro and Kodansha/Izumi Project, inter alia.]
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nebroadwe: From "The Magdalen Reading" by Rogier van der Weyden.  (Default)
The Magdalen Reading

August 2014



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